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.