Sunday, 29 March 2015



A brace of recent British gangster movies here, suggesting an apparently enduring love for old school East End crime bosses wot dressed smart and loved their mum and didn't do no harm to them wot didn't deserve it, hanging out with colourfully dubious underworld figures like Mickey The Stoat and Harry The Hammer and keeping the bottom of the canal well stocked with the bodies of them wot mysteriously disappeared recently after a disagreement. The spectres of Ron and Reg still loom over this niche of the British Film Industry, who are apparently nowhere near completing their mission to promote a pair of terrifying sociopaths, who would happily nail you to a billiard table for want of anything better to do on a Thursday night, as role models for the next generation of cheerful Cockernee villains wot won't do you no harm if you don't cross them, sunshine.

Both films feature brothers who are aging London crime bosses: Assassin actually has them played by Gary and Martin Kemp, real-life brothers and stars of The Krays. They've mostly gone straight these days but apparently there are still occasions when people need rubbing out and Danny Dyer is their in-house hit man. Unknowingly, he makes the mistake of falling for the cokehead daughter of his last hit and, when she starts digging into her father's unlikely and convenient sudden death, Dyer is assigned to dispose of her as well. But he runs off with her instead to start a new life with her....

There's a semi-decent thriller lurking within Assassin, but JK Amalou (Hard Men, Deviation) is not the man to find it and Danny Dyer is absolutely not the actor to bring the character to life. Granted it's a better film than, say, Basement or Run For Your Wife, but pretty much every film ever made up to and including the collected works of Ted V Mikels is better than Basement or Run For Your Wife. On the flipside, it's scarcely a better piece of work than Dead Man Running or Vendetta or Blood Shot or Doghouse or Outlaw: it is just more of the same and not well enough done to raise any interest. File under Only If It's Raining, Your Netflix Account Has Failed And It's Literally The Only DVD On Cash Converter's Shelf.

We Still Kill The Old Way has a more despairing attitude, contrasting the old-fashioned villainy of the Kray Twins Archer Brothers with the incoherent and brutish misogyny and thuggery of teenage drugs gangs running amok through the East End. When ex-crime boss Steven Berkoff is kicked to death in an alley for disrupting a gang rape, his brother (Ian Ogilvy) flies in from his Spanish hideaway to find out exactly what happened and, teaming up with his old crew, deal with the miserable little scrotes responsible, while maybe rekindling a romance with Lysette Anthony and crossing swords with the ineptitude of the Old Bill (here represented by Alison Doody)....

It may be weighed down by industrial-level swearing and a raft of younger characters so thoroughly hateful they make the Waffen SS look like the Von Trapps (with or without the singing), but to my surprise I kind of enjoyed it. I didn't adore it and I don't want to see it again, but just as the film concerns itself with the old gangsters being (relatively) better than the new breed, so the veteran cast display the charm and watchability that the youngsters simply don't possess. Most audaciously, the film doesn't just end with the possibility of a sequel but actually posits itself as an unofficial followup to The Italian Job, as our "heroes" wax nostalgic about that bullion job they pulled in Turin all those years ago. Frankly, given the choice I'd rather have a second helping of this than Assassin, because at least there's the sense that the cast are having some fun with it whereas Assassin is mostly glum. But I'd sooner the British Film Industry found better role models and hero figures than lowlifes, murderers and foul-mouthed scum.


Friday, 27 March 2015



Sometimes it's a good idea to rewatch movies: not just the classics you already love, but the ones you didn't entirely get the first time around. Obviously it doesn't apply to everything (there's no way I'm going back to Police Academy 7: Mission To Moscow, for example), but it does for films that had something about them you can't quite identify. This science fiction thriller is a good example: to be honest it wasn't entirely satisfying when I first saw as the closing film at last year's Frightfest, where I liked it but didn't love it. Sadly, a second viewing doesn't improve matters much, though it does highlight more clearly where it didn't work for me.

Three friends Nic (Brenton Thwaites), Haley (Olivia Cooke) and Jonah (Beau Knapp) are on a road trip to California to drop her off at her exciting new college. It's a fraught journey since it looks as though Nic and Haley are on the point of breaking up, and Nic is suffering from a severe muscular condition. But they're also on the trail of Nomad, a mastermind hacker who broke into the MIT servers, and they've pinpointed his location as a remote shack in the Nevada desert (which happily isn't very far out of their way). They find nothing in the shack, but suddenly there's a massive disturbance and they wake up in some kind of top secret government bunker populated by scientists in hazmat suits led by Laurence Fishburne. Have they contracted some kind of infection? Is it an alien attack? Even though it's clearly the wrong thing to do, Nic decides to escape the base and take Haley with him - an easier than expected task, almost as if the scientists are letting them go. But where are they and what's out there?

The main problem with The Signal would appear to be pacing: the build-up is slow, which means it feels like it takes ages to get going, and then the last ten minutes or so take the movie into mind-distending realms of science fiction rather than fantasy, with a series of climactic revelations that unfortunately don't add up, leaving a sense of "uh, what?" as the end credits roll. One, concerning the empty drinks cans in the diner, even recalls the fairly silly Tom Baker Doctor Who story The Android Invasion, in which all the coins are mysteriously freshly minted and there are no dates on the calendars.

It's still an interesting film, though: it's always good to see Laurence Fishburne, and there's another noodly synth/ambient score plink-plonking away in the background. Certainly the film looks superb (William Eubank directed Love, which also looked terrific but didn't hang together as a plot), and it's well put together, but the Six Million Dollar Man sequences towards the end actually look a touch silly and the narrative doesn't entirely explain, for example, what Lin Shaye's dotty motorist is doing there. Not a total success, but the ideas are fascinating, the setting is well used and it's technically pretty good for the low budget ($4m according to the IMDb).


Tuesday, 24 March 2015



Just what's going on at Lionsgate? First they make a perfectly enjoyable if entirely unnecessary sequel to See No Evil, of all the titles in their back catalogue, and now they're rebooting what's probably the most desperately silly horror franchise outside of Charles Band's quadrilogy about homicidal biscuits. How are they picking their projects? Throwing darts at an old copy of Fangoria? The Leprechaun series has been dormant for over a decade anyway and I gave up on it after the fourth one: after increasingly tiresome adventures in Los Angeles and Las Vegas and a load of old pants set in space for no good reason, even I couldn't be bothered with a blaxpo Lep In Da Hood followup. But someone obviously thinks there's mileage, or at least money, in the Leprechaun branding and have reimagined the little feller for a whole new generation.

What they've done is to toss out everything about Leprechaun: the rhyming dialogue, the elaborately jokey death scenes and the silly comedy, and they've also removed all of Lep's Oirishness: no more giant buckles on the shoes or big green hat, and no-one say "begorrah". Now he's more of a monstrous feral beast, barely glimpsed but resembling the alien creature from Xtro. Instead they've cranked up the gore and nastiness, turning it into a proper yukky horror movie in the process which is frankly their only good decision. A quartet of American students holidaying in Ireland are lured into a cabin in the woods, where they're easy prey for the Leprechaun whose gold was stolen by the townsfolk centuries ago, and the locals have been repaying the money ever since. But these tourists are going to be the ones to fight back....

Leprechaun: Origins (which incidentally isn't an origins story) is a co-production with the WWE wrestling organisation, but why? The Lep himself is played by wrestling star Dylan Postl, who fights under the name Hornswoggle, but he doesn't actually get to do very much and is mostly seen in distorted close shots with little movement. They could have put former Environment Secretary John Selwyn Gummer in that costume and the result wouldn't have been significantly different. So why have they bothered?

As a straight horror movie it's pleasantly gruesome - an axe in the face is the look-away highlight - and in all honesty I'm more partial to that than the daft blarney and knockabout from the Warwick Davis series. But it still isn't anything you haven't seen before in a score of other DTV slashkill movies in which oversexed teens run around screaming while being chased by a monster. It's a more than decent Leprechaun movie, but it's a very average horror film.


Saturday, 21 March 2015



Since Saw, we've seen quite a number of films in which a group of people are stuck in a bunker somewhere and are forced to endure horrible things or hurt one another in order to survive. It's a setup that's featured in films as disparate as Vile, the Cube series, Hunger (not the Fassbender/McQueen one), the astonishingly rubbish Bane, and even the thundering idiocy of the Japanese Death Tube, not counting the actual Saw sequels themselves. In such company, this fairly monotonous but agreeably bloody thudfest acquits itself reasonably well.

In the meaninglessly-titled Raze, Zoe Bell wakes up in an underground bunker and is forced to take part in an elimination contest of one-on-one unarmed combat to the death with a series of other captive women. If they don't comply, the shadowy cult that abducted them will kill members of their families. The organisation behind it is led by one-time Twin Peaks star Sherilyn Fenn and Doug Jones, probably more familiar as non-human characters in Guillermo Del Toro films but here just a pencil moustache away from Baltimore's finest, John Waters. Why? Well, it's supposedly something to do with maenads, ill-defined female figures from Greek mythology (why not Roman, given the gladiatorial arena setting?) but it mostly looks like a gathering of obnoxious rich bastards watching terrified young women beating each other to death for the joyous, life-affirming spectacle of it.

The fight scenes themselves are brutally violent (no wimping out for a 15 certificate here!) and certainly painful to watch, but there comes a point where you want something more from a film than attractive women punching each other in the face. Character isn't particularly deep: there's the shy mousy one who you'll feel sad for when she gets killed, the shouty bitchy one who you'll feel happy for when she gets killed, and you know Zoe Bell's going to win all her fights because it's Zoe Bell. The film is also saddled with one of those downbeat endings which is presumably supposed to compound the helpless horror of the movie but actually leaves you unsatisfied because it's entirely unnecessary. Still, it's sadistically bloody and does the job if you want to watch girls murdering each other for nebulous reasons, but doesn't that make you one of the millionaire scumbags at the cocktail party upstairs?




Movie nerds are a tolerant lot, generally. We'll watch pretty much anything by anyone from anywhere, we embrace the niche oddities, we seek out the weird, and we won't be put off by critics telling us it's not any good. But goodwill and tolerance are not inexhaustible and eventually it's time to yell out of the windows that we're mad as hell and we're not going to watch this crap any more. Sooner or later a crisis point is reached and you start to wonder what the hell you're doing with your time.

Devil's Tower is a miserable zero-budget slab of  amateur night tedium in which a handful of deeply hateful people encounter supernatural forces in a tower block. The ghost of a former resident, whose death went unnoticed for four years, takes people over via their TV sets and turns them into zombies for no particular purpose. A newly homeless girl (Roxanne Pallett, for whom this presumably looked like a step upwards from 135 episodes of sex-and-cowshit soap Emmerdale) and an American squatter/burglar (Jason Mewes) team up when Mewes' asshole best friend goes missing; he's far from the first to disappear or die brutally in mysterious circumstances....

In terms of basic professional standards of film-making competence, Devil's Tower is not a film. It's barely a video. Ungraded digital photography gives it the look of a mid-range camcorder production, it's badly written, badly acted, badly directed and badly assembled, everyone onscreen is despicable and the story makes no sense at all. There is absolutely no reason for Jason Mewes to be in it, unless he's been actively seeking a project that's worse than The Watermen. (Mercifully, he doesn't get his ballsack out this time.) It's visually quite ugly - the sex scenes have the look and feel of homemade porn and that's the artistic ambience of the entire enterprise - and if you'd been told this was an afterschool project made by people who'd never seen a camera before, let alone a horror film, it wouldn't surprise you. Certainly I'm struggling with the idea that anyone involved is any kind of professional.

Presumably they are: it's produced by Dominic Burns, who's already got a track record in terrible movies (serving in various capacities on films as wholly without a shred of merit as Strippers Vs Werewolves, Cut and UFO) that have managed to secure UK distribution. And that's the problem: making a movie has never been so easy and cheap, and it's now possible to get any old rubbish released. There isn't even the most rudimentary level of quality control, anyone to say "hang on, guys, this really isn't good enough". Well, why bother when there's enough of an audience out there who'll watch absolutely anything? That the makers clearly assume Devil's Tower is of an acceptable standard for public viewing I frankly find insulting as a horror fan, as a film nerd and as a human being. Go away.


Monday, 16 March 2015



One of the best aspects of this third (of four) films in the Hunger Games series is the near total absence of the Hunger Games. The games themselves were actually the least interesting sequences in the first two films, indeed there was much more meat in the political machinations and the detail of the social structures in which this frankly illogical fantasy future takes place. The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 dispenses with the Battle Royale teen combat idea almost entirely, and it works well, rather in the same way that the later Harry Potter films were more interesting when taking place outside Hogwarts.

Being a midpoint entry in the series, the film has no proper opening. It assumes (in my case, wrongly) that you already know who everyone is, where they stand and what they represent, and picks up immediately from the end of Catching Fire, when Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) is rescued from what’s left of the Games arena by the leaders of the rebellion and President Coin (Julianne Moore), seeking to use her as a figurehead for their propaganda. Her condition for helping them, for being the Mockingjay, is that Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) is rescued from the Capitol and the evil forces of President Snow (Donald Sutherland)...

And because this is only part one of Mockingjay, the film doesn’t have a properly satisfying ending either. Instead, events conclude with a shocking twist rather than a natural ending, and the film all but closes with a “To Be Continued” caption.  That continuation isn’t due in British cinemas until November this year, so chances are I for one will have forgotten the exact details of how the story was left last time.

Given that this is a franchise I’ve no particular love for (I really don’t think the first film is up to much at all), I probably enjoyed this latest episode more than I’d expected.  It’s certainly well put together, it’s nice to see Stanley Tucci, Elizabeth Banks, (the late) Philip Seymour Hoffman and Woody Harrelson all returning as Caesar, Effie, Plutarch and Haymitch respectively (this really is a series that’s big on silly names), although much of the film takes place in the huge underground bunker so it feels like there’s more talk and less action than in the earlier films. This isn’t a bad thing: it’s nice to find the series maturing and deepening, and not merely repeating its previous highlights, just bigger.

So all in all it’s pretty good: for me it’s maybe not quite as enjoyable as Catching Fire as I miss the ludicrous excesses of the Capitol sequences, but it’s still well worth seeing although you probably need to be slightly more familiar with the characters than I was and willing to hang on another eight months for the thrilling conclusion.


Saturday, 7 March 2015



Say what you like about Ninja Apocalypse, but you have to admit at the very least it does have ninjas and it does have an apocalypse: a full-on nuclear annihilation within the first minute of the film. It also has fraternal conflict, hot chicks, throwing stars, zombies, shape-shifters, jealousy, lunkheads, levitation, terrible CGI and such awesomely idiotic dialogue you can't believe the screenwriter cashed the cheque with a straight face, so you won't be shortchanged in the wild incident department. It's almost a pity, though scarcely a huge surprise, that the film isn't very good.

Years after the Bomb went off, California's scattered communities have apparently adopted the ancient Ninja code of honour. Apparently tired of the disparate clans fighting each other, Grand Master Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa calls the various leaders together for a peace summit in a 100-storey bunker. But he's assassinated, apparently by Cage, Leader of the Lost Clan (Christian Oliver), who immediately protests his innocence even though everyone saw him do it. Every other clan sets out to wipe out our heroes - but who is the real mystery villain? And what unspeakable horrors are waiting for the Lost Clan leaders on the 100th floor?

Everyone's got superpowers, whether it's psychokinesis, lightning bolts or creating weapons out of thin air, but only for limited periods as they need to recharge themselves. Which makes it particularly annoying when they mainly waste those powers beating each other up rather than the legions of other, more colourful ninjas. (Let's ignore the fact that the ability to movie objects through mind power or conjure energy bolts out of the air doesn't make you a ninja, it makes you a sorceror.) This isn't just twaddle, it's badly acted and badly written twaddle with poor CGI blood spurts: obviously any movie calling itself Ninja Apocalypse is hardly an intellectual piece, but there's no dishonour in aiming high and missing. It's when you aim low and still miss that you've got problems. Still, some of the fighting is agreeably crunchy and it's very silly, and it's over and done in 80 minutes or so. It's not abysmal, being not being abysmal really isn't enough.




We've had moon Nazis, monster Nazis, vampire Nazis, ghost Nazis, zombie Nazis, underwater zombie Nazis - it was only a matter of time before we had werewolf Nazis. (I'm not counting their appearance in An American Werewolf In London as it's only a dream sequence.) More specifically, in this instance it's just the one werewolf Nazi, big and hairy but complete with a swastika armband. Sadly, any potential is thrown away in a tiresome and indifferent splatter movie in which tedious young idiots get bloodily slaughtered.

The best joke in Iron Wolf isn't even in the film, it's the groansome "Howl Hitler" tagline on the front of the DVD box. It's 1945 and German experiments into creating the ultimate weapon are abandoned at the moment of triumph when the victorious Russians arrive, leaving the beast locked in the bunker. Nearly seventy years later, a prize collection of bickering teenage dimwits arrive to clear the place up for a punk band's reunion gig, and inevitably the door is opened....

Part of the problem is clearly that it's a German film full of German actors playing German characters, but speaking in German-accented English in order to avoid the need for subtitles and to hopefully crack the international market for Nazi monster mashups. But it damages the film because everyone is clearly speaking their second language and neither the writing nor the acting survives the translation. That's not to suggest it would have been any good in its native tongue: all the characters are bellowing idiots interested mainly in beer and sex (why anyone would think an abandoned Nazi research facility that's been derelict for seventy years would be a fabulous place to get laid is beyond me) and frankly it's a relief to see some of them go.

There's one slightly interesting idea, mostly tossed aside, that the beast has somehow been trained to recognise Nazi symbols and uniforms, and therefore the best way to survive would be to dress up in full Nazi regalia. Otherwise it's just a string of grisly death scenes (prosthetics and gloop rather than CGI) for our bonehead heroes, capped with the now-inevitable setup for a sequel. Doubtless the studios are still ironing out the backstories for the shark Nazis, yeti Nazis and unicorn Nazis.


Thursday, 5 March 2015



It's been a strange old franchise. Directed jointly by Paco Plaza and Jaume Balaguero, the first two [Rec] movies were both found footage, and more or less got away with the gimmick just before we started getting fed up with it (along with the English-language remake Quarantine, which did absolutely nothing new with the idea). Then the third one, which Paco Plaza directed solo, did the smart thing and ditched the shaky video look in favour of proper widescreen filmmaking, and was a lot more fun as a result. Now comes Balaguero's own fourquel, which is a more than perfectly decent splattery .... Of The Dead, returning to a classic formula in which contagious flesh-eating zombies chase squabbling humans around a confined space.

It's actually surprising zombie movies haven't done this before: put everyone on a ship at sea and quarantine everyone with five hundred miles of empty ocean. We're on a freighter full of scientists looking for a retrovirus cure for the zombie/possession infection that first hit the Barcelona apartment block and then a wedding party in the earlier films. Inevitably tempers are fraying between the ship's crew, the doctors and the uninfected human survivors, and everyone's acting irrationally given the seriousness of the situation, so it's inevitable that a test subject will get loose and start a new infection....

Technically, of course, [Rec] 4: Apocalypse is actually titled [●REC]4 on screen, but that's kind of awkward to keep typing, and besides, the English subtitle is a numberless Rec: Apocalypse. If it's not as much gleefully romping fun as [Rec] 3, it's still enjoyably bloody, more than grisly enough for its 18 certificate, and if this is to be the last of the saga then it's going out to at least the standard it came in with.There's little in the way of humour and levity beyond the radio/tech guy's crush on TV reporter Angela (Manuela Velasco reprising her role from the first two entries), but there are enough zombie comedies out there already so it's nice to find one that stays grim almost in the Romero tradition (particularly Day Of The Dead). The boneheaded stupidity of some of the characters annoyed me, but mostly I had a good time with it.




Bizarre it may be, but I'm perfectly happy to watch scenes of brutal axe murders and sadistic torture in a horror movie, be it a cheery old slasher or a Saw sequel, yet I'm acutely uncomfortable with scenes of rape and sexual violence. It doesn't feel right in films that are ostensibly entertainments; it feels a step too far in the savagery. And that's my problem with Paul Hyett's The Seasoning House: it may have things to say and awareness to raise about the appalling abuses meted out in war zones, but the second half clearly marks the film as an exploitation movie. Like I Spit On Your Grave or Last House On The Left (originals or remakes), it's almost like two movies in one: a grim drama about appalling sexual violence and rape, segueing into a cheerily violent punch-the-air revenge thriller.

Somewhere in the Balkans in 1996, young girls are rounded up and imprisoned in a private brothel catering to the most depraved excesses of the battle-hardened military: they're permanently chained to their beds and kept hooked on heroin, the better to suffer their repeated abuses. Because of a facial blemish, mute Angel (Rosie Day) escapes this fate; instead she works the house, feeding and cleaning the prisoners. But when the men (led by the ever reliable Sean Pertwee) who kidnapped her in the first place and murdered her family show up again expecting to be serviced, Angel fights back, using the crawlspaces and air vents in the crumbling mansion to get past them, kill them off and perhaps escape....

That's the point at which it morphs into a straightforward exploitation thriller, and also the point at which it starts to fall apart. That a terrified, inexperienced slip of a girl is somehow able to outwit a squad of highly trained, heavily armed scumbags seems even more unlikely than the climax of every Friday The 13th film in which the maniac is thwarted by someone smaller, weaker and more scared, especially in what starts out as a seriously intended film with a firm basis in real events rather than a popcorn slasher movie.

The BBFC's 18 certificate for the film states that it "contains strong bloody violence and scenes of sexual violence", and it most certainly lives up to that description. That they go on to point out that the rape scenes have been passed without problem as they are "aversive and unerotic" seems to me to miss the point, though - they may not be intended as erotica, but what are they for? I'm still not convinced, having now seen the film twice, that we need to see them at such length and in such detail; the point is made very clearly and very quickly.

On a technical level, though, The Seasoning House (the opening film at FrightFest 2012) is superbly put together, well played by a convincing cast. The production design is terrific and gives no hint of being shot in Uxbridge rather than on location in the actual Balkans. The second, more popcorn half of the film works better than the grim, oppressive first half (although Pertwee's final fate does rather depend on him being an idiot when he quite plainly isn't). It's not a likeable film, and for a lot of the time it's not an entertaining one either, but it's undeniably well made and pulls off some effectively shocking moments.




It's really nice, once in a while, to get a film through the post you've never heard of, never seen a frame of, never even come across in a reference book. That's how the 1970 film Blind Woman's Curse (aka The Tattooed Swordswoman) caught me completely by surprise, so I was able to see it with absolutely no preconceptions and no baggage. Opening the envelope, it could be absolutely anything.

In the event, it's a highly enjoyable Japanese period mashup of horror, swordplay, knockabout comedy, melodrama and outright strangeness, a mixture that works much better than you might expect. Leader of the Tachibana gang Akemi (Meiko Kaji, future cult star of the Female Scorpion series) leads an attack on a rival clan which not only leaves many people dead but crucially one woman blinded. Years later, the Tachibana clan is under threat not just from a mysterious assassin and a demented hunchback, but from a turf war with another group organised by a third gang seeking to wipe both rivals out and take over the territory completely. To start with, the newly released Akemi doesn't want to get involved, but eventually she has little choice....

Some of this is broadly comedic: one of the gang leaders has terrible personal hygiene and doesn't wear any trousers, preferring the loincloth for no immediately obvious reason except laughs. Some of it is viscerally bloody: the skin with the Tachibana's dragon tattoos is ripped off their dead bodies. And some scenes are just visually gorgeous, such as the opening title sequence: a gang fight shot in driving rain with excessive Shogun Assassin arcs of spurting blood. In fact the whole movie is terrific to look at, a marked contrast to the ungraded digital murk of today. One curiosity is the one-frame appearance of a narrow band of colour at the bottom of the image, which looks to be the top of the next frame of film, every time there's a cut. If that sounds like a distraction, it isn't: rather, it just reminds you once more that you're watching what was once celluloid film, and not an mp3 file.

If the climax, in which Akemi and the mysterious assassin finally face off against each other, proves a disappointing resolution, it scarcely matters with so much other incident going on. There's also the occasional appearance of a black cat (which may or may not be supernatural), some slapstick with a severed head, torture by drowning, moderate nudity, knife-throwing and sentimental romance. Blind Woman's Curse is a mixture of pretty much anything and everything, and somehow it works: it's fast, funny, violent and, at a mere 85 minutes it's never close to boring. I enjoyed it a lot.




Back in 2003, director Yuthlert Sippapak made Buppha Rahtree, an interesting little Thai horror film which played at FrightFest in the Prince Charles days. This new film (dated 2011 but only now getting a UK release) is a Thai action movie which unfortunately veers dizzingly in tone, from serious social issue to superhero fantasy, from sadistic cruelty to unrequited love, from high school silliness to Heroic Bloodshed revenge. In all honesty I don't know enough about Thai action movies (beyond a handful of Tony Jaa films) to tell whether this wild channel-hopping variety in a single movie is a widespread technique or a rarity, but certainly it's a bit of a distraction.

Bangkok Assassins begins quite soberly and seriously with statistics of child disappearances in Thailand, credits playing over some children being captured, and then shocking scenes of violence as little kids are blinded, deafened and brain damaged. But they're rescued by a kindly kung fu master who brings the disabled boys up along with his own daughter. Fifteen years later, having been taught superhero powers, one of them has become a top assassin while the others still live at the temple, seeking their revenge on the gangsters who brutalised them....

The fact that Bangkok Assassins barely makes a lick of sense almost seems irrelevant, but it's annoying nonetheless. For example, the kindly kung fu master's daughter has the superpower of levitation: a power she uses precisely once, to audition (unsuccessfully) for a talent show, but never uses this magical gift at any point when it might come in handy, such as climbing a flight of 899 stairs or evading capture by the bad guys. Then: the villain may have the perfectly rational intention of eating the heart of the man with brain damage (because he has had a special medicine known as the Dragon's Tear) as well as the heart of the young girl (because she's a virgin) so he can become immortal - but why does he have a monkey army of tumbling acrobats (all of whom prove to be typically useless in a fight and can be killed easily by throwing coins at them) and a henchman with a Yorkshire accent?

Still, if you can get past the horrible early sequences of children getting mutilated, there is some enjoyment to be had, though the violence as a whole isn't enough to get beyond a 15 certificate, being more fantasy-based with combatants throwing balls of CGI energy at each other. Meanwhile, we might feel awkward at the sight of a man acting, to quote Tropic Thunder, "full retard", but the mix of sentimentality and implausible fight sequences is really not far removed (except geographically) from Hong Kong action classics such as A Better Tomorrow II, God Of Gamblers or Bullet In The Head. Certainly it continues for too long after the action climax with several emotional character arcs to complete. By the time we get to the tearful farewells and family reunions, we've come a long way from abducted kiddies being blinded with toothpicks.




In the last few years, the legendary Roger Corman seems to have developed a bizarre predilection for randomly bolting together animals that are completely incompatible with each other and then making low-budget horror movies about them. Dinoshark, Dinocroc, Sharktopus, and now this: which you'd think was some kind of mutant crossbreed between a piranha and an anaconda but actually turns out to just be an extremely big snake with no piranha traits whatsoever. (In fairness, Camel Spiders isn't about eight-legged dromedaries, fun though that might be; they are just a peculiarly named kind of spider.) What's next? Komodohorse? Hamstercow?

The (very) basic idea of Piranhaconda is that there's a giant snake on the loose: it hibernates for years at a time, which is why it hasn't been spotted recently, but it's awake now and rampaging through Hawaii attacking people so hard that they're instantly reduced to a red vapour. The unfortunates wandering obliviously around its nesting ground include a film crew halfway through shooting a cheap slasher movie, obsessed scientist Michael Madsen (!), a bunch of crooks taking everyone hostage and a pair of bickering lovers. Since Madsen has stolen one of the eggs, you'd expect the piranhaconda to be on the trail, except that it isn't: it hangs around the jungle munching people who've nothing to do with the egg while Madsen is sitting in an abandoned shack. And it's pretty obvious, so it's not really a spoiler: since there are eggs, there must be a second snake....

It's obviously twaddle: four entirely unconnected groups of people are all wandering around on an island that's larger than Berkshire, yet they keep running into each other. Why does the fictional director abandon shooting on the grounds that they're losing the light when the entirety of the film takes place in blazing sunshine? And can Madsen really be so thunderously stupid as to try and steal an egg from a 100-foot snake that's already killed his two colleagues in front of him? Badfilm connoisseurs should note an early scene where the monster takes down a helicopter, but the sad fact is there's little artistic difference between the cheap slasher movie made by the doomed film crew and the cheap monster movie we're watching.

Yet while the film really isn't any good at all, it's not so awful as to actively anger you. Mostly it's put together reasonably well enough and less than 90 minutes it doesn't drag. And at this stage there's really not much mileage in pointing out that all the monster effects are done with dodgy CGI that simply looks like it's been pasted into the film on the computer afterwards (because it has). Getting these things to look even halfway convincing takes time and money, and films like Piranhaconda have neither. But the Syfy Channel, Roger Corman and director Jim Wynorski are literally churning these things out: Piranhaconda is just one of four films Wynorski directed in 2011. I'd submit that the films would be better if everyone slowed down and stopped tossing them out every couple of weeks. Quality over quantity.


Tuesday, 3 March 2015



Somehow over the years I'd clean forgotten about Fred Olen Ray. Back in the late eighties and early nineties he was churning out a ton of stuff: cheap and cheerful exploitation nonsense with nudity and gore and injokes, but little in the way of sense or quality film-making. One thinks of the glory days of Prison Ship: Star Slammer and Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers, but quickly realises that if your glory days amount to movies like that, something has gone badly wrong. Yet a glance at the IMDb confirms that Fred is still at it, churning out half a dozen films a year, many with the word Bikini in the title (Bikini Royale, Bikini Pirates, Bikini Chain Gang) and frequently under a pseudonym. Maybe Scream Queen Hot Tub Party was the peak after all.

Final Examination (also pseudonymous) is basically an old Gregory Hippolyte topshelfer as directed by Andy Sidaris: a Hawaii-based slasher movie which comes to a (literally) grinding halt every ten minutes or so for a sex scene or a gratuitous shower sequence - anything so long as someone gets their hooters out. Brent Huff is a tough LA cop transferred to Hawaii after a spectacular (and pretty well-staged) car chase, tasked with finding the killer at a sorority reunion photoshoot for a tacky glamour magazine. Obviously it has something to do with the opening scene's car crash suicide, dirty tricks at the election for class president five years before, the creepy and evasive student adviser....but what?

Made in 2002 (the same year as Bikini Airways and Thirteen Erotic Ghosts), Final Examination is absolute twaddle but just about enjoyable enough to pass muster as a dumb Friday night diversion, the kind of "erotic thriller" you wouldn't be surprised to find on Channel Five in the small hours. The acting isn't great, the writing is pretty awful (there's one terrible scene where a lone woman reads a slab of text off the computer screen out loud, and then continues talking with plot details) and most of the characters are tiresome, imbecilic or both, while the murderer's identity isn't a huge surprise. Junk, but not absolute junk, though it's a shame Fred couldn't resist a particularly lame sub-Porky's gag by naming the LA police captain Hugh Janus. No physical UK distribution even after twelve years, but available streaming through Amazon Prime.


Monday, 2 March 2015



Clowns are wrong. There's just something indefinably sinister about them: it's not just that they're not funny (were they ever?), but they're obviously creepy and unsettling and up to no good, yet we're supposed to like them and laugh at them. Once you're an adult, that's pretty much impossible. So you'd think a clown would surely be a natural horror movie bogeyman, yet they actually come along quite rarely, certainly in comparison to such old warhorses as vampires and werewolves. The last horror movie to come out that featured clowns was the tiresome Irish splatter comedy Stitches, and even if you're not an avowed coulrophobe this is a thousand times better, which frankly isn't difficult.

Clown has a wonderfully simple setup in which estate agent Kent (Andy Powers) saves his son's tenth birthday party when the booked clown cancels at the last minute: he chances upon a clown suit in the house he's renovating and does the performance himself. But once the show's over, he suddenly realises he can't get the wig, costume or makeup off. Because it's not just a tatty old clown suit, it's a demon skin that's transforming him into the mythical beast of ancient folklore from which the idea of clowning has descended through the centuries. And that beast can only be sated with five victims....

It's actually a lot better than you'd expect given that it's derived from a fake pseudo-Grindhouse trailer, but apparently Eli Roth liked it enough to get it made and he even stars as the evil clown once Kent has fully transformed. The always watchable Peter Stormare turns up in one of his bonkers supporting turns as the previous suit owner's brother who knows the only way to break the curse, but the trouble is it rather means the film can only end one way, which it ultimately does. Still, it's all enjoyably nasty - perhaps too nasty in places as it's somehow always felt wrong to kill off children in horror movies. I know they haven't done any more or less to deserve a bloody death than half the victims in an Elm Street or Friday The Thirteenth, say (or indeed the Kintner boy in Jaws), but it doesn't seem entirely right or fair to bump off kids, even when they're obnoxious bullies like one of them here.

The big selling-point name on the posters is Eli Roth even though for this movie he's just an actor and producer and has neither written nor directed it. But he's probably the biggest recognisable name associated with it and that's what sells, more than "A Jon Watts Film" and "From the writer of Robot And Frank". A pity, because Clown is certainly good enough to stand on its own: agreeably nasty fun which I had more than enough dark fun with. Worth a watch for a Friday night.


Sunday, 1 March 2015



It's not as if the warning signs weren't already in place. It's not as if we couldn't have known. The first sign was The Comic, slow-clapped and booed at the Scala Cinema (a place where the meisterworks of Ed Wood and Ted V Mikels could play without audience antipathy). The second sign was Kannibal, aka Head Hunter, a feature-length excuse for the auteur to indulge his Anthony Hopkins impression in a story that made no sense whatsoever. I've seen it twice. And the third sign was the somehow even less coherent gibberish of The Legend Of Harrow Woods. But it was only after this latest idiotic escapade that the authorities stepped in and did Richard Driscoll for tax fraud. Like Al Capone, it's fitting he's been put away for this but unofficially there are far worse offences on his rap sheet.

Exhibit Four is Eldorado, aka Highway To Hell, a fever-dream horror musical Western spoof that takes the same approach to its source material as the Scary Movies: using the basic structure of the film as a string on which to hang a miscellaneous ragbag of other material. In this instance it's a parody of The Blues Brothers (a film only thirty years old, but hey for topicality) which apparently thinks it's taking the misadventures of Jake and Elwood into gory cannibal territory, were it not for the fact that these are Stanley and Oliver Rosenblum, and the latter is played by Driscoll himself, because why not? We first meet our heroes, the self-appelled Jews Brothers, on the run from a disastrous gig where they've been mistakenly booked to entertain some Neo-Nazis led by Sylvester McCoy. This is a man who spent an unhealthy part of 1988 being chased around the Doctor Who studio by a seven-foot liquorice allsort, which is now no longer the stupidest thing he ever did.

Steve Guttenberg - a man who turned down Police Academy 5 but didn't turn down Eldorado - turns up as the Jews Brothers' agent, wearing pebble glasses and lip-synching Stand By Your Man for no reason. Caroline Munro turns up as Stan's (or Ollie's) wife and performs Think. Brigitte Nielsen appears in a salon surrounded by women in their underwear (a flashback sequence) singing R.E.S.P.E.C.T. Robert Llewellyn from Red Dwarf turns up as leader of a biker gang in the desert who performs Everybody Needs Somebody. Michael Madsen wanders in halfway through, basically playing Michael Madsen, though he doesn't get to sing either of the TWO numbers filched from the Reservoir Dogs soundtrack (Stuck In The Middle With You arrives much later, sung by Oliver Tobias while Bill Moseley from The Texas Chain Saw Massacre 2 does the Mr Blonde dance and cuts his ear off).

Meanwhile Patrick Bergin (who was actually in another film called Highway To Hell back in 1991) is a hideous cheating husband and sleazy strip-club owner whose wife (played by the director's then-girlfriend) has legged it with a briefcase full of cash that glows when she opens it because Richard Driscoll has seen Pulp Fiction. Eventually things come to a head in a desert town full of cannibals where Robin Askwith is a giggling hillbilly halfwit and Jeff Fahey is a traumatised vietnam veteran and dentist, Rik Mayall is the comedy Italian chef (lipsynching a bit of La Traviata and clowning around with dismembered corpses) and Buster Bloodvessel turns up at the Old Opry and performs Shake Your Tail Feather. At one point the Jews Brothers pretend they're the Soggy Bottom Boys and sing I Am A Man Of Constant Sorrow, presumably because Driscoll had seen O Brother Where Art Thou?.

Daryl Hannah is in it as well, wearing a fetching white suit and wandering through a green-screen desert reciting bits of Edgar Allan Poe's poem Eldorado. (Connoisseurs of Richard Driscoll's previous work will doubtless recall his equally irrelevant use of Christopher Walken's reading of The Raven in The Legend Of Harrow Woods.) But she has nothing to do with the rest of the film until the end, when she kills the Brothers for no reason except they can now perform Soul Man while dressed as angels and bouncing around on clouds under the end credits. Sometimes she gets to interact with David Carradine, who isn't even in it but footage has been dragged in from a TV movie called Kung Fu Killer (in which Daryl costarred) and heavily solarised to the point of abstraction.

This might all sound like the panicked hallucinations of someone who has taken one too many heavy blows to the head, and it should be clear that tight narrative coherence is not one of the film's strengths. ("Strengths" is a relative term, and perhaps the film's sole concrete achievement is to come in at less than two hours - the IMDb suggests there's a version out there that runs 158 minutes which is either a typographical error or a second-level war crime.) In order to try and get the damn thing to make any sense at all, a shaky-looking Peter O'Toole has been drafted in to narrate over the cracks in the story, apparently reading from a sheet of paper that's just been handed to him. It doesn't help. Oh, and it's supposedly in 3D. That would explain the various things floating about the screen every so often, such as the inexplicable swarm of CGI flies swarming round Steve Guttenberg's office. However, despite the artwork the DVD clearly isn't in 3D and I don't have a TV that could show it that way anyway.

Eldorado is obviously a colossal mess and disaster: utter rubbish, and a perfect depiction of the vast abyss between overambition and actual ability. It's also a sad illustration that good actors, reliable and experienced performers and household names will do anything - absolutely anything - if you give them money, or even if you promise to give them money. Even if it's shamelessly restaging the farting cowboys scene from Blazing Saddles in front of a CGI campfire, even if it's miming musical numbers swiped from an immeasurably superior film and lumbered with half-hearted dance moves apparently choreographed by R2D2. It's not even a spectacular turkey of a can't-tear-my-eyes-away-from-the-horror variety, it just spends two hours making you wish you were watching The Blues Brothers. So why aren't you?