Tuesday, 24 November 2015



If you were to go back to 2010 and make a list of all the year's movies that were likely to get a sequel, then Tekken would not, let's be honest, be in the top three quarters of that list. You can understand doing sequels to Kick-Ass, The Expendables or Insidious, but the idea of further instalments of Tekken is like the idea of further instalments of I Spit On Your Grave or Hot Tub Time Machine: who the hell is asking for them? Who even bothered to see the first Tekken movie (apart from me, obviously)?

Nevertheless, they've gone and made Tekken 2: Kazuya's Revenge anyway: they've ditched the whole martial arts tournament structure and instead gone for the amnesiac assassin routine, with ludicrous results. A man (Kane Kosugi) wakes up in a hotel: he doesn't know who or where he is but when a battalion of heavily armed badasses show up he suddenly discovers that he's very good at fighting. Captured, he's named K and forcibly recruited into the assassin ranks of The Minister (Rade Serbedzija), a cult leader with a small army of colourful killers at his command, taking out the bad guys in the slums around Tekken City. K rises through the ranks but when he discovers that The Minister is actually the biggest bad guy and he's been using K to wipe out his enemies, he goes rogue and tries to track down his past....

The biggest con in Tekken 2 is that it's only the lead-up to an as-yet unmade Tekken 3 in which our hero presumably gets to take on the supreme villain behind everything: his own father and ruler of Tekken City (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, who's barely in the movie till the last ten minutes or so). Since he suddenly has the power of teleportation this might make things a bit tricky. Tekken 2 isn't any good at all; the dialogue and story are terrible and the one visually striking henchperson (dressed as a schoolgirl for no adequately explored reason) is disposed of disappointingly quickly. It looks decent enough and the fighting is suitably crunchy with lots of kicks to the head and snapped limbs, but it's still rubbish. Directed by Wych Kaosayananda under his equally spellchecker-unfriendly alias of Wych Kaos.




I'll be honest here: there were several moments in the first forty minutes of this dreadful horror comedy (probably the most difficult genre crossover to pull off) where my finger was hovering over the Eject button and I was this close to sending it back to LoveFilm with an insulting note. I did stick it out, however, and while the last half hour or so is an improvement, it's nowhere near enough to save the movie. Like so many horror comedies it fails on both fronts: sure it's gory and bloody but it's not scary and it's really not funny.

There are times when Cooties feels like a US sitcom set in a rundown school where all the teachers are "characters". If it was, then this episode would be The One Where The Kids Get A Cold Sore Virus From A Contaminated Chicken Nuggety Thing And Turn Into Pseudo-Zombies And Start A Nationwide Pandemic. Struggling writer Elijah Wood returns to his hometown to teach at his old school, finds his childhood sweetheart engaged to a hopeless moron - but then one pupil starts biting chunks out of the others and suddenly there's a sort-of-zombie outbreak. Can the ragbag of maladjusted staff band together and stay alive, at least until home time?

Who cares? You tire very quickly of the grown-up idiots bickering amongst themselves, and the children are hateful monsters even before they get the virus. There's plenty of opportunity for graphic gore and disembowelments and violence against children, but it's all done in that too-broad way that veers towards the bad taste territory of Troma. After a few more visually stylish and unusual projects - Open Windows, Grand Piano, the Maniac remake - it's sad to see Elijah Wood in such cheap and tacky schlock as Cooties. Charmless, really not funny and, despite the noticeable improvement towards the end, overall something of a disappointment.


Monday, 23 November 2015



Or is it? The onscreen title may be the wonderfully generic Slasher, and it also goes by the name of Nightmare At Shadow Woods (in a slightly different edit), but it's Blood Rage on the menu screen and the packaging (which may lead to confusion with Joseph Zito's Bloodrage). Whatever you end up calling it, it's actually a vintage 80s slasher movie that showcases the best, and arguably worst, of the genre and era, and ends up as an enjoyably daft low-budget body count movie with terrible dialogue, splattery gore scenes and a few bits of completely unnecessary nudity.

Made in 1983 but for some reason not released until 1987, Blood Rage is the one about the twin brothers (both played by Mark Soper), one of whom gets institutionalised for a motiveless murder carried out by the other. Ten years later, Todd starts to remember the truth of what happened that night, so he escapes from the hospital and heads for home, where his mother has just announced her engagement over the Thanksgiving turkey. News which brother Terry does not take well, so he takes his trusty machete and starts killing Everyone....

It's all very silly and despite Ed French's full-on gore effects (lopped hands, decapitations, stabbings, plus a woman cut in half) it's not actually nasty or objectionable. It's also got a certain nostalgia value: twenty years' distance provides another perspective on movies and this one now obviously feels dated; seen as a product of its time it's ludicrously entertaining nonsense of the kind that just wouldn't get made now. Richard Einhorn's score is full of 1980s synths, there's a gratuitous shower sequence, nobody ever calls the police despite the presence of a homicidal maniac on the loose in the apartment complex, and everyone behaves illogically throughout. Meanwhile Mom (veteran actress Louise Lasser, easily the biggest name in the movie) spends the entire second half of the film getting increasingly drunk, and Ted Raimi (the second biggest name in the movie) pops up briefly as a condom salesman in a gents. When Terry has to finally appear with Todd in the same shots, Todd's stand-in is clearly wearing a wig and looks nothing like him.

But does it really matter? Despite all that's wrong with Blood Rage, it's still fun: technically more than watchable, and it certainly doesn't stint on the kills. The 2K restoration obviously looks great, immeasurably better than the VHS version which is excerpted briefly in the extras section to show the replacement title card. As you'd now expect from Arrow, there are a host of extras including several interviews with cast members but on the second disc (which I wasn't sent) there are two other cuts of the film: the original, slightly softer theatrical version retitled Nightmare At Shadow Woods, and a new alternate cut comprising footage from both release versions. Maybe that's overkill for a low-budget gore movie that hasn't even been seen in the UK before. But it's still definitely worth picking up for Golden Era slasher fans who (like me) might not have even heard of it.


Tuesday, 17 November 2015



Well, about time too. Having painfully and humourlessly rebooted James Bond over the course of three films - good films, but noticeably glum - the producers have clearly decided to inject some fun into the series and steer it in the direction of Classic Bond, downplaying the psychological analysis of the maladjusted blunt instrument in favour of glamourous jetsetting and egomaniacal supervillains. In short, going back to the Moore and Brosnan years. And with maybe one misstep, they've pulled it off. Spectre is a whole bunch of fun, noticeably the lightest and silliest of the Craig entries: a Bond movie for people who like Bond movies rather than a Bond movie for people who like Bourne movies.

They've realised that Bond's natural cinematic rival is not the Jason Bourne strain of hard, tough realism, in which everyone's damaged and miserable and no-one's sure what the hell's going on, but the Mission: Impossible school of glossy popcorn travelogue entertainment. Spectre accordingly apes the Cruise franchise, ricocheting breezily around the world from Mexico City to Rome to Tangiers to London, displaying action rather than angst, closer to comic strip than medical notes on sociopathy. With the Bond gunbarrel finally in place where it belongs at the start of the movie, Spectre kicks off at the Day Of The Dead festival in Mexico where Bond is on an unofficial final post-Skyfall mission for M (Judi Dench in a brief video message cameo) that inevitably leads to exploding buildings and out of control helicopters. Back in London, the 00 section is on the brink of being phased out in favour of a global surveillance network run by an obviously treacherous Andrew Scott, while Bond is on the trail of a sinister global crime syndicate that's been behind everything....

It's got the car chases and the fights, the glam women (Lea Seydoux and, surprisingly briefly, Monica Bellucci, probably the first "Bond girl" to be actually older than Bond), the pontificating villain in his secret lair surrounded by minions with no proper firearms training, the massive explosions: in short, everything that screams Classic Bond at you. There's a terrific fight on a train (with the traditional Bond henchman, in this instance Dave Bautista) that's clearly designed to recall the train fights in From Russia With Love and The Spy Who Loved Me. And Christoph Waltz is obviously having fun as megalomaniac Euroscum Oberhauser (sporting a facial wound towards the end which is clearly designed to recall Donald Pleasence in You Only Live Twice). This is much more what we want of a Bond film now the Origins Trilogy is over.

Sure you can argue that the personal backstory between Bond and Oberhauser is unnecessary, and it's painfully obvious that the character is going to be back at some point. Sure you can argue that Lea Seydoux isn't given much to do beyond look fantastic, while Q, Moneypenny and M have far bigger roles than they ever enjoyed before the reboot (M's office is clearly designed to recall Bernard Lee's rather than Dench's). Sure you can pick holes in the plot: why set a building to blow up around 007 but leave a speedboat in full view for him to escape? Sure, you could take it apart like that, but why would you take the Bond franchise that seriously now that it's lightened up a bit?

The aforementioned misstep takes place early on and is over fairly quickly: the quite dreadful opening credits song by Sam Smith, apparently performed while undergoing the rope torture from Casino Royale. Once John Barry left the series (back in the Dalton days!) the vocal numbers have been spotty at best and this is easily the equal of Madonna's ludicrous Die Another Day, and Jack White and Alicia Keys' atonal honkings at the start of Quantum Of Solace. That aside, it's great: there are actual jokes in there, a level of agreeable absurdity, such as Bond wearing an immaculate white dinner jacket at one point, for absolutely no reason other than he's James Bond and that's what happens in a James Bond film, and the large-scale action scenes are properly put together rather than being overedited into a subliminal blur. It's not just that James Bond is back, but James Bond Films are back as well. Now get on with the next one.




Here's a few details of your lead character. He's good-looking but socially inept, a little awkward around women, with a particular fixation on the one who's completely out of his league. He's been institutionalised following the traumatic death of his mother and abusive childhood at the hands of his father; he's now undergoing regular therapy sessions and is on medication (which he isn't always taking). And he hears voices. Why, I can't help wondering, is this guy the lead in a romantic comedy?

Admittedly The Voices is a macabre romantic comedy, but were it not for the pastel pink everywhere and the wacky talking animals this would be straight out of the Scuzzy 1980s Grindhouse Exploitation handbook - underneath the silly romantic farce it's a close neighbour of Don't Go In The House, Maniac or Nightmares In A Damaged Brain. Likeably goofy Jerry (Ryan Reynolds) works in the packing department of a bathroom supplies company in Nowheresville: he only has eyes for the phenomenally glamorous but uninterested Fiona (Gemma Arterton) despite the obvious attraction from her colleague (Anna Kendrick). Having fortuitously wangled her into his car, he accidentally kills her when she runs off in horror - but once he's dismembered her body (egged on by his evil cat and watched mournfully by dog) he finds her severed head wanting him to kill someone else to keep her company in the fridge....

Eventually, of course, it ends the only way it can: with a big musical number in which everyone sings "Sing A Happy Song" over the end credits while Jesus Himself turns up driving a pink forklift truck. Because....? The Voices is definitely an oddity; I can't honestly say I didn't enjoy it but it's just weird to see a straight sleazy horror Z-film transformed into a glossy date movie with a sweary Scottish cat voiceover and the kind of cast who'd never normally show up in a second cousin of Don't Answer The Phone. Interesting rather than great, but worth a look if only for the style/content disjunct.




I'm glad I'm not a kid these days. Apart from the obvious reasons (school, bullying, not having any friends) I don't know that I'd want to watch much in the way of modern movies for kids. As an adult I can, and generally do, pass on films made specifically for children, with the occasional exception for the slightly spikier digimations (generally anything with a PG is okay but I rarely look at U films). So when I do dip my toe in the footbath of kids' movies it's usually because I've been told that it's actually worth the effort. Shaun The Sheep definitely was, and I would most likely have loved that when I was nine.

I don't know what the nine-year-old me would have made of The Spongebob Movie: Sponge Out Of Water, though. Obviously I've never watched the TV cartoons but I can't even work out whether that's a disadvantage for a 50+ grown adult. Near as I can make out: the underwater townsfolk of Bikini Bottom thrive on Krabby Patties, the secret ingredient of which is known only to Spongebob Squarepants and Mr Crabs, and which is desperately needed by rival restauranteur Plankton. So far so five minutes on CeeBeebies. But then the formula (misspelled throughout on the DVD subtitles as "formuler" for no good reason) disappears because live-action pirate Antonio Banderas has stolen a magic book that allows him to rewrite reality so he can acquire the formula and become a disgustingly rich burger salesman. As Bikini Bottom descends into post-apocalyptic chaos, Spongebob and Plankton team up to build a time machine and get the secret recipe back....

Their journey takes them, for some reason, into outer space where a dolphin (voiced by Matt Berry, channelling Patrick Stewart) is making sure the planets don't crash into each other, before they get thrown into the real world and end up chasing Banderas and his galleon down the street. It's very fast, anarchic, and all over the place as far as any kind of coherent plot is concerned (but hey, it's about a talking sponge). I didn't understand a lot of it but surprisingly, and perhaps worryingly, I sort of enjoyed it. Dedicated to Ernest Borgnine, who did voice work on the TV show.


Tuesday, 10 November 2015



Maybe it's time to let zombies go. Maybe it's time to turn the life support off and let the walking undead die a natural undeath. It's been fun, and the genre has yielded some genuinely great movies (Romero), as well as some entertainingly silly ones (Fulci), but the sad fact is that zombies, like vampires, just ain't scary any more. Just as Dracula's ilk have been diminished by turning them from blood-drinking demons into romantic sparkly-skinned hunks, so a decade or more of cadaver-centric comedy has robbed the Whatever Of The Dead school of horror of its shock value. And even though the zomcom subgenre has in turn had its moments (Shaun Of The Dead, Dance Of The Dead), there's now the growing sense that it's played out. (Not that a particular cinematic seam having long been strip-mined to exhaustion has ever stopped people trying, as anyone who's seen more than five post-Blair Witch found-footage atrocities will attest.)

The zombs in the dubiously punctuated Scouts Guide To The Zombie Apocalypse (it should really be either Scouts' or Scouts:) are played strictly for laughs: an outbreak at some unnamed facility (military? medical?) spreads quickly through a town, unbeknown to the three Boy Scouts camping out in the woods. Two of them actually want to drop out of scouting entirely so they don't have to wear the dorky uniforms and can hang out with the cool kids and maybe get off with the hot chicks - but when confronted by the ambulant dead they find their scouting skills coming in handy. But can they rescue the aforementioned hot chicks at the supercool secret party before the military bomb the town to contain the contagion?

Scouts Guide To The Zombie Apocalypse (a project which started afterlife as Scouts Vs Zombies back in 2010 and might have had some currency back then) is actually pretty funny in places, though it does descend too often into the needlessly puerile with its monotonously sex-obsessed young heroes groping zombie boobs and ogling zombie strippers. It feels rather like the frenzied wish-fulfilment fantasies of a 14-year-old dweeb who likes girls and zombies and really wants to see them in the same movie together - that's why there's a superhot shotgun-wielding kickass stripper (cocktail waitress) in there. The film isn't actually scary (though neither was Shaun Of The Dead) but it does have a surprisingly high level of gore and sexual material that feels very much at odds with the lenient 15 certificate, including a penis joke that is quite literally extended beyond breaking point, and a weed-whacker sequence that's referencing the wonderful Brain Dead's lawnmower scene - presumably they felt the comedic edge made it acceptable at the lower category whereas a serious film of that level would score an 18.

On a technical level it's well shot and well put together, and I chuckled more or less throughout, which for a Boy Scouts zombie comedy should be enough, and is certainly more than some official comedies I've watched in recent years (I'm looking at you, Seth Rogen and Will Ferrell). But part of me wants the zombie movie to be seriously apocalyptic, not goonish Friday night knockabout with Britney Spears references. As goonish Friday night knockabout goes, however, it's more than acceptable.




Despite the 2015 copyright date on the end credits, this is actually a 2011 film, retitled and given new artwork to disguise the fact that it's actually a meta-sequel to a miserable-looking piece of giant alien eyeball nonsense from 1999 that David DeCouteau directed under a pseudonym. I haven't seen The Killer Eye as a standalone film, but I've seen enough of it shamelessly playing on a TV set in this semi-followup to confidently state that I'll be ploughing through the entire box sets of Crossroads, Bargain Hunt and that fantastically stupid ITV penny arcade game show before I ever - EVER - sling the DVD of The Killer Eye into the player.

Charles Band's The Disembodied (originally released to an uninterested world as Killer Eye: Hollywood Haunt) is so remorselessly terrible that you'd expect it to make DeCouteau's The Killer Eye look good by comparison, in the way that someone would theoretically appear less of a monumental arsehole if they're standing next to Piers Morgan. Paradoxically, that doesn't happen. Here we have five imbecilic young women, ostensibly getting together to decorate the house for Halloween, but eventually deciding not to bother and to sit and watch The Killer Eye instead. But an evil spirit contained within Mom's crystal ball telepathically brings a promotional eyeball prop to life, which promptly goes on the rampage, taking over the girls' minds and making them take their clothes off, talk drivel and experiment with lesbianism....

There are no less than 113 "special executive producers" listed in the end credits. and it's painfully clear that "special executive producer" is a technical Hollywood term for anyone who'll toss Charles Band a dollar. It's cheap, it's incredibly tedious (even at 69 minutes with very slow credit sequences), it's so lousy it's impossible to tell if it was supposed to be a comedy, it boasts a cast hired solely for their willingness to jiggle around in various states of undress, and the script shows every sign of being written by a ten-year-old. Why? It's not as if Charles Band hasn't made proper films in the past - possessed car thriller Crash!, kinky monster erotica Meridian (aka Phantoms), cult favourite Trancers (and let's not forget Empire Pictures giving us Re-Animator, From Beyond and Prison) - but at some point he appears to have given up and is now just churning out Evil Bong and Gingerdead Man sequels. Come back Fred Olen Ray, all is forgiven.