Tuesday 31 May 2011

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides

Bough’s N’ Sparrows

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides US 2011
Directed by Rob Marshall
Playing at cinemas now.

Ahoy there me hearties. There be slight spoilers among these waters. Steer clear if ye want to live true...

I’ve had something of a chequered history when it comes to my appreciation of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies. I’ve never been to Disneyland myself but I had a Donald Duck book which made mention of it and the Pirates of the Caribbean ride when I was a kid... a book which gets handed down through the family when a new toddler is born... this one was written in the 50s I believe. Occasional cultural references plagued me my entire life and then even Jeff Goldblum got in on the act when I went to the cinema to see Jurassic Park... I’d had enough.

By the time the first movie, Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, arrived on our screens... I was far from chomping at the bit to see it. That being said, Johnny Depp was in it and he usually has something special to bring to the acting table so I spliced my mainbrace and got in line to see it and was genuinely and pleasantly surprised at what an entertaining movie this was... and a mainstream movie at that. Didn’t see that one coming.

After seeing a return of many gold pieces at the box office, however, the producers, crew and actors all returned to make the second and third installments in the newly launched “franchise” back-to-back so we could all be entertained some more while throwing our hard earned cash into their corporate coffers with Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest and Pirates of the Caribbean: At Worlds End... or to put it another way, after I’d gone to see them... the producers, crew and actors all returned to make two movies which were absolutely bloated travesties of all that was good about the first movie and flog the proverbial dead horse into the ground by squeezing out anything that was charming and entertaining about the original work... a work which they’d all helped to create in the first place. Literally, the only thing about the second and third installments (apart from comparable but by no means “as good” musical scores) was the superb acting of Johnny Depp which managed to lift these two carcasses of sequels and elevate them to that sad but common status... “yeah, it was watchable but I wouldn’t want to be forced to look at it again.”

So pardon me if I didn’t get excited at the prospect of another Pirates of the Caribbean movie sailing on course for our shores... especially since said saucy plunder would be “enhanced” (aka have the extra irritation factor) by being in 3-D. However, Johnny Depp is almost always able to carry a movie on his back (the one exception being, in my humble opinion, Secret Window... where he proved that even his fantastic acting skills are not quite able to be a saving grace in a movie quite that bad), the initial teaser trailer (from last year) was quite cute and... well it had one new asset which I always have a weakness for (or should that be two?)... Penelope Cruz was in it and, if the trailers were anything to go by... yeah, she was bringing her cleavage to the party. Arrrr! In 3-D... arrrr harrrrrr arrrrr!

So, for the absolute best reasons for going to see a modern Hollywoodland movie that I could think of, I set sail for my local cinema to take a gander at the latest installment in the franchise, On Stranger Tides, which thankfully had nothing to do with the last two installments... throughout which I was thoroughly confused as to what was going on with the story at any given time and still am to this day.

Well... what can I say about the newest monstrosity in this series? Um... okay... lets have a think. Was it any good? Gut reaction? No, it was mostly pretty awful, although I have to say that it was certainly a lot better than the last two installments... it’s just not an eye-patch on the first movie and that’s really a shame. Disney are really having a hard time trying to get lightning to strike twice in the same spot... at least critical and artistic lightning. The films are pretty much built in box office cash whales so they really aren’t going to be worried that people like myself are finding the sequels less than inspiring. There’s gold in that thar Jack Sparrow and Depp seems to enjoy playing the role so no worries there for securing his services for another couple of movies in the series methinks. It’s a shame though because that first movie they did was really something special.

So what went wrong with this one then... well a bit hard to pin-point really. Just a bit uninspiring and hum drum I think... that’s the worst that could be said about it. Maybe lazy writing “in committee” to make sure all the boxes are ticked on what makes a fun movie? Almost as though it’s been written by a galleon full of piratey script-doctors... although I’m sure that’s not the case.

There are certainly some plus points. Hanz Zimmer’s score made a little better use of the main Jack Sparrow action statement from Klaus Badelt’s score from the first movie... that’d be the one which Badelt seemed to “acquire” from the action sequences in Zimmer’s score for Gladiator (the parts of that Gladiator battle music which weren’t an... um... cough, cough... “homage” to Gustav Holst’s Mars: Bringer of War that is)... and a whole load of Zimmer’s own themes from the initial trilogy have been pitted against each other in a musical stew which isn’t a far cry from the tone of the first three movies.

Then there’s the more than competent Penelope Cruz herself (with piratey bosom in tow), coming off of the starboard bough and initially introduced masquerading as Jack Sparrow himself (gosh... I’m so relieved I got that sentence in there... now my review title pun works!) and delivering a performance that is a pleasure to behold. She could have done with a little more exposure in the movie perhaps (and so could her... oh, alright, I’ll stop it now) but the chemistry with both Depp and Ian McShane was pretty good and having her in it made for some good risqué humour which you wouldn’t expect to find in a Disney movie aimed at a family audience (comments about missionary positions and such like).

And what about Ian McShane in this one, eh? Geoffrey Rush is back as Barbossa but Disney picked the wrong villain to kill off because McShane’s Blackbeard is truly a pleasure to behold. He plays it really well and to the hilt!

But there are some huge minuses on this one. While Johnny Depp's opening stunt scenes are fairly okay... they really are just okay. They are not hilarious or particularly exciting to watch and I was reminded at one point of a similar set-piece in the much maligned and frankly underrated Cutthroat Island, which did it all so much better (although, the greatest pirate film ever is obviously... The Crimson Pirate!) and this film failed to deliver very big on the action sequences and even the less showy scenes of swordplay could not capture the original charm of, say, Jack Sparrow’s initial duel with Will Turner in the first movie. Which is a shame.

And Jack Sparrow himself seems to be a bit of a changed person in this one too, it has to be said. The performance seems to be quite a bit toned down with Depp hardly acting as drunk as the Jack we knew from the first three films (maybe he’s holding back on that stuff so he can re-use it to good effect in his new version of The Thin Man, which I understand he’ll be remaking soon) and, even worse, the witty dialogue seems a bit less sharp and a little forced. Maybe it’s just me but... although his performance was still absolutely excellent... it didn’t really seem to gel for me with the Jack Sparrow of old.

The film has some nice ideas including a romance with a mermaid... one of many vampiric mermaids... but the film is so long and somewhat busy that it really does feel its two and a bit hours in length. They tend to take their toll on the old bones if ye be as old as me shipmates. But I know it wasn’t just me because kids in the audience were starting to get bored too.

And as for stranger tides? Well, believe me... there was nothing nearly as strange in this movie as there were in any of the other three. Think the marketing people got a bit carried away with themselves again on this one. First rule of advertising mates... don’t advertise the qualities of a specific product when it turns out you don’t actually have a product which would live up to your claims. On Stranger Tides my shiny doubloon!

At the end of the day I’d have to turn in my verdict and say that this fourth venture into the world of Jack Sparrow was an okay watch and nothing more. Not completely disappointing but not the film I’d have liked to have seen either. I’d really like them to make another in the hopes that we can get something as good as the original movie again but I think they’re missing a trick or two when it comes to analysing just why that original movie worked. As it is though, this one’s not that great and I doubt I’ll watch it again anytime soon. Which is a pity but that’s the way the grog grumbles!

Monday 30 May 2011

Attack The Block

Dead End Kids N’ The Hood

Attack The Block UK 2011
Directed by Joe Cornish
Playing at cinemas now.

Unwarning: This one's pretty much spoiler free.

Well now. I don’t know who this Joe Cornish person is but I do know that the movie he’s just released is going to be giving me a very hard time when it comes to reviewing this thing here. I’m really torn on this one... I’m not even sure where to begin to be honest. Bear with me here folks.

Okay... let me start off by identifying what, on the surface, this movie is about and then let me attempt to identify what it really is if I can get my fingers under the edges and peel back the layers somewhat. Because, at first glance, this movie is a straight-forward piece of horror/science fiction movie-making. The basic set up goes like this... a gang of nasty youths who are our main protagonists mug a woman who is the main female protagonist... she is saved from possible injury, however, by the distraction caused when an alien crash lands to earth and “has a go” at our would-be muggers and thugs... or “our heroes” as we seem encouraged to think of them. They pursue and kill said alien but a whole load of bigger, hairier aliens (with really cool, green fluorescent teeth) arrive and go after the gang, following them back to their block where they combat the alien menace as best they can with the aid of the woman they originally mugged.

Hmm... okay. That’s the basic set-up and takes you about a quarter of an hour into the movie. But as you can probably tell, even from my little potted synopsis right their, I had some issues with this movie. So let me start at the beginning and tell you my problems with things and hopefully I’ll remember to tell you why this is also a real gem of a genre movie and then you can weigh in on things yourself and make your own minds up. This may just be a slow courtship of hate with me at this point before I slowly fall in love with this movie.

From the trailer, Attack The Block looks like a mindless sci-fi comedy which will leave you on a high when you leave the cinema. Well as far as my experience of the movie went, it isn’t a comedy, it may deal with mindless characters but it is in no way mindless itself and it probably won’t leave you on a high unless you happen to be easily mollified by tribal support and share the same kind of mindset as many of the characters in this movie.

Allow me to clarify that last set of statements.

Is it a comedy? No... it’s not. Why? Because it’s really not very funny... but, I hasten to add that, despite the obvious box office draw of comedian Nick Frost playing a minor supporting role in the movie (a role the trailer makes a lot more of than the film itself does)... I really don’t think the movie is really trying to be funny either. Oh sure, their are the odd one liners and comic moments but these are mostly confined to the realm of the “everyday banter” and are not given any specific comic leanings by the direction and tone of the movie. So to be fair, I think my conclusion that this movie is, you know, not funny... is not going to be a real problem for anyone involved with the film. It’s just misdirected marketing... probably deliberate so it can attract a certain kind of audience and then hope that the sector of the market going purely for a laugh fix will become interested enough in the movie that they’ll forget they went to the cinema to see a comedy.

Secondly... yeah, many of the characters are mindless thugs who are both hard and easy to sympathise with (relax, I’ll get to it in a minute) and it’s because of who these characters are... and the film's unwillingness to write them off as lovable guys, that the movie takes a more intelligent approach to the way these kinds of characters are handled than they would be in something which deals with similar, more likable but ultimately less compelling characters in movies like Anuvahood. And I’ll come back to this again in a minute but let me just deal with that third point...

This certainly isn’t a feel good movie, although there are an amazing amount of very clichéd but very tidy "bonding moments with a pay off" scattered throughout the last half an hour or so of the film which are very much there to make everybody feel hunky dory. Little scenes like the middle-class yuppie hoodie-wannabe finally getting accepted into a group that would have eaten his lame attitude for breakfast at the opening of the film or the two nine year old characters who finally get taken seriously and get themselves called by their “street names” finally by an older member of “the pack”. The ending, however, is an entirely different matter and it’s almost like these little moments during the movie have been put there to numb down the ending of the movie somewhat. Don’t get me wrong here... it’s not a completely no-one-gets-out-of-here-alive kind of ending but it’s certainly a bit of a downer which has been, perhaps a little too blatantly, dressed up and disguised by smoke and mirrors into seeming to be... well, not such a downer of an ending after all. I’m not going to reveal the tone of the ending here but... well nothing is quite cut and dried in this movie and the more I think about that, the more I like it... I think.

Which leads me back to my main bugbear about the film which is this. None of the male cast (or very few of them) are people with whom a non-criminal audience can really, morally afford to sympathise with. Right throughout the first 20 or so minutes of this movie, all I was thinking was, seriously... you want us to sympathise with people who will mug someone in the street with a knife... threaten them and take their valuables and cherished possessions. Why would we do that?

But then Cornish gets kinda smart because, even as you spend more time with these characters and get to know them and perhaps start feeling just a little comfortable with them... the movie reminds you about just who they are. The woman who was mugged by them at the start is certainly not going to forget it and rams their insidious, thug-like nature down their throats at every opportunity. Which is a good thing because... if the writer/director (who happen to be the same person on this one) hadn’t done that, I would be really laying into this film right now on moral grounds. The moment they kind of let that go a little (with the victim actually thanking the leader of the gang for giving her her own ring back) is not too hard to watch... although it’s still a bit of a mis-step in an otherwise cracking little movie.

Back in the thirties there was a series of films about The Dead End Kids... who I think started off opposite Cagney in Angels With Dirty Faces. They were also quite unsympathetic youths in many ways but still millions of movie goers flocked to their local cinemas to see them back in their day. I think the charm of the characters kinda shows through sometimes and the context of their misdeeds in a movie can sometimes allow for unwanted sympathetic response from the audience... and perhaps even empathy... to blend through. I think these guys in Attack The Block are a little bit like The Dead End Kids in the thirties. You don’t necessarily want to feel sympathy with them but the charisma of the actors in their roles is something which will reel you in anyway. At one point in the movie the main female protagonist, Sam, rightly points out the absolute unredeemed stupidity and her lack of sympathy for them when the gang leader, Moses, tries to apologise by relenting that they wouldn’t have mugged her if they’d have known she lives in the same block as them. But still... while these vicious thugs didn’t entirely have my sympathies (I would have liked to have seen them all eaten by aliens very quickly) they aren’t unfeeling characters... some of them have real heart. This kind of double standard which doesn’t really hold up in the cold light of day, is something which the movies do a lot and they do attempt to all the time manipulate you into perceiving situations, events and characters in the way the director and producers want you to see them... on their terms. After all... in Sergio Leone’s Once Upon A Time In America, De Niro’s character running with his gang of thugs is seen taking part in the brutal rape of the girl he loves... but the film is shot and presented in such a way that even after this fact has come to light, the audience still feels sympathy for him. Don’t ask me how... but then again, Leone was a bit of a poetic magician when it came to making movies.

But now that I’ve got my main problem with the movie out of the way, that being that the so-called heroes of the movie are pond-scum thugs who you wouldn’t give the time of day to in a real life situation unless you were forced to by them at knifepoint... let me tell you what else this movie is... just very briefly.

Attack The Block is a bit of a technical tour de force, it has to be said. Hitchcockian, almost, in the unusual angles that it picks out for a lot of its shots, its bold choices are matched confidently and comfortably by the editing, which ensures that none of those shots jar and jolt you out of the pacing of the movie... even though, by rights, they should do. I think a lot of this is to do with the syrupy, gluing effect of the urban dancey soundtrack which helps smooth over any sudden changes in shot design and quite definitely cuts along with the beat to match the visual rhythm to the one pumping out too loud on the speakers of your local cinema. Quite brilliantly, in fact.

So technically brilliant and, as it happens, filled with some really great performances by loads of very charismatic and virtually unknown actors. There’s really not a false step among any of them... in fact, Nick Frost who is always pretty good sticks out a bit more as being a lot less naturalistic than the majority of the people on the shoot... and he’s really not bad in it either. This film is really well cast.

So would I recommend it? Well, if you can get around the challenge that the film is mostly populated by vicious thugs who, in the modern parlance of our time, are quite often complete numptys and actually learn to observe them on their own terms... then yeah, it’s actually a nice little genre horror/action film that only a British director would have been able to pull off with the lightness of touch that this Cornish bloke seems to bring to it. But it’s no great masterpiece either... just a very impressively put together entertainment piece which allows the audience the intelligence to condemn the characters and situations while still asking us to “play the game” a little in the absence of a more potent Pavlovian reflex. If you’ve nothing better to go and see right at the moment, then Attack The Block is probably worth taking the time to go and have a look at.

Sunday 29 May 2011

Crypt of the Vampire


Crypt of the Vampire (aka La cripta e l'incubo aka Terror In The Crypt) Italy/Spain 1964
Directed by Camillo Mastrocinque
Region 0

So once again I find myself watching another Karnstein movie... that is to say, another movie which is an adaptation of Sheridan Le Fanu’s short story Carmilla. Though you wouldn’t recognise it to begin with.

Christopher Lee stars as the head of the Karnstein family who has a vampirish fiend in his household (or maybe that should be castlehold) preying on his family and friends in a movie that pre-dates Lee’s regular studio Hammer’s first attempt at a Karnstein movie, The Vampire Lovers (reviewed here) by a good six years.

The film is nicely shot in black and white but this is going to be a pretty short review methinks because, really, it’s only the consummate acting talents of Christopher Lee (which really shine when he’s surrounded by people who just can’t deliver lines very well) and the sometimes wonderfully designed shot movements and transitions/juxtapositions that can be recommended. It’s not a great version of the original source material that’s for sure, not nearly as good as the first Hammer outing with Le Fanu’s characters, and it starts off very similarly to a lot of those early 1960s Edgar Allan Poe “adaptations” shot by Roger Corman. If it wasn’t for the black and white photography and the less than stellar looping/dubbing on the soundtrack, it could easily pass for one of those films... especially in the acting stakes. Although, to be fair to the “Corman does Poe” films which I love, those particular movies do have a lot to be recommended when viewed at their correct aspect ratios.

For most of the film the finger points suspiciously at the one person who readers of the original will know is definitely not the vampire... right up until the film’s final reveal when the bleak atmosphere of the denouement is tempered with a “happily ever after” postscript scene tagged on at the end to help liven up the audience. In fact, the double ending where the culprit is done away in two places at once cross-cut (don’t ask and I won’t spoil) is the only part of the movie where some of the action actually takes place in the crypt mentioned in the title. I was wondering about that bloody crypt all the way through this movie.

This isn’t to say the movie is complete rubbish (although that might have been a more fun watch). It’s certainly effective with some moody atmospheres maintained throughout and a certain similarity in style to a much more famous movie by maestro Mario Bava, his horror masterpiece Black Sunday (Mask of Satan etc or whatever title you happen to know that film by). Similarly, Crypt of the Vampire is a movie filled with beautiful women and lots of walking down corridors with wind and lightning... although it has to be said that some of the sequences in this one belong more to something Dennis Wheatley might have written as opposed to Sheridan Le Fanu.

It’s hard to be too critical because even at its clunkiest, the film tries hard to make up with sheer enthusiasm what might be lacking in the technical ability of a lot of the cast. Christopher Lee certainly lights up the screen with his smoldering presence and there is one genuine scare at a funeral service taking place within the castle which goes own like this: Various people are in attendance watching over the coffin with a recently stabbed-to-death lady in it. Thunder and lightning starts up and visibility in the castle flickers between pitch black to light as the storm continues to rage... making it just as impossible for the audience watching the movie to see certain parts of the screen as it does the characters in the film. At one point, after a brief second or two of pitch black, the coffin is lit up briefly and the woman inside is sat up and pointing an accusing finger at her apparent murderer... she’s back down again when she’s lit up again but the effect on the viewer (at least this one) is genuinely unsettling in this little sequence.

So while I can’t quite recommend Crypt Of The Vampire wholeheartedly to many readers of this post, I will say that for fans of gothic horror, old AIP flicks, Karnstein movies or Christopher Lee fans in general... you might like to try out a little time in the Crypt Of The Vampire... just don’t make your expectations too high on this one.

Saturday 28 May 2011

Doctor Who: The Almost People

Acid Reflux

Doctor Who: The Almost People
Airdate: May 28th 2011. UK. BBC1

Warning: Spoilers... huge spoilery spoilers. Abandon innocence all ye who here enter!

There that was better. That was a whole lot better than last weeks set up episode (reviewed here) to this weeks conclusion (of sorts). And of course, once you’ve had the main appetiser of a kinda humdrum (in my opinion) set up... it’s always nice to go for dessert and add some extra action, comedy and intrigue in with your old style corridor running.

Tonights Doctor Who episode dealt with the gangers from last weeks episode (who are basically home grown replicants of a team of workers on... oh I don’t know... some kind of acid world) battling their human counterparts in a bid for survival until The Doctor... or possibly his ganger clone, show them all (or most of them) the error of their ways and they all live reasonably happily ever after... except The Doctor of course, who destroys Amy Pond with his sonic screwdriver and embarks on a crash course with destiny. I understand destiny will probably be calling around about next episode (although I think we’ve already seen the hand of destiny at work somehow) and will probably be finishing up somewhere nearer the winter, later in the year.

And if you’ve really gone this far without having seen this episode yet then you probably need to know that everything I just said was almost certainly not a lie but, just in case, you probably ought to go and watch the actual episode like Uncle Moffett would like you to do before reading any more of this cobbled together review. You have been fairly and duly warned... twice now. So no more pandering if you’re foolish enough to still be reading without seeing the episode first.


This weeks episode was fast paced and inventive. It’s true there was a lot of obvious stuff happening... like for instance, you knew as soon as Amy Pond (or should I call her pseudo-Amelia) started displaying the least bit of prejudice that she was going to get it all wrong and they’d switched Doctors on us... I’m really surprised that they tried it on though. Maybe playing up to audience expectations a little too much?

Secondly... you may already have guessed that Amy Pond was... well, not Amy Pond. Now I wasn’t sure myself, their have been inklings all the way through but I’d forgotten about that aspect... to tell the truth I didn’t really see the specifics coming. I knew that either Amy or Rory were going to turn out to be not Amy or Rory. That much seemed like a good way to go with this season story wise but I was just too stupid to know which one would be the key. Yeah, should have guessed it was going to be Amy but... oh well... I admit to being a bear of very little brain.

So yeah... some obvious things happening in this one and also some tracks pretty hastily covered. New Doctor Two has been destroyed in a blast from his sonic screwdriver... or has he? After all... The Doctor was scanned. Maybe the “memory” of the new flesh is all that’s required to make another Doctor. That would explain a lot about the event of the first ten minutes or so of the first episode of this season wouldn’t it? But of course the writers know that the general audience at large are going to leap at the conclusion that a second Doctor running around explains everything... and even if it doesn’t it would relax that audience to the point where they stop engaging their brains with that aspect of the series. And so the writers killed off Doctor number 2 to take that crutch away from us.

But, you know, there’s still a possibility The New Flesh will turn up again as part of the solution in four or five months time. So I’m not ruling it out completely. The writers of this show are so very much not done with playing cat and mouse games with the audience just yet, thank you very much. So leave it in your brain and file it away for future use.

There was a lot of running about with doubles of everyone in this episode and one of the few problems with it was that there was a lot of confusion... at least in this household. People were getting confused as to who was dead and who wasn’t... it got to the point where someone in my house confused Marshall Lancaster’s characters death with the death of Rory (which of course didn’t happen... well done Rory, that’s two episodes you’ve survived in a row without dying again... you’re really beginning to get the knack of this now). That being said I’m getting a feeling in my bones that there’s going to be at least one character leaving us this season and it wouldn’t surprise me if either Rory or the current incarnation of The Doctor (or possibly both) were leaving at the end of the latest series... but I guess we’ll have to wait until somewhere towards the end of the year to find out for sure.

So... what else?

Well, I keep getting so preoccupied on the plot elements of these episodes just lately that I keep forgetting to highlight some of the things that really worked. So here’s one... the musical score. Last week seemed nothing special (or I’m sure I would have mentioned it) but the scoring in some of the scenes this week was quite brilliant. A lovely see-sawing, descent into madness style motif which wouldn’t have been out of place in a fifties sci-fi movie was used at one point which then kinda segued into the Amelia Pond sub-theme which we hadn’t heard from in quite a while. All very nice. And there’s cybermen next week so no doubt we’ll get that damned “new cyberman” leitmotif clubbing us over the head again... therefore I’m making the most of the more effective elements of the scoring this week.

There was some nice lighting in this weeks too I noticed and some very welcome comedy moments with the two Doctors playing off each other like a time travelling tweedle-dum and tweedle-dee. Also some solid references to previous incarnations of The Doctor (including a much remembered William Hartnell speech as he said goodbye to a leaving companion which might be a Moffett-like omen of foreboding as to how things might be going down later this series possibly?). Some nice performances all around and nice things happening this episode then... as a result, I’m really having a hard time trying to reconcile my drab and bored reaction to the first part of this story with the classic modern Who-fest upon us in this episode. But I guess I’ll get over it.

So... now then. Half looking forward to next week (which the BBC kinda neglected to show a trailer for... wonder why?) and half dreading it. There’s no way that Moffetts going to leave us with anything other than a nasty cliff hanger at the mid season split methinks. Chances are that we’ll find out just who River Song is (and that better be a whopper of a reveal now Mr. Moffett or your fans are going to lynch you I expect) and a “good man will die”... or possibly a good companion?

Either way... I’m sure I’ll be fairly glued to my seat subjecting myself to the last five minutes of whatever dancy-dancy-feel-good programme the BBC are running before Doctor Who at present with the phone turned off and ready to pick up on all the clues I can when battle commences next week. I just hope that whatever happens next week isn’t followed up with a drab second part later on in the year. Or Mr. Moffett might just have to reverse the polarity of the neutron flow this time around.

Thursday 26 May 2011



Transference UK 2011
Directed by Leilani Holmes

A couple of my more regular readers may remember me reviewing Leilani Holmes' excellent short film
By The Steps of St. Pauls (review here) back in October? Well she’s since made another 9 minute short film called Transference and was nice enough to let me have access to view it.

I’m pleased to report that she’s managed to pull off another solid movie which makes for compelling watching and, as can be expected from that last film I saw, looks really great. What’s more important for someone like me though, who is writing a few reviews a week and is often at a loss for words until the fingers hit the keypads, is that the two films (and I must get around to watching that dinosaur short of hers too!) both look and feel like they’ve come from the same creative source... even though, for example, the Director of Photography on each one is a different person.

Now then, I’m kinda old fashioned with my appreciation of movies. Yes... I realise that movies (even short ones) are a culmination of the talents of many people... but I still feel that the guiding hand and stamp of the director (and in the case of Leilani Holmes, writer/director) is pretty much ingrained in the film with the work of some of the great artists of celluloid out there... even if it’s digital celluloid. So, yeah, I’m afraid I’m a bit of a supporter of the auteur theory to some extent... not to devalue the contributions of all the many varied and talented crew members on any productions but I think you can often see the hand of the director at work where he or she has gotten the best from the crew and guided them to a place where they are serving a pretty specific vision... usually a vision that has common elements with others of that director’s movies which can lead you to pinpoint a specific person at work behind the scenes (as there are also directors who are almost anti-directors in that they almost pride themselves in showing absolutely no fingerprints on their work at all).

What I’m basically saying though, is that it’s unlikely that you’re going to mistake a Hitchcock or Tarkovsky or Bergman film, for example, with the work of anyone else.

Now I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that Leilani Holmes is just such a person... but, you know, I’ve only seen two of her movies so it could just be a fluke. However, going with my gut here we have two very different films which tackle the human emotion of love in some way (and it could be argued that they both deal with unrequited love to a certain extent, depending on the interpretation of the images you take with you) but, although they are very different, they are also very much alike in tone and so... this far anyway... I don’t feel like I’m going out
that far on a limb.

Ok... so
Transference is all set in a room during a counselling/therapy session and deals with a patient’s feelings towards his therapist and the level of reciprocation of those feelings... which I’m not going to spoil here a) because it’s only 9 minutes long so you really don’t want to know what happens and b) because, like By The Steps of St. Pauls... it’s in some ways very much spoiler proof. But before I get into the similarities between the two works... I think I’d be better off pointing out the differences in the surface details between the two films to give you an idea of what kinds of elements I’m talking about.

By The Steps of St. Pauls is a silent film (at least in that there is no dialogue in it). It’s shot in a handful of exterior locations and there’s a vibrant score propelling the action along. Transference, on the other hand, is all set in one interior, has absolutely no score (possibly to intensify the intimacy of the piece or possibly because pitching notes under dialogue can sometimes be an art itself depending on the specific pitch of an actors voice... and there’s me channelling Old Hollywood Wisdom again!)... and it’s mostly a conversation between two people and so there is dialogue and it’s quite important to the piece.

But even so, with all that, the similarities which for me represent the directorial signature of the artist at work are pretty evident. There is a very clear, crisp and well framed (almost austere) kind of lustre to the shots again (that I tend to associate with late 80s/mid 90s US independent movies) which, even though it’s by a different DP, gives you a feeling that you are in confident hands with the film. I was dead worried I was not going to like Transference before I watched it but within one minute the confidence of the shots and the editing allowed me to relax and appreciate it for what it is. And there’s some really nice little subtle things done with some very slight blurring on clock faces as focus is shifted which leads to harder stuff (a more bold rack focus shot) and kind of frames the bolder statement within visuals which become almost echoes of each other... quite interesting stuff.

Both the actors, Edward Nelson and Vanessa Spiro, are extremely good (hey, I’m beginning to appreciate acting more these days too... but still haven’t been able to shake the parenthesis bug!) and I am no way intending to detract from their quite obvious and considerable performances by saying that some of the dialogue in this one blew me away. The delivery of the lines was great but the questioning and probing and sweeping statements woven into the conversation was something of a surprise. I hate being completely positive about people but I have to say that Leilani Holmes is actually a very good writer of dialogue... something I had no way of knowing from that last movie I saw. Which brings me to my other little tell-tale “oh-yeah-that-Holmes-woman-did-this” sign...

This is a movie where nothing is stated and etched into stone. You are not necessarily going to be comfortable with everything that’s shown on screen... unless you allow yourself to be... if that makes any sense. What I’m trying to say here, less than eloquently, is that you are not spoon fed or beaten over the head with a specific interpretation of the events or little conversation points (in this case) but rather you are left with big wide open spaces with more than enough room for you to interpret these events on your own... what you bring to the party and the particular spin on it is very much a viewer active part of the experience. She doesn’t make it deliberately challenging for you to interpret the narrative (as another filmmaker I reviewed earlier this week does, which is another commendable approach in some ways) but at the same time, there is some challenge there. She’ll provide you with some elements for you to think about but won’t outright say it. The one question the viewer (at least this one) is itching to find out in
Transference, for example, is “Does the therapist have the same feelings for her patient as he is exhibiting... or is this more than a professional distance?” Well the nice thing about Holmes’ work is that she’ll happily rub those flint pebbles together for you... but she won’t be starting any fires. That’s your job as an audience member. And I’m kinda grateful for that actually... it’s refreshing sometimes to have the straitjacket of conventional narrative removed.

By way of illustration... I watched this and as it ended I figured... “Well she obviously does... so possible happy ending in the works for them both.” Then again, a good friend of mine is a counsellor and since knowing her I’ve come to mildly understand a little about the way a therapist would treat a client in a session and also how, because of the nature of the job, they are exposed to people with emotionally intense feelings and these will obviously, even while maintaining a professional distance, rub off to an extent on the counsellor... on a session to session basis. So once I’d had a think about the movie in the context of my recent friendship with this person... I began to reinterpret the film in my head and came to a very different conclusion to my first, gut reaction. In other words... I’ve transfered my own interpretation onto the film as its played out before me. Which I suspect is a desired response to this work.

And this is one of the great things that movies do of course. They’ll resonate in the brain and you’ll relive them and reinterpret them if they have a little unresolved mystery to them... and this is something that, based on my admittedly limited knowledge of her work, writer/director Leilani Holmes has in spades. She’ll make you think... possibly when you least expect you’ll need to.

Transference is another fine film from an obvious film-making talent whose work is a sure footed and visually rich celebration of ambiguity and the way this intrigues the human psyche like someone pulling a loose thread and threatening to unravel way too much. Her films will stick in your memory... so if you get the opportunity to check this one out, definitely don’t let that pass you by. I just wish someone would give her a gazillion pounds to make a feature. I’d be first in line to see it.

Tuesday 24 May 2011

Julia’s Eyes

The Eyes Have It

Julia’s Eyes Spain 2010
Directed by Guillem Morales
Playing at cinemas now.

Warning: Very mild on the spoilerage but avoid reading if you want to go in totally blind... so to speak.

If, like me, you found yourself recently sitting in a cinema waiting for the ads and trailers to finish so you can watch what you thought was a horror film... I can sympathise. Julia’s Eyes, while not specifically named as a horror movie in its marketing, has certainly not been as forthcoming as it could be about the type of movie it is either. The trailer, while not absolutely misleading, does tend to manipulate you in a certain direction, unless you are very aware of all the little things going on in it the first time around. And, of course, this impression is further compounded by the fact that the trailer is certainly not shy about the fact that the film stars the lead actress of supernatural Spanish hit The Orphanage and shares the same producers as that film. So it would be fair to make this assumption from the Marketing campaign, unless you really have sharp eyes for the kind of detail that is easily missed when it whizzes by, heavily cloaked by the speed and hoopla of the peculiar phenomenon that is the modern movie trailer.

But the point is... you’d be wrong.

Julia’s Eyes is really not a horror movie and is more along the lines of an intense thriller. More specifically perhaps, more along the lines of my favourite kinds of thrillers in this post-multiregion-DVD-world we are living in... the Italian giallo. Not necessarily in style but certainly in content. There are no flashy camera flourishes travelling along brightly lit, primary coloured sets while a progressive rock or atonal/jazz-beat soundtrack underscores the unravelling of the mystery. But it does share many of the situations and circumstances associated with the genre and it does get a little convoluted, even if the mystery is ultimately very obvious in the end. Yeah, there’s no surprises here as the movie skillfully propels the viewer to it’s frenetic denouement, but this doesn’t really matter much in the long run I reckon.

Belén Rueda plays dual roles as twin sisters in this movie but it’s really not spoiling it to reveal that one of those sisters dies in the pre-credits sequence. This is, after all, the blank reel of cotton from which the film weaves it’s narrative thread. Both sisters have a degenerative eyes condition leading to eventual blindness and both become aware of a lurking presence watching and waiting on them. But there are several murders, disguised to look like suicides so the police officials are easy to bypass as a necessary evil of this kind of story, and while you may, at first, feel that the degenerative eye condition is a hastily conceived plot device to allow the director and writer to press all the suspense and fear buttons when they feel the time is right (which, okay, yeah it is), it is also given a lot more attention than that and the eye condition, without giving too much away, is actually discovered to be a part of the plot itself and this kind of attention to sloppy story devices is a consistent and constant reiteration that we as an audience, are in good hands.

It doesn’t keep us from figuring out the ending of the movie or, specifically, figuring out how all the relationships between the various characters work and who the killer must be... but it does ensure that it’s a little trickier to second guess the director in some sequences because, and this is something a true giallo rarely does, it does tend to second guess the thought processes of the audience rather well... for example, if you notice that one of the characters has been in the film for a good long while and you haven’t even seen his face, the director will suddenly bring in another character whose face you will not see to attempt to throw you off the scent a little... a face you won’t see until there’s a bloody big knife going through it.

So! Short on surprises in the long run but certainly a well put together piece of movie making. Watching it is like looking at a well cared for timepiece or listening to the sound of a well oiled motor (and don’t ask me where that analogy comes from because I’m not in the least mechanically minded)... everything ticks along as well as you hope it will and the brilliant performances and excellent decisions about the tone of the film, mostly does a lot to carry the more than obvious plotting. Even when the director makes visual references to the sense of touch or progressively turns the sounds of everyday objects up as the central protagonist gets nearer and nearer to total blindness... one can forgive these little touches as nothing more than the tools of the trade when it comes to this kind of genre effort.

The only time the movie really comes close to ham-fistedness in anything other than the basic storyline is with some of the musical scoring towards the end of the movie which, while it’s been a quite subtle use of underscore all the way through (and indeed is quite mesmerising on the end credits) suddenly gets clunkier and gives the impression of being a little overscored. This is possibly foregrounded in the mix a little more than it should have been in comparison with the rest of the score which, while that old-style Hollywood approach can certainly work in modern scoring... (if the modern series of Doctor Who has taught me nothing else then it’s that) then I think that style of sound mixing needs to be established much earlier in the film to avoid jarring you out of the action... which this movie does in some of the later sequences. Not to take anything away from Fernando Velázquez, who provided such a strong (and commercially unreleased... grrr) score for M. Night Shyamalan’s Devil and for the aforementioned The Orphanage, but I would have loved to have heard this movie scored by Roque Baños in his full Herrmannesque mode. I think that would have given the film an extra lift to it.

Still a really nice little movie if you’ve a mind to see a thriller at the cinema one evening... but with one exception for which people may well remember it in years to come. I’m not going to give the game away too much but, there’s one shot... one little shot... where most people are going to just want to look away from the screen. What is it? Well lets just say it gives the opening sequence of Salvador Dali and Luis Bunuel’s Un Chien Andalou a run for its money... and that’s all I will reveal. It’s not going to sit well with the squeemish amongst you.

So... final verdict. Nice movie. Definitely worth seeing once... I personally probably wouldn’t watch it again but am happy to recommend it to those of you who appreciate a well-running piece of movie making machinery... just don’t expect any real twists and turns on the way.

Sunday 22 May 2011

Closure of Catharsis

Catharsis Ray Tube

I’d been wanting to see Rouzbeh Rashidi's feature length experimental movie Closure of Catharsis for a while now for two reasons... One, I had mixed but positive reactions to some (though not all) of the director’s shorts and I find his work compelling... almost raw, where the artifice of film allows for that. Secondly, it stars one of my Twitterati v-friends James Devereaux... an actor who has made me re-appreciate, precisely because of his blog and his presence on Twitter, the art of acting as an important part of the filming process. I’d kinda grown into the habit of seeing actors as merely cardboard cyphers who would say their lines and do their best not to knock over the scenery and hit their marks. Sloppy thinking on my part... convenient, but sloppy. Devereaux has made me remember that it’s the actors that you look at first on screen and that their performance is what often allows the film to breath and turn a fair to middling piece of entertainment into a film with some really great or memorable moments.

Now I knew before I even started watching this movie (on my laptop, the film is not available through any of the usual distribution routes) that this may well be a tough one to negotiate and get my head around, if the director’s shorts were anything to go by. Actually it wasn’t that hard a watch but, at the same time, I don’t think we’ll ever be seeing stuff like this in a cinema anytime soon... but I’ll get back to that later.

99% of this film consists of one of a few tight shots of Devereaux, who is sitting on a park bench, improvising and talking to the camera... his head in tight close up, framed by two craggy trees with branches reaching towards his head and threatening to grab him if the illusion of perspective fails. Devereaux then engages the audience for the majority of the next hour and 40 minutes with a slow and thoughtful series of monologues, some of them connected, others less so. Objects and notes are passed to him off camera to inspire or provoke his mental process and his outward projection of this is fascinating to watch (actually, the director is another star of this movie, turning up in the background several times and also as a reflection in a train carriage window... Devereaux even references him a few times). But there’s also a sense of tension within the movie which only gets little moments of relief and... this is why...

Pardon me while I go into a little riff on Arthur Penn’s best remembered movie here... if you’ve heard me saying this stuff before, skip the next couple of paragraphs.

Rouzbeh Rashidi's Closure of Catharsis is a movie which reminded me a lot of Bonnie and Clyde... and I bet if I said that to Rashidi he’d be really surprised and have no idea of what I’m talking about... but there’s a definite connection with the technique that both Arthur Penn and Rouzbeh Rashidi have taken to create (and in Penn’s movie, “release”) tension... they both do it in the same way.

To briefly explain... Bonnie and Clyde is a film which starts off with the entire first ten minutes or so in either tight shots or medium shots of the two characters... without any kind of traditional establishing shot which allows the audience to gain a “scene setting”, I-know-where-I-am-and-what’s-happening sense of comfort from the action. This is pretty much why the “establishing shot” was invented in the first place... or at least, if it wasn’t, then it’s become firmly entrenched in our collective way of decoding a film that it’s generally needed to help set up in our minds just where we are with the beginning of a sequence of moving image. The long shot is a much needed crutch with which we can get a little lift up into the world of the movie... without it we’re struggling. Now Penn knows this and so he keeps the tension going until Bonnie and Clyde commit their first robbery and then he hits us with his first long shot... thus the audience receives tension release and with that collective audience sigh of alleviation, even though we’re watching two felons commit a crime, we come to sympathise with them because the syntax of the shot flow allows us some sense of relief which we now come to associate with Bonnie and Clyde committing crimes. Kind of a Pavlovian way of working but isn't that what cinema does best?

Rashidi does the same thing with his movie but you never, ever, get the act of tension release within the frame. The shots, and these are done in very long takes, when they cut... just keep on getting tighter (and sometimes blurrier, this guy wants you to feel challenged and uncomfortable and reacting to his movie) and tighter until the movie finishes... without the closure promised by its title. There are respites of other footage edited in and I’ll get into that in a moment but it’s almost like Rashidi is feeling the audience is getting used to the intensity of the shot... and then he moves in closer again. I don’t know if that last thing is a deliberate act but... something’s going on there and my guess is he wants that unrelenting closeness to the main character to ratchet up every now and again.

Now about those little vignettes that Rashidi keeps inserting... the first one appears after half an hour and is a group of drunks at a bus stop... this is easy to decode since Devereaux has just mentioned that the park is full of alcoholics. As we go on, other footage of a young man and a couple of “parents” (two sets) are introduced and what Rashidi makes use of now is the “space” or “understanding” of conventional cinema narrative to create meaning from footage as applied to a very unconventional movie...

And so, by way of demonstration of just what I’m talking about... I’m going to evoke Pleasantville (a movie which you should all check out if you can just get past the first twenty minutes which gives it the appearance of being just another Hollywoodland teen comedy). By way of demonstration, I’m going to show how the director of Pleasantville is able to play with our narrative assumptions to best explain how Rashidi uses those same narrative assumptions to help shape his movie in your brain... and then make it harder for us.

Pleasantville opens up with a series of close up shots of two characters, a boy and a girl, talking to each other. First the camera focuses on the boy as he says something. Then the camera focuses on the girl as she continues the conversation. Then the camera goes back to the boy and so on... then the director pulls the rug from under us and shows a long shot where it’s clear that the girl is actually talking to her group of friends and the boy is just rehearsing what he’d like to say to the girl... from quite some distance away. This “joke” wouldn’t work without the audience assuming that, because we’re seeing two characters individually talking and pointing towards different directions, these two characters are having a conversation. It’s deeply ingrained from when we first watch movies and we subconsciously pick up on the visual language of cinema... we can’t help it. There’s a space in our head which decodes those kinds of sequences of shots and arranges them like that in our mind’s eye and this is continually maintained and spoon fed to us in this way on a daily basis in all forms of visual media. Advertising, for example, absolutely relies on the quick understanding of what is going on... a thirty second spot is a thirty second spot. Time is money. They need to sell us on the idea of their problems quick... nobody’s going to be rocking the boat too much when it comes to our rich inheritance of the language of visual narrative.

And this is what Rashidi does when he inserts footage which really wouldn’t seem like it has anything to do with the narrative. He relies, at first, on the audience building up the idea that we are seeing visual representations of this character’s memories of his youth and also the visual representation of his parents when Devereaux starts telling stories like the hierarchy of his childhood household being symbolised by... no television, black and white television and then colour television... before drifting into some quite heart-rending ponderings with which he creates a tension which comes close to the catharsis of the title but... then concludes with the understanding that the lack of conclusion can be the necessary ingredient of a better conclusion later on (much later on... after the movie has finished!).

Rashidi doesn’t however, probably out of sheer bloody mindedness that he’s not going to give the audience such an easy time (I suspect), make all of those “flashbacks” so easy to decode. There are things going on which are left entirely with the onus on the viewer to make some kind of connection to the inserted footage with the ever tightening close ups on Devereaux’s character... which kind of reaches “Blur-gio Leone” proportions towards the end. :-) This does generate a certain kind of Godardian concentration from the audience and I’m sure this is probably why Rashidi does it... unless he’s just re-using old shot footage and best making use of it where he can... but I prefer my first assumption because it’s more glamorous. This stuff isn’t always that easy to assimilate into the main dialectic of the, for want of a better term when it comes to this movie, “narrative”.

This is not the kind of film that could ever play at your local multiplex or get a DVD issue, and this means that the majority of people will never get the opportunity to see it and this is sad because I can’t ever imagine the pendulum swinging back to this more challenging and vital cinema anywhere in our lifetimes.

That’s not to say that this kind of movie-making is in any way unimportant or to be ignored. Truth be told, I really enjoyed the experience of watching this movie and will possibly watch it again at some point in the future. Where I think this kind of film would really prosper and flourish, I suspect, is as an installation in an art gallery setting (not that I’m admitting to such a phenomena as arthouse cinema, you understand). I could just see this movie being projected in a continuous all-day loop at somewhere like the Tate Gallery because, if you come in half way through and are not necessarily picking up on the way the shots get closer on the central character as the film progresses, I reckon it would be hard to determine where this movie starts and ends. That’s not intended as a slight to the director, I think this is a strength of the movie... I think it can stand multiple back-to-back viewings without anyone getting bored as I found the whole experience rather entertaining too.

If you can find a way to see it, check out Closure of Catharsis at some point. It’s something you don’t get to see that often.

James own blogs on his experience with Closure of Catharsis can be found here and here.

Another of my reviews of Rashidi and his contemporaries can be found here, should you be so inclined.

Saturday 21 May 2011

Doctor Who: The Rebel Flesh

Intergalactic Fleshpots

Doctor Who: The Rebel Flesh
Airdate: May 21st 2011. UK. BBC1

Okay... this is going to be a quite uncharacteristically really, really, really short review this week.


Well because we had the first of a two parter which, while not terrible (and therefore not that grumble worthy) was also just kinda so so. Still not really sure how I feel about it to be honest.

The show started off on what was, for me, a real howler of a bad CGI establishing shot and this was rapidly followed by a series of sets which looked like they were just old sets from the Eccleston and Tennant years redressed... to be fair to them, of course, it would surprise me if most episodes didn’t redress old sets but my problem with this story was that everything looked so darned familiar. Even down to the life-making tanks which... oh, okay. No spoilers this week I think... since I’m not going to be saying too much about this one... lets just say that these particular things and their final end result reminded me too much of modern series Sontaran technology... and lets leave it at that.

This story suffers from pretty much something which lots of US made movies have been suffering from just lately... that is to say they’re recycling old 50s plots and this one felt very much like that... I guess it’s probably true though that there are no new stories left anymore. :-(

The plus side though is that it also felt a little like an old late 70s or 80s episode in that the settings were less than spacious and studio ridden with much running down corridors and a “them versus us” kinda mentality... other recent examples of this in the show would be Tooth and Claw, The Impossible Planet/The Satan Pit, 42 and The Doctor’s Daughter. Not my favourite kinds of stories but, then again, I didn’t complain when Tom Baker was running around and doing such stuff so I can’t really complain about it now.

I don’t have much I can complain about other than a really obvious cliff-hanger which you will have figured out about ten minutes into the story... and may or may not be a help when it comes to the events we saw at the opening episode of this particular series. This could be one big set-up or... you know... maybe not. It gets kinda tiring to even attempt to second guess Steven Moffet’s game plan... let alone the writers who are presumably trying to incorporate elements of that game plan without sacrificing their own stylistic stamp. And I have to confess that another reappearance of “mysterious eye-patch lady” has become a bit underwhelming... hopefully I’ll get more enthusiastic in a couple of weeks when we presumably get introduced to her properly.

But as I said at the beginning of this teeny-tiny review... it’s not a terrible episode... far from it. There were some fine guest stars which we all recognise from previous genre TV shows and they all did good... and Rory had a lot more to do and a more interesting, three-dimensional side to his character than he gets the chance to run with in most episodes... other than die and come back from death yet again (how many times are they going to do this?). Does anyone else think that Doctor Who is getting a bit like South Park these days?

“Oh my God, Amy. They killed Rory! You b*stards!”

Best to remember that this one was the first of a two part story which looks like it could get a lot better in the next part (fingers crossed) and it was a solid and fairly entertaining episode of the show... but nothing special I feel. And I don’t know what the “internet-buzz” (gosh, how I never want to use that term again) is like on this weeks show but personally I’m finding it hard to work up any fire or passion, one way or the other, for this weeks stab. One thing I will say though is this... Neil Gaiman’s a hard act to follow so cut them some slack.

And with that, all that’s left for me to do is to apologise again for the shortness of this weeks review and... to paraphrase a TV theme song which a couple of my readers may remember from their childhood... “turn of my television set and go and do something less boring instead.”

Thursday 19 May 2011

The Beyond

To Infinity And The Beyond

The Beyond Italy 1981
Directed by Lucio Fulci
Arrow Films Region 0

Right then. Next movie up in my series of discoveries that Lucio Fulci might have been a better director than I gave him credit for is the second in an unofficial trilogy which started with City Of The Living Dead (reviewed here) and finishes with The House By The Cemetery (which I’ve not yet seen at the time of writing this, but hope to rectify that sometime soon). I use the term trilogy in it’s loosest possible sense because the only elements that I can see that connect these three films uniquely is the fact that all three star Katherine MacColl in them and all three are concerned with entrance ways to hell... thus it’s sometimes collective title of The Gates of Hell Trilogy (depending on whether you buy into the whole trilogy argument or not).

This one starts of with a sepia pre-credits sequence (if your DVD from Arrow only has the pre-credits in black and white, find the receipt and follow this thread here) as a torch and pitchfork maddened mob of people... well I say maddened but for the most part they are quite sedate... kill a local artist in New Orleans because he has found an opening to hell and brought “icky goings on” to the local population... and probably because he does weird paintings too.

I have to say that this scene is quite brutal to watch, especially in its sepia tones, as the ugly mob first “chain-whip” the gentleman in question, opening deep lesions in his skin on various parts of his body, beginning with his face. This is the second chain-whipping sequence I’ve seen in a Fulci film and I don’t much like them to be honest... the first and more infamous one being the sequence of “village-mob” violence inflicted on Florinda Bolcan in Fulci’s giallo Don’t Torture A Duckling. I didn’t know that the one at the start of The Beyond was coming and I’m surprised to find that it’s not considered as infamous... or at least that’s the way it seems. Maybe it’s because this particular sequence in The Beyond is inflicted on a man instead of a woman?

Anyway, I digress. Once said artistic fellah has been given a good seeing too with the chains, his wrists are then hammered into a wall (right by one of the Gates Of Hell) and then he is given a good dissolving with acid (or possibly quicklime)... and then the credits roll!

After the credits are played out we are back in modern day (that is to say, in a time contemporary to this films original release date) and the film goes into colour and we find ourselves following Katherine MacColl’s character Liza, who has purchased the same house the painter was killed in... it’s a bit of a fixer upper to be honest with you. Liza has various people trying to do said “fixer-upping” but they keep getting killed off by undead zombies and so her source of handymen is dying out. She comes across a blind woman called Emily, played by Cinzia Monreale, and her Alsatian. Emily has white contact lenses to show the audience that
a) she’s blind and b) she’s probably also one of the undead come back in that “supernatural” way that only ghostly beings can... to warn Liza to leave her new house. One point I’d like to throw in here though... it seems that in a Fulci film, be you ghost, apparition or zombie, you’re just as likely to bleed from a gory denouement as any other character. I guess that kind of non-logic is kind of par for the course for the kind of film which seems specifically tailiored to people who like the spectacle of violence and have a morbid curiosity about it almost regardless of its context.

And there is quite a fair bit of gore here on show with lots of eye gouging, blood pumping and various acid-pourings thrown into the mix. Added to this is an absolutely laughable scene where Liza’s chief interior decorator gets stunned and eaten alive by a large number of tarantulas... this gets so over the top and goes on for so long that I defy you not to collapse in hysterics or at the very least chuckle enthusiastically at both the absolute unnecessariness of the scene and also at the bad prosthetic effects. Don’t get me wrong, these special effects guys did wonders with the limited resources and budgets they had... but sometimes it just doesn’t work and I’ve noticed that Fulci’s films in particular seem to be prone to bad “splatter effects” for want of a better term.

Things get really gory when Liza’s doctor friend John, played by cult horror star David Warbeck, starts shooting at zombies. Anyone else would be a quick learn but good ol’ John will shoot a few in the chest and then shoot one in the head... and still not twig that the head shots are the only things which are taking these creatures down. I mean seriously, this character is mentally challenged. He wastes ammo like tic-tacs and just keeps on shooting bullets into parts of zombies other than their heads for absolutely no apparent reason. Except when he runs out of bullets and corners himself in a room just so we can see his friend sliced up with flying glass. When the zombies finally get into the room he’s holed up in though... his gun magically has bullets back in it!

What? What the -?

So what does he start doing again? Yeah, that’s right, you guessed it... shooting zombies in the chest. Hello! Earth to Fulci, earth to Fulci. Squib effects lose their effectiveness after you’ve seen a few! We don’t need to see that again at the cost of a characters intelligence.

All this probably makes The Beyond sound like a bit of a laugh fest and, to be honest, in some places it is... but, like his excellent City Of The Living Dead before it, the film scores big on atmosphere... such as the moody and perhaps a little less ambiguous ending than people might have led one to believe, or the sequence with a little gorehound gag (and in this case I do mean gorehound) which twists around the expectations of the "line of attack" in a sequence which is very much a dead steal (um... yeah homage... right) from a similar famous sequence in Dario Argento’s Suspiria.

Ultimately, this film is quite moody when it’s not trying hard to be bloody and although I wouldn’t quite rate it as highly as City Of The Living Dead, it does avoid that one element that made that earlier film a lot weaker... the zombies in The Beyond don’t magically teleport all over the place! This is good news.

Still, a very good entry into the Italian horror cycle and one which I’m very glad to have seen. My Fulci “hit” pile is starting to even up with my Fulci “miss” pile.