Friday, 27 September 2013



I first saw this mesmerising teen sex/sleaze shocker back in 1994, at an event called the Schlactfest, a one-day festival of German trash, horror and refreshingly gross mayhem. While most of the bill centred around extreme gore, ultraviolence and sundry sexual atrocities (and at least one of the films was shown without subtitles, making its alleged political satire even harder to digest), two films stayed long in the mind: Angst, a hypnotic serial killer drama, and this terrifically bleak, morally iffy and frankly legally questionable teen horror. Watching it again on DVD, it's still a chilling and absorbing film, very well made and boasting an agreeably twisted conclusion.

Der Fan (The Fan) is Simone, an ordinary 17-year-old schoolgirl utterly obsessed with a monotonous electropop star known as R. She has posters on her bedroom wall, listens exclusively to his dreary albums, and writes gushing love letters to her icon, but then gets more depressed when he never responds to them. (Why would he? He gets thousands of such letters; what would make hers any different, assuming he ever read any of them in the first place?) When she learns he's due to appear on a TV show, she runs away and hitches to Munich to see him face to face. Impossibly, he picks her to accompany him to his TV recording, and later to a friend's apartment nobody else knows about. But Simone can't understand that her love means nothing to R, while R can't understand that his love means everything to Simone, and afterwards, when he rejects her....

So far, so TV drama. But then the film kicks up a gear with Simone's revenge and literal destruction of R - it had been fairly staid and leisurely up until that point - and what was playing like a romantic teen sex drama suddenly turns to violence, blank-eyed horror and death. It's actually quite a sobering and surprising climax which still maintains the quiet tone of the film: it's not a crowd-pleaser by any stretch and there's not a huge amount of graphic gore.

Having said all that, there is one major problem. The BBFC have made a compulsory cut of fifteen seconds to the sex scene on the grounds that it contravenes the Protection Of Children Act of 1978. But they've left intact all the other extensive scenes of Desiree Nosbusch naked, despite the fact that she cannot have been more than seventeen years old at the time the film was released (assuming her IMDb and Wikipedia pages have her date of birth correct: they do tally with Terry Wogan introducing her as nineteen when she presented the Eurovision Song Contest from Luxembourg in 1984). I'm really not sure why that fifteen seconds of footage counts essentially as an indecent image of a child while all the other nudity somehow doesn't. The law and the BBFC's guidelines are surely very clear on this matter, but they have passed it with that one token cut that you probably won't notice anyway.

Otherwise, it's a terrific little movie that would actually make a good double bill with Christiane F. It's odd that the DVD offers audio in both an English dub and the original German, but doesn't include English subtitles for the latter. Still, the dub is fine: the film's strengths aren't in the dialogue, and it's perhaps best that R's droning pop songs are left untranslated anyway. I like Der Fan a great deal, it's well made and performed, and R's fate is both mercilessly cold and entirely deserved. Young nudity apart, it's well worth seeing.



Wednesday, 25 September 2013



Yet again my tin ear for comedy ruins what's obviously a perfectly hilarious laugh fest. I didn't so much as crack a smile during this crazy farce of mistaken identity, lost trousers, screaming queens, double entendres, childish slapstick, sitcom cameos and massive all-round humiliation. I mean, it must be me: it's based a long-running West End stage comedy from legendary farceur Ray Cooney that's literally crammed with more than half a century's worth of British comedy legends, from Richard Briers to Robin Askwith, Brian Murphy to Bernard Cribbins, and it's not like I've ever laughed much at anything with such comedic geniuses as Adam Sandler, Sacha Baron Cohen, Seth Rogen or Iain Duncan Smith.

No, it must be my sense of humour that's at fault, because the only other possible explanation would be that Run Your Your Wife is an unspeakable, jaw-dropping disaster with the natural comedic flair of a letter from the JobCentre telling you your benefits have been cut. Danny Dyer (hang on, I think I've spotted the flaw in the argument, the film and possibly the entire Universe) stars as a genial London cabbie with two wives: one in Stockwell, one in Finsbury. But one night he's concussed by a bag lady (not hard enough) and then has to run around frantically trying to stop his wives from finding out about each other. The press want to talk to him, two separate police officers turn up to interview him, he falls out of a window, he tells one wife the other is a transvestite, his best mate (Neil Morrissey) pretends to be him, then sits on a chocolate cake so it looks like he's soiled himself, they both have to pretend to be gay....

I am assured Run For Your Wife is a great night out at the theatre, with the split-second timing and impeccable clockwork construction of proper farce. But it's an abomination on the home screen. Opened out from two simple sets to half a dozen locations across London may give the material scope, but it robs it of focus and kills that dizzying escalation of mayhem stone dead. Central to the failure is the star casting of Danny Dyer, presumably seeking to extend his thespian range beyond "laddish yobbo" but it's torpedoed by a sense of comedy that's even more elusive than mine and his essential unlovability. Humour is difficult if you're good at it and impossible if you're not, and he isn't.

Mind you, he's not helped by the astonishing casting of Christopher Biggins and Lionel Blair as a couple of stereotypical screaming queens, the kind of dated comedy homosexuals that would have been considered dodgy in the days of Mr Humphries and Larry Grayson. I wouldn't suggest it qualifies as homophobic, as I don't think it's actively malicious, but merely tapping into the long-standing British comedy tradition of outrageous camp. That said, it's a tradition we kind of abandoned years ago, and it's startling to see it indulged so defiantly. Nor is Dyer's performance helped by surrounding him with dozens of genuine comedy giants: rather than their gifts rubbing off on him, they merely bring his inability into sharp relief even though they're not really doing anything, and half of them I didn't even notice. Frank Thornton is Man Getting Off Bus, Brian Murphy is Man On Allotment, Russ Abbot is Patient In Hospital, Su Pollard is Newsagent - and frankly you'd rather watch their hilarious misadventures than Dyer's because at least they know what to do even with a ropey script.

In the event, it's mesmerisingly awful: rather than enjoying it and laughing along, you just stare mutely at it as it flaps helplessly about like a one-winged pigeon. Robbed of the machine-like precision of a stage farce, sorely lacking a funny and charismatic lead, Run For Your Wife ends up as less fun than Carry On Cabby, less fun even than Adventures Of A Taxi Driver. Hell, it's not even as much fun as Martin Scorsese's Taxi Driver. The end credits promise a sequel.


Tuesday, 24 September 2013



It's perhaps appropriate that the last scene of this reimagined Western action comedy epic has the title character declaiming his catchphrase "Hi, ho Silver, away!" to which his comedy sidekick responds "Don't ever do that again." Because the likelihood is that they won't ever do it again - it's lost a ton and a half of money (from the same studio that already lost a ton and a half of money on the criminally underrated John Carter) and if the bean counters are going to learn anything from this leap into the financial quicksand, it's "don't ever do that again". In some respects that's a pity: slavish adherence to the demographic-led school of marketing horseshit can only lead to more and more "safe" projects, sequels, remakes and spinoffs but nothing new, nothing different, nothing we haven't already seen before and already indicated we're only too happy to pay again and again to see repeated in very slight variations. Originality and invention will thus play second fiddle to an audience of easily satisfied morons and a battery of journalists only to eager to gloat over the production difficulties and rampaging budget like vultures flocking round a prospective corpse.

Because this isn't part of an established franchise (and let's face it, never will be), The Lone Ranger is an origins story and has to spend a lot of time setting up who its hero is and how he came about. Worthy but dull John Reid (Armie Hammer) is left for dead in the desert by evil Butch Cavendish (William Fichtner); nursed back to health by Tonto (Johnny Depp in facepaint), he dons the famous mask, climbs onto his white horse (which has some kind of mystical significance) and sets about administering justice as The Lone Ranger. Cavendish is only the secondary problem: there's also railroad boss Latham Cole (Tom Wilkinson, easily the best thing in the movie) scheming to acquire a secret silver mine on Cherokee land by faking Indian incursions so the US Cavalry will be duped into wiping them out....

In the event, The Lone Ranger is a failure. It's ludicrously overlong at two and a half hours, it's far too reliant on the comedy relief of Johnny Depp's funny voice and funny mannerisms (which aren't all that funny anyway), and it's saddled (sorry) with a lead character who just isn't very interesting. No-one's going to make any claims for the infamous Lew Grade version from 1980, but the fact is that it's an hour shorter, it tells the Lone Ranger's origins story far more efficiently, and it doesn't make Tonto the star of the movie. As with the Pirates Of The Caribbean series, Depp is really the comedy relief from the drippy leads: in the fourth Pirates film he was promoted to the star role because Orlando and Keira had gone, but here the emphasis placed on Depp's Tonto (which even extends to the old Tonto recounting the story to a kid in a sideshow) unbalances the movie. To an extent, you can understand it because Reid/Ranger is such a bore, but it's like giving K9 top billing over Doctor Who and giving him/it all the best material.

Nor am I that bothered with complaints that Johnny Depp in facepaint as Tonto is somehow a racist, grotesquely untrue and offensive stereotype. The fact that an actor plays a role of a different ethnic stock is not that significant; no-one would suggest that Dracula only be played by Romanian actors or Hamlet only be played by Danish ones. It's called acting: playing someone you're not. The facepaint perhaps pushes it closer to "blacking up" than is comfortable, but without a major star as The Lone Ranger himself (such as Tom Cruise), there wasn't any other direction to take it. In the event Tonto isn't a negative character, an idiot or a crook, he gets most of the gags and, like Jack Sparrow, is more fun than the nominal hero.

It's only in its extended action sequences, both of which involve trains, that there's any real life and energy to the movie. But even then there's something artificial and implausible about them. The movie certainly looks terrific, Helena Bonham Carter turns up as a madam with a gun in her artificial leg, Hans Zimmer's score is better than usual (his Man Of Steel has definitely been his recent low point) and it works in the dreaded William Tell overture quite nicely, and Wilkinson gives great villainy. And I'd be lying if I said there were no laughs to be had. But for too long I was bored, probably more bored even than with the 1980 disaster, and it's not too hard to see why mass audiences have responded with something less than enthusiasm.




Further evidence that you don't need massive resources to succeed with horror movies: this movie has no gore, no sex, one character on screen for the whole time in one location, minimal special effects - and it's creepy as hell. After an hour or so I had to pause the disc and put a light on; that's how incredibly scary it is. Okay, the story is on the thin side, and there's a gaping central hole that runs against basic human nature, but with this and films like The Conjuring, the genuinely creepy, genuinely scary horror film is finally making its presence felt against the grossouts and the bland remakes. Which is wonderful.

All that happens in The Last Will And Testament Of Rosalind Leigh is that Liam (Aaron Poole) returns to the family house which, as the last of the Leighs, he's just inherited in his deeply religious mother's will. He finds the place full of statues and images of angels: relics of his mother's involvement in a strange cult of angel worshippers which he'd turned his back on, along with his mother, many years ago. But is there something else in the house? Something evil which can only be stopped if he accepts that faith?

While the film cheerfully ignores the fact that anyone would spend more than about two minutes in that spooky house before leaping into the car and heading for the nearest Travelodge - and that's before the statues start moving and near invisible monsters roam the halls - it's remarkable just how much effect can be derived from one man wandering alone around a spooky house full of statues (one wonders how much it owes to recent Doctor Who episodes featuring the Weeping Angels) if the mood is set early enough, and the jumps are well enough timed. In addition there's a wonderful sadness and poignancy in Mother's voiceover (an unseen Vanessa Redgrave): she never forgot the beloved son who walked away and never called, who abandoned the faith. Creepy and unsettling, and well worth a rental.



Thursday, 19 September 2013



Enough with Russ Meyer now. Since for some unknown reason I don't suffer from the kind of unhealthy fixation with socking great hooters that Meyer did, I've always been faintly uninterested in his films. Some of them have been okay: Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! is a wonderful cult movie, I loved Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls, and I kind of enjoyed Black Snake (Slaves), though probably because Anouska Hempel is a better actress (and frankly better proportioned) than the usual top-heavy starlets Meyer tended to feature. Wild Gals Of The Naked West ran out of steam long before its already brief running time was halfway done, and Supervixens and Beneath The Valley Of The Ultravixens were just dull.

Up! (which has nothing to do with the Pixar animation, though I'd love to be in Blockbusters when that mistake was made) is a tiresome mix of trash, rape, smut, Nazis, murder, tits, more rape and terrible acting, in which the erotica and raunch factor definitely depends on your tolerance for sexual violence played as yee-haw knockabout. Obviously I found it tiresome and tacky and my finger hovered over the Eject button more than once. "Adolf Schwartz", an elderly Nazi and massive pervert, is murdered with a piranha in his bath - but which of the townsfolk could it be? A naked Kitten Natividad turns up every so often to remind us of the suspects: new girl in town Margot (who gets raped twice), bar-owner's husband Paul (who was Adolf's lover), local cop Homer (who gets off with Margot), simpleton and unstoppable rapist Rafe....

I know, it's my own fault because I rented the damned thing of my own free will and out of my own pocket. And I know, it was the Seventies and you can't get all prissy about a film made 37 years ago. It was a product of its time and it (probably) wouldn't happen today. Nor would Russ Meyer. That said, much of the movie as difficult to watch without wincing as archive footage of Bernard Manning or The Black And White Minstrels: time may have moved on, to the extent that you can't quite believe something like Up! was ever considered cheery entertainment. Personally I suspect that with Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!, Black Snake and Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls I've had the best of Meyer, and if the rest of his filmography is closer to Up! then I'd as soon pass on seeing them.




The slasher boom of the late 1970s and early 1980s produced some terrific little horror movies, not all confined to the major franchises like Friday The 13th and Halloween. The Prowler (released in the UK as Rosemary's Killer) is a prime example of a routine campus teenkill movie that's fun, well mounted and surprising despite the (by that point) hackneyed central idea. Inevitably, of course, there were some extremely poor slasher films made at the same time: films by people who didn't have any abilities as film-makers but who didn't let that stop them churning them out. Even someone like David Hess, who you'd think would have picked up some tips from Wes Craven, came up with an absolute stinker of a slasher movie in To All A Goodnight.

The very best things you can probably say about Hospital Massacre is that the Arlon Ober score has touches of Harry Manfredini's Friday The 13th music (in fact, both of them worked on the arty porn film Through The Looking Glass) and the title at least does what it says on the tin. That's it for the positives. This is honestly one of the most monumentally stupid films you'll ever clap eyes on: an unstoppable tidal wave of imbecilic plot twists that make absolutely not a scrap of sense. Cretinous, moronic and boneheaded don't even begin to describe the cosmic levels of straight-faced idiocy, even by the shaky standards of slasher B-movies that had no interest in a story that might hold together or characters that behaved even slightly plausibly.

You'd think it was written by a 5-year-old whose sole experience of a hospital was a visit to Casualty when he'd sustained head injuries after being hit several times round the back of the skull with a particularly sturdy piece of two-by-four, but incredibly the script is credited by Marc Behm: someone who should know their way around story and character - but no. Susan Jeremy (Barbi Benton, who's in the movie because she used to be in Playboy and was once one of Hugh Hefner's girlfriends) nips into the local hospital to pick up some test results. But she gets stuck in the lift, her doctor has disappeared (lured onto the deserted ninth floor and then murdered and left in a cupboard), and her X-rays show something serious enough for the handy Dr Saxon (John Warner Williams, who couldn't be more shifty and untrustworthy if he was carrying an axe) to demand more tests, including getting her to strip to her knickers so he can take her blood pressure. Who's killing them off one by one? Could it have anything to do with the opening sequence in which young Susan laughs at young Harold's Valentine card?

Well, d'uh. It's a bit pointless trying to wring suspense from "who's the mad killer" when you've gone to all the trouble of including Harold in the opening flashback and then having "Harry" introduce himself to her by name. And it's a stretch to accept that anyone's going to butcher eight or nine innocent people just because he was jilted in a little girl's affections nearly two decades ago. Still: why did no-one simply page the missing Dr Jacobs (or any of the subsequent victims) over the hospital's tannoy system? Why did the boyfriend sit outside in the car for two hours? Why does the sinister Dr Saxon's consulting room have a light positioned exactly to throw crisp shadows of disrobing patients onto the modesty screen? Is it a hospital or an asylum, given the number of shrieking loons on the ward? Isn't it a massively convenient coincidence that Susan just happens to have a routine appointment on Valentine's Day, on the same day that the ninth floor is closed for fumigation? Most annoying of all, why does no-one turn the bloody lights on? Staff, patients and psychotic serial murderer alike all stumble around the dimly lit corridors, wards and stairwells in the middle of the night, not once thinking to hit the light switch so they can actually see through the murk?

Hospital Massacre got a UK cinema release under the international title X-Ray, and came out on a precert VHS as well, but there's been no DVD release (Amazon at least have only the American tape on their listings, and that's "currently unavailable"). On one level, that's no great loss because it is undiluted rubbish - the plot demands that Barbi Benton has to hide on no less than three occasions but she then has to either knock something over or drop something so obviously that a blind man on a galloping horse could find her - but on another level, as something of a fan of dumbo slasher movies, I kind of wish these things were more widely available. But not this one: it genuinely feels as if they turd-picked all the worst aspects from a dozen other slashers and mashed them together in one breathtakingly stupid movie. It wasn't worth doing, and it really isn't worth watching.




The most interesting thing about this 1980 Canadian thriller isn't how uninteresting it is: dull, bland, lifeless, bloodless and slow in the way that a film called Phobia really shouldn't be. Nor is the most interesting thing about it the fact that the big plot twist is given away in the poster tagline, a marketing facepalm the equivalent of crediting an actor as "The Murderer" at the start of an Agatha Christie adaptation. Nope: the most fascinating thing is that it plays like one of those countless TV-movies of the era yet it was directed by no less than John Huston! In terms of film/director mismatch it's like finding out that the DFS Winter Sale commercials were made by Terrence Malick.

Even on the level of a Sunday night potboiler, though, Phobia is absolutely terrible and while there may be a decent little thriller to be made about a murderer on the loose in a phobia therapy group, this certainly isn't it. One of the patients is afraid snakes, one of crowds, one of heights, and Doctor Paul Michael Glaser's technique basically consists of forcing them to confront their demons head-on, handling snakes, going out in public, watching films of high-rise buildings and so on. But then a bomb goes off in his apartment, killing one of his patients. Who's out to get him?

With the exception of one hugely problematic sequence in which Glaser forces a woman who's scared of being touched to watch prettily photographed film of a gang rape, Phobia is a tedious flatliner of a film: the murder scenes are discreet and very brief, and the eventual resolution of the killer's identity and rationale is thin to say the least. Everything about the film lacks impact or ooomph, it isn't even interesting to look at and there's no intellectual content to be had. Remember, this is a John Huston film and very probably the worst thing he ever did. It's bizarre that in the field of tatty psychopath thrillers from the early 1980s, a film by John Huston falls near the bottom of the list and is soundly thrashed by films as dodgy as Don't Go In The House, Happy Birthday To Me, Bloody Moon and Maniac. Small wonder it's fallen through the distribution cracks and there's no DVD available.




Here's a mystery. Why can you get Unhinged, The Witch Who Came From The Sea and The Devil Hunter on British DVD but you can't get this one? Those movies, and a dozen others, are absolute rubbish, but they're easily available while this far superior shocker, that also graced the video nasties list, has vanished from UK circulation despite having a terrific name cast and some genuine surprises (not the least of which is the 20th Century Fox logo at the start). Yes, it's twaddle and the plot is absurd (though scarcely more than the average 80s slasher junk), but it's well shot and at least it thinks it's having a go at social issues rather than just wheeling on some photogenic idiots and artlessly butchering them. That the amateurish and tedious Unhinged is on shop shelves while this admittedly sleazy but far more upmarket slasher picture is accessible only as a Region 1 import or an illegitimate YouTube stream is frankly an injustice.

Let's not kid ourselves, Visiting Hours is resoundingly silly with a mad slasher frequently bungling his kills and knowingly leaving witnesses alive, so bungling and incompetent it might almost be called Carry On Stabbing. Following her public condemnation of a clearly unfair verdict in a domestic abuse case, tenacious and crusading TV anchor Lee Grant ends up in hospital having been attacked by confused loonie Michael Ironside. Is he going to try again? What if he blunders and kills the wrong person? How many different ways can he find to get into the hospital and through the supposedly tight security? Meanwhile Grant's boss and boyfriend William Shatner (!!!!) hovers around doing nothing and is generally underused; he doesn't even get a fight scene with the loonie or take his shirt off.

Though there are undoubtedly some dodgy moments that warranted the DPP's interest, such as Ironside lovingly caressing a young woman's semi-naked body with a knife, Visiting Hours is pretty tame stuff compared with the genuine nasties like Cannibal Holocaust and I Spit On Your Grave; indeed years ago it even played on ITV. It's mostly bloodless and profanity-free, but it's glossy and reasonably budgeted so it looks pretty good (unlike so many slashers where the night sequences are indiscernible through the murk). As a hospital horror it's leagues beyond the inexcusably rubbish X-Ray and the disappointing Halloween II, it's generally good nasty entertainment and for all the silliness it's rather good fun.




3D cinema has never really caught on. The problems engendered have never been solved and all attempts to establish it as a mainstream film technique have withered: the monster movies of the fifties, the gloopy horrors of the eighties, and the current CGI spectaculars and animation movies, have all left audiences ambivalent at best. Quite apart from headaches and eyestrain (which I've never suffered as a result of 3D), it's utterly useless at making bad films any better, in many cinemas it costs extra, and post-production conversions look terrible. Personally I could do without it - it's not the Next Big Step after sound and colour, it's a marketing toy and there's yet to be a film that used it so well that it rendered plain old 2D obsolete.

Treasure Of The Four Crowns came out in 1982: a load of old sub-Raiders claptrap from Cannon Films, notable solely for its use of 3D, in which absolutely everything that isn't nailed down is jabbed remorselessly into the camera lens. Hands, knives, arrows, crossbows, rope, snakes, balls of fire, name it, director Ferdinando Baldi will try and have your eye out with it. Presumably he realised very quickly that the script and cast were terrible, so he decided to poke things at the audience because there was nothing else he could do with it. Stryker (Tony Anthony) is a charmless adventurer who acquires antiquities and relics for the right price; he's commissioned to put together a team to steal the legendary Four Crowns which will grant the owner magical powers and world peace or whatever. They're in the desert fortress of a dodgy religious cult led by a ranting egomaniac in a big hat, and the team have three hours to clamber around the lasers and pressure plates and electric gates by dangling from the ceiling like it's Mission: Impossible or something.

Because Baldi and producers Golan and Globus have seen Raiders Of The Lost Ark, the film opens with Stryker stealing a relic only to trigger dozens of booby traps including stone boulders, arrows, trapdoors and snakes, and inevitably concludes with the unleashing of the power of the Four Crowns complete with jets of fire, the hero's head spinning like Linda Blair, and the villain's head disintegrating like the Nazis' at the end of Raiders but with the loving detail of the climaxes to Brian de Palma's The Fury and Cronenberg's Scanners. In 3D, so bits of his scalp fly at you in slow-motion, while a dour Ennio Morricone score plays in the background. Such spectacle doesn't help the film one jot, though, because the basics of writing and acting are so thoroughly shoddy: there's no wit, no romance, no fun to be had. (Tellingly, the script is by Gene Quintano, who went on to three of the Police Academy sequels and Cannon's later Raiders-inspired version of King Solomon's Mines.) Stryker in particular is supposed to be the action hero but he has less charm and panache than one of Harrison Ford's old toenail clippings that's been stuck under the sofa for the last three years. And his gang - including Quintano - are no better: tedious cardboard cutouts of characters, to the extent that the revelations that one of them has a chronic heart condition and another is a hopeless alcoholic still aren't enough to make you give a damn whether they get the crowns or not.

But with no laughs, no style, no flair, no character and no thrills, Treasure Of The Four Crowns is utter garbage - except for the overused 3D effects of poking objects at the camera lens which of course are meaningless outside of a 3D cinema screening. Watched on the 2D videotape version that's been uploaded to YouTube - there's been no UK release commercially available since the Guild VHS tape - these shots now make no logical sense, but they're honestly the only thing the film has going for it. It's desperately bad.




You certainly can't fault Umberto Lenzi's pseudonymous 1988 teen slasher on the grounds of lack of incident - there's an execution, a biker gang, grave-robbing, an alcoholic police doctor, John Saxon as a corrupt cop, a beach full of horny teenaged halfwits on Spring Break, a peeping tom, an imbecile practical joker, a ranting priest and a homicidal maniac whose signature method is electrocution via a customised motorbike. However, you can certainly fault it for being thoroughly shoddy: badly acted, badly written and far more interested in hot teens in their swimwear and cretins looking to get laid than the mechanics of the daft slasher plot.

Following the legally questionable conviction and execution of a motorcycle gang leader (the gang is named The Demons, apparently after the Lamberto Bava movie by the look of the logo on their jackets), a maniac is cruising the streets on a motorbike that's been customised with an electric pillion seat, frying hitch-hikers in a shower of sparks. The mayor and the cops don't want a panic because it'll scare away all the kids who've turned up for spring break, so they cover it up, dump the bodies out of town, threaten any troublemakers and arrest someone else with no evidence, even as the bodies pile up and a TV crew sits outside. Has the evil biker leader somehow survived his electrocution, autopsy (a legal requirement), embalming and burial? If it's not him, who?

It's only when one particularly horny teen idiot is killed, and his best mate teams up with an initially frosty barmaid (the sister of the girl for whose murder the biker was executed in the first place) that the movie picks up a bit, but it's still more interested in the wild and crazy spring break antics than the slasher and coverup plots. Nightmare Beach is still three parts Porky's to one part Friday The 13th and that's not a satisfying ratio (unless of course you just want to see sex-crazed teenagers behaving like morons). The ultimate "blimey, it was XXXXXX all along?!?!?" revelation of the maniac's identity is utterly ridiculous in that you almost expect the line "...and I would have got away with it too, if it hadn't been for you pesky kids!".

Maybe back in 1988 it might have played better than in the more sophisticated 21st century, but I don't think so. By that point even the big slasher franchises (Jason, Michael Myers) were winding down with poor films stripped of their gory money shots by the ratings boards on both sides of the Atlantic, and we'd had more rotten slasher movies than anyone should ever feel compelled to trudge through. And even by the desperately low standards of rotten slasher movies, Nightmare Beach is third-rate, uninteresting fare. One to avoid, which isn't difficult given the lack of UK distribution.




Yet another cheap horror movie that's fallen down the back of the international distribution sofa, and if it wasn't for YouTube (yet again) it would probably be even more obscure and forgotten, which considering the strength of the cast would be a great shame. I was first aware of it when I chances upon the soundtrack LP in a London HMV; it was only when looking it up afterwards that I found it was originally a trashy Italian horror movie entitled Island Of The Fishmen. Of course that was before Roger Corman got his claws on it and added some new, unrelated material to the start of the movie and gave it a significantly less silly title. Still, with Barbara Bach, Joseph Cotten, Richard Johnson, Cameron Mitchell and Mel Ferrer on hand, how can it possibly go wrong?

As it transpires, quite easily, since the story is headbangingly wacko. Evil bastard Richard Johnson (who only just stops short of twirling his moustache and tying damsels to railway tracks) has imprisoned legendary biologist Joseph Cotten and is forcing him to breed a race of amphibian fish people who can retrieve the treasures of the Temple Of The Sun God in the Lost City Of Atlantis for him, and is keeping Cotten's comely daughter Barbara Bach prisoner as leverage (and the occasional object of his perverted lusts and desires). But a prison ship has sunk in nearby storms, and the surviving doctor (Claudio Cassinelli) promptly saves Cotten, defeats Johnson, rescues Bach, and then a volcano erupts and the film stops.

It's really no surprise that Screamers is a load of old tosh. But it's got a great cast of hasbeens and cult actors (Barbara Bach is worth seeing in almost anything, even if it's one of the least exciting Bond films of the canon), the bursts of gore are occasionally startling and the fishman suits are actually pretty good. It's still nothing remarkable, however, and whether it works better in its original Italian version (without the Mitchell/Ferrer prologue) isn't really worth investigating. A moderately engaging diversion but no more.




I originally saw this German porn film on the old precert VHS release in my very early years of watching every piece of sleazy sex and violence rubbish I could get my hands on. Back then obviously it was heavily edited in order to not offend anyone, with all the hardcore either cut out or hidden behind other shots superimposed over the action. Thanks to the internet, you can watch the whole thing now, in English - just type "sexual adventures of a teenage ballerina" into the video search engine of your choice (don't ask how I found that out) - with all the explicit sex put back in and on full view. Thirty years ago I thought it was rubbish, probably because of the censorship. I still think it's rubbish, but now it's for completely different reasons.

Partly it's because staring at people's thrusting genitals gets cripplingly boring after a while, partly because all the characters are morally repulsive, and partly it's because you just can't make an 80-minute movie showcasing nothing but indiscriminate humping in a country mansion particularly exciting to watch. There needs to be something else on offer, be it a plot, intriguing characters or some kind of a kink we haven't seen before. Odious sexual fantasist and nobleman arranges surprise gangbangs for his wife so he can get off over her recounting her sordid experiences; his teenage ballerina daughter cops off with the maid and also keeps a female Bolivian sex slave in a VW camper van in the garden. A reporter shows up to interview the wife about her upcoming porn film, is persuaded to shag the Bolivian sex slave, and then takes part in a grand orgy that has apparently been staged for the daughter's first taste of mansex. Twenty minutes later it stops.

Yeah, whatever. Body Love is crushingly dull and tiresome, and what the sex scenes gain in explicit detail they lose when backed by the entirely inappropriate sub-Jean Michel Jarre synth score provided by respectable German composer Klaus Schultze (he also scored the wonderfully bleak German serial killer drama Angst). There's no reason why we should care about these people, the early threesome has uncomfortable rape overtones, and the encounter in the camper van is laughably badly shot. Maybe seeing the whole shebang is an improvement on the softened Cal Vista video tape, but it's still awful.




Fed up of the recent glut of CGI shark and piranha movies? Can't get excited about Shark Attack, Shark Attack 2, Shark Attack 3, Shark In Venice, Dinoshark, Sand Sharks, Mega Shark Vs Giant Octopus, Piranha 3DD, Mega Piranha, Snakehead Terror, The Reef anymore? It's nice to know they were making exactly the same sort of fish and mollusc-based nonsense back in the seventies, as evinced by this brace of post-Jaws obscurities that have generally disappeared from UK distribution entirely after their cinema releases. Online streaming via YouTube really isn't the best way to see these films, but short of importing discs at $10 plus shipping for a one-time view, it's the only really viable option.

In both cases, environmental damage (whether accidental or deliberate) by big business causes the local aquatic wildlife to start picking off human civilians. Barracuda: The Lucifer Project, easily the lesser of the two films, has a chemicals corporation pumping stuff into the ocean which is making the fish more aggressive - specifically the local barracudas which, having killed all the other local fish, moves in on divers and swimmers. Strangely, the movie stops being a Jaws clone about halfway through and turns into a government conspiracy thriller with a plot to make the people angrier and more violent by changing their blood sugar level, and caps everything off with a surprisingly bleak the-bad-guys-win ending. It's not helped by an inappropriate score from German synth composer Klaus Schulze that doesn't fit and doesn't help the film at all.

Much better and more fun, though still a long way from any kind of neglected classic, is Ovidio G Assonitis' Tentacles, which trumps Barracuda's relative cast of unknowns (Wayne Crawford is probably the biggest name in it) by hiring Shelley Winters, John Huston, Bo Hopkins, Claude Akins and Henry Fonda. As the title suggests, it's not fish this time but a giant octopus turned homicidal due to radio waves: it eats a toddler, a one-legged sailor, a couple of divers and a boatload of marine biologist Hopkins' bickering idiot relatives, before heading for a children's regatta (almost referring directly to Joe Dante's superior Piranha).... Does it have anything to do with the underwater tunnel built by Fonda's construction company, and can Hopkins and his two pet killer whales defeat the creature?

It's helped enormously by being bright and sunny and feelgood (Stelvio Cipriani's score has an infectiously bouncy main theme, though the big regatta disaster is backed with his music from The Great Kidnapping, a Eurocrime cop thriller made four years previously) while Barracuda tends to be dark and glum. It's a shame they've dropped off the radar in this country, particularly Tentacles, which is cheesily entertaining in a "bad, but it doesn't really matter" kind of way. I have a memory of seeing it projected in the late seventies at my local library as a kids' matinee; if I'd any idea it would become an obscurity I'd have paid far more attention to it.




Poe might get briefly namechecked in this bewilderingly incoherent horror movie that originally bore the title Edgar Allan Poe's The Black Cat but now seems to exist only as a retitled entry in, of all things, the Demons franchise. After Demons and Demons 2 produced by Dario Argento and directed by Lamberto Bava, the Demons 3 title was used for various films, including Bava's own entirely unrelated (and thoroughly useless) TV movie The Ogre, Umberto Lenzi's Black Demons and Michele Soavi's The Church. Soavi's The Sect became Demons 4, and Lamberto Bava's remake of his father Mario's horror classic Black Sunday (The Mask Of Satan) ended up as Demons 5: The Devil's Veil. And bringing up the rear is Luigi Cozzi's 1989 film Demons 6: De Profundis, originally called The Black Cat despite having absolutely nothing to do with Poe's The Black Cat beyond there being a black cat in it for about five seconds.

But it gets better! Whilst it's not a sequel to Demons, it is, incredibly, a sequel to Argento's Suspiria and Inferno. It's the alternative conclusion to the Three Mothers trilogy and if you thought Argento's actual Mother Of Tears was a laughable, incomprehensible mess (and let's be honest, it was), it is sanity and restraint compared to Cozzi's WTF offering. It kicks off in what appears to be standard slasher/giallo territory, only to pull back and reveal a crew making a film called The Black Cat. The lead actress Anna Ravenna (Ravenna - Raven - Poe - oh, forget it) is excited about her director husband's new horror project in which she'll play the evil witch Lavena, but she's immediately plagued by nightmares full of shonky optical effects, broken mirrors and a malfunctioning refrigerator. Or is Lavena really out to get her and sacrifice Anna's baby son so she can come back to life and rule the world or whatever? And what happens when she finds her husband (Urbano Barberini, who was in the first Demons movie) is actually playing away with a fellow actress (Caroline Munro) who's actually going to play Lavena?

Light blobs, a ghost child on a TV set, random shots of the moon and an exploding occultist, that's what happens. Cozzi pulls all the stops out in terms of incident, gore and mayhem, shooting half of it with Argento-coloured lights and backing it all up with a synth/metal soundtrack. Obviously it doesn't work and you can understand why the damn thing has disappeared into obscurity: it's complete and utter tosh and crazier than Lucio Fulci and Argento's versions of the same title. Still, it's certainly not boring, and for fans of the madder Euro horror movies it's probably worth a look.




What on Earth was that all about, indeed? Wallowing merrily about in the backwaters of giallo cinema is generally a pleasure but sadly some of the movies that turn up are not of the first rank. They may have the sleaze, perversion, gore and dramatically inappopriate music, but they just don't work in the way that the best of them do. That's true of all genres, of course: you can't get a coconut every time, but with gialli it's still nice to watch them try. This is a prime example: cool title, twisty plot, a view of women that's barely out of the cave and plenty of aberrant sexual horribleness, and it's a full twelve seconds before the first severed head, but as a film it's all over the shop and in some places is horribly misjudged, throwing in incest, rape and paedophilia which sit uncomfortably with the strange, presumably blackly comedic scenes.

In The Folds Of The Flesh (a quotation from Freud) kicks off thirteen years ago, when a young girl apparently decapitated her dad after he'd raped her, and an escaped convict saw her mother burying the body. Now, a free man, he returns to the house to blackmail them. But the body isn't there. Who was actually killed that night, by whom, and why? And then her father turns up....or does he? Matters are complicated by the family habit of bumping off everyone who turns up at the house and disposing of them in an acid bath in the garage. It's only in the last reel that the father, the daughter, the decapitated bloke at the start and the girl in the mental hospital are all revealed as other people entirely, leaving you a little baffled as to exactly who is who, and if a murder did actually take place thirteen years ago, why couldn't they find the corpse when they dug up the whole garden?

The black-and-white flashbacks to the Nazi death chambers feel hugely out of place in a sleazy exploitation romp, and they're narratively unnecessary to boot; the plot is twaddle and none of the characters are ever sane enough to get a handle on. Yet I still like the look and feel of the movie, and I like a measure of weirdness, though this one has too much weirdness for me. Not entirely uninteresting, and worth a look, but it doesn't work. Sadly this is yet another trashy Italian horror that's out of British distribution: there was a VHS release from Redemption but apparently no DVD issue.


Wednesday, 18 September 2013



Yet again another sequel for which I felt obliged to rewatch the originals. In this instance I didn't mind too much: it's been a long time since I saw either Pitch Black or The Chronicles Of Riddick, and in the event I was surprised by how much I enjoyed the first one again, while being even more surprised by just how rompingly silly the sequel was. While the original is a pacy and enjoyable B-movie with lots of fearsome gribbley monsters, the epic sequel would have benefited more from its once-in-a-lifetime pairing of Vin Diesel at his most manly and Dame Judi Dench as an ethereal something if they'd been together more often. But Chronicles was nine years ago, and Vin Diesel was nine years younger: can the character still work?

Riddick starts brilliantly, with Diesel's escaped convict, murderer, fugitive and King Of The Necromongers left for dead on a bleak, inhospitable and uninhabited world which, once he's crawled out of his grave, he sets about taming. Fortunately (extremely so) there's an abandoned mercenary shelter not too far away, so when the approaching storms awaken yet more gribbley monsters, Riddick hits the emergency beacon and waits for rescue....Two ships full of mercenary bastards promptly turn up: the first crew of obnoxious scumbags want him dead for the bounty, while the second, considerably less hateful, crew need him alive since they're led by the father of one of the casualties in Pitch Black.

Much mention has been made, and much discussion has ensued, of a scene when they've captured Riddick (they can't kill him because he's got the fuel cells they need to take off) and are debating their next move when Riddick announces that he's going to "go balls deep...but only because she asked me to" into the "good" crew's second-in-command, who's already established herself as a lesbian. Is this homophobic? Is this rapey? Is this sexist? Frankly I'm not too sure about this: the threat is never carried out and most likely never would have been as Riddick has never been a sexual character. I'm not sure he's even aware of her sexuality at that point anyway. Those few lines of dialogue didn't bother me, though they did feel a little out of place in a throwaway SF/horror movie in which people beat up monsters on an alien planet in the distant future. That's not to say that the lack of a realistic context excuses the sort of attitudes that besmirch Twitter et al on a too-regular basis; but I don't think Riddick, either the film or the character, is endorsing those attitudes or even holding them. Rather, it's a scene in which Riddick and his captors are indulging in a dick-swinging contest, a childish game of "I'm more badass than you are".

For all that, Riddick is a lot of fun. Frankly I could have watched the early Extreme Survival sequences for hours, as Riddick sorts out the local equivalents of vultures and jackals, as well as defeating giant water scorpions by systematically immunising himself against their venom. Once the disposable badasses have arrived, it slackens a bit since they're generally pretty boring, but it's fun to watch Riddick running rings around them, infiltrating the camp unseen and picking them off one by one. Furthermore, the final sequences, featuring a splendid moment of Riddick lamping unspeakable alien beasts by the thousand on a storm-lashed rock, are marvellous. It's a return to the scary Pitch Black rather than the bonkers Chronicles, and I'd like to think there's a fourth instalment in the offing at some point.


Tuesday, 17 September 2013



For some reason Eli Roth doesn't seem to have a lot of love from horror fans. Maybe it's due to Hostel supposedly kickstarting the "torture porn" subgenre (ignoring the fact that Saw was already up to Part 3 by that point), but I have to confess I like both of Roth's Hostel movies. Putting to one side the issue of watching innocent people getting tortured and murdered for no good reason other than sick thrills, and whether that's morally any better or worse than watching horny young idiots queue up to get macheted in various Friday The 13ths and other slasher films, I like them as films: well made, well shot and scored. And Cabin Fever was okay, though perhaps not the gem it was made out to be. Or maybe it's due to his production duties on the underwhelming The Last Exorcism and its sequel, or his cameo appearances in films like Southland Tales (as "Man Who Gets Shot On Toilet", according to the IMDb) or the rubbish Piranha remake.

Now here's Aftershock, a botched disaster movie which Roth co-produced, co-wrote the script as well as taking the lead role. Ditching the gosh-wow spectacle you'd expect from the old Irwin Allen all-star calamity blockbuster genre almost entirely, it gives us a solid half an hour of three odious douchebags partying and failing to pull, before ending up with a hot chick each just in time for an earthquake to hit the town. Surrounded by looting and riots, and with a tsunami scheduled to follow, the best thing to do would be to aim for high ground. But the local prison has been destroyed and the escaped convicts are on their trail...

This is actually a good reason to not like Eli Roth: Aftershock's second half is basically concerned with a bunch of rapists looking for the three hot chicks so they can rape them. To some extent there is a precedent: in 1974's Earthquake frizzy-haired Victoria Principal is taken prisoner by obsessed psychopath Marjoe Gortner amidst the destruction, but (perhaps conscious of the limitations of the PG rating) it never descends to the gratuitous rape and murder excess of Aftershock. This change of tone turns an already bad film into an ugly one: a dull disaster movie full of unlikeable people suddenly becomes a nasty, mean-spirited little film in which one woman is murdered, one is raped and murdered and one is menaced in the catacombs by an axe-wielding maniac. If all they'd wanted to make was a ripoff of I Spit On Your Grave, why even bother with the earthquake? Charmless, ugly and tedious, and not even interesting technically, it's a thoroughly depressing watch. Here's hoping Roth's next, a revisitation of the cannibal genre, is an improvement.




The secret of a sports movie - indeed, probably any movie - is that you're excited and involved in the drama even if it's based around something you've normally no interest in. Offhand I can't think of a film about football, tennis or baseball, that I've enjoyed despite my general apathy towards the game. On the other hand, Oliver Stone's Any Given Sunday worked marvellously even though I have absolutely no idea what's going on in American Football; and I still loved Invictus despite having only ever been to one rugby match in my life. Maybe it's all down to my dislike of sports at school: personally I didn't learn anything from a Wednesday afternoon's cricket except just what a waste of three hours cricket could be.

Formula 1 motor racing has everything going for it: glamour, danger, split-second decisions that can mean life or death (rather than, say, not catching a ball), huge engines, deafening noise. Not that any of that helped Hollywood's last foray into F1, Renny Harlin's mostly terrible Driven, a film fatally undermined by Sylvester Stallone looking like he weighed more than his car. Ron Howard's Rush is in a completely different class, concentrating on the rivalry between British playboy James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) and Austrian iceman Niki Lauda (Daniel Bruhl), principally over the 1976 season that almost took Lauda's life in a spectacular but horrifying fireball in Germany - and even though he was out of most of the races it eventually came down to the final race in Japan, when either man could still have taken the championship....

The racing sequences themselves are dizzyingly intense, edited to an almost subliminal blur yet somehow never losing focus on where we, and they, are, with the sound of the engines cranked up to skull-shattering levels alone with a heavily percussive Hans Zimmer score. Where the film slips down is in its rather unsympathetic depiction of the two rivals (who in real life were apparently considerably better friends than they're shown to be here): Hunt is an alcoholic womaniser, Lauda an emotionless loner, and their exchanges are not so much friendly banter fuelled by mutual respect than cheap and nasty insults traded by men who genuinely hate each other. And Hunt's way with women looks horrible now, but hey, it was the Seventies and that's what things were like back then. (Besides, he looks like Thor, for goodness' sake.)

Yet for all that, Rush is terrifically exciting, even if (like me) you're not a fan of motor racing in general, and especially if (like me) you didn't know the outcome of that final race on which the Championship hinged. While the track sequences are dazzling and should definitely earn Oscar nods for editing and cinematography, it is the character drama of these two contrasting "boys with toys" that's the meat of the film. Some of these scenes work beautifully, some less so because it's hard to care very much about them, particularly when they're behaving like dicks. For much of the time, though, it's an absolute blast and one of the best films of the year: marvellously shot, well performed and as thrilling as any action movie in years. Best seen on the biggest screen you can find with the loudest sound system you can stand.


Thursday, 12 September 2013



Some people obviously believe that all you need to do to hit box-office gold would be to put Paul Walker in a car. After all, he was in all but one of the Fast And Furious movies, everyone likes a good car chase, Johannesburg is an underused movie location, and in any case so little money has been spent on this that it can't help but turn a profit if more than half a dozen people bother to rent it, right? Well, we don't get to see a lot of Jo'burg, sadly, and we don't get to see much of the screeching tyres action either since director Mukunda Michael Dewil has elected to shoot the whole movie (save for the very last shot) from inside the rental minivan that Walker picks up at the airport.

It's a great setup: inside Vehicle 19, Walker discovers a mobile phone and a handgun - and then a kidnapped woman tied up in the boot. She's a prosecutor who's uncovered a sex trafficking ring masterminded by the Chief Of Police, and inevitably they're both chased and shot at by corrupt cops. Presumably he was just given the wrong vehicle in error, but since he's an ex-con who's broken his parole by jetting out to South Africa in the first place, there's no-one in authority he can turn to so he has to figure a way out by himself....

Much of the film is actually catalogue of Paul Walker driving incredibly badly. Driving while on a mobile is one thing - he opens food and drink at the same time, and unfolds a giant map of the city while moving in traffic, while not looking where he's going and even forgetting which side of the road he should be on. Worse, he makes terrible decisions: when he finds the woman in the boot, why doesn't he just let her go? Why does he obey the obviously crooked instructions on the mobile to drive to a remote warehouse? Why doesn't he throw the gun away? It's hard to get involved with the predicament of his character when he consistently behaves so stupidly. In effect, you're just stuck in a car with an idiot for 90 minutes.

Because the camera never moves from the passenger seat, the car chases lose a lot of their excitement because we as an audience can't see them properly. Presumably it's attempting to blur the line between passive viewer and active participant, but I don't want to be a participant: that's why I rented a DVD instead of running red lights and causing accidents. I suppose there are others, but the only other movie I can think of that never exits the vehicle is the teen horror Five Across The Eyes, which similarly doesn't work because the inside of a car isn't inherently cinematic. Still: it's a nice idea, but the plot doesn't make any sense, the directorial choices pretty much kill it off, and Walker desperately needs the hilarious testosterone frenzy of Vin Diesel and Dwayne Johnson to bounce off.


Nissan Micra:

Sunday, 8 September 2013



It's our fault. We get the comedy we deserve and if this is what we're prepared to pay for and support, this is all they're going to bother making. You've got to do some serious work to make a Scary Movie that's actually worse than any of the others in the series, but they've done it. You've got to struggle mightily to produce a film that's not only less funny than Scary Movie 4, Scary Movie 3 and indeed most of Scary Movie 2, but is also substantially less funny than the straight horror movies it thinks it's spoofing - but they've done it. In this instance the choices are the obvious Paranormal Activity series, the perhaps less obvious Mama, Black Swan (which was three years ago, so no marks for topicality), Inception (also three years ago), Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes (two years ago) and the Evil Dead remake which is at least this year's. Throw in some poo gags, Charlie Sheen riffing on himself as a perverted douchebag, someone pretending to be Tyler Perry in drag as Medea (a reference which means bugger all outside of the USA and probably not much within), Snoop Dogg as a stoner....voila, you've got a film.

Scary Movie V (it's written as Scary MoVie on the poster and the title card, but that just looks stupid) basically does the usual spoof movie routine of knitting together half a dozen fairly recent releases ripe for parodying. This ramshackle sort-of plot is nothing but a clothes line on which to hang sight gags, celebrity impressions, references to other movies, and a string of theoretically hilarious fart, bum, poo and sex jokes that don't make any sense in the narrative (any more than they did in, say, Airplane! or the Naked Gun trilogy) but somewhere along the way, in the decades they've been doing spoofs, parodies and pastiches, the humour has been lost.

It's not the gags are so abstruse and philosophical that you won't catch them. You do catch them, easily, but you don't actually laugh: at no point was I even close to a smirk. I honestly don't believe it's me and my tin-plated sense of humour, even if it went AWOL at some point during the Major Government. I do sometimes laugh at other things. But not here. You don't even have the majestic Leslie Nielsen any more, turning the lamest material into something approaching tolerable with a decent sense of timing for the one-liner or facial expression. In fact, you don't have anything but a bad idea desperately in need of putting out of its, and our, misery. Bet it won't happen. As long as these things keep making their money back, they'll continue to churn them out. Oh joy.


Sunday, 1 September 2013



Whilst this thoroughly terrible film is nominally a comedy, it certainly isn't at all funny - throughout its ridiculously overextended running time of two hours and nine minutes there's not a single laugh or even a smile. And whilst it does have occasional bursts of action, there's nothing like enough to make it in any way exciting. All you're left with is deadpan stupidity and the question of whether it's a satire on the American Dream or a straight-up hymn to it. Either way it doesn't work.

Essentially Pain & Gain is an extreme black comedy in which three imbecilic bodybuilders (Mark Wahlberg, Dwayne Johnson, Anthony Mackie) come up with an idiotic plan to kidnap a businessman (Tony Shalhoub) and extort all his money. Inevitably it falls to pieces and ends up with torture, alcoholism and attempted murder; having run out of money they try it again with a porn tycoon and things go even more horribly wrong than before, leading to two of our crazy, lovably daft heroes being awarded the death sentence for multiple homicide. Oh, the hilarity.

One the one hand it's a Michael Bay film that doesn't have any giant robots, car chases or asteroids, that provides scant opportunities for ginormous explosions, special effects and citywide destruction, and that at least purports to have some basis in documented truth. In short, it  denies Michael Bay any chance of hiding behind the gosh-wow CGI whizzbang and the delirious mayhem he's famous for, and it thus allows the real human Michael Bay out. On the other hand, the Michael Bay of true human drama isn't that much different from the Michael Bay of blowing shit up. It's no less of an empty spectacle because it's focussing on Dwayne Johnson's biceps rather than Megan Fox's buttocks, and it's no less of an empty spectacle because it's focussing on a trio of delusional idiots rather than an army of alien 400-foot robots punching one another in the face.

Let's not forget that real human people died, and the reenactments of their deaths are being played here for popcorn laughs; our heroes are fraudsters, kidnappers, thieves and murderers, self-obsessed halfwits and massive, massive arseholes sentenced to death for killing people. Never mind the grotesque bad taste of restaging these horrors for wacky Friday night miltiplex amusement - it's actually even worse than the emotionless reenactments of the serial murder sprees of the liked of Ted Bundy and Ed Gein since those films were at least not playing it for cheery knockabout. This feels like The Three Stooges by way of early Tarantino, and it's just as bad a mix as an Aardman version of the Fred West murders would be.

Bay has done a couple of decent movies: I liked the first Bad Boys, I'll confess enjoyment of The Island (even though it's basically Parts: The Clonus Horror with a massively overinflated budget) and The Rock is a pretty decent action movie with a terrific car chase in it. But he has no sense of humour and he has no idea when to stop, when to scale back, when to say "enough". Pretty much the whole film is shot from waist level, with sweaty tanned skin against unnatural blue skies; Mark Wahlberg is probably less likeable in this film than he's ever been before (admittedly I've never been a fan of his anyway); the sight of Dwayne Johnson staggering about on cocaine palls very quickly, and it's really only Ed Harris who doesn't overplay and bellow. It's a horrible film, it's far too long, it's not remotely funny and it's in monumentally poor taste, and the question of whether it's actively worse than Bay's increasingly terrible Transformers series is as academic as asking which kidney you prefer to be punched in.