Wednesday, 29 September 2010



Yet again with the remakes. There are many reasons why a film can have two, or more, runs at the box-office. Advances in technology will allow you to give the story the treatment it deserved first time. More relaxed censorship might permit a greater degree of sex and violence whereas the older version was hampered by not being allowed to show enough of the good stuff. You might be able to use that old story to make political points about a current topical debate. Or, hell, it might be for no other reason than it's guaranteed to make a pile of money. It's always a case of what you're bringing to the table this time.

It might be a big name star in a part he/she could kick some serious backside in, such as Samuel L Jackson in the remake of Shaft. It might be whizzy CGI effects or it might be a deeper exploration of a beloved character. It might just be noise and swearing and frenetic overediting (the terrible remake of The Taking Of Pelham 123). But when you've taken a film and have done absolutely nothing to change it - scenes and lines play exactly the same - you have to wonder what the point of the exercise was. Specifically, what have the remakers of Death At A Funeral brought to the table? And the answer appears to be: black people.

Frank Oz did the original Death At A Funeral all the way back in 2007 and it was fine - the increasingly farcical events surrounding a family funeral in leafy, well-to-do suburbia. Now what is essentially the same script has been relocated to the USA by Neil LaBute (following his remake of The Wicker Man!) but - with an almost entirely black cast. Now obviously there's nothing intrinsically wrong with that at all. But because 99% of it is exactly the same - word for word in many cases, as a check at the quotes on the original's IMDb page will confirm - it is, literally, the same film.

It's got perhaps bigger names and box-office draws like Danny Glover, Chris Rock and Martin Lawrence (against that, it's got Tracy Morgan in it, who was rubbish in Cop Out) but that's really all. And it doesn't have Daisy Donovan either, which is a shame and probably the only reason why the original sneaks past this new version. Well, that and the sense of utter pointlessness. It's still funny, but it's funny in exactly, and precisely, the same way the first one was.




There's something to be said for a big name Serious Director turning his hand to what is essentially B-movie trash. It's rather like finding out that Transformers 3 is going to be helmed by the Coen Brothers. It's entirely possible that Philip Kaufman, who usually directs proper films like The Right Stuff, The Unbearable Lightness Of Being or Henry And June, just had some household bills to pay, but it's nevertheless unusual to see his name on a belated entry in the world of erotic thrillers.

Because essentially Twisted is a throwback to the topshelfers of the early 90s: the likes of Animal Instincts and Night Rhythms, except that it rather cops out by inverting the 70-30 ratio of sex to plot, and ultimately has so little on-screen bonk action that it gets away with a 15 certificate (which it would have got for strong language anyway) and having big name stars like Andy Garcia, Ashley Judd and Samuel L Jackson in it: people who aren't going to do the kind of irrelevant nude scenes you find in the dozens of Gregory Hippolyte movies that came out after Basic Instinct and Body Of Evidence. Recently promoted to Homicide, Judd spends her off-duty hours alternately drinking to blackout and picking up strangers in a bar for meaningless casual sex. Immediately the corpses start piling up, with cigarette burns on the hands, and they're all Judd's one-night stands.

Who could it be? Judd's new homicide partner Garcia? The ex-boyfriend who won't accept the relationship is over? It might even be her psychiatrist (David Strathairn). And does it have anything to do with her father's suicide? This is incredibly silly stuff and while it does drag out the old comparison that a bloke who beds a different woman every night is a Real Man while a woman who beds a different man every night is a Cheap Slut, it's pretty empty and the killer's identity is fairly unbelievable. Tosh, tolerable at best.




Notable not for any kind of strip tease beyond the mildest of disrobings; there's not so much as a single nipple on view. Although there are two murders and several musical numbers. It's a grotty little British B-feature designed to play on the bottom half of a double bill (with what?) that runs less than 70 minutes, shot incredibly cheaply, and inevitably isn't any good.

Still, while living up to the luridly prurient come-on title Strip Tease Murder would be a doddle today, back in 1961, with cinematic nudity largely confined to naturist "documentaries", and photographed in black-and-white to boot, it was impossible. At London's Flamingo Club, one of the performers is murdered by a dope kingpin and a mad inventor with an unexplained gizmo that looks to be some kind of remote energy transmitter. But why? Was she even the target? The victim's husband (and club comic) won't accept the verdict of natural causes and sets out to investigate.

It's cheap, shabby, and proceedings frequently grind to a halt for dance numbers, to the extent that there's maybe 40 minutes' worth of plot in there and the rest is padding. The stand-up bits are mercifully brief and still terrible (transcription of the gags would implode the internet, so I won't bother) and the semi-strip routines all seem to be done to the same few records. Sole point of interest is that the comedian/hero John Hewer went on to spend over 30 years as Captain Birdseye in television commercials.




I'm actually considering not bothering with a lot of movies - principally of the horror, SF and fantasy genres - unless they have been, or will be, projected somewhere at some point. Increasingly I'm of the persuasion that so many of these movies are made with the home viewing experience in mind, and ambitions are thus lowered. Well, expectations aren't, or at least they shouldn't be. You're still expecting me to pay for it the same as I would for Lord Of The Rings, Blade Runner or Dawn Of The Dead, so do something to justify the money. Besides, if you're aiming it at the home video market, that's television. And I don't really care very much about television - particularly bad television.

Besides, any version of Necessary Evil that ran three and a half hours would send me running for the knife drawer, and I don't see a five-disc box set of Director's Cuts and different international release versions any time soon. Frankly, they're damned lucky this miserable piece of underachievement got picked up at all. Lance Henriksen is a mad scientist seeking the Fountain Of Youth in the form of DNA extracted from some kind of demon creature that was buried in the desert millenia ago, and is now kept in a metal box in the basement of Henriksen's California psychiatric hospital. His ReAnimator-style serum also gives you glowing green eyes and telekinetic powers, but for the last sixteen years he's still been experimenting on the local townspeople, abducted children, and the mercenaries who found the demon thingy in the first place. Meanwhile, a moody cop with a personal agenda, and a crusading (and significantly pregnant) journalism student, investigate.

There's a half-hearted stab at corruption, with evil trillionaire pharmaceutical companies running unethical experiments while buying off local authorities, but in the main this is a mixture of sub-X-Files conspiracy hogwash and man-in-a-suit monster action. Lance Henriken is great, as ever, but it's not worthy of him. Having Danny Trejo as the artwork centrepiece is a tad dishonest as he's not actually in it very much. It's dull, needlessly convoluted and visually uninteresting; you don't care what's going on and the acting is rudimentary at best. Rather than aim high and miss, they've aimed low and missed. Poor.


Monday, 27 September 2010



You see, I was going to write this up when I first saw it back in July, as the free film for Sleepy Queuers when the FrightFest tickets went on sale. I came out of the film thinking "well, meh", and when I got home I looked it up on the intraweb thing, where I found much reference to a quad bike chase. Quad bike chase? I certainly didn't remember that, so chalked it up to falling asleep (hardly surprising, as I'd been in the queue since about 4am and hadn't actually been to bed) - this despite going to see the lame Ashton Kutcher movie Killers on the same afternoon and, as far as I could tell, staying awake for the whole damn thing.

Anyway, The Final has just been released on DVD after an imperceptible theatrical release - apparently one screen in the West End. Call me picky, but I don't think that actually counts as a proper cinema release. Still, it's now available for home viewing and, on watching it (again), I have to say I don't think I actually did fall asleep. Everything is pretty much the same as I remembered, and the Quad Bike Chase is only brief. And it's still a case of "well, meh". It's a torture-based horror movie in which high-school bullies, thugs, jocks and bitches get their just desserts at the hands of those they've abused, persecuted and picked on: they're invited to a party, drugged and chained up, before being brutalised, mutilated and disfigured. Finger-lopping, acid and a little spinal surgery are used to pay the scum back for their behaviour, and fair enough because they're absolutely despicable. But one of their captives has escaped (pursued, briefly, by people on quad bikes) and is looking to get help....

Sadly, the movie ends with an almighty copout that weakens the whole movie: it's as if they were just getting into their stride when they realised that most horror movies clock in at 95 minutes maximum, and they had to wrap proceedings up very quickly. It feels forced and it doesn't feel believable. The "viewing online" concept isn't explored either - the avenging victims have installed webcams to capture events, but no-one's seen watching online and if it's being stored for future use, who's going to upload it?

It's ultimately of very mild interest, and there are some pleasingly unpleasant moments, but overall it doesn't work as well as it should. Like the handiwork of the prey-turned-predators, it feels incomplete and unfinished. Good in parts, but it doesn't go far enough and clocks off early.




L'Enfer (Inferno) would have been a stylish, possibly over-stylised, psychological drama about obsession, pathological jealousy and adultery, by a top flight director with a major female lead (Romy Schneider), and kitted out with all manner of visual trickery - symbolic colour manipulation bordering on hallucinatory, weird lighting setups, special lenses providing split screen effects. Unfortunately, you can't actually see the movie because Henri-Georges Clouzot never finished it. All we have is the thirteen cans of footage shot before the production collapsed (though the project was eventually filmed by Claude Chabrol some 30 years later - and I've added that to my rental queue).

The trouble with Henri-Georges Clouzot is that every time I hear Clouzot, I think Clouseau, and I think of Peter Sellers falling over in an outrageous accent to a Henry Mancini soundtrack. But Henri-Georges Clouzot's Inferno is a documentary about the making and ultimate abandoning of L'Enfer: how what should have been a simple, very French drama about lust and jealousy (a married hotelier comes to suspect his wife of having a fling with the obviously caddish garage owner in the next village) spiralled into a production nightmare; how, with apparently unlimited funds and time, Clouzot spent weeks and weeks shooting tests of trippy lighting, moire patterns, coloured filters, in parts almost looking like some of Maurice Binder's more abstract Bond title sequences. How members of his three camera crews walked out in mid-shooting because Clouzot spent all his time with the first crew, leaving the others standing around with nothing to film; how ultimately his male lead, Serge Reggiani, also bailed after having to run for days on end behind the camera car.

It looks, from the evidence in the film and the recollections of numerous members of the crwe (including Costa-Gavras) that Clouzot needed a hands-on producer to keep the genius auteur on schedule and to stop him from obsessively reshooting footage of sequences that they'd already filmed. Instead, left to his own devices, the whole thing unravelled and they never finished the location work, and never got into the studio to shoot the interior studio scenes.

And that's a pity, because what footage has survived, looked terrific, and it's actually quite sad that the project was never completed. I'm not a Clouzot expert (clearly) but it could have been up there with Les Diaboliques. Some of those dialogue scenes are re-enacted by new actors in a plain studio; obviously the film was never scored but an effective underscore has been added for this documentary's purposes. Generally, I enjoyed it more than I expected, and there's a wealth of detail about the making of movies - a lot more than you get in the average "behind the scenes" publicity puff pieces included as bonus features on DVDs. Well worth seeing.


Saturday, 25 September 2010



You know what would be really nice? It would be better than nice, indeed it would be absolutely spiffing, if film-makers learned the technique of lighting night sequences so that they didn't look pointlessly overlit, but we could actually see what the hell was happening. Whole sequences of recent films like Splintered have been rendered invisible by virtue of not being sufficiently lit. And great chunks of this British DTV horror item take place in a darkened flat in the small hours of the morning and for all that's discernible on the screen, it might as well be on the radio.

The Torment is a fairly incoherent grab-bag of demon, monster and ghost ideas that twists the Weeping Angels idea from Dr Who - they can only move when you're not actually looking at them - and has a bloke haunted by some kind of demon things that he can only see in pitch darkness. Our hero, following a relationship break-up, crashes with a couple of friends but is continually pursued and persecuted by unidentified monsters that his friends can't see. Might they have something to do with the pregnant woman who lives upstairs? Is he mad? (Hint: the original title was The Possession Of David O'Reilly.) What's happened to his ex-girlfriend? How long before somebody lamps him?

Sadly, no-one lamps him, kicks him in the nethers or even holds him down until he explains what precisely is going on, and instead the leads stumble around the darkened flat shouting and screaming and mysteriously not smashing into the furniture. Even if a film is set at night, we the audience need to be able to see - it's a dramatic device. Look at a thousand and one old noirs - there's lighting. It may well be that lighting for video or digital is a completely different thing to lighting for film, and that things would be worse if they used too much, but you have to find some way of illuminating the darkness without it looking artificially lit.

On the positive side, the naturalistic feel works quite well, and in the midst of the murk there are a couple of creepy scenes and jump moments that work quite well - just enough to get a second star. And it might have got more if I'd been able to see what was going on. But a subplot about a webcam and motion detector is only briefly used, and the ending is one of those irritating final shots that call into question exactly what we've been watching. Annoying and frustrating more than anything else. For crying out loud, buy some bulbs.


Tuesday, 21 September 2010



Here's a confession that in a sane world would see me burned as a heretic: I've a lot of time for M Night Shyamalan. I think he has good ideas, and I think he directs well and with subtlety (I'm all in favour of a director who nails the camera to the floor and lets a take run for 30 seconds rather than flinging the camera all around the room and micro-editing everything into an epileptic frenzy). My problem, and my frustration, is that I don't think he's very good at the middle bit of the process, which is taking those ideas and building a really decent script out of them; so you end up with a well made film from a shaky screenplay. And his first two big movies (The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable) were terrific, even though some gurning web-based buffoon deliberately, and with malice aforethought, spoiled the twist from The Sixth Sense a few days before I saw it.

And I liked Signs, even though it's nonsense (if the aliens are so scared of water, why do they land on a planet which is 60% covered in the stuff and where it rains all the time?). The Village has some very scary moments with the red creatures in the woods, but it depends on none of the village elders ever saying "sod this for a game of soldiers, I want a cheeseburger". I did like The Happening, where the funniest bit is Mark Wahlberg calling a truce with a rubber plant. Then you have Lady In The Water, which I'm the only person on Earth to not loathe: does no-one else realise that it's a kids' movie? And The Last Airbender (in 2D) is acceptable enough CGI-laden matinee fodder with too many sniggersome uses of the word "bender" in the screenplay.

But all he's done with Devil is supply the original idea (and possibly the overarching concept of The Night Chronicles, of which this is apparently the first). In practice it's the simplest back-of-a-fag-packet setup in years: There are five people in a lift and one of them might be Satan. That's it. And from that, they're extracted a perfectly serviceable, acceptable, mid-range horror movie that does the job efficiently and with a minimum of fuss and overblown effects, although the religious-minded security guard is far too convenient to be believed. It's directed by John Erick Dowdle, who "directed" Quarantine, the American remake of [Rec], though whether he actually "directed" it, given that every directorial decision had already been taken by Jaume Balaguero and Paco Plaza in the Spanish original, is perhaps open to question.

In places it actually feels a bit like the great-yet-flawed Prince Of Darkness (my second favourite John Carpenter movie despite some awful writing and worse acting), and while Devil is nowhere in that league, it's generally entertaining fare and very nicely shot, with an old-fashioned orchestral score. Shyamalan perhaps needs to redeem himself in the eyes of many, both the critics and the general public, and his involvement here, and presumably any forthcoming Night Chronicles instalments (though none are listed on the IMDb) might do that. Worth seeing.


Monday, 20 September 2010



Another so-called video nasty ticked off the list, but its appearance on the banned list is really its only achievement. Though it fares slightly better than some of its fellow victims of the OPA, it's a long way from prime exploitation fare and even an early appearance by 80s exploitation favourite Linnea Quigley (in an entirely gratuitous shower sequence) doesn't help.

Don't Go Near The Park is an obviously retitled 1981 cheapie in which, twelve thousand years ago, cave-based siblings Gar and Tra are sentenced to eternal aging (apparently by the mother) for the crimes of seeking eternal life and cannibalism. If, on the night that the Moon next aligns with the Twin Stars of the Wolf (or somesuch astro-gibberish) the pair can sacrifice a virgin of the tribe to eternal damnation, they shall have eternal youth. Cut to today and in the intervening twelve millenia their cave home has become part of a public park which Tra protects by means of a curse (and wandering around in a witch's mask); meanwhile Gar has put on a suit and married Linnea Quigley for the sole purpose of producing a sacrificial daughter. Gar and Tra both still have to stay young so they periodically kill people and eat their intestines. For some reason veteran Aldo Ray is in it as well, investigating the myths of the park and keeping an eye on the runaway kids who hide out there, including Gar's rebellious daughter....

It is fairly dull and it's nowhere near the likes of Zombie Flesh Eaters or Inferno as nasties go. Despite the BBFC requiring no cuts, there are frequent jumps in the soundtrack which suggests that the film is still edited for content - maybe it's an R-rated version? Either way, the occasional shots of boobage and entrail-eating aren't that shocking. There are some minor laughs, as when the two wannabe immortals suddenly start firing lasers at each other from their eyes, but they're very meagre pickings against the dullness of most of the movie.


Sunday, 19 September 2010



A few things should be stated right from the off: Firstly, I don't like Will Ferrell. Anything good that's been in a Will Ferrell movie has not been because of him. In Anchorman, it's the 70s decor, costumes and general ambience. In Melinda & Melinda, it's a script by Woody Allen (and Ferrell is basically playing the Allen role). And in Talladega Nights the only laughettes are courtesy of Sacha Baron Cohen as the comedy stock Gay Frenchman (just how bad does a movie have to be for the funniest thing in it to be the bloke out of Bruno?). A Night At The Roxbury has nothing good in it at all, he's in Zoolander which is kind of okay, and really the only Ferrell movie that I've really liked (and, curiously, nobody else did) is Stranger Than Fiction, where he's not doing the usual face-pulling and stream-of-semiconsciousness rambling.

Secondly, I don't like Mark Wahlberg, though I'll admit he's getting more palatable and that may be that his triptych of remakes where he conclusively proved he was no Michael Caine (The Italian Job), Charlton Heston (Planet of the Apes) or Cary Grant (the Truth About Charlie, his unspeakable rehash of Charade which I paid a staggering 50p to see at Stelios' short-lived EasyCinema in Milton Keynes and resented the ticket price) were all several years ago. And, he did star in the wonderful Boogie Nights. Thirdly, I've never been a fan of Steve Coogan: I was never an Alan Partridge fan and just found the character annoying, and The Parole Officer was fairly terrible.

But what I do have a soft spot for is Big Idiot Action Cop Movies of the Lethal Weapon and Tango And Cash ilk, and that (much like this year's engaging throwback Cop Out) is partly where this movie springs from. Rather than the wisecracking trigger-happy cops forever in car chases and shootouts and colossal explosions, here well embodied by Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson and Samuel L Jackson, this is about The Other Guys: the not-very-good cops back at the precinct, barely even in focus in the Lethal Weapon movies: the guys in the background who don't get the spectacular assignments but stay in the office and do the paperwork. (Isn't that basically the idea behind the Jasper Carrott / Robert Powell sitcom The Detectives?)

Except on this occasion where bickering paperwork partners Ferrell and Wahlberg get involved with a complex investment scam perpetrated by English financial whizz Steve Coogan to recover his losses and pay off the Chechens and Nigerians who want their money back. Though their Captain Michael Keaton keeps telling them they're off the case, inevitably they pursue it: cue the car chases and shootouts and explosions. And then....

And then, over the end credits, it suddenly turns into Michael Moore's Capitalism: A Love Story in the style of the animated sequences in BBC TV's The Hitch-hiker's Guide To The Galaxy! Lots of graphs and statistics comparing the average American worker's salary, pensions and taxes with those of Wall Street bankers and multinational CEOs. Which is kind of interesting, if unexpected in a dumb action comedy. I suppose it's also worth pointing out that the IMDb lists an estimated budget of $90,000,000 for The Other Guys, and Will Ferrell reportedly trousered a mere twenty million for Talladega Nights, which was four years ago. I doubt that Wahlberg did the movie for sandwiches and expenses either. Go Capitalism.

In summary: it's not very good, it's not very funny (a couple of mild giggles in a 107 minute film is just not enough) and while there may be a point to be made about rampant greed and an unregulated investment banking system, someone who takes home millions every year for basically yelling and pulling faces is perhaps not the best guy to make it.


Saturday, 18 September 2010



This is ultimately a one-joke movie, and the one joke is in the one-word title: Poltergeist, with gays. Incredibly, it more or less works - not as a horror movie, but as a camp remake of Blithe Spirit (which is a film I have never liked), but in French and with more mincing.

The basic thrust of Poltergay is that young couple Marc and Emma (Clovis Cornillac, Julie Depardieu) move into a rambling country house, which happens to be haunted by the ghosts of five gay blokes who were killed in a freak electroction accident in the seventies. He can see them, but she can't: inevitably, emotional complications ensue. Can Marc win her back and get rid of the phantoms that are messing up his life? Why can Marc interact with the ghosts when Emma can't - why can her dad, yet Marc's best friend cannot? Could it be because Marc himself has homosexual desires as yet unexplored - and if so, what might he do about it?

It's a farce, it's riddled with naughty innuendo and camping about. But it actually gets away with it because throughout, it's not judgmental, not perjorative, not condemnatory. The gay characters aren't predatory or threatening: they're generally amusing and well meaning and while their antics might get wearing after a while, the ways in which they mess up Marc's life lead to how they fix everything. It's almost sweet, entirely inoffensive, sometimes quite funny and a lot better than the title might suggest. It's not great, but I quite liked it.


Tuesday, 14 September 2010



I didn't really get Pan's Labyrinth on first viewing. I liked it, certainly, but the sudden switches from childlike fantasy to the brutality of the Spanish Civil War left me a little baffled, and it took a second viewing for me to fully appreciate it. Sometimes you do need two runs at a film to recognise its genius - I thought Aliens was very poor first time out, but now it's one of my three favourites of all time. On the other hand, I seriously doubt Police Academy 7: Mission To Moscow is going to look anything other than atrocious when rewatched at a historical distance. And I really don't think a second viewing is going to help with this one.

This version of the oft-filmed tale dates from 1971 and relates how Irish immigants Burke and Hare (British character stalwarts Derren Nesbitt and Glynn Edwards) sold corpses to respected Edinburgh anatomist Dr Knox (the mighty Harry Andrews) at a time when demand for fresh bodies for medical research outweighed the available supply. When there weren't enough cadavers to go around, Burke and Hare simply created more, at ten pounds a time. Sixteen murders later, they were apprehended. And this is good ghoulish meat for a British horror movie. But Burke & Hare is a mess: for every scene of the Resurrection Men mucking about with corpses, there's a sequence of Benny Hill-style knockabout with scantily clad ladies in a brothel. Murder upon murder, followed by Yutte Stensgaard taking her clothes off. It's as if they'd got two wildly different 45-minute films made by two completely different directors, and spliced them together into one feature with dizzying changes in tone - far more dizzying than Guillermo Del Toro's in Pan's Labyrinth.

The serious stuff looks terrific, with the poverty-stricken slums looking like something by Hogarth, while the kinky scenes in the whorehouse just look like the average British smut flick of the time, with period costumes. Saucy, but they go on for ages and are massively out of place in what's supposed to be a ghoulish horror movie. With a rock song over the credits and familiar sitcom stars dotted throughout (Yootha Joyce, Bob Todd), it's a movie that doesn't really know what it wants to be, tries to be everything, and ends up as a botch. Let's hope the upcoming John Landis version is more consistent in tone.


Monday, 13 September 2010


We've been getting remakes of Asian action and horror movies for a while now - hell, Martin Scorsese got an Oscar for his remake of Infernal Affairs. Much of the time the results have not been very impressive: some have been fairly straight xeroxes that did the job effectively enough (One Missed Call), while others have been bland and tedious and completely failed to match their sources (Shutter). Happily the Hollywood studio dullification doesn't apply here as [1] the redo is a pretty faithful transcription, and [2] the remake is a Russian-Swedish effort.

Both Johnnie To's original Breaking News and Anders Banke's scene-for-scene Newsmakers follow the battle between cops and criminals, conducted in the media spotlight as a PR exercise after the police came out of the opening encounter with a poor image. With the criminals cornered in an apartment block but holding a family as hostages, and the police turning the siege operation into a live reality TV show, a small group of cops are caught in the middle and they're more interested in nailing the bad guys than looking nice on television.

Both movies are generally pretty good not just as bang-bang action flicks (especially the opening sequences), but also the more serious bit of criticism in there of how things look being more important than how they really are. Image is all, it seems. But in all honesty there's very little between them, to the extent that I'm not sure whether it would have made much difference if I'd seen the Breaking News first. I think the Johnnie To edges it with some wonderful camerawork - lots of extended long takes and swooping crane shots. But both are worth a look.


Sunday, 12 September 2010



Less than a week since seeing Unhinged and another old video nasty shows up on DVD. But unlike Unhinged, which eventually went through the BBFC unscathed, this one's still cut by a minute and forty one seconds of arm removal, castration, disembowelling and face burning (according the the Melonfarmers website). Happily, the end result isn't totally bloodless - unhappily, it just isn't terribly good and I doubt the missing footage would have elevated it to a lost classic of the era.

The basic idea of Night Of The Demon is that Bigfoot is alive and well and wandering the backwoods somewhere, ripping miscellaneous bit-part players into pieces in flashbacks dropped in at more or less random intervals. A college group decide to investigate and spend a long time traipsing through the forest in search of "Crazy Wanda", who local legends claim knows something about the monster. They find her, and they find the monster, but things do not end well in a surprisingly effective final reel shot almost entirely in slow-motion.

It says a lot about just what a fantastic and nerve-shredding work of genre genius this isn't, that only when updating my lists did I find I'd already seen this before, admittedly some years ago, and presumably it was the VHS reissue. (The DVD doesn't look any better as far as picture quality is concerned.) I see that back then I'd awarded it two stars and that still holds. It's a very silly movie, it's not particularly well done and only the final monster attack raises any interest at all. Like several other video nasties it's only noteworthy because it was banned a quarter of a century ago.


Wednesday, 8 September 2010



In which a trio of despicable pieces of foul-mouthed drug dealer scum get bloodily shotgunned to death in a Range Rover somewhere in the wintry wilds of Essex. Hurrah. Job well done. No sympathy for them whatsoever. Couldn't have happened to a more deserving bunch of tossers. If this movie doesn't provide anything else (and believe me, it doesn't), it at the very least shows three worthless individuals being brutally murdered.

This is actually the third time the infamous Rettendon Range Rover murders have been committed to film, and I really feel it's time to let it go. How many more British hardman gangster movies do we need? I know that if they stop making them then Danny Dyer's going to have to get a proper job (incredibly, he's not actually in this one) but is there any more mileage in the endless thuggery, misogyny and Olympic-standard profanity? For all its technical sheen, Bonded By Blood is a thoroughly unedifying and dispiriting afternoon at the cinema and while it's not the very worst, it's pretty near the bottom of the pile. Drugs, guns, wife-beating, casual violence, more drugs, everybody yelling the C-word at one another..... Is this really what constitutes a decent night out? Have we nothing better, nothing more innovative, nothing more exciting, to make a dozen films a year about?

There seems to be some kind of love out there for this genre, and I genuinely don't get it - what it is about these characters that people (ie filmmakers) appear to find so attractive? Seriously: why are we supposed to give a damn? Especially when the makers double back on themselves - after having told the story of how the first trio of scumbags was killed by the second trio of scumbags, the end captions suggest that there's an increasing body of opinion that says they didn't actually do it. That the movie is marginally better to look at than the first dramatisation, Essex Boys, and is pretty much on the same level as the second, Rise Of The Footsoldier, is hardly any kind of recommendation. Rubbish.




I am going to need glasses at this rate. Here's a movie that's mainly lit by one torch and the occasional mobile phone display and takes place principally in an unlit building or unlit woods in the middle of the night. Unless you're watching this inside a coal bunker, any image on the screen is going to be drowned out by whatever ambient light is to hand - someone lighting a candle two counties away for example. The result is a lot of shots that could be anything, frankly - hardcore pornography, farmyard animals doing the charleston - because you can't make it out.

Sadly, even if someone did let off a bunch of magnesium flares and you could see what was going on, Splintered would probably disappoint. Five uninteresting idiots drive deep into the Welsh countryside looking for the mysterious creature that's supposedly prowling the area. Could it be a big cat along the lines of The Beast Of Bodmin? Could it be a werewolf? Could it be a boy from the now derelict Catholic orphanage, long believed dead after having murdered the priest who used to mistreat him, but now grown up and behaving like the dogs he was forced to live with? Anyway, two of our idiots (one of whom is, significantly, pure and virginal) wander off into the dark and follow the mysterious noises - he gets attacked and she gets locked in an upstairs room, supposedly to protect her from the Beast....

Our heroes are completely disposable idiots and it's hard to feel anything when any of them gets offed (except in one case where the victim is such a charmless git that the Beast should be awarded an MBE at the very least for services to the human gene pool), and the passable ideas are lost in the unfathomable murk, even on DVD. (Goodness knows what a VHS release would look like.) It's a pity, because it could have been okay, given some better characters and the purchase of a couple of 60W bulbs.


Intriguingly, my copy of the DVD froze up after 67 minutes. By chance, I'd received a second copy (I'm on with two online rental companies), yet the second disc froze as well, at the exact same frame. That's either the mother of all coincidences or possibly a manufacturing problem. I saw the final 20 minutes or so on the computer, where it played fine.

Monday, 6 September 2010



Yup, another title gets ticked off the video nasties list, and by my shaky arithmetic, over the years that's 47 down, 28 to go. Not that it's all been easy: some of the movies have been genuinely repulsive, some incredibly dull, some stupid and some, like this cheap minimalist slasher from 1982, just plain rubbish. For every Tenebrae or Zombie Flesh Eaters or The Evil Dead, there's a Night Of The Bloody Apes or Madhouse. Or an Unhinged. Like most of the nasties, "nasty" is one of the least appropriate words for it and its prosecution under the Obscene Publications Act is frankly an absurdity. The Tedious Publications Act, perhaps, but there's really nothing here that could possibly deprave and corrupt.

Unhinged tells of three cute teenage girls who crash their car en route to a rock festival; they're taken in at the Penrose house ruled over by a misandrist old biddy and her strange daughter. Due to the superimposed lightning flashes signalling a storm, they have to spend a few days there; and even though there's obviously something very wrong with the set up (there's no phone, strange breathing sounds from the attic) the girls stay on. Could the house have any connection with the 23 girls who've recently disappeared from the area? Is there someone, or something, in the woodshed?

There's a belter of a plot twist at the end which I didn't see coming, and the brief kill scenes are reasonably done although stinting on any meaty gore, but ultimately Unhinged is no lost horror classic and a glossy Michael Bay-produced remake for the easily pleased isn't going to happen any time soon. Technically it's no more or less proficient or interesting than a hundred other obscurities of the period, and its only claim to fame is that they can put "Previously Banned!!!!" in big letters on the cover. Well, so was Battleship Potemkin. If they hadn't made such a fuss over it, it would have dropped into distributor limbo and been forgotten. It's hardly worth the effort.


Saturday, 4 September 2010



If we believe the IMDb, then this is actually number five in the Amityville Horror saga. But that's only if you rank it as an actual Amityville Horror movie with That Spooky House and not just a bog-standard possession/haunting horror flick that just happens to be set in a town called Amityville but has no connection to the rest of the saga.

The Amityville Curse is actually a pretty bland affair, despite the 18 certificate; there's no sex or violence or much in the way of swearing, and only a few effective and well timed jump moments. Five people get together to buy a house (discovered on the premonitions of one of the women in the group) only to find there's a presence doing the usual things: throwing books off the shelves, turning bathwater into blood, smashing crucifixes, and so on. As usual the guys in the group are dumbasses, convinced that's all the mysterious events can be explained away rationally and are not in any way paranormal, and they're absolutely nothing to do with the unexplained death of a priest in the confessional several years ago. The fools.

I've no problem with haunted house movies: most of us live in houses, or have done at some point, so a domestic setting for a haunting is something we can all relate to (unlike, say, a puzzle box that calls sadomasochistic demons from alternate dimensions, or an ancient book of spells that call the dead to life). But it's really got to be done with more energy and verve than it is here: this is a lifeless, dull movie which feels like a TV project and never picks up enough steam. Despite the occasional "boo!" moments, it's not worth the time and effort.




Can we please stop remaking our way through the video nasties and key exploitation and horror movies of the 70s? This, The Last House On The Left, Cannibal Holocaust (kind of semi-remade as the tedious Welcome To The Jungle), The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Toolbox Murders.... Any day now I half expect to see a new version of Driller Killer or Don't Go In The House. And sooner or later someone's going to have a bash at Tenebrae or The House By The Cemetery, and that's when someone has to call the police.

But let's get one thing straight right from the start: the original I Spit On Your Grave is a loathsome and despicable piece of hateful garbage that frankly deserved to be banned as a video nasty. I think it's getting off on its hideous 40+ minutes of sexual humiliation and rape and I think it's wanting the audience to get off on it as well. If I'd been on its jury during its trials for obscenity in the early 80s, in all honesty I'd have found it very difficult to acquit. That goes for The Last House On The Left and The House On The Edge Of The Park as well.

Not that there's anything wrong with the story of I Spit On Your Grave: a woman at a secluded cabin is assaulted and raped by a group of local scum, and she takes bloody revenge. With the original, the revenge sequences are almost perfunctory, and feel like an afterthought. This big shiny remake is very similar in terms of the narrative, but the rape is over mercifully quickly (in film terms, and by comparison) and the focus of the film is more on the individual punishments tailored to the participants' behaviour. So the guy who kept filming her on a camcorder has his eyelids held upen with fishing hooks so crows will peck his eyes out, the one who held her head underwater is dunked in an acid bath, and so on. The principal narrative difference is that in this remake one of her attackers is the sherrif so she can't call the police for help.

Back in 2001, the BBFC hacked the original film down for home viewing by about seven minutes (although it appears that the most recent submission has suffered less), all from the rape sequences. And, in a rare move, the BBFC have demanded cuts to this remake's theatrical release - a total of seventeen cuts totalling 43 seconds. In all honesty I'm not as bothered about those cuts as I am for other movies such as the upcoming A Serbian Film, which looks to be losing more than four minutes - the graphic material is supposed to have a serious political point to make (though I'm sceptical) - and having seen the cut version of I Spit On Your Grave I don't believe the film is compromised in its intent or its effect.

It is, for its second half, a crowd-pleasing revenge movie in which we're happy to cheer the spectacular fates of its repugnant antagonists while chomping on the popcorn. But for its first, shorter, half, it is suitably grim and unpleasant and I had to look away. Give me zombies ripping people to pieces, or slasher maniacs decapitating cheerleaders with a fireaxe, and I'm reasonably happy, but make any of the violence sexual and I'm deeply uncomfortable. Maybe I'm just sensitive, but what's so wrong with that?


Friday, 3 September 2010



I really liked Hatchet. It's a simple, old-fashioned, non-computerised slasher throwback of the old school - no CGI, no self-referential irony, just an uncomplicated plot in which a mixed bunch of people get stuck in a swamp and the resident boogeyman comes and gets them. Sold on the box as neither a sequel nor a remake, nor based on a Japanese original, it's efficient, unpretentious, gleefully gory and terrific fun. And even watching it again on DVD, it still works. That was four years ago.

And now we have a sequel, Hatchet II, which is in some respects an improvement but in other respects it doesn't quite measure up. Don't get me wrong - I enjoyed Hatchet II a lot but I think the first movie has the edge. Somewhat perversely, I feel it's the copious amounts of blood that get in the way: the kill sequences feel as if they're that bloody for no other reason than that they have to be bloodier than the kills in the first movie - the double chainsawing for example. The need to top its predecessor obviously never applied to the first one but here it feels bloody for the sake of it. That's not necessarily a bad thing; equally obviously, I'm all in favour of blood and gore in slasher movies as you can't really have them without.

Happily there's much more plot than the first one - plot isn't a requisite of the slasher genre but it's always welcome, bringing Tony Todd's one-scene cameo from the first movie to the centre of the stage as he seeks to destroy Victor Crowley forever by giving him the two men who originally "killed" him as a child; this way Crowley can then rest in peace and the swamps can be opened up to business again. To achieve this he gathers together some hunters to go into the swamp with him, along with the sole survivor of the first movie (a recast Danielle Harris). But Victor Crowley is still out there and graphically killing whoever shows up....

It's fun, it's very grisly and soaked in blood, and I did like it. And again it's all done with terrific prosthetics and makeup effects rather than CGI. But while I think it's a worthy followup, I don't think it's quite as good as the first film. I'm also fairly confident that we won't get a Hatchet III, but then again I wouldn't be vastly surprised if one shows up: I just hope it comes before 2014. Hatchet II, meanwhile, is an enjoyable, nasty-minded crowd-pleasing splatter movie that knows exactly what it's doing and how to do it. Good stuff.




I don't know if it's something in the water, or hypnotic trance rays beamed at us from the solar system, but there suddenly seems to be a rash of movies in which guys get their genitals hacked off. Not only were there several occurrences of lovingly detailed deknobbings at FrightFest (Dream Home, I Spit On Your Grave, Wound), but I get home and find this seedy little entry with a castration sequence that differs from the standard eunuchisation process in just one respect.

Penance is actually a reimagining of Pete Walker's grubby British sleaze classic House Of Whipcord, in which a mad judge incarcerates promiscuous women in his own private prison to punish them for their wanton ways. Here it's an insane gynaecologist, and the techniques he uses are far more sadistic and cruel than Whipcord's. Amelia, a young mother with cashflow problems, starts working as a stripper, and is promptly hired for a "private performance" - ending up locked away in an abandoned asylum with several other Women Of Fleshy Pleasures.

First off, it's yet another "found footage" job, apparently consisting of footage shot by Amelia's best friend (yet her captors seemingly allow her to keep the camera) intercut with footage shot by the torturers. Is everybody filming everybody else these days? Is nobody actually spending their lives without having a documentary made about them? (Incidentally, who's filming me, and who am I supposed to be filming?) Quite why the bad guys are capturing all this on tape eludes me. There's a suggestion that Amelia is filming these events because they're evidence, but given that her captors are also filming it, she really doesn't need to bother. I guess you don't need two camera angles of a woman having her labia and clitoris removed.

It's got a few medium-sized names in cameo roles - Michael Rooker, Tony Todd, Jason Connery, and the head maniac is Graham McTavish, the warden from Red Dwarf Series 8. McTavish is the guys whose nuts are removed, and that scene is interesting for two reasons: [1] because it serves absolutely no purpose, and [2] it's self-inflicted. Yup, he anaesthetises himself in an ice bath, sits down in front of the video camera (mercifully positioned slightly too high) and reaches for the garden shears and starts hacking away. Then drops his balls, and attendant tubes and veins, in a glass jar and stitches himself back up. For No Reason At All. Congratulations on your nut job, you nutjob. It's horrible, and not particularly well made, but the occasional bits of particularly horrible sadism perk the interest just enough to get it the second star. Just.




My own fault really - when the director introduces a film with the words "I consider myself to be a surrealist", that's when you know you're in the wrong screening and probably in the wrong city. I've never bought into surrealism as it's a too-easy excuse for wanton gibberish - you can put any old wank up there and get away with it if you say it's surrealist. Symbolism, to an extent, but there should be the expectation that we'll actually be able to decipher it - otherwise it's just a string of squiggles to which we don't have the key, and I might as well be doing a sudoku. The allegories and similes shouldn't be so obscure and abstract that we, the mere audience, can't fathom what the hell you're banging on about, or even know if there is anything to fathom in the first place.

That's not to say the average audience is particularly dense - even in somewhere like Stevenage there'll be some who know what phallic symbols are - and we don't necessarily need everything explained in very simple words by a kindly voiceover. Most of us are not cretins. But to be honest they could have shown the reels of Wound in any order and it wouldn't have made much difference. At its heart is a basic psychological horror tale - it opens with a man visiting his daughter, who promptly hits him with a spade, ties him and and cuts his knob off. Turns out he'd abused her when she was a child, and now she can only function sexually as a submissive sex slave. At some point she'd apparently had a daughter of her own and given her up for adoption, and this now teenage girl is tracking her birth mother down.

Shame, guilt, abuse, castration, murder - these are tried and tested ingredients for genre movies. But the reason she's wrapping her bowel movements in tinfoil and keeping them in the freezer is.... what, exactly, beyond having something to put with the corpses buried in the back garden (in some kind of subconscious I Sh*t On Your Grave pun)? At various points she appears to be wearing a mannequin mask that makes her look like a shopwindow dummy, and there's a particularly odd sequence in which she and someone else (possibly her own daughter) are reborn through a large vagina. And yet it's dull. Even the onscreen castration isn't interesting or shocking or distressing; it's just there.

Worse: it's not just dull, it's annoying. I'm no genius, but I'm not an imbecile either, and I have no idea what director David Blyth thinks he's doing, what story he thinks he's telling. Look, incoherence isn't fun. It's babbling. Mention has been made of David Lynch, and in all honesty I don't like Lynch when he's in random gibberish mode like the three unwatchable hours of Inland Empire (if Wound does have a virtue, it's that it's reasonably short). I hated it.