Monday, 31 January 2011



It's a hard life being a Man. All that boozing, shooting, brawling, picking up chicks, fast cars, blowing things up, leaping off buildings, killing people, Schubert.... Well, maybe not the Schubert. But this is a Jason Statham movie, so an apparently inexplicable appreciation for classical piano music - on vinyl no less - is the only concession to any hint of a sensitive side; otherwise it's beer, guns, explosions, hookers and death all the way and the end result is the most testosterone-flavoured movie presently on release. In fact the only speaking woman in the film is the hooker Statham gets his end away with. Ostensibly this is a remake of a Charles Bronson vehicle but in comparison to The Statham, Bronson is about as alpha-masculine as Wendy Craig.

Statham is The Mechanic: the world's top assassin who takes his assignments very seriously and always pulls off the desired effect: "natural causes" or setting up someone else. His mentor and handler is wheelchair-bound Donald Sutherland (lending an air of effortless class that the film really needs) but Statham's loyalties are tested when Sutherland himself is his next target. Even though he carries out the hit coldly, professionally and efficiently, it's not the same, and Statham takes under his wing Sutherland's loose-cannon son (Ben Foster), mentoring him as a trainee assassin with a simple poisoning that turns into a crunchingly violent fight sequence. But will Foster discover the truth? And how long before a price is put on Statham's head as he figures out what's going on?

It's not as much fun as the first Transporter movie, which is probably the best Jason Statham "vehicle" so far (I'm not taken with the two Crank films, which seem to be trying too hard), although I'm wondering if he's ever going to branch out into light comedy or serious drama. That would be something, because sooner or later he's going to be too old for this stuff. Still, it's a moderately entertaining bit of thickear thuggery in which the assassination sequences are pointlessly spectacular and, rather than operating subtly in the shadows like proper assassins, they opt to stage the climactic confrontation with the villains by merrily smashing buses, cars and trucks into each other in the middle of town in broad daylight. Sadly, despite all the crash bang wallop, it's pretty predictable, fairly silly (for one thing, Foster keeps leaving his prints all over the crime scenes despite having a criminal record), very empty and in the end a bit dull.


Yours to own (at some point in the future):

Sunday, 30 January 2011



We're all different. Some people like fried onions, some people don't like fried eggs. Some people enjoy Antiques Roadshow and some people don't like harpsichord music. And yet, we're all the same: my likes and dislikes are just as identically different as yours, and hers, and that bloke's over there. Everybody's right, nobody's wrong, especially where art and your subjective reaction to it is concerned. I liked No Country For Old Men, you liked The Bounty Hunter. Whatever. Just keep an open mind and don't judge these things too harshly. That's kind of normal, isn't it? It extends into whatever works for sexual persuasions and I'll confess here and now that I never understood the whole fetish thing. Pain/pleasure, domination/submission, rope, cages, rubber, gasmasks, needles, blood, bondage and spiky collars - it means absolutely nothing to me and has all the erotic charge of whatever's left of the cast of Last Of The Summer Wine discussing EU fishing quotas.

Thus the only possible appeal a DVD like The Black Order Cometh - the first of three volumes (so far) featuring the Satanic Sluts - could have for me will lie in its crossover to the world of horror rather than its sexual fetishism. Well, there's a bit of horror there: not just the old traditionals such as vampires, but surgery, self-mutilation and sudden cold-blooded murder, but no characters, no story and no significant points of interest. Because this isn't a film. It's a string of brief, badly-shot and over-processed vignettes - mostly about three minutes long - all entirely unrelated to each other in which women do horrible things to other women, and none of them particularly well done. It comes across as a second-year Media Studies degree project, and not one that's going to get top marks either, or perhaps the imagined kind of softcore filth that a serial killer would masturbate to. Although the BBFC note that nearly three minutes of unsimulated footage of a "....restrained woman's arm being cut with a scalpel...." had to be cut for an 18, they were apparently okay with a sequence in which a woman is tied to a chair and apparently beaten to death with a sledgehammer. Phwooooar.

And it's not just ugly to look at but incredibly dull. Even though it goes on for less than 70 minutes it feels absurdly long. And the kinky bits are interspersed with talking-head interviews with the Satanic Sluts' views on abortion, the death penalty, immigration and crime: presumably we're supposed to care about what they really think, as though they're standing for election to the local council or something. They're all filmed in a different ratio to the smut sequences so you spend chunks of the running time adjusting your TV set for the optimum viewing presentation. It's absolute garbage and you wouldn't believe the speed with which Satanics Sluts Volumes 2 and 3 were removed from my rentals queue.


Horrible-looking, isn't it?

Sunday, 23 January 2011



Hopefully this will be my last Jess Franco movie. I know there are still plenty out there for me to wade through - I've now seen 32 and the IMDb lists getting on for 200 - but in all honesty I've had enough of his cack-handed techniques: the crash zooms into nothing in particular, the lousy acting, the overwhelming, all-consuming dullness, the rotten musical scores, the total lack of interest in story or character or dialogue. Even when he's constrained by something approaching a plotline and he's not allowed to just ramble randomly, he still can't make anything of it. There are a couple of other titles on my rentals queue but I'm not desperate to see them any time soon.

The Fu Manchu franchise of the 1960s had already enjoyed three generally acceptable outings, but Franco's first contribution to the series, The Blood Of Fu Manchu, was mainly terrible and it has to be said that things do not improve noticeably, if at all, with 1968's The Castle Of Fu Manchu, a frankly lacklustre entry which at the very least has the mighty Sir Christopher Lee once more putting on the droopy moustache and colourful Oriental robes as the legendary master criminal. This time he's working on a device that can turn water into ice and threatens the entire Earth with destruction unless they submit to his rule. Except that his machine apparently doesn't work properly so he kidnaps a doctor to keep the scientist alive long enough to give him the formula for the crystals that blah blah blah whatever.

It's cheap, dull and nonsensical. The best bits are actually a ship sinking and a dam bursting - both of which are swiped wholesale from other films (in the case of the pre-credits sinking, it's A Night To Remember tinted blue). Howard Marion Crawford is back again as genial old buffer Dr Petrie, and Tsai Chin again looks fabulous as Fu Manchu's evil daughter, but the Turkish locations are drab and it's never close to exciting. Then there's the outlandish lighting scheme which is positively Argentoesque in its use of dazzling bright colours. But while the opening to Suspiria grabs you so hard that you never stop to wonder where all that coloured light was coming from, much of this film is so thoroughly duff that you spend the time wondering why Fu Manchu insisted on having green, red and purple lights in all his underground tunnels.

Whether it's significantly better or worse than The Blood Of Fu Manchu is tricky although frankly irrelevant - it's like deciding which horse you'd prefer to be kicked in the head by. This one has much more of Nayland Smith (Richard Greene) in it, and it doesn't spend whole reels with sweaty jungle bandits. On the other hand, Fu's scheme for this movie is badly thought out and is also clearly scientifically impossible. The ending is too abrupt and unsatisfying, as Fu's hideout suddenly blows up very cheaply yet again; it's clear they simply didn't have the resources to do very much at all. Yes, it's always good to see Christopher Lee in pretty much anything (he's pretty much down to cough-and-a-spit deathbed scenes these days) and he's pretty much the only reason to see it (and the only reason it gets a second star), but the film is not a fraction as much fun as it needs to be. And the final voiceover, "the world will hear from me again", proved untrue as, apart from a Peter Sellers spoof, the world had indeed heard the last of Fu Manchu. A shame it was in the hands of Jess Franco.


You can inflict both of Jess' contributions upon yourself here:

Friday, 21 January 2011



Already this film is a Golden Globe winner, a highly probable multi-Oscar winner, it's receiving generally positive reviews from critics and twitterers alike, and it's presently #51 in the IMDb's Top 250 (above Double Indemnity, A Clockwork Orange and Aliens). Everyone seems to think it's amazing. So why don't I? Given that it is not just a psychological horror film, but a thoroughly bonkers one, particularly in its last half hour, why aren't I as enraptured as the rest of the world? As much as I try, I honestly can't justify the magic five stars for it. Indeed, it's only just a four. And while it doesn't usually worry me when the rest of the world lauds a particular film that I simply don't get, and I stand there like a lemon wondering what the hell they're all smoking, it does annoy me that in this instance I simply can't feel the love. Because it's a film for which I should feel the love.

I'm not saying I didn't like Black Swan. I did, very much. But my mind refused to be blown by it and I didn't leave the cinema cheering and that's what disturbs me. It's set in the world of ballet, which automatically brings to mind the wonderful Suspiria, and features Natalie Portman (of whom I should make clear I am not a fan) as Nina, a repressed, frigid, but technically accomplished dancer picked by veteran choreographer Vincent Cassel for the lead roles in his new, visceral production of Swan Lake - the White Swan (good, pure, innocent) and the Black Swan (evil and twisted). But while she can manage the White with no trouble, she needs to find her inner darkness in order to bring her Black Swan to life rather than it being a technically perfect but textbook performance.

So just as there are two Swans, there seem to be two Ninas: not just in terms of the doppelganger she occasionally sees on the train, or in her reflections, but in the sense that she appears to be transforming: not just physically (culminating in her debut performance where we see her literally becoming a black swan) but in her character as she battles for her own privacy and freedom from her overprotective mother (Barbara Hershey), and battles her younger, more intuitive and graceful rival for the role (Mila Kunis). Much of this is the disintegration and collapse of her own personality, perhaps under the pressure of imminent stardom in a role she's not ready for, and a natural rebellion against the forces, particularly her mother, that have kept her shielded from life.

It's a horror film, sure - albeit one which mostly takes place inside Nina's head as she finds her inner Black Swan - and while it seems to start out as a fairly regular film, as the movie progresses it gets steadily madder (and ballet is a pretty mad place from which to start) and comparisons have been made with Dario Argento, and the juxtaposition of High Art and homicidal insanity bring to mind Terror At The Opera, my favourite Argento picture. It's also beautifully shot, there's the use of Tchaikovky's music within the score, Vincent Cassel is terrific, there are several queasy sequences of body-horror in the vein of The Fly, and the CGI effects sequences are superb.

And certainly it's my favourite Aronofsky film so far, although I still haven't seen The Wrestler, and while I didn't care for Pi at all, I half-admired Requiem For A Dream and I did rather like The Fountain. So I keep coming back to the question: why, why didn't I adore it? Maybe I need to see it again, as some films certainly take a second viewing (Aliens left me cold first time but it's now one of my Top Five of all time). I did like it, I honestly did like it, but there's a nagging unknown something that's stopping me from loving it. Or possibly I'm simply trying too hard and it's just a very good, not great, film. Either way, I'd certainly like more films of this ilk.


When it comes out....

Thursday, 20 January 2011



So only a few days ago I was lamenting that I'd had The Tournament and both Death Race movies in one day, and wouldn't it be nice to have something a bit more intellectual for a change - and lo and behold this Alain Resnais film clangs into my mailbox. Having already been burned a while ago by a brace of Jean-Luc Godard blitherings, I was actively dreading another much-praised and prizewinning arthouse classic, particularly one in which, to judge from the film guides, it was impossible to tell whether things were actually happening, or taking place in one of the characters' heads, or one or more of the characters might be a ghost, or something.

In the end Last Year In Marienbad is frustrating on precisely that narrative level: plotting is absolutely not the point. What tangible story there is appears to concern a man who, on holiday (possibly) at an insanely luxurious old country hotel in Marienbad, rekindles an acquaintance from the previous year. Except she doesn't remember it (or does she) and wasn't even there (or was she? Even she doesn't appear to know), yet she listens to him prattle on about their earlier meeting for days - what she was wearing, where they stood, what games he played, what statues and paintings they discussed, all of which he'd memorised in freakishly precise detail. (I can't remember where my watch is half the time, but this guy has recall of entire conversations a year previous.)

Because this is a French art movie, at no time does the unnamed woman kick this similarly anonymous weirdo in the goolies and instruct him to leave her alone or she'll call the police, like any halfway normal person would do. And because it's a French art movie from 1961, it looks absolutely magnificent. The hotel and grounds is a wonderful, richly designed setting, and the entire cast are all either in fantastic evening gowns or impeccable tuxedos and bow ties. It would look like a location for a Bond film - card games, well-dressed and well-groomed people, an air of mystery - except that it's been shot in luxurious black and white, which gives the unfortunate impression that after every thirty seconds of incomprehensible but beautiful prattle, a French-accented voiceover is going to annouce "Incoherence - the new fragrance from Calvin Klein". The whole thing - this legendary masterwork of the French Cinema, the winner of the Golden Lion at Venice in 1961 - ultimately looks like nothing so much as a modern perfume commercial.

And really that wonderful look is the best that Last Year In Marienbad (it is In Marienbad, not At Marienbad regardless of what the film guides claim, that's according to the subtitle on the UK DVD) has to offer. I don't know what it all means, but it genuinely looks wonderful. But after half an hour or so - when there's still another hour to go - interest does flag as to whether they know each other, they're playing some abstruse game or someone's memory is flawed, and you start not really caring. Sometimes you can be too enigmatic and it's like trying to do the crossword with the wrong set of clues, before discovering that the clues were deliberately wrong and you're not actually supposed to solve it. Mildly interesting but that's about all.


Baffle yourself:

Tuesday, 18 January 2011



Creak! Creak! Not the sound of unoiled hinges that you'd expect from an Old Dark House movie, but the sound of an ancient old theatrical warhorse unwisely converted into an all-star, thoroughly English country house mystery thriller. Maybe this was done to try and fit in with the Brabourne/Goodwin Agatha Christie adaptations (Evil Under The Sun, Death On The Nile etc) that were in vogue between 1974 and 1982 - this film was made in 1977 - and it has a frankly terrific cast of suspects and villains. But it's a duffer through and through.

The Cat And The Canary has, according to the IMDb, been filmed five times - the most famous probably being the Bob Hope version in 1939 - and what's most stunning about this most recent version is how they've managed to make it so completely ineffective and uninteresting when it's crammed to bursting with talent. The story's basically the same: grasping relatives gather for the reading of a will in the hope of a massive inheritance - but the lucky beneficiary has to survive the night, there's a homicidal maniac on the loose, everyone's got something to hide, and who knows about the secret passageways? There's also an entirely redundant subplot about a missing necklace which is solved fairly quickly and then dropped.

It's not scary, it's not funny and it doesn't make any sense (Edward Fox makes his entrance by smashing through a window and then tells everyone to lock all the doors and windows, presumably not counting the one he's just destroyed - and the continuity doesn't add up either, as we see the unbroken window from the outside afterwards). But there's some enjoyable hamming from Daniel Massey and Edward Fox, there's Olivia Hussey, Honor Blackman, Carol Lynley and Wilfrid Hyde-White and Wendy Hiller. Yet even with all that acting talent on view the film just never comes to life. Bizarrely, the film is directed by Radley Metzger and it's the one item on his filmography that isn't pornography. Maybe that has something to do with it?


Sunday, 16 January 2011



Since the basic practice these days appears to be either remaking, sequelling, rebooting or spinoffing, or any or all of the above, absolutely everything that moves whether or not it's actually worth remaking, sequelling etc., on one level it's hardly surprising that the Death Race remake has been visited by the Let's Do That Again fairy. On another level entirely: Death Race of all things? Crunchy metal-on-metal dumbo mayhem it may have been, but it certainly didn't warrant another trip to the well, did it? Presumably the numbers stacked up, presumably there was obviously a market for it and all they had to do was go out and make it. And, happily, what we've ended up with is fine. Not up there with Paul WS Anderson's film, but a decent enough rental.

Since they haven't got Jason Statham but they have got a few other people from the earlier film, what they've done with Death Race 2 is to make a prequel, giving us the origins of Death Race as the natural descendant of Death Match when the public got bored of simple fights between convicted criminals - conceived by Ving Rhames' global corporation. Luke Goss - yes, him out of Bros and very much the poor man's Jason Statham, if not the penniless bankrupt's Jason Statham - goes to jail for his part in a bank robbery but mob boss Sean Bean wants him dead before he does a deal for his freedom.

Made for the home market rather than a theatrical release, Death Race 2 was shot in South Africa and therefore is probably the second best sports movie of recent years from that country (after the wonderful Invictus, obviously). Look, it's astoundingly stupid and noisy and violent and gruntingly boneheaded, but as with the first one it did achieve what it set out to. This one isn't as successful in that regard - the film's half over before the Death Race actually begins - but it's always good to see people like Danny Trejo (in the Ian McShane role as chief mechanic) and Ving Rhames. It's incredibly dumb and holds few surprises and for what it is, it's perfectly acceptable. Still, after this and The Tournament I think I need something a little more cerebral.




Shameful as it may sound, there's a lot to be said for a movie that has absolutely no intellectual content whatsoever - not a shred - but exists solely and exclusively to hammer as much violence, gore, death, sadism, torture, blood and general mayhem as possible into your mind. As much as we'd like stimulation for the brain, sometimes the sight of ugly people beating the hell out of each other, or messily slaughtering them, is all you really need. And while there are times when you're almost driven to think "Enough with the brutality! Let someone survive!", there are also occasions when the sheer relentless carnage and destruction becomes mesmerising.

I am absolutely not making any claims for The Tournament, in which thirty of the world's greatest assassins congregate in Middlesborough for a Last Man Standing deathmatch in which at least twenty-nine of the contestants will die, many of them quite spectacularly. Heading the list is the reigning champion Ving Rhames, out for revenge for the death of his wife at the hands of one of the other contestants, and Kelly Hu, who wants the money so she can atone for her past sins. And caught in the middle is innocent alcoholic priest Robert Carlyle, mistaken for a player and dragged along by Hu.

It's an insanely violent movie and if what you want is 90 minutes of thuggery, fighting and murder then dive straight in. It's a film with not one molecule of artistic merit and is only interested in guns, knives and explosions. And on its chosen level, it has to be said it works brilliantly. Enough bloodshed - and by the look of it done with squibs and physical splatter effects rather than CGI, which to my mind is cheating - and bone-crunching to satisfy the most devoted gorehounds, laced with laughable tough-talk dialogue, and some terrific stunt sequences. Not something to be proud of owning on DVD, but as a senseless evening's rental it does deliver on its promises. Liked it a lot - again, I shouldn't, but I did.




I was never much of a fan of Death Race 2000, Roger Corman's exploitation classic that paired David Carradine with Sylvester Stallone and had loads of car stunts, crashes and violence in it - at least I wasn't a big enough fan to watch it again in advance of this shiny 21st century retooling in which massive lead-weighted cars smash into each other and blow up. In fact I originally saw Paul WS Anderson's big-scale remake as the closing film at FrightFest a few years ago: at the time I was fairly miserable and the relentless brutality and thudding stupidity cheered me up no end. But I've watched it again this afternoon (to provide some context to Death Race 2 - review to follow) and, even in a better frame of mind, I still enjoyed the hell out of it.

The basic idea is that in the future, the most popular broadcast sport is the Death Race, in which convicted criminals race customised supercars around the prison grounds and basically attempt to kill each other. If they win five races they go free, regardless of their crimes. The current champion, needing one more win, is the masked Frankenstein - but unfortunately he's dead, so in order to keep up the ratings (and the pay-per-view income) newly convicted Jason Statham is persuaded to play the role for his freedom. Except - of course! - he's innocent, the real killer is also in the prison, and the organisers really aren't going to allow him to leave that easily....

Until last April there was a satellite channel in the UK called Men And Motors and that's exactly what this movie is - huge rippling alpha males, frequently bare-chested or brawling, and great chunks of deadly automotive hardware loaded with guns, grenades and napalm. The prison is run by a power-dressed queen bitch (Joan Allen), and all the drivers are accompanied by female navigators (from the women's prison next door) and they all look like FHM covershoot models with their tight jeans and bare midriffs. If you can actually smell the diesel, you can practically taste the testosterone. It's what Top Gear would look like if it wasn't properly controlled. With overlaid graphics from the broadcast feed making it look like a video game, it's monumentally senseless, crude and violent, and thoroughly enjoyable. It really cheered me up when I was down and it's still a massive hunk of entirely disreputable entertainment; I shouldn't have enjoyed it but I did.


Friday, 14 January 2011


This is a bunch of short reviews that originally got posted on the FrightFest Forum and is as much a personal aide-memoire as anything else, because I'm having increasing difficulty remembering which Franco movies are which. None of them are really any good, mind, but it's useful to differentiate between his useless sex movies, his useless gore movies, his useless cannibal movies and his useless zombie movies. This isn't all of Franco's filmography (Blogspot would collapse under the weight), or even a semi-complete list of the ones I've managed to see. But they are the ones for which I happen to have some brief notes handy. And they're not in any particular order.


This was directed by Jess Franco in 1970, and I have not the foggiest idea what's going on. A second-rate stripper from Zagreb moves in with a mysterious woman; she is having strange dreams after possibly killing someone, and fears she's going mad. Meanwhile a man and another woman observe from the house next door, and have motives of their own. It drags like a wet winter week in less than 85 minutes, and it isn't just gibberish, it's cripplingly dull, despite them getting their kit off half the time. An inability to focus properly and an obsession with the zoom lens don't help (these two techniques are hallmarks of Franco's movies).


Which I like. I mean, it is terrible, but at the same time some kind of great despite having an outrageously thin plot - woman avenges her husband by bumping off the individuals who drove him to suicide. What it has is some utterly fab and groovy interior design, some horrible shirts, an inappropriate soundtrack of cheesy European chillout laden with sitars, bright colour photography and the rather lovely (and late) Soledad Miranda taking her clothes off at every opportunity. The movie looks absolutely fantastic, but it doesn't make any sense at all on a logic level - though it's probably not supposed to as it is a Jess Franco film. I don't remember putting this on the queue either but since watching it in slack-jawed delight yesterday afternoon I've gone back onto the site and added just about every other Franco title they've got (and they've got a lot). I'm all for quality in cinema, but sometimes I'll happily settle for bonkers. [NB: in the intervening months I've gone back and taken a load off again.]


This is a cheat on several fronts: firstly it isn't a Jekyll and Hyde story but a Frankenstein tale in all but name (for no particularly good reason, a mad scientist has a reactivated corpse in his laboratory which he controls with sound waves), and secondly his name isn't Jekyll and he doesn't have any mistresses. In fact it shouldn't be called Doctor Jekyll's Mistresses, but Doctor Fisherman's Jazz Club Floozies And Total Strangers, as the Doc and the Monster go out every night and kill ladies of questionable virtue, again for no adequately explored reason. One of the best (dubbed) lines in the whole of European trash cinema comes from the police inspector on finding a clue: "If you'll permit a lack of taste, Sergeant, I think I must express my feelings with a vulgar display of swearing. Gadzooks!"


Bloody Moon is a wildly illogical, nonsensical, cheap and shoddy slasher pic in which various nubile lovelies are despatched by an unseen but blindingly obvious psycho at an impossibly glamorous languages school. Most of the gore moments are still cut (the film earned a place on the video nasties list), none of the characters behave in even vaguely recognisably human fashion, and the picture quality (on the Vipco release) looks like it was mastered from a dodgy VHS. Deeply, deeply cack.


Killer Barbys on the box, or Vampire Killer Barbys if you believe the title on the DVD cover. It's as incoherent and fifth-rate as most of his films and a long, long way from She Killed In Ecstasy and Vampyros Lesbos. I guess he'll never reach those levels again. This one has a rock group called the Killer Barbies travelling to their next gig and having sex in the back of the van. The van breaks down, they get invited to a spooky castle owned by a 100-year old woman: there's blood, nudity, decapitation, rubbish effects, and dubbing so shoddy the sound frequently cuts out completely. Terrible, even by Franco's alleged standards. Contains dwarves.


Yet another Jess Franco quickie which isn't anywhere near his best stuff but is a marginal improvement on some of his sillier offerings. Scientist ventures into cannibal territory: they eat his wife, cut his arm off and take his daughter to be their white goddess. Ten years later the one-armed scientist goes up river again, this time with a collection of partying idiots (we're going looking for cannibals; don't forget your bikini), most of whom get munched at great length in slow-motion. The White Goddess is still there but only wears a strategically placed bit of string and the Boots No 7 range of eyeliner, despite the tribe never having had any contact with Western civilisation. She's also managed to dye her hair blonde and they all speak English. It's rubbish.


More sleaze in yet another Jess Franco offering: Voodoo Passion, in which a woman moves to Haiti to be with her plank-like diplomat husband, and lives in a big house where she, his sister and his secretary periodically wander around naked. There's a murder plot (takes up about 10 minutes of the running time), an obese psychiatrist (fortunately not required to disrobe) and some nice Caribbean scenery, but it's basically nothing more than softcore.


I don't think you could seriously expect Jess Franco to leave the nuns alone. Here an innocent country girl gets packed off to a convent full of Satanists and undergoes the usual humiliations and abuses. It's not very good, heavy on the Catholic-bashing and not very subtle about it. This UK version has been heavily cut by over six minutes by the BBFC - presumably star "Susan Hemingway" wasn't 18 when the movie was made (or they can't provide proof), as any scene in which the character is nude or topless is obviously shorn away. Frankly this is no great loss.


Some Franco has been wonderful (She Killed In Ecstasy), and some has been pants (Nightmares Come At Night). Jack The Ripper unfortunately tends towards the latter. Mad Klaus Kinski stars as the mad doctor, hacking up the ladies of the Whitechapel night for reasons I didn't catch. It's incredibly illogical, nonsensical, but occasionally censor-baiting in its killing of naked girls - The Ripper has the habit of slicing off his victim's breasts (though it actually looks like he's providing cherry blancmanges from the cake shop). I've no idea whether that bizarre criminological titbit is consistent with his actual M.O., but since the ending veers wildly away from what little I know of Ripper history, I'm guessing it was just put in there to annoy censors. (The BBFC let it through, though.) A few laughs at the stupidity of it all.


Which is better than its followup Kiss Me Monster on the grounds that it's 0.35% more coherent and has a very mildly interesting topless dance scene. That said, it's still bilge. I don't think it would have helped if I'd watched the two films in the right order although I have managed to establish that the two heroines aren't jazz musicians after all but detectives. Glad we sorted that one out because it wasn't clear in KMM. The dubbing is particularly terrible, but that's the least of what's wrong with it.


This is a senseless barrage of killings, expositional gibberish, big band jazz and non sequiturs that's incoherent and incomprehensible even for Franco. There's an ancient religious sect that hang out in a disused mission dressed in pointy Klan hats, a scientist gone missing, a feminist community on an island, and a trail of corpses all knifed in the back that lead a couple of lady jazz musicians on a quest for the Secret Of Life. Oddly for Senor F, it doesn't have any gore or graphic violence and only a couple of nipple shots. Very strange, very dull, not worth seeing.


Franco veers between enjoyably bonkers and incomprehensible dullness; Night Of The Assassins was obviously shot on a weekday as it's one of his dull ones. It's billed as an adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe's The Cat And The Canary, which I didn't actually know he'd written (and more to the point, Edgar Allan Poe didn't actually know he'd written it either). Relatives of a murdered British aristo gather at a storm-lashed mansion on the South coast for a will-reading, an inheritance, and several murders based on a big-print version of the Book Of The Apocalypse carried out by a maniac in a rubber mask. And he would have got away with it if it hadn't been for a pesky police inspector who spends the entire time dressed as a Texan oil baron complete with a ten-gallon hat.


Yet more unbelievable silliness in Exorcism, aka Demoniac, aka The Sadist Of Notre Dame, aka Loads Of Other Titles. The staff of "Dagger And Garter" magazine hold a black mass; clients and participants of the ensuing orgy soon fall foul of a serial killer who strips the girls naked and chains them to the wardrobe. "Not very good" is putting it mildly. The BBFC have cut nearly three minutes from an already edited original (it had yer actual hardcore to start with). Loads of unattractive nudity and wobbly bums still on view though, if that's your thing, and some spectacularly annoying organ music.


Presumably so titled to distinguish it from Raymond Chandler's Justine, AA Milne's Justine and John Le Carre's Justine. This is Franco's take on the old perv's tale of the two sisters booted out of the convent and while one gleefully embraces the life of a murderous slapper, the naive and virtuous one encounters depravity, abuse, torture and 57 varieties of hideous misery - nevertheless she seems to go through a lot of it with a smile on her lips and damn near a song in her heart. It goes on too long (over two hours on the restored British DVD) and the story is broken up with scenes of Klaus Kinski going tonto in his asylum cell as he writes the story. Some 90 minutes in, a very drunk Jack Palance turns up as a barking loon in a monastery and delivers a masterclass in deranged overacting, which means a lot of pauses and eye-rolling, pointless over-enunciation, and pulling faces between every other word. Still, it's lush, expensive-looking, has a superb score (Bruno Nicolai) and, rather sweetly, it does end happily.



British movies about necrophilia are pretty rare. Off the top of my relatively ill-informed and non-encyclopedic head, the most famous was The Party's Over with Oliver Reed, which (if you believe Halliwell's) was ultimately disowned by the production company. British movies about necrophilia that have a screenplay by an ITN newsreader you could probably count on the fingers of one finger, unless Dermot Murnaghan is secretly remaking Jorg Buttgereit's back catalogue in his shed.

Neither The Sea Nor The Sand isn't entirely about necrophilia, although there's an unhealthy streak of it through this 1972 curiosity. But it's terribly discreet and terribly tasteful. It actually starts off in soppy Woman's Weekly/Mills And Boon territory detailing the idyllic romance between Susan Hampshire (who, if you want to continue the TV news analogy, looks a bit like a young Jennie Bond, and you half expect her to announce the latest developments at Sandringham) and Michael Petrovitch: brooding, hunky, loving. After about forty minutes of girlie slop they go to Scotland, where Petrovitch carks it on the beach... But such is their love that despite being certified dead, he's still walking around and - sickbucket alert - apparently still going to bed with Susan Hampshire. Mute (she hears his voice in her head) and visibly rotting he may be, but they cannot let each other go and ultimately there is only one way it can end.

Adapted from his own novel by ITN's Gordon Honeycombe (who would later make an early foray into popularising genealogy on TV), this is certainly an oddity and it certainly goes into creepy, icky territory: it's more of a zombie romance than a tragic ghost story. And, perhaps perversely, I kind of liked it for straying into those more uncomfortable, less traditional areas, especially in a "proper film" with proper actors like Hampshire and the always-welcome Frank Finlay (as Petrovich's brother). It is a bit sloppy in the first half and it's pretty obvious how it's going to conclude, but it's a strange little film that's worth a look, and decidedly unusual.


Thursday, 13 January 2011



Look, I'm not a philistine. Just because I'd rather give a second viewing to Love Letters Of A Portuguese Nun than, say, Amistad or Revolutionary Road, it doesn't mean I can't appreciate a bit of yer actual culture, know what I mean? Yes, I've seen more Jess Franco movies than I have Peter Greenaway movies but I'm more than happy with the slightly more cerebral films as a welcome break from drooling multiplex fodder. My rentals queue has loads of subtitled films on it, and not all of them have ninjas in them.

The Element Of Crime is a Danish arthouse crime thriller in which a detective (the late Michael Elphick) returns home from Egypt in order to track down a serial killer who's bumping off girls selling lottery tickets. Rather than the traditional police techniques of evidence, fingerprints, witnesses and generally investigating the crimes, Elphick's methods derive from his old mentor's textbook, the titular Element Of Crime, via which he can solve the crimes by aping the criminal's behaviour, character and actions - in effect "becoming" the man he's searching for. So he follows the trail of the mysterious Harry Gray: staying in the same hotel rooms in the same towns, sleeping with the same woman, wearing the same hat....

Which is fine. You can do all sorts of things with this: examine notions of identity, suggest the detective may be hunting the criminal self within his civilised self, or just rock out into horror/slasher territory. There are a thousand ways to go. But The Element Of Crime is one of the most miserable, depressing movies you could imagine. Everything takes place at night, everything's damp and dark and there's absolutely no fun to be had by anyone. It's some kind of sepia-drenched dystopian nightmare horrorscape in which half the country doesn't even appear to have electricity, everyone seems to live in hopeless, grinding poverty and frankly being butchered and mutilated by a homicidal maniac would come as sweet relief.

It's directed by notorious maverick Lars Von Trier - his debut feature - and I'll confess here and now that the only other film of his that I've seen was his most recent, Antichrist, and I didn't like that one either (though for entirely different reasons). At least that film did things, albeit things I didn't like. The Element Of Crime doesn't really do much at all, and what it does do is so grim and downbeat that I was losing patience with it and in truth struggled to stay to the bitter end. Lighten up, Lars, chill out and have a laugh. I could have more fun at an plague pit. I'm aware than fun wasn't the main intention, but what the hell was?


Wednesday, 12 January 2011



There's a certain degree of creaky charm to be derived from the British B-pictures of the 50s and 60s: it's not just nostalgia (and I'm not old enough to be nostalgic for those years), but it's almost archive footage of the way Britain was in those days. The cars, the fashions, the attitudes, the prices, they way everyone spoke like the Earl Of Onslow. Everybody smoked, and if you saw a shot of the M1 it had about five cars on it. And there's the chance to see veteran British character actors before they were massively famous, even in the cheapest of the cheap. Some of these are being rediscovered as little time capsules of The Way Things Were, and even if they're not very good as films they can be of some historical interest. Occasionally they're putting two out on the same disc - these two, both directed by Terry Bishop in 1959, run for barely an hour each.

You can skip over Life In Danger, to be honest - it's a fairly dull tale of the lynch mob mentality of a Kent village. Following the sirens going off at an institution for the criminally insane (it's even referred to in the dialogue as "the loony bin") and the escape of a particularly violent offender, rough, taciturn Derren Nesbitt staggers out of the undergrowth and heads for the nearest village, claiming to be looking for a bit of farm work. While the police bumble aimlessly around doing little more than getting everyone to stay indoors until they've caught him, some of the locals seize the initiative and track Nesbitt down to a barn with a couple of local children.... There's a terrific twist at the end, but despite that (and seeing British character players like Howard Marion Crawford and Bruce Seton), it doesn't grip at all.

No, the gem of the disc is the second film, the luridly titled Cover Girl Killer, in which a maniac is killing off pinup models in the same styles as their magazine covers. It's giving away nothing to reveal the murderer, as the film isn't a whodunnit (he's revealed as such very early on), but the thrill of it is that he's played by Harry H Corbett! And as serial killers go he's actually a pretty cunning one, adopting disguises and multiple characters, while still doing the usual pathetic self-justification about how these women deserve to die and ranting about moral filth and spiritual corruption. (And not once does he get the chance to declaim "you dahty old man!") Despite the incredibly low budget it's a brisk affair and far more fun than Life In Danger.


Tuesday, 11 January 2011



Deep down, we all love a bit of giallo, don't we? Even if it's giallo-lite: the low-cal, flat vanilla giallo represented by ITV's indefatigable Poirot and Marple and Inspector Barnaby (the worst detective in history, solving all his serial murder cases through the technique of Last Man Standing). Add some nudity and kinky sex, plenty of blood and bonkers camerawork (all Dutch angles and coloured filters, and Sergio's your uncle: slip on some black gloves and you've got yourself a giallo. That's the basic recipe, although it's as much about the mood and style as it is about the content. I'd suggest you can't have one without the other and I've always felt that a film is only a proper giallo if it's got both the style and the content - ITV's whodunnits have the plot but not the stylistic excess; with this film it's the other way around.

Amer is a Belgian giallo pastiche: an experimental mood piece that pretty much does away with plot and narrative entirely, coming across as three short art films loosely bolted together, detailing three key moments in the life journey of a young woman from childhood, through the teenage years to adulthood. That is literally all there is to it in terms of any story Amer is trying to tell. But while Amer might (indeed, does) lack any kind of narrative, it is without doubt one of the most sumptuously photographed films in decades. It is so rich in colour and so exquisitely composed that more or less any frame could be hung on your wall or in a gallery. As a piece of visual art it is absolutely breathtaking. And as much attention has gone on the audio: the soundtrack is wonderfully conceived as well. Musically it has no original score but some licensed tracks from Bruno Nicolai, Ennio Morricone and Stelvio Cipriani (incidentally the Cipriani tracks appear to be from cop thrillers rather than gialli).

I don't want to criticise a film for not having a strong narrative when it purposely didn't set out to have one: it's like slagging off the new Woody Allen movie for not having any car chases, and if I'd known in advance it wasn't a plot-driven film I'd have possibly approached it differently. In that respect I guess it's partly my fault that I didn't engage with Amer as thoroughly as I'd hoped. But I never want to have read too much in advance of any film and in any case I suspect I would still have been somewhat frustrated by the lack of a story. Of the three segments, I feel the first is the strongest, in which the young Ana is apparently menaced by a sinister figure in black, on the night of her grandfather's death and the night she witnesses her parents having sex. The film sags in the second one, in which the teenage Ana does little more than innocently (but really, how innocently?) tease a group of bikers, but the climactic section, with the grown-up Ana returning to her now derelict childhood home and apparently being menaced by a taxi-driver is better as there's definitely a sense of something happening.

I didn't hate Amer, I honestly didn't. It's as much a case of it not being what I expected it to be as it was a case of it not being what I wanted it to be. It is unbelievably gorgeous to watch, but you could have taken that stylistic approach and applied it to a short film of Ana making a cup of tea and opening a letter from the bank. It's an art movie, and on that level it's wonderful, but if you want a plot to go with it you won't find it here.


Monday, 10 January 2011



One of the mildly annoying tropes of the vigilante/home invasion/revenge "They Messed With His Family" exploitation flick is that the punks invariably pick on someone who used to be a cop. Or ex-military, former CIA, Homeland Security or a retired enforcer for the Russian Mafia or something. They never pick on a plumber or an estate agent or a champion golfer. Admittedly in the first Death Wish, Bronson was playing an architect but in the main the heroes usually need to be physically fit, they have to know their way around firearms and explosives, and they have to be able to blow some lowlifes away without a nanosecond of moral doubt. John McClane wouldn't have lasted five minutes of Die Hard if he'd been a window cleaner or a pimp.

The neat thing about the 2008 French thriller Anything For Her is that the hero is not a badass - he's just an ordinary guy driven to desperate measures to save his wrongly convicted wife from a life sentence in maximum security: masterminding and executing an audacious jailbreak from a position of total ignorance of the subject. This has now been remade by Hollywood, fairly faithfully (albeit with a few extra bells and whistles) as The Next Three Days. Russell Crowe is the unassuming literature teacher who embarks on his elaborate plot to snatch wife Elizabeth Banks (who incidentally appears too contented with this monumental injustice), and spirit her and their son out of the country, having had a one-scene lecture on the difficulties and dangers from serial jailbird Liam Neeson.

It's entirely passable Wednesday afternoon multiplex fare, which ratches up the tension efficiently enough but doesn't really do anything that Anything For Her didn't do. In this respect Paul Haggis hasn't really brought anything to the table except English dialogue and the marquee value of a star turn (and frankly Russell Crowe can do this sort of thing without breaking a sweat, since it doesn't require an accent). And it's good to see Brian Dennehy on screen again, although he's only got a few lines. Enjoyable enough.


Thursday, 6 January 2011


>wendy_444: LOL! OMG! FTW! GPS! :-)
>pervo has left the room

I used to drop into chatrooms when I first got online. I still do occasionally (every couple of months, for film music discussions) but I never got the appeal of them. Too many of the people in there were idiots; bad spelling always annoys me and much of it seemed to revolve around injokes between the regulars. I eventually gave up when some cretin deliberately and maliciously gave away the twist ending for The Sixth Sense. (If anyone knows any decent, civilised rooms for film fans, let me know.)

The essential difficulty with computer-based movies is that you just end up with scenes of people typing, and that just isn't cinematic. Even if it's Harrison Ford in something like Firewall, it's Harrison Ford typing. Whatever the plot, whatever the significance, whatever the consequences of what they're attempting to do, there's nothing that exciting about watching people in front of monitors click-clacking away on keyboards. Somehow you have to provide some kind of visualisation of what's going on within the computer. In Tron (and less successfully its shiny new sequel) the whole cyberworld is rendered as a complete reality with games, nightclubs and a fully functional infrastructure.

But how to represent the semi-reality of a Chatroom? The answer is to depict it as a room - a simple room with a few plastic chairs in it, off an endless corridor full of other "rooms" in which the online personae meet and argue, flirt and persecute. (Significantly, Chatroom is based on a theatrical stage play.) Embittered sociopath William sets up a chatroom called "Chelsea Teens" which attracts a quartet of lonely, troubled, misunderstood and unhappy people: basically fodder for William to manipulate and crush: specifically the painfully shy Jim, depressed ever since his father's disappearance and so easy to push towards suicide. But as they realise what William really is, how can the others stop him when they've never met in real life?

Chatroom is actually a British film, despite the Japanese director Hideo Nakata and it's fair to say this is nowhere near as good as the original Dark Water or the original Ringu (or even his own sequel to the American remake). And despite Nakata's track record, this isn't actually a horror film - it's a psychological drama/thriller. It's had some absolutely terrible reviews but in all truth I quite enjoyed it: not a great movie but better than I'd expected and certainly better than the reviews indicated. Undoubtedly there are things massively wrong with it: chunks of William's real-life motivations aren't entirely clear (although a key bit of backstory might have been revealed early on, while I was outside looking for someone to get the film projected in something approaching focus) and some of the other material is frankly very shaky, specifically one character having a questionable interest in an eleven-year-old girl. Despite this, which I simply didn't buy for a moment, its depiction of cyberbullying and anonymous, online persecution is quite chilling. Not a complete success, but not a complete failure either.


Monday, 3 January 2011



Neat little British horror flick - and genuinely creepy in places - from 1963, from the days when we made efficient, economical, unfussy and unpretentious B-movies that knew exactly what they were doing, and did it well. That it takes an old chestnut of a subject - the relationship between a ventriloquist and his dummy - and puts some new spin and originality on it, is a bonus and one can only imagine the results if someone were to have a bash at it today. We seem to have lost the knack for making these things.

The Devil Doll of the title isn't actually a devil doll, but Hugo, the surly dummy of the Great Vorelli (William Sylvester), European mesmerist and ventriloquist with a sell-out show in the West End. None of their exchanges on stage are at all funny: they're tense and argumentative and uncomfortable. But what is Vorelli's secret? How can Hugo walk by himself? And what sinister plans does Vorelli have for the society girlfriend (Yvonne Romain) of investigative journalist Bryant Halliday?

If the ending feels a little rushed, it doesn't really matter: it's a creepy little film with some good twists and a neatly unnerving final scene. Devil Doll was made by Lindsay Shonteff who directed quite a few low-budget British thrillers, spy spoofs and action movies (which really should be more widely seen - only one other film of his, Permissive, has been released on British DVD), as well as one of the early features shot entirely on videotape, the post-apocalypse drama/thriller The Killing Edge. Devil Doll may not be a genuine great, but it is pretty enjoyable and it's certainly worth a watch.


Sunday, 2 January 2011



Years ago I used to have a pre-cert VHS copy of an absolutely terrible horror film entitled Brides Of Blood, with the words "Directed by Eddie Romero of Apocalypse Now" emblazoned on the front cover, presumably to con the more gullible members of the public into thinking that Brides Of Blood was somehow connected with Francis Ford Coppola's brilliant but unhinged modern classic. In fact, he was just an associate producer since the film was shot in the Philippines, and by that time had written and directed scores of local exploitation movies.

Eddie Romero, Gerrardo De Leon, Cirio Santiago, Bobby Suarez - just some of the names involved in the Filipino exploitation film industry through its golden years of the sixties and seventies, and the story is now told in Machete Maidens Unleashed!, a documentary from the makers of Not Quite Hollywood, the history of the Australian exploitation movie. From the early Romero/De Leon movies such as The Mad Doctor Of Blood Island, Beast Of The Yellow Night and Terror Is A Man through to the involvement of American producers such as Roger Corman, it's certainly fascinating but the inescapable fact is that the Filipino exploitation movies simply weren't very good. I came away from Not Quite Hollywood wanting to see the movies concerned, because they looked great, but I didn't come out of Machete Maidens Unleashed! with any kind of desire to watch Night Of The Cobra Woman for the very simple reason that it looked terrible.

Still, it's pretty interesting stuff and in addition to the Filipino directors themselves you get a lot of the American performers and directors reminiscing: lots of Roger Corman, Sid Haig, Pam Grier, Joe Dante, R Lee Ermey, Chris Mitchum(!) and many others, and John Landis sounding particularly enthusiastic about them. But despite my enjoyment of films with healthy levels of sex and violence, gore and stupidity, I couldn't raise much enthusiasm for even the best of the movies they were talking so excitedly about - not even the Weng Weng series of midget Bond spoofs!




Remember Open Water? Well, this is essentially the same film. Or Adrift, which in some places was actually known as Open Water 2 despite having nothing to with Open Water apart from having people stuck floating in the middle of the ocean. To all intents and purposes The Reef is exactly the same story, and rather blows its "Based On True Events" caption at the start by including the "all characters and incidents are fictitious" disclaimer at the end.

Whether the events of the Australian film The Reef are true in any meaningful sense or not, they do not, unfortunately, make for gripping drama. Two couples (one estranged) get together on an ocean yacht but after a few days they rip the hull open on a coral reef, the boat capsises and they're all stranded on the fast-sinking wreck, twelve miles from land and with no food or water. With the one crewman opting to stay on the upturned hull with the distress beacon, the others decide to swim through shark territory for the nearest island. How many of the four will make it?

It's very repetetive: a shout of "What was that?!?!", a glimpse of something that might be a fin, a long underwater shot into the murk and the answer "I dunno"..... over and over again. Sometimes there's a shark visible, sometimes there isn't. And when it is, the shark attacks are very quick. Nor are we given that much reason to care about these people. It's acceptably enough done but overall, as with Open Water and Adrift, it's just not interesting enough to hold the attention.