Tuesday, 28 January 2014



It's at least three days since the last utterly redundant horror sequel, so here's another unnecessary and pointless Part Two. In its defence it does have a couple of new ideas and it's put together watchably enough, but it's entirely surplus to requirements and the plot makes little or no sense. Incredibly, despite the title, it's not a sequel to the 2011 film: it takes the same named characters and puts them in another origins story, pretending the 2011 remake never happened. Which is fair enough: I like to pretend the 2011 remake never happened as well.

If we have to admit the existence of the 2011 version, however, and if we do have to call it Fright Night, then this isn't Fright Night 2: New Blood (the subtitle only appears at the end anyway) but Fright Night 1A: Yet Another Reboot. We still have Charley Brewster and Amy and Evil Ed (such a gratingly annoying moron it's a mystery why Charley hasn't lamped him), now students on a school trip to Romania to study the history of European art. But Charley sees professor Jerri Dandridge (Hustle's Jaime Murray, the only member of the cast you've likely heard of) out of his window and concludes she's a vampire - and not just any vampire, but Elizabeth Bathory, Countess Dracula herself. Only TV's monster hunter Peter Vincent, currently filming a shamelessly faked Most Haunted-style reality show, can help....

The best moment, and the one I don't remember ever seeing in a vampire movie before, is Dandridge/Bathory using her vampire bat-based sonar to find the fleeing Charley and Amy in the darkness. And the climax in a swimming pool of blood is visually impressive although I just kept wondering where it all came from: I'm not a medic but I didn't think blood stayed as a liquid when left to itself in the open air. Other than that, and a surprising amount of gore and nudity for a 15 certificate, it's very ordinary, the leads are pretty charmless, and even though the opening sequence is quite nicely done, it's actually got nothing to do with the rest of the film. Extremely average.


Compare and contrast:

Saturday, 25 January 2014



So it's come to this: a genuinely rubbish Hellraiser film. Even though the bar had been drastically lowered (to the point of sticking it in the basement) by Rick Bota's quickie triptych of Hellseeker, Deader and Hellworld, and was already on the floor after the uninspired Inferno, this is far below the level where "more or less professional" or "technically nearly competent" are the kind of things you can say in its defence as Part Nine of a wildly variable franchise that in truth was lucky to get to Part Three. It would appear that, since the film's only been made as a contractual obligation so Weinstein and Dimension can retain the rights to bugger up the Hellraiser legacy on a far bigger scale, anything other than shoddy fanfic slung together in a few weeks counts as too much effort. I'm not surprised Clive Barker's disowned it: if I'd been the second unit assistant grip or in charge of lettuce sandwiches for the FX crew, I'd disown the damned thing.

Despite the title, Hellraiser: Revelations has no sights to show you. It kicks off in pretty much the worst way possible short of a showtune: found footage from the camcorders of two instantly tiresome dullards heading for Mexico to get drunk and pick up hookers (because apparently you can't do that in California). When their first conquest ends up dead in a toilet for no good reason, they're approached by a vagrant who gives them the Lament Configuration, again for no good reason. Like idiots, they open it, and Pinhead and chums immediately turn up....

Except, of course, it's not the Pinhead we know and love: since Doug Bradley also apparently told them to take a long walk off a short pier, they've simply stuck the Pinhead makeup on someone else, and the fact he's now got the inherent scariness of a strawberry blancmange scarcely matters. Anyway, one of the two dullards escapes the Cenobites' realm and somehow manages to get home to his family - but that's where the Lament Configuration is, and all that's required is for some idiot to open it again...

But merely throwing in a couple of recognisable Hellraiser motifs (calling one of the families Bradley after the absent Doug) doesn't make this any more than fan fiction any more than Stephan Scott Collins is Pinhead just because he's wearing the Pinhead makeup - even Jackie Earle Haley made more of another actor's copyrighted character as Freddy Krueger in the pointless Elm Street reboot. This is a mess: the found footage stuff includes stuff they would never be filming, it's intercut with "proper" film, and the bulk of the movie consists of drably photographed arguments with the missing boys' families. It's impossible to care anyway since one of the guys is a weedy drip and the other is an arrogant dickhead, and you just end up wondering how the hot girl was ever the dickhead's girlfriend

Director Victor Garcia has tended to specialise in direct-to-disc sequels to films that didn't really need them: Mirrors 2, Return To House On Haunted Hill. Those were at least competently put together and reasonably entertaining, but Hellraiser: Revelations is absolute rubbish and it's hardly surprising that it hasn't shown up on British DVD. Hell, it was tossed out solely to satisfy a subclause in a contract, so its mere existence is all that's technically required. Well, congratulations, it exists. I hope you and Harvey are pleased with yourselves. Because I'm bloody not.


Friday, 24 January 2014



The trouble with Martin Scorsese's blistering condemnation of Wall Street bankers / conmen [delete as applicable] isn't that it doesn't work as a film. It works spectacularly as an expose of the obscene wealth these people help themselves to, their regimes of rampant sex and drug use and their obsession with accruing as much cold cash as physically possible with no regard for who and what they crush in the process. No, the only trouble is that three hours is a very long time to spend in the company of irredeemable shitbags who, frankly, the world would be a better place without. I'm not a communist, but I'll admit I have trouble wholeheartedly embracing a capitalist system when it creates and maintains an environment in which people like Jordan Belfort can flourish. It's not a question of whether what he does is legal or whether he can actually get away with it: it's the morality rather than the criminality. And frankly, morality there is none.

Belfort (Leonardo Di Caprio) starts out as a wide-eyed innocent looking to make his fortune on Wall Street, and promptly gets wiped out in the Black Monday crash. But he gets back on the horse, selling worthless penny stocks to easily duped ordinary people - people who really can't afford to lose the money - rather than to millionaires and investment banks who are just as bad as he is. Before he's thirty The Wolf Of Wall Street is pulling in nearly fifty million dollars a year, entirely illegally: he's got the big flash house, the big flash car, the glamorous wife, the enormous yacht, and is ingesting a daily regimen of illegal drugs that would kill a horse. And even as the FBI and the regulatory authorities close in on him, he makes no attempt to curb his activities or behaviour.

The problem isn't that the film centres on someone as repugnant as Belfort or his equally despicable colleagues: it's that there is no fall. Brian De Palma's Scarface showcases a character who is arguably even more hateful than Belfort, but there's the dramatic satisfaction of his bloody demise: justice is done, and done spectacularly. Sure, Belfort goes to jail, but it's practically a country club. Sure he's fined a hundred million, but that's change down the back of the sofa to someone like him. The only lesson learned is that this kind of behaviour pays, and punishment is a minor inconvenience that can be bought off. Belfort, at least as depicted here, is a loathsome piece of garbage whose fate should have equalled Tony Montana's, and it's annoying that you spend three hours with him and he wins. I wouldn't have minded the gargantuan running time if there'd been that payoff. Fair enough: that is the point of the film, that these guys are untouchable and they know it. It's the culture that's at fault, and that's never going to change while there's so much money swilling about. But dramatically this is like watching Downfall, only at the end Hitler is arrested for war crimes and given an Asbo and told to stand on the naughty step.

As filmmaking, however, The Wolf Of Wall Street is great: energetic, colourful, brash, with a near-constant Various Artists soundtrack, some surprisingly great slapstick comedy with Belfort and his number two (Jonah Hill) suddenly succumbing to delayed action Quaaludes, and an equally surprising appearance by probably the last actress you'd every expect to see in a Martin Scorsese swearathon. Speaking of the language, I could honestly have managed with a little less swearing: the film contains a whopping 569 F-words, one every 18.97 seconds, which is apparently a world record if you've never heard me trying to restore a laptop to factory settings. Still, it's never boring, even when diving headlong into the raucous hedonism of Belfort's workplace culture, DiCaprio and Hill are particularly watchable at playing utterly horrible people (interesting that Jonah Hill is equally hateful in This Is The End, but there he's trying to funny as well and you just hate him even more), and its box-office success so far should hopefully allow more films for grownups into the cinema. I enjoyed it immensely, despite niggles.


Saturday, 11 January 2014



It's tempting to suggest that with this incredibly tedious piece of artless, craftless garbage that the Found Footage genre has reached a new low. But in truth, it hasn't. It's just continuing to scrape along the bottom of a very shallow canal, the same canal that was already dredged dry decades ago by The Blair Witch Project and the first few variations on that theme. Granted the first Paranormal Activity just about got by, probably because we hadn't seen that many found films at that point. But the fact is that found footage is a very empty bag of tricks that even regular, "real" film makers like Barry Levinson and George Romero haven't been able to do anything remarkable with. And if they can't make the format work, what hope does Christopher Landon, a man who has something called Boy Scouts Vs Zombies in development, have?

Absolutely none, it turns out to no-one's surprise. Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones is absolute rubbish, barely watchable at its best, boring, annoying as hell and scary only - and I repeat ONLY - in the way of sneaking up behind you and yelling "Boo!!!". That's easy: I can do that. Most grannies can do that, it's really nothing special. This is a tangential spin-off of the franchise, a kind of Paranormal Activity 4A, in which a couple of Latino teenagers uncover the demonic cult that's marking the unborn as future soldiers of Satan. Finding the coven's headquarters, they round up a couple of friends, one of whose brothers has already killed himself as a result of his possession, and break into the house, filming everything as they go....

That's where it falls apart, of course. The fact is that while you could argue that the first Paranormal Activity was trying to use the home video technique and format in a way we hadn't really seen before, there's nothing in Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones that couldn't have been done as a film, a regular narrative film with edits and lighting and music and camerawork and tripods. In fact, it could have been a perfectly decent horror movie. But they're shackled to this idiotic camcorder gimmick, which doesn't add anything except motion sickness to a film, doesn't make it look any more convincing or realistic, and isn't doing anything we haven't seen hundreds of times before, except not as well. And they can't give up the gimmick because they have no idea what else to go: it's the only card they've got.

And the makers, of this and however many other pieces of found footage tedium are out there, are not doing it because it makes their films any better. They're doing it because it's easy: any idiot can film these things because they're supposed to look like an idiot filmed them, and you don't have to bother with, or know anything about, lighting, scoring or camera technique. More importantly, they're doing it because it's cheap. The Marked Ones' budget is listed on IMDb as a paltry five million and it's already taken eighteen million in less than a fortnight: the numbers add up so they will continue flogging this migraine-triggering rubbish until the audience finally wise up. As far as aesthetics are concerned, it's unspeakable rubbish, but as far as accountancy is concerned it's a literal goldmine. That's why there's another PA instalment already in pre-production, that's why there's another found footage horror movie out in a couple of weeks (The Devil's Due  - I'm not going anywhere near it), and that's why they're rebooting the Friday The 13th franchise as a found footage project. They're dirt cheap to churn out, and idiots keep going to see them. I'm ashamed to admit I was one of the idiots who went to Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones, but it's sure as hell not going to happen again.




Most of the time there's very little preparation needed for watching a movie: you just take the disc out of the case or the LoveFilm envelope and pop it in the player, or click "Play" on the internet stream. Most of the time it's very easy. But, bearing in mind that this is the sequel to Insidious, one of the most genuinely frightening horror movies of the last few years that had me leaving the lounge light on for several days afterwards, I had to take precautions. I relocated to behind my sofa, I had my keyboard switched on and set to 12-string guitar so I could play a few twangy chords if I got too freaked out, I had a CD of Peter Cook monologues ready in the stereo so I could pause the film and alleviate the terror with some nasal-voiced comedy whimsy, I had the curtains slightly open so I could look away and see the non-scary car park and non-horrific railway platforms outside. In short, I wanted to be able to diffuse and defuse the film's horror as much as I could. Maybe that's why I didn't actually see this one on its cinema release.

Was it all necessary for Insidious: Chapter 2? In the event I ended up watching it the same way I watched The Conjuring - through my fingers and frequently looking away from the screen so I would only catch the scary stuff peripherally and "accidentally". I didn't need any of the distractions I'd set up and so far my sleepless nights have been down to flu rather than onscreen horrors. It picks up from the end of the original, where Josh (Patrick Wilson) has returned from The Further, a kind of alternative dimension hellscape - but his corporeal form has been taken over by the spirit of a dead serial killer looking to resume his old habits. Can Josh get his own body back, and save his family from the maniac even as the comedy ghostbusters stumble towards the truth via clues from the spirit of the late Elise (Lin Shaye)?

Writer Leigh Whannell and director James Wan's genius in these films isn't just the timing of the horror stabs - which is immaculate - but their specific nature. It's not just a noise off-screen, it's the particular noise: a distorted piano, a toddler walker, Tiptoe Through The Tulips. It's not just that there's a ghost, it's the look, the movement, the sudden appearance with or without a crash of strings from Joseph Bishara's terrific score. (It's also that those horror stabs aren't cheap, easy "Boo!" moments for a cheap, easy scare.) Yes, it is at heart silly: no sane person, whether they believe in bodysnatching ghosts or not, is going to go clumping round the spooky abandoned hospital, and then round the spooky abandoned house of the local serial killer, in the middle of the night. But it's not so silly that we ever stop taking it seriously, or that it ever stops treating its audience as grownups.

In truth, we probably don't need an Insidious 3: the Lambert story is now done, and any continuations would probably concern Lin Shaye's paranormal investigator sidekicks even though that would take it closer to The Conjuring's territory rather than Insidious'. But I'll happily take Insidious 3, 4 and 79 over further entries in, say, the worthless Paranormal Activity saga, the biggest horror movie franchise of the century so far, which shares a producer (Oren Peli) with the Insidious films but is now borderline unwatchable. Both Insidious movies are proper films, superbly crafted and truly scary films that had me jumping and cowering and (in the case of the first film) blurting out rude words in the Crawley Cineworld. Granted Insidious 2 isn't quite up with the first for sheer power, but still superbly frightening and thoroughly enjoyable. Heartily recommended.



Wednesday, 8 January 2014



There seems no end to the production line of thoroughly wretched slasher movies thrown haphazardly together by people who patently have nothing better to do with their time and can't be bothered investing the film with even the most cursory hints of style, panache or even professionalism. You're clearly not supposed to care about it on anything but the most basic level of tits, sleaze and gore, so the makers aren't going to put in any effort at all, even to the extent of making the film look like it was shot at Christmas rather than the middle of May. Frankly it's an insult.

A maniac is going around town dressed as Santa Claus and killing various people he deems to be naughty. That does pretty much include everyone, from drug-snorting pornographers and canoodling couples to sweary little girls and retired cops who might have something to do with a traumatic event in the maniac's childhood. Can the gutsy female deputy (there's always a gutsy female deputy in these things) find and stop him? Crusty old sheriff Malcolm McDowell talks nonsense throughout, everything looks flat and bland and boring, and there's a needlessly protracted scene in which a topless woman is chased, dismembered and fed through a woodchipper.

Silent Night is careless, artless trash with a random bunch of unlikeable cardboard characters meaninglessly and uninterestingly butchered by a maniac who at the end - yikes! - might not be dead after all! How do they come up with this stuff? There's also a scene in which a busty young lady is impaled on a set of antlers on the wall, because Silent Night is a sort of semi-remake of the infamous (and frankly rubbish) Yuletide slasher Silent Night, Deadly Night, in which the one lipsmacking moneyshot was Linnea Quigley skewered on a stag's head. Yes, it's better than Silent Night, Bloody Night (and it's certainly better than that film's lamentable Welsh-based remake), or David Hess' tiresome To All A Goodnight. But for a decent Santa teenkill you're only really looking at the underrated and delightfully grisly Black Christmas remake (the original is a film I never really cared for). It's absolute rubbish.


Monday, 6 January 2014



The sleazy Eastern European torture/slasher cheapie hits a new and unpleasant low with this thoroughly unlikeable piece of German-Swiss (according to the IMDb) grot that's been hanging about since 2009 and has only recently hit the rental lists with a wet pffft. It's not like they don't try to liven things up with the camera moves and angles, but it's plainly in the service of a story that's not worth telling told by people who aren't any good at telling it, set in Georgia and shot for about fourpence on the cheapest camcorder they could find.

A psychopath in a gas mask (who may be The Breeder of the title; his maniac soubriquet is never revealed) is abducting women and doing horrible stuff with them in the flooded basement of an abandoned mansion in a minefield because.... blah blah something about evil and sin and making the world a better place by cutting away their guilt. This is clearly a long-term plan to rid the Earth of vileness and debauchery because he's doing it one girl at a time and he's only done one so far. He kidnaps a hiker who's committed the unpardonable sin of skinny-dipping; her friend looks for her at the local village and the UN command post. But might the maniac be the one person she trusts in her quest to rescue her friend?

It's tacky, it's grubby, it's technically shoddy (the psycho's opening monologue is so distorted as to be incomprehensible, and the DVD doesn't have subtitles to help make any sense of it) and it alternates scenes of the "good" girl trying to get the UN involved and relaxing at the local village (where some of the locals clearly have something to hide), with the "trashy" girl strapped to a gurney and menaced by a Grade-A whackjob. Or endless wandering around knee-deep in the railway tunnels (why?) in the basement. There are no surprises to be had: the mystery villain is exactly who you think it is and the red herring hero is exactly who you think it is.

Why? Why make it, why release it, why watch it? To the first two questions, the answer is obviously money: it's dirt cheap with a small cast of unknowns and it'll obviously make its minimal budget back by selling the DVD rights to the first couple of territories. As for the third: well, it's got sleaze and breasts and bits of gore, but is that really a good reason to plod through such amateur night at the abattoir dross? If it had come out thirty years ago it would probably have been seized as a video nasty, but in 2013, having had full-on films like Martyrs and Inside and A Serbian Film, there seems little point in going back to such childish, lazy nonsense. Faintly loathsome.


Sunday, 5 January 2014



Well, it's not as all-round botched as Mother Of Tears: The Third Mother, but Dario Argento's latest is still a mess: a visually flat, narratively uninteresting and strangely subdued horror with occasional moments of spirited gore but far too much in the way of abject silliness and terrible CGI. That the English script is pretty terrible is hardly an issue - English isn't the makers' native language, and how many of us could write dialogue in Italian that would feel plausible and natural to an Italian audience? - unless you're actively looking for awkward lines of dialogue to chortle over, but dud effects and boring film-making are a universal language and sadly even the genuinely legendary Dario Argento can't make anything of such a reliable old horror warhorse.

Shuffling names and characters from Bram Stoker's original, Dracula now has The Count (Thomas Kretschmann) luring Mina Harker (Marta Gastini) over to his Transylvanian castle after seeing her in her wedding photograph. As his evil spreads through the terrified village, turning Jonathan Harker and Lucy (Asia Argento), and butchering the townsfolk who seek to break the pact, only Van Helsing (Rutger Hauer, who doesn't turn up until well over an hour in) can possibly defeat him....

So what works? Sadly, almost nothing. The laughable computer effects would have shamed Asylum Films and the SyFy Channel twenty years ago, Claudio Simonetti's score is a long way from the wonderful Goblin sound of Argento's mid-period classics, the final confrontation between Van Helsing and Dracula (neither of whom are close to the most memorable portrayals) lacks any kind of excitement or impact. Let's leave aside the always troubling issue of Asia Argento nude yet again - I've no particular objection to looking at her naked, but I feel uncomfortable that I'm looking at her through her father's eyes. And why make it in 3D? The flat version doesn't feel lacking in visual depth and it's hard to imagine the film transformed by stereoscopy into anything even slightly better. Hardly surprising that it still doesn't have the sniff of a UK release and the only version in circulation appears to be the Italian DVD and Blu (the DVD is Region 2, the Blu is uncoded).

In Argento's defence, of course, Dracula is such a hoary old tale that it's impossible to make it scary again, and it's been done so well in the past (whether it's the silent Nosferatu, the Lugosi version, the Hammer classic, or even Francis Ford Coppola's epic) that it seems pointless to do it again unless you're bringing something genuinely radical to the project. But there isn't anything radical here; indeed there's not much that's even interesting. It's a silly film (what's with Dracula turning into a nine-foot praying mantis?), a visually dull film with little of the panache and gosh-wow imagery you expect, nay demand, of Dario Argento. Sadly, Argento is now in his seventies and it looks like he just doesn't have the energy, style and vision any more, style that the Argento who made Tenebrae, Suspiria and Opera would have brought to it.

Moments of the film do look like Hammer, but a lot of it looks like a cheap generic Dracula knock-off that could have been directed by anyone. The only moment that screams Argento is a brief bit of slo-mo showing the bullet through the open mouth of a man shooting himself in the head, which harks back to a similar moment in The Stendhal Syndrome (a film I hated back in 1996 and haven't been back to since). Other than that, it's stunning in its ordinariness and you'd never know it was Argento if it didn't credit him (incidentally, Bram Stoker isn't credited). Granted it's better than, say, Jess Franco's version, the abominable BBC version of a few years ago with David Suchet, or whatever Dracula-themed incompetence someone like Al Adamson might have thrown together over the years, but the fact remains that Dario Argento's Dracula is a failure as a Dracula film and a failure as a Dario Argento film. Sad. Maybe it's time to stop, and at least go out on a slight improvement from the last couple (Mother Of Tears, Giallo) rather than straining for one last glory.