Monday, 21 December 2020

ANTRUM

YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED! CONTAINS SPOILERS

According to the artwork and trailer, this is "The Deadliest Film Ever Made!": a cursed film from the late 1970s (it boasts copyright dates of both 1977 and 1979) whose very occasional screenings have resulted in death and disaster. No less than three film festival programmers died mysteriously within a day of viewing it, its Hungarian premiere ended in carnage when the cinema burned down, and its one San Francisco showing led to an audience stampede. Is there something occult, even Satanic, within the film itself? What is the meaning of the subliminal symbols and Latin phrases scratched into the print, and the flashes of weird dungeon footage spliced in randomly?

After a brief to-camera documentary collage of cinephiles and experts talking about the film's history, we get Antrum itself: not an actual lost Z-horror from the 1970s but an immaculate recreation complete with heavy grain and print damage. A young boy and his older sister off for an adventure in the woods to dig a hole into Hell to rescue his beloved dog (who didn't go to Heaven because he was a bad dog), only to encounter a couple of crazy locals with a giant Devil sculpture...

This section of the whole film is a point-perfect recreation of those odd not-really horror movies of the era that used to turn up on low-quality VHS under new titles courtesy of short-lived budget video labels (the one I kept thinking of was Alan Rudolph's The Impure, aka Premonition), as well realised as Ti West's marvellous House Of The Devil. A pity then that after the woozy, meandering, dreamlike feel of Antrum we get a bit more doc footage explaining the occult symbols and repeated use of triangles in the visual style. To be honest, I'd have been happy with just the well-faked retro material but I guess they wanted to place it in some kind of context. There's a brief bit of background bestiality (between one of the local wackos and a dead deer) which has earned the film an otherwise unnecessary 18 certificate.

***

Wednesday, 2 December 2020

LEGEND OF HELL

CONTAINS YADA YADA YADA

"Olaf Ittenbach, the Master Of Gore, is back with his New Masterpiece Of Terror!" So declaims the trailer for this 2012 offering from Germany's King Of Splatter. This is very much Ein Film Von Olaf Ittenbach and if you've seen any of his other stuff (admittedly I've only seen two, Beyond The Limits and Garden Of Love) you kind of know exactly what you're going to get. Terrible acting, nonsensical story, uninteresting visuals, but every ten minutes there's an eruption of excessive gore as someone gets bloodily slaughtered, frequently with red spurts hitting the camera lens.

The babbling nonsense this time around seems to revolve around an amulet that can open the portal to Hell, which has been lost and found at various times throughout history and those who discovered it ended up on a mythical medieval astral plane where they have to get to the fabled city of the dead (which actually looks like 21st century downtown America so he can put in some chainsaws and blow up some cars with a grenade launcher) to confront The Evil One. On their quest they are set upon by assorted gribbly monsters, minions and zombies and they have to slaughter them in as graphic a manner as possible.

That's kind of it for a plot, and to be honest we're not interested in it any more than Ittenbach is. It's just a thread on which to hang a string of crowd-pleasing gory money shots, usually involving slit throats and severed heads and that's what Ittenbach really wants to do; the story is just the means to an end. Outside of the enthusiastic splat, which is all the film has going for it, Legend Of Hell isn't remotely interesting: the dialogue and performances are absolutely awful (possibly but not entirely due to being in English), there are several moments of absolute deafening stupidity, and it doesn't even look good. It's not quite boring enough to be beyond dismal, but I am not going out of my way to seek out any more of Ittenbach's films.

**

CRITICSIZED

CONTAINS SPOILERS

What's the best way to ensure good reviews? The obvious answer would be to make good films, but why go to all that trouble when you can make an indifferent one about a maniac artist killing off the people who killed his career by giving him bad notices? The trouble then comes when you realise that's basically Theatre Of Blood and you're not watching the mighty Vincent Price and a gallery of beloved British character actors, but an uninspiring selection of blands doing a beige take on the Lethal Weapon cop-on-the-edge quickie complete with "I'm taking you off the case", "He's got my wife!", the shouty black captain, the arrogant FBI jerks and the new and clearly expendable partner.

No, sadly we are not watching a Theatre Of Blood or a Lethal Weapon: the film tips its hat very early on to the type of film we're watching when someone asks "What's your favourite movie?" and the response is "Saw, I guess." Much as I have a soft spot for the Saw series, they're absolutely nobody's all-time greatest but that's the territory we're mining here. A mad killer is abducting apparently random strangers, murdering them in creative (if revolting) ways and streaming them live on the internet. It's revealed fairly quickly that he's a film director blaming reviewers for ending his career and torturing them on camera, even as he producers his latest masterpiece, pitting his own star villain performance (facially he looks a bit like Leonardo Di Caprio) against the golden-boy supercop he's cast as his hero...

I'm not going to make the same mistake as one of the unfortunates who'd written "I'd rather be buried alive in elephant droppings than watch another of Reynolds' films", but I would definitely say that I'd sooner be paid £25,000 than watch another of Carl T Evans'. (Let's see of that works!) To be fair, Criticsized isn't terrible, and it has moments that suggests they could be on to a decent little thriller if they'd spent a bit more money and put in a little bit more style. But it feels on the flat side and never really clicks into life; a time-killer but not a time-waster, an agreeable enough oddity. In the end it's more or less okay but on the underwhelming side.

**

LOST AFTER DARK

CONTAINS SPOILERS, AS IF IT MATTERED

Yet another entry into the subgenre of halfwitted horny teenagers getting stuck in the wilds and falling foul of the local mad cannibal. How many more times are we supposed to sit through the Wrong Turn/Texas Chain Saw Massacre idea before we get wise to it? There's nothing particularly new or innovative here but it does have a few surprises and it's not afraid to be agreeably nasty and bloody in places. Is that really enough, though?

It's 1984 and an instantly tiresome octet of pretty but doomed idiots hijack the school bus on the night of the big dance in order to paaaaarty at a summer cabin They're the usual motley group of easily distinguishable types: the Bad Boy, the Jolly Fat Guy, the Sensitive Guy, the Slutty One, the Goth One, the Shy Virgin. But wouldn't you know, the bus breaks down and they end up in a spooky abandoned house in the middle of the night - except it's not abandoned; there are skulls in an upstairs shrine and a cellar full of human parts dangling from the ceiling, and They Are Not Alone...

Lost After Dark does have a few tricks up its sleeve - one kill in particular did surprise me - and it has a nice visual sheen to it as someone has gone to a lot of trouble to make it look like a grindhouse 80s teen bloodbath complete with scratches, fading at the edges and dust marks on the "print". It even includes burning celluloid and Reel Missing caption at a crucial moment, just as Planet Terror did (presumably to save themselves the trouble and expense of a particularly gruesome death scene). I also like the grain effect and wish more films would employ it rather than settle for cold dead digital. Robert Patrick is the familiar face of authority as the almost comedic school principal, and it ends with the obligatory He's Not Dead stinger, more in hope than expectation of Lost After Dark 2. It's fun enough as a disposable slasher of disposable teens; agreeable but absolutely not essential.

***


Friday, 27 November 2020

THE HAUNTED CINEMA

CONTAINS MAJOR SPOILERS

What could be better for a horror movie fan than a horror movie that's set in a haunted cinema? And the answer is: pretty much anything if this gorefree borefest is the best that's on offer. For all the ideas of ghosts and restless spirits bent on revenge it's a dull, uneventful and frankly uninteresting affair that has a jaw-dropping twist at the end that renders the whole movie a cheat, and which makes no sense anyway.

Nominally it's a horror film in which a movie director fears she may be haunted by the ghost of an actress who died on her set and now haunts the cinema in which the scene was shot, tying in to her childhood nightmares of being trapped in a haunted cinema. At a private memorial screening of the late star's blooper reel (yes, really), the producers, actors and boyfriends wander off and are trapped in lifts, locked in the rest room or simply sit around in other auditoria, leaving the director alone... Is the cinema really haunted? Or has everything been staged? Is it something to do with an imminent inheritance? Or is it all down to two of the actresses vying for the lead role in her next film?

Skip this paragraph if you really don't want to know - it's none of the above! It's not a haunted cinema at all, there is no ghost, and it's all a scam to exorcise her guilt over the actress' death. In a startling reversal, the heroine is being gaslit from start to finish as part of an elaborate scheme to drive her to sanity. Why then do the conspirators continue to act their roles in the charade when she's not around? Why indeed would someone with a longstanding dread of scary cinemas shoot a horror film in one and then sit there alone watching footage of the actress whose death she blames herself for and who she believes is out to get her from beyond the grave?

Mercifully, The Haunted Cinema has received no UK distribution, and watching it online dubbed into Russian (apparently by only two voiceover artists, male and female) with the original Chinese audio underneath is far from ideal. But it's the only way you can watch it if you want English subtitles - and they're not even very good subtitles, badly translated or transliterated and frequently whizzing by too fast to decipher. Even the "horror" sequences are barely adequate and the rest of it is just dull. To be honest I wouldn't have bothered with it if it hadn't been for the legitimate UK availability of The Haunted Cinema 2 (it doesn't look to be in any way connected, but it does appear to be a proper horror film) and rather wish I hadn't wasted the evening on it. Made in 2014.

*

Sunday, 15 November 2020

NINE MILES DOWN

C6NTAINS S6ME SP6ILERS

Anthony Waller is a name that's rather dropped off the radar after his first film, the underseen thriller Mute Witness, and the not-the-worst-thing-you've-ever-seen An American Werewolf In Paris, a sequel no-one ever really asked for to a film that wasn't as good as The Howling anyway. And this 2009 horror movie is his most recent feature film (according to the IMDb): he's not exactly prolific.

A frustrating and in the end unsuccessful film, this has some nice ideas and visual touches and a terrific central location, but sadly it does very little with them. After the entire crew of a drilling installation in the Sahara disappear, security officer Jackman (Adrian Paul, from the Highlander TV series) drives out there to find it (sorry) deserted except for scientist JC (Kate Nauta, probably best known for her outrageous sexy dental nurse/murderous henchwoman turn in The Transporter 2). What happened to everyone else? Why isn't JC on the personnel lists? What did the drilling crew find Nine Miles Down? Did they actually break through the roof of Hell itself and record the screams of the eternally damned - and is JC actually Lucifer? Or is it all a hallucination, and is Jackman trapped in his own psychological Hell after the deaths of his wife and children?

The idea of genuinely finding Hell is a great one but unexplored beyond listening to an admittedly creepy audio file (though any visual depiction of Hell would inevitably disappoint). Most of the drama itself is a two-hander centred around Jackman's guilt traumas, which isn't that interesting and ends up with him believing his late wife is somehow there with him at a Saharan drill site. And JC is annoying: alternating between hard-nosed we've-got-to-get-out-of-here survivalism, casual indifference to the loss of all her colleagues, and minxing sex-tease. (Why on Earth she brought a backless cocktail dress to the middle of the desert isn't explained, unless she's also part of his fevered imagination.)

The bottom line is that Nine Miles Down isn't very good, despite a couple of nice moments (the cesspit is probably the highlight, and how many films can you say that about?); it has a terrific location but no real atmosphere about it, and it never gets to cut loose with actual horror like, say, Carpenter's The Thing, instead focussing on the psychological. It's not awful, but it's ultimately not much more than a Friday night time-passer. A multi-national co-production between the UK, the USA, Australia, Tunisia, Saudi Arabia and Hungary, and currently available on Amazon Prime.

**

THE OWNERS

CONTAINS SPOILERS AND MINOR WHO NERDDOM

Even as a Doctor Who fan old enough to remember seeing a lot of Classic Who (Tom Baker's second year onwards) on its original, and in many cases only, transmission, I have to acknowledge that there came a point when the show came badly off the rails, severely enough for me to stop watching it. Long after they ditched the Delia Derbyshire version of the theme music in favour of some Bontempi atrocity at the start of Tom's last run, and the unspeakable horrors of the Adric Era, I simply wandered off and thus have only the vaguest of memories of the Colin Baker and Sylvester McCoy seasons. Nonetheless, I have some weird affection for those latter years, and I even remember tuning into an episode of The Bill at some point simply because McCoy was in it (though even he couldn't enthuse me for the Hobbit films). In fact McCoy has been the main reason I ended up slogging through a couple of Richard Driscoll abominations - Conjuring: The Book Of The Dead (a film so slapdash they pronounce Necronomicon as Necromonicon not once but twice!) and the all-star-3D-comedy-western-musical-horror-spoof Eldorado (even if most of his appearance as a comedy neo-Nazi never made it to the final version).

Happily, if unsurprisingly, The Owners is leagues better: a tense if nasty 90s-set thriller that starts as a home invasion movie and ends with a genuinely unexpected but satisfying twist. Three hopeless idiots, along with the girlfriend of one of them (and the creepy crush object of another), break into local elderly doctor McCoy's house to crack the safe. But they can only trash the house before the owners return, and even under threat of extreme violence McCoy and Rita Tushingham (!) repeatedly refuse to give them the combination... Surely it can't just be a huge pile of cash they're protecting?

It's hard to feel any empathy when the bungling burglars' masterplan starts falling apart and the oldies get the upper hand over them, as they're led by an instantly despicable wannabe gangster and sociopath with a tedious fondness for the C-word, while the other two, despite their varying affections for Maisie Williams, are too weak and cowardly to stand up to him. Once two of the idiots are disposed of and the other two, less hateful, are trapped in the house, gassed and drugged, it teeters on the edge of being a bit silly, but the final moments are cruel yet satisfyingly horrible.

It's not a bad film by any means, though it's very hard to like in its early stretches, with sweary Gary being particularly tiresome and frankly I was glad when he got killed. Fortunately it does get better as it goes on, though the sudden change in aspect ratio in the third act is distracting (to the extent that I wondered whether it was deliberate and scrolled through all the ratio options on my TV). Watchable enough, if nasty in places, while it's on, but I've no desire to ever watch it again.

***

Saturday, 31 October 2020

BUTCHERS

CONTAINS THE SAME OLD SPOILERS AGAIN. AGAIN. AGAIN.

Incredibly, we're already back in Texas Chain Saw Massacre territory. If it only seems like a week since I was doing the same old routine with the not-awful Argentinian horror What The Waters Left Behind, that's because it was - and here we are yet again. To be strictly fair, we're actually doing Wrong Turn again, but Wrong Turn was basically riffing on TCSM's demented backwoods psycho theme - stranded motorists meet up with homicidal lunatics, hilarity ensues - and this particular cover version doesn't change that much of the tune.

Butchers sets its stall out very early, with a car breaking down on a lonely road and the two titular maniacs killing the driver and abducting his girlfriend for mercifully unseen horrors. Months later, another car breaks down in the same spot, and the two couples split up to wait with the car or walk on to the nearest garage (as per TCSM, it's absolutely no surprise to discover that the gas station attendant is Not To Be Trusted); neither course of action ends well. Inevitably, the girls are chased and caught by the bickering redneck brothers, they effect an escape and are promptly recaptured, drugged, chained up and abused...

It's slightly hampered by the fact that the two girls look similar, and the two guys look similar as well, and it's not as if we're given a huge amount of reason to care that much about them: it's a sleazy and nasty exploitation movie with a thick streak of irrational brutality and tastelessness. In the plus column, the film looks terrific, with the period (unspecified, but clearly somewhere in the 1970s) nicely evoked, not just by the cars and costumes but by someone going to a lot of trouble to give it that 1970s look with the lighting and cinematography. Is that enough? In the end it kind of gets by: it's certainly not a masterpiece and has very little depth, but that's not what it's aiming for. On its chosen level of grindhouse throwback schlock, it's decent enough.

***

WHAT THE WATERS LEFT BEHIND

CONTAINS SOME SPOILERS

Your heart sinks at the idea of yet another film about a vanload of "documentary film-makers" going to somewhere weird and creepy, because we have seen this all before in so many horror cheapies (Investigation 13 was the most recent to unspool before my rapidly disinterested eyes) and you absolutely know for a fact that there are few surprises to be had. In the event there are two: firstly the impressive (and genuine) setting of Villa Epecuen, a small Argentinian town that was flooded in 1985 and remained so until the waters receded in 2009, leaving a landscape of bleached ruins and rubble, and secondly the realisation that we are dancing the Texas Chain Saw Massacre Tango yet again, right down to the creepy gas station people and the Joe Bob Briggs sense that any of these people could die at any time as you wonder who will survive and what will be left of them.

Despite the film crew angle, What The Waters Left Behind mercifully turns out not to be a found-footage film (just as well, as these guys barely know one end of a camera from the other), but a proper movie shot in bright teal-and-orange to highlight the dazzling white ruins and the scorching sunlight. Not long after refuelling and sampling the revolting looking fare at the gas station, the van breaks down in the deserted ghost town and the gang split up, some to look for help, others to do some filming for their documentary project. Of course, they're not alone and things end up, as usual, in blood, screaming, insanity and death...

It's a long way from being essential viewing, but it's perfectly alright as these things go, with a large measure of madness and shrieking towards the end and a suitably bleak and downbeat ending (even less joyous than TCSM's). The actual on-screen title is Los Olvidados (it's nothing to do with the Luis Bunuel film from 1950), which Google translates as The Forgotten, a nondescript title that's already been used for other things, including an (ironically) unmemorable SF/horror with Julianne Moore. Not great, but not bad and you've happily sat through a hell of a lot worse.

***

Tuesday, 20 October 2020

INVESTIGATION 13

CONTAINS SPOILERS, AGAIN

More camcorder-wielding idiots get chased around an abandoned location by some kind of evil horror idea, variously identified as a ghost, an escaped mental patient, or a creepy homeless guy, and then it stops. Mercifully it isn't found footage, despite the basic setup of a quartet of students seeking definite proof of the afterlife by wandering around the supposedly haunted asylum in the middle of the night with walkie-talkies and cameras, but the film not being found footage is hardly any kind of recommendation.

After their twelfth investigation into paranormal activity failed to produce the required results, the team are now under pressure to come up with something - anything - in the old mental hospital where a particularly violent patient allegedly escaped after twenty-five years of increasing electro-shock treatment, but might now be haunting the place. Quite why they've settled on the asylum as a suitable site to research the possibility of ghosts when there are two other earthly possibilities to entirely invalidate their findings is left unexplored. In addition, the film completely ignores his age: if he was being brainzapped back in 1951 he'd be in his eighties at least by now and thus unlikely to be lurking around in the darkness eating rats and offing stray teenagers. Oblivious, the gang set up Investigation 13, posting cameras all over and wearing Google Glass spectacles....

There's no atmosphere to be had here: even the location, which would normally do a lot of the heavy lifting in this sort of thing, can't be bothered to be even slightly creepy. Early on, the script infodumps mightily upon us via guest star Meg Foster, but much of the backstory is actually told via rudimentary animation sequences detailing poor Leonard Craven's miserable upbringing and his sentencing to a psychiatric institution after killing his abusive and heroin-addicted parents. The rest of it is just the usual routine of bickering halfwits stumbling around in the dark and screaming. Some might consider this a good time; I'm not one of them.

*

THE SEVEN

CONTAINS MASSIVE SPOILERS ETC

Yet another entry in the seemingly endless horror subgenre of Stupid People Do Stupid Things For Stupid Reasons, this combines its intergalactic stupidity by featuring Particularly Stupid People Doing Really Stupid Things For Staggeringly Stupid Reasons, topped with an even more stupid conclusion and a weapons grade stupid shock coda. This much stupid in one place would be thought excessive in a cauliflower.

The Stupids in this instance are a gathering of high school dimwits (there are seven of them, hence the title) who break into school after hours because one of them wants to shag his girlfriend and the others are there to make sure everything's okay. But they get locked in by the caretaker (nicknamed Squeaky because of the wheels on his cleaning trolley) and are faced with spending the weekend in there - until they start getting bumped off by the ghosts of a Satanic cult, led by Dean Cain of all people, who all died when the old mansion burned down and the school was later built on the site...

It's impossible to care whether any of these dullards survive and there isn't even any fun to be had watching them being offed. Even if you could rustle up some unearned empathy for them, it's all undone by a third-act Groundhog Day have-another-go plot twist that undoes absolutely everything the film had thought it had done up to that point, which means the final It's-Not-Over obligatory last shot makes no sense. The very, very best you can say about The Seven in its defence is that one of the girls is kind of cute and it's only eighty minutes long, and neither of those should be anywhere near enough reason to watch the damned thing. Thoroughly useless.

*

Tuesday, 29 September 2020

THE BORDERLANDS

CONTAINS SPOILERS

So I finally yielded to the cacophany of voices telling me that The Borderlands is really good. "Is it a found-footage, though? Because I don't do found-footage any more, it's a long dead subgenre that had its very meagre bag of tricks emptied very quickly many years ago." "Well, yes, but it's a good one, trust me. Honest it is. This is the one that actually does something interesting and effective with the format and it's properly scary and everything the way it's supposed to be." "Really? Because I've been kicked in the nackers so many times with these things and I really don't want to go back in there again." "Seriously, it's fine. This is the one."

No it isn't. It's just more of the same, much more of the same faux-doc shakycam rubbish, murky security footage non-photography, no sense of who's supposedly edited it all together (or why they've spliced in time-lapse countryside shots that obviously weren't filmed by the "characters"). It is the absolute usual, save for the inexplicable casting of familiar faces which works against the idea of it being "real" because it's Gordon Kennedy out of Absolutely.

Sure it makes you jump a few times but that's not very difficult: it's the well-timed orchestration of spooky noises and the occasional loud bang. It has a fine location in its tiny, barely attended moorland church, either the site of paranormal activity or a clever fake involving hidden wires and speakers, and it certainly looks creepy when lit by a single bulb in the dead of night through the remorseless gaze of a static camera. But so would the biscuit aisle at your local Waitrose if the chocolate digestives suddenly fall off the shelves. And the final moments of the film do go where no other horror movie I can immediately think of have gone.

My main annoyance, apart from the fact that I've been comprehensively suckered yet again, really stems from the fact that so much of The Borderlands could have been done as a straight horror film with proper cameras and a music score. Much of the screenplay, from the occasionally almost sitcom dialogue to the handy plot points like the discovery of the diary of the church's original minister, feels like it could have been shot in the regular manner, and frankly would have been so much more effective for it. If you want to go further: that "normal" version could actually have been an interesting project for Danny Dyer who would have easily fitted in as the tech specialist fitting all the cameras and microphones. There aren't many films that would have been improved by the inclusion of Danny Dyer but this is one of them. Made back in 2013 and also known as Final Prayer.

**

Friday, 11 September 2020

CONJURING: THE BOOK OF THE DEAD

CONTAINS SPOILERS AND PUBLIC WARNING

He's back. You thought he'd gone away, you thought they'd got rid of him. But not even the massed ranks of HMRC and the courts could stop him: Richard Driscoll is back and making films again. And the time served for tax fraud has not made him any better at writing or acting or directing or producing - not that that has prevented him from writing, starring in, directing and producing this thunderingly seventh-rate sack of incoherent drivel that isn't borderline professional. Indeed it ranks as barely even amateur.

Nominally based on MR James' Casting The Runes, this has a heavily medicated author (Driscoll, under his usual pseudonym of Steven Craine) hired by Lysette Anthony to research legendary occultist Aleister Crowley for a new graphic novel. Trekking all the way to New Orleans for no good reason (he could have stayed home with one of the numerous biographies, or indeed just googled him), he meets a variety of blimey-it's-him characters who turn up for one or two scenes (Sylvester McCoy, Michael Madsen, Tom Sizemore) and starts typing a Word document sketching out the plot of Driscoll's earlier The Legend Of Harrow Woods (including footage from it which explains why Jason Donovan is in the credits but doesn't explain why Norman Wisdom isn't). Eventually there's a black mass with red robes and a feeble car crash...

Conjuring: The Book Of The Dead (nothing to do with the James Wan Conjuring movies) is desperately, punishingly bad: not so-bad-it's-good rubbish but just plain bad on every level, from storytelling and performance through to basic technical competence. The Necronomicon is mispronounced Necromonicon twice by different actors. The CG effects are dire, the nudity is entirely gratuitous and pointless, and the sound recording renders most of Tom Sizemore's bit all but inaudible. Editing is slack, photography is My First Camcorder murky, the plot is gibberish and the dialogue is atrocious. It's mercifully short at 75 minutes but it's still well down to Driscoll's astonishingly low lack of standards. The only laugh you might get from it is during the end credits when Assistant is routinely abbreviated to Ass, and a variety of poor sods are thus listed as Ass Grip or Ass Make Up.

Someone might care to investigate how much this blathering nonsense owes to an earlier Driscoll project called When The Devil Rides Out, listed on the IMDb with the same cast but no apparent release; this may be the result of confusion, or the earlier film might have been re-edited into this one. Someone might, but it isn't going to be me. Having sat through The Comic thirty years ago at the Scala and having been subsequently bored and insulted by Kannibal and Eldorado I think I can find better things to do with my evenings. There really is no excuse for vaguely respectable actors and familiar faces to sully themselves with this kind of tripe, even Robin Askwith who's only in it for about thirty seconds: by comparison Confessions Of A Window Cleaner and ITV sitcoms about randy milkmen now seem like some kind of Golden Age. It's not just that this is absolute face-punching rubbish: it's that there are no standards on Earth by which this is not absolute face-punching rubbish. Consider yourselves warned.

*

Monday, 7 September 2020

THE SWERVE

CONTAINS SPOILERS AND CONTAINS SPOILERS

The Swerve is, frustratingly, half a good film, and half a bad film. The first section is perfectly decent: well observed, well written and played, interesting, entirely plausible and absorbing. But somewhere in the middle it morphs into something utterly annoying, occasionally ridiculous, and ends on a miserable downbeat note that undoes a lot of the earlier good work and, for me, left me deflated and unenthused. Maybe I wanted it to play to the crowd a little more, maybe I wanted it to be more of the psychological thriller the director introduced it as.

It's not a psychological thriller, it's a psychological drama. It's a coldly believable piece centred around English teacher Holly (Azure Skye) and her frankly horrible family: lazy children, unloving (and faithless) husband, aggressively unlikeable sister. She's on sleeping medication, she's downtrodden (stuck with the washing up while everyone else enjoys themselves), ignored, taken for granted, routinely unappreciated... until one evening she runs a couple of obnoxious bellowing yahoos off the road.

But at somewhere around the halfway point there's a scene, which I shall obliquely refer to as The Hand Scene, when I lost all sympathy and involvement. Partly because dramatically it just didn't fit, partly because it seemed so wildly out of character (not to mention unprofessional) for her, and partly because why are we still supposed to empathise with her? The swerve of the title is not so much the fatal car crash, more her sudden shift in character. And from that point it doesn't get better: once the sad scrapey strings kicked off with an elegy for a dead mouse (shamefully, I giggled) there was no way back for it.

I'm also not sure whether a movie about someone with a whole battery of anxieties, problems and stresses should send such a questionable message by ending with the darkest of all possible conclusions, but maybe that was the point: this is what ultimately happens if people's psychological and emotional needs aren't addressed but allowed to fester until there's no other way out. Certainly it would have been easier, and more popcorn fun, for that car "accident" to have triggered in her the strength to  seriously sort her loathsome brood out, but that wasn't the film they wanted to make even if, deep down, that was more the kind of film I wanted to watch.

***

Friday, 4 September 2020

AQUASLASH

CONTAINS SOME SPOILERS AND DESPAIR

After the straight slasher movie (Halloween), the sequel slasher movie (Halloween II), the ripoff slasher movie (Prom Night), the ripoff sequel slasher movie (Sorority House Massacre II), the spoof slasher movie (Wacko), the ironic slasher movie (Scream), the remake slasher movie (Rob Zombie's Halloween) and the reboot slasher movie (David Gordon Green's Halloween), the next step, sadly, appears to be the retro slasher movie. Specifically, a movie that's not harking back to Halloween or Friday The 13th but The Mutilator or Umberto Lenzi's Nightmare Beach, deliberately recalling all those useless knockoffs and near-forgotten cheapies we unaccountably used to love twenty years ago rather than the genre's high points (possibly because they're too familiar and many of them have gone down the remake route already).

Aquaslash is an astonishingly hateful concoction: by turns boring, annoying and incredibly stupid. It is a film in which every single character is utterly despicable and without one single redeeming feature and you can't wait to see them get bloodily hacked to pieces. It is a film that spends what feels like hours plodding through the sexual and emotional turmoils of its tiresome teenage simpletons, oblivious to the fact that no-one on Earth cares one hoot whether she goes with him or he cops off with her. Because it's a longstanding tradition, the high school graduation party is held at the local water park (despite the occasional fatalities): amidst the love triangles, the infantile bullying, the drinking and snorting and shagging and fighting and cavorting about in bikinis, someone is planning to sabotage the water slides with sharpened saw blades....

Sure, the first hour or more of imbecile soap opera pays off with a final act of bloody carnage that's certainly spectacular, but there's nothing to enjoy except the spectacle because you absolutely don't care, don't care, don't care. Aquaslash makes Porky's look like The Seventh Seal and I may have lost forty IQ points just being in the same room; even the worst and lamest offerings from the arse end of the original slasher cycle weren't this gruelling.

But more than just being bored, I was actually feeling insulted, seeing the admittedly variable standards of my beloved horror genre being so comprehensively trashed. Lord knows there have terrible horror movies pretty much since the invention of the horror movie and even the warmest waves of nostalgia can't cover up the inadequacies and idiocies of Final Exam, Blood Song or Graduation Day. (I always had an irrational fondness for Friday The 13th Part V but I can't defend that one any longer.) But even by those standards Aquaslash is substandard, and whether it's a deliberate or accidental - either a knowing, painstaking homage to bad film or just the inability to do any better - scarcely matters.

There's a moment when it looks like it might be actively referencing the original Friday The 13th, with its inattentive lifeguards too busy groping each other to realise someone's been killed; but it doesn't ultimately mean anything because nothing does; there are other moments when the film's principal reference point is clearly The Bikini Carwash Company. The comedy doesn't work because there's no empathy with anyone, the suspense doesn't work because you actually want to see them die. The sole point of interest is an early reversal where the main black guy doesn't get racially abused because he's actually the principal troublemaker and chief alpha-dickhead bully. Other than that, it's rubbish and you might as well watch genuine 80s slasher rubbish like Mountaintop Motel Massacre or Satan's Blade instead of 80s-infused slasher rubbish like this.

*

SKY SHARKS

CONTAINS SPOILERS????

Is it ironic that in Sky Sharks there are just too many plot elements, spectacular events and general things happening for one film, yet one film is absolutely more than enough? So many strands going on, flitting back and forth between them, yet at the same time there's hardly anything there and what there is is, ultimately, not very good. In no particular order there are Nazis, war criminals, naked women, sharks, invisibility cloaks, mutation serums, sex in the lavatory, zombie super soldiers, Herman Goering, more naked women, the Vietnam war and much terrible music. Ingredients there are plenty, but they've not been prepared, measured or cooked properly and the result is mostly a lumpen, indigestible pudding.

Richter was a former Nazi scientist brought to the US under Operation Paperclip and is now a billionaire tech mogul; one of his wartime schemes involved not only the development of an evil super-soldier strength serum but also the creation of invisible flying sharks to take control of the skies. No, really. Anyway, the ship they were all on has now been thawed out due to global warming and they're out and destroying airliners full of disposable children and familiar guest stars (Robert LaSardo, Lynn Lowry), and only Richter's two daughters can save the day - and one of those has been infected with the super serum.

It's never actually boring, because there's just too much going on, but it's obviously absolute nonsense, trying to top the SyFy/Asylum stupidometer and, yes, succeeding. Even given the near-toxic stupidity levels of Sharknado 4 and Mega Piranha, Sky Sharks is probably the maddest shark movie thus far. Yet there's a sense of pandering to the lowest levels: ultra-gory carnage (some prosthetic, in which Tom Savini was involved and which looks great, and some CGI, which looks terrible), cheap, crass and ugly nudity (do they not know that we have porn pretty much on tap now?) and fan favourite cameos (including Amanda Bearse and Tony Todd), as if those elements by themselves will suffice. Tits, blood and the bloke from Candyman - instant horror classic, that'll do.

Cult movies come about by accident, never by purpose - like a lot of Troma movies, this is too graphically gory to be funny, but it's too stupid to take even slightly seriously. (The comparison with Troma ends there: Sky Sharks just isn't in their league for obnoxious bad taste and puerile shock value grossout.) Still, it does feel like another attempt to deliberately create a cult movie and it doesn't work because it's always the audience, not the makers, who decide which films attain cult status and which don't. Just adding sharks to a rubbish Nazi movie (Iron Sky was a fair stab, but lost it in the second half), or just adding Nazis to a rubbish shark movie, isn't enough. There are a few minor, momentary pleasures, and the physical splatter effects are enjoyable, but those aside it's a joke of a film, and not a very well told one. The post-credits bit is a fake trailer for Sky Frogs, which one of the airline passengers was watching on his iPad about seventeen hours before, and which outstays its welcome at around two minutes just as efficiently as Sky Sharks manages at an excessive hundred and two.

**

Friday, 28 August 2020

HAUNT / HAUNT

CONTAINS SOME SPOILERS / CONTAINS SOME SPOILERS

Another of those instances where two films with the exact same title but absolutely nothing in common show up on the same streaming services. The earlier Haunt is listed on Amazon Prime as a 2015 film but is actually from 2013 (according to the IMDb and the copyright notice at the end of the credits) and is probably the better of the two: a straightforward haunted house movie that does little we haven't seen a hundred times since The Amityville Horror at least, but does it likeably and effectively enough that it gets by.

A family move into a creepy old house, not knowing about the deaths of the three children that occurred there years before, but are soon visited by the expected weird and inexplicable occurrences. (The family makeup of parents, one teenage son and two younger daughters mirrors the previous family.) In one of the bedrooms the son finds an old radio machine for contacting the dead, picking up occasional but clear words through the wall of static... This Haunt is haunted house Boo! horror by numbers, it's never actually chilling and it's not going to scare you very much unless you've never seen a horror movie before. But it's solid enough with a few familiar names in it (Jacki Weaver, Ione Skye) it's decently put together and never boring.

More than can be said for the later Haunt from 2019: there's nothing supernatural about this one. It's set in one of those extreme Halloween funhouse attractions so bizarrely popular in America, in-your-face updates of fairground ghost trains, except that this one's got real blood, real homicidal maniacs and the visitors have to go through much nastier horrors to get out. It's from the original writers of A Quiet Place, but it plays more like Rob Zombie's rubbish 31, with zero motivation for its nameless group of masked psycho killers and a love of the grotesque carnival world that's nowhere near as vivid as Tobe Hooper's The Funhouse.

This Haunt is nastier, more vicious and bloody but not very likeable or entertaining. It does make one of its characters a victim of domestic violence, which might have been more interesting if they hadn't then set up her abusive scumbag boyfriend as a potential hero to redeem him somehow, although it (wisely, and happily) doesn't follow through on this. Maybe if these Halloween haunts were more popular on this side of the Atlantic, I'd have responded a little more to it. But they're not, and I didn't.

***
**

WATER

DRIP DRIP DRIP SPOILERS DRIP

Too long even at an hour and forty, indifferently performed, increasingly silly, full of unbelievable characters and a plot that makes no sense. Water is a thunderously terrible vengeful ghost yarn with nothing to commend it but the fantastic architecture of the House Where Something Unspeakable Happened. Once more, the location is doing a lot of the heavy lifting and this one weighs an absolute ton.

Some time after the original owner (top-billed Lorenzo Lamas) had run off with the insurance money after killing his wife, the apparently unsellable house is bought by a B-movie scriptwriter (why isn't he living in Los Angeles?) and his wife, even after the initial Stay Away omen of their toddler daughter falling in the swimming pool within minutes of arriving. Realising immediately that something is wrong, they seek to have the house blessed, but the multi-faith (and multi-tattooed) minister disappears. The daughter, who's apparently aged about seven years in just a few weeks, has a "friend" who lives in the swimming pool... Maybe the ginormous handyman, forever tending to the plants and talking to himself, knows more than he's saying?

No-one seems to have the internet in 2018, but they do have a fax machine; auteur Phillip Penza decorates the hero's office with posters of his own works, Tales From The Crypt: Bordello Of Blood gets namechecked for no good reason, the handyman drops in a couple of random celebrity impressions, the film stops rather than ends, and the hero's London accent is left unexplained. Throw in some frankly unappetising nudity (not wishing to be ungallant, but please put them back on) and a genuinely gratuitous knob shot and the result is the least rewarding Saturday morning I've spent in quite a while.

*

GIANT KILLER ANTS

CONTAINS SOME SPOILERS

Another entry in the subgenre of Stupid People Doing Stupid Things For Stupid Reasons, this is a surprisingly unsatisfying monster horror comedy musical, in which you're pretty much on Team Ant from very early on thanks to some profoundly unsympathetic, not to say punchable, leading characters. Throw in the fact that most of them are high on peyote most of the time and unable to go for twelve seconds without shouting and shrieking, and it's honestly tough to rustle up any empathy for them, even if you have a nostalgic love for 90s power ballad bands and/or hard rock ensembles (which I confess I don't).

A failing heavy rock band, unable to decide whether to develop a new style or go back to their musical roots, whose only hit was a cheesy soft rock number twenty years ago and who are now only able to get into small desert festivals, stop off en route to sample the local psychedelic hallucinogens in the hope of musical inspiration. Warned not to harm the smallest living creatures while on the reservation, they nevertheless take out an ant, with the inevitable retribution of larger and larger ants striking back...

Much bellowing and hollering ensue, along with some terrible music (including the end credits song Sideboob inspired by a willowy young hanger-on forever in a bikini and not much else), Asylum-level CGI monster effects, Tom Arnold, Sean Astin and Jake Busey, a (presumably) comedy dwarf, some appalling trousers, a silly ending reminiscent of Mars Attacks! and not enough of the band getting ripped apart by giant ants. Giant Killer Ants (aka Dead Ant) is annoying and grating more than anything else: it's not much fun and I ended up just wishing I was watching either This Is Spinal Tap or It Came From The Desert.

**

OBSERVANCE

MIGHT CONTAIN SPOILERS, IT'S HARD TO TELL AS THERE'S NOTHING MUCH THERE TO SPOIL, TO BE HONEST WITH YOU

It's a common and familiar response to a rotten movie, to mutter the words "well, there's eighty-odd minutes of my life I'll never get back." This is certainly true, in the sense that the time spent was a poor trade for the artistry or entertainment received. How can one quantify an acceptable reward per hour or per minute, and how can one factor in the thrill of a potential discovery against the disappointment of an actual stinker? It's like the excitement of the lottery results against the wrong balls coming up yet again.

No-one's balls come up with Observance, an entirely unsatisfying zero of a film in which eighty-odd minutes aren't wasted, they're squandered and trashed in the least productive, rewarding or interesting manner, to the extent that sitting through it may well count as an act of self-harm. Shot on the extremely cheap in Sydney, possibly pretending to be somewhere in the USA but clearly not (and to me it looked like it was made in the UK, if only because one of the characters makes herself a mug of Yorkshire Tea), it nominally tells of a hard-up private detective hired to watch a woman in the flat across the road, take pictures and monitor her phone calls. Just keep watching, that's all he has to do for a ridiculously huge payoff. But is there something else going on? Is there someone else in his apartment? Is that a jar of blood on his bedroom shelf? What happened at the beach that he keeps having flashbacks to?

It's got a certain visual style to it, nicely capturing the dank aura of grimness of his flat (set against the clean, warm and comfortable home of his subject) but as any kind of a story or narrative worth following it's got absolutely nothing, with conventional thriller ideas (such as hints of a wider conspiracy with her employers) toyed with and abandoned. Some of it might be in his imagination, memory or nightmares, none of it's interesting beyond atmosphere. If I'd paid a rental fee for it I'd be emailing Amazon Prime furiously demanding my £3.99 back; as it is I want my eighty-six minutes and fourteen seconds back. John Jarratt out of Wolf Creek has a bit part.

*

THE JACK IN THE BOX

BOIIIIING!!! CONTAINS MINOR SPOILERS

A very, very minor horror using a set of very familiar tropes: someone finds an object which turns out to be cursed and starts killing people off; no-one believes them and they then have to run around trying to prove their innocence and defeat the curse, by tracking down the object's previous owner and/or a demonology expert. They then have to race against time to confront the evil and destroy it before it kills a loved one but something goes wrong and it's not really defeated because, hey, franchise potential.

The Jack In The Box is pretty much straight down this line and offers very few surprises, the main one being that the lead character is male when more often than not it's the girl. The other is that it's all shot in Northamptonshire (though the hero is American). Most of it takes place in the underattended museum where the box, which looks not unlike a large Lament Configuration, has suddenly turned up after a house clearance (a minor plot point that actually doesn't make any sense). Our hero, who has a guilty backstory that's giving him insomnia and therefore might be messing with his sense of reality, merrily opens it and releases the evil entity trapped within, a grotesque clown figure seeking to kill six people....

It's spectacularly ordinary: it's not the absolute worst but it's not any good at all, it's just about borderline okay at very, very best. There's a bit of blood and gore here and there, but nothing to trouble the 15 certificate; there are a couple of effective jump scares, and the monster makeup is nicely realised, but it all feels flat and half-hearted and you're left wondering what the point of all that was. There's supposedly a sequel on the way.

**

L.A. SLASHER

HEY GUYS! SPOILERS!

The whole point about slasher movies is that there really isn't any depth to them. Homicidal maniac kills a bunch of people, someone fights back, homicidal maniac gets killed, Oh No He Doesn't, roll credits, same time next year. There's really not a huge amount of depth in even the most famous or most successful of them: Halloween and Friday The 13th, Rosemary's Killer and Happy Birthday To Me. (Even the Saw movies' occasional stabs at real Issues, such as heartless health insurance companies, are only there to provide unsympathetic mutilation fodder.) They're very simple variations on very simple tunes that don't require complex and dissonant orchestration.

L.A. Slasher thinks it has a Significant Social Message to which we should pay attention, but it's actually a very simple one: reality show stars are a blight upon society, right?  We wouldn't care - indeed, we'd be delighted - if a serial killer took out the likes of the Kardashians and Paris Hiltons, the vapid and vacuous nothings who permeate so much of modern life. Our masked, white-suited cultural vigilante duly picks off an assortment of heiresses, reality stars, sleazy Hollywood pervs, useless politicians and airhead bimboes, streaming their deaths online backed by a wave of public support from people who regard the victims as easy hate figures and are glad to see the back of them.

There's some blood, but nowhere near enough, Eric Roberts is prominently billed but isn't in it very much (you know something's gone wrong when "not enough Eric Roberts" is a valid complaint), the police are barely visible, the characters are never named and are only referred to by their occupations (which are flashed up in huge neon letters in the way they think Tarantino might), and the only real traces of fun come from the drug dealer double-act of Danny Trejo and Dave Bautista. Weirdly, but appropriately, the ranting maniac himself is never identified; like the semi-finalist of some talent show series three years ago, we neither know nor care who it is and it doesn't matter anyway. Similar to the value-free nonentities at its centre, it's a film that's not despicable enough to get angry about but barely interesting enough to sit and watch as it goes through its uninteresting paces, and in the end is probably best ignored.

**

Friday, 21 August 2020

THE POOL

CONTAINS SPOILERS AND ANIMAL-BASED HILARITY

A minimal cast, one main location, and a fantastically simple opening set-up that manages to wring a hell of a lot of suspense and escalating tension out of almost nothing, this lean Thai thriller is absolutely worth seeing. Following the wrap of a film shoot in a private swimming pool, one of the art department guys (who also provided the dog) stays behind and lounges in the water, not realising until it's too late that the pool is being drained and, like Adrift (aka Open Water 2), there's no ladder for him to get out. Then his girlfriend dives in but cracks her head on the diving board. And he's left his phone, and his next insulin shot, on the poolside table.

And then the crocodile shows up. The Pool brilliantly cranks up the terror of the situation with a steady stream of "what else can possibly go wrong?", with only two people trapped for several days with a sofa, a roll of duct tape and a CGI croc, and no-one else they can call for help. Granted that the grip slackens a little with a couple of flashbacks to more romantic moments, and the CG monster is a little dodgy sometimes (though obviously wildly superior to the rubbish creatures from the Crocoshark Meets Piranhagator kind of dribbling nonsense), but it's tightened again fairly quickly.

Possibly the most contentious moment of the film isn't to do with the croc at all: there's a third act plot moment involving the dog that is either unforgiveably sickening or appallingly hilarious, and I'm not too ashamed to say that I gasped in disbelief and then laughed like the drain at the bottom of the pool itself. Others may find that moment a bad taste step too far. That aside, along with the climactic drowning sequence which milks the CPR/kiss of life routine to excess, enjoy.

****

DEAD STOP

CONTAINS SOME SPOILERS

An RV full of bickering halfwitted teens gets stuck in the desert when the van's battery runs flat: after a painful opening few reels of arguing and booze-fuelled humping they discover that they're not alone out there: there's some kind of nocturnal monster roaming the scrubland and bloodily ripping apart everyone it meets. Fortunately they've picked up a couple of hitch-hikers who happen to be seasoned travellers and one is an expert on wildlife...

Dead Stop is not terribly exciting to start with: no-one cares about the teenies' romantic entanglements and sexual infidelities, and much of the film is shot in big close-up and in the dark, which can get a little annoying after a while. Fortunately when the monster thing turns up, mostly unseen apart from glimpses (we get more red-tinted POV creature vision than we do clear sight of it), it livens up with a bit more blood sploshed around than usual, and it's not afraid to kill off the ones you thought would make it.

Not a must-see by any stretch, and you won't give a hoot about why she slept with this guy when she loves that guy, or why that other woman came on to one of them (while he was urinating), but it has its occasional nasty moments and a baffling ending. It carries a copyright date of 2016, but there's been a clip on YouTube from late 2011 when it was playing a few American festivals.

**

Wednesday, 19 August 2020

ART OF THE DEAD

CONTAINS SOME MINOR SPOILERS

A cheerfully trashy low-budgeter with a surprisingly generous dollop of sex and blood, this almost feels like the cheapo ripoff response to the more high profile (if strangely underdistributed) Velvet Buzzsaw: the sort of thing Fred Olen Ray or Jim Wynorski would come up with three days after watching it. Strip out the satire on art pretensions, fill it with people you've never heard of and a couple of minor name guest stars (Tara Reid, Richard Grieco), and ramp up the sleaze, gore and nudity. The result is hardly a classic, but it's good nasty fun with an almost howlingly silly last act to commend it.

Art Of The Dead (was someone hoping casual shoppers might confuse it with Art Of The Deal?) centres around a set of seven animal paintings dating from the 1890s and illustrating each of the Seven Deadly Sins. Mystery surrounds the original artist Dorian Wilde (a clunking choice of name, though not as clunking as his occasional appearances as a pantomime Englishman), and everyone who has ever owned them ended up dead....

It's rubbish, obviously, but the graphic bloodshed and the pile-up of idiocies in the final reels make it much more enjoyable and entertaining as a Friday night schlocker than it should, or could, have been. And the paintings themselves are pretty impressive as well.

***

Saturday, 8 August 2020

YUMMY

AVEC DES SPOILIERES

The zombie movie has long since passed. Unless you're George Romero (and, let's be honest, you're not), there's now very little use for the ambulant undead outside of harmless knockabout (Scouts Guide To The Zombie Apocalypse, Dance Of The Dead), small-scale serious dramas (Maggie, The Cured), the rom-zom-com (Warm Bodies, Life After Beth) and the odd videogame gorefest (Dead Rising, Resident Evil). Running or shuffling, they're not scary any more, but that's not to say they can't still be the source of grossout fun in a silly, gory way as this Balkan-set Belgian comedy shows.

Detailing the allegedly hilarious antics of the sleazy staff and bemused patients at an Eastern European plastic surgery clinic when the first zombie is inadvertently let loose, Yummy is amusing enough but, in the absence of anything else to do, sometimes stumbles over the bad taste line. Centering around a massively-breasted young woman who wants to be reduced from a G-cup to a mere B (she can't run and it gives her backache) and her hapless boyfriend who's immediately suspicious of the dubious medical practices, it swiftly sets off its flesh-eating ghoul contagion to bring us some grisly set-pieces (including a scene of escalating penis violence which is probably the most memorable sequence in the film), the now-mandatory downbeat ending and not much else.

The film, much like its zombie hordes, isn't scary or creepy and doesn't even make you jump. It's more interested in the blood and grue, which it delivers efficiently enough. But I do miss the idea of taking the zombs seriously, either as a metaphor for some social observation or as a simple scary monster, and even by the standards of the Resident Evil series, the reasons for the living dead's existence are pretty silly. There's still some grisly fun to be had with Yummy, but there's not much that's new or different. A recent addition to Shudder.

***

Friday, 31 July 2020

122

CONTAINS SOME SPOILERS

One of the great things about horror films is their international scope. There's a mainstream audience for horror from Spain, Mexico, Brazil or South Korea when other genres (political drama, romantic comedy, social commentary) from the same countries are pigeonholed as World Cinema or Arthouse. Horror audiences seem to be more adventurous in that regard and will happily watch something from Indonesia or Turkey, when fans of romantic comedies will usually (not always, but more often) stick to English language and, very occasionally, French.

As a genre fan, I'm always happy to tick another country off the list - I'm still hoping that one day we'll get a werewolf movie or something from Malawi - and this time around it's Egypt. (Frank Agrama's unremarkable Dawn Of The Mummy was an American film.) 122 isn't an outright horror film, but it's a damn good B-thriller that fits into the genre as much as something like Wes Craven's Red Eye does. Nasr, shoe shop assistant and general loser, agrees to one last job as courier for a drug deal so he can afford to marry his (hearing-impaired) girlfriend. But there's a car smash and both of them end up in a strangely underpopulated hospital full of unhelpful nurses and sinister doctors...

For a while 122 (the Egyptian equivalent of 999 in the UK or 911 in the States) looks to be one of those "they're actually dead and don't realise it yet" movies, but it soon becomes clear that they're actually running a criminal scheme in the basement. If you can accept that [1] an allegedly recently built hospital doesn't have a proper mortuary and [2] Nasr can lie on an autopsy table for four hours without any of the doctors noticing that he's not dead, then it's actually quite fun in a runaround kind of way, with a smattering of Die Hard-ish clambering about in lift shafts and treading barefoot on sharp objects. It's not a great movie, but it's a fun and enjoyable one. A recent addition to Netflix.

***

Thursday, 30 July 2020

MARY: LOSS OF SOUL

CONTAINS SOMEH SPOILERS

The worst response you can have to a film isn't loving or hating it, it's "meh". It's the absence of a response, the mixing of two chemicals that simply don't react with each other; the only thing you're responding to is simply that it exists. This is an indifferent shrug, it's the melody line to Chopsticks, tepid tap water. Beige on film with a 12A certificate, a confirmation email typed in plain Arial. The only response to it is "meh".

Mary: Loss Of Soul is listed on Prime as The Haunting Of Mary, which was already a bit of a generic title but at least it had a suggestion of horror about it. In reality it's a very slightly supernatural drama about a happy teen who experienced something in the woods one night that was so terrifying she lost not only her memory of the event but chunks of her soul, turning her into a sulky, miserable moper with no enthusiasm or joy. What could it have been? Fortunately there's a friendly Irish Wiccan type on hand...

Bland and unremarkable to the extent it could probably play on Channel 5 on a Sunday afternoon (its natural home, given its style-free TV look), there's literally nothing of interest about this film. It's not offensive, it's not terrible, it's not badly made, it's just... it's just there. It's just a whole load of meh. Meh.

*

Tuesday, 28 July 2020

PANDAMONIUM

CONTAINS SPOILARS

Yes, that is the correct spelling: it's a pun based on the fact that the serial killer in this utterly joyless, borderline amateur brain-damaged (and brain-damaging) apology for a film wears a panda mask when out slashing. It's pretty much the cleverest joke in the whole enterprise: a slasher comedy that's supposedly aimed at adults (strippers, drugs, swearing, murders) but saddled with a level of wit that's either grotesquely sexist sex references or puns that late period Carry On films and Lidl Christmas crackers would be ashamed to utter.

Pandamonium is allegedly set in a law firm where some of the finest legal minds in the business are competing for a promotion, though it's actually a cross between an unmanned kindergarten and a coke-fuelled chimps' tea party. The guys are a bunch of drooling sex-obsessed Cro-Magnon misogynists who've clearly never actually touched a woman before, and react to what the script laughably describe as "the best strippers that money can buy" (and by "money" they clearly mean "fifteen quid and a bus fare home afterwards") in a manner that makes Danny Dyer look like Gandhi; even more remarkable given that the strippers don't even take their dresses off. And there's the mad killer in the panda mask, bumping everyone off in uninteresting and unimaginative ways except the cute new office junior...

It's stupid, it's boring, it's barely professional, it's atrociously written, it's abominably acted, and everyone, absolutely everyone involved needs to take a long hard look deep into their souls and accept responsibility for what they've done. I don't care if you only made the sandwiches or supplied a few props: you did this. You did this and you should be bloody well ashamed of yourselves. This isn't a film, it's a war crime. Terrifyingly, it concludes with a suggestion of a sequel called Slasher House, which is exactly the kind of thing that happens if you don't clamp down on these things right at the start.

*

Sunday, 26 July 2020

NAKED - AS NATURE INTENDED / SECRETS OF A WINDMILL GIRL

CONTAINS SPOILERS AND HISTORICAL PHWOOAR

A double-bill of third-grade grot from the early years of cinematic British smut, this DVD captures for posterity not one but two opportunities to be bludgeoned into a stupefied submission, not just by the thundering uneroticism but a level of technical shoddiness you'd baulk at in someone's home movies. Whatever historical significance they might have had in the battle between the dirty raincoat brigade and the legions of decency, is outweighed very quickly by the suffocating boredom.

There's little doubt that Secrets Of A Windmill Girl is the better of the two: it has some vague semblance of narrative, it has a handful of recognisable faces (Pauline Collins, Martin Jarvis, Howard Marion Crawford), and it has a few bits of background footage of sixties Soho and Berwick Street. Beginning with a fatal car smash, it tells of the dead girl's life as a Windmill Girl, taking part in elaborately choreographed but sexually tame revues, until the theatre closes against competition from crass, soulless strip clubs offering full nudity. Much of this is padded out to feature length with full dance numbers from the Windmill stage (none of which feature the two female stars - Collins and April Wilding run up and down the backstage stairs in the skimpy costumes a lot, but are never seen on the stage), a magic act, and an endless comedy song of the sort Benny Hill used to churn out by the dozen but nowhere near as good: Hill, Jake Thackray, Mitch Benn and Richard Stilgoe can rest very easy.

It's also no fun: more a depressing rags-to-the-gutter saga of the seedy, sordid side of Soho behind the glitz and glamour than an actual entertainment, and the needle barely flickers on the titillation meter (it has a 15 certificate, downgraded from the 1966 cinema X). Were those audiences that starved of phwooar that this dross sufficed and satisfied? Were they that desperate to see a brief glimpse of buttocks or a subliminal flash of nipple that sitting through an hour of miserable stodge was accepted as a price worth paying?

The tit to tat ratio is noticeably higher in Naked - As Nature Intended, made five years earlier yet, despite having much more nudity in it, was only given an A certificate. That was because it's a serious documentary about naturism and nudist camps and in no way is it salacious or pornographic, honest, officer. It barely scrapes in as a feature film at fifty nine and a half minutes, about two thirds of which is nothing but home movie footage from day trips to Stonehenge and Tintagel and the whole thing slathered with British Light Classical from the stock music libraries. Confronted by this deathly combo of tedium and travelogue, few people would surely have felt compelled to strip off and play table tennis, but even fewer would, even more surely, have felt compelled to trek down for the weekend to what's left of King Arthur's alleged castle.

Granted, forty minutes in and you do get some boobs and bums (anything else is covered up by a towel or a carrier bag or the edge of the frame) and that was the abject object of the exercise: so you could look at naked women without being labelled a pervert. Nowadays this is more of a quaint nostalgia item, from the days when this was as racy as filth ever got. Its entertainment quota is absolute nil, its occasional stabs at silent slapstick comedy are merely baffling, and only as a mild curiosity and a brief footnote in film censorship history does it have the slightest scrap of significance.

*
*

Sunday, 12 July 2020

SPARE BEDROOM FRIGHTFEST 3 - DAY FIVE

The end is in sight, the finish line is in sight. Just five more films to go... Can there be some brilliance today please?

Z (Shudder) ***

A pretty good horror about children's imaginary friends (which in this case aren't imaginary, and they're far more malevolent entities than Drop Dead Fred), this is genuinely creepy and unsettling in places and has a fabulously grim ending. And it's always nice to see Stephen McHattie turn up in a cameo. Not a classic but well worth seeing.

Here Alone (Netflix) ***

Minimal, miserable zombie pandemic drama centred on one woman permanently camped in the drabbest of woodlands, sleeping in her car but never driving away; instead scavenging for berries, trapping animals, and occasionally breaking into houses in the area for their remaining tinned food supply. Then two other survivors show up... More of a character drama than a horror film, building up to the reveal of her Big Secret that's psychologically trapped her in the woods all this time; it's actually quite well done and well played but there's no levity or lightness to it.

When Angels Sleep (Netflix) ***

Dark Spanish thriller starting from a very simple idea: a man needs to get home to his daughter's birthday party but things increasingly get in the way. He thinks he's run a woman down, there's a witness he needs to deal with, and the police are on his trail because they'd already pulled him over that evening for erratic driving. It gets a little sour towards the end, but for much of the time it's involving and entertaining.

Trick (Netflix) ****

Probably my favourite of the weekend, this is an exceptionally bloody and violent slasher with a high body count and some fun set-piece kills. Every Halloween a small town is plagued with a vicious murder spree, apparently by the same masked killer (whose body was never found after being shot repeatedly by the police and falling from a high hospital window). This year they think they've got "Trick" pinned down at the scene of his first spree, but no-one is taking the threat seriously, and everyone is masked (some in homage to Trick himself) so the killer could be absolutely anybody in the scary maze or the late night horror movie screenings... Some nice twists, a decent cast (Tom Atkins, Omar Epps) and an ending hinting at a sequel which in this case wouldn't be unwelcome, this is nasty but highly enjoyable. Recommended.

Fractured (Netflix) ***

A thriller with an either-or plot that eventually has to decide between two fairly obvious alternatives, though it does keep you guessing for a while. After his daughter has a fall on a building site, Ray (Sam Worthington) takes her to a hospital only to find that the hospital suddenly has no trace of her and no evidence that she was even admitted. Are they running an illegal organ-harvesting scheme in the basement, or is his family a figment of his deranged imagination and they were never there? To be honest, either option would have been a damp squib, but while it's playing both of them it's solid enough.

So... overall a very mixed bag. Two pretty good hits (Trick and Tau), two comprehensive duds (Black Mountain and They Look Like People), a smattering of just about okay and perfectly alright. Will be doing another one in a couple of weeks...

Saturday, 11 July 2020

SPARE BEDROOM FRIGHTFEST 3 - DAY FOUR

This is usually the point at which I hit The Wall - like a marathon runner (presumably; obviously I wouldn't know from direct experience) when it suddenly catches up with you and you think you can't go on any more. Happens every year at FrightFest even though I know there are only ten films left, we're past the halfway point and freewheeling downhill from here. Even so, as I plug in the firestick again I'm starting to have to make the effort...

Prey (Prime) **

Matinee fun as a bunch of halfwits journed out into the jungles of Panama to visit a waterfall and end up being eaten by a chupacabra beast of local legend. Hard to sympathise with any of them: not only were they told there was a monster out there but they'd accessed found-footage clips on YouTube of the previous bunch of imbeciles who ignored all the warnings. The guys are an especially hateful selection of hard-drinking yahoos hanging around with their shirts off and being dicks to their girlfriends. Still, you do get the satisfaction of seeing them get killed, and the monster's effective enough when it's (mostly) barely glimpsed.

Revenge Of The Pontianak (Netflix) **

Visually lush but ho-hum horror from Singapore/Malaysia: if a pregnanat woman is buried without the full funeral rites, she will come back as the titular pontianak, a kind of vengeful demon. In this instance she's a spurned fiancee deemed an unsuitable match, and the errant son is forced to dispose of her when she's about to give birth... Colourful and watchable, and certainly well done, but it never really clicked with me.

The Inhabitants (Prime) *

Yet another low-rent ho-hum seen-this-all-before horror cheapie in which a couple move into an old B+B, not knowing that it's haunted. Very flat, very unremarkable, occasionally silly, only mildly creepy, barely worth the effort.

They Look Like People (Prime) *

Given that it was a FrightFest title, this was the big disappointment of the weekend: a mostly three-hander between people I couldn't possibly be less interested in. Is there a shapeshifter alien invasion imminent? Is our hero's firlfriend one of them? Can his best friend save him, even if it means duct-taping him to a chair in the basement? Do I give a damn? Honestly, I felt like walking out. I didn't believe in any of them, didn't believe anything that happens, couldn't wait for it to be over. More seriously, and personally more worryingly, I honestly cant even bothered to work out why.

Danur (Netflix) **

Aka Danur: I Can See Ghosts, this is yet another Indonesian ghost story, no better or worse than any of the others and not doing anything particularly radical. This one has a flavour of Insidious about it, with a young child lured into a netherworld by demonic entities. It's perfectly watchable, perhaps less stylish than others of a similar ilk, and a whole bunch of absolutely nothing special.

Ryde (Prime) **

A psycho takes the identity of a Ryde driver (which is absolutely not Uber) and kills a bunch of horrible people in a cheap homicidal maniac thriller. Viciously violent in places, enough to get an 18 if anyone bothered to officially submit it; tackily and sleazily entertaining enough as late-night slasher trash. In the event, it pretty much ended as the best film of the day and it really shouldn't.

A poor day all round, then - just one day left...

Monday, 6 July 2020

SPARE BEDROOM FRIGHTFEST 3 - DAY THREE

Six films today...

Malevolence 3: Killer (Prime) ***

If at all possible, start the day with a nasty low-budget slasher movie. This is (obviously) the third in the grimy, unglossy Malevolence series, in which hulking killer Martin Bristol (apparently wearing one of Michael Myers' old boiler suits) wordlessly offs a series of teens while an FBI agent follows the trail of corpses. Steven Mena, creator of the trilogy, wrote, directed, produced, scored, edited and photographed; Adrienne Barbeau shows up as the killer's grandmother. It's fairly relentless, enjoyably bloody, and a step up from the second one (Bereavement); it's no unheralded classic that needs championing, but I had enough fun with it.

The Nightshifter (Shudder) ***

Agreeable Brazilian horror with a few traces of morbid comedy, in which a meek morgue attendant uses his gift of speaking with the dead bodies that arrive on his slab, to engineer the gangland execution of a local baker who's been schtupping his wife. But his wife gets killed as well and she's not happy about it... Pretty good stuff, with a nicely horrible exhumation scene and a severed (talking) head in a glass jar. Enjoyed it.

Before I Wake (Netflix) ***

Mike Flanagan has built up a solid and stylish back catalogue, from Hush and Oculus to Doctor Sleep and Ouija: Origin Of Evil. Nestling in the middle of those is Before I Wake, in which Kate Bosworth and Thomas Jane adopt an orphaned boy (Jacob Tremblay), only to discover that his dreams come to life. To begin with they're benign and sweet - he has a thing about butterflies - but then he dreams about the couple's deceased son, and suffers from night terrors featuring the demonic Canker Man. Well worth catching, with some welcome creepy imagery.

Await Further Instructions (Netflix) **

The first major disappointment of the weekend. Starting with the awkwardness of an extended family Christmas (already soured by tiresome and uncomfortable comedy racism that didn't need to be there), it switches gears when they discover the house is sealed and increasingly sinister instructions are flashed onto the TV screen. Torture, violence and a twisted of the already twisted family dynamics ensue, before a genuinely mind-boggling and spectacular apocalypse finale. But by that point I'd lost interest: I struggled to get (and stay) involved, with some of the characters' behaviour feeling completely implausible as it went on.

The 9th Precinct (Netflix) ***

Far Eastern horror comedy has come a long way since the nonsensical knockabout likes of the Mr Vampire films and Witch From Nepal. This is more of a riff on Men In Black and R.I.P.D., in which a detective with the ability to see ghosts ends up in a special police precinct tasked with helping ghosts leave the living world peacefully, but coming up against a rich businesswoman planning an occult ritual... It's silly and harmless and it's not really very scary, but it's fun in a dumb Saturday night way and I enjoyed it enough.

Dead Rising: Endgame (Prime) **

Fairly colourless but bloody zombie shenanigans based on a video game. The first one (Dead Rising: Watchtower) was fun enough but this is no more than more of the same old schlock, indifferently done but with enough blood and undeath to get by; Billy Zane is a mad scientist, Dennis Haysbert is an evil general. I didn't fall asleep.

Day Four beckons....

Thursday, 2 July 2020

SPARE BEDROOM FRIGHTFEST 3 - DAY TWO

An interesting mix today...

Bedeviled (Netflix) **

Harmless teenkill nonsense in a similar vein to last year's Countdown (though this one was made back in 2016): in the wake of one of their friend's suicide, an agreeably diverse group of teenagers download a mysterious AI app that's actually some kind of netherworld demon which promptly syncs up with all their social media and confronts them with their worst fears until they kill themselves. Some of their fears are unusual: a battered childhood teddy, a creepy old woman from an old photograph; though one is lumbered with clowns (which are creepy, sure, but we've seen creepy clowns before and the nod to It is hammered home with a red balloon). It's disposable, unremarkable, not terrible but nowhere near essential viewing.

The Doll 2 (Netflix) ***

Rocky Soraya has six Indonesian horror films on Netflix and three of them are the Doll franchise: the most unfriendly-looking dolls imaginable possessed by the restless spirits of the dead children who once owned them. Though this begins by tying up the last loose ends from the first film, it then cuts to a completely different possessed doll terrorising a new family after the young daughter died in a car smash. It's a bit long (nearly two hours) but generally pretty entertaining and has a couple of nice twists to it. And I'll probably include the third one in a future binge.

Freaks (Netflix) ***

This played at both the London and Glasgow FrightFests last year but I didn't get to see it; a shame, especially considering what I ended up seeing against it. A young girl is kept locked in her home by her overprotective father (Emile Hirsch), supposedly to protect her from the bad people who would do her harm but there's much more to it than that, with echoes of (of all things) some of the X-Men movies. Bruce Dern is a possibly creepy ice-cream seller always just outside the front door. Well worth a look, as it veers off into surprising and unexpected directions.

The Mermaid: Lake Of The Dead (Prime) ***

Agreeable Russian fantasy horror in which a young man meets a mermaid - not the cute and romantic Daryl Hannah type, but a figure of demonic folklore that, having seduced its (her?) prey, then torments him when he rejects it (her) in favour of his human girlfriend. As usual in these things, they have to find out who she is and how to defeat her. It's generally pretty decent, unusual enough to stand out a little and enjoyable enough.

Tau (Netflix) ****

Petty thief Maika Monroe is abducted one night and wakes up in a basement with an implant surgically inserted into her neck; she's resourceful enough to escape but then finds herself in the fortress home of a bastard tech zillionaire (Ed Skrein), tasked with improving the thinking process of his revolutionary AI system named Tau (voiced by Gary Oldman), which would actually make it more human than he is. Essentially a three-hander that mostly takes place in one of those gloriously ridiculous superhouses for the absurdly wealthy; it's involving, exciting in its final reel and looks great. A more than decent conclusion to Day Two and the best film of the weekend so far.

Next up - Day Three...

Wednesday, 1 July 2020

SPARE BEDROOM FRIGHTFEST 3 - DAY ONE

Back in May I decided to do a FrightFest at home. Obviously it's nothing like a real FrightFest: no guests, no giveaways, no goodie bags. Instead it was a five-day horror movie binge from whatever Netflix had to offer, timed and scheduled with suitable meal breaks and sensible finish times, a balance of (as far as I could tell from quickly scanning the trailers) decent quality genre movies, a scattering of international titles and nothing too scary last thing at night. Everything went off with only minor glitches - one film dropped because it turned out to be found footage, one dropped because I'd already seen it - and even though some of the films were a bit rubbish I decided that overall it was enough of a success to warrant doing it again a few weeks later.

So I plunged into the murky backwaters of Netflix, Free Prime and Shudder and sadly it was nowhere near as good. The mistakes were obvious - principally there were too many films that I panicked into shoving into the lineup because they were about to drop off the services (at least one of them has now been added again) when I should have just let them go.

Nevertheless, I persisted. And this time it was...well, not great, but certainly better, with enough films that were scarcely classics but perfectly alright, and a couple of rather good ones to offset the inevitable stinkers. Not that Day One got off to the best of starts....

Black Mountain (Prime) *

Dear God! No really, it's a film in which a bunch of bearded guys at a snowbound archaeology dig are menaced by a deer deity when they uncover an ancient structure. Boring to look at, the guys mostly look the same (several times I wondered, "isn't he dead already?"), it's impossible to care very much, and the film can't survive the inevitable comparisons with The Thing. Aka Black Mountain Side, aka Get This Tripe Off My Screen.

The Warning (Netflix) ***

Mysterious, apparently random shootings at a gas station and 24-hour convenience store take place on the same date, in assorted years through the last century, when there are only five people there of specific ages; a man whose best friend was just shot at in that same store discovers a pattern in the numbers, and works out when the next killing will take place - but can he warn the next victim? Enjoyable and engrossing Spanish thriller, if a touch implausible, with a few nice twists.

Widow's Walk (Prime) ***

Low-key and pleasantly understated British ghost story telling of a war widow and her young son spending time at a small cottage on the cold and windblown Suffolk coast where a tragedy occurred during the Second World War. Thankfully resisting the temptation to accompany every ghostly appearance with a crashing dischord, it's a welcome change from the usual loud noises and Boo! jump scares. With Virginia McKenna as the elderly neighbour. Well worth a look.

Bulbbul (Netflix) ***

A brand new addition to the streaming services, this is an Indian folklore fantasy mixed with a (not very difficult) whodunnit and shot in ravishingly exaggerated colours. Late 19th Century Bengal: who or what is the mysterious demon witch creature (with its feet turned backwards) committing bloody murders in the forest? It's gorgeous to look at, occasionally quite grisly and pretty enjoyable.

Hellmington (Prime) **

I like to end these days with something undemanding, something light to go to bed on, and this certainly isn't heavy or confrontational. Actually it's a fairly average and unremarkable investigative thriller, in which a city cop returns to her home town for her father's funeral and gets involved in the cold case disappearance of her high school friend. Has it anything to do with a religious sect that seems to worship the number 9? It's mostly pretty bog-standard fare, but the presence of the great Michael Ironside does lift things a little.

Mostly more or less okay so far. But Day Two looms...

Friday, 29 May 2020

EXTRACTION

CONTAINS SOME MINOR SPOILERS

The latest Netflix Original movie hits the streaming service with a wet thud and the sound, not the crisp pffft of the numerous machine gun and automatic rifle rounds pumped through silencers into the countless nameless and faceless legions of bad guy stooges, but the slow pfffft of disappointment and wildly unmet expectations. How can a film with so many people being bloodily and casually killed be so thunderingly dull, so stupefyingly boring? How can a film written and produced by one of the directors of the light and fun Marvel comicbook series, and starring one of its most enjoyable performers, be so deficient in basic entertainment value?

The charm, fun and heroism of Chris Hemsworth's Asgardian superhero turn is Thorly missed in Extraction: he's a battered, battle-scarred and world-weary mercenary hired to rescue a crime lord's kidnapped son from somewhere in the slums of Bangladesh. Rescuing the kid turns out to be the easy part: not only is there an immediate double-cross, but the abductor launches a wave of disposable extras (both corrupt military and wannabe gangster street kids) to get the child back...

There's no humour to be had here, no wit, no lightness, no charm, either in Hemsworth's improbably named Tyler Rake (though he does get to kill someone with a rake at one point) or the film itself. Sure, there's a brutal car chase (designed to look like it was filmed in one take) and it's pretty violent (Netflix seem to think it's an 18 certificate but the BBFC actually gave it a 15), but the action mostly lacks the inventiveness of John Wick or John Woo, where the numerous face-offs are more choreographed dance sequences than straightforward gun massacres. Director Sam Hargrove comes from a stunts background, working with Hemsworth on several of Marvel's (and Hemsworth's) Avengers movies, but Extraction is a lot grittier and more miserable than even their DC rivals. And despite (or maybe because of) all the endless waves of armoured bad guys being shot to pieces or thrown off apartment block balconies, it's impossible to care very much.

Worse, it has a downer of an ending followed by a final coda that deliberately leaves things open-ended in case they want to do another one. Which they've already announced, but to be honest I'd be surprised if I go back to it. Much as I like Hemsworth and much as I'm always up for a crunchy smashy action movie, this just isn't any fun and that's really what we need right now.

**

Tuesday, 28 April 2020

THE PLAGUES OF BRESLAU / DIE ONTWAKING

SPOILERS / SPOILERS

One of the joys about the streaming services is that you never know what you're going to find beyond the Top Trending titles; as with movies in general it's often worth the dig beyond the main attractions. Of the two main suppliers, Amazon Prime and Netflix, the latter probably wins out simply because Prime has a far larger selection and it's far more difficult to wade through of an evening (and of the potentially interesting titles, many on Prime are of poor picture quality and a lot are even worse than that, so curating a decent watch-list on there is a full day's work). That's not to say that everything on Netflix is better - their big new release Coffee & Kareem is absolutely terrible - but they don't seem to pick up any old sludge the way Prime apparently do.

Of these two serial killer thrillers, The Plagues Of Breslau (Plagi Breslau) more rewarded the hunt, marred principally by Netflix automatically picking the English dub when I needed the subs on for captions and newspaper headlines, and inevitably the two didn't entirely match (it wasn't until afterwards that I found I could have watched it in Polish language). Beginning with the discovery of a fresh corpse in a cowhide that had shrunk in the sunlight and suffocated the occupant, it becomes apparent that someone is re-enacting Frederick The Great's week of purging the city of its degenerates, plunderers and oppressors back in the 18th century, using suitable and terrifically grisly medieval punishments....

It doesn't flinch from the gory details (it's lucky to have a 15 certificate) and maintains a dark, humourless tone throughout, with its abrasive, take-no-crap detective battered by personal demons (her fiance was killed by a drunk driver who dodged punishment) as much as professional ones. Surrounding characters are more cartoonish: the glamorous TV journalist openly filming the bloody carnage, the perpetually tipsy prosecutor. Halfway through the film reveals the killer's identity and switches, Se7en-like, from a whodunnit to a why, with a couple of nice plot twists and a satisfying motive.

It's a lot better than Die Ontwaking (which Googles as The Awakening although according to the IMDb it doesn't appear to be known by that title), a cheaper and less gruesome South African variation on the serial killer theme. This reveals its killer pretty much from the start: a creepy middle-aged shopkeeper specialising in African adornments and bric-a-brac (ritual masks and, bizarrely because they're not even remotely African, shrunken heads), but his motivation in removing his victims' tattoos remains unclear. I'm normally a sucker for African and Africa-based movies but this is fairly unremarkable and makes very little sense; the sole point of interest is that the sexist dickhead cop is played by one Gerard Rudolf, a familiar name to those of us who made it to the end of Adam Mason's much-walked-out-of Dust back at FrightFest in 2001...

***
**