Monday, 27 July 2015



It is nice to see that in the world of low budget film making, while many first timers and struggling directors are content to churn out thin variations on existing formulae that have already gone before, others in exactly the same position are at least trying to make something different, something unusual, something we haven’t seen a hundred times already and invariably better. It would be so tempting to settle for, say, a simple cheerleader slasher movie or another found footage exercise or yet more dimwit teens wandering round a spooky house, that it becomes a minor point of celebration when somebody has higher ambitions than that. Even if they don’t strike gold every time, at least they’re working in territory that hasn’t been mined to exhaustion already.

Jimmy Weber’s first feature Eat is a good example: an amusing little horror oddity put together perfectly well on a very small scale. On the eve of quitting the Hollywood auditions circuit after several years without any success, and with no money left in the bank, struggling actress Novella McClure (Meggie Maddock) suddenly succumbs to a bizarre stress-related craving: the consumption of her own raw flesh. It starts simply, just gnawing at a slightly twisted fingernail (as we all do from time to time), but it steadily leads to her taking larger and larger bites from her hands, feet and arms. Diagnosed as self harming, she ends up in an ill-advised relationship with her analyst. But when that goes awry her urges become stronger…

In its depiction of the tawdry shallows of the Hollywood bit part pool, with the horrible bitchiness of hopeful wannabes begging for whatever scraps the sleazy and exploitative producers might care to toss towards them, Eat is rather good fun and brings to mind films like Starry Eyes (oddly enough, the trailer for Starry Eyes plays at the start of the DVD). It’s also entirely convincing as Los Angeles even though it was shot entirely in Denver, Colorado. The physical gore effects are uncomfortably icky as Novella’s madness deepens: though never as painful as Contracted or, with the exception of one genuinely horrible moment, as thoroughly revolting as in, say, Thanatamorphose (for me still the high-water mark of recent onscreen disgust).

The main problem with Eat is actually Novella’s best friend Candice (Ali Francis), who just seems worryingly casual and blasé about bloodshed and violence, with the result that the bodies stack up quite quickly towards the end. She just seems too comfortable with killing people and it can’t only be down to her friendship with Novella. Other than that, it’s quite enjoyably dark (there’s a terrifically humiliating audition sequence) with some nice comedy touches and horrible look-away effects work. Not great, but certainly worth seeing.


Friday, 17 July 2015



Yet another found footage teen horror movie. But this time at least the found technique isn't the main problem: this would still have been entirely disposable at best even if it had been made as a legitimate film with proper camerawork, editing and music. Sadly, there's so much else wrong with The Gallows that any problems with the long-exhausted found tropes are almost irrelevant.

Twenty years ago a high school drama production of a hilariously terrible play called The Gallows ended in tragedy when lead actor Charlie Grimille died onstage in the noose. Now, for no better reason than plot contrivance (the same plot contrivance as the 20-years-later Valentine's Day Dance in My Bloody Valentine or the 35-years-later Homecoming Dance in Rosemary's Killer), the drama society decides to put the wretched play on again. Star Reese (Reese Mishler) quit the football team to be in the play because he has a crush on female lead Pfeifer (Pfeifer Brown - all the stars keep their given names for their characters), but his best friend Ryan (Ryan Shoos), and Ryan's girlfriend Cassidy (Cassidy Gifford) persuade him to break into the school after dark and wreck the scenery to prevent Reese's embarrassment. But they are Not Alone....

Given that our heroes are committing trespass and criminal damage, one might ask why they're openly filming their every move on mobile phones and camcorders. The answer is that they're absolute screaming idiots. Ryan is particularly loathsome: an obnoxious, giggling simpleton you really can't wait to see the back of. None of these people are even slightly sympathetic, and the film can't make you care about them. So many teen horrors seem to assume that for characters to be interesting and attractive, they have to be spiteful and boorish and this group is the least likeable for quite some time.

The spectre of Charlie does make for an effective bogeyman figure, and the darkened and empty school theatre is a potentially unnerving location. But while the film did make me jump a few times (though noticeably not as often as everyone else in the cinema) it's mostly through the basic method of sudden loud noises on the soundtrack. Former BBC weatherman Michael Fish could scare you like that if he sneaked up behind you and yelled Boo! in your ear, but it's got nothing to do with atmosphere or character empathy or genuinely creepy, lasting terror.

So with a roster of thoroughly unpleasant characters, the laziest of shock jump techniques and a potentially interesting monster and setting pretty much thrown away, the found footage aspect is the least of The Gallows' problems - without tossing the whole script away and starting again from scratch the greatest directors in cinema history couldn't have brought any of it to life. Sure you could carp that the film cuts between cameras in the middle of dialogue when there's supposedly only one camera present, or the "running with camera pointed at the floor" (I sat about six rows back and still felt queasy at some scenes). Or the shock coda, this time from a police camera, that doesn't even take place on the school grounds that Charlie supposedly haunts.

Yet it's clearly doing something right. It's like the second wave of slasher movies that came out several years after Halloween and Friday The 13th: like a Happy Birthday To Me or a Sleepaway Camp, it's not doing anything new or innovative, but it's doing the same old thing effectively enough to get by. This isn't The Blair Witch Project or Paranormal Activity, it's just another cover version of the same old tune.


Friday, 10 July 2015



Let's get one thing straight right from the start: this is probably going to end up as the most revolting film of the year. It's revolting in its on-screen horrors, it's revolting in its verbal vitriol, it's revolting in its ideas, it's revolting in its gloating misanthropy and full-on bad taste. Not that you could expect any film in the Human Centipede series to be restrained and subtle and elegant, but this latest and most likely last instalment simply doesn't know when to stop. The result is one of the most thoroughly mean-spirited and repulsive movies in years: a long way from the bizarro mad scientist comedy of the first film and even from the sexual depravities of the second. Which is emphatically not to condemn it entirely: there are still weirdly interesting things going on.

The Human Centipede 3 (Final Sequence) brings back actors Dieter Laser and Laurence R Harvey from the first two films but in completely different roles. They're warden and accountant respectively at a desert penitentiary in the Deep South: an X-rated Bialystock and Bloom comedy double act in which Harvey flusters as the hapless straight man and Laser bellows endless puerile tirades of racist and homophobic abuse at everyone. With elections approaching, state governor Eric Roberts orders them to get their discipline and recidivism problems under control; in the same post-modern self-referential spirit of the earlier sequel, they take the human centipede concept from Tom Six's films (Six even appears in the film, playing himself, to convince them it's all "100% medically accurate") and apply the technique to their five hundred inmates....

The first problem is that the idea of creating the human centipede takes well over half the running time to even come up; the film is too busy indulging in Laser's hateful and foul-mouthed R Lee Ermey tribute act and his penchant for meaningless, sadistic torture (castration, waterboarding). In addition, secretary Daisy (played by porn star Bree Olson), the only female character in the film, is treated abysmally throughout: she's subjected to endless sexual and physical humiliations and truly doesn't deserve the casual horrors and indignities heaped upon her. It's the callousness and meanness of spirit that appal far more than the centipede itself.

Oddly, the Warden's dismissal of the Human Centipede movies as basically an indulgence for auteur Tom Six's "poop fetish" does have some validity: that singularly repulsive horror of not being at the front of the digestive tract is far worse than anything Jason or Michael Myers can do to you. And although it's played with gusto, it is really the only trump card in its hand. Eventually, the biology of the centipede serves as an analogy for that brilliant central idea: it's good enough for one film but it lacks the nutritional value to sustain anything else afterwards, so the subsequent entities need to be injected with supplements to keep them going. With The Human Centipede Part 2 (which I still think was pretty good) it was the raw, disturbing portrait of insanity conveyed by stark monochrome and hideous sexual wrongness even after the BBFC had rejected the most contentious material; in this one, which has not troubled the censor, it's bulked up with the well-conveyed Deep South heat and Laser's excessively sweary fortissimo rantings.

But it does get a bit wearing after a while and maybe, like the original centipede, three segments is sufficient. Enough taboos have already been broken and it might be time to do something else. That's not to say I didn't get some kind of enjoyment out of it, but it's not a film I'll be looking to rewatch any time soon. The Blu comes with 25 minutes of assorted behind-the-scenes footage and an alternate ending that seems to link back to the first film, and it was probably the right decision to drop it.




Once upon a time, things were so much simpler even in the worlds of using time travel to rewrite history. Back in the 1980s even Doctor Who couldn't go back in time and save a companion from dying in an exploding spaceship and, just as that show has now deteriorated into an incomprehensible morass of multiple and alternate time-strands, so what was once a pretty straightforward time-travel action concept has now become so multi-layered and twisted that it no longer makes any real sense. Oh, they've tried to explain the paradoxes and temporal nexus effects, and at least on the surface it gets by if you haven't seen any of the other films in the series and aren't too bothered about the detail about who that bloke is and where/when that cyborg came from. But that's rather like expecting Saw 6 to stand alone as a comprehensible narrative as well as making sense within the franchise it's busy rewriting as it goes along. It can't and it doesn't.

Terminator: Genisys is the fifth in the increasingly and unnecessarily convoluted franchise descended from James Cameron's thrilling B-movie triumph. We start off in the post-Skynet nuclear devstation again, with the human rebels set to rise up against the machines by smashing the central systems, switching off the mainframe and storming the work camps. As the last roll of its dice, Skynet sends a Terminator back to 1984 to kill Sarah Connor (Emilia Clarke, clearly playing Linda Hamilton), mother of the resistance's leader, and end the war before it begins. And, as before, Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney, not looking remotely like Michael Biehn) leaps back through the time vortex to save her. So far so familiar. But then Sarah Connor turns out not to be the meek waitress he (and we) had expected: instead she's majorly badass and accompanied by a good Terminator which at some point had been sent back to protect her from another Skynet Terminator eleven years previously....

So in 1984 there's the 1984 Terminator and the 1973 Terminator squaring off, plus another liquid metal Terminator (as seen in the 1991 sequel which was set in 1995). Rather than jumping to 1997 to thwart Judgment Day, they go further forward to 2017 to prevent Skynet (hidden within the exciting but appallingly spelled new social connectivity app Genisys) from going online, achieving sentience and wiping out humanity. But then John Connor shows up and (in a shock reveal moment which might have had some impact if it hadn't been included in the trailers) turns out to be an indestructible bad Terminator now out to protect Skynet....

It ends up as the kind of multiple time-jumping mess that later Doctor Who would dismiss as "wibbly wobbly timey wimey stuff", made more pointed by the presence of Matt Smith as a physical manifestation of Skynet (admittedly the wrong Doctor, but who cares?). Every so often there's a nifty action sequence - a somersaulting school bus on the Golden Gate bridge, a street-level helicopter chase - or a deliberate reference to the original films (Sarah Connor's first words are "Come with me if you want to live"), and there's some easy fun to be had from the visibly older Schwarzenegger not entirely blending in with human society.

Certainly this is nonsensical (when did Skynet send all these different Terminators back to various points in Sarah Connor's past and when did John Connor send back the protector ones in pursuit?), some of the dialogue is terrible, Jai Courtney still isn't an exciting lead and JK Simmons and Matt Smith aren't given very much to do. And while it's great to hear the original Brad Fiedel theme again, the rest of the score is forgettable. But the action sequences and effects are mostly terrific (if, again, needlessly destructive to civilians and bystanders) and, frankly, in the genre of robot apocalypse movies I'd take the Terminators over the Transformers any day. Yes, even the third one (which was basically little more than a cartoon of Arnie and Kristanna Loken repeatedly beating one another up) and the much-derided Salvation which I quite enjoyed on the level of empty-headed kaboom.

So what's it all about, apart from Paramount's bank balance? Well, amidst all the nods to the first two films, you might argue that it's about family. The old 1973 Arnie has a weirdly paternal and disapproving relationship with Sarah Connor (she even calls him Pops), while the twisted Kyle-Sarah-John triangle (as we remember from the first film, Kyle is John's father) can't really be resolved in the same timeline. Or maybe it's just setting up another two hours of stunts and explosions and CGI robogeddon and glowering grey-haired Arnie in two years' time? Compared to some of the other franchise instalments pencilled in for 2017, another one of these movies isn't he worst thing on offer.