Friday, 30 March 2018



Here's an odd little statistic: among the 27 films reviewed in the July 1981 issue of the Monthly Film Bulletin are The Bogey Man, Friday The 13th Part 2, Happy Birthday To Me, Scared To Death, Schizoid and Terror Eyes. Six horror movies in one month's worth of new releases, four of which were slasher films. In the wake of the double-whammy of Halloween and Friday The 13th it was suddenly acceptable to make, distribute or watch movies with mad axe murderers knocking off babysitters, students, cheerleaders and football jocks. Happy days. Of course, not everything that came out of that teenkill craze was up to the highest standards: certainly, some of the Friday The 13th sequels were kind of fun (I have a soft spot for the largely unloved Part 5, probably because it was my first), Halloween II has some nice moments, and Rosemary's Killer (aka The Prowler) has always been a favourite of mine, but there were at least as many terrible ones. To All A Goodnight, The Burning, Madman, Hell Night, Halloween IV, Silent Scream, Graduation Day. But here is probably the least even of that second-string crowd: a film that doesn't just make Prom Night look good, it makes the Prom Night remake look good.

Final Exam starts off as it doesn't mean to go on: two canoodling teenagers in a car get bumped off by mystery maniac. But the film then turns into some kind of fifth-rate campus sitcom of young love, horny teachers and fraternity initiations which isn't interrupted nearly enough by the mystery maniac lurking about. Indeed, the main highlight of the opening half hour comes when the Gamma Fraternity stage a mock school shooting as a hilarious prank just so their leader can cheat on his chemistry exam - a scene which feels wildly out of place now that reality has overtaken comedy. Suddenly, a scene in which a married teacher arranges a midnight date with a hot pupil is no longer the most problematic thing about the movie. Eventually Jimmy Huston (no apparent relation to John) remembers he's been hired to make a slasher film and not an Animal House sequel, and obligingly wheels on the maniac again for a final twenty minutes of stabbing and running around.

You don't even get the traditional mystery element of who the killer might actually be - is it the creepy janitor? Is it the nerdy kid with posters of Toolbox Murders and The Corpse Grinders on his wall? Is it the father of the student who supposedly killed herself there some time ago? - because the mad killer turns out to be just a mad killer. He's not out for revenge or lust, he's not a long-lost brother or a crusading moralist, the man is not even given a name. Logic isn't involved very much either: sure, there's a slight Boo! jump scare when he leaps out of a barrel at one of his victims, but how could he possibly have known the kid would walk past at the right moment? And pretty much everyone is eye-wateringly stupid and it's thus impossible to care when Mister X finally shows up and stabs them.

Largely forgotten these days, Final Exam somehow slipped onto the online streaming services in gorgeous HD and widescreen, making a mockery of its old VHS incarnation. It's still utter, utter, absolute rubbish, though, and the film's inclusion on the DPP's Forfeiture list from the Video Nasty days is literally all it has going for it. Campus slasher nostalgics might get some fun out of it, but few others will.




Thus far I haven't seen any of Lynne Ramsay's films. Oh, I could make some excuses that they didn't play locally or I was away when they came out or they haven't wormed their way to the top of my watch list yet, but the fact is they just passed me by and there are only so many hours in the day to fit in all the hundreds of films out there that just looked to be more rewarding. In addition, I'm not paid for any of this film reviewing malarkey: I have to fund it all out of my own pocket so I'm not about to spend it on stuff I don't think I'm going to get something out of. My dollar, my rules. Granted, it doesn't always work out, and it certainly didn't here. Because, depressingly, this is one of those films which seems untouchable: films where you feel there's an obligation to effuse. So many people have already raved about it that you won't be taken seriously if you don't join in. It's as if, buried deep in the unspoken, unwritten (and unsigned) film reviewers' contract, there's a tiny sub-clause listing the types of films it's acceptable, nay expected of you, to be sniffy about, such as 70s smut, torture porn, Adam Sandler; and this is followed by another sub-clause detailing the movies and directors you have to be nice about. Ben Wheatley, Paul Thomas Anderson, Darren Aronofsky, people who Can Do No Wrong even when they do. You actually liked Geostorm more than Killing Of A Sacred Deer? What is wrong with you, you clueless barbarian? Hand in your Film Twitter membership card at once.

Although You Were Never Really Here has some kind of a DTV sleazy thriller plot, in which a tough, taciturn strongarm (Joaquin Phoenix, unrecognisable under a colossal beard) is hired to rescue a politician's young daughter from a sexual abuse ring, it's really not about that and anyone expecting Friday night popcorn thrills is going to be severely disappointed. It's more of a character study of Phoenix's nominal but hard-to-like hero: his day-to-day life, his struggles with his mother who's descending into senility. It's also more of a mood piece: grim, sombre, occasionally shocking and shot through with despair and darkness. There's no light or levity to be had, no respite from the awfulness.

Which, theoretically, makes it fine. It's doing exactly what it's supposed to do, it's doing precisely what Lynne Ramsay and cast and crew wanted to do. But so does a Transformers sequel or a tatty old British sex comedy or a set of Hellraiser sequels. They're doing their jobs, fulfilling their respective briefs, so why don't they get praised for it the way, say, Darren Aronosfky's unbearable Mother! or Ben Wheatley's intolerable A Field In England do? Or this? Because I just didn't like or enjoy what it was trying (successfully) to do? Or because we're supposed to admire and appreciate what this is doing and not a late period Van Damme kickabout? Maybe just I'm being overly defensive, but I can't help feeling that liking or not liking a film is no different to liking or not liking rhubarb. You either do or you don't and you're not wrong. With that in mind, I really didn't care for You Were Never Really Here at all. I can appreciate its mood, I can see why some would admire it, but it absolutely did nothing for me except knock Tomb Raider from its briefly held position as Least Satisfying Film Of 2018 So Far. (Which is emphatically not necessarily the same as Worst.) A few bonus points for randomly including I've Never Been To Me on the soundtrack.


Friday, 16 March 2018



I'm still one of those who finds Woody Allen movies interesting: they're a civilised, intelligent evening's entertainment with usually impressive casts given some Proper Acting to get their teeth into, a level of wit and character, and Serious Things To Say About Life And Death And The Human Condition. Some are better than others, obviously, and some have been borderline unwatchable (principally his London-set films, of which You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger and Cassandra's Dream are the worst things he's ever done), but there's usually something about them worth seeing. I think it's also fair to say he's been off the boil recently, with some pretty aimless fare like Cafe Society and Irrational Man: not even fun while they're on, and the likes of Love And Death and Annie Hall are so far away now. Just as David Cronenberg stopped doing gloopy horror films and moved into Serious Drama, so Allen has wandered away from the comedy (bits of To Rome With Love apart, the last overtly funny one was probably Whatever Works which no-one but me seemed to like).

Wonder Wheel follows this trend: there are no laughs to be had. Most of it is a one-set play located in Humpty and Ginny's (a fabulously slobby Jim Belushi doing his best Ralph Kramden, a wildly overwrought Kate Winslet) apartment over the Coney Island funfair in the 1950s around which they both work. Both have children from previous marriages: her young son Richie, obsessed with setting fire to things, and his daughter Carolina (Juno Temple), fleeing murderous gangsters after leaving her mob husband. Both women form attachments to the film's narrator, lifeguard and wannabe Serious Dramatist Mickey (Justin Timberlake)....

Given that Mickey wants to be a playwright, the new Eugene O'Neill, and Ginny used to be an actress years ago, it's perhaps no surprise that Wonder Wheel feels so theatrical. The exteriors could all be easily excised or adjusted and most of what's left could play verbatim at the National: a loud and melodramatic shouting match with lots of hysterical declaiming going on but no jokes and no levity. (At least a staged performance might well manage without countless repeats of The Mills Brothers performing something called Coney Island Washboard, possibly the most annoying musical choice for any of Allen's films.)

It's nice that Allen has (at least temporarily) reversed his usual schtick of March-to-December inappropriate relationships so that the older Winslet can get off with the far younger Timberlake - he's much closer to the age Woody Allen was when Wonder Wheel is set - as the theme of a nubile young hottie and a decrepit old fart was fast becoming tiresome. And the film looks beautiful in places, with Vittorio Storaro's cinematography using the rich colours from the neon funfair lights outside. But for all that, and the full-on (over)acting, it's a joyless film with a surprisingly bleak ending. 101 minutes of meh, it's not a film to get excited about, and not a return to form by any means. Maybe next time.




Having now rebooted, revived, remade and reanimated pretty much everything from previous generations that was any good and a lot that wasn't, having scraped the barrel dry with second stabs at rubbish old TV shows and forgotten slasher movies in a frenzy of misplaced nostalgia for things that nobody was really asking for all over again, we're now moving into the 90s and a whole new and unexciting range of things that we haven't missed but were somehow milestones in the current crop of younger executives' childhoods. In truth we were never that fussed about Tomb Raider, a computer game where you had to make a pixelated woman run around in skimpy shorts and make her jump in the air repeatedly so you could could get a quick flash of her digitised pants. We passed a couple of wet afternoons with two very ho-hum and mostly forgotten Angelina Jolie movies out of it, and then got on with our lives.

For some absolutely unfathomable reason, Lara Croft is back, in what I hope is the worst, dumbest and least interesting film of the year, simply because I don't want to see anything else this terrible for the remainder of 2018 and, with any luck, a long way beyond. Seven years ago, Lord Richard Croft (Dominic West) disappeared on a mythical Japanese island searching for the tomb of Himiko, a legendary sorceress whose instant touch meant death and whose remains are still so potentially powerful that they must never fall into the wrong hands. Lara, who is an idiot, has never acknowledged the near-certainty of her father's death, instead struggling (and failing) to make her own life as a bicycle courier, while ignoring the colossal inheritance of manor house and billion-dollar global business empire that's hers at the stroke of a solicitor's pen. When she's finally forced to accept it, she inherits a key to her father's secret lair and a video message telling her to destroy all his Himiko files. Because she's an idiot, Lara instead takes the information to Japan to locate the island, and her beloved father - and runs straight into a shadowy terror organisation called Trinity who want Himiko's remains to weaponise for a global genocide....

Essentially Tomb Raider is Daddy Issues And The Last Crusade: father and child endeavour to stop villains from acquring powerful relic of legend for their own ends and immediately lead the aforementioned villains right to it. Lara's insistence on deliberately doing the absolute wrong thing at any and every given moment for the dumbest of reasons (usually her devotion to her long-lost father) redefines wilful stupidity for a new century. Worse: it's no fun. The villains aren't colourfully nasty, they're just nasty, the score (Tom Holkenborg aka Junkie XL) lends the film no lightness or thrills, and the film's big mystery behind-the-scenes villain is so obvious they might as well have been wearing a T-shirt with Villain stencilled across it in luminous capitals. And it ends with the clear intent of setting up a franchise in which Lara jets off around the world battling assorted factions of the Trinity Group.

There's a nice bit of business with an old Second World War bomber perched over a waterfall, there's an amusing cameo from Nick Frost, and once it gets going it doesn't hang about (although the tearful parting towards the end takes so long the escaping villain could be halfway to Wisconsin by the time she finally gives chase). And Alicia Vikander leaps and runs around perfectly well in a series of moments which look like they were all levels on the original computer game, with steadily collapsing floors, sinking ships, or a chase across a harbour. There also appear to be a lot of moments where Lara dangles above a chasm by the fingertips. But this really isn't enough: for so much action and stuff going on it's strangely dull, with no real emotional connection beyond the level of soap opera and no surprises on show. Directed by Roar Uthaug, of snowy slasher Cold Prey and tsunami spectacular The Wave, both of which are much more satisfying.


Saturday, 3 March 2018



A candidate for a Stupidest Film Of All Time award, not just because it's a stupid idea and a stupid plot, but because absolutely everyone on screen is astonishingly stupid. Yes, it's kind of standard practice for people in dumb exploitation movies to do stupid things, but rarely have you seen so much idiocy, incompetence and ineptitude crammed into one film, and even the airheaded blonde bimbo characters are so thuddingly useless they actually give airheaded blonde bimbos a bad name. Three minutes in and you're already regretting it, with the realisation that you've been stiffed yet again, as it's already painfully clear that it's not going to be worth the effort involved in slumping in a chair in front of it.

A small squad of aliens led by John Carradine and ex-Catwoman Julie Newmar has come to Earth in search of blood which has to be taken from healthy (and crucially young) humans so the aliens can live another 200 years. They've hired decrepit pervy mechanics Aldo Ray and Neville Brand to abduct them from the lakeside and bring them to the nearby hospital where they're drained, but there aren't enough in good enough condition....

The aliens are stupid: they've flown halfway across the galaxy on a quest for human blood and are stuck in a small town during the school vacations, so why don't they relocate to a beach resort where all the holidaying teens are? (Instead, having failed this location, they just abandon the entire planet.) The mechanics are stupid: despite being told the teens need to be healthy and undamaged they're incapable of not beating them up, molesting them or killing them. And the teens themselves are stupid even by the standards of horror movie teens: permanently horny, standing about half naked, and so dumb that when one of the girlies slips her bonds, she needs to be directed in the ensuing fight by the still-tied-up jock - furthermore, once she's lost that easy fight against a 65-year-old halfwit, her best friend manages to get loose and has to be directed by her tied-up boyfriend as well.

Much of Evils Of The Night is little more than a thin excuse for softcore sex and nudity and supposedly teenaged women wandering around in bikinis (beyond the obvious, there's no reason given why one of the abducted girls has to spend the second half of the film without any trousers on). Some might argue that of course it isn't any good, it was never supposed to be any good, it was supposed to be a cheap SF/horror quickie for the undiscriminating teenage boy audience. In its actual defence, the spaceship landing and take-off effects are decent enough. But they amount to a total of maybe twenty seconds out of a film that runs 83 minutes. Obviously it's your choice as to whether that's an acceptable return on your investment, but personally I feel the bar needs to be set much higher. Made in 1984.


Friday, 2 March 2018



The Thing Under The Lake. Forest Of Death. Bayou Of Blood. Swamp Beast. The Creature And The Witch. There are five generic, unimaginative titles I've just thrown into the ether for a generic, unimaginative seventies monster horror that somehow got stuck with a British slang term for the lavatory as a title. Surely someone must have been aware of that and suggested a retitling, even if only when it came to the UK video release? (The pre-cert cover compounds the euphemism by calling it The Bog.) It can't have been possible to not know: it's not as if "bog" was an archaic, regional colloquialism, and the Carry On team had made a whole film about lavatories and called their main character WC Boggs.

A pre-credits idiot awakens a blood-drinking prehistoric creature while out fishing with dynamite. Shortly afterwards, two wives on a camping expedition are killed, a couple of deputies and a girl on a bicycle shortly follow, the local yee-hawing beer-and-guns redneck brigade demand action, and sheriff Aldo Ray and coroner Gloria De Haven try and make sense of it all. There's a mad old woman (De Haven again, for no narrative reason) living in a cave deep in the swamp; maybe she knows something? Eventually they come up with a shaky plan to capture it for science, but inevitably it gets loose...

Routine monster schlock for 1979's drive-in audiences, Bog has the feel of a Deep South monster movie like Creature From Black Lake but was actually shot in Wisconsin. It's slightly interesting in that it feels like someone has at least flipped through an encyclopedia at some point in an attempt to fashion a viable-sounding lifecycle for the creature, and also that it includes a tentative September-September romance between De Haven and local GP Marshall Thompson (both were over 50 at the time). The bog monster itself is barely glimpsed save for the occasional claw murders, which is perhaps for the best because when it's finally revealed as a 6'7" man in a rubber suit with a giant fish head, it looks a bit silly, like an ill-conceived mascot costume for the high school football team.At least not lumbered with amateurishness: it's a proper, professional (albeit not Hollywood) film, and the streaming version is sourced from a film print, to add to the nostalgia. Sadly it's a nostalgia for something that wasn't, and still isn't, very good.