Thursday, 31 December 2015


And at the other end of the scale...

Since the films I see are entirely down to my personal choice, I dodged any number of bullets this year; in the absence of any halfway good reason to go and see Pixels, for example, I obviously stayed away. Why wouldn't I? As usual, films qualify if they've had UK cinema releases in the calendar year according to Launching Films' schedules; whatever festival or preview shows they might have had. So of the regular releases I saw this year, these are the ten I liked least, in increasing order of displeasure:

A bit of a charmless mess which isn't up there with even the wobbliest of the current Marvel slate (or even the two earlier stabs at the F4 text). The projected 2017 release date for the sequel looks like either wishful thinking or a monumental delusion.

Woody Allen can be very variable, but this irritating drama is his least interesting for several years. This is one of his non-comedic ones, which isn't necessarily a bad thing (Blue Jasmine, and I rather like Interiors) but in this case it, and I, desperately needed some laughs.

Radcliffe-free, and largely scare-free, despite the numerous scary faces looming suddenly into camera, making you jump in the most basic and unsophisticated way imaginable. Very disappointing given the quality of the original.

The worst entry yet in Pierce Brosnan's ongoing quest to reinvent himself as a badass (along with The Novermber Man and No Escape): Brosnan is miscast as the villain, Milla Jovovich doesn't get to kick ass, it's all very dull and unlikeable.

Rather than make a film about the Amanda Knox trial, Michael Winterbottom elects to make a film about how hard it is to make a film about it. No-one has yet to make a film about how hard it is to watch a film about how hard it is to make a film about it.

I have no idea what this was about: all I can remember is a lot of fighting and chasing and shooting, about something or other, and the fact that it's no better than the frankly rubbish Hitman from a few years back.

This badly needed the grubby hand of a Jess Franco at the helm; instead it's a tasteful, handsome and acceptably kinky romance between a couple of cardboard idiots. No fun, not even of the most disreputable kind.

Poked my head round the door to see if found footage has developed in any way since The Blair Witch Project and the first Paranormal Activity. It hasn't. Same old schtick, same old tropes. Nothing new to see, move along.

Despicable imbeciles run around a posh school at night while a historical demon with a big nose wanders around and something picks them off as part of a Satanic ritual. Barely amateur in all departments.

The worst film of the year, as much for its desperate lack of laughs (Seth Rogen isn't funny, James Franco isn't funny, both of them are supremely punchable) and its eschewing of political satire in favour of lowbrow bum and fart jokes, as for its shameful "watch this movie or the terrorists have won" sales tactic. Garbage.

In no particular order of intolerability, 2015 was also the year of Barely Lethal, Unfriended, Tokyo Tribe (hey for the incomprehensible Japanese gangland rap musical!), The Boy Next Door, Foxcatcher (yes!), The Falling (yes!!), Pasolini, The Duke Of Burgundy (yes!!!) and Age Of Kill. Fingers crossed that 2016 is a lot better, or at least that I get better at dodging the bullets.

Wednesday, 30 December 2015


It's that time of year again: time to rummage through the year's movies and knock together some sort of Top Ten list. Was it a good year? Actually, not bad at all: even though the top spot has been pretty much inked in since May there were plenty of films hustling for a position on the list. The usual disclaimers apply: if they don't appear on Launching Films' release schedules for this year then they don't count, regardless of previews or festival screenings (sadly, my two favourite FrightFest films, We Are Still Here and Night Fare, don't qualify on that score). I missed a lot of films, either because the release was too small or through deliberate choice. In the case of the new Star Wars movie I just want to wait for the crowds to disperse and the kids to go back to school. (Hey: I'm not being paid to watch these things. My dollar, my rules.) But of the ones I saw, and liked, these are my Top Ten in ascending order:

As self-referential meta remake/sequels of (sadly) largely forgotten slasher movies go, this was pretty damn good: a gorgeous-looking and engaging remix of an AIP drive-in oddity that came and went without enough people noticing.

Terrific, charming fantasy that was unfairly ignored on its theatrical release, but it's well worth seeing. Lovely retro design and a fantastic sense of wonder and excitement with so little cynicism that it perhaps borders on naive. Enjoyed it immensely.

Nostalgia overload: Cannon's quantity-over-quality approach led to a lot of terrible movies, some unfairly ignored weirdies (will someone please put The Apple out on UK Blu?), a lot of Chuck Norris and late-period Charles Bronson trash and a handful of actual classics. A fun documentary that made you wish Golan and Globus were still at it.

The highlight is the opera sequence, rather than the much-publicised aircraft stunt at the start, but the whole movie is terrific fun, if not quite up to the standard of the last one. These, rather than the Bournes, are the natural rivals to 007: globetrotting nonsense with a sense of humour and bags of ridiculous action.

A lot of people hated this, but they're just plain wrong. Bonkers spectacle, almost literally unspeakable dialogue, massively overblown, critically and commercially disastrous, but I enjoyed the hell out of it on a Flash Gordon level (even with the sudden inexplicable comedy detour into Brazil territory).

The best mainstream horror that made it to a general release, boasting an unusual bogeyman figure and infused with the sound and feel of vintage 80s horror movies (the Carpenter-style synth score, the suburban locale that's half Halloween's Haddonfield, half Elm Street). Thoroughly enjoyable and more than a little bit actually scary.

Ridley Scott should never be let out of the SF box, because when he ventures into other territory we get absolute pish like Robin Hood and The Counsellor rather than the likes of Blade Runner, Alien and this interplanetary rescue drama in which Matt Damon has to keep himself [1] alive and [2] sane on a deserted, airless planet while Earth's premier boffins try and figure a way to get him back. Excellent.

Bond is back, and Bond films are back, shorn of the angst and glumness now that Judi Dench's increasingly tiresome M(other) is out of the way and we can get back to colourful billionaire sociopaths and their grandiose schemes of destruction. A long-overdue sense of fun (including some actual jokes) and some superb action set-pieces make this the best Bond since the Dalton era at the very least.

As semi-Iranian arthouse vampire movies go, this is absolutely wonderful: beautifully photographed in black and white, stylish and hugely atmospheric.

Was there any doubt? Twenty minutes of character, setup and dialogue, and close on two hours of dazzling, dizzying mayhem with cars, bikes and trucks smashing hell out of each other over and over and over again. Could not possibly have enjoyed it more.

Honourable mentions (in no particular order) to Shaun The Sheep Movie, White God, Krampus, Sicario, Ex Machina, Fast And Furious 7, Birdman, The Treatment, White Bird In A Blizzard and Clouds Of Sils Maria, which frankly would have made a perfectly decent Top Ten by themselves. That's not counting other titles I enjoyed perfectly well including Kingsman: The Secret Service (the final bum joke didn't annoy me nearly as much as it did everyone else) and Chappie. To my mind that counts as a pretty good year; fingers crossed 2016 keeps it up.

Sunday, 20 December 2015



It would be very easy to blather on cluelessly about how I really didn't like Carol, and how I didn't find it interesting and I never cared for any of the characters and I thought it was slow and dreary and lifeless and I spent chunks of the film wondering whether I should just cut my losses and leave. All that would be absolutely true. But there's more to it than that: why? How come pretty much everyone else has raved so enthusiastically about it? How come the major reviewers have lauded it as the best thing since whatever sliced bread was the best thing since? Is it a case of the entire army marching out of step with me? I mean, I don't generally take a huge amount of notice of critics, but if everyone tells you it's great then you start to wonder when you don't agree. After all, given that there are no wrong answers in art (opinions are not facts), and the notion that one should no more be pilloried for not liking Carol than be pilloried for not liking anchovies, baroque music or Frank Spencer, why do I feel so disappointed?

Not my usual thing? I don't think so: a glance at my first-time movie list for 2015 includes '40s British war movies, a Carry On film, creaky old whodunnits, European crime thrillers, modern emotional drama and a spot of sleazy Nazisploitation - and that's just from titles beginning with C. Sure, I may ingest too much in the way of dumbo slashers but I like to think I'm fairly open-minded. The mere fact of the film centring on a lesbian love affair doesn't count: it may not be the kind of thing I actively seek out, but I don't necessarily shy away either. I really liked Blue Is The Warmest Colour: it was one of my favourite films of that year, and that had nothing to do with the phwoooar blimey sex scenes that made up maybe ten minutes of the three hour running time. (I also recall admiring Desert Hearts back in the 1980s.)

Is it to do with the people involved? Well, maybe: it's true I'm not a huge fan. Velvet Goldmine and Poison didn't do anything for me, and Far From Heaven (the most comparable of Haynes' films to Carol) was kind of alright, but I enjoyed the oddly titled [Safe] a lot. Cate Blanchett has done a huge amount of stuff, some of which I've liked and some of which I haven't, and here she's playing very cold and difficult to connect with as a woman stuck in loveless matrimony (but loving motherhood). Rooney Mara's character is far more likeable (though incredibly, unbelievably naive at one point) as the other, younger half of the relationship.

On the technical side, I'm not sure about the overly grainy 16mm look of the film; maybe we're so used to clean and shiny digital now that real film stock looks like papyrus when compared to standard A4 paper, though I'm still looking forward eagerly to seeing The Hateful Eight in 70mm next year. And I've never been a fan of Carter Burwell, whose style of music has mostly felt too sombre and (frankly) miserable for my taste, but I guess it fits the sombre nature of the film. You can't fault the sets and costumes and period details, though, which all look spot on to my untutored eye.

So what is it? It's not like I give that much of a hoot what the proper critics think as they've recommended some absolute duffers over the years: it's always interesting to see, hear or read differing opinions, for or against, but I don't think I take any of them as Holy Writ. Here I'm left wondering whether we actually saw the same film. Maybe no-one wanted to be the lone voice confessing they didn't think Carol was All That? Or maybe it's just me, not liking anchovies and Frank Spencer. But that doesn't make me wrong.


Sunday, 13 December 2015



I'll confess I'm not a massive fan of films of the 1940s: I generally like more recent productions and for me the Golden Age runs from the late seventies through the eighties. Still, I'm not entirely immune to the charms of much older movies and 1946's The Killers is an absolute corker of a vintage film noir that knocks the stuffing out of around eighty per cent of this year's shiny new attractions. Somehow I had never seen this before, but 68 years later it’s one of the highlights of the year: terse, tense, visually rich and always absorbing, an absolute revelation (especially if your recent viewing has included some less than prime Jean Claude Van Damme knockabouts).

Ernest Hemingway's original 1926 short story forms the opening act of the film: two hired guns arrive at a small-town diner and harass the staff and solitary customer while openly announcing their intent to kill the local gas station attendant, a man known as The Swede (Burt Lancaster in his film debut). But inexplicably, when The Swede gets word of this, he doesn't run, he doesn't fight, he just waits. The rest of the movie (partially scripted by an unbilled John Huston) has a surprisingly cheerful and casual insurance investigator (Edmond O’Brien) looking into the killing and uncovering The Swede’s past (presented as a series of flashbacks) as a washed-up boxer seduced into a life of crime by an alluring femme fatale (Ava Gardner), suckered into a payroll robbery and double-crossed for the loot….

It’s shot in that wonderful style of 40s noir: harsh, crisp black and white in which even scenes in darkened rooms are clearly visible, and it still looks fantastic today. The robbery sequence is a set piece highlight, filmed in one single crane shot with no cuts, and the earlier boxing scene is crunchingly painful. Burt Lancaster’s a star right from his first shots, Ava Gardner is gorgeous, and there’s a Miklos Rosza score (some of which was later reworked into the Dragnet theme) on top. Bottom line: I really enjoyed The Killers and it’s definitely worth picking up.




I've always loved space/horror movies. Any movie that's set on spaceships, space stations, colonies or deep space research bases, I'm generally far more interested than if they're set in Frinton or a small town somewhere in the Mid-West. Granted, apart from the Alien franchise (and not all of them) there aren't that many genuine space-based classics and there are more than a few utter stinkers (Dracula 3000 and Leprechaun 4 in particular), but I'll always cheer schlocky SF films as diverse as Inseminoid, Event Horizon, The Last Days On Mars or Titan Find.

The shadows of Event Horizon in particular loom long over this low-budget SF/horror effort and, for the first half at least, it's pretty enjoyable. Something inexplicable has gone wrong on Infini, the remotest mining facility in the galaxy. A rescue squad is despatched via "slipstreaming" (instant teleportation), but when they return they've been infected with some kind of primordial contagion; a second squad is immediately sent to find out what happened and bring the sole survivor home....

It's a pity that much of the second half of Infini degenerates into endless scenes of people beating each other up and needlessly swearing. I'm not usually fussed about bad language in movies but on this occasion it does feel overdone, and the characters aren't really well enough drawn or sufficiently distinct from each other to persuade you care very much about what happens to any of them. And given that it's highly likely that by this point the entire team is infected, you can't help but wonder why they're fighting anyway. Meanwhile, a potential subplot about your data stream being corrupted by unauthorised or excessive slipstreaming goes sadly unexplored.

More damagingly, the film's resolution is (without getting too spoilery) a huge Star Trek cop out in which peace and love win out over conflict and hate. It's a very nice SF idea about aspects of humanity but it does feel slightly out of place after an hour of contagion horror and thumping violence. I could also have done without the old device of the hero needing to get back home to his pregnant wife for his child's imminent birth.

It's a pity because Infini is pretty well mounted on a technical level (I'm all in favour of lens flare, for no other reason than it looks good) in spite of the low budget. Sure, the set design of the Infini facility doesn't look that different from a hundred other genre movies, or even the more ambitious episodes of something like Doctor Who or Red Dwarf, but it's well used and well shot. The use of an interplanetary transporter beam means there are no actual shots of vast spaceships or even starfields, but it does also mean we can cut to the action that much quicker. Perhaps too quickly: the film doesn't waste very much time pitching you in at the deep end, but I'd rather that than being steadily spoonfed information before anything happens.

For all its flaws, I quite enjoyed Infini, though interest definitely dropped off in the second half. But it's well put together, has some interesting ideas and looks great. It doesn't hang together overall but there's enough good stuff in there to get by, and you've certainly seen a lot worse on a higher budget. No Event Horizon, but no Doom either.


Thursday, 10 December 2015



There's not a lot one can say to prepare you for this one, beyond the simple advice: Contains Centipedes. Chilopodophobics should be aware that this 1982 offering does have centipedes in it (unlike Tom Six's Human Centipede trilogy of wrongness): close-ups of the little critters running around, scuttling over peoples' faces and bodies. It also has gore, nudity, silliness, terrible dialogue (at least in the subtitles) and a plot that doesn't seem to make a lot of sense, unless I nodded off at a key moment which is admittedly possible. (It's also got one of those Hong Kong soundtracks that seems to have a whole load of other film music randomly dropped into it.)

But Centipede Horror does at least tell me a story I haven't seen before: a young woman in Hong Kong travels to "South East Asia" (the exact country is never specified) against the advice of her businessman brother. On a guided tour she wanders into the woods and is attacked by centipedes: the doctors can't figure out what's wrong with her but her brother discovers it might have something to do with a family curse that started when their grandfather worked out there in the mines, thanks to a wizard casting black magic spells to get his revenge...

Or something. Chief of the horrors is towards the end with what looks unpleasantly like real live centipedes being vomited up by the possessed woman; much of the rest of the film is babbling insanity or tiresome family blather, interest in which is further hindered by poor subtitling (white on white, sometimes nonsensical). It's a little more intriguing and unusual than the more familiar Asian horrors of decades past like Mr Vampire or Encounters Of The Spooky Kind, but it's not really well enough done to be more than a moderately disgusting curio. Hardly surprising perhaps that UK distribution has been somewhat limited,


Wednesday, 9 December 2015



You certainly can't accuse this movie of dishonesty and false advertising on the grounds that it doesn't contain killer clowns (or klowns) or that they're not from space: it does, and they are. In that sense it's as does-what-it-says-on-the-tin brilliant a title as Cannibal Woman In The Avocado Jungle Of Death or Mega Shark Vs Giant Octopus, or indeed anything from the more outre end of Troma Films: the deliberately absurd comedy horror demands a ridiculous title and Killer Klowns From Outer Space is certainly a good one.

It's also, surprisingly, not a bad film. Certainly I enjoyed it more on BluRay the other night than back in the early 1990s when I rented the VHS release, because there's a phenomenal level of silliness to the movie that makes it pretty well impossible to take seriously and very difficult to hate. Alien circus clowns land a spaceship in the middle of the woods near a small town with the sole purpose of abducting the entire population, and either cocooning them in candy floss or trapping them in giant balloons. The ship is discovered by a pair of amorous teenagers, but the local police won't be convinced (led as they are by a spectacularly hardass John Vernon), even as the Klowns rampage through the town picking off and the locals in amusing circus-related ways....

It's an incredibly daft idea, though at least there is a quick line of dialogue putting forth a possible justification for it (that these aliens have been visiting Earth throughout history, and it's from them that we've created the concept of clowns). But at least they do take the idea as far as they possibly can: from balloon animals to custard pies, from the impossibly crowded clown car to shadow puppetry and ventriloquism, from the famous Entry Of The Gladiators circus music to the hilarious squirting flower prank.

The film is written and produced by the three Chiodo brothers (Charles, Edward, and Stephen, who also directed), probably known better as a prosthetic creature effects team in films like Critters. And again it has to be said that the sometimes hokey practical and optical work looks far better than any amount of shiny, charmless CGI, because they exist as actual physical entities rather than data files on a hard drive somewhere. That is not to say that computer effects have no place: when properly designed and well integrated into the rest of the film they can make for genuinely jawdropping spectacle (Gravity, Godzilla, Jurassic Park). But in a silly, cheesy horror comedy I'll happily take rubber and gloop any time. Killer Klowns From Outer Space may be a minor cult oddity with a nostalgic charm about it (whether the same will apply to the supposedly upcoming 3D sequel is anyone's guess), but over twenty years later it's still worth a look.




I'll be the first to admit that outside of giallo and zombie movies, I'm not that knowledgeable about Italian cinema. To be honest, I'm not massively knowledgeable about the giallo and zombie movies except in contrast to "proper" Italian movies: Fellini, Rossellini, De Sica. And, indeed, Elio Petri. Which is hardly surprising, really: of the seventeen titles Petri is credited with as director on the IMDb, only three appear to have ever made it to regular release in the UK, and apart from the enjoyably strange (and very good looking) futuristic SF thriller The Tenth Victim, this considerably darker and moodier film is his only film to make it to British DVD and BluRay. A pity this has taken so long, because it's really rather good.

The essence of 1961's L'Assassino hinges on whether shady antiques dealer Alfredo (Marcello Mastroianni) is a literal or merely metaphorical ladykiller: has he murdered his older lover Adalgisa (Micheline Presle) so he can marry his extremely rich younger girlfriend? Of course he denies it, but given Alfredo's dubious character - he's not above handling stolen goods - the police aren't looking for anyone else in the case and would rather he confessed simply to save on the time and paperwork; even if he didn't actually do it, he's the kind of man who should be jailed for something.

Much of the film is centred on the battle of wills between Alfredo and the veteran cop on the case, Palumbo (Salvo Randone): he ignores Alfredo's constant denials in the hope of wearing him down to the point where he'll give up and confess to everything. In truth, though, it doesn't really matter who the killer is: L'Assassino is more a character study of an outwardly respectable but very shabby individual than a whodunnit and the murderer's real identity is almost an afterthought.

With a music score consisting principally of one jazz record, and wonderfully shot in grim black and white, it's blessed with occasional touches of humour (such as Alfredo's two irritating cellmates undoubtedly put there by the police to further pressure him into a confession) and human sadness. The most tragic moment occurs when Alfredo's mother comes to Rome to visit him, and you can see the disappointment in her eyes: he doesn't even hang around to watch her bus leave for home. As mentioned above, this isn't an area of film I have much familiarity with, but I liked L'Assassino a lot and well worth catching.




This low-key erotic drama/thriller from South Korea is actually a sort of sequel to a 2010 film called The Housemaid, from the same director, which I confess I never saw although it really doesn't appear to matter. A kind of soap opera of the lifestyles of the rich and venal, in which thoroughly vile characters scheme to increase (or at least maintain) their obscene wealth, crushing the innocent and poor beneath them, it's ultimately a glum tale in which the machinations of the plot are more interesting than the flat visuals.

Joo (Kang-woo Kim) is a general factotum for an insanely rich family who own and run an investment corporation. Ostensibly he's working for the company chairman but he's also involved with the man's wife (not just placing secret video cameras in his bedroom to film his infidelities with the Indonesian maid, but on a sexual level as well); as well as developing a tentative relationship with the daughter. Will he be corrupted by such gargantuan riches?

This is the kind of extravagant "greed is good" saga that the likes of Dallas and Dynasty traded in a generation ago - there's even a dead body in the swimming pool which was a season cliffhanger on Dallas - so it's a pity that much of The Taste Of Money looks so flat and colourless, almost like ungraded digital (and I don't think it's my eyes or my TV settings that are at fault here, as old Shaw Brothers knockabouts look fine even when streamed off YouTube through a laptop). Sadly I suspect this is the way movies will ultimately go, as films that actually look like film with bold colour and rich photography recede further into the past, and audiences no longer remember films as looking like anything other than TV.

The Taste Of Money certainly isn't a terrible film, and the plot is involving enough, but it's perhaps too long at 112 minutes and - perhaps a personal preference here - the sex scenes are not what I'd regard as erotically charged. It's a shame that the seductive allure of tons of crisp banknotes has been rendered this way: more of the glamour of absurd wealth would have helped suck us into the amoral, indeed immoral world of empty sex and empty lives. I don't think we need go all the way into the florid melodrama of Douglas Sirk and Written On The Wind (there's proof that my year of Media Studies wasn't entirely wasted) to make the idea of wallowing in decadent unearned money simultaneously appealing and horrifying.




A review screener arrives through the post. Excited at the possibility of seeing a new movie several weeks before the public, you open the envelope and skim through the press release, and that's when you realise with a jolt that the plot synopsis starts with the words "A documentary filmmaker...." Yes, if it's Tuesday it must be found-footage. So, later that evening, you feed the DVD warily into your player and discover that if there's one thing worse than yet another found-footage horror movie, it's a found-footage horror movie in which nothing much happens for the first hour. Sure, it's from Australia, which makes a welcome change from drab backwoods America, and there are a couple of nice misty landscapes in the early stages, but that's absolutely nowhere near enough to distinguish Apocalyptic from a hundred others.

Documentary filmmaker Jodie and cameraman Kevin head off into the Australian wilderness to locate and film an isolated religious commune, after having their interest piqued by the comments of a recovering drug addict at an AA meeting (it's never explained why these documentarians are making a film about the previously unheard-of activities of Alcoholics Anonymous) who subsequently disappears. Investigating, Jodie and Kevin make contact with the commune; they're a self-sufficient, seemingly happy gathering of women and young girls led by the permanently smiling Michael: everything's friendly and open to start with, but things take a sinister turn when it becomes clear that Michael, significantly surnamed Godson, is preparing his flock for the imminent apocalypse as prophesied to him alone....

All the tropes are trotted out yet again in Apocalyptic: the interviews with local townsfolk, the motion sickness camerawork (which makes you wonder whether these people really are supposed to be professional documentarians with their terrible visual sense), the endless acres of tedious prattle that had no real business being filmed, let alone being left in the finished edit, the POV shots of running through the woods in blind panic. And of course the gaping chasms of logic. Not just the question of who edited all this footage together and why (and indeed when), nor why that editor has left all the dullest bits in, but crucially how we're supposed to be seeing it in the first place. Like the wretched Apollo 18, the film's ending negates the film's existence: if the material is lost or destroyed or (spoiler alert) consumed in the apocalypse, how come I'm sitting here watching it? If it had been made as a "proper film" with an invisible non-narrative camera these issues would never have occurred (see 2007's Believers, a "proper film" that's actually directed by The Blair Witch Project's Daniel Myrick).

Most of Apocalyptic is deathly dull until it turns all Reverend Jim Jones in the last third (Jones is actually referenced in the dialogue), cueing all the first-person shrieking and running around in the dark. There's really no point in moaning yet again about the ugly visual aesthetic, beyond stating yet again that there's really no difference in a film that's meticulously crafted to look technically shoddy and a film that simply IS technically shoddy. You just end up wondering whether the deliberate pretend-incompetence of shaky-cam pseudo-verite is preferable to the cheerful genuine incompetence of a Jess Franco or an Al Adamson. I don't think it is. It's worth noting that of the first three reviews on the film's IMDb page, one of them is placed there by the production company.




Well, it's now fifteen years since The Blair Witch Project pretty much invented the found footage subgenre as we know it today, and since then we've had scores, maybe hundreds, of first-person horror movies. Even big name directors have had a go: George Romero (Diary Of The Dead), Barry Levinson (The Bay), Renny Harlin (The Dyatlov Pass Incident), but none of them have managed to make the naturalistic, verite style remotely believable or convincing that what we are watching is genuine. We saw through the tropes years ago: the introductory captions thanking the families of the missing and deceased for their permission to release this material into the public domain, the on-camera interviews and the shaky camerawork that looks exactly like your own home videos. It's a lame gag and it just doesn't work any more.

Hunting The Legend goes right back to the Blair Witch template as a trio of simpletons wander off into the woods looking for proof of a local urban legend (in this instance, Bigfoot) and filming absolutely everything, no matter how banal or incompetent. They interview various locals about their past sightings and encounters with the creature, before heading off into the bleak, dead woodlands looking for evidence. Leader Chris maintains the creature killed his dad five years previously, his girlfriend Hannah and best friend Jeff tag along, and a two man camera and sound crew follow to document their findings. First stop is to buy guns from a guy who's perfectly happy to show his garden bunker full of weaponry on camera so long as he isn't named....

The leads are bellowing halfwits trekking through a wilderness with nothing but Chris' vague memories of a sketched map to go on, constantly arguing and bickering to the extent that I joined Team Sasquatch about twenty minutes in. They blatantly contradict themselves: first they have to be quiet and then they all start calling out for the missing Jeff; they shouldn't have a fire because it attracts the creatures, but then they merrily start all-night campfires without a second thought. And when even the camera crew get fed up with this nonsense, Chris agrees it's going to be the last day of the trip, but they're still going further into the woods so that's surely going to mean an extra day just to get back.

The scene in the arms bunker, more even than the endless POV sequences of running around the woods in blind panic, actually triggered off a motion sickness attack which I could only conquer by staring fixedly to one side of the screen and watching it in my peripheral vision. Why were those scenes apparently allowed to run in their unnecessary entirety when other scenes such as the interviewed townsfolk were obviously heavily edited? Having said that: in defence of the found footage style, it wouldn't have made that much difference if it had been shot like a real movie. You'd just have ended up with an incompetent video nasty like Don't Go In The Woods or Night Of The Demon.

Hunting The Legend isn't doing anything Blair Witch didn't do back in 1999, but it's doing it even less well and less convincingly, without ever being scary or creepy. Can we stop this tiresome faux-reality silliness now and get back to actually making films? It might not be actively better, but it won't be so painful to watch.


Friday, 4 December 2015



Apparently it's Christmas again. Who knew? The festival of compulsory jollity sneaks up on you earlier each year and you kind of have to go along with it whether you want to or not. Most Christmas movies are either shiny happy PG-rated fun for family viewing or sentimental comedies; it's not generally regarded as the season for horror. Yet, with the dubious exception of the (mostly awful) Santa slashers subgenre, there are a few nicely nasty seasonal horrors out there, the biggest and most famous obviously being Gremlins but recently we've had Rare Exports, Sint and (best of all) this year's A Christmas Horror Story.

Krampus actually features in one of the segments of A Christmas Horror Story but now he (it?) has his own movie and it's a lot of good ghoulish seasonal fun: it's got the bickering, stressed-out extended family learning to come together over the holiday season when the Anti-Santa responds to the young son's despair and loss of faith in Santa Claus by turning up, as legend dictates, to do away with all those who've turned their backs on the true meaning of Christmas. With various members of the family terrorised or taken by jack-in-the-box monsters or gingerbread men, dragged into chimneys and through air vents, and with every other house in the neighbourhood transformed into a derelict ruin in a blizzard-blasted wasteland, can they at least get to safety before Krampus' demonic elves and snowmen catch them?

Just as Michael Dougherty's previous film Trick R Treat was festooned with all the trappings of Halloween, so this is decked out with everything Christmassy, but twisting things around. Krampus starts with a terrific slow-motion scene of Black Friday-esque sales mayhem and a punchup at the Nativity play, accompanied by Bing Crosby singing It's Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas. There's also a nice animated sequence detailing the family's German grandma's previous run-in with Krampus two generations back, and Douglas Pipes' orchestral score drops in several nods to Christmas songs and carols but closes with new Krampus-centred lyrics for the Carol Of The Bells.

I enjoyed Krampus a lot: I liked it more than Trick R Treat, given that I wasn't quite as blown away by that film as everyone else - I certainly liked it but haven't felt the urge to put it on every Halloween. It manages to tread the line between genial Christmas humour and flat-out monster horror: the scares and threat are definitely there but it's wickedly macabre rather than outright horrific (the 15 certificate is about right), and the use of practical monster effects whenever possible gives the film a nice, warm, old-fashioned feeling. With a little bit of a message in there about being nice rather than naughty, it's another hit in a year which has been generally pretty good for horror films. Great fun and well worth catching.




By chance, the last film I watched before heading out to my local to see this latest revision of the Frankenstein story was Hammer's The Curse Of Frankenstein, a full 58 years old and the first Frankenstein in colour. Originally an X and now downgraded to a mere 12, perhaps because it's just not that horrific any more, it's something of a contrast to Paul McGuigan's full-on monster romp which throws gloop and special effects and large-scale set pieces at the screen (and still emerges with a 12A). Both films largely dispense with the detail of the original text, keeping a few names and the basic idea at its core, and making the rest up out of thin air. It also retains the (unspecified) period setting, unlike the new modern-day (but closer to the novel) Bernard Rose take on the tale.

This one is mainly told from the perspective of Igor (Daniel Radcliffe), the initially hunchbacked assistant who starts out as a much-abused circus clown, and whose medical knowledge catches the attention of mad scientist Victor Frankenstein (James McAvoy) when a trapeze artist plummets to the ground. Rescuing the pathetic creature and recruiting him as his assistant, Victor pulls him into a world of horrifying experiments with animal parts and patchwork monsters, in the pursuit of actually building a living, thinking Man....

There is the obvious notion that Victor's greatest creation is neither the ferocious chimpanzee beast that runs amok at the Royal Society or the unreasoning giant at the heart of the film's overblown climax, but is actually Igor himself as, Pygmalion-like, he transforms the deformed circus stooge into a civilised gentleman capable of independent thought. Frankly, that's about as subtle as Victor Frankenstein gets: some of the performances are distinctly ripe (James McAvoy in particular, Andrew Scott's police inspector barely suppressing his religious fervour, and the great Charles Dance for one scene), the final reanimation sequence takes place on a huge scale as though it's the climax of a Marvel Avengers movie, and there's a Young Frankenstein gag which might have seemed like a good idea at the time.

Sophisticated it might not be - it's got the feel of the Guy Ritchie Sherlock Holmes (along with a cameo from Mark Gatiss from TV's Sherlock) and as far as recent reboots of the classic Universal monsters go it's closer to the rampant silliness of I, Frankenstein than, say, 2010's The Wolfman - but it looks good, is never dull and more than kept me entertained on a damp Sunday night, and I can't quite fathom the terrible notices it's had from some of the mainstream press. It's really not that bad! This is not supposed to be taken seriously: it's a daft popcorn romp and on that level it's hard to get that angry about. Connoisseurs of Mary Shelley should probably wait for Bernard Rose's version, though.


Wednesday, 2 December 2015



Doing self-referential horror comedy is phenomenally difficult: it's the knowing wink and the raised eyebrow at the same time. Unless you know exactly what you're doing you're going to look like a prize chump, and you'd better be Wes Craven's Scream or don't even bother getting out of bed. It's so easy to slip into MST3K wisecrackery, especially when you're dealing with the low end of the summer camp slasher: a horror subset not noted for innovation and profundity, and it's unwise to deconstruct the house while you're standing in it. Happily, sometimes they manage it. Somehow they pull off the spoof without the cheap laughs, nod at the genre tropes while simultaneously indulging them, laugh with them rather than at them.

The Final Girls should really be the last word in post-modern self-referential irony for Friday The 13th fans: a witty, clever, well-observed slasher movie about slasher movies which ends up as The Burning via Last Action Hero. A year after the tragic death of faded actress Amanda Cartwright (Malin Akerman), her daughter Max (Taissa Farmiga) reluctantly attends a special screening of her last film, terrible cult slasher Camp Bloodbath. Through a sequence that's straight out of a Final Destination movie, the cinema catches fire and Max and her friends magically go through the screen, finding themselves trapped inside Camp Bloodbath where they are just as likely as the film's characters to end up as victims of the film's masked maniac. They end up pretending to be summer camp counsellors and trying to convince everyone that they're just figments of a screenwriter's imagination in a bad horror movie; meanwhile Max has a last chance to connect with her mother via the character she's playing - a character who isn't Camp Bloodbath's Final Girl....

It's got the of-their-time archetypes down: the tiresomely sexist hunk and bimbo simpleton both clearly due for an early bath unless our heroes can rewrite the movie in which they're trapped. It's got the 80s synth soundtrack (complete with a ki-ki-ki vocal straight out of Friday The 13th) and the photographic look of old 80s exploitationers: there's a lot of attention to detail that's gone into The Final Girls (even down to the typeface of Camp Bloodbath's end credits as they rise into the sky) and it's time and effort well spent. It's a pity the CGI for the opening car crash isn't very good, and I got slightly lost on the film's timeline: if Camp Bloodbath is supposed to be a 20-year-old film then that actually makes it a mid-90s slasher and the genre was well on the wane at that point; by then you weren't talking The Burning and Madman and The Final Terror (Campsite Massacre); and you certainly weren't talking Friday The 13th any more, as that had all but stopped with Jason Goes To Hell.

Still, whatever. The best thing about The Final Girls is that it's done with love and affection for its sources: Cheerleader Camp and Nightmare Vacation (Sleepaway Camp) sequels as much as vintage Voorhees. It doesn't do snark, it doesn't do contempt, it acknowledges the cliches and silliness without adding "am I right, guys?". One thinks, despairingly, of films like Hack! that are merely content to namecheck major films and directors ("Professor Argento"); but one also thinks of films like Popcorn and Midnight Movie which at least attempt something better. Of that hall-of-mirrors kind of horror movie about horror movies, The Final Girls is definitely one of the best: great fun, nicely written (though the out-takes over the end credits suggest a lot of improvisation went on) and perfectly constructed without gaping holes in the logic. Absolutely worth seeking out.




Asking me about found-footage is like asking a Pope about threesomes or asking Jeremy Clarkson about caravans: don't get me started. I have watched enough halfassed lo-fi camcorder bores to last a Time Lord two lifetimes and I am absolutely and utterly fed up with the whole dysenteric lot of them. The Blair Witch Project and maybe a couple of others kickstarted the shakycam faux-verite subgenre and emptied out its paltry bag of tricks within hours rather than years; subsequently we've had countless pale imitations in which bellowing dimwits film themselves wandering aimlessly about while not knowing how to use autofocus or the stop button. Surely, somewhere, someone's figured out a way to make this peculiar obsession about documenting the glum banality of one's regular existence into some kind of proper movie that doesn't stink the room out like a week-old rotting horse? Well, blimey: someone has. Admittedly it was twelve years ago, and it's still a bit of a mess, but they've managed it.

Freeze Frame is partially found-footage, partially a regular movie which transforms its lead character's pathological need to constantly film himself into a plot point in a commercial thriller. Sean (Lee Evans) has kept an archive of surveillance tapes of his every moment in the last ten years after he was charged with murder (but crucially never exonerated), so he can demonstrate his innocence for any subsequent accusation. But when the police question him about another killing he discovers his precious tapes for those vital hours have gone missing. With the profiler from the original case (Ian McNeice) still maintaining that Sean was the killer all along, and is still dangerous, can Sean and a TV crime reporter (Rachael Stirling) unearth the real killer in both crimes? Especially when she has secrets of her own?

Look: I am not for one moment suggesting that Freeze Frame is a neglected classic or a film in need of reappraisal. The last twenty minutes are an avalanche of shock revelations and wildly absurd melodrama. Characters behave ludicrously: is it standard Met practice for a senior detective to attack his chief suspect with a bone saw? How can they continue to question a man for a murder when they believe he was faking an alibi for a completely different murder at the time? Can profilers really keep the actual murder weapons from unsolved cases in their own houses? How has the clearly unemployable Sean managed to afford his colossal basement home and all those cameras and tapes? Still, for all the silliness, there are a couple of satisfying plot twists and, if nothing else, this does do something else with the tired old format and successfully incorporates into its narrative a solid reason for its protagonist to document every moment of his life. Hurrah for that at least.




Because there's nothing left. The zombie movie can't surprise us any more. The undead have been shambling and shuffling (and occasionally running) for a long time and no-one can say they haven't had a good innings, but sooner or later you move on and they don't, and you get fed up with them, the way you get fed up with Cash In The Attic or mariachi music. And sometimes they've been fantastic - Dawn Of The Dead will always remain one of the greatest films ever made, whatever Sight And Sound might have to say about it. But enough now. (Indeed, I was blathering on about this just a few weeks ago during the inexplicable cinema release of Scouts Guide To The Zombie Apocalypse: maybe it's time to let the dead stay that way.)

Meanwhile, Dead Rising: Watchtower slipped into my mailbox and if anything it proves my point: there's nothing in there that we haven't seen before, and while it does the job reasonably well it's no longer a job that requires regular doing. This takes place in a world (or at least an America) where zombie outbreaks are so common there's an anti-zombification vaccine that keeps you alive after a zombie bite; during the latest outbreak a reporter is trapped in the containment zone after the drug suddenly appears to stop working. Surely Army man Dennis Haysbert isn't planning to use this deliberate failure to usher in a new surveillance technique involving electronic implants? Meanwhile a bunch of yahooing bikers (not a million miles removed from Tom Savini's gang in Dawn Of The Dead) are having fun looting and pillaging their way through the evacuated city...

Having never played it, I wouldn't know how close the film is to the video game from which it's nominally derived, but it doesn't really matter; it's all watchable enough and there's plenty of gore and mayhem on offer - at least they haven't wimped out for a 15 certificate. However, it is at least twenty minutes too long and could easily have lost the comedic sequences back in the TV studio with an idiot survivor of a previous zombidemic. Those scenes are tiresome and irrelevant and the movie would probably play better without them. Other than that, and a final sense that they may be planning a series of these things, it's okay. Nothing special, but scarcely essential.


Tuesday, 24 November 2015



If you were to go back to 2010 and make a list of all the year's movies that were likely to get a sequel, then Tekken would not, let's be honest, be in the top three quarters of that list. You can understand doing sequels to Kick-Ass, The Expendables or Insidious, but the idea of further instalments of Tekken is like the idea of further instalments of I Spit On Your Grave or Hot Tub Time Machine: who the hell is asking for them? Who even bothered to see the first Tekken movie (apart from me, obviously)?

Nevertheless, they've gone and made Tekken 2: Kazuya's Revenge anyway: they've ditched the whole martial arts tournament structure and instead gone for the amnesiac assassin routine, with ludicrous results. A man (Kane Kosugi) wakes up in a hotel: he doesn't know who or where he is but when a battalion of heavily armed badasses show up he suddenly discovers that he's very good at fighting. Captured, he's named K and forcibly recruited into the assassin ranks of The Minister (Rade Serbedzija), a cult leader with a small army of colourful killers at his command, taking out the bad guys in the slums around Tekken City. K rises through the ranks but when he discovers that The Minister is actually the biggest bad guy and he's been using K to wipe out his enemies, he goes rogue and tries to track down his past....

The biggest con in Tekken 2 is that it's only the lead-up to an as-yet unmade Tekken 3 in which our hero presumably gets to take on the supreme villain behind everything: his own father and ruler of Tekken City (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, who's barely in the movie till the last ten minutes or so). Since he suddenly has the power of teleportation this might make things a bit tricky. Tekken 2 isn't any good at all; the dialogue and story are terrible and the one visually striking henchperson (dressed as a schoolgirl for no adequately explored reason) is disposed of disappointingly quickly. It looks decent enough and the fighting is suitably crunchy with lots of kicks to the head and snapped limbs, but it's still rubbish. Directed by Wych Kaosayananda under his equally spellchecker-unfriendly alias of Wych Kaos.




I'll be honest here: there were several moments in the first forty minutes of this dreadful horror comedy (probably the most difficult genre crossover to pull off) where my finger was hovering over the Eject button and I was this close to sending it back to LoveFilm with an insulting note. I did stick it out, however, and while the last half hour or so is an improvement, it's nowhere near enough to save the movie. Like so many horror comedies it fails on both fronts: sure it's gory and bloody but it's not scary and it's really not funny.

There are times when Cooties feels like a US sitcom set in a rundown school where all the teachers are "characters". If it was, then this episode would be The One Where The Kids Get A Cold Sore Virus From A Contaminated Chicken Nuggety Thing And Turn Into Pseudo-Zombies And Start A Nationwide Pandemic. Struggling writer Elijah Wood returns to his hometown to teach at his old school, finds his childhood sweetheart engaged to a hopeless moron - but then one pupil starts biting chunks out of the others and suddenly there's a sort-of-zombie outbreak. Can the ragbag of maladjusted staff band together and stay alive, at least until home time?

Who cares? You tire very quickly of the grown-up idiots bickering amongst themselves, and the children are hateful monsters even before they get the virus. There's plenty of opportunity for graphic gore and disembowelments and violence against children, but it's all done in that too-broad way that veers towards the bad taste territory of Troma. After a few more visually stylish and unusual projects - Open Windows, Grand Piano, the Maniac remake - it's sad to see Elijah Wood in such cheap and tacky schlock as Cooties. Charmless, really not funny and, despite the noticeable improvement towards the end, overall something of a disappointment.


Monday, 23 November 2015



Or is it? The onscreen title may be the wonderfully generic Slasher, and it also goes by the name of Nightmare At Shadow Woods (in a slightly different edit), but it's Blood Rage on the menu screen and the packaging (which may lead to confusion with Joseph Zito's Bloodrage). Whatever you end up calling it, it's actually a vintage 80s slasher movie that showcases the best, and arguably worst, of the genre and era, and ends up as an enjoyably daft low-budget body count movie with terrible dialogue, splattery gore scenes and a few bits of completely unnecessary nudity.

Made in 1983 but for some reason not released until 1987, Blood Rage is the one about the twin brothers (both played by Mark Soper), one of whom gets institutionalised for a motiveless murder carried out by the other. Ten years later, Todd starts to remember the truth of what happened that night, so he escapes from the hospital and heads for home, where his mother has just announced her engagement over the Thanksgiving turkey. News which brother Terry does not take well, so he takes his trusty machete and starts killing Everyone....

It's all very silly and despite Ed French's full-on gore effects (lopped hands, decapitations, stabbings, plus a woman cut in half) it's not actually nasty or objectionable. It's also got a certain nostalgia value: twenty years' distance provides another perspective on movies and this one now obviously feels dated; seen as a product of its time it's ludicrously entertaining nonsense of the kind that just wouldn't get made now. Richard Einhorn's score is full of 1980s synths, there's a gratuitous shower sequence, nobody ever calls the police despite the presence of a homicidal maniac on the loose in the apartment complex, and everyone behaves illogically throughout. Meanwhile Mom (veteran actress Louise Lasser, easily the biggest name in the movie) spends the entire second half of the film getting increasingly drunk, and Ted Raimi (the second biggest name in the movie) pops up briefly as a condom salesman in a gents. When Terry has to finally appear with Todd in the same shots, Todd's stand-in is clearly wearing a wig and looks nothing like him.

But does it really matter? Despite all that's wrong with Blood Rage, it's still fun: technically more than watchable, and it certainly doesn't stint on the kills. The 2K restoration obviously looks great, immeasurably better than the VHS version which is excerpted briefly in the extras section to show the replacement title card. As you'd now expect from Arrow, there are a host of extras including several interviews with cast members but on the second disc (which I wasn't sent) there are two other cuts of the film: the original, slightly softer theatrical version retitled Nightmare At Shadow Woods, and a new alternate cut comprising footage from both release versions. Maybe that's overkill for a low-budget gore movie that hasn't even been seen in the UK before. But it's still definitely worth picking up for Golden Era slasher fans who (like me) might not have even heard of it.


Tuesday, 17 November 2015



Well, about time too. Having painfully and humourlessly rebooted James Bond over the course of three films - good films, but noticeably glum - the producers have clearly decided to inject some fun into the series and steer it in the direction of Classic Bond, downplaying the psychological analysis of the maladjusted blunt instrument in favour of glamourous jetsetting and egomaniacal supervillains. In short, going back to the Moore and Brosnan years. And with maybe one misstep, they've pulled it off. Spectre is a whole bunch of fun, noticeably the lightest and silliest of the Craig entries: a Bond movie for people who like Bond movies rather than a Bond movie for people who like Bourne movies.

They've realised that Bond's natural cinematic rival is not the Jason Bourne strain of hard, tough realism, in which everyone's damaged and miserable and no-one's sure what the hell's going on, but the Mission: Impossible school of glossy popcorn travelogue entertainment. Spectre accordingly apes the Cruise franchise, ricocheting breezily around the world from Mexico City to Rome to Tangiers to London, displaying action rather than angst, closer to comic strip than medical notes on sociopathy. With the Bond gunbarrel finally in place where it belongs at the start of the movie, Spectre kicks off at the Day Of The Dead festival in Mexico where Bond is on an unofficial final post-Skyfall mission for M (Judi Dench in a brief video message cameo) that inevitably leads to exploding buildings and out of control helicopters. Back in London, the 00 section is on the brink of being phased out in favour of a global surveillance network run by an obviously treacherous Andrew Scott, while Bond is on the trail of a sinister global crime syndicate that's been behind everything....

It's got the car chases and the fights, the glam women (Lea Seydoux and, surprisingly briefly, Monica Bellucci, probably the first "Bond girl" to be actually older than Bond), the pontificating villain in his secret lair surrounded by minions with no proper firearms training, the massive explosions: in short, everything that screams Classic Bond at you. There's a terrific fight on a train (with the traditional Bond henchman, in this instance Dave Bautista) that's clearly designed to recall the train fights in From Russia With Love and The Spy Who Loved Me. And Christoph Waltz is obviously having fun as megalomaniac Euroscum Oberhauser (sporting a facial wound towards the end which is clearly designed to recall Donald Pleasence in You Only Live Twice). This is much more what we want of a Bond film now the Origins Trilogy is over.

Sure you can argue that the personal backstory between Bond and Oberhauser is unnecessary, and it's painfully obvious that the character is going to be back at some point. Sure you can argue that Lea Seydoux isn't given much to do beyond look fantastic, while Q, Moneypenny and M have far bigger roles than they ever enjoyed before the reboot (M's office is clearly designed to recall Bernard Lee's rather than Dench's). Sure you can pick holes in the plot: why set a building to blow up around 007 but leave a speedboat in full view for him to escape? Sure, you could take it apart like that, but why would you take the Bond franchise that seriously now that it's lightened up a bit?

The aforementioned misstep takes place early on and is over fairly quickly: the quite dreadful opening credits song by Sam Smith, apparently performed while undergoing the rope torture from Casino Royale. Once John Barry left the series (back in the Dalton days!) the vocal numbers have been spotty at best and this is easily the equal of Madonna's ludicrous Die Another Day, and Jack White and Alicia Keys' atonal honkings at the start of Quantum Of Solace. That aside, it's great: there are actual jokes in there, a level of agreeable absurdity, such as Bond wearing an immaculate white dinner jacket at one point, for absolutely no reason other than he's James Bond and that's what happens in a James Bond film, and the large-scale action scenes are properly put together rather than being overedited into a subliminal blur. It's not just that James Bond is back, but James Bond Films are back as well. Now get on with the next one.




Here's a few details of your lead character. He's good-looking but socially inept, a little awkward around women, with a particular fixation on the one who's completely out of his league. He's been institutionalised following the traumatic death of his mother and abusive childhood at the hands of his father; he's now undergoing regular therapy sessions and is on medication (which he isn't always taking). And he hears voices. Why, I can't help wondering, is this guy the lead in a romantic comedy?

Admittedly The Voices is a macabre romantic comedy, but were it not for the pastel pink everywhere and the wacky talking animals this would be straight out of the Scuzzy 1980s Grindhouse Exploitation handbook - underneath the silly romantic farce it's a close neighbour of Don't Go In The House, Maniac or Nightmares In A Damaged Brain. Likeably goofy Jerry (Ryan Reynolds) works in the packing department of a bathroom supplies company in Nowheresville: he only has eyes for the phenomenally glamorous but uninterested Fiona (Gemma Arterton) despite the obvious attraction from her colleague (Anna Kendrick). Having fortuitously wangled her into his car, he accidentally kills her when she runs off in horror - but once he's dismembered her body (egged on by his evil cat and watched mournfully by dog) he finds her severed head wanting him to kill someone else to keep her company in the fridge....

Eventually, of course, it ends the only way it can: with a big musical number in which everyone sings "Sing A Happy Song" over the end credits while Jesus Himself turns up driving a pink forklift truck. Because....? The Voices is definitely an oddity; I can't honestly say I didn't enjoy it but it's just weird to see a straight sleazy horror Z-film transformed into a glossy date movie with a sweary Scottish cat voiceover and the kind of cast who'd never normally show up in a second cousin of Don't Answer The Phone. Interesting rather than great, but worth a look if only for the style/content disjunct.




I'm glad I'm not a kid these days. Apart from the obvious reasons (school, bullying, not having any friends) I don't know that I'd want to watch much in the way of modern movies for kids. As an adult I can, and generally do, pass on films made specifically for children, with the occasional exception for the slightly spikier digimations (generally anything with a PG is okay but I rarely look at U films). So when I do dip my toe in the footbath of kids' movies it's usually because I've been told that it's actually worth the effort. Shaun The Sheep definitely was, and I would most likely have loved that when I was nine.

I don't know what the nine-year-old me would have made of The Spongebob Movie: Sponge Out Of Water, though. Obviously I've never watched the TV cartoons but I can't even work out whether that's a disadvantage for a 50+ grown adult. Near as I can make out: the underwater townsfolk of Bikini Bottom thrive on Krabby Patties, the secret ingredient of which is known only to Spongebob Squarepants and Mr Crabs, and which is desperately needed by rival restauranteur Plankton. So far so five minutes on CeeBeebies. But then the formula (misspelled throughout on the DVD subtitles as "formuler" for no good reason) disappears because live-action pirate Antonio Banderas has stolen a magic book that allows him to rewrite reality so he can acquire the formula and become a disgustingly rich burger salesman. As Bikini Bottom descends into post-apocalyptic chaos, Spongebob and Plankton team up to build a time machine and get the secret recipe back....

Their journey takes them, for some reason, into outer space where a dolphin (voiced by Matt Berry, channelling Patrick Stewart) is making sure the planets don't crash into each other, before they get thrown into the real world and end up chasing Banderas and his galleon down the street. It's very fast, anarchic, and all over the place as far as any kind of coherent plot is concerned (but hey, it's about a talking sponge). I didn't understand a lot of it but surprisingly, and perhaps worryingly, I sort of enjoyed it. Dedicated to Ernest Borgnine, who did voice work on the TV show.


Tuesday, 10 November 2015



Maybe it's time to let zombies go. Maybe it's time to turn the life support off and let the walking undead die a natural undeath. It's been fun, and the genre has yielded some genuinely great movies (Romero), as well as some entertainingly silly ones (Fulci), but the sad fact is that zombies, like vampires, just ain't scary any more. Just as Dracula's ilk have been diminished by turning them from blood-drinking demons into romantic sparkly-skinned hunks, so a decade or more of cadaver-centric comedy has robbed the Whatever Of The Dead school of horror of its shock value. And even though the zomcom subgenre has in turn had its moments (Shaun Of The Dead, Dance Of The Dead), there's now the growing sense that it's played out. (Not that a particular cinematic seam having long been strip-mined to exhaustion has ever stopped people trying, as anyone who's seen more than five post-Blair Witch found-footage atrocities will attest.)

The zombs in the dubiously punctuated Scouts Guide To The Zombie Apocalypse (it should really be either Scouts' or Scouts:) are played strictly for laughs: an outbreak at some unnamed facility (military? medical?) spreads quickly through a town, unbeknown to the three Boy Scouts camping out in the woods. Two of them actually want to drop out of scouting entirely so they don't have to wear the dorky uniforms and can hang out with the cool kids and maybe get off with the hot chicks - but when confronted by the ambulant dead they find their scouting skills coming in handy. But can they rescue the aforementioned hot chicks at the supercool secret party before the military bomb the town to contain the contagion?

Scouts Guide To The Zombie Apocalypse (a project which started afterlife as Scouts Vs Zombies back in 2010 and might have had some currency back then) is actually pretty funny in places, though it does descend too often into the needlessly puerile with its monotonously sex-obsessed young heroes groping zombie boobs and ogling zombie strippers. It feels rather like the frenzied wish-fulfilment fantasies of a 14-year-old dweeb who likes girls and zombies and really wants to see them in the same movie together - that's why there's a superhot shotgun-wielding kickass stripper (cocktail waitress) in there. The film isn't actually scary (though neither was Shaun Of The Dead) but it does have a surprisingly high level of gore and sexual material that feels very much at odds with the lenient 15 certificate, including a penis joke that is quite literally extended beyond breaking point, and a weed-whacker sequence that's referencing the wonderful Brain Dead's lawnmower scene - presumably they felt the comedic edge made it acceptable at the lower category whereas a serious film of that level would score an 18.

On a technical level it's well shot and well put together, and I chuckled more or less throughout, which for a Boy Scouts zombie comedy should be enough, and is certainly more than some official comedies I've watched in recent years (I'm looking at you, Seth Rogen and Will Ferrell). But part of me wants the zombie movie to be seriously apocalyptic, not goonish Friday night knockabout with Britney Spears references. As goonish Friday night knockabout goes, however, it's more than acceptable.




Despite the 2015 copyright date on the end credits, this is actually a 2011 film, retitled and given new artwork to disguise the fact that it's actually a meta-sequel to a miserable-looking piece of giant alien eyeball nonsense from 1999 that David DeCouteau directed under a pseudonym. I haven't seen The Killer Eye as a standalone film, but I've seen enough of it shamelessly playing on a TV set in this semi-followup to confidently state that I'll be ploughing through the entire box sets of Crossroads, Bargain Hunt and that fantastically stupid ITV penny arcade game show before I ever - EVER - sling the DVD of The Killer Eye into the player.

Charles Band's The Disembodied (originally released to an uninterested world as Killer Eye: Hollywood Haunt) is so remorselessly terrible that you'd expect it to make DeCouteau's The Killer Eye look good by comparison, in the way that someone would theoretically appear less of a monumental arsehole if they're standing next to Piers Morgan. Paradoxically, that doesn't happen. Here we have five imbecilic young women, ostensibly getting together to decorate the house for Halloween, but eventually deciding not to bother and to sit and watch The Killer Eye instead. But an evil spirit contained within Mom's crystal ball telepathically brings a promotional eyeball prop to life, which promptly goes on the rampage, taking over the girls' minds and making them take their clothes off, talk drivel and experiment with lesbianism....

There are no less than 113 "special executive producers" listed in the end credits. and it's painfully clear that "special executive producer" is a technical Hollywood term for anyone who'll toss Charles Band a dollar. It's cheap, it's incredibly tedious (even at 69 minutes with very slow credit sequences), it's so lousy it's impossible to tell if it was supposed to be a comedy, it boasts a cast hired solely for their willingness to jiggle around in various states of undress, and the script shows every sign of being written by a ten-year-old. Why? It's not as if Charles Band hasn't made proper films in the past - possessed car thriller Crash!, kinky monster erotica Meridian (aka Phantoms), cult favourite Trancers (and let's not forget Empire Pictures giving us Re-Animator, From Beyond and Prison) - but at some point he appears to have given up and is now just churning out Evil Bong and Gingerdead Man sequels. Come back Fred Olen Ray, all is forgiven.


Saturday, 31 October 2015



Exactly a quarter of a century ago I was at Art College, a mature student on a Media Studies course (for all the good it did), and right across the hall from our main classroom was a gents lavatory, the single cubicle door of which bore the following biro-scrawled graffito: "For God's Sake Write Something Funny". I don't recall anyone ever going along with this appeal; I don't believe anyone ever attempted a witty riposte. But that single sentence has stuck with me while a lot of the classroom bibble about Stan Brakhage and Maya Deren has faded like a dull dream. Write Something Funny. And I'm always reminded of this every time I sit down with a comedy film. Make me laugh. It's really quite amazing how often they fail at what is a very simple task.

One of the problems with The Interview - above and beyond the mere handicap of Seth Rogen being one of the least comedic comedians currently walking the Earth - is that the circus surrounding its original release has completely overshadowed the film itself. Was North Korea really behind the Sony hacking and the threats to blow up any cinemas that dared to screen it a year ago? Or was it just the marketing department thinking up desperate new tactics to get people to watch a very, very stupid film which they knew would die at the box-office without a high-profile fillip? "See The Interview or the terrorists have won" is only a sliver away from "Buy Thompson's Toothpaste or the terrorists have won" - grotesquely inappropriate even if you're not engaged in a war on terror. If The Interview does make it into the history books rather than fading quickly into obscurity in the bowels of Netflix and the DVD shelves in Cash Converters, it'll be for the controversy rather than the content.

You would think that the untrammelled excesses of absolute rulers, when juxtaposed with liberal Western cynicism, would make for fertile satire. In this case the totalitarian whackjob is Kim Jong-Un, and the decadent imperialist pigdogs are an egotistical TV talkshow host (James Franco) and his producer (Seth Rogen, also the writer and co-director), whose lightweight Hollywood gossip show is apparently one of the Great Leader's favourite shows. But when our idiot heroes secure an interview with him, the CIA step in and persuade them to assassinate him for The Greater Good....

The trouble is the film isn't really interested in scalpel-like political satire. It's easier to just do the usual crowd-pleasing gags about gays, poo, willies and bums (one long sequence involves Rogen's character having to insert a metal cylinder full of ricin up his bottom). The nearest point of comparison is actually The Dictator, in which Sacha Baron Cohen similarly resorted to the lowest brow of humour rather than shine any acerbic light on the atrocities routinely perpetrated by a (fictional) Middle Eastern tyrant - it's far more tempting to cop out and sell out with lazy bad taste. Granted, The Interview doesn't stoop to Cohen's cheap shots about 9/11, child abuse and abortion, but it's still offputtingly puerile, and all wrapped up in that tiresome "I love you, man (but absolutely not in that kind of way, no sir)" flavour of American dude bromance. Towards the end the film stops even trying to pretend it's a comedy and settles for surprisingly violent action sequences in which there's spurting blood and tanks and helicopters and shootouts and explosions, which feels like it's from a different film entirely but by that point you're just grateful for any kind of diversion.

None of which would matter that much if the film had at least succeeded in its basic ambition: comedy. It's as funny as Pineapple Express and This Is The End weren't. There are a few smiles from an Eminem cameo early on, but that's about it because Rogen and (particularly) Franco just aren't very likeable company. I don't have to abide by that doctrine on the back of the lavatory door in Portsmouth, because I'm not a paid comedian; the makers of The Interview are, and they trousered a hell of a lot of money for frankly not doing their job. Ill-judged, lazy, charmless and not worth the effort - theirs, mine, or yours.




Let's not mess about here: the original The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is a genuine, full-on, copper-bottomed classic. A demented primal shriek of a horror film, it's one of the very few films that feels as though the howling insanity on view has somehow infected the film stock itself. There's no comfort, no light relief, no sense that it's only a movie and everything will be all right in the end. It won't. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is not a human film; it's like watching a transmission from another planet. Unsettling doesn't come close to describing it. (Having seen it several times over the years, from a well-worn VHS rental to a battered print at the Scala, I've found a good way to still derive the full effect is to see it with someone who's never seen it before, and leech vicariously off their reactions).

You know the story: two couples and one of the girls' wheelchair-bound brother are on a road trip through the wilds of rural Texas, to visit a grave and the old family home. After a disturbing encounter with a hitch-hiker and the inevitable "you don't want to go messing around in those old houses" from a friendly-sounding gas station attendant, they go merrily wandering round what's left of the old homestead. But the apparently unoccupied house next door appears to have petrol, which they'll need to get home...

Leatherface's first kill is still a shock, and Pam's discovery of the room of bones, feathers and caged chickens (and her subsequent demise) is the start of the full roaring horror which never lets up but which also never goes for the easy horror option of blood and gore. Before long there's only Sally (Marilyn Burns) left, a prisoner of The Family: Leatherface, The Gas Man, The Hitch-Hiker and their 115-year-old Granpaw, barely able to grasp the hammer to kill her. It's the kind of sustained hysteria you hadn't seen in films up to that point, and you've hardly ever seen since. The film might end with Sally's narrow escape, but there's no way she'll ever recover psychologically.

This has always been a film I've appreciated and respected rather than enjoyed, and it's probably Tobe Hooper's best work in terms of pure horror (although I love Lifeforce!) while never being a film I've ever wanted to watch regularly. The soundtrack - all dissonant clangs and rumbles - is hardly music, but it's effective, the photography conveys the blazing heat and discomfort, and the set design for the inside of Leatherface's house is astonishing. In the end it's a pure horror film, a pure nightmare on 16mm, and now in what must surely be a definitive presentation. And finally: it's Chain Saw, not Chainsaw in the title.




In some ways it's sad, but it's perhaps unsurprising that the vintage Hammer horrors of the 60s and 70s have lost some of their shock value in the intervening decades. It's not that they've dated, just that the envelope has been pushed so far since then that what was once full-on horror is now pretty inoffensive. In a world of Saw and Insidious they now come across as safe, comfortable and indeed borderline family entertainment, agreeably creepy rather than outright shocking. Many have been downgraded from their original X to a wimpy 12 certificate (principally the earlier ones without the nudity) and could play quite happily on TV without upsetting anyone.

Frankenstein And The Monster From Hell is the seventh and last of Hammer's Frankenstein series (running from 1957 to 1973), and the sixth film to feature the great Peter Cushing as the mad Baron. This time, despite being killed off at the end of at least one earlier entry in the saga, he's back again and working incognito as a doctor in an insane asylum: by a happy coincidence it's the same institution to which mad doctor Shane Briant has been sentenced after his conviction for attempting to replicate Dr Frankenstein's experiments (or, in legal terms, sorcery). Here there's a plentiful supply of fresh bodies that won't be missed. And he has even more nightmarish plans for his creation, involving his mute and traumatised assistant Angel (Madeline Smith, the sole note of glamour in an otherwise pretty grim film)...

With the presence of numerous familiar faces (Patrick Troughton, Bernard Lee, Charles Lloyd Pack all turning up for a few scenes each), Frankenstein And The Monster From Hell is generally good, pleasantly nasty fun. David Prowse returns as the Monster (perhaps confusingly not the same one he played in The Horror Of Frankenstein three years earlier), an intelligent mind locked inside a more grotesque than usual patchwork of body parts. And, of course, you get the always wonderful Peter Cushing. It also ups the ante on the gleefully tasteless gore somewhat, with a graphic brain operation and some loving shots of eyeballs in a glass jar, but even with all its previously censored sequences restored it's still only deemed worthy of a 15 rating. A package well worth picking up: even if the film isn't quite the shocker it once was, it's still enjoyably entertaining, and far better than many more recent horrors I've plodded through.




This is one of the many horror movies that got overlooked in the transition from murky VHS to shiny DVD: it's 28 years since it last went to the BBFC for its tape release, when it was summarily cut by over a minute. Now it's been fully restored, it's in full widescreen (none of this pan and scan nonsense!), and it's an enjoyable and good-looking blast of trash/horror nostalgia for the ex-rental era which delivers on the gore and sleaze with a vengeance.

The Beast Within starts off in 1964, when newlyweds Ronny Cox and Bibi Besch break down in the middle of nowhere: he goes off for help and she's brutally attacked and raped by some kind of forest creature. Seventeen years later, their son's (Paul Clemens) worsening health sends the family back to the quiet rural town where it happened. But he's changing, metamorphosing into the same kind of monster, apparently taking revenge for crimes a generation past and ultimately sowing the seeds for further horrors in another seventeen years....

It's true that the Tom Holland script doesn't entirely clear up whether the new creature is possessed by the original, whether it's a whole new life-form (somehow derived from cicadas), or how cannibalism has contributed to its development. The Beast Within is only passingly interested in that. Far more important are the gore sequences: Tom Burman's full-on transformation effects run the likes of The Howling and An American Werewolf In London a pretty close race, but they're badly undercut by the scene running far too long. It's as if they're so proud of the prosthetics and animatronics (and quite rightly so) that they can't bear to trim them back. Elsewhere the gory kill scenes are enjoyably gruesome, including a terrific decapitation, while the two rape scenes are more than nasty enough, but feel unnecessarily graphic in this slightly more progressive age (albeit an age where I Spit On Your Grave 3 actually exists).

The Beast Within is probably not a classic, though it's certainly leagues better than director Philippe Mora's atrocious brace of Howling "sequels" (but then what isn't?). It's messy and trashy, and the explanation for its monster makes no sense, but it's well-mounted with an upfront horror score by Les Baxter, and it looks wonderful now it's in high definition and the correct aspect ratio. More importantly, it's a reminder of a time when even splattery B-movies could be well crafted and atmospheric, with believable and likeable characters, in the way that you don't see often enough these days.




Olatunde Osunsanmi's latest attempt to give the found footage subgenre some credibility has a few terrific moments but overall doesn't add up to very much at all. It didn't work in the ridiculous alien conspiracy movie The Fourth Kind and it doesn't work here. Rather, it reveals yet again how tiresome and empty the camcorder horror bag of tricks is: we've had so many of these reality horrors that they've lost the power to shock or to scare. More damagingly, we just don't believe them any more (assuming we ever did). The Blair Witch Project was fifteen years ago and we're still seeing the same faux reality schtick trotted out again and again.

The best scenes in Evidence (which has nothing to do with Howie Askins' unwatchably terrible found-footage horror film of the same name) aren't to do with the camera and cellphone footage found in the aftermath of an apparent bus crash and a massacre in the Nevada desert, but the scenes of the cops (led by Radha Mitchell and Stephen Moyer) wading through all this glitch-ridden video material in an attempt to piece together what happened, and identify the homicidal maniac who killed most of the bus passengers with some kind of welding torch....

We get footage seen from four different phones and cameras, some of it showing events from different perspectives, and this material comes in a variety of ratios from 4:3 to 16:9 to full 2.35 scope (do regular digital cameras even shoot in that format?), and even pillarboxed mobile phone footage looking like a stamp in the middle of the screen. However, there is a plot twist at the end that comes straight out of nowhere, complete with one of those Saw-style recaps that strings together all the important shots and dialogue intercut with the cops as they finally understand what happened. It's a pity that that final plot twist makes absolutely no sense as it yet again depends on the killer having far great control over events than could possibly be predicted: it's a great "Wow!" moment but it comes about two minutes before a "Hang on a second..." moment.

Nor does it hold water that one of the leads claims she's a documentary film maker when she patently has no more idea of film making than simply pointing the camera vaguely in the direction of stuff and forgetting to press the Stop button. Or that those other cameras would capture precisely the required footage and no more. Still, while the found stuff is typically as annoying as expected, the "proper" film surrounding it is far more watchable, and like Cannibal Holocaust it does provide a fictitious (but more plausible) dramatic context for all the shakycam sequences which wholly "found" films like The Blair Witch Project don't have.

In the end, while chunks of it are a chore to get through and none of the victims are remotely worth rooting for, Evidence isn't very good, and it hasn't persuaded me that there's much value in "found" as a viable film-making technique. It is, however, better than I'd feared and even though it doesn't entirely hang together it is probably an okay watch if you keep your expectations down.




The first time I saw Frank Henenlotter's splattery debut movie was more than twenty years ago, on the twice-censored British video release. I suspect at the time I was too young to fully understand it when I first saw it. Not because I was a kid; but simply because I knew nothing of the world of 42nd Street and Times Square grindhouse cinemas, so the film came out of a tradition I'd never heard of and I didn't really get the joke; thus I probably didn't care as much for the film as I should have done, and as I now do.

Made in 1982, Basket Case is a grainy, neon-soaked hymn to trashy exploitation cinema, with gore, violence, sleaze and grotesquerie and the tackiest locations of a New York long gone: it's gloriously tasteless yet in places almost moving, as Duane (Kevin Van Hentenryck) turns up at the seedy Hotel Broslin carrying a large wicker basket. What's in the basket? His hideously deformed ex-Siamese twin, Belial! And Belial is out for bloody revenge against the dubious doctors who ruthlessly separated them and left him to die with the garbage... Produced on 16mm for $35,000 (estimated, according to the IMDb), it's a triumph of ideas and imagination over pitifully limited resources, shot against the kind of production design that money genuinely can't buy. Watching it now on BluRay still isn't the ideal (which would be when projected slightly imperfectly in a damp fleapit cinema full of suspicious characters), but it's an immeasurably better viewing experience than a VHS tape with most of the splatter taken out.

Despite the downbeat ending, they survived for a pair of sequels in which Duane and Belial, now fugitives, meet up with Granny Ruth (Annie Ross), who runs a community of "unique individuals" - unfortunate people with rat heads, frog heads, eleven noses and so on. (Significantly, none of the "freaks" on view correspond with any real-life disabilities or disfigurements.) Basket Case 2, which arrived in 1990 (though takes place immediately after the first film) has the brothers tracked down by a tabloid reporter seeking a big exclusive: will Granny stand by them against these exploitative lowlifes? Meanwhile, both brothers fall in love, Belial with the similarly malformed Eve, and Duane with Granny Ruth's beautiful granddaughter Susan (Heather Rattray). But she has a unique condition of her own...

1992's Basket Case 3 is sometimes subtitled The Progeny (although not here), and features the whole community travelling to Georgia as Eve is about to give birth to Belial's child. But the uncaring, heartless "normal" people yet again only see a chance to exploit the unfortunate freaks and make some easy money out of them - this time a couple of comedy cops out to claim the million dollar tabloid bounty on Duane and Belial. But again they've reckoned without the freaks' community standing up for themselves and each other, and without Belial's perhaps unexpected love for his own offspring.

Both sequels are smoother, slicker and better budgeted than the original film: they're in 16:9 (Basket Case is in 4:3) and the fleshy make-up effects by Gabe Bartalos are far better. But they don't have the rough edge of the first: whereas in Basket Case absolutely anything could happen, the sequels feel more mainstream and therefore a bit safer. In the first film Belial was a savage murderer and the humans, no matter how despicable, were the victims, but in both sequels the regular people are the villains and the "unique individuals" are the kind, considerate and humane ones. It's intriguing that Duane, an accomplice in Belial's killing spree and a wanted fugitive, is the nominal hero but spends most of the sequels struggling to cope with the increasingly surreal strangeness around him, just wanting to get away from the freaks and live a normal life when those "normals" are the ones that cause all the problems. Even if the two follow-ups don't have the grimy, squalid nastiness of the first entry and don't really match up to it, they're still oddly charming in their cheerful bad taste, and all three are absolutely worth seeing.




This is yet another movie in which a young woman moves into a suspiciously cheap apartment and is immediately beset by supernatural forces: the problem isn't that it's is a fair-to-middling chiller at best, but that we’ve seen this sort of thing so many times before. It’s yet another telling of a very familiar story - and not just because it's a remake of a perfectly acceptable Japanese horror film (directed by Ataru Oikawa in 2007). Stir in all the other J-Horror productions like Hideo Nakata's Dark Water (and its English language remake) or straight originals like the recent The Echo, and ultimately it's the familiarity of the material that works against the film more than the occasionally dodgy dialogue or the characters' frequently irrational behaviour.

At 24, Janet Slate (Julianne Michelle) is so desperate to get away from her domineering, drunken former rock star mother (Rebecca De Mornay) that she signs up to the first available apartment: it’s close to her work, with terrific views and at very reasonable rates. But unbeknownst to Janet, Apartment 1303 has a gruesome history as the last four tenants all committed suicide within a few days of moving in, and it’s not long before she is violently attacked by an unseen presence. Following Janet's apparent suicide, her sister Lara (Mischa Barton) moves in and, with the aid of Janet's cop boyfriend, tries to uncover the truth. But whatever it is that's still living there won't allow anyone to stay...

The Asian horror technique of finding chilling horror in the mundane and ordinary that we're all familiar with in our daily domestic lives (be it a mysterious videotape, a missed cellphone call or an odd photograph) is more effective in creating honest scares than Hollywood's more splattery fixations on axe murderers, vampires and the walking dead. We've all heard strange noises in the flat in the middle of the night, but few if any of us have been chased round the place by flesh-eating ghouls and/or serial killers. But the film still isn't anywhere near as look-away scary as it needs to be, and one of the big jump moments where the ghost is outside and then suddenly inside (a trick pulled off beautifully by Insidious) has no impact at all.

More mysterious than anything in the film, however, is why on Earth it was shot in 3D. As with so many other 3D movies, there's not a single shot that cries out for that extra dimension effect, and with no theatrical release in the offing the only way you can see the 3D version is on the 3D BluRay - if you happen to have a 3D-compatible television, which most people don't as yet. Still, if you can forgive the sometimes awful dialogue and the last half of the film, in which increasingly illogical things happen (the climactic revelation concerning the building’s creepy super and the equally creepy schoolgirl down the hall makes absolutely no sense), there are a few effective moments to be had, and it doesn't waste any time, being over in a slim 83 minutes including credits. A few nice moments don't cut it, however, for a horror film and it doesn't even match up to the (scarcely a classic) original. Not awful, but really not good enough.