Sunday, 25 November 2018



Yes, again. Yet another trip to Sherwood Forest with the Merrie Men and the boo-hiss Sheriff and comely Maid Marian, reimagined for another generation after the tedious slog of the Ridley Scott version with Russell Crowe and his internationally roaming accent. Happily the results this time are a lot better: a comicbook romp of anachronistic dialogue, reinvented characters, impossible whizzbang action sequences that must at some point have been conceived with 3D in mind, and a sense of fun that Scott and Crowe completely discarded. It's still not very good, and the spectre of Guy Ritchie (specifically King Arthur: Legend Of The Sword) hangs over it, but as big-scale popcorn nonsense goes it zips along and probably has more chance of a followup than King Arthur did.

Despite Robin's opening voiceover telling you to forget what you think you already know, the first half of Robin Hood follows the familiar story: Robin Of Loxley (Taron Egerton) returns home from the Crusades to find his mansion a ruin, his beloved Marian (Eve Hewson) missing and the Sheriff Of Nottingham (Ben Mendelsohn) crushing the peasantry underfoot in the mines. He's helped by a Moor (Jamie Foxx) whose name roughly translates to John, who stowed away in the ship back to England when Robin heroically tried to stop prisoners being pointlessly executed. John teaches him the astonishing archery skills necessary to get their revenge of the Sheriff and the whole corrupt establishment....

What this amounts to, essentially, is a Batman story: by day he's landowner and philanthropist Sir Robin Of Loxley, but by night he's The Hood, fighting for justice for the people because ineffectual wannabe politician Will Scarlett (Jamie Dornan) isn't strong enough. (He's also Marian's new partner, setting up the love triangle and ultimately positioning him as the new villain in any potential sequel.) The opening war scenes are basically Full Metal Quiver, with a squad of British squaddies pinned down by a sniper with a mechanical archery device (I'm sure one of the poor Tommies even called out "Incoming!" at one point). Personally I'm still on the fence about Egerton, but Mendelsohn is magnificently evil, easily out-Rickmanning everyone else in the film. Comedy relief is supplied by Tim Minchin as Friar Tuck, blimey-it's-him surprise star value is supplied by no less than F Murray Abraham as a scheming Cardinal.

It's fun enough, and it's very silly, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. It's certainly not the worst of the film versions (which for me is still Ridley Scott's, a film which made me wonder whether I wanted to even bother with mainstream, general audience cinema any more). The endless concessions to the modern audience, extending to a thudding rock song over the closing credits which is way, way worse than Everything I Do from the Costner version, are only to be expected these days and they don't get in the way of a decent enough superhero action movie.




Once upon a time, horror movies were mainly full of dumb Americans who'd never seen a horror movie in their lives and kept wandering into darkened rooms and getting killed because they didn't know any better. Then Scream came along and suddenly horror movies were full of dumb Americans who knew all about horror movies and how to survive them but still kept wandering into darkened rooms and getting killed. Now suddenly horror movies are full of dumb Americans who not only know and understand horror movies on the nerdiest of levels, but spend their Halloweens wandering around horror theme parks in which people dressed as monsters and maniacs actively leap out at you and chase you round generic, non-copyright installations - and still keep on wandering into darkened rooms and getting killed. How meta and postmodern and fourth wall ironic are we going to get?

In just a few years it's become as much of a subgenre (Ruin Me, American Fright Fest, The Funhouse Massacre, and Hell Fest, easily the best of the bunch) as the original slashers it's riffing on, to the extent that they're already blurring in the mind: a bunch of idiots visit a theme park full of actors dressed as generic, non-copyright screen maniacs, except that one or more of the maniacs is actually a real maniac and that's a real knife and no-one's going to believe the kids until it's too late. Sadly Blood Fest overeggs the recipe by upping the body count into the hundreds and layering on an absurd conspiracy plot, the mechanics of which are far-fetched even by wacko horror movies. Facing off against "vampires" engineered with drugs and surgery, "zombies" realised by corpses fitted with remote controls and "slashers" who are actually genuine homicidal maniacs unleashed against the guests, a handful of teens must face off against a mad film director creating his (ugh) found-footage masterpiece by editing the park's surveillance feeds. But who's really behind it all?

Two things are immediately apparent. Firstly, killing dozens of extras off doesn't make for a better film. We don't know them, we don't care about them, they're collateral damage. They don't matter any more than the innocent drivers mown down in the last Die Hard movie, the doomed prom night revellers at the end of Tragedy Girls or (worst example) the train passengers in the tiresome Wanted. What the hell, let them all die. Secondly, given the amount of blood and splat on show, the 15 certificate is absurdly lenient even by the BBFC's own frequently wonky standards, when less gloopy and graphic films are saddled with the dreaded 18.

Briefly on the list for this year's FrightFest but withdrawn after it showed up in advance at other cinemas, Blood Fest is mostly dull, despite the stupidity of the plot and the bloody excess. I'm usually a sucker for no-brain bloody slasher movies but this doesn't cut it.


Saturday, 24 November 2018



So it's here. The first official, credited and acknowledged remake of a Dario Argento masterpiece is finally with us after years on the Maybe pile. And whatever else Luca Guadagnino's Suspiria might be (and at a stonking hundred and fifty two minutes it's lots of other things), it's definitely not Argento. If you want the bright lights, pretty colours, wild music and full-on horror craziness then stick with the 1977 film because you're not going to get any of that stuff here. (Quite rightly: why should Guadagnino simply repeat Gus Van Sant's Psycho experiment?) Instead it's deliberately muted for the most part, with a colder colour scheme and frequent trips into other, apparently less relevant territory.

The basic thrust of the original film is there: in 1977, young student Suzy (Dakota Johnson) turns up at the Markos Dance Academy in Berlin, which is actually a front for a coven of ancient witches who are planning Something Horrible. She catches the eye of legendary dancer and choreographer Madame Blanc (Tilda Swinton) and almost immediately wins the key role in her most famous contemporary ballet production. One of the other dancers (Chloe Grace Moretz) confides her fears in her elderly therapist Klemperer: when the girl disappears, he seeks to investigate, although she may be involved in terrorist activities (this is around the time of Baader-Meinhof and the Red Army Faction)...

I'm sure there's a reason why Tilda Swinton is also playing octogenarian Klemperer (under the name Lutz Ebersdorf) and Madame Markos, the coven's bloated leader, both under a ton of prosthetics to the point where she is completely unrecognisable. I could have shared a Turkish bath with both of them (somehow) and never realised either of them was Tilda Swinton. I'm sure there's also a reason why they explored Klemperer's background at such length, including the loss of his wife in the German camps. (She's played as a possible fantasy figure, figment of the imagination and/or witch-implanted hallucination by Jessica Harper, Suzy in Argento's original.) But I don't know what those reasons are, beyond having some fun with the acting and focusing down on a peripheral character who isn't even in the 1977 film, probably because Luca Guadagnino is closer to an arthouse director than a horror movie director. This isn't a bad thing, obviously: I'm still hoping for the Marvel and DC universes to hire wild card choices like Peter Greenaway or Lars Von Trier, to stretch them as well as the genre a little.

As a horror movie, though, Suspiria 2018 works well, with a couple of agreeably nasty set-piece sequences, a blood-soaked climax and that old favourite, the bone-sticking-through-the-broken-leg routine. The death of Olga in a mirrored rehearsal room is the undoubted horror highpoint of the movie and, if I bothered to rank such things (which I don't, because that would be insane), would be very high on the list of Kills Of The Year, Top Three easily. But the horror component of Suspiria does feel diluted by the additional material: somewhere inside this 152-minute curiosity is a terrific 100-minute shocker that can't get out.

None of which is to say that it's a bad film or even a so-so one. There's more than enough going on and it's all interesting, and I was never bored or counting the minutes. It's simply that personally I'd have liked either a full-on Suspiria remake or a wholly non-Suspiria film devoted to all the other stuff, and for me shuffling them together into the same film diffuses and defuses both of them. It's a shame that it's disappeared off the circuits so quickly as I think this is one of those films that does merit repeat viewings, and even though they're mentioned I'm not sure that Maters Tenebrarum and Lachrymarum will get their standalone outings. Which would be a pity.


Saturday, 17 November 2018



It's hard to know how to respond that's nominally a horror movie yet spends the first third of its running time as a quirky modern urban loser comedy (that isn't funny, though I'm guessing it's supposed to be on a wry deadpan level) and then spends the remaining 50 minutes or so following aforementioned urban loser on a steadily more hellish camping trip (that also isn't funny, though I'm guessing it's supposed to be on a dumb-idiot-having-a-lousy-time level) into the woods that may or may not contain something evil lurking in the darkness (which isn't scary, though I'm guessing it's supposed to be on a something-evil-lurking-in-the-darkness level).

Frustrated with modern life in an advertising agency working for a useless boss who understandably rejects his commercials idea involving holograms of Stalin and Charlton Heston playing shuffleboard, James quits and starts working for a cleaning service. That doesn't work out, so he breaks up with his girlfriend (in an unbroken three-minute static shot of him looking out of the back window, her looking off to the right with her back to him) and heads off into the woods. But is he alone? Is the occasionally glimpsed guy in the red jacket just another camper? Is he something more sinister? Is it a Don't Look Now reference? Who or what is prowling around outside his tent in the middle of the night?

Part of my problem with rubbish horror movies has always been that I'm a sucker for an enticing pullquote, and the trailer for The Interior includes a caption from Montreal-based web magazine Forget The Box claiming this is "scarier than ANY [his caps] studio horror film of the past decade". Sold! Look, opinions and all that, but it just isn't. It's not even the scariest wandering-around-in-the-woods movie, whether from a major studio or micro independent: even the found footage ones (and they're among the absolute worst, truly the Cillit Bang adverts of horror cinema) can occasionally rustle up a bit of creepiness or dread amongst the babbling and seizure visuals, which is a hell of a lot more than The Interior manages.


Wednesday, 14 November 2018



Or, if you want to be facetious, Chickboxer. Chris Nahon's deeply moving tale of hot babes getting royally lamped is basically a vintage Jean-Claude Van Damme movie with fit (in all senses of the term) ladies instead of pumped, impressively sculpted blokes: they're still beating the living tar out of each other but they don't take their shirts off like JC used to do. Other than that it's the same old song, beat for beat, which isn't necessarily a bad thing if you happen to like that song regardless of who's warbling it.

Selected fighters, kill-crazed maniacs from round the world, and fresh young pupils of established martial arts trainers convene in Hong Kong for an all-girls Kumite tournament, in which the starting sixteen are whittled down through Mortal Kombat beatdowns to the final two for a no-rules fight to the death. Obviously, because they're the only ones we've spent any character time with, the Grand Finale is between the two pupils of rival trainers: one a local street kid with talent, the other an American whose father disappeared after a Kumite some years ago. In between, there's the friendly Australian one who's obviously doomed to be pulped in Round Two, the unstoppable Russian killing machine, lots of blows to the head and snapped bones....

Lady Blood Fight (it's three words on screen, whatever the IMDb or the artwork might suggest about it being Lady Bloodfight) is twaddle, quite obviously. But it knows exactly what it's doing and it does it efficiently enough for a simple beer and pizza rental. It's not innovative, it's not particularly surprising, it's not an era-defining cinema game-changer. It's a hundred minutes or so of wallops, thuds and shrieks of pain. If that's all you want from your streaming selections, then go for it. Switch your brain off, you won't be needing it.


Saturday, 3 November 2018



Horror - indeed, cinema in general - tends to go in cycles. Sometimes erotic thrillers are the main attraction, five years later everyone's making werewolf movies, and five years after that you can't move for shoddy CGI shark films or naturist Westerns. Superhero knockabouts have been the major studios' big thing for quite a while now, but sooner or later we'll get bored of them and they'll have to do something else. On a vastly smaller scale, there also appears to be a run on haunted house movies: the streaming services are heaving with mysterious noises from the attic or the cellar and creepy apparitions looming out of the darkness seeking resolution for past crimes.

It's not entirely surprising: Boo! scares are easy and cheap, and for the most part these only require one or two locations and a small cast. Here are two recent examples of spooky cattle-prod horrors in which Bad Stuff happened in the house a while back and supernatural forces are now at work: one's kind of okay, one's bloody awful, and both are stuck with the most generic possible title for such a film (and in neither of them do the main characters do the sensible thing and get the hell out of the haunted house). The Norwegian Haunted, from 2017, has a woman driving off into the frozen winter to clean out her late father's holiday home for a quick sale. But there's a mysterious young child hanging around, the never-mentioned aunt who disappeared years ago when just a child, the strange and forgotten death of her mother...

If this had been made in the days before M Night Shyamalan and his honking great trademark plot twists, you might be forgiven for not figuring what the strange little girl really is (I got it half-right). It's pleasantly creepy in the right places, and the snowbound setting is quite beautiful to look at, but it's all very ho-hum, we've seen it all before and it doesn't do anything particularly exciting with it. Fair enough: it's not really trying to rewrite the haunted house subgenre: it's working in fairly familiar territory and doing its fairly familiar thing solidly enough to pass the 80 minutes or so fairly painlessly.

It's doing its thing considerably better than the Italian film of the same name from the previous year, however. Here a charmless screenwriter wrestling with a horror script housesits for his sister and nephew but finds a variety of increasingly sinister and scary demons hiding upstairs, looming out of the dark, banging on the door and generally making a nuisance of themselves. Can he, his idiot best friend and the world's most underwhelming exorcist banish these evil presences?

Shot in English with heavy accents, much of 2016's Haunted consists of Roberto D'Antona (younger brother of writer-director Eros) wandering endlessly around the house and being freaked out by spooky noises off, spooky faces leering out of his computer screen, spooky drawings and spooky apparitions appearing out of nowhere. Again, it shouts Boo! in your ear efficiently enough, jabbing you with the sharpened scare stick every few minutes, but it's really not enough: the two leads are playing everything too comedically (and clearly in the wrong language, which affects the performances), and the exorcist who turns up in the third act is an absolute nothing. It's not even nicely shot: at least if they'd made it as a found footage film the drab visual aesthetic would have been appropriate. And the online artwork of creepy dolls has absolutely nothing to do with the film; a picture of Tom Cruise clinging to a plummeting helicopter would have been about as relevant.