Sunday, 31 October 2010



When I had the chance to have one DVD cover signed by Dario Argento Himself, at a screening of his then-latest, Mother Of Tears, the debate as to exactly which one should bear His Name didn't last very long. Crystal Plumage, because it was his first? Inferno, because it made the nasties list? Suspiria, because it crystallised his use of coloured lighting? Two Evil Eyes, because the cover already had George Romero's signature? Or Dawn Of The Dead, which he may have only produced but for me is one of the two or three greatest films ever made? In the event it came down to a choice between the two films I believe to be his finest: Tenebrae and Terror At The Opera.

Because I experienced Argento's films out of chronological order, one of the first I saw was Tenebrae, which was a thorough delight as I was unprepared for exactly what the man could do with a camera. I hadn't seen Deep Red, and I may not even have seen Suspiria at this point (and when I did it was on a heavily used rental VHS, cut, cropped to 4:3 and viewed on a television with mono sound - hardly ideal conditions). But by the time Terror At The Opera arrived I was at least partially aware of his abilities and talents, and with the expectations raised it still managed to exceed my wildest hopes. Ultimately it's probably his last complete masterpiece, and while there were good things still to come, including the generally enjoyable throwback Sleepless and the uncharacteristic lightness of Do You Like Hitchcock?, none of them reached the levels he achieves here. It's breathtaking.

Sometimes just known as just Opera, and emphatically not to be confused with his own Phantom Of The Opera some years later (which frankly is a mess: wild changes in tone, uncomfortable sex scenes and baffling comedy bits), it's a wonderful collision between video nasty and the highest of high culture. As with the Phantom story, Betty, a young soprano gets her big chance when the bitchy diva has an accident, but people keep dying around her at the hands of a masked maniac who forces Betty to watch his actions by taping needles under her eyes so she cannot look away. Could it be the opera's director, a horror film maker whose restaging of Verdi's Macbeth involves crashed aircraft, skull-like faces in the sky and flocks of ravens on the stage? Could it have something to do with the murder of Betty's mother?

In truth, the list of suspects isn't that long, and the motive and motivation are a bit on the weak side, but it hardly matters when Argento is having such fun with the elaborate camera trickery and odd imagery - long POV tracking shots, images of the killer's brain throbbing before every kill, and the now-classic raven's-eye-view of the opera house as the birds are let loose - and grisly moneyshots such as a knife through the chin visible through the screaming mouth of the victim, or the bullet through the spyhole, and the eye and the back of the skull of the person peering through it. Even once the maniac is unmasked, there are still a few more twists and jolts up Argento's sleeve as the action abruptly relocates to the Swiss Alps.

Maybe the film could do with a trim at the very end, with the "hello birds, hello trees" voiceover that doesn't seem to fit, along with shots of Betty running across the Alpine meadows as if about to burst into "The Hills Are Alive With The Sound Of Music". It's got a grab-bag soundtrack, alternating heavy metal, grand opera and Claudio Simonetti's own score, personally I'd have preferred just using the operatic selections. But that's really the pickiest of nitpicking. Terror At The Opera is my favourite Argento movie. I've seen the DVD four or five times now and it's still genuinely thrilling.

Next time I get a chance at his autograph it'll be the cover of Tenebrae. Sadly, I'll need to meet him quite a few times before I get round to having his more recent films signed - particularly the last few. Mother Of Tears was a too-belated conclusion to the trilogy that began with Suspiria and continued with Inferno, and the (black) magic simply wasn't there any more. And Giallo was, appallingly, literally laughable. Only I wasn't laughing. Maybe, maybe he can come back with his proposed version of Dracula, in 3D - if anyone can bring something new and exciting to that old warhorse, it's Dario Argento. I hope so; Giallo shouldn't be anyone's last film. Please recapture that magic. Please be as good as you were back in 1987. Please please please be as balls-to-the-wall wonderful as Terror At The Opera.


Saturday, 30 October 2010


Everyone appears to be doing one of these, so why should I be left out? These are in no particular order. And some of them at least are not terribly good, and would in all probability suck most mightily if I saw them in the cold light of the 21st century, but I kind of liked them at the time.


I'm a big fan of spaceship, moonbase and space station movies: Alien, Inseminoid, and more recent films like Event Horizon and Cargo. Any time you've got people in space suits clanking around in metal-floored corridors, I'm happy. Here an expedition to a remote planet doesn't end well because there's a monster running around the place. Klaus Kinski is in it, and there's an exploding head shot. Sadly the UK DVD is not, apparently, of very good quality, which is a shame as I'd really like to catch it again.


I remember seeing a trailer for The Witch at the old Star Centa 4-plex in the Swiss Centre. Before it was rebranded as a Cannon arthouse that showed Jean De Florette and Manon Des Sources on a loop for about a hundred years, it specialised in second-run and trashy double bills and was probably the nearest thing London had to a proper grindhouse: the rubbish Ghoulies, the dull Swordkill, the enjoyable Lone Wolf McQuade, the sleazy Vice Squad and the complete arse that was Screwballs 2: Loose Screws (a Porky's ripoff but without the subtle charm, verbal wit and stylish class). But I never saw the movie itself until its video incarnation on the Stablecane label.

Admittedly it's a generally unremarkable, cheesy little horror pic in which a witch returns hundreds of years later to wreak revenge on those who killed her. But I kind of enjoyed it for its occasional gore moments.


Isn't that a terrible alternative title? It doesn't mean anything at all. But I really love the film: a vague retelling of the Rasputin story relocated to the world of late 70s Australian politics, in which a mysterious faith-healer (Robert Powell) involves himself in the life of an aspiring but fundamentally weak senatorial candidate (David Hemmings). Is Powell a charlatan or is he genuinely supernaturally gifted? It's not particularly creepy (though Powell certainly is), but the film is definitely odd. The music, by the late Australian composer Brian May - no, not that one - was one of those scores that sparked my interest in film soundtracks.

When I first saw it on ITV and on pre-cert video, it was appallingly cropped from widescreen to 4:3, which caused huge amounts of panning problems, but the recent British DVD release is in full scope, and wonderful to see again.


It's Jaws, but with slugs, and directed by the genius who brought you Pieces. Killer slugs are attacking people in a small town, getting into gardening gloves, or surrounding the beds of naked young lovers. Can the slugpocalypse be averted? This one I saw at the Scala, as part of the second Shock Around The Clock festival, and subsequently I owned the VHS release from which I believe a fair chunk of excessive gore was trimmed (42 seconds, according to the BBFC site, though apparently it's recently been reissued uncut -hoorah!). It's not very good: the script is laughable and all it's got going for it is the silliness and the splatter. The cheapness allegedly extended to the special effects for the slug armies in the sewer, which were (if you believe everything you read) done by putting lots of the twisty black licquorice allsorts on a conveyor belt. The score was performed by the London Symphony Orchestra!


If I'm going to include something European, why not something German? It's either this or Angst, a frankly unnerving Portrait Of A Serial Killer who holes up in an empty house and takes a family hostage (including the dog), but I think Der Fan just edges it. An obsessive music fan who hooks up with her idol, but then won't let him go. Cue some frankly unimpressive dismemberment effects.... It's creepy, unsettling stuff, and I liked it. Star Desiree Nosbusch went on to host the 1984 Eurovision Contest, and the DVD is cut in this country because she was under 18 when the nude scenes were filmed.


Probably the biggest film on this list - a full-throttle slime-drenced festival of insanity with Rod Steiger as a mad scientist with a terrible wig, a mutant octopus thing in the cellar and a woman attacked by a watermelon. And Amanda Pays turns into a fish. Mysteriously not on DVD in this country, yet it had a national cinema release, and VHS rental and retail issues. I really want to see this one again.


Okay, it's rubbish. But it's kind of fun. It's the other Oliver Reed snake movie, in which people capture a giant snake monster and then act all surprised when it gets loose and starts biting people; Reed has some kind of telepathic link to the snake. This was released on precert on the VTC label (as was Superstition, and as were many other grisly genre titles from the era, from Zombie Holocaust through Possession and Nightmare City). Frankly I'll take this kind of snake mahyem over the dodgy CG snake effects of Anaconda 3 or Mega Snake any day.


During the late 80s, while the BBFC were hacking videos to pieces left and right, frequently for no overwhelmingly good reason, the cheapie Colourbox label sprung up offering all kinds of genre product. Much of it was worthless, such as Don't Panic or Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers (the latter would have been more or less okay if the BBFC had had anything resembling a sense of humour at the time) but occasionally a minor gem appeared like Brett Leonard's The Dead Pit. Plenty of gore, zombies and weird coloured lighting, and the BBFC actually let it go through despite being insanely strict with far less gory films. And look at the high-profile twaddle Brett Leonard went on to (Virtuosity, The Lawnmower Man)!


I was actually reminded of this a few days ago because of the untimely death of Simon MacCorkindale; he was married to Susan George, star of this this creepy little horror which has fallen though the cracks: a young married couple move to Japan, but to a house that's haunted by ghosts from the samurai era. There's a genuinely effective scene in which they're surrounded and attacked by large crabs. I used to have the old Warner VHS issue but gave it away for some unaccountable reason. Dumb move.


Again, there's no British DVD issue. Why not? It's not a masterpiece or any kind of classic, but chuck a rock anywhere in Blockbusters and it'll bounce off at least forty massively less interesting titles before it hits the ground. This got included in a festival lineup in Manchester after another film fell through - I don't recall what it was but this made up for it. It's a frankly nonsensical voodoo and witchcraft movie with family curses and several nicely nasty death scenes; the extended climax is exciting and the whole thing is genuinely good grisly fun.

Wednesday, 27 October 2010



The movie is many things. Beyond being a thuddingly hollow, clangingly empty comic strip-inspired action spectacular that passes 111 minutes fairly efficiently, it's also a film that boasts a genuinely terrific cast - Bruce Willis, Helen Mirren, Brian Cox, Richard Dreyfuss, John Malkovich, Morgan Freeman, Ernest Borgnine. That's not just impressive in terms of sheer star power but it's impressive in terms of their age: Borgnine is 93 years old, most of the topline stars are in their fifties and sixties, and even Willis' love interest, Mary-Louise Parker, is 46! It's a film that has absolutely no teen appeal as far as who's actually on screen is concerned, yet its 12A family-friendly rating and its slam-bang hyper-action might suggest it's not aimed at an older, more mature audience.

The no-think plot of Red has newly retired CIA black-ops agent Bruce Willis (ironically enough, at 55, not really old enough to retire) forced back into action when an assassination squad tries to kill him. Pausing only to scoop us a pensions clerk (Mary-Louise Parker) with whom he'd been flirting by telephone, Willis rounds up his old spy colleagues Mirren, Freeman and Malkovich in an attempt to find out who wants him, and several others, dead, and why. Might it have something to do with a coverup of a top-secret operation in Willis' agency past? Somewhat inevitably the narrative involves running shootouts and respected actors emptying firearms at one another.

But while, despite the amount of ammunition and explosives set off, it's generally bloodless and inoffensive, I'm minded to take issue with the 12A that the BBFC have given it, for "frequent moderate action violence and one use of strong language". There's been some recent questioning of whether, given the amount of quite painful-looking "moderate action violence" you can get away with at 12A, they should be allowed a few more F-words. I disagree: they should leave the language barrier where it is and raise the bar for the thicko action material. We don't want kids hearing obscenities and profanties, but it seems okay that we show them crunching violence and gunplay without any of the consequences - the blood, the ripped flesh, the screaming and suffering. Honestly, I really do think this should be 15 material.

But all that whinging aside, Red (Retired, Extremely Dangerous) is fun, in a thoroughly senseless kind of way: HM Helen Mirren with a sniper rifle and machine guns, a mad John Malkovich being enjoyably paranoid, Morgan Freeman occasionally employing a dodgy French accent, Willis basically doing The Bruce Willis Performance (Patent Pending). And with their masquerades and breaking into the CIA headquarters, this does almost feel like Mission Impossible for the Viagra generation. It's entertaining enough fodder for the eye, but it has absolutely not a shred of nourishment for the brain or the mind.


Monday, 25 October 2010



Much is being made of the upcoming Let Me In, the US remake of the highly acclaimed Swedish film Let The Right One In, as the rebirth of our own beloved Hammer Films. The trouble is, it isn't. All the way back in 2008 Hammer resurfaced with this unspeakable atrocity that defecates mightily on the Hammer name, the Hammer legacy and the Hammer audience. Not only is it only nominally a Hammer film, it's only nominally a horror film and, if you want to get technical, it's only nominally a film.

Perhaps stemming from the predictable (and incorrect) equation that Hammer = Vampires, Beyond The Rave is another vampire picture. On the eve of departing for Iraq, a young squaddie wants to get together with his girlfriend; she's going to be at an illegal rave and no-one knows where it's going to be held. But the rave is a cover for a blood-harvesting operation run by a group of vampires led by Melech, who's someone who looks distractingly like comedian Ed Byrne. In addition to our hero and a few of his Army mates, there's a trio of Cockney gangster types so morally and verbally repugnant they make Danny Dyer look like the Archbishop of Canterbury. In truth I'm not sure what they're doing in the film apart from dealing drugs. The vamps seal the building and gas everyone, but Melech has the hots for our hero's girlfriend (Nora-Jane Noone, from The Descent and Doomsday).

The cockneys are led by Tamer Hassan and he literally cannot utter a single sentence without flinging obscenities around. If he came to your place for dinner and he asked you for the salt it would be "Pass the ****ing salt, you ****." In fact every last person, human or undead, in the entire movie is such a repellent and reprehensible piece of garbage that five minutes in, I'd completely lost patience with any of the alleged drama and simply wanted the lot of them to die. Modern vampires aren't scary and they aren't interesting - and until someone rewrites vampire lore and takes them out of the soapy gothic romance arena altogether and characterises them as the foul and wretched "creatures of the night" they really should be, such as Nosferatu, they're never going to be scary. In an increasingly secular world with ever less concept of the soul, where's the spiritual downside to living forever and looking fabulous?

Beyond The Rave is absolutely atrocious. For a start: it actually isn't a film. It was made not for cinemas, not for home video and not even for TV - it was a string of twenty "webisodes" for MySpace, each lasting around four minutes. And the DVD presentation of Beyond The Rave does actually include the individual episode captions. So any kind of narrative structure and variation of pacing are sacrificed in favour of a regular cycle of three minutes of drama, one minute of blood - caption - three minutes of drama, one minute of blood - caption - etcetera. You could perhaps get away with four episodes of twenty minutes each but it doesn't work this way.

However, whatever the chosen structure, the writing needs to be a hell of a lot better, you need to give us characters we should give a damn about and it needs to be put together far, far better than this. Look at the actual Hammer films, even the ones which weren't very good. And look at the ones which tried to capture the so-called Youth Market by bringing Dracula into 1970s Swinging London. Hammer was never foul and obnoxious and deliberately out to offend, and if you want the cachet of the Hammer brand on your film you'd damn well better aspire to some kind of quality rather than this frankly unprofessional pandering to the lowest of brows. Whilst on a technical level it's not quite as amateurish as the utterly worthless The Summer Of The Massacre, that was just a bunch of idiots fooling around with a camcorder. This is ostensibly a proper piece of filmmaking that's supposedly reviving the Hammer traditions, but is actually nothing more a shameless and shameful attempt to cash in on its name and has absolutely nothing - not one single thing - to commend it to anyone.


Saturday, 23 October 2010



This was of moderate interest to me as it's the Claude Chabrol version of the film Henri-Georges Clouzot was attempting to make thirty years previously but which was ultimately abandoned (the whole story was told in the fascinating Henri-Georges Clouzot's Inferno). Having seen some of the surviving footage in that documentary, I was slightly intrigued to see whether a good film could have been made from the apparently solid source material.

And L'Enfer (Hell) certainly starts out rather well: it's a nicely told tale of a married couple (Emmanuelle Beart and Francois Cluzet) running a lakeside hotel, but the husband beings to suspect his wife might be having an affair with the mechanic on the other side of town. Although the evidence is entirely circumstantial and her behaviour can all be explained away, he can't let go of the idea and comes to believe that she's at it not just with the mechanic but, as the days go by, with absolutely everybody including all the guests at their hotel. Every glance, every word, every second unaccounted for: it's all mounting proof of her infinite infidelities.

Gradually, however, as he gets more and more jealous, suffering from increasingly irrational suspicions and ultimately resorting to violence, the film does lose its way. I suspect that the way it eventually plays out might have worked better back in 1964, but nearly thirty years (L'Enfer was made in 1993) on you don't expect a wife as badly treated as Beart to somewhat meekly submit; rather, you expect her to either fight back or walk out. A further seventeen years, watching the movie well into the 21st Century, it actually feels wrong and I really didn't like the ending at all. Nonetheless, it's still an interesting film, especially if you know the background to its ill-fated origins.


Friday, 22 October 2010



As I'm sure I've said many, many times before, I have absolutely no problems with remakes in practice. I don't think movies are Sacred Texts that Thou Shalt Not Muck About With; if you can bring something new and exciting to an existing movie (particularly one where there's room for improvement and the bar's quite low) then they should go for it. John Carpenter's The Thing is a fantastic remake of a movie I'm actually quite indifferent to, although the Hawks original does have an appreciative following. I even have no particular loyalty to something like Ealing's The Ladykillers, and if the Coen Brothers want to relocate it to the Deep South and get Tom Hanks to put on a funny voice then I can't find it in myself to get spittingly angry with them. Look at it as a film on its own terms.

Over the last few years Hollywood have been remaking every Asian horror movie they can get their talons on - Shutter, The Ring, The Grudge, The Eye - with varying degrees of success, and Martin Scorsese finally got an Oscar for a remake of Infernal Affairs. In a pleasing development, Connected is actually a Hong Kong remake of an American original. It's an official remake - the production company and the writers of Cellular are credited - and it sticks to its source material for about 80% of the time: a woman is kidnapped because her brother (originally husband) has a video recording of the villains committing a heinous crime; the villains want the video back and hold her and her little daughter (originally son) hostage to get the camera back. Utilising her engineering knowledge she manages to get a smashed phone working and manages to connect with the cellphone of a shabby debt collector (originally a hunky beach bum), leading him on a wild few hours of chases, fights and corrupt cops to get hold of the camcorder.

The downside is that if you've seen the original Cellular, which is a neat, enjoyable thriller, there aren't many surprises with Connected as the makers stick fairly closely to the original story. The upside is that the action sequences are much better, particularly the car chase which now goes on for ages and involves a massive amount of screeching tyres and crunching metal. I love car chases when they're done for real rather than enhanced in the computer, and this is a terrific example of a car chase in which stunt drivers genuinely smash real cars into each other. The movie is directed by Benny Chan, who did the thumping HK cop thriller Invisible Target and he knows how to stage, shoot and edit action sequences.

If I had to be a tad picky I'd say that it goes on a little bit too long at the end; once the story's finished, there's about five or ten minutes that could have been dropped. But that, and familiarity with the original film (which robs this remake of some of its narrative effect) are pretty much the only things wrong with it. Bottom line, I really enjoyed it.


Thursday, 21 October 2010



Average is the word. Another is bland. Others include unremarkable, standard, perfunctory and functional. You might even go as far as pointless. It might as well not even exist for all the tremendous lack of impact it has. This isn't a movie you actually watch and interact with on some kind of subconscious level; it doesn't go any further than your eardrums and retinas. It's obviously the followup to Lost Boys: The Tribe, a sequel that was already surplus to requirements - were there really legions crying out for the further adventures of the Frog Brothers? (Especially since the Frog Brother who wasn't Corey Feldman didn't even make it to the final cut of Lost Boys: The Tribe.)

Both Frogs are back for The Lost Boys: The Thirst, a direct-to-video threequel in which Edgar Frog (Corey Feldman doing a frankly terrible hardman act) is hired by a teen horror novelist to rescue her brother, held hostage by an international ring of vampires who are using vampire blood as a drug to convert young and stupid partygoers into footsoldiers for a vampire army. Recruiting his brother, and arming to the teeth with holy water grenades, impalement mines and UV torches, they locate the bloodsuckers' base and prepare to snatch the kid back. But something isn't quite right....

There are a few laughs from an absolute idiot from a reality TV series who tags along to raise his own media profile, and the involvement of the gothic novelist allows for a few nice digs at the Twilight Saga - the "reality" of vampires is that they're not sexy and attractive, but repugnant and ugly. Sadly they then scupper this "truth" by having most of their vampires looking like lingerie models and beach hunks. As a film, it's probably a tad better made than the previous instalment: it looks fine, and it's done professionally enough (director Dario Piana's previous film was The Deaths Of Ian Stone which I rather liked), put together with no fuss and no pretension. Mysteriously, despite being made for the video market, it's shot in 2.35 scope. But an instalment is all the film ultimately is - it's really nothing more than a mid-series episode. There's no depth to it, nothing to think about, there's no actual meat. It's not terrible, it's certainly not terrible enough to get angry about, but that's all that can be said for it. There's a dedication to the late Corey Haim at the end.


Monday, 18 October 2010



They're like red buses: you wait ages for a crime thriller involving bank robberies and armoured car heists, and then two turn up more or less simultaneously. First we had the Ben Affleck movie The Town, which is generally quite good - it feels authentic, it's well made and while it's possibly a bit too long, I rather liked it (despite not being much of an Affleck fan). And then, released just one week later, we have this, which is in the main an absolute mess: it doesn't feel authentic, it isn't in the least bit believable and on a technical level of filmmaking it's surpassed by pretty much everything including gonzo pornography and DFS Winter Sale commercials.

The Takers are a bunch of badass robbers specialising in banks and armoured security vans: one of their original number is just out of prison and wants to get back in the game; he comes up with a ludicrous plan (apparently inspired by the remake of The Italian Job) to seize a van and double-cross some Russian gangsters. Or might he be paying off the Russians and double-crossing his own crew? Meanwhile cop Matt Dillon is on the trail despite his own personal difficulties and the fact that Internal Affairs appear to be interested in him.

Obviously the template for this genre is Michael Mann's terrific Heat, and Takers really, really wants to be Heat. It's trying so desperately hard, bless it, but it simply hasn't a hope. If you want to come anywhere near Heat you need a cast with the calibre of De Niro and Pacino, and all they can muster is Paul Walker and Hayden Christensen: Anakin Skywalker and the bloke out of the Fast And Furious movies who isn't Vin Diesel. Which would be okay if you're making a film about male models and pretty boys, but badass they are emphatically not (hell, Michael Mann's even able to convince us that Val Kilmer is badass!). They do have the slightly more badass Idris Elba, who's British and playing British: he has a subplot involving his junkie sister Marianne Jean-Baptiste and if you close your eyes during their scenes it could be EastEnders.

But Heat is also magnificently photographed by Dante Spinotti, and the worst of Takers' crimes is that it's one of the most atrociously photographed movies in ages. It's not even a film - it's shot on some kind of HD digital format but it really looks as though someone's taken the Handycam out of the box from Dixons and isn't bothering to look through the user manual, and the result is stupendously ugly. Add to that the frantic overediting of all the action sequences and a noisy score, and the end product is absolutely incompetent on a purely aesthetic level. There's one extended foot chase sequence that's quite nicely done, and there's a fantastic amount on gunfire for a movie that's only rated 12A, but the technical standards are just shoddy and it's simply not good enough to warrant a theatrical release. This should have gone straight to the Blockbuster rental racks. See The Town instead - it's not great but it's far better than this.


Friday, 15 October 2010



This week's cheapo slasher nonsense, in which a bunch of charmless halfwits wander off into the darkness and get pointlessly slaughtered, is mainly notable for being [1] British, and [2] pretty much as bad as generic idiot fodder can get. You spend more of its scant 75 minutes trying to fathom the mentality behind its production than you spend following the preschool-simplistic plot (bunch of charmless halfwits wander off etc etc blah blah blah), partly because the plot takes all of five seconds to grasp (with the exception of the completely ungraspable Big Reveal at the end) but mainly because the overwhelming sense the film conveys is one of insult and contempt: the makers think so little of you as a viewer that they either genuinely believe you're going to be impressed by it, or they simply don't give a damn. You've spent your money, thanks very much, you fools.

The basic thrust of Basement is that a quintet of anti-war protestors are on their way back from a demo when they stop in the woods and find a hatch in the ground. Being dolts, they go down and - gosh! - the hatch closes behind them and they're trapped! And - gosh! - they're not alone! How do they think these things up? Cue around an hour of bickering, implausible sexual tension and wandering off into the darkness to get killed in crowd-pleasing death scenes - not because they're outrageously goretastic but because we're just glad to see the back of them.

The Big Reveal as to what's going on and why is so thunderously stupid that even the wilderness years of The X-Files wouldn't have run with it. None of our five alleged heroes are worth giving two hoots about - the men (Jimi Mistry and Danny Dyer) are thoroughly obnoxious and the women are just blanks. One's pregnant by Mistry, but Mistry fancies both the others (and is at it like knoves with one of them); Dyer fancies the other one but daren't tell her. This isn't horror cinema, it's just babbling, in a hole in the ground. It also doesn't hang together logically - if it's all part of one person's grand design then how come others go into the hole first?

Some people had the chance to make a film and THIS is what they came up with. Yet again we're back to the fact that just because people have the opportunity to make a film, that doesn't mean they should. Nowhere along the production process was there anyone saying "this doesn't make sense" or "this isn't good enough" and there should have been. It's called quality control. They either believed the script was well-written or didn't care, and I'm inclined towards the latter. And: how the hell does Danny Dyer keep getting work? He's consistently rubbish in consistently rubbish films (with the exception of Severance, but even the worst gambler in the world will get three aces sooner or later) and this is worse than any of them - worse than Outlaw, worse than Straightheads, Dead Man Running, Doghouse, even worse than Dead Cert (which, to be fair, he is only in for fourteen seconds). Does he play anything other than charmless yobs? Can he?

Visually it's uninteresting to look at; a decent director and cinematographer would have given it some kind of atmosphere. The music score appears to be nothing more than a few electronic sample riffs and rhythm tracks over the credits but it does absolutely nothing to enhance the film. Frankly I feel insulted by the level of contempt for an audience that the makers are demonstrating with this one-star movie (and it's damned lucky to get that). Basement is where it belongs, along with all the other stuff you want to keep out of sight.


Thursday, 14 October 2010



Revenge seems to be the current Big Thing. At FrightFest we had the shiny new version of I Spit On Your Grave and The Tortured, there's the recent The Final, and in the same envelope as 7 Days they also sent me Johnnie To's vengeance-themed thriller that's actually called Vengeance. It's an old theme and it's always worth delving into and poking around in; it's just that sometimes it's used purely as a justification for sadistic violence being inflicted upon the apparent villains. How much is too much? Is it ever enough? When does it stop being justice, when does the avenger become the bad guy? At what point are we supposed to stop siding with the good guys?

7 Days is a Canadian/French film in which Bruno Hamel, a well-off, middle-class surgeon, is so devastated by the rape and murder of his little daughter that he takes the paedophile scumbag responsible to a remote cottage and tortures him. While the police struggle to locate him (though they're not actually that bothered about what happens to the scumbag), he claims that he'll give himself up after seven days - on what would have been the child's ninth birthday. In the meantime, he gets to work with sledgehammers, curare and a spot of bowel surgery.

It's done coldly, without gloss or glamour; there's not a note of music even over the credits, and the brief spells of violence are unfliching and nasty. Unlike The Tortured, which also had grieving parents doing crowd-pleasingly horrible things to the man they judged to be guilty of a similar crime, this is far less interested in even the most questionably exploitatative approach: this is not about pleasing the crowd. Rather, it's very matter-of-fact and, deliberately, it's hard to empathise with either captive or captor. When Hamel hears that the mother of one of the murderer's other young victims does not approve of his actions, he kidnaps her in an effort to make her understand. For much of the time the loathsome pervert, chained up and crippled in the back room, is incidental. There's also Hamel's sense of guilt that, by chance, he didn't know his daughter was missing until, perhaps, it was too late.

7 Days is really not a film you can like; you can perhaps admire the way it's been made. On that level I'm not that comfortable about it as I'm not entirely sure I get the point. It's well done, convincingly enough performed and the scenes of violence are undeniably unpleasant. But while I think it's designed to leave you cold, I don't actually want to be left cold. It's very good at creating an effect I don't much care for. Worth seeing but it is a pretty tough watch.


Tuesday, 12 October 2010



There's a little bit of confusion here, as there's another recent DVD release called XII (actually Twelve on the video box). The other one is apparently a slasher piece, which looks more my kind of thing, but this one is a fighting movie in which a dozen fairly charmless types are pitted against each other in a series of questionably legal combat scenes, the winner pocketing half a million in cash put up by an equally charmless set of investors who like to watch desperate peasants beating one another senseless.

So in 12 Twelve (which is exactly how it appears on screen) you get absolutely no plot save for a succession of elimination bouts in which the dozen anonymous fighters (The Police Officer, The Ex-Convict, The Teacher, The Triad, The Male Model and so forth) are whittled down to six, then to three. A bunch of other people then turn up and take on the remaining three; the surviving two face off in the final reel. It's a very basic beat-em-up and the fighting, while suitably vicious, has none of the grace or style of even the most perfunctory of Hong Kong action movies. Instead it's grimy, nasty thuggery at its least glamorous: the fights take place in abandoned warehouses, car parks, storage units and freight yards (the original title was Underground).

Between the fisticuffs we get little videos of the motivations behind each of the contestants, as if this is Britain's Got Hooligans or something, and the tough-talk as the investors match their men (and one token woman) against each other. Frankly, despite the innumerable punches to the face and kicks to the goolies, it's ultimately rather dull and grubby (although the constant violence, and the films po-faced seriousness, are occasionally funny), and the sole point of interest is seeing Danny John-Jules, Cat from the mighty Red Dwarf, as one of the contest's sponsors. Other than that, there's not much to see unless you like watching people getting beaten to a pulp. Hurrah.


Saturday, 9 October 2010



There really doesn't appear to be much rhyme or reason as to which movies get preserved for posterity and which are allowed to fade and die. Of all the movies that were in the release patterns at around the time this second-tier piece of B-movie double-bill fodder came out in 1979, why has this one been deemed worthy of rediscovery? It isn't very good - think something along the lines of pre-Cannon Chuck Norris films - and probably its only saving grace is its undeniably impressive roster of guest stars.

Certainly as far as plot is concerned Jaguar Lives (with or without the exclamation mark) is unimpressive - a retired agent with martial arts skills is called back into service when world leaders are being picked off, apparently at the behest of a mysterious drugs cartel. Might it have anything to do with Jaguar's former agency buddy who went rogue and was supposedly killed in the opening sequence although they never found the body? Duh! Anyway, Jaguar jets off round the world, following the trail from guest star to guest star, each of whom show up in isolated little 10-minute sequences but never actually meet up.

So you get John Huston as an embittered shipping tycoon, you get Capucine as the manager of a car factory, you get Woody Strode as Jaguar's martial arts guru. You also get not one but four ex-Bond stars: Joseph Wiseman (blind Arab), Barbara Bach (CIA agent), Christopher Lee (suave drugs baron) and Donald Pleasence (comedy generalissimo), who all do their stuff, take the cheque and disappear. The nominal star is Joe Lewis, who isn't really an actor but a proper martial artist and kickboxer.

It's efficient enough but overall fairly unremarkable and pretty unambitious, content to let the big names do their thing, then have a fight scene, then wheel on the next big name, and so. Christopher Lee and Donald Pleasence are always worth watching in practically anything, but that really isn't enough, and of all the late 70s movies that weren't major blockbusters, it's slightly odd that this one has survived.




How many times can you watch a bloke being kicked in the head before it starts to drag? In the midst of a Hong Kong martial arts cop thriller the answer's probably about four hundred. That's not counting the number of times people are thrown through windows, kicked in the goolies, slapped, punched, thrown through walls, dropped off balconies and tossed through the air in huge explosions. And despite the welter of bone-shattering violence, it's only a 15. Hurrah for that.

Deep down, Invisible Target offers precisely the same mixture of cops and criminals we've seen many times before from the Far East, from Jackie Chan to John Woo. Six months after the spectacular robbery of the contents of an armoured security van, the gang appear to have resurfaced looking for their loot that's been kept safe while they lie low. Against them are the cops: one whose fiancee was killed in the opening blast, one who's a bit crazy and keeps getting into fights, and a by-the-book constable whose missing brother might somehow be involved with the gang.

The basic template of these movies is: action, bit of plot, fight, bit of plot, shootout, bit of plot, exploding cars, bit of plot, chase, bit of plot, then massive climactic fight sequence involving chases, fighting, shootouts AND explosions. Invisible Target goes on for more than two hours and maybe thirty minutes at most consists of actual plot material, story development or character motivation. The rest basically consists of photogenic people lamping one another and destroying the scenery, and frankly when it's as well done as it is here I'm not about to complain that the movie lacks great depth. Director Benny Chan is a veteran of the HK action picture - he's worked with Donnie Yen, Andy Lau, Chow Yun Fat and (at least three times) the mighty Jackie Chan - and he loves to blow things up and have blokes thrown through plate glass windows.

No-one goes to these movies for the performances (which are all fine, by the way - incidentally, the lowly patrolman is played by Jackie Chan's son Jaycee): it's the impeccably choreographed fight sequences and action setpieces that matter and they're terrific, and if the IMDb is to believed they were all done without the use of stunt doubles. This really is the best action movie I've seen in a very long time and literally beats seven bells out of any recent Hollywood offering in the genre. Loved it.


Thursday, 7 October 2010



Probably the premier example of the British sex comedy: a leery smutcom with questionable comedic content and as much skin as they could get away with, but nothing else. It hails from the days when the industry couldn't do hardcore, so it's all tease and no release, all build-up and no punchline, all foreplay and no coitus. So it ends up trying to be terribly coy and terribly dirty at the same time, and the performers have to work doubly hard to avoid straying into obscenity. (That said, there are several appearances by several Mr Happys, though [1] not belonging to anyone famous and [2] not remotely pleased to see you.)

As far as any kind of plot is concerned, Come Play With Me is ostensibly about a couple of counterfeiters (Alfie Bass and auteur George Harrison Marks, who looks like Jim Dale did when he drank the Jekyll potion in Carry On Screaming) who hole up in a quiet Scottish health resort while on the run from London gangsters and the authorities. Except that the resort is soon revitalised when the heir to the estate instals a bunch of uninhibited young women as staff, and then it's all boobs and bums until the end. Two of the girls are noted British sex starlets Suzy Mandell and the late Mary Millington, but the real surprise is how many familiar TV and comedy faces show up, sometimes for just a few lines. Irene Handl, Cardew Robinson, Ronald Fraser, Bob Todd, Henry McGee (as the Deputy Prime Minister!), Rita Webb, Talfryn Thomas, Valentine Dyall..... None of them get their kit off, mercifully. But they're wheeled on to do their stuff, and those bits are kind of okay because they're good at what they do.

Look, it's not remotely funny and despite the acreage of skin it's not even faintly erotic. In technical, filmmaking terms it's primitive point-and-shoot. There's a musical number (with indifferent choreography) and two thirds of the way through one character suddenly goes off to Brighton in drag for no reason at all. The writing's fairly poor and the acting from the girls (and writer-director-producer Marks) is awful; if it wasn't for the likes of Henry McGee coming on and basically doing the usual Henry McGee thing we saw a thousand times on the Benny Hill show it would be completely unwatchable. As it is, it's mainly terrible with tolerable bits.




A very British take on the home invasion genre, this is basically Them, Actually. Or Class War: The Motion Picture. Or Eden Lake II. Or Death Wish as directed by Michael Haneke. This is a film that showed at FrightFest and thank [insert deity or deities of choice] I was in the other screen watching something else. Because if I'd been in the main screen at the time, I'd almost certainly have been [1] massively annoyed and [2] sorely tempted to walk out. It's absolutely terrible. And it had funds from the UK Film Council, which frankly should close the debate on whether the UKFC should be preserved.

Respectable, well-off couple (married, though obviously not very happily) in respectable, middle-class Muswell Hill (the road name is Cherry Tree Lane although according to GoogleMaps it doesn't actually exist) are taken hostage by despicable yobs waiting to ambush the couple's teenage son as revenge for his alleged grassing. For about an hour - of a 74 minute film including credits - they're tied up and repeatedly sworn at; the wife is taken into another room and sexually assaulted (mercifully off screen, though that hardly makes it any more palatable); the toughs steal their bank cards, swear repeatedly, and invite round a couple of chavvie druggie slags and a schoolboy.

All to no great end. It's deliberately coldly done - long takes, little camera movement, minimal use of music - so it looks like Michael Haneke's Hidden/Cache, which just has a distancing effect so you really don't care about the victims. On the other hand, the antagonists are such charmless scum you just want them to die before they've so much as mocked the couple's DVD collection (all foreign, arthouse films and no pornography), and the ludicrous overuse of the C-word isn't big or clever, it's just boring. I know there's an argument that it's part of everyday life and it would probably feel false and forced if they didn't swear, but it passes the point of tiresome very quickly. After all, bowel movements are part of real life as well but that doesn't mean we should get them in the cinema.

So what's the point? Underclass dope dealers aren't very nice people compared to double-income North Londoners in detached houses, who watch subtitled films and call their son Sebastian? After all, we're not given any reason to dislike the victims, unless we're supposed to just not like rich, intelligent people, but we're not allowed to find any redeeming feature of the human garbage who invade them either. Frankly I'd be much more interested in a reversal movie, where articulate professionals took some druggie scum hostage on a sink estate.

And it isn't any fun. At least movies such as Death Weekend are supposed to be grindhouse entertainment, even if I don't actually find them at all enjoyable (some say The Last House On The Left is supposed to be entertaining but that's a film I have great difficulty with). I'm not even sure if we're supposed to enjoy the final acts of justice in a Last House style - where the middle class took revenge against the lower class. It certainly doesn't feel like it. Possibly one of the worst films of the year so far.


Tuesday, 5 October 2010



I know you're supposed to admire and appreciate silent comedy, but personally I prefer mine verbal. Outside of the genuinely death-defying insanity of the early stuntwork and the immaculate precision of some of the physical comedy, it generally leaves me cold, particularly when it gets ickily sentimental (I'm looking at you, Chaplin). Words and wordplay interest me far more than fat women falling over or downtrodden blokes kicking policemen up the bum and running away. And in a far more recent example, I cannot be doing with Mr Bean either. To me it's always felt like getting laughs from the mentally handicapped.

In 1968 they had a go at this semi-silent comedy (it's not entirely silent, but the spirit of the genre is there and there are lengthy passages without dialogue) in The Party, a Blake Edwards film in which Peter Sellers plays an accident-prone film star accidentally invited to a swanky Hollywood party, which he comprehensively wrecks. There are a number of problems with this. Firstly, it's far too long even at around 94 minutes and frankly I'd have liked a lot less of the random chaos and, curiously, more of the nicely touching romance with a French girl. Secondly, a lot of what happens at the party are actually nothing to do with Sellers: there's a lot of time allocated to an increasingly drunken waiter, and towards the end a bunch of hippies turn up with an elephant, so the nominal star and central character is reduced to bystander status.

Thirdly: the Sellers character is Indian, for which Sellers has put on his funny Indian voice and "browned up". And while you could have got away with it in 1968, the world has changed since and it now feels very uncomfortable. Similarly Mickey Rooney's comedy Japanese schtick from Breakfast At Tiffany's (oh, it's Blake Edwards again!) might have been funny at the time but it's genuinely jaw-dropping now. So how come Sellers playing French (Clouseau) with cod accent is okay, indeed celebrated, while Sellers playing Indian with equally cod accent isn't? Well, there's the physical transformation in terms of skin colour - but then Rory Bremner gets away with it every time he pretends to be Trevor MacDonald. Isn't the whole point of acting to pretend to be someone else, someone that you're not? Isn't a man blacking up the pigmentation equivalent of a man in drag? Why would Robin Williams in blackface be entirely inappropriate when Robin Williams in a dress is fun for all the family and gets away with a PG (despite being something so unutterably grotesque that Jason Voorhees would cack his Calvins at the sight of it)?

I don't profess to know. I can state, however, is that The Party isn't nearly as funny as it should be or as funny as it thinks it is, and that's surely of some importance. It being a Blake Edwards film, there's a Henry Mancini score, but it's mostly source music for the band at the party itself and not a great example of his work (if only someone would release the original score tracks for Charade rather than the easy-listening album we have now!). There are a few moments that almost work, but most of it just doesn't. A pity.


Monday, 4 October 2010



The joys of yet another brand new genre DVD, in which more French wandering around in the woods pursued by grunting subhumans and meeting sticky ends on sharp things. Mercifully, this time it's not the traditional bunch of clueless sex-obsessed teens traditional in the generic variations on the Texas Chainsaw theme, but a trio of anthropologists and a vacationing family stranded in a remote Swiss ravine after a car accident. What could be pursuing them and bloodily offing them? And why?

It's the Humains - something close to humans, but not quite. Some sort of Cro-Magnon, Neanderthal or similar Early Man might have lived somewhere in Switzerland much more recently than generally accepted, and so an old prof (Phillippe Nahon) and his son team up with the son's anthropologist semi-girlfriend to find proof and thus rewrite evolutionary history. Except that "more recently than generally accepted" can be more accurately expressed as "still alive and not happy". No sooner have our intrepid heroes hooked up with a family on an ill-advised hiking holiday (led by Dominique Pinon) than spooky things start happening - and then it's blood, screaming and death all the way with the hotties locked up in the Neanderthals' lair and the surviving blokes trying to rescue them. Can they get any help in the nearest village? Or do the locals have some dark secret to protect at all costs?

There are a few nice bits, some satisfyingly nasty violence, but generally it's not very original and ends up as not much better than okay. It's alright, nothing special but watchable, and it's not so much a case of there being so many better films on the shelves, as there being rather a lot that are pretty much the same. I saw this before High Lane [Vertige] and while watching the latter was rather reminded of this one, but nonetheless did enjoy it. But can we stop endlessly running around in the woods, please?




Maybe I'm just seeing too many of them, but increasing numbers of horror/slasher movies are all starting to look the same to me. Certainly the opening sequences of this French exploitation number brought any number of similar pictures to mind - a bunch of attractive people venturing out into the unknown (in this instance mountaineering in the remotest corners of Croatia), and bantering crudely in the car while we get a sense of who's likely to survive and who's inevitably going to be splattered. Mercifully, there is more to the movie than that, and it's more fun than Humains, for example.

In its opening reel, Vertige* picks up steam marvellously with a couple of genuinely gripping sequences straight out of the Cliffhanger school of queasy don't-look-down thrills, as our photogenic heroes cling onto sheer rockfaces and race across the most rickety-looking bridge on Earth before the cables snap. This unfortunately leaves them stuck on the side of a mountain and the ensuing bickering and blame aren't helped by the love rivalry between two of the blokes - one effortlessly smooth but dislikeable and the other patently scared sans de la merde to even be there but isn't going to give up. But, particularly sadly given those two dangling sequences, the movie slows down and becomes Wrong Turn as they find themselves hunted through the woods by a deformed maniac.

Yes, they're not alone. Unfortunately, Vertige ultimately turns into yet another Texas Chainsaw lift, albeit a satisfyingly nasty one, and it doesn't live up to the early promise. It's fun while it's on, especially in its opening half hour, and even the later sequences are pleasingly violent and nasty-edged, (and, by the way, properly lit so we can see what the hell's going on), but in settling for being a perfunctory, professional retread of material we've all seen too many times before, the final result is a sense of opportunities thrown away. Still far better than a lot of stuff out there, but it's a shame.

* And, just a few days after Twilight Saga: Eclipse, this is another one where the title is open to some debate. The box title is High Lane but the on-screen title is Vertige (which is how the BBFC have listed it).


Sunday, 3 October 2010



You know that cheerful B-movie aesthetic that really rotten movies think they can employ to get away with being really rotten: "So Bad It's Good"? It's a fiction. It's either good or it's not. A generally bad movie can sometimes be fun, in a Lifeforce kind of a way - a film can be entertaining despite poor writing, acting etc - if done with enough verve, panache or style, if done in an interesting or imaginative way or even, occasionally, if it's just smothered in gory effects. But in those cases the things that redeem the movie - nice ideas, offbeat camera angles, gloopy splatter - are actually Good Things. No-one talks about So Good It's Bad: quality is not a continuous spectrum where you travel so far to one end that you emerge at the other.

But there's a school of cinema that thinks you can actually get away with very low standards if it's done with a wink and a smirk: that acknowledging a film's shoddiness excuses the makers from bothering to do any better. Troma used to do this (they probably still do but the films were so utterly tedious and tiresome I haven't looked in the last five years at least) and now The Asylum are carrying on the tradition, albeit without the childish taboo-busting, by making dozens of hopelessly cheap rehashes of current and forthcoming blockbusters (Snakes On A Train, Transmorphers, Paranormal Entity) or idiotic monster flicks with CG effects that would have been considered ropey in Sylvester McCoy's tenure as Doctor Who.

Inexplicably, Mega Shark Vs Giant Octopus was some kind of success, so where else can they go but Mega Piranha? In the Orinoco River in Venezuela, genetic scientists have created mutant piranha that are doubling in size every few hours until they're the size of a horse and able to launch themselves into third-floor windows. (In a nod to MSvGO's casting of 80s teen pop star Debbie Gibson, here we have the science team led by 80s teen pop star Tiffany who, sadly, has not weathered the intervening years as comfortably.) A tough US mercenary type is shipped in to find out what's going on, but the local military aren't having any American imperialist interlopers telling them how to run their country, so the piranha double and quadruple in size and strength until they can take down a battleship and even a nuclear strike doens't have the desired effect....

Obviously it's the most atrocious twaddle and doesn't even get by on the Golden Turkey shoddiness it's hoping for (and which we've already established is a myth and the last resort of filmmakers who can't make halfway decent films). The effects are abysmal, acting and dialogue are terrible and even at 88 minutes it drags. Look: if enough people tell you it's a lousy movie, it probably is a lousy movie. If the makers are all but telling you it's a lousy movie, why inflict it upon yourself?


Saturday, 2 October 2010



Because pretty much everything I waffled about regarding Twilight: New Moon holds true for this third instalment of the series and, I suspect, will also apply to the next two (Breaking Dawn Parts 1 and 2, the first of which isn't due for another year). It's still aimed at young teenage girls and everyone else is rather left standing: we won't derive anything like maximum enjoyment from it. It's still soaking wet, sixth-form love-triangle blathery soap opera with no sense of humour and so constrained by the 12A rating (required for its preferred demographic) that it can't deliver on the vampire/werewolf monster stuff.

Well, that's not entirely fair: anyone who enjoys watching groups of buff young men with rippling abs and pecs running shirtless around the woods will also get their five quids' worth - it almost makes 300 look straight. But the main thrust of Twilight Saga: Eclipse* is the ongoing battle between sensitive romantic Edward and athletic hunk Jacob for the mind, body, soul and virginity of soppy Bella - wet, but not in a good way. (Moist: good, damp: bad.) An army of Newborns - freshly turned vampires which are ferocious and bloodthirsty, but difficult to control - has been created by evil vampire Victoria to kill Bella, in revenge for Edward's killing of her (Victoria's) true love, so he'll know how it feels. To protect Bella (and, frankly, why bother?) an uneasy truce is agreed between the vampires and the werewolves (and, specifically, between love rivals Jacob and Edward, each of whom look on in agony whenever she's with the other).

It is indeed high-school girly stodge, and at 124 minutes it's too long, and it's no fun unless you're sucked into Edward's soulful, tortured eyes or the sculpted torsos of the wolf pack. I think it's probably the best of the series so far, and preferred it to the last one, New Moon, although there's not really a lot between them. Technically, as a film, it's fine: very nicely shot, with a typically gloomy Howard Shore soundtrack, and the CG effects are good - but so they should be. To praise a modern film for its excellent computer effects is like praising it for being in focus. I'm not part of the target audience (and never will be) but I still found it watchable, more watchable than a lot of films for which I am the target audience. The girlies further along my row, however, were practically wetting themselves, whisper-shouting "Edward, we love you!!!" over the studio logos. (Mercifully, they kept quiet for the film itself.)

* What exactly is this film called? The BBFC card and the opening title card just say "Eclipse", but the ending title card says "Twilight Saga: Eclipse". For the sake of clarity I've picked the latter.