Sunday, 22 August 2010



This is one of those titles they sent me after I added it to the queue without reading anything about it, which in the 24/7 mass information age is getting more and more difficult. It becomes a conscious effort to stay away from trailers, reviews, interviews and the mass of publicity material that's online anything up to six months before the film's even finished, let alone awaiting shipment to Blockbusters. Sometimes that can lead to a genuine voyage of discovery; more often it can lead to a mental slap and a resolution to at least look them up on the IMDb first. Since LoveFilm has classed it under Horror and it has an 18 certificate, I figured it wasn't a romantic comedy or a fluffy animation for toddlers, so I was on fairly safe ground and could proceed without knowing any more. I didn't even know it was British.

Turns out that Resurrecting "The Street Walker" (which is exactly how the title appears on screen) is a mockdoc originally conceived to show the inside workings of the British Film Industry, but focuses on one man's growing obsession with restoring and completing an unfinished slasher movie that started production during the video nasties era. The Street Walker was abandoned after one of the actresses was actually killed on camera and the director committed suicide; the footage ended up in a Soho basement where an unpaid runner at a film production house finds it and resolves to finish the project - re-editing the existing material and gathering together the money and people to shoot a new ending. Which is obviously not a good idea.

The first problem is that the scenes we see of The Street Walker don't look anything like a mid-80s cheapo slasher. They look like something shot a few weeks ago and processed a bit; we only see them in black and white, and our hero is going to finish the piece using a digital camera, although the original was almost certainly shot on film. Some "films" were certainly being made on the exciting new medium of video around this time - in the UK there was Lindsay Shonteff's drab post-nuke offering The Killing Edge (1984) and in the States the first full-length feature on tape was supposedly John Wintergate's incoherent Boardinghouse (1982) - but the bits we're shown of The Street Walker don't even look like old VHS. More damagingly, once more our hero isn't anywhere near enough of an interesting character (and grows less so as the film goes on) so it's increasingly hard to care whether he gets his new ending or not, and I increasingly wanted someone to [a] tell his mate to stop filming everything for his tedious documentary, and [b] lamp him.

As a fake fly-on-the-wall, it's convincing enough in parts, but it doesn't really hang together overall, and the big horrible ending is fairly obvious early on (and, if this was a real doc, there's no way they'd be legally able to show it). The minutiae of the workings of a film production company are ultimately more interesting than the obsession, mental breakdown and slasher movie stuff. Which is a pity.




Blimey, a modern zombie movie with a relatively happy ending! If not a hearts and flowers conclusion with sweeping violins and the total eradication of the undead hordes, at least a ray of hope and sunshine in what had been, in all fairness, a pretty grim and grey tale. And okay, strictly speaking they're infected with some kind of contagion, and aren't officially zombies, but this is a zombie movie in the way 28 Days Later is a zombie movie.

Mutants is a French movie in which nurse Sonia and her driver boyfriend Marco are travelling through a contaminated area following the outbreak of an unspecified plague that turns its victims into flesh-eating monsters. So far, so Romero - she's pregnant, they have a soldier with them; they stop for fuel, mutant zombie thing attacks, Marco gets chomped but isn't dead yet. Unlike most of these zombification virii, this one takes three or four days to complete the transformation so Sonia has time to attempt to cure him with a blood transfusion - not only is she not infected, but she's somehow immune as she'd been bitten some time before. But then their refuge is threatened first by some charmless badass survivors who've picked up her Mayday calls, and then by the mutant hordes outside....

It's generally pretty good gruesome fun, though it's shot in that very jittery, handheld shakycam style that I don't particularly care for, and with a drained, washed-out look to it that renders much of the blood as black rather than red. There's plenty of splattery effects work (and if it's CG, it's very good CG but it looked like prosthetics and makeup to me) and, as with many zombie movies, the tension comes as much from the antagonistic humans as the mutants - not to mention how much of the Marco monster is still Marco the man? I rather liked it.

* (I'm not actually sure why I assumed that spoilers would be feminine in French, but I made the word up anyway so I guess I can assign whatever gender I like.)


Saturday, 21 August 2010



We've been waiting for this one a long time - a decent 18-rated horror movie that shows what can be done with modern digital 3D. Scar was sort of vaguely okay but not very good, as was My Bloody Valentine (though better). Unhappily, though, while it is a perfectly decent splattery horror movie, it only shows the limitations of the conversion process from 2D to 3D, and would probably have been better had they just shown it flat.

The basic thrust of Piranha is the same as Jaws and the legions of cashins, ripoffs, pastiches, parodies and hommages - everything from Shark Attack to Snakehead Terror. Thanks to the opening earthquake (that does for Richard Dreyfuss sitting in a fishing boat singing "Show Me The Way To Go Home") a subterranean lake empties its stock of prehistoric piranha into the waters of the tourist attraction due to host a massive Spring Break party with loads of drunken teens swimming, diving, boating, skiing and generally doing things in the water. Only sheriff Elisabeth Shue and deputy Ving Rhames can stop them - but Shue has her own problems as her idiot son has abandoned his little brother and sister and gone sailing with some allegedly hot chicks and a porn auteur....

On the plus side, it's a lot of fun and it certainly delivers the blood, gore and body parts. Once the piranha attack there are heads, arms, entrails, legs and a certain male appendage all over the shop and floating in front of you. And it is generally entertaining and surprisingly well cast for such a grisly piece - there's also Christopher Lloyd hamming away, reunited with Shue from the Back To the Future sequels. On the minus side, however, the 3D conversion just doesn't work. Well, it kind of works in places, and they're mainly the CG effects which are in the computer and can thus be viewed from any angles. But you can't take a 2D image of, say, Elisabeth Shue and turn it into a three-dimensional object; all you can do is electronically move the 2D image in front of processed backgrounds to give the illusion of depth within the image but without giving depth to anything within the image. It's distracting more than anything else and they really needn't have bothered. My Bloody Valentine was shot in 3D and it looked a lot better.

The trouble with Piranha is that, for the first time, we've not had the choice to watch in 2D. Even though it may have been conceived in 3D that's not how it was shot, yet Entertainment Film Distributors have released it solely in sub-standard 3D, despite the TV trailers claiming "Also showing in 2D" and despite both versions being submitted to the BBFC just one week before the release date. It's rather like spending a year colourising Casablanca, then only letting you see the version they've daubed all over and charging you extra for the privilege. Maybe there wasn't enough screen space available, but what do they expect if they choose the same weekend as the new Angelina Jolie movie AND the new Sylvester Stallone movie - smack in the middle of the school holidays, when the screens are full of family fare? That's disappointing and in this instance I do resent the £1.50 extra charge without the option. Happily, the gleefully excessive blood and gore gets it through, but it definitely would have worked better flat. Meantime, I guess I should see the Joe Dante version again.


Monday, 16 August 2010



Is it me? Am I really the only one fed up with sub-standard slasher movies with miserably bad acting, tiresome characters and shoddy writing? Does no-one else's heart sink at the sight of the flat DV photography? I know there have always been lousy movies, even lousy slasher movies, but this really feels like someone's blagged a location, got their mates together and thrown something together because they can - not because they're any good at it, but because they can. That it's from Australia - a country with as fine a tradition of horror movies as anywhere in the world - doesn't enter into it; this could have come from any country.

Slaughtered takes place almost entirely at a pub, wherein one night the staff and customers are targeted by a maniac with a saw and a plastic mask pitted with broken glass. Why? Might it have something to do with someone who's apparently gone missing? Or the strange new barman who appears to be hiding something? Or someone sexually obsessed with one of the barmaids? Or the creepy old bloke with something horrible in the back of his pickup? Whatever - it boils down to the old Final Girl formula we've seen a thousand times before. I've nothing against hoary old formulae if they're done with wit, panache, style, or even nothing more than basic professionalism and competent craftsmanship. Not everything has to be a dazzlingly original experience, and obviously not everything can be. But they can at least be done reasonably well. In the world of Camp Crystal Lake, for example, there's no difference between Miner, Zito and Steinmann, and a dozen others who've put together perfectly acceptable teenkill pictures from the same template. But that's no reason to assume that blind adherence to the formula is enough. In this instance it just doesn't work.

What, for example, is the killer's motive? We're never actually told what it is, and it's never actually suggested, even though their identity is obvious from quite early on. What's the point of the manager locking all the doors except for one? Doesn't that rather depend on none of the customers actually wanting to leave, rather than just drink themselves into a stupor? In this instance the plot does also depend on one of the staff forgetting to dial 1 for an outside line - why hasn't the maniac cut the phone line like any other psycho slasher? Why, when the maniac is prone on the floor, doesn't the heroine lift up the mask to find out who the hell it is?

The end credits rather give the tone away: thanks to everyone who works or drinks at The Dog" - presumably the place where they shot the film. Thanks to Russ and Sam and Joe and Tim and Frank and Tom and Lucy and Big Bob and Limpy and Lumpy and Mel (or whatever the hundreds of given names were). Thanks to Frightfest's Ian, Alan and Paul - apparently they showed the trailer, for which I was almost certainly there but I don't recall it. Thanks to The Evil Dead and Friday The 13th (you wish). In all honesty the thanks to the atrocious I Know How Many Runs You Scored Last Summer is nearer the mark. This is just shoddy.


Tuesday, 10 August 2010



This is the third of Wolfgang Buld's low-rent semi-British sleaze videos (they're NOT films) and it's probably the best of them: it doesn't have the jaw-dropping stupidity of Penetration Angst and it's more fun than the grim Lovesick: Sick Love. Like those two films (both of which also starred Fiona Horsey, last seen playing a nun in a Colombian soap opera, if we take the IMDb's word for anything), it still suffers from the same poor level of production values and performances, and this one also has a curious location disjunct: it's quite obviously set in England (everyone speaks English and has English names and police ranks) yet is blatantly shot in Germany.

Big spoiler here: in 1928 SS Van Dine came up with Twenty Rules For Writing Detective Stories and they include things like: the detective should not be the killer, methods should be rational and not paranormal, and the plot must not use hoary old devices such as identical twins to get round the pesky problems of visual identity and (these days) DNA evidence. Twisted Sisters technically slips through this last one as it pretty well gives it away in the title. Jennifer is a Greenpeace worker, happy, well-balanced - but she also appears to be a serial killer who likes to castrate her victims. And worse - if nothing else this film must win some kind of award for Most Revolting Use Of A Firework. (Use your imagination.) Could it possibly be that Jennifer was adopted and had a twin sister who was horribly abused and went psycho as a result? And is seeking to punish Jennifer for having had a good life and everything she every wanted?

Sisters is the clue. This movie so desperately wants to be a Brian De Palma movie, but it simply hasn't got a chance when it's shot on video by Wolfgang Buld and the whole budget wouldn't run to hiring a Steadicam for twenty minutes. If it had had more money and some decent actors they could have had a fair stab at Hitchcock pastiche, which would have been fine - what are films like Dressed To Kill, Final Analysis or Basic Instinct if not derivations from Hitch? But there comes a point where ambition outstretches ability and resource and we're well past that point here. Also, it runs out at the end with an abrupt and unsatisfying conclusion.

That said, there's the occasional moment of nasty leg-crossing fun to be had, and the scenes in which the enthusiastic Fiona Horsey acts against herself are nicely done, as they're achieved through editing rather than optical effects. It's not great, it's not even very good, but I wasn't bored and I never felt like cutting my losses and switching it off after half an hour. Which, given some of the stuff I've bailed on recently, is some kind of result. Approach with great caution nonetheless.


Sunday, 8 August 2010



It was a scratch over twenty years ago, at the Scala in Kings Cross, that I first heard of Cynthia Rothrock when they showed a trailer for what looked like a fantastic action film called City Cops. As I'd only just got into watching martial arts movies I was probably very easily impressed, as a glance at the IMDb reviews suggests it's not that good a movie. But the title stuck with me and, given the multitude of alternate titles a lot of Hong Kong action movies have (kind of like Italian zombie films), I wondered whether this was the same movie when it arrived the other day.

Police Assassins is indeed retitled, but it's not City Cops so that's a VHS-only release I've yet to track down. This was originally called Yes Madam and has two female cops (Rothrock and Michelle Yeoh, both very early in their careers) trying to bring down a corrupt businessman after the murder of a British police officer, and the hunt for the incriminating piece of microfilm that will bring down his evil empire. Or something. It doesn't really matter because the plot details are just there to connect half a dozen sequences of crunching unarmed combat, gun battles and lunatic stuntwork. They're the real joy of the Hong Kong kickabout genre and it has to be said that the climactic confrontation in the villain's mansion is pretty damned impressive as Rothrock and Yeoh take on the army of henchmen in an extensive and genuinely painful-looking fight scene.

The downside to the genre, at least at the time (Police Assassins was made in 1985) is the awful comedy which has either dated very badly or just didn't travel well. In this instance much of it is down to the three petty criminals (named Aspirin, Panadol and Strepsil - one of them played by legendary HK director Tsui Hark) who've accidentally acquired the McGuffin microfilm: there's a lot of mugging and pulling faces and it really doesn't work in a completely different Western culture a quarter of a century later. There's also, for me, the mysterious use of soundtrack music from other films - in this case part of the Halloween score is used as a general suspense cue; many probably wouldn't notice but as I'm a film music follower it can sometimes be a distraction. But if you can get past that, the simplistic and silly plotting and the non-funny comedy stuff, there's some enjoyably thudding entertainment to be had. It's not a classic of the genre and it takes a bit too long to warm up, but if you're in the mood for women beating people up, it's worth a look.


Saturday, 7 August 2010



And yet - which film would it be spoiling? Because there appear to be at least three, possibly four films going on at once, which just leads to confusion. If the film can't make up its mind what the hell's going on, how am I supposed to? I think it's fair that whatever story it thinks it's telling, it's certainly a horror film, but it wants to cover all the genre's bases and ends up as a random sprinkling of various ideas that don't come together.

The basic thrust of Psychosis is that in 1992 a group of anti-motorway protesters are brutally slaughtered by a mad killer. Sixteen year later, novelist Charisma Carpenter has escaped her troubled past and relocated from California to a sprawling country manor somewhere in England with her loving husband, and it's not long before spooky and unexplained things start happening. The mysterious and creepy gamekeeper exposes himself to her; there seem to be intruders in the house, a football-playing boy appears and disappears, the bath runs red.... But her loving husband isn't what he seems and appears to be plotting her mental relapse while spending the nights at orgies. Or is she just imagining everything?

So it starts out as a slasher movie, becomes a home invasion thriller, then a ghost story and a drive-the-wealthy-wife-mad movie. Or a film about a woman actually going insane. But which? It can't be all of them. If she is going mad of her own accord, why get the gamekeeper to drug her food? If the place isn't haunted by the ghosts of the 1992 protesters, why does she dream of them when they're not mentioned in the entire film after that opening scene? But it can't be haunted because the local vicar brings a medium round to the house and she can't find anything. Then, why does the weird gardening girl deny all knowledge of the football boy when in the end it turns out they do know each other? How did the guy painting the windows get inside the house when they'd changed the locks? And then at the end there's a maniac escaped from the local asylum. Is is actually her? Can't be, because she's seen still in her cell - in which case it's a massive coincidence that that very same day, another patient escapes and heads for the very same house and kills off exactly the right people.

Make up your mind what film you're supposed to be making and stick to it. The writing side of it simply hasn't been thought through and the end result is that none of it works. Matters aren't helped, incidentally, by some staggeringly bad acting from the husband. I'm not much of a judge of acting but even to my eye, relatively untutored in the thespian arts, this wasn't even of first read-through standard. Overall, as a movie, it's simply not good enough, even for completists.


Friday, 6 August 2010



The whinging being my current gripe about filmmakers populating the dramatis personae with such thoroughly detestable characters that the viewer ends up on the side of the mad killers as the least worst option. Whilst it may be a fine balancing act in that you don't want to have Jason Voorhees slashing his way through puppies and paraplegic nine-year-olds, it's presently trending the other way so that the maniacs are more attractive characters than the subhuman slime that occupy the nominally heroic roles but in reality you can't wait to see run over by a combine harvester. Twice. And when they do get slaughtered, I should feel some empathy towards them, rather than "about time too". The horror comes from "they don't deserve it" rather than "serves them right".

Case in point: early on in the intriguingly titled Harpoon: Reykjavik Whale Watching Massacre, the lead female is raped in a brief but repugnant and thoroughly gratuitous scene that simply has no business being there. It's never mentioned again, and the rapist never gets to answer for it - yes, he's killed, but [1] so are several others, [2] not because of his crimes, and [3] it occurs off-screen. If you want to me to feel a sense of righteous justice at his fate, then show it to me! I'm going to enjoy watching the match more than just being told about it afterwards. On the other hand, if there's no sense of righteous justice involved, he's just another victim and his crimes don't matter, then we're again parting company because I'm one of those weird folk who believe that they do matter.

A disparate and pleasingly multi-national group of people gather for a whale-watching trip off the Icelandic coast. Due in part to the antics of one of the group, a drunken French imbecile, the Captain is killed and the passengers are soon rescued - only to be trapped on an old whaling trawler by a family of maniacs whose actions are apparently triggered by the Icelandic whaling ban and who set out to bloodily kill the liberal, woolly-minded tree-hugging nature-loving environmentalist cissies.

It's not entirely terrible: it is pleasingly splattery in places, and nicely photographed, but it is still a ghost of Texas Chainsaw Massacre (evoked not only in the title and the absence of reason for its Family's rationale, but in the presence of Gunnar Hansen in the cast). But it's very silly in places (such as the kamikaze nailbomb scene). And not only am I confused as to who I'm supposed to be rooting for, but the film appears to be confused as well: characters that I think we're supposed to support come to cynically unpleasant ends while those of a more questionable moral nature make it to the final reel. Truly there ain't no justice. It's a disappointing film, as it's an unusual setting, from an unusual part of the world, and they could have made a cheerfully yukky crowd-pleasing horror/torture film, which is what I think it was supposed to be, and they haven't managed it. But it's a great title.


Wednesday, 4 August 2010



I'm all for making it easier for talented people to get their movie made and distributed. Unfortunately the price you pay for the democratisation of the film-making process is that it also makes it easier for complete dunces to get their movies made and distributed as well, now that there are fewer gatekeepers, whether financial, technical or human, along the process to keep the aforementioned dunces out. In addition, the proliferation of cable and satellite channels and results in an increased demand for product, the cheaper the better and who cares whether it's any good or not, because people will watch anything. And then there's the demand for boxsets of cheap DVDs - 10 films for £9.99 - and they don't need to be any good because what have you lost apart from 99p and eighty minutes of your life?

So you end up with something like The Salena Incident, in which a spaceship crashes into the Arizona desert and an Army team sent in to investigate gets brutally killed. Cut to a prison transport bus filled with the requisite ethnic mix of badass convicts - noble black, mob accountant, racist idiot, Hispanic thug - and a couple of monumental cretins as guards, which is brought off the road as part of an escape bid by the mob guy aided by two screeching bimbos. Who or what was in that crashed spaceship? Which of the convicts will escape the bloke in the $5 monster suit? And will the one sensitive guard get off with the cute prison doc?

It's dull, it's indifferently made, the effects (both monster and spaceship) are dismally inadequate and the characters are varying degrees of hateful (ranging from Quite Hateful all the way through to Thoroughly Hateful) except for the one sensitive guard and the cute prison doc. It tries to suggest it's all real by being part of the Great Human-Alien Conspiracy through inclusion of "interview footage" with an obvious nutter. More likely it's part of the Great Studio Conspiracy to turn our brains into pot noodle. Rubbish.




There are indeed many things missing from this movie, not the least of which are any hints of Da Vinci and, unless someone on set was coming down with the flu, any hints of a virus. It's been retitled from the frankly lame Cup Of My Blood, ostensibly because it's got religious artefacts dotted through it and, somewhat interestingly, an albino. However, unlike the character from the Dan Brown book and hilariously humourless A-list movie adaptation, here he's called Limpy and he's the henchman of a bloke known as Sparky.

What we do have in The Da Vinci Virus are a lighting scheme of murky darkness with a sickly green tinge to everything that makes it look as though the characters are about to throw up; some debatably blasphemous photographic imagery juxtaposing naked women with religious items and icons, a few indifferent but enthusiastic gore effects and a lot of frankly dreadful reading-out-loud acting typical of the digital zero-budgeter. Following the mysterious disappearance of his wife, one-time photographer Jack Fender is reduced to shooting softcore pornography for websmut mogul Sparky. One morning Fender is given a mysterious box by a couple as they perish in a car accident: the box contains a holy relic of unimaginable power and various forces are seeking it for their own hideous ends. Is Fender the chosen one who alone should guard this object?

It's not very good, obviously, but there are a few semi-decent ideas in there which might have made for a better film if there'd been some more money and better acting. Sadly, budgetary constraints, and the consequent underinvestment in people who can give a usable line reading, result in the film not even achieving the level of intermittently good fun. Being made on digital, there's a moment of dialogue that seeks to justify it as our hero insists on photographing with film because it's better, while his associates would prefer him to shoot digitally because it's easier. Frankly I'm with Fender - electronic filmmaking may be easier and cheaper but it doesn't look as good and this is a prime example.