Friday, 29 June 2012



Over recent years I've not got my hopes up for any new films by David Cronenberg. In exactly the same way that many people prefer Woody Allen's "early funny ones" over his "later unfunny ones" (Love And Death over Cassandra's Dream is a particularly one-sided contest), I'd rather have Cronenberg's gloopy horror movies of old, and would sooner sit and watch Videodrome or Shivers rather than dense and dramatic offerings like A History Of Violence or Spider. That's not to say that Cronenberg's recent films haven't been any good - I admired Eastern Promises enough - but they're humourless and tough to enjoy. Shockingly, I just can't get excited about a new David Cronenberg film. Beautifully photographed by Cronenberg's regular DP Peter Suschitsky, scored by his regular composer Howard Shore, with Juliette Binoche, Paul Giamatti and Mathieu Amalric turning up at various points - and astonishingly it's all for nothing.

There's no real sense in doing a plot synopsis of Cosmopolis since it isn't a plot-driven film. Nor is it a character-driven film or an incident-driven film: if anything it's a surreal mood piece and wilfully "difficult" arthouse fare, adapted from the Don DeLillo novel which I haven't read (but the excerpts available on the publisher's website suggest that chunks of the movie at least are word-for-word transcriptions). Billionaire Eric Packer (Robert Pattinson) decides one morning that he needs a haircut and thus attempts to cross New York in his luxurious 35-foot stretch limo - despite the President's motorcade and a celebrity musician's funeral procession bringing all traffic to a halt. Over the course of the day's journey various people get into the car - lovers, doctors, his security people - or he gets out to share a few moments with his wife, his bodyguard, some comedy anarchists or a man trying to shoot him from a tenement building. And outside the car civilisation and capitalism - at least Eric Packer's bit of it - appears to be collapsing into chaos.

What annoyed me about Cosmopolis isn't the fact that it's 109 minutes of non-sequiturs and gibberish, nor even that it's non-sequiturs and gibberish that doesn't mean anything at all. It's that it's not supposed to mean anything. This isn't a film to analyse and think about; it's a headscratcher that will have you scratching through your hair, scalp and bone and right into the brain - to no effect. Pretentious isn't the word because this isn't even pretending to be anything; it just is. It's a film that has no meaning to uncover; it's been designed that way and such it's a complete waste of your time. You can't relate to the people on screen, anything they do or anything that happens to them, or connect to any of the obtuse, unnatural dialogue. It doesn't make sense on a narrative level or on a human level; like Crash, it feels like a film made by aliens still adjusting to the human mindset. Probably the only way you can work through Cosmopolis is to assume that none of it is actually happening, most of the people in it aren't real and the whole thing is taking place in Robert Pattinson's head. That's frankly as good a justification as I can come up with.

Peter Greenaway once opined that "cinema is far too rich and capable a medium to be merely left to the storytellers". That's entirely wrong: cinema is actually far too rich and capable a medium to be merely left to tedious artists with nothing better to do with their time and other people's money than wave their bums in the air and call it Art. And sadly that's what's happened here. It's occupying that same vein of wanky dullness as Synecdoche, New York and Inland Empire - at least David Lynch didn't bother to pretend there was some kind of vaguely coherent thread linking his random three-hour assemblage of miscellaneous noodlings. So what's the point of Cosmopolis? Is Cronenberg just taking the piss, seeing how much arrant and impenetrable nonsense he can get away with under the guise of Art, or has he simply lost it? Neither explanation strikes me as tenable, but it doesn't surprise me in the slightest that there've been walkouts from baffled cinemagoers.


Thursday, 28 June 2012



Movies about psychiatry are like red buses: you wait for years and then two show up within months of each other. Earlier this year we had David Cronenberg's A Dangerous Method, a dry and humourless look at the birth of psychoanalysis in which eminent doctors speculated at length upon disorders of the mind. Either by chance or design, we now have a DVD release for John Huston's 1962 film dramatisation of the key years in Sigmund Freud's career as he formulates those theories via hypnosis, dream analysis and regression.

Freud (also known as Freud: The Secret Passion) stars Montgomery Clift as Sigmund: starting out trying to cure hysteria by purely physical and not psychological means, seeing how hypnosis can relieve (or initiate) unconscious behaviour and seeking to uncover how this and other techniques could be employed to cure people of their neuroses and complexes. But it also involves delving into the distant past: regressing a hysterical woman named Cecily (Susannah York) to find the point of origin of her troubles, and looking back through his own mind and memories to sort out his relationship with his father: investigations that ultimately lead to his announcing a theory of infantile sexuality, to much derision from his peers.

While A Dangerous Method was a cold, controlled and austere drama enlivened only by Keira Knightley's shrieky freakouts in the opening reels, Freud is a much more melodramatic piece of work, keeping the hysterics back until the second half of the film when we see Cecily's and his own dreams and memories dramatised in the kind of luridly symbolic dream sequences I never seem to have*. However, at two and a quarter hours it's a hell of a long haul dramatically, to the extent that after about an hour I seriously considered abandoning it entirely, and having decided to stick it out to the end I'm not sure that I made the right choice.

Visually the movie's quite rich (the non-anamorphic DVD doesn't look as good as it could and should): all shadowy Gothic black-and-white gloom, and there's an early and very creepy score by Jerry Goldsmith which is of some slight interest as parts of it were tracked into Alien (how's that for symbolism?) more than fifteen years later. Otherwise it's really a monumental drag full of blokes in variously scary beards barking jargon at each other. Maybe, as I think A Dangerous Method does, Freud demands a more than casual interest in, and knowledge of, psychiatry and psychoanalysis. Without that, it's pretty glum.

* (Personally I'm not sure about dream symbolism - that if you dream about cucumbers you're really trying to deal with your unsuspected bisexuality or if you dream about a unicorn you should buy a new car. My subconscious surely knows that I don't understand any of my dreams, and if it really wants to impart something important to my dreaming mind then it should visualise a figure of authority - say, Tom Baker as the Fourth Doctor - to carry a big placard saying "change your job" or "you're sexually frustrated" or whatever, and repeatedly bellow these insights to my "face" until I wake up. Then I might get the message.)


Penis! Penis!

Wednesday, 27 June 2012



Just the other day I was watching Hologram Man - a mildly engaging but monumentally silly SF/action fantasy from the Pepin/Merhi stable - and now my rentals queue has yielded this dizzyingly destructive action movie in which a flimsy conspiracy plot is utterly annihilated in a string of car chases, fights, shootouts, fights, exploding cars, shootouts, fights and larking about on helicopter skids. In all truth it's just as well the action footage is more than up to par because it's rather diminished by lead actor Gary Daniels - he's absolutely fine with the chases and fights (although the fights aren't anywhere near the best you've ever seen) but every time he opens his mouth you half expect his first line to be "Oooh, Betty". It's not his fault.

The (extraordinarily) basic idea behind Rage is that a sinister defence contractor is experimenting on illegal Mexicans in order to develop a serum that turns people into supersoldiers who will kill to order without remorse or conscience: by chance, unassuming teacher Gary Daniels get involved when he's carjacked by a fugitive from the corrupt cops and FBI agents. Once captured and given the serum, Daniels promptly goes on the rage rampage in a string of bonkers car chases and insanely overblown and implausible stunt sequences.

Daniels can't act, and the plot is pure DTV pulp, but it doesn't matter: the second unit work is the film's selling point and Spiro Razatos and his team do deliver. As the film dates from 1995 these sequences are done with real cars and trucks and helicopters - no greenscreen or CGI here. It's a shame the martial arts bits are fair to middling at best and the gun battles are also pretty ordinary as they overstretch the basic action movie trope of the villains' total inability to hit the side of a barn no matter how many clips of ammo they fire off at close range, and they lack the panache and class of the wild shootouts of, say, John Woo's best work.

Still, it's perfectly acceptable rental fodder for a Friday night if you want a lot of bullets, exploding cars, people dangling off skyscrapers or thrown through windows, screeching tyres and a dash of cynicism about the TV media following the chase but not stopping to think if they're being lied to. Empty, silly, raging bull****, but undeniably entertaining in its insistence on smashing things up and kicking legions of anonymous minions in the head.





Strangely, it wasn't actually given an X until 1982, some thirteen years after it was made, although it did get a release as passed by various councils. I know this because it actually showed up at one of my long-demolished local cinemas in October 1972, long before it was submitted to the BBFC, as I discovered when scrolling through reels of the local press microfilm archives at my town library. (Hint: this is an endlessly fascinating way of spending an afternoon, looking at what cinemas screened before you started going: the films you've never heard of, the films you wish you'd seen at the time.) Bedford Council apparently sanctioned the screenings of this softcore romp - astonishingly tame by today's standards - and hats off to them.

From the title alone, you'd probably guess, as I did, Camille 2000 was a sexy SF exploitationer, possibly about some kind of sex droid that eventually gains sentience through meaningless humping and discovers true love. (Or maybe I'm just thinking of Galaxina.) In fact it's an adaptation of Alexandre Dumas' La Dame Aux Camellias, updated to (then) present day Rome and detailing the empty hedonism of a clique of fashionistas, models and jetset floozies: an endless cycle of yachts, parties and orgies, sex, booze and drugs, and girls don't come much more goodtime than Marguerite (Daniele Gaubert). Until country boy Armand (Nino Castelnuovo) turns up to work for his father's business empire, sees her at the ballet and falls instantly for her....

At nearly two hours it's absurdly overlong and, given that it's a Radley Metzger film, you'd probably expect a bit more in the way of thrusting sack action. Instead it's a film populated by smartly dressed but shallow and unlikeable people with an abundance of money: Marguerite herself seems to live alone in a vast villa with a bedroom housing an oval bed surrounded with floor-to-ceiling mirrors. It plods on and on with the two becoming friends, then lovers, then breaking up, then getting together again and finally breaking up again - matters aren't helped by a prison-themed orgy at which Marguerite watches Armand getting off with another woman - before the miserable conclusion that (at least as far as I can gauge from Wikipedia) at least sticks to the novel.

There's very little in the way of rompingly graphic sex scenes - it's all T+A and hardly even any pubage. Rather, much of the film feels like a vintage advert for Martini or something similarly classy with the glamorous gowns and impeccable dinner jackets, and the final section's game of high-stakes baccarat is as loaded with double meanings as any of James Bond's encounters with silky villains over the card tables. (It also helps that there's an airhead handy to have the scoring system of chemin-de-fer slowly explained to her, and thus the audience.) Certainly the film looks nice, though even that's compromised by the non-anamorphic widescreen low-def DVD (which looks to be taken from a very battered theatrical print), but dramatically it's a bit of a haul.


Monday, 25 June 2012



I didn't attend Frightfest in Glasgow earlier this year, so I missed their screening of this mixture of ghosts, spiritualists, serial killers and self-inflicted castration that, to be frank, doesn't work but has a couple of decent moments and at least it never gets boring thanks to a wealth of incident. It's yet another entry in the After Dark stable of low-budget horrors, and while it's slightly better than the likes of Seconds Apart or Prowl, it's ultimately a bit of a mess and there are only one or two occasions where you feel the urge to look away as something scary might happen. That's really not enough when a film like Insidious can have you peeking through your fingers for most of the first hour.

Cassadaga is an actual place in Florida, and it is still billed as the Psychic Capital Of The World, although according to Wiki it's an "unincorporated community" rather than a university town. But it's where deaf art teacher Lily (Kelen Coleman) retreats to following the death of her kid sister in a car accident. She attempts to contact her at a seance, but another vengeful spirit comes through instead and latches on to Lily until she can solve the mystery of how she died. Sadly, from then on it's a series of freakouts, dream sequences, bursts of subliminally glimpsed clues and sneaking round a vast Southern mansion occupied by just two people but which makes Southfork look like a cluster house. And what's it all got to do with the (frankly very unsettling) pre-credits sequence in which a teenage boy cuts his wang off in front of his horrified mother?

What the mysterious mad killer is doing with kidnapped girls in his/her secret lair is admittedly genuinely horrible and nasty, but it's never explained why he/she only appears to strike every four years (certainly no mention is made of anyone else disappearing from the area). To be honest it would probably have been better if they'd ditched that aspect entirely and just concentrated on the one victim, and maybe racked up the suspense by bunking up the roster of suspects, as the murderer's identity isn't that hard to guess from such a very short list.

Cassadaga isn't terrible: it's never dull and it doesn't play for laughs, and the characters all have a bit of backstory and life experience to make them slightly more interesting than the empty plastic teens of too many cheap horror movies. But even in the scenes in the maniac's hideaway it never gets truly creepy or unnerving, and for the most part the film doesn't have anything like enough in the way of tension, which is a shame. The result is that it's pretty ordinary, pretty average, and pretty forgettable.



Saturday, 23 June 2012


The most significant, as in "the most familiar", name on the poster for this cheap shocker is not director Brad Parker (it's his first film after ten years in digital effects), or any of the cast: Ingrid Bolso Berdal was in the engaging Cold Prey slasher films, Jesse McCartney appears to be best known as a voice artiste in animation (he's one of the chipmunks in the Alvin series), and Nathan Phillips has been in loads of things from Wolf Creek to Snakes On A Plane to, er, Neighbours. (Isn't the IMDb a useful resource?) It's actually Oren Peli, who kicked off the increasingly tedious Paranormal Activity series and thus is at least partially responsible for the ongoing wave of unwatchable "found footage" horror bores in which clueless halfwits tried desperately to pretend they hadn't slung together some incoherent spooky nonsense with a Sony Handycam they found in Cash Converters. The Devil Inside, Evil Things and Evidence are pretty much as bad as movies can get.

So when people in my Twitterfeed started seeing previews of Chernobyl Diaries, my only question was not "is it scary?" or "is it any good?", but simply "is it found footage?". Mercifully it isn't - although there are two sequences where they succumb to this damnable excuse for a technique - but ultimately that's pretty much all it's got going for it. Three American tourists on a Grand Tour Of Europe (mysteriously including London twice, if we believe the opening montage, which I suppose we have to because that's one of the "found" sequences) divert from their schedule at the behest of an expat brother in order to take in Prypiat, the abandoned ghost town right next to the Chernobyl reactor. With another couple of tourists and their tour guide Yuri, they spend a few hours poking around the apartment blocks. But they might not be alone....

It's not "found", although it has that same jittery, hand-held, mid-definition digital look to it: there's editing and occasional use of a music score (though it's basically a set of ambient electronic noises rather than actual music). And the movie has a terrific setting in its silent city of dust, debris and darkness, partly reclaimed by nature as the weeds grow through the concrete but still home to wild dogs and hideously mutated fish in the river. Sadly, it's not scary (there are a couple of effective enough jump moments but that's all) and reduces to a dwindling band of shouty idiots squabbling in the dark and being chased around by barely discerned monsters.

I'm not entirely convinced about the science behind the movie, which seems to suggest that the radiation comes and goes in isolated patches and, given that they're not supposed to stay for more than a couple of hours, it seems odd that no-one queries the idea of spending up to two days there. Still, the locations are fantastic (it wasn't shot at Prypiat but in Hungary and Serbia, though it certainly looks like Prypiat from the numerous online images, including the giant Ferris wheel). And as for who or what the creatures are, that's left until the last few minutes before the final shot, which is really the only genuinely horrific moment in the whole film. It's not as boring as I'd feared, but it's not as scary as its marketing suggests either, or as scary as it should (and could) have been.


Friday, 22 June 2012



Though the film's Wikipedia page doesn't bear this out, there was a rumour that Snakes On A Plane only came into existence because a group of Hollywood creatives were batting rotten movie concepts back and forth and someone suddenly said "Hey, that's actually got potential!". It's entirely reasonable to assume that this new high-concept blockbuster mashup came into existence in exactly the same kind of way: an irresistible four-word idea that doesn't play fast and loose with known facts so much as literally drive a coach and horses through them at full gallop. While wearing sunglasses. This is historical revisionism gone mental: not in the "Joseph Stalin was a bit misunderstood and was always nice to kittens" kind of way but the "Joseph Stalin fought dinosaurs and defeated an invasion of Martian robots with his eyes shut" kind of way.

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter actually derives from a 2010 novel by Seth Grahame-Smith and the plot is, brilliantly, all in the title. The future 16th President of the United States first encountered vampires as a child when his mother was murdered by one of them; the vengeful Lincoln (Benjamin Walker) is tutored in the ways of killing vampires by one Henry Sturgess (Dominic Cooper), who lost his true love to arch-vampire Adam (Rufus Sewell). Years later, the unstoppable army of the undead are set to win the American Civil War at Gettysburg on behalf of the South, unless the beleaguered President can come up with a way to defeat them entirely....

It is nonsense, obviously. But it's thoroughly enjoyable nonsense performed at full tilt with a healthy splattering of gore and monsters (make-up effects by Greg Cannom) and a couple of terrific CGI-heavy sequences: one in the middle of a horse stampede, and the climactic face-off on a steam train hurtling towards a ravine with a rickety wooden bridge that's been set on fire (incidentally the second period-set movie with Rufus Sewell as the villain climaxing with an extended fight on a train, after The Legend Of Zorro). This latter setpiece is a far more satisfying train disaster sequence than the one in director Timur Bekmambetov's previous film Wanted, if only because there aren't a dozen carriages of innocent people plummeting to their meaningless deaths purely so the charmless dick of a hero can live up to his unknown father's reputation as a murderous psychotic.

So what if Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is absolutely ridiculous? So what if some of the dialogue is on the clunky side (I confess I giggled when First Lady Mary Elizabeth Winstead called out "Hurry up, Abraham, we'll be late for the theatre!" towards the end)? I honestly don't understand the sniffy reviews this has been getting because it's terrific ghoulish fun. What exactly could you reasonably expect from that title? I still remain unconvinced about the point of a 3D version - I resent the extortionate premium charged for the privilege of watching a conversion job, so I saw it in 2D and, perhaps inevitably, there's not a single shot in the whole film that would benefit from artificial depth effects pasted in.

So don't bother shelling out the extra cash for the 3D: it's a wholly redundant gimmick that the film manages perfectly well without. It's a lot of fun, mostly done pretty well and it's far more entertaining than Steven Spielberg's upcoming Oscar-stomper Lincoln (with Daniel Day-Lewis and no vampires) can possibly ever be. Not only is this movie far more enjoyable than it had any right to be, it's probably the most enjoyable vampire movie I've seen in years (and I'm generally not a fan of the genre). So stovepipe hats off to them. Meanwhile, I look forward to Isambard Kingdom Brunel: Demon Terminator, Emmeline Pankhurst: Werewolf Destroyer and Frederic Chopin: Dalek Eradicator.


Thursday, 21 June 2012



A while back I rented the thoroughly worthless Dracula 3000 on the basis that it was included on a list of spaceship movies on the Den Of Geek website. Well, I've only gone and done it again: watching a film that was listed on Den Of Geek's rundown of ten "delightfully cheesy 90s scifi movie trailers". First off, it's not nearly as atrocious as Dracula 3000 and secondly, I didn't actually have to rent it as it's part of a box set of "Science Fiction" nonsense movies I bought very cheap several years ago but haven't yet ploughed through.

Den Of Geek's description of Hologram Man as a "concoction of car crashes, explosions and shouting body-builders" is entirely apt and accurate. What they didn't add was that it's incredibly silly and nonsensical: in the future demented super-mega-criminal Slash Gallagher (Evan Lurie, also the associate producer and the screenwriter) is imprisoned in a virtual cyberprison after a spectacular series of chases, explosions and shootouts. Five years later and it's his first parole hearing - but his fellow sociopaths hijack the machinery and bring him out as an indestructible hologram, whereupon he inevitably starts a new wave of robbery and murder. And only dedicated cop Decoda (Joe Lara) can stop him....

There's a massive moral confusion at the heart of the movie - Slash is obviously the villain, but he's seeking to take the city of Los Angeles away from the tyrannical billionaire overlords and put it back in the hands of the citizens who just want the right to live their own lives and run their own businesses, while Decoda is the powerless corporate pawn assigned to stop him regardless of how many innocent people get killed. A far more interesting idea would have been for the two to join forces: fewer people get randomly slaughtered and The Man (Michael Nouri) gets taken down far quicker. Instead, wave after wave of doomed police officers are mown down by Slash's goons and dozens of cars are spectacularly blown up.

If the movie gets steadily sillier as it goes on (Slash gets particularly annoyed when people call him Norman) and ultimately does boil down to the ridiculously overdeveloped torsos of Lara and Lurie beating the hell out of each other while everything explodes, and the sub-Matrix virtual reality and sub-Tron cyberspace stuff makes absolutely no sense at all, at least it delivers on the blood squibs, fist fights and cars flipping over and bursting into flames. But Richard Pepin and Joseph Merhi are old hands at this sort of dystopian piffle having churned out dozens of titles like Cyber Tracker (and its sequel) and T-Force and Steel Frontier. Hologram Man is rubbish, clearly, but purely on the crash bang wallop level it doesn't hold back. William Sanderson (from Blade Runner) turns up as one of Slash's associates.


Slash! Ah-aaaah!

Saturday, 16 June 2012



It's a British sex comedy from the 1970s: not much usually needs to be said. Invariably neither sexy nor funny, the sub-Carry On mix of familiar sitcom regulars, childish knockabout and comedic softcore raunch fuelled far more lame and unerotic trash than we could ever have needed. The Carry On series itself became coarser and cruder (Carry On Dick was probably the first one that's noticeably offensive) and the Confessions Of... series incorporated full nudity; proof that dirty old men were obviously willing to sit through absolutely anything if there was some grunting and knockers on view. If you believe Wikipedia, the fifth Confessions movie would have been Confessions Of A Plumber's Mate but this entirely unrelated and unconnected and in no way identical film appeared instead.

What's surprising about Adventures Of A Plumber's Mate isn't that it isn't funny - none of these things are funny although Eskimo Nell has a certain charm about it - but there are great chunks of the movie that clearly aren't even supposed to be funny. It's almost as if two movies have been spliced together: a grim and downbeat drama about poverty, debt and failure, and a cheery farce full of tits and pratfalls. Charmless Sid South (Christopher Neil) is a plumber's mate living in a squalid flat, overdue with the rent and owing £900 to gangster Arthur Mullard, with only his occasional plumbing jobs for a meagre income. The only way out is the world of crime: a succession of dubious assignments from Willie Rushton including blackmail, casing a jeweller's for a robbery and art theft. But they all go wrong....

And in between the misery there's sudden outbursts of nudity and silliness, making the movie feel like an episode of EastEnders as directed by Benny Hill: Stephen Lewis turns up doing his On The Buses routine, there's a shower scene at the ladies tennis club (including Suzy Mandel), a violent massage from a large topless woman, a swingers' orgy (featuring Christopher Biggins pathetically obsessed with his inflatable girlfriend), a bit of bondage, a waste disposal that hilariously rips a woman's dress off. Then it's back to the despair and futility and the very real threat of violence against our frankly unsympathetic hero. It's a curious mixture of underclass hopelessness, naked women and feelgood slapstick, like a Carry On Ken Loach. None of it works and it isn't much fun, even in the bits that are supposed to be. It may be a while before I look at any more in the genre.




By late 1980, Jamie Lee Curtis had already starred in Halloween and Prom Night so it's odd to see her merrily signing up for yet another teen slasher movie, especially one that's as low-impact and charmless as this one. There's nothing intrinsically wrong with the basic idea - a masked maniac kills the teens responsible for a grotesque prank that went hideously awry - but over the years we've seen so many regurgitations of that central plot that watching this early example no longer conjures up whatever power and effect it might have achieved 30 years ago.

Three years ago, a group of medical students pulled a sadistic practical joke on the class dweeb involving a dead body, but the poor kid was traumatised and carted off to an asylum. Now, the final year graduates get together for one huge farewell party of sex, booze, drugs, fancy dress and conjuring tricks on the Terror Train - a private railway hired especially for the occasion. But then people start getting killed off and, with everyone in costumes and masks, who knows who the killer is? In the middle of it all is David Copperfield and his glamorous assistant doing a series of illusions and card tricks which you'd have thought was a pretty strange choice of entertainment for a bunch of horny, boozy medical students.

Terror Train is a very minor slasher movie: for most of the time it's pretty dull stuff and visually very dark, though that may partly be due to the picture quality of the DVD (and the UK release is a 4:3 version). None of the characters - not even Curtis', oddly enough - are particularly likeable and it's difficult to rack up any sympathy for them, especially given the nature of their cruel prank. There's not much in the way of gore and the only real surprise in the movie is the big reveal of the killer's identity which is genuinely unexpected. But it's not really enough to save the film which ends, as these things invariably do, with the unstoppable maniac chasing the final girl all over the place before being spectacularly killed off. Even back in 1980 we'd seen this before, and thirty years on we've seen so many variations on the idea that it simply doesn't work any more.


Thursday, 14 June 2012



Watching Osombie the other day reminded me that I'd had this on the unwatched pile for several months. It seems to be regarded as a minor cult title in the so-bad-it's-good golden turkey genre, though it doesn't look to have ever gone through the BBFC so has probably never had an official British release (it's available in various American boxsets of obscure and public domain material). It was originally shot as The Madmen Of Mandoras in 1963, but then extended for TV screenings several years later with the splicing in of about 20 indifferently shot minutes of twaddle and backstory and an attention-grabbing new title (along with an inappropriate electric piano score that's at odds with the stock music of the main film). It's difficult to say for sure, but the film is probably better in its shorter version simply because most of the new footage is at the start and so it takes a lot longer to get going.

The flash of genius at the centre of They Saved Hitler's Brain is that they didn't just save his brain, they saved his entire head and kept it alive in a glass jar in the backwoods of the tiny South American banana republic of Mandoras: eighteen years later the Nazis are set to rise again with the aid of a lethal nerve agent knows as G-Gas (it can kill an elephant in twelve seconds). Only wise old professor Coleman knows the antidote for a G-Gas attack but mysteriously the Nazis decide not to just kill him; they also abduct his halfwitted daughter but then apparently let her go, and wait around until his other daughter, her husband, various rebels, the Mandoran president and the chief of police get their act together and defeat the overwhelming might of the Fourth Reich with a 20 mph car chase and three hand grenades.

Early on, our hero and his wife dispose of a freshly murdered man by simply propping the corpse up in a public telephone box and legging it. In the middle of one chase, the film switches from day to night simply because the makers only had access to footage of a car crash at night (it's from Thunder Road, apparently). But there really isn't much point in detailing the idiocies of the movie in either incarnation: for one thing the Internet's nowhere near big enough and for another it's too easy to just descend into Mystery Science Theatre snark: it's a cheap, silly Z-movie that's somehow survived the decades since this sort of nonsense was deemed fit to screen in cinemas. Technically it's mostly better made than, say, Plan 9 From Outer Space or Robot Monster, but since when was that any kind of claim to superiority?


Wednesday, 13 June 2012



Perhaps it's too late and too slow, but recently I've been forming a theory as to why so many horror movies stink. It's to do with the idea that teenagers aren't particularly interesting characters and don't make for good protagonists. Granted they tend to look prettier than older people do, and a horror movie that has hot teenage girls running around in bikinis is guaranteed to score better box-office returns than an identical one with middle-aged women running around in bikinis. But the best screen presences tend to have history and experience, and in teenkill horror films the older characters tend to be more dramatically fascinating than the pretty teens. Ronee Blakely and John Saxon have a deeper story than Heather Langenkamp and Johnny Depp in A Nightmare On Elm Street, for example. I don't know that this holds true in all cases - obviously the grownups can be boring and useless as well - but a few years on the clock should make for better characters and better drama. Casting a movie entirely of 17-year-olds is like electing them to government: what the hell do they know about anything? What do they know of the real world?

I was reminded of this while watching The Howling Reborn, a long-past-the-sell-by-date resurrection of a brand last seen reduced to square dances and puns back in 1995. High school nobody Will (Landon Liboiron, a more interesting name than anything on screen) has the usual pre-graduation tropes: attracted to mysterious Eliana (Lindsey Marie Shaw) but too scared to do anything about it, picked on by the cool guys, and a comedy ethnic best friend who does all the Basil Exposition stuff about werewolves, which comes in handy as Will's unnatural destiny coincides with an imminent blue moon....

It's bilge, obviously. No-one seems that perturbed by the discovery of a corpse in the lavatory (or, if that was spirited away by the werewolves, the disappearance of one of the athletic alpha kids). Much of the early half of the movie is the usual school stuff: the bullying, the crushes, the geeks and the jocks, simply keeping your head down and getting through it all. (Oddly, there's no actual studying, lessons or exams.) But our hero gives us a portentous voiceover about life and destiny and philosophy that sounds absurd when spoken by a 17-year-old, unless the whole thing's a flashback from his adult perspective, in which case the movie should be set in about 1980. Eventually there's some unimpressive transformation effects - more than 30 years on and the same scenes in An American Werewolf In London, and indeed the original The Howling, still haven't been bettered - and a climactic battle which is basically two people in werewolf costumes lamping each other in a dimly lit corridor.

Presumably the thinking was that high school werewolves are hot right now with the ongoing Twilight series, but why try and resurrect a largely forgotten franchise from the VHS era to leap onto that bandwagon? Even taking into account the already low standard of Howling sequels - even the atrocious Australia-based Howling III with a Dame Edna Everage cameo - The Howling Reborn is desperately poor, though not quite as poor as Clive Turner's staggering New Blood Rising (retitled Mystery Woman in the UK for absolutely no reason). Of absolutely no interest at all.


Tuesday, 12 June 2012



At least with They Saved Hitler's Brain they waited about twenty years after he was dead; this silly zombie movie has arrived barely a year after Osama bin Laden was killed. Full marks for speed - it's beaten Kathryn Bigelow's dramatisation (which may or may not be called Zero Dark Thirty) to the screen by at least six months - but to be honest we don't expect movies to be that instantly topical and spending a little more time and money would probably have resulted in a better film. You're making a film, not crafting a handful of gags for this week's Have I Got News For You. Immediacy is not the object.

The basic idea behind the monumentally daft Osombie is that Osama injected himself with some kind of top secret serum just before he was killed, and came back to life with the intention of creating a zombie army of undead terrorists. A Special Forces squad of bickering badasses and hunks has been assigned to deal with the zombie outbreak in the region: they chance upon an idiot American woman searching the desert for her equally knuckleheaded brother who's travelled all the way from Colorado, by himself, on the basis of whacko conspiracy theories he found on the internet (which, admittedly, turn out to be true) and is determined to really kill Osama himself.

Although it's bolted together efficiently enough for a DTV quickie, the central idea is not a clever enough joke to last the 80 minutes, and most of the movie consists of these clowns shooting countless Afghan zombies in the head with unconvincing CGI blood spurts pasted on afterwards, and to be honest that gets pretty dull after a while. The two dumbass civilians seem remarkably unfazed by finding themselves under constant attack from the living dead and the Special Forces team apparently have an inexhaustible supply of ammunition. There's little threat and thus little suspense, and after the opening the Osama bogeyman doesn't actually show up until the last reel of the film. And when he does, he's just another drooling zombie: he can't speak, he's just a figurehead for his living followers.

It's too stupid to be any good and too obvious to be satirical: the "satire" is on the surface but there's nothing underneath it. In the question of what zombie movies are supposedly "really" about - Night Of The Living Dead is "really" about Vietnam or racism or whatever, Dawn Of The Dead is "really" about consumerism or capitalism or something - Osombie isn't "really" about the War On Terror or America's presence in Afghanistan, it's just about the zombies and a zombie Osama. It's the Troma idea of satire, though it's clearly far better made and less overtly obnoxious than most Troma product. Moments amuse, but that's all.


I'm not putting an image link, for reasons of taste, but:
Osombie [DVD]

Saturday, 9 June 2012



It's a little over a year since Insidious thoroughly and delightfully terrified the living doodahs out of me by simply placing its unknowable paranormal phenomena into a believable domestic setting. It didn't have the Hollywood gloss of Poltergeist or the increasingly idiotic CCTV gimmick of the Paranormal Activity series, but it conjured up far more persuasive chills thanks to the more familiar milieu. Few (if any) of us live in Castle Dracula or Hill House so those movies have a more fantastical feel to them; we're more likely to live in Flat 5A or 17 Something Road, thus we connect more to fictions set there.

In no way is The Pact anywhere near as effective as Insidious although for its first half it manages some superbly creepy sequences in which something horrible might loom out of the darkness at any moment, and I'll admit I covered my eyes several times. Waitress Annie (Caity Lotz) returns to her childhood home, not for the funeral of her late abusive mother but because her sister Nicole (Agnes Bruckner) has inexplicably disappeared. Is there something else, spiritual or physical, in the house? Rather than simply leg it (which is probably what I'd have done), she enlists the help of an old schoolfriend (who fortunately happens to be psychic) and cop Casper Van Dien to investigate....

The first half of the movie has lots of scenes with the camera slowly prowling the gloomy house - a house that looks genuinely lived in rather than a designed soundstage - and presents us with a group of believable looking characters who don't have the glamorous Hollywood sheen about them: they look, sound and behave more like real people you'd sit opposite on a bus rather than the Scarlett Johanssons of this world (to pick a name at random). It's a pity that the movie goes completely loopy in the second half, merrily throwing in serial killers, visions, spooky photographs, secret rooms, Google StreetView, ouija boards and heterochromia (look it up); if they'd kept it at the more low-key level of foreboding suspense it would have been better than the grab-bag of unlikely mayhem it reduces to. Worth seeing for the first half but it doesn't maintain the chills throughout.


Tuesday, 5 June 2012



I like exploitation movies. I don't live for them and I like to ensure they're only part of my film diet, but generally I'm all in favour of trashy horror, fantasy and nonsense with a healthy dose of sex, gore and/or silliness. But that doesn't mean quality isn't important: just because a film isn't aimed at Oscar voters and Guardian readers doesn't mean you can just shovel any old rubbish onto the screen and get away with it. Sadly, mass audiences appear to be all too content with the cheap and shoddy and the second-rate, and seem perfectly willing to accept rotten levels of film-making if it's got enough splatter and naked women in it. Even back in 1983 there was far better trash than this.

The Lost Empire is a moronic wank fantasy aimed at teenaged boys with low standards who'll watch absolutely anything if there's enough skin and blood and some ass-kicking going on: it's a film tailored precisely to that undiscriminating demographic, and who really cares if it makes absolutely no sense? Three women - a cop, a Native American and a convict - team up to participate in a martial arts tournament on a remote private island (yes, we've all seen Enter The Dragon) to avenge the death of the cop's brother in a robbery, and to unmask an immortal demon (Angus Scrimm from the Phantasm series) who seeks the legendary Twin Eyes Of Avatar so he can enslave the Earth or something.

It's absolute bunk. The acting and script are absolutely terrible and it feels like every so often it has to shoehorn in some kind of kinkiness or excuse for nudity. There's a shower scene, a mud-wrestling scene, a medical examination, a topless bit with a giant snake, a tarantula crawling over a scantily clad woman, and lots of running around in leather bikinis. The action and fight sequences are as lame as the cheap monster effects towards the end, but so what? The girls have all got big bouncy jugs and don't mind showing them off. If you're watching the movie for any reason other than the most basic and primal, it's a total failure.

It's the first film by the prolific Jim Wynorski whose CV is groaning with titles like Cheerleader Massacre, The Bare Wench Project and Busty Coeds Vs Lusty Cheerleaders. I can't say for most of his 90-title filmography (more than Alfred Hitchcock and David Lean put together), which doesn't appear to have had huge distribution in the UK (Chopping Mall was kind of fun) but this early entry is, in all honesty, on a level with Fred Olen Ray at his most downmarket: not only is it no good, it's not even any fun. It hardly matters that the UK DVD is in the wrong ratio (people are cropped off the edge of the screen throughout) with poor picture quality.


Sunday, 3 June 2012



It is a bit of a surprise to find that, well into the shiny and sophisticated 21st century future, Hollywood is now producing live-action remakes of old Disney cartoons. Oh, I know that it's all based on an old fairytale from the Brothers Grimm, but the Disney is probably its best known incarnation. Incredibly, this is 2012's second stab at a Snow White movie; for various reasons I didn't get to see Tarsem Singh's Mirror Mirror, a film I'd expect to be more visually striking given the director's other impeccably composed images in The Fall and The Cell. But what's even more surprising about this one is it's not a film for children - the BBFC have given it a 12A for "moderate violence and threat" which is probably appropriate given the occasionally graphic nature of the supernatural horrors but are there really that many teens and adults wanting to see a Snow White movie?

Well, possibly: it does have Kristen Stewart in the lead role. Snow White And The Huntsman has Snow White locked up in the castle dungeons by her wicked stepmother Ravenna (Charlize Theron, frankly the best thing in the movie) until the day she comes of age, when she escapes into the Dark Forest and an unnamed Huntsman (Chris Hemsworth doing a Scottish accent for no immediately obvious reason) is tasked with retrieving her. Deep in the Dark Forest, they encounter the Seven Dwarfs as played by top British character thesps including Ray Winstone, Bob Hoskins and Ian McShane, but tragedy looms before they can reach the safety of Duke Hammond's castle....

It touches most of the familiar points of the tale: the Magic Mirror, the dashing Prince Charming figure (William, Snow White's childhood sweetheart), the trees apparently coming to life in the Dark Forest, the poisoned apple, the dwarfs, the true love's kiss....but you're sitting there, watching what is in essence a well-mounted and pointlessly lavish pantomime for kids, with famous actors apparently CGId onto smaller performers, wondering precisely who this thing is aimed at. Surely even the Twilighters aren't going to be that excited about it just because of the sulky Kristen Stewart who is as damp as ever - you could again wring her out like a bath sponge - and anyone over twelve won't be thrilled about the fey Fairy Grotto stuff. Much more fun is to be had from the spectacular villainy of Charlize Theron, the gothic production design and the effects.

It also sets up a love triangle between Snow White, the Huntsman and William but conspicuously doesn't resolve it, presumably so they've some emotional meat for a sequel (according to the IMDb, it's in development). But is there really anywhere else it can go? As a standalone one-off movie I enjoyed it enough, I suppose (it probably didn't help that I watched it shortly after the astonishing Prometheus, also with Charlize Theron), but there doesn't seem to be much scope for a franchise. It's not great, but it's entertaining and watchable enough, for all that's wrong with it.


Friday, 1 June 2012



Cards on the table: I've not been a Ridley Scott fan for a very long time. To my mind he's made two genuinely stunning films, Blade Runner and Alien; a handful of interesting but not great ones (G.I. Jane, American Gangster, Body Of Lies, Gladiator....) and, most recently, a genuine stinker that had me seriously considering whether I could give up on movies altogether with Robin Hood. Yes, I sort of liked Black Rain and Hannibal, and The Duellists is okay, but generally I haven't had a thrill of excitement at the thought of a new Ridley Scott film for ages now. So for him to return to the scene of one of his greatest triumphs and actually produce a prequel to the legendary Alien....can he pull that off?

Yes, hell yes. Prometheus is a masterpiece. It's not just the return of intelligent and grown-up horror-based SF to a cinema targeted to the tweenie imbecile demographic, it's the return of a film-maker who knows how to light and frame and edit. It's not just the return of Ridley Scott to decent movies, it's the return of the Ridley Scott who made Alien. With the same mood, the retro-future production design and even a score by his regular composers Marc Streitenfeld and Harry Gregson-Williams that's doing it's damnedest to emulate Jerry Goldsmith's astonishing Alien soundtrack (my deliberate in-car choice of CD for the drive up to the cinema), much of Prometheus feels like Scott could have shot it in 1980 straight after he finished on Alien.

It's a film concerned with faith, creation, death, and what it actually means to be human. On the Isle Of Skye in 2089, archaeologists Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) discover cave paintings 35,000 years old that bear uncanny similarities with other drawings and carvings from across the world and across humanity's history, all showing the same gathering of stars. The multi-billion dollar Weyland Corporation funds an expedition to the centre of this star cluster to hopefully answer all of mankind's oldest questions....But do some of the crew have their own agenda? Creepy android David (Michael Fassbender, superb) is clearly operating under secret instruction, while Weyland executive Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron in severe power suits or skintights) has no intention of making actual contact with whatever's down there - which obviously turns out to be exactly the right approach.

Skip this section if you want to avoid the biggest spoilers. Just as in Alien, they locate and explore a vast and mysterious structure. This time, they find thousands of jars of an unknown black goo. By horrific design, this finds its way into Elizabeth via Charlie and central to the movie is her desperate removal of the resultant foetus by Caesarean in a genuinely thrilling and shocking scene of sexual horror. And the ship's secret cargo of Weyland himself (Guy Pearce in old-man makeup) leads what's left of the crew back into the bowels of the structure - an ancient spaceship - as Weyland seeks his answers from the last of the "Engineers", the race believed to be the creators of life on Earth and which have an identical DNA match to humanity.

The cast are fine, though I'm a touch baffled about the casting of Guy Pearce as the old-man makeup isn't very good and it's frankly the annoying weak link in the movie. But to be honest it's great for Michael Fassbender's performance alone. Noomi Rapace has something of the late Elisabeth Sladen about her (and for a further Doctor Who connection, Liz Shaw was the name of the first companion of the Jon Pertwee era) and Charlize Theron has moments where she's as icily scary and forbidding as the Alien itself. According to the opening caption the Prometheus has a crew of seventeen (more than twice as many as Alien) and several of the lesser characters unfortunately don't really register against the heavyweights.

And while it's fun ticking off comparable moments from Scott's original (arguments about ranking and quarantine protocol, the same strobing lights towards the end of the film, the crew hiking across barren landscapes in bulky spacesuits), Prometheus is even more fun as a straight SF/horror movie in its own right: it's a ride and a half and I want to see it again, to thrill to the ideas and concepts as well as the monster attacks and terrific special effects (mainly physical rather than CGI, and they look a thousand times the better for it). I am so, so relieved that it's fine, and so glad it wasn't toned down for the thicko audience (it's a 15 certificate, but a tough one). Yes, there are occasional moments that don't feel entirely right, specifically a few involving Theron, but I'm not going into more detail as this is a film best viewed as cold and unspoilered as possible.

As for the 3D: although it's a "native" 3D film and not a post-conversion I still watched it in 2D (it was an earlier screening anyway) and I suspect that the darker sequences of the film would be reduced to an indiscernible murk once the projector filter and the glasses had cut the light down. In the event, Prometheus loses nothing for being watched in 2D and there's not one shot where you wish there was an artificial depth effect ladled on. It looks great as it is, so don't spoil the experience with silly gimmicks. I enjoyed the hell out of it: it's creepy, scary, impeccably well done, it looks fantastic and the cast are great. Welcome back, Sir Ridley, and don't stay away so long next time. Absolutely essential.


Further thoughts on Prometheus here: