Monday, 31 December 2018

LIST: THE WORST FILMS OF 2018

Or "least favourite". The ten films I enjoyed least, the ten films I wish I hadn't bothered with, the ten films that most wasted the afternoon. In truth, few of them are actively bad movies, just not terribly good ones and, while today's torchbearers of Al Adamson and Ted V Mikels continue to haunt the backwaters of Amazon Prime, few make it to the cinema circuits the way they used to in the 1970s. Progress, I suppose. I actually managed to dodge a lot of the obvious rubbish on the grounds that it was obvious rubbish, but some still slipped through.

As usual, this is based on the FDA schedule of theatrical releases, no matter how small, and not festivals or Netflix or Channel 5 on a Wednesday evening, whether I actually managed to see it in a cinema or not...

10. YOU WERE NEVER REALLY HERE
I know everyone keeps telling me it's great, and I appreciate it's doing what it wants to do. And I accept that it's one of those films where I wanted the mainstream B-movie plot instead of the more difficult and unlikeable character study. All I can tell you is that I struggled with it.

9. FIFTY SHADES FREED
The first one was a tasteful and decorous Gold Blend commercial with spankings and flirtatious chat about anal fistings; the second was an episode of Dynasty with discreet nudity, and this third instalment is a ridiculous psycho kidnap thriller. Still, at least it's over and done with now.

8. TERMINAL
Over stylised revenge thriller that was pretty to look at but very silly. Decent cast (Margot Robbie, Simon Pegg) but thrown away; the film went straight to DVD and streaming, which is where it belonged in the first place.

7. DEATH WISH
The spirit of Cannon Films lives again! Subtle understatement is not Eli Roth's stock in trade, and this is not only less subtle than the Michael Winner original, but less subtle that the Michael Winner sequels.

6. HUNTER KILLER
You'd have thought a shouty submarine thriller with Gerard Butler and Gary Oldman and lots of people getting shot couldn't possibly be dull. No excitement to be had at all, and that's a surprise.

5. NIGHT SCHOOL
Hey, I needed something to fill a few hours and how bad can a dimbo schoolroom comedy be? Apparently you can cure dyslexia by punching it in the face. It's not Fist Fight terrible, but few things are.

4. SLENDER MAN
Pointless supernatural bogeyman horror that doesn't work because [1] you don't care about any of these idiots, [2] aforementioned bogeyman is a bit rubbish, and [3] massive re-editing in the wake of lawsuits left the whole thing a mess.

3. THE 15:17 TO PARIS
Sorry Clint, but it's a dud. Terrorism thriller that spends much of the running time on tedious holiday and romance footage of the heroes (played by themselves) and actually very little on the terror incident itself. (Incidentally, I saw it on the same afternoon as Fifty Shades Freed.)

2. BLOOD FEST
Nonsensical and mean-spirited slash-and-splat horror with teens in a theme park full of real maniacs and monsters, overplaying it with high body count and implausible rationale. Hell Fest did it so much better.

1. CLIMAX
The most thoroughly intolerable viewing experience of the year, leaving a sour taste after one of the best FrightFests in years. Hate the music, hate the woozy atmosphere, hate all the characters, hate pretty much everything about it. This year's Mother!.

There aren't many dishonourable mentions: I wasn't crazy about The Wildling, Damascus Cover, The Cured or Thoroughbreds, but most of the other stuff was at least moderately interesting.

Sunday, 30 December 2018

LIST: THE BEST FILMS OF 2018

So it's New Year's Eve Eve and I'm sitting here with Jerry Goldsmith scores playing in the background, trying to assemble some kind of workable Top Ten of the year that doesn't make me look like some kind of uncultured buffoon. Trickier than usual: I missed a bunch of movies this year for various reasons, some personal, some down to film distribution and exhibition (the loss of the Odeon Leicester Square's six screens for much of the year meant that affordable West End cinemagoing was squeezed).

As usual I'm going by the FDA's schedule of actual UK theatrical releases: even if it's only a minimal release it counts (whether I saw it in a cinema or not), while if it's just a festival screening and a swift appearance on Sainsbury's DVD racks then it doesn't. Sorry, but them's the rulez. And yes, they're mostly genre movies, but that is where my inclinations have generally led me...

10. HELL FEST
I'm not about to make any great claims for Hell Fest, and I don't know that the ranks of Hooper, Carpenter, Cronenberg and Craven are soon to be joined by, er, Plotkin, but this was easily the best of the recent run of slasher theme park movies (Ruin Me, Blood Fest, American Fright Fest, The Funhouse Massacre). It knows exactly what it's doing and does it well, bloody and grisly when it has to be, and doesn't bog itself down in genre meta-referencing.

9. SOLO: A STAR WARS STORY
Not just to annoy the internet's basement full of saddo whiners: I actually enjoyed it as a zippy, colourful and agreeable bit of fantasy fluff. Okay, Ehrenreich's Solo is no more likely to become Harrison Ford's than I am, but it's light and entertaining nonsense which is what Star Wars really should be. I have not been paid by Disney or Lucasfilm or anyone else to say this.

8. OVERLORD
Exactly what I wanted from a Nazi horror movie: gore, monsters and a sense of unspeakable evil. And it went for an 18 certificate rather than wimping out for the teen audience. More of this sort of thing.

7. HEREDITARY
Unusual and unsettling horror with some terrific moments before a climax where they decide to resolve it in a less than satisfactory way; there's still some genuine horror and one of the year's best shock twists to be had in the first hour. Not great, certainly, but different enough from the usual fare.

6. GHOST STORIES
Most horror movies don't actually creep me out, but this one did. Not all the time: the third story (the car in the woods) didn't do anything for me, and the final set of reveals annoyed me a little, but there's a lot of good stuff in there.

5. BLACK PANTHER
I suppose I should have a comicbook movie in here and it was either this or Venom (it certainly wasn't going to be Infinity War). This won out for its more interesting setting and ideas: not to say that Venom wasn't up there, but if I had to rewatch one of them today it would be Black Panther.

4. MOLLY'S GAME
I would last about twelve seconds in a proper poker game. Molly's Game works even if you don't understand the first thing about the flop or the river or the diamond fall*: it's fast and tightly written and hugely entertaining.

* One or more of these terms might be made up.

3. THE SHAPE OF WATER
Man is the real monster in Guillermo Del Toro's girl-meets-fish story which is such a weirdie that it's surely impossible to be "meh" about it. For all that I didn't much like (the dance sequence), I still went with it and enjoyed it: dark yet romantic, sweet yet bitter, strange throughout.

2. A QUIET PLACE
A simple idea. beautifully executed: creepy and with just enough shown of its monsters. Also, lovely to be in a cinema where absolutely everyone kept silent for the whole running time and left their damned phones alone.

1. MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE - FALLOUT
Out-Bonding Bond again with a dizzying international romp of pretty much non-stop action set-pieces: fights and chases and heists and more fights and more chases and by the time the utterly insane Paris bike chase was over I was exhausted. Keep them coming.

Honourable mentions (in no particular order) to Red Sparrow, Mile 22, The Spy Who Dumped Me (shut up, I enjoyed it), Ready Player One, Venom and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.

Thursday, 27 December 2018

THE ASTRO-ZOMBIES

PROBABLY DOESN'T CONTAIN SPOILERS

Ted V Mikels is one of those film directors for whom you don't really need to see more than one or two of their films to get a clear idea of what you're dealing with. Like Ray Dennis Steckler or Al Adamson, it doesn't take many trips to the well before it's empty. This is only my second foray into Mikels' filmography after the miserable grot of The Corpse Grinders (seen on a cinema screen, it's no more rewarding an experience than a rental VHS tape) and already breaking point has been reached: spending further evenings with Girl In Gold Boots and Blood Orgy Of The She Devils simply isn't going to happen.

The plot of The Astro-Zombies is gibberish: something to do with mad scientist John Carradine making zombies in his basement (with obligatory Igor-type to assist) and foreign agent Tura Satana wanting to obtain the process for nefarious purposes. You'd think pretty much anyone could make something of the ingredients - masked homicidal maniacs, sinister spies, tacky nightclubs, mad boffins with scantily clad girls tied to operating tables in their basement laboratories - but not Mikels. Mikels makes you glad you're not watching an Al Adamson film, but that's about all.

It's not as achingly tedious as The Corpse Grinders, but few things and almost no other movies are: it's still dull and completely uninteresting on every level. Yet another instance where no UK distributor has seen any point in acquiring the release rights, instead leaving it for YouTube and dubious uploaders, the film is soul-sapping in its dreariness. Even the bizarre decision to run the opening and closing credits over footage of toy robots and tanks, which has nothing to do with the rest of the movie beyond the Astro-Zombies themselves being cyborgs, doesn't raise the interest. Pretty much unbearable.

*

Thursday, 20 December 2018

GODMONSTER OF INDIAN FLATS

CONTAINS SPOILERS AND IMBECILES

In a development that will surely surprise either absolutely everybody or absolutely no-one, a 1973 zero-budget junk horror movie starring no-one you've ever heard of plus some poor sod in a giant mutant sheep costume turns out to be utter crap to the power of bloody awful. Who'd have thought it? Eye-wateringly abysmal even by the standards of Z-film drive-in garbage, it's a festival of shrieking idiocy with not one scintilla of artistic merit or entertainment value from unexciting start to even less exciting finish.

The Godmonster Of Indian Flats is a mutant sheep created by phosgene gases escaping from an abandoned silver mine onto a small sheep farm in the Nevada mountains. For most of the time he (it?) is merely an embryo looked after by the local doctor, until he finally gets loose and goes on the inevitable rampage. Instead, pretty much the first hour we're stuck in an old-timey hick town in which everyone is a yeehawing simpleton (the film might as well have been called When Cousins Marry) trying to get rid of a mining company representative called Barnstaple who wants to buy all the land leases. Barnstaple is the film's only black character, so it's hardly surprising when the whooping rednecks try to lynch him for no reason beyond apparently roleplaying 1870.

Much of this is punishingly dull and even the long overdue appearance of Sheepzilla is bloodless and ineffective, mainly because it's clearly a bloke stumbling blindly about in a cheap, unwieldy and poorly designed costume (it looks as though one of the front legs has fallen off), failing to kill off the bad guys and barely managing to stay upright. That's probably why he gets so little screen time in what is nominally his own movie: someone must have realised the utter shoddiness of it and put the focus on the local nutters instead. It didn't work: small-town corruption and machinations over mining rights are hardly interesting enough on their own, and less so in a film about a giant mutant hybrid sheep monster on the loose. I wonder if anyone has the remake rights?

*

Sunday, 16 December 2018

PSYCHO FROM TEXAS / MARDI GRAS MASSACRE

CONTAINS SPOILERS / CONTAINS SPOILERS

Two more titles knocked off Shock Xpress's list of the Fifty Most Boring Movies Ever Made: zero-budget junk titles that have still not had any kind of legitimate, certified release in the UK and exist solely in that grey limbo of YouTube uploads. In a thoroughly unsurprising development, neither of the two movies are any good at all: basic entertainment value is pretty much as low as it can get and, despite one of them being on the legendary Video Nasties list for some gratuitous splatter and nudity, there's not a shred of fun to be had.

In addition to being an entirely pointless exercise, working out which of the two film is actually worse is like working out with which foot you'd rather step onto an upturned electric plug. Neither is significantly better and both are painful. Psycho From Texas carries a copyright date of 1981 but was apparently made around six years earlier, when it was called Wheeler: the titular psycho has drifted into town to carry out the kidnapping of a local businessman. The plan goes wrong, leading to an endless chase through drab woods and swamps in which the nutter henchman can't catch the escaping hostage when [1] the hostage doesn't know the territory, [2] the hostage is about 60 years old, and [3] the hostage has lost his glasses. Meanwhile Wheeler himself is racking up plenty of witnesses who can place him a long way from the kidnap...

The highlight, if one can grace such a repugnant and sordid moment with the term, comes when the charmless Wheeler terrorises a barmaid (Linnea Quigley's film debut, and only from the perspective of Psycho From Texas do Creepozoids and Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers look like any kind of career progress) by forcing her at knifepoint to dance naked for him and then simulate sex with the body of a man he's just killed for no reason. Other than that, it's got nothing going for it at all and eventually it stops.

Mardi Gras Massacre is also criminally dull, padded as it is with travelogue footage of New Orleans, romantic montage, striptease and disco scenes and clumping reading-out-loud dialogue. A madman is on the loose in the French Quarter, butchering naked women in honour of an Aztec deity in the hope of receiving occult powers. We get three extended sacrifice scenes where he rips their hearts out (which is almost certainly why the video was banned in the UK), but we also get acres and acres of tedious prattle, all filmed in medium shot from a mostly static vantage point: Jack Weis is not a director who favours close-ups or actually moving the camera about.

Uninteresting on every level, be it artistic, technical or emotional, both movies are sleazy, grubby exercises which take way too long to do way too little and must surely have been underwhelming even in their natural home of grindhouse double-bills thirty or forty years past. Is there even a market for them any more? Mardi Gras Massacre might have its official obscenity cachet to warrant a DVD release (assuming the BBFC didn't interfere, which feels unlikely), while Psycho From Texas can't even claim that. Best to let both languish in post-VHS limbo and murky YouTube streams.

*
*

Friday, 14 December 2018

TOP DOG

CONTAINS SPOILERS. WOOF.

In that same spirit of two or more big movies on the same theme just happening along at the same time independently of each other (Deep Impact and Armageddon, Antz and A Bug's Life, Dante's Peak and Volcano), 1989 gave us two buddy cop movies in which one of the partners was a dog. Neither K-9 nor Turner And Hooch were anything more than okay amusements, and the trend didn't go much further than that - so it's weird that a full six years later Chuck Norris did the same thing to almost no effect. Maybe he saw the Belushi or Hanks films on late night TV and decided that sort of thing would be his next project (despite the fact that Chuck Norris is the go-to guy for light comedy the way I'm the go-to guy for a Charleston.) Sadly, or perhaps not, it didn't work: the mixture of cute dog slapstick, Norris kicking scumbags in the head and white supremacy terrorist whackjobs simply never fits together.

Chuck Norris is a tough, no-nonsense cop in the Chuck Norris mould; for comedy reasons he's partnered with Reno, a dog who witnessed the murder of his former partner/handler and will recognise the killers if he sees them again. It's all down to a cabal of neo-Nazi racist maniacs planning a bombing spree in San Diego and they'll kill anyone, even dogs, cops or dog cops, who tries to stop them....

In the event the film's failure wasn't entirely their fault: Top Dog opened in the USA nine days after an actual terrorist bombing (Oklahoma City), although they could have pulled the release until a decent interval had passed, the way Arnie's meh terrorism thriller Collateral Damage was held back for several months after September 11. Even allowing for all that, however, it's still not very good: fans of vintage Norris knockabout like Missing In Action and (my favourite CN film) Lone Wolf McQuade will have to put up with the cutesy stuff and relatively bloodless action sequences. Like the Hanks and Belushi films, it's pleasant enough and generally harmless, but that's really not what you want from Chuck.

**

Sunday, 9 December 2018

MARIANNE

DOESN'T CONTAIN MUCH IN THE WAY OF SPOILERS

Okay, okay, it's not terrible. We're not talking the depths of genuine rubbish here: we're not talking Ted V Mikels here. But it is ultimately a mostly boring family drama from Sweden with only a light dash of the supernatural about it and a couple of brief appearances from Peter Stormare. Other than that it's pretty dull and about twenty minutes longer than it needs to be, and someone really should have taken a pair of garden shears to it.

Mostly Marianne concerns a man failing to communicate with his sulky teen goth daughter in the aftermath of (and indeed before) the death of his wife in a car smash, the exact details of which are kept hidden until the end. Is he being stalked in his sleep by a Mare, a vengeful spirit of Swedish folklore, or is it just a manifestation of grief and guilt over the accident and his broken family?

Stormare is usually good for some agreeable hamming, but not in this case: Marianne is a quiet, sombre and frankly miserable drama, it's not a horror movie and there's little fun to be had with it, so the performances are quite rightly restrained and non-theatrical. As a drama about grieving and family it's fine, and more successful than the horror movie it veers towards every so often, but crucially it's advertised as horror and not gloom and glumness, and it's hard enough to care very much anyway given that our lead is not terribly likeable. Of minor interest.

**

Saturday, 8 December 2018

WHEELS OF FIRE / THE SISTERHOOD

CONTAINS SOME SPOILERS

One of the problems with putting old trash movies onto the streaming services is that on many occasions the print quality is absolutely terrible. They're frequently sourced from VHS tapes (and not even first generation by the look of some of them, which might make for a warm nostalgic feeling for the days of bootlegged copies of copies) and more often than not are cropped to four by three. Sometimes they're windowboxed into the middle of the screen. Happily, sometimes you get a nice widescreen film print to look at, with the added bonus of all the footage the BBFC snipped out in their more scissor-happy days.

Two slices of prime 80s macho trash from Cirio H Santiago have turned up on Prime recently, dating from the Mad Max era when anyone with access to a desert, some pimped-up stock cars and a wardrobe full of leather bondage gear could royally rip it off. Both take place in a barren post-holocaust wasteland where armies of disposable thugs roam around in dune buggies, picking off travellers and abducting the womenfolk for the usual sordid reasons. (As you'd expect, there's little indication where they get an apparently inexhaustible supply of gasoline.) Wheels Of Fire has a man tracking down his sister, kidnapped by a gang leader and holed up in a fortress for the big final reel showdown. The Sisterhood is far less petrol-driven, with an all-female community (all of whom have superpowers such as healing or telekinesis) at risk from the usual biker/buggy gangs.

Despite the desert setting and the curious plot contrivance of a female character having the ability to communicate with birds, the two films aren't connected in any way. Of the two, Wheels Of Fire is easily the better film, if only for the fact that it's blessed with an early score by Christopher Young, later to emerge as an A-list horror composer (Hellraiser, The Fly II) although in this instance he seems to been told to emulate the sound of Brian May's scores to the first two Mad Max films. By contrast, The Sisterhood is saddled with an unlistenable Fisher-Price plonky keyboard score that makes a two-octave Bontempi sound like the London Symphony Orchestra by comparison. (It does, however, include Lynn-Holly Johnson, the barely legal ice-skating nymphomaniac from For Your Eyes Only.)

Neither of the films are masterpieces: the car action obviously lacks the insane verve of the Mad Max movies, the acting is pretty basic and the plots sometimes veer off in weird diversions such as underground communities and hidden bunkers full of weapons. The fixation on rape is an uncomfortable callback to a less enlightened mindset, which is hopefully something that even trashy exploitation movies have grown out of now. It's nice to see they're still available, and as a special treat Wheels Of Fire probably includes the two minutes plus that the BBFC removed for its VHS release a third of a century ago, but unless you've a soft spot for this kind of junk (I kind of enjoyed 2019: After The Fall Of New York, and I do want to rewatch the likes of Bronx Warriors and The New Barbarians at some point) they're neither of them essentials.

***
**

Sunday, 25 November 2018

ROBIN HOOD

CONTAINS SPOILERS. YES, AGAIN

Yes, again. Yet another trip to Sherwood Forest with the Merrie Men and the boo-hiss Sheriff and comely Maid Marian, reimagined for another generation after the tedious slog of the Ridley Scott version with Russell Crowe and his internationally roaming accent. Happily the results this time are a lot better: a comicbook romp of anachronistic dialogue, reinvented characters, impossible whizzbang action sequences that must at some point have been conceived with 3D in mind, and a sense of fun that Scott and Crowe completely discarded. It's still not very good, and the spectre of Guy Ritchie (specifically King Arthur: Legend Of The Sword) hangs over it, but as big-scale popcorn nonsense goes it zips along and probably has more chance of a followup than King Arthur did.

Despite Robin's opening voiceover telling you to forget what you think you already know, the first half of Robin Hood follows the familiar story: Robin Of Loxley (Taron Egerton) returns home from the Crusades to find his mansion a ruin, his beloved Marian (Eve Hewson) missing and the Sheriff Of Nottingham (Ben Mendelsohn) crushing the peasantry underfoot in the mines. He's helped by a Moor (Jamie Foxx) whose name roughly translates to John, who stowed away in the ship back to England when Robin heroically tried to stop prisoners being pointlessly executed. John teaches him the astonishing archery skills necessary to get their revenge of the Sheriff and the whole corrupt establishment....

What this amounts to, essentially, is a Batman story: by day he's landowner and philanthropist Sir Robin Of Loxley, but by night he's The Hood, fighting for justice for the people because ineffectual wannabe politician Will Scarlett (Jamie Dornan) isn't strong enough. (He's also Marian's new partner, setting up the love triangle and ultimately positioning him as the new villain in any potential sequel.) The opening war scenes are basically Full Metal Quiver, with a squad of British squaddies pinned down by a sniper with a mechanical archery device (I'm sure one of the poor Tommies even called out "Incoming!" at one point). Personally I'm still on the fence about Egerton, but Mendelsohn is magnificently evil, easily out-Rickmanning everyone else in the film. Comedy relief is supplied by Tim Minchin as Friar Tuck, blimey-it's-him surprise star value is supplied by no less than F Murray Abraham as a scheming Cardinal.

It's fun enough, and it's very silly, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. It's certainly not the worst of the film versions (which for me is still Ridley Scott's, a film which made me wonder whether I wanted to even bother with mainstream, general audience cinema any more). The endless concessions to the modern audience, extending to a thudding rock song over the closing credits which is way, way worse than Everything I Do from the Costner version, are only to be expected these days and they don't get in the way of a decent enough superhero action movie.

***

BLOOD FEST

CONTAINS SOME SPOILERS AND WAKE ME WHEN IT'S OVER

Once upon a time, horror movies were mainly full of dumb Americans who'd never seen a horror movie in their lives and kept wandering into darkened rooms and getting killed because they didn't know any better. Then Scream came along and suddenly horror movies were full of dumb Americans who knew all about horror movies and how to survive them but still kept wandering into darkened rooms and getting killed. Now suddenly horror movies are full of dumb Americans who not only know and understand horror movies on the nerdiest of levels, but spend their Halloweens wandering around horror theme parks in which people dressed as monsters and maniacs actively leap out at you and chase you round generic, non-copyright installations - and still keep on wandering into darkened rooms and getting killed. How meta and postmodern and fourth wall ironic are we going to get?

In just a few years it's become as much of a subgenre (Ruin Me, American Fright Fest, The Funhouse Massacre, and Hell Fest, easily the best of the bunch) as the original slashers it's riffing on, to the extent that they're already blurring in the mind: a bunch of idiots visit a theme park full of actors dressed as generic, non-copyright screen maniacs, except that one or more of the maniacs is actually a real maniac and that's a real knife and no-one's going to believe the kids until it's too late. Sadly Blood Fest overeggs the recipe by upping the body count into the hundreds and layering on an absurd conspiracy plot, the mechanics of which are far-fetched even by wacko horror movies. Facing off against "vampires" engineered with drugs and surgery, "zombies" realised by corpses fitted with remote controls and "slashers" who are actually genuine homicidal maniacs unleashed against the guests, a handful of teens must face off against a mad film director creating his (ugh) found-footage masterpiece by editing the park's surveillance feeds. But who's really behind it all?

Two things are immediately apparent. Firstly, killing dozens of extras off doesn't make for a better film. We don't know them, we don't care about them, they're collateral damage. They don't matter any more than the innocent drivers mown down in the last Die Hard movie, the doomed prom night revellers at the end of Tragedy Girls or (worst example) the train passengers in the tiresome Wanted. What the hell, let them all die. Secondly, given the amount of blood and splat on show, the 15 certificate is absurdly lenient even by the BBFC's own frequently wonky standards, when less gloopy and graphic films are saddled with the dreaded 18.

Briefly on the list for this year's FrightFest but withdrawn after it showed up in advance at other cinemas, Blood Fest is mostly dull, despite the stupidity of the plot and the bloody excess. I'm usually a sucker for no-brain bloody slasher movies but this doesn't cut it.

**

Saturday, 24 November 2018

SUSPIRIA

MOTHER OF SPOILERS

So it's here. The first official, credited and acknowledged remake of a Dario Argento masterpiece is finally with us after years on the Maybe pile. And whatever else Luca Guadagnino's Suspiria might be (and at a stonking hundred and fifty two minutes it's lots of other things), it's definitely not Argento. If you want the bright lights, pretty colours, wild music and full-on horror craziness then stick with the 1977 film because you're not going to get any of that stuff here. (Quite rightly: why should Guadagnino simply repeat Gus Van Sant's Psycho experiment?) Instead it's deliberately muted for the most part, with a colder colour scheme and frequent trips into other, apparently less relevant territory.

The basic thrust of the original film is there: in 1977, young student Suzy (Dakota Johnson) turns up at the Markos Dance Academy in Berlin, which is actually a front for a coven of ancient witches who are planning Something Horrible. She catches the eye of legendary dancer and choreographer Madame Blanc (Tilda Swinton) and almost immediately wins the key role in her most famous contemporary ballet production. One of the other dancers (Chloe Grace Moretz) confides her fears in her elderly therapist Klemperer: when the girl disappears, he seeks to investigate, although she may be involved in terrorist activities (this is around the time of Baader-Meinhof and the Red Army Faction)...

I'm sure there's a reason why Tilda Swinton is also playing octogenarian Klemperer (under the name Lutz Ebersdorf) and Madame Markos, the coven's bloated leader, both under a ton of prosthetics to the point where she is completely unrecognisable. I could have shared a Turkish bath with both of them (somehow) and never realised either of them was Tilda Swinton. I'm sure there's also a reason why they explored Klemperer's background at such length, including the loss of his wife in the German camps. (She's played as a possible fantasy figure, figment of the imagination and/or witch-implanted hallucination by Jessica Harper, Suzy in Argento's original.) But I don't know what those reasons are, beyond having some fun with the acting and focusing down on a peripheral character who isn't even in the 1977 film, probably because Luca Guadagnino is closer to an arthouse director than a horror movie director. This isn't a bad thing, obviously: I'm still hoping for the Marvel and DC universes to hire wild card choices like Peter Greenaway or Lars Von Trier, to stretch them as well as the genre a little.

As a horror movie, though, Suspiria 2018 works well, with a couple of agreeably nasty set-piece sequences, a blood-soaked climax and that old favourite, the bone-sticking-through-the-broken-leg routine. The death of Olga in a mirrored rehearsal room is the undoubted horror highpoint of the movie and, if I bothered to rank such things (which I don't, because that would be insane), would be very high on the list of Kills Of The Year, Top Three easily. But the horror component of Suspiria does feel diluted by the additional material: somewhere inside this 152-minute curiosity is a terrific 100-minute shocker that can't get out.

None of which is to say that it's a bad film or even a so-so one. There's more than enough going on and it's all interesting, and I was never bored or counting the minutes. It's simply that personally I'd have liked either a full-on Suspiria remake or a wholly non-Suspiria film devoted to all the other stuff, and for me shuffling them together into the same film diffuses and defuses both of them. It's a shame that it's disappeared off the circuits so quickly as I think this is one of those films that does merit repeat viewings, and even though they're mentioned I'm not sure that Maters Tenebrarum and Lachrymarum will get their standalone outings. Which would be a pity.

****

Saturday, 17 November 2018

THE INTERIOR

CONTAINS .... I DON'T KNOW, SPOILERS?

It's hard to know how to respond that's nominally a horror movie yet spends the first third of its running time as a quirky modern urban loser comedy (that isn't funny, though I'm guessing it's supposed to be on a wry deadpan level) and then spends the remaining 50 minutes or so following aforementioned urban loser on a steadily more hellish camping trip (that also isn't funny, though I'm guessing it's supposed to be on a dumb-idiot-having-a-lousy-time level) into the woods that may or may not contain something evil lurking in the darkness (which isn't scary, though I'm guessing it's supposed to be on a something-evil-lurking-in-the-darkness level).

Frustrated with modern life in an advertising agency working for a useless boss who understandably rejects his commercials idea involving holograms of Stalin and Charlton Heston playing shuffleboard, James quits and starts working for a cleaning service. That doesn't work out, so he breaks up with his girlfriend (in an unbroken three-minute static shot of him looking out of the back window, her looking off to the right with her back to him) and heads off into the woods. But is he alone? Is the occasionally glimpsed guy in the red jacket just another camper? Is he something more sinister? Is it a Don't Look Now reference? Who or what is prowling around outside his tent in the middle of the night?

Part of my problem with rubbish horror movies has always been that I'm a sucker for an enticing pullquote, and the trailer for The Interior includes a caption from Montreal-based web magazine Forget The Box claiming this is "scarier than ANY [his caps] studio horror film of the past decade". Sold! Look, opinions and all that, but it just isn't. It's not even the scariest wandering-around-in-the-woods movie, whether from a major studio or micro independent: even the found footage ones (and they're among the absolute worst, truly the Cillit Bang adverts of horror cinema) can occasionally rustle up a bit of creepiness or dread amongst the babbling and seizure visuals, which is a hell of a lot more than The Interior manages.

*

Wednesday, 14 November 2018

LADY BLOOD FIGHT

CONTAINS OUCH SPOILERS

Or, if you want to be facetious, Chickboxer. Chris Nahon's deeply moving tale of hot babes getting royally lamped is basically a vintage Jean-Claude Van Damme movie with fit (in all senses of the term) ladies instead of pumped, impressively sculpted blokes: they're still beating the living tar out of each other but they don't take their shirts off like JC used to do. Other than that it's the same old song, beat for beat, which isn't necessarily a bad thing if you happen to like that song regardless of who's warbling it.

Selected fighters, kill-crazed maniacs from round the world, and fresh young pupils of established martial arts trainers convene in Hong Kong for an all-girls Kumite tournament, in which the starting sixteen are whittled down through Mortal Kombat beatdowns to the final two for a no-rules fight to the death. Obviously, because they're the only ones we've spent any character time with, the Grand Finale is between the two pupils of rival trainers: one a local street kid with talent, the other an American whose father disappeared after a Kumite some years ago. In between, there's the friendly Australian one who's obviously doomed to be pulped in Round Two, the unstoppable Russian killing machine, lots of blows to the head and snapped bones....

Lady Blood Fight (it's three words on screen, whatever the IMDb or the artwork might suggest about it being Lady Bloodfight) is twaddle, quite obviously. But it knows exactly what it's doing and it does it efficiently enough for a simple beer and pizza rental. It's not innovative, it's not particularly surprising, it's not an era-defining cinema game-changer. It's a hundred minutes or so of wallops, thuds and shrieks of pain. If that's all you want from your streaming selections, then go for it. Switch your brain off, you won't be needing it.

**

Saturday, 3 November 2018

HAUNTED / HAUNTED

CONTAINS SPOILERS / CONTAINS SPOILERS

Horror - indeed, cinema in general - tends to go in cycles. Sometimes erotic thrillers are the main attraction, five years later everyone's making werewolf movies, and five years after that you can't move for shoddy CGI shark films or naturist Westerns. Superhero knockabouts have been the major studios' big thing for quite a while now, but sooner or later we'll get bored of them and they'll have to do something else. On a vastly smaller scale, there also appears to be a run on haunted house movies: the streaming services are heaving with mysterious noises from the attic or the cellar and creepy apparitions looming out of the darkness seeking resolution for past crimes.

It's not entirely surprising: Boo! scares are easy and cheap, and for the most part these only require one or two locations and a small cast. Here are two recent examples of spooky cattle-prod horrors in which Bad Stuff happened in the house a while back and supernatural forces are now at work: one's kind of okay, one's bloody awful, and both are stuck with the most generic possible title for such a film (and in neither of them do the main characters do the sensible thing and get the hell out of the haunted house). The Norwegian Haunted, from 2017, has a woman driving off into the frozen winter to clean out her late father's holiday home for a quick sale. But there's a mysterious young child hanging around, the never-mentioned aunt who disappeared years ago when just a child, the strange and forgotten death of her mother...

If this had been made in the days before M Night Shyamalan and his honking great trademark plot twists, you might be forgiven for not figuring what the strange little girl really is (I got it half-right). It's pleasantly creepy in the right places, and the snowbound setting is quite beautiful to look at, but it's all very ho-hum, we've seen it all before and it doesn't do anything particularly exciting with it. Fair enough: it's not really trying to rewrite the haunted house subgenre: it's working in fairly familiar territory and doing its fairly familiar thing solidly enough to pass the 80 minutes or so fairly painlessly.

It's doing its thing considerably better than the Italian film of the same name from the previous year, however. Here a charmless screenwriter wrestling with a horror script housesits for his sister and nephew but finds a variety of increasingly sinister and scary demons hiding upstairs, looming out of the dark, banging on the door and generally making a nuisance of themselves. Can he, his idiot best friend and the world's most underwhelming exorcist banish these evil presences?

Shot in English with heavy accents, much of 2016's Haunted consists of Roberto D'Antona (younger brother of writer-director Eros) wandering endlessly around the house and being freaked out by spooky noises off, spooky faces leering out of his computer screen, spooky drawings and spooky apparitions appearing out of nowhere. Again, it shouts Boo! in your ear efficiently enough, jabbing you with the sharpened scare stick every few minutes, but it's really not enough: the two leads are playing everything too comedically (and clearly in the wrong language, which affects the performances), and the exorcist who turns up in the third act is an absolute nothing. It's not even nicely shot: at least if they'd made it as a found footage film the drab visual aesthetic would have been appropriate. And the online artwork of creepy dolls has absolutely nothing to do with the film; a picture of Tom Cruise clinging to a plummeting helicopter would have been about as relevant.

***
*

Saturday, 27 October 2018

DOWN AMONG THE Z MEN

CONTAINS NOTHING, NOT EVEN SPOILERS

Terrible cheapo British comedy from the early 1950s in which Harry Secombe, Peter Sellers, Michael Bentine and Spike Milligan arse about to surprisingly little effect, with the end result being 70 minutes of sludge that's on a comedic and cinematic par with Old Mother Riley. Who knows whether it would have anywhere near half watchable if more than three and sixpence ha'penny had been spent on it, if they'd taken more than a fortnight to shoot it, or if Milligan and other Goon writers had been involved in the script?

Insofar as anything Goon-related is plot-driven, Down Among The Z Men has Secombe as an imbecile shop assistant who accidentally gets hold of mad scientist Bentine's secret formula for something or other: they both end up at an army barracks run by Sellers with Milligan as idiot Private Eccles. A couple of crooks and a glamorous MI5 agent are on the trail of the formula. Every so often a shapely dance troupe show up and do a routine, and Sellers and Bentine both do comedy skits at a barracks concert (because....?).

In case it wasn't clear, it's not very good. Secombe and, strangely, Sellers are mostly playing straight while Milligan and wild-wigged Bentine go the other way with silly walks and silly voices, and the musical interludes don't get in the way only because there's nothing for them to get in the way of. The comic highlight is probably Secombe throwing a dead badger at a sentry.

*

Sunday, 21 October 2018

HALLOWEEN

CONTAINS SOME SPOILERS

Let's get the suspense out of the way very quickly and state that this all-new Halloween is a disappointment. I mean, it's obviously not as bad as Rob Zombie's two stabs at the Myers mythos, because few things are, and it's better than Halloween 4 and the really terrible one with Coolio in it (I'll reserve judgement on how it stacks up against Halloween 6 because I haven't seen it since the VHS years), but it's certainly not "up there" with the first direct sequel Halloween II or the surprisingly decent Halloween 5. But then this is a film that goes back to the end of John Carpenter's original and pretends that every Halloween film we've seen since didn't happen: despite the simple Halloween title it's technically Halloween 2A, following an alternative timeline in which Michael Myers was immediately carted off back to the institution and has stayed there ever since. Until now...

Now Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis, who's never going to escape these films) is a recluse living behind electric gates and security cameras with a secret basement full of shotguns. Inevitably, forty years to the day after the original movie's rampage, Michael engineers a bus crash while being transferred to a new hospital for plot contrivance purposes, and heads back to his old slashing ground of Haddonfield on Halloween night, messily slaughtering a whole bunch of incidental characters on the way. These include a couple of garage workers and two women in their homes, none of whom we know, for no good reason beyond grisly money shots. There's also a pair of supremely idiotic true crime researchers (who I frankly couldn't wait to see the back of) who arguably started the whole thing off in an irresponsible attempt to break Michael's silence by retrieving his battered old Shatner mask - and that's before he gets within stabbing distance of the three generations of Strode: Laurie, her daughter (Judy Greer) and granddaughter Allyson (Andi Matichak).

Cue that instantly recognisable 5/4 theme music - Carpenter's principal onscreen contribution to the film and as much of a musical signature as Harry Manfredini's shrieky strings sound for the Friday The 13th movies. Also cue the carved pumpkins, skeleton decorations, trick-or-treaters, disposable babysitters, and way too much dumb teenage boy/girl stodge I honestly didn't care about at all because Jamie Lee Curtis' embittered, twisted, basket-case survivor of 1978 is a much more interesting character with a deeper, sadder history, sadly sidelined for too long in favour of the youngsters.

Obviously there's no Donald Pleasence figure this time: Dr Loomis is mentioned a few times but Michael's new doctor (Haluk Bilginer), who has somehow had a 20-year career studying him despite not getting a single word out of him, turns out to be utterly demented himself and closer in amorality to Malcolm McDowell's version of Loomis in the Rob Zombie films. But it's hardly necessary to bring a new monster onto the pitch when Michael Myers is no longer the scary bogeyman/boogeyman figure of seasonal bedtime stories but an indiscriminate mass-murdering sociopath butchering everyone he encounters for no reason. I was never a massive fan of the original Halloween anyway: back in the 80s I was always on Team Jason because they were more overtly cruel and vicious whereas Halloween was almost sedate in its near-bloodless restraint: it was a teen slasher movie you could watch with your parents because it had no swearing, very discreet sexual naughtiness and minimal gore. Not now: heads are twisted and smashed, necks are slashed and broken, blood flows freely - and yet to surprisingly little effect beyond easy Boo! and Yuk! moments.

But, but, but.... back in the day we enjoyed My Bloody Valentine and The Prowler and Prom Night and all those other cheesy old slashers without caring about the characters or wayward plot logic: what did they do right that Halloween 2018 does wrong? Well, maybe there should be more to a Halloween movie than a cheesy old slasher, seeing as Halloween 1978 was the one that kicked it all off in the first place, and particularly with Carpenter and Curtis involved (and Nick Castle as The Shape). Maybe it's an annoyance at the reboot structure that dismisses all the other films as never having existed and changes the ending from the first film, yet still includes a credit acknowledgement for the masks from the standalone Halloween III: Season Of The Witch. Maybe it's less a nostalgia for the cheesy 80s slashers themselves and more a nostalgia for the me that saw them at the time, nostalgia which I obviously can't feel for the new film. If this hadn't been an official Halloween movie but Generic Slasher #724 perhaps I'd have liked it more. I could also do without callbacks to earlier movies, specifically a reversal of a moment from Halloween 1978 which is undone in the new timeline anyway (you can get away with callbacks in something like the Scream series because that's what they're about; Halloween isn't).

It's not terrible: it's solid, well-mounted and assembled, it looks great and and it does have some nice flourishes, such as a bit of business with motion-sensitive floodlights and Michael ghosting up out of the darkness. Judy Greer has a terrific moment towards the end, and Jamie Lee Curtis is great, of course. And it's nice to see Will Patton in anything. But there are so many holes: it just happens that Michael's being transferred precisely on the fortieth Halloween anniversary AND he's able to get his old mask back AND Allyson just happens to lose her phone (in the most ludicrous way possible) at a key moment AND Laurie's woodland fortress only appears to be fenced from one side (separately, Allyson and Michael both manage to get to the front door unimpeded). I didn't mind it, and I certainly don't object to it (I have no issue with sequels and remakes and reboots in principle and I don't regard any movie as a sacred text which shall not be interfered with), but I just don't feel anything towards it.

**

Friday, 19 October 2018

BLOOD THEATRE

EXIT PURSUED BY A SPOILER WARNING

More unwatchable horror garbage dug out of the vaults of yesteryear for no good reason. After the soul-crushing tedium of Manos: The Hands Of Fate had set a new baseline by which lousy movies could be judged, my very next streaming selection had me struggling to gauge whether that baseline could already be lowered. The result is a movie that's leaving me struggling to maintain even slight enthusiasm for genre movies: not just cheesy exploitation trash from the Z-list but mainstream, professionally produced offerings from people who know what the hell they're doing.

To be honest I wouldn't have bothered with Blood Theatre (kudos for at least not spelling it Theater) in the first place had it been set anywhere other than a cinema, but for all its relevance it might as well have been set in a spanner factory. The Spotlite multiplex chain have acquired their latest location: a former stage theatre closed after numerous mysterious deaths, and anyone who has subsequently attempted to reopen the place has died soon after. Nevertheless, a small crew are assigned to get the place ready for opening....

Performances are atrocious even by cheap horror movie standards (hell, they're atrocious by primary school nativity play standards): even Mary Woronov can do nothing interesting with it. The kill scenes are astonishingly badly staged and have no impact, the characters are uniformly hateful, there's nowhere near enough gore, and the stabs at comedy just die on the screen. Auteur Rick Sloane (who went on to the giddy heights of no less than six Vice Academy movies) inserts footage from his early short consisting of fake trailers for such joke titles as Chainsaw Chicks and Clown Whores Of Hollywood, but that gag footage looks indistinguishable from Blood Theatre itself: cheap, stupid, shoddily made and with more than a flavour of Troma about it. (Worse, it reminds you how immeasurably better the fake trailer idea was when Tarantino and chums did it in Grindhouse.)

So what was gained? Another horror obscurity ticked off, another director added to the list of filmmakers I never want to hear from again, another hour and a half that would have been less of a waste if I'd spent the time ripping my toenails out with pliers or ingesting half a pound of crack cocaine. Maybe, though, this is the kind of bargain basement crap I actually need to wean myself off cheap horror movies: completism means you have to see everything and I'm increasingly of the opinion that it's just not worth the effort any more. Blood Theatre certainly isn't: I hate myself for watching it, I hate Rick Sloane for making it and I hate my TV screen for showing it to me.

*

Saturday, 13 October 2018

MANOS: THE HANDS OF FATE

CONTAINS SOME SPOILERS?

Okay, okay. So I rail against absolutely lousy movies for page after page, month after month, and then I voluntarily spend my afternoon sitting through something that's been regularly cited as one of the worst films of all time. It's currently sitting at #3 on the IMDb's bottom rated list and pretty much the best thing that anyone has ever said about it is that it does actually exist. Nobody seems to have a good word to say for it and let me state right now that I'm not going to buck the trend here: it's utterly worthless and a chore to sit through even at a mere 70 minutes or so, it has absolutely no cultural value or artistic merit and is one of the only films ever made that would probably be improved by the Rifftrax or MST3K treatment.

The awfulness of the semi-legendary Manos: The Hands Of Fate is not the Troma awfulness of cynical audience pandering or wallowing in puerile bad taste, but the amateur Ed Wood awfulness of technical shoddiness and an almost awesome level of incompetence. At the same time it has none of the innocent, endearing charm of the best known so-called Golden Turkeys such as Wood's Plan 9 From Outer Space: there are no laughs to be had even in the disputed realm of so-bad-it's-good. Manos' terribleness is beyond such things: other films are made by those who just don't care, this is made by those who just don't know what the hell they're doing. Yet you can see that somewhere in the back of it is a halfway decent idea that could - maybe - have been made into something worthy of the second slot on a drive-in double-bill had different hands, hearts and minds been involved. Even half a century ago.

A vacationing family lost in the desert and having to spend the night in an isolated shack belonging to some kind of immortal sorcerer and his harem but run by his simpleton servant Torgo, could be the basis for some kind of watchable throwaway trash. But Harold P Warren, writer, director and male lead, has no more clue about how to go about making a film than I have about building a yacht or writing a cookery book. Acting, script, editing, music, photography and direction are all on the rock-bottom lowest level imaginable: a level beyond underachievement. Grotty, humourless and endlessly dull, it's a less rewarding hour and a bit than even the dreariest of Ted V Mikels, Al Adamson or the mighty Jess Franco: it doesn't even have cheesy sex scenes, dumb sub-Lewis gore effects or a brief cameo by a one-time genre icon like Lon Chaney or John Carradine to leaven the crushing, suffocating boredom. Dialogue is repeated, there are endless silences between lines, the score is dramatically inappropriate and dreary as hell, one of the actors (????) actually looks into the camera, many sound effects are missing (it was shot without synch sound) and the actor playing Torgo was off his nipples on LSD for the whole shoot.

So, seventy minutes and a good mood were lost, but what was gained? A lower benchmark against which badfilm can be judged? A personal best endurance challenge? The knowledge that the next effort by [insert name of wretched actor or director here] will be a breeze in comparison? Manos is complete and utter and total and absolute rubbish, obviously, but the worst kind of rubbish: it isn't even fun. It looks and feels like someone's home movie, because that's mainly what it is (the result of a bet with Stirling Silliphant that Warren could make a film, which on a purely technical level Warren won). It has no heart to it and no life to it: you could point and laugh at it but it's honestly not worth the effort. Some damn fool has made a Fifty Years Later sequel which somehow looks even worse, and has even cast the original's little girl; personally I'm waiting for a major studio remake. Might Michael Bay care to have a bash?

*

Tuesday, 9 October 2018

FEVER

CONTAINS SOME SPOILERS ©

The biggest surprise about this drab and frankly unremarkable post-outbreak drama isn't anything actually on screen except in the credits, where its auteur Hendrick Faller has apparently copyrighted his own name. Literally: there's a © after his surname. Why? Is there another filmmaker called Hendrick Faller and this one has decided to somehow stop the other from using his own name in the credits? Can he claim tax back on copyrighted items? Was it a botched attempt at an ironic smiley? Or was it just a typo by the data entry guy as he input everyone's names into the titles generator? I'll confess here and now that the mystery of the rogue © kept me more interested than the movie itself.

A micro-scale UK/France drama set in France, Fever (originally known as Mountain Fever even though there's not much mountain in it) concerns a young British man holing up in his parents' house to hopefully sit out an unspecified outbreak (rather than head for the rescue station in Lyon). He and a young Ukrainian woman are then trapped in the house, under siege by two aggressive, largely unseen French guys, but will they leave them (or just him) alone when they get what they want?

Much more a drama than the thriller promised on the artwork box, this is a glum and downbeat film, silent and miserable, in which none of the characters want to communicate or connect any more than they absolutely have to for the purposes of survival. Like its unspectacular apocalypse, there's no joy to be had from it: reduced to eating cold tinned food and shivering alone in the dark, it's an armageddon that's really not worth surviving. Difficult to see where the audience appeal might lie; all I can say is that it eluded me.

®

Monday, 8 October 2018

THE NIGHT OF THE VIRGIN

CONTAINS SPOILERS AND COME ON, GUYS

I'm slowly coming round to the idea that film reviewing (as opposed to film criticism or film analysis) isn't really about the film but about Me: how I respond to it, whether I laugh or scream or cry, how it makes me feel. Reviews are an expression of a personal reaction to the films and so are at least partly about the reviewer. Is it just me? Am I alone in this? Am I just getting old? Why does everyone or no-one else find this funny or scary or moving or profound or arousing? I have sat on sofas with people watching the same DVD on the same screen at the same time and they've laughed consistently and I haven't cracked a smile - how is that possible? Because we're all different. Most films aren't perfect because they're not aimed at the unique you and so don't chime absolutely with you and your life and your world, but if enough of them come close then it's still worth the effort in looking, in wading through the sludge.

But sometimes you have to ask out loud: is it just Me? Or is the movie objectively, factually, empirically, unarguably terrible? Watching (or more exactly staring slack-jawed at) the Spanish badtasteathon The Night Of The Virgin left me wondering not just why I don't get the joke, not just whether the joke was worth the telling, but whether I should even bother with listening to any jokes at all ever again: are their standards too low or are mine too high? This is a revolting film, tirelessly mining the seamiest seams of grossout tastelessness for very little reward. Gloopy bodily fluids have their place (The Fly), and I'm a fan of a well-crafted knob gag as much as the next man, but there has to be something more going on underneath the puking and shrieking.

December 31st: shy and socially gauche Nico isn't having any joy picking up a hot babe to see the New Year in with: they're either stoned or vomitously drunk. Until he's spotted by an older woman who takes him back to her filthy, cockroach-ridden apartment for what he mistakenly assumes is going to be a night of red hot passion. Unfortunately he's been specially selected as part of a plot to bring a Nepalese goddess into the world; meanwhile, the woman's boyfriend is outside shouting and threatening....

If, early on, there are trace memories of films like After Hours, in which a regular zero guy has his life shaken apart when he encounters utter barking lunatics, they're pretty quickly dispelled once the vomit and semen and menstrual blood are brought into play and the film turns into turned-up-to-eleven shrieking hysteria and stays there for most of the running time (the birthing scene itself, graphic in an entirely unwarranted way, goes on for absolutely ages, as though they'd looked at Isballe Adjani's freakouts in Possession and decided to go further). But at some point, probably quite early on, I started to get fed up with it. I started finding it wearing, I started to find it dull, and I wasn't finding it entertaining in any way.

A grinding, unenjoyable bore, this is just wallowing in the sewer, grubby and repugnant on a level somehow lower than the cartoonishly stupid Troma movies: anything up to twenty minutes of screaming and genitalia could have been lopped out, if only to get the damned thing over quicker because there's no way lowbrow sex and gore movies should be 110 minutes long. Maybe it's an age thing. Maybe the film is aimed at a new breed of horror fans in their twenties, not crumbly oldsters in their fifties given to muttering at bus stops about how much better things were in their day with their Jasons and Freddys, and the worst you could get was a rubbish Howling sequel. After The Night Of The Virgin, I would have killed to see a rubbish Howling sequel, even the Marsupials one with Dame Edna Everage in it. Twice.

*

Monday, 1 October 2018

VICTOR CROWLEY

CONTAINS SOME SPOILERS

Well, it's a crashing, crushing disappointment. Shot in secret, the fourth and quite possibly not final (if the by now obligatory mid-credits sting is anything to go by) instalment in Adam Green's Hatchet series is sadly the least of them: a bloody but entirely uninvolving slasher boasting a thoroughly hateful raft of characters, a level of callousness that extends to at least four deaths that have nothing to do with slasher icon Victor Crowley, excessively vicious kill shots played for grossout laughs, and actual comedy that straight up doesn't work. It's a crying shame, it was one I was particularly looking forward to and yet at times, particularly in the first twenty minutes of sitcom bickering, I was seriously considering switching the DVD off.

Like the best slashers, plot is not the main attraction. For the most ludicrous of reasons, a bunch of shallow, self-obsessed idiots end up running around the Louisiana swamps in the middle of the night yet again. There's a film crew wanting to make a fake trailer for a slasher movie based on the Victor Crowley myth, along with their idiot guide; there's the sole survivor of the previous movie dragged back for a TV programme by the promise of big money, along with the idiot crew. By the most ludicrous of chances, Victor Crowley turns up again and works his way through them while they bicker endlessly about whether to stay in their crashed charter jet or make a run for the boat...

The first Hatchet worked because it was the 80s retro-styled slasher movie we'd always wanted since the 80s themselves but couldn't get because they stopped making them, many of them were terrible, and censor boards around the world cut out the juiciest bits. It was gleefully disreputable fun, it was cheerfully nasty, and it made a point of being done with practical gore effects rather than painting them in on the computer afterwards. The second was weaker, in part because they tried to top the original's splat quotient. And the third one (which Adam Green didn't direct) was generally pretty good and wrapped up what was then the trilogy perfectly well. But this time the head-stomping, limb-lopping and entrail-spilling is pushed so far that it ends up as the kind of excess you used to see in insane Japanese splatter movies like Tokyo Gore Police or Shogun Assassin.

Adam Green's best film so far remains (the co-directed) Spiral, which was far more subtle, emotionally engaging and better told. More, bigger, nastier, bloodier, isn't necessarily better. Nor is cruder: a scene involving a set of male genitals just sits there on the screen, as inert as the offending objects themselves (it's apparently there to redress the genre's historical predilection for female flesh rather than male, right?). Certainly the gore highlights are done with panache and enthusiasm, but there's too much of it: it's no longer enough to just stick a machete in someone's skull the way Jason used to do. I actually felt uncomfortable at the level of bodily destruction, in the way that bits of the later Saw movies looked like crime scene photos; set against the jokey trash-talk dialogue, it's an odd mix that doesn't gel. I was really hoping for a good time with Victor Crowley (Hatchet 4 doesn't appear on the screen at any point, whatever the DVD box art says) but it does feel that, like so many other horror series, it had already reached its natural end point and didn't have anywhere else to go. Occasional fun moments aside, it's disappointing.

**

HIM

CONTAINS SPOI...ZZZZZZZZ

There's little to really say about this poverty-stricken lump of nothing, except that everyone involved needs to be quietly dissuaded from ever doing anything like this again, possibly augmented by the mother of all slaps. Technically indifferent to a level far below competent, let alone professional, let alone vaguely interesting, cataclysmically nay catatonically dull, and very poorly acted (performances are barely on the level of "stand there and say this"), it makes no sense, has no scares, has no laughs, and occasionally wanders off into irrelevant scenes that feel like they were pasted in from another, equally terrible, project entirely.

Him kicks off with a businessman who sold his soul to the devil in return for success in the warehousing business, because Satan presumably needed some storage space, but he loses everything when he refuses to sacrifice a virgin. Years later his abandoned warehouse is believed to be haunted, and half a dozen imbeciles decide to spend the night there looking for paranormal activity, even though they hadn't bothered to bring cameras, monitors or recorders (strangely, this is one cheapo wandering-around-in-the-dark exercise that would actually be better as a found footage film). Satan manifests as a clown and a disfigured little girl, because he's clearly got nothing better to do these days than hang around an empty warehouse in the middle of the night scaring dullards with creepy dolls.

When a film isn't the best morons-in-a-warehouse horror film of the week and the only other morons-in-a-warehouse horror film of the week is the underachieving Sweatshop, it's probably time to stop. At the very least, it's time to stop clicking the Watch Now button on every morons-in-a-warehouse horror film that seeps onto the streaming services. Dross.

*

Thursday, 27 September 2018

SWEATSHOP

CONTAINS SOME SPOILERS

Yet more gore. Cheap, rough and grimy and absolutely devoid of subtlety, style or sense, Sweatshop (a curious title given that not a single frame of it takes place in a sweatshop) has very little to offer besides tatty sex and extreme gore shots: indeed, it has nothing whatsoever to offer besides tatty sex and extreme gore shots. It has too many potential victims, all of them boring and most of them stupid, but if nothing else it at least doesn't shortchange in the splatter department. Coming straight after the grindingly dull and mean-spirited Truth Or Dare it was a breath of slightly less horrible air and, though I'd be the last person in the world to suggest it's any good at all, I have to be honest and confess that I didn't absolutely hate and detest it. It's grubby and murky and no-one's got two brain cells to rub together, but as a nasty, splattery slasher it's far from the worst offenders.

A group of punks (literal, with the spiky hair and attitude and everything) arrange a rave in an abandoned warehouse. Curiously, despite the place being an absolute mess and only having a few hours to get everything set up, they all seem more interested in drinking, getting laid, wandering off into the darkness and not doing their jobs. Not that it matters: the warehouse is home to a brood of homicidal maniacs led by The Beast, whose signature move is smashing your head in with a massive foundry hammer...

It's tacky, lowest-common-denominator trash (the opening sequence has a naked woman being chased around the darkness in the worst and sleaziest slasher tradition) and as usual it's impossible to care even slightly who lives or dies because they're all dumb as a soup spoon anyway. And much of it is fairly rotten, with ill-advised dancing interspersed with enthusiastic (and, to my eye at least, non-CGI) overkill sequences. There's also no hint of a who or why to the wordless, faceless killers: presumably they were trying for the Texas Chain Saw Massacre vein of unexplained, unfathomable maniacs who had no backstory or motivations, they were just there, but Sweatshop simply isn't in the Texas league. That it's very slightly less abominable than some is really no recommendation: being mostly terrible rather than completely terrible isn't enough for a second star.

*

Saturday, 22 September 2018

TRUTH OR DARE

CONTAINS SPOILERS AND SURPRISE

The main surprise being that a film involving Russian Roulette, incest, castration, abortion, blinding, endless shrieking, gunshots to the head and YouTube can be not just so endlessly dull, but actively offensive. It's not a question of prudery (a quick look through this blog should indicate that I'm fine with all manner of degenerate sleaze and severed body parts on screen); rather the idea that there should be something more going on than just a checklist of atrocities and "shocking" money shots. A sense of humour and characters you're inclined to give half a hoot about wouldn't go amiss either. Sadly, this one bottles out very quickly and just settles for constantly raising the yuk factor, sometimes against targets who don't deserve it, and without any sense of plausibility or believability. And what's worse is that is doesn't even do that particularly well.

Truth Or Dare (nothing to do with this year's nonsensical teen horror) concerns six idiots with a YouTube channel of supposedly extreme videos, only one of which we ever see: a Russian Roulette stunt that "goes wrong". It's all a self-publicising, harmless lark... except they've attracted the attentions of the worst kind of fan, who takes them all hostage in their isolated house/studio and forces them to play Truth Or Dare according to his own wildly varying rules, where the Truths are the most personal (sexual) secrets and the Dares are bloody and sadistic. Some of them are fatal and the most repulsive footage is immediately uploaded to the internet...

Mutilation, self-mutilation, excessive bloodshed and increasing levels of physical violence and sexual horror (in which one of the participants being dead doesn't mean she can't still be involved) might sound like an entertaining mix for a Friday night in but Truth Or Dare is actually boring. Not just in its inability to spark up any interest in the proceedings or any sympathy for its tiresome victims, but in its inability to be anything other than just an atrocity parade. The maniac is little more than a shrieking lunatic (looking not unlike a younger Charles Manson, probably deliberately), pitched from the start at such a level of hysterical insanity that he has nowhere to go, and neither does the film.

It's cheap and tawdry and, like a lot of these Extreme films, doesn't have anything other than the shocking and splatter material going for it. Like A Serbian Film (which I normally wouldn't bring up except that its director Srdjan Spasojevic is listed in the closing acknowledgements), the more shocking and confrontational they think they're being, the more boring and tiresome the film actually is and Truth Or Dare doesn't even have the defence of being even halfway decently made. Rather, it's almost insulting that they think this is good enough. There isn't anything else on show beyond seven uninteresting people shouting, swearing and screaming at each other and mutilating, abusing or generally hurting each other and themselves; any idea of depth or character is not just unnecessary but actively gets in the way. I found it quite wearing, hard to like, harder to enjoy, impossible to commend.

*

Saturday, 8 September 2018

THE NUN

CONTAINS MILD SPOILERS AND NUN REFERENCES

Creepy nuns, old convents lit only by candles, figures lurking in the darkness, graveyards, demons, darkness, faces looming out of the darkness, catacombs, mildly blasphemous imagery, dry ice, nods to bonkers Italian gore classics, nods to vintage British gothic, creepy demonic nuns hovering in the darkness in old convent corridors: in horror movies, these are a few of my favourite things. Happily the latest entry in the Conjuring/Annabelle franchise (the one that isn't Insidious) boasts all of these things and much more besides; but it's a shame that the end result isn't much more than just another perfectly enjoyable but functional shocker that lays its atmosphere on very thick, both visually and musically.

The Nun might refer to the young novitiate Sister Irene (Taissa Farmiga), assigned to accompany the Church's in-house Mulder, Father Burke (Demian Bichir) to investigate the suicide of a nun at an unfeasibly remote convent in the Romanian hills in 1952. Or it might refer to the spectral, unnamed nun possessed by a particularly nasty demon named Valak after wartime bombing runs cracked the Satanic portal which bound it; Valak has supposedly been kept in check by the nun's perpetual prayer ever since. But right from their arrival Irene and Burke, along with their French-Canadian guide, are confronted with spooky visions, scary dreams, creepy voices, weird nuns and full-on screaming horror...

Sure, it doesn't make a whole lot of sense. Taissa Farmiga's sibling resemblance to Vera Farmiga seems to suggest Sister Irene eventually grows up to become Lorraine Warren from the Conjuring films, especially as The Nun opens with a clip from The Conjuring 2, but this doesn't appear to be expanded upon, and there's a rare instance of the handy-plot-point-via-crossword-clue device. But the mood and atmosphere is agreeably Hammerish, with its creaky old castle and graveyard full of wafts of dry ice: with a slight rewrite you could easily imagine Peter Cushing in the Demian Bichir role, and the film even features a local tavern that's straight out of the old Dracula pictures and is only lacking Michael Ripper. Strange then that the premature burial sequence is less out of the old Corman/Poe cycle and more from Lucio Fulci's thoroughly bonkers City Of The Living Dead.

The Boo! moments obviously work because they're the easiest and simplest ways of making you jump, and some of the creepy atmosphere is helped by Abel Korzeniowski's offputting score of dissonant orchestra and low, growling throaty vocals, as dark as the unnecessarily murky setting (seriously, a bit more light here and there would not have gone amiss). But most importantly the horror doesn't stay with you: it's not nearly as scary as it should be and just a few days later it's already fading. The film is fun enough while it's running, but it doesn't linger much in the mind the way Insidious did, and for all the horrible demon faces the nun herself isn't as persuasively unsettling as the Annabelle doll. I enjoyed it to a degree but it's overall a disappointing and disposable addition to the series. Interesting to note that it doesn't end with a post-credits teaser for the next episode.

***

Friday, 7 September 2018

SLENDER MAN

CONTAINS SOME SPOILERS

Poking its head into UK cinemas very briefly, before the abyss of DVD and a pretty thoroughly deserved obscurity, comes this mildly contentious and entirely unremarkable teen horror that does absolutely nothing interesting with its supernatural bogeyman figure or its central quartet of young, pretty idiots. A few impressive shots and effects don't distinguish it from the pack, leaving it lagging behind such fare as the Ouija films, Truth Or Dare, Wish Upon, The Drownsman, Friend Request and scores more. Some of those movies were decent enough but Slender Man gets just about everything wrong and the end result is a mess.

The titular Slender Man is a demonic figure of folklore summoned by a group of halfwits by watching a spooky online video. One of the group disappears into this air on a school field trip, another is rendered catatonic after a disastrous attempt at a ritual to get her back; while her friends manage to make contact with a chatroom character who proves to be of no real help. Is there any way to defeat the Slender Man and restore their comrades?

It might have helped if we were actually getting the complete film: at least two death scenes have been dropped completely, possibly because of legal cases surrounding a genuine attempted killing supposedly linked to the Slender Man (even though it's known that the character is an openly Photoshopped fiction invented on an online forum and has no basis in the real world). As it is, the ending if the final release version feels rushed, tacking on a sudden voiceover that suggests it's covering up a lot of footage that got scrapped. What's left is a bland, nonsensical and murkily shot horror movie with gaping holes in it, in which everyone wanders stupidly around in the dark without turning the lights on for no reason beyond the belief that it's scarier, and which has to resort to sudden Boo! moments because there's nothing else it can do.

Despite having another of Javier Botet's weird (and by now over-familiar) monster performances on display, the character doesn't work because his rules of engagement seem vague and variable and it's not clear what he wants or what he can and cannot do to achieve it. Sure, the Boo! jump scares work, but it's a lazy, uninteresting technique: former Environment Secretary John Selwyn Gummer could elicit precisely the same response if he leapt out of your wardrobe in front of you without any warning. Nonsense, and not even trashily entertaining nonsense either.

*

SUMMER OF 84

CONTAINS SPOILERS

Assuming we're all still here: what's going to happen in thirty years' time? Specifically (I'm not thinking about flying cars or moonbases or brain transplants) what will horror cinema look like given that there's a huge thread of nostalgia for the eighties right now? We've had Netflix's Stranger Things (which I haven't watched) and last year's It, and this year's FrightFest was so 80s-heavy the opening night even had a dress-up theme (in which I obviously did not indulge). In film-making terms it's great, if only because the movies can avoid plot problems created by GoogleMaps and cellphones by simply backdating them. But what are the nostalgic film producers of 2045 going to do? Loving homages to the Wan/Whannell school? Reboots of Saw? Will found footage make a triumphant comeback?

Summer Of 84 (also listed in the credits as Summer Of '84) is probably the best of the current run of throwbacks, with more likeable characters than The Ranger and lighter and funnier than It. Over the summer holidays, a quartet of suburban kids investigate whether the guy next door is actually the serial killer who's been abducting and killing off teenage boys in the area. Where does he go every night? Why the large purchases of soil and gardening tools? What does he keep in his garage across town? Or is there a perfectly harmless if unlikely explanation? The problem is that the suspicious-acting neighbour is actually a cop....

Mostly it's a lot of fun: an appropriate synth score, lovingly detailed period recreation of that idyllic summer with no schoolwork (or neighbourhood bullies) to get in the way, effective suspense sequences. The teen cast, as much the gang from The Goonies or the amateur film-making team from (the criminally undervalued) Super 8 as the Losers' Club from either version of It, or indeed junior versions of the cast of The 'Burbs, are agreeable heroes, and the film flips efficiently between whether the man is guilty or not. But eventually it has to pick a side and the ending involves a too-sudden change in tone, as if an album by The Carpenters unaccountably concluded with a Sex Pistols track or a chunk of Mahler. Some people went with the sudden gear switch but for me it was too much of a jolt.

It also means that with its sudden lurch towards the bleak and graphic the film suddenly becomes unsuitable for the young teen audience who up to that point would probably have appreciated it more. But if you're in the older age group, if you can remember the eighties first hand, it's like a nice warm bath in childhood memory juice. Very enjoyable.

****

Sunday, 2 September 2018

THE RANGER

CONTAINS SPOILERS

For some unknown reason, this year's FrightFest opener didn't seem to go down to well. Maybe it was because as generic 80s throwback slashers go it simply didn't have any of the charm of the genuine originals. Maybe it was down to a thoroughly unlikeable bunch of potential victims that you were hard pressed to rustle up any sympathy for them once the mad killer belatedly set about his business. Maybe it was due to said mad killer not being terribly interesting as either remotely plausible human being or a horror bogeyman character except for his near-comedic obsession with reciting the National Park rulebook.

Whatever, the response was sadly lukewarm for a film that for all those faults was, at the very least, not terrible (and let's not forget that the cheesy outdoors slashers like The Final Terror and Just Before Dawn were hardly any better than "not terrible" at their very best). A group of loathsome punks on the run after a drugs raid hide out in a mountain cabin belonging to the late uncle of one of the girls, but the behaviour and antics of her friends (loud music, spraying paint on the trees) soon attract the homicidal ire of The Ranger, who knows our heroine of old (cue backstory flashbacks)....

It looks nice: only in the night scenes does it look like cheap digital rather than a decent stab at recapturing the look and feel of film, and it doesn't settle for endless boring scenes of bickering halfwits wandering around in the woods. It's also reasonably bloody when it needs to be. But the hooligans themselves are hateful and they don't die nearly quickly enough, even in a film that's only 77 minutes long including credits. As a disposable teenkill quickie it works efficiently enough while it's on, and it's always fun to see horrible teen idiots being messily killed, but it's not particularly memorable and probably won't lead to a Ranger franchise.

***

Thursday, 30 August 2018

CRYSTAL EYES

CONTAINS SOME SPOILERS

If you've been reading this blog for any length of time then you'll know I like a bit of giallo every now and again. Not all of them - like every genre and subgenre there are good and bad and sometimes the bad ones are very bad indeed, and I'd rather watch a good action movie than a rubbish giallo - but the best of them are some of my favourite films and even the second and third stringers usually have something memorable about them. The bonkers plotting, excessive violence, gratuitous nudity, vivid colours and cheesy lounge soundtracks can make for a pretty irresistible cocktail if you're in the mood for it. Attempts have been made to keep them going with films like Tulpa (which didn't really work but wasn't as hilariously terrible as the audience response at FrightFest 2012 suggested), Eyes Of Crystal and the Argentinian Francesca, but the traditional giallo has rather been out of fashion for a while and it seems the only way to bring it back is through nostalgia: meticulous recreation of the style and techniques as well as the genre's most familiar tropes and imagery.

Crystal Eyes (nothing to do with the aforementioned Eyes Of Crystal) is also Argentinian but it has the look, feel and sound of mid-80s giallo: not the Bava and Argento greats of the 1970s, but films like Nothing Underneath, the kind of direct-to-video fare that used to turn up on the rental shelves from Avatar Video. And they've gone to a lot of trouble to replicate that style, to the extent that if you didn't know it had been shot in 2017 then you couldn't tell it from the genuine article by looking. Setting it in the world of fashion and modelling (the stalking ground of so many gialli, from Blood And Black Lace to Strip Nude For Your Killer to The Red Queen Kills Seven Times) gives them the opportunity to go retro crazy with the terrible clothes and hair of the period as well as the electronic score.

A year after the accidental electrocution of colossally bitchy supermodel Alexis Carpenter in a freak champagne accident (giallo has never been the most rigorously realistic genre), her magazine is preparing a tribute to her...but her clothes are stolen and members of the fashion house are being viciously killed off by a masked maniac. Who could be responsible? In the end it doesn't really matter who the killer is: the joys of Crystal Eyes come from the art direction and production design achieved on a tiny budget, and not the smug satisfaction of having beaten Poirot to the correct solution. It works as a mystery anyway, with a few red herrings scattered around that I fell for, but its principal attraction is as a pin-sharp tribute to a genre gone by and on that level it's as much fun as I could have wanted.

****

Wednesday, 29 August 2018

CLIMAX

*

Let's start at the end, shall we? Such a very Gaspar Noe thing to do, to begin (as this one does) with the end credits scrolling downwards and finishing with the title, in the same way that I've started off with the star rating and left the spoiler warning till the end. Such a wacky maverick is our Gaz, such a japester: putting erupting 3D willies in Love (a film I kind of enjoyed), colossally long single takes in Enter The Void (a film I didn't much like), telling the whole story backwards in Irreversible (a film I absolutely hated)...and what now? Oh, let's have the last half hour of the film upside down. Let's do everything in dreamlike long takes. Let's back everything with a thudding, throbbing club soundtrack. Why? Because this is Un Film De Gaspar Noe.

Very few films have compelled me to bellow 15-certificate profanities into the howling wastes of Leicester Square within seconds of the lights going up, but Noe's newie managed it. Watching Climax left me feeling like I'd been poleaxed: subjected to the evil brain-mangling technique from The Ipcress File. I can't recall the last time I left a cinema so thoroughly battered and so thoroughly angry about it - probably Aronofsky's hideous Mother! (which I still refuse to put in lower case). I can't recall the last time I had the urge to just get up, walk out of the screening and not look back. Maybe I should have; I'm still wondering.

Climax, like all of Gaspar Noe's films (possibly excepting Seul Contre Tous because I haven't seen it), is not a plot-based movie. The shooting script was only five pages long and to be honest it wouldn't surprise me if the pages were A5 or A6 size because frankly you could get the whole thing on one sheet of foolscap and still leave lots of room for porny doodles. Following a successful rehearsal, a dance troupe wind down with a party, which would be great if someone hadn't spiked the sangria with LSD. From that point on, once the drugs take effect, everyone goes crazy as the party and the film spend the next hour descending into a sexual, violent and/or terpsichorean hell.

It has to be said that the young troupe fling themselves around the room and across the floor with precision and endless energy and, like a genuine stage performance, the big intricately choreographed dance number is done in one single take with no edits, and technically it's a very impressive opening. But Climax climaxes very early on with that third shot of the film: the first is a woman crawling through snow, the second is a static shot of a TV set playing interviews with all the characters (the screen is surrounded with books and VHS tapes that mirror or reference what happens later in the film). And having exhausted itself (and us) very early on it still has an hour or so of hysterical shrieking, deliberately nasty violence (including the brutal kicking of a pregnant woman) and the constant pulse of the soundtrack. You could also suggest that there are way too many characters to keep track of, none of whom are interesting and several of whom you'll want to royally slap the tar out of, but Climax isn't a character-driven film any more than it isn't a plot-driven one (we never find out who actually spiked the punch in the first place, because it doesn't matter).

Let's be fair: maybe there is a level of political allegory involved: the mixture of ethnicities, races, sexualities and attitudes could be a microcosm of French (or world) society as it breaks down - two of the black dancers bring one of the white dancers to the floor and draw a swastika on his forehead. Or maybe there's a religious allegory going on: the DJ is God and humanity/society stops dancing to his/His beat once the sangria (sang = blood) has been polluted? I mean....maybe. But wondering what it means and what things represent just reminds me of Mother! all over again.

And I don't come from the Climax background anyway. Clubs and drugs have never been part of my life and never will be. I also have no connection to that sphere of music: even if some of the names in the endless scroll of music credits were familiar to me (Gary Numan, Giorgio Moroder, Daft Punk), the tracks themselves certainly weren't. The world of Climax is not my world. But the worlds of most movies aren't my world either: that's the point of movies, but the makers usually allow me a way in. Noe doesn't. So it's not surprising that the film feels like an ordeal: deliberately offputting, deliberately uncomfortable, deliberately and meticulously constructed to make me not like it. If that was the intention, then congratulations: you more than succeeded.

CONTAINS LES SPOILERS

Tuesday, 28 August 2018

GOLD

CONTAINS SPOILERS AND ROGERING

I love Gold. Not the Matthew McConaughey one, which I haven't seen yet but possibly might get round to at some point if there's not much else going on that day (it's really not high on my priority list), but the Roger Moore one from back in the 70s. I'll absolutely accept that it's not the greatest film ever made, it's probably not in anyone's Top Hundred... but for all the things wrong with it it will always be a film I have an entirely unreasonable soft spot for.

Well, maybe not entirely unreasonable. Having spent some childhood years in Malawi in the 1970s, and having enjoyed brief stops in coastal South Africa itself, I suppose such fondness is perfectly logical and only to be expected. At the time Gold played (censored) in Malawi cinemas I wasn't allowed to see it as I was only ten years old, and the film was obviously compromised on its later British VHS video release (the cut UK cinema version, cropped to 4:3 and atrociously pan-and-scanned) and screenings on ITV, where it was also cut. So it wasn't until recently, when an uncut widescreen DVD turned up (given away free on the front of the Daily Mail, of all things), that Gold could be properly appreciated.

There's a lot to enjoy, certainly: the magnificent Sir Roger Moore at his "how much more Roger Moore could he be?" peak, the gorgeous South African locations (including a flight through Oribi Gorge which always brings back memories of having been there and having stood on the Overhanging Rock), excellent villainy from the great Bradford Dillman, a rousing score by Elmer Bernstein that for me at least easily surpasses his more popular soundtracks such as The Magnificent Seven and The Great Escape and is probably my favourite of his scores, the architecture of 1970s downtown Jo'burg, and love scenes between Rog and Susannah York that are slightly raunchier than those from his Bond films (and as much the reason for the 12 certificate as the slightly more grisly level of violence). There are Bond connections to enjoy beyond Moore: credits by Maurice Binder, three sets of song lyrics from Don Black, direction by Peter Hunt, 2nd Unit and editing from John Glen.

Okay, you can perhaps set against all that the controversy surrounding the film's production, openly shot in apartheid South Africa against the accepted standards of the time, but frankly it's too long ago to stay angry about it. It's mostly about the white guys but apart from just one full-on bellowing racist maniac character the colour issue is pretty much ignored (though it's odd to note that the one signifncantly featured black character gets a special annual pension for heroism that's less than Moore's character's monthly paternity bill). There's also some nastiness to the plotting, in which John Gielgud's international syndicate of bastards engineers a mine disaster to boost their shares in rival gold suppliers, and he casually arranges a parcel-bomb for a family Christmas breakfast because one of the members had offloaded his shares early (thus blowing up an uncredited Patsy Kensit) which leaves a sour taste, and beyond his scheme failing he doesn't get his comeuppance. Yes, but you know what? I don't care. There's so much good stuff I like about it, even if a lot of it is down to the location and period and personal nostalgia, that I can put up with the dodgy bits. Moore was always worth watching even in rubbish films, and for me Gold is one of his better ones.

****

LET THE CORPSES TAN

CONTAINZZZZZ ZZZZZPOILERZZZZZ

Disclaimer: I might have fallen asleep. I don't generally (although I thought I had when I saw Joseph Kahn's Detention at a late FrightFest screening, only to rent the DVD months later and find that I hadn't nodded off at all, it was actually like that) unless I'm really, genuinely, cataclysmically bored out of my head - and I'm afraid that I may well have been drifting in and out of this one. Helene Cattet and Bruno Forzani have always gone for visual style rather than narrative content: the films are absolutely, astonishingly beautiful, with pretty much any frame being worthy of a gallery wall. Amer had no plot to speak of, just a trio of isolated, inconsequential moments in a young girl's life brought to the screen with the sublime visual artistry of peak Argento. The Strange Colour Of Your Body's Tears had the starting point of a story, with a husband arriving home to find his wife missing, but then broke down into the illogic of dreams, albeit magnificently designed and photographed.

The problem with Let The Corpses Tan is that it has a much more obvious narrative but this time the visual style gets in the way. It still looks great, but this time around there's an actual drama you're supposed to be interested in - and I wasn't. Too busy looking at it to get involved. A gang of thieves with a quarter of a ton of bullion hide out in a coastal villa, but they're not the only ones there: an author and his muse and a couple of local gendarmes. (This last sentence had to be constructed with the help of the IMDb because in all honesty the film's plot has largely drained out of my memory, leaving only fragments like last night's dream.)

A compilation soundtrack from Morricone, Cipriani, Fidenco and Frizzi make for some compensation, but it doesn't work dramatically: the music gives the film some feeling of Eurocrime and vintage Italian exploitation but the photography and pacing have none of the required grit, energy and urgency. Similarly, the crisp facial closeups and dazzling teal skies suck you into the film's beauty, but they act as a distraction from the narrative that includes graphic gunshot violence and bloody gore shots. I really wanted to like it, hoping that a strong A-Z story would thrive under Cattet and Forzani's visual eye, but the end result is a film that doesn't seem to know what it is: art movie or action thriller. A pity.

*