Friday, 28 March 2014



If someone had submitted the script to a producer as a fictional piece, he'd have been thrown straight out of the building and had his typewriter melted down for scrap. It's so utterly implausible that the only way you could possibly have defused the absurdity would have been to play it for laughs, either by camping it up and dancing blindfold through the minefield of grotesque bad taste, or by giving it to Richard Curtis for the sweet/sour romcom treatment. Sadly Oliver Hirschbiegel opts for playing it straight and sincere, no matter how unbelievable things get, and the result is that Diana is mostly dull, closer to the inoffensive drama of The Queen than the much more interesting The Iron Lady.

Princes William and Harry get literal walk-on, walk-off appearances, otherwise the Royals themselves don't appear in the story of Diana's (Naomi Watts) relationship with Pakistan-born surgeon Hasnat Khan (Naveen Andrews). It appears to be love at first sight, but she's a princess and he's a commoner (and a Muslim), and with the press attention on her every move it's plainly doomed. Rather than accept the inevitable, "the most famous woman in the world" resorts to disguises, climbing over fences, becoming a mad bitch and a stalker (her own words), even visiting his family in Lahore. But ultimately it cannot work, and she takes up with Dodi Fayed instead....

Most of this is Sunday afternoon slush: indeed with a few snips for language it could play quite happily as a BBC2 matinee. But it doesn't have any dramatic oomph about it, it doesn't have any balls, it doesn't have any laughs. Nor does it go anywhere near explaining how Diana, who was many things but certainly not an idiot, could possibly have thought the relationship could have worked. Or why, having had so many bruising encounters with the paparazzi (who, frankly, are worthless parasitic pondscum the world could happily do without), she then practically invites them all to within zoom lens distance of Dodi's yacht.

Maybe it's still too soon. For all the obvious work by Naomi Watts, for all the wigs and frocks, for all the restagings of familiar moments (such as the Martin Bashir interview) it's as if the film is so scared of doing anything controversial that it would rather do nothing. Result: close on two hours of meticulously crafted but absurd piffle, laughable but impossible to laugh at. It's not terrible enough to offend or amuse, but it just doesn't work as a drama.


No sequel, then:



Because it doesn't really matter. This is a film with none of those nasty rough edges: minimal swearing, minimal sexiness, minimal violence, a bland, wipe-clean sheet of machine-rolled plastic that couldn't hurt you if it was thrown in your face by a ninja. It's entirely safe, hollow and meaningless; 105 minutes of generic production-line emptiness. That's not to say it's terrible, that's not to say it's not passably entertaining while it's on, just that it's never anything more than a 12-certificate factory product.

I don't even know why it's called Paranoia: it should just be given a barcode. Liam Hemsworth is the buff computer whizz who's railroaded by his evil (and inexplicably Cockney) ex-CEO Gary Oldman into stealing a revolutionary cellphone prototype from his old rival Harrison Ford, otherwise Liam's looking at ten years for credit card fraud and his dad Richard Dreyfuss isn't coming off that oxygen tank any time soon. Can Liam perform a Mission: Impossible heist in the few minutes he can get the security cameras offline? Meanwhile the FBI are after him, and his new girlfriend, senior executive Amber Heard, is starting to suspect him....

There's nothing wrong with Paranoia; it's merely that it's never any better than that. Whenever Harrison Ford, Richard Dreyfuss and Gary Oldman are on screen the film picks up, because they know how to lift the material and put the serifs on the script's Arial typeface. It's directed by Robert Luketic, who made the similarly "whatever" Killers, a film with nothing on its mind except the arguably godlike physique of Ashton Kutcher and some safe, easily marketed action thrills. This is just as perfunctory, just as anonymous, just as devoid of personality. But while it's on, it's enjoyable enough in its way: chases, ticking clocks, plot twists, ruthless assassins, technological whizzery that's no more plausible than the sonic screwdriver. For a Friday night with some big name stars not exactly stretching themselves for the paycheque, it's fine.


They are out to get you.

Wednesday, 26 March 2014



This is the film Tesco doesn't want you to see - and that's its one and only claim to fame. Just as the legendary video nasty list of the early 1980s gave terrible films like Unhinged, Bloody Moon and Nightmares In A Damaged Brain a notoriety they didn't merit, so this genuinely atrocious piece of amateur home movie garbage will ultimately go down in history as a very minor footnote in the history of interfering know-nothing busybodies trying to get sleazy horror films banned, rather than disappearing into the murk where it rightfully belongs. There's nothing in The Hospital that's remarkable, innovative or interesting: rather, it's crass, tedious, embarrassing in its desperate attempts to shock and offend, and just plain unprofessional in its technical execution.

The film boasts three plotlines: the ghosts alleged to haunt the abandoned St Leopold's Hospital, the obese mentally handicapped rapist/murderer who works as a groundskeeper, and the arrival of a busload of morons supposedly making a pilot for a reality show about the paranormal. Except they're actually making snuff porn movies, raping and murdering their "stars" on camera for the lucrative Ukrainian pervert market. Will any of the girls survive, and will you, the viewer, care?

No. You won't care because the two directors are incapable of making you give a damn whether anyone lives or dies. They can't write, they can't direct, and they can't get performances out of the cast - the acting is honestly no better than a "stand here and say this" readthrough of the unspeakable first draft script. More horror lies in the notion of one of the writer-directors acting as his own casting director for the vile rape scenes he appears in (playing the mentally handicapped rapist/murderer groundskeeper), than any of the casual misogynistic abuse and badly staged violence and torture. It's stupid, cheap, nasty-minded trash made by cynical hacks gleefully piling on the sadism, but without the faintest whiff of talent to make it any good at all.

By rights The Hospital would already be a forgotten bargain bin obscurity, along with the legions of found-footage bores and Asylum knockoffs, and it's only because one man managed to get Tesco to remove it from their shelves that it's got any notice at all. Even the fetid gunk at the bottom of Jess Franco and Joe D'Amato's barrels were never as unremittingly foul as this, one of the very, very worst I've seen in over thirty years (and that includes The Summer Of The Massacre). Hopefully the clods who slung this rubbish together never, ever, get within two hundred yards of a camera again.


Tuesday, 18 March 2014



I don't intend to bang on about this dismal Yorkshire-based horror cheapie (reportedly £30,000) for any longer than is strictly necessary. Put simply, if the makers can't be bothered to put in any effort, why the hell should I? For a horror movie it's incredibly tedious, it isn't scary, jumpy or creepy and only appears to have got its 18 certificate for needless swearing rather than grisly imagery (a bloody suicide apart); and for any genre of movie it's atrociously acted, poorly shot, glum, stupid, and it makes no sense. According to Horrornet's pullquote on the DVD box it's "The Exorcist meets Carrie", which is a massive insult to both films and isn't even true.

Heretic probably thinks it's taking on serious issues such as the sanctity of the Confessional and Catholic doctrine on abortion, using them as the basis for a character study of a priest facing the human consequences of his adherence to his faith. In reality it's over an hour of former priest Andrew Squires going mad and arguing with figments of his guilt-ridden imagination in a house where two of his ex-parishioners (stepfather and stepdaughter, sexually involved) killed themselves.

The ungraded video look (mysteriously framed at 2.35 like it's a real cinema film rather than a Handycam quickie) does the film no favours whenever the action takes place in the half-light, which is most of the time. Performances are of the reading-out-loud variety, the lead character is entirely charmless and uninteresting even when the film suddenly veers into slasher territory and he starts killing people, and the overwhelming impression is of a film set in which no-one had the faintest idea what the hell they were supposed to be doing. Heretic had eighteen Associate Producers, which must be some kind of a record.


Friday, 14 March 2014



Quite understandably, given the tragic death of Paul Walker last November, production of the seventh Fast And Furious film has been put on hold, leaving a huge gap in the schedules for another potential franchise of smashy-uppy car chases and gloriously insane action sequences. This videogame adaptation, frankly, isn't going to fill in the gap in the car porn genre market, and isn't fit to fill Fast And Furious 6's screenwash bottle. For all the nifty stunt work (real stunt men crashing real stunt cars, with sparing use of CGI), it is Fast Lite: even sillier, even less plausible, scoring a healthy 8.6 on the stupidometer.

The idiocies of Need For Speed start early when struggling grease monkey Tobey (Aaron Paul) accepts a job rebuilding a legendary Mustang from scratch for obvious scumbag Dino (Dominic Cooper). He's then swindled out of his percentage by Dino challenging him to a race and then cheating, leaving Tobey's brother dead and Tobey in jail. Two years later he's released with vengeance on his mind - and the best method is to violate his parole and drive from Manhattan to San Francisco in 45 hours as recklessly and dangerously as possible. This hardly seems necessary, since a glance at GoogleMaps suggests it's only a 43 hour trip without driving like a suicidal lunatic, but [1] Dino has put a bounty on Tobey's head and [2] Tobey is trying to attract the attention of barking mad Michael Keaton, organiser of the premier invitation-only illegal street race in the country, the ideal place to finally best Dino....

More implausibly, our hero is paired up with Imogen Poots as the Mustang owner's representative and who appears to be in a different film entirely, though she does get the inevitable scene where the dumb-looking blonde from England turns out to know a lot about cylinders and engine blocks and stuff, which is perhaps amusing if, like me, you can barely tell a carburettor from a distributor cap. Equally unfathomable is exactly how our hero has managed to secure that $3million car when he's just out of prison for vehicular manslaughter. Nor does it make any sense at all that Dino would not only keep his murder car from that fatal opening race, but keep the scanned invoices for its longterm storage on his unsecured, unprotected computer.

Early on, there's a scene at a drive-in cinema screening Bullitt, and the honest response is "You wish". The male leads are uninteresting, without a quarter of the charisma and presence of Steve McQueen (or indeed Vin Diesel and The Rock), the film only comes alive when it's flinging absurdly high-performance cars around like guided missiles, and even then the chase sequences themselves don't have the massive, mammoth impact that the crazier setpieces of the Fast And Furious films do. Perhaps it's unfair to keep comparing it to the Fasts, but the fact is they've set the genre bar very high and Need For Speed simply isn't up to the challenge.

Still, the physical stunt driving is impressive and, surprisingly for a film with a 130 minute running time, it doesn't drag too badly (which is not to suggest that it couldn't do with a severe trim anyway) and is never actively boring. That probably isn't enough to turn it into an annual franchise of idiots crashing sports cars into things, though. It's also yet another fake 3D post-conversion, but there is a 2D version released as well and obviously if you have to see it that's the one to go for. It's not a "must see", though, more an "everything else is full" or a "there's nothing else on": fun whenever tyres are screeching and million-dollar penis compensators are somersaulting through the air, but on the Fast and Furious scale this is Tokyo Drift: neither fast nor furious enough.


Tuesday, 11 March 2014



I'm happy to stand up and say that I liked 300, Zack Snyder's CGI-laden heavily fetishistic retelling of the Battle Of Thermopylae with little concern for scrupulous historical accuracy and much emphasis on legions of near-naked Spartans with sculpted torsos wearing nothing but sweat and leather skimpies, bellowing and laying waste to thousands of Persians. An army of Brian Blesseds from Flash Gordon, only much noisier and more ferocious. Eventually there had to be a sequel, though it's actually more a sister piece, with events taking place at much the same time as 300 but with no Gerard Butler. And while Snyder isn't the director (just a producer and co-writer), it's essentially more of the same with a similar look and feel to it and a similar fascination with big manly men with their nipples out and proud.

300: Rise Of An Empire recounts the Battle Of Salamis, in which the Persians are still invading Greece and brilliant Greek commander Themistokles (Sullivan Stapleton) is tasked with stopping Xerxes' approaching fleet. Themistokles' backstory here is that years ago he could have killed Xerxes in battle, but chose not to, and has regretted staying his hand ever since. On the other side is Artemesia, the Persians' naval commander and Xerxes' right hand, who is also on her own personal quest for revenge....

Yes: the major development here is that the villain is a woman, thereby increasing the number of significant female roles to two, since Lena Headey is back as Queen Of Sparta providing a hefty novel's worth of backstory and historical context in voiceover. Better still, Artemesia is played by Eva Green, so far over the top she can no longer even see where the top used to be. It's a spectacular piece of overacting so ripe it would be thought excessive in a pantomime for the deaf, but she gives the film a much-needed contrast from the cardboard Greeks: for all their musculature and astonishing fighting techniques there's no character to them. Lots of shouting, grunting, dismembering and dying nobly, but none of them are faintly interesting as characters.

Mysteriously this has all been entrusted to Noam Murro, whose sole feature credit so far is the intellectuals comedy Smart People: it's a little like hiring Woody Allen for a Fast And Furious movie on the strength of Blue Jasmine. But in the event it looks pretty much like 300 anyway. The whole thing is CGI'd and green screened into oblivion (and post-converted into 3D), with monsters, tidal waves and exploding barges left and right, and most of it in slow motion. All the blood spurts are unconvincing CG which look drawn on afterwards, presumably because that's what they look like in the Frank Miller comic strip even though they look rubbish on film. Even the simplest shot of two blokes on a beach is drenched in that strange soft focus that makes it look like it was shot in a beige sauna, with CG dust and ash floating artistically in the misty air. Spectacular, sure, but by the time the FX bods have been at it it has no more relation to the real world than a vintage Daffy Duck.

I'm no admirer of Snyder: I enjoyed his take on Dawn Of The Dead even though the George Romero original is one of my all-time favourite films, but Watchmen, Sucker Punch and Man Of Steel form a steep downward trend of visually flashy emptiness. 300 was a great one-off mix of homoeroticism and ludicrous cartoon violence, so merely doing it again seems pointless. More of the same, only less: it's entertaining enough in its headbanging, bludgeoning way which I definitely enjoyed, and Eva Green gives it major welly, though eventually it does get a bit wearing.


Sunday, 9 March 2014



It's been a while since I last subjected myself to Jess Franco's legendary incompetence behind the camera, and in truth there are probably only a few left on UK video that I've still not caught. Most of them, of course, have been dull, some actively offensive, a few entertainingly nasty, though they're invariably ruined by Franco being a useless director, too happy to crash zoom in and out of pubes while frantically trying to get something into focus. Occasionally things goes right and you get a She Killed In Ecstasy or a Vampyros Lesbos, but they're the exceptions in a filmography full of idiocy, shoddy technique and unappetising nudity.

99 Women, shockingly, isn't nearly as sleazy and disreputable as the usual Franco filth: it's still tacky, sordid rubbish but noticeably less repugnant than some of his other films. Considering it's a women-in-prison movie that's some kind of achievement. A variety of female criminals are sentenced to an Alcatraz-like island fortress nicknamed the Castle Of Death, ruled over by unhinged disciplinarians Mercedes McCambridge and Herbert Lom and forced to endure the usual humiliations of the genre, until a new wardress (Maria Schell) shows up with a more liberal attitude. Three of the girls decide to try and flee through the jungle to meet up with some inmates from the men's prison next door, steal a fishing boat and escape into the sunset....

Given the (relatively) bigger cast names than usual (it's always nice to see Maria Rohm) I'm wondering whether the demented old perv actually reined the filth in a bit, as there's markedly less rape, sexual violence and other atrocities going on than you'd expect, and there's some delightfully outrageous overacting from McCambridge to enjoy. But he does still manage to toss in another of his dreary X-rated cabaret sequences in which girls get their kit off in front of an audience while being artily lit in the manner of a James Bond title sequence: all coloured filters and awkward posing. Incredibly, it's been left uncut by the BBFC for the human horrors, but a minute has still been lopped out for animal cruelty.

Ex-Bond girl Luciana Paluzzi is prominently billed but doesn't do very much, and the theme song ("The Day I Was Born") gets wearing after a few plays. And the ending stinks, with a defeated Schell shipped quietly back to the mainland and the brutal regime back in command (although there is an alternative ending on the DVD where the Justice Minister shows up to sort the place out). Still, while it's not as horrible as too many other Franco films, that's no recommendation. Merely not being as offensive as, say, The Sexual Story Of O, doesn't mean 99 Women is any good at all, and it absolutely isn't.


Wednesday, 5 March 2014



Let no-one say that you don't get value for money with this bewildering adaptation of Harold Robbins' 712-page doorstopper. Lewis Gilbert, veteran of Alfie, Reach For The Sky and You Only Live Twice, one of my favourite James Bond films (he would go on to two of Roger Moore's entries in the series) crams in two massacres, execution by firing squad, child killing and a full-blown revolution in the first twenty minutes - literally the first reel. But there's still another 157 minutes of international jetsetting, murder, prostitution, politics, orgies, fashion shows and Hollywood legends uttering terrible dialogue still to go.

Indeed, The Adventurers is so full of wild soap opera insanity that you keep expecting the theme to Dallas or Dynasty to start playing every time there's a plot twist. It starts off with revolutionary Roko (Alan Badel) storming to power in a fictitious South American banana republic, and his oldest friend Xenos (Fernando Rey) made Ambassador to Italy. But Xenos' young son wants revenge against evil Gutierrez (Sydney Tafler, spelled wrong) who murdered his family. Eventually the kid grows up to be Bekim Fehmiu, still out for revenge, but left broke after his father's death. So he becomes a gigolo (earning five grand out of Olivia De Havilland alone) to earn enough money so his Russian friend can stage a fashion show. He marries the wealthiest woman in the world (Candice Bergen) so he can one day go back to South America and take his revenge...

During the intermission he's apparently married twice more, and gets inveigled into organising an aid package to his homeland where Alan Badel has now become a tyrannical despot, but crooked financier Charles Aznavour reroutes the ship so he can smuggle arms into the country for another revolution, just as bloody and violent as the first one. Our hero also meets up with the President's daughter, with whom he'd had one passionate fling years ago, and now discovers he has a son....

So it goes on (and on). Aznavour has a secret basement complete with female mannequins glued to the ceiling and a torture dungeon, Lois Maxwell has a ten-second spot as an autograph hunter, there are two fashion shows (one in a Roman arena, one in a disco). This is all galumphing tosh of the highest order: it's not wild enough to be funny but it's too absurd to take seriously. That said, it's not that terrible a film, certainly not a contender for the Golden Raspberry status it's been given in a desperate bid for some cheap laughs. It's got spectacle, great sets, a terrific cast (Fehmiu sadly excepted), and would probably have made a decent if forgettable TV miniseries shown on ITV over two or three nights. All in one sitting as a feature film, it's just too much to take, and that was when streaming it off the internet at home. I dread to think what sitting through it all in a cinema was like.




First off: despite the title, this has absolutely nothing to do with the original 2009 film The Haunting In Connecticut except that it's supposedly based on a true (albeit unconnected) story. Suggesting this is a sequel to an entirely unrelated film when its own subtitle claims otherwise is a bit like making an impenetrable art film in Tuscany and calling it A Field In England 2.Indeed, it has nothing to do with Connecticut at all, being set entirely in Georgia, and pleasingly for a horror film the absolute minimum distance between the two states is 666 miles (according to Google Earth).

So in The Haunting In Connecticut 2: Ghosts Of Georgia, an entirely different family move into an entirely different house in an entirely different state, whereupon the exact same things start to happen to them. This time the house is on a vast estate in the Deep South which was used as part of the secret route to help slaves escape to the North generations ago. But something else happened there and the restless spirits won't leave the newly arrived Wyrick family alone until their mysteries are solved....

Cue the usual horror tropes we've seen so often: faces at the window, someone/something running past the camera very quickly (why?) with that meaningless "whoomp!" sound effect and a crashing dischord from the orchestra, flickering lights, apparitions behind the door or standing off in the background. Most ludicrous is the female lead blindly refusing to accept the presence of ghosts even though [1] she sees ghosts herself, [2] she's on medication to stop seeing them, and [3] the "gift" of seeing ghosts is a long-standing ability passed down through her family for at least three generations.

Still, even if it isn't seeking to push genre boundaries or doing anything startling original or unexpected, it is a perfectly decent and well crafted Friday night rental with which to grab your girl/boyfriend's arm every time the movie yells "Boo!!!" in your ear, which is quite often. Towards the end it nudges into overkill with a spectral serial-killing taxidermist with a bag on his head in a secret underground lair full of rotting corpses, which slightly undoes the spookiness of the first half. Unremarkable fare, but well enough put together to function as an effective, efficient, middle-of-the-road horror movie.




Who could have imagined that a film of European intrigue, a legendary seductress, espionage, English actors putting on funny accents and approximately 489 shots of Sylvia Kristel's boobs could be so crushingly glum and uninteresting? Don't get me wrong, I'm not against screen nudity, but even the most perfectly structured jugs on Earth aren't enough to support a full-length feature film. At least the Emmanuelle films had tinkly Pierre Bachelet lift music scores and soft-focus travelogue footage of exotic South East Asia to enjoy once the magic of Kristel's breasts had worn off.

Mata Hari supposedly tells the true story of infamous Dutch exotic dancer and courtesan Margaretha Geertruida Zelle MacLeod (Kristel) working for German and French intelligence during the First World War, and, if we are to judge from the absence on Hari's Wikipedia page, her largely fictional love triangle with a French officer (Oliver Tobias) and a German officer (Christopher Cazenove) while foiling the fiendish Hun's plot to blow up Notre Dame Cathedral with the French Government inside. At least the bit at the end when she refuses the blindfold is apparently true.

In between there's orgies, erotic cabaret, convoluted scheming, a scene where Mata Hari has to run across No Man's Land dressed as a nurse, and much discreetly photographed humping. None of it's remotely arousing and none of it's even particularly well done. Why is that? Well, the first thing you see is the interlocking hexagonal logo of Cannon Films and screen credits for Golan and Globus. I have a nostalgic soft spot for Cannon, as they used to run my local cinema back in the late 1980s, but even so you'd be hard pressed to honestly claim that more than a few of their numerous productions were actually any good. Much of it was utter tat and Mata Hari is one of the tattiest.

Presumably the idea was to make another apparently prestige softcore porn movie after Kristel's version of Lady Chatterley's Lover: all period cars, cumbersome underwear and tasteful shagging with a couple of recognisable name actors in there to prove it's a proper film and not just for the grubby raincoat brigade. It didn't work there and it doesn't work here either. Maybe it would have been in bad taste to turn it into a romping sex farce, but treated with the soft-focus respect of a proper serious film, it's dull, miserable and dead on the screen.




Beyond unforgivable, this Church-versus-demons horror effort is a barely professional piece of incompetent garbage, badly made and atrociously acted by people who are either utterly clueless about the mechanics of film-making technique or who simply don't give a damn one way or another. With the general mood of a particularly desperate daytime soap opera and the production values of gonzo pornography, sub-Asylum special effects that have been apparently pasted from a 1980s videogame in Microsoft Paint and a couple of name stars (who on this evidence will do absolutely anything for money) who throw the gaping void of the rest of the cast into sharp relief, it's one of the very worst items to plod through my DVD player in a long time: in recent months only A Haunted House has beaten it for misery value.

The basic idea (if that's not too strong a word, and let's be honest, it is) behind The Cloth is that there's a secret ass-kicking wing of the Catholic Church devoted to fighting demons. For no good reason, they decide to recruit an angry cardboard cutout of Hayden Christensen into their order, give him some tricksy guns and grenades full of holy water and send him out to stop Beelzebub from bringing Hell to Earth in the next seven days, accompanied only by a priest/mentor and a virginal cute librarian who somehow manages to resist out hero's clunking chat-up techniques. Eric Roberts is a senior priest who may or may not be on Satan's side; it's hard to care by that point. Oh, and they've got a demon/human hybrid thing chained up in their secret base which gives them useful information. You'd think that with Satan all set to walk the Earth the Catholic Church could put up than four people (one of whom is a hopeless idiot) in the defence of all Mankind, but no.

Events kick off with Danny Trejo exorcising a woman in scenes which have nothing to do with the rest of the movie; Trejo wisely buggers off before the opening credits which actually put his name after the director's. Satan's minion is played by the director in the cheapest Halloween costume left on the shelf, and would have been laughed off the screen in the Sylvester McCoy era of Doctor Who's giant liquorice allsort monsters. The actual image is apparently sourced from a Red camera, which suggests the Red has a button to make everything look like cheap American television from the 1980s; honestly, it could scarcely have looked worse if shot on VHS.

Put bluntly, it's unacceptable. It's not unreasonable for a paying audience to expect a basic standard of competence and professionalism in return for the rental fee and even if you somehow got it for free it's still going to shortchange you. And it's insulting to think that someone out there either thought this was good enough to go out to the public, or thought that it didn't matter because horror fans will watch any old rubbish. It's not enough that everyone involved should be ashamed of themselves; everyone involved should be roundly and soundly slapped several times and instructed never to do that again. Even if they were just doing the catering. Avoid, avoid, avoid.