Friday, 29 July 2011



At the start it says "This is a record of true events" and at the end it says "All characters and events are fictitious....". What to believe? Many of these pseudo-reality horrors are obviously fictional, despite the sometimes desperate but usually futile efforts by the makers to convince us that they are genuine depictions of genuine events, such as The Blair Witch Project's claims that "they were never heard from again!!!!!" (Of course they were: in the land of the almighty lawsuit they would never have been allowed to release such a film). Whether done as "found footage" (a technique that frankly should be rested for a while as it's getting stale through overuse - I'm looking at you, Paranormal Activity) or as the mock documentary, juxtaposing talking head reminiscence with home video footage of the events concerned, it's usually obvious that it's all one great huge fake.

The Australian film Lake Mungo actually pulls off the mockdoc illusion with considerable success, never allowing the mask to slip. Following the accidental drowning of 16-year-old Alice Palmer, the grieving family become convinced that she might be haunting them: she appears on photographs and in video footage taken after her death, there are noises coming from her old room, and her grieving parents actually see her either in dreams or in reality. Can a talk radio psychic help them? Or is it being faked, and if so why? What distressing secrets was Alice keeping, and what actually happened on the school trip to Lake Mungo?

The chills are for the most part quite subtle and understated (though there is one well timed leap-out-of-your-chair moment): the idea of anything appearing in photographs that shouldn't be there has always been effective - going back to The Omen where inexplicable marks on David Warner's pictures prefigured the subjects' imminent spectacular deaths. Extended zooms into freeze-frame video footage that reveals something that MIGHT be Alice's ghost amidst the flickering pixelated murk also work quite well: these things are on the edge of something that might be genuine rather than vampires and werewolves which we all know aren't: Lake Mungo never goes for the knowingly non-existent, merely the hopefully non-existent: what might be true over what obviously isn't.

And generally it works very well: it doesn't match the bowel-shattering dread of Insidious's first hour of inexplicable spooky events but it's still a creepy and cover-your-eyes piece of work, especially as they even suggest that some of their own clearcut evidence for the haunting has actually been doctored, before revealing "the truth" at the end (note: watch right through the end credits rather than switching off as soon as director Joel Anderson's name appears). I found it quite unsettling, and that's when watched just after lunchtime. If I'd watched it at midnight it might well have been even creepier. Recommended for afternoon viewings and if you've something to hide behind.


Mungo here:

Thursday, 28 July 2011



Boy, have I had some absolute rubbish recently. Maybe I'm just picking the wrong movies and the quality ones have slipped quietly past me, but the basic laws of probability suggest I must get a halfway decent title sooner or later. It's been one putrid, stinking loser after another. Grave Of The Vampire, Bane, Hunger, Eaters, Space Marines, Pulse 2.... a steady and remorseless parade of disposable, barely professional and shoddily made films that may have the odd interesting moment but overall just aren't worth the effort.

Well, The Devil's Tomb isn't about to break the cycle to any significant degree but it is a marked improvement on recent fare, an efficient and effective enough B-grade horror flick that certainly has its flaws but is well enough put together and has a surprisingly strong cast for what appears to be a bog-standard DTV shocker. A Special Forces team of badasses (led by Cuba Gooding Jr!) is assigned to extract a top scientist (Ron Perlman!) from a research bunker in the Middle East. But deep within the confines of the bunker, an unspeakable evil has been unearthed, reaching out to free itself - can the team and a terrified priest (Henry Rollins!) prevent its escape and the resultant apocalypse?

Sadly, there are those frankly unbelievable scenes in which that ancient evil manifests itself as visions which are quite patently unreal - for example the communications guy who suddenly encounters a naked hottie seconds after leafing through a girlie mag but never questions why a naked woman is suddenly wandering around a sealed underground bunker in the desert. Sure, he's meant to be a goofball, but he's surely not so much of an idiot that he thinks it's real? There are two or three of those encounters with people who quite obvious aren't there, and couldn't possibly be there, but their victims never seem to realise that.

There are plenty of movies in which unloveable idiots wander endlessly around bunkers and get killed, but The Devil's Tomb is actually quite entertaining: it's nothing that marvellous but it does manage to conjure up a nice atmosphere of dread. It occasionally aims for the feel of John Carpenter's massively underrated Prince Of Darkness: an ancient horror, priests, possession, evil liquids transferred mouth to mouth, and while it doesn't achieve it, it has a heroic stab at it (in much the same way Ray Winstone has a stab at an American accent). After a steady run of unacceptably poor video fodder it is nice to find something that's at least professional. Directed by Jason Connery.


It's okay!

Tuesday, 26 July 2011



Here's a strange one: a mixture of New Age Hippiness and impending apocalypse, with a second-tier cast, a synth score and directed by Nic Roeg's one-time screenwriter Paul Mayersberg - set on a planet with three suns and shot in 1988 at an alternative architectural project in Arizona. And based on an Isaac Asimov story. It apparently played one week at most on its US theatrical release and plopped straight out on video cassette in this country - it's had no DVD release - to a deafening silence: the VHS tape I have is the only time I've ever heard of it. It's scoring an average of 2.8/10 on the IMDb and the best review the IMDb readership can provide only graces it with four stars out of ten.

The Nightfall is the imminent setting of all three suns on a planet which normally enjoys perpetual daylight. It has happened before - eight times, according to the blind priest Sor (Alexis Kanner, overacting), but this Ninth Nightfall will be the darkest yet. While Sor wants to recruit everyone to his church (in which novitiates volunteer to be blinded by having crows peck their eyes out), most of the people look to their leader Aton (David Birney), for guidance. But Aton is besotted with a nomadic snake princess who takes her clothes off a lot, and has little interest in the nonsensical prophecies of the manipulative and cunning Sor. Can Aton be forced to accept his responsibilities?

It's tosh - can a planet be orbited by three suns? - but it's undeniably very pretty to look at. That's because it was shot at the Arcosanti Project in the Arizona desert: an architectural experiment "demonstrating ways to improve urban conditions and lessen our destructive impact on the earth", according to their website, and as a location it gives the film a look at odds with its low budget (it's from the Corman stable). But much of the plot is dreary daytime soap-opera love triangle hogwash when there's a far more interesting faith vs reason angle that's largely skipped over. In addition, there's a lot of voiceover at the start of the film which gives the impression that it's been massively re-edited. Maybe the later adaptation that came along in 2000 (and features David Carradine) would be an improvement. But this is still of only marginal interest for its look and setting.


Monday, 25 July 2011



Ahhh, Vipco. A legendary name in UK video history, a label specialising in cheesy horror and sleaze flicks, several of which were pulled up in the video nasties campaign: a much loved brand if only for their uncut releases of Zombie Flesh Eaters, Shogun Assassin and so on.... Sadly despite all the good stuff there was, and there remains, a lot of unspeakable dross on the label: films released not because they were terrific, but because they were there. That neither the film quality nor the print quality were even adequate was not an issue - they could, so they did.

Grave Of The Vampire is a particularly grotty horror quickie from 1973 in which a vampire (Michael Pataki) awakens in his tomb to find a couple of teens at it like billyo in the back of a car nearby: he promptly kills the boy (and drinks his blood) and rapes the girl, leaving her pregnant. The child grows up to be William Smith, forever on the trail of his evil father who has now assumed the identity of a college professor teaching a night course on the occult. And yet, despite Smith dropping a series of clanging great hints about vampires and Pataki's previous identities, Pataki mysteriously doesn't disappear into the night but hangs around to conduct a class seance....

The print, which would appear to be a video of an original UK theatrical print as it bears the logo of Ember Films, the original UK distributor, is of pretty poor quality - scratched and jumpy, especially around the reel changes and the censor cuts from 1973. On the other hand, even if this were a restored and uncut print struck from the original negative in laboratory conditions less than three days ago, it would still be a depressing experience because it's just a plain rotten movie. It's no fun and springs no surprises even though there is the sudden death of a character you would normally expect to stay the course. It's not even cheesily entertaining in the nostalgia stakes. Best avoided.


Saturday, 23 July 2011



Your initial hopes aren't massively high given that it's yet another apocalyptic zombie movie starring no-one you've ever heard of, albeit one in Italian (with subs), even though the publicity blurb excitedly proclaims it as " of the goriest horror films of recent years". However, if there's one thing guaranteed to knock your expectations down a further notch or seven, it's the sight of an opening caption reading "Uwe Boll Presents...". Now Boll is certainly not the worst filmmaker on the planet, but he is never going to be anything more than just about technically competent at his very best. Even in the zombie genre there are a lot worse films out there than House Of The Dead. In the event it's not clear exactly what Boll did (it's credited to his EventFilm outfit) but he doesn't appear to have had any creative input.

A particularly virulent disease has turned almost all of the human race into zombies (of the old-fashioned Romero shuffling variety rather than new-fangled Zack Snyder sprinting types). Civilisation has collapsed and there are just a few isolated scientists struggle to find a cure. Alen and Igor periodically venture out to find fresh zombs for their boss, searching for an antidote than might have something to do with a fertility vaccine and Alen's girlfriend, locked up in the basement. They also have to contend with a bunch of idiotic Nazis led by a dwarf Fuhrer as well as the flesh-eating living dead themselves. And who is the Plague Spreader, whose radio broadcasts still proclaim to a near-empty world the justifications of hundreds of millions dead?

Eaters actually starts off quite well with the TV news reports (much the same as Diary Of The Dead) but soon stagnates with the frankly unlikeable humans bickering and swearing at each other: yet again it's difficult to care who lives and who "dies". Much like the slew of senseless Japanese gore movies like Tokyo Gore Police, in the absence of any kind of emotional empathy, you're just left waiting for the next bit of splatter, of which there is certainly plenty. But gore effects, even when done with a measure of spirit and glee, aren't any kind of substitute for characters you want to spend any time with and you start wondering about the logic of this dead new world instead. For instance, it's frankly highly improbable that within the tiny group of remaining survivors of a global zombie outbreak, there are two male doctors and one female doctor - all of whom worked together - AND the female doctor's boyfriend. And why has the midget Hitler survived? What's with the Nazis anyway?

The DVD artwork makes the movie look far more expansive and expensive than it actually is - there are no helicopter gunships to be seen, unfortunately. And yet again, the title on the box isn't the same as the title on screen. I know Eaters: Rise Of The Dead sounds cool, and sounds like the title of a zombie movie, whereas just plain Eaters sounds like a fairly drab movie about bulimia or BBWs or something. But Eaters is the title that actually appears on the screen. It's not a great movie: in fact it's mainly quite dull, it has no depth, and there's only the occasional burst of gore to liven the piece up.


Eat and Run:

Wednesday, 20 July 2011



Yet another low-budget horror movie in which a disparate bunch of people are abducted and trapped in an enclosed space and blah blah blah been there, done that, got the scabs to prove it. Is anyone making any horror movies these days apart from ones in which a disparate bunch of people are trapped in an enclosed space? The frankly slight differences this time out are that the identity of the maniac responsible is no mystery, the reasons for the victims' selection are unimportant, and that there's a couple of massive cavernous holes in the narrative.

In Hunger, five people wake up in pitch darkness in a cave somewhere - again, they have no idea how they got there and there's lots of character-outlining waffle before they realise the awful truth: they've been given water and a basic latrine but, crucially, no food. How long can they survive without anything to eat other than the moss on the walls and the occasional cockroach? More specifically, how long before they start looking at the meat on each others' bones? And it's at that point that the film goes into the psychological power games of deciding who gets munched first.

Do none of the five ever think that they might be under surveillance? It's a logical assumption, not just within the torture porn films but within reality: if they're NOT being watched there's no reason for any of them to be there. One of the group even claims he's searched every inch of the cave for a way out and yet he hasn't found a single one of the numerous remote-controlled cameras than the unnamed maniac has installed. In addition, this quintet of character types are down in that cave for more than a month (there's an onscreen Day 2... Day 24... Day 37 series of captions) yet not one of the three men grows a single millimetre of beard or moustache that they didn't have going in.

It can't have cost very much - one principal location, a principal cast of six, some dimly lit gore effects (and no CGI); it's just about efficiently enough done and nasty enough with its blood splatter. But that isn't enough: it isn't good enough and it isn't interesting enough. Crucially, you don't really care who lives or dies (it's a pretty obvious bet who's going to be the last one standing anyway) and much of the first half of the movie is just marking time until someone gives in to their primal survival instincts. And the maniac's rationale (unspoken but shown in flashback) is pretty twisted but frankly a touch unlikely. Overall it's a thoroughly unremarkable film: if you do want some torture porn (and who doesn't?) there's a lot better on offer, starting with even the least of the Saws....





Yet another low-budget horror movie in which a disparate bunch of people are trapped in an enclosed space and periodically butchered: it sticks pretty close to the so-called torture porn template for the most part and does nothing unusual or interesting. It's a particularly grim and visually drab example of the subgenre, it's way too long (108 minutes!) and while it may occasionally please the diehard splatter fan in the way it sloshes the blood about, it ultimately resolves itself with a thoroughly nonsensical third-act detour into other genres entirely.

Bane (unless I missed a garbled bit of exposition over the tannoy, the word means absolutely nothing and they might as well have called it Bicycle Pump or Cow) starts off with four women waking up with no memories of who they are or how they got there. They're informed by the mad scientist in charge that they've signed up for some tests but to tell them what the tests are would invalidate them. Every so often one of the woman finds numbers carved into her skin, and every so often a figure known as The Surgeon shows up and murders them with a huge knife. But why? What is the test? Who's the hunky guy? Will the girls get their memory back before they are all killed?

This is from the director, and several of the cast and crew (to judge from scanning the credits on the IMDb pages) of The Witches Hammer, a tiresome (and ungrammatically titled) piece of incomprehensible twaddle with Stephanie Beacham involving witches, vampires, genetic experiments and a comedy dwarf, and unbelievably Bane is no improvement on that. It's made on a pathetically low budget (you'll see the same half dozen names scroll up again and again in the end credits) in one location: you do earn kudos for getting a British genre film made but you immediately lose them all for making a bad one.

With just plastic sheeting and wire fencing, a genius production designer like, say, Ken Adam could make it look like anything from a medieval Spanish castle to the Starship Enterprise. But here, you'll believe that a cordoned-off area of a building site is precisely that: the entire movie looks like it was shot on the middle floor of a multi-storey car park that's undergoing renovations over the weekend. The direction is flat and uninteresting (the first argument between the waking girls is particularly shoddy) for the most part, but is frequently hideously overdone with sudden frenzied bursts of subliminally edited visuals. That's actually a charge that applies well to the Saw films (particularly the first one), but even the least of the Saws is more ingeniously sadistic and, incidentally, short - most of them are 85-95 minutes though Saw 3 is admittedly close to two hours. Bane runs 108 minutes which is way too long - you've only got four potential victims and one of them HAS to be the Final Girl so it really shouldn't drag on like this - most slasher movies would have hacked up seventy or eighty people given this running time.

And then there's that twist ending which I have to confess I didn't see coming. But mainly that's because it's got nothing to do with the rest of the movie: it's a bit like watching an Agatha Christie movie in which Hercule Poirot unmasks the killer as a completely new character. So Character A was really a ******** and Character B was really her ******** after all? Whoopee. For that to have any impact, I'd have to care and by that point I'd lost all patience with it. The beauty of the great twist endings, such as The Usual Suspects or some of M Night Shyamalan's films, lies in the skill of the deception and reinterpreting everything you've just watched. Here, the deception isn't so much hidden as non-existent - and worse, it means trudging through the first 90 minutes of Bane in your head all over again, only to discover that it makes very little difference.


You were warned:

Wednesday, 13 July 2011



Beware of cheap box sets: the chunky collections with things like Twenty Great SciFi Movies For £10!!!! emblazoned on the front. They turn up in remainder bookshops and on eBay from time to time. It is true that at 50p a movie you're unlikely to feel that badly cheated even by the most underwhelming of offerings: films that you'd be spitting blood over if you'd shelled out £11.99 in the HMV sales. That obviously doesn't make the film any better, it just hurts a little less.

Space Marines is definitely an underwhelming offering: despite the very occasional quirky touch it's simply not good enough. It kicks off with a space pirate raid on a freighter carring a priceless cargo of anti-matter fuel: the Space Marines (the usual squad of hardass mother******* types) attempt to seize control of the pirates' compound and rescue the hostages but they are suddenly pulled out. The pirates then take an ambassador and plan to use him as a human bomb (oddly, the surgical team responsible wear special shirts with their pirate logo on them - why?) to vaporise the entire United Planets Federation unless they get a gigaton of gold, otherwise they'll give the anti-matter to every terrorist outfit in the galaxy. Can Edward Albert's squad rescue the hostages, decode the bomb transmitter and kill the pirates?

Yeah, probably. Far more interesting, really, is the pirate leader: a hilariously unthreatening individual called Fraser (John Pyper-Ferguson) with a tendency to rant and declaim his own universe-destroying genius in a sneery English Villain accent, and who for some unknown reason appears to have modelled his look on Kim Newman, complete with a waistcoat and long hair. Unfortunately this essentially comic turn derails the film from its SF action-thriller roots; and the very low budget (and some shoddy looking FX work, even for 1995) end up making the film look like Starship Troopers shot on sixpence and string, and without any monsters.

It's always good to see Meg Foster, and the deranged villain is good for a few laughs, but even so this isn't very good. The love interest (the Ambassador's attaché) starts out as such an unthinking, unreasoning cretin it's a mystery no-one simply shot her. The tone veers from comic one-liners to spaceship action to lunkhead shoot-em-up, it never seems to decide what it wants to be and ends up a bit of a mess. If you pay more than 50p for it, you'll have been robbed.


More than 50p:

Tuesday, 12 July 2011



Remember Pulse? That weird little American remake of a Japanese original in which some kind of virus thing goes, well, viral across the whole of electronic technology and causes some kind of wifi apocalypse? Crucially, I don't remember much more than the vaguest outline of various people sellotaping themselves in their bedroom and - unless I dreamt it - someone got killed by a wifi-enabled washing machine. (I remember even less of the Japanese film.) Brilliant isn't the word.

Nor is brilliant the word for Pulse 2, unfortunately. In fact I was absolutely baffled for the first fifteen minutes and while it might have been a good idea to catch the first one again, it really shouldn't be necessary. You don't need to be intimately familiar with Mad Max before embarking on Mad Max 2, but in these post-Saw days it seems sequels assume an unreasonable degree of familiarity with previous instalments. It starts off with a distraught mother Michelle (Georgina Rylance) searching for her daughter Justine after the black-ash apocalypse: the city is deserted and the only people around are the infected, with black-vein markings on their skin. Also looking for Justine is her father Stephen (Jamie Bamber), who wants to get her to a vigilante-protected safe area, away from the electronic projections of the dead (if that is what they actually are)....

This is nonsense. It's also rather weird looking, as if it was all shot on green-screen, even scenes that didn't need to be. Occasional incidents, such as an entirely random self-immolation, and a few nice visual moments please, but it still needs to be harnessed to some kind of logic. Are they ghosts returned via the internet? Possessed by some kind of virus? There's just not enough clarity. What there is is a Pulse 3, but that doesn't appear to have a DVD release in this country. Maybe that will explain it all, but again, shouldn't the movies stand on their own? The odd moment aside, it's pretty dull and not very good. Subtitled "Afterlife" on the artwork but not on the film.


Monday, 11 July 2011



There I was, watching a reasonably interesting film with a reasonably good story reasonably well performed and reasonably well shot and directed: it's been running along well enough as an obvious three-star rental, nothing special but nothing disastrous. And then, about 85 minutes in, we're in the closing moments, things are going reasonably well.... and then they stick a nonsensical cop-out ending that instantly - instantly - turns the film into a one-star waste of my time.

Love At First Kill (aka The Box Collector, an equally silly title) is - for about 85 minutes - a reasonably interesting tale of small-town bigotry and clinging mothers. Artist Harry (Noah Segan) lives quietly with his domineering, ranting, Tarot-obsessed mother Beth (Margot Kidder, frankly looking incredibly raddled for someone who's only 62), but when attractive young Marie moves in next door, Beth immediately takes against her for no clear reason. The cards supposedly suggest Marie's in danger, but Harry still wants to leave town with her and start a new life for himself. Harry's also haunted by never having really known his father, and some tinted flashback memories of the night he disappeared. And with Marie's vengeful ex on the trail as well as an increasingly desperate Beth, it can only end badly for all concerned.

Except that the final few minutes completely negate the entirety of the rest of the film. Here's that ending, the big plot twist: it's all in Harry's head. It never happened, everything we've seen took place in his imagination. It's a cheap and insulting payoff that's on a par with "it was all a dream" that means you've spent the evening watching stuff that didn't take place even in the confines of the fictional narrative. This isn't a film about small-town lust and bigotry: it's a film about a bloke having a fantasy. Bolt this ending onto any other movie and see how harmful it suddenly becomes - would we accept The Wicker Man as a masterpiece if it ended with Edward Woodward waking up in horror? Or Kurt Russell waking up at the end of The Thing? It's boring, it's cheap and it's insulting. It's also old, of course - we've had "suddenly waking up" endings since The Wizard Of Oz. (Yes, there are shock awakenings at the ends of films such as Carrie and Dressed To Kill, but the dreams weren't the entire narratives.)

The really frustrating aspect of it is that the film was trundling along perfectly well up to that point and didn't need to be derailed in such a manner. It could have ended in several other ways which would still have succeeded or failed, but at least they would have been part of the actual film. For them to suddenly pull the "haha! None of it's real!" card is as jarring as that hideous moment in Brian De Palma's otherwise enjoyable Femme Fatale when Rebecca Romijn suddenly comes to in the bath. This isn't The Usual Suspects either, where the sleight of hand is the whole point. Don't waste my time.


Saturday, 9 July 2011



The first time I was even slightly aware of Ruggero Deodato's notorious film was during the equally infamous Video Nasty era, when the (substantially edited) Go Video release was successfully prosecuted as an obscenity. I certainly recall that a local video shop still had the film on the shelves after the Video Recordings Act came into force but for whatever reason I never rented it. Indeed it wasn't until 1998 that I actually saw the film, projected uncut in a German dub without subtitles at the Cine Lumiere in London. It was certainly powerful, but a distressing and uncomfortable experience: several people walked out in disgust at the film's Ace Of Trumps: its unsimulated animal killings. Watching it again a few nights ago (again uncut) I found it was still powerful, but still a distressing and uncomfortable experience, perhaps even more than thirteen years ago.

The basic story of Cannibal Holocaust concerns the Yates documentary film crew, last seen venturing into the furthest reaches of Amazon to capture footage of the native tribes - tribes reputed to practise cannibalism. Some time later a second expedition is formed to find out what happened to them: the crew themselves are never found, but their cans of exposed film are discovered, brought back to New York and screened with a view to broadcasting them. But what was captured by those cameras - which we see along with the TV executives - is too shocking, graphic and revolting for primetime. Not only do we see what ultimately happened to the original film crew, we see what they did to provoke the tribe to such a hideous vengeance, purely to capture the most sensational imagery and raise their "documentarian" profiles.

There is no getting around the fact that for all the human violence and savagery on display, the film's most notorious aspect is the genuine on-camera killing of several animals including the lopping off of the top of a monkey's skull, the gutting of a muskrat, the shooting of a pig and the butchering and disembowelling of a river turtle. None of this footage was in the original video version banned in the 1980s and yet - quite wrongly in my opinion - the BBFC have this year passed the film almost entirely uncut (15 seconds are still missing from the killing of the muskrat) on the grounds that the kills are quick and clean. Personally I feel that's no excuse and none of the animal killings are essential to the film's narrative or to its mood. Apparently Ruggero Deodato is providing a new cut of the film which will excise these scenes, something which I'm frankly much happier about.

Despite the revulsion of these sequences, some sharp, pointed satire still makes itself felt: not least the idea that respected documentarians would happily fake extreme footage for sensationalism. However, this does have the effect of turning them into callous and sadistic douchebags and it's hard to feel much sympathy when the natives they've been so casually abusing turn on them in front of their own cameras. Not to sound too po-faced about it, they had it coming and they got what they deserved. Obviously this filmed retribution is "genuine" (within the confines both of their footage and of Cannibal Holocaust itself) and their "genuine" distress, particularly the girl's, is genuinely effective.

It is truly shocking, truly distressing, truly nasty, and truly unforgivable, and I truly don't ever want to see it again: I'm not averse to being confronted once in a while, but this film does go too far for me. Yet perversely, while it's nastier than any of the other video nasties, I'd have had a far easier time acquitting it if I'd been on its jury than the supremely repugnant triple whammy of I Spit On Your Grave, Last House On The Left or The House On The Edge Of The Park (the last of which was Ruggero Deodato's next film after Cannibal Holocaust and is also distinctly uncomfortable viewing, though for different reasons). However, it's also historically important as one of the earliest "found footage" features, a device that lends the film a true sense of reality as it's shot by the "characters" themselves. Obviously The Blair Witch Project and more recently the Paranormal Activity films have popularised the technique but in doing so have ushered in a slew of other found footage films, some of which have worked better than others.

Is it worth seeing? Yes, but have something to hide behind for those animal cruelty scenes, and be prepared for absolutely no entertainment whatsoever. It's an angry, confrontational piece of work, and it's superbly made in that the real/fake illusion never slips. The film stock is scratched and bleached years before Quentin Tarantino did it in Death Proof, the credits on the Yates documentary are even in the same typeface as those on Cannibal Holocaust itself, and the performances are pitched so well that you never suspect they're actors. It's a phenomenal achievement. Were it not for the muskrat, the monkey, the turtle and so forth, and were we left with well-simulated human barbarism, this film would be a gold-plated classic. But.....




It is bizarre what film-makers sometimes come up with as potential hits: ideas that simply don't stir the dreams and imaginations the way they did decades ago. Westerns and musicals don't grab anyone's attention these days; the knuckle-headed action thudfest is out of favour. They don't even make Foreign Legion movies any more (occasionally someone will have a go, as with Jean-Claude Van Damme's unremarkable Legionnaire). And we've also let the Second World War Guys On A Mission genre drop, which on one level is surprising as we used to be so proficient at it, but on another level is only to be expected as, for better or worse, it's increasingly seen as ancient history. But it's odd to see something so modern and yet so old-fashioned at the same time as this peculiar offering which attempts to fuse the frankly hokey WW2 action movie with 21st Century cinematic sensibilities.

Allegedly based on fact (for which you can safely read "completely made up"), Age Of Heroes details the formation of 30 Commando, a unit created in 1940 by a certain Ian Fleming to carry out secret assignments behind enemy lines. Headed by Sean Bean, the team's first mission is Operation Grendel: to contact the resistance agent known as Beowulf, destroy a German radar tower in Norway and steal as much information as possible about the advanced technology behind it. Inevitably, the already slim odds deteriorate steadily as the Nazi platoon home in....

Were it not for the slew of F-words, this would basically be a perfectly average schedule filler for Saturday afternoons: it's a bit Where Eagles Dare, a bit The Dirty Dozen, a bit The Guns Of Navarone. But with the near-top billing of the mysteriously prolific Danny Dyer it actually becomes something far less enjoyable: yet again he's playing a character profoundly difficult to like, even after all those London gangster movies and the terrible Doghouse, where he's at his laddish, oafish, sexist worst. The result is that it's incredibly jarring to hear so much F-ing in something so thoroughly hokey and outdated you wonder why it doesn't have a Ron Goodwin score, and why David Niven or Robert Shaw aren't in it. Baffling.



Friday, 8 July 2011



Appropriately arriving the week after the intergalactic-level dumbassery of Transformers 3, here's refreshing proof that you can make a film about robots without pandering to the clueless idiot demographic. You can actually produce something funny, slick, amusing, sharp and reasonably intelligent rather than just blowing things up and knocking skyscrapers over. It may not be a masterpiece (hell, it isn't by a long shot) but, despite being about an hour shorter and made on less money than can be found down the back of a Scotsman's sofa, it's rather fun.

In the future, the Department Of Homeland Security has come up with the Eyeborgs: mobile remote cameras that can monitor the whole population - benevolently, of course: if you've nothing to hide, you've nothing to fear. But it gradually dawns on widowed cop Adrian Paul and dogged TV reporter Megan Blake that the eyeborgs have been armed: they can enter private property, they can even kill. But why? Who - or what - is in control? What's it got to do with the President's purple-haired rock guitarist nephew, suddenly invited to perform during the election campaign?

Eyeborgs is pretty silly, obviously. But it's generally entertaining, with some good (and admittedly some variable) CG and physical effects - nothing on the scale of Michael Bay, but perfectly acceptable for a zippy B-feature. There are the obvious bumper-sticker quotations about freedom "he who sacrifices liberty for security deserves neither" and nice lines about the dangers of taking video evidence from the Eyeborgs without question - "how can we ignore what we see with our own eyes?" / "We're not seeing it with our own eyes, we're seeing it with theirs".

The Eyeborgs themselves are niftily designed, from the grapefruit-sized camera types (with lethal hidden accessories) to the larger, more violent ones reminiscent of ED209 from the RoboCop movies. If the movie doesn't entirely work, it's down to some colourless and uninteresting leads (not counting Danny Trejo's cameo as a guitar repairer and subversive), and that the plot switches from killer robots to the more unlikely video manipulation - starting off like Chopping Mall but morphing into the silly Eagle Eye. But despite that, it's got a sense of humour and for its miniscule budget it's still a perfectly acceptable Friday night rental.


Eye eye:

Friday, 1 July 2011



Despite constantly being cited as the Worst Director Of All Time, Uwe Boll is nothing of the kind. (Go watch some Joe D'Amato or Al Adamson.) He's acquired that reputation largely on the strength of numerous videogame adaptations (Alone In The Dark, House Of The Dead), but the fact is that he's not terrible: he's just consistently mediocre. In addition, he has a tendency to lapse into inappropriate bad taste - 9/11 jokes in Postal, genuine animal cruelty footage in Seed - and excessive violence that isn't making the profound statements about humanity he thinks it is (Rampage, Seed). He also - somehow - manages to assemble big-name star casts for many of his undertakings including Ray Liotta, Burt Reynolds, Jason Statham, Michael Madsen and Ben Kingsley (although crucially not this one, which is a shame as it desperately needs some star oomph). But merely not being the worst doesn't mean he's any good: there are a hundred zombie movies more worthy of your time than House Of The Dead and a hundred senseless shoot-em-ups more enjoyable than Far Cry.

Bloodrayne: The Third Reich is the third in Boll's presumably ongoing saga of Rayne the half-vampire, half-human Dhampir (Natassia Malthe), and her constant fight against evil. Having done the Romanian Dark Ages in the first one and the American Wild West in the dull Bloodrayne: Deliverance, she now pitches up in Nazi-occupied Europe (location unspecified, but the film was shot in Croatia) aiding the Resistance. During one raid on what they presume to be a train full of weapons, Rayne's half-inhuman blood inadvertently infects and vampirises the evil Commandant (Boll regular Michael Pare), leading to the possibility of an immortal Hitler's army of the undead....

It isn't very good: an underachieving followup to an underachieving first sequel to a tolerable original. Uncomfortably, it uses Holocaust and death camp imagery in a way that doesn't belong in a knockabout vampire movie: in the same way that no fluffy Hollywood romantic comedies have been set against the backdrop of Srebrenica or the Rwandan genocide. (I'm not entirely comfortable with such imagery being included in silly comicbook movies like the X-Men films either, but if anything Boll's use is worse because he is German.) And it's no fun: it looks drab and the only laughs come from Clint Howard wildly overacting as a mad scientist in a goatee. Finally, it's a dull title. The DVD box calls it The Blood Reich: Bloodrayne 3, which is an improvement, but the actual title card on screen swaps everything around, drops the 3 and one of the Bloods. Personally I'd have called it Let The Reich One In.


Rayne Drops: