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.

***