Monday, 28 September 2015



There aren't, perhaps surprisingly, many horror Westerns. A quick online search revealed a handful of borderline candidates - Westworld, Near Dark, Tremors - but they're all set in the present day; period examples might include Ravenous or Ginger Snaps Unleashed. But if the horror Western is a rare beast, then rarer still is the horror Western made in England: specifically the full-size authentic reproduction town of Laredo (as seen in Red Dwarf's Emmy-winning episode Gunmen Of The Apocalypse, among other TV and film credits). In a comedy like Red Dwarf, or Carry On Cowboy, such details don't really matter, but if there's one thing that gives the location game away, it's the surrounding foliage: those forests are quite clearly British and not American. (For some reason, the same sense doesn't seem to apply if it's shot in Spain.)

In its early stages Blood Moon (originally shown in one of the Discovery Screens at FrightFest in 2014) does feel a bit wobbly and those obviously British woodland locations give the film a peculiar atmosphere, but once the sun goes down it gets a lot better. It's Colorado in 1887 and the notorious Norton Brothers have just robbed the bank and hightailed it out of town. Meanwhile the stagecoach is heading towards them carrying an assortment of interesting characters: a Deputy Marshal and his new bride, a sardonic madame, a no-nonsense gunslinger with a secret, a reporter for the London Times (scarcely old enough to have left his mother).... But there's something else out there: a skinwalker, a Navajo spirit "that kills in the light of the blood moon". To you and me, it's a werewolf.

Much of the second half of the film, where the travellers are besieged overnight in a (metaphorical) ghost town, with the beast outside and the Norton Brothers inside, is a lot better, though there's the constant threat of sexual violence which puts an unnecessarily ugly spin on proceedings. It also means there's a huge chunk of time where there isn't any skinwalker action. But the use of prosthetics and physical effects rather than computer effects helps (though it's augmented with CGI in post-production), as does keeping the beast out of clear view for the most part, and when it does show up it's a well-designed creation. It looks pretty good, especially in the second half (the DP cited the look of The Assassination Of Jesse James... as an inspiration), most of the cast - from as far afield as New South Wales and Barnsley - put on decent American accents and it's clear that everyone's having a good time and not taking things too seriously.

So Blood Moon is an enjoyable little curiosity (given that the whole thing was shot 20 minutes from the Dartford Tunnel): not perfect, nothing special and a bit shaky early on, but generally perfectly okay. As a British werewolf Western it's in a very small niche of its own, which might be way it's going straight to DVD (along with the majority of horrors these days, good and bad) although it's also getting a tiny travelling cinema release, handily timed to coincide with the actual astronomical Blood Moon. The DVD comes with eight brief behind-the-scenes featurettes.


Sunday, 27 September 2015



This must have been what it was like in 1969, when On Her Majesty's Secret Service came out and James Bond wasn't in it. Instead of James Bond 007, there was this Australian bloke we'd never heard of who didn't look, sound or act remotely like James Bond, and it doesn't matter how many ski chases and fights and explosions and helicopters and mountains and girls and gadgets and one-liners there are, that's not James Bond on the screen. History has allowed us to re-evaluate OHMSS, and many now consider it one of the best Bonds, and perhaps this George Lazenby guy wasn't quite so bad after all.

In 46 years time, though, it's probably unlikely we'll be re-evaluating this one. The Transporter Refuelled (the fourth in the series, unless this is supposed to be a reboot rather than just another instalment) is a typically glossy product from the Luc Besson action stable: picturesque French locations, glamorous babes, hateful Eastern European villains, ludicrous car stunts, martial arts sequences where the lone hero beats up half a dozen lowlifes. Frank Martin (now played by Ed Skrein) is hired for a simple driving job - except that the three bewigged lovelies he's ferrying around are executing a brutal revenge on their Balkan scumbag ganglords: robbing them blind, pitting them against each other and bringing their whole empires down. And they've roped Frank's Dad (Ray Stevenson) into the scheme as well...

George Lazenby's crime wasn't that he wasn't James Bond, it was that he wasn't Sean Connery. In exactly the same way, Ed Skrein's crime is that he isn't Jason Statham; in exactly the same way you might watch OHMSS and wonder what it would have been like with Connery, you can't help but imagine what The Transporter Refuelled would be like if The Stath was still playing the part. Probably awesome, and the Statham-shaped hole in the middle of the movie can't be ignored. It's not Ed Skrein's fault, obviously. And even without Statham the film is a perfectly decent, extraordinarily silly piece of shooty fighty kicky punchy with lots of screeching tyres and blokes lamping one another.

To be honest I enjoyed it more than I'd expected, and I liked it more than The Transporter 3 (though the first film in the series is still the best). Even if it's basically nothing more than a feature length Audi commercial, it's still a solidly entertaining hundred minutes or so of thumping fights and chases that's never dull and might well set up further sequels. Whether that'll allow Skrein to grow into the role, make it his own in the way that, say, Roger Moore did, time will tell. Fun anyway.




Yet again, yet again, yet another cheap CGI shark movie hits the shelves, and it's now reached the point where they're not even bothering to pretend they're not ripping Jaws at every opportunity. Play the CGI shark movie drinking game, by downing a tequila slammer every time someone drops an unnecessary Jaws reference, and you'll be passing out before you can say "you're gonna need a bigger boat". From "smile, you son of a bitch" to "beaches closed for 24 hours", and actually naming a character Sheriff Martin (after Martin Brody), such sub-Tarantino nerdy movie referencing demonstrates nothing other than the makers have actually seen Jaws several times.

What it emphatically fails to demonstrate, however, is that they've learned anything from watching Jaws several times. Things like acting, directing, character and effects work are all pretty functional and basic: they do the job and no more. If Ghost Shark is really no worse than Shark Attack 3, Shark In Venice, Mega Shark Vs Giant Octopus, Shark Night and the rest of the template quickies, it's scarcely significantly better, though it is certainly a lot sillier. This time around the shark is killed very quickly, but a mysterious cave brings it back as a translucent glowing blue spectre which can appear in any amount of water: a lavatory (obviously), a car wash, a swimming pool, a bath, a rainstorm...And only the town drunk (Richard Moll), crazed with guilt over the death of his wife, can save the town.

Making the shark into a ghost handily defuses one of the central objections to the last seventy-odd shark-based B-movies: that the shark effects are rubbish and look like they've been pasted in with Letraset transfers. Here it's not even supposed to look like a real shark, so why complain that it doesn't? Still, while it is obviously utter twaddle and no-one's idea of a great movie, it's good-natured and throwaway enough to prevent you getting too cross about, even though they kill off a surprising number of blameless children throughout which is usually a step too far over the bad taste line. The principal teens aren't hateful, events move along speedily enough to stop the movie getting dull, and it's only 84 minutes long which is exactly the right length for this sort of Friday night rental.

Really, the only problem with Ghost Shark is that it is just yet another silly CGI shark movie, and as long as people keep renting them, they'll keep making them, dropping sharks randomly into ever more unlikely scenarios. We've had Dinoshark, Sand Sharks, Sharknado, Two-Headed Shark Attack, Jurassic Shark... how long before Sharks In Space, Sharks In My Wardrobe and Once Upon A Shark In The West? Enough with the sharks, please: the well is long dry and it's really time to try something else.




Technology marches on. Film budgets have pretty much dropped to the point where even I could finance a movie or two without troubling my bank manager, thanks to the increased accessibility of a professional standard of equipment. These days every mobile phone has an HD video camera built into it, editing and effects can be all done on a reasonably powerful laptop, and even a professional-sounding music score can be constructed from pre-recorded library tracks with inexpensive software. So now you or I can produce a decent looking full-length feature on the kind of resources that make The Evil Dead look like Marvel Avengers Assemble. For pocket change financing, the British zombie movie Colin is probably still the record holder at a practically non-existent $70 (£42), but even with an absence of shuffling extras and undead makeup effects, Shawn Holmes' tricksy science-fiction fantasy still wrings every one of its paltry reported three hundred dollars dry. Unfortunately it isn't enough, and while Memory Lane certainly has a solid and intriguing premise, the production simply needed more.

That central premise basically involves returned soldier Nick Boxer killing himself after his kooky new fiancee died of an apparent suicide. But in those few seconds with her in the afterlife, before he's resuscitated by his army buddies, he realises she may have been murdered. And the only way to solve the crime is to revisit her in the hope it will trigger forgotten memories and lead him to her killer, by killing himself repeatedly and trusting his comrades to revive him just in time to bring him back to the real world, Flatliners style. With a bath of ice and an array of light bulbs, he electrocutes himself to revisit the past, looking for that one clue...

The main problem with Memory Lane certainly isn't the idea, rather it's that the meagre resources simply can't do justice to it. A significant problem is sound: either the recording or the mix itself, with too much of the (mumbled) dialogue lost under the cut-and-paste music score, some of which crucially obscured a key plot moment. Frankly even clearer diction (which costs nothing) would have helped! I even played the disc on two players, with no noticeable difference between them. The end result is frustration more than anything else: everything works perfectly well, but it just needed better rendering. Maybe this is all making it sound like I didn't like Memory Lane, which isn't the case: I did, I just wish I had liked it more.

Still, what you certainly can't accuse them of is stinting on the DVD release, which is a 2-disc goldmine of extras that put the likes of many a high-priced studio blockbuster release to shame. Perhaps surprisingly, given the wealth of bonus features, there are no subtitles! But Disc 2 boasts audition tapes, test footage, two short films, deleted bits and pieces, as well as the original screenplay in PDF format (this last helping enormously to clear up a couple of issues that I didn't entirely catch in the film itself).




Yet another Dracula film. And yet another one that's actually got very little to do with Bram Stoker, instead randomly shuffling a handful of his established character names into an all-new story. That's not a bad strategy, really: the Dracula tale is a particularly well-worn warhorse that's been done to death over the decades by everyone from Hammer to Universal, from the BBC to the Carry Ons, from Mel Brooks to Jess Franco, so there isn't very much meat left on the original bones for anyone else to have a crack.

The generically-titled Dracula: The Dark Prince (not to be confused with Hammer's Dracula: Prince Of Darkness, obviously, or even Dark Prince: The Legend Of Dracula, in which Roger Daltrey plays the King of Hungary) kicks off in 1453 with the Count (Luke Edwards) turning, Anakin-like, to the dark side when his beloved is slain by his most trusted guards while he's away fighting. Years later, a couple of women are captured in the Transylvanian forest by a passing troupe of bandits - but they're carrying the legendary Lightbringer, a vampire-killing superweapon that can only be wielded by those of the Cain bloodline, to the equally legendary vampire killer Van Helsing (Academy Award-winner Jon Voight). Dracula's minions spirit one of the girls away because she might be the reincarnation of his long-lost love: can her ragtag crew of friends sneak into his invisible fortress and rescue her?

Vampires stopped being genuinely scary long before the Twilight saga turned them into twinkly romantics flitting around the autumnal woodlands in broad daylight rather than the hellish blood-drinking demons they should rightly be - there should be a downside to immortality and looking really cool. Pearry Reginald Tao really isn't the man to redress the balance, though to be fair this is leagues better than his terrible Necromentia and The Evil Inside. It's not murkily under-photographed like Tao's films usually are, it generally moves quickly enough to stop being dull, and the story isn't overcomplicated into his typical head-trip nonsense.

This is Bram Stoker's story in the way that the film of Moonraker is Ian Fleming's story: they've kept three character names and a bit of backstory, and thrown pretty much everything else away. Renfield, for example, is no longer a bug-eating lunatic but the Count's urbane Chancellor and Mr Fixit. There's also a touch more nudity than you expect these days, with Drac's harem of vampire brides: I don't particularly object to it, but it does feel like something that films just don't do any more. And the Bloodline Of Cain plot device markes no sense - isn't that Adam and Eve's bloodline, and therefore everyone's? In the end Dracula: The Dark Prince is a decent enough evening's rental, perhaps not for Stoker purists but passes 95 minutes relatively painlessly. Sadly, these days that's practically a commendation rather than the bare minimum you should expect.




Well, first off, the actual on-screen title is Found., with a full stop, but in the interests of not having to fiddle around with the word processor's auto-capitalization settings I'll just refer to it as Found for simplicity's sake. Secondly, despite that title, it's mercifully not a found-footage movie, a genre which I could quite happily never see again.

Found is actually a smart and intriguing low-budget horror which starts with the terrific opening line: "My brother keeps a severed head in a sports bag in his wardrobe." And it's not imagination or exaggeration: he really does. Is young Marty's big brother Steve really a serial killer? And why? But for stretches the film leaves that idea alone, focussing on Marty's interest in creating a superhero comicbooks and watching sadistic horror movies that are spectacularly unsuitable for his age. (It's a nice whiff of nostalgia to see they're all on VHS tapes.) But sooner or later Steve will reveal his real self in Marty's defence, cueing a bloody (though largely unseen) finale of wanton violence

It's nice to see a movie treading the line between silly horror movies like the cheap videos Marty watches and the raw, real bloody horror of Found's last reel. The made-up horrors of Deep Dwellers (a tacky monster movie in the vein of Humanoids From The Deep) and Headless (an extreme slasher full of torture and eye-eating that's more in the style of Andreas Schnass' repugnant Violent ****) are certainly hideous and revolting, but they're just stupid entertainments and nowhere near as shocking as Steve's real (within the context of the film) actions at the end. The idea is that Marty will probably be more traumatised by those acts that he hasn't seen but which happened in his real world, rather than the leering gore and mutilation he devours in unsuitable horror films he's nowhere near old enough to see.

The movie-in-a-movie excesses of Headless certainly wouldn't have got through the UK censors at the time of the film's setting, and indeed would probably have placed in the top third of the video nasties list, but today's more enlightened BBFC have let those scenes pass unscathed while trimming four seconds from the "real" film: specifically sight of an erection during a "scene of sadistic sexualised violence and threat". To be honest, if you didn't know it had been edited, you probably couldn't tell, and the BBFC's tinkering around the edges of horror movies no longer bothers me, especially when it's within scenes of violent sexual behaviour involving, or in the proximity of, young children. (Or even when children aren't involved at all.)

For the most part it's an interesting little film of the pains of growing up, dealing with parents and bullies and escaping into fantasy worlds, with some flavourings of homophobia in the school bullies and casual racism from Steve and Dad. To some extent the genuine horror of the finale slightly overbalances the tone of the rest of the movie, but it's well played, well made on a ludicrously low budget and nicely effective.


Wednesday, 23 September 2015



Oh, this looks good: I'm always up for a spot of science fiction. Alternative speculative versions of history where this happened instead of that, when so-and-so won that war instead of losing it, when that bloke became king instead of the other bloke. What would life in the year 2015 be like if the Roman Empire had never fallen, if the continents had never split, if the dinosaurs hadn't been wiped out, if Africa had colonised Europe? In this specific instance: what would happen to humanity if the Renaissance never happened?

Hard To Be A God takes place on a distant planet named Arkanar, where a human species is developing along Earth lines and is approaching the Renaissance, and a team of Earth scientists are there to witness it. Except that it doesn't look to be taking place on schedule: rather than embracing science and ideas, it looks to be rejecting enlightenment and instead sliding backwards into medieval barbarism (imagine a planet of first-series Baldricks just grubbing about in the dirt and babbling, with no Blackadders to look up to) so maybe the team should kickstart it and give this alternative humanity a prod in the right direction?

That preference for passive observation over active intervention is of course one of the main tenets of the Time Lords; indeed there's a very good Tom Baker story, The Masque Of Mandragora, in which an alien entity seeks to prevent the Renaissance and permanently sap mankind's energies and ambitions. Hard To Be A God seems to focus on one of the scientists who has apparently gone native and, rather than guide the Arkanar people to the future, appears to be heading back to the Dark Ages with them. I say "apparently", "seems to" and "appears to" because Hard To Be A God is not a film that's big on clear plot and narrative. What it's definitely big on, though, is misery. Misery, squalor, rain, despair, mud, ugliness, filth, rain, shit, grime, blood, cruelty, dirt and death. I cannot recall a film so utterly downbeat, so resolutely draining of all glimmers of hope and joy and life.

I suppose I should mention that it's in black and white, which puts it squarely in the arthouse box and emphatically not for anyone looking for a good night at the pictures or a fun Friday rental. I suppose I should also mention that it's Russian, so parallels are likely to be drawn with Tarkovsky's lethally slow SF epics Solaris and Stalker (the original novels of Hard To Be A God and Stalker were both written by the same brothers), equally miserable and depressing films which are equally unwilling to let the audience in. And finally I should point out that Hard To Be A God runs for a scratch under three hours, and your brain and backside both will be fully aware of every punishing minute.

On the plus's gorgeously photographed, and the long takes give the film a kind of dreamlike feeling (helped in this by the absence of music save for the occasional sax solo). But it's just damned hard work and the fact that it looks fantastic is small compensation.Indeed, it may be that the German adaptation of the source novel from 1989 might be a better choice for an actual story (I discovered this other version while seeking out the trailer on YouTube, because I wanted to know how the hell you're supposed to sell this thing to an audience). It certainly looks more accessible and less difficult and according to the IMDb has Werner Herzog in it.

But I did make it to the end. I won. And now pretty much any movie is going to be a cakewalk in comparison; after Hard To Be A God the bar has been lowered and I feel I could now watch anything. I have no more fear of the worst that Adam Sandler, Al Adamson or Michael Bay have to offer: I have looked misery square in the eye and survived; I don't want to do it ever again, but at least I know I can.


Friday, 18 September 2015



Generally speaking, I'm in favour of dumb airliner disaster movies. Obviously the Airport movies figure large (four standalone movies of increasing silliness groaning under the weight of megastar casts, and linked only by the great George Kennedy's troubleshooter-turned-pilot) but the formula of assorted passengers' personal crises mixed with terrifying external threat has given us everything from Snakes On A Plane (snakes) to Passenger 57 (terrorists, Liz Hurley) to Flight Of The Living Dead (zombies) to Left Behind (the Rapture). There are loads of them, and 1997's Turbulence (Ray Liotta as a serial killer) was an efficiently nasty exploitation thriller that was neither the best nor the worst.

Turbulence II: Fear Of Flying is an entirely unrelated movie in which Czech terrorists attempt to use a 747 to bring in a consignment of nerve gas and detonate it over US soil (the same fiendish plot as Executive Decision). What the bad guys don't know is that the flight is being used as therapy for a bunch of aviophobics including Jennifer Beals and Craig Sheffer. What they also don't know is someone else is after the nerve gas for themselves, and that someone is a bungling incompetent who consistently arses up his own plan. Meanwhile Tom Berenger is in charge of Air Traffic Control, where storms are diverting flights and closing airports and the FBI and FAA are arguing about when they can shoot the plane down....

It's a desperate dramatic contrivance that one of the phobics just happens to be able to translate for the terrorists, since they don't speak English and the other bad guy doesn't speak Czech (she doesn't speak Czech either, but Polish, which is apparently close enough). It's even more contrived that another of the phobics just happens to be a genius aeronautics engineer who can MacGyver his way through the cargo bay rewiring and bypassing things, completely forgetting he's supposed to be terrified of being on the plane in the first place. Less handy is the dodgy CGI that surely didn't look any good at the time (it was made in 1999) and really looks terrible now. In truth it's rubbish, but it's enjoyable and entertaining rubbish that reaches a fine level of monumental idiocy and maintains it throughout.




Sometimes I really do wonder if my humour chip wasn't welded in upside down before I left the factory. I mean, it's not as though I never laugh - watching old editions of Mock The Week and QI can while away a lonely evening quite enjoyably - but I confess myself utterly baffled at the antics of supposed comedy giants like Seth Rogen and Will Ferrell. Am I not getting the jokes, or am I getting them but not thinking they're funny in any way, shape, or form?

Admittedly it's a huge leap - culturally, stylistically and geographically - from the uninspired clowning of This Is The End and Anchorman 2 to the miserablist Scandinavian Comedy Of Despair, but in the case of Roy Andersson's A Pigeon Sat On A Branch Reflecting On Existence it's not that I don't get the jokes; rather it's that I don't think there are any actual jokes to get. APSOABROE (it's easier to type) is a portmanteau film which consists of 39 largely unconnected vignettes, each filmed in one take from an unblinking, static camera. There are a few recurring characters, most notably a bickering pair of aging novelty salesmen peddling things like plastic vampire teeth, and a few recurring locations such as a cafe in wartime, but many of the segments could play in any order and it wouldn't make any difference.

But it's not just the unwavering gaze of the camera or the lack of any empathy with the characters (or indeed the lack of any characters with which to empathise); it's the absence of any actual laughs which makes APSOABROE such a dreary, lifeless plod. It all feels like a discarded edition of Monty Python from which every single joke, sight gag and (most crucially) punchline has been ruthlessly excised. It's all "knock knock" and never "who's there"; all horses walking into bars but never any barmen asking why the long face. It's like watching a porn movie with no sex, just an endless series of moustachioed plumbers arriving to unblock the sink. That's no fun and neither is this.

The title, which at least ensures you're not going to get it confused with anything else on HMV's shelves, is accurate in the sense that there is a pigeon, but it's actually stuffed and nailed to the branch and is therefore dead, so it's only reflecting on the inside of the glass case in which it's trapped for eternity, presumably in the Grand Central Museum Of Bugger All. Traces of potential humour do surface, such as the thorny conundrum of whether anyone would want a meal that another customer has paid for but has dropped dead before eating it, but it just never goes anywhere. This is apparently the third in a trilogy, the other two instalments of which I have absolutely no interest in seeing.




I'm a sucker for space movies. More or less anything set in a space station, experimental moonbase, cargo craft or mining colony, anything involving airlocks and clanky metal corridors: that's the kind of ambience and atmosphere that gets me sitting through drivel like Leprechaun 4, and that makes me really wish I'd seen Shockwave Darkside when it played FrightFest and promptly disappeared. You could make pretty much the exact same films, but set on a submarine or an Arctic research lab or the Northern Line, and for some reason I wouldn't be quite as excited.

If it's hard to maintain the faith in the light of a film as thoroughly useless as Dracula 3000: Infinite Darkness, then Space Fury isn't going to help. It's a very cheap Canadian space movie which starts off as a whodunnit before realising that there's only one possible suspect, and turns into a bog-standard shouty nutjob thriller with abysmal special effects (even for 1999; they would shame the McCoy era of Doctor Who). Scientist Michael Pare treks out to an international space station with a billionaire golfer and space tourist (Tony Curtis Blondell) to do some zero-gravity experiments with microlasers or something; there are only two people on the station so surely neither of them can be the mystery killer that Moscow police are investigating....

Once it's established that Pare's the murderer (it's no spoiler, Miss Marple's pet hamster could figure that one out), there suddenly seems no sense in reining anything in so Pare becomes a bellowing, ranting lunatic who wants to destroy the space station he's standing on by crashing it into the Earth; meanwhile token babe Lisa Bingley, who gets them out for absolutely no narrative reason whatsoever beyond "phwoooar", runs around like Ripley (except not) trying to get the escape pod started and going back for the billionaire golfer instead of the cat. The highpoint, if you can call it that, has a bunch of boffins back on Earth trying to figure out how to repair the space station, like that scene in Apollo 13, while someone literally vacuums the set in the background so they all have to speak up. Rubbish, and not in a good way.


Wednesday, 9 September 2015



Confession: I don't get death metal. I don't like it, I don't listen to it, I don't understand it. That's not to denigrate death metal or those who do like it: it's like marzipan or Richard Curtis romcoms in that there are those who like these things and those who don't, it's all subjective and no-one is wrong. That I can't tell the difference between death metal, heavy metal, sludge metal, black metal, speed metal, brute metal and Viking metal* is entirely a reflection on me and my tastes, and not the music.

So I'd pretty much expected a film called Deathgasm, in which a bunch of spotty outcasts and high school rejects get together to thrash out the Devil's music at maximum volume, to be an intolerable nihilistic shriek of despair and angsty whining in between indecipherable bellowing to a thudding percussion line. What a pleasant surprise, then, to find it's actually a sweet, funny and light horror comedy which occupies that same nerdy horror comedy niche as Dance Of The Dead, where the weirdo kids that nobody likes end up saving the day (admittedly after they've caused the demonic infestation in the first place by inadvertently performing a Satanic invocation from a piece of sheet music).

It also has that absurdly unrealistic teen wish-fulfilment subplot in which the whiny adolescent weirdo hooks up with an unfeasibly glamorous "normal" girl who would in real life be completely unattainable to anyone but the quarterback and the class president (see also the Transformers movies in which Shia LaBoeuf of all people gets to cop off with walking boner machines Megan Fox and Rosie Huntingdon-Whiteley). In this case the tentative relationship is rather sweet and allows for childish friction between the Brotherhood Of Steel, as the two leads have dubbed themselves. Deathgasm isn't a masterpiece and it gets silly from time to time, notably in the enthusiastic gore scenes (practical rather than CGI) when it goes for gags like death by sex aid, but mostly it's surprisingly light and engaging and I enjoyed it far more than I thought I would. Still not bothered about the Various Artists soundtrack album (including the likes of Nunslaughter and Axeslasher, apparently) though!


* One or more of these may be made up.

Friday, 4 September 2015



There are several ways to make a tribute movie to the prized horrors you grew up with and now wish to pay homage to. Slavish imitation and mimicry and fanboy injokes are all very well, and can be good fun, but it's much harder - and much more rewarding to watch - to go for the mood, the atmosphere, and to pull off the even more difficult feat of nodding to the occasional silliness of the original sources without ever being deliberately silly itself. One of my very favourite films on show in this year's FrightFest, We Are Still Here manages that trick with great style and emerges as a glorious love letter to wonky Eurohorror of the 70s and 80s (specifically Lucio Fulci), and achieved that delicious (and all too rare) feat of sending me mentally back in time to the old Scala Cinema for afternoons of The House By The Cemetery and The Beyond.

Following the death of their grown-up son, middle-aged couple Paul and Anne Sacchetti (Andrew Sensenig, Barbara Crampton) relocate to a wintry small town to start afresh. But wouldn't you know: the house used to be the property of mad mortician Dagmar, and no-one's told them about the curse, the sacrifice, the ghosts, the spooky cellar. It takes their best friends, stoner Jacob and medium May (Larry Fessenden, Lisa Marie) to set the spirits loose....

At least naming the couple Sachetti after veteran Italian genre screenwriter Dardano is a higher (and less distracting) calibre of hat-tipping than obvious drop-ins for the likes of Sheriff Romero and Professor Argento, though "Joe The Electrician" is at most a first cousin of The Beyond's "Joe The Plumber". Much of the joy of the film is how it captures the look and feel of Fulci's horrors: the film has a pleasing 70s aura to it with period cars and a welcome absence of Google and cellphones, as well as shots that seem deliberately crafted after The Beyond. And it's nice to have the occasional horror film that's deliberately skewed to older, more mature characters rather than half-dressed teenagers jiggling about the place.

I loved We Are Still Here: as pin-sharp a replica of style and mood as Ti West's House Of The Devil was of old American TV-movie chillers. But it scores as a damn scary horror movie in its own right as well as a love letter to Lucio. There's a decent amount of gore, it looks great, and the spectres themselves are superbly effective silhouette figures (modelled after the ghosts in John Carpenter's The Fog) and their appearances well timed for maximum jump value. It's also very creepy, with that delightful can't-look-must-look feeling kicking in every time someone goes stumbling around in the basement. Sure there are bits that don't appear to make sense, but a Lucio Fulci homage that makes sense makes about as much sense as a Lucio Fulci movie anyway! Terrific in pretty much every department, and I want to see it again.




Is there a director more wildly variable and unpredictable than Takashi Miike? You never know what he's going to come up with next: cannibal musicals, surreal gangster movies, genuinely unsettling stories of obsession, bonkers live-action kids' cartoons, daft supernatural teen horrors, samurai epics, cardboard westerns, or just plain filth. When he's good he's very good, but when he's bad he's Gozu - when he's controlled or restrained (whether by the formula he's working to, by his own inclinations or by a producer's firm hand on his shoulder) he can be extraordinary but when he's just given free rein the results can become unbearable.

Happily, Over Your Dead Body is one of his best ones: a story of adultery and death played not just as a theatrical presentation of an ancient folk tale currently being rehearsed by actors, but unconsciously (?) mirrored by the same actors in their "real" lives. This spilling over of fiction into reality is actually pretty gripping and mostly well put together, though there were a few moments towards the end where I lost the thread of events, and Miike does put in one truly horrible sequence of self-administered violence which I wasn't sure was entirely justified.

That squirm moment aside, I was very pleasantly surprised by Over Your Dead Body. I have some inexplicable fondness for backstage movies anyway (unless they're musicals, of course) and the vast and detailed revolving set used for the group's rehearsals is an impressive location for the performance. It's not quite as good as the still-astonishing Audition, but it's easily one of Miike's best films and leagues better than his tiresome yakuza films. A bit like Noises Off! (well, maybe not much) but with blood and no laughs, this is well worth tracking down - it's already over a year old and sadly shows no sign as yet of making it to UK screens. I liked it a lot.




To borrow a quote the last but one incarnation of the increasingly tiresome (and now unwatchable) Doctor Who, this is a "fish fingers and custard" movie. Two, or in this instance three, perfectly enjoyable ingredients that are more than fine on their own but simply don't gel when put into the same saucepan. And just as I like licorice allsorts, baked beans and marzipan individually but wouldn't want them all at one go, I'm perfectly happy with 1980s post-nuke B-movie silliness, outrageous splatter or family-friendly action films about kids on bikes. But Not In The Same Movie.

That's not to suggest Turbo Kid isn't entertaining; it's just that the wildly disparate ingredients didn't work for me when spliced together. (I do accept that I'm in the minority on this as the film went down spectacularly well at FrightFest.) A comicbook-obsessed kid (Munro Chambers) survives in the apocalyptic wasteland by scavenging scrap in return for clean drinking water; into his life comes an initially annoying Manic Pixie Nutter Girl named Apple (Laurence Lebouef) with a secret of her own, a tough champion arm-wrestler dressed like Indiana Jones known as Cowboy (Aaron Jeffrey) and monstrously evil one-eyed water supplier Zeus (Michael Ironside)....

If you can imagine a genial PG13-rated kids' adventure movie in which everyone's scooting around in quarries on BMX bikes (there's no oil) mixed with those dumbo Mad Max knock-offs that proliferated around 1980 (The New Barbarians, Warriors Of The Lost World), in which every so often everything stops for rampaging splatter and bloodshed more akin to the likes of Tokyo Gore Police. That vast shift in tone means it's too cutesy for the gorehounds but too graphic for the BMX kids. Which (again) is not to say that I didn't have some fun with it; it is weirdly enjoyable and full of surprises, but I spent a godo chunk of the time wondering what the point was and who it was aimed at. A curiosity.




Teens are horrible, right? Sure they look hot with their shirts off, or parading around in jailbait bikinis or other midriff-baring ensembles, but they're stupid, foul-mouthed and shallow and they have no respect for anyone but themselves and their immediate cliques. The girls are all empty-headed wastes of space, the boys are all bullies and leering pervs, and they all want to drink themselves senseless, get meaninglessly laid, take tons of drugs and PARTY!!!!!! At least that's the way they seem in way too many horror movies: obnoxious, unthinking hedonists, bellowing idiots and so thuddingly tiresome that you're very quickly on the side of whatever demon, ghost or homicidal maniac is after them. (Sometimes a film like It Follows, or a frankly unremarkable movie like Ouija, shows up with actually likeable human beings as the lead characters, and you feel like cheering.)

Marcus Nispel already has form in this area: his remake / reboot / reimagining / whatever of Friday The 13th boasted such an array of unpleasant yahoos that you just got increasingly angry with Jason Voorhees for not sticking a machete in their hollow skulls a hell of a lot quicker. The Asylum continues the trend with a bunch of teenagers holding a PARTY!!!!!! in an abandoned asylum which was closed decades ago after serious cases of cruelty to children. Now it's being cleared out and renovated by the Church, but it'll be empty for the weekend so it's a great opportunity to have some illicit fun. But the morning after, when most of them have (mercifully) gone home, the last half dozen continue to hang out there - until a drunken levitation ritual goes badly wrong and one of their number is possessed by the angry spirit of a particularly abused and mistreated child....

From there, things go from bad to worse with the sudden arrival of a groundskeeper with a shotgun (he doesn't last long), a desperate stab at an exorcism, much running around the abandoned building, a session with a makeshift ouija board, gore, a twist ending that (surprise!) doesn't seem to make sense, and lots of shrieking, swearing and shouting. In truth, once the hordes of dumbass PARTY!!!!!! idiots have gone home to bed, the film does pick up noticeably, with better use of the location, occasional traces of knowing humour such as the DIY Exorcism website which is basically a Flash animation of highlights of The Exorcist, and the tedium of the first part of the film is replaced by a quiet satisfaction as the young whiners and blowhards get what's coming to them. Meanwhile a potential subplot about backmasking (hiding secret messages backwards in rock music) is mentioned once and then forgotten, which makes a nonsense of the original alternative title Backmask (which is emblazoned on the front of the DVD but appears nowhere on screen).

It's been said that "there's a lot of Shawshank before you get to the Redemption", and the deciding factor for that movie is whether you think the Redemption is worth all the Shawshank you have to get through. (Me, I absolutely think it is.) But in the case of The Asylum I don't think the relative pleasures of the less horrendous second half are really worth ploughing through the subhuman antics of the first. Occasionally quite nasty, impossible to care about and no significant improvement on Marcus Nispel's other horror offerings, but you've seen a lot worse and fairly low expectations will be more or less met.