Monday, 31 October 2011

THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE II (FULL SEQUENCE)

CONTAINS SOME SPOILERS AND OH GOD I'M GOING TO BE SICK

It was certainly a surprise when this reality-warping sequel was thrown out by the BBFC. Given that the first film was essentially a silly though undeniably grotesque black comedy in which a mad scientist does unspeakable things to passers-by who won't be missed, I imagine we all expected the sequel to be more of the same: gory and grisly but harmless, "100% medically accurate" shenanigans by an overacting maniac with a scalpel. Er, no. Demented auteur Tom Six has upped the ante on everything - sex, gore, violence, death, rape, swearing - and the BBFC suddenly went absolutely mental to the extent of refusing it a certificate. Now, after a little over two and a half minutes of repulsive depravity have been removed, the year's most eagerly awaited sequel (with the possible exception of Transformers 3) finally makes it to the screen. Have the work's messages and subtexts about imitable screen violence been compromised?

Not really. To be honest I don't think The Human Centipede II (Full Sequence) has really very much to say beyond its surface story, in which an obese loner's obsession with the first movie leads him to create his own human centipede: abducting people from the car park where he's employed as an attendant, bringing them together in a warehouse and stitching them together the way it was done in the film. Martin is incredibly put-upon: he's a victim of child abuse, his mother hates him, he's hideously overweight, asthmatic, on medication, alarmingly unhygienic, and possibly mentally disabled. (He has no actual dialogue.) The only thing that keeps him going is pleasuring himself while watching The Human Centipede, and his dream of creating his own.

Like his own creation Dr Heiter, writer-director-lunatic Tom Six has had one genuinely brilliant idea and has run with it. In the eyes of the BBFC at least, he has perhaps run too far: the first film was undeniably gross, but harmless and funny; however the second has a more sexual and violent nature to it. Heiter wanted to create a human centipede because he could; Martin wants to create a human centipede so he can have sex with it. And where Heiter's had a mere three people stitched together, Martin wants twelve: one giant 48-legged creation with one mutual intestinal tract. The intestinal tract, of course, was the centrepiece of the horror in the first one: that moment when the front of the centipede can't hold it in any longer, and while it's patently obvious what happens from the face of the central person, it's not actually depicted. The Human Centipede II is a far more explicit film and the depiction of "forced defecation" was one of the issues the BBFC had with it.

Snipped it may be, but it's still there. The same can't be said of the infamous sandpaper masturbation (which now is only alluded to), the barbed wire rape (considerably reduced, with no sight of the barbed wire) and the casual death of a newborn baby (deleted completely). And in all honesty I cannot mourn the loss. The newborn scene would have been a cheap and nasty moment of sub-Troma bad taste calculated entirely to offend and alienate in an otherwise merely revolting horror film. In the same way, I've always felt that rape, a genuine real-life horror for far too many people, doesn't sit well in what is otherwise an absurd and unreal fantasy.

However, as a monstrous and deranged vision of utter horror, The Human Centipede II is a flat-out winner. The black and white photography actually makes everything more disturbing and distressing, where colour would possibly have made it too realistic and explicit. There's only one near-subliminal spurt of colour (hint: it's brown). You don't really want to mention The Human Centipede II in the same breath, or even on the same continent, as Psycho, but monochrome makes the sheer amount of blood and gore more bearable by giving it the look and feel of a clammy, dreadful nightmare: a genuinely revolting and thoroughly unhinged hallucination. It's one of the most unapologetically vile and off-putting movies for quite a few years and kudos to Tom Six for conjuring up a sequel that does indeed make the original look like The Care Bears Go To Fluffyland. Where on Earth can he possibly take the saga now, as we're promised the third episode in two years' time? 3D?

While it's certainly refreshing every so often to have a film that's so deranged and upsetting that the BBFC feel the need to step in, in these lenient times, I could honestly have stood for a little less depravity and a little more of the deadpan black humour of the first movie. For all the gore and grue, The Human Centipede II isn't fun in the same absurdist way; rather it's fun in the sense of absolute overkill, and a few genuine laughs would not have gone amiss. I like the overkill, I like the madness, I like the sense of Martin's joy at his screaming creation. In places it's quite a beautiful film to look at, it achieves what it sets out to do, and I don't believe it's compromised by the BBFC's trims. Worth seeing, but don't eat.

***

LIVID (LIVIDE)

THE FEWER SPOILERS THE BETTER

Perhaps the film for which hopes were highest at his year's Frightfest allnighter: any film describes as "Argento Meets Fulci" is obviously going to be more interesting as a film billed as "D'Amato Meets Winner" or "Bay Meets Olen Ray". Sadly it doesn't live up to the comparison: to my untutored eye there wasn't much overtly Argento or obviously Fulci in there, and in places it felt a little like Del Toro - but what do I know? This isn't to suggest that it's a bad movie or it's not worth seeing: it absolutely is, although there are moments that don't really work in its collision of fantasy and reality, and it would probably have flowed better if the more unreal visuals had been dropped as the film plays perfectly well without them.

Lucie is a trainee nurse looking after elderly patients in a small French seaside town. One of her patients is a centenarian, a former dance teacher now bedbound, permanently attached to an IV drip and alone in a rambling, crumbling mansion in which, rumour has it, she has a fortune in hidden treasure. That's enough of a temptation for Lucie to rope in her fisherman boyfriend and his brother for a night's undisturbed burglary. But cash and jewellery and gold bullion isn't what they ultimately discover - the old woman had shocking secrets locked away in that house....

The less you know of exactly what's in the house, the better: suffice to say you're unlikely to guess in advance. Livide (Livid in the English title) plays best with its three frankly unsympathetic but not entirely hateful leads exploring the darkened rooms, although since the house is miles from anywhere and the only occupant is in a coma in the bed upstairs, it's a mystery why they don't put some lights on. However, the more overtly fantastical visuals of things floating - whether people or, in one particular scene, the house itself floating in space on its own chunk of rock like a miniature in a snowglobe - don't seem to belong and these don't mesh as well with the real-world bulk of the movie as in, say Pan's Labyrinth (although I had to take two runs at that film to be happy with it bringing the different worlds together); I do think I'd have enjoyed it more if the whole movie had taken place in the "real world".

It's considerably less bloody than the directors' previous film Inside, which closed the allnighter a few years ago and played remarkably well for a foreign language film at four in the morning in an overly heated cinema. Livide is a lot less visceral, more emotional and poetic, and beautifully shot; I enjoyed it, but I do wish I'd enjoyed it more.

**

BAD MEAT

CONTAINS SOME SPOILERS AND WEAK MEAT REFERENCES

I like my films the way I like my meat: well done. And sadly this UK-Canadian dish (supported by UK Film Council lottery funding, according the end credits) isn't well done at all: it's tough to chew and hard to swallow. Which is a pity since the basic setup of it - teens in isolated location relentlessly attacked by drooling monsters - is perfectly workable: the rehabilitation/discipline camp for wayward teens setting has been used before, in the so-so Driftwood, for example; it's just the execution that doesn't work properly.

Six young rebels, troublemakers, petty criminals and oiks are placed in the care of a group of fascist perverts in a camp somewhere in the middle of a wasteland of swamps and woods. Initially they're bullied and abused by the staff because the staff are cackling sadists, but a delivery of Bad Meat turns the staff into drooling undead cannibals, while retaining their fascist pervert cackling sadist personalities. By chance the young inmates didn't eat the meat because they were only given raw potatoes. - but can they stop their tiresome bickering and work as a team, find out what's going on, and stay alive?

Why on Earth this went on as the FrightFest allnighter opening I have no idea, because in addition to not being very good, it's patently unfinished. The editing process has reduced the film to a complete mess while whole sequences missing, leaving gaping continuity holes and the fates of some of the characters unexplained. One of the teens is actually killed off in one of those scenes and we only find this out later in a brief line of dialogue - these sequences were shot, according to the writer in a post-screening Q+A, but dropped from what is presumably the final cut! It's all told in flashback by one of the characters, heavily bandaged in a hospital bed, typing the story into a word processor - but whichever character it is, he/she is describing scenes he/she wasn't even in.

Presumably one of those deleted scenes would answer the vital question of why nobody even mentioned telephoning for help - there's no reason why the line would have been cut and it's inconceivable the camp doesn't have a landline or internet connection. One might also ask why the parents have placed their children in the care of people who are plainly and unashamedly Nazis - the maniac in charge even has a framed Nazi uniform hanging on his office wall!

What you do get, in the place of logic and a coherent storyline, is puking. There's a lot of grossout throwing up and vomiting, including a moment, memorable for precisely the wrong reasons, of two lovers heaving over each other at the same time, and another scene in which someone gets their stomach repeatedly pumped after they've eaten some of the meat. Certainly this, and a gratuitous urination scene, are revolting and horrible but for a horror film Bad Meat is more goulash than ghoulish. Undercooked meat is bad for you and ultimately this particular cut isn't fit for human consumption.

*

Friday, 28 October 2011

SLEEPING BEAUTY

PHWOOOOAAR! CONTAINS SPOILERS

Where's the line? When does it stop being erotica and start being porn? When does it stop being a serious character piece about sexuality and start being a piece of nudie smut? Doubtless this serious new Australian film fancies itself as a proper serious film, worthy of serious consideration as a serious exploration of sex and fantasies and prostitution, but is it really? Personally, I don't believe it. Certainly I can imagine that's what they intended when they started out, but the end result is less a "serious" film and more an arty bit of softcore porn, whatever its inclusion in competition at Cannes might indicate; and surely if you're making a film that involves a lot of frank nudity, you can't be unaware that it's going to be seen by some as a dirty movie, regardless of your original intentions. Pornography is, after all, in the wrist of the beholder. And this IS porn: for all the artiness it's just an old man's grubby fantasy.

The Sleeping Beauty is Lucy (Emily Browning, also seen in the similarly suspect Sucker Punch), a young student who, in addition to a dreary part time jobs in a cafe and an office, signs up as a "silver service waitress": a position which starts off as merely serving port and brandy in her underwear to a gathering of wealthy gentlemen, but leads to her agreeing to being drugged and placed naked in a bed for the old coots to do with her as they will, with the exception of full intercourse. The payments for this service enable her to abandon her tedious office job (which appears to consist entirely of photocopying), and to take a luxury apartment, but is she happy? And what exactly are these men doing to her while she's unconscious?

Deep in the bowels of niche fantasy porn are two particular areas of "special interest": one where the girl is asleep and thus unaware of what's happening to her, and one where the barely legal girl is partnered by a wrinkled and flabby pervert in possession of a bus pass. Neither concept is particularly edifying - the first is horrible close to a rape fantasy - and it is hard to see why any girl would consent to such a scenario, even given the substantial cash rewards. Even though no penetration actually takes place - the men freely admit they're too old to get it up any more - she's still being groped, pawed and manhandled and she's completely oblivious to it. Frankly, "ewwww".

But as much as it might seem fixated on a naked girl and her pensioner clients, it's still an art movie, not just in its long takes with a frequently static camera and the lack of a musical score (raising the question of why there's a  credited composer), but in the questions that aren't answered. What was with the handful of berries? Or the drooling woman on the bus? Why did Lucy burn a A$200 bill? Why was there a scene in which nothing happened except Lucy getting out of bed, putting her pants on and getting back into bed? And, most importantly, what happened next? Just as the film seemed to be developing a narrative, where Lucy might find out exactly what happens to her..... it stops. Roll end credits, leaving you yelling "And.....?!?!" Leaving out the things that might be significant, such as Lucy's reaction to seeing precisely what these men get up to, and filling the time with stuff that isn't (one of the gents recites a meandering anecdote about finding an old book for absolutely no reason), it's frustrating and annoying as well as needlessly obscuring the point.

With its main character not only happy to let strange men do whatever they want with her body but to remain ignorant of it, it's tempting (and easy) to conclude that it's actually misogynist. But I'm not sure: the film's writer-director, the producer, associate producer and line producer are women, and it's "presented" by Jane Campion, whatever that means (aside from reminding you of The Piano). Certainly if they'd all been men it would have been far easier to dismiss it as cheap smut for the raincoat trade. As it is, though, is it a statement about something? What? The only thing that's left clear at the end, unfortunately, is that Emily Browning looks nice naked. And if that's what you want out of a movie, buy some porn. At least be honest about it.

*

Thursday, 27 October 2011

MY BLOODY VALENTINE

CONTAINS SPOILERS AND

It's strange how tame old X movies can look these days. This typical 1981 slasher movie, regarded by some as a minor classic (enough to warrant a 3D remake a generation later) today sits comfortably as a 15 on DVD. It's a different world now: You actually have to work quite hard to get an 18 today, but back in the early 80s they were dishing out the equivalent Xs like sweets. It's not as if this movie is eye-poppingly graphic - the MPAA removed almost all of the bloody money shots long before the British censors got their scissory claws on it - and there's no nudity or even slightly explicit sex. What there is is a series of kill shots, substantially blunted, punctuating an implausible, illogical and downright ridiculous plot.

The small Canadian mining town of Valentine Bluffs hasn't commemorated St Valentine's Day in twenty years, ever since one Harry Warden went crazy following a mining disaster, and he's still said to walk the streets every February 14th, messily slaughtering anyone in an overtly romantic mood. Cut to the present (well, 1981) and the town is finally preparing to stage its first Valentine's Dance, defying the local miseryguts authority figures, defying the local bartender (who spends all his screen time doing his Crazy Ralph "You're all doomed!" routine), defying the legend of Harry Warden himself. But when the murders begin again, with fresh hearts delivered in heart-shaped candy boxes, and the dance is called off, the idiot teens organise their own secret party at the coal mine....

Much of My Bloody Valentine is absolute nonsense, although admittedly scarcely sillier than a lot of what goes on in dumb slasher movies. It requires that the killer knows exactly where everyone is at all times and can move around in total silence while wearing full mining gear (including a gas mask) and wielding a bloodstained pickaxe without anyone spotting him. It requires that the victims take turns to oblige the maniac by wandering off into the darkness of an unfamiliar setting where they can be ambushed without warning, rather than staying with all their friends in a brightly lit room. And it requires that not one but two couples are so insatiably hot for each other than their lust isn't dimmed by the idea of doing it in a coal mine. I mean, there are less erotically charged places to get it on - most Lidls, most Gents, Stevenage - but the underground "engine room" of a coal mine in the middle of the night doesn't seem to me like a prime location. Still, whatever turns you on.... Sadly, the only penetration going on involves pickaxes and skulls rather than anything romantic or sexual.

The version watched was an old British 35mm cinema print: pink, faded, scratched and jumpy, with the lovely old X at the front, and properly projected at the Prince Charles. The IMDb suggests that it's Quentin Tarantino's favourite slasher movie, but sadly it really isn't very good and doesn't really stack up against The Funhouse, Rosemary's Killer or at least three of the Friday The 13th series (including Part 5, which isn't great but it was my first Friday movie so I have a fondness for it). I wouldn't even rank it with the original Halloween II, which is also massively flawed and frequently illogical but I'll admit I rather like: certainly more than My Bloody Valentine which I really believe would be much better with the splatter payoffs put back in, and would earn it an extra star.

**

GURU THE MAD MONK

CONTAINS BRIEF SPOILERS

Yet another of those hideous independent abominations that still have some kind of unfathomable currency padding out imported box sets of cheapo obscurities. I am not familiar with the works of Andy Milligan; I can only assume that this nonsensical sleaze quickie is unrepresentative of his career, as it's surely unlikely that a 24-year filmography of 26 feature titles cannot contain anything better than this. You cannot possibly have a directorial career that extensive when every title is incompetent garbage. (Or can you?)

First off, Guru The Mad Monk isn't a monk at all, he's a Catholic priest, although he is mad. Sometime in the 15th century (at least according to the IMDb's synopsis), Father Guru (along with his deformed hunchback servant Igor!) assists a lovelorn lad by saving his beloved from a wrongful execution, but the price is the young man's assistance in Guru's secret body-snatching racket: an operation with which he supplements his meagre income (and also provides a source of nutrition for his vampire mistress).

This could have had some appeal as a full-blown trash epic, but not when you're working with the production values of bestiality porn loops, amateur dramatic-level performances and laughable gore effects (which are only briefly glimpsed anyway). Truly, the money's all on the screen - all $20 of it - and if it took more than an afternoon to write it's only because they're very slow typists. Even though the damned thing only runs for 56 minutes (thereby raising the question of whether it's actually a feature film rather than a long short), it feels about twice as long thanks to the endless swamps of banal, badly delivered dialogue. Milligan goes for talk rather than action, probably because talk is cheap: he really doesn't have anything to show us, and what he does have is so ineptly realised.

Representative or not, Guru The Mad Monk hasn't sold me on Millgan and I've now no real interest in tracking down his other work, even the more attractively lurid-looking stuff like Bloodthirsty Butchers, The Ghastly Ones or The Man With Two Heads (most of which doesn't appear to available in this country anyway). Life is too short, and this, even at under an hour, isn't. Hopeless.

*

Sunday, 23 October 2011

DEAD MARY

SPOILERS MEETS COINCIDENCE!

Reviewers and marketing bods both like to paint movies as A Meets B. It's a shorthand suggesting that if you liked A and B then you'll probably like C, which isn't necessarily true (I like licorice allsorts and steak and kidney pie but I wouldn't want them in the same course) and isn't always accurate. As an example, the dull Detention (not the Frightfest one which hasn't come out yet) has a blurb on the front: "The Breakfast Club Meets The Grudge", which I guess is fair on one level as it pits a bunch of teens in a detention class against a vengeful ghost, but it hasn't the character and charm of the former or the chills of the latter. This Canadian horror movie can be similarly summarised: it's The Big Chill meets The Thing, with a bit of The Evil Dead meets Waiting For Godot and Candyman. Curiously enough, it almost pulls it off.

A group of former high-school friends and their current partners gather for a reunion at a lakeside cabin. It's a particularly fraught occasion as most of them have been cheating on each other: to lighten the mood, one of them suggests they play Dead Mary - the dumb dare game where they each go into the darkened bathroom by themselves and say "Dead Mary" three times in the mirror. (By chance, they sent me Dead Mary just a day after seeing Paranormal Activity 3, a chunk of which has a little girl playing the exact same game, except they refer to it as Bloody Mary.) Like idiots, they play the game - but that night one of them is brutally murdered in the woods. It becomes apparent that they have conjured up Dead Mary, but she's possessed one or more of them. Who's really who they say they are and who's been taken over? Why won't the corpses stay dead? Recriminations, jealousies and petty squabbles abound (usually over who's slept with whose partner/spouse/ex): some are locked up or tied to chairs while they try to figure out which of them hasn't been taken over. Some want to go for help, some want to stay and wait for Ted, who mysteriously hasn't shown up yet.

Since the characters are older than the usual college idiots (although several of them don't look it) they're allowed a little more depth and bitterness, which makes for a nice change although the group's arguments frequently descend to childish taunts about who cheated with who - the "grownup" version of "but he started it". This may be more believable, but it doesn't make them more likeable or more interesting individuals (one of the great things about The Thing is that there's nothing sexual about it: the dialogue, the guys, the creature or the action) and if I wanted to watch a bunch of people getting drunk and having difficulties with their relationships, I wouldn't watch a horror movie. Since the girlfriends and wives are slim, attractive and sexy types, it just makes the guys even bigger idiots for cheating on them.

As a horror movie it's okay: it made me jump a few times and the ancient legend of Dead Mary - a genuine bit of folklore - has a natural creepiness about it. They're clearly trying to do something with a bit more depth and character than the typical teenkill nonsense filmmakers too often settle for: it's not entirely successful but at least they're trying. It takes a while to get going and spends too long with the relationship blather before wheeling Dead Mary on, and I'd perhaps have liked it a touch more if parallels with The Thing weren't so evident: there's even a point where the music score seems to echo that fabulous Morricone pulsing from the Carpenter film. And the corpse in the woods that continues to taunt the survivors is pure Evil Dead. Generally speaking it's worth a look although there's a fair amount wrong with it.

***

DETENTION

CONTAINS SPOILERS AND A LITTLE DISAPPOINTMENT

Sadly, this is not the Joseph Kahn movie that I fell asleep in during Frightfest (in my defence, it was the fifth film of the day, and the fourth midnight screening in four days), which I'm now looking forward to seeing when it comes out in the UK as I rather liked what I saw of it, although I confess I didn't entirely get it. But this is a completely different, and frankly unremarkable, high school horror movie with the same title and incredibly low standards of quality which it barely lives up to. I'm usually a fan of unpretentious teen slasher movies if they're done with a measure of wit and skill, and if the potential victims aren't despicable morons; unfortunately there's very little of interest on show here.

Back in the 1970s, an innocent kid accidentally died in the school incinerator after a stupid prank went wrong. Thirty years later, it appears that the vengeful spirit might have returned to terrorise a typically disposable group of idiots who have been given Detention for various infractions. Why them? Why now? As they're picked off one by one, can they figure out what the ghost wants - if it is really a ghost? Can the Principal (David Carradine, to whom the film is dedicated) help? Or the new history teacher, Miss Cipher, who seems unusually interested in the events of years past?

With a bland TV-video look, lack of stylistic flair and poor CGI effects, with its anonymous cast of generic teens (the goth girl, the stoner, the sports hunk, the cute girlfriend, etc) doing stupid things and frequently forgetting that they and their colleagues are in mortal danger, Detention is dull and annoying in equal measure. It has a twist ending that I admit I didn't see coming (but thinking back it's pretty nonsensical), and the teens are a shade more likeable than the usual sex, weed and booze-obsessed halfwits we've seen in too many dumb teen horrors already. But your life certainly won't be lacking if you don't bother with it. Massively unremarkable, and I'd much rather be watching the other Detention.

**

See me afterwards:

Friday, 21 October 2011

PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 3

CONTAINS SPOILERS. WHATEVER.

And the found footage bandwagon trundles tediously on. Pretty much identical to the first two Paranormal Activity movies - long stretches of murky lo-fi night vision occasionally interrupted by very slight movement, indistinct noises or things going thud for no reason - this is no better for having the mythology and characters already established in the earlier films because it spends time setting everything up rather than leaping straight into the action, and when the action does come it's pretty unremarkable (including a straight rip from the big jump moment in Paranormal Activity 2, which doesn't work a fraction as well). And for its final act it descends into typical horror movie territory which also doesn't work because it's handicapped by the found footage shooting style.

The first two films concentrated on Katie and Kristi separately; Paranormal Activity 3 looks at the two as sisters back in 1988 when the activity started, possibly through Kristi's imaginary friend "Toby". Initially it's just inexplicable noises off, but Dad sets up VHS camcorders in the bedrooms and lounge/kitchen to try and capture some evidence of what the mysterious presence might be. But who is "Toby" really, and what does he/it want? Will they even be safe when the flee the house and stay with their Gran? Or will the haunting follow them there?

The third act is where the film completely loses it with a melodramatic reveal that's not only staggeringly predictable (even for me, and I'm generally useless at these things) but nonsensical. Much like The Last Exorcism, the movie suddenly lurches for a payoff that doesn't fit. It's also where the rationale for the camcorder usage - which was debatable to start with - breaks down as well, as there's no longer any reason for them to keep filming everything. Aren't they safe now? Yet he keeps on filming, and even wanders around the house in the dark - never putting a light on - with his camcorder.

The crux of it all is the damnable found footage style: a style that just doesn't work. In the Paranormal Activity films and in most others of this genre, it has never worked. One or two have carried it off - Cannibal Holocaust is still the prime example, and at least the first [Rec] managed the trick as well - but in the main it fails because it's being used for the wrong reasons. The found footage technique isn't being used because it enhances the realism and adds verisimilitude; it's being used mainly because it's cheap. Look at the costs and grosses of the first two movies: the first cost a reported $15,000 and took a hundred million in the US alone; it had made its budget back five times over on its opening weekend. PA2 inexplicably cost $2.75m (where the hell did it all go?) but still took forty million on its opening weekend (figures for both films from their IMDb pages).

Such an astronomical return on investment is obviously going to be milked for all its' worth and to hell with concerns about the aesthetic ugliness or the narrative illogic. Not only are the reasons for shooting all this uninteresting footage generally pretty flimsy (at what point does the camera operator think he should really put this huge lump of equipment down and leg it?) but the films tend to look horrible in grainy lo-def camcorder vision, and Paranormal Activity 3 is supposed to be on VHS! (On the subject of the camcorder itself: this is supposedly 1998. Shouldn't the camera be shooting in 4:3 instead of widescreen?)

The fact is that there have always been haunted house movies, and there always will be haunted house movies - and they were, are, and will be, movies. Movies with directors and actors and writers, and effects and lighting and music and editing. Nobody ever tried to pretend that The Legend Of Hell House or The Haunting (either version) were real. They didn't have to: they were movies. They weren't real and the feeble cries of "no, it's real!" is embarrassing and desperate. Here's how you know it's not real: it ends with a cast list and a caption saying "All persons and events are fictitious and any similarity.....". Stop lying to me. Stop lying to us. You're fooling no-one and you're looking stupid. Nor does it even add up logically: exactly who is supposed to have put all this footage together?

In itself, although there are a couple of moderately effective jumps, this third and hopefully final offering simply doesn't deliver. If they'd made a film - a proper film with editing and scoring and lighting, cameras that could dolly and track and zoom and tilt - then in all probability they could have produced a perfectly decent Halloween chiller. Instead, because of their tiresome stylistic choice, they're stuck with the dull visuals and vast tracts of not very much happening for a long time. Yes, there are a few scary moments, but again they're the "Boo!" variety and there's nothing unsettling or disturbing that'll last in your mind.

*

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

BLOODY PIT OF HORROR

CONTAINS BLEEDING SPOILERS

It's strange. Here we are in 2011 and complaining left and right about the iron fist of the BBFC rejecting a whole two - count 'em, TWO - films on the grounds of graphic sexual violence (The Human Centipede Part II and The Bunny Game), yet back in 1967 a total of 15 films were rejected by the Board. A few of that year's banned titles have been reissued and are now deemed perfectly acceptable, such as The Trip and Common Law Cabin, but most have never been resubmitted. This is one of those titles: rejected August 4th, 1967, and never seen again, though it would probably pass unscathed these days. Happily it's available in a 12-disc R0 import box set of indifferent horror movies from various sources (this one's in the public domain) and while some of them are genuinely unwatchable in terms of audio and picture quality, some are passable. At least it's in widescreen (albeit non-anamorphic, in lurid colour and irritatingly pixelated at times).

Back in the whateverth century, a homicidal maniac dressed as a Mexican wrestler and known as The Crimson Executioner rampaged through Italy judging everyone as sinners, and torturing and murdering them. Eventually captured and sealed up in his own dungeon, he vowed he would return and wreak his revenge. Cut to 1967, and a group of dim fashion models and disposable idiots turn up at the supposedly deserted castle looking for a photoshoot location. What they find is a former movie actor now living as an embittered recluse with only a couple of bodybuilders in stripey shirts for company. But it's not long before "accidents" occur and the models and photographers start being picked off. Could The Crimson Executioner really have returned?

Shot in "Psychovision" (meaning "colour"), Bloody Pit Of Horror is generally pretty poor stuff: the acting is mainly terrible, there's little gore or nudity and the special effects highlight - a woman trapped in the web of a venomous rubber spider the size of a rugby ball in a room full of tripwires linked to blowpipes with arrows in them - is not only laughably nonsensical but astonishingly badly executed. Nor is the horror and violence is helped by a wildly inappopriate "lightly latin" soundtrack that seems to think everything's more terrifying if a bossanova is playing constantly in the background. If the film has anything going for it at all, it's Mickey Hargitay as The Crimson Executioner: a cackling, gloating, egotistical sociopath torturing helpless models with undisguised relish (and still dressed as a Mexican wrestler). He's great fun, and Hargitay is clearly having a blast. Everything else is sadly pretty mediocre. Directed by Massimo Pupillo under the unconvincing pseudonym "Max Hunter", and nominally based on the writings of the Marquis De Sade.

**

Monday, 17 October 2011

BLACK SNAKE

CONTAINS SPOILERS AND INTIMATIONS OF A BAD BAD WORD

For the sake of not being thrown off the internet, I am obviously not going to use That Word: I'm not (quite) that much of an idiot. However, for the sake of clarity, I shall do a spot of "melon farming": substituting an entirely innocent if nonsensical word for ever use of That Word so I don't actually type that sequence of letters but everyone knows the word to which I'm referring. It's the one you really really REALLY can't use these days. But it is used quite a lot by most of the white people in Russ Meyer's genuinely jaw-dropping slave plantation sexploitation movie from 1973. Hint: "nougat". (Not to mention the innumerable uses of "black bitch", "black bastard", "black arse" as well - you're duly warned.)

I'm sure someone with time on their hands and a disregard for all social niceties has probably created a compilation of uses of "Nougat!" in various movies and uploaded it to YouTube, and he/she could comfortably fill a couple of minutes from this film alone. Black Snake (aka Slaves) is a film which Russ Meyer apparently claimed was his statement against racial bigotry, but for most of the time plays like the wettest dream Jim Davidson has ever had. To investigate what happened to his brother, aristo David Warbeck disguises himself as the new bookkeeper at the family's Caribbean plantation where, despite the abolition of slavery, Lady Anouska Hempel maintains the profits by the use of slaves, mercilessly ruled over by drunken Irish rapist/racist bastard Percy Herbert. How long will it be before a revolt? Can Warbeck uncover his brother's fate?

The star of the show is undoubtedly the fantastic Anouska Hempel, striding around with a whip like Isla: She-Wolf Of The Ku Klux Klan by way of Godalming and shouting "nougat" a lot in a hilariously plummy voice. Warbeck is heroically square-jawed as well, Herbert is thoroughly despicable, but it's Hempel's film and she's great, whatever Russ Meyer might have thought of her figure. (Which is absolutely fine, by the way, although there are moments where Meyer has clearly inserted shots of someone bustier, and to hell with continuity.) There's also a black French homosexual, Bible-quoting, much sadistic cruelty and racist violence, and a surprisingly bleak conclusion - and then, perhaps realising that he hasn't included much in the way of wobbly hooter action thus far, Meyer has a pair of black and white couples running through the same locations in the present day while a voiceover burbles something about racial harmony.

It's rumoured that Ms Hempel - now Lady Weinberg, an internationally renowned hotelier - had bought the rights to this and Pete Walker's Tiffany Jones back in 1998 to prevent any more TV screenings or video releases, which makes the appearance of this DVD (which also includes the markedly inferior Wild Gals Of The Naked West) a little odd. Maybe she just watched it one night and thought "Wow, this is actually rather good!" and relented. Black Snake isn't a great movie, but it's one of the better Russ Meyer films I've seen: not as good as Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls but thoroughly disreputable, slightly shocking fun.

***

What did you just say?!?!?!

HEAD HUNTER (KANNIBAL)

CONTAINS SPOILERS AND (INSERT DEITY OF CHOICE) KNOWS WHAT ELSE

There are varying shades of bad filmmaking. The cynically empty lowest-common-denominator genre rubbish (anything by Troma), the big studio festivals of popcorn stupidity (Transformers 3), the cheap "mockbuster" knockoffs (anything by Asylum Films), comedies that aren't funny, fantasies that don't fire the imagination, horror movies that aren't scary or gross, pretentious art movies with nothing interesting to say, remakes and sequels that fail to match up. Then there's the dubious group of "so bad it's good" movies: the likes of Troll 2 or anything by Edward D Wood Jr. (Personally I don't really subscribe to this idea: I don't accept "so bad it's good" any more than "so good it's bad", but many do.) And there are a few instances - a very, very few - where it's so unremittingly terrible, so thoroughly misjudged, so painfully inadequate that it starts to exert a fascination: your only response it to stare at it in disbelief, screaming "In (insert deity of choice)'s name, what the hell were you thinking?!?!?!"

I would submit that Richard Driscoll's wretched Head Hunter, originally known as Kannibal and now reissued with a 3D conversion option, is one such film: a film that has the same car crash appeal of utter embarrassment and humiliation as a standup comedian dying slowly and in utter silence at the Royal Variety Performance. You genuinely watch it thinking "how much worse is this going to get?". The basic idea is that a man seeks revenge against all the members of a Russian-American crime syndicate after his wife was accidentally killed during the getaway of a federal bank robbery. So far, so Steven Seagal. Except that we don't have Seagal, we have writer-director-producer Richard Driscoll wearing his "Steven Craine" acting hat as - seriously - he turns the movie into a vehicle for an extended impression of Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lecter.

I've no doubt that YouTube is full of people doing Lecter impersonations into their webcams, and really that's the best place for it: five minutes of harmless clowning around in your bedroom with gags about fava beans and Chianti. A full-length feature film is not the best place for it, even if you can do a really good Hopkins impression, and especially if you can't. Shamelessly stealing the Lecter mannerisms and attitudes - and he even eats someone's liver with what is presumably supposed to be Chianti - isn't the least of it though: he slathers half the movie with pretty but inappropriate classical music (Rossini, Beethoven etc, because it's the kind of music Dr Lecter would like) that might be intended as contrast with the ugliness and bloody violence in a Clockwork Orange kind of way but doesn't work. Rather, it's a contrast to the original score which is simply thudding noise. Even more damagingly, the sound is so atrociously mixed that much of the dialogue is lost in the unnecessary music.

And if you thought Driscoll/Craine was bad as Anthony Hopkins, wait till you catch the cop on the case! It's a staggeringly ripe portrayal of a British police inspector by someone who doesn't appear to have ever seen a British police inspector outside of touring productions of Agatha Christie. Lucien Morgan (whom the IMDb suggests is one of the performers in the "See You Next Wednesday" porn film in An American Werewolf In London") appears to be pitching his performance to to the back of the dress circle and would force a draw in a ham-off between himself, Tod Slaughter and Brian Blessed. For crying out loud, he's wearing a monocle! (Tragically, the only posting on Morgan's IMDb page's messageboard is stating that he's looking for work - and that was eight years ago.) More weirdly still, no less a star than Linnea Quigley, aged 42 at the time, shows up as a lesbian porn mogul and drug trafficker with an outrageous Russian accent and has a couple of mesmerisingly ugly sex/bondage scenes, one of them with Eileen Daly (also sporting a Russian accent).

All of which would be okay if Driscoll was making Carry On Hannibal: you can get away with gaps in logic, overacting and funny accents in spoof and parody. But it's not a spoof: it's a proper, seriously intended horror/thriller and he's not joking! Back in 1985 he'd already earned his non-filmmaking spurs with The Comic (booed off the screen at the Scala, for goodness' sake), and more recently he's cemented his reputation with the incoherent gibberish of The Legend Of Harrow Woods. But someone really needs to take him aside and explain the basics of filmmaking to him because you cannot make films this pitiful and unprofessional, and expect to be paid for it. To say Head Hunter simply isn't good enough isn't enough - if it was a hell of a lot better it still wouldn't be good enough.

As mentioned, the DVD comes with a 3D version, which I didn't watch, firstly because it wasn't shot that way and I won't watch shonky conversion jobs, secondly because the rental disc didn't come with glasses, and thirdly because red/green 3D TV doesn't work anyway; it turns everything murky and the wrong colour (and Head Hunter is pretty murky to start with). And if Richard Driscoll thinks for a second that plastering 3D onto an already deeply idiotic film is going to somehow improve matters, he's even more wrong than he was when he first thought it up. For all its horrible fascination, it's still a thoroughly ghastly viewing experience and - as with The Legend Of Harrow Woods - if you inflict it on yourself, that's your own fault.

*

Sunday, 16 October 2011

VENUS IN FURS

CONTAINS A WHOLE DIFFERENT BUNCH OF SPOILERS

From the synopsis on Wikipedia (you can get the whole of Leopold Von Sacher-Masoch's book free online), it appears that this Massimo Dallamano film version is far closer than the Jess Franco film, which bore no resemblance whatsoever beyond having a character with the same name sometimes wearing a fur coat. At least this film is actually about the concept of masochism rather than globetrotting revenge from beyond the grave, and it's technically far superior to Franco's hamfisted zooms and focussing: it's properly photographed, directed and acted.

The masochist in this version of Venus In Furs is Severin, who is on holiday when he sees Wanda, a sexually uninhibited young woman with whom he falls in love. But what he really wants is for her to betray him: to seduce other men and humiliate him - he can only feel sexual pleasure at his own emotional torment. They marry, and they initially embrace the mistress/slave roleplay with gusto: he becomes her chauffeur and watches as she gives herself to other men. But it can't last and one particular man takes his place completely, throwing Severin out completely and even raping the maid in a frankly quite unnecessary sequence (from which the BBFC have removed one minute of footage).

It's also got a nice cheesy listening soundtrack (from the appropriately named Gianfranco Reverberi) and nicely shot, and the interior design of the boudoir is precisely the kind of bedroom I want. However, I don't know that the film does much in expressing and explaining the appeal of masochism - I don't understand how feeling humiliated fuels the sex drive. In Severin's it stems from an incident in his childhood but is that how it normally manifests itself? I genuinely don't know.

Perhaps it's a smidgen unchivalrous, but I'd rather watch Laura Antonelli wander around naked than (the still lovely) Maria Rohm from the Franco film. Generally, I kind of enjoyed it in parts, but as a sleazy sexploitation movie with more attractively showcased nudity than Franco managed, rather than as a serious film about a genuine sexual persuasion (which I'm sure it wasn't intended as anyway). Trivia note: the German versions had extra sequences in which Severin was declared insane; these sequences apparently include an uncredited Paul Muller who also appears in the Franco film.

***

Venus 2:

VENUS IN FURS

CONTAINS SOME SPOILERS

This is the first of two films, both from 1969, allegedy derived from the Leopold Von Sacher-Masoch "erotic classic" novel. In truth this is only nominally a film adaptation of the novel: it keeps the title and a character name or two and ditches the rest, including the whole idea of masochism which was named after the author in response to this book! This is, however, hardly surprising as it's a Jess Franco film, although what is surprising is that it's slightly better than the incomprehensible gibberish and tedium we've grown to expect from Franco. While it hits all the usual low points - overuse of the zoom, horrible focus pulling, artless softcore sex scenes and acres of nudity - its storyline almost holds up (despite a silly ending), it occasionally achieves a dreamlike feeling, and it never actually gets boring.

James Darren is a jazz trumpeter in Istanbul who catches sight of impossibly beautiful Maria Rohm one night and then sees her killed by a group of kinky sadists (including Dennis Price and Klaus Kinski). For some reason that even he doesn't understand, he's buried his trumpet on the beach but when he goes to dig it up he finds Rohm's body washed up by the tide: shaken he starts to bum his way around the world and ends up in Rio, where he takes up jazz trumpeting again - but who should walk into the club but Maria Rohm again?!? Isn't she dead? Darren pursues her obsessively, even as two of the kinky sadists (who have somewhat improbably also pitched up in Rio) meet their ends at her hands. Is she a ghost out for revenge? Back in Istanbul, Darren again walks along the beach, finds another corpse on the water's edge, turns it over.....

The "ghost seeking revenge against her killers" angle is probably the most coherent thing about Venus In Furs, although its hamstrung by Darren's hilarious voiceover of 50s slang along the lines of "Man, I totally dug that chick" - if you thought Harrison Ford's narration in Blade Runner was out of place (which it wasn't, incidentally), it's got nothing on this. Much of it's pretty dull, the dialogue is awful, it's visually ugly although it's undeniably nice to watch Maria Rohm wandering about in various states of undress. Neither as interesting or as technically well made as the Massimo Dallamano version, it is ultimately an average Jess Franco movie, slightly better than many but still hardly worth shouting about. Some of the music is by Manfred Mann.

**

Venus 1:

Friday, 14 October 2011

WILD GALS OF THE NAKED WEST

CONTAINS LITTLE IN THE WAY OF SPOILERS BUT MUCH IN THE WAY OF BLIMEY, CHARLIE, GET A LOAD OF THE UDDERS ON THAT

I don't entirely get Russ Meyer. On the one hand I'm not much of a fan of his work on the simple grounds that I don't share his passion for women with freakishly massive breasts, although I rather enjoyed Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! and Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls. On the other he had a unique voice and a style and I'm glad there was an industry that let him express it; there certainly isn't now. If there's anywhere a filmmaker can currently indulge a penchant for 54GGs, it's probably in the world of specialist DVD pornography and that's not a platform from which you can become an international household name. Faster, Pussycat! has been described as the ultimate cult movie and I saw it at the National Film Theatre. Big Busty Whoppers* is a 30-minute video and the IMDb doesn't even list a director.

And Wild Gals Of The Naked West? It's an incredibly cheap "adult" comedy Western desperately padded out to 61 minutes and set in a town so sinful the residents didn't dare to give it a name. Everyone drinks, topless women lasso passers-by from their first floor balcony and haul them up for (offscreen) sex, shootouts and fistfights go on for days, Injun abduct um heap big woman (it's that kind of film - it was made in 1962). One day a meek-looking salesman arrives, miraculously isn't killed during the short walk up Main Street, takes one look at the decadence and insanity, and cleans the place up with his really huge.... pistol.

Much of this is in the style of those silent Western spoof sequences Benny Hill used to make: you expect to see Henry McGee or Bob Todd in cowboy costumes, or hear Yakkety Sax on the soundtrack, except that it predates Benny Hill by many years and is nowhere near as funny. Many of the "jokes" are repeated two or three times because otherwise this would be a 20-minute short and frankly gain nothing from repetition. Certainly it has energy, and ingenuity in dealing with its low budget: the opening "History Of The West" montage is achieved through editing, props, scenery and sound effects and not one single person on screen. Some of the interior scenery is painted on a plain white wall or even dispensed with altogether, even the saloon piano is a plain white shelf with piano keys drawn onto it in permanent marker.

Wild Gals Of The Naked West really isn't any good: none of it's amusing and the continual emphasis on grotesque faces and equally grotesque chests would suggest you've got to be some serious kind of fetishist to find any of this even slightly effective in your downstairs department. But there's certainly some kind of energy to it, some kind of auteurist style to it, and it's ingeniously made in places for the pittance they had to spend on it. But there is a lot better Meyer out there.

* I just typed "big whoppers" into the IMDb search bar and this was the first thing that came up.


**

Thursday, 13 October 2011

THE ROOMMATE

MIGHT CONTAIN SPOILERS IF YOU HAVEN'T SEEN ANY HORROR-THRILLER-SLASHER-PSYCHO MOVIES EVER

Hollywood has never been shy of lifting, plagiarising, ripping-off or just plain copying. The genuine one-offs, the non-recurring phenomena, the true originals are scarce; the studios appear to come with a "Number Of Copies" button that you can just press and - voila - a "brand new" script. Some on the lower rungs, like the Asylum mockbusters (I Am Omega, Transmorphers) will be happy to recycle what was in cinemas two weeks ago (or if they're quick, what'll be be in cinemas in a few weeks' time); others may be more sneaky and xerox something that came out several years ago in the hope people won't notice. In this instance the film they've elected to knock off appears to be 1992's Single White Female, although a few minutes scrabbling round the IMDb suggests it sounds rather like the unrelated Single White Female 2 (which I haven't yet seen) that came out in 2005. Which is appropriate for a film about someone taking over another's identity.

The Roommate is named Rebecca: assigned to a college dorm with fashion student Sara, they start out friendly enough but it's not long before Rebecca is revealed as an insecure psychopath who wants Sara all to herself, and who will destroy, persecute or murder all who stand in her way. Ex-boyfriends, other friends, a leery professor (the last played by Billy Zane).... How long before Sara becomes aware of Rebecca's obsession? Answer: frankly, too long.

It's a 15 certificate in this country, but a mild one, just over the edge of 12A: in the States it was a PG13 so you know there's no meat to be had. No sex or violence and if you're going to going to have a psychological thriller about attractive girls going nuts and killing people, PG13 isn't anywhere near tough enough. It's soft and bland and doesn't deliver. The cast are mainly young and very pretty, though perpetually smirking male lead Cam Gigandet is particularly wet. Even the final reel's girl-on-girl punchup doesn't excite - because we've seen all this before, several times and much better. If you haven't seen all this before, it might elicit a few mild thrills at best. If you have, it's just going to annoy. And no-one's suggesting Single White Female was an unsurpassable cinematic achievement to begin with.

*

Compare and contrast:

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

THE THREE MUSKETEERS

EN GARDE! CONTAINS SPOILERS!

Why on Earth drag this old warhouse out of the attic yet again? Certainly the last trip to the Dumas well, Peter Hyams' The Musketeer, was an utter disaster notable only for trying to fuse swordfighting with martial arts and for casting EastEnders' Arthur Fowler as a drooling pervert. The three Richard Lester films of the 70s and 80s (though we didn't really need The Return Of The Musketeers) are probably the best and most enjoyable of them, with their huge star casts; the youthful Stephen Herek version (nicknamed Young Swords at the time) was okay but hardly essential. And they're just the most recent in a string of versions that the IMDb would have you believe date back to 1903! What have they brought to the table this time? Given that it's a Paul WS Anderson film, the answer is 3D. (I should mention that I didn't bother with the 3D this time out.)

Much of the familiar framework of The Three Musketeers remains intact: enthusiastic fool D'Artagnan journeys to Paris to become a musketeer just as they've been disbanded; he picks fights with Athos, Porthos and Aramis before they all team up to take on the fiendish Milady De Winter and the dastardly Cardinal Richelieu as they scheme to discredit the king, execute the queen and take over the country. Happily, D'Artagnan has just met Constance, who fortunately happens to be the Queen's lady-in-waiting, and the now-four Musketeers set off to foil the villainous plot with renewed vigour and loyalties.

Though the romantic leads are pretty terrible (Logan Lerman and Gabrielle Wilde), the film is stuffed with big names not even bothering to disguise the American accents. Milla Jovovich (obviously having fun as Milady), Christoph Waltz as the Cardinal, James Corden in the Roy Kinnear peasant role from the Lester films; plus Mads Mikkelsen, Juno Temple, Matthew McFadyen and - oddly considering he was such a drip in the Pirates films - Orlando Bloom! Sadly too much of the film is reliant on CGI effects sequences, such as an extended airship battle and collision over 17th Century Paris, and some of the computer FX shots would have been deemed substandard fifteen years ago.

It rattles along, and it's fun to watch the supporting cast (though emphatically not the leads); there's some nicely snarky dialogue for the villains and it even sets itself up for a sequel that I genuinely suspect will never happen. It's a romp, it's a silly, lightweight film, there's no sense of seriousness behind it, and you do start wondering whether the country would be better off in the evil grasp of Richelieu than that of a king more concerned with the colour of his outfit than the tiresome details of international politics and peace treaties. Ultimately it's sort of okay but with such source material, merely being okay isn't anywhere near enough, and as such it's a disappointment because it really should and could have been better.

**

SOMEONE'S KNOCKING AT THE DOOR

KNOCK KNOCK! WHO'S THERE? SPOILERS!

It's always difficult to get that excited about horror movies where the whole of the action is taking place inside the head of one of the characters. To me it's as much of a copout as "he woke up and it was all a dream". It means that action on screen doesn't necessarily need to make any logical sense (because our dreams and imaginations rarely if ever do), which is a gift for writers who can't write logical stories: if they make everything a dream or a hallucination then they can pretty much do what they like. But then no-one's in danger, no-one gets hurt and nothing is lost - so where's the thrill? It's a fantasy within a fantasy. Where's the excitement and horror in watching people think about getting brutally murdered?

In Someone's Knocking At The Door, a stoned college kid is raped to death after he and his imbecilic friends ingested some drugs they found in the hospital archive: drugs that fuelled the rampages of a couple of serial killers back in the 1970s. (Er, surely they should be in a police evidence vault rather than a hospital.) Anyway, could these drugs somehow be bringing back the spirits of the 70s killers into this reality? And if it is a hallucination, then whose? Certainly the cops seem to think they're real - but are they part of it? Is there really a violent and unstoppable sex maniac running around with a 15-inch phallus or might the hallucinogenic side effects of this unknown chemical be responsible?

Presumably this is a legal prescription drug they've taken, since the bottle comes with a handy list of potential side effects including hallucinations and a coma (which the idiots cheerfully ignore as they calculate the chances are only 0.0001%, only to find the odds are closer to one in one). Or possibly zero, since it's increasingly unlikely that any of this is actually happening. It ultimately gets too confused and gives up towards the end, so what looked like a bunch of horrible things happening to a bunch of tiresome idiots turned out to be a tiresome idiot imagining a bunch of horrible things happening to him and his tiresome idiot friends. And I didn't care. In honesty, I'd have been happier if the horrible things had actually been happening to them because then there would have been some justice.

Frankly, as college sex and weirdness movies go, I infinitely preferred Gregg Araki's Kaboom although I didn't think that was more than okay at best; and while I really didn't like Donnie Darko it's still a better made and more interesting movie than Someone's Knocking At The Door. It's got a grubby indie vibe about it but it's genuinely hard to give a damn, yet again, about a group of uninteresting people to whom these things might not even be happening. Really not worth the time and rental fee, and not a fraction of a very small fraction as interesting as the box blurb makes out. Mysteriously, the opening credits are repeated at the end in a different font, twice.

*

May cause drowsiness:

Monday, 10 October 2011

THE MANSTER

CANTAINS SPAILERS

Yup. It's not The Monster, but The Manster. Part Man, part Monster. This is an agreeably daft piece of low-budget mad scientist B-twaddle, interestingly co-produced with (and set in) Japan, although it's a Japan where everyone speaks English, with some laughable moments but generally moves at a fast enough pace to gloss over the arrant silliness and iffy make-up effects. Ultimately the worst that can be said about it is that the secondary female lead bears a terrifying resemblance to Edwina Currie; something which frankly scared me more than the Manster on one of its blood-crazed rampages.

There are actually two man-monster Mansters in The Manster: a giant ape creature savages some girls in a bath-house in rural Japan before returning to the mountaintop laboratory of its demented creator Dr Suzuki. Clearly the formula isn't working, so he changes the enzyme and selects a new test subject: he drugs newspaper reporter Larry (Peter Dyneley) with dodgy whisky and injects him with the new improved serum. But it's not long before Larry starts to transform into his inner beast: he loses his focus at work, dumps his long-suffering wife and takes up with Suzuki's glamorous assistant (Edwina lookalike Terri Zimmern in, as far as the IMDb is concerned, her only film appearance). His physical transformation starts with the hairy hand before developing an eye on his shoulder that becomes a second head! (Evil Dead 3: Army Of Darkness nodded to this at one point.) And then.....

The second head itself is a pretty terrible effect: it doesn't actually do anything except sit on the actor's shoulder (probably glued to his raincoat so it doesn't fall off when he runs) and is less convincing even than the one Zaphod Beeblebrox had in the BBC version of Hitch-hiker's Guide. But it is pretty much of the level you'd expect from a Z-list horror movie from 1959: clunky writing: out of nowhere a volcano starts erupting, and the final chunk of dialogue is almost literally unspeakable. Still, it's not supposed to be Citizen Kane. Idiotic, but not without a few moments of loopy charm. The Manster doesn't appear to have ever been released in the UK; this was seen on an imported DVD.

**

THE DEVIL'S ROCK

AVE SPOILERS

A horror movie set in (on?) the Channel Islands during the Second World War with only four significant speaking parts, that mainly takes place in one underground location - surely this would be a natural for the low-budget British horror industry? It's something of a surprise to find this is actually made in New Zealand! Why didn't we make this? Why did it need people more than eleven thousand miles away to produce something that's so naturally British? Presumably we'd have insisted on a role for Danny Dyer. Anyway, this could have been a perfectly decent, fairly grim and gruesome British offering - not a classic but a solid production - but instead it's a perfectly decent, fairly grim and gruesome New Zealand offering.

Possibly The Devil's Rock is Faroe Island itself, but more likely it's the ugly concrete monolith the German occupiers have constructed upon it. Two Allied soldiers, ordered to blow up the German gun emplacement as part of a distraction from the imminent Normandy landings, hear the sound of agonised screaming, and investigate. But inside, all but one of the Germans are dead, at the hands of a voracious demon conjured up as part of Hitler's ongoing obsession with the occult ("He almost got his hands on the Ark of the Covenant", murmurs the sole German survivor in the film's only humorous moment). Crucially, the demon has shapeshifting powers and can take the form of its prey's loved ones: can our reluctant heroes withstand its/her wiles and complete the banishment ritual as laid down in the Necronomicon?

While there's a lot of blood and entrails, most of the gore is after-the-fact offal rather than the kills themselves, and much of the first two thirds is talk rather than action. But on this occasion it's well enough done. The demonic makeup design is pretty traditional looking - although there is a dodgy CGI distension effect that doesn't really come off - and there's a nice irony in the payoff. Overall it's not bad. I'm just slightly annoyed that we didn't get to do it. (Ignore the critical quotes on the front cover: this is NOT "Saw With Swastikas" any more than it's Carry On Cowboy With Goosestepping.)

***

Achtung:

Friday, 7 October 2011

MELANCHOLIA

BOO HOO SNIFF CONTAINS SPOILERS SNIFFLE SNIFFLE

You can probably tell from its title that this is not a film of high jollity, and indeed the greatest amusement was generating from no less than six people walking out of the film (and not coming back) during its final screening last night at the Milton Keynes Cineworld. Laughs there are none. Moments of great visual beauty, excessive length, unanswered questions, much that is impenetrable, as you'd expect from auteurist art cinema, but little to dispel the gloom, misery and sense of futility. On one level it's unfair to criticise a miserable art movie for being a miserable art movie, in the same way that you can't knock Friday The 13th Part V for its lack of insight into the human condition, but on another level there are several points where you really want the damn thing to lighten up.

Towards the end of the third Naked Gun movie there's a spoof Oscars ceremony and the nominees are synopsised as "one woman's triumph over a yeast infection set against the background of the tragic Buffalo Bills season of 1991" and "one woman's ordeal to overcome the death of her cat set against the background of the Hindenberg disaster". Well, Melancholia is principally concerned with one woman's battle against catatonic depression set against the background of the impending destruction of the planet Earth. Part One features Justine (Kirsten Dunst) as a spoiled, miserable advertising copywriter on her wedding day - she arrives two hours late at a country mansion hotel for her monumentally expensive reception, disrupts the day's schedule, chucks her job, insults her boss, and cheats on her new husband by shagging a bloke she's only just met (on the golf course). Part Two features her sister Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg) as she attempts to drag Justine out of a depression so deep she can barely walk, as the planet Melancholia breaks all the laws of physics by breaking out of its orbit from the far side of the sun and hopefully doing a Star Trek slingshot manoeuvre - or possibly then turning round and smashing into the North Pacific. Roll end credits.

The opening ten minutes or so is a gorgeous montage of ultra-slow-motion visuals of Dunst as the apocalypse begins, intercut with CGI effects of the planetary collision, accompanied by Wagner's Prelude to Tristan And Isolde. Frankly I could have just watched that for the punishing 135 minutes, and it would have been lovely, but they cut to an hour of this tiresome wedding reception full of idiotically rich people. Yes, there's John Hurt and Charlotte Rampling, Udo Kier and Kiefer Sutherland, Stellan Skarsgard and Jesper Christensen; it's always good to see them but before long you really are willing the rogue planet to hurry up and smash into them. Then we get a second hour of moping and whining with the two sisters at Gainsbourg and Sutherland's huge mansion (incidentally so enormous you wonder why they didn't hold the first act reception there) as Melancholia does its interplanetary three-point turn and speeds unstoppably towards Earth. While the happy and contented Claire panics in the face of global annihilation, Justine faces it with stolid acceptance.

If Wikipedia is to believed (and I don't believe that everything on there is a lie) Lars Von Trier apparently conceived this movie during therapy for his ongoing depression: he supposedly directed Antichrist while suffering the same condition and while it lacks the extreme and offputting imagery of that film, it's just as frustrating. I really wanted to like Melancholia - I'd actually like to like all movies - and while I genuinely liked isolated, beautiful moments, there's a hell of a lot to be annoyed and bored by. I'm glad "difficult" arthouse cinema is getting through to a few multiplexes and out of the niche circuits; as I believe multiplexes should cater for all audiences and not just shovel out the hollow studio slop. But surely you can have arthouse movies that aren't about deeply uninteresting things happening to deeply irritating people?

**

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

BLOOD RUNS COLD

INNEHĂ…LLER DETALJER I BERĂ„TTELSEN (CONTAINS DETAILS OF THE STORY)

Bizarrely, this isn't an American film, despite everyone speaking and writing English throughout and apparently being set in the US. Only the non-American accents give it away, but it's actually Swedish, made in Sweden by a substantially Swedish cast and crew, but the lack of any Swedish dialogue or references suggests it was made entirely with the foreign market in mind, to trick the dimbo American audiences into watching a Swedish film without their knowledge. In and of itself it's a silly and frankly implausible snowbound slasher movie, but it looks good, has an impressive bogeyman and boasts some cheerily nasty gore moments.

Blood Runs Cold has a young singer named Winona taking a couple of weeks off at a rented cabin miles from nowhere: she meets up with her ex and a couple of his friends and they all stay the night. But in the morning they find the car vandalised and a deranged axeman (who looks not unlike the Tusken Raiders from Star Wars except covered in blood) starts butchering them and eating them fresh off the bone. Why? Who is he? Why can't her concerned manager find her when he's standing outside the house?

That last reveal is laugh out loud funny, and either a brilliant piece of sleight of the writer's hand or a ridiculous old plot contrivance shoehorned in as a completely implausible twist. I'm tempted to the latter since much of the movie depends on unlikely circumstances - the guy who discovers the car's sabotaged engine doesn't think it worth waking people up to tell them, nor does Winona's ex bother to mention that he's seen someone upstairs through the window. Presumably this cabin doesn't have a functioning toilet since both guys go out in the snow to pee, but it does apparently have several hundred yards of crawlspace and a basement only slightly smaller than the Piccadilly line. And in the final reel there's a breathtaking moment of "blimey, THAT was handy" as the Final Girl lays her hand on the very item she really needs but which had absolutely no business being there.

And it's curious that Blood Runs Cold manages to get away with having its mad killer's backstory and motivations go entirely unexplained when Neighbor failed to pull the same trick just a few days ago with its unnamed murderess. I can only suggest that, like Leatherface or Michael Myers, he's more of a force of nature than any kind of human being - like The Terminator, you can't argue with it, you can't reason with it - whereas The Girl is obviously a reasoning, decision-making person who does what she does out of deliberate choice rather than the primal, unthinking instinct by which Texas Chainsaw or a hundred other bogeymen are powered. It's not a bad film by any means: despite the iffy writing and gaping implausibilities and unlikely incidents, it has an imposing-looking killer, it maintains a decent pace once it gets going and it delivers on the blood and gore (which always looks better against snow). And sometimes that's enough.

***

Brrrrrrrrr:

Monday, 3 October 2011

NEIGHBOR

CONTAINS SOME SPOILERS AND WHINING

Another dreary slog through the wacky world of torture porn and, while that label is often incorrectly applied to the likes of Saw and Hostel, it's actually quite appropriate here as there's nothing else going on. It's exclusively concerned with torture and violence, gore and murder; it's not interested in character or narrative as the characters are uninteresting and the narrative nothing but a flimsy thread on which to hang the scenes of screaming and bloodshed. Whole reels of Friday The 13ths and Halloweens go by without anything horrible happening but the overwhelming bulk of this independent cheapie consists of nothing but sadistic violence and splatter. With no level of emotional connection, the sole thrust of the film is the extended scenes of torture and with no rationale to explain why it's happening, it's just an empty succession of nasty gore effects. It's not necessarily a bad thing, but it is porn.

Presumably Neighbor refers to the unnamed woman played by America Olivo (she's also in Transformers 3, Bitch Slap and the Friday The 13th remake, so by now she can surely recognise a rotten movie when she's hired to be in one) although there's no actual evidence that she's anyone's neighbour in particular. She's basically a homicidal maniac, merrily torturing and killing without a whiff of conscience or remorse; she sets her sights on Don (Christian Campbell, Neve's brother), a local musician gearing up for a performance of his band's new album. And then spends the rest of the movie maiming and injuring him, and murdering his friends and loved ones. Or does she? Midway through it appears she's been dealt with but is that a fantasy? Or does the remainder of the film take place in Don's traumatised imagination?

The violence, which includes drilled feet and thighs, eyelids stapled open, finger-lopping, facial acid burns and slashed limbs, is undeniably well executed with terrific gore prosthetics. The one horror that we don't see, and frankly I can't complain much about the BBFC removing 19 seconds of this, has The Girl inserting a metal rod into Don's penis. But there's no sense of reason behind it - presumably they wanted to make The Girl an unfathomable and incomprehensible monster who does what she does just because, not unlike the maniacs of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Probably any explanation would be redundant, and would feel grafted on, but if you're going to set the film in a real suburban world (rather than the exaggerated wasteland of TCM) the characters also need to be rooted in that world as well. There's no mention made of how many people The Girl has killed already, and no mention of how she's managed to evade the law.

And: Carpenter, Hitchcock, Landis, Hodder, Kane, Shaye, Cunningham. You are once again stamping on very thin ice by naming all your characters after genre actors and directors and littering the script with movie references. A respectful tip of the hat is one thing but unless your own movie is worthy of those names and nods then it's just fanboy name-dropping. Halloween was able to do it, Night Of The Creeps got away with it. This doesn't because it's simply not a good enough movie to justify evoking those names (and Shaye and Cunningham I'm not sure I'd classify as genre greats anyway), although I don't think any of the names are actually spoken so it's an injoke reserved for the end credits anyway.

It's an ugly movie, it's a charmless movie, and without much reason to care about or be much interested in any of the characters, good or bad, it's a dull movie. The spectre of a sequel - in which The Girl presumably moves to another town and inflicts meaningless cruelty on another random bunch of people - raises its head at the end and over the closing credits like it's a James Bond movie. Please don't. This is just horrible.

*

HORROR RISES FROM THE TOMB

CONTAINS SPOILERS AND A SENSE OF BEING CHEATED

You'd think from the reviews on the IMDb that this was a full-on tits and gore extravaganza, with much nudity and senseless splatter. Not that the reviews section of the IMDb are a particular beacon of intelligence - check out their dimwitted bleatings against Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and its lack of machine gun battles and exploding speedboats - but it would appear that this Spanish sleaze offering is available in two versions: one with hooters and blood, one without. Guess which one I ended up with? Not that padding out the running time with around eight minutes of naked women and heart-ripping would have helped much, but given that it's pretty much all the film's got going for it, it's not fair either to the film or the audience to remove it.

Horror Rises From The Tomb (El Espanto Surge De La Tumba) is, at least in its cut version, a pretty dull piece of trash in which the legendary Paul Naschy stars as a warlock, executed in 1454 but vowing revenge. In present day (1970s) Paris, his descendant, also played by Naschy, goes off to his ancestral home with an artist and their respective lady friends. Forced off the road by bandits (who are promptly hung by the locals!) and conned into the extortionate purchase of a crappy old wartime Citroen, they hole up at the mansion with the intention of looking for treasure in the catacombs. What they find is the severed head of the old warlock, which immediately starts possessing people so he can be reunited with his body and brought back to life.

There are zombies, several scythe murders, and a handy magical talisman than can convert the possessed. Mostly, however, there's a lot of badly pan-and-scanned dullness accompanied by a tiresome organ soundtrack. It is entirely possible that the longer version with the nude women and more violence shown in the correct ratio is a better viewing experience, but that's sadly not the version I saw, and the mystery as to how Jacinto Molina Alvarez, aka Paul Naschy, became of the legendary names of European horror remains unsolved.

*

Sunday, 2 October 2011

DOUBLE EXPOSURE

CONTAINS MINOR SPOILERS

This is a bit of a weird one. It has the feel of a bog-standard American TV movie, but the strong language, casual nudity and the occasional bit of sadistic violence put it far outside the remit of the networks' Standards And Practices rules; although it was released in American cinemas in January 1983 (on a double-bill with Tattoo), it doesn't appear to have had a UK cinema outing but it did get a certificated video release after 10 seconds of BBFC cuts. And it only runs about 94 minutes but it feels long because it's a slasher movie where the slashings are padded out with a lot of character drama waffle.

The fairly generically titled Double Exposure might almost count as a giallo: the setup is that a middle-aged photographer (Michael Callan, who also produced) keeps dreaming about murdering his models and then waking up to find that they have indeed been killed - has he killed them and can't remember? There's certainly a maniac on the loose doing away with streetwalkers and the police aren't making any headway, but is it him? Or his one-armed, one-legged brother? Surely not the camp queen he works for? Or the bald and aggressive bartender? Or even the woman (Joanna Pettet) he's recently fallen in love with?

Sadly, much of the running time is not taken up with slashings or the police investigation, but with Callan getting together with Pettet, Callan ranting at his psychiatrist (Seymour Cassel), Callan and his brother arguing about their Mom, bedding various cheerfully undiscriminating women and going on a double date to a mud-wrestling show. Frankly none of this is interesting - there's a psycho on the loose butchering prostitutes and glamour models and we're spending whole reels watching a tubby guy moon over his new girlfriend. The killer's identity is improbable at best and nonsensical at worst and while there's one genuinely nasty kill sequence (involving a plastic bag and a rattlesnake) there's far too much prattling stodge in between the murders. Overall it's a failure.

*