Sunday, 31 March 2013

247° F


The brief back-of-a-fag-packet summation of the plot of this very moderately intriguing suspense number is "teens get locked in a sauna". That's it: move along, folks, there's nothing else to see here. Three teens get locked in a sauna, they sweat, they panic, they cry and shriek, they try to get out, they can't. Eventually someone turns up and lets them out (at least, the survivor or survivors). Paraphrasing the old quip: twenty minutes of exciting drama ruthlessly crammed into a ninety minute running time. Indeed, so ruthlessly has so little been crammed into so long that there's barely room for the stoners, the exclusive party, the dickhead boyfriend, the past trauma, the leaping in and out of frozen lakes and the dog who might or might not save the day.

Certainly no-one manages to find a few seconds in which to ask why anyone would build a sauna that goes up to 247°F, when according to the blurb on the DVD their skin will sear at 190, their lungs would burn at 200 and their blood boils at a mere 212. (But then again, the DVD tagline is the nonsensical "You'll Never Step Foot In A Sauna Again".) Four teens pitch up at a friend's log cabin, en route to an exclusive party; while they're waiting they try out the sauna. One of them is a drunken idiot who wanders off after a fight, but a stepladder accidentally falls against the door, trapping the other three inside. With only a small broken window to let in any cool air, can they find a way out or just hope that someone turns up before they're all steamed like aubergines?

The setup is a neat idea, supposedly based on a true story (and the exact opposite of Adam Green's Frozen), but it's not really strong enough to support a 90-minute thriller when so much of it is just bickering in a sweaty room. More notable than anything else is that the leading girl is played by Scout Taylor-Compton and the cabin's owner by Tyler Mane, heroine and maniac respectively from Rob Zombie's two insulting Halloween reboots. 247°F isn't an awful movie, just a strangely pointless and unremarkable one. Though it looks, feels and sounds like an American straight-to-DVD production, it's actually from Georgia.


Hot hot hot!



It seems to be a rule of thumb that franchises never know when to stop. All the great horror cashcows have trundled on after they'd peaked, and generally went out in a whimper of whatever than a splattery blaze of glory. Friday The 13th should really have stopped at six, Halloween at two, Hellraiser at three or even two, Elm Street at four or five, and the Resident Evil series probably peaked with the third one. (The exception is the Saw series which did manage to maintain the standard pretty reasonably.) In the case of the Wrong Turn series, the level has been up and down throughout: an enjoyably nasty original heavily indebted to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, followed by Joe Lynch's hilariously grisly Wrong Turn 2. Then they relocated to Eastern Europe and Declan O'Brien directed the shoddy Wrong Turn 3, as well as the surprisingly entertaining prequel Wrong Turn 4. He's back again and he bows the series out on a definite low note.

Wrong Turn 5 begins badly with two shaghappy teenies at it like billyo in a tent when their douchebag friends burst in waving a rubber act in the kind of imbecile practical joke that was already boring thirty years ago in the early Friday The 13th sequels and sundry slasher ripoffs. They're all camping out en route to a music festival based in the same West Virginia town that's home to the series' resident family of homicidal mutant cannibals; by chance they and foul-mouthed backwoodsman Doug Bradley (who gets the word "pinheads" shoehorned into his dialogue as a Hellraiser injoke) get hauled off to jail. But the three mutants are Bradley's cousins and they're coming to get him out....

Why are the streets so deserted when there's a music festival in the area and an abundance of visitors to the town? Why does the sheriff only try to contact one of her deputies on one occasion? (Purely through script contrivance, said deputy happens to be having sex with a festivalgoer in the back of his patrol car at the time.) Is the sheriff named Angela Carter as a nod to the author of The Company Of Wolves? Why do the mutants leave one of their disembowelled victims in a back alley? Why are these machete-wielding inbreds bothering with elaborate Saw-style deathtraps anyway? Most importantly, yet again, why the hell are we expected to care about the teenage dumbasses? It's not enough that the deformed mutant sociopaths are the bad guys and we're rooting for the idiot teens as the least worst option. Wrong Turn 5 is cheap (most of the movie takes place in one set), stupid, illogical and nasty, but it isn't any fun even by dumb slasher sequel standards. Easily the least of the Wrong Turn series, here's hoping they leave it be.




You'd think that the absurdities of American politics and electioneering would be a rich and fertile pasture for satire: a seam of pure comedic gold where little needs to be done beyond pointing and it and laughing derisively. Even allowing for the differences between American and British politics, enough of the joke should surely travel. The trouble with this knockabout comedy is not that the joke doesn't translate: on the contrary, it does, but it's piss-weak by the time it gets here. Yet again, for all the visible effort and for all the onscreen talent (significantly omitting the two leads), it just isn't funny. And strangely, the biggest indicator of just how completely it fails lies in the casting of Dan Aykroyd.

The Campaign is another Will Ferrell movie in which he's an idiotic blowhard, following on from the likes of Anchorman (which got by on its period detail) and Talladega Nights (which got by on Sasha Baron Cohen doing a gay Frenchman stereotype). This time he's a North Carolina congressman, expecting to waltz through the imminent election unopposed and shocked to find Zach Galifianakis as an effeminate tour guide standing against him. But he's really been put up to the job by evil zillionaires Aykroyd and John Lithgow who want to turn the district into a Chinese sweatshop so they can save on shipping costs for their cheap junk as well as the slave wages for the immigrant labour force. Can they break away from their asinine bickering and cheap smear tactics to do what's right for their town, not just their careers and their shadowy overlords?

The problem with the movie doesn't directly lie with Aykroyd, of course: he's a veteran comedy pro and the scenes with him and Lithgow are a joy, easily the best things on offer. But what he does is bring to mind Trading Places, the infinitely funnier 1984 comedy in which events are manipulated by greedy rich bastards for their own financial benefit, and to hell with the peasantry. This time round he's one of the manipulators rather than the hapless victim crushed in their dastardly schemes, but The Campaign suffers badly from the comparison. Ferrell and Galifianakis simply aren't up to the level of Aykroyd and Eddie Murphy (certainly not the Murphy of 1985): there's no wit in the script or the unlikeable characters, and the result is that you just want them both to lose. Lithgow and Aykroyd, meanwhile, aren't in it nearly enough and I could happily watch a whole movie of just those two scheming and plotting.

Meanwhile the opportunity to mine the satirical seam of American politics is lost in the need for Ferrell to do his usual shouty schtick and Galifianakis to be intensely irritating, without either of them coming within spitting distance of actual laughs. It's not very edifying and really it's hardly worth the effort. And it's got a cameo from Piers Morgan, for God's sake. (There are two cuts on the Blu, I went with the Theatrical rather than the Politically Incorrect Extended version because it's ten minutes shorter and life doesn't last forever.)


Vote None Of The Above:

Tuesday, 26 March 2013



I'm always amused by the credit "and introducing...." at the start of a film. Maybe they think that in sixty years' time it'll have the same cachet as an "and introducing Elizabeth Taylor" or an "and introducing Marlon Brando" in sixty years time: this is where the legend began. In the case of this unforgivably shoddy medical horror drivel its inclusion (for one Hannah Stansbridge) is a touch misplaced: for one thing it's the first or second credited appearance of more than half the cast (and in some cases the last or even only), according to the IMDb. For another, there are only two names on the whole roster that have any wide familiarity: co-writer/co-director Johannes Roberts, (this is also his introductory offering, but he did go on to the nifty though not entirely successful F and Storage 24), and everyone's favourite celebrity spoon molester Uri Geller. He's kept well away from the cutlery drawer here, cast for no reason as a police detective and shown entirely in close-up. Geller isn't an actor but he's better than any of the amdram thesping surrounding him.

On the surface Sanitarium is a fairly ordinary-looking medical horror-thriller (shot in Southampton) centred around the testing of exciting new psychiatric drug B-390. Mysteriously, the test group appear to be responding well, but the control group are ending up dead with strange parasites inside them. How could this be when they're not even taking the experimental drug? One of the doctors figures it out, but B-390 is set for a public launch anyway, even as the patients and doctors are dying messily and our hero is locked away in the rubber room. All this is relayed in flashbacks from his police interview twenty years into the future (which is initially unfathomable, since these include flashbacks to scenes he wasn't in, and the young Max looks and sounds absolutely nothing like the old Max), which were apparently shot afterwards and edited in to make the film less incomprehensible.

They don't work, of course: incomprehensibility isn't the main problem. Absurd character behaviour, total illogic (where are the police while all these corpses are piling up?), abysmal performances that barely qualify as speaking out loud, a profoundly irritating music score (Johannes Roberts again), rotten picture quality.... These are the factors that sink it, that make it a tiresome trudge. But the actual idea at the centre of the film does make a reasonable amount of sense, certainly enough for a microbudget quickie horror movie. Indeed, the idea of physical parasites feeding off human insanity, a mix of psychological and body horror, almost sounds like a concept for a Cronenberg film, but it's thrown away in the terrible acting and the sheer tedium of the thing. As close to unwatchable as you'll find.


Sunday, 24 March 2013



Call me a boring weirdo, but I've never been a huge fan of nudity of movies. I mean, I don't mind it particularly, and I'm not about to demand that women all dress up as Daleks or Darth Vader rather than flash a bit of skin at the camera, but in the words of the old cliche, it needs to be essential, or at the very least relevant, to the plot. If it's just there to keep the right hand busy for a few minutes I get bored with it: they rather feel they've only been included as a sales gimmick, not because they belong there. Yes, they're very nice, but if I'd wanted porn, I wouldn't be watching a movie.

Evil Instinct is a Hong Kong thriller from 1996 which was awarded a Category III rating: the HK equivalent of an 18 certificate. It probably doesn't need its nudity and sex scenes, pretty as they are and attractive as the ladies might be; on the contrary, it would probably have been a shade better (and shorter) has those sequences been excised. Riffing on the formula of Basic Instinct right down to its generic title, it has a homicide detective falling in love/lust with one of the suspects in a string of baffling murders. All the victims were rich men, clients of the same insurance company; and they'd recently changed their beneficiaries. Could one of the glamorous insurance agents be bumping them off for their money?

It's all pretty unremarkable, it isn't even particularly good, and the inclusion of an interrogation sequence that directly echoes That Scene from Basic Instinct makes the film feel more of a ripoff than it really is (and it doesn't even have the balls to go as far as Verhoeven and Sharon Stone did). Evil Instinct rattles along modestly enough, with a neat alibi-busting twist, until the bizarre denouement coughs up an unexpectedly cruel fate for the villain and the promise of more killings to come in the closing moments. Much as I love my Hong Kong cop thrillers, this is one of the weaker ones I've caught, and it isn't helped by the UK DVD's iffy picture quality.



Friday, 22 March 2013



Lucio Fulci is one of those awkward filmmakers: when he's good he's very very good, but when he's bad he's absolutely terrible. His run of surreal, gory zombie movies (The Beyond, Zombie Flesh Eaters, City Of The Living Dead) are fascinating and weirdly entertaining, Sette Note In Nero and The House By The Cemetery are terrific, but The New York Ripper is problematic in its relish of sadistic violence, Manhattan Baby and The Black Cat are just plain weird, and A Cat In The Brain is ranting gibberish. (I used to have Voices From Beyond and Aenigma on VHS years ago, but they've not stuck in my memory.) So if you're going to make what is essentially a nonsensical, injokey horror movie using Fulci as a reference point, it's really got to centre around that handful of wild and crazy video nasties, not the later works that really didn't match up.

The Dead Hate The Living is a low-budget gore quickie from 2000 with numerous references to Fulci and Italian gore films: his name's on a cardboard gravestone, the ending is the same as The Beyond's, the villain is a Dr Eibon (after The Beyond's Book Of Eibon), and David Warbeck is namechecked in the dialogue by someone wearing a Blackest Heart Media T-shirt. And you could also suggest it harks back to Fulci in that it's all a bit on the daft side. A young film crew are shooting a microbudget zombie movie in an abandoned hospital: exploring, they discover a basement with a mysterious coffin, complete with occupant. Swiftly writing it into their horror opus, they inadvertently bring Eibon back to life and the coffin becomes a portal for the living dead to cross into our world....

Director Dave Parker obviously has a love of horror movies of that era: he went on to make The Hills Run Red (about a filmmaker tracking down a famous lost splatter film and coming to regret it). The Dead Hate The Living (which mysteriously has an exclamation mark in the opening titles but not at the end) isn't brilliant, and it's made with more enthusiasm than resources, which you'd probably expect given that it's made by Charles Band's Full Moon outfit. But it's enjoyable enough and it's decently put together. Though it's as silly as any of Fulci's films, and it doesn't have any of the morbid atmosphere of his classics, it's done with gusto and the characters are not as hateful as they could have been and for all the blood and death it's not mean-spirited or repugnant. It's hardly a must-see, but it pretty much gets by as a passable Friday night rental.


You ungodly warlock!

Thursday, 21 March 2013



Unless they're being ironic, Incredible is one of the words that doesn't belong in the movie's title. They could have called it The Credible Burt Wonderstone, The Mediocre Burt Wonderstone or The Utter Pillock Burt Wonderstone, but that probably wouldn't have pulled in the punters in their thousands. Furthermore, there's precious little wonder to be had, so the very best the marketing people could have done with it is to call it Burt Stone. For the record, I laughed precisely zero times and smiled once - and that was for a gag about self-harming. Literally, the laughs just never started. Which, considering the presence of Steve Carell, Jim Carrey, Steve Buscemi and Alan Arkin, is some kind of impressive. Might it have something to do with director Don Scardino being the star of glum 1980 slasher He Knows You're Alone?

Carell is The Incredible Burt Wonderstone: a brilliant but egotistic Vegas magician whose partnership with Anton (Buscemi) has lasted for decades, but their show is getting stale and the two men increasingly hate each other. The act finally crumbles when they need to compete with the bizarre Blainesque stunts of miserablist self-mutilating weirdo Steve Gray (Jim Carrey): it all ends in disaster and Burt is reduced to entertaining at a retirement community. But that's where he meets his childhood hero Rance (Arkin)...can he find the inspiration to make it back to the top?

You'd also think that a movie about the entertainment industry would be entertaining: that some of the glitz and glamour would rub off. Well, it doesn't. The sad fact about The Incredible Burt Wonderstone is that it just isn't funny enough. I don't believe it's just me and my questionable sense of humour; I think that's basically to do with the main character spending most of the movie behaving incredibly childishly. Burt himself is a tiresome, self-obsessed bore and I have no reason to want him to succeed. Far more interesting is the look at the generational change in the conjurer's art - from the cheesy card tricks and props of the likes of Paul Daniels, to the idiotic endurance feats of today's shock performers, but that's rather lost in the uninteresting tale of unsympathetic people having bad but entirely justified things happen to them, and the jokes which simply aren't funny enough.


Saturday, 16 March 2013



Here's a handy and cheap way of making your everyday world mirror the extraordinarily cold, fluorescent blue colour palette director Eran Creevy and cinematographer Ed Wild have selected to shoot this British shooty cop nonsense. Get two pairs of those old red/cyan 3D glasses and swap the coloured lenses over so you have an all-cyan pair, and hey presto: everything looks like it's been drenched in blue bleach or something. That's what this movie looks like: not just the steel and glass and concrete, but the people, even the things which are normally red, yellow, green or white all emerge in various shades of midnight frost. It's honestly like watching a black and white film through a bit of blue perspex.

Welcome To The Punch (a catchy but silly title that refers to the sign outside the dockland storage area where most of the film doesn't take place) is actually more reminiscent of The Sweeney, both the original and the recent update, than anything else: hard-boiled obsessive cops taking on ineffectual bureaucracy and a corrupt Establishment as well as gangster villains with shooters. Three years after supercrook Jacob Sternwood (Mark Strong) left tenacious loose cannon cop Max Lewinsky (James McAvoy) with a bullet in his knee, he slips back into London when his own son is shot. He's just as keen to find the villain as Max is to apprehend him. But was it just a simple shooting in a crime wave of casual gun violence?

The blue colour scheme is really the most notable thing about it: it's twaddle, far too in love with the endless gun battles you'd expect from a Hollywood action movie but looks slightly weird in a British one. It's got a decent cast which also includes Andrea Riseborough, Peter Mullan, David Morrissey and Jason Flemyng (though you should easily be able to spot the mystery twist villain several reels in advance of the big reveal), and while the cat-and-mouse game between antagonist not protagonist takes a few unexpected leaps, neither of them are particularly worth caring about and none of them are much fun to be with. Welcome To The Punch isn't terrible, but it is pretty ordinary for all the swearing and shooting, and the steel blue sheen looks gorgeous to start with but gets a little wearing after a while. Still, kudos for the British film industry trying something unashamedly commercial for the multiplex market, even if it doesn't really come off.


Friday, 15 March 2013



Of all the 1980s films you'd expect to get remade post-glasnost, post-Cold War, John Milius' ludicrous Commie-bashing survivalist wank fantasy would hardly be at the top of the list. It's obviously twaddle: a famine-stricken Russia invades Colorado and a bunch of high school kids defeat them. Hiding out in the woods, they transform themselves into a guerrilla force of badasses: blowing things up, shooting the invaders and freeing the hostages. Back in 1984 I vaguely remember enjoying it as a piece of throwaway action movie knockabout with lots of guns and explosions, somewhat in the manner of the V miniseries which had been on ITV earlier in the year. However, watching it again the other night on DVD it really does come across as a screeching anti-Red diatribe written and directed with a massive throbbing hard-on for Uncle Sam and the Second Amendment.

In 1984 the Red Menace and the KGB were the automatic choice for foreign villains in movies: James Bond was taking the USSR on in various escapades until The Living Daylights in 1987, but Rambo III (in which Stallone fights the Russians in Afghanistan and wins) was already historically dated when it came out the following year. But now that they're no longer the (official) enemy, who can fill that role for a shiny new remake? Well, they started out as China but then switched to the North Koreans because [1] China is not really the West's mortal enemy in military terms, and [2] China is a sizeable market for Hollywood movies. Besides, North Korea is clearly run by the kind of delusional whackjobs that make them the kind of screen enemy we can all boo and hiss without really worrying that they're actually coming to get us (or that they'll even see the movie that's insulting them).

So in the new Red Dawn, North Korea (assisted by the Russians) invade Spokane, and the local kids fight back. Some of them see their loved ones die, some cause the deaths of other innocents, but despite being kids they suck it all up and become freedom fighters in their own land, killing and bombing without mercy, without remorse, without much in the way of shock or trauma. It follows many of the same beats as John Milius' film: the older brother taking charge of the group, the tracking device, the "grown-up" soldiers who parachute in and need the Wolverines' assistance, Radio Free America, even the sudden shock killing off of a major character you'd expect to make it to the closing credits.

It's a pity that they spent so long in post-production re-editing the film and CGIing out all the insignia to avoid offending the Chinese - the film was originally finished back in 2009 - but no-one thought to seize that opportunity to make the film significantly less stupid. Even by the original's howlingly crazy standards it's utterly ridiculous: it's vaguely plausible that the USSR had the resources, equipment and manpower to launch an unexpected full-scale land invasion of the USA, but North Korea, a nation that's smaller in square miles than the state of Mississippi? It's nonsense.

On a technical level it could do with settling down a bit: it's directed by Dan Bradley who did all the action stuff in the Bourne sequels (and, calamitously, in Quantum Of Solace) and much of the shooty fighty stuff is hand-held and rapidly overedited to a blur in the modern manner. And Ramin Djawadi's functional score is (obviously) no match for the rousing anthems of Basil Poledouris' original. Of course, that doesn't mean Red Dawn isn't kind of fun in a stupid switch-your-brain-off way, with car chases and things blowing up and hunky blokes firing guns and stuff: it is, but that's not really enough and the stupidity gets in the way.


Thursday, 14 March 2013



If nothing else, this is a grown-up, serious horror film rather than the abominable teen fare we've been lumbered with of late (Stitches, Love Bite): a refreshing change, and it's a little sad that it doesn't have much else going for it beyond higher aspirations. Mysteriously given an 18 certificate when most of its "strong sadistic violence" is actually fairly mild and not dwelt upon, it's blessed with an interesting idea but in the end it doesn't come to life as fully and effectively as it really should. Which is a pity. It's billed on the DVD box as "Memento Meets Wolf Creek", which might be an interesting mixture, but I was reminded of The Holding more than anything else, which I have to admit I wasn't a huge fan of.

Serial amnesiac Matt keeps waking up somewhere in the Surrey countryside with no idea how he got there. Returning home to find himself summarily dumped by his wife and his mistress, and with the police asking where he's been for the last week, he tries retracing his steps and chances upon a farmhouse where the owner, Calham, suddenly attacks him. Why? Do they know each other? Who or what is the creature in the barn? And what's the secret of The Fallow Field, where the crops won't grow?

It's a film on a very low budget, with a drab look to it, and very dark in the night-time sequences, which does give it the look of a cheap horror video of decades gone by. You can almost feel the cold, damp mud, and that atmosphere goes nicely with the ambient non-musical score. But it's not really helped by both hero and villain being somewhat charmless and hard to care about, a problem when they're on screen together for most of the running time. The opening section of the film is pretty dull, to be honest, and it's made worse by a couple of iffy support performances (there are only eight characters in the whole film), but once we discover the big secret up at the farm it turns a lot darker and becomes much more interesting.

Once we find out that it isn't a film about a maniac killing random passers-by and burying them in an unused field, there's a welcome glimmer of depth to it. There's no humour; instead there's bleakness and misery. Which of course is not necessarily a bad thing, especially after the likes of Love Bite: better to have no humour in a horror movie than failed humour. If The Fallow Field doesn't work as a whole, it's not for want of trying to do something a little different and a little more ambitious, while still keeping the film on a small enough scale to be affordable. I wanted to like it but it's not a hugely satisfying film and while it's certainly not a failure, it's only a very modest success.


Fallow Travellers:

Sunday, 10 March 2013



It's been a rotten week for the teen comedy horror film. First off we had the punishingly shoddy Love Bite, for which we're still waiting for refunds, a public apology and resignations from the idiots responsible, and now we have an Irish atrocity that makes Leprechaun look like A Nightmare On Elm Street, the film Stitches desperately wishes it was but in reality hasn't got a hope of being within pissing distance of Freddy's Dead: The Final Nightmare. Granted it's got some graphic gore and fountains of slow motion blood arcing prettily across the screen, but that doesn't give a movie a free pass for stupidity, repellent characters and tiresome teenage partying that just makes you want these shitbags to die that much quicker.

Stitches himself was a misanthropic, foul-mouthed clown accidentally killed while entertaining a bunch of evil brats at a birthday party; six years later he returns from the grave for an excessively bloody revenge at another party. Eventually, that is: first we have to sit through the usual tedious high school cliches with the bullying and secret crushes and dumb friends and sadistic teachers that are of absolutely no interest to anyone at all. Then we get endless footage of whooping cretins misbehaving at the party (Mum has fortuitously gone to a client meeting or some such contrivance) before Stitches does his thing and bumps the odious miscreants off.

The problem isn't just that they're all despicable yobs: teenagers aren't generally very interesting as horror movie leads. All the great horror films have gone for characters with a few years on them and therefore a little bit of history and depth: Alien, The Thing, the greatest films of Argento and Fulci, The Exorcist, Jaws, The Shining.... the list goes on. They're all about grown-ups. The teen-based horror movies that have worked (Halloween's a prime example) have usually made their young flesh reasonably likeable so it hurts when they get killed, and they keep the emotional soap opera blather to the bare minimum that's essential for the plot.

Not here. As with Love Bite, the writers appear to have confused "interesting character" with "acting like a dick". It's as if they've deliberately set out to reinvent the teen horror comedy by doing everything as wrongly as possible. Exciting and dynamic hero? Charismatic villain? Genuinely shocking moments? Plot that makes sense? Witty gags? Nope. Even with Stitches played by Ross Noble it's not funny, and even with absurdly liberal splashes of blood and body parts it's not scary. The gore is certainly lovingly done, with plenty of actual prosthetics and gloop (though augmented with CGI) but it has little impact beyond the visceral because we loathe the victims. Once the first hour or so of boredom is out of the way, and the kids start being killed, the film does liven up a little but it's such a painful plod to get to that point that it's honestly not worth the effort. I missed its FrightFest screening last year; I was watching the peculiar German SF/horror Errors Of The Human Body in the other screen instead and while that certainly wasn't a great film, it was far more intriguing and entertaining. This is just inexcusable.


Thursday, 7 March 2013



What do you do with an elderly action franchise that's been running for too long and the leads are getting too battered and weatherbeaten to continue? In the case of the recent Die Hard sequel, you can just keep going but give him a son, in the case of the Bonds you can just keep on recasting (imagine the Daniel Craig ones if they'd still used Connery or Roger Moore). In the case of the intermittent Universal Soldiers series, which started back in 1992 as a dumb action thriller by Roland Emmerich, they've decided to abandon the mostly forgettable direction taken with the third film (Regeneration, the trailer of which I've just watched online and can't remember a thing about the film) and head instead for a kind of arthouse remake of Total Recall with an inappropriate ambient soundtrack. Albeit one with thudding fight sequences sprinkled throughout.

Ordinary family man John (Scott Adkins) is woken by intruders in the middle of the night: they beat him senseless with a crowbar and, in a genuinely startling moment, Jean-Claude Van Damme shoots his wife and his daughter in the face. Nine months later, John wakes from his coma and sets out for revenge. So far so Steven Seagal. But then he picks up a French accented stripper who already knows him, a UniSol masquerading as a plumber (Andrei 'The Pit Bull' Arlovski) attacks him twice, there's a hideously scarred gangster at the storage unit where he stockpiles weapons.... Is John who he thinks he is? Meanwhile Dolph Lundgren is ranting to his fellow UniSols that their time has come and Jean-Claude (who's been the good guy up to now) has shaved his head (is this an Apocalypse Now reference?) and painted himself like a cross between a circus clown and a Black And White Minstrel.

Happily Universal Soldier: Day Of Reckoning is not a film primarily concerned with amnesiac angst and identity crises. There are numerous headbangingly violent but curiously shot fight scenes as well: the opening sequence is all done from Adkins' point of view like the first act of Gaspar Noe's Enter The Void, Adkins' assault on the UniSol hideout is all shot from just behind him like a computer game (or, indeed, the second act of Enter The Void). In addition are several scenes of violent strobing which made even me feel unwell, and the whole thing's backed with this tinkly synth score that sounds like it belongs on a wistful little indie about Scandinavian dopers, not a two-hour thudfest in which huge guys repeatedly lamp one another and fight with machetes in confined spaces.

This is tosh, obviously. And there's not enough of Jean-Claude and Dolph, the two big names on the front of the box (and they never appear together). But it's entertaining, odd in strange and unexpected ways, while still delivering on the occasional spurts of gore and scenes of punching people in the face. And it's possible it might lead to an even weirder Universal Soldier 5. After A Good Day To Die Hard showed that action movies can easily settle for the same generic crash bang wallop (but much louder), Universal Soldier 4 suggests that franchises can branch out into exotic and peculiar new directions. Who knows what they'll come up with next? Subtitles? Claymation? A Justin Bieber cameo? The world awaits.



Wednesday, 6 March 2013



I've never been entirely sure why, but being a horror fan somehow entails a higher tolerance for terrible movies than fans of other genres. History buffs won't get excited about bad history on television: they'll get angry about anachronisms and inaccurate period details, drama fans will wince at dubious line readings, action movie enthusiasts won't enthuse over films where the combat scenes are ineptly staged. But for some reason horror geeks will happily sit through movies that are the very definition of awful: seeing the strangest, weirdest, wrongest movies is almost a badge of honour. I've seen The Summer Of The Massacre. I've seen Tromeo And Juliet. I've seen Bride Of The Gorilla. They're all rubbish, but they don't turn you off the genre and they don't make you not want to watch films any more.

Occasionally, of course, a movie turns up that does precisely that: it redefines the term "bloody awful" and you end up in an all-new dimension of incompetence than not only tests your faith in genre cinema but makes you wonder whether it's not too late in life to give up, to abandon films entirely and cultivate an interest in bellringing or pony trekking or something. Love Bite is one such film, a film which left me unsure whether I wanted to watch films any more. If this is what passes for allegedly professional film production in the 21st century, maybe I'd best not bother. Erase my rentals queues, cancel my Cineworld card. Just give it up. It doesn't happen every often, but when it does, there's almost a physical pain to it.

Supposedly it's a comedy, though with fewer laughs than a punch in the mouth and a real sense of desperate embarrassment to it. Jamie (Ed Speleers) is a bored teen in a seaside resort who spends most of his time with his odious, barely evolved mates: a trio of giggling imbeciles who should not only be sectioned under the Mental Health Act as medically backward but also placed on some kind of official register as sex pests. Gatecrashing a party, he meets sultry travel blogger Juliana (Jessica Szohr) - but then Timothy Spall turns up as a mad werewolf hunter claiming that Juliana is actually a lycanthrope who's been leaving a trail of dead virgins across Europe...

Much if not all of the humour is based on sex, virginity, boobs and willies and would be thought lowbrow in the letters page of Razzle. It's the lazy kind of third-form vulgarity that opts for sight gags such as two of the idiots with hot dogs sticking out of their flies (because they look like penises, geddit?), the same two idiots squirting mayonnaise from a squeezy bottle (because it looks like ejaculation, geddit?), or the hero forced to run around town naked, Robin Askwith-style, because he's lost his clothes (you can see his bum, tee-hee!). Let's not even get too deep into the film's gender politics here, with almost all the female characters portrayed as sex-hungry and undiscriminating - particularly the chubby one, because there's nothing on God's Earth more hilarious than a fat chick who's gagging for it, right?

It's entirely possible that Love Bite could have been a decent little comedy, given a completely different script and a completely different cast: the basic story is solid enough (though the climactic revelation makes no sense at all). But with the emphasis on puerile, sniggering vulgarity and an array of truly hateful and loathsome characters, it just dies on the screen. Director Andy De Emmony is obviously not completely incapable when it comes to comedy: he did direct Series 6 of Red Dwarf (including Psirens, one of my favourite episodes) among many other TV comedies, but he's unable to bring any wit or cleverness to the lame as a one-legged dog script.

Even as a horror geek who's seen far too many ropey slasher movies and amateur gore videos, Love Bite is irredeemable garbage that's depressing to watch. In the event, the horror content is minimal anyway: it's not a film about werewolves, it's a film about horny halfwits trying to get laid, and barely a fraction as much fun as that sounds. How the hell did it get released? Why did no-one stop it? The film has five executive producers, three co-producers, two producers and a line producer: why did none of them ever stand up and say "This isn't good enough"? Because it isn't good enough, even as a throwaway teen horror comedy. It's an insult and a bloody disgrace.


I'm not providing a link. Instead, why not buy one of these, then send it (unstamped) to the writers, producers and director as an example of what can be done with a werewolf comedy by someone who knows what the hell they're doing:

Tuesday, 5 March 2013



I was never a huge fan of the original Paul Bartel/Roger Corman Death Race 2000, but I do have to confess a fondness for the Death Race franchise as rebooted for the 21st century. The first one, a spectacularly noisy and destructive vehicle for Jason Statham, I saw at precisely the right moment and it cheered me up immensely when I was feeling pretty miserable. Never mind the fact that it couldn't have been any more preposterous if it had been made with an all-badger cast, never mind that it's half as plausible as Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, never mind the fact that it's so laddish and blokey that it makes The Expendables look like Sex And The City. For huge metal things smashing into each other, for explosions and fights and chases and car wrecks and hot chicks in skimpy vests, it's unbeatable. Even Death Race 2, a Stathamless prequel made for the home rental market, was more than decent enough in its crunchy violence and macho stupidity.

Well, Death Race 3: Inferno really is more of the same: Luke Goss returns as Carl Lucas, aka Frankenstein, the sport's top driver who only has to win one more Death Race to secure his freedom. But the franchise is bought out by evil Dougray Scott, who's not about to let his prize pay-per-view draw disappear that easily, even if it means killing him because anyone can wear the Frankenstein mask. Shipped off to South Africa for the first international race, Lucas and his crew not only have to avoid the other mad drivers in the Kalahari Desert and the slum townships, but Scott's increasingly desperate efforts to stop him. But Lucas has a plan....

Obviously, Death Race 3 is absolute nonsense. Once more it's aimed squarely at the Top Gear and lad's mag market: the navigators are all unfeasibly glamorous poledancer types who wear low-cut croptops all the time despite being convicted killers, and have to catfight each other to the death on a premium rate website in order to earn a place in one of the customised cars, while the drivers are all murderous ranting psychopaths and the show's producer thinks nothing of firing missiles into a township full of civilians.

To be honest: fun as these films may be, I think three is enough trips to the gas station and a Death Race 4 would be milking it too thinly (there isn't one listed on the IMDb as yet, happily). But for all the thundering idiocy and casual violence perpetrated pretty much from start to finish, it's still more than watchable dumbo crash-bang-wallop fare, and for a film that isn't remotely comedic, I laughed a lot at the full-on lunacy of it all. Brainless, reprehensible, but with a good cast (Ving Rhames and Danny Trejo also return) on hand, it's impossible not to enjoy.


Brrrrm Brrrrm:



Well, it's mostly a disaster, isn't it? After it crept out and died in May, 1981, it's a film more remembered for its failure than whether it's any good as a film in its own right - which it emphatically isn't. It's a mess: badly structured (the title character doesn't show up till well over halfway through the film and he isn't named as The Lone Ranger until the end credits are about to roll), cursed with a famously awful lead performance that killed its debuting star's career stone dead, with a shortage of decent action and narrated in rhyming couplets by Merle Haggard. Frankly it's the kind of film the Razzies were invented for (and it won three of them).

The Legend Of The Lone Ranger came out in the wake of the phenomenal success of Raiders Of The Lost Ark: old-fashioned matinee fodder inspired by the Saturday serials of decades past. Yet it's spectacularly unspectacular: devoid of fun, humour and thrills throughout. John Reid heads West to his childhood home and to visit his army brother, but the evil Butch Cavendish (Christopher Lloyd, pretty much the only person with any oomph in the whole show) is planning to set himself up as President of an independent Texas and has to abduct President Ulysses S Grant (Jason Robards, briefly) to do it. Only the mysterious stranger dressed in white and riding a magnificent white horse, along with his faithful Tonto (Michael Horse), can stop him....

Who was that masked man? Well, it's Klinton Spilsbury's one and only film role, not even followed up with the occasional "Second Man At Bar" bit part or a career in low-budget B-movies. He hasn't even had the kind of ironic cameo appearance like Sam Jones' in the worthless Ted, riffing on his similarly derided ride from obscurity with Flash Gordon. Maybe in the upcoming reboot (with Johnny Depp in facepaint as Tonto!) might find room for an injoke appearance? In the film's defence it looks terrific: the film's directed by William A Fraker, a longstanding and experienced cinematographer whose DP credits include Rosemary's Baby, Bullitt and 1941. And some of John Barry's music is fine, though decidedly not when it bursts forth with the William Tell Overture. But it's not enough: it's dull, and it just dies on the screen while you're watching it, wondering what the hell they thought they were doing. There is a DVD release, but it now looks to be out of print; the online rental outlets don't stock it and I saw it via LoveFilm's streaming service.