Friday 31 August 2018

My 1500th Blog Post

Cahiers Du Movies

My 1500th Blog Post

Well that was a really heavy week.

I saw six movies at various cinemas last weekend, five of them at FrightFest and then, in between working my day job this week, I actually managed to get all of them written up and published in the space of as many days. So I’m really pleased with myself for that.

Then, right on top of that, it turns out that this is my 1500th blog post... so I thought I’d get something up quick before I go back to the cinema tomorrow night and have to start writing up the next movie (which, ironically, turns out to be a movie which previewed a last weekends FrightFest but, luckily, not one I saw). I was kinda unsure what to mark this occasion with but recently, one of my friends who is moving house soon, found a number of issues of an old newsletter I used to write for my friends (thanks Chris). You see, even before I was writing this blog I still wanted to get movie thoughts down on paper... or whatever medium... and out of my clogged up head. I’d kind of half forgotten about the newsletter, which I called Cahiers Du Movies after the French new wave mob.

So I thought, in honour of my 1500th post, I’d pick one of these old issues with the small circulation (in single figures) and reprint it here so any of my readers could see what I was doing before I had the NUTS4R2 blog. The one I picked is not a typical issue in that it was inspired by my cinema trip to see American Splendor... so instead of the usual articles I drew a comic strip about the movie (kinda, you’ll see). Eagle eyed viewers might spot a running cover gag from a novel... half of which was made by Roman Polanski into a very interesting horror movie under a different title.

So, anyway, hope you like this trip back into my past and thank you all for reading.

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Thursday 30 August 2018

Crystal Eyes (aka Mirada De Cristal)

The Slice Is Right

Crystal Eyes (aka Mirada De Cristal)
2017 Argentina Directed by  Ezequiel Endelman & Leandro Montejano
Screening 27th August at FrightFest 2018

Crystal Eyes was the last movie I saw at this year’s FrightFest and, like four out of the five I saw this year (excepting the wonderful Luciferina, which I reviewed here), it’s not actually a horror movie. That being said, I did get a little fright when, as I was waiting for Alan Jones to do the opening with the two writer/directors, I felt something moving past my feet and get stuck against my legs in the near darkness of the cinema. I looked down to find it was a black guide dog that had escaped from the owner and crawled under everyone’s feet to get to a spot where my bags and feet were... but it gave me a fright for a moment. After the owner had been reunited with her dog, she went down the front row with it and then, after Alan Jones had given out some free FrightFest perfume to some of the audience (I am now the proud owner of some Eau De Gore... which my mother liked fine when I gave it to her), it was time for him to do his opening spiel. That’s when the brilliant dog got loose a second time and was shuffling around Alan’s feet and running around until it could be settled. Alan had a brilliant come back to being upstaged by this handsome creature, however... he said something along the lines of “Don’t worry. It’s not exactly the first time I’ve had something warm and friendly at my opening.” it was a good line and it got a big laugh from the audience. Then, after a brief intro to the film and a quick discussion with the directors, it was down to business.

Crystal Eyes is pretty much a modern attempt to make an Italian giallo set in the 1980s. As such it was probably my most anticipated film of FrightFest although, in the end, it turned out to be the one I got the least from. That being said, it was still a good movie, especially considering the miniscule budget and I’m pretty pleased that I managed to see five relatively good ones this year... I’ve not always been that ‘on the nose’ with my FrightFest picks, it has to be said.

So you know where you are right from the start with this movie as a nasty but incredibly popular fashion model with the almost too perfect cliché of a name, Alexis Carpenter, played by Camila Pizzo, dies accidentally by her own hand when some circuits short out and she manages to start a fire which leads to her being burnt alive (which doesn’t quite look that realistic but one wonders if the way the film makers achieved this effect is a similar nod to how a director might have solved the same problem decades ago). The scene is interesting but annoyingly busy as the directors give us something which definitely feels like an early 1980s version of the giallo, more akin perhaps to some of the works of Lamberto Bava than those of Dario Argento or Mario Bava... although those two directors are referenced quite a lot in this.

The rest of the film is set one year later, when what appears to be a fashion mannequin goes on a killing rampage when a bunch of people try to put on a show as a tribute to the life of Alexis Carpenter. There’s not much plot, to be honest and there doesn’t have to be. The film takes it’s inspiration, after all, from a bunch of very stylish movies which weren’t all that strong on plot in the first place. If you are not into gialli, though, you might find the film a little wearing in places.

The film is obviously homaging the beautiful colouring in the films of Argento and Bava but, I have to say, I thought the greens and purples used to ‘gialloesque’ up the ante seemed a little faded throughout the picture, it has to be said. The Argento references come thick and fast but the two directors don’t limit themselves just to his giallo films either... there are substantial references to Suspiria all over the picture, including the look of the office of the head of the fashion house putting on this show. Actually, the office set was basically the front room of the house of one of the two directors which they’d tricked out with false walls and it really does show you how you can work with a tiny budget (and over a great period of time) if you have to. The fact that the name of the character of the head of the fashion house, played here by Silvia Montanari, is named Lucía L'uccello, shows you just how ‘behind’ the Argento vibe the directors were here.

That being said, while the feel of the film is more Lamberto Bava than his father Mario, there are some obvious and definite homages to Bava senior, such as  having a giallo set around the fashion world, including mannequins, being an obvious reference to Blood And Black Lace (which I reviewed here). This is further re-enforced with a drowning scene which, I’m pretty sure, closely mirrors the one in the aforementioned Bava masterpiece. That being said, the little add on sequence at the end of the movie, when all seems to be finished but then... oh no, it’s not quite... seems more in spirit with an American director who I’ve always assumed was heavily influenced by gialli anyway. I’m talking about Brian De Palma here and the tone of this last scene seemed to me more like something you would get in one of his early, Hitchcockian thrillers such as Sisters (reviewed here), Dressed To Kill or Body Double and I suspect the directors of this movie are more than familiar with his work too.

And, of course, this being a gialloesque movie, the while thing is given a score, written by Pablo Fuu,  reminiscent of a certain period of that genre, although again it doesn’t quite follow the style of the classic late 1960s/early 1970s gialli such as the jazz infused atonal gut punches of Ennio Morricone or the progressive ‘slasher rock’ of Goblin. This was more like something, again, of the 1980s, with a splash of Goblin’s ‘moved on’ Claudio Simonetti cross pollinated with the sort of sound you’d get from Stelvio Cipriani tackling similar material... at least that’s the way it seemed to me.

Not much else to say about this one. It didn’t quite light my fire like some of the others I’d seen at this year’s FrightFest but it was still a nice ride and the mannequin costumed killer had a kind of iconic look to it, to be sure. That being said, once the mannequin suffers from some major damage towards the end of the movie, it did kinda look like one of the band members from the old 1970s pop group KISS was chasing people around with a straight razor but, you know, there’s not really much wrong with that either.

Crystal Eyes is a good bit of fun and kind of a love letter to Italian giallo with a few horror nods thrown in for good measure (much like Videoman which I saw the night before was, although that’s an entirely different kind of experience... see below for a link to my review). If you like this kind of cinema and are on the look out for new stuff in this vein... well it’s not the best I’ve seen but it’s certainly not the worst either and it’s probably something you should check out if you get the opportunity.

And that’s the end of my personal coverage of this year’s FrightFest (I’m way too poverty stricken to be able to afford a weekend pass to one of these things). I hope you liked my reviews of some of these and I hope you stick with the blog for a while if you’re new to it. Lots of interesting stuff to come still.

FrightFest 2018 @ NUTS4R2

The Most Assassinated Woman In The World


Hammer Horror - The Warner Brothers Years

Videoman (aka Videomannen)

Crystal Eyes (aka Mirada De Cristal)

Wednesday 29 August 2018

Videoman (aka Videomannen)


Videoman (aka Videomannen)
2018 Sweden Directed by Kristian A. Söderström
Screening 26th August at FrightFest 2018

Okay, so alongside the totally awesome Luciferina (reviewed by me here), Videoman (aka Videomannen) was easily one of the best movies playing at FrightFest this year (out of the five I got to see, at any rate). Set in contemporary Sweden, the plot follows a few days in the life of one Ennio Midena (played by Stefan Sauk), an Italian immigrant who absolutely loves the giallo and horror movies of his country and who used to own the best VHS rental shop in Sweden during the 1980s and 1990s but, since the decline and near disappearance of VHS and Betamax, now gets by as best he can. Ennio is a composite based loosely on a few of the director’s friends (Söderström told us this before the screening), one of whom is indeed called Ennio Midena. The film is not of the horror genre, it’s a comic/social drama piece infused with a big shot of imagery and stylings borrowed from Ennio’s favourite genres and it’s a good fit. Indeed, in his introduction and discussion with the director, before the film unspooled for its appreciative audience, Alan Jones commented that it was a film which mixed the styles of Dario Argento and Mike Leigh and, while I can completely understand the sentiment, I’m not 100% sure Leigh (or possibly even Argento) would be the absolute best comparisons here, although Argento certainly gets more than his fair share of references littered all over this wonderful movie.

Anyway, the plot set up is simple... Ennio Midena has obviously seen better days and he lives in a basement flat in a replica of his old video store in which houses his collection (which he still rents tapes out from, if people meet his exacting standards in terms of the quality of their equipment). He is pretty much an alcoholic and doesn’t suffer gladly the fools who disagree with him about various movies (and even formats... I’ll get on to that in a minute). One day, however, he is faced with an eviction notice which means he’ll soon be homeless unless he can pay all his debts within two weeks. He doesn’t know how to face this new challenge but, while on the lookout for more films for his huge VHS collection, he meets a lady called Simone (played by Lena Nilsson), who is hoping to unload an old box of videotapes to anyone who wants to pay for them. In the box he spies an extremely rare, early edition of Lucio Fulci’s classic Zombi (aka Zombie Flesh Eaters... reviewed by me here), branded by a specific company in a specific box, which means something to collectors of such material in Sweden. Actually, I know there’s a similar equivalent in the UK when it comes to the second hand market for old, pre-censored VHS tapes branded by certain companies in specific packaging, so I can relate to this film being used as a plot device here, especially since Zombi was one of the ones which got banned in the UK over the whole Video Nasties furore of the 1980s and then later released in a much censored version in this country.

Anyway, Ennio offers the lady to buy the tape but she wants to get rid of the whole box in one go and, since the price is ludicrously cheap concerning the title in question, he takes it all off her hands. Within a very short amount of time though, through the ‘collectors’ grapevine, a legendary and mostly anonymous internet VHS dealer named after Jess Franco’s movie Faceless rings and says she is interested in the rare Zombi tape. Enzo says it’s not for sale but she offers a ludicrous amount of money for it... enough for Ennio to finally pay off all his debts... and arranges to meet with him a few days later to collect the tape and give him the money. Then tragedy strikes, as Ennio returns home later to find that his copy of Zombi has vanished from his collection, even though it was in one of the special sets of shelves which he keeps under lock and key. What follows for the remainder of the film is a truly brilliant and hilarious romp through the underbelly of old school VHS collectors comprising various friends and acquaintances of Ennio as he tries to figure out who has stolen his tape and how he is going to get it back before his meeting with Faceless. Meanwhile, he is also trying to keep up a semblance of a social life going and, for the first time in a long time, the similarly alcoholic Simone may be a good, potentially romantic partner for him. Will things work out for this unlikely pair or is there more danger lurking around the corner?

Well I’m obviously not going to tell you but I will say that Videoman is a true gem of a movie for people who are familiar with the strange ‘collector types’ who live out their passions through their hobbies while also giving some nice little nods to giallo and horror as it goes along.

For instance, after a prologue scene which we kind of see from a different point of view later in the movie, we are properly introduced to Ennio as he is sitting with his feet up on his desk, facing the front of the camera with both feet taking up a large part of the foreground right of the screen. He takes first his right leg and then his left leg down and we see his foot has been hiding from view a big bottle of J&B whisky. It’s a great little visual joke for lovers of Italian exploitation film as there seems to be a bottle of handily placed J&B in every giallo and police procedural movie going... so J&B spotters will love this moment. In fact, there aren’t too many scenes in this movie where Ennio isn’t seen to be necking down some J&B straight from the bottle so admirers of Italian film should feel right at home with this movie from the outset.

Also, the various houses and apartments of Ennio and his fellow ‘collectors’ are filled with various posters and locaninde of famous (and some possibly not so famous) gialli and horror movies of the 1970s and 80s. Indeed, there’s even a copy of one of Alan Jones’ books on Dario Argento in one of the early scenes in the film. Not to mention a ‘reflection in a pool of blood moment’ towards the end of the movie which deliberately mirrors David Hemming’s bloody reflection at the conclusion of Dario Argento’s Profondo Rosso (aka Deep Red, which I reviewed here).

There are some great, very true to life ‘collector’ moments in the movie too, which ring true to being closely observed slices of real life. The argument, for example, as to who is the greater director between Dario Argento and Lucio Fulci. I mean, obviously it’s Argento but Ennio is insistent it’s Fulci and uses the diversity of genres Fulci has worked in compared to Argento to try and make his point, insisting Argento only makes films in the giallo mould. Which leads onto another nice moment where his friend brings up Argento’s Suspiria, which is obviously a horror film, as an example to the contrary. Ennio’s flat reply that it’s just a giallo with a witch in it is... very disappointing, hilarious and just plain wrong but it’s definitely the kind of argument I’ve seen before. I wonder what would have happened if Ennio’s friend had brought up Five Days Of Milan or Argento’s involvement in helping write (along with Bertolucci), Sergio Leone’s Once Upon A Time In The West but... I guess Söderström wisely didn’t want to stretch the point too far and lose the humour of the scene.

The same scene has a great moment where the two are watching a Rosalba Neri movie with hardcore inserts and are arguing about whether Neri is actually masturbating in the close up shot. It’s proved, via a scar, that it’s not Neri’s body in the shot and this scene is also interesting because it shows the usefulness of DVD and Blu Ray technology as opposed to the detail you couldn’t see in a paused VHS playback. Of course, Ennio sneers at his friend for not watching VHS films anymore (although his friend still collects them... he just doesn’t watch them) and I’d have to say that, on this one again, I’m not in Ennio’s camp on this as DVD and Blu Ray technology is way better, for all kinds of reasons, than having to watch video cassettes. Ennio is also perplexed that another collector catalogues his films by director rather than distributor and... yeah... I’ve been in those kinds of arguments too (although I would have to stress that I’m not a collector, like the characters in this movie).

Yet another thing I can relate to is when another friend of Ennio’s, who is married, has been reigned in by his wife and doesn’t have the time, or permission, to watch what he really wants to watch... and also Ennio comments that he’s not even allowed to hang up his old movie posters in the house he shares with his partner. Oh yeah, I’ve made those observations myself to people in my life and it seems to be a universal truth that, if your boyfriend or girlfriend doesn’t share your movie passions, those cool movie posters won’t be seen on your walls again.

I could talk about this kind of stuff for a while but, before you get the idea that this movie is just a bunch of hollow references holding a semblance of a story together... let me assure you that it really isn’t. The film is a nicely observed piece of genre tinged comedy with some goriness on occasion and some lovely moments, such as some dream sequences, dotted around. One such moment which occurs more than once, where Enzo finds himself trapped in a television set, is nicely shot and also later used quite brilliantly by being in the same composition as the sleeping Enzo, with the dream Enzo on the screen winking out of existence into static as the sleeping Enzo wakes up and opens his eyes. There’s some really nice stuff in here and I think genre fans who are collectors themselves or, like me, know people who think they are collectors, will get a lot out of this movie.

And the ending ‘punch line’ to the mystery of where Ennio’s Zombi tape has actually gone will probably ring a lot of bells and, I have to admit, I found it hilarious. I don’t want to tell you too much about it but I will say that I have known people who have done the same thing and the ‘incident’ which I won’t relate here has almost taken on the mantle of urban myth in terms of drunken VHS collectors over the years.

Videoman (aka Videomannen) is a truly delightful film and one I would recommend to pretty much anyone I know who is into these kinds of genre movies. I can’t wait to watch this one again and I have it on good authority that it will be getting a UK release at some point in the near future (although I’m not allowed to mention which label has acquired the rights for a UK release since... well, since I’m not supposed to know and somebody let it slip out in conversation by accident). However, if you’re in the UK and are wanting to see this one then that’s very good news. Now if only someone could secure a UK distributor for Luciferina, that would be my two favourite films of this year’s Fright Fest taken care of.

FrightFest 2018 @ NUTS4R2

The Most Assassinated Woman In The World


Hammer Horror - The Warner Brothers Years

Videoman (aka Videomannen)

Crystal Eyes (aka Mirada De Cristal)

Tuesday 28 August 2018

Hammer Horror - The Warner Brothers Years

We’re Warner Git You Sucka!

Hammer Horror -
The Warner Brothers Years

2018 USA Directed by Marcus Hearn
Screened 26th August at FrightFest 2018

Hammer Horror - The Warner Brothers Years is the latest in a series of documentary films written by the director, Marcus Hearn, about certain sections of British cinema and TV heritage from times gone by. He has written a number of books, too, on his specialist areas of interest such as, amongst others... Amicus Studios, The Avengers, Doctor Who and, of course, Hammer Studios. So he’s definitely one of the main people you could want researching, writing and directing a documentary like this which, it has to be said, certainly has a very specific, honed down subject matter. That being the films Hammer made with money flowing to them from Warner Brothers/Seven Arts. This was during the last ten or so years of the original studio’s last hurrah although, there were also other films being made with other distributors before, during and after this which obviously don’t get much of a mention here.

So this one doesnt quite cover the last few years of Hammer’s descent into non-existence (in that particular incarnation) but it does show them as they are attempting to change the way their movies are produced and in turn perceived by a target audience that was clearly changing. So this covers mostly films such as Taste The Blood of Dracula, Dracula AD 1972, The Satanic Rites of Dracula, Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed, The Legend Of The Seven Golden Vampires but doesn’t talk about some of their films with other distributors in which they were also trying to have a hand in changing their image, so to speak.

The film is, as you would expect, as series of talking head shots of various surviving creators and actors/actresses such as Veronica Carlson, John Carson, Madeline Smith, Peter Sasdy and the incomparable Caroline Munro, all interspersed with clips from the movies (and even rare behind the scenes footage) and interviews with such modern experts on the phenomena including author Jonathan Rigby, director Joe Dante and Sir Christopher Frayling.

There is a lot on offer here with, perhaps, not a lot of time to cover the ground the documentary so obviously wanted to try and get to. Consequently, I’m sure most people will find that not enough of their favourite movie from this, admittedly, somewhat short selection of films is being covered... which is not particularly a fair criticism, to be sure, because you’re always going to get that kind of thing happening. For instance, for me personally, there were some issues with the documentary which really only rang true for me and I’m sure everyone will have a very personal response to what has been covered.

Caroline Munro states here that a lot of people are warming up to Dracula AD 1972 after it coming under fire a lot over the decades and even in Kim Newman’s introductory interview with Marcus Hearn before the film screened, he put in a good word for it. I dunno, I somehow found it hard to believe that, despite the treatment of the gothic, church bound Dracula in this movie, which various interviewees rightly pointed out, none of the people in the documentary realised that Dracula AD 1972 is, indeed, the greatest Hammer Dracula film (followed closely by The Satanic Rites of Dracula and Taste The Blood Of Dracula). It might also have been nice to get Michael Kitchen’s view on his role in Dracula AD 1972 too, I think but... maybe it’s not a film he looks back on as fondly as some others.

And while I’m on the subject of that particular film, nobody in the documentary addressed the glaring continuity problems with the Van Helsing character created by the opening, pre-credits sequence in Dracula AD 1972 and the later movie The Legend Of The Seven Golden Vampires. Neither did anyone address the astonishing differences between the two actresses playing the character of Jessica Van Helsing in the two movies... Stephanie Beacham and Joanna Lumley. Nor indeed why that transformation occurred in the first place.

Another problem for me was the relatively short amount of time spent on Moon Zero Two (reviewed by me here) and When Dinosaurs Ruled The Earth. The latter because it’s one I’ve never got around to seeing and I’m kinda interested in it and the former because, frankly, asides from the various Quatermass adaptations that Hammer did, I personally think Moon Zero Two is their next best movie. I would have loved to have had more insight into the making of that one, to be honest and, also, the way that I suspect it must have influenced Gerry Anderson when he came to make his live action TV show, Space 1999.

All this being said, Hearn clearly knows which noggins to tap for this particular story and it was truly a pleasure to watch the likes of Frayling and Rigby talk about some of this stuff at a variety of locations including the Cinema Museum and the Natural History Museum. It was also great that Hearn managed to talk to Peter Sasdy, who I don’t quite recall seeing before in one of these kinds of productions. In fact, one of the things Hearn pointed out in his introductory interview with Kim Newman before the movie played was that with the Hammer films of this period, now, it really is almost a race against time because at some point all the people who have first hand knowledge of working on these things will depart this earthly plane.

The one thing which did surprise me a little is that, given some of the books I’ve read about Hammer over the years (including some by Hearn, no doubt), there was only a hint of the problems behind the scenes with the various producers and studio heads at Hammer at that time. The death of the company was looming but it was perhaps not quite as chaotic or damning at the time these particular films were made to really taint the story of this period with the negativity which would later engulf the studio and rip it from this world. I did, however, notice a certain resistance on the part of some of the interviewees who starred in these films in that they weren’t all that enamoured of the direction that Hammer was taking but, as others pointed out both in the film and in the pre-screening talk, it was definitely something Hammer had to do. Hammer was being perceived as a somehow cosy and toothless brand of horror compared to some of the other, American, bigger budget horror movies which were coming out at the time and they really did need to change the way they wrote and produced these kinds of 'dark fantasies'. After all, as this film points out, 1973 was also the year when The Exorcist hit cinemas and so Hammer really were beginning to be perceived as the quaint, cutesy alternate to what I’m sure many people of the time were thinking was ‘real horror’. Alas, it becomes obvious at some point that they clearly weren’t doing enough to change their approach and it’s also made abundantly clear in the documentary that, when Warner Brothers withdrew their money and support from Hammer, it was the beginning of the end for the company that had fairly recently won the Queen’s award for best British exports.

As the director himself pointed out in his introduction to the film at FrightFest, this documentary is really an attempt to put together an ‘extra feature’ which is sadly absent from various Hammer DVDs and Blu Rays and it certainly has the look and feel of other extras he’s been involved with (and yes, it does often reference Mike Vicker’s main title score to Dracula AD 1972 throughout... a bit of a go to track for a lot of ‘Swinging Hammer’ documentary spots, it seems to me). That’s certainly fine with this audience member, though, as it’s solidly entertaining and certainly informative in a few places to boot. If you’re an admirer of the Hammer Horror brand with a fondness for this period in their celluloid history then Hammer Horror - The Warner Brothers Years is probably something that you need to see. I, for one, hope the director might consider doing another such documentary on some of the other films that Hammer was producing at that time, sometime in the near future before the well of the legacy of talent dries up.

FrightFest 2018 @ NUTS4R2

The Most Assassinated Woman In The World


Hammer Horror - The Warner Brothers Years

Videoman (aka Videomannen)

Crystal Eyes (aka Mirada De Cristal)

Monday 27 August 2018


The Sexorcist

2018 Argentina Directed by Gonzalo Calzada
26th August screening at FrightFest 2018

Wow. Well I have to say that, of the five films I saw at this year’s FrightFest, Luciferina was easily the standout movie for me. And that’s saying something, considering I actually got lucky and saw five pretty good movies this time around.

Right from the start of the film, the director states his intentions that Luciferina is the first part of a Three Virgins Trilogy, in much the same way that Universal branded their recent version of The Mummy (reviewed here) as part of their new, probably now aborted, Dark Universe. Indeed, if you stay long enough into the end credits here you will find that the next two intended installments of this series will be called Immaculada and Gotica and… I can only hope this director has more success with these than Universal did with their Dark Universe because, frankly, this film is an absolute blast.

The film starts off with a young woman called Natalia, played amazingly by Sofia Del Tuffo, who is an apprentice nun at a convent and who is the main protagonist of the movie. Right from the start we are clued in to the fact that she is gifted with some kind of ‘special religiously manifested powers’, as she can make here eyeballs go a milky white and see people’s white auras of spiritual goodness when she needs to… presumably to check that they are pure people at heart. Anyway, the plot moves along when she goes home to what’s left of the family unit she rejected when she hears her mother has died in what is being called a suicide. She returns to find her father bandaged up (after being attacked by her mother) and unresponsive, with her angry sister Angela, played by the strikingly good looking Malena Sanchez, at her throat. And Angela’s bunch of short fused friends are not much help to the situation here either but Natalia agrees to go with them to a remote place to take a spiritual, drug fuelled journey to find herself and the dark secret at the heart of what made her father and mother so weird and gruelling to live with in the first place. Pretty much the equivalent of a peyote dream I would guess but, as you would probably suspect from a film in this vein, things go much more wrong than anyone is expecting and it all leads to a confrontation between the forces of darkness and light, culminating in a long scene which is what inspired me to title this review... The Sexorcist.

That’s pretty much all I am going to say about the plot because you need to discover the joys and twists of this movie yourself. Some of them are more obvious than others but everything is so well presented and it’s almost like watching a modern equivalent of something like Alucarda (reviewed here), although it’s not quite the same experience and it’s even more beautiful to look at.

Indeed, alongside the always welcome shots of female nudity which become, by the end, almost essential to the plot in terms of the conflict between good versus evil... where Calzada uses the age old trick of ‘who is on top and dominating’ the sexual positions to show us which side of light and dark are winning the battle at any given moment... we have some very beautiful cinematography incorporating some lovely shot designs which, in this, are very much pitched towards the centre of the screen. It’s not always symmetry the director is after but I would say a good 90% of the film uses either static images or smooth moving camera to make the main focus of the shot hit the middle third of the screen and it’s a technique which works surprisingly well. There are some odd shots which are pitched to the side of the screen and I wasn’t quite sure why he did that in those particular moments given the nature of the design in the majority of the movie. The two I can remember are when Natalia and Angela are sitting on some garden furniture at night and they are the main focus on the right of screen, drawing the eye into the master shot and then, a little later, one of the shots of their boat journey places them on the right of screen too. For the most part, though, the choice seems to skew to placing things front and centre in the composition but it also turns out to be quite a functional thing as well.

For instance, in one of many dream sequences involving a specific location and something scary walking up from behind Natalia, he uses Natalia’s proximity to the screen and the fact that she’s blocking the centre of the shot, to build the sense of tension as a creature gets nearer. Every time she moves to the right of screen to look behind her at the creature, we see it has gotten a bit closer before she returns to her position and blocks the view again. This is repeated a couple more times to obstruct the audience view and leads to the inevitable ‘oh my gosh it’s right there with you’ moment but this was a really cool sequence, even if it was a little predictable and it’s a good example of the cinematography enhancing the film in a very practical way in terms of helping the story along. There’s a scene later in the film which isn’t set in the dream world where, as you kind of know is going to happen, the character finds herself in exactly the same position and situation at the same location she dreamed of (more than once, in fact) and echoes of this earlier scene prickle at the back of the subconscious of the audience because, by this point, the director doesn’t need to repeat that exact moment to the finish to achieve that same tension... he’s already done it so well earlier in the film.

Luciferina is, bearing in mind its remote location in terms of where it places the characters, actually quite gory as well with lots of facial mutilation and death. The writer/director gives us a mentally unstable/villainous character right from the time we meet Angela’s friends... her boyfriend, in fact. It’s the thorough nastiness of him and the moment where he leaves the group of friends with the unvoiced threat of coming back and killing them that’s a nice bit of a set up for something which happens later in the film but... yeah... I really don’t want to give any spoilers away here because it’s such a lovely film and you should discover it for yourself, if you can get the opportunity. I will say, though, that Natalia certainly finds out a lot about her past from a time when she can’t remember and that there are a couple of sequences in this film that might make some viewers think of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001 - A Space Odyssey (reviewed here).

So yeah, loads of gory violence, a fair amount of nudity and sex and it’s all supported by a very nice score by... well I don’t know who it’s composed by because the IMDB doesn’t list it. I would love to find out because it’s really well done and I would really like to pick up a CD of this at some point. I knew I was in for something special, in terms of scoring, when the opening Three Virgins Trilogy logo came up and I was treated to a piece of music which sounded, in the first few bars, just like a piece from Jerry Goldsmith’s score for The Omen... and not just because of the strong choral content either. As the film progresses, though, the beauty of the score becomes apparent and it plays so appropriately well with the images that I would love to give this a spin away from the film.

The one, slightly false note in the film comes not from the score but from the last minute or so of the movie. Once character says something and you know it’s only there to set up the idea that there are supposed to be two more sequels and... I think with the strength of the branding on this, it maybe didn’t quite need that. Other than that, though, I can’t stress enough just how great a piece of horror/exploitation movie making Luciferina is... shot through with some absolutely exquisite cinematography and with a central protagonist you really want to root for (Sofia Del Tuffo really does a fantastic job here). Definitely a recommendation from me if you are into horror movies and I just hope it gets a UK release at some point. And I certainly hope those sequels get made sometime soon, too.

FrightFest 2018 @ NUTS4R2

The Most Assassinated Woman In The World


Hammer Horror - The Warner Brothers Years

Videoman (aka Videomannen)

Crystal Eyes (aka Mirada De Cristal)

Sunday 26 August 2018

Slender Man

Slender Is The Night

Slender Man
2018 USA Directed by Sylvain White
UK cinema release print.

I don’t know too much about the original Slender Man internet meme (or whatever this new urban myth is best known as) but I remember, not too many years after joining twitter, that it was mentioned quite a lot on my timeline. I never really took much interest and the reality is it’s just a fictional character created by someone online and which has caught the imaginations of various people (mostly kids and teenagers, from what I can make out) and which has somehow found a life outside of the original scary pictures which were the starting point of this phenomena. Then, just as suddenly as it started, it stopped coming up... a few years ago, maybe.

Part of the reason people may have stopped worshipping at the shrine of this strange, fictional creature may have been to do with various real life kids committing stabbings and knife attacks in the name of this character. I suspect that’s what has also delayed the arrival of this movie in cinemas (I’m pretty sure I saw a trailer for this in cinemas over a year ago... didn’t I?). So, yeah, the film seems to have arrived way past it’s time, when the character is just not on the pulse of popular teen culture anymore.

Also, it’s fairly disappointing.

Well, I say it’s disappointing but I do have to acknowledge that it’s a competently made movie with nice production values, some excellent performances from the main cast of five girls... played by Joey King, Julia Goldani Telles, Jaz Sinclair, Annalise Basso and Taylor Richardson... and a nicely dark and unreal atmosphere for most of the film. So I don’t know why the heck I didn’t get much from it, truth be told.

The film has some incredibly surrealistic scenes in it which, quite honestly, wouldn’t look out of place in a movie concocted by Salvador Dali and Luis Bunuel... so it’s not that the film is particularly boring. Especially since it’s supported by such a nicely on-the-nose musical score by Brandon Campbell and Ramin Djawadi. True, it’s from the modern school of ‘horror music equals sound design’ but it is quite eerie and soothingly dream-like, in some ways, so I am looking forward to grabbing the CD release of this one when I get a chance. So, I can’t in all honesty turn around and say it’s a terrible film, for sure.

That being said it does suffer from some absolute clichés of teenage targeted horror films which really do hit home here.

For instance, this is one of the films where the teenage protagonists only have access to parents when they absolutely need it or when those parents are required to play an active part in the story to move it along. Most of the time, however, they seem to be vaguely absent from the houses of the various teens fighting against their personal visitations of the Slender Man and this often makes the whole set up seem somewhat implausible. I mean, what the heck is happening here? Do these various responsible adults just go out all night and leave their children alone in their house?

And talking about the night... this film has way than more of its fair share of night time scenes. I mean, yes, we all know that horror works best when the lights are out and its the middle of the witching hour but, honestly, the town these people live in here seems to be almost perpetually night. There are scenes set in the daytime but they seem few and far between and, worse, some scenes start of in broad daylight and after a quick ten minute walk in the transition cut between two scenes, it will suddenly be set at night again... for absolutely no credible reason other than the obvious one... that horror movies are more effective when played out in darkness. Which seems a terrible justification of throwaway scenes which don’t quite gel together in the finished product, it seems to me. It’s almost like certain sequences filmed have been left on the cutting room floor when they might have accounted for the various incidents of missing time in the storyline. A sacrifice not worth making if it’s that relatable to the temporal space of the movie, I would say and, apparently, there are even two death scenes in the trailer which don’t make it into the final movie here. In fact, we don’t actually get to see what happens to those two characters here so... yeah... it feels a little bit incomplete (although I’m sure that could be rectified with a Blu Ray extended version of the film... which seems to be the fashion at the moment).

And goodness knows how all the kids seem to have each other's laptop and social media passwords. Um... what?

Ultimately, though, my main problem with the movie is... it just isn’t scary. And I don’t know why that is. Maybe it’s because the movie makers keep on piling encounter after encounter with the titular character that one just becomes jaded to it very quickly. Or maybe the timing on the jump scares are really not that good. In fact, I remember a scene fairly early on where one of the characters is trying to see if there’s some kind of intruder outside the house and the camera is doing the usual horror movie tricks of panning around empty rooms waiting for you to spot something. Well, before I knew it, I found myself listening to a musical sting and the character ran screaming from the room. The character must have seen something, presumably a manifestation of the Slender Man in the background of the shot but... I certainly didn’t see anything. I must have been looking at the wrong part of the screen by this point and missed all the action, which seems odd since a horror movie will usually direct your gaze to notice these little spots of terror quite expertly, I think. So yeah, I have to admit I was coasting through the movie without really fearing for any of the characters and I just felt kind of numb in terms of the potential emotional content of the movie.

Okay... so I’m sorry this is a slightly short review but I really don’t have much more to say about Slender Man. As I said before, some of the surrealistic sequences in the movie are nicely done but are maybe just a little too frequent and ultimately may be better when viewed out of context rather than watch them as part of their surrounding story line here. Not a movie I would recommend to regular watchers of the horror genre but certainly it could possibly be effective if you’ve never seen a horror movie before and are not as familiar with the various tropes and plot mechanisms that regular watchers may have grown accustomed to. Probably steer clear of this one if you are not in that camp.

Saturday 25 August 2018

The Most Assassinated Woman In The World

Maxa Head Wound

The Most Assassinated
Woman In The World
(aka La Femme La Plus
Assassinée Du Monde)

2018 USA Directed by Franck Ribière
24th August screening at FrightFest 2018

I’ve talked about Paula Maxa on here before.

Almost two years ago I reviewed a really great book called Theatre of Fear & Horror: The Grisly Spectacle of the Grand Guignol of Paris, 1897-1962 (which can be found here) and buried somewhere in the middle of it I had this to say...

“... a particularly interesting performer called Paula Maxa who met with an unfortunate demise 10,000 times in at least 60 different ways on the stage of the theatre and was also the victim of a stage rapist attack at least 3,000 times. I would love to see a full biography of this lady emerge some day. As it is, the writer reprints, in a later section, a longish and autobiographical newspaper story of her early years from the time, although I can’t really hazard a guess as to the truth of the claims made by Maxa here. This amazing little article written in her own words certainly whets the appetite for more information about this sensationalist performer who seemed more than happy to play and wallow in the kind of unsavoury elements found in the plays in which she performed.”

Now, The Most Assassinated Woman In The World isn’t a biography of the actual person per se but it does use the memory of the real life person to unwind what is, in essence, a kind of giallo tinged thriller set on and around the stage at the famous Grand Guignol of Paris. A tale in which Paula Maxa, played with much screen presence by an actress called Anna Mouglalis, becomes the central figure, used by the writers and director to weave a tale which is much less about trying to explain the truth of this lady and more about using her legend to conjure up an atmosphere of the milieu in which she found herself.

And I can’t actually blame the writers for doing so, it has to be said.

My reason for this is because there seems to be very little known about the lady in question beyond her public facade. Or, more accurately, much known through her own efforts to promote herself which, as far as I could tell, amounts to obviously fake flights of fancy presented as fact, which I myself find less credible, even, than some of the stuff the great Salvador Dali used to claim about himself over the years. She doesn’t even have her own page on Wikipedia, just a brief mention on a page about the theatre most closely associated with her name, so I fear any attempts to research a proper biography of her will probably have found any trails leading to the person behind this theatrical icon have long grown cold (that being said, I think there may be a French language attempt at a biography but I can’t find an English translation to be able to read what it says about her).

But, as long as there are works which mention her or use her in such a way as she is used here, she isn’t going to be falling into complete obscurity just yet, I suspect.

Ribière’s film is impressive, opening with an old, often Victorian, horror trope of a lady walking down a dimly lit street on a night shrouded by fog, as she hears the clicking footsteps of someone following her through the lonely lane. The presence of such a well worn cliché is not so impressive but the flawless and entertaining execution of it here certainly is and, as the film wears on, we get embroiled in a series of real life murders taking place in the vicinity of the Grand Guignol and we follow the footsteps of a crime reporter called Jean, played by Niels Schneider, as he looks for a link between the murders of the grizzly spectacle of the theatre and tries to discover if the real Parisian murders are somehow linked or inspired by them. And, of course, he also becomes the love interest for Paula Maxa as he seeks an introduction to her and strikes up a relationship, of sorts, with her as the film plays on.

The film itself plays out as an elaborate set of tricks on the audience which are a direct parallel, in a way, to the trickery and sleight of hand effects which the Grand Guignol used on a nightly basis. As we are treated to re-enactments of a couple of the little vignettes (in style at the very least) which were so popular at the time, we are let in on the secrets of their execution while at the same time, the director tries and, sometimes, succeeds to use ‘similar in spirit’ cinematic tricks to wrong-foot the audience and pull them into the illusion which lies at the centre of the movie.

Now, I have to admit that, one of the first times he does this I was not that impressed. An early scene which presents itself at first as a flashback to a younger, long dead character in a mirror got my guard up almost instantly as I realised that the director was trying to use the mechanics of the old Groucho/Harpo mirror sequence from Duck Soup to surprise the audience and... sure enough, I was less than astonished. I think, perhaps, this was because the person in the foreground being reflected could not, exactly, match the movements of the person in the mirror. However, the director uses much of the trickery and deception throughout the movie with a defter hand and, although I would possibly condemn this in other films for being too obvious and condescending, I think they all get away with it here because the subject matter is so close to that kind of audience manipulation that it rings truer than it would in other movies. There’s a lovely shot, for instance, where Paula and Jean are laying upside down on a bed with their heads at 180 degrees from each other while the camera spins around slowly as they converse to keep them near the top or bottom of the frame. Which is okay and at first seems a little over contrived until the director pulls back the camera completely to reveal the artifice of the shot and you realise... yeah, contrived is definitely the word but, deliberately so.

There are also some nice scenes of murder and suspense where the film almost goes into 1970s giallo territory, with Keren Ann’s lovely score rising to the occasion in such moments to complete the illusion that we’ve just accidentally wandered into a Dario Argento or Sergio Martino movie. And, like these sequences, the film as a whole has a certain atmosphere which is never quite rendered fake to the central figure and doesn’t really ever get dull. It has a sense of verisimilitude which holds the narrative together even though, as you continue your journey through the film, the majority of said narrative is revealed to be so much smoke and mirrors, depending on your reading of the films final scenes.

I was perhaps a little disappointed with the aftermath of the denouement of a certain scene containing what is, for the movie, Paula Maxa’s last appearance at the Grand Guignol (although certainly not in real life, as the film-makers will tell you with a little summary at the end). I was pretty sure I knew where the narrative would be heading after the latest theatrical portrait of a ‘Maxa grizzly demise’ and, sure enough, it did exactly what I thought it would with the characters. Even so, the end is not so bad and certainly fits in with the way the rest of the story has been framed and presented. A particularly telling moment is in a mid-post-credits scene where a variation of the opening sequence is replayed and the audience are reminded of the danger of believing all that they see.

The Most Assassinated Woman In The World is a nicely presented, slick homage to both the ‘idea’ of Paula Maxa and the Grand Guignol where she flourished. Its an entertaining film and definitely worth a watch for lovers of the form and for those who want to catch up a little on the history of blood and gore which found its way into horror movies. There’s even a scene where Jean takes Paula to see the newly opened 1932 Fay Wray/Lionel Atwill two-strip technicolour movie Doctor X, which should bring a smile to the face of anyone familiar with these kinds of genre movies. This one gets a hearty recommendation from me and, if we are lucky enough in the UK to actually get this one either properly released in our cinemas or put out on a nice Blu Ray format disc, then this one is definitely worth a look, I would say.

So that was my first film of five in this weekend’s FrightFest and I will, hopefully, be publishing a few more reviews from the festival over the next week or so.

FrightFest 2018 @ NUTS4R2

The Most Assassinated Woman In The World


Hammer Horror - The Warner Brothers Years

Videoman (aka Videomannen)

Crystal Eyes (aka Mirada De Cristal)

Tuesday 21 August 2018

Egyptomania Goes To The Movies

Tut N’ Come In

Egyptomania Goes to the Movies:
From Archaeology to Popular Craze to Hollywood Fantasy

by Matthew Coniam
McFarland & Co
ISBN: 978-1476668284

Wow, this is an awesome book. I’ve always had a low level fascination with the plundered artefacts and bandaged, monstrous, vengeful hellspawn of this far off accursed land, especially in connection to movies inspired by such but, it wasn’t until I saw Valerie Leon, glamorous star of Blood From The Mummy’s Tomb (reviewed by me here) tweeting about this book that I even knew of its existence... nor of Matthew Coniam’s existence either, it has to be said.

Well, I went out on an unbandaged limb and added Egyptomania Goes to the Movies: From Archaeology to Popular Craze to Hollywood Fantasy to my holiday reading (via the US Amazon shopping cart, which was somehow cheaper than a UK resident such as myself ordering it from the UK Amazon at the time... go figure) and embarked upon a somewhat irreverent, thoroughly entertaining and surprisingly knowledgeable encapsulation of all that stuff it says on the subtitle of the book above. I’m now very pleased I took that leap of faith, kickstarted by a knowing social media wink from the reincarnated Queen Tera to the physical manifestation of Matthew Coniam’s sacred text, as soon as possible.

And he had me right from the start, as the book begins with a wonderfully comic ‘Dramatis Personae’ of all the important movers, shufflers and shakers who feature in the book, acting as a glossary for those readers who are unfamiliar with the identity of such luminaries as Lord Carnarvon, Howard Carter, Tutenkhamon and, of course, Karloff the Uncanny.... to name but a few. And it’s in this light hearted spirit in which he manifests all his ideas and research for the book, starting off with an introduction which references a recent archaeological excavation of artefacts from the desert that some readers may remember being in the news a few years back... the various sets from Cecil B DeMille’s The Ten Commandments, buried in the sand over time and becoming almost as ‘sought after’ as the real artefacts that inspired DeMille’s two versions of the film in the first place.

Another thing which won me over straight away on Mr. Coniam’s behalf was the delightful use of BC and AK... where AK stands for Anno Karloff. This is the way to suck me into a book which is, at the very least, as much about the actual events and history of Egypt that inspired various movies as it is the films themselves. Coniam appears to be something of an expert in the subject and his enthusiastic filling in and way of completely enlightening those readers who are alarmingly ignorant of such matters (a list in which I count myself, having proven myself a thoroughly ignorant reader on more than one occasion), like the basics of Egyptology and mummery and such like, is done in a way that’s extremely informative.

For instance, I had no idea that for many centuries, excavated mummies were ground up and consumed by many people for their medicinal properties... even finding their way onto the dinner table with the other condiments in later centuries. Indeed, the tradition of consuming portions of powdered mummy was so popular that supply could not keep up with demand and fresh killings were being carried out and then ‘processed’ as a trade in bootleg mummy remains also surfaced, it would seem.

I also didn’t know certain things about the ‘not so aptly named, it turns out’ Cleopatra’s Needle, which now famously resides in London. Such as the problems with shipping it over to my rainy capital, how a cylinder was constructed to float it to the United Kingdom, how it got further ‘lost at sea’ for quite a while and how, after languishing in its own country after the British ignored it for centuries, we only got interested in shipping it back to England after we found out the French had their eyes on it too. All very illuminating.

Of course, Mr. Coniam also says a lot of good and interesting stuff about various selected movies inspired by Egypt and, especially, the mummies... including many films that never got before the cameras or were lost soon after. Not to mention the latest, far from accurate but nevertheless entertaining novelty songs and dance crazes inspired by what he calls Egyptomania.

A few things made me sit up and take note when the author has his ‘film head’ securely screwed on... and I was pleased that he acknowledged that the one bandaged scene, lasting not very many seconds, of Karloff slowly opening his twinkling eyes... is a subtle moment which rivals the best of Val Lewton’s rival/antidotes to the success of Universal Horror. I was also very pleased that he makes note of the absolute insanity of the four ‘sequels’ to the movie, in terms of both their timelines (where years and even decades pass between films but they are all set contemporary to their release within a year of the last one) and also the fact that Kharis the mummy sinks into a swamp in one country at the end of one film and then, timelessly over the decades, re-emerges from the same swamp which has bafflingly been relocated to New Orleans while he slept. I’ve never understood how the writers let these huge continuity errors exist but I’m glad Mr. Coniam seems as baffled by them as me.

Coniam also talks about Universal maestro of make-up Jack Pearce's influences on the medium and, interestingly, points out that the antagonistic creature in the much later Hammer movie, The Mummy's Shroud, actually has the most accurate make-up in terms of being compared to those specimens found on archaeological digs, although he also points out the movie is problematic in terms of accuracy for other reasons. He also kept me happy by mentioning neglected movie gems like The Awakening (another adaptation, starring Charlton Heston, of Bram Stoker’s The Jewel of Seven Stars, which Blood From The Mummy’s Tomb was based on) and both the book and movie version of Robin Cook’s Sphinx (which has a gorgeous soundtrack that should be commercially released... at least I have a promo copy).

So, yes, a wonderfully informative book by someone who really seems to know what he is talking about... which isn’t always a given thing for some writers of recent years, I’ve noticed. As an added extra, after the writer’s epilogue, we are treated to a section of, quite humorous, pocket reviews of a large list (not quite exhaustive, I fear... it seems a little Santo/Blue Demon light although, to be fair, although some of the mummies they fought may have been Aztec rather than Egyptian) of Egyptomania movies, including a wonderful Paul Naschy one, Vengeance Of The Mummy (which I reviewed here). He also includes some of the Egyptian themed porn movies made and I was especially taken with his rather cheeky, two sentence review of the 2004 film Attack Of The Virgin Mummies... "Undead Egyptian hotties revived in a future where sex is illegal. Two directors were necessary to bring it off."

And that rather concludes my look at Mr. Coniam’s truly wonderful book Egyptomania Goes to the Movies: From Archaeology to Popular Craze to Hollywood Fantasy. Well written, blisteringly entertaining and an absolute must read for fans of Egyptology, cinema and, of course, that thrilling combination of the two. I can’t wait to track down one of the writers other books on The Marx Brothers at some point in the near future. Awesome stuff.

Sunday 19 August 2018

Phantasm III - Lord Of The Dead

Rocky Ball Boa

Phantasm III - Lord Of The Dead
USA 1994 Directed by Don Coscarelli
Arrow Blu Ray Zone B

Okay so... onto a rewatch of the third of the Phantasm films in my revisitation of the series due to Arrow’s new Blu Ray set from last year.

Phantasm III - Lord Of The Dead was not bankrolled by a major studio this time around, although Universal did help by distributing it for Coscarelli once it had been filmed. Which means it had a substantially smaller budget than the previous one, by about half a million dollars according to the IMDB. Now, for many film series out there that wouldn’t make much of an impact but with small budget pictures like this, it’s basically had one sixth of the budget of the previous one slashed from it. Still a staggeringly great amount compared to the original Phantasm (reviewed by me here) but it’s still a big hit to take, I reckon, after the budget of Phantasm II (reviewed by me here).

That being said, one of the positives from that process is that, without studio insistence on recasting, A. Michael Baldwin returns to the role of Mike which he portrayed in the first movie (and all remaining sequels). And, of course, we have Reggie Bannister back as Reggie... and Bill Thornbury back as Mike’s deceased brother Jody. Yeah, I know, it’s a Phantasm film so just because a character is dead, doesn’t mean he can’t be alive as a manifestation inside one of the spheres... it gets kinda tricky in the storyline but ultimately it makes more sense than a lot of the other elements of the Phantasm movies, that’s for sure.

I remember seeing this one for the first time decades ago when a DVD set collecting the first four films came out on DVD and thinking that this third one was pretty poor. Well, I would have to say that, as the years have gone by, they’ve certainly been kind to this movie. Maybe it’s the sense of nostalgia taking over but I found this one a heck of a lot more entertaining this time around. And a lot more interesting too, it has to be said.

The film, despite being shot six years after the previous one, carries on right where things left off at the tail end of Phantasm II and, it does it a lot more seamlessly than I remember, to be honest. After a car crash and the main female lead of the last film being killed... thrown away in a way that really didn’t seem fair to the importance of the character and her perceived role in the storyline, Reggie and Mike are finally reunited... once Mike has woken up in hospital from a coma and survived another attack by minions of The Tall Man (played once again here by the inimitable Angus Scrimm, in the somewhat iconic role which most people associate him with).

However, after the reappearance of dead Jodie in the first of many helpful manifestations, we have Mike once again kidnapped by The Tall Man. Reggie ends up pursuing the trail to yet another small town which has been drained of life by the aliens and encounters three villainous thugs who lock him in the trunk of his own car before driving off in it. They plan to end Reggie’s life but, luckily for our hero, they first go to raid a house which is being defended by a lone kid called Tim, played by Kevin Connors. This really is a Home Alone kind of situation right here because within a few minutes, young Tim gets all ‘our Macaulay Culkin goes up to 11’ on their asses and kills all three in violent ways (they don’t stay dead for the whole movie, of course, as their ‘undead’ forms will provide trouble for the gang later in the film). He’s also a crack shot so when he rescues Reggie, seeing as they’re pretty much in the same boat, Tim joins him in his quest...after some shenanigans where Reggie tries to find him some responsible adult supervision first.

Reggie and Tim’s next stop is... another Phantasm style mausoleum where they pick up another ally, Rocky, played by Gloria Lynne Henry (who apparently returns as this character in some way for the fifth film in the series... unless it’s just flashback footage). After seeing her friend murdered in the classic ‘Phantasm ball, head stick and drill’ routine, she ends up joining our heroes... again, after some more shenanigans which I can only assume are put in to give credibility to the character.

The rest of the film pretty much alternates between battles and rescues involving two or more of the five main protagonists (including Jodie) and various attempts by Reggie trying to sleep with Rocky. The film is actually pretty nicely done with some strong compositions in places and some nice colour palettes from time to time. The performances all work pretty well and there are some interesting moments where the Phantasm universe is somewhat expanded. So we have a ball with a retracting eyestalk, for example... also a golden ‘superball’ with the spirit of The Tall Man in it at one point.

All in all the pace never really lets up, which is something a good B-movie will know how to do and I’m also pleased to say that, like the original film, nothing really ever makes that much sense for that long. Certain scenes might have you questioning things in a good way and others... well, they won’t. But it all feels like the Phantasm brand so there’s nothing wrong here. The director even utilises unused footage from the first movie as flashbacks in some cases here (unless I’m just remembering things wrongly). The music by Fred Myrow and Christopher L. Stone is pretty much a needle-dropped cut and paste job from the previous movies but it doesn’t seem out of place here, to be honest.

Definitely recommended for fans of the franchise but not something I could see you getting hooked into as a jumping on point for the uninitiated. I’m now very much looking forward to rewatching Phantasm OblIVion and then finally checking out Phantasm RaVager so, you know, look out for those reviews sometime soon.

Friday 17 August 2018


Silk Stalkings

By Geoff Dyer
Canongate Publishing
ISBN: 9780857861672

Um… I have no idea who Geoff Dyer is… other than that he’s the writer of this novel, Zona, unofficially subtitled on this paperback edition as A Book about a Film about a Journey to a Room, plus a fair few other novels which I may or may not have the time/opportunity to read in whatever duration is left to me in this lifetime. Since I have no idea who this chap is you may, or quite possibly may not, be wondering how I came by this literary treasure. Well…

I was in the BFI shop on the South Bank to take the opportunity to catch their two for £25 “UK Criterion” sale (plus my x% off BFI membership discount) to upgrade a few of my more ‘upgradeable’ US Criterion DVD classics. So I picked Sword Of Doom, even though I remember the ending being a little too abrupt for comfort (which is about the only thing I do remember about it, to be honest) and another of one of my favourites by my second favourite director Andrei Tarkovsky (running a close second to movie God Akira Kurosawa, of course), namely Stalker. And then something caught my eye while I was half shuffling to the vicinity of the cash register and scanning the list of extras on the back of the Tarkovsky film… I noticed it had a commentary track by somebody called Geoff Dyer, author of Zona. Since this novel sounded like something very much to do with Stalker, a film I have been championing and heralding to my friends since I first saw it sometime in the early 1980s (or possibly late 1970s, my mind is not what it used to be), I thought I’d best make enquiries.

So I did that annoying customer thing and asked the cashier if he had this book, I pointed passionately at the listing on the extras and asked if he knew anything about said potentially cine-literate masterpiece and, much to my surprise (I freely admit) he took me to a displeasingly un-dusty bookshelf and pulled said tome from its ‘way too clean and far from the romantic vision of a dusty bookshop’ housing and there you have it. A book which, on its back cover, had me reeled in straight away as it not only mentioned it was a journey through Tarkovsky’s classic but also, at some point in this volume, mentioned three way sex. So it was bound to get, not only my attention but the attention of my trusty credit card, buckling under the weight of years of film related purchases.

So I took it on holiday with me and in I plunged into what is, in some ways, the print based equivalent of a highly personalised and highly irreverent commentary track for the film in question. It’s a curious piece because, although the writer is clearly a devotee of the movie (quite understandable, it’s a great work of cinematic art) it’s done with the kind of fashionable irreverence that horror hostess with the mostest Elvira might bring to one of her well written routines about various horror and sci-fi B movies over the years.

Now, I’m going to state here for the record that, despite being hugely entertained and fascinated by Zona, I don’t 100% agree with some of this stuff Dyer says in this sideways summary of a novel. That being said, he pretty much had me from the start in that I was very pleased to see that the author, like me, much prefers Antonioni's Red Desert over what he describes as "the pure cinematic agony" of L’Avventura. So straight away we had some common ground there. And then he said of watching this great director that…

"At first there can be a friction between our expectations of time and Tarkovsky-time and this friction is increasing in the twenty-first century as we move further and further away from Tarkovsky-time towards moron-time in which nothing can last - and no one can concentrate on anything - for longer than about two seconds."

… well, this did at the very least show that the writer and I did share similarities (in some ways… not so much on others).

It is however, an entertaining read and covers any number of, sometimes quite tangential topics such as the wisdom of Milan Kundera, the words of Albert Einstein, The Italian Job and even knowledge gleaned from Enter The Dragon. The references and comments do get quite autobiographical and personal at some points but it’s always handled in a light and witty manner.

There were some moments, however, when I did heartily disagree with Dyer’s asides…

Such as when he dismisses Lars Von Trier’s Antichrist… a film I can’t remember that well which is actually dedicated to Andrew Tarkovsky and which I was perhaps a little disappointed with on it's release due to much hyped expectations of the final product… as a nonsense and diminution of cinema, citing it as a film which doesn’t really have much to say and which doesn’t go anywhere. I mean, I completely respect that this is the author’s personal response to this movie but it seems, at best, a mildly contradictory view to someone who had, in an earlier stage of the book, highlighted  Flaubert's ambition to write a novel which is free from story content and instead exists as its own phenomenom resting primarily on the style of its words as something which he can relate to, especially as filtered by Tarkovsky’s way of shooting a movie.

I also don’t agree with Dyer’s assertion that it’s extremely unlikely you can discover your favourite film or expand your cinematic horizons after a certain age, although I can certainly appreciate the logic that lead him to that conclusion.

All this being said, though, the book is full of some wonderful observations and pondering of no small value during pub gatherings.

For instance when he talks about the age of the dial phone being some kind of golden era when the index finger was afforded a dominant position in society. A dominance which has been completely superseded by the age of the thumb as the most important digit for modern day living, being as we are in the age of the mobile phone and the new dawn of social media. Although, I have to admit that the scene which prompts this observation is the moment which I personally find to be the most powerful in Tarkovsky’s movie… when the three main protagonists are cut off in ‘The Zone’ and you realise the telephone has, impossibly, been ringing for a while. For Dyer, this sequence appears to be more of a comic interlude than the powerful and somehow terrifyingly potent signifier of a strange, alien presence within The Zone, it seemed to me.

However, any suspicions I began to harbour at this point that Dyer was less of sound mind than I at first perceived, was instantly made right again when he identified that the most common regret for most middle aged or older men is that they’ve never had a threesome with two women. This seems about spot on to me and so, with this common sense conclusion, the writer’s intelligence was firmly re-established for this particular reader.

Geoff Dyer’s Zona is an absolute ‘must read’ for cinephiles and, in particular, those who have a passion for the cinema of Andrei Tarkovsky. I might add that a knowledge of the film in question, the wonderful Stalker, is… while not an absolute necessity, certainly going to give you a much richer reading experience than if you go into this blind. That being said, I’m sure those of you who don’t know the movie as well as the rest of us will still enjoy the witty observations that the writer makes available to his audience. A definite, unmissable book shelf item for me, at any rate.

Tuesday 14 August 2018

Unfriended: Dark Web

Charon Cross Rowed

Unfriended: Dark Web
2018 USA Directed by Stephen Susco
UK cinema release print.

Warning: Yeah, I’m going to have spoilers in here.

Well, this film is pretty horrible.

It’s also quite effectively put together but, due to the choice of specific subject matter, that all adds up to a movie where I really didn’t have a good time at the cinema, to be honest. Although I think some people will probably like it.

The film is set up, in terms of the title and marketing (to some extent), as a sequel to the 2015 movie Unfriended (reviewed here), which is a bit unusual because the only link that it has to the first movie, other than it having the social media term Unfriended in the title, is the format in which the movie is expressed as a continual, real time event taking place purely on the laptop screen of one of the characters... in this case the newly acquired Macbook of the main protagonist Matias, played by Colin Woodell.

None of the original characters or story links are back for this one and even the genre of the film is, somewhat, a different proposition in that the first movie at least had a ‘ghost in the machine’ to denote it as some kind of horror movie. Unfriended: Dark Web, however, isn’t really a horror film at all... it’s just, as I said before, horrible. A horrible thriller, if pushed.

So, with the title shout out and the format in which the story is expressed being the only things similar to the original, one wonders why this wasn’t just released as a new stand alone movie in the style of that newish ‘desktop thriller’ genre instead of labelling it a close cousin of the first. Honestly, I don’t even remember anyone actually unfriending someone in this current movie so I really can’t figure out the relevance of the title here. The film details the last hour and a half in the lives of Matias and his friends played by Rebecca Rittenhouse, Betty Gabriel, Chelsea Alden, Andrew Lees, Stephanie Nogueras and Savira Windyani as they try to survive a dangerous game of cat and mouse with a circle of game playing killers and their audience on the dark web. The killers in question are all called Charon (followed by a different number for each Charon) and the dark web is manifested in this case as a version of the River Styx where you have to row down it to get in contact with the various Charons to be found there.

The film is nicely put together but somewhat grim in the details of its ideas and though the graphic nature of the violence on display is somewhat held back due to seeing it on grainy window screens as part of the full on ‘computer’ experience... you do tend to feel it more in its impact rather than actually seeing anything too unpleasant. Even the aftermath of a much anticipated trepanning towards the end of the film is somewhat less raw and troublesome than the actual talking about it earlier in the movie.

One of the big problems with the first film was that all the people on the skype call were pretty much brats who you didn’t care about... so when the deaths started happening it really wasn’t a concern. In this one, although I personally don’t think I could stand being in the same room with the majority of theses people for the length of a round of drinks, there are at least one or two characters who have a nicer personae and who are easier to sympathise with. That being said, I really couldn’t identify with any of them enough to feel anything more than numb at the racking up of each person in the various Charons’ body count so I wouldn’t say this movie was working that well on me and although some scenes are, as I said at the beginning, quite effective, I was puzzled at the use of a ‘stinger heavy’ underscore, bearing in mind the ‘cinéma vérité’ nature of the ‘observed footage’ of the movie. The score kind of breaks the fourth wall all by itself here.

This is a short review for a competently disturbing movie involving things I would rather not be worried about given the uncertain nature of modern day cyber crime, to be fair. It’s possibly a little better than the first but, ultimately, the characters failed to engage me to the extent where I would actually care about them, although the convoluted storyline is complex enough... just... to keep the movie from getting too old before its hour and a half running time is complete. If you want to see this kind of ‘desktop movie’ done better and in a much more successfully ambitious way by, as it turns out, some of the same production team, then you’re much better off waiting for a couple of weeks until Searching, which I reviewed here, is released into UK cinemas (a couple of weeks after its US debut). In the meantime, if you are into seeing hooded thugs perpetrate mean spirited murders on, mostly innocent, victims then Unfriended: Dark Web might be your thing.