Sunday, 31 January 2010



The sub-genre of senseless gore movies from Japan continues, and this week's addition to the DVD racks is Samurai Princess (that's the on-screen title card, but it's called Samurai Princess Devil Princess in the subtitles). It's set in the Forest Of Infinity, presumably some time in the future, where a maniac is merrily chopping people to pieces and rebuilding them as androids for no particularly good reason (or at least no good reason made clear to us poor viewers); his bonkers henchpeople hack up a party of schoolgirls, but the girls' souls are transferred into the robotically augmented body of the sole survivor. Who is, obviously, out for revenge.

Equally obviously, it's rubbish. It's barely equal to last year's Vampire Girl Vs Frankenstein Girl, and that wasn't as good as Tokyo Gore Police. Which in turn wasn't as good as Machine Girl - and Machine Girl wasn't much more than okay, so we're now three stages down from something that was just about acceptable. The "acting" is ridiculously broad and the plot is gibberish, but then the plot in only there to string together the outrageous gore scenes. Some of those are undeniably enjoyable in their bloodsoaked squishiness, but the truth is they're all the movie has going for it. Beyond the severed limbs, ripped intestinal tracts, mashed brains and spurting blood arcing across the screen, there's nothing going on.

Ultimately, it's not any good. It gains a few smiles with its cheerily relentless splatter effects which, as with the likes of Tokyo Gore Police, are gleefully excessive in the Braindead style. But Braindead spent time making you care about characters before unleashing its zombie hordes. Samurai Princess doesn't know how to make you care, so I didn't.


Thursday, 28 January 2010



I know it's not even the end of January but I think we already have a strong contender for Dumbest Movie Of 2010. Never mind the cinematic art, never mind dramatising the eternal differences between East and West. Let's not bother with anything above the most simplistic of film-making techniques, and instead we'll just fill the screen with blood and gore and severed limbs for pretty much the whole of the running time.

Ninja Assassin kicks off in an Osaka tattoo parlour, wherein a gathering of gangland ne'er-do-wells are spectacularly hacked into small pieces by an unseen but supernaturally vicious force, after which the action switches to Berlin where a couple of cardboard Europol agents team up to uncover a lucrative ninja assassination scheme carried out by an army of ninja warriors trained from infancy to be unstoppable, invulnerable slaughter machines. One of the ninjas, Korean pop star Rain, has abandoned the ninja brotherhood, and their ninja master wants him dead. That's pretty much it for plot.

The acting and writing is beyond dismal and to be honest the only thing the movie really has going for it is scene after scene of senseless bloodshed, in which legions of black-clad warriors dismember anyone in their path: to hold Rain accountable for his dishonour. He, meanwhile, is having none of that and will kill without mercy to stay free; his weapon of choice is a curved blade on a long chain. Disappointingly, the blood spurts are mainly, if not entirely, done with CGI rather than the good old-fashioned squibs and pumps. But there's so much of it, so much one-note carnage that it does become funny and I'd be lying if I said I didn't enjoy it.

The last Rambo movie, it should be noted, was similarly computerised and one-note, and had a comparable body count in the mid-hundreds, but that was boring and empty and suffered from the makers thinking there was some kind of moral or message in among the corpses. Ninja Assassin knows there's nothing going on except the cartoonish ultraviolence; it's not operating on any other levels but the surface and it knows it. It's dumb, bloodsoaked and rather enjoyable, and it's difficult not to actually like it a little bit.


Wednesday, 20 January 2010



This month's Steven Seagal offering is pretty much along the level of the last half dozen cheapo shoot-em-ups he's done: a good man in a bad world, trying to do the right thing while surrounded with varying shades of unspeakable nastiness. Except that, rather like The Hulk, Big Steve tends to be calm and rational, calm and rational, until he snaps and goes absolutely mental.

A Dangerous Man (harking back to his glory days of three-word titles that summed up his character - Above The Law, Hard To Kill etc) is actually slightly better than I'd expected: there are a couple of funny lines and the fighting isn't quite as incoherently shot. Our hero, a former Special Forces man fresh out of prison for a crime he didn't commit, inadvertently witnesses a killing and is drawn into an elaborate but frankly dull conflict between two groups of Chinese gangsters, the Russian Mafia and some corrupt cops. As the various factions come together there is the annoying tendency to cut back on the mano-a-mano fisticuffs and just have people emptying machine guns at one another. A hell of a lot of ammo gets spent in this movie, most of it fired into walls and cars and thin air, and only a few bullets actually finding their target.

It's all very noisy and at no time is it remotely worth caring about; apart from some moments of wanton excess in the violence department as bones crunch loudly on the soundtrack, there's not much to see here.


Sunday, 17 January 2010



I'm not a games player, as a rule. I have Grand Theft Auto III and that's about it. So all I know of the Street Fighter mythos is what I can remember from the 1994 movie, featuring the once-in-a-lifetime screen pairing of Jean-Claude Van Damme and, er, Kylie Minogue. It wasn't very good, and I haven't seen it in at least ten years.

There's obviously still money in the idea, though, as we now have Street Fighter: The Legend Of Chun-Li, which is a nuts-and-bolts, back-to-basics Bangkok-based thudfest in which various characters congregate to beat one another up. The main bad guy, Bison, is no longer some kind of South East Asian warlord but is now the heartless (and literally soulless) head of a crime syndicate, who, for reasons unexplained, has been given an Irish accent that's only apparent some of the time - as if they decided to make the guy Irish halfway through the shoot but didn't bother to redub any scenes shot thus far. Against him is Chun-Li, the concert pianist daughter of one of Bison's ex-comrades who's been trained from childhood in the martial arts and is on the inevitable quest for revenge. There's an Interpol agent (Chris Klein, the poor man's Matthew McConaughey), paired with a local gangland cop (Moon Bloodgood); and on the villain's side is the ever-reliable Michael Clarke Duncan.

If the movie is frequently unbelievably silly - and there are several points where it's momumentally silly - it does at least move at a decent pace, it's well shot, and the frequent fight scenes are satisfyingly crunchy, and for once they're not over-edited to subliminal incoherence or too reliant on the kind of wire work that means everyone can actually fly. It isn't anything we haven't seen before, yet it does almost work as a throwback to 80s and 90s beat-em-up B-movies. A personable cast, some decent fight scenes and good production values help to make it fairly enjoyable no-think DVD fare. Maybe I'm being absurdly generous, but I wasn't bored and I genuinely don't think it's as rotten as some of the reviews have suggested.


Wednesday, 13 January 2010



The first Feast movie was a perfectly adequate, perfectly acceptable B-movie which was hardly original or innovative but rattled along efficiently with plenty of gloop and slime. It had a basic setup: a bunch of disparate lowlifes in a bar, beseiged by blood-crazed monsters. Now they've made Feast II: Sloppy Seconds, and the idea is presumably to be bigger, bolder, gorier, noisier etc.

Doesn't really work, though. For a start, you know a film's gone off track a bit when they bring on a pair of wrestling midgets and some ball-bustin' badass biker chicks. An offbeat, oddball approach to character is one thing, but there's such a thing as stretching plausibility too far, even in an anything-goes horror flick. For a second thing, the ragbag of survivors are no longer in a bar miles from anywhere, but in a town: so the sensible, logical thing to do would be to get a car and just keep driving. They don't do that - even though one of their number is a used car salesman with keys to dozens of cars. Instead they hang around with the midgets and try to get into the town jail, where they'll be safer.

For a third thing, one of the group decides that they should dissect a dead monster to find out what makes it tick. Why? He's not a scientist or a doctor - he's the used car salesman's assistant. In the event he's not dissecting the monster in the name of science: he's doing it so we can have the monster fart and wee. Now, certainly farts and wee are funny - if you're five. It's a long sequence where the monster cadaver does disgusting things like spew green goo all over the midgets' granny and spurt wee in the face of one of the biker chicks. And for the fourth thing - the thing that made me the most uncomfortable - is the dead baby stuff. That's pretty much the Red Button of shock genre tropes: kill the baby for a cheap laugh. I expect that kind of thing from Troma - in amidst their usual material of deformity and rape - but Feast II is nominally a proper film and should really above lowest common denominator tactics like this.

On the other hand, there are a few funny lines, and there's enough gore and goo (although photographed in that fast-shutter style that eradicates motion blur), but it's just not as much fun as the first one, which was nothing that wonderful but did its job reasonably well. Here they're trying too hard to up the ante and it doesn't come off.


Monday, 11 January 2010



How many times have we seen this story? Gangsters pick on ordinary bloke, mess with his wife and daughter, only to discover that the ordinary bloke is actually a martial arts genius, who promptly sets out on a quest for revenge and justice. Hundreds of times. And except for one important factor, this is just another entry in that genre.

Back in 1979 there was an exploitation film released celled "The Amazing Mr No Legs", in which the hero was a double amputee in a wheelchair. Well, Unarmed But Dangerous is basically The Amazing Mr No Arms: the hero is played by Mat Fraser, who is phocomelic as a result of thalidomide. (See the pun in the film's title - he isn't just unarmed, he's "un-armed"! Oh, the hilarity!)

Obviously there's nothing wrong with disabled actors appearing in movies just like non-disabled actors. Blind actors, deaf actors (Marlee Matlin obviously springs to mind), actors with Down's Syndrome. Equally, there's nothing intrinsically wrong about non-disabled actors playing disabled characters: ask Daniel Day Lewis. Must a blind character be played by a blind actor? It is acting; you might as well insist that Hamlet is played by someone from Denmark. But in this instance there is an uncomfortable sense that the film is pitched at the "point-and-laugh" brigade; a sense that's reinforced by the original working title of Kung Fu Flid (and the title it's listed under on the IMDb).

If it's intended as a grotesque exploitation movie then it's absolutely shameful. If, on the other (ahem) hand, it's intended as some kind of plea for understanding, or to demonstrate that you can have a straightforward martial arts movie with a protagonist who just happens to be disabled, it doesn't work because as a film, it's unswervingly terrible: badly acted, badly written, indifferently shot, and uninterestingly put together. Characterisation is cardboard, particularly the gangsters which are sub-Ritchie stock, and the fight scenes aren't well staged or choreographed. Yes, if you want to just laugh at the bloke with the funny arms, you'll get your poundsworth, but shouldn't you grow up?


Friday, 8 January 2010



There's not really a vast amount I can say about this one: it's one of a thousand tolerable but indifferent horror cheapies cluttering up the rental shelves: proficient, professional, but scarcely innovative or excitingly original. Though it's in English, it's actually German, and comes from the Uwe Boll stable (produced by his company, though the man himself is only billed in the "Thanks" section of the end credits scroll).

Beyond Remedy is the old routine about a bunch of photogenic types gathering at a remote and spooky location, ostensibly to have their phobias eradicated by a mysterious scientist. This time they're all medical students, and they're in an abandoned hospital where a careless doctor once killed thirteen children with the wrong drugs. Might that have something to do with the homicidal maniac (in chain mail, no less) offing the young and pretty phobics in ways grisly enough to garner an 18 certificate? Is it one of the phobics themselves? Maybe the apparent hero, who's apparently been cast solely because he looks like Tobey Maguire? Or one of the staff - guest star Rick Yune (who's worked in the Boll arena before), or maybe the boffin in charge, who declaims all his lines like an angry Gielgud at the National while everyone else is acting along the lines of idiot victims in a generic slasher pic?

I've actually got a soft spot for unrestrained overacting in genre films (connoisseurs of eye-rolling mad scientists are advised to track down a 1934 cheapie called Maniac, which couldn't be hammier if it said "oink") so it didn't bother me here. It all climaxes in a series of absurd revelations and unhinged motivations. Beyond Remedy is overall fairly dumb - the heroine is scared of knives, which doesn't make sense if you're studying to be a surgeon - and it's nothing we haven't seen before. But it's engaging enough to get by as an evening's undemanding rental.


Sunday, 3 January 2010



Exciting News: it IS possible to be ripped off in a branch of Pound Land. For a whole one of our mighty English Pounds, you can walk off with this drab slasher cheapie in which four idiots re-enact bits of Friday The 13th and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre while someone half-heartedly points a budget model camcorder vaguely in their direction. And afterwards you'll feel that you're at least 99p down on the deal afterwards.

Beginning with a series of scrolling captions that are positively illiterate in their random use of apostrophes and other punctuation marks, the uninterestingly titled The Summer Of The Massacre concerns a quartet of college kids: two boys, two girls (one of whom is pregnant) in a van and deciding to take the unmarked shortcut despite being low on petrol. On arrival at a derelict service station they are set upon by a gibbering lunatic who babbles something about a serial killer and, sure enough, when they do run out of petrol (who'd have seen THAT coming?) they split up and wander off looking for fuel. At which point the fearsome and legendary Hammer Head shows up with his trusty hammer, and chases his targets at ludicrous length through acres of dull, damp woodland (it's supposed to be June but it looks more like a wet November).

Hammer Head is, incidentally, an absolutely rubbish screen maniac: in all his encounters his victims manage to get plenty of good strong blows of their own in and run away screaming. Albert Steptoe could take him. Hell, given a steep enough slope Stephen Hawking could probably force a draw. He's not a big bloke, he's not an imposing presence, and despite the zombie mask (probably also from Pound Land) he just looks like a B&Q assistant who's gone a bit mental. For no apparent reason, he keeps the pregnant one alive and (badly) tied up in his hideous derelict hideout which looks a bit like the ruin at the end of The Blair Witch Project, but obviously she escapes and runs off. He lopes off after her and after fifteen minutes or so of hiding, running, screaming and hitting over the head with a hammer, there's another gibberish caption to the effect that it's all true and He's Still Out There Somewhere.

It's an incredibly artless affair. Such things as picture composition, framing and editing are either left to chance or just not bothered with: scenes go on forever and the salient action points either occur in view or they don't. The music score sounds like someone in the next room experimenting with a Bontempi (which probably came from Pound Land), and the acting is beyond dire. None of these whining, bickering, tiresome characters are worth caring about, it's visually quite ugly and the constant use of captions along the lines of "June 17th - Village Outskirts (Unknown Location) - 2:37pm" is just annoying, especially because on at least one occasion the timecodes actually go back in time: scene G apparently happens before scene F even though it blatantly doesn't.

Most of all, you come away feeling that just because you love horror movies doesn't mean you can actually make them, and that the belief that you can do it anyway (in spite of overwhelming evidence to the contrary) is actually an insult to those people who genuinely can make great horror films. I have some fondness for Tchaikovsky but sit me down with a sheaf of manuscript paper and I wouldn't know where to start. Making horror movies - making any kind of movies - isn't something you can do just because you've watched The Texas Chainsaw Massacre on video a hundred and seventeen times. The DVD will be going straight in the bin: I'm not giving it shelf room and I'm not about to show it to anyone else. And I want my pound back.