Friday, 29 April 2011



Horror movies come in many forms. Creepy ones, gory ones, BOO! make-you-jump ones, senselessly violent ones, subversive ones, social commentary ones, sick ones. But the ones we hardly ever get are the ones that are simply bloody scary: they're very few and far between. Even the greats of the overarching horror genre aren't necessarily the ones that make you feel uncomfortable in the cinema, that have you looking away from the screen in fear of seeing something terrifying. On that shortlist you can count The Exorcist and Exorcist III, the original version of The Eye, Jack Clayton's The Innocents..... anything else? It's a very short list of actually, genuinely scary horror films.

Well, add Insidious to that list because it's quite simply the scariest thing to hit cinema screens in years and I really don't want to give very much of a plot description because the less you know, the deeper the effect is going to be and you really do want to see this fresh. It starts off as a haunted house movie - it's actually quite similar to Poltergeist in its basic setup. In typical Amityville style, a family move into their new home but it's not long before things start happening: doors start opening and closing, books apparently take themselves off the shelves. And then things get worse: the eldest child falls into an inexplicable coma, the horrors continue until they move house. But the incidents follow them....

That's really all I'm going to say. Insidious is the movie that the Paranormal Activity films should have been: a not dissimilar subject, but far more effective in its unexpected shock moments, its manifestations of its evil forces and its visual look. It's got a fantastic retro look to it of old school horror movies of the 70s and 80s (it even stars Barbara Hershey from The Entity) and a refreshing absence of frenzied CGI excess. There's little blood and no gore. What it has is a wonderfully clammy atmosphere of absolute, utter dread - dread of the next appearance of the malevolent entities, of the next loud noise, of the next mysterious shape in the darkness - to an extent that you alternate between hiding your eyes from the screen and searching the image for the horror you know you don't want to actually see.

It has a terrific role for Lin Shaye, a good comedy support from Leigh Whannell (who wrote the script and starred in Saw) and a shrieking atonal score by Joseph Bishara, who also appears in the movie as one of the evil creatures. Maybe it loses some impact in the final stretch in the realm known as The Further: the horrors are that much more pervasive in the real world. But there's another sting in the tale after that. Insidious is a terrific, terrifying horror movie that's absolutely, effortlessly effective from start to finish. Loved it, loved it, loved it.


Further thoughts on INSIDIOUS here:

Thursday, 28 April 2011



Along with the classy and spooky Japanese horror movies, the wave that began with Ju:On The Grudge (which I wasn't that keen on, to be honest) and the first Ringu, we've had a few of the more demented Japanese splatter movies. Films like Machine Girl, Tokyo Gore Police, Vampire Girl Vs Frankenstein Girl varied from watchably dumb ultraviolence through to unwatchably incoherent ultraviolence, tricked out with geysers of blood arcing gleefully across the screen and CGI gore effects that look to have been thrown together on Microsoft Paint by nine-year-olds. Plot? They quite literally don't know the meaning of the word. What counts is the splatter, the dismemberment, the decapitations, the entrails strewn across the set and ankle-deep streams of blood. (Against these, a film like Alien Vs Ninja looks absolutely sane.)

As a splatter movie, Robo Geisha certainly delivers the goods in terms of blood, death and severed limbs. As far as plot is concerned, it's absolute bollocks. A wannabe geisha named Yoshie and her bitchy geisha sister get involved with a shady businessman who has an army of cybernetically enhanced women who run around in their underwear and can shoot samurai swords from their armpits and bottoms, and/or fire machine guns from their breasts. He also has two even tougher cyborg assistants called Tengu who wear masks with dildos for noses for no adequately explored reason. Can Yoshie save the day when she discovers that the shady businessman is seeking to destroy the whole of Japan by turning his castle into a giant robot stomping across the city (hey, a Gojira nod!) and dropping a giant bomb into Mount Fuji?

None of this makes a blind bit of bloody sense and the only thing it's got going for it (apart from the fact that it's done and finished with in about 83 minutes) is the deranged violence. Sadly, it's almost all done in CGI and this time looks like Microsoft Scribble as used by three-year-olds. Even The Asylum's idiotic mega-monster mash movies have better effects than this, and The Asylum movies are abysmal. Robo Geisha is utter rubbish: boring, stupid, illogical even by the standards of the Japanese nonsense splatter epic and absolutely not even slightly worth watching.


At your own risk:

Tuesday, 26 April 2011



Yeth, I know it'th childith, but I've been doing the "going to the thinema to thee Thor!" gag all week and I'm not going to thtop now. Frankly I had to do something, anything, to make Thor a more exciting proposition: yet another Marvel gig full of massively overblown CGI and aimed at spotty comicbook fanboys with inadequate social skills. Okay, maybe that's a slight exaggeration. But I can honestly say I don't get comicbook superhero movies: either they're glum and heavy affairs where they've tried to load Real Human Emotion onto something originally designed as primary-coloured pantomime to keep the kids quiet at breakfast, or they're so bland and shiny with whizzbang computer effects that they might as well be a cartoon. Christopher Nolan's Batman movies may be absolutely top-notch A-list productions with great casts and the best production design and effects work that hundreds of millions of dollars can buy, but they're no fun. So I end up preferring something as insubstantial as the Fantastic Four movies - not because they're particularly good, but because they know they're basically camp and colourful pantomimes, and play it accordingly, rather than thinking they're Proper Drama and wallowing in Bergmanesque angst.

Well, call me a spotty nerd, but Thor is terrific. It's not going to win the big Oscars, but for my money it's easily the best superhero movie since the first two Christopher Reeve Superman films. This is an origins story: Thor (Chris Hemsworth: personable and likeable) is banished from Asgard by the All-Father King Odin (Sir Anthony Hopkins, mercifully not doing Valhalla by way of Port Talbot and Cork this time, but a consistent if neutral accent) after a disastrous quest for vengeance into Jotenheim, the realm of the Frost Giants, goes awry. Crashing to Earth, he's picked up by scientists Natalie Portman (!) and Stellan Skarsgard and has to blend into small-town New Mexico. But there's a traitor within the Halls Of Asgard (and frankly you should be able to spot the traitor from the next room): can Thor retrieve his mighty hammer, summon Heimdall the blind gatekeeper to bring him across the Rainbow Bridge and save the kingdom?

In simple terms, what they've managed to do with Thor is create a likeable character you don't mind spending time with, and succeeds in doing the fish-out-of-water thing without making Thor look like a dick. The modern Batman is a tortured and humourless bore and I couldn't give a toss about whether Peter Parker gets off with Mary-Jane or not, but with his surfer-dude good looks, Thor is a charismatic lead once he's slightly humanised. In Asgard, Thor is arrogant and spoiling for a fight, but he's stuck on Earth as a human until he becomes worthy of his gifts, and it's only then that he can wield his hammer again and save the day not just on Earth but in Asgard as well. And its big triumph is the visualisation of Asgard: the production design and costumes are absolutely mental in the best way and reminded me of the 80s Flash Gordon movie in the fabulous look and complete impracticality.

Okay, Natalie Portman's role is a complete blank (I honestly didn't even realise it was her), Rene Russo has almost nothing to do as Frigga (Mrs Odin and mother to Thor and Loki) and Tom Hiddleston, as prankster brother Loki, is basically playing the part as Michael Sheen. But it's such good fun I don't really want to complain too much, and certainly it's the last thing you expected Kenneth Branagh to be involved with - no Derek Jacobi or Brian Blessed declaiming in iambic. Two other points: firstly the 2D version is more than sufficient. That's how it was shot and after the unholy post-production mess they made of Piranha I won't go and see fake 3D films. It simply doesn't need the artifical depth layered on in the computer afterwards. And STAY THROUGH THE END CREDITS because there's the now-obligatory extra bit tying it in with the ongoing Marvel Avengers uberproject. Four thtarth. Go and thee it.




When I mentioned on Twitter that I was sitting down to watch this Japanese horror movie from the director of several of the Jo-On Grudge films, I said "it had better be good", to which I almost immediately received the reply "It isn't". Expectations were accordingly lowered. And they were lowered again as the film started: it isn't a film. Well, it's a film in the accepted sense of the word as a long-form single narrative in audio-visual format made up of a series of still frames, but it's not a film in the technical sense of the word as it's shot on ungraded digital video and hasn't even had that artificial film look put onto it afterwards. The result is that it's astoundingly cheap and ugly to look at, which is a shame because it's actually okay, at least for the first hour.

The basic thrust of The Shock Labyrinth (and while we're on the subject of accurate titles, in the wake of Scream 4 or The Fast And The Furious 5: Rio Heist, which weren't the actual onscreen titles of those movies: it is The Shock Labyrinth, regardless of the lack of the The on the box art) is that ten years ago a little girl disappeared when she and her friends snuck into an abandoned walk-through theme park attraction. And on the tenth anniversary, she suddenly turns up claiming to have escaped. But when she needs to go to hospital the group all find themselves trapped once more in the spooky labyrinth where they discover what really happened that day, and who was actually to blame.

Asian horror movies can be very variable. Most of them aren't up there with the greats such as the first Ringu or the first The Eye, and there are a lot of second-rate titles cluttering up the ex-rental bins at Blockbusters. And while it wasn't entirely their fault, there were a string of American remakes that largely failed to replicate their effect (the US version of Shutter in particular is desperately poor). Too many of them were over-reliant on things like unbreakable curses, and the pasty-faced lank-haired ghost girls with jittery movements: none more so than Ju-On: the Grudge (from the same director, Takashi Shimizu) and the 43 sequels and remakes there've been.

For its first hour or so, this has a creditable stab at being one of the better ones: despite the cheap video photography it's creepy and cleverly structured in its overlap of then and now, in the manner of some of the twistier time-line stories from the rejuvenated Doctor Who. But the last half-hour or so throws it all away and it just becomes silly with the House Of Horrors dummies suddenly coming to life like Romero's zombies.

It was originally in 3D, although the DVD I saw was the flat version and while there are some scenes that would probably have used the effect quite well (suspended raindrops, falling feathers) I doubt the bulk of it would have benefitted. And there's some atrocious CGI work involving a stuffed toy bunny. It's not terrible, but it's not a masterpiece either and while there's some really good stuff in the first two thirds, it falls apart badly towards the end.


Buy here:

Monday, 25 April 2011



For quite a while recently, the overwhelming majority of new horror movies have ranged between okay to absolute toilet, and only a few, such as Scream 4, have broken through the tolerable barrier and have actually been pretty decent. For whatever reason, the ratio of good to indifferent feels a lot slimmer than usual: maybe it's a huge increase in the number of cheap digital horror films made by talentless idiots dragging the genre's average quality downwards. Sure the industry looks to be in robust health given the number of titles on the rental shelves. But the more serious effect is that you approach every new horror movie with lowered expectations, so a film that's actually no more than solidly put together comes across as a masterpiece cross between The Evil Dead and Pan's Labyrinth and a perfunctory director looks like prime Carpenter or Cronenberg when stood against the legions of backyard camcorder auteurs.

A case in point (sorry) is Needle, a perfectly acceptable, perfectly efficient little Australian entry in which a bunch of uninteresting college teens are bloodily killed one by one shortly after one of their number inherits a mysterious wooden box from his late archaeologist father: an ornate mechanical device inscribed "Le Vaudou Mort". Originally identified as a prop from the days of Grand Guignol theatre, it turns out to be older and far more sinister than that: no sooner has the box been stolen from our hero than his friends start dying messily. What does it do? How does it work? Who stole it, and why?

Needle is really no more than a well crafted if anonymous and unstylish horror film. Granted, its array of bland, plastic teens is entirely uninteresting and you don't particularly care who's next to killed off; the identity of the mystery killer doesn't matter and their motivation is pretty unlikely. But it's nicely shot and scored (Jamie Blanks' music has more than a touch of the legendary Christopher Young's horror sound in places) and it stages its bloody kill sequences well enough, though curiously enough it has two characters killed offscreen. And halfway down the cast is Jane Badler who used to be in V!

Look, it's a competent and professional production and frankly that's the least a paying audience should have a right to expect. Sadly, in an era when any idiot can get their mates together and sling something together on a Sony Handycam and an iMac and release it on DVD no matter how hopelessly inadequate it is, I'll gladly settle for mere professional competence. Even taking into account the genre's current downward drag factor, Needle's fine. Not much more than that, but it's perfectly acceptable and I enjoyed it.


C'est ici:

Sunday, 24 April 2011



Remember that movie in which Dennis Hopper played a mad bomber who kept leaving explosives around the city and taunting the cops? Yeah, me too. This is not that movie, although seven years after Speed, Hopper is again playing a mad bomber blowing things up and taunting the cops (here led by Tom Sizemore and Steven Seagal) except this time with an Irish accent. Sometimes. Maybe on four of five occasions some third assistant director managed to whisper "Pssst - Dennis, remember you're Irish!" at him just before the camera rolled; otherwise he apparently forgot and played it as the basic Dennis Hopper bad guy. Even in scenes with Michael Halsey, who looks a bit like Mick Jagger but is at least consistent in his Irish accent: albeit an accent that's so Irish it makes Ian Paisley sound Welsh. Worse, it does bring back memories of Blown Away, and the shameful stab at leprechaun-speak by Tommy Lee Jones.

Ticker pits maverick cop-on-the-edge Tom Sizemore against explodomaniac Dennis O'Hopper when Sizemore's partner gets killed and Hopper's girlfriend (Jamie Pressly) is arrested. But Hopper wants her back and is apparently prepared to blow up half the city if she isn't released. He blows up a bar, he blows up museums and a pizza joint, but what's his grand design, his masterpiece? Sizemore teams up with Steven Seagal, as head of the wacky and crazy but lovable Bomb Squad (before he got old and slow and became a pastieholic), to uncover the frankly nonsensical motivations and find the super-duper-mega-bomb-deluxe so big and powerful it requires a team of top commandos led by Ice T just to switch it on.

Despite having several massive and fantastic-looking explosions, Ticker is pretty perfunctory stuff. It's also a mess. A major plot point hangs on a crazy bag lady who memorises licence plates, which is extremely handy, and while there's a flashback as to why Sizemore is so grumpy and miserable all the time, it's never resolved. And some of the action sequences are very sloppily edited. But it IS an Albert Pyun film and like many other Pyun films, there are occasional flashes of visual panache and long tracts of dullness. Even as the seconds tick away on the bombs, and novice Sizemore panics in front of the countdown while Seagal calms him down with New Age know-yourself hippie bumper-sticker philosophising that Yoda would giggle derisively at, it's just not exciting.

And ultimately, it's an action movie: we want the big-ass explosion at the end and it's literally a damp squib when they stop it. (Everyone's safe at the end of Speed: once all the civilians are out of the blast zone we can have the huge release of everything blowing up.) Maybe there's a better ending on the promised Director's Cut which Pyun claims will be better - but he's also promising a new cut of his disastrous Captain America with 30 minutes of new footage, none of it in action sequences. Let it go, Albert: silk purses and all that. Frankly I'd rather you made something new than go back and tinker with stinkers from decades past. Nemesis was terrific in a stupid, stupid, incomprehensible way, and The Sword And The Sorceror was great sub-Conan fun. Nothing's going to salvage Ticker: it's always going to be a bit rubbish whatever snips and dubs you do. Strangely, it's a regular fixture on some of the ITV digital channels, but it's really not worth tuning in for.



Friday, 22 April 2011



Haven't we? Hasn't Van Damme done this already? Or maybe Seagal? The old warhorse in which a top assassin is targeted for termination by persons unknown, the prey turns predator and kicks mucho scumbag ass to protect his cute ickle daughter and hot milfy wife? Maybe they have, maybe they haven't - it's exactly the kind of thing they do these days - but it all seems dreadfully familiar, a strictly by-the-numbers string of shootings and killings and punchings and Russian accents and stuff blowing up.

That's pretty much all that happens in The Killing Machine, a perfunctory and drab-looking action pic in which Dolph Lundgren is only pretending to be a high-flying international real estate salesman: he's really a top contract killer for a Russian crime syndicate based in, er, Vancouver. But his attempts to maintain the facade of a normal family life come to a screeching halt when other killers blow up his new girlfriend and target his cute ickle daughter for termination, and Dolph has to find out who the killers work for and get his life and family back.

Despite the huge body count and frequent bursts of bloody violence, it's all pretty bland, uninteresting to look at and mainly consisting of heavily accented Russian gangsters firing guns at each other. There's no-one to really root for - our nominal hero is a murderer who casually kills a dozen anonymous goons along with the contracted target - so there's no real empathy with him and worse, you start to wonder whether his family might actually be better off without him. When you start to side with the film's apparent villains - as bloodstained and violent as he is - something isn't working.

This is apparently the sixth film that Dolph has directed himself in, and it's nothing more than textbook DTV action fodder, and very old-fashioned fodder at that. It also suffers from the cheap digital look at odds with the cinematic widescreen ratio (curiously the DVD offers a widescreen and a full frame version; I watched the former and frankly I'm not about to sit through it again in full frame to see if it's any better). Noisy, unattractive and very, very ordinary. Except, interestingly, for Lundgren himself: at 53 he's actually a good solid, weatherbeaten presence in the lead role. That's not enough to save the movie, though.


It's available here:

Thursday, 21 April 2011



This is one of those utterly baffling movies that just makes you wonder what they thought they were making: goodness only knows what possessed studio execs to finance a live-action monster movie based on a bedtime story for kiddies, with occasional if discrete moments of blood and gore. Since it's from the director of the first Twilight film it's perhaps understandable that it's a sugary confection in which a teenaged girl is torn between two hunky young males, and there's a supernatural dimension rendered in a visual style so soft and twee that the entire movie has the weight and the texture of an Angel Delight. Sometimes the focus is so wispy that you have to look at the cinema's Fire Exit sign to confirm your eyesight isn't failing you. Because it's so frothy and flyaway, it is literally like watching it through a gentle hazy snowfall of icing sugar, and this visual style defuses (not to say diffuses) the horror element to the point where it looks like a Christmas card, complete with specks of glitter drifting off.

The very title tells you the basis of the plot. Amanda Seyfried is Red Riding Hood: aka Valerie, eligible young woman in a remote European village named Daggerhorn, on the edge of the dark forest in the 14th Century (according to the trailer; there's no date given in the film). But the area is at the mercy of a werewolf: it usually leaves the villagers alone, placated by the occasional sacrifice of livestock. Until Valerie's sister is brutally slain by the beast, and as it's the time of the Blood Moon, any of the villagers could be the werewolf. They hunt the wolf, they call in monster-hunter extraordinaire Father Solomon (Gary Oldman, the only one in the cast not using an American accent) and, while Valerie is torn between her hunky betrothed and her hunky true love, the monster speaks to her directly.... Might Grandmother (Julie Christie) know anything?

There are a few scenes of gore and violence: a good jump moment early on, and some nasty scenes of torture in which Oldman seeks the name of the wolf's human form by sealing his captives inside a giant steel elephant. And the rest of it is all very pretty and light as a meringue - they even manage to work in "what big eyes you have"! - and it also has the same Twilight idea of the beast in true and perfect love with the beauty but fighting his own nature not to hurt her. Like the werewolf itself, the film is nice and presentable on the surface, and occasionally goes mad. But in the end it isn't really successful and you may well come out of the movie feeling a little bit sick from all the sugar.




This is the second franchise entry this week to try and sport a quirky non-sequential title. But while the Scream series has thus far been very simple and sensible up to the absurdly styled Scre4m (see, it doesn't work in lower case), the Fast And Furious movies have never adhered to the good old-fashioned 1, 2, 3. First there was The Fast And The Furious, then 2 Fast 2 Furious, followed by The Fast And The Furious: Tokyo Drift and Fast And Furious. Now this, which was going to be The Fast And The Furious 5: Rio Heist, presumably until someone decided that looked too boring and renamed it Fast Five. Could have been worse, of course: it could have been 5ast or something equally dumbass, and the betting is open for what unholy alphanumeric idiocy they'll use for the next one.

The first two were pretty empty affairs consisting exclusively of absurdly fast cars screeching through city centres in the middle of the night in illegal street races; the third one radically changed the formula by dumping all the established characters, and having a sullen teen relocate to Tokyo and get involved with absurdly fast cars screeching around mountain roads in illegal street races. Number four was a bit of an improvement: tougher and slightly more violent and reuniting some of the key members of the series cast. But none of the four was honestly much more than tolerable crash-bang-wallop in which ridiculously modified cars performed impossible stunts and hurtled around like guided missiles to a thudding soundtrack while hot babes in bikinis stood on the sidelines whooping.

Fast Five isn't significantly better, though at two hours ten it is the longest, and reunites most of the key players from the earlier films. Vin Diesel (1, 4, and a cameo in 3) is sprung from his jail transport by his sister Jordana Brewster (1, 4) and former cop Paul Walker (1, 2, 4), to do a daring job in Brazil removing some highly valuable cars from a train. But the cars belong to crime lord Joaquim De Almeida, containing information about his hundred million dollar cash hoard, which they promptly decide to seize for themselves. So they get the band back together: Tyrese Gibson (2), Chris Ludacris Bridges (2), Sung Kang (3, 4) for a ridiculous and massively destructive robbery. Except dedicated federal agent Dwayne Johnson is on their trail and doesn't care whether they're innocent or guilty....

It's a beltingly stupid film, in which the final chase sequence showcases so much property damage and vehicles smashing into each other at high speed that you do wonder about all the innocent shoppers and passers-by put in harm's way in such a cavalier fashion by the nominal heroes of the movie, in a Wanted kind of a way (where there's a packed train coming off the rails and plunging off the side of a mountain and nobody gives a toss about anyone except the mass-murdering halfwit in the lead role). It's also a film so soaked in testosterone that you can smell it over the petrol and sweat even in the fifth row. If you want a movie in which angry, ugly balls of machismo snarl and bellow and beat each other round the head with socket wrenches, fire guns at one another and smash up dozens of cars: well, it isn't exactly The King's Speech we're looking at.

It's stupid, but it is mindless thumping popcorn entertainment and it knows it. Vin Diesel and Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson probably know they're never going to make it as romantic or comedic leads, and their natural home is toughnut action pictures (Dwayne's coming to this from Faster, and Vin's next film is apparently XXX 3!). Stay till the end credits start to scroll up as there's an extra bit that shamelessly sets up yet another sequel by potentially dragging two more characters from past instalments back into the skidmark-strewn mayhem.


Wednesday, 20 April 2011



C-c-c-clang-g-g-g! Hit The Tourist with a stick and it will reverberate like the Rank gong for an hour and a half, it's that empty. Empty isn't necessarily a bad thing - not everything needs a profound and meaningful subtext - but when you've got this level of talent behind and before the camera you really should expect something with considerably more depth than a Ferrero Rocher commercial. But that's all we get from the brilliantly named Florian Henckel Von Donnersmarck: two hours of glossy surface, under which there's just a puff of air. As shiny packages go, it's very nice, but there's nothing inside it.

The Tourist is Johnny Depp: an ordinary maths teacher spending his holiday travelling across Europe, and picked up by impossibly glamourous Angelina Jolie, as the sometime lover of a mysterious master thief wanted not just by Scotland Yard (as represented by Paul Bettany and Timothy Dalton) for several million quid in unpaid taxes but by brutal gangster Steven Berkoff for several billion quid that the mystery man stole, and which he understandably wants back. The trouble is that neither Berkoff, Jolie, nor the cops have any idea what Mr X looks like, since he's conveniently had several million dollars worth of plastic surgery....

There are boat chases, there are shootouts, there's a rooftop foot chase with Depp in his pyjamas, there are loads of scenes of the pretty people swanning around Venice, looking utterly fabulous in expensive tuxedos and evening gowns. It's completely silly and completely hollow: you half expect a smooth Euro-accented voice-over to announce "Venezia: the new fragrance from Christian Dior". BUT: the film is directed by Von Donnersmarck, who made the wonderful The Lives Of Others; it's co-scripted by Julian Fellowes and Christopher (the Usual Suspects) McQuarrie, it has a cast boasting numerous awards and countless nominations - so frankly there should be a good deal more substance to the film.

Instead, it's a whole bunch of nothing. As nothing goes, it's very pretty and very shiny, but no matter how nicely it's photographed, it's still nothing. But it's supposed to be nothing, it's supposed to be an entertainment for the eyes, its a piece of glamourous, escapist fluff for a Sunday evening. And you can't get that annoyed with a film that sets out to be a piece of fluff being a piece of fluff. In its low ambitions, it succeeds. But surely it should have aimed higher than nothing.


Nothing doing:



Political aside: I don't believe that tax fraudsters should be jailed. Upon being found guilty, they should have all their assets seized and sold to the total owed, and anything still owed after that should be recouped by the strictest Attachment Of Earnings Orders possible. Prison spaces are scarce and I'd rather they were taken up by rapists and burglars - people who cannot commit those crimes while locked up because there's a dozen locked metal doors and dirty great wall covered in razor wire between them and the outside - than fraudsters who cannot even attempt to pay off their debts while locked up. One such tax fraudster, bizarrely, is Wesley Snipes, who is scheuled to spend the next two years as an extra at the McKean Federal Correctional Institution in Pennsylvania. Should have paid your taxes like normal people do, you idiot. But I don't know what good locking him up can do - he owes millions and now he can't work towards paying them off until July 2013. (Facts, if that's what they are, from Wikipedia.)

Anyway, pretty much the last thing he made before his Porridge remake was Game Of Death: nothing to do with Bruce Lee's Game Of Death, which was famously cobbled together after the great man's death. Rather it's a meaninglessly titled DTV thudfest in which Snipes is an undercover CIA agent trying to bring down international arms dealer Robert Davi - until his team decide to break ranks and steal the hundred million dollars (presumably tax free) Davi's about to pick up. Unfortunately Davi has a heart attack and the first hour of the movie turns into Die Hard In A Hospital, as Snipes tries to get to Davi in the intensive care wing and take down the villains.

It isn't very good, really: there's some limited fun to be had with the crunchy arm-breaking, ass-kicking and repeated blows to the face. But for every crowd-pleasing combat sequence there are two more in which they run around empty hospital corridors aimlessly firing guns at each other. Davi, who isn't the villain despite being a billionaire arms merchant, isn't given much to do beyond look ill in a wheelchair or on a hospital trolley, and there's a lack of top-notch explosive action, despite what you see on the cover artwork. Several scenes were obviously pretty dull to start with, so they've tried to juice them up with Tony Scott-style visual distractions - black-and-white, split-screen, flashbacks, slo-mo, fast-mo, double exposure, grainy stock effects - but, as ever, they're more irritating than exciting.

It's a competent enough if silly time waster with a few semi-decent bits of violent action (mainly the climactic act of righteous bone-snapping justice doled out to head villain Gary Daniels), but there are misjudgements as well, such as a baffling sequence involving mental patients which just doesn't belong in the film at all. Overall it doesn't really work and, oddly enough, the best thing about it is Snipes. But he's done much better in the past (action-wise in Passenger 57, acting-wise in One Night Stand) and this really isn't up to standard; it's passingly fun while it's on but not much more than that.


Game on:

Saturday, 16 April 2011



Stop me if you've heard this one before, but there's this kid who has supernatural powers that involve bending air, but he needs to undergo more training if he's to fulfil his true destiny and save the world from ancient forces of darkness as depicted in CGI. No, this isn't M Night Shyamalan's thoroughly absurd fantasy folly The Last Airbender, it's a completely different but markedly similar and thoroughly absurd fantasy folly from James Wong, the director of the first and third Final Destination offerings. And also The One, another idiotic fantasy movie in which Jet Li gets to beat himself up.

In Dragonball Evolution, legend has it that in ancient times the world was brought to the brink of destruction by the evil Piccolo and his henchman Oozaru, but some monks trapped him in a soul container of some description. Now, somehow Piccolo has escaped (it's never explained exactly how - there's a lot of exposition missing) and is after the seven fabled Dragonballs - swirly glowing snooker balls - which if reunited at the Dragon Temple during a solar eclipse, will bring forth a dragon to grant one wish. Ordinary high-school kid Goku must team up with his cute girlfriend ChiChi, ass-kicking hot chick Bulma, martial arts master Roshi (sad to see the mighty Chow Yun-Fat reduced to this kind of infantile twaddle) and thief Yamcha in order to collect the Dragonballs before Piccolo can, and save the world.

This is rubbish. But it's a PG-rated kids' movie and it gets by on its colourful effects and action: nothing offensive happens, just the mildly scary appearance of a dragon towards the end and some mainly bloodless fighting. As a film it's nonsense, badly written, entirely empty, and set in that Hollywood version of a non-specific Far East that doesn't actually exist but looks good. The under 12s might enjoy it as a silly kids' fantasy; anyone over 15 will be either annoyed or bored, no matter how good the effects work is, and regardless of the presence of Chow Yun-Fat, indisputably the best thing about the movie. It doesn't even reach the "heights" of MNS's The Last Airbender, which was scarcely up there with the greats. Based on a Japanese manga.


Balls ahoy:

Friday, 15 April 2011



First let's get that idiotic title out of the way. It's Scream 4. It's not SCRE4M. How are you supposed to say that anyway? "Hello, could I have two tickets for the next showing of Screfourm?" doesn't even begin to make sense. Doubtless the sequel (and there WILL be a sequel) will be called 5CREAM, because that's the kind of nonsense marketing people get paid a lot of money to come up with. My local cinema even printed Scream 4 on the ticket. And Google returns 250,000 hits for Scre4m and 25 million hits for Scream 4, so the title you can actually say out loud is the winner. Regardless of what it says on the title card (which is the official arbiter of what a film is actually called), this movie is Scream 4, so please take your clever-clever post-Se7en alphanumerics and shove them up your arfivee.

It's ten years since the last movie, so rather than pick up from the end of Scream 3 and try and ignore the fact that everyone's wrinklier and/or has been at the pies, Scream 4 has also moved on ten years: in what was obviously a dumb move to start with, Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) returns to her old home town of Woodsboro as part of her survivor self-help book tour: Dewey (David Arquette) is now the town sheriff, married to ex-reporter Gale (Courtney Cox). But on the anniversary of the original murders, the killings begin again, bloodier than ever before. And they appear to be patterned after the fictitious Stab movies which depict the events of the first Scream movies! Who's the killer? Or indeed, who's the next victim? Sidney's publicist? The disloyal boyfriend of her young cousin (Emma Roberts)? The perky deputy sheriff (Marley Shelton)? One of the film geeks at the high school? The best friend (Hayden Panettiere)?

Like the first three films, it's knowing and self-referential: this is a world in which everyone knows Halloween, Friday The 13th, Prom Night, A Nightmare On Elm Street and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, but that knowledge doesn't help them survive their own "real" horror movies. Oddly it's a world which has all those movies in it but doesn't have the actual Scream films (though it does have Wes Craven), substituting the fake Stab series (supposedly directed by Robert Rodriguez!). Scream 4 even starts with a clip of Stab 7 in which two disposable hotties get bloodily dispatched while watching Stab 6 on video - a film in which two other disposable hotties get bloodily dispatched while watching Stab 5 on video..... Such mirrors-in-mirrors gags can get a mite tiresome fairly quickly.

So too does the desire for funny one-liners at a time when anyone could be brutally killed by anyone at any point. One character, viciously knifed, unable to see, collapses in the street but manages to come up with a snappy zinger about Bruce Willis for their final words on God's Earth. Frankly, in that position I'd still be struggling to unmask the maniac rather than indulge in quotable  movie-related banter. I'm wondering how much of that is down to uncredited rewrites by Ehren Kruger rather than the original screenplay by Kevin Williamson. But then I'm amazed that so many people in Woodsboro think nothing of going to a horror movie marathon when there's a homicidal maniac on the loose killing people in the manner of the very movies they're watching....

Nor do I entirely buy the twisted rationale behind the murders, but at least they're no longer rooted in Sidney's mother's rampant sex life, though it still comes down to a whiny individual blaming Sidney for their miserable lot in life and murdering a bunch of innocent people with this pretty flimsy justification. Still, horror movies have never been noted for plausibility or serious character profundity (except rarely, with the very best ones). And as a horror movie - not as some kind of believable drama but as a creepy-jumpy scare machine, Scream 4 is perfectly okay. By my reckoning there are eleven kills in the movie (plus four in the Stab excerpts) and they're mostly pretty well done. If the screenplay is occasionally tortuous in getting all the characters to be exactly where they have to be for the jumps and kills to work, it mostly pays off because we are going with it - it is a Scream film, after all.

And on that level I did enjoy it. I watched the first three yesterday on DVD to catch up with who's who and who killed who where and when, and I think Scream 4 keeps the quality up to the level of the first two, and certainly to the third (which appears to be generally hated although I thought it was okay if wedged too firmly up its own cinematic bottom). It delivers the grisly goods efficiently, it has its three main characters doing their thing (though I found it even harder to warm to Courtney Cox this time out, and her charater is generally horrible throughout the first three anyway) and there are plenty of attractive girls and hunky guys as knife fodder. Strangely, despite being bloodier and in one scene gorier than the first three, the BBFC have only rated it 15 while the others remain at 18 (though the first two haven't been resubmitted for a long time), and I think this one should have been an 18 as well.

And, of course, it continues the up and down Craven "trajectory", following the atrocious My Soul To Take, a film that genuinely leaves you wondering how the hell it got financed. Scream 4 definitely has Craven back on his home territory and doing what he does best, and doing it perfectly well, but the odds do rather suggest that his next one will be a duffer. This would be a shame. But Scream 4 is a worthy entry in the series, keeping up the blood and bonkers motivations: it keeps you guessing, the jumps are nicely timed and it's very well shot and scored. Well worth the wait.


Thursday, 14 April 2011



The remake bandwagon trundles merrily on. Now we're not just getting remakes of iconic genre classics such as Halloween, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Friday The 13th, not just bona fide nasties like I Spit On Your Grave and The Last House On The Left, but now we're getting remakes of minor British obscurities like this: a small-scale thriller from forty years ago with a script by Brian Clemens and Terry Nation. How long before someone digs up Michael Reeves' The Sorcerors or has another crack at Inseminoid or Frightmare? In truth I'd rather they remade indifferent and less well known films than much-loved classics, since the bar is lower and there's obviously more room for improvement - why aim for Suspiria when you're so obviously doomed to failure? Go remake Zoltan Hound Of Dracula instead.

The original And Soon The Darkness (which according to my lists was exhumed from the vaults for one screening at the UCI Northampton in November 2002, for some unknown but welcome reason) has two British girls on a cycling holiday around France: one of them disappears and may be the victim of the local maniac. In this remake they're American girls cycling through Argentina: Amber Heard (also a co-producer) and Odette Yustman. Yustman disappears at a remote beauty spot where they've been sunbathing, and Heard tries to find her, but the local police are ineffective and none of the locals want to help, even though several other girls have vanished in the area. Maybe Karl Urban, local humanitarian looking for his own missing girlfriend, is responsible? The sinister gardener at the hotel, who obviously knows something? Or the charmless local lout who tries to pick the two girls up in a bar?

While the first version dealt with a basic homicidal maniac, this one has an extra act as the girls fall into the clutches of white slavers trading girls across the border to the Paraguay pervert market. Unlikely? I wouldn't know what basis such a plot would have in reality, but it doesn't seem to ring true. Nevertheless, it gives an opportunity for the villains to be sadistic and beastly to helpless young lovelies, and for Amber Heard to do the Final Girl routine in the last reel, though not nearly spectacularly enough for a crowd-pleasing popcorn exploitationer: the film pretty much does the job it sets out to, but it doesn't do anything that interesting with the material. The result is a functional thriller, beautifully shot (it looks great on BluRay), but it takes too long to get going and ultimately it is a bit of a letdown, and while the original is scarcely a classic this new version still doesn't measure up. Pity

Incidentally, the film is supposed to be in 2.35 scope (according to the IMDb and DVDCompare) but the British release is in full-frame widescreen. This is the second film I've had in the last week where they've messed up the ratio. Get it right.


And it's here:

Wednesday, 13 April 2011



Some things work better on TV than on the cinema screen. While the British Film Industry, led by Hammer Films, spent most of the seventies cranking out a consistently dismal string of TV sitcom adaptations to an apparently uncomplaining audience (what else explains three theatrical outings for On The Buses?), cop show adaptations didn't appear to follow suit. You'd have thought it would have been easier, and the theatrical expansion would have been more natural (the adaptations of traditional studio sitcoms suffer from a lack of studio audience), but the first cinema outing for ITV's The Sweeney doesn't feel like anything much except two episodes bolted together and a bit more of the sex, violence and bad language that 1970s ITV wouldn't let them include.

Sweeney! isn't much cop, unfortunately, and watching its unreconstructed tough guys drinking, womanising, shouting and thumping, feels frankly peculiar in the post-Life On Mars era. Regan and Carter (mercifully not recast from John Thaw and Dennis Waterman) look into the apparent suicide of a "social secretary" (Lynda Bellingham) who worked for obviously villainous press agent Barry Foster (complete with hilariously dodgy American accent) and was the mistress of Energy Minister Ian Bannen. As they investigate, Regan gets suspended from the force for drink-driving, Carter and the rest of the Flying Squad are off the case and the bodies keep piling up....

They get to say sod, bastard and bollocks more than they did on primetime; Lynda Bellingham and Diane Keen get them out for the lads and the gunshot wounds are bloodier than usual: enough to get them an X at the time and it's still 18 on DVD today. These things are always fun to watch, whether spotting familiar faces (Colin Welland, Nadim Sawalha, Joe Melia, Brian Glover) or revelling in the cars and the attitudes of days gone by. But it really isn't very good overall and our heroes are, in the cold light of the 21st Century, charmless and unlikeable individuals. Maybe they were back in the 70s as well. I still want to see Sweeney 2, which I gather is more violent (yet was only rated AA originally) and swearier.


You're nicked:

Tuesday, 12 April 2011



Who are the horror greats, the post-60s icons of the genre that are still working? You have to say Romero, Argento, Carpenter, Hooper, possibly Cronenberg (though he does proper grown-up drama rather genre films any more), possibly Landis (though he's more a comedy man), possibly Raimi (though he loses points for making bloated superhero films). And you have to include Wes Craven, for at least two copper-bottomed classics (Scream, A Nightmare On Elm Street) as well as other genuinely intriguing and surprising films like The Serpent And The Rainbow and New Nightmare, and simple but thoroughly effective B-movie thrillers like Red Eye - not to mention a video nasty (The Last House On The Left) which many admire although I personally can't abide it. But for every up, there's a down and for some reason every terrific, innovative and exciting film seems to be followed by an absolute abyss of silliness. After Deadly Blessing comes Swamp Thing. After Elm Street comes The Hills Have Eyes Part 2. After Serpent And The Rainbow comes Shocker. After the Scream movies, we get Cursed.

And after Red Eye we get My Soul To Take, which is not just staggeringly stupid by Craven's own, frankly variable, standards but by anyone's standards. Sixteen years ago in the small town of Riverton, the local homicidal maniac (bearing the unimaginative nickname of The Riverton Ripper) is finally shot repeatedly by police before eventually dying in an exploding ambulance - but guess what: the body was never found!!! And now, it looks as though the Ripper might have been alive all this time and is now returning to kill once more. Or, is it possible that the maniac's seven multiple personalities each inhabited the soul of one of the seven babies born on the night he died, and his own murderous personality is possessing one of them to kill the others?

This is the preposterous thesis of the film, padded out with tiresome domestic drama about kids and parents, shock backstory revelations (there's a huge lump of drug-dealing subplot in the deleted scenes) and a lot of bizarre allegorical nonsense about condors. If all the blithering teen soap opera about the hot girl going out with the bully but the nerdy hero fancies her but his sister is spoiling things and the religious girl likes him and the bully has knocked up the principal's daughter and blah blah whatever.... had been cut out it would be [1] about 40 minutes long, [2] possible to perhaps give a hoot about any of them, and [3] much better.

As it is, it's far too long and you don't care who, if anyone, is possessed by the spirit of the homicidal maniac: two characters in particular you're wishing bloody fiery dismemberment upon from pretty much their first appearances. The dialogue is atrocious, the story doesn't make sense and the killer's identity is absurd - "it was him?!?!". Why are they even supposed to be sixteen-year-olds anyway, given that the average age of the cast members for those roles is about 22? And it ends, just like the Screams and Red Eye, with the masked maniac chasing the survivor around a house the size of Blenheim Palace with a big shiny knife.

Interestingly it was originally released as a 3D conversion job in the States but happily it's gone direct to video and flat in the UK - there's nothing in the film to indicate it would have benefitted from 3D in the slightest anyway. Far more annoying is the fact that the film is blatantly in the wrong ratio on the UK DVD and BluRay: a 16:9 presentation when the disc's extra features (which incidentally include an even dumber alternative opening and ending than they used in the film) are in 2.35 scope? This isn't to suggest that the film's problems would have been solved or at least diminished by showing the film in the correct ratio - the problems are with the script and the original idea - but they lose a star for releasing it in the wrong one.

Well, they would lose a star if they'd got one to lose. This is easily the worst film Craven's made so far: worse than Shocker (at which the audience openly laughed in derision when I saw it in Milton Keynes), less coherent than the much-reshot Cursed and sillier even than Deadly Friend, the zombie cheerleader robot movie in which there was at least the gore highlight of an old woman having her head knocked off by a basketball. Here's hoping that the imminent Scream 4 is an encouraging up rather than an abject down.


See it and wince:

Monday, 11 April 2011



It's always the way: you wait years for a scarecrow-themed horror film and then two show up in the space of a few weeks. In this instance, even as the agonies triggered by the desperately pathetic The Scar Crow have only just started to drain away, we now have this, the second of the new batch of After Dark DTV horror quickies. And it's much better: not just better than The Scar Crow (ignoring the fact that having your entire spinal column ripped out by the Predator is less painful than watching The Scar Crow) but it's better than Prowl, the other After Dark offering released in the last couple of weeks.

Husk has a quintet of blandly photogenic teens crashing their SUV into a ditch after being divebombed by kamikaze crows (pleasingly, the collective noun for crows is "a murder") for no adequately explored reason. Being idiots who've never watched The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, they decide that the best plan is not to walk back the scant four miles along the road to the petrol station, but to cut through the eight-foot-high cornfields to the spooky farmhouse, and then to act all surprised when someone, or something, rushes towards them with a sharp knife and hangs them upside down on a scarecrow pole to die. Are the scarecrows alive? Why do the dead teens go up to the sewing room in the spooky farmhouse and create sack masks?

It's fair to say that Husk isn't much of a film: none of the characters are that sympathetic and the bulk of the action takes place in the dark, and the ending is more of a sudden stop that leaves you wanting to know exactly what happened. On the other hand, the film does a nice job of fooling your expectations of who's going to survive and who's going to be bloodily (rather than gorily) despatched, and who's got the best plan for getting out alive. Overall it's really not too bad at all: watchable and occasionally surprising, with the minimum of blathery soap-opera backstory for the idiot teens. I didn't mind it: it's a solid enough rental.



Sunday, 10 April 2011



I'm not "down with da kidz" or whatever, but I believe the current technical term for something that's just about okay but thoroughly unremarkable is "meh". (Of course, that might have been last week and the kidspeak term is now "squagg" or "Norwich" or something). I can believe "meh" because it is pretty much the sound I made as the end credits rolled on this, the first of the new batch of After Dark horror movies to hit DVD shelves. Meh. It's a bit blah, a bit huhh, a bit nhooeh.... It's a movie to which you respond with sounds rather than words, grunts rather than a vocalised post-film summing up, and "meh" rather than "it's just about okay but thoroughly unremarkable".

In Prowl, all Amber wants to do is get away from her dead-end job at the meat counter in her hope-free small town and start a new exciting life in the big city, and ropes in her friends to drive her to Chicago in time to rent an apartment. The van promptly breaks down and they cadge a lift with a trucker - who instead delivers them to an derelict abbatoir. Abandoned, but not empty: home to a clan of flying, black-eyed blood drinkers that pick off Amber's friends one by one. But there's something about Amber that even she doesn't know.....yet.

Despite obviously being a vampire film, the word "vampire" is never used, which is honestly the only level on which it even approaches a film like Near Dark. Vampire movies are apparently never out of vogue, thanks presently to Twilight, despite the vampire being one of the weaker screen monsters (for all their lack of conversation and poor cookery skills, give me zombies any day). And can we please have a moratorium on movies set in abandoned warehouses? I know you're trying to recapture that grimy basement squalor of Saw and the like, but these urban spaces are all the same (especially in the dark), and while they may be cheap and they may boast cavernous darkness that might contain unimaginable horrors, they're not particularly interesting locations to look at. Alright, maybe this is due to the DVD coming just after 13 Hours In A Warehouse and 30 Days Of Night: Dark Days and I've just had a glut of derelict storage spaces recently, but please use more exciting locales.

And again, can we please have some lead characters worth giving a damn about? The six here are idiots whose existences revolve around sex, beer and weed and I hadn't the slightest interest in which, if any, made it to the second half of the film. Prowl's just about okay as a late-night time-filler: it does the job, it has a couple of effective jump moments and some good make-up work but it really doesn't have much going for it. The defining word really is "meh".



Saturday, 9 April 2011



Stop it. Just stop it. Put down the Sony Handycam before someone gets hurt. This is yet another piece of sub-sub-standard torture porn (although even the lowest grade of porn surely isn't as dull, mechanical and narratively uninteresting as this) in which an apparently random group of people are brought together in a darkened, cavernous location and forced to participate in the twisted games of a maniac with a philosophy - for a film which isn't a rip of Saw, but a rip of various Saw sequels (notably Saw 2 and Saw 5). That's not intrinsically a bad thing, if it's been made by people who know what they're doing, but again: when it's been made by talentless amateurs it is almost physically painful. And it goes on and on and on for damn near two hours.

The thrust of Death Tube is that there's a Japanese snuff website run by a psychopath who likes to dress up as Pudsey Bear off the BBC charitythons - I am not making this up - and kill people if they fail his idiotic challenges. Eight strangers wake up in sealed-off cells and have to not just solve a Rubik Cube against the clock but perform faintly humiliating or painful acts over a webcam before proceeding to the next level. Gradually the group are whittled down as they try not just to survive the games, but to work together to outwit Pudsey and his minions. Some of the challenges are stupid (an indoor obstacle course including hopscotch and carrying a tower of bricks), some of them nasty, and all broadcast live over the internet with viewers' comments overlaid across the screens.

We're not given any reason to give a hoot about any of the participants beyond one-line soap-opera backstories - one's about to get married, one's awaiting his first child - and we're not given any information about the maniacs either: we never get to see who's in the Pudsey suit and why. Technically it's incredibly shoddy, with the sound levels changing between shots and the bulk of the movie overlaid with an abominable score consisting of synth performances of popular classical music. It's ugly to look at, shot on ungraded video in a dull location, it's far too long and it doesn't work on any level at all. Once more: if this is the best you can do, don't bother.


Thursday, 7 April 2011



Despite the title (which is spelled differently anyway), this is nothing to do with ITV's engagingly daft CGI dino nonsense. Rather, it's an occasionally nasty-edged anthropological survival horror that riffs blatantly on Predator, before veering into Green Hell Italo-cannibal territory for the finale, and even has a bit of The Descent thrown in. The end result is an entertaining genre grab-bag, and thankfully doesn't fill the cast out with despicable sex-obsessed teens, misogynistic oafs and drug dealing scumbags.

Primevil actually starts with some anthropo- and archaeo-logists digging around on a remote uncharted island, coming across a skull that might well be not just the Missing Link itself, but a discovery that could put the whole evolution/creationism debate to bed forever. So The Church - yes, it's those fiendish Catholics again! - hires mercenary Lance Henriksen to ensure the research never gets out. Meanwhile, a trio of wannabe telecomms tycoons and a couple of girlfriends crash their luxury yacht onto the same uncharted island but find very quickly that They Are Not Alone.... There's something out there, swinging through the trees, they have a primitive version of the Predator's heat-vision and are merciless, although they look like the Gelfs out of Red Dwarf.

Whlie there's a reasonable amount of blood and gore (the DVD has a 15 certificate) it's in the final reels, when the film appears to take on the photographic look of a 70s Italian jungle movie of the Deep River Savages or Cannibal Holocaust ilk, and the Final Girl is left to face the jungle tribe, that it looks like a slightly more interesting film was trying to get out of the formulaic running-around-the-jungle setup. There are some nicely pleasing moments, such as the bikini-clad back-to-nature hippy bimbo running away in terror from all the nature around her (and being grabbed by the hominids for her trouble), and the somewhat unusual conclusion detailing the sole survivor's departure from the island. For some reason, though, having got Lance Henriksen in there, they don't do very much with him: he only has a few lines of dialogue and a quick death scene.

Primevil isn't great, but it's certainly better than I was expecting: well shot, a generally agreeable bunch of characters and it isn't ever dull - after mediocrity, cinema's most heinous sin. Most of its ideas are filched from other, better films (the heroine trapped in the darkness of the monsters' lair with one of those green shakey-glow sticks is straight out of The Descent) but as a mix-and-match horror rental it's perfectly acceptable if unspectacular fare. (NB: Ignore the gun-toting chick on the artwork: it's an image that never shows up in the film.)


Buy here:



A British horror movie! Not a co-production with Romania or Bulgaria (how poverty-stricken does the industry have to be when we can't even raise the finance for a six-people-in-a-house film like Spirit Trap?) but a 100% home-grown offering. Mind you, the big mystery is how come it's only just surfaced, having spent a decade on the shelf: the IMDb lists it as a 2003 film but the copyright date on the end credits is 2001. Why haven't we seen it before? I mean, it's not a lost masterpiece but it's a hell of a lot better than a lot of the amateur night slop we've been getting on disc recently.

The Gathering is a supernatural religious-horror yarn that comes across as Midsomer Murders spliced with The Da Vinci Code. In an English village so thoroughly postcard-traditional you genuinely expect to see John Nettles bumbling about knee-deep in corpses, a pair of canoodling teens fall through a hole in the ground into a long-buried church: a church that may well have been built in the first century by Joseph Of Arimathea himself, and is thus a monumentally significant discovery. But why is the figure of Christ Crucified facing the wrong way? And what do the carved figures on the wall represent? Bishop Robert Hardy calls in experts Stephen Dillane and Simon Russell Beale to investigate. Meanwhile, Christina Ricci is knocked down by a car and, suffering from amnesia, is taken in by Dillane and Kerry Fox, but it's not long before she starts having hallucinations and bloody visions....Might it have something to do with the history of the Dillane house? Or the local garage mechanic who's obviously on the brink of going postal? Is there more to handsome stranger Ioan Gruffudd than is first apparent? As the terrible truth about the ancient church becomes clear, the modern Church want the whole thing covered up, just as the mysterious Gathering assembles....

Certainly The Gathering isn't great, but it is worth a look as an inoffensive Sunday evening chiller - with its Miss Marple setting it could play quite happily on ITV with only a few trims for F-words. Not every horror needs to push the envelope as some kind of audience challenge; frankly if every other genre production was a Martyrs or A Serbian Film we'd soon get sick of it. The Gathering operates quite happily within its own little envelope as a comfortable, non-confrontational, "safe" horror film. I rather enjoyed it: it goes off in directions you don't necessarily expect, it's generally well done and cast, holds the interest, and has a nicely satisfying ending. Sometimes that's all you want.


Gather round...:

Tuesday, 5 April 2011



How can you make a horror movie with no money? Well, one option is to make a regular movie but skimp on all the things that would have made it any good - get some friends and work colleagues to act in it for a laugh rather than hiring real actors, if you know someone in a band then get them to do the music, camcorders are cheap, and you can do the mutant piranha, octopus, locust or meerkat effects with relatively inexpensive (albeit rubbish) CGI. Alternatively, you can look at your resources - for example six performers, one location, two cars - and create something that you can actually afford to do. Whether the finished product stands or falls will then be more down to your actual filmmaking abilities rather than the result of a tiny budget badly spent, because while any idiot can make Mega Piranha for whatever tiny amount of money was spent on it, even Spielberg, Zemeckis or Soderbergh couldn't make it any good for that price.

13 Hours In A Warehouse has just six main speaking parts, three apparitions, two cars and apart from some opening exteriors, all takes place in one location - the warehouse. Five crooks steal a priceless artwork from a gallery, intending to sell it back for a cut of the commission paid out to the recoverer, but the operation doesn't go entirely as planned and they end up with a hostage. While they hole up overnight in a deserted warehouse owned by two of the crooks (they're brothers), it soon transpires that they are not alone: the numbers 32369 appear on the wall in blood and elsewhere, strange noises echo round the building and someone (or something) is hanging dead rats in nooses in a side room like some warped animal snuff theatre.

What do the numbers mean? Did something unspeakable happen in this place years ago? While the hoods banter about the film career of Robin Williams (in what writer/director Dav Kaufman clearly intends as an echo of Reservoir Dogs' famous discussion of Like A Virgin) and plan to secretly double-cross each other, three strange supernatural figures bump them off in interesting ways. Their appearances are probably the best thing about the film: they have a genuinely creepy videotape look to them as if they're copied off a battered old VHS tape, and the first sight of one of these figures is a superbly timed "boo!" moment. One scene looks like it's trying to emulate Sadako crawling out of the TV set in Ringu, but (amusingly) she's coming out of a gents toilet instead. On the flipside, the characters are pretty unlikeable (except for the hostage, who's just a blank) and it drags in the talky scenes.

Result: a just about effective enough horror film that's absolutely no great shakes, but has clearly been made within its limitations, rather than ignoring the limitations then pleading budgetary deficiency as an excuse for why it's crap. None of the victims are remotely worth giving a damn about - they are foul-mouthed murderous crooks - and it isn't dazzlingly well acted or written, but the horror scenes are well enough done for the film to just about get by, and it's got a good creepy location and some good effects work with the spectral figures. That's more or less all it has going for it: it is borderline okay, but don't expect any kind of masterwork.


It's here:

Friday, 1 April 2011



This is where the wheels fall off the Zack Snyder wagon. He started out well with his Dawn Of The Dead remake which was fine (no mean achievement considering Romero's original is my favourite film of all time), and followed it up with 300 which I confess I rather enjoyed, but then dropped off with Watchmen: far too long and strangely uninteresting. And this is the least successful of his films to date. There's a hell of a lot wrong with it: its meaningless title, its sexual politics, its ridiculous notions of female empowerment, its BBFC classification, its needly overstylised visuals and its narrative bleakness. Certainly the CGI fantasy sequences are done with panache, but that's scarce compensation for the film's rotten core: the effects should be phenomenal, given the massive budget, but they've been shoehorned into a story that's fundamentally depressing and has a questionable, nay worrying, view of sex and women. You almost get the impression that Snyder, having made one of the great homoerotic movies of the last few years with 300, wants desperately to convince the world that he really is genuinely interested in girls, honest. Well, it hasn't quite worked out that way.

Sucker Punch has the otherwise unnamed Baby Doll (Emily Browning), supposedly 20 but, like most of the films' female characters, little short of jailbait, placed in a mental hospital by her wicked stepfather seeking to claim an inheritance. With five days to go before she's lobotomised (the old fashioned way, with an icepick through the eye socket), she reimagines the drab asylum as a kind of burlesque fantasy brothel in which her fellow patients are prostitutes, the doctor in charge is their pimp and their therapist (Carla Gugino with a Polish accent) is their dance instructor. But Baby Doll has an escape plan, and when she dances, she slips into a further level of fantasy in which she and the other patients take part in ridiculous action missions, to get the keys, knives and so forth with which they can all escape....

The threat of rape and sexual exploitation runs throughout the film: from Baby Doll's evil stepfather, to the asylum's head, the customers at the brothel, and even the asylum's cook - bad enough even if the girls weren't so young-looking. They're all dressed in either miniskirts or hotpants, midriff-exposing croptops and fishnets, and military-style fetishwear in the fantasy sequences: either that or daft fashion creations with a hint of slutty schoolgirl or even sailor suits! As a depiction of women it's nothing more than either snivelling waifs and strays or hot chicks in tight pants kicking ass and firing massive guns. Does that count as female empowerment? I'm really not sure, if for no other reason than that the girls' mission ultimately gets them nowhere. Indeed, their great quest for freedom and empowerment leads to death or a lobotomy: it's a film with a grim, bleak conclusion in which, although the villains may get their comeuppance, they still win (and the just desserts is dealt with in a single line of dialogue at the end).

So with the constant perving, the frequent threat of rape, the huge monsters and the horrors of the real-world mental hospital, what on Earth possessed the BBFC to grant it a 12A? This is clearly 15 territory at the outside. Would you take your ten year old to this film? It's going to give boys a pretty warped idea of girls, and it's not going to do much for the girls either, depicting them as feeble crybabies or sex objects. I honestly think the BBFC were too lenient with this one: it's absolutely not a kids' film (which is what the 12A amounts to while it's advisory).

Stylistically it's all over the place, veering from the drab horrors of the asylum to the demented CGI excesses of the fantasy sequences - yes, the effects are terrific and the dragon is probably the best yet seen, but they ARE just fantasy sequences. The opulent brothel sets and the use of old songs almost make the film feel like The Ward as directed by Baz Luhrmann. But ultimately it's a very uncomfortable film: it's been made to give middle-aged pervs something to leer and drool over. That's fine. It's called pornography and if that's what you ultimately want, go ahead. Knock yourself out. But don't then try and tell me it's about female empowerment, because it emphatically isn't. It's a grubby, gloating sex fantasy by and for dirty old men. It gains its second star for the effects work but really that's all the film has in its favour. I remain uncomfortable about the whole thing.