Wednesday, 30 March 2011



I'll be honest: apart from the questionable delights of Shark Attack II, I don't know what kind of horror movie industry South Africa has. I know that back in the 80s there was trouble over something called Hellgate, shot there during the apartheid era (if memory serves, some people refused to work on it because of the location, and one of those people may have been FX legend Bob Keen). We don't get many South African films anyway, which is a shame because it's a beautiful country.

We have had The Unforgiving, though, and this might explain why we don't get them very often, because it's sadly not very good. It's a needlessly overcomplicated tale of revenge that seems in its early stages to riff on Saw, as a bloke wakes up in an abandoned building chained to a breeze block, and is periodically beaten unconscious by a wordless maniac in a gas mask. He would appear to be one of only two survivors of a local serial killer known as the Butcher Of Route 106, the other being a girl recovering from heroin addiction. But as the two are questioned by a police officer, it emerges that either, or both, might be lying....

It's all told in flashback from both points of view, intercut with their police interrogations, with a deliberate obfuscation of the timeline. Sadly, the whole film, even the dialogue scenes, is filmed in that damnable fast-shutter strobe style, hand held, with the result that it's not only narratively but visually difficult to follow. You almost end up shouting at the cinematographer to go and buy a tripod and to read the user's instruction manual for the camera, as some action sequences descend into the unwatchable. And between every scene is a seven-second blank space which a couple of times led me to wonder whether my TV had gone phut.

Certainly it's violent, although it appears to mainly consist of people being beaten unconscious, coming to covered in blood, and being beaten unconscious again. That's a plot line I could happily watch in Last Of The Summer Wine but not in a horror movie (although I did start to wonder how many times you could do this before they either died or suffered brain damage). At several points I lost all track of the narrative which was too convoluted for its own good and frankly I wasn't interested enough to bother to try and pick it up again (or maybe I'm just thick) and I didn't buy the maniac's rationale. Yes, it's low budget - two locations, four speaking parts - but it still needs to be better, and crucially better shot, than this. At just 75 minutes it's mercifully short, but in truth that's all it has going for it. Pity.



Tuesday, 29 March 2011



Let's get a few facts out of the way right from the start: firstly, whatever else it might be, this is not a Hammer film. After all the annoyances at an apparently brand-new Hammer film not getting any kind of theatrical release in this country (which I blithered on about here) it transpires that the word Hammer appears nowhere on the simultaneously released DVD print. It might say "Hammer Presents" on the box art but there's no logo and there's no credit. Secondly, it doesn't even appear to be British: it's basically an Ireland/Sweden co-production.

Thirdly, it shouldn't even be called Wake Wood since the action actually takes place in a village called Wakewood! Following the tragic death of their young daughter, vet Aidan Gillen and his wife Eva Birthistle relocate to the countryside, where in the best Wicker Man traditions, things are obviously not what they seem. By chance, she witnesses a bizarre midnight ritual led by the village's head, Timothy Spall, which can bring back the dead for a three-day period: Gillen and Birthistle seize the opportunity to see their beloved child one last time and bid her a proper farewell. But with all these things there are strings attached - not least of which is that they can never leave the village. And while they and the returned child are blissfully happy for those three days, there's something wrong, and the villagers know it....

In parts, this is a very silly film: I admit I laughed at the cattle farmer's death early on. More damagingly, Gillen is a vet, and Birthistle reopens and runs the pharmacy: they both know the science of illness and death and yet not for a second do either of them question the occult ritual of resurrecting the dead. Instead they go blithely ahead and start digging up their child's grave.... Sadly, it's also not very well shot: it looks cheap and the night sequences are, yet again, too dark to see anything properly. (There's even a microphone visible in an early sequence.) On the other hand, it's certainly creepy, and the coda hints at something genuinely chilling and upsetting.

Even if it is a bit Wicker Man, a bit Monkey's Paw, and a (larger) bit Don't Look Now, it's certainly the kind of material we should be seeing more of in British cinemas, even though the final result is actually not as good as it should have been. Nonetheless, it's certainly more welcome than derivative and generic fare like The Resident, which carries the Hammer moniker more proudly and got a wide theatrical release. At least Wake Wood has ambitions and aspirations, even if it's not capable of fulfilling them - and gets what is in effect a straight DVD release. It's not a disaster: it's creepy (there's no way I'd spend more than a short afternoon in that village) and occasionally nasty, with some nifty gore effects, and it's always great to see Timothy Spall, but it is overall a disappointment.


Available here:

Sunday, 27 March 2011



Before seeing this I was told via Twitter that it was the worst film of 2010: high condemnation given the existence of the woeful Basement and the frankly uninteresting remake of A Nightmare On Elm Street. Well, it's certainly not a fraction as bad. While it's certainly not a classic or even a repeat rental, it's prime Carpenter or Cronenberg in comparison to some recent "offerings", including the amateur fartfest that was The Scar Crow. And though it may not have anything innovative or memorable about it, it is at the very least made by people who know one end of a camera from the other.

In Spiderhole, four homeless art students decide to claim squatters' rights by pitching up a spooky-looking derelict house: such a bad idea it's actually hard to maintain sympathy for people that clinically thick. Nonetheless, they break in using boltcutters (incidentally voiding those squatters' rights they keep banging on about) and snuggle up to each other with the bottle of wine they conveniently found. Except, of course, They Are Not Alone - they wake the next morning to find the windows and doors are welded shut, they've been drugged, their mobiles are missing and their van is moved away. Then one by one they're abducted and tortured or dismembered in the basement. But why? Who? Will any of them survive? Will you still care by that point?

The identity of the maniac isn't really important, frankly, and his rationale is only sketched in, leaving you to fill in the psychological blanks. You could argue that the rationale behind Leatherface is similarly ignored, but with the best will in the world, this is no Texas Chainsaw Massacre. It's trying to be a nasty-edged, low budget British-Irish horror movie with some gruesome gore moments and generally it succeeds in its modest aims. There are the usual stupid moments - the heroine not killing the maniac when she has the chance - and the usual characterisation that fails to rouse much sympathy; when they realise what's happening to them there's a lot - a lot - of screaming and shouting in panic, which isn't much fun to watch.

It's not terrible; it's just not very good. The cover claims "If you liked Hostel and Saw, you'll like this", which is frankly untrue. Although Spiderhole does boast some pleasantly horrible gore moments, one very funny shot of the second girl's dismembered legs being tossed behind a door, one nicely effective jump moment, and an effective ending that's perhaps a touch too sudden. The characters aren't quite hateful enough to have you praying they all take an early bath, and it's well enough shot that the night scenes are visible without being obviously lit. Can't say I'm champing to see it again, but I remained thoroughly unannoyed. And tragically that's something to be proud of these days. Damn, the bar's low. Then you think back to The Scar Crow and realise how easily the low bar can still be missed.


Here it is:

Saturday, 26 March 2011



There are bad movies and bad movies. There are bad movies that are nonetheless entertaining despite their badness - Lifeforce, Hudson Hawk, Mirrors, the best of the Carry Ons. There are bad movies that are fun precisely because of their badness - think the Golden Turkeys, Troll 2. (Actually I don't recognise this group: I just don't get the so-bad-it's-good joke.) There are bad movies that aimed high and failed - such as Troy. Then there are movies that actively attempt to be as repugnant as possible for the sake of it: most Troma pictures, Hobo With A Shotgun. There are even movies that are simply plain boring.

And then there are the bad movies made by people who simply have no damned business making movies because they're simply not up to the job. You can look at the sheer inadequacy of something like The Summer Of The Massacre, where people without even the most rudimentary of filmmaking skills have nevertheless taken it upon themselves to make a film and then expect an audience to cough up hard cash for their efforts. This is what happens when the filmmaking process is made easier - it's not that it allows talented writers and directors into the game, it's that it allows hopeless idiots into the game as well - and at no stage of the production (or ideally pre-production) does anyone get to say "Stop. This isn't good enough. Go home and start again."

Perhaps then we might have been spared the thoroughly wretched The Scar Crow, a so-called excuse for a film in which not a single facet is marked by a shred of noticeable talent. The plot tells of four imbecilic douchebags, each of whom you would cheerfully push through an industrial mincing machine with your bare hands, who bunk off their team-building weekend and turn up at a spooky farm run by three weird sisters in 18th Century dress. Thinking solely with their tiny cocks, our dumbass heroes ignore all the warning signs, which include a blatant American Werewolf steal, with a village pub full of sub-Michael Ripper locals muttering darkly about the local curse and warning them not to spend the night at Castle Dracula the farm - and go back for beer and shagging despite one of their number having already disappeared.

Turns out the weird sisters aren't some kind of allusion to MacBeth, but are ghostly witches condemned to haunt the farm forever after their father laid a curse on them with his dying breath (they'd murdered him when he tried to rape one of them), and can only be freed with body parts from five victims to replace the scarecrow in which Dad's corpse was placed. The last of the four has, however, formed some kind of friendship with one of the sisters: will that be enough to persuade her to thwart the plan and set him free?

Everything - everything - about The Scar Scow is sub-standard. All the performances are "I-stand-here-and-say-this-line-then-move-to-the-table" recitations with less feeling than the women on the phonelines asking you to press 3 for billing enquiries. The plot is nonsensical: they need five victims but with our heroes' best mate and then another killing at the pub they've already killed that many, so why do they need the last of the douchebags? And it's all framed as a flashback from the sole survivor, including a bunch of scenes he wasn't in. Directorially it's the most functional point-and-shoot, with night-time interiors blatantly shot in daylight and the brightly lit windows permanently visible. The photography is ugly digital video with no grading applied to give it any kind of artificial film sheen, and the night exteriors are so badly lit that you can't tell what's happening. Sure it's got gore scenes, plenty of blood and offal (and a ripped-off cock) but done with no panache or style.

In summary, it's an unprofessional piece of rubbish made by people who really should go and do something else - paint watercolours, run a fish and chip shop, form a trapeze act, anything - and not try and make films until they've some kind of clue what they're doing. Look: I'm no good at neurosurgery, so I don't get to be a brain surgeon. I can't play the violin so I don't get to be a first violinist with the Royal Philharmonic. And if I can't write and direct films, I don't get to be a filmmaker. So why the hell should these people get to call themselves filmmakers? If they want to be paid money for making films they need to do a hell of a lot better than this. It's beyond pathetic. It's beyond beyond pathetic.

To summarise the summary: it's absolute dross with not a single hint of a redeeming feature to be seen. Everyone involved deserves nothing but your pity, your contempt, and a smack round the face that you could feel on the surface of the Moon.


This is where I'd post an Amazon Link. But I'm not going to dignify it with such a thing. Instead, buy one or more of these, all of which have been made by people who know how to make films, to write scripts, to act, to tell stories and create interesting characters in a way that the makers of The Scar Crow don't even know how to dream:

Thursday, 24 March 2011



First off, despite having at least two of the same cast members and the same writer and producers, this movie is entirely unrelated to Naked Killer, which was a surprisingly forgettable piece of HK Category III sleaze/action (I can't recall a thing about the plot and I only saw it last year - and looking it up on the IMDb doesn't ring any bells). Secondly, it's had more than six minutes cut out by the distributors after the BBFC had twice rejected it, and over four more minutes taken out afterwards in order to get an 18. Thirdly, it's a nasty, sleazy, uncomfortable piece of work, and the loss of the graphic scenes of sexual violence does nothing to lessen the bad taste.

Naked Killer 2 (also known as Raped By An Angel) concerns a sadistic rapist named Chuck (Mark Cheng) who targets model Chu (Jacqueline Ng): not only in terms of a violent and disgusting rape ordeal but in his elaborate construction of an alibi. He convinces people Chu is his girlfriend and they're very much in love - but once the case comes to court the planted and manufactured evidence suggests she was blackmailing him. Inevitably he's acquitted and immediately sets about getting revenge on her....except that once she's disappeared, her best friend and fellow model Yau, along with her new Triad boyfriend (Simon Yam) arrange a righteous revenge of their own.

The film seems to start out as some kind of light girlie comedy, with the models sitting around chatting about sex and how rubbish men are, until Chuck shows up: Sex And The City with rape scenes. In fact, it seems more in the mould of American trash exploitationers like Savage Streets, a film which similarly claims to be decrying rape while showing it to us at great length: almost revelling in it and using it as nothing more than justification for some crowd-pleasing ass-kicking in the final reel. It's a lot glossier and slicker than I Spit On Your Grave or The Last House On The Left but it's playing to that same gallery. Admittedly I kind of knew what it would be like going in, but you never know - it would have been nice to be proved wrong.

John Waters said that there is good bad taste and bad bad taste, and Naked Killer 2 really does feel like the latter. And I suspect it would feel even worse if around eleven minutes hadn't been removed from the film, including a subplot in which the poor girl is also raped by a handicapped boy (who no longer appears in the film at all). This is a film I genuinely didn't like: the tone varies too much, with comedy bits that don't sit easily with the suggested sexual sadism. Very hard to recommend.



Wednesday, 23 March 2011



Hello....I want to play a game. Psycho slashers have been a cinema staple for decades, and we are squarely in that territory here, where a fiendish maniac is extracting some twisted kind of bloody justice from those who he believes have wronged him in the past. The Saw movies, which are absolutely ludicrous but entertaining if viewed as the grimmest of black comedies, probably kickstarted the latest wave of omniscient killers, who can predict exactly what the police, and his intended victims, will do, and can always be ahead of the game. Because to them, it is just a game.

In Choose, the mad killer's angle, his signature move, is to force his victims to make their own choices as to exactly which body parts they're willing to lose, or which family members they'd rather see murdered in their beds. Should the concert pianist lose his hearing or his fingers? Should the supermodel lose her sight or her looks? While the cops flounder helplessly, the Chief's own wannabe journo daughter is targeted by the maniac - not (yet) as a victim but as part of his grand plan. But why her? And what's it got to do with dubious psychiatrist Bruce Dern? What is with the choices? Michael Myers didn't ask you to decide how you were going to die. Jason Voorhees didn't give you options; they just killed and moved on.

Maybe the grand resolution is a bit too daytime soap-opera, maybe the lead actress has been picked more for her willingness to do a shower sequence. And can we please stop doing the bathroom cabinet mirror routine? As soon as you see a bathroom wall cabinet in a horror movie, you know there's going to be something new in the mirror when she shuts it. It was a hokey old cheapshot the tenth time we saw it and that was years ago. Still, despite all that I didnt really mind Choose, though I wouldn't choose to see it again any time soon. Coming after some recent rental selections that varied from mediocre to barely watchable, it came over as perhaps a tad better than it really is. Certainly it's professional and functional: it does the job and doesn't waste a lot of time doing it. "You'll have seen a lot worse" isn't much of a recommendation, but that's really the best that can be said of it. It's no Saw but it'll do. Just.


If you so choose:



Let's be honest here: vampires are rubbish screen monsters. The lore is so set in stone that they can't vary from it very much, and if they do then they're not really vampires anyway. And unlike zombies, say, the worst they can do is bite your neck: they don't disembowel you with their bare hands and eat your bowels in front of you as you die. Over the years they've been reimagined as sexually magnetic creatures, whether in Christopher Lee's Draculas, the Twilight Saga, or The Lost Boys, rather than foul "creatures of the night". Where's the downside in being an immortal vampire when you look fabulous? Where's the ugliness? Where's the horror? Sign me up for that!

When vampires don't bite, they suck, and they don't suck much feebler than Dracula Blows His Cool, a German softcore horror comedy in which Dracula's descendants are regular humans (not sure how that works), and are now planning to convert the castle's torture dungeon into a swinging disco full of topless dancers, unaware that Drac is still alive and coming out of his coffin every night to drink blood helpfully provided by Boris. There is also the matter of the local moralists opposed to this Den Of Iniquity - as well they might given the amount of sex going on.

It's part farce (Dracula and his modern descendant are constantly mistaken for each other), part softcore bonkfest (the BBFC gave it an 18 without cuts) and almost entirely bloodless. And I might not have the most keenly developed sense of humour in the world, but it's also deadeningly unfunny, doing nothing to dispel the German reputation for comedy over the years. (The opening reel has a massively overextended bit of hilarity about a four-foot phallus.) Frankly this is a film that's at its mediocre best as a basic nudie film with lots of boobs and bums, and in all truth if that's the only level on which the film can be even tolerable, never mind any good, it's really not worth bothering with. Making his first film under a pseudonym, the director is actually the late Carl Schenkel, who went on to do a couple of silly but stylish horror movies, Knight Moves and Exquisite Tenderness.


Don't say you weren't warned:

Friday, 18 March 2011



Remember Death Ship, in which a bunch of fools led by George Kennedy climb on board a spectral Nazi torture vessel and find themselves picked off by Nazi ghosts or something? Well, it's kind of like that. Or Ghost Ship - not the original charming and quaint little British B-picture from 1952 (in which a terribly nice Home Counties couple buy an old tub only to find it's haunted by the previously murdered owner) but the unrelated Gabriel Byrne movie from 2002? Well, this is kind of like that as well. Though in feel it's actually got more in common with those DTV quickies like Ghost Rig 2: The Legend Of The Sea Ghost that don't even get to clutter up Blockbusters but fill up those multipack bargain box sets you get off eBay: flatly done, dull to look at, some gore, and a completely ridiculous plot.

Nazi Dawn takes place on the USS Nimitz, a previously decommissioned ship dragged back into service in the War On Terror as a floating torture ship. When almost the entire crew are mysteriously slaughtered, a black ops team are helicoptered in, led by Lance Henriksen, ostensibly to find the terror suspect. But also in the team are a couple of paranormal investigators tracking down something else that's haunted the Nimitz since 1945, and in the right hands could lead to the ultimate weapon. Unfortunately, it's loose and killing off these newcomers, while the ship has only a few hours before drifting into Iran's territorial waters....

Quite apart from the absolute silliness of the plotline - did no-one on the team ever wonder what these two paranormalists were doing there, especially as one is the obligatory (and sole) hot chick with a permanently bared midriff? - what sinks the film below the waterline is the photography. It's one of the most sparingly lit movies in years and I refuse to believe the USS Nimitz saw years of active service with so few interior lights on. They've got power, the generators are working, so why can't we see anything? It's a miracle nobody tumbles down the stairs or trips headlong over one of the numerous corpses littering the decks - nobody can see what the hell is going on. Really, it's a dumb film, badly shot and, despite having plenty of blood and grue (mostly post mortem), and the always watchable Henriksen, it's sadly a bit of a dud.


It's available:

Thursday, 17 March 2011



Print the legend. Don't print the boring, dull, pedantic truth, print the legend. Sadly the makers of this movie are more interested in either historical revisionism or setting the record straight, depending on your point of view, depicting Countess Erzebet Bathory (Anna Friel) not as the world's most prolific female serial killer of all time, with up to 650 victims, but an innocent victim of political machinations and scheming to obtain her considerable lands and treasures. Which is all very well, but if I rent a movie called Bathory, I expect there to be copious scenes of naked women and bathing in virgins' blood, and frankly there's little of the former and not a scrap of the latter. The DVD box claims it's "bathed in a Gothic atmosphere that tops every Dracula movie you've seen", which is completely untrue, and the subtitle Countess Of Blood doesn't actually appear on the screen.

Bathory, a Hungarian/Slovak/Czech/UK co-production, is divided into three parts, each detailing a different stage of her adult life: firstly the Countess' arranged marriage to Ferenc, a brutish warrior forever fighting in various wars, and her relationship with Caravaggio (for what it's worth, neither Bathory's nor Caravaggio Wikipedia entries mention each other). The second concerns the mysterious Darvulia who cures her after an accidental poisoning, and who might actually be a witch; while the final section details her lengthy feud with her neighbour Thurzo culminating in a shamelessly rigged show trial for serial murder.

The evil that men (and women) do lives after them.... Whatever the truth, the public image of Bathory is of Ingrid Pitt in Countess Dracula or Lucia Bose in Jorge Grau's The Legend Of Blood Castle (which I used to have on VHS years ago) rather than a hapless victim of slanders and greedy conspiracies, and the blood-bathing sequence in Hostel Part II will surely outlive any claims for her innocence, regardless of their credibility. As a film, meanwhile, it's okay: nicely shot, and if you can get with the plotting it's not uninteresting. But it's far too long at two and a quarter hours and it does drag, and the comedy relief sequences with a priest and a novice used as spies don't convince (especially as they appear to have invented microphones, roller skates, colour photography, the record player and the parachute).

By chance, this DVD has come out at around the same time as The Resident arrives in cinemas: a film which couldn't be less like Bathory but which was made by Hammer. It strikes me that a film about Elizabeth Bathory is precisely the kind of film Hammer should be making: it's a property they've done before (in Countess Dracula) and, with its period Eastern European setting and potential for blood and nudity, is much more what an audience would expect from A Hammer Production than a generic psycho-slasher flick. It would also be about 40 minutes shorter. But that's not what they wanted to make: they were mainly interested in rewriting the colourful legend into dull reality. Print the legend.


It's here!



Here's another example of genre cinema's increasing inability to give us any characters worth caring about or wanting to spend a split nanosecond more than is strictly necessary with. Usually in any horror movie there's one or two you hope do end up on the pointy end of whatever power tools are to hand, but where's the horror in seeing grunting Neanderthal boneheads being slaughtered? That's not horror, it's fair dos. In this case the film runs around 65 minutes and 58 seconds before the cheerworthy demise of the main offender, a charmless, beer-swilling cretin who couldn't be more of a despicable douchebag if he stomped around with his knob out, wearing full Waffen SS regalia and hitting puppies with a shovel.

You really shouldn't be sitting there willing the damned plane to smack into the side of a mountain, but that's ultimately what happens in Altitude, in whch five pretty but disposable and annoying idiots go up in a plane and then, after a reel or more of boring soap opera blithering, Things Go Wrong: a bolt comes loose and is trapped in the elevators (tail flaps) which means the plane can't descend, and then they lose all instruments and radio as they fly into a mysterious storm cloud. Fighting, bickering and recriminations ensue. But is there really a gigantic monster lurking in the skies, as Douchebag #1 claims he glimpsed? What, if anything, might it have to do with the death in a plane crash of the pilot's mother years ago?

So you get around 70 minutes of tedious teenage shouting and histrionics in an aeroplane and then a silly finale when, yes, we get to see the mysterious monster for about 10 seconds and it's defeated by.....? The resolution and explanation is pure Twilight Zone: in fact if you took out the swearing and oafishness and hacked it down to 45 minutes you'd probably have a decent TV anthology episode - or 20 minutes for a Creepshow segment. But in these more cynical days, as the rationale behind a feature film, it just doesn't work and if you want the sudden emotional truths to have any impact, you've got to make me care. And I didn't. And scientifically it's questionable: they say they have limited oxygen but there doesn't seem to be much problem opening the doors in flight.

On a technical level, the film's perfectly okay - mostly shot in a very confined space (the film I kept thinking of was Five Across The Eyes, filmed entirely in a 4x4) but with much use of greenscreen for the CGI storm effects. All the mechanics of filmmaking are fine: it's well put together but there's no dramatic interest because I was bored with everyone on board. I should be willing at least some of these people to make it to the end, but whenever the pilot said "we could crash into a mountain" I struggled to find the downside.


Buy It Here:

Sunday, 13 March 2011



Whizz crash thud bang takkatakka takkatakka aaaargh bang boom kaBOOM whoosh thud aaaaargh! This is pretty much the most relentless two hours you're going to spend in a cinema this year and, if you see it on a big enough screen with a particularly punchy sound system you're going to emerge with a pounding headache from the constant gunfire and pounding explosions, as well as significant motion sickness from the jittery handheld photography. And because, after the first ten or fifteen minutes of character setup, it performs entirely on the loudest and bangiest of levels accompanied by an equally loud and bangy orchestral score with almost no let up, you are going to be slightly punch drunk from the sheer impact of it all.

Battle Los Angeles basically redoes Skyline except with a crack squad of US Marines instead of some dumb tourists in a hotel. One morning, meteor storms brew up out of nowhere around the world's major cities, before gigantic alien robots rise up out of the oceans and start destroying everything. A crack team of US Marines, most of whom have a quickly delineated character touch that instantly signals whether they're going to make it to the end of the movie or not, is assigned to venture into what's left of Santa Monica and rescue some civilians from the wreckage of the police station in the three short hours before the area is to be razed by the US Air Force. But the invasion force has deployed countless armoured death robots and "unmanned" aircraft to kill off what's left of the populace, even as what's left of the city crumbles and burns around them, and the Marines aren't going without a fight....

Incredibly, it's a film that manages to be more gung ho than Independence Day: an unabashed, unashamed love letter to the USMC. It's also typically US-centric to the point that we only get near-subliminal glances of TV sets showing the devastation anywhere else in the world - London is glimpsed for maybe four frames. (By tragic mischance, the film starts with the "meteors" devastating Japan, and it was released on the same day as the Japanese earthquake.) We're told early on that various American cities have been destroyed, "and Los Angeles Must Not Fall." Frankly I'm unsure why - what's so special about LA that doesn't apply to any other city? Indeed, why not Battle Memphis or Battle Chicago? (Admittedly they would have rejected Battle Seattle as just sounding silly.) Hell, where's Battle Godalming?

For all its overdone flagwaving and for all its plotholes, I think Independence Day is still the best of the genre, and I also have fond memories of the two miniseries of V, though emphatically not the weekly continuations (I haven't watched the lastest rebooted incarnation). Much of the dialogue in Battle Los Angeles is basically Marine-speak as they bark orders at one another and come up with on-the-spot planning ideas, and despite the opening bits of character stuff (one grunt is about to get married, another blames the Sarge for his brother's death in combat) you never get enough of a sense that they're actually human beings under the uniforms because it's very simplistic, daytime soap writing.

The action sequences, or in other words the last 105 minutes of the film, have all been shot using hand-held jerkycam AND the fast-shutter camera technique, but to what end? Partly it makes the film feel like a video game - you sometimes get the sense you're supposed to take control of Aaron Eckhart's no-nonsense veteran yourself - and it's clear the makers wanted to make you feel what it would be like to actually be there. Certainly they achieve that: the noise, the gunfire, the chaos, the not really knowing what's going on. And the effects are absolutely superb, as they should be. But the constant, continuous crash boom wallop is ultimately wearying and you do come out of the cinema staggering slightly. It's not a bad film, but it is pretty full-on and once the aliens attack the film is operating at full blast and doesn't let up. Don't sit in the front five rows, and occasionally glance at the Exit signs to give your eyes something to focus on. (Note that there's also a new DVD entited Battle Of Los Angeles, which looks to be an Asylum ripoff of this film.)


Saturday, 12 March 2011



Once upon a time there was a perfectly enjoyable, if unremarkable, popcorn horror movie called Lake Placid, with a good name cast (Bridget Fonda, Brendan Gleeson, Bill Pullman) about a giant crocodile. Some eight years later it spawned a belated and frankly redundant sequel, shot in Bulgaria with a no-name cast (except for one of the Dukes Of Hazzard as the sherrif) and it was more or less just about watchable-ish at very best. And now, it's back again and it's worse than the second one, as much worse than the second one as the second was worse than the first. And the first one wasn't exactly John Carpenter's The Thing to begin with. This one at least has two familiar names: Yancy (Hard Target) Butler, and the ever-dependable Michael Ironside but even they can't achieve anything with it.

Lake Placid 3 kicks off in unsurprising fashion with a couple of horny teens skinnydipping before getting bloodily chomped by a CGI croc. Meanwhile the lakeside cabin where the crocs from the first two films were looked after by dotty old women is up for rental, and the new owner, their nephew, is an EPA Officer trying to solve the mystery of the disappearing elk, unaware that his own son is now feeding the crocs with stolen meat, because he's lonely and neglected and he wanted a pet. While another group of horny teenaged idiots stumble round the woods, Yancy Butler's illegal big game hunt turns up, but both are quickly hit by the giant crocs - and there's one that's even larger....

I guess I should have known because it's produced in association with the illiterately named SyFy channel, an operation not known for pushing the high quality envelope. This is just barrel-bottom drek, it doesn't make sense and keeps contradicting itself (the family say they never visited the old women because it was too far, but it's clearly only a bike ride away for the idiot kid). And despite the occasional spurts of gore, it's dull. Worst of all, the CGI monster effects are sub-Asylum dreadful and look like they were pasted in by a nine-year-old who'd never actually seen a crocodile before. Against such amateurish FX work and a frankly rubbish script, even a fun turn from Yancy Butler, hilarious as the tough-talking big-game hunter, isn't enough to recommend it. Michael Ironside is great as always, but this is so far beneath him - presumably he's paying too much for his car insurance and just plain needs the money. Very poor.


Still, you can buy it here, if you really think you want to:

Friday, 11 March 2011



Look, it's a plodding, pedestrian film, you're getting a plodding, pedestrian spoiler warning. Seems only fair. If the makers can't shoehorn in the merest smidgen of originality, innovation or surprise, I don't see why I should make the effort to come up with a neat turn of phrase in the spoiler warning. I made the effort to slog through the movie and that's enough, frankly. It's like they've gone through a checklist of psycho slasher conventions and dutifully, mechanically ticked them off as they went, and the result is - well, plodding and pedestrian. And despite running for just 91 minutes, boy does it feel long.

The Resident is Hilary Swank (who also co-executive produced), a New York ER nurse who moves into a convenient and spacious apartment at a suspiciously low rent from apparently affable landlord Jeffrey Dean Morgan who isn't, initially, in the least bit creepy and the film's first and only mini-frisson comes from the appearance of Sir Christopher Lee as his grandfather. Since she's chucked her cheating boyfriend, the pair begin a tenuous, tentative friendship - but for Morgan, is there more to it? Have either or both misread the signals? It's not long before Morgan is recharacterised as a deranged stalker with Swank on his mind (and you can take her somewhat unfortunate surname as an indicator of exactly what is on his mind). But what happens when her errant ex (Lee Pace) seeks a reconciliation?

Ignore the Hammer logo at the start, because it's a Hammer film in all but name and even the presence of one of that studio's biggest names (sadly, the legendary Lee is criminally underused with only a few appearances) can't bridge the infinite chasms between British Golden Age Hammer and this entirely generic American slasher pic which frankly belongs on the DVD premiere racks. Once Morgan's character has been reduced from prospective romantic lead to embittered nutter and then to drooling pervert, the movie has nowhere else to go, with the drug-induced sexual assaults feeling distinctly icky.

Inevitably it all comes to a head with the 4,750th use of the traditional Final Girl climax where she and the maniac go one-on-one through the secret passages and crawlspaces. I like Hilary Swank but she's done a lot better than this, even when appearing in dumb genre fodder such as The Reaping or even dumber studio blockbusters like The Core. And it's always good to see Sir Christopher Lee in pretty much anything. But The Resident is dull, predictable (lots of he's-behind-you moments, and he always is) and has no surprises up its sleeve. Maybe the upcoming Wake Wood can restore the Hammer name; if not, maybe they should simply change the company name. Hammer or not, it's a poor piece of work.




This isn't the place to examine gender emasculation in popular culture, and I'm not the person to do it, but I can't help feeling that modern Man isn't as manly as he used to be. Since the advent of the New Man, the caring, sharing, crying Man, since James Bond stopped humping everything that moved, Men in films have been pale shadows in comparison. Who are our Men these days? Orlando Bloom? Robert Pattinson? Matthew McConaughey? Snivelling nancies to a "man". Sure they're hunky with their shirts off but you don't get a sense that they've experienced anything in their comfortable, well-provided lives. Do you get the sense that Bloom could take four drunks in a bar brawl? Can you see Pattinson as one of the Dirty Dozen? Alternatively, the robotic killing machines: the Stallones, the Stathams. Never mind the XY chromosomes, these "guys" aren't even human beings. Now look at Charles Bronson: carved from granite, looks a hundred and fifty years old and looks like he's fought in a dozen wars - but with charisma, intelligence, force of personality and a basic believable humanity. That's a real, proper Man.

Even though I like Charles Bronson a lot, CaboBlanco is a pretty lame affair - with a title like that, and with a corrupt but amiable police chief, Nazis, a woman from the French Resistance and the hero hiding out in a forgotten corner of the world, the makers were clearly hoping to evoke echoes of Casablanca. Frankly they were deluded and they were just not up to the job - a job that didn't need doing and couldn't be done anyway. Bronson runs a hotel in the titular Peruvian fishing town - a town run by local bigshot and escaped war criminal Jason Robards, and crooked cop Fernando Rey. And of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, French ice maiden Dominique Sanda walks into Bronson's place. In addition to tracking down her former lover, she's after the location of a shipwreck containing twenty million dollars in gold. Robards is after it as well - and so is Brit Simon MacCorkindale. But who knows where it is?

Sadly it's a fairly dull film with not much action in it, and it doesn't give Bronson much opportunity to stand up and be counted in the fight against injustice; to hit people or to shoot people. Sanda is a terribly boring female lead and Jason Robards only gets a couple of scenes to do his bad guy stuff. And despite only being an hour and half, the film feels long, and the climactic reveal, as to who knows where the shipwreck is, is just plain stupid. Worse, the British DVD presentation is shocking - widescreen, but non-anamorphic and still the wrong ratio, mastered off what looks like VHS, and with the distributor logo burned into the frame five or six times throughout the running time. Even the presense of a lesser-known Jerry Goldsmith score isn't enough to commend it. (Bizarrely, the DVD also includes an episode of an American TV show from 1959 entitled United States Marshal, starring John Bromfield - no, me neither - apparently added because the week's guest fugitive was Charles Bronson!)


Don't say you weren't warned:

Thursday, 10 March 2011



I'm not massively knowledgeable about history. I could probably put the King Henrys in date order (presumably starting with Henry I) but couldn't thread them in with the Edwards and Williams and Jasons. This probably goes back to learning history at school and spending about three years having every last clause of the Corn Laws mumbled at us. Who was king in 1477? Who were we at war with in 1760? I couldn't tell you without Googling it. But I don't mind the occasional film with a historical setting - for one thing, I probably absorb a few facts and some of them might even be true, and for another it makes a change from gore and monsters and chainsaws and the usual stuff I tend to watch.

Although, it has to be said, Ironclad does have more than its fair share of blood, gore, dismemberment and violent slaughter as it relates the story of the siege of Rochester Castle (part of the First Barons' War) in 1216, when King John (with the Pope's blessing) ignores the freshly signed Magna Carta and a group of rebels and a Templar Knight have to take and hold the never-breached Rochester Castle. With the king's forces camped outside, and no sign of reinforcements and relief as promised by the King of France (yes, this is a war movie where you're wanting the French to turn up), the rebels are first being starved out, and then being burned out as the king's forces dug a chamber under the castle and filled it with imflammable pigs.

However faithful or unfaithful to historical record the film might be, it's an entertaining romp with a splendid cast including Brian Cox as the rebel leader, Paul Giamatti as the king (with some entertainingly hammy ranting), Derek Jacobi as the bloke who actually lives at Rochester Castle, Charles Dance as the Archbishop....Sadly all the action sequences are again shot in that fast-shutter style which they've taken from the opening reel of Saving Private Ryan and produces a series of incredibly clear still images but no motion blur between them - and again it looks horrible and unnatural. And while there's a frankly insane amount of violence on display, too much of the blood spurting is CG which also doesn't look right. It's not a great film, but it is rather fun.




Aaaaaaand.... no. No, we're still waiting for that film that will silence the naysayers and demonstrate that 3D really does have a place in modern cinema, that it's not just a gimmick cynically exploited by cinema chains to ramp the ticket prices up. This isn't that movie. As a showcase for stereoscopic vision it's pretty unremarkable stuff and if it had been shot and released flat, it wouldn't look significantly different. It is at least filmed in 3D rather than being arsed about with in the computer afterwards, ladling on some kind of artificial depth process that simply doesn't work (otherwise I'd have either sought out a 2D print or simply waiting for the DVD), but the 3D doesn't really add anything of note. We're still waiting for the case to be made.

However, as a violent piece of bloody popcorn exploitation cinema, Drive Angry pretty much does the job as efficiently as a trashhound could hope for, with plenty of gore and grue, boobs and bums, Amber Heard bending over in shorts and cars smashing into each other - not to mention a bonkers plot. Nicolas Cage busts out of Hell in order to rescue his infant grand-daughter from a mob of Satanist nutjobs planning to sacrifice the newborn on the next full moon, which is in just two days' time. He's aided only by Amber Heard's fabulous take-no-crap white trash ex-waitress (mainly because she drives a really cool car) and relentlessly pursued by William Fichtner, terrific as the otherwise unnamed Accountant, responsible for getting Cage back to Hell where he belongs.

This is Patrick Lussier's second film in the new wave of 3D films, after his remake of the 80s teen slasher My Bloody Valentine, and he knows what he's doing: it's slickly shot and efficiently bolted together. And for sex, violence, bad language, car smashes and things blowing up, Drive Angry certainly delivers the goods: it's great fun, a prime piece of exploitation trash and phenomenally entertaining. Oddly, Nic Cage seems to be lower key than usual and I'd have thought this was surely one movie where he could go a bit crazy in that patent-pending Nic Cage way (for example Bad Lieutenant). But the movie blasts along at high speed and full volume and doesn't waste any time along the way - the quiet interludes are brief and usually interrupted by shootouts, explosions, extended chases and gory mayhem. Everything disreputable and gleefully grisly that Hobo With A Shotgun didn't have a hope in Hell of achieving.


Wednesday, 9 March 2011



Or indeed, have I seen this already? Fittingly for a film about a bloke who's lost his memory, it's clearly hoping you've forgotten a whole bunch of other films. For example, it's hoping you've forgotten Shattered, in which Tom Berenger survives a car accident and gradually pieces together the mystery with the help of a private detective. Or what about Frantic, in which Harrison Ford checks into a luxury hotel in a major European capital and gets involved in a ridiculous conspiracy aided by an attractive woman? Or even Taken, where Liam Neeson travels to a major European city and chaos, violence, chases and killings quickly follow.

In Unknown, Liam Neeson come out of a coma in a Berlin hospital, four days after a car accident. He knows his name and why he's in Berlin - but why isn't his wife (January Jones) looking for him? Indeed, who's this other Dr Harris she's in their hotel room with? Actually it's Aidan Quinn, but if he's Dr Harris, then who's Neeson? What are the mysterious numbers written in the back of his notebook? And what's with the homicidal Gok Wan lookalike who tries to abduct him from the hospital? And when's Frank Langella going to show up? Neeson's only willing accomplice in finding the truth is a private detective, former Stasi officer Bruno Ganz, and his reluctant accomplice is Bosnian refugee and taxi driver Diane Kruger.

It's a strong and personable cast, it rattles along, it's admittedly pretty silly but it's got some decent action sequences and car chases, includes enough violence for its 12A certificate, and the movie does play fair in teasing out the mystery, even if it does come down to the traditional James Bond ending of things blowing up while the hero and villain going mano-a-mano. I really enjoyed Unknown: a fairly implausible popcorn action flick it might be, but it's exciting and well handled and has some neat twists along the way (unless you've watched the trailers, which I haven't but I suspect give the whole thing away). Hokum, but better than it had any right to be.


Tuesday, 8 March 2011



Here's a great idea: a humanoid alien, with amazing powers, living on Earth amongst us, who answers to the name of John Smith. Hang on, isn't that Doctor Who? And specifially the David Tennant episode where he's on the run from monsters? Or how about a film where the surviving babies from a doomed planet are sent to Earth with amazing powers which they are advised to keep hidden from the indigenous population? No, that would be Superman. And specifically Superman 2, when the same monsters turn up and fight the hero in an ordinary American town.

Still, once you get over spotting the similarities, I Am Number Four is a reasonably entertaining popcorn diversion: a slick if soulless SF action thriller for teens in which Alex Pettyfer is "John Smith", an alien brought up as a hunky surfer-dude human after his planet was overrun by the evil, world-destroying Mogadorians (bald, tattooed, pointy-toothed, with gill-like flaps in their faces). There were just nine of Smith's race left; three of them have already been killed by a Mogadorian hunting squad on Earth, and they're now after him. Even after relocating to Ohio, they're on his tail, especially when he unwisely starts uses his superpowers to protect the cute blonde girl and the resident science geek from the thuggish bullies in the football team....

It's very silly, and it's not massively well written (there is some pretty ropey dialogue and character stuff), but efficiently done and rattles along harmlessly: there's a lot of CGI and spectacular monster action in the latter half as the various aliens slug it out at the local high school. Sadly, it doesn't have a decent ending, having Smith set off to find his fellows with a completely different (and substantially hotter) chick, and leaving his genuine love interest in the care of the violently possessive sports jock. Maybe they're trying to set up I Am Number Five. On a cold Tuesday afternon, it's a tolerable if unremarkable couple of hours. Produced by Michael Bay.


Monday, 7 March 2011



Another fine showcase for the Thailand film industry's willingness to leave as few of its stunt people as possible able to walk or even stand up, this is another bone-crunching instalment of what's probably the country's best known martial arts franchise starring probably its best known star. And it had to be said that it is, as the other films were, ridiculously violent, featuring plenty of intricately choreographed fight scenes that make up in sheer physical pain what they might lack in subtlety, and I'd be genuinely amazed if the combatants weren't at the very least hospitalised overnight. In short, this is another film about lamping people.

Despite the title, Ongbak 3 is actually nothing to do with the first Ongbak, but a direct continuation of the second one. Hero Tien (Tony Jaa) is held prisoner by an evil king, and repeatedly beaten and thrashed with sticks but not killed. As he's about to be finally executed, he's reprieved by an imperial decree and spirited away to the remote, plague-stricken village where his childhood sweetheart tends the dying. Slowly cured of his wounds, Tien seeks a spiritual peace as well as a physical healing, but even after meditation and dance therapy, is he ready to take on the new, even more evil king - who seems to boast supernatural powers and might be some kind of man-crow? When the evil man-crow king ransacks the village for slaves (including his sweetheart), Tien has to finally face him one-on-one...

There's a lot of mystical nonsense and spiritual waffle going on and frankly we want it to hurry up with the crazy fighting scenes in which people are thrown off walls and through the sides of buildings, preferably smashing through the furniture and/or bouncing off things (including elephants). There's also a sense of masochistic suffering going on as Tony Jaa, who also co-wrote, co-directed and staged all the action sequences, spends half the movie being beaten to a pulp, chained up and whipped and covered in blood: before the final reels where he gets his mojo back and dishes out several thousand measures of fist-shaped justice to the evil man-crow king and his minions. Plotwise it's nothing to get excited about, and it's not a patch on the first movie, but there's much to enjoy if you like mad blokes beating one another senseless.


Thud wallop ouch:

Saturday, 5 March 2011



There's a bit of a mystery with this "feminist sci-fi comedy", as it's described in the Q+A included in the DVD extras, and it's actually got nothing to do with the film itself - merely that it doesn't actually seem to have been released in this country. Play and Amazon don't appear to stock a UK DVD, and more intriguingly it doesn't appear to have been through the BBFC. Which is a little baffling. Not that it's any kind of offensive - if it was classified it would almost certainly be a 15 for "moderate sex references" or something - but that is what the BBFC is actually for, isn't it?

The title Teknolust and its artwork (import) actually makes it look like some kind of artificial-intelligence-gone-wrong SF thriller rather than the strange mix of deadpan comedy, indie romance and science-based SF it actually boils down to. Tilda Swinton is a bespectacled genetic scientist who has illegally created three colour-coordinated clones (Olive, Ruby and Marinne, all also played by Swinton in different robes and wigs) in her basement. Ruby, the most advanced of the three, goes out every night to pick up strange men for sex, because semen helps their immune systems. Unfortunately, the men all become mysteriously branded with numbers, they suffer from impotence, and their computers crash. While the police hunt for the mysterious woman in red, Olive and Marinne decide they want to explore the world outside as well - and Ruby has found a man she wants for something deeper than sex....

And it's actually quite nice and quite charming, with the SF aspect largely confined to ideas rather than futuristic gizmos and special effects. The bulk of the film's success falls to Tilda Swinton having to play four completely different characters, three of whom are interacting at the same time (and even have a dance number). It's amusing rather than laugh-out-loud funny, and there are aspects that don't really gel (Karen Black turns up as some kind of investigator named Dirty Dick). But I don't think it was ever intended as a mainstream project: it's very much an arthouse piece rather than a multiplex attraction. Interesting and intriguing, and nicely done. (Made around 2003.)


Thursday, 3 March 2011



Sometimes I kind of miss the dumb noir-erotic thrillers that flowered in the mid-1990s after Basic Instinct, Sliver and Body Of Evidence - the likes of Night Rhythms and Animal Instincts, in which some kind of ludicrously elaborate murder plot was interrupted by softcore bouncing and the occasional familiar B-movie regular (David Carradine, Maxwell Caulfield, Jan-Michael Vincent) prodding the story along. Many of them were very silly and existed only to show lots of glamourous looking skin without veering into hardcore territory but were at their best reasonably amusing and glossily shot. Obviously not all of them - some were astonishingly cheap and ugly (incidentally with some tragically unsuccessful boob jobs on display).

At one point the Blockbusters and Choices video chains were deluged with this sort of stuff and somehow I never managed to see Body Shot, which is pretty typical of its genre although with a bit less indiscriminate humping than usual. It uses the old noir trope of a dumb but hunksome loser innocently drawn into a convoluted murder scheme by a brazen hussy of a femme fatale then left to take the fall - in the case pap photographer Robert Patrick, in debt and almost ruined after being hit with a restraining order by a reclusive rock icon known as Chelsea. Out of nowhere a high-paying job materialises, involving studio sessions with a Chelsea-lookalike (Michelle Johnson): it's not long before they're at it like knives, even when one of the sessions involves pictures of her staged death. Lo and behold: the real girl is then found murdered in exactly the same way and Patrick can't prove his innocence....

It's all pretty lame, especially the chases and the fight scenes, and apart from the boobs and bums in the bonking scenes it could play on TV quite comfortably. Good to see the likes of Ray Wise and Charles Napier showing up as well. But it does rely on Patrick's character being an absolute idiot for almost the whole movie with a complete blindspot for the plot machinations whirling all around him. It passes 93 minutes of an evening, but that's all.


Available here, FWIW:

Wednesday, 2 March 2011



Remember when sequels were actually sequels? When the same actors showed up again as the same characters in the same costumes? Or when it was actually set and shot in the same place as the earlier ones? Halloween II is a sequel. A Nightmare On Elm Street 2: Freddy's Revenge, Mad Max 2 and Aliens are sequels. This, on the other hand, is a sequel in the way that, for example, Hollow Man 2 is a sequel - i.e. it's not. It might be thematically similar (Hollow Man 2 is also an invisible man movie) but other than the name dropping a character name or two from the other film, it's nothing to do with it.

With Mirrors 2 (which again claims to be based on the Korean original Into The Mirror), the only holdovers from the original are the name of the company that owned the department store (Mayflower) and a newspaper cutting briefly glimpsed in the opening credits about Kiefer Sutherland's demise, and of course the presence of vast haunted mirrors. This time they're in the all-new Mayflower store in New Orleans, where a girl has gone missing and the new nightwatchman Nick Stahl (traumatised by the accidental death of his fiancee) keeps seeing spooky things in the mirrors. As various Mayflower executives succumb to horrible deaths (some augmented with CGI), Stahl investigates the disappearance - or murder? - of the missing girl, aided by her sister and what the mirrors show him.

The first Mirrors wasn't great - it was silly, but entertaining enough and doesn't entirely deserve its bad rep despite some stunningly dodgy moments - but this almost entirely unrelated followup has little to commend it: it was made for the home market rather than a theatrical one and in truth it looks it. Director Victor Garcia seems to be carving out a career in pointless additions to horror franchises: he made Return To House On Haunted Hill and a TV spinoff of 30 Days Of Night, and is now, according to the IMDb, working on a new Hellraiser movie that not only has the audacity to cast someone else as Pinhead but names two of its characters Bradley (after Doug, the original Pinhead). There are some neat effects, and an overlong nude shower scene, but it's never more than average and frankly surplus to requirements: one was enough.


Still, should you feel compelled:



Oh no, not again! You can wait for years for a film based around a crucial performance of Swan Lake and, barely a month after the rather wonderful Black Swan shows up, there's a surprise screening of early 90s Euro-oddity Etoile. But a quarter of a century before that, no less than Eric and Ernie faced the corps de ballet and the Black Swan. Alright, admittedly it's not any kind of horror film but it's still a whopping coincidence.

Received wisdom has it that Morecambe and Wise's cinema ventures were naught compared to their television achievements, and I guess it's true that without that rapport with a live audience or the freedom to improvise and ad lib, the big screen simply wasn't their natural home. Nevertheless there are still great pleasures to be had from the pair, at least in The Intelligence Men, the first of their three film outings in 1965 (the same year as Thunderball), in which Eric, the proprietor of a Mexican-themed coffee bar in London, is called upon to impersonate a recently deceased top British agent in order to crack a Russian spy ring who plan to disrupt Anglo-Soviet trade talks by assassinating the prima ballerina at a gala performance of Swan Lake. Unless Eric and his MI5 contact, bottom-rung office dogsbody and master of disguise Ernie Wise, can save the day and unmask the traitor.

Probably recalling A Night At The Opera, the climax revolves around the backstage and onstage havoc as M and W bound into Swan Lake dressed as Egyptian slaves. And it is funny - granted it's not up there with the breakfast sketch, the plays, the Shirley Bassey skit (one of my personal favourites) or a hundred other timeless moments, but it certainly has a far higher hit rate than much mainstream comedy of the present day. If the plotting is irrelevant and nonsensical as the surprise identity of the traitor, it's really not important: it's the jokes that count, not character arcs or watertight story construction. Nor does it matter that many individual scenes of the movie actually feel like standalone TV sketches. I laughed.


Get It Here:

Tuesday, 1 March 2011



Is it me? Is it just me? Was I really the only one at FrightFest Glasgow who didn't cheer or clap along to Jason Eisener's grindhouse celebration? Incredibly, it seemed to be the case: everyone else loved it, howling along to every sleazy, gory, depraved moment, every blood-drenched kill shot, every act of outrageous and violent bad taste. Myself, I thought it was one of the most despicable, mean-spirited, obnoxious, misanthropic, intensely boring and visually ugly pieces of worthless garbage I've ever seen. If I'd been on an aisle I would probably have walked out; in fact, even though I was three or four seats in, I suppose I should have.

The basic thrust of Hobo With A Shotgun is that the unnamed Hobo wanders into Hope Town (nicknamed Scum Town on the graffiti on the Welcome sign) and immediately encounters nothing but violence, abuse and exploitation: the town is run by a crime baron called Drake and his two giggling, psychopathic sons, who openly murder people in the streets as bloodily and messily as possible. When three punks try to rob a pawnbrokers at gunpoint, Hobo grabs a shotgun off the wall and kills all three of them, becoming a hero in the process. Hobo continues dispensing justice "one shell at a time" (as the ads put it) but Drake and his boys push their level of retaliatory violence to ever more extreme heights, in which the mass murder by flamethrower of innocent children on a school bus is probably the worst atrocity.

Despite its roots as an entry in a fake trailer competition at the time of Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez's Grindhouse project, Hobo With A Shotgun actually looks and feels more like a Troma film, one of Lloyd Kaufman's puerile exercises in taboo-busting shock cinema, than a proper grindhouse movie. It has absolutely no moral values whatsoever: like Troma's films, it draws the line nowhere and anything goes in pursuit of a cheap laugh. Sexual violence, child murder, castration - as bloody and gory as possible, the very definition of gratuitous. The colour scheme is all eye-scorching primary colours, it's incredibly loud and noisy and the whole thing is acted and shot at the level of hysteria.

In the middle of it all is the great Rutger Hauer as the Hobo, and he manages moments - isolated nanoseconds - of quiet dignity. But even he, the star of Blade Runner, Flesh + Blood, Ladyhawke and Nighthawks, can't make this remotely worth watching. (Here's sincerly hoping his upcoming turn as Van Helsing in Argento's 3D Dracula is a product more worthy of him.) Hobo With A Shotgun is a thoroughly wretched film with repugnant and distressing scenes of grotesque violence played as crowd-pleasing entertainment, and frankly I felt more comfortable with the horrors of A Serbian Film - at least that film claimed to have a point to its excesses even if it wasn't entirely successful. Hobo can claim no such defence: its whole ethos is "anything goes", in the guise of recreating the vibe of films that were in reality never a fraction as repulsive. I was bored by it, I was repelled by it, I was depressed and actually insulted by it. And I genuinely don't get the love that every other person in that room felt for the film.

The phrase "the worst movie ever made" is banded about far too frequently, and 99% of the time it's a ridiculous exaggeration. (Watch some Al Adamson and Ted V Mikels films, then look me in the eye and tell me Titanic is worse.) Is Hobo the worst movie I've ever seen? Quite possibly; it's certainly one of the most loathsome and hateful. I detested it.




Never prejudge a film. Certainly you can look forward to it in excitement or dread: it's by a particular director or with a particular actor, it won a bunch of awards or it's had lousy reviews elsewhere. You can say in advance what you suspect the film's going to be like but you don't yet know for sure. I'll admit that in this instance I was swaying towards prejudging this film, based on simply skimming through the BBFC's extended classification: six paragraphs lovingly detailing the graphic violence and sadism on display. That screed made the film sound like a companion piece to Rob Zombie's hideous The Devil's Rejects, a despicable Charles Manson wank fantasy and one of the most repugnant films of the last ten years. Add to that the fact that director Darren Lynn Bousman had previously made the unwatchably rubbish rock musical Repo: The Genetic Opera (thereby undoing at a stroke all the goodwill from his three Saw sequels), and that this new film was a remake of an early Troma offering, and my trepidation is easily explained. I was frankly dreading this film.

Mercifully, mercifully, Mother's Day is not the ordeal I'd dreaded, and while it's not a film I've the slightest interest in ever seeing again, I managed to get through it without screaming, sobbing, or fleeing the cinema in a cloud of mumbled profanity. It's still haunted by the grim memory of The Devil's Rejects - a family of murderous criminals ruled by a terrifying matriarch terrorise various innocent people - but thankfully it's way better shot and for the most part there's no confusion as to where our sympathies are expected to lie. While Rob Zombie was under the idiotic delusion that his clan of sociopathic scum were interesting people, the clan in Mother's Day are clearly worthy of nothing but contempt. Certainly they command your attention - they're led by the unnamed Mother (Rebecca De Mornay doing an extended Faye Dunaway impression) - but they are unquestionably the vilest of people.

The bloodshed and depravity is upfront and graphic, with hair transplants ripped off a man's head, boiling water poured over another man's face, fingers smashed with a pool ball, stabbings, shootings, burnings, beatings. But the occasional attempts to muddy the moral waters by having Mother expose some of the lies in their victims' lives (are they really any better than criminals themselves?) don't really work in what's basically a perfectly competent if nasty-edged home invasion exploitation movie. Far better than I was expecting, but still viciously grim stuff.




A pleasantly old-fashioned throwback to unpretentious occult horror pictures, which suffers badly from three incredibly bland leads and a measure of confusion as to whether the villains are actually on the side of good or are just a bunch of deranged religious lunatics. It's no great work, it has the feel of a dozen other direct-to-DVD low-budget co-productions with eastern Europe (in this case Poland), but there are some nicely scary moments and demonic makeup effects to compensate for the slow start and the dull characters.

The Shrine is actually a secret basement temple under a wooden shack in the Polish countryside, where robed nutjobs ritually sacrifice unwary travellers who won't be missed by hammering a Black Sunday mask into their faces. For no reason beyond plot mechanics, a journalist at a Fortean Times-style magazine decides to investigate the most recent disappearance and jets off to rural Poland along with her intern assistant and her equally cardboard photographer boyfriend. But why are the locals so unfriendly? Might the disappearances have something to do with the mysterious column of mist in the fields? And what's with the freaky-looking statue in the middle of it?

The three main characters are so thoroughly flat and uninteresting that it's hard to care much about what happens to them. But even so it's actually not that bad and genuinely frightening in places, particularly with the statue. It is baffling, however, when the robed maniacs stop sacrificing people and start waving crosses and holy water around to defeat the demons. In addition, a lot of the dialogue is in Polish without subtitles, but that works as our trinity of idiot heroes don't speak the language either so we feel as lost as they do. And after the first reels creakily setting everything up, the second half picks up the pace nicely. Generally, you'll have seen a hell of a lot worse.




More backwoods survival shenanigans, this time with some genuinely unpleasant scenes of violence and torture and an overtly political agenda. That's not to say this is a bad thing, but in a sense the lessons are unlikely to convert anyone: if you believe the reported regime at Guantanamo Bay is A Good Thing you're not going to be swayed by the film's anti stance, and if you think torture and humiliation are Bad Things then the film isn't telling you anything new or shockingly different. And Territories (also known as Checkpoint) isn't really telling you very much more than "torture is bad, mmm'kay?".

On the US-Canadian border, a car with five people - two couples and the mute asthmatic brother of one of the girls travelling back from a wedding - is stopped by a pair of uniformed guards. What appears to be a routine security check quickly turns ugly as the guards go beyond their apparent levels of authority, culminating in the shooting of one of the five and the transportation into the woods in metal cages and orange jumpsuits. The "uniformed officers" have no official status and are just imprisoning those they deem to be suspicious in intent or appearance (crucially one of the five is of Asian descent), supposedly in the name of protecting their country. Even though they've obviously done nothing wrong (with the exception of possession of a small amount of cannabis) the five are locked up and interrogated, stripped, branded and tortured by two guys, ex-military and formerly stationed at Guantanamo, who are nothing more than woodland loonies doing what they can for their country in the name of the War On Terror.

I honestly cannot say I enjoyed Territories - it has absolutely no humour or lightness about it - but it's not an unteresting film: it's certainly grim and nasty and believable, effectively done, although I figured the border guards weren't really border guards quite early on. Weirdly, the second half actually evokes Psycho, as a private detective turns up looking for the missing people and gets about as far as Martin Balsam did. But rather than contributing to any debate about balancing security with liberty, and examining the justifications for torture, the film isn't really saying very much that many people don't already agree with (and if you don't agree with its stance it's probably not going to change your mind), and is as much a controversial political statement as another entry in the rural horror genre, with rich city folk trapped in the wilderness at the mercy of local nutters (Wrong Turn, Timber Falls, even Texas Chainsaw).