Monday, 28 February 2011



On a desert road littered with dining chairs, comes a car which knocks all the chairs over. A sheriff gets out of the boot and addresses a series of gnomic film-related questions to a random gathering of people. Why does no-one ever go to the bathroom in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre? "No reason." (Actually, I'd suggest that Leatherface taking a long slow dump to camera would perhaps be too excessive even for that film.) An unnamed accountant then gives everyone a pair of binoculars, and they all stare into the desert where an abandoned old car tyre (named Robert) suddenly shakes itself loose of the dirt and starts rolling off into the distance. It quickly discovers it has psychokinetic powers to explode small animals and people's heads. And then follows a woman to a motel, kills the chambermaid, and watches an aerobics video.

And then I woke up. Except I didn't: that really is what happens in the first act of Rubber, a deliberately weird and nonsensical movie that actually seeks to justify its lack of coherence by having the sheriff character lecture the "audience" in the lack of reason and rational incident in movies right at the start, and then continues along half-rational, half-irrational lines throughout. The accountant poisons the "audience" with drugged turkey and the sheriff refuses to acknowledge the death of the chambermaid because it's all a fiction being staged for the "audience", all of whom are dead except for Wings Hauser who didn't eat the turkey. And so it goes on. Don't bother trying to make sense of it.

What is it? Cinema Of The Absurd or just the film equivalent of free writing? A deliberate attempt to create a cult movie (which never works) or just someone, in the case one Quentin Dupieux, making something that no-one's ever seen before and to hell with logic or common sense or plausibility? Is it a joke or a philosophical conundrum? As a film, it is perfectly well made and shot, and its own internal illogic probably holds up, but it isn't massively funny and certainly isn't a horror movie. I have no idea what kind of audience it's aimed at, or what the Friday night multiplex crowd might make of it, if anything (it's going straight to DVD in this country anyway). Curiously I'm feeling a little more inclined towards it than I was immediately after watching - it's certainly one of a kind but I still like my films to make some kind of sense and this is too out there. Interesting, perhaps, but only mildly so.


When it comes out:



There've been some really terrific movies from South Korea in the last few years - The Chaser, Bedevilled, The Good The Bad The Weird, Oldboy, Thirst, The Host. And you can add this scorching serial killer thriller to the list: a brutal, bloody, morally troubling and thoroughly satisfying examination of Nietzsche's "he who fights monsters should take care not to become a monster", in which the savage violence and the extreme lengths to which a man can go - or can be driven - may be uncomfortable and shocking but never gratuitous and wilfully repulsive for the sake of it.

I Saw The Devil starts with Kyung-Chul, an average-looking, unremarkable, middle-aged guy apparently offering to help a young woman with a flat tyre. But he is actually a vicious and sadistic killer who inflicts bloody violence upon her before finally murdering her. Devastated, her fiance, secret service agent Soo-Hyun resolves to find the man and exact more than mere justice or vengeance, to seek to put him through the suffering of his victims and their families. Locating the man before the police can find him, Soo-Hyun implants a homing device in Kyung-Chul's body to keep track of his movements - catching the man, viciously torturing him, but letting him go and then tracking him down again - until the killer discovers the device and sets in motion a cat-and-mouse game that cannot end well for either of them.

Is it going to get through the BBFC intact? Certainly it's more visceral and wince-inducing than, say, the last few years' worth of slasher or torture films which haven't really troubled the censor's knife, but that's at least partly down to the high emotions involved in I Saw The Devil rather than the cartoonish kill shots in the new Halloween films or the Saw saga, which never feel plausible despite the scrime-scene photograph levels of detail. Here we see and feel enough of the pain that drives Soo-Hyun's quest for retribution. But does he go too far in his crusade - does he become a monster himself? Meanwhile Kyung-Chul's murderous impulses go unexplored - like the best (or worst) of screen maniacs we are given little explanation as to why he kills, what drives him. Once the bogeyman is explained, once he's seen in cold light, he's weakened and diminshed.

Despite running more than two hours, I Saw The Devil doesn't drag and while it did feel long, it didn't feel too long. Absorbing, unsettling and powerful, it's a terrific film delivering not just on the bloody surface but the murkier moral depths as well. If you can take the grue, there's plenty more to chew on as well. Superb.


Sunday, 27 February 2011



The British film industry used to have a fine tradition with portmanteau and compendium movies: from Ealing's Dead Of Night to the succession of Amicus and similar: Asylum, Tales From The Crypt, From Beyond The Grave (reckoned by some to be the best), Dr Terror's House Of Horrors, linking snappy, ghoulish shorts with the main story, and featuring phenomenal big name casts (the actors were only required for the short time their little segment was being filmed), probably concluding with the frankly lame, PG-rated The Monster Club. (I'm guessing the most recent was Alex Chandon's Cradle Of Fear.) The genre has the structural advantage that if this particular story isn't to your liking, don't worry because there'll be another one along soon and you might like that more. But that cuts both ways because it does allow for very variable levels of quality: cinema as a mixed bag. Maybe the hits might gloss over the misses, but it's more likely the misses will stand out more clearly against the hits.

The problem with Little Deaths is that with only three stories of about 30 minutes each, you don't get the contrast between the stories, and it's a longer wait for the next one. All three segments are really too long and I kept thinking it might have been better to have cut them all down to a punchier 15-20 minutes and added two extra stories. Sean Hogan's opener, House And Home, is probably the best of the three, a Tale Of The Unexpected in which an obnoxious pair of rich smuggoes offer a hot bath and a hot meal to carefully selected homesless people in the guise of Christian charity - and then drug them and sexually abuse them for their own decadent pleasures. But their latest victim isn't entirely what she seemed. Andrew Parkinson's middle segment Mutant Tool is a twisted, trashy grossout affair in which a man is force fed fresh human organs in order to obtain powerful drugs from his seminal fluid (collected in buckets as it continually dribbles out of his grotesque three-foot penis) - but the drugs can have unusual side effects on the right people. And Simon Rumley's closer, Bitch, is an overlong but satisfyingly nasty revenge story in which a young man exacts a suitably excessive retribution against his selfish, faithless and generally hateful girlfriend, exploiting her one weakness: cynophobia. (Wikipedia is your friend.)

It is a mixed bag, and it frequently veers into territory that's too sexually graphic for my personal taste. Ejaculation, urolagnia, mutated penises, a woman using a strapon to sodomise a bloke in a dog mask.... Frankly I'm uncomfortable with the frankness of it. In addition there's not very much humour outside of the excesses of Mutant Tool and I could honestly have used the laughs. It's not a disaster by any means - I've seen far, far, far worse this weekend (Little Deaths was the opening film at FrightFest Glasgow two days ago) - but the overtly sexual nature of much of the action simply didn't work for me. I'm also wondering whether the BBFC will let it through unscathed - we live in more liberal times, but you never know....


Thursday, 24 February 2011



Now here's a peculiar thing. An art-horror crossover centring on a young ballet dancer taking the dual lead roles in Swan Lake, that isn't Black Swan? However, Oscar glory was frankly unlikely in this instance, although it's certainly a weirdly interesting little film with pleasing inflections of Argento: though it doesn't take place in a Suspiria-style downpour that's drenched in red and green, it has ballet, it has secret rooms and passageways in ornate old buildings (as in Inferno) and it has Jennifer Connelly (just three years after the total madness of Phenomena/Creepers).

Etoile concerns promising ballerine Clare (Connelly) arrives in Budapest to audition for a prestigious corps de ballet, but loses her nerve at the last moment. But she is quickly spotted by a mysterious figure and under his malefic influence seems to become Natalie, the prima ballerina who danced the same swan roles a hundred years before in a radical and allegedly apocalyptic interpretation of the ballet that was tragically aborted by fire. Her only protector is the nephew of a brash American clock collector played by Charles Durning (stick with me here) but dark forces are apparently conspiring to ensure that the demonic dances will play out this time....

There's frankly very little overt horror in the film, which would probably scrape a low-end 15 at best in the event of it ever going to the BBFC (the film has never been released in the UK). But it's got a creepy atmosphere, plenty of familiar Tchaikovsky on the soundtrack, and a pleasing disregard for logic. Sadly, as it goes on and wanders into the realm of supernatural piffle, it starts to go off the rails, culminating in a (possibly ghostly?) performance of Swan Lake while the hero is set upon by a giant swan monster somewhat in the manner of Rod Hull and Emu. It's certainly not a great success: some of the dialogue is terrible, the hero is a blank, Durning's final scenes are hilarious, and the ending is an anti-climax. But it's an intriguing curiosity and, regardless of Black Swan, quite an enjoyable film. (Even weirder, this isn't the only other movie I've seen recently with Swan Lake in it - frankly I'm getting sick of the damn thing....)




There's a lot of hate out there for this, Alexandre Aja's adaptation of the Korean film Into The Mirror, and to be honest I don't believe the hate is entirely justified. Certainly it's not a great film, but it does boast a number of nicely timed jump moments and a few genuinely creepy sequences. Not to mention some spectacular KNB effects work, chunks of which were lopped out by the distributors for its 15-rated cinema release but which was happily restored for the DVD release. But Mirrors does suffer badly from a miscast lead, some atrocious lines of dialogue that'll have you wincing more than the scene where a character rips their own jaw off, and some genuinely awesome moments of stupidity.

Traumatised after shooting an undercover police offer, former cop Ben Carson (Kiefer Sutherland) is turning his life around: he's off the booze, he's taking his medication, and he's got a job as nightwatchman on the site of the burned-out Mayflower department store. But something is lurking behind the giant mirrors: watching, reflecting things that aren't there, driving people to their deaths. Does it have something to do with the Mayflower's earlier incarnation as a mental hospital and their unorthodox treatments for schizophrenia that apparently resulted in a bloody massacre? With his own family in increasing jeopardy from the reflections, Carson tracks down the survivor of the massacre - an elderly nun reluctant to return to the scene of her childhood torture - to put thing right in the explosive monster finale.

But Kiefer Sutherland is entirely the wrong actor for the lead, as he's basically playing it as a demon-infested episode of 24, abducting a nun at gunpoint as if he's still Jack Bauer, and delivering the most gigglesome of dialogue in an identical manner. Although I don't know who could utter "Don't make me threaten you!" and "Stay away from the water - it creates reflections!" and not get the big laughs heard at FrightFest in 2008. I laughed then, and I laughed again watching it on DVD. But it's a well-mounted, well shot, sometimes nasty horror film with nice production design for the derelict department store and some good jump scares, and it really isn't the abysmal disaster it's been labelled. And I'm really wondering what Mirrors 2 is like.


Ereh ti teg:

Saturday, 19 February 2011



Let's get one thing straight: Uwe Boll is NOT the worst director in the world. Granted he's made some terrible films - Postal is absolutely unspeakable - but pretty much every director with any track record has made some terrible films. Some directors make nothing but terrible films - Lloyd Kaufman, Adam Mason, Rob Zombie. Uwe Boll may not be troubling the Bafta shortlists but he's not that bad; his reputation appears to come from adaptations of video games. And it's true that Alone In The Dark is pretty awful. But House Of The Dead is an entirely acceptable, perfunctory zombie movie whose principal annoyance is the shameless Sega promotion. Seed is actually disturbingly well made, though the inclusion of animal cruelty footage (from PETA) over the opening credits is unjustified. And in The Name Of The King and Bloodrayne are silly, disposable films (admittedly Bloodrayne 2 was just dull). At the very least, Boll's movies are generally technically competent and surprisingly well cast.

But what happens when a director with the reputation for being a second-rate hack tries to make A Real Film About Real Events? Darfur is an unflinching film detailing the casual horrors of the genocide in Sudan, as seen through the eyes of a group of Western journalists reporting on the atrocities. For the first 40 minutes or so we see the village and villagers, hear their stories of abuse, rape, torture, murder and child abduction at the hands of the Janjaweed: death squads bent on exterminating the entire population of the area - and even as the journalists are there, the gangs turn up and force them away. Even as they leave, they - and we - know that the village is utterly doomed.

And we see the carnage, the rapes, the dismemberment, the infanticide, in living colour and loving detail (incidentally covered by a ridiculously lenient 15 certificate). It's an angering film, and deliberately so - and tailed with a caption to the effect that "the fact that we have not stopped the genocide proves we have not learned from history". The African Union troops as depicted have no mandate to interfere or engage, and are only permitted to observe and report - the gangs have no interest in what the journalists report as they know nothing will be done. The Janjaweed are depicted as nothing short of homicidal bastards, merrily butchering women and babies in the name of a cause.

In the event Darfur would probably have been taken more seriously if it was A Joe Bloggs Film rather that a Uwe Boll movie - the auteur's reputation counts against him somewhat. After all, would you go and see Saving Private Ryan if it had been made by the bloke behind the Police Academy sequels? I'm sorely tempted to believe that Boll is sincere in his intentions for this film - but then I look on the IMDb and see his latest film is Auschwitz and that troubles me when it's coming from a German director. Darfur is certainly not an entertainment; it is, I believe, an issue movie, well made and well-intentioned. Whether it's enough to rehabilitate Boll in the minds of filmgoers is another matter.

[ADDENDUM: I've been giving a lot of thought to why I was less bothered by the one-sided political tone of Darfur than I was with the tone of Kurtlar Vadisi: Filistin. In both films, the villains are mass-murdering butchers, the victims are peaceful and dignified, and the West (Darfur's international journalists and Filistin's half-American tour guide) are powerless to intervene. There are two reasons. Firstly, I do think Darfur is intended as a sincere and sobering "wake up call" of a movie whlie Filistin is primarily an action film; the first half of Darfur has a genuine documentary feel about it (you wouldn't know this was from the director of House Of The Dead or Postal). Secondly, Darfur is clearly anti-war while Filistin does give the impression of seeking to justify the continuation of conflict, and to be honest, an anti-war stance feels better than a pro-war stance.]


The film is available here:



This is a very difficult film to discuss without making it sound like you either support or reject its political stance, which is so virulently anti-Israeli and pro-Palestinian that it actually becomes funny and then very quickly stops being funny. Such is the bias - the film's Palestinians are all dignified, courageous, honourable and fearless in the face of callous oppression and subjugation, while the Israelis are depicted as murderous, heartless, bloodthirsty bastards who shoot grannies in the back and leave crippled children to die in their demolished houses - that it's almost cartoonish. Not only are the scenes of Israeli brutality viciously sadistic, but there's a lot of rhetoric to go with them.

The starting-point for the Turkish film Kurtlar Vadisi: Filistin (Valley Of The Wolves: Palestine) is the Israeli raid on ships with humanitarian supplies for the Gaza Strip in May 2010 - a raid in which Turkish activists were killed. A Turkish hit-squad goes into Israel to assassinate the top man in charge of the raid; inevitably things go wrong, people are killed and the violence in the film steadily escalates until what was supposed to be a simple assassination job ends up with tanks, helicopters, machine guns, grenades, children gunned down and general mass slaughter and destruction - houses demolished, whole families murdered in the streets. Inadvertently dragged along with the hit-squad is an innocent Jewish-American tour guide who knows nothing of the suffering - her personal misery is based solely on the fact that her boyfriend left her - and I suppose is standing in for the audience being awakened to What It's Really Like There.

I really do want to avoid the politics of the reality - whoever's right, whoever's wrong - because I'll admit it: I don't know. Bigger, better minds than mine haven't figured it out after decades; I just see the news and how far can you really trust that? Instead I'm sticking firmly to the film, which is so hopelessly one-sided in its political stance that you almost want to side against it out of sheer perversity. For all its supposed relation to the Real World it feels not just unreal but completely unbelievable; it could have been set on the planet Zog and been about the war between the brave and noble Zargons and the boo-hiss baby-eating Metaklasmians and you'd hardly have to change a word.

However, as entertainment, as a straight popcorn action movie, it's much more successful, although even there the heroes are all crack shots who can hit a moving target with one bullet while the villians are all armed with machine guns and couldn't hit the side of a barn from the inside of the barn (unless they're shooting at civilians). The big setpiece action sequences are well choreographed, bloody, with real stunts rather than huge amounts of CGI, and not so micro-edited in the modern style that you lose track of who's where and who's shooting who. (I had to take three runs at the opening car chase in Quantum Of Solace before I figured who was chasing who and which car James Bond was actually in.) If, and only if, you can ignore or tune out from the politics then it's actually rather good fun but if you take it seriously it's frankly uncomfortable viewing. The film's entry on the IMDb suggests that Valley Of The Wolves is a long-running TV series and there's at least one other film as well (made in 2006 and set in Iraq).


Friday, 18 February 2011



Ewwww. Yuk. Bleeeargh. Pass the bucket. This one certainly delivers on the blood and offal, severed limbs, smashed fingernails and spurting arteries, with several genuine look-away moments for even the most avaricious gorehound (which I do consider myself to be). Indeed, even The Sun "newspaper" was moved to report that it was "the most graphic gore film ever" (which it obviously isn't - that would be Braindead). Still, it's a pity, therefore, that the film's attempts to be moving and tragic don't really work as well as the wonderfully grisly honk-in-the-aisles prosthetics, some of which are unnervingly convincing.

The idea behind Meat Grinder is a very simple one: just because it tastes like chicken in the chicken and noodle soup doesn't mean it IS chicken. While not as horribly taboo-busting as the protein snacks in Dumplings, it's still the old cannibalism story where various people who do the downtrodden Buss wrong end up in her cellar, to be hacked apart for stock in her noodle emporium. Buss, clearly, is mad, hearing voices, systematically bumping off her enemies (the moneylenders to whom her absent husband owes money, the babysitter who appears to be have been having it away with said husband), but while she's clearly been damaged by her abusive childhood and upbringing, and her unhappy marriage, perhaps she can be salvaged with the help of a young man searching for his ***missing*** friend....

Her backstory is certainly tragic, but much of it is told in a deliberately confusing way - particularly the parts involving her disabled daughter - and unless I'm just easily baffled, I lost track of the timeline in a few places. It's a pretty downbeat film, with no happy ending (and to be honest, no happy start or happy middle) but it's certainly well made and the body parts are plentiful. And the more I think about it, the more I'm inclined towards it. Not a film to watch with a takeaway, though.


You can get the movie here:

Wednesday, 16 February 2011



Hmmm. What to say about a post-apocalypse martial arts thriller set in a permanently midnight dystopia populated by gun-toting gangsters and hopelessly brutalised peasantry, where the tough and macho hero has highlights in his hair? Despite the frequency with which the stunt doubles are knocked through walls and furniture, it's all sadly rather routine and unremarkable yet there are a few halfway decent moments.

Cold Harvest (a meaningless title) features Gary Daniels as a bounty hunter in a frankly horrible future devastated by a plague, where the world has basically become the set of a spaghetti Western version of Mad Max. Daniels also shows up as his wimpy twin brother who has the genetic antidote to the plague in his bloodstream, but the convoy escorting him and five other carriers is attacked by evil Little Ray (Bryan Genesse, who started his career in Loose Screws, a tedious sequel to a Porky's ripoff) and the only survivor is wife Barbara Crampton - not one of the antidote carriers. But Little Ray can track her through the genetic tracker of her unborn child, unless Daniels can get her to the safe zone....

It's part John Woo knockoff (there's even that Face/Off scene where the hero and villain fire guns at each other through the wall between them) and part Western, complete with twangy guitars on the soundtrack. The director is Isaac Florentine, who made the not terribly good Ninja, and whose CV mostly consists of people lamping one another. In no sense is this a must-watch, but some of the bits of fighting are nicely choreographed and put together for maximum "that's gotta hurt" effect. Certainly not the worst thing you'll ever see, but if you don't see it you're not missing anything remarkable.


You can, should you choose, buy it here:

Tuesday, 15 February 2011



You don't expect to find a scene in an action movie where the hero snogs the villain (unless the villain is a woman). It's just not the done thing down Hollywood way. Sean Connery never swapped spit with Gert Frobe or Donald Pleasence. That subplot of 24 has yet to be seriously considered, and scenes of Captain Kirk locking lips with Khan (sorry, Khaaaaaaannnnnn!!!!!) exist only in the mind of idiots and slash fiction writers. Flash Gordon and Ming The Merciless going all Brokeback? Supey and Lex? The American MidWest would crap themselves senseless. But good ol' Niko Mastorakis: he has his tough and macho hero plant one squarely on Oliver Reed. With tongue, probably. All in the line of duty.

And that's far from the most bogglesome moment in the movie. In fact, Hired To Kill is genuinely bogglesome all the way through. The chiselled and muscled Brian Thompson is hired by the always reliable George Kennedy to find and eliminate Jose Ferrer, an elderly opposition leader in the pretend country of Cypra (the film is shot in Greece). In order to get on the good side of the head of the secret Death Squads (Oliver Reed) he has to hire six girls who can be both cold-blooded killers and top fashion models - and he has to pretend to be not just a top fashion designer, but homosexual for no particularly good reason, despite having all the natural femininity of a wildebeest stampede. Once they're away from the city on a photoshoot, they can get to the castle where Ferrer is being held, blow it up.... But surely that nice George Kennedy wouldn't do anything as dastardly as deliberately blow their cover?

Basically this is The Expendables with tits, although Hired To Kill was actually made back in 1990. It's such an absolutely ridiculous plot - with its Dirty Half Dozen of Cosmo covergirls in vests and army trousers firing machine guns and lobbing grenades, it looks like one of those ludicrous Andy Sidaris movies from the same period - and hero Thompson is so crunchingly chauvinistic and cynical yet has no sexual interest in any of his comely troupe. It's incredibly stupid, it's total nonsense, there's not a single scene that doesn't have some terrible dialogue or inconceivably daft incident, but it's never dull and it's very professionally put together with a score that occasionally has echoes of the mighty Jerry Goldsmith. I can quite easily imagine Hired To Kill actually playing cinemas back then, whereas something as utterly wretched as Nightmare Hostel I can't envisage screening anywhere by anyone. Despite its wanton, wilful dumbassery I laughed all the way through and enjoyed the hell out of it.


Laugh along:



I've said it before and I'll say it again: the increased affordability of film-making equipment has enabled a far greater number of incompetent fanboy dunces to make bad horror films than it has allowed talented and imaginative tyros to make good ones. The fact that you can buy an HD camera for a few hundred quid and your mates will happily run around pretending to be zombies does not, repeat NOT, make you any kind of Director worthy of a capital D. Your brother Jimmy might have a keyboard that can produce some atmospheric drones and thuds, and you might be able to download a bit of editing software from the web, and it will all mean nothing unless you have a vague speck of talent somewhere. I can buy a set of paintbrushes very cheaply from eBay but that doesn't make me Caravaggio.

Case in point: Jeff Broadstreet, who utterly bolloxed up his 3D Night Of The Living Dead remake. I'm not suggesting that zombie movies are easy to make, but that wasn't even on the level of Zombie Nightmare or The Zombie Diaries. Hell, it's not up there with the more nonsensical Italian zomb fare such as Nights Of Terror or After Death. Broadstreet's other genre feature, Nightmare Hostel, is frankly no better. Here, a taxi driver faces jail for beating up a wino in the street but instead goes into a rage research programme run by an obviously unhinged doctor which involves injecting him with luminous yellow serum (a nod to Re-Animator, which really highlights the discrepancy between what Broadstreet thinks he's doing and what he's actually achieving). But the doctor has some kind of monster locked up in the basement forever watching bumfight videos, as well as a habit of surgically removing livers....

Broadstreet may have managed to get such genre fixtures as Andrew Divoff (the poor man's Robert Englund) and Karen Black (if she'll do House Of 1000 Corpses, she'll do absolutely anything) but it doesn't make things any better to have a couple of familiar names on board. The whole movie is supposed to take place in a research clinic but it's blatantly a disused Los Angeles warehouse, and the subplots about our hero's father issues and some kind of lawsuit with a genetics technology company just get in the way of the mad scientist stuff (he even has a halfwit assistant). The acting is pretty terrible as well - given that the supposedly hunksome star Stephen Polk is also the screenwriter AND the producer, one suspects it was all an elaborate scheme for him to snog and bonk his leading lady on camera - and the whole thing isn't nearly as exciting as it needs to be. Instead it gets very dull very quickly and the gore effects in the final confrontation arrive too late. And the gore isn't even enough to get the film an 18 - although the DVD carries an 18 certificate that's solely because of the extras.

What it needed was a better cast, a better location, a better script and better effects. In other words, it needed some money spent on it to either buy better, or to hire better. Instead they tried to do it on the cheap and, without any talent and imagination to make up for the lack of resources, they botched it. If they can't afford to make a half-decent movie, they really shouldn't bother trying. This is just rubbish.


Here's the link to buy the damn thing, but don't come crying to me:

Monday, 14 February 2011



Yet again: another opportunity to marvel in disbelief at exactly what made it onto the list of video nasties back in the 1980s: groundbreaking horror films such as Friday The 13th and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre mysteriously escaped the DPP scythe while the tedious likes of Unhinged and The Burning were declared actively obscene in law. Such arbitrary choices made no sense at all: were they just seizing every movie with the word Cannibal in the title? There are four on the list which begin with Don't... - Go Near The Park, Go In The Woods, Go In The House.... and this oddity, now available uncut with a mere 15 certificate (which I personally feel is on the lenient side).

Also known as The Forgotten and Death Ward #13 - the UK DVD I watched is obviously retitled - Don't Look In The Basement is a miserable little drive-in cheapie in which a young nurse arrives for her new job at a sanitarium only to find the head doctor has just been killed by one of his patients and the woman running the place is maintaining his frankly ludicrously liberal regime - there are no locks on the doors, and staff and patients interact freely. Before long, the telephone lines are cut (of course!) and with no restrictions on any of the inmates, be they lobotomised simpletons, nympomaniacs, homicidal axe wielding psychopaths or merely delusional fantasists, it would be foolish to think this is going to end well for anyone. But who's the maniac? The ranting judge, the desperate sex addict, the withdrawn traumatic? The senile old woman or the ex-soldier forever on the lookout for the approaching enemy? Or maybe it's.... Frankly the big reveal is scarcely a mystery worthy of Poirot.

I've always been a little uncomfortable with portrayals of mental illness and asylums in movies as it's very easy to use such things for cheap thrills or, worse, cheap laughs but Don't Look In The Basement does appear to have some respect for its stock of unfortunates and while it does play many of them as pantomime grotesques, they are still human beings. However, it's also a very grotty, seedy and miserable film - it's nominally an exploitation/horror film and there is no fun to be had at all despite the occasional bursts of bloodshed and axe murders. It's too cheap and tatty-looking to really work. (Apparently it went out in America on a drive-in double-bill with The Last House On The Left - that's a date night that went very wrong indeed.)

Yet there is a certain grubby appeal to this, the first of just five films directed by the late SF Brownrigg - and it's lasted 38 years when films more recent and better produced have disappeared into obscurity. Maybe it's just that the film is inexpensive to re-release, having apparently lapsed into public domain. But incredibly, like so many other movies, it's being given the remake treatment! With Troma regular Debbie Rochon in a lead role! Having rehashed most of the great movies of the 60s and 70s we're now working our way through bottom-of-the-bill Z features, so if this of all things is being remade, can Anthropophagus: The Beast be far behind? Don't Look In The Basement isn't very good and it certainly isn't worth watching, but there are moments of interest. Don't want to see it again though.


Buy It Here! Or don't:

Friday, 11 February 2011



Eau dear. There are a few film roles - a very few - that could never be played by any actor other than he or she who originated the role. You can get away with different actors as King Lear, James Bond or Hercule Poirot, since they're (at least nominally) from literary sources, but you can't really do it with characters created specifically for the films. An Indiana Jones movie with someone other than Harrison Ford as Indy simply isn't an Indiana Jones movie, just as a Saw film without Tobin Bell as Jigsaw is a Saw film in name only. Or a Pirates Of The Caribbean film in which Jack Sparrow doesn't show up. It's cheating. And a Pink Panther movie has to have not just Inspector Clouseau, but Peter Sellers playing him. It's the lerw. (Steve Martin, you deserve a slap.)

Son Of The Pink Panther is like something along the lines of Friday The 13th Part 5: the one which doesn't have Jason Voorhees in it but does have an entirely different character doing much the same things. In this instance it's Roberto Benigni as Jacques Clouseau's illegitimate son, similarly mangling his heavily accented English and causing havoc wherever he goes. Bafflingly, he's the son of Elke Sommer's character from A Shot In The Dark, except that she's played by Claudia Cardinale, who wasn't in that film but was in other Pink Panther movies as a different character. Herbert Lom is still Commissioner, of course, investigating the kidnapping of a North African princess as part of a needlessly complicated coup plot - a princess with whom Benigni has fallen in love.

There are a few laughs, sure. It's a Pink Panther movie made by Blake Edwards so it would be practically impossible for it to be completely laughless. We get the elaborate set-pieces, the face pulling, the physical routines, the wordplay. And Herbert Lom is magnificent. But it's not really a Pink Panther movie despite the many references to Clouseau - this man still isn't Clouseau no matter how many ludicrous disguises he employs, no matter how many times he rides his bicycle into the sea or says "bermp" instead of "bump". Strangely, the film has the look and feel of the two Bond films with Timothy Dalton - which is reinforced by having Robert Davi as one of the villains.

It's one of those movies that isn't completely terrible but isn't much good either: if you miss it you've not missed anything and it's not going to be retrospectively acclaimed as a lost classic in the year 2077. Its pleasures are entirely incidental - a Henry Mancini score (his last), some good comic business, but even those are scuppered by [1] having Bobby McFerrin doobedoo his way through a horribly vocalised opening theme and [2] staging one bit of comedy mayhem while a TV set shamelessly displays the Marx Brothers performing the same gags fifty years previously. It's better than Curse, obviously (what isn't?), but it's not up there with Return and certainly nowhere near the original. It's jerst not ferny enerf.


Go here to buy it, if you want:

Tuesday, 8 February 2011



I honestly thought I'd run out of Jess Franco movies (even though there are a few that my online rentals library doesn't appear to carry, such as Macumba Sexual, but I suspect I can live without it) but they're still dribbling through. This one is, shockingly, one of Franco's better outings, in the main because most of it (though emphatically not all of it) is in focus and there's very little in the way of his habitual crashzooming in and out of badly photographed pubes. It's beautifully designed, colourfully shot in the bright sunlight rather than the usual damp drizzle, and has an infectiously bouncy if dramatically inappropriate cheesy score by Bruno Nicolai.

Derived from the dirty-old-man scribblings of The Marquis de Sade, Eugenie: The Story Of Her Journey Into Perversion does for the most part what it says on the tin: detailing the violation and corruption of young and innocent Eugenie (Marie Liljedahl) at the hands of a pair of decadent and incestuous libertines (Maria Rohm, Jack Taylor) over a weekend at their frankly fabulous island home. Things start off innocently enough with a bit of nude sunbathing, and lolling around in flimsy dresses, but then the wine is drugged and Taylor gets his end away with both women - or did Eugenie deam it? Next thing she knows, a bunch of Sadean sex cult weirdos in 18th Century costumes show up - and suddenly it's whipping, flogging and screaming, Jack Taylor's attacking the poor girl with bolas and an edited-in Sir Christopher Lee is declaiming absolute waffle in a red velvet smoking jacket. Or did Eugenie dream it?

Hell, did I dream it? Franco had done De Sade before (Justine), and would do De Sade again. In fact, he went back to this same text ten years later - this film's actual onscreen title is The Marquis De Sade's "Philosophy In The Boudoir", which I suppose doesn't have the same lipsmacking exploitation zip about it as The Story Of Her Journey Into Perversion (and that's the title it's better known by). There's plenty of nudity but it's strictly softcore. Rohm is terrific, it's mercifully good to look at although the focus goes from time to time, and the sets and costumes are great. It is up there with my two other favourite Franco movies Vampyros Lesbos and She Killed In Ecstacy, neither of which are great films by any yardsticks other than Jess Franco's.

Yes, I actually quite enjoyed E:TSOHJIP. But why are so many of his movies barely watchable and so few of them any damned good? You'd think after so many years churning out so many films he'd have improved and they'd have got better? This one falls right in his Golden period - 1969/71 - yet even in 1971 he was producing unspeakable boredom in X312: Flight To Hell and the following year he brought us the absolutely atrocious Dracula Prisoner Of Frankenstein and The Erotic Rites Of Frankenstein. How can Franco be so good for one film and so terrible just a few months later? Meantime, the question as to whether it's actually worth stodging through Franco's terrifying back catalogue in order to find those few semi-watchable titles still remains. Personally I'm still not convinced, though this particular movie is actually okay. Nothing better than okay, but it is okay.


Watch and find out for yourself!

Monday, 7 February 2011



The dreaded 3D strikes again. But at least this one has actually been made in 3D with state of the art camera equipment, rather than being shot flat and then had a fake stereo effect daubed over it in the computer afterwards. Sadly the whizz-bang gosh-wow of modern technology wasn't applied to the writing of the piece, which was still bashed out in Microsoft Word or something, using an old-fashioned qwerty keyboard and printed on sheets of A4, which they've been using since before the Berlin Wall came down. And since the script is pretty much key to every movie ever made, its weaknesses still carry through regardless of the fantastic cameras.

Sanctum (which means nothing as a title) is basically The Descent with blokes and without the monsters, following an exploratory expedition into a vast cave system under the South Pacific led by Richard Roxburgh. When the cyclone hits and the cave starts flooding, the motley band of divers, cavers and Roxburgh's own rebellious son can only go forward through the previously unexplored sections - even as they get lost, bicker, blame one another for the deaths so far, lose their supplies and breathing apparatus, and the batteries on their lights start going out...

There's a lot of alpha-male snarling, sniping and swearing, a lot of father-son bonding and a lot of terrible "you remind me of me" dialogue that you're obliged by law to snigger at in disbelief, and the female characters are barely allowed to register. I don't suppose the 3D is absolutely necessary, but they've used it and it's fine; it works and it's not a fraction as distracting as the retrofitted blur that I refuse to acknowledge or pay for - the sole reason I didn't see The Green Hornet and I won't see the new Conan film (unless there's a 2D print available). If you can get past the clunky dialogue, especially towards the start, it does pick up in the second half when there are fewer underdeveloped characters to keep track of. Not a success, but not a total failure either. And it deserves a nod for using its 3D reasonably well.


It's not out on DVD yet, but when it is (in 2D):

Sunday, 6 February 2011



Quality over quantity. Much as it looks like a bargain to get a box set of ten films for £15, or fifty public-domain obscurities for £25, it has to be said that it's less of a bargain if most of them are absolute stinkers and the two or three decent titles in the box you could have actually picked up cheaper, and in better quality. "Ten Great Horror Classics"? Make that "Two Decent Horror Films, Some Cheap TV Quickies, Four Movies We Didn't Have To Pay Anything For And A Bad VHS Transfer Of Some Crap We Found Lying In A Cupboard And Gave It A New Title". So you get yet another DVD of House On Haunted Hill and Night Of The Living Dead (because no-one owns the rights), a couple of headline franchise titles like Hellraiser III or Halloween IV, and a lot of low-budget items you've never heard of, but hey, the whole set was only a tenner so even if they're rubbish it was still a good deal, right? Especially if you actually like hanging out in the backwaters of low-budget horror and weirdness.

Case in point: Demon Under Glass, a cheapie from 2002 in which a blood-draining serial killer nicknamed Vlad is finally apprehended but, rather than simply being locked up, is whisked away to what is meant to be a Top Security Research Facility on the top floor of a Veterans' Hospital as the focal point of Project Delphi. Because Vlad is actually a vampire from the days of Hadrian and may hold the key to eradication of disease, or even immortality. While some of the doctors wrestle with the moral implications of their research, and whether they can justify running painful tests on something intelligent and cultured (and which was originally human), their leader's theories and experiments become ultimately murderous....

The trailer asks the question "Who is the monster?" - the homicidal vampire, or the boffins exposing him to sunlight to measure his recuperative powers? Which is fine, and it's good to see a vampire movie attempting some depth and weight rather than just piling on the blood and tits. Sadly, for all its ambition, it doesn't really work as the acting isn't stellar (Vlad excepted: he's kind of interesting) and visually it's just flat and uninteresting - the night-time sequences at the start in particular are very badly lit and photographed.

It isn't a disaster, and it isn't boring; it's literate, it's occasionally nicely written, and it has ambition but it doesn't have the resources or cast to properly deliver. Which is a shame, and it's frustrating as the ideas are obviously there. Mysteriously the film has no main credits other than the title either at the start or at the end before the usual crawl, so the writer, director, producers, composer and so on are actually unbilled.


Amazon stock this, if you really want it:

Saturday, 5 February 2011



Maybe it's not something to admit to, but I've only ever seen one other Jim Jarmusch movie. I never saw Down By Law or Stranger Than Paradise, Mystery Train or Broken Flowers, possibly because in the gaps between SF, fantasy, horror and weirdness, when I have a go at Proper Art Films, I tend to get scared off by things like Godard's intolerable Weekend or the beautiful but tiresome Last Year In Marienbad, and immediately scurry back to the more straightforward pleasures of slashers, Jess Franco, 70s blaxploitation and kungfu thudfests. Call me a philistine, but given a choice between Isaac Hayes knocking heads together in Truck Turner or some noodly minimalism from a darling of the independent auteur sector, I'll usually go for the film with the better car chases.

Usually, but not always. And I did go to Ghost Dog: Way Of The Samurai in the full knowledge that it wasn't going to be a swords and bloodshed film, and I liked it a lot. Coffee And Cigarettes, however, I didn't really care for - obviously it isn't a swords and bloodshed film, more of a caffeine and nicotine film, and more accurately it's not a film at all. Rather it's a series of short and unconnected vignettes in which people meet up, talk, and imbibe the titular stimulants. Some are in roadside diners, some in outdoor street cafes, but none of them have anything to do with each other: big names like Cate Blanchett (probably the best sequence, in which she acts against herself as her own cousin), Alfred Molina, Iggy Pop, Tom Waits and Bill Murray come on, do their little scene and then disappear.

It's beautifully shot, in lovely black-and-white, by a variety of cinmeatographers including Tim DiCillo and Rubby Muller, and you can, literally, almost smell the coffee and smoke. But we are watching largely improvised encounters that have no big laughs, no sudden twists, no surprises. You can't condemn a movie for that, of course: it's like slagging off The Remains Of The Day for not having enough knob jokes. But the result is like watching real conversations between real people, except that they're played by famous people, some of them actually appearing as themselves. With no punchlines, no structure, they're just overheard chat, and the flickers of humour of them aren't so much deadpan as just dead.

This isn't to suggest it's a total bore - but the isolated verbal and visual pleasures simply aren't enough to persuade me to rent a whole stack of Jarmusch's other films. Like Godard, I might give another one or two a go but if I'm still not swayed, reluctantly conclude that Jarmusch is simply someone whose work I just don't get, like Bob Marley or Ricky Gervais - people who are/were great at what they do/did, but it's just not to my tastes and preferences. And Ghost Dog was the odd one out. Two or three of the segments had already appeared as short films over the years, which were dropped into this feature-length compilation.


Latte there be lighters:

Friday, 4 February 2011



We appear to have been going through a small wave of Dark Ages pictures recently: we had the okay Centurion, we had the absorbing Valhalla Rising (which no-one liked except me), we had Black Death, probably the most enjoyable of the cycle so far, and we've still got The Eagle (Of The Ninth) to come - and you might want to add the dreaded Marcus Nispel retread of Conan - in 3D if you please! - to the list. But while the earlier wave of Dark Ages, sword and sorcery pictures were generally fun if frequently a bit ropey (think Red Sonja, think Krull, think The Beastmaster, Hundra or Hearts And Armour), the recent offerings have been grim, muddy, cold and rooted in a far less fantastic world; one ruled by religious dogmatics and sheer brawn. Probably the only one to have deliberately set out to be an entertainment was the generally unsuccessful Solomon Kane.

Season Of The Witch clearly wants to be an enjoyable fantasy-horror popcorn romp, but it's stymied by a number of things and chief among these is having Nicolas Cage as a 14th Century Knight fighting through the Crusades with his long-time comrade in arms, Ron Perlman. Renouncing their trade when it amounts to a holy commandment to slaughter children, they are hired (by a bubo-plastered Sir Christopher Lee in another cough-and-a-spit deathbed cameo) to escort a suspected witch to a distant monastery for an allegedly fair trial. They're accompanied by a soldier, an altar boy and a priest (named Debelzaq, which I consistently, and childishly, misheard as "The Ball Sac" and shamefully giggled every time his name was spoken). Is the unnamed girl possessed, innocent or insane? It's never clear, as they wend their way through the forests, up hillsides and across lethally rickety rope bridges, but when they finally arrive....

This is not, emphatically not, a terrible film. Bits of it are actually quite fun if you ignore the star casting: Ron Perlman looks like he could be from any century, past or future, but Nic Cage simply doesn't translate well into historical settings. But it all falls to bits in the final thirty minutes when it suddenly lurches into full-on CGI horror and just becomes incredibly, laugh-out-loud silly. Presumably these were the sequences that the executives demanded be reshot after allegedly poor preview audience reaction. But how bad can the original Dominic Sena cut have been if they had to hire Brett Ratner (uncredited) to do the reshoots? The resultant cut-and-shunt job does feel like two radically different movies awkwardly bolted together and while it's not an almighty disaster, it's hardly anything to be massively proud of. It's hokum, albeit miscast and with a ridiculous climactic confrontation, but it's never dull, more fun than expected and better than many of the reviews suggested.


Silliness in a box (not yet, though):

Thursday, 3 February 2011



I have never been one for hating the rich as a principle. I can't get the logic behind it: most of us want to be rich, or at least richer than we currently are, and why would we want to become something we hate? Rich people suffer too, and a marital breakdown or an untimely bereavement are just as traumatic and distressing whether your heart is breaking on a Louis XIV divan or a stained and lumpy old sofa you bought out of the local classifieds. It's just happening in more glamorous and showy surroundings where everything and everyone is beautiful. James Bond jets around the world on an unlimited expenses account (when was the last time he booked into a Travelodge?), Thomas Crown is so rich that he plans elaborate heists just to alleviate the boredom, loneliness and misery. Why would I sit and watch Coronation Street or EastEnders, Mike Leigh or Ken Loach when I can watch the beautiful and sexy at play? Hell, they're even bringing back Dallas.

I was reminded of Dallas while watching I Am Love, a frankly meaninglessly-titled family saga centring on the massively wealthy Recchi textiles dynasty based in Milan. Like many of these things, it has to start with a family celebration - aging grandfather's birthday and the announcement of his successor at the head of the business - where we can get to know who's who, their relationships and characters. But what's important is the growing bond between Miss Ellie.... er, Emma Recchi (Tilda Swinton) and her son Eduardo's best friend Antonio, an up-and-coming chef planning an exclusive and incredibly remote nouvelle cuisine restaurant. Meanwhile, the daughter has come out as a lesbian, and Eduardo is engaged to a local girl who works in a bookshop (but her family owns property, so that's alright). Obviously it's all going to end in tears....

And so what? It's very hard to care - not because they're outrageously, obscenely rich, but simply because the movie's so inert. Despite looking absolutely beautiful there's no fun to be had, no thrills, and very little in the way of emotional connection, and the family fireworks, when they come, aren't nearly explosive enough and all too brief. As a film, it's very nicely photographed but the John Adams score is wildly inappropriate in its placing of music that's way over the top in scenes where not very much is happening. At two hours, it's a drag, especially early on, and I found myself glancing at the DVD timer and thinking "25 per cent done", which I absolutely shouldn't have done because the film should have held my interest far more firmly than it managed to.

Despite the luxurious settings, it's fundamentally soap opera and if Dallas had been like this it would surely have been cancelled after a couple of episodes. I wanted to like it - the reviews were generally positive and Quentin Tarantino named it as one of his Top Twenty of 2010. I just wish I could agree.


Here it is, if you want it:

Wednesday, 2 February 2011



The 1980s: whatever else those years are famous for, they were the heyday of the teen slasher movie, particularly in the years before the Video Recordings Act and the emasculation of the genre by the MPAA and BBFC. But coming off the back of the earlier entries in the Friday The 13th and Halloween franchises, we had the likes of Madman, Happy Birthday To Me, He Knows You're Alone, Pranks, Terror Train, Hell Night, Prom Night, My Bloody Valentine, Campsite Massacre.... and a whole slew of other cashins, some fairly good, some utterly tedious. Anyone else remember Final Exam? Graduation Day?

I first saw Rosemary's Killer as a reissue on the bottom half of a double-bill with Re-Animator; while I'd already seen the latter I had no knowledge of the former beyond some vague memories of Alan Jones' review in Starbust (I've just found it: Issue 45). And I recall enjoying it immensely, perhaps because I didn't know very much about it as it was a 1981 film doing the rounds again in 1986. Despite the heavy BBFC cuts it was spooky, creepy, and had enough Boo! moments and gratuitously sleazy nudity to feel very much like a typical slasher movie, but better than usual, even though it doesn't so much follow the formula as photocopy it.

In 1945, a jilted soldier freshly returned from the war takes revenge on his heartless girlfriend Rosemary by killing her and her new beau with a pitchfork; since then the small town of Avalon Bay has never staged a graduation dance. But thirty-five years later, surely enough time has passed? Clearly not as the still unhinged killer - who was never caught - returns in full military uniform with bayonets, shotguns and that pitchfork. The sheriff is out of town on vacation leaving his young deputy in sole charge, various teens are predictably wandering off for a midnight swim or some illicit humping in the basement, there's mysterious activity in the cemetery and Rosemary's wheelchair-bound old dad has apparently disappeared....

Now that it's been passed uncut you can see Tom Savini's splattery blood effects in their full wonderfully disgusting glory, and small wonder the Ferman-era BBFC demanded massive excisions, particularly to the bloodspurting moneyshots and the naked girl being graphically pitchforked in the shower. It's efficiently directed by Joseph Zito, who also made one of the better entries in the Friday The 13th series (Part 4, although I'll always have a soft spot for Part 5 as it was my first Friday film), nicely shot and scored and has a couple of very creepy sequences: one in a cemetery, another creeping where our hero and his girlfriend are wandering round the spooky old Chatham Mansion - she finds some jewellry in a chimney, the maniac is outside, the lights have gone out...

Of course, being an early eighties film, there's no internet or cellphones (and therefore no scene where Google is unavailable or they can't get a signal), but that's part of the period charm, as is the lying trailer: "night after night, he waits for her....", the voiceover intones even though he does nothing of the kind. Then again, the trailer boldly throws up the title Rosemary's Killer as a caption even as the voiceover steadfastly refers to it as The Prowler, its original American title. I'd be lying if I said this film was any kind of a Work Of Genius, that it was robbed at the Baftas or the BFI should preserve it for future generations. It's an entirely unoriginal slasher movie. But as the subgenre goes it's far better than expected, far better than the usual films of this kind and it delivers on its promises. Worth a watch.


Go on, you know you want to: