Wednesday, 28 November 2012



Yet another of those movies from the 1970s that you can't get in the UK: you've either got to import a Region 1 disc (it's pricey, you're not really supposed to, and in all honesty it's hardly worth it) or resort less legitimate means. By which I mean streaming it off YouTube. It's not been uploaded by the producers or the owners, and the picture quality is pretty poor (even when compared with other YouTube presentations - maybe it was sourced from a knackered VHS tape or something), but sadly that's all there is. If I could get it off Blockbusters or there was a chance it'd turn up on BBC2 or Film4, then clearly I would.

The Devil's Rain is a fairly unremarkable horror movie with two good reasons for catching it: a better than usual cast of familiar cult faces, and a final reel of surprisingly yukky gore effects. Other than that, it's pure hokum. Immortal Corbis (Ernest Borgnine) is still leading his flock of robed Satanists, desperate to track down a book stolen from them centuries before by the distant ancestors of the Preston family. Now, after Mark Preston (William Shatner) has failed in a battle of faith inside the cult's desert church, it's ultimately down to Tom Skerritt and Eddie Albert to unleash the Devil's Rain, and thwart Corbis and the Devil's plans.

At which point the movie basically stops for a showstopping series of gruesome dissolvings, as the devil worshippers are turned into puddles of blue gloop, like they're The Incredible Melting Man or something. Even allowing for the awful image quality it's suddenly rather good fun: considering that along with the strength of the cast - which also includes Ida Lupino, Keenan Wynn and a young John Travolta - you'd have thought someone would have put it out there properly: despite the slime it would probably get away with a 15. There are some nice moments - Borgnine offering Shatner some water in the desert, all the shots of the followers' eyes - but overall The Devil's Rain is ordinary at best. It isn't terrible, it's just one of those movies that isn't particularly good.


Saturday, 24 November 2012



The title of the movie is sarcastic, of course: America is a shouty wasteland of ignorant, bellowing cretins that the Good Lord has long since abandoned. Its culture is mindless, shallow and aesthetically worthless, celebrating the talentless and the morally bankrupt; its television a repository of shrieking subhuman bullshit and its citizens heartless, mean-spirited bling-drenched morons obsessed with their own meaningless and ephemeral gratification above all else and all others. Just yesterday there was an unwatchably depressing video on YouTube showing American shoppers at the opening of the big Black Friday sale at WalMart, descending en masse on a pallet of cheap mobiles like Romero's zombies ripping apart the last human being alive. (Not that the UK can crow particularly: we've got Ant and Dec.)

That's the starting point behind Bobcat Goldthwait's God Bless America. It's an exaggeration, of course: obviously there are Americans who are intelligent and well-read and who appreciate subtitled movies and bathe once in a while, but they're drowned out by the imbeciles and the noise, the talent shows and reality shows that showcase neither talent nor reality, the bigotry, the fearmongering, the hate and the cruelty. Frank (Joel Murray, Bill's brother) is eventually pushed too far by a steady accumulation of garbage TV, inconsiderate neighbours, his own spoiled brat of a daughter, his simpleton coworkers, and ultimately his being sacked for basically trying to be a nice guy in an ocean of vileness. So he takes his gun and sets out to rid his country of its worst aspects, starting with the obnoxious teen bitch star of a TV reality show (which absolutely isn't My Super Sweet Sixteen, though it's entirely the same and quotes directly from it). He reluctantly teams up with the dead girl's classmate Roxanne (Tara Lynne Barr) and they embark on a spree against the Top Ten Greatest Nuisances Of Contemporary America.

Hate preachers picketing funerals, people who text in cinemas, ranting TV nutjobs, judges on a talent show (which absolutely isn't American Idol, though it's entirely the same)....some of those targets are certainly justified, but by adding in the trivial nuisance targets the film dilutes the venom aimed at the deserving cases. Equating the liars and fearmongers of a rightwing TV news channel (which absolutely isn't Fox News, though it's entirely the same) with selfish bastards who park over two spaces is like equating Robert Mugabe with the bloke from the Go Compare adverts or people who don't proofread their tweets: you lose perspective and proportion when you're basically gunning down anyone who isn't you. That's the point at which you become a Dalek. John Waters' Serial Mom had Kathleen Turner murdering people who didn't rewind rented videotapes or who wore white shoes after Labour Day (whatever the hell that is), but she wasn't also going after paedophiles and corrupt politicians at the same time.

With its cleanup crew of downtrodden loser and enthusiastic younger woman taking out the trash, it's more reminiscent of Super, but it's far better than that film and it's certainly funnier. Certainly it's not to be taken too seriously: there doesn't appear to be any kind of police action against them even though they've been witnessed, pictured on TV news and Frank is killing people with his own handgun and travelling in stolen cars. Still, God Bless America is funny, and there's no doubt that there's a righteous anger, bitter fury and steaming bile at work here, but unfortunately it's all spewing over pretty much everyone, and tacky karaoke shows and pseudo-documentaries showcasing inarticulate scum screeching incoherently at each other are easier comedy targets than, say, City bankers or elected representatives who lie, cheat and screw all of us over and pocket millions regardless of the cost or their actual worth. A movie about someone taking out those individuals would be worth seeing.

Meanwhile God Bless America is worth a look: it's repetitive in places with frequent glances at the head-banging awfulness of two hundred channels of bugger all, and it stops rather than comes to a natural ending, but there are laughs to be had and there's a measure of truth in it. It's a pity it only got a very limited theatrical release as it deserves a little more exposure than it received by basically being shunted off to DVD.


I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it any more:

Thursday, 22 November 2012



For years this was the one major Dario Argento movie I hadn't seen. Thanks to the Scala Cinema in King's Cross I'd managed to catch most of his earlier films (including the rarely shown Four Flies On Grey Velvet, probably my favourite of his "Animal Trilogy"). I'd been absolutely stunned by Terror At The Opera and Tenebrae on the big screen, and at this point I was a fan, even of the all-over-the-place Phenomena and the relatively flat Trauma. (Sadly it would all come to a screeching, shrieking halt with the ghastly The Stendhal Syndrome.)

I first saw Deep Red under its original UK title of The Hatchet Murders at the Fantasm season in 1996 at the National Film Theatre. It was a ropey old print: discoloured, scratchy and jumpy, but I didn't care: I loved it immediately. (This might have been one explanation as to why I hated Stendhal so much when it was screened the following week - it ain't Deep Red and deep down that's probably what I really wanted). Since then I've seen it several more times, in cinemas, on an atrociously pan-and-scanned VHS and now on shiny DVD, and I still loved it; and having watched it again just a few nights ago I still love it. Oh, sure there are minor annoyances every time - a language problem and a character I really want to slap every time they appear - but this is easily up there in Argento's top rank.

There's not really much point in relating the basic plot details: musician David Hemmings witnesses the murder of a psychic (Macha Meril), and he's first on the scene....but something's not quite right, something's not exactly as he remembers it, and with the aid of (frankly annoying) journalist Daria Nicolodi sets out to solve the crime, not so much in the interests of bringing a murderer to justice as simply clearing up that tiny detail that eludes him. But from this springs two other shockingly brutal murders and a fantastically chilling pair of sequences of Hemmings exploring an abandoned old mansion - not once, but twice! - on the basis of the slenderest and cleverest of clues.

With a terrific early Goblin score (credited as "The Goblins") and gorgeous photography with lots of appropriately deep reds, Deep Red is still one of the best giallos out there: demented plotting, luscious visuals, sadistic violence. It's not perfect: the comedy sequences involving Nicolodi's knackered old car just feel out of place, as does a genuinely weird little girl (Nicoletta Elmi) who sticks a hatpin through a lizard for absolutely no reason, which caused the BBFC some concern on all but its most recent release. And you could quibble about the so-so optical effects for the big fire towards the end, or the fact that the film occasionally switches from English to subtitled Italian - but I'm not going to. No film is perfect, but the best come damn close to it.

I'll admit I prefer Opera, which is so wonderfully bonkers with even more audacious set-pieces, and Tenebrae, a very close second. Those two are masterpieces with infinite rewatch value, Suspiria and Deep Red are right on their bloody heels and all four incredible films show Dario Argento at his absolute peak. That's part of the problem, of course, with more recent works such as The Card Player and the disastrous Giallo: he's done so much better and Sleepless was probably the last of his films to demonstrate just how good he can really be (though I still maintain a fondness for Do You Like Hitchcock?). Deep Red is prime Argento, prime giallo and prime cinema, and I love it.


Profondo Rosso:

Wednesday, 21 November 2012



Mea culpa: when the FrightFest 2012 lineup was announced I declared on Twitter that the scheduling of the Maniac remake against the fourth entry in the Wrong Turn franchise was not the most difficult of decisions. In the event I was ambivalent about Franck Khalfoun's thoroughly questionable first-person-scalper but felt confident that I'd still made the right choice - a choice made easier by the fact that Wrong Turn 3: Left For Dead, by the same director, was a pile of old rubber pants. Well, for what it's worth, I misjudged it: it's a massive improvement on the previous instalment, though still not up there with the enjoyably nasty original or Joe Lynch's hilarious splattery romp, and delivers as a mean-spirited body count movie with plenty of simpletons being sadistically slaughtered by a trio of giggling inbred mutants.

Wrong Turn 4: Bloody Beginnings is basically One Eye, Saw Tooth And Three Finger: The Early Years, beginning with the series' trio of deformed hillbilly cannibals escaping from their cell in the basement of a remote sanatorium in 1973 and slaughtering staff and patients alike. Thirty years later (taking place before the events of the first Wrong Turn movie) a bunch of college simpletons get lost in a blizzard and hole up for the night in the abandoned building (shades of the enjoyable Norwegian slasher film Cold Prey) - but of course they are not alone and it's not long before they're picked off and turned into nibbles.

It's tough to muster up any sympathy for the nine potential meat courses: more interested in sex, weed, booze and partying than anything else. On the one hand they're smart enough to include someone who can start a hospital generator system (rather than the usual petrol engine chugging away in a shack) and another who knows how to project 35mm film, but on the other they're stupid enough to go wandering though an unfamiliar, abandoned building, in the dark, at night, without considering any of the potential dangers, and one of the group is so thick he actually tries to save a girl from hanging by pulling on her ankles. Characters abruptly change depending on what the script demands: one girl is emphatically against killing the mutants in one scene, and enthusiastically voting for it in the next.

There's also the problem of it being a prequel: we know the mutants survive because they're in the other movies. Just as we know Anakin Skywalker can't die in the Star Wars prequels (more's the pity), the idea robs the movie of any suspense as to the outcome, even though it's kind of traditional in modern horror cinema for the monsters to survive somehow, if only for the final shock coda. Happily, it doesn't matter too much since the splatter is liberally sprayed around, with severed limbs, needles through heads, frenzied knife attacks and a long scene of one of the simpletons having bits of his flesh cut off and fried in front of him. Sadly some of these kills have been augmented at best, and performed entirely at worst, with CGI effects that look slapdash and unconvincing.

Wrong Turn 4 is a mixed bag: it's immeasurably better than the misstep of Wrong Turn 3 and it has plenty of blood and gore, but all the victims are idiots and you don't care who lives or dies. It's enjoyable enough even as you realise just how stupid it is; fun enough as an evening's rental though probably not one to keep and treasure forever.


Yummy yummy:

Tuesday, 20 November 2012



The year's biggest disappointment was not, as expected, Prometheus, though that's probably because I didn't subject myself to all the hype and trailers and then realise the film had little left to discover. Nor was it The Dark Knight Rises since my expectations were only moderate after the previous movie (and again, I hadn't watched the trailers on YouTube over and over). Nor was it either of the year's Adam Sandler offerings since [1] I don't expect anything from them and [2] I didn't bother to see them. No: the year's greatest failure to satisfy my hopes for Quality Cinema was the new film from Paul Thomas Anderson. I liked There Will Be Blood a great deal, and I absolutely love Boogie Nights, but this is absolutely not even close to being in the same league. (Confession: I have not seen Magnolia yet.)

In the years immediately after the Second World War, The Master is Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman), leader of a small philosophical movement known as The Cause, which promotes regression, past lives and hypnosis as part of its great Vision For Humanity. Drawn into Dodd's orbit is Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix, who I have to admit I didn't recognise at first), a naval veteran drifting aimlessly from one meaningless job and sexual encounter to another. Stowing away on a yacht, he finds himself invited to stay with Dodd's extended family and social circle, thanks partly to his facility with making powerful hooch cocktails out of whatever's to hand (including paint thinner).

In essence, The Master is really about the relationship between the two men. It's clearer what Quell sees in Dodd: he needs to belong in an organised structure and cannot function on his own, so he willingly subjects himself to Dodd's "Processing": endless question and answer sessions that are impossible to tell whether they're brilliantly clever or made-up nonsense. Somehow he at least doesn't fail these tests, even though (despite his military experience) he lacks the discipline to fit in, to behave himself, and he even physically attacks those who question The Cause. But it's not as clear what Dodd sees in Quell: it's never explained why he insists this unpredictable and violent alcoholic is so important to The Cause. Does he relish the challenge of converting him?

It's similarly difficult to work out what the ultimate point of the story is, since neither of the two is really worthy of interest. Dodd's Cause might be a flash of insight into the human condition, it might be hogwash that nevertheless attracts a circle of acolytes looking for some kind of meaning to their lives. (Any resemblance to Scientology is entirely coincidental and in your own head and not the film.) Certainly there's no hint that Dodd is an out-and-out charlatan, and I'm slightly tempted by the idea that Dodd isn't The Master at all: it's his wife (Amy Adams).

Odd moments appeal - a full-on discussion about The Cause at a swanky party where Dodd is demonstrating regression in particular, since that gave a hint as to what these people were talking about - while others, principally the guaranteed least erotic group nude sequence ever put on film, stun in entirely the wrong way. But for all the undeniably intriguing substance and exemplary performances, I can't get excited about the film and it does become a series of arguments about something unclear between two men we don't really care about. It's a cold film, hard to get into and hard to find very much meat, and the heavyweight dramatic fireworks never go off. The period detail is certainly as convincing as the evocation of the 1970s in Boogie Nights - but it isn't a fraction as enjoyable or exciting. It's a much more sombre film, heavier and glummer. I wanted to like it, honestly: I wanted to be dazzled, and in the end I just wasn't.




Hopelessly one-sided debate time: Danny Dyer is rubbish, isn't he? All those films and he's not been any good in any of them. Some of them have been okay, but not because of Danny Dyer: they've been okay in spite of Danny Dyer. For example, I didn't mind Devil's Playground as a reasonably efficient if unremarkable zombie movie, and I enjoyed Severance a lot, but in no way were either of those films enhanced by Dyer's presence in the cast. Certainly he brought nothing positive to Age Of Heroes or Doghouse; indeed his obnoxious characters made the films less enjoyable than they might otherwise have been. On the other hand, in a film as utterly worthless as Basement Danny Dyer was the least of their problems. In too many movies he's been exactly the same unlikeable and foul-mouthed yobbo: blokey, sexist, charmless, and in serious need of a smack round the head with a chair leg. I obviously have no idea how close that is to him in real life, but that's his screen persona and it's pretty deplorable.

Presumably Deviation was intended either to demonstrate Dyer's previously untapped thespian range, or to force one upon him. Here he's having a stab at a fully rounded human being: still charmless and unlikeable but a pathetic whining psychotic rather than a sweary hooligan. Frank (Dyer) is a killer who's escaped from Broadmoor and takes nurse Amber (Anna Walton) hostage in her car as he prepares to flee the country. Can she get away? Will he kill her like the others, and anyone else who gets in his way? And why doesn't Amber just lift the headrest out of its socket?

There are two sides to Frank: he's partly your basic bog-standard homicidal maniac who kills without mercy anyone who crosses him, and partly a mumbling loser blaming everyone but himself for his crimes: they teased him, they provoked him, he's a nice bloke really. Danny Dyer just isn't the actor to play someone so distant from his usual "mouthy git with a sixpack" performance, let alone someone switching between two totally different personalities. Most of the movie consists of his dialogues with Amber - not a bad idea for a film in theory, but this one doesn't make it plausible enough that she would enter into any kind of conversation with him, let alone come close to empathising with him at any point.

So it's astonishingly dull, it's unbelievable, and it's fatally miscast with a leading man who simply isn't up to the job. Might it have been a better movie with another actor in the role? Possibly. Certainly it's no good at all as it stands. Incredibly, this utter tosh got a British cinema release (albeit a limited one).


Saturday, 17 November 2012



Most horror films aren't scary. They might creep you out while they're on, they might gross you out or make you jump, but generally speaking the horror films that stay in your mind long afterwards are very few and extremely far between. Recent movies that have remained with me include Sinister and Insidious (the latter didn't fully manifest itself for several days) but usually the effect is over once the credits are running. And outside of the genuinely primal, spiritual fears conjured up by the Exorcist movies (and I'm not sure about Exorcist 2: The Heretic) and anything involving spiders (though for some reason I was perfectly okay with Arachnophobia), I can usually take anything the horror makers can throw at me. Usually.

The Night Child (aka The Cursed Medallion) is an Italian demonic possession movie by Massimo Dallamano from 1975 in which Richard Johnson makes boring documentaries about the Devil for the BBC: he takes his daughter Emily (Nicoletta Elmi, the creepy girl from Deep Red) off to Italy for his new film which centres on a huge painting in a spooky old deserted mansion. No-one knows who painted it; it supposedly appeared out of nowhere on the night a girl disappeared - and that girl had a medallion identical to the one worn by Emily, whose mother died in a mysterious fire...

It's a fairly silly European devil movie, but full credit to the props department because every time they cut to the scary painting I got chills. A massive canvas about twelve feet high, with a superbly frightening representation of the Devil, soaring above a landscape full of lynch mobs pursuing a young girl (with a medallion) - okay, it's only a painting, it's only a painting, but it's a genuinely scary one and I had to look away every time. It's decently cast as well: it's always good to see Richard Johnson (whatever else he's done, he'll always be the star of Zombie Flesh Eaters for me), Edmund Purdom has one scene as a doctor, Lila Kedrova is the Countess who knows what's going on, and Blade Runner's Joanna Cassidy is Johnson's assistant and new girlfriend.

The Night Child is a perfectly decent little horror movie which succeeded in scaring me. Maybe I made the wrong decision in putting the DVD on late at night (an elephant trap I avoided with, say, Lake Mungo) just before bedtime, though fortunately it didn't actually stop me sleeping. For that alone, the film gets its fourth star: it almost feels picky to quibble over the dodgy optical effects shots. No masterpiece, but very effective and worthy of (re)discovery.





Well, it's finally over. And at least the Twilight franchise has gone out, if not on a high, then on a moderate at the very least. The fifth in a variable series of mopey emo nonsense aimed primarily at teenage girls, it does deliver the expected in terms of almost literally unspeakable dialogue (the very final exchange almost had me falling off my seat for giggling), endless shots of autumnal forests and hunks with their shirts off. But fortunately there are two factors that liven the movie up to the point where it's actually rather fun: firstly there's a whole reel of roaring monster-on-monster action with severed heads and people flying through the air and vampires and werewolves beating each other up, and secondly Michael Sheen finally gets plenty of screen time in which to camp it up something splendid as the pantomime dame King Of The Vampires.

In the event, it's probably the best of the Twilights, though in the same way as Revenge Of The Sith is the best of the Star Wars prequels - in other words, that ain't saying a whole lot. The original was way overlong and glum, New Moon was no better and Eclipse was an improvement, but Breaking Dawn Part One went back to the angsty emotional dullness. And there's still a lot of daytime soap opera-level blither to get through here: as detailed in the last movie, Bella is not just a newborn vampire, but the mother of baby Renesmee, a human-vampire hybrid with a silly name. A hybrid who is already growing and developing at an unprecedented rate, and who is assumed by the Volturi (the Vampire High Council) to be an "immortal child" who will bring about massacre and destruction and therefore must be destroyed. The Cullens, and Jacob's werewolf pack, vow to stand against the Volturi even as the armies are assembled, to do bloody battle on the day the snow sticks to the ground...

Much of The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part Two doesn't make a whole lot of sense: not the least of which is why the Volturi wait so long before assembling their troops on the side of a snowfield, and how do two of the Cullens know this so far in advance? Why don't the Volturi swoop on Day One before the enemy have a chance to marshal their own forces? Still, it's kind of forgiven once the robed legions of the Volturi do turn up and Michael Sheen gets to overact and inject some fun into the otherwise insipid proceedings. Then there's twenty minutes of spectacular head-ripping monster action in which all the cast get to show off their special powers like it's the X-Men taking on the Marvel Avengers. It's perhaps a pity that this huge battle sequence doesn't resolve itself in the best way: some might even regard it as a cheat and there were some groans from the audience I saw it with.

Still, it's lightened up from the established Twilight tradition of Kristen Stewart humourlessly moping while mournful whiny guitar ballads play on the soundtrack, Robert Pattinson being all soulful and tortured and Taylor Lautner taking his shirt off. Now that they've made the choice of Team Edward over Team Jacob, the miserable angsty stuff (best summed up by that scene where Bella apparently sulks in a chair for a whole year) has been dialled down and there are a few more laughs on offer. For that, Sheen, and the battle sequence, I didn't mind Breaking Dawn Part Two and, despite the the sense that it's finally all over, the film does leave the door open for further instalments if the money is right. Which it almost certainly will be. As Edward Cullen says at one point: "It's painful, but it's bearable."


Wednesday, 14 November 2012



How? How can this happen? How can you possibly make a film about a cross-dressing megalomaniac with a mother complex who ran the FBI for thirty seven years, including the Second World War and Nixon and Kennedy years, that's so thuddingly dull? Serious, sombre, worthy, respectful, meticulously crafted it may be, but it's also humourless, overlong and dull. What it really needed was Oliver Stone in JFK or Natural Born Killers mode to come on set and overdirect the film to pieces - or even in the style of Nixon, a terrific and much underrated film - rather than Clint Eastwood's glum and colourless approach to what should be dramatic dynamite. It would have been wild, outlandish, possibly even defamatory, but at least it wouldn't have been a cold grey stodge of a film.

J. Edgar flips backwards and forwards almost randomly across the years touching on the major points of Hoover's life and career: his relationship with his mother (Judi Dench), the early days of taking on Bolshevik revolutionaries, the gangster wars against the likes of Dillinger, Machine Gun Kelly and Pretty Boy Floyd, and the Lindbergh baby snatching, as well as his longtime relationship with his number two, Clyde Tolson (Armie Hammer) - were they gay lovers or just close work colleagues with no social life outside of the Bureau?

It's a story ripe with drama and action, but it refuses to come to life. Part of the problem is the film's structure that shuffles too frequently between the young, middle-aged and elderly Hoover and Tolson which necessitates extensive use of (not terribly good) prosthetics and hairpieces that make some of their scenes look like The Odd Couple or The Sunshine Boys. Naomi Watts is high on the billing but she's given very little to do beyond answer the phone as Hoover's executive assistant (again, sometimes in old lady makeup). And at the middle of it, in pretty much every scene, every shot, is Leonardo DiCaprio, who I don't really like as an actor but I do think is doing a perfectly decent job here as Hoover. But either he doesn't want to let rip, or Eastwood doesn't want him to let rip: it's as if they're so fascinated by Hoover the conflicted, unworldly man that they lose sight of Hoover the unreasoning monster.

It came out in January, at the height of the awards season, and certainly feels like it was made with major prizes in mind; in the event it only picked up one Golden Globe nomination (for DiCaprio), and no Oscars or Baftas. Maybe trimming would have livened it up a bit: at 137 minutes it's a definite plod. Certainly it's beautifully crafted and all the hats and cars and suits look right - though I don't doubt there's someone who spotted a 1929 wing mirror on a car supposedly in 1927 - but all the production design in the world isn't enough if the story isn't gripping and interesting. And, shockingly given the subject matter, this just isn't. If only Larry Cohen's The Private Files Of J Edgar Hoover was on UK DVD; I suspect that's a lot more fun.


Hoover sucks:



Occasionally it just happens that we get two (sometimes more - remember the three Columbus movies back in 1992?) movies on the same subject that turn up within a few months of each other. Two giant volcano movies (Volcano and Dante's Peak), two Robin Hood movies (Patrick Bergin and Kevin Costner), two meteor movies (Armageddon and Deep Impact). 2012's contribution to the coincidental cinema releases were a brace of Snow White movies - in addition to Snow White And The Huntsman (with Kristen Stewart and Chris Hemsworth, the latter playing the role as a Scotsman for no earthly reason), there's Tarsem Singh Dhandwar's visually opulent and more comedic take on the fairy tale.

Despite the subtitle "The Untold Adventures Of Snow White" (which doesn't actually appear on the film itself), Mirror Mirror is more accurately The Oft-Told Adventures: on her 18th birthday the beautiful princess Snow White (Lily Collins) is sent to her death in the scary forest by the evil queen (Julia Roberts), but the minion can't bring himself to kill her; she meets up with seven dwarfs and a handsome prince (Armie Hammer), and returns to claim the throne and restore peace and prosperity to the suffering citizens.

It may not have the depth of Snow White And The Huntsman (which is not to suggest that movie had much in the way of depth to begin with), but it has an unhinged visual richness to it. Tarsem's main strength has been fabulous imagery - see The Cell and The Fall: both pretty uninteresting as movies but totally bonkers on the sets, costumes and landscapes, and Immortals had nothing going for it but its look - and the production design, wigs and frocks are absolutely first rate. It's also more comedic: Nathan Lane getting most of the humour as the evil queen's cowardly Number 2, Michael Lerner playing a Baron as George C Scott, silly love potions and the Prince losing his clothes.

It's likeable and amusing enough, but there's really not very much going on underneath the pretty packaging and on balance Snow White And The Huntsman is probably the better of the two films, for all Kristen Stewart's sulky dampness. Young kids would probably enjoy the Tarsem film more as it lacks the more horrific content - it's a PG rather than a 12/12A - while grownups will most likely tire of the opulence fairly quickly.


On reflection:

Monday, 12 November 2012



Deep down, you know it. You know going in that it isn't going to pretty, it isn't going to be pleasant, it isn't going to be funny or scary or sexy and it sure as hell isn't going to be any good. Look at the poster. Look at the title. Do you see Judi Dench anywhere in the cast? Has there been talk of Academy nominations or a Royal Film Performance? How much lower can your expectations go? But to say that these factors don't apply with what is in essence a trashy, jokey exploitation movie is to miss the point. We're still being charged real money for this: to see it in a cinema (the UK box-office take was reportedly just £38, but then the cinema release was merely a publicity stunt for the DVD), to rent it, stream it or (insanely) to actually purchase it, yours to keep forever. It doesn't matter whether it's the RSC doing Lear at the National or the Bognor Regis Amateur Operatics Society doing The Mikado in a scout hut: if they're charging money then some semblance of professionalism is demanded.

Strippers Vs. Werewolves is a cheap and shoddy piece of unprofessional rubbish that couldn't be more blatantly moronic if it was wearing a beanie hat with a propeller on it; it's made by people who haven't the faintest idea what they're doing and who, for the good of the horror genre (and humanity in general) need to be slapped and told not to do this kind of thing again. Essentially we're back in Dead Cert territory (that wasn't a good idea then, and it sure as hell isn't now), except that it's werewolves this time: a pack led by Billy Murray and Martin Compston and their halfwitted associates (usually found wanking over naked women through the two-way mirror in the lingerie shop next door) come up against the performers at Sarah Douglas' (!!!!) strip club when one of them kills a punter (Martin Kemp for twenty seconds) with a silver pen in the eye. And one of them - Compston's girlfriend - might be turning into a werewolf herself....

Steven Berkoff and Lysette Anthony turn up for pointless cameos, Robert Englund has a bit as a convicted werewolf banged up in HM Chaney Prison. That might be an injoke on the original Wolf Man Lon Chaney, as might the music score being credited to one Neil Chaney (although he also did the music for Martin Kemp's Stalker). And apparently there are references to An American Werewolf In London and The Monster Squad (though I missed them) as well as a clumsily shoehorned mention of producer Jonathan Sothcott's Airborne, which to be fair was rather fun. But namechecking other, indisputably better movies is a risky proposition unless your own movie is pretty good in its own right and Strippers Vs. Werewolves really isn't. Rather it's one of the most depressing unlikeable and tiresome movies of the year.

Acting is terrible, writing is really terrible, and the directing (Jonathan Glendening, who'd already done a more-or-less passable werewolf movie in 13 Hrs) is all over the place, with fadeouts between scenes, pointless split screen effects, drawings instead of shots and repeated use of a "Meanwhile..." caption - in Comic Sans no less! The final confrontation in the strip club is artlessly staged, and both the horror and smut lack any kind of impact throughout. Most of all, it's boring and it's tiresome and you just want the sodding thing to end so you can get on with something more rewarding like punching yourself in the face. Strippers Vs. Werewolves genuinely gives horror cinema, British cinema, and movies in general a bad name: it's stupid, it's not funny, it's not even competent. If this sort of tedious wank fodder for the undiscriminating halfwit is the best Sothcott and his cronies can do, maybe they shouldn't bother.




It's Turkish. It's one hundred and fifty nine minutes long. It's what they call "leisurely paced" and great chunks of it takes place in long, unbroken takes from a static camera. Very little actually happens; indeed it's over an hour and twenty minutes before we even discover what the characters are looking for. It has no music. These are not qualities generally associated with a terrific night at the multiplex or a cracking Saturday night rental. So how come I wasn't bored senseless by it? How come I wasn't yelling "get on with it!" at the screen, or simply abandoning it and putting something less arcane on? After all, Strippers Vs Werewolves arrived in my postbox the same morning, it's about half as long, and it's probably got some sex and gore in it.

Watching Once Upon A Time In Anatolia is like eavesdropping on a group of people who are already in the middle of their discussion: you have to figure out for yourself what it is they're actually talking about, and no-one provides you with a handy expository recap. All we know to start with is that several men in two cars and a jeep are driving through the Turkish countryside: gradually we learn that some of them are police, one is a doctor, one a prosecutor, and two are suspects leading the police to a crime scene. In the dark, they're not sure whether they're in the right place or not. It's only the following morning, after they've spent the night in a nearby village, when they finally discover a corpse buried in a field. Who is he, why was he killed?

In some respects, it doesn't really matter: this isn't an episode of Poirot (although the clues are there: with some help from the IMDb's message boards, I am now a little clearer on what was supposed to have happened). It's more about the various individuals on the case: the increasingly angry and frustrated lead investigator losing patience with the suspect, the clearer-headed prosecutor relating a tale of a woman who died inexplicably (perhaps this is more relevant than it seems). Or the problems at the remote village, where all the young people have left, the electricity keeps dropping out and they don't even have a working morgue.

I'm not a big fan of movies where I feel the need to look them up on the IMDb afterwards to find out what happened (Michael Haneke's Hidden remains the worst offender for me), partly because the IMDb forums are awash with awe-inspiring stupidity and bad spelling, but mainly because I really should be smart enough to figure most movies out on my own. I'm not a genius, sure, but I'm not a moron either; it's not as if I look on the IMDb to understand the plot of a Chuck Norris movie but I'm not ashamed to say I needed help with something like Last Year At Marienbad. In the case of Once Upon A Time In Anatolia I did feel it justified, simply to clarify I few things I'd missed.

But its main achievement is keeping me engrossed in something that on paper couldn't be less engrossing. It's not strong on humour, though there is some agreeably ghoulish black comedy when, having dug the body up, they have to work out how to get it back to town. I liked the fact the film dispenses entirely with the use of music (I think the only music is a song briefly heard on a car radio) and I couldn't imagine where it would felt appropriate, no matter how brief or subtle - and I'm a fan of good film music. I loved the night-time photography of rural Turkey: the film looked fabulous throughout (I watched it on BluRay). And, most importantly, I didn't mind that it took its time. Some movies bore at 85 minutes full of sex and fights and things going boom. This is 159 minutes long, has none of those things, and doesn't. Which is fantastic.



Friday, 9 November 2012



Isn't it wonderful when a film and its makers treat you like a reasoning, thinking, grown-up human being and not like a gurgling imbecile with attention deficit disorder? Isn't it wonderful when a film and its makers assume you've an IQ above that of a woodlouse and tell a proper story rather than just flinging robots and lasers and gunfire in your face for two hours? Isn't it wonderful when a film generates phenomenal tension by accumulation of incident and sympathetic characters instead of cutting everything into a subliminal blur and blowing everything up to the accompaniment of a pounding soundtrack? Isn't it wonderful when people are cast because they're terrific character actors rather than because they're just really really hot this week?

If Argo didn't have the "based on a true story" caption at the start, you simply wouldn't believe a frame of it. When the Shah of Iran fled after the revolution, he was given sanctuary in the USA; in protest, baying mobs stormed the US Embassy in Tehran, taking the staff as hostages. But six Americans managed to sneak out and find refuge in the Canadian Ambassador's residence. Incredibly, the CIA cook up the most ludicrous cover story to get the six out of Iran before they're discovered: that they're a crew of Canadian filmmakers scouting locations for a science-fiction movie (the Argo of the title). To make the cover story absolutely believable, they even set up a production company, with specially designed posters, costumes and storyboards and even organise a readthrough of the script. But when extraction specialist Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck) gets into Iran and meets up with the "houseguests", they only have a few days to memorise their fake identities....

Meantime Mendez has to deal with the authorities at the Iranian Culture Ministry, the revolutionaries are gradually discovering that some of the Americans are unaccounted for, and the White House are having second thoughts about the whole damn plan - as well they might, as even Mendez and his boss acknowledge that it's the least bad plan they have, and one of the houseguests actually gets to say what we're all thinking: "it's crazy, but it might just work!". It all culminates in a third act of genuinely gripping suspense, the details and twists of which it would be unforgivable to spoil. Suffice to say that nails will be chewed to the elbows.

Equally suspenseful is the Hollywood comedy material with John Goodman and Alan Arkin - the juxtaposition of smart and truly laugh-out-loud one-liners about movie producers with Middle Eastern hostage drama and CIA thrills really shouldn't work, but incredibly none of these elements feel out of place. Nor does the nostalgia mask ever slip: from the lovely old Warners logo at the start to the grainy photography deliberately evoking 70s cinema, to the period detail of huge spectacles and facial hair. Staggeringly, pretty much everything about Argo works perfectly. And in a year in which actual money was made with films as artistically, spiritually and technically worthless as This Means War and Battleship, to find mainstream cinema aiming this high and succeeding is more than refreshing, it's invigorating.

I confess I wasn't hugely thrilled by Ben Affleck's two previous directorial outings, Gone Baby Gone and The Town, though I liked them both enough. But this is in a completely different league of film-making. For someone who likes movies of the 1970s and would frequently rather watch a film that's forty years old than something fresh on Blockbuster's shelves this morning, Argo is a joy. It's intelligent without being intellectual, serious without being pompous, funny in precisely the right places, properly paced, properly lit and edited. And it's absolutely one of the very best films of the year, and it's pretty much come out of nowhere. Isn't it wonderful when that happens?


Thursday, 8 November 2012



There are some who maintain that Quentin Tarantino started off brilliantly and then degenerated into boring video geekdom, riffing endlessly and liberally on obscure 1970s action movies, Shaw Brothers martial arts films, spaghetti westerns and cult classics. That he burst onto the scene with ferocious crime dramas dripping with snappy dialogue and splashy violence: Pulp Fiction, Reservoir Dogs (even if the latter owes a hell of a lot to Ringo Lam's City On Fire). But then, after Jackie Brown, he just gave up being a startling new voice and settled for nerdy fanboy homages to nerdy fanboy movies: the Kill Bill movies, Inglourious Basterds. I actually take the opposite view: maybe it's because I'm a bit of a nerdy fanboy myself that I enjoy the later movies more. "Normal" people don't get the Antonio Margheriti namedrop in Inglourious or the use of Bernard Herrmann's Twisted Nerve theme in Kill Bill Vol 1, or why Uma Thurman is wearing a yellow tracksuit (it's a nod to Bruce Lee's costume in Game Of Death) - well, it's their loss, frankly. I like spotting posters and dialogue in the way I like shouting out the titles of all the clips in Terror In The Aisles. That said, I also think Kill Bill Vol 1 and Inglourious Basterds are both terrific movies in their own right.

Tarantino's nerdiest film thus far is Death Proof, a celebration of 1970s B-movies and cult films in general and Vanishing Point in particular. Originally conceived as half of the Grindhouse double-bill project (along with Robert Rodriguez' gory zombie epic Planet Terror and a bunch of fake trailers that have already given us the ho-hum Machete), it doesn't actually work as a grindhouse movie as it's far too long; at least twenty minutes of dialogue could be hacked away without causing any damage. The film's main appeal lies not in the chat, no matter how smart, nor the two separate groups of smokin' hot chicks (including Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Rose MacGowan, Rosario Dawson and Vanessa Ferlito): it's when they meet up with Stuntman Mike (Kurt Russell), a homicidal maniac with a customised "death proof" stunt car with which he crashes into other vehicles causing spectacularly fatal accidents.

The second half is a riff on Vanishing Point in which a trio of girls take on Stuntman Mike in an extended car chase with the vehicles repeatedly crunching into each other (half the time with Zoe Bell clinging to the bonnet of a white 1970 Dodge Challenger), and this chunk of the film goes a long way to alleviating the relative dullness of the first half, which consists of little more than another group of women sitting in a bar smart-talking and lobbing pop culture references at each other. That's not necessarily uninteresting, but it isn't Grindhouse: the movies Tarantino is homaging here would cut out all his precious yadda yadda and cut straight to the screeching tyres and the splattery gore.

Tarantino's other long-standing habit, of licensing all the music from existing sources rather than having an original score, sometimes throws up moments that jar for soundtrack fans: when he needledrops Pino Donaggio's music from Blow Out it momentarily takes me out of Death Proof because I know where the music is originally from. Curiously a later instance, where Ennio Morricone's music to The Bird With The Crystal Plumage suddenly starts up, doesn't bother me nearly as much. Generally his musical choices are bang on. Maybe it would be nice if Tarantino allowed Morricone or Bacalov to provide a score rather than splicing in their existing works from his LP collection, but frankly anything which brings these composers to public light is to be applauded anyway.

But despite the overlength and the prattle and the occasional questionable music choice, I like the film a lot and watching it again on Blu today I liked it more than I did on its theatrical release. It's gorgeously photographed (Tarantino is billed as his own DP), the night scenes look rich and and are not lost in darkness, and even when it inexplicably switches to black and white it still looks great. Personally I could do without the scratches and splices and faked print damage: all the exemplary effort they've gone to to make Death Proof look like a 1970s film is rather diminished when the characters start sending text messages and talking about going online. But it feels like it's made by someone who loves movies - not "cinema", not the art of film, not just Battleship Potemkin and Citizen Kane, but "movies". Which is great, because I love "movies" too.


Thunder Bolt:

Wednesday, 7 November 2012



Tolerable bike-based idiocy from 2003 with as much testosterone as unleaded petrol, in which the male characters all strut around like angry dicks and the female characters are reduced to eye candy or concerned mothers. That's not to say it isn't any fun, but essentially it's a thoroughly preposterous two-wheeled version of The Fast And The Furious crossed with daytime soap opera slop which is made bearable by the mighty Laurence Fishburne slumming it in what is basically shiny whizzy tosh for no good reason.

Biker Boyz centres on Jaleel, known as Kid (Derek Luke), a wannabe motorbike champion of California in the nocturnal street-racing community. The reigning champion is veteran Smoke (Fishburne), but he's been easing off recently after his mechanic, Kid's father was accidentally killed. Strictly speaking, Kid should have to work his way up the racing ranks within an established club: he elects instead to form his own club with fellow rider Primo and hustler Stuntman (everyone has silly names in this movie: other characters include Soul Train, Motherland, Queenie and Chu Chu), but first he has to take on the arrogant and dangerous Dogg. However, Kid's mother has a bombshell of a family secret....

It's rubbish, and the dramatic scenes are awful, but Fishburne is always worth watching, there's some fair-to-decent bike footage and the support cast is pretty impressive (Orlando Jones, Djimon Hounsou, Lisa Bonet, Terrence Howard). But it's silly and implausible and shallow and about 20 minutes too long; Joseph Kahn's Torque is shorter and more fun (although just as silly and empty). On balance, it's hardly worth the effort.


Brrm brrm:

Tuesday, 6 November 2012



When I mentioned on Twitter that I'd watched this Wesley Snipes action movie, I was immediately followed by Sun Tzu, the Chinese strategist, philosopher and military general who died in around 496 BC. Sun Tzu proffers a wide range of nuggets of battlefield advice ranging from the impenetrably gnomic through to the bleedin' obvious, though sadly none of them advise what to do in the event of the audience spotting a mystery villain two reels before the big twist, or how to shoot martial arts sequences so the audience can see what the hell is going on. Which is strange, since it's directed by Josef Ruznak, who generally seems pretty competent (Beyond, or the It's Alive remake).

The Art Of War II: Betrayal is pretty much on a par with the first film, which is to say that it's scarcely essential viewing. But whereas the first one had a decent supporting cast (Donald Sutherland, Anne Archer) and acted like a proper serious political thriller rather than a simplistic DTV action flick, the sequel is pretty much the other way around: it stars almost no-one you've ever heard of and it's more of a disposable biff-kerpow-thud headbanger than anything else. Now answering to the name Nigel Stone, one-time special agent Neil Shaw (Snipes) is working as an adviser on knuckleheaded action movies. The leading man wants to run for the Senate but is being blackmailed over nudey threesome photographs; and Shaw/Stone agrees to look into it.

Meanwhile, Shaw/Stone's old teacher has died, leaving behind an allegedly hot daughter called Heather (Athena Karkanis), there's an evil arms company bumping off the opposition to their new super-death gun, and Homeland Security is on Shaw/Stone's trail when he's set up for a Congressman's murder. Most of this is punctuated either by abject silliness (Shaw lets rats loose in the top security headquarters then dresses up as the bloke from Pest Control and immediately has the run of the whole building despite still having the face of a wanted murder suspect) or atrociously shot fight scenes which, one might cynically suggest, have been overedited and overlaid with post-production effects in order to hide the fact that Snipes fights like Mollie Sugden. And if you can't spot the mystery villains within seconds of their first appearances on the screen, you're not even trying. Generally pretty mediocre despite Snipes' natural charm and watchability.



Monday, 5 November 2012



This is an astonishingly grim movie. I mean, obviously a fearless and unflinching examination of the development of a serial killer under the guidance of his babbling mentor, from his initial abduction at the age of six through the years patiently learning the techniques of gutting women in an abandoned abattoir, isn't going to be big on hilarity anyway but even so it's pretty gruelling going. It's actually the prequel to the grungy Malevolence, which was also light on the laughs but had a seedy drive-in movie feel to it; this just has unbearable nihilism in which pretty much everyone dies pointlessly and needlessly. And it's made more uncomfortable by the use of a child in some of the grisly and bloody slaughter.

Malevolence had the maniac already in place and told of a bunch of robbers and their hostages who turned up there by chance and were offed by a mad killer; Bereavement tells how he got that way. As a child, Martin feels no pain and is thus in danger of hurting himself and bleeding to death unawares. But local loonie Graham Sutter snatches the kid and over the years trains him as his assistant as he picks up local girls and butchers them in the old slaughterhouse. Meanwhile, following the deaths of her parents in Chicago, Allison (Alexandre Daddario) has come to stay with her uncle (Michael Biehn) and his family - how long before Sutter chooses her as his next victim?

Though it was made two years earlier, it has something of the feel of Jennifer Lynch's Chained about it, but it lacks the disturbing depth of that film: whereas Vincent D'Onofrio's killer was a fully depicted character (even allowing for the questionable plot twist), here we're given little insight into what makes the maniac tick except that he's entirely in thrall to the cattle skulls hung on the walls that tell him what to do. Bereavement goes instead for the disturbing shallows, with children as potential victims as well as a murderer in training, an unpleasant relish to the kills, and no-one spared in the corpse-strewn third act. Eventually it leaves you wondering just what the point of it was beyond setting up a film that had already been made. Technically it's well enough put together as a sleazy grindhouse item, but rather empty and with a somewhat nasty aftertaste to it.


Laughs there ain't none:

Saturday, 3 November 2012



Eh? Of all the horror movies made in the last ten years, Silent Hill is the one you decided to try and turn into a franchise? Silent Hill? Okay, it's got name recognition from the series of games and the first movie had a terrific visual flair and surreal design scheme about it, but I guarantee you could throw a rock in any direction and none of the people it hit would ever claim that what the world was really crying out for was another Silent Hill movie. Why not The Ruins 2? Frat House Massacre 2? Zombie Strippers 2? We don't even need another Saw or another Paranormal Activity, so what on Earth Michael J Bassett thinks he's doing flogging this one back into some sort of life is really anyone's guess. On the other hand, if they can stretch Resident Evil out to five increasingly silly films, why the hell not?

Even though I watched the first film the previous night, I'm not entirely sure I grasped the subtleties, or indeed the whole point, of Silent Hill: Revelation. At the end of the first one Radha Mitchell and adopted daughter Jodelle Ferland (unknowingly the innocent part of a demonic child created by religious whackjobs in the remote former mining town of Silent Hill) escaped from the madhouse but were trapped in another dimension. In between films, Mitchell was able to get the child through to the real world and father Sean Bean, but couldn't cross over herself. They've since moved on several times and changed their names, but the apocalyptic cult is still after the girl, now played by Adelaide Clemens, and abduct Bean to bring her back to the town of her own free will....

Meanwhile the sirens keep going off and the landscape keeps transforming, the weird creatures, robed religious loonies and the bloke with the giant sword and triangular metal head keep showing up, there's a creepy cameo from Malcolm McDowell and a giant spider monster made up of bits of shop window mannequins. Eventually everyone gets together in a hidden temple underneath the scary funfair to yell at each other and unleash the forces of good and/or evil. None of it makes a huge amount of sense and, despite the demons being vanquished, the film ends with the strong suggestion that it's going to come back again and we'll be due Silent Hill 3 in another couple of years.

It's really not doing anything that the first Silent Hill didn't do first (except that it's shorter) and doing it in 3D isn't enough reason by itself to do it all again. I watched it in 2D and - yet again - there's hardly anything in there that screams out for an artificially enhanced dimension effect (and much of it takes place in dim lighting anyway). Yet for all that's dull, confusing or inexplicable about Silent Hill: Revelation, it's nowhere near a genuinely awful film. A strong supporting cast (Carrie-Anne Moss, Deborah Kara Unger, Martin Donovan) is more fun than the generally uninteresting leads, and the terrific production design throws up some nicely grotesque imagery. I ended up liking it more than I probably should have done. But two is definitely enough.




Before the screening - the closing film of this year's FrightFest allnighter - there were ugly rumours going around that this "based on true events" shocker was yet another Found Footage movie, and I make no secret of the fact that had it been true I'd have walked away and got the early train home. Indeed, I'm perversely proud of this: the genre's limited bag of tricks has long run dry and I've already refused to watch Paranormal Activity 4 because of this shoddy and tedious pretence, and I've also cleared my rental queue of camcorder-based dullness. As it turns out, this one isn't "found" after all (despite what it says on the film's Wikipedia page and what it looks like from the trailer and the official website), but sadly it's not significantly better or scarier or more interesting for all its adherence to traditional film-making techniques.

The Helpers doesn't start off particularly well, with a van load of bellowing imbeciles (one of whom has a camcorder which somewhat improbably shoots in a 2.35 ratio) breaking down on the desert road to Las Vegas. While the girlies stay with the van, the boys head off to find help and - rather than the obvious murderous sociopath you'd expect - finds a garage and diner full of people only too glad to help out, at no charge, drinks on the house, and to put them up for the night as well. Very helpful, very hospitable, until the following morning when the kind and considerate folks reveal themselves as barking lunatics with a fondness for recreating that bit from The Hitcher where Jennifer Jason Leigh is tied between two trucks....

Despite some nicely unpleasant moments (the film is essentially Vacancy with a touch of Saw) it doesn't really hang together, with a pretty tortuous explanation (and frankly implausible motivation) for the maniacs' actions, no characters worth really caring about, and a silly moment towards the end when, having gained the upper hand over their tormentors, our surviving heroes then run off into the darkness rather than getting into the truck that's sitting right next to them. No-one really expects homicidal DTV slasher movies to make watertight sense anyway, but we appreciate the attempt. In the end it's not absolutely terrible, but it doesn't come close to breaking the unspoken rule of thumb that any film beginning with a busload of young idiots on a road trip is more than likely going to stink.


Thursday, 1 November 2012



Dear Film Making People: as a regular viewer of horror, thriller, monster and fantasy movies, I've a tiny request for you, if you're not too busy. It's only a little thing really, I hope you don't mind; I'll make as simple and as quick as I can. Here goes: "Enough with the sodding CGI sharks, okay?" Thanks awfully, yours etc etc etc. Shark Attack, Shark Attack II, Sharks In Venice, Mega Shark Vs Giant Octopus, Shark Attack 3: Megalodon, Dinoshark, Night Of The Sharks, Shark Night, Red Water, 2-Headed Shark Attack, Malibu Shark Attack, Jersey Shore Shark Attack, Open Water, The Reef, Sharktopus.... Can you actually do anything else? Does the software come with sharks as the free demo animal and you just won't pay for the upgrade to crabs or haddock? Make a cow movie or an armadillo movie or a condor movie or a bloody woodlouse movie, but in the name of sanity could you leave the sharks be for at least five minutes, please? At least Dark Tide had the balls to use real sharks rather than a sub-Pixar jpeg pasted into the action in Microsoft Scribble. And at least the Jaws movies actually had a physical monster on set: maybe not an actual shark, but it was something tangible that existed in the real world.

Bait is what happens when a round-table drinking game of Dumb Movie Concepts gets wildly out of hand and someone suddenly yells out "Hey, that's a great idea!" and starts writing it.* Snakes On A Plane, Gerbils On A Submarine, Giraffes On The Piccadilly Line.... This is Sharks In A Shop: following a tsunami that levels an Australian coastal resort, a motley assortment of characters - lovers, criminals, morons - find themselves trapped in a flooded supermarket with a Great White prowling the aisles, and another in what used to be the car park. As the survivors try and find a way to safety (one particularly foolish attempt involving a suit of armour cobbled together from trolleys), the waters rise, the electricity lines dangle perilously close to the surface, and the sharks are getting hungry....if they can't escape it then maybe they could kill it?

What's remarkable about this film is not that it's any good at all - it isn't - but that it's co-written by Russell Mulcahy. Sadly they didn't let him direct it as well, otherwise we might have at least had some visual flair and excitement on hand (it's actually directed by Kimble Rendall, who made the enjoyable movie-set slasher Cut). In addition it's in 3D which - surprisingly - adds little or nothing to what is really not much more than Yet Another CGI Shark Movie, and we're getting fed up to the big back teeth with them now. Admittedly we haven't seen a shark movie set in a shop before, but that doesn't automatically mean it's a good idea: we haven't seen it done as Claymation porn with a reggae soundtrack either but that's hardly reason enough to do it. Bait isn't absolute rubbish: it's put together competently enough, and it's never actually boring in itself (except in the sense of it being Yet Another CGI Shark Movie), but that's still not enough.

* That's probably not how it actually happened.




Despite the title, this has nothing to do with Don Coscarelli's wonderfully grim and morbid Phantasm series (at least, the first two are wonderful, not so sure about the others); being more of a small-town urban legend thriller with a dash of social comment and a huge moral question mark hanging over the action for audiences to argue about on the way home afterwards. If it lacks the full-on visceral and sadistic horror of director Pascal Laugier's previous film Martyrs that's not to suggest it has any less impact: it's a different kind of film, bigger, glossier, and without the harsh edge and misery. Though it's certainly interesting, I was never much of a cheerleader for Martyrs and I think his new film is far preferable.

In a small town without hope or jobs - the mine has recently closed - young children are being abducted from their homes by an unseen individual nicknamed The Tall Man. Various residents claim to have seen the figure as it carried off their young ones, or to have spotted it in the dense surrounding woodlands, but who or what is The Tall Man really? Spirit, kidnapper, murderer? And what's happening to the children: are they even still alive? Then local nurse Jessica Biel's young boy is snatched....

And then, halfway through, the film pulls the rug out from under and recasts everything we've seen in a completely different light, with the who and the how revealed as nothing like our assumptions. (It's best to see The Tall Man without any big clues so I'm not even going to hint at the sleight of hand.) It's great when a movie plays a spectacular and unexpected bluff that sends you mentally rewinding the action in the light of the big reveal - The Usual Suspects is the prime example - and here it's quite audacious. With the villain identified the big question left at the end is whether The Tall Man's actions were morally and socially justifiable or not - a far more interesting idea than the homicidal bogeyman he's made out to be at the start.

Pascal Laugier was originally attached to the remake of Hellraiser (long talked about but still not even in pre-production, according to the IMDb) but walked away and came up with this terrific little original instead. And it's fun to see old hands like Stephen McHattie and William B Davis (as an ineffectual sheriff). No sign of a UK release as yet, sadly, but definitely worth catching when it shows up.




We'd probably have seen this bizarre mix of spaghetti western, gory zombie movie and surrealist art movie some years ago if star Wesley Trent Snipes hadn't been jailed for tax fraud in 2010, the fool. In the end, after an eternity in limbo it's finally here and while it's certainly not brilliant - narratively it's all over the place and some of the CGI effects work is Asylum-level patchy - it's a reasonably enjoyable fusion of genres. Horror westerns have been done before but rarely: there's From Dusk Till Dawn 3, an old Charles Band production called Ghost Town, a generally dismal cheapie called 7 Mummies that's really not worth bothering with, and the second of Uwe Boll's Bloodrayne saga is set in the Old West. (You could probably add Billy The Kid Vs Dracula as well.) Throw in the flavour of the trippy art movie and it could as easily be a strange and unique brew as a complete mess. Comparisons have been made with Alejandro Jodorowsky and El Topo, and from what I can remember about that mad-as-a-spanner motion picture it's a valid reference point.

To be honest, "complete mess" is closer to the end result than "strange and unique brew". Gallowwalkers (it looks wrong spelled like that, but it's all one word on screen even though there is apparently artwork out there with the title Gallow Walkers) has Snipes as Aman, a good man whose victims always come back to life as zombies. He's already killed the gang of despicable scum who'd gangraped his beloved, but they're still after him, not entirely for vengeance but to find out why one of their number, the leader's son, has remained a corpse and has not been reanimated.

Plot may be secondary to the mood of the film, but I really like that mood and the film I kept thinking of was Richard Stanley's Dust Devil (which is desperately in need of a rewatch). With the beautiful Namibian desert vistas (if Spain or Iver Heath can stand in for the Old West, why not Southern Africa?) and twangy guitars on the soundtrack, it's an odd but perfectly palatable mix. Certainly the plot could have done with sorting out slightly (nothing seems to take place in chronological order) and some of the computerised headripping effects are below par, but it is staggeringly gorgeous to look at and I rather liked it despite everything that doesn't really work. Worth a visit, for all its flaws.