Wednesday, 7 April 2021

LIST: WHICH THREE FRANCHISES WOULD YOU ERASE FOREVER?

In response to this tweet from Brian Avolicino: you have to lose three forever and any future projects. What's everybody getting rid of?

So let’s think about this.

[1] STAR WARS. I wouldn’t really want to lose this one, if only because of the first three films (the Original Trilogy). Yes, I don’t mind Return Of The Jedi at all, but crucially any problems I might have with it I’ve found much later in life, not when I saw it first time in my teens (admittedly late teens). The prequels I saw as a grown adult and thought they were mostly rubbish, the Disney sequels and side-project films I saw as an even older grown adult and thought they were perfectly alright now that George Lucas wasn’t making them. No interest whatever in the cartoons and TV shows. Verdict: keep them.

[2] MCU. This is where the problems really start. I don’t actually mind any of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (again, I don’t give a damn about the TV incarnations). Some are better than others, obviously, but I’ve never been moved to rewatch any of them and several of them I didn’t even bother to catch at the cinema, settling for the Blu later. My problem with the MCU (and DC to a certain extent) is not with the films themselves but the stranglehold they have on cinemas, taking over half the screens in your local multiplex and running for weeks if not months, thus denying other films a fair chance at the box-office. Also there are too many of them: scarcely out of the box-office before the next one hauls into view. Sure, they’re mostly fun, colourful diversions, but for that kind of money I think they should be more than that; and sure, they’re undeniably well done but for that kind of money so they damn well should be. Verdict: lose them, if only because it means no more Spiderman and also dumps the Schumacher Batman films.

[3] DC. Much the same as the MCU, really, except that at least Marvel are usually fun. DC’s offerings, the Nolan and Snyder films particularly, aren’t. Nolan’s films are taking what are essentially colourful pantomimes for children far too seriously as though they’re serious human dramas, while Snyder piles on the excessive destructo-porn because that’s really all he’s got. Granted, outside of the Nolan-Snyder Axis Of Misery there have been more enjoyable ones like Aquaman and Wonder Woman (I haven’t seen WW84 yet), but the ratio of good to bad is slimmer than Marvel’s and I’m happy enough to lose Marvel. Verdict: lose them.

[4] JURASSIC PARK. I don’t mind them. The first one is great, the second has some terrific stuff in it. The advantage of these is that they only come along every three or four years rather than every other Tuesday with the Marvels and DCs, so there are fewer of them. Verdict: keep them.

[5] HARRY POTTER. Well, they’re done and finished, unless you’re counting the Fantastic Beasts ones as well, which I haven’t seen yet. Again, there aren’t really enough of them and they don’t come out often enough to get angry about. Verdict: keep them.

[6] LORD OF THE RINGS. So, so boring. And the Hobbit films are worse. Lose them. Throw them down The Fire Mountain Of Death or whatever it’s called, along with bloody Gollum. Verdict: lose them.

[7] FAST AND FURIOUS. I see I’ve played my three Death Cards already so now I have to justify keeping the rest of the listed franchises. The escalating silliness, nay insanity, of the F+F series makes this an easy one: they’re slam-bang nonsense that takes enormous steaming dumps on physics and reality from a ridiculous height, but I laughed more at Hobbs And Shaw than I did at every Will Ferrell movie I’ve ever watched put together. Verdict: keep them.

[8] BACK TO THE FUTURE. It’s been thirty years since the last one of these: I liked them enough (not so much the third one as I’ve no great love for Westerns) but I’m at most ambivalent about them. Wiping them from history so they never existed seems kind of ironic, though. Verdict: keep them.

[9] 007. Every single Bond film has something wrong with it, be it a rubbish theme song, an ill-advised comedy bit, a terrible performance, a plot that makes no sense, Dame Judi Dench or an invisible car. Some of them are just plain boring (Thunderball), some are wildly far-fetched (Moonraker), some of them have a star who’s way too old for this sort of thing. But enough of them are good enough, or have enough great stuff in them, to more than get by. Also, most of the scores are great, except for the last two because Thomas Newman simply wasn’t the right choice, and I couldn’t bear to not have John Barry’s magnificent scores from You Only Live Twice through to The Living Daylights in particular (some of the non-Barry Bonds from that era, particularly Live And Let Die and For Your Eyes Only, are great as well, and David Arnold was a more than worthy successor even if he did go over the top on occasion). Verdict: keep them. Even Thunderball, I guess.

[10] STAR TREK. To be honest, I could bear to lose this one, if only because I’ve always felt that if it isn’t Shatner, it isn’t Trek. I found Next Generation unwatchable, gave up on Voyager after the pilot, and didn’t even bother with Deep Space Nine or any of the other subsequent variants. I did catch all the films (except the first one) in cinemas and enjoyed the first six more, probably through the familiarity of the well-known characters, while I wasn’t unduly bothered pro or con about the Picard ones. As with James Bond, though, I’d hate to lose the music: Jerry Goldsmith has always been my favourite film composer and his Trek scores are wonderful. Verdict: keep them.

[11] INDIANA JONES. I think you have to keep these, even the allegedly dodgy fourth one. (Personally I don’t think it’s that bad!) Temple Of Doom is as full-on a horror movie as any actual horror movie short of Hostel and Saw, and Raiders got away with melting faces and exploding heads with a PG certificate. Verdict: keep them.

[12] AVATAR. There’s only one of them, and the four long-proposed sequels may or may not show up at the end of next year and every other Christmas until 2028, so there’s really not enough of it to get agitated about. I saw it when it came out and thought it was alright: haven’t been back since and probably never will. Verdict: keep them/it.

So that’s that: I’d vote to lose Marvel and DC and the LOTR/Hobbits, and keep the rest while acknowledging that some of them aren’t great, and some of the ones I’m willing to lose are actually okay. 

Saturday, 13 March 2021

RUN HIDE FIGHT

CONTAINS SPOILERS AND STUFF

Hitting the UK with a lot of problematic baggage, some thoroughly deserved, some less so, this throwback exploitationer never really rises above the basic back-of-a-fag-packet one-line concept of Die Hard In A High School. The serious sexual allegations made against certain individuals within the distribution company (who didn't actually produce the movie but bought the rights afterwards), together with the more politically conservative thrust of that distributor's mission statement, certainly weigh the movie down a little with controversies it doesn't need, which is a pity because taken as a straight-up shooty action movie it's perfectly alright: occasionally nasty, occasionally silly, a solid enough and slightly disreputable popcorn action flick.

Run Hide Fight is also burdened with the stench of bad taste regarding school shootings, but these senseless tragedies seem to happen so frequently that it's always too soon. It just so happens that one terrified but resourceful and gutsy student, Zoe (Isabel May) isn't in the school cafeteria when a quartet of her armed classmates crash their van through the wall and start shooting. Their motivations vary: mental illness, simmering revenge for old humiliations, a hunger for instant media fame. Zoe has to get as many other classes out of the building and to safety, take down the killers as she encounters them AND somehow save her semi-boyfriend who's been coerced into being the egotistical lead maniac's broadcaster and streaming his incoherent manifesto of blathering nonsense to the media, while at the same time coming to terms with the loss of her mother...

It's odd to see the Die Hard blueprint - everyone taken hostage except one who slips the net and, aided only by wit, grit and personal trauma, takes out the bad guys and saves the day - revisited after so many years. Eventually even Die Hard stopped following the Die Hard formula, and audiences got satiated with the basic idea and moved on, but it's also nice to see that subgenre revived, even if only briefly, as a nostalgic nod back to the late 80s and early 90s heyday of the Big Dumbo Action Movie. However, Run Hide Fight does open with the genuine killing of a deer for no reason other than it was supposedly cheaper than using special effects, and thus it has no business being there, or indeed existing in the first place. (Expect an obvious nip and tuck if and when the film comes to the BBFC because they are, quite rightly, very strict on that sort of thing.) Elsewhere, it's very uncritical of the Second Amendment, cheerfully playing the Good Guy With A Gun card and entirely glossing over how a group of clearly and demonstrably unstable teenagers have amassed their cache of weapons, ammunition and explosives. It's also slightly uncomfortable in its attitudes to mental illness: one of the killers is clearly seeing and hearing things and is suffering from serious psychological problems but in the end it's nothing that a bullet through the head can't solve.

It is a callous film, it has no more than the occasional trace of humour. As a Friday night dumb action rental it's perfectly passable: director Kyle Rankin also made Infestation and Night Of The Living Deb, both of which were kind of fun, and while this does have a darker and nastier tone to it it's still enjoyable; its earlier scenes building tension quite nicely. But if you're not comfortable supporting a distributor with an overtly right-wing agenda, staffed by people with numerous sexual misbehaviour (and worse) allegations against them, or a film which includes an entirely unjustified animal killing (I looked away as I knew it was coming), then Run Hide Fight may prove too problematic. Trying my best to be even-handed: I enjoyed the film itself just about enough, but would probably have enjoyed it another half-star's worth without those issues surrounding it.

***

Monday, 21 December 2020

ANTRUM

YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED! CONTAINS SPOILERS

According to the artwork and trailer, this is "The Deadliest Film Ever Made!": a cursed film from the late 1970s (it boasts copyright dates of both 1977 and 1979) whose very occasional screenings have resulted in death and disaster. No less than three film festival programmers died mysteriously within a day of viewing it, its Hungarian premiere ended in carnage when the cinema burned down, and its one San Francisco showing led to an audience stampede. Is there something occult, even Satanic, within the film itself? What is the meaning of the subliminal symbols and Latin phrases scratched into the print, and the flashes of weird dungeon footage spliced in randomly?

After a brief to-camera documentary collage of cinephiles and experts talking about the film's history, we get Antrum itself: not an actual lost Z-horror from the 1970s but an immaculate recreation complete with heavy grain and print damage. A young boy and his older sister off for an adventure in the woods to dig a hole into Hell to rescue his beloved dog (who didn't go to Heaven because he was a bad dog), only to encounter a couple of crazy locals with a giant Devil sculpture...

This section of the whole film is a point-perfect recreation of those odd not-really horror movies of the era that used to turn up on low-quality VHS under new titles courtesy of short-lived budget video labels (the one I kept thinking of was Alan Rudolph's The Impure, aka Premonition), as well realised as Ti West's marvellous House Of The Devil. A pity then that after the woozy, meandering, dreamlike feel of Antrum we get a bit more doc footage explaining the occult symbols and repeated use of triangles in the visual style. To be honest, I'd have been happy with just the well-faked retro material but I guess they wanted to place it in some kind of context. There's a brief bit of background bestiality (between one of the local wackos and a dead deer) which has earned the film an otherwise unnecessary 18 certificate.

***

Wednesday, 2 December 2020

LEGEND OF HELL

CONTAINS YADA YADA YADA

"Olaf Ittenbach, the Master Of Gore, is back with his New Masterpiece Of Terror!" So declaims the trailer for this 2012 offering from Germany's King Of Splatter. This is very much Ein Film Von Olaf Ittenbach and if you've seen any of his other stuff (admittedly I've only seen two, Beyond The Limits and Garden Of Love) you kind of know exactly what you're going to get. Terrible acting, nonsensical story, uninteresting visuals, but every ten minutes there's an eruption of excessive gore as someone gets bloodily slaughtered, frequently with red spurts hitting the camera lens.

The babbling nonsense this time around seems to revolve around an amulet that can open the portal to Hell, which has been lost and found at various times throughout history and those who discovered it ended up on a mythical medieval astral plane where they have to get to the fabled city of the dead (which actually looks like 21st century downtown America so he can put in some chainsaws and blow up some cars with a grenade launcher) to confront The Evil One. On their quest they are set upon by assorted gribbly monsters, minions and zombies and they have to slaughter them in as graphic a manner as possible.

That's kind of it for a plot, and to be honest we're not interested in it any more than Ittenbach is. It's just a thread on which to hang a string of crowd-pleasing gory money shots, usually involving slit throats and severed heads and that's what Ittenbach really wants to do; the story is just the means to an end. Outside of the enthusiastic splat, which is all the film has going for it, Legend Of Hell isn't remotely interesting: the dialogue and performances are absolutely awful (possibly but not entirely due to being in English), there are several moments of absolute deafening stupidity, and it doesn't even look good. It's not quite boring enough to be beyond dismal, but I am not going out of my way to seek out any more of Ittenbach's films.

**

CRITICSIZED

CONTAINS SPOILERS

What's the best way to ensure good reviews? The obvious answer would be to make good films, but why go to all that trouble when you can make an indifferent one about a maniac artist killing off the people who killed his career by giving him bad notices? The trouble then comes when you realise that's basically Theatre Of Blood and you're not watching the mighty Vincent Price and a gallery of beloved British character actors, but an uninspiring selection of blands doing a beige take on the Lethal Weapon cop-on-the-edge quickie complete with "I'm taking you off the case", "He's got my wife!", the shouty black captain, the arrogant FBI jerks and the new and clearly expendable partner.

No, sadly we are not watching a Theatre Of Blood or a Lethal Weapon: the film tips its hat very early on to the type of film we're watching when someone asks "What's your favourite movie?" and the response is "Saw, I guess." Much as I have a soft spot for the Saw series, they're absolutely nobody's all-time greatest but that's the territory we're mining here. A mad killer is abducting apparently random strangers, murdering them in creative (if revolting) ways and streaming them live on the internet. It's revealed fairly quickly that he's a film director blaming reviewers for ending his career and torturing them on camera, even as he producers his latest masterpiece, pitting his own star villain performance (facially he looks a bit like Leonardo Di Caprio) against the golden-boy supercop he's cast as his hero...

I'm not going to make the same mistake as one of the unfortunates who'd written "I'd rather be buried alive in elephant droppings than watch another of Reynolds' films", but I would definitely say that I'd sooner be paid £25,000 than watch another of Carl T Evans'. (Let's see of that works!) To be fair, Criticsized isn't terrible, and it has moments that suggests they could be on to a decent little thriller if they'd spent a bit more money and put in a little bit more style. But it feels on the flat side and never really clicks into life; a time-killer but not a time-waster, an agreeable enough oddity. In the end it's more or less okay but on the underwhelming side.

**

LOST AFTER DARK

CONTAINS SPOILERS, AS IF IT MATTERED

Yet another entry into the subgenre of halfwitted horny teenagers getting stuck in the wilds and falling foul of the local mad cannibal. How many more times are we supposed to sit through the Wrong Turn/Texas Chain Saw Massacre idea before we get wise to it? There's nothing particularly new or innovative here but it does have a few surprises and it's not afraid to be agreeably nasty and bloody in places. Is that really enough, though?

It's 1984 and an instantly tiresome octet of pretty but doomed idiots hijack the school bus on the night of the big dance in order to paaaaarty at a summer cabin They're the usual motley group of easily distinguishable types: the Bad Boy, the Jolly Fat Guy, the Sensitive Guy, the Slutty One, the Goth One, the Shy Virgin. But wouldn't you know, the bus breaks down and they end up in a spooky abandoned house in the middle of the night - except it's not abandoned; there are skulls in an upstairs shrine and a cellar full of human parts dangling from the ceiling, and They Are Not Alone...

Lost After Dark does have a few tricks up its sleeve - one kill in particular did surprise me - and it has a nice visual sheen to it as someone has gone to a lot of trouble to make it look like a grindhouse 80s teen bloodbath complete with scratches, fading at the edges and dust marks on the "print". It even includes burning celluloid and Reel Missing caption at a crucial moment, just as Planet Terror did (presumably to save themselves the trouble and expense of a particularly gruesome death scene). I also like the grain effect and wish more films would employ it rather than settle for cold dead digital. Robert Patrick is the familiar face of authority as the almost comedic school principal, and it ends with the obligatory He's Not Dead stinger, more in hope than expectation of Lost After Dark 2. It's fun enough as a disposable slasher of disposable teens; agreeable but absolutely not essential.

***


Friday, 27 November 2020

THE HAUNTED CINEMA

CONTAINS MAJOR SPOILERS

What could be better for a horror movie fan than a horror movie that's set in a haunted cinema? And the answer is: pretty much anything if this gorefree borefest is the best that's on offer. For all the ideas of ghosts and restless spirits bent on revenge it's a dull, uneventful and frankly uninteresting affair that has a jaw-dropping twist at the end that renders the whole movie a cheat, and which makes no sense anyway.

Nominally it's a horror film in which a movie director fears she may be haunted by the ghost of an actress who died on her set and now haunts the cinema in which the scene was shot, tying in to her childhood nightmares of being trapped in a haunted cinema. At a private memorial screening of the late star's blooper reel (yes, really), the producers, actors and boyfriends wander off and are trapped in lifts, locked in the rest room or simply sit around in other auditoria, leaving the director alone... Is the cinema really haunted? Or has everything been staged? Is it something to do with an imminent inheritance? Or is it all down to two of the actresses vying for the lead role in her next film?

Skip this paragraph if you really don't want to know - it's none of the above! It's not a haunted cinema at all, there is no ghost, and it's all a scam to exorcise her guilt over the actress' death. In a startling reversal, the heroine is being gaslit from start to finish as part of an elaborate scheme to drive her to sanity. Why then do the conspirators continue to act their roles in the charade when she's not around? Why indeed would someone with a longstanding dread of scary cinemas shoot a horror film in one and then sit there alone watching footage of the actress whose death she blames herself for and who she believes is out to get her from beyond the grave?

Mercifully, The Haunted Cinema has received no UK distribution, and watching it online dubbed into Russian (apparently by only two voiceover artists, male and female) with the original Chinese audio underneath is far from ideal. But it's the only way you can watch it if you want English subtitles - and they're not even very good subtitles, badly translated or transliterated and frequently whizzing by too fast to decipher. Even the "horror" sequences are barely adequate and the rest of it is just dull. To be honest I wouldn't have bothered with it if it hadn't been for the legitimate UK availability of The Haunted Cinema 2 (it doesn't look to be in any way connected, but it does appear to be a proper horror film) and rather wish I hadn't wasted the evening on it. Made in 2014.

*

Sunday, 15 November 2020

NINE MILES DOWN

C6NTAINS S6ME SP6ILERS

Anthony Waller is a name that's rather dropped off the radar after his first film, the underseen thriller Mute Witness, and the not-the-worst-thing-you've-ever-seen An American Werewolf In Paris, a sequel no-one ever really asked for to a film that wasn't as good as The Howling anyway. And this 2009 horror movie is his most recent feature film (according to the IMDb): he's not exactly prolific.

A frustrating and in the end unsuccessful film, this has some nice ideas and visual touches and a terrific central location, but sadly it does very little with them. After the entire crew of a drilling installation in the Sahara disappear, security officer Jackman (Adrian Paul, from the Highlander TV series) drives out there to find it (sorry) deserted except for scientist JC (Kate Nauta, probably best known for her outrageous sexy dental nurse/murderous henchwoman turn in The Transporter 2). What happened to everyone else? Why isn't JC on the personnel lists? What did the drilling crew find Nine Miles Down? Did they actually break through the roof of Hell itself and record the screams of the eternally damned - and is JC actually Lucifer? Or is it all a hallucination, and is Jackman trapped in his own psychological Hell after the deaths of his wife and children?

The idea of genuinely finding Hell is a great one but unexplored beyond listening to an admittedly creepy audio file (though any visual depiction of Hell would inevitably disappoint). Most of the drama itself is a two-hander centred around Jackman's guilt traumas, which isn't that interesting and ends up with him believing his late wife is somehow there with him at a Saharan drill site. And JC is annoying: alternating between hard-nosed we've-got-to-get-out-of-here survivalism, casual indifference to the loss of all her colleagues, and minxing sex-tease. (Why on Earth she brought a backless cocktail dress to the middle of the desert isn't explained, unless she's also part of his fevered imagination.)

The bottom line is that Nine Miles Down isn't very good, despite a couple of nice moments (the cesspit is probably the highlight, and how many films can you say that about?); it has a terrific location but no real atmosphere about it, and it never gets to cut loose with actual horror like, say, Carpenter's The Thing, instead focussing on the psychological. It's not awful, but it's ultimately not much more than a Friday night time-passer. A multi-national co-production between the UK, the USA, Australia, Tunisia, Saudi Arabia and Hungary, and currently available on Amazon Prime.

**

THE OWNERS

CONTAINS SPOILERS AND MINOR WHO NERDDOM

Even as a Doctor Who fan old enough to remember seeing a lot of Classic Who (Tom Baker's second year onwards) on its original, and in many cases only, transmission, I have to acknowledge that there came a point when the show came badly off the rails, severely enough for me to stop watching it. Long after they ditched the Delia Derbyshire version of the theme music in favour of some Bontempi atrocity at the start of Tom's last run, and the unspeakable horrors of the Adric Era, I simply wandered off and thus have only the vaguest of memories of the Colin Baker and Sylvester McCoy seasons. Nonetheless, I have some weird affection for those latter years, and I even remember tuning into an episode of The Bill at some point simply because McCoy was in it (though even he couldn't enthuse me for the Hobbit films). In fact McCoy has been the main reason I ended up slogging through a couple of Richard Driscoll abominations - Conjuring: The Book Of The Dead (a film so slapdash they pronounce Necronomicon as Necromonicon not once but twice!) and the all-star-3D-comedy-western-musical-horror-spoof Eldorado (even if most of his appearance as a comedy neo-Nazi never made it to the final version).

Happily, if unsurprisingly, The Owners is leagues better: a tense if nasty 90s-set thriller that starts as a home invasion movie and ends with a genuinely unexpected but satisfying twist. Three hopeless idiots, along with the girlfriend of one of them (and the creepy crush object of another), break into local elderly doctor McCoy's house to crack the safe. But they can only trash the house before the owners return, and even under threat of extreme violence McCoy and Rita Tushingham (!) repeatedly refuse to give them the combination... Surely it can't just be a huge pile of cash they're protecting?

It's hard to feel any empathy when the bungling burglars' masterplan starts falling apart and the oldies get the upper hand over them, as they're led by an instantly despicable wannabe gangster and sociopath with a tedious fondness for the C-word, while the other two, despite their varying affections for Maisie Williams, are too weak and cowardly to stand up to him. Once two of the idiots are disposed of and the other two, less hateful, are trapped in the house, gassed and drugged, it teeters on the edge of being a bit silly, but the final moments are cruel yet satisfyingly horrible.

It's not a bad film by any means, though it's very hard to like in its early stretches, with sweary Gary being particularly tiresome and frankly I was glad when he got killed. Fortunately it does get better as it goes on, though the sudden change in aspect ratio in the third act is distracting (to the extent that I wondered whether it was deliberate and scrolled through all the ratio options on my TV). Watchable enough, if nasty in places, while it's on, but I've no desire to ever watch it again.

***

Saturday, 31 October 2020

BUTCHERS

CONTAINS THE SAME OLD SPOILERS AGAIN. AGAIN. AGAIN.

Incredibly, we're already back in Texas Chain Saw Massacre territory. If it only seems like a week since I was doing the same old routine with the not-awful Argentinian horror What The Waters Left Behind, that's because it was - and here we are yet again. To be strictly fair, we're actually doing Wrong Turn again, but Wrong Turn was basically riffing on TCSM's demented backwoods psycho theme - stranded motorists meet up with homicidal lunatics, hilarity ensues - and this particular cover version doesn't change that much of the tune.

Butchers sets its stall out very early, with a car breaking down on a lonely road and the two titular maniacs killing the driver and abducting his girlfriend for mercifully unseen horrors. Months later, another car breaks down in the same spot, and the two couples split up to wait with the car or walk on to the nearest garage (as per TCSM, it's absolutely no surprise to discover that the gas station attendant is Not To Be Trusted); neither course of action ends well. Inevitably, the girls are chased and caught by the bickering redneck brothers, they effect an escape and are promptly recaptured, drugged, chained up and abused...

It's slightly hampered by the fact that the two girls look similar, and the two guys look similar as well, and it's not as if we're given a huge amount of reason to care that much about them: it's a sleazy and nasty exploitation movie with a thick streak of irrational brutality and tastelessness. In the plus column, the film looks terrific, with the period (unspecified, but clearly somewhere in the 1970s) nicely evoked, not just by the cars and costumes but by someone going to a lot of trouble to give it that 1970s look with the lighting and cinematography. Is that enough? In the end it kind of gets by: it's certainly not a masterpiece and has very little depth, but that's not what it's aiming for. On its chosen level of grindhouse throwback schlock, it's decent enough.

***

WHAT THE WATERS LEFT BEHIND

CONTAINS SOME SPOILERS

Your heart sinks at the idea of yet another film about a vanload of "documentary film-makers" going to somewhere weird and creepy, because we have seen this all before in so many horror cheapies (Investigation 13 was the most recent to unspool before my rapidly disinterested eyes) and you absolutely know for a fact that there are few surprises to be had. In the event there are two: firstly the impressive (and genuine) setting of Villa Epecuen, a small Argentinian town that was flooded in 1985 and remained so until the waters receded in 2009, leaving a landscape of bleached ruins and rubble, and secondly the realisation that we are dancing the Texas Chain Saw Massacre Tango yet again, right down to the creepy gas station people and the Joe Bob Briggs sense that any of these people could die at any time as you wonder who will survive and what will be left of them.

Despite the film crew angle, What The Waters Left Behind mercifully turns out not to be a found-footage film (just as well, as these guys barely know one end of a camera from the other), but a proper movie shot in bright teal-and-orange to highlight the dazzling white ruins and the scorching sunlight. Not long after refuelling and sampling the revolting looking fare at the gas station, the van breaks down in the deserted ghost town and the gang split up, some to look for help, others to do some filming for their documentary project. Of course, they're not alone and things end up, as usual, in blood, screaming, insanity and death...

It's a long way from being essential viewing, but it's perfectly alright as these things go, with a large measure of madness and shrieking towards the end and a suitably bleak and downbeat ending (even less joyous than TCSM's). The actual on-screen title is Los Olvidados (it's nothing to do with the Luis Bunuel film from 1950), which Google translates as The Forgotten, a nondescript title that's already been used for other things, including an (ironically) unmemorable SF/horror with Julianne Moore. Not great, but not bad and you've happily sat through a hell of a lot worse.

***

Tuesday, 20 October 2020

INVESTIGATION 13

CONTAINS SPOILERS, AGAIN

More camcorder-wielding idiots get chased around an abandoned location by some kind of evil horror idea, variously identified as a ghost, an escaped mental patient, or a creepy homeless guy, and then it stops. Mercifully it isn't found footage, despite the basic setup of a quartet of students seeking definite proof of the afterlife by wandering around the supposedly haunted asylum in the middle of the night with walkie-talkies and cameras, but the film not being found footage is hardly any kind of recommendation.

After their twelfth investigation into paranormal activity failed to produce the required results, the team are now under pressure to come up with something - anything - in the old mental hospital where a particularly violent patient allegedly escaped after twenty-five years of increasing electro-shock treatment, but might now be haunting the place. Quite why they've settled on the asylum as a suitable site to research the possibility of ghosts when there are two other earthly possibilities to entirely invalidate their findings is left unexplored. In addition, the film completely ignores his age: if he was being brainzapped back in 1951 he'd be in his eighties at least by now and thus unlikely to be lurking around in the darkness eating rats and offing stray teenagers. Oblivious, the gang set up Investigation 13, posting cameras all over and wearing Google Glass spectacles....

There's no atmosphere to be had here: even the location, which would normally do a lot of the heavy lifting in this sort of thing, can't be bothered to be even slightly creepy. Early on, the script infodumps mightily upon us via guest star Meg Foster, but much of the backstory is actually told via rudimentary animation sequences detailing poor Leonard Craven's miserable upbringing and his sentencing to a psychiatric institution after killing his abusive and heroin-addicted parents. The rest of it is just the usual routine of bickering halfwits stumbling around in the dark and screaming. Some might consider this a good time; I'm not one of them.

*

THE SEVEN

CONTAINS MASSIVE SPOILERS ETC

Yet another entry in the seemingly endless horror subgenre of Stupid People Do Stupid Things For Stupid Reasons, this combines its intergalactic stupidity by featuring Particularly Stupid People Doing Really Stupid Things For Staggeringly Stupid Reasons, topped with an even more stupid conclusion and a weapons grade stupid shock coda. This much stupid in one place would be thought excessive in a cauliflower.

The Stupids in this instance are a gathering of high school dimwits (there are seven of them, hence the title) who break into school after hours because one of them wants to shag his girlfriend and the others are there to make sure everything's okay. But they get locked in by the caretaker (nicknamed Squeaky because of the wheels on his cleaning trolley) and are faced with spending the weekend in there - until they start getting bumped off by the ghosts of a Satanic cult, led by Dean Cain of all people, who all died when the old mansion burned down and the school was later built on the site...

It's impossible to care whether any of these dullards survive and there isn't even any fun to be had watching them being offed. Even if you could rustle up some unearned empathy for them, it's all undone by a third-act Groundhog Day have-another-go plot twist that undoes absolutely everything the film had thought it had done up to that point, which means the final It's-Not-Over obligatory last shot makes no sense. The very, very best you can say about The Seven in its defence is that one of the girls is kind of cute and it's only eighty minutes long, and neither of those should be anywhere near enough reason to watch the damned thing. Thoroughly useless.

*

Tuesday, 29 September 2020

THE BORDERLANDS

CONTAINS SPOILERS

So I finally yielded to the cacophany of voices telling me that The Borderlands is really good. "Is it a found-footage, though? Because I don't do found-footage any more, it's a long dead subgenre that had its very meagre bag of tricks emptied very quickly many years ago." "Well, yes, but it's a good one, trust me. Honest it is. This is the one that actually does something interesting and effective with the format and it's properly scary and everything the way it's supposed to be." "Really? Because I've been kicked in the nackers so many times with these things and I really don't want to go back in there again." "Seriously, it's fine. This is the one."

No it isn't. It's just more of the same, much more of the same faux-doc shakycam rubbish, murky security footage non-photography, no sense of who's supposedly edited it all together (or why they've spliced in time-lapse countryside shots that obviously weren't filmed by the "characters"). It is the absolute usual, save for the inexplicable casting of familiar faces which works against the idea of it being "real" because it's Gordon Kennedy out of Absolutely.

Sure it makes you jump a few times but that's not very difficult: it's the well-timed orchestration of spooky noises and the occasional loud bang. It has a fine location in its tiny, barely attended moorland church, either the site of paranormal activity or a clever fake involving hidden wires and speakers, and it certainly looks creepy when lit by a single bulb in the dead of night through the remorseless gaze of a static camera. But so would the biscuit aisle at your local Waitrose if the chocolate digestives suddenly fall off the shelves. And the final moments of the film do go where no other horror movie I can immediately think of have gone.

My main annoyance, apart from the fact that I've been comprehensively suckered yet again, really stems from the fact that so much of The Borderlands could have been done as a straight horror film with proper cameras and a music score. Much of the screenplay, from the occasionally almost sitcom dialogue to the handy plot points like the discovery of the diary of the church's original minister, feels like it could have been shot in the regular manner, and frankly would have been so much more effective for it. If you want to go further: that "normal" version could actually have been an interesting project for Danny Dyer who would have easily fitted in as the tech specialist fitting all the cameras and microphones. There aren't many films that would have been improved by the inclusion of Danny Dyer but this is one of them. Made back in 2013 and also known as Final Prayer.

**

Friday, 11 September 2020

CONJURING: THE BOOK OF THE DEAD

CONTAINS SPOILERS AND PUBLIC WARNING

He's back. You thought he'd gone away, you thought they'd got rid of him. But not even the massed ranks of HMRC and the courts could stop him: Richard Driscoll is back and making films again. And the time served for tax fraud has not made him any better at writing or acting or directing or producing - not that that has prevented him from writing, starring in, directing and producing this thunderingly seventh-rate sack of incoherent drivel that isn't borderline professional. Indeed it ranks as barely even amateur.

Nominally based on MR James' Casting The Runes, this has a heavily medicated author (Driscoll, under his usual pseudonym of Steven Craine) hired by Lysette Anthony to research legendary occultist Aleister Crowley for a new graphic novel. Trekking all the way to New Orleans for no good reason (he could have stayed home with one of the numerous biographies, or indeed just googled him), he meets a variety of blimey-it's-him characters who turn up for one or two scenes (Sylvester McCoy, Michael Madsen, Tom Sizemore) and starts typing a Word document sketching out the plot of Driscoll's earlier The Legend Of Harrow Woods (including footage from it which explains why Jason Donovan is in the credits but doesn't explain why Norman Wisdom isn't). Eventually there's a black mass with red robes and a feeble car crash...

Conjuring: The Book Of The Dead (nothing to do with the James Wan Conjuring movies) is desperately, punishingly bad: not so-bad-it's-good rubbish but just plain bad on every level, from storytelling and performance through to basic technical competence. The Necronomicon is mispronounced Necromonicon twice by different actors. The CG effects are dire, the nudity is entirely gratuitous and pointless, and the sound recording renders most of Tom Sizemore's bit all but inaudible. Editing is slack, photography is My First Camcorder murky, the plot is gibberish and the dialogue is atrocious. It's mercifully short at 75 minutes but it's still well down to Driscoll's astonishingly low lack of standards. The only laugh you might get from it is during the end credits when Assistant is routinely abbreviated to Ass, and a variety of poor sods are thus listed as Ass Grip or Ass Make Up.

Someone might care to investigate how much this blathering nonsense owes to an earlier Driscoll project called When The Devil Rides Out, listed on the IMDb with the same cast but no apparent release; this may be the result of confusion, or the earlier film might have been re-edited into this one. Someone might, but it isn't going to be me. Having sat through The Comic thirty years ago at the Scala and having been subsequently bored and insulted by Kannibal and Eldorado I think I can find better things to do with my evenings. There really is no excuse for vaguely respectable actors and familiar faces to sully themselves with this kind of tripe, even Robin Askwith who's only in it for about thirty seconds: by comparison Confessions Of A Window Cleaner and ITV sitcoms about randy milkmen now seem like some kind of Golden Age. It's not just that this is absolute face-punching rubbish: it's that there are no standards on Earth by which this is not absolute face-punching rubbish. Consider yourselves warned.

*