Thursday 29 September 2011

Zombie Strippers

Bare To The Bone

Zombie Strippers 2008 USA
Directed by Jay Lee
Sony Region 2 DVD

Well... what can I say about Zombie Strippers which is in any way going to change the image that the mind conjures up when you first glance at the title? Well, not much probably but... that's okay because Zombie Strippers is a movie which, not surprisingly, does exactly what it says on the tin. I say, not surprisingly, but I watched this movie on the same day that I saw Big Tits Zombie 3D (my review is here) and there were some definite problems with that title only delivering seperate elements of what was on the tin, rather than an amalgamation of the two as implied. Also, Bit Tits Zombie 3D cost a whopping £5 from Fopp records, whereas they were only charging £2 for Zombie Strippers... not that this influenced my decision to purchase this at this time, obviously. ;-)

Zombie Strippers, though not nearly as “out there” as the aforementioned Japanese movie, is actually quite an entertaining little piece of modern B-movie mayhem. Anyone who knows the title of the film before they go in is expecting it to be trashy and it certainly doesn’t dissapoint in terms of the naked bodies on display (which include legendary porn actress Jenna Jameson as the principal stripper in Robert Englund’s illegal strip club)... nor on the gore, which is as strong as you’d expect in a contemporary zombie film.

The story starts off with a crack team of “the best of the best” US soldiers going into an experimental research facility and getting half wiped out by zombies. One of the freshly bitten soldiers, knowing his fellow soldiers will kill him, runs away but wanders into a strip club and eventually assaults Jenna Jameson when she is doing her strip act... and when I say assault I mean tear the front of her throat out with his teeth. it looks like it’s all over for Jenna but, just as the nightclub workers are trying to figure out how to best hide her body and not draw police or military attention, Jenna gets back up again and, unlike the zombies we’ve already seen in the movie, goes back to doing what she does best... stripping on stage with her new zombie powers (zombie strippers can apparently do superstrong gymnastic, bad-stunt-double-summersault style dance moves and spin themselves around that darned pole like nobody’s busiiness, it would seem).

This act is so good for the customers and so good for the strip club owners’ business in comparison to the normal girl’s antics that he turns a blind eye when his new zombie-gal starts eating the odd customer after her act. Meanwhile, the other girls are getting restless and want in on the action, and so with the help of Jenna’s zombie stripper, they start to become undead strippers too. Just quite why none of these gals is purely interested in eating people as opposed to getting naked and prancing about on a stage isn’t satisfactorarily explained but it’s entertaining enough and makes for a fun film.

Things obviously can’t go on for very long and things come to a head when Jenna Jameson and her nearest zombie stripper" rival start tearing each other apart on stage while the rest of the military arrive to clean the place up. Everything gets taken care of and I’m not able to really give you any spoilers I’m afraid because, even though I only watched it a week ago, I’ve already forgotten the ending to the movie. It wasn’t a let down or anti-climax though otherwise it would have stuck in my memory for longer.

Zombie Strippers is another entry into the genre of films with a certain hip self awaereness of their own silliness and which are happy to display that with a certain tongue in cheek attitude which almost (watch out Robert England!) but not quite crosses into the realm of “camp”. Actually, perhaps it would be more accurate to say that it has it’s tongue firmly planted in soneone elses cheek... and it’s latching on with the teeth and having a good chew. I was certainly please I purchased it to give it a spin (hey, I’m rarely dissapointed when I pay for a DVD and it only costs me two quid) and if you’re into trashy, horror movies with lots of naked female flesh, gory zombie effects and military style “bullet hit” shenannigans then you surely won’t be dissapointed in this one. And seriously folks... at two quid you can’t go wrong!

Tuesday 27 September 2011

Jurassic Park

Raiders Of The Lost Park

Jurassic Park 1993 US
Directed by Steven Spielberg
Screening at UK cinemas for two weeks only.

Warning: Big dinosaur sized spoilers on this one...
if you seriously haven’t seen this movie before.

You know I couldn’t believe, when I heard the news of Jurassic Parks limited re-release at the cinemas, that it had been 20 years since I first went to the cinema to see it. The most I would have said it had been out was maybe seven or eight years. Well, as it happens I was right to an extent. It hadn’t been 20 years... I checked and it’s only been 18. What the heck? Drumming up business for BluRay sales and such like. Shame on you Mr. Spielberg. I remember a time when it was “all about the movies”.

Still, I’m not complaining too hard. It’s definitely a classic film and a bit of a masterpiece for one of America's most commercial movie makers. I’ve always liked the film and it truly deserves the status it holds with film enthusiasts and here’s why...

Jurassic Park is one of those movies which very much takes the Hollywood line of “cause and effect” cinema to its most resilient and unshakeable and, though I’ve never been an admirer of that A leads to B leads to C kind of linear and logical progression in US moviemaking... it has to be said that when a movie of this stature is released, and that whole way of focussing and sharpening a script until everything (and I mean everything) in it is relevant to what comes after and before it, then just occasionally it’s a real pleasure to be watching a movie that gets it all so right.

Starting off with a very bleak opening sequence that completely killed the illusion created by its almost cutesy, cuddly advertising, Spielberg does exactly the same thing that David Lynch did with Wild At Heart... and that is to demonstrate just how dangerous one of the main (non-human in this case) characters can be. After a few, almost atonal scene setting notes from Johnny Williams score play out to start off and continue through the sequence, we get a truly great piece of film-making where some well equipped “experts” try to transfer a Velociraptor from a cage into its enclosure. Of course something goes wrong and in an absolutely brilliant and very chilling sequence comprising of sound and rustling foliage in which we never actually see the dinosaur, a man is dragged into the cage to be eaten. The disturbing impact of this and the foreknowledge that even a bunch of well-equipped specialists could not compete with this particular breed of dinosaur does a lot to the way in which you view the rest of the film. You can watch people make googoo eyes at cutesy Brontosaurus’ and Triceratops’ all you like but you know that your central characters are really going to have to tread through the movie carefully if they want to make it back out alive.

From there on, the movie never lets up the pace (even in the talkier sections) and everything thats said or focussed on in one sequence has some kind of pay off in a later scene... all except one. Nedrys “samples” which he’s stolen from the super-rich owner John Hammond (played charmingly by Richard Attenborough in the movie but who is actually almost a villainous character in the original novel) are buried in their shaving foam tin protector under some wet mud while Nedrys is being chomped up by a roving dinosaur. This was possibly left in to be picked up on in a sequel but, ultimately, neither of the two Jurassic Park sequels chose to pick up on this little gift to future filmmakers in the franchise.

Other than that slight detour, though, it really is full steam ahead on this movie in which Spielberg really shows us he is one of the true “children of Hitchcock” in the way he controls the audience thrills and suspense. People forget how dark a movie this one actually is and frequently take very young kids to see it. There was a 6 or 7 year old in the audience behind me when I revisited this in the cinema the other night and he never made it past the break out of the Tryannosaurus Rex before his dad had to remove him from the auditorium. Spielberg even manages to throw in a cross cut set of sequences where Laura Dern and Samuel L. Jackson attempt to get the park booted up again while Sam Neill and two kids are climbing down a dead electric fence. The suspense across these two sequences is tremendous because you know that if one group are successful in their endeavour, the electric fence is going to spring back into life and one of our other characters will suddenly be toast.

The one thing I would flag up as slightly underwhelming though is the CGI work in the movie. I know it’s because of this movie that George Lucas realised that the effects were such that he could move ahead again on his Star Wars movies and finally shoot the prequel trilogy but, seriously, the effects didn’t look that great back in 1993 (especially the Brontosaurus animations) and they really don’t hold up well today when they are being screened on digital equipment. I’ve noticed this before but some of this digital stuff seems to make old effects movies look worse and certainly makes some of the stuff really look like its laying on a separate plate within a shot. This is not good and the only thing that I could throw up in its defence is to remind people that CGI hasn’t really got that much better in recent years than it was back then... especially when it comes to dinosaurs. Have you seen those awful CGI effects in the Peter Jackson remake of King Kong? And Yoda looks more like an animated cartoon these days than a real person (of course he's a real person, don’t be näive).

Packed full of some great and iconic moments (including a sound activated glass of water which is a steal from the start of the sequence of the tanks rolling in at the 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia from The Unbearable Lightness Of Being) it was truly a joy to rewatch this movie in a cinema again. Jurassic Park really is like a well oiled machine... a big, well oiled, movie making machine which really knows how to reach the audience and push the right emotional buttons to engage with that audience. Especially with the assistance of Johnny Williams melodic and mostly sugary score which, though it doesn’t musically reference the 1933 Max Steiner scored version of King Kong like the music in the first sequel to Jurassic Park did in one place, has loads going for it and even the most casual viewer will most likely have at least one or two of the main, pulse pounding tunes lodged in their heads for a good deal of time after their screening.

You know, I remembered there’s a shot where a girl falls out of a heating vent, is caught by her friends and pulled back in right as a Velociraptor makes a jump for her leg and just misses... I clearly recall that back in 1993 I was so on the edge of my seat by this point in the movie that my right leg gave an involuntary kick as if to kick the Raptor away from me at that moment. I’m glad to say that, this time around, I had sufficient control of my bodily functions to not get caught out like that again but as I was watching it I realised that, really, there is a lot of power oozing out between the frames of this movie. It really is one of the great American works of commercially accessible art and it really needs to be taken out of the closet every ten or so years and appreciated and celebrated all over again. Every now and again these days, Hollywood is still capable of making, not just a good or halfway decent movie, but a really great film. Jurassic Park is one of them.

Monday 26 September 2011

Big Tits Zombie 3D

Bust Top

Big Tits Zombie 3D 2010 Japan
Directed by Takao Nakano
Company Region 2 DVD

I suppose one wouldn’t go into a movie with a title like Big Tits Zombie 3D without guessing that this will probably be one of the less serious entries into the tiring-but-shows-no-sign-of-running-out-of-steam zombie genre. Bearing in mind that the film was originally called Kyonyu Dragon in it’s own country (presumably the title of the manga it’s based on), I find it hard to believe that the marketing people decided that the somewhat risque name Big Tits Zombie would attract a large percentage of the cinema going audience in this country... there are strings attached with that kind of titling ploy. “Oh, what are you going to watch tonight dear?” “Um... nothing much... just some zombie movie.” “Oh... what’s it called darling?” “Err... I forget.” At least, that’s how I would imagine the scenario would play out in some households.

Of course the big plus with a name like that is the extra you get out of the sheer incredulity of the title... how can you pass up seeing this one? And so, being mildly but sensibly and cautiously incredulous, I waited with baited breath for Big Tits Zombie to come around to my local multiplex in all it’s glorious “oot-and-in-yer-face” 3D and play to similarly “incredulated” crowds. Packing them in the aisles, I thought to myself.

Alas, while still awaiting said tribute to the bosom of the undead, I came across a copy of the film going for a fiver with two pairs of free 3D glasses in Fopp records a couple of months ago. This put paid to my hopes that such a finely marketed movie would be playing at a cinema near me anytime soon... still, there was no way I was going to miss out on the latest example of, no doubt inventive, Japanese gore fests. I remembered the last one I reviewed actually had buildings in it that bled great gouts of arterial spray when they were being trashed by a giant automaton (you can read that review here) and I also remembered realising that these Japanese movies were getting a little more aware of the lack of seriousness with which the audience is treating them (whilst devouring their blood soaked content greedily).

The pre-credit introduction on this DVD by the director, before the film plays out, told me everything I’d needed to know about this movie. He said, quite clearly, that he wanted the audience to watch and laugh with the film (well, yeah, I would have done that anyway, believe me) and also that he’d started working on it in February and that it was in cinemas by, I think he said May of the same year. Yep... that would explain why this film has slightly lower production values than some of its cinematic cousins like The Machine Girl and Tokyo Gore Police. Some of it looks a bit ropey and the zombie make-ups are definitely played for laughs... think The Toxic Avenger rather than Zombie Flesh Eaters.

Even though it does have some pretty manky sets and a “shot on video” kind of feel to it, this story of a troupe of “female dancers” who are sent to a “resort” to “dance” for cash does have it’s moments. There are some nice, bizarre one-liners in the film (assuming the english subtitles can be trusted), and a couple of quite interesting scenes which will stick in my memory for a while. One is where we see two zombies playing table tennis and using an eyeball for the ball (their attitude of a pursuit for healthy sports as opposed to flesh guzzling is not actually explained) and another involves one of the main female protagonists turning into a zombie after an early bite wound which, apparently, gives her special powers of being able to use her naked vagina as a flame thrower. This is not the most subtle of zombie movies and nor did it need to be in a genre which is not known for its subtlety in the first place.

The 3D scenes in the movie take place randomly but you are pre-warned when one of these scenes is about to turn up by an icon of 3D glasses appearing in the top left of the screen with a six second countdown on it. It’s then a mad scramble to reach around and grab your 3D glasses while you concentrate on trying to keep your hand out of your cup of tea and scalding yourself before you can be rewarded for your effort with a 3D effect that seems to shift from being okay some of the time but mostly shows up as a ghosted image slightly to the right and superimposed over the main image, which would probably destroy your eyesight permanently if not for the fact that the 3D scenes are actually few and far between.

At the end of the day, Big Tits Zombie 3D is not a bad watch if you’re as curious as I was to know where the new wave of ultra-violent, ultra-tongue-in-cheek Japanese movies are up to at the moment. Especially when the DVD is so cheap. Be warned though, while everybody in the movie is “ever so” over-the-top enthusiastic, these are not the greatest actors and actresses in the world. Watch at your peril but if you do decide to give this movie a spin, please get back to me on the rationale behind the title of the movie because, while there are examples of both undead, flesh gorging ghouls and nubile and bounteous bosoms on show, I didn’t once spot a zombie that could fit the character description so prominently and, perhaps buxomly, displayed in this proud movie’s title.

Sunday 25 September 2011


Martyr, My Dear

Martyrs France/Canada 2008
Directed by Pascal Laugier
The Weinstein Company Region 1

Warning: Slight spoilers on this one.

You know, when I first heard about Martyrs, when it was doing the festival circuits a few years back, I was gagging to see it. Not because I like the so-called “torture-porn” subgenre of horror movies that seem to have become so popular over the last half a decade or so... I’ve seen both the first Saw and the first Hostel movies and frankly I could have done without either in my life (and especially since they’re not actually horror movies but movies about killing and killers). It’s not a genre I’m that interested in, to be truthful. Films which are tailored to deliver gore and suffering as both the method and the result of their own madness somehow kind of take the edge off things a little. They’re not great movies as a rule... at least that’s the way I see them.

But I was interested in seeing Martyrs because I’d heard that people at Frightfest were throwing up in the aisles. Seriously people... at Frightfest, a film festival which caters to hardened fans of all kinds of horror movies... people were getting seriously freaked out by this movie, for some reason. So as soon it was out on US DVD I picked one up and, you know what, for some strange reason I’ve just never got around to watching it until now... could have waited for the UK edition to arrive the speed I get to watch these things at.

So anyway... I took a look at Martyrs last night and was both impressed and also unimpressed by this movie at the same time. Impressed because it was so much more in terms of the art of film-making than I was expecting from it and also unimpressed because it’s really not anything which lives up to the hype of its initial screening reactions. Shame on the Frightfest audiences if they gave this such an inadvertent but glowing endorsement.

Okay... so Martyrs is a well made piece of cinematic art which is like two films in one. It feels, especially for the first half, like a grungy 70s exploitation film from Sweden and you can imagine an eyepatch wearing Christina Lindberg turning up in this exact same movie if this had been made 40 years ago. It’s got the right kind of vibe.

The movie starts off strong with a pre-credits sequence of a young girl escaping from her unknown captors who have been systematically torturing her for a long period of time. As the credits progress and you get to know her and see her growing up with her friend at an orphanage, you see she is both terrorised by her memories and... terrorised by a fast moving shadowy figure who she wants to escape from at all costs. Now I really didn’t know much, if anything, of the plot of this film before I started it but it was at this point, just before the title card comes up at the end of the opening credits, that I realised there was a twist in this movie... and I immediately figured out wat it was. After another quarter of an hour, where the grown up girl goes on a rampage with a shotgun for payback time, I was pretty darned sure that at least one of the characters in this movie was not real. I’m not saying who that is in this review but... it seemed pretty obvious to me what was going on. The strength of this particular film, though, is that it reveals the twist about a third of the way through, just after one character’s friend comes to the rescue to help clear the bloody carnage and bodies from the house.

And then, after a little while more, something else I won’t reveal happens, which is again fairly obvious... it’s actually quite painfully inevitable actually, and the film goes into this newish, commercial “torture-porn” subgenre but, it has to be said, that although this film does have some gory violence, most of that takes place within the first half of the film... the later sequences are actually quite calm in places as the tortures inflicted on one of the girls are either shown as a "movie magic" montage or take place off screen. Frankly, the whole thing has a sense of reality to it because Pascal Laugier turns out to be a fine director who is a bit of an artist. However, it also has to be said that there’s not much to see here in terms of any shock value or such... the kinds of things which might satisfy a regular “horror” audience. And this really isn’t a horror movie anyway.

What it does have going for it, is a quite nice little ending sequence which stems from the motivation of the girl’s torturers and which, as suggested by the title of the film, lends a kind of quasi-religious tone to the movie and I’m thinking... well, I don’t know but... maybe the religious angle of the picture is what disturbed audiences so much a couple of years ago when this thing was getting seen? I don’t really see why there was all the furore over this movie myself and, truth be told, I’m not even sure at what part of the film audiences began to lose it, but my one straw I can clutch at before assuming everyone has gone absolutely insane for making a big deal about this one... asides from the obvious talent and artistry of the director... is because of the pseudo-religious ingredients of the film. Because, frankly, I find movies which devalue the consequences of violence and turn it into some glib entertainment for the masses, like the Saw and Hostel movies, far more disturbing in tone and also, as it happens, far more gorier than anything seen in Martyrs.

For Martyrs, you see, is impressive as a well put together film with believable performances but it’s not something which is going to visually burn into the collective visual cortex of an audience like the eye slashing scene from Dali and Bunuel’s Un Chien Andaleau, for instance. It does, though, as I said, have a nice ending with an extra tease at the end, the first part of which, after a sequence which is quite reminiscent of the end sections of Kubrik’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, is very much like the final shots in Sofia Coppola’s Lost In Translation... if you’ve seen both Lost In Translation and Martyrs you’ll probably know exactly what I mean. The end icing on the cake, where the final solution is denied both the “audience” in the movie and also the audience watching the movie, could be construed as a brilliant tease by the writer/director or, perhaps, a cop out because you can’t really reveal what can’t be known.

Either way, Martyrs is a nicely made if inconsequential thriller... to be fair I don’t think the torture-porn genre of horror has really any right to call itself a sub-genre of horror... they’re just extreme thrillers, no more no less. So the question I keep asking myself, as I come to the end of this review, is would I recommend this film to other people? Well, in all honesty, if you’re looking for an extreme thriller which will shock or at least disturb you... I’d say give this one a miss. If, however, you want to see a well directed movie and don’t mind some gore with some religious, cod-philosophy overtones on it... yeah, give it a watch. It’s a competently made movie by someone who’s bound to go on to better things. It’s just not quite something I’d put on for the extra easily squeamish though... all things considered.

Saturday 24 September 2011

Doctor Who: Closing Time

Welcome Mat

Doctor Who: Closing Time
Airdate: September 24th 2011. UK. BBC1

Warning: Timey wimey spoilers.

Ok, so that wasn’t a bad episode then. Was looking forward to it quite a bit more than I enjoyed it, to be fair (yeah, set myself up for a fall there) but I think part of the problem for me was... in an episode which guested James Corden (Craig) and was a sequel to last season’s The Lodger, I was hoping to see at lot more of Daisy Haggard as his partner Sophie than just a couple of bookends to the main storyline this week.

However, it really was a nice piece of writing in spite of this... Craig being left with the baby and the comedy antics of The Doctor playing against the two of them was all very welcome and it was also nice to see Linda Baron returning to Doctor Who for the third time (I think it counts as three, at least in terms of "television" appearances in the show, even though her first appearance opposite William Hartnell was actually just her voice singing a song). I always used to fancy her in Open All Hours when I was a kid... gave me a completely different spin on that show’s title in my adolescent brain. Here, though, she was just as lovely as ever, even when she was literally “left holding the baby” at one point towards the end of the show.

So what we seem to have here is an excuse for a cyberman story and, if truth be told, that seemed to be all it was... an excuse for a cyberman story. For a little while there, from its facial damage and the fact that it had an arm replaced, I thought it was exactly the same cyberman that featured in The Pandorica Opens season from last year... but I’ve had a closer look at the images now and it doesn’t look like it’s the same character... which is a shame. Would have been nice to have a stonehenge connection!

So... nice little episode, big on broad comedy, not so good maybe on the little details? Couldn’t help but notice that the cyber-conversion process, as it took hold of Craig, was a lot less bloody and quick than we’d previously been led to believe by the show's more recent incarnation. Frankly, I really hate it when they change well established details of a substantial historical legacy like this purely in favour of giving the audience a dramatic moment. It totally didn’t work for me and what could have been a great and powerful TV moment, Craig’s death and the orphaning of his son purely because he “knows” The Doctor... was snatched from us by a not terribly well done piece of... oh... “TV magic”?

Also not good that The Silence weren't acknowledged until the end... when River was nabbed by... well if the trailers were anything to go by, either a future or past version of herself... which I sincerely believe is what Steven Moffat probably wants us to think, so I’m almost ruling that one out in my head because, honestly, it’s too obvious isn't it?

And we’re also meant to think it was River Song in that lake (yeah, that was kinda obvious from day 1 on this series) but again, we’ve only caught a glimpse of her in a water tank and so far nobody has mentioned the little girl (or whoever) regenerating.

So will she regenerate into the eyepatch lady or, indeed, regenerate into The Doctor... or both? I have no idea and I’ve stopped caring about the details and specifics of next weeks double revelation... as long as everything makes sense and we reach our final solution largely entertained then I’ll be happy with it.

Couple of really good things happen in this one though. Amy and Rory, for example, make a totally unexpected appearance (Woohoo... I love it when this show can actually surprise me for once) and it was also nice to see where The Doctor got his cowboy hat seen in the opening episode of this series from (I’m not telling you that one, go and watch it to find out). And there was also a quick reminder, towards the end of the episode, about “the question being asked”.

Well then... “the question is asked” is it? What question is that then, do we think? Could it possibly be... “Will You marry Me?” Is all this action and destruction just an elaborate set up to get The Doctor to ask for River Song’s hand in marriage? Perhaps. Like I said before... I’m not going to sweat the details. For alll I know, after all, Matt Smith has not signed on for another season and River Song is the new Doctor. Bit of a stretch I know but... stranger things have happened.

And that’s about all I can say about this weeks episode really... good solid entertainment if, perhaps, lacking in certain areas where logic and “producer’s bravery” could have been paid better heed to. Never mind though... it was still a pretty good episode in terms of being an entertaining time... so looking forward to next week's offering big time. Bet it will be a tad more than just a little fast paced is my guess. They’ve got a lot to cover (and hopefully not make amends for).

Friday 23 September 2011

Horror Hospital

Confessions Of A
Zombie Instructor

Horror Hospital (aka Computer Killers) 1973 UK
Directed by Antony Balch
Screening as part of a combined presentation of the Classic Horror Campaign and Scala Forever at the Roxy Screen and Bar on September 4th

And so... on to the second part of this extraordinary double bill following on from Black Sunday (reviewed here). After the first movie had shown there were a load of rather generous prize giveaways for answering quiz questions and I won a hardback novel I’m looking forward to reading at some point by correctly identifying that Harry Manfredini was the composer of choice on the Friday the 13th series. Now I have to own up to something here and now about answering that question... even though it’s true I'm really into my soundtracks and I have somewhere between 1,500 and 2,000 of the things on CD, I’d never heard of Harry Manfredini until the day before this screening took place, as I really don’t have a lot of time for the American variety of slasher pics such as the Friday the 13th series (preferring to look to the sheer artistry and beauty of an Italian giallo when I’m in a stabby-stabby-naked-sexy-music mood). However, by sheer coincidence my friend and I had been chatting away with a friendly and quite enthusiastically charming American guy who was ordering a custom made iced coffee at the Queen Elizabeth Hall the night before. When I went in to see a seminar on horror film music which was part of a short series of concerts entitled The sound Of Fear, one of the guests was Harry Manfredini, the composer of the Friday the 13th scores... who, it turns out, was the guy we’d been chatting to in the foyer, ordering the iced coffee. So... great way to know the answer to win a prize I reckon.

Anyway, after lady fortune (or in this case ScareSarah) had smiled on me, the lights went dim and we were in for what turned out to be a rare treat... a gravely appalling film called Horror Hospital. This movie was truly an eye opener for me in that it was both cinephile torture and unbelievable fun all in one hit. It really is a great movie to watch where everyone in the cast and crew seemed to be on their own special brand of acid and this was reflected in some really crazy (aka especially incompetent) editing and a sense of on screen chemistry which seemed to be working really well for the actors but possibly less well for some of the members of the audience, it has to be said.

This movie really made my day and was absolutely, trashily brilliant. This one stars, if you want to use that word in this particular context, young generation hero Robin Askwith (playing Jason Jones) who, at the time he was doing this, was just a hairs breadth away from starring in the successful Confessions Of A... series of movies and who had only the year before played Sid James’ son in the movie version of successful British sitcom Bless This House. Now I’ve not personally seen any of the Confessions movies, and I really count myself fortunate in that respect, but I can just tell from the tone of this movie that this was definitely a forerunner to the social attitudes on display in those kinds of movies.

This film is horrendously sexist... but in a good way that only a lot of water passing under the bridge can help to render this stuff in a hazy cloud of nostalgia for a time when things seemed much simpler in life. So while there’s some blatantly obnoxious behaviour in this movie from most of the main leads (some of it rubbing off on the character of Michael Gough’s bizarre mad scientist/clay monster) it’s also truly hilarious to watch and, in a scene on a train which set up the lead actress/love interest (Judy Peters, played by Vanessa Shaw), young Mr. Askwith bought the house down in fits of laughter from the audience with his hip and ingratiating chat up line... “There’s no need to get so uptight about things, I’m not going to rape you!”

There’s no way my mere words can do this justice so I’ll do something I rarely do and put this little link in right here so you can see a two and a bit minute clip I stumbled across on youtube...

Honestly... some of this stuff in here is amazing and people under the age of, say 35, probably won’t understand how natural all of this seemed to us in a time when our media bombardment comprised of TV shows like On The Buses and Love Thy Neighbour and movies like the Carry On... series. Back in the seventies, a fair number of people wouldn’t have recognised the atrocities of this kind of omnipresent demeanor in the arts except for, maybe, the victims of such behaviour themselves.

Horror Hospital is a fun watch dealing with a crazed Michael Gough (Dr. Christian Storm) who has a car which slices the heads off of passers-by and a dwarf sidekick (who I last saw at the Classic Horror Campaign’s screening of Vampire Circus) who steals the show with hammy, over the top readings of his dialogue and who got away with that, probably, because everyone on the set adored him (according to my research). MIchael Gough, is of course, running a "Health Farm", in conjunction with a travel agent for Hairy Holidays, which turns out to be “recruitment” for Storms experiments with removing parts of young people’s brains so they can become his super-strong and obedient zombie army. Jason and Judy are both heading to Storm’s “Health Farm” and soon find themselves "a couple" in danger of zombification... after some gratuitous shower scene nudity and sex shenanigans, of course.

One of the things that struck me as I watched this amazing piece of fluff unfold was just how inappropriate the musical score is. Way over the top. When the film started I saw the composer listed as De Wolfe, who I’d never heard of, but after a while I was pretty sure what was going on with the music. I checked the movie on the International Movie Data Base a week or so after the screening and saw that a music credit for Horror Hospital is not even on there. This pretty much confirmed my suspicions and so I did a little bit more research. The problem with the music is that this 1973 movie had a 1940s, over the top romantic score a lot of the time... and none of the music seemed that much related to a shared concept throughout the movie. And with the arrival of a second lead actor, the hippy called Abraham (played by Kurt Christian), the music suddenly takes a detour and starts playing beat lead, funny sitar funk to completely overplay what is already an over the top performance. It was at this point that I realised this movie had a “needle-drop” soundtrack... that is to say, it has no original music composed for it and the score is assembled from cues from a big music library (this is something that Quentin Tarantino does successfully to this day in his movies but instead of a specially written library he just cribs the scores from other films), which in this case was a fairly famous one, it seems, called De Wolfe. I can honestly say that the clumsy attempts to support the music with what can only be called “some of the most lame-brained and incompetently inappropriate choices ever" only adds another layer of “f*ck me, if I laugh any harder my sides will come undone” to the proceedings.

So, bit of a schizophrenic reaction to this second movie I reckon. Did I like it as a horror movie. No, it was awful on that level. Did I like it as an entertainment. Absolutely... truly genius rubbish which I could happily watch again (and will if I can ever find a decent DVD) and, yes, I would recommend it to anyone wanting a good time with a truly cheesy flick... with the caveat that you need to not be so sensitive to any rampant sexism on display. You can’t do anything about that now anyway and, honestly, watching stuff like this, that’s half the fun.

My thanks to the Classic Horror Campaign and, of course, to the brains behind it,!/cyberschizoid and!/ScareSarah for introducing me to this wonderfully awful slice of “Great British Movie Making” which I thoroughly enjoyed. More great stuff to come, hopefully, from future events from so check out their website now and sign their petition for them!

Tuesday 20 September 2011

Hard Candy

Candy Coloured Page Turner

Hi everybody. I’d like to welcome back my scholarly, writerly friend and guest blogger Sandy, who has reviewed a film that I’m guessing will someday be considered a bit of a classic for future generations. I think this review is great... hope you do too.

Hard Candy USA 2005
Directed by David Slade
Lion’s Gate Region 2

I had a look at this film at Nuts4r2’s recommendation as he’d been fed up with my negative responses to quite a few films recently. That was until Juno, which I loved. He suggested I watched something else with Ellen Page in, so Hard Candy it was.

I’m not so good with horror or gory, so I was a little apprehensive when the cover advised me that I would be ‘absolutely terrified’. However, I was so pleased to have risked it.

What I really enjoyed in Hard Candy was that there were three stars in what was ostensibly a two-hander - the two main actors and the camerawork. I knew right away that I was in for some discomfort as the jangly camera moved in for uncomfortable close-ups right from the off and set the psychological tone to the impending claustrophobic nature of this film. And I wasn’t let down as it definitely challenged some ingrained assumptions.

Of course I knew the older man who seemed plausible and attractive through 14 year old’s eyes was grooming her, and of course I knew the 14 year old didn’t understand the power of her provocative exploration of the relationship. But what I didn’t know, because generally we just don’t like to explore these things so much, or at all, is the potential power we all hold despite age, gender or any other factor that can serve to disempower. Hard Candy put that right.

So I felt apprehensive even before our assumptions were turned on their heads, and suffocated and invaded after. Those relentless close ups even had my hands waving around my head at one point as, like Jeff, I tried to push this damn thing away from me. In my case, the in-your-face camera shots, and in Jeff’s case his restraining ropes. We both needed space and perspective but neither of us got it. Unlike the character Jeff, I could breath again when the end titles rolled and make myself a well earned cuppa to wash this film out of my throat, where it had lodged itself. Jeff’s throat didn’t fare so well!

These performances were so emotionally fraught that at one point I wondered whether the actor’s actually might need therapy after. They took the characters’ emotions, or dissociation from emotions, to the edge. Page is so skilled at micro expressions - just the tiniest change moves us into a new territory, and Patrick Wilson convincingly conveys the disintegration of a human being outplayed by another who was oh so much better at chilling to the core.

I enjoyed how this film covered so many moral questions without pointing all of them out. At one time I even felt sorry for Jeff’s pitiful plight at the hands of the 14 year old psychopath - or was she? - despite his so-called paedophilic tendencies. We were invited to ponder the nature/nurture question posed by Hayley in relation to her own behaviour but also Jeff’s, when he offered a childhood incident as a possible explanation for his sexual preferences. My favourite implicit moral question was how the neighbour’s insistence that she was always looking for baby sitters sounded so innocent... yet just think of all those parents just wanting their nights out, leaving their kids with an unknown sitter, where anything could happen... but that’s another film altogether!

Although the dialogue was clear, purposeful and Hayley was unforgiving, I also felt this film was making suggestions that left the powerful human imagination and the primitive fears of the collective unconscious to do the rest. Power, retribution. Who were we rooting for? Or do we need to root for anyone? Is that just another human cover up for not being able to manage overwhelming, primitive feelings.

So... uneasy, invasive, triumphantly vengeful, this film ultimately left me with that beautiful question of Edmund Burke’s in my mind about being a bystander as it didn’t matter one jot to Hayley whether Jeff had murdered or just watched a murder: "All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing." (Edmund Burke)

Sandy Hamilton

Monday 19 September 2011

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

Smiley Coyote

Tinker. Tailor, Soldier, Spy 2011 France/UK/Germany
Directed by Tomas Alfredson
Screening at UK cinemas

Hmmm... I’m at a bit of a loss to know how to really get inside this one.

I should probably mention that I’ve never read John Le Carre’s novel on which this one was based and also I’m not sure that I’ve seen Alec Guiness in his turn as Smiley from the TV shows they made of the first and third parts of Le Carre’s Karla trilogy (although it is all ringing a bit of a bell now so it’s possible I caught it on repeats sometime in the 80s).

Of all the many films of the novels that the character of George Smiley appears in, the only one I’ve actually seen and read also happens to be pretty much my favourite spy movie of all time (just toppling The Quiller Memorandum and The IPCRESS File from their joint top slot), The Spy Who Came In From The Cold and Smiley is not the central character in that one (I don’t believe he actually turns up in The Russia House but some of the other characters from his stories do... but I’m still not counting it technically as a Smiley movie). However, when it comes to the very serious and extremely chilly spy thriller then The Spy Who Came In From The Cold is the one I hold everything up in comparison to... it’s just so damned depressing!

Bearing this in mind, then, I think it would be true to say that my feelings on this new incarnation of one of the more famous of Le Carre’s novels left me feeling a little underwhelmed and, perhaps, just a trifle warmer than I’d hoped for. However, that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t recommend it to most people I know who like movies... it’s certainly a well put together piece. It’s just that...

Well I loved the trailer! Seriously, if ever a trailer was going to get me to go see a movie just on the strength of that sole piece of advertising then the Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy trailer was it. It’s really sinister and threatening with some edits which strongly imply some seriously chilling little set pieces, not least of which is a pair of eyes in a kind of opticians eye-test frames which suggest an intimidating piece of kit for a long distance assassin but... well... it really is just a few seconds throwaway shot in the opticians in the movie proper, to help silently establish the kind of man George Smiley is. So a bit of a dissapointment there then.

The trailer also has some heavy duty, terrifyingly cold, kick-ass music playing throughout and, to be honest, this was my main reason for wanting to see this movie in the first place. Alas, the music used in the trailer is not from regular Almodovar composer Alberto Iglesias’ score to the movie, which resembles to some extent a kind of toned down and understated homage to Jerry Goldsmith’s light jazz sections in The Russia House. The musical score as utilised in the film is more than competent... but it does nothing to give the piece the chilling edge that a movie like this really needs.

Not that there aren’t equally chills in certain sequences of the movie... a certainly very predictable but so well executed that it still manages to give a little jolt scene in an interrogation sequence springs quickly to mind... and the sequence where actor Toby Jones has a fierce word or two with Benedict Cumberbatch is enough to make one feel very uncomfortable about things (who says suspense in movies is dead?) but ultimately, although I was fairly well engaged with the movie... I couldn’t help but compare it to such stalwart classics as the aforementioned The Quiller Memorandum and The Spy Who Came In From The Cold and I have to say I found it sadly lacking in both the steely terror and the sheer intelligence that those particular kinds of movies were so good at in their day.

At the end of the day though, I still can’t really put my finger on why this movie didn’t quite make it for me. The performances were uniformly brilliant and just what you’d expect from the likes of Gary Oldman, John Hurt, Colin Firth, Benedict Cumberbatch, Toby Jones, Mark Strong and Roger Lloyd-Pack. Similarly, the very welcome and leisurely pacing of the piece should have really brightened my outlook to it (it’s really not edited anything like the trailer was). It didn’t though and I’m really at a loss as to why I didn’t “quite” take to this one like a duck takes to water. I loved this same director’s Let The Right One In (which Hammer kind of screwed up with their interpretation of it, Let Me In) but this one is another story. It’s just one of those things I guess.

Short review, I know, but I haven’t really got a lot else I’m inspired to say about this less than chilling (but not too unsubtle) spy movie. Was expecting a much more convoluted plot I guess... maybe the simplicity of the story threw me. At any rate... whether I liked it or not (and it’s definitely not a DVD purchase for me on this), I’d still recommend this one to any readers who are into cinema movies right now... if purely for the fact that the film takes its time and doesn’t hurtle along at too breakneck a pace for your tired eyes to keep up with. And certainly, for the younger and less travelled viewers who might not have seen or read some of the great sixties classics of the genre, this movie might be a bit of fresh air to them.

Certainly though, for this particular reviewers eyes, it was certainly a case of “nothing new here”. I predict it will be a well liked and well appreciated film though and it might well win a gong or two at Oscar time (but don’t tell me if it does because I try hard to avoid dodgy awards shows at all costs). Certainly, I’m sure, this is not the last time we’ll be seeing the character of George smiley back on our screens after his longish hiatus. Who knows? Perhaps this time they’ll even do the middle book in the Karla trilogy?

Sunday 18 September 2011

Black Sunday (aka La maschera del demonio aka The Mask Of Satan aka Revenge Of The Vampire)

Way A-Bava Average

Black Sunday 1960 Italy
aka La Maschera Del Demonio
aka The Mask Of Satan
aka Revenge Of The Vampire
Directed by Mario Bava

Screening as part of a combined presentation of the Classic Horror Campaign and Scala Forever at the Roxy Screen and Bar on September 4th

Black Sunday is a fine film directed by one of the great directors of Italian cinema, Mario Bava. So, when I learned that the Classic Horror Campaign to bring back horror movie double bills to BBC2 were going to be screening it (check out their website here), I jumped at the chance to rewatch this masterpiece on a larger screen than just the TV set at home I was so used to seeing it on. It was first up in a double bill showing with an outrageous little movie I’d not seen before called Horror Hospital (more on that in my sequel review to this one... as yet still unwritten).

If you’ve not seen a Mario Bava film in your life and you claim to be a fan of cinema then you really need to see some of his classic movies as he was hugely appreciated by his peers and hugely influential on them and on both Italian and International cinema to this day. I can’t watch a movie like Almodovar’s new film The Skin I Live In, for example, and look at the mise-en-scene in a movie like that (and many others) without realising how much of a debt they owe to the great Mario Bava in terms of camera work and beautiful coloured gel lighting etc.

The leading exponent of the giallo genre, he was hugely influential on “giallo darling” Dario Argento and while Argento certainly popularised the giallo with his debut feature The Bird With The Crystal Plumage, it was Bava who lay the roots for this and other classics with his own genre creations such as The Girl Who Knew Too Much, Blood And Black Lace and Five Dolls For An August Moon (indeed, towards the end of his life he joined his son, future director Lamberto Bava who was Argento’s AD for many of his movies before moving on to his own career as a director, and helped Argento create the special effects for the second of his Three Mothers Trilogy Inferno).

Black Sunday is an unusual film for Bava because one of the standout key signatures of Bava is, as I’ve mentioned here and on many reviews of other movies before, his fantastic psychedelic use of surreal colouring which relies on psychological atmosphere rather than whether these colours would really pertain to a real life environment or situation (Argento also uses this tactic in his movies) - so purples and reds and greens all in bright, tranluscent tones and mixing it up on screen to give an absolutely amazing, rich visual palette to behold. Black Sunday, however, is filmed in black and white and one wonders if this is because one of the key effects scenes, which is very effective, could only be done by the use of "colour" photographed in black and white? I’ll come back to that a little later.

Loosely adapted (and uncredited as such) from Nikolai Gogol’s short story Viy (much adapted and/or referenced in many a horror film) the story is of a witch played iconically by scream queen Barbara Steele who, after having a spiked, metal mask hammered onto her face (see the blood flow in grim black in what would be a fairly edgy sequence in modern cinema, let alone for a black and white movie just out of the starting block of the sixties), curses a family before being burnt alive at the stake... cue the credits sequence and we’re left with a witchy/vampiric, coming-back-from-the-dead tale which is not disimilar to many Hammer films of the time but which certainly beats them in terms of all that is at stake in these kinds of movies. Bava was pretty much a genius of an artist... not many directors had his understanding of photography (which he acquired from his “famous movie star” photographer father) and you can see that in every movie he ever made... even the hundred or more which he helped out on uncredited.

Even in black and white as it is here, the crisp and clear compositions that strike you in any Bava picture are clearly present in every frame of film. I think it was Cameron Mitchell who I saw being interviewed on an extra on a Reigon 1 DVD of one or other of Bava’s Viking tales Knives Of The Avenger or Eric The Conqueror who said, and quite rightly so, that if you take any frame of film from a Mario Bava movie you will find yourself with an absolutely perfectly framed still photograph. He really was that good and the striking compositions of Black Sunday just help hammer the point home that, although Bava is best known for his colour work, he was an equally potent force when it comes to black and white photography. And I do mean black and white... it seems a shame to refer to his work here as being in mono or greyscale because it’s real chiaroscuro on display here. The blacks are real dark and the highlights are real bright.

Another brilliant Bava trait is the sense of depth you get out of the shots. Everything seems to be shot through or around something (often a Mario Bava trademark matte painting on a glass slide, although the trompe l'oeil effect is quite astonishing, if you could ever have a chance to notice them for what they are... the illusion is that good). It seems to me that Roger Corman picked up a lot of influence from these “credited” opening salvos from the creative mind of Bava (I believe he’s gone on record as admitting this and, after all, Bava’s films in the US were often distributed by AFI) and you can certainly see that influence on some of Corman’s genuine artistic directorial works, the obvious ones being his Poe films such as House of Usher and Pit And The Pendulum. I’ll bet stylish directorial masterpieces like Sidney J. Furie's The IPCRESS File wouldn’t have been made like they were either without at least some kind of knock on effect from Bava’s movies.

The special effects are excellent here too. Barbara Steele has a dual role in the film and as the old corpse slowly comes back to life in her coffin over the course of the movie, her eye sockets start to slowly grow squidgy eyes and I don’t think that the censors would let Hammer get away with something that icky back in the day. Indeed, I believe that Black Sunday was banned in the UK until about 1968 and even then it was shown in a slightly censored form. Actually, though, this review perhaps gives a false impression of the film in some ways because, asides from a couple of small scenes, it really isn’t gory or disturbing by today’s standards. The atmosphere is still quite palpable in this one though.

And Bava also makes use of a very old but very effective trick which he pinched wholesale from the Rouben Mamoulian 1931 version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and this again involves the subtle de-aging of one of the characters played by Barbara Steele. Using red make up on her to make her look old he films her thus and then slowly shifts over to filming it with a red filter on the camera, which has the effect of slowly making the “old crone” make-up invisible and basically “younging up” Ms. Steele before your very eyes. I suspect that the choice to present this movie in black and white would have had a lot to do with the presentation of this special effect.

So there you have it... this edition of the Classic Horror Campaign started off with a well known and much loved classic. Things could only get worse... or could they. I was also wiped out in a completely different way by their screening of a film I’d not seen before called Horror Hospital... but more on that in a future review. Coming soon!

The Classic Horror Campiagn website is here...

The organisers can be found on Twitter here...!/cyberschizoid and here...!/ScareSarah

And if you want to look into the cinema of Bava more closely with probably one of the best written and produced books on film ever produced, Tim Lucas' expensive (but worth very penny) and absolutely amazing book on Bava can be found here...

Saturday 17 September 2011

Doctor Who: The God Complex

Monosyllabic Monotheism

Doctor Who: The God Complex
Airdate: September 17th 2011. UK. BBC1

Warning: A sprinkling of spoilers for that
extra touch of seasoning on the food supply.

Woohoo. Finally a really great humdinger of a Doctor Who episode! The Doctor is in everybody. He's well and truly back.

That’s what I just tweeted anyway... and then I figured, why waste a nice strong burst of enthusiasm like that. So I’m shamelessly using it as the opening to this review and there’s probably nothing or, at least, not much that you can do about it. Bwahahahahahaha!

Okay, so where to begin. Cheapish episode I imagine as it’s only got a few sets which are constantly redressed I would think. All set in a 1980s hotel setting straight out of Kubrik’s The Shining... but it’s a hotel in space because- hey I’m not spoiling it that much. You might not have seen it yet. If you haven’t, on yer bike because there’s probably much worse coming down the page I reckon... once I get into full flow.

So, a handful of people running scared around a hotel with the only thing to keep them company... their worst fears ensconced in one of the many rooms and a big, hungry minotaur feeding off their resolute belief in their faith symbol as they try to conquer their fears. Good stuff.

And the good Doctor and Rory have been whisked there by accident by Amy whose unshakable faith in the Doctor has acted like bait to the broken down prison ship feeding the minotaur with the strength of their conviction. Except the minotaur doesn’t want to carry on and is only doing it on instinct... which The Doctor recognises and he does his best to help the minotaur out by cutting off his food supply and letting him die.

And the way he cuts off his food supply is by pulling himself down as a pillar of virtuous heroism for Amy and letting her see a more tarnished interpretation of him... which of course is an image he will be reversing for her in just a short couple of weeks time I suspect but we have to get there yet.

So what else was great about this episode?

Well, we had a couple more references to classic Who in the sound of the cloister bell and also, a lovely throw away line stating that the minotaur was an alien cousin to the Nimon from the Tom Baker story Horns Of The Nimon. Well it had to be really didn’t it? After all, you can’t really go anywhere in the Who universe without associating Minotaurs with the Nimon can you?

But never mind the fan pleasing references... there was some fantastic photography taking place and some brilliant lighting which, in one memorable scene involving a bunch of mirrors and the “source lighting” through a fish bowl (which it almost certainly wasn’t), being almost an homage to that shot by Vittorio Storaro in Bertolluci’s early seventies classic Il Conformista (aka The Conformist)... fans of that movie will know exactly which shot I’m talking about. Saw it decades ago myself and remember none of it... except for that one shot!

You had a possible new companion... except you didn’t because you knew as soon as The Doctor got interested in her she’d get herself killed... or in this case snuffed by the minotaur. And there was even a side swipe at amateur bloggers portraying them as long haired, bespectacled computer nerds spouting nonsense conspiracy theories. Ha! Bit wild that one. Spectacles? Long hair? What an imagination! Ahem. Moving swiftly on...

I think the one scene where this let itself down a little was in an overtly melodramatic good bye sequence where The Doctor dumps Amy Pond and Rory and says goodbye to them... yeah right. For the umpteenth time! He’s alway’s doing that with these two particular companions for some reason. Why the writers saw the need to drag that one out is beyond me. Especially since the last episode of this series is entitled The Wedding Of River Song (can’t be missing yer daughters wedding now, can you Amy?) and since it’s obvious it’s all just a ploy to let The Doctor have some time to himself to get to grips with his upcoming death.The last person he needs to have running around while he deals with that issue is a future-knowledge Amy Pond who might tip her younger self off. That would be silly wouldn’t it?

And, of course, even more so since we know that Amy Pond features in the next series too as confirmed by Karen Gillan a few weeks ago. So anybody who thinks they're leaving the companions in this manner is on crack I reckon (although I suspect it’s high time they killed off Rory now and for good this time when his death can still be of dramatic use as a catapult of emotional situations for the surviving characters). Anybody who thinks this is the last we’ll see of Amy and Rory and that the last 8 or so minutes of this episode wasn’t a huge waste of preparatory time raise your hands now! Didn’t think so.

So where do we go from here... well, back to see Craig from the excellent The Lodger episode of last season by the looks of it. And dressed in a lot of the trailers as someone who would make an excellent best man at a certain someone’s wedding if they made an additional appearance in the last episode of the series if I’m not mistaken? Oh, well... I guess I might be mistaken but that’s my guess for now anyway.

Right then... two episodes to tie up all the plot holes or will they leave it for the Christmas special do you think? I reckon we’ll be seeing a few “scene” cameos from the last series thrown in for good measure too... at least that’s my guess. I don’t think we’re quite done with the fall out from the Pandorica yet... again I’m guessing but that seems to be everybody’s “funnest” game with Doctor Who these days... and why not?

A thrilling episode with the possibility of at least one more good one out of two before the season’s end and I’m genuinely enthused after that one. Can’t wait!

Troll Hunter (aka Trolljegeren)


Troll Hunter (aka Trolljegeren) 2010 Norway
Directed by André Øvredal
Screening at UK cinemas

Warning: There are spoilers, foll-di-roll... and they’re going to eat you for dinner!

Blimey, another one. Three cinema movies in one weekend and two of them, including this one, turn out to be first-person POV pseudomentary “found footage” movies. This one’s pretty amazing though and wins over some of it’s predecessors by introducing a strong dose of tongue-in-cheek humour to the proceedings.

Three students making a film about bear hunters for their college course latch on to a shady character who is a little out of place and start following him around and pestering him. When they follow him into a “prohibited” forest they soon find out, in no uncertain and humorously terrifying terms, that he is a government sanctioned specialist in and hunter of... trolls.

When I saw the first shot bear with its tongue hanging comically out I thought to myself... wow, that looks really fake. What I didn’t realise then was that there is a government conspiracy of hiding the trolls and keeping them in specially “restricted from the public” areas and that the dead bears are imported "plants" so they can pass off accidental troll related human deaths as bear incidents. After a while you realise that the key people in charge of this operation are... well... not very good at their jobs. Which figures I guess. Most people in local government are not very good at their jobs so it does have a ring of truth about it. The only true professional is the troll hunter himself... and he wants the truth about the existence of trolls to be known by the general public at large.

The strength of this movie is that, amidst all the quite broad humour, there is a genuine air of threat and terror when it comes to the trolls themselves. And it’s actually an incredibly hard tightrope act to pull off, especially when the trolls themselves do actually resemble the fairytale troll imagery you have in your head right at this very moment as you read these words. Big, broad muppety looking things which want to make you laugh out loud... except, if the cameraman stops to laugh he’s going to get eaten or worse and so... well, this movie is a bit of a masterpiece because it really does straddle that line very effectively.

It’s got quite a long slow burn at the start where nothing happens much just to build up the atmosphere of the piece and when the genuine trollduggery starts happening, you really feel it. You’ll be running in terror with the cameraman as you laugh at the trolls. The found footage style of the camerawork really does help sell the trolls too. I would imagine if you were seeing these beasts in a more controlled camera environment with slow pans and dollys etc. then you’d have your brain telling you how inappropriate and unrealistic these things look... but because you’re looking at CGI in a camera style which you associate with the hasty. on the fly, quick and dirty recording of reality, the effects kind of sell themselves better in your mind and it’s really easy to believe in these trolls... even when one of them has three heads.

The mixture of the comic and “scarying up” is just amazingly well handled. One scene, for instance, has the troll hunter dressed in some man made armour which looks totally ineffective as he tries to get a blood sample from a troll... baiting the troll up from under a bridge by splashing around a bucket of the “blood of a Christian man”. This is pretty funny and the armour looks useless... but then the scene turns terrifying as the troll knocks the hunter out and tries to eat him but is stymied by the armour.

This really is a great little gem of a low budget horror movie but it also has some slight disappointments. Number one disappointment is that in all these kinds of POV films the movie-makers try to impress you by killing or eating the cameraman at some point in the film and it’s become almost something of a cliché with them now. Troll Hunter is no exception to this and, while it’s nice to get a fresh perspective and be “in on the joke” of the replacement camerawoman not believing in trolls... it is kind of expected now and I wish they’d have done something different with it. Also, there’s a nice little account of a battle between warring factions of trolls and the aftermath of such a battle where thay were all hurling rocks at each other. I would have loved to have seen this battle, or at the very least been witness to a fight between two trolls instead of just teasing the audience with an account of such shenanigans. I guess the budget probably wouldn’t have allowed for that but once that story had been told... I was mentally rubbing my hands together with glee just waiting for it to happen. So was a tad let down that this kind of sequence wasn’t included.

But these very minor grumbles are just that... minor grumbles. There are some great moments in troll hunter, not least of which are when the title character goes to see his (implied) girlfriend who is a vet specialising in troll physiology and you get to hear some really humorous scientific explanations to explain some of the well known mythical facts about trolls (like why sunlight can turn older trolls to stone). Very funny.

I can’t do anything but recommend Troll Hunter as it’s one of the better POV movies of recent years, although it’s true I’m a sucker for watching films shot in this style anyway (even though most of them, this one included, don’t have a proper soundtrack). Better get to watch it before the US remake, which is already planned, manages to completely miss the point and wreck what is a nice little, low budget comedy horror flick. I just hope the original Norwegian team manage to capitalise on this first one with a sequel which actually does show a full scale troll battle. Now that, I’d really like to see.

Friday 16 September 2011

Torchwood 4.10 The Blood Line

Bloody Rubbish

Torchwood - Miracle Day Series 4
Episode 10: The Blood Line
Airdate: 15th September 2011. UK. BBC1

Warning: Bloody spoilers.

To loyal readers of my weekly Series Four reviews who have suffered and despaired and shared in my disappointment at the current incarnation of what was once one of my favourite TV shows, I can say only this... I come to bury Torchwood, not to praise it.

I mean... wow! Any hopes that the last episode would go out with a bang while simultaneously tying up any dangly loose plot ends were slowly shot down as the episode wore on until we were left with a tagged on ending scene which managed to not only insult the viewers intelligence and then do it all over again... but also, it has to be said by the look on Gwen Coopers face in the last shot... seemed to have turned in Carry On Torchwood. Seriously, you just needed Kenneth Williams standing behind John Barrowman and Eva Miles in that last little bit and it would have been just too perfect!

So, to be fair, the episode did pick up the pace a little but everything was so overplayed that it was just unbelievably insulting... the writing was just plain weak. For example, there's a very important cargo on a truck full of soldiers and, just after one of our two lead characters in that section gets on the truck, the other one starts grasping at his injuries and lead character number two gets back off the truck to help him. Woah. Way to telegraph that the truck is just about to go up in an explosion people! I mean, seriously, find a not too discrete way to get the leads to safety and then blow something up. What rot!

And then you have Rex, who has been carrying Jack’s blood in his veins (bit of a give away really about what’s going to happen to him, is it not?) and when he and Jack spray their blood into the earth’s diameter-long vaginal canal that is The Blessing, you pretty much know (since Jack can’t die until the future events witnessed by The Doctor and Martha Jones in an episode of Doctor Who) it’s pretty obvious that they’ll both be returning from the dead soon. Which they do, although Rex then seems to collapse on the floor again in a desperate bid by the writers to attempt to engage the audience one last time.

Not content with not at least giving us the courtesy to assume we know a little about the obvious resurrection abilities of these two characters, the makers of Torchwood: Miracle Day then do a slow reveal in which I think they wanted the viewer to act surprised about when it came to Rex being in the shot. Seriously? And then they go and do it all over again by having Rex gunned down and pronounced dead (even though it’s quite clear that the terrible wounds he’s been carrying around with him all series have healed themselves) and then expect us to accept things as a good ending to have everyone reacting like someone’s just stuck a finger up their collective bottoms when Rex comes back to life again. Seriously Torchwood people? You are really that dumb about this stuff?

Things pretty much went, in this episode, as I expected them to go... as opposed to going as I’d hoped they’d go. In a review for Episode 4 of this series, for example, I said this...

“... does anyone else think Oswald Danes is going to be thoroughly despicable right up until the last five minutes of the final episode... when he suddenly realises what’s at stake and saves the day in some self-sacrificing way? Is that character’s set up really going to be that obvious?”

Well I’m afraid the answer to that one turned out to be yes... yes it is.

And just to completely, “play the game” they also added a scene which can be used to set up a sequel story arc. Seriously people! If, and I sincerely hope it will happen but really don’t think it will after this poor showing but... if... anyone ever decides to put some money up for a fifth series of Torchwood, they surely wouldn’t be so stupid as to write a storyline that’s in any way, shape or form connected with this storyline which, it has to be said, has seemed to have left a bitter taste in the mouths of the older fan base of the show. This is never going to happen people and we’ll never, I strongly suspect, ever hear from “The Families” again.

You know, I’ve been thinking about this dumbed down for the kiddies incarnation of Torchwood for a while now and I’ve come to the conclusion that Russel T. Davies really can’t be held too responsible for this mess. I bet there was a lot of pressure on him to do things a certain way on this and maybe that’s why he’s gone on record that he doesn’t think he’ll do anymore Torchwood after the first episode of this series aired. I bet, after seeing the finished result and seeing just how oafish it’s turned out... he may have found it quite a painful birthing for the fourth child of his Torchwood family. It must be hard to see the projects you are emotionally invested in turn out with less than stellar results. I hope he gets on to something really good again soon because, and I know some folks will disagree with me here, he can be a pretty talented writer and a great producer. So I hope he’s smart enough to just take this stuff in his stride.

And that’s about it. I won’t waste anymore column space on reviewing this terribly disappointing series of Torchwood. I do hope that somehow this lifeless corpse of a TV show will somehow snatch itself back from the jaws of death like one of it’s regular characters but I just can’t see that happening. However, give me a year or two and I will start revisiting and reviewing the first three series for my blog. Hopefully I’ll have something positive to say again about the exploits of Captain Jack Harkness, Gwen Cooper and the rest of them.

Until then, though, I will use the tag line of another sci-fi genre show to sum up my feelings about the promising collaboration between the BBC, Starz Network and Russel T. Davies and say just this... Trust No One!