Monday, 15 October 2018

Mubi Monday: Mandy (2018)

Something a bit different this week, and something that keeps me on track with the horror element for the month. MUBI now has a MUBI Go feature, offering subscribers a cinema ticket to one film per week, subject to availability at your local cinemas. And this week they offered up Mandy. Well, it would have been rude to refuse the offer.

Panos Cosmatos made quite a name for himself with his feature debut, Beyond The Black Rainbow. I still haven't seen that film, despite all the praise heaped upon it, but I couldn't resist the pull of Mandy when it was sold to me as, essentially, Nicolas Cage angrily battling demons.

Cage lives with the woman he loves (Mandy, played by Andrea Riseborough) in a cabin in the woods. It seems to be an idyllic life they lead, with Cage working hard during the day so that he can relax and watch Nightbeast with his loved one in the evening. But that is all spoiled when an evil cult member spies Mandy and decides that he has to have her. So he sends some demon bikers along, which is when things start to get completely insane.

The first reason to see Mandy is the glorious visual style of Cosmatos. Almost every frame is painted like the lurid cover of some pulp sci-fi or fantasy novel. This is a landscape that feels like someone has blended the works of Michael Moorcock and Piers Anthony and then poured them directly onto the screen. It's a truly stunning feast for the eyes. Based on this, and from what I had heard already, I really do need to see Beyond The Black Rainbow ASAP. Cosmatos may not have churned out many movies but his quality over quantity approach means I can be fully caught up very quickly.

The second reason to see this movie is Nicolas Cage. The rest of the cast all do a good job (Riseborough is always pretty great, Linus Roache and Ned Dennehy are two of the main cult members, and you get fantastic small turns from Richard Brake and Bill Duke) but Cage is the one going through a transformation here, from simple man living in contentment to grief-stricken victim to, well, a weapon-wielding kind of demi-god. The shooting style helps to show this, as Cage becomes stronger and stronger on his quest for vengeance, culminating in some final scenes that I won't detail here. Let me just say that I would love to see his character able to reappear in some future film that develops him further.

Other reasons to see the movie include the lush score by the late Johann Johannson, a crazy Cheddar Goblin advert (a turning point for the whole movie, created by someone who helped make the viral hit "Too Many Cooks"), a sparse script that still manages to contain a number of chilling lines, and the fact that it's the best Hellraiser movie in almost two decades, even if it's not ACTUALLY an instalment of that franchise.

Well worth seeing on the big screen, you won't believe your eyes and ears. And you may well find yourself, as I did, eagerly awaiting a repeat viewing. It's an audio-visual experience that I can see myself wanting to have again and again and again.

9/10

A lot of people may want to buy the soundtrack here.
Americans can buy it here.





Sunday, 14 October 2018

Netflix And Chill: Apostle (2018)

The latest film from writer-director Gareth Evans is a world away from the action movies that made him a favourite among film fans. There is violence here, but it's often slow and excruciating, rather than the wham bam fist and foot work displayed in the likes of The Raid. He has, of course, done horror before (in V/H/S 2), and there are a number of elements here that run alongside that particular segment, but this is a much more restrained and strange bit of work.

Dan Stevens plays a young man, Thomas, who is sent on a mission to retrieve his kidnapped sister. He is to locate her and make sure she is safe, and only then is he to make a payment of the ransom demanded for her. Unfortunately, the isolated religious cult that has her in their grasp is aware that someone will be coming. That makes his mission all the harder, as does the mysterious truth that he starts to uncover about the mystery at the heart of the cult.

Stevens is as good as he always is in the lead role, Michael Sheen plays the leader of the cult with aplomb (and, god, I wish Sheen picked up more roles, it feels like forever since I have seen him really sink his teeth into a role as good as this one), Mark Lewis Jones is menacing as an acolyte who starts to think things should be done differently, apparently for the benefit of the people, and there are excellent supporting turns from Bill Milner, Kristine Froseth, Lucy Boynton, Sharon Morgan, and Paul Higgins.

There's a good film here, it's all put together well by Evans, helped enrmously by that great cast that he's assembled, but the biggest problem with Apostle is that it's never as good as the many films that seem to have so clearly influenced it (the main title being The Wicker Man, of course, but there are also shades of Witchfinder General, The Blood On Satan's Claw, and every movie that has come along in the intervening years, from The Village to A Field In England). A number of those movies are hard to equal, of course, but if you're going to evoke them so clearly then you'd better be prepared to pull out all the stops and try your best to get even close to them. It doesn't feel as if Evans tried as hard as he could, instead being distracted by plot elements that come together for a disappointingly predictable climax (which is not the same as a disappointing climax, and it must be said that it fits well enough for the film we are given).

There are a few standout scenes, a couple of them so wince-inducing that even hardened gorehounds may be surprised when they occur, but this is a 130-minute film that still manages to feel as if it doesn't give you enough meaty chunks in the broth it is offering, if that analogy makes sense to anyone but me. You will be entertained at times, you will be intrigued, but most viewers will find that neither of those feelings last all the way through to the end credits.

Apostle is definitely worth your time. Just don't listen to the many articles that have already popped up declaring it as the new unmissable, most terrifying, most brutal movie on Netflix. Hyperbole is where the traffic is, a lack of hyperbole is usually where the truth lies.

7/10

Treat yourself to The Raid movies here.
Americans can get a videotape here.

Or click either link and browse.


Saturday, 13 October 2018

Shudder Saturday: Terrified AKA Aterrados (2017)

Written and directed by Demian Rugna, Terrified is all about a policeman (Funes, played by Maxi Ghione) who ends up accompanying three researchers (played by Norberto Gonzalo, Elvira Onetto, and George Lewis) as they try to get to the bottom of some supernatural events that have plagued a small neighbourhood. That's the main part of the story, but that all unfolds after a number of creepy events depicted, almost vignettes, that feature a) a woman telling her husband that she heard voices comeing from the kitchen sink telling her that they were going to kill her, b) a man being tormented every night by a ghost or creature who is stopping him from resting peacefully, and c) a dead young boy reappearing in his home, seemingly still dead but with no explanation as to how he got there. These elements all intertwine during the second half of the film, more or less, but as they play out in the first act it almost seems as if Terrified might be an anthology horror movie.

And, in a way, it is. Although the form starts to adhere more closely to a standard narrative film, despite some playing about with the chronology of events, so many of the set-pieces feel as if they could be individual little tales, presented as they are with either such a great flourish or such a great "punchline". As well as an anthology horror movie, Terrified ALSO plays out very much like a survival horror videogame. I know that may be enough to put many people off but don't be dissuaded. Considering the fact that Ghione plays someone with a medical condition that means he really doesn't want to spend too much time being too frightened, I was very much reminded of my first time playing Silent Hill many years ago, wandering around a mysterious environment while the heart monitor conveyed to me how afraid the main character was, and so how on edge I was while playing the game.

Everyone onscreen does well, acting opposite a variety of special effects, from creepy creatures to levitating home furnishings. As well as the people mentioned, you also have Agustin Rittano and Demian Salomon as two men who have been greatly affected by the events, and Ariel Chavarria is very good as the shaken mother of the strangely-mobile dead child.

But all kudos really goes to Rugna, who starts the film off in an impressively eerie way before taking viewers on a fun thrill ride for the rest of the runtime. This is not a film without humour, but be warned that the humour is only there as a temporary release in between more frights. It's very smart, although I know a few people who prefer their horror movies to have no humour in the mix at all, and allows Rugna to draw out the moments of tension right up to a near-unbearable extreme.

There are flaws. It's hard to see how everything quite fits together, there's no obvious starting point for events (not that there has to be), and a past case is mentioned without enough detail to even make it worth including. Some people may also dislike a few of the computer-generated special effects, although I thought they were generally well done and worked well alongside a lot of the practical work. But all of these things are easy to overlook while being so effectively made to squirm in your seat by Rugna.

If you like a good ghost story, and if you appreciate being in the hands of a filmmaker who can both make you jump by showing you something you didn't want to see and also make you very nervous by NOT showing you something that others are reacting to, then Terrified is highly recommended. It might even leave you . . . well, I am sure you can guess what state it might leave you in.

8/10

There's nothing obvious I can recommend to purchase here so here's a general link.
And here's Amazon.com.


Friday, 12 October 2018

Filmstruck Friday: Carnival Of Souls (1962)

Carnival Of Souls is a film all about a young woman named Mary (played by Candace Hilligoss). She is involved in a car crash at the start of the movie, somehow then walking away from the scene, without any memory of just how, and continuing on her journey. She's moving to another city, where she has been hired as a church organist. Unfortunately, she starts to see a strange, ghoulish, figure appearing in her life, a silent man who frightens Mary and makes her feel that she is going crazy. But the truth may be even worse than that.

Considering how effective and influential it is, Carnival Of Souls STILL doesn't really seem to be as celebrated as it should be. And trying to praise it without going into too much detail is difficult, but essential to preserve the impact of the movie for many who have still not yet marked it off their viewing lists.

Director Herk Harvey (who also plays that ghoulish man) somehow managed to take his limited resources and make a genre classic, albeit one that cherishes atmosphere and nightmare moments over decent acting or dialogue. Not to unfairly dismiss the script, written by John Clifford. There are some decent exchanges here and there, especially during a bizarre date scene between Mary and a young man named John (Sidney Berger), but the film has actual spoken words low on the list of priorities.

The same can be said for the actual acting. Hilligoss does okay in the main role, often looking wide-eyed and frightened, but it's hard not to think of many actresses being able to do a better job. That may all have been down to Harvey, of course, who obviously had a certain vision in mind, and her acting at least works better accompanied by the fine, creepy, score from Gene Moore. It's not often that I highlight the excellent use of an organ outwith the realm of adult sex films, but this is definitely worth mentioning. Back to the cast though, and you also get Berger doing just okay in his role, Frances Feist as a landlady, and Art Ellison as the minister who has hired Mary for her new job. Most of these cast members have very few other film credits, Berger only appearing in this and the 1998 (loose) remake, but they do what Harvey needs them to do.

You could say that Carnival Of Souls is a film all about the ending. It's certainly an effective and memorable finale. But it's so much more than just that, mainly because the whole film builds towards it, with Harvey proving to be quite a dab hand at creating and sustaining an atmosphere of foreboding and dread. It's a shame that he never gave us any more feature films (the rest of his filmography is made up of documentary shorts) but it would be a much greater shame if people stopped remembering him as a great talent, a creator of one outright classic little horror movie that casts a very long shadow over the genre to this day.

9/10

You can buy the movie here.
Americans can buy the movie here.


Thursday, 11 October 2018

Eyeball (1975)

Eyeball, directed by Umberto Lenzi (who also co-wrote the film with Felix Tusell), is a giallo film that almost slavishly follows the established rules of the form. If you know what to expect then you're going to have a lot of fun. If you are looking for some of the best examples, the more stylish and gorgeous ones, then this isn't the film for you.

The premise is simple. A killer starts to slice their way through the tourists who are all on the same coach trip. The killer wears red and has a thing for removing an eyeball from each of his/her victims. Who could be the knife-wielder? Is it Mark Burton (played by John Richardson), a man who thinks his own wife might be the culprit due to his infidelity with Paulette Stone (played by Martine Brochard)? Is it the clergyman who seems to be going out of his way to look more suspicious than most of the other tour group members? It could be anyone, although the list of possible suspects starts to narrow down as the corpses start to pile up.

Although you may struggle to figure out who the killer is, with the exception of viewers who may have an unerring nose for sniffing out culprits, it becomes more and more obvious as Eyeball plays out just who ISN'T the killer. If you're being shown someone close to every murder scene, if they are walking around under a mobile neon sign that says "killer, killer", then it's unlikely to be them. Both the script and direction play up this side of things, with Lenzi clearly setting out to make something fun more than something to be celebrated as a masterclass in tension and horror, and it is all part of the film's charm.

Richardson and Brochard are the leads, both doing decent work for this kind of film (including moments of overacting, of course, and some casual callousness towards others as the situation starts to get worse), George Rigaud is that twitchy and suspicious clergyman, Andres Mejuto is the Inspector trying to find the killer, and the stunning Mirta Miller plays a stunning female photographer. You also get Ines Pellegrini, playing a model being photographed by Miller, Daniele Vargas and Silvia Solar as a married couple, and Marta May as the wronged wife of Richardson's character, as well as quite a few others (special mention to Raf Baldassarre as the leering tour guide, Martinez).

There are so many things that Eyeball isn't. It's not the best giallo, it's not the best Lenzi movie, it's not the best cast, and not even the best film about a killer removing eyeballs from victims. But that doesn't really matter. What matters is that it IS an amusing bit of entertainment from start to finish. You could even say that it's . . . worth keeping an eye out for (bdaump-tsshhhhh).

6/10

There's a fine Blu-ray presentation here.
Americans can buy a version of it here.


Wednesday, 10 October 2018

Prime Time: The Ferryman (2018)

The Ferryman is one of those little movies that I wanted to like more than I did. It's obviously not able to compete with other films that have bigger budgets (a bigger budget, in this instance, being anything over about £100) but that doesn't deter writer-director Elliott Maguire.

Nicola Holt plays Mara, a young woman who wakes up in hospital after an attempted suicide. She is embarrassed and angry, especially when she is then greeted by her father (Garth Maunders), a man who has never been in her life before now. Trying to move on with her life, Mara starts to hear and see a figure who tells her that others will pay for her living, and what that means becomes clear as people around her start to die.

Look, I have still never made my own movie. I'm sure it's an achievement just to get something completed and out there to an audience. That being said, The Ferryman comes in at the very minimal end of that scale of what could be considered a feature film. Shot on an iPhone, it's a murky mess in many scenes, not helped by some inconsistent sound design that doesn't always stay sharp enough during standard conversations but usually improves in moments that are focused on horror.

Holt and Maunders both try hard in their roles, although the seemingly small age gap between them makes it very difficult to believe that they are daughter and father, and they certainly stand out as being better than most of the other people onscreen (Azz Mohammed being the worst of a bad bunch, playing a detective as if he was being fed his lines just seconds before reciting them).

On the plus side, the runtime is relatively short and sweet (about 75 minutes) and Maguire has tried to tackle some interesting ideas. It's also to his credit that he didn't make this yet another found footage movie to add to the ever-growing pile. Sadly, the interesting ideas are buried under a lot of dull visuals and a weak script.

Any horror fans will be able to see how things are going to pan out after the first few scenes, which makes the rest of the film little more than a waiting game until you get to the predictable finale, sadly. With some more resources, and a better script, Maguire might be able to come up with a follow up to his debut feature that will better showcase his talents, but he's sold himself short here.

Having said all that, IF you have nothing better to do for 75 minutes and you're struggling to find a horror film that you haven't already seen then there are worse films to give support to. It's pretty bad, yes, but it's admirable that Maguire didn't take any easy options, and at least tried to do something a bit different.

3/10

The Ferryman is available on Amazon Prime now.


Tuesday, 9 October 2018

MTOS: Asian Horror

If you saw the last #mtos post here then you should know what it's all about. Basically, a load of questions are set that will provide us with the opportunity to discuss a movie topic on Sunday (hence Movie Talk On Sunday) with the hashtag #mtos helping you to find everyone involved.

October is the month of horror, of course, and last week saw a great discussion on British horror from #mtos host Film File. This week we're moving away from the UK. It's time to discuss some fine Asian horror. I hope you join us in . . . .  seven dayyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyys. Sorry, five days. I meant to request that you join us in five days.



1) Kwaidan and Onibaba were both released in 1964. Have you seen them, as influential as they are, and do you have a favourite of the two? #mtos

2) Hausu is a VERY different kind of horror film IMO, and it's madder than a bag of badgers, but it's a kind of mad I love. Please tell me I'm not alone. And how you came to love it. #mtos

3) It's fair to say that the love (or resurgence of love) for Asian horror was kicked off by Ringu, and The Grudge series. What was your entry point, and what impressed you the most about it? #mtos

4) A number of tropes have been established in Asian horror movies. Is there one that makes you roll your eyes (Sadako style) every time it crops up, or are they part of the fun? #mtos

5) Sadako Vs Kayako (2016), was this the ultimate battle of evil that fans never knew they wanted? Was it too silly? And who did you want to win? #mtos

6) Takashi Miike, Takashi Shimizu, Park Chan-wook, Bong Joon-ho, Kim Jee-woon. So many great directors. Who has a filmography that you are most familiar with, and what do they bring to the genre that makes them worth seeking out? #mtos

7) I Saw The Devil, Cold Fish, The Chaser, there are also many horrors from this area with non-supernatural villains. Do you prefer these to the familiar ghosts, and do you have an outright favourite? #mtos

8) Culturally, why do you think Asia, and specifically Japan, manage to craft such creepy films within environments that are often modern, sleek, and heavily populated? #mtos

9) As well as spooky, Asian horror can provide some extreme fare. Have you seen any of those (e.g. the infamous Guinea Pig movies, Grotesque, The Butcher) or do you wonder how anyone can enjoy such nastiness? #mtos

10) Let's end with a recommendation. Tell people the one Asian horror movie that you feel is underseen or just essential viewing for genre fans. #mtos

And that is that. Don't let any of this conversation make you nervous as you get ready for bed this evening. Just relax, make sure the TV is unplugged, don't answer any anonymous numbers on your mobile phone, ignore the creaking stairs, and stay away from anyone with their personal collection of acupuncture needles and piano wire . . . "kiri kiri kiri, kiri . . . kiri . . . kiri."


Ben (1972)

Following on immediately from the end of Willard, this is a mediocre film that suffers greatly in comparison to the greatness that preceded it. Although you still get some dangerous rats, there's very little else here that we got in the first film, from the characters to the quality of acting to the overall tone of the whole thing.

Where Willard gave you a young man that you could root for, Ben gives you a boy who is very hard to like. His name is Danny Garrison, and he's played by Lee Montgomery. Danny is a bit lonely, so that makes him the next obvious choice to be friends with Ben and his large pack of ratty friends. While the police try to track down all of the rodents and kill them off, Danny amuses himself by making up songs about his new friend ("Ben" sounds pretty good when Michael Jackson is singing it, not so much when Montgomery is doing the vocals), playing with marionettes, and not dutifully handing over all rat information to the relevant authority figures.

Directed by Phil Karlson, Ben doesn't really know how it wants to play out. The script, by a returning Gilbert A. Ralston, doesn't help, moving from the finale of the first movie to an uninteresting tale of a boy finding a rat and holding on to him like some kind of fluffy action figure. There are moments of rat mayhem here and there, but they don't feel like anything other than filler in a film where they should be some of the main set-pieces. Hampered by the central idea, Karlson makes everything worse by keeping the whole movie tension-free and strangely chipper.

The cast also don't do anything to help. Well, the human cast anyway. Montgomery isn't very good. In fact, he's pretty awful for most of the movie. Rosemary Murphy and Meredith Baxter are better, playing Beth and Eve Garrison, respectively, and Joseph Campanella, Arthur O'Connell, and Kaz Garas are able to stand around, ponder the rat problem, and look determined about sorting things out.

It may be unfair to compare this so much to the first film, and I get that every film should be judged on its own merits, but the fact that it uses the opening scenes to show the end of the first movie and to then continue the storyline "seamlessly" doesn't do it any favours. Viewers are immediately reminded of just how great Willard was, to then be almost immediately disheartened by how lacklustre this is.

There are pluses. Not many, but they are there. First of all, some scenes do feature an impressive number of rats scrabbling around and over one another. Second, you get to hear Michael Jackson singing over the end credits. Third . . . actually, no, there is no third. There are two main positives to take away from my viewing of this film, and I'll give it a point for each, plus one whole point for the acceptable work of the actors who aren't named Lee Montgomery.

3/10

This is the best way to buy the film (because you get a better film with it).
Americans can get the movie here.


Monday, 8 October 2018

Willard (1971)

Considering how much I love the 2003 remake of Willard, it is surprising that it took me this long to get to the original film. Especially considering the fact that the cast includes Bruce Davison in the lead role, and support from Ernest Borgnine, Sondra Locke, and Elsa Lanchester.

Davison plays Willard Stiles, a young man who isn't being treated very well by those around him. His frail mother (Lanchester) makes a lot of demands on his time, his boss (Borgnine) seems to revel in the fact that he can keep him overworked in the company that used to belong to his deceased father, and his family home is in need of some repair, which would be easier to deal with if he had any decent amount of money for it. When asked by his mother to deal with a rodent problem, Willard instead starts training them, and he's soon in charge of a multitude of rats.

Director Daniel Mann may not have a lot of other horror movies in his filmography, although it's an eclectic selection, but he's certainly given fans a bit of a minor classic with this one. Based on a novel by Stephen Gilbert, this is equal parts character study and creature feature, with both serving each other well. Mann, working from a script by Gilbert A. Ralston, builds things up perfectly, using three acts to show, in turn, the mistreatment of Willard, his befriending and training of the rats, and his eventual use of them to help make his life better. The first half of the movie may be much lighter in tone than the second half, and horror fans may find themselves growing impatient for signs of actual horror, but it brilliantly sketches out the history and nature of the central character, making it all the more satisfying when we get to see him fighting back.

Davison is absolutely brilliant in what could well be his finest role. Considering his huge body of film work, it's easy to forget just how great he can be in films more deserving of his talent (I am thinking more of films like this one and Short Eyes than, say, Titanic II). Borgnine is an entertainingly loathsome baddie, which viewers will already know from some of his other performances, and he has some slimy acolytes in the shape of Michael Dante and Joan Shawlee. Lanchester does well in her small role, as frail and whiney as she has to be, Jody Gilbert is someone who tries to help Willard, but only to really also help herself, and Locke brightens up the screen as arguably the only person who sees how badly Willard is being mistreated and taken advantage of by those around him.

What could have easily just been a tale of a boy getting rats to attack his enemies is instead turned into something incredibly bittersweet and, yes, surprisingly moving. It may focus on the rats, and the damage and death they can cause, but it's equally about the need for companionship, the emotional support that can be gained just from knowing friends have your back, and how difficult it can be to move forward with your own life again once you have developed such a strong connection with others.

8/10

There's a double-pack available here.
Americans can get the one movie here.


Mubi Monday: I Love You Phillip Morris (2009)

Also . . . there's a horror movie review coming along later. Not going to miss a day here just because MUBI hasn't yet put up any genre offerings.

Co-directed by John Requa and Glenn Ficarra, who also wrote the script based on the book by Steve McVicker, I Love You Phillip Morris is a fantastic comedy, an amusing look at the life of a con man, and an astounding true story.

Jim Carrey stars as Steven Russell. Steven seems to have his life in order. He's a police officer, he plays the organ at church, he has a loving wife and two daughters. He's also very much gay, something that he keeps a secret until a bad car crash leads him to realise that he cannot go on living a lie. Well, he cannot go on living THAT lie. All other lies are fine as long as they allow him to spend lots of money he otherwise wouldn't have to treat himself, and loved ones, to a lavish lifestyle. This leads him to prison, which leads to him meeting Phillip Morris (Ewan McGregor). And so begins a series of audacious cons as Steven aims to spend as much time as possible with his new love, whether in prison or enjoying their freedom.

I don't want to spoil things for anyone who hasn't seen this movie, suffice to say that the biggest con that Russell pulls is as incredible as it is reliant on some very human oversights/errors and it's the focus of the third act, quite rightly so. The script takes great pleasure in sprinkling events with a few little rug-pulls here and there, making it easier to accept some of the more unbelievable true details of the story.

Requa and Ficarra do a good job with the direction too, keeping things light and upbeat (helped by a wonderful score from Nick Urata that often tiptoes very close to emulating "Aquarela do Brasil" by Ary Barroso). There may be no such thing as a victimless crime but this is a lot easier to enjoy thanks to the targets picked by Russell, usually either financial corporations or those in positions of power in the US penal system.

Carrey is on top form in the central role, flying through most of the scenarios with a mixture of optimism, charm, and bullshit. McGregor is also very good, acting very sweet and making it easy to see why the relationship between the two could blossom so quickly. Leslie Mann does well in her small role (she's the loving wife who somehow doesn't outright resent and hate her husband when she is told the truth about him), Rodrigo Santoro is fun as Carrey's first main male partner, and Antoni Corone and Brennan Brown are two businessmen who enjoy Carrey making money for them without noticing that he's taking a decent amount for his own account.

As much about the things people will do for love as it is about someone who seems unable to stop living a life that requires theft, lies, and fraud, I Love You Phillip Morris is an entertainingly light treatment of material that could have easily been dark and painful. You may think it's the wrong approach, but I happen to think it works perfectly.

8/10

You can buy the shiny disc here.
Americans can buy it here.
Or you can click on those links and buy whatever the hell you like.


Sunday, 7 October 2018

Netflix And Chill: Ghost House (2017)

Scout Taylor-Compton and James Landry Hebert star as Julie and Jim, a young couple on holiday in Thailand who end up having quite a bad time of things. All goes well initially, until they are befriended by Robert (Russell Geoffrey Banks) and Billy (Richard Gray). One big night out leads to a trip to a "ghost house" graveyard, which in turn leads to Julie becoming seriously unwell. Medical professionals can't help her. She's either imagining that she's being tormented by an evil spirit or she's actually being tormented by an evil spirit.

Let me begin by telling you what a ghost house is, in case it isn't obvious. They are small houses that are supposed to provide somewhere for spirits to reside (and, in fact, a quick Google search shows that they seem to be more commonly known as Spirit Houses). Offerings are often placed there and it is considered bad form to neglect them. Basically, to my ignorant eyes, it's a birdhouse for the dead.

Written by Kevin O'Sullivan and Jason Chase Tyrrell, from a story by Kevin and Rich Ragsdale, Ghost House is a decent mix of the kind of thing we've seen successfully marketed by Blumhouse in recent years and a healthy dose of Thai flavouring. Most of the scares are jump scares, including an extended sequence in which someone is plunged into darkness and keeps having problems with their flashlight just as something moves around them, but there's no denying that they're well done jump scares, helped by some impressive design work on the main evil spirit.

Rich Ragsdale is also the director, doing a decent job, especially when it would seem to be a relatively low-budget work (not at the bottom end of the scale, by any means, but also doesn't seem to have had any well-known companies offering to help out on the cash front). Whatever the budget was, and I can't seem to find that information just now, Ragsdale has done his best with it.

Hebert is a bit weak in his role, but that's not so bad during many of his scenes with Taylor-Compton, mainly because she does a really good job of showing the toll on her mind and body as she is being continually affected by an evil force. Her performance is so good that I will actually start looking out for her future movie appearances, and she has a few due out in the next year or so, where I was previously unimpressed by the little I had seen of her work (I blame Halloween II - 2009 - for that). Banks and Gray both do decent work as the friendly strangers who may have ulterior motives, Mark Boone Junior is enjoyable in a small, but important role, Michael S. New is very likable as a local guide named Gogo, and both Wattana Koomkrong and Wen-chu Yang do good work as, respectively, the potential saviour or destroyer of our leading lady's soul.

There's easily enough here to appeal to people who enjoy their horror films with some ghost or demonic activity in the mix. Some may resent the amount of jump scares, and all horror fans will recognise that as a common problem in many modern horrors, but I think it provides a decent helping of atmosphere to go along with those jumps.

6/10

The movie might be available here on shiny disc.
Americans can pick it up here.




Saturday, 6 October 2018

Shudder Saturday: Arachnid (2001)

Note: I watched Arcahnid on Wednesday evening. I went to check a couple of scenes from it on the Thursday. It had been removed from Shudder, dammit. But I watched it. It WAS on Shudder. I own it, so could revisit those scenes I wanted to see. And this review stands (apologies, however, that Arachnid isn't on Shudder at this time, but perhaps it will come back).

I hate spiders. Hate them. Or, to put it more accurately, I am terrifed of them. Yep, a big arachnophobe, that's me. I know all of the arguments against my irrational fear, especially considering the relatively small varieties that we have here in the UK, but I can't help it. That's why it's an irrational fear. As much as I am afraid of spiders, I am also drawn to horror films that feature the eight-legged horrors. And I thought that Arachnid was going to be a decent, low-budget, killer spider movie. I was wrong.

Things start with a pilot who goes down with his plane. He wanders around an island, sees a weird alien creature, and then he's killed. Time passes. A group head out to the same island, including a woman (Loren Mercer, played by Alex Reid) who is the sister of the missing pilot. They wander about the foliage for a while. Someone gets internal problems from nasty ticks, there are various arguments between members of the group, and then the third act is time for the main creature to be showcased, a giant spider out to kill them all.

The fact that Brian Yuzna was attached as a producer got my hopes up. He's given me a number of very enjoyable horror movies over the years. Unfortunately, his name attached to this as producer doesn't mean that the end product is anything like his directorial outings. Arachnid is bad. The script by Mark Sevi is poor, full of slapdash plotting and horribly cliched dialoge, and the direction from Jack Sholder doesn't help any. The whole thing feels cheap and rushed, although it's saved from being a complete waste of your time by a couple of decent gore gags and the main creature.

Reid isn't a good enough female lead to hold viewer interest, and neither is Chris Potter (her male co-star). But it's easy to see why they bagged the lead roles, certainly in comparison to the selection of fairly dire people supporting them. Rocqueford Allen is okay, the rest are almost unbearable for the entire duration of their time onscreen.

It's not hard to make a spider-centric horror movie that I will enjoy. Whether they're of normal size of turned into giant monstrosities. Hell, I have fond memories of The Giant Spider Invasion. So I struggled with my low rating of this one. But there's just not enough here to make it even passable. Which is a shame. If they had taken away the sci-fi moments, focused more on the simple fun of people being chased by a giant spider, and thrown around some more bloodshed and nastiness, this could have been an amusing way to waste 90 minutes.

3/10

There's a cheap DVD available here.
Americans can buy it here.
Or just click on those links and go shopping for better movies.

Friday, 5 October 2018

Filmstruck Friday: Freaks (1932)

I don't have as much reading time nowadays as I used to. That's by choice. I watch a hell of a lot more movies, and I tend to also review a lot of them. So between that and work and, you know, other stuff that takes up my time I just tend to leave reading until I find myself with a free 15 minutes. But I used to be a voracious reader, from a very young age. And it helped that, as a child, my mother had books piled up all around our home. One of those books was about the lives of famous "freaks". I didn't actually read that book, but I did look at the section of photographs. I saw General Tom Thumb (named because of his diminutive stature), a man with no lower half of his body, and Prince Randian. This last figure was the one that stuck with me the most. He had no arms or legs (I believe the book referred to him as "The Human Caterpillar") but was shown in photographs making his own cigarettes. Having been fascinated by these people, I am very surprised that I didn't get around to this classic Tod Browning movie until I was in my late twenties. I think I may have still been silly enough to think that a film from the 1930s couldn't possibly retain the power it had all those years ago. I was wrong.

Prince Randian is not a main character in Freaks, but he does make a brief appearance. As does someone credited as Half Boy (played by Johnny Eck). And probably a number of other people who were featured in that book. This film is all about people who make their living as circus sideshow attractions, as the title none-too-subtly tells you. It gives you a glimpse into the lives of many extraordinary characters, focusing on the main storyline of a midget named Hans (Harry Earles) and his love for a trapeze artist named Cleopatra (Olga Baclanova). Cleopatra doesn't love Hans, yet she figures that she can pretend to for a while until she gets her hands on his large inheritance. And she can make that happen sooner by poisoning him. Because, despite her outward physical appearance, Cleopatra is the ugliest character in this film. Greedy, callous, manipulative, and murderous. She's also pretty blatant about her motivation and intentions, which allows viewers to sit back and wait for her eventual comeuppance.

Written by Willis Goldbeck and Leon Gordon, Freaks remains a wild and incredible film, even by the standards of today. The characters being shown onscreen are fascinating (as well as those mentioned you get to see the Siamese twins named Daisy and Violet Hilton, the human skeleton named Peter Robinson, and Elvira and Jenny Lee Snow playing "Pinheads"), the main storyline is complemented by some enjoyable subplots, and you have the famous utterance of "one of us, one of us". Cleopatra may be written as a bit of a pantomime villain, at times, but that's the way it has to be to take everything where it needs to go for that intense finale.

Director Tod Browning must have known that he was going to shock audiences at the time, and kudos to him for staying true to his vision, even if it did ultimately bring his directorial career to a premature end (he is only credited on a couple of films after this one, which is a great shame indeed).  Bringing together such an authentic cast may have led to quite a range of quality in the acting, although it has to be said that most of the main players are very good in their roles, but it also makes it a lot harder to accept the movie as JUST a movie. This remains an experience that is at times bewildering, at times infuriating, and at times absolute nightmare fuel.

I am sure that others have discussed this more thoroughly, it's another one of those occasions when I suspect that adding my own review of an established classic on to an overflowing pile is probably redundant, but I will just take this opportunity to encourage every horror movie fan to seek this out. Considering how influential it is, and how impactful it remains, you would be doing yourself a great disservice if you dismissed it as being too old or too tame for your more modern sensibilities.

10/10

This shiny disc is available to buy.
Or, in American territories, here.


Thursday, 4 October 2018

Raw (2016)

Written and directed by Julia Ducournau, Raw is to the cannibal movie what Ginger Snaps is to the werewolf film, to start this review off with some obvious Shorthand 101. Both are coming of age tales, both provide moments that you expect with a number of twists that you don't, and both are anchored by excellent female lead performances.

Garance Marillier is Justine, a young woman starting her university education to become a vet. She is enrolled in the same institution as her older sister, Alexia (played by Ella Rumpf), and ends up sharing a room with a gay man named Adrien (Rabah Nait Oufella). She also ends up finally eating meat as part of her diet, now that she is away from her parents and their vegetarian lifestyle. This leads to her getting a taste for more than just the selection available from any butcher shop.

What starts off as a simple tale of a young woman overwhelmed by a new stage of her life at university, and all of the freedoms and opportunities that come with it, chances to both succeed and fail, soon develops into a tale of, well . . . . actually, a young woman overwhelmed by a new stage of her life at university. She just happens to also develop a taste for VERY fresh meat. Justine changes quite quickly, admittedly, but it's not an immediate transformation, and a lot of the first half of the movie shows the typical "growing pains" of any teenager suddenly away from their parents and deciding to create, or rather recreate, their own identity as they move further into adulthood.

Marillier is fantastic in the central role, believably transforming from a shy and sheltered young woman into someone who loses a lot of her inhibitions and starts to wear her difference from others like a badge with "Fuck You" printed on it. Rumpf is equally good, and the two really convince as sisters who always seem to love one another, even during times when they fall out. Oufella has the easiest of the three main roles, but he does well to portray a supportive and friendly figure who doesn't mind anyone else being a bit weird, up to a point.

Ducournau manages to tell this story without making every scene a gross-out one, although she also puts in a number of scenes that definitely aren't for the squeamish (probably best not to watch this while eating a meal). It helps that she has done such a great job with the development of the lead characters, making viewers hope for the best for them, even as things start to look worse and worse. The technical side of things cannot be faulted, especially admirable as this is the first solo feature from Ducournau (having previously given us one short film and a TV movie co-directed with Virgile Bramly, which also happens to be about an eating disorder), and there's also a fine score by Jim Williams accompanying the visuals, as well as a few lively tunes on the soundtrack.

Some viewers may wish they could have more moments of gore, and there's a "punchline" that could divide opinion (I thought it was great), but this is an interesting cannibal film that comes very close to being as good as the excellent, but a lot more darkly comedic, Ravenous.

8/10

Raw can be bought here.
Americans can buy it here.
Alternatively, you can always click on either of those links and then shop for whatever you want. Which also helps me while letting you treat yourself.


Wednesday, 3 October 2018

Prime Time: The Last Shark (1981)

Stop me if you've heard this one. A great white shark starts to cause problems by munching on oblivious people who are trying to enjoy time in the sea. There's a big event coming up (it's a wind-surfing regatta), a local official who doesn't want a pesky shark problem interrupting the festivities, and so it comes down to one determined man (Peter Benton, played by James Franciscus) and one shark hunter (Ron Hamer, played by Vic Morrow) to try and deal with the shark before it snacks on any more funseekers.

Directed by Enzo G. Castellari, The Last Shark is a terrible film. The script, by Marc Princi, is hilarious, the shark is hilarious, and the way the film so closely parallels Jaws is also hilarious (it's one of a number of films that you can easily describe as Jawsploitation). But being hilarious wouldn't have been bad if it all hadn't also felt so lazy and careless. There isn't even the kind of content you get from other Italian . . . "homages" to blockbuster hits. No excess of gore, no gratuitous nudity, there wasn't even one grizzled warrior with an eyepatch and a flamethrower attached to a severed arm. Any of these elements would have improved the film, and having none of them just feels like a huge missed opportunity.

Remember the famous scene in Jaws that has Roy Scheider scooping chum into the water and being startled by the sudden appearance of the shark into uttering THAT line? The Last Shark knows it cannot compete with that level of brilliance. But it does have someone dangling a large chunk of meat from a helicopter as part of a plan so dumb that even the shark looks bemused for a few seconds (or maybe I was projecting at that point).

Morrow is very enjoyable in his role (a mix of Hooper and Quint, with a terrible attempt at an Irish, or maybe Scottish, accent), and both Franciscus and Joshua Sinclair (playing that optimistic, ambitious town official) do what's asked of them, with Sinclair gamely taking part in what is most definitely the silliest scene in the entire movie.

But what of the shark itself? Surely that is the star of the show. Not quite. In fact, when it rises out of the water you could be forgiven for thinking that a balloon has somehow floated up from below the tideline. A balloon covered in paper mache, with melted buttons to give it eyes. You get the idea. It's not exactly convincing or scary. Does this mean that Castellari and co. take a leaf out of Spielberg's book and hide the shark away for most of the runtime? No it does not. It could have been worse, but the shark is given far too much screentime, and the situation isn't helped by scenes featuring footage of an actual shark that never matches with the main creature that we're supposed to be watching.

Castellari has some decent titles in his filmography, especially if you're a fan of Westerns or post-apocalyptic films. This is not one of his better efforts. It still has me smiling while I type out this review, however, and it's hard to resist its goofy charm if you know what you're letting yourself in for.

4/10

Do you really want this on DVD? Here it is.
Do NOT pay for this one, but use the link to find other goodies.



Tuesday, 2 October 2018

Killer Party (1986)

Coming relatively late in the day, certainly when you think of the "golden period" of slasher movies, Killer Party is a film that doesn't get mentioned much, in my experience, and doesn't seem to get any love. That's a shame, because it's a hugely entertaining horror film that takes a sharp turn in the final act to make it stand out from the slasher crowd. Those who have already seen it may be smiling already, those who haven't seen it should give it a go.

The basic story concerns three young women who pledge to a sorority. There are pranks and humiliations, of course, but they manage to get in. The women are then told to turn a house into a suitable location for a Halloween party. They do, and on the night of the party they also have a surprise guest, in the form of a tormented and murderous spirit.

While it may not deliver the highest bodycount in the subgenre, and while you don't really get the required death every 10 minutes, Killer Party makes up for that with a tone that very effectively blends the scares with some comedy. From the double fake start, including a music video sequences that plays out like a rock riff on Thriller, to a prank involving bees and females in a hot tub, this is a film that aims to provide fun, first and foremost. If it didn't get that tone just right then the finale would be ridiculous, quite frankly, but it instead just feels a bit offbeat and goofy.

Sherry Willis-Burch, Joanna Johnson, and Elaine Wilkes are the three main characters, all do decent enough in their roles, and Martin Hewitt and Ralph Seymour do okay as the two main males onscreen. There are plenty of others joining in with the fun but these five tend to be the ones that viewers are asked to keep an eye on as the party unfolds.

Director William Fruet (no stranger to the genre, he also gave us the enjoyable Funeral Home, which was, well, quite a bit worse than this) seems to enjoy playing with the audience expectations here, especially throughout the first half of the film, and writer Barney Cohen gives him good material to work with. It's easy to like our leading ladies and the film moves along nicely until things start to get crazy in the third act.

If you like your slasher movies to have the usual selection of tropes - a prank that backfires to create a motivation for revenge, plenty of kills with weapons that are usefully near to hand, locals warning youngsters of the peril, etc - then this may not be the film for you. But if you like the idea of a film in which a possessed woman, at one point, attacks others with a trident then this is definitely one you should watch.

7/10

There's a DVD available here.
Americans can get it here.


Monday, 1 October 2018

Mubi Monday: Antiviral (2012)

Directed by Brandon "son of David" Cronenberg, Antiviral is a debut feature that feels very much like something his father would have done back in his early years. There is, however, a lack of the wit and intelligence, and even frame composition, that Cronenberg Senior would have laced throughout, but it's not a bad first full-length film.

Caleb Landry Jones stars as Syd March, a young man who works in a strange, thriving, industry. He sells illnesses to people. Those illnesses are harvested from celebrities and the people wanting to buy them are obsessed fans. To make himself some extra money, Syd smuggles diseases out in his own body, making use of a work device that he has stashed in his home. It's an obviously flawed system, and nobody should be surprised when Syd starts to become more and more unwell.

Cronenberg is working with his own screenplay here, and you can also feel the clear influence from his father in the plotting and main ideas. The illnesses are commodities, but they can also be weaponised, and can lead to those infected with them having strange hallucinatory moments. With Syd a pawn who cannot see the big picture around him, there are many moments here that feel bastardised from Videodrome. It's just that instead of seeking out more extreme content, these people are warped by "celebrity culture" (pun intended).

Jones is very good in the main role, carrying most of the movie even as he grows weaker and looks ready to shuffle off the mortal coil at any moment. There are many other characters who pop up throughout the film but the focus stays on Syd, what he can do for them and how valuable he can be, which allows Jones to stay front and centre at all times, even when he's being given a lot of exposition by Malcolm McDowell. Joe Pingue and James Cade both do well, playing a creator of celebrity foods and a virus "pirate", respectively, and Sarah Gadon portrays one of the most sought-after celebrities on the market.

The look of the film is often, as you would expect, sleek and sterile. If you're going to see blood coughed up then it may as well spatter against a pure white surface, right? But the work environment is juxtaposed against some living conditions that are much less sleek and stylish. They're not exactly squalid but it's easy to see that employees certainly don't get to reap the rewards from the business that the management do.

Although it's a bit of a mess at times, losing focus and building towards an ending that doesn't feel worthy of everything we've gone through, Antiviral shows a lot of promise. Cronenberg can be forgiven, more than most, for being a bit too heavily influenced by his father. And, hey, there are far worse directors out there to be influenced by.

5/10

You can buy the movie here.
Americans can buy it here.

Sunday, 30 September 2018

Netflix And Chill: 24 Hours To Live (2017)

Ethan Hawke stars in this action thriller, the kind of slick, violent fare that you would be forgiven for assuming had Luc Besson in a producer role. It's generic stuff, but it's fairly well put together and has a very small role for Rutger Hauer (always welcome).

Hawke is a top assassin named Travis Conrad. He wants to enjoy a holiday but is pestered back into the field by his colleague, and friend, Jim (Paul Anderson). It's an important job, and the pay available for it reflects that. Despite his skills, Travis is shot and killed. But that's just a temporary setback, and the company soon have him back on his feet and ready to finish the job. For 24 hours anyway (hence the title). Travis quickly realises that there's more to this job than just taking out someone who deserves to be dealt with. There's something not right about the whole thing.

Directed by Brian Smrz, 24 Hours To Live is fast-paced and full of decent action moments. Considering the premise of his previous feature, Hero Wanted (his directorial debut), it would seem that Smrz has an affinity for movies in which guys drag themselves out of hospital beds to head off and kill lots of people. Nothing wrong with sticking to what you know, and as I have yet to see Hero Wanted I cannot say if there are many other similarities.

The plotting, although obvious, is perfectly acceptable in the way the premise is set up and played out. Writers Ron Mita and Jim McClain (who have been writing together for a few years now, judging by their filmography), and Zach Dean keep everything at just the right level of enjoyable silliness. This is not a film designed for anyone who wants to overthink things, but it manages to avoid seeming completely unbelievable, even during some of the bigger set-pieces (with a sequence showing Hawke trying to keep his "target" safe from various sharpshooters being a definite highlight).

Hawke is fine in the lead role. He's surprisingly believable as a shooter who can also win out in hand-to-hand combat, especially when the odds are stacked against him. Andersdon does okay in his role, although he's hampered by some of the more predictable script elements, and Liam Cunningham has a lot of fun in his limited amount of screentime. Xu Qing (playing a guard of the main target) should have been given more to do, instead of becoming the main motivator for Hawke's character, but she fares better in the first half of the film, when actually given some of the action, than in the second half.

I doubt this is going to be a film that will be remembered years from now, and it's not one that anyone should rush out to make their top priority, but it's a decent way to spend 90 minutes. And if they found a way to extend the lifespan of Hawke to give him Another 24 Hours To Live then, yes, I would be up for watching that.

6/10

The disc is available here.
Americans can buy it here.

Or you can always click on the links and shop for other things.


Saturday, 29 September 2018

Shudder Saturday: Hounds Of Love (2016)

Written and directed by Ben Young, making his feature debut, Hounds Of Love isn't the kind of film that seems to give you much to comment on, or discuss. Everything is delivered clearly enough, and in an unflinching, but not gratuitous, manner. Yet the psychology of the main characters, as unpalatable as it may be to explore, is more complex than the plot details might suggest.

Ashleigh Cummings plays a schoolgirl named Vicki Maloney. She's adjusting to the fact that her parents are now separated, which puts her at odds with her mother (Susie Porter). After a big argument, Vicki sneaks out of her room and heads off for a night out. She ends up being picked up by Evelyn (Emma Booth) and John (Stephen Curry), two degenerates who pretend to be friendly while actually plotting to render her unable to defend herself once she is in their home, where she can be kept captive and tortured.

If you want films featuring unsavoury characters that will make you tense while also often making you feel as if you need to give yourself a good scrub down afterwards then Australia should be your first port of all. I could reel off a list of films to illustrate this point (from Chopper to Animal Kingdom, to Cut Snake and, probably the closest to this in terms of grim atmosphere, The Snowtown Murders AKA Snowtown). Hounds Of Love is another fine offering, although it's also one that I can't see many people rushing to rewatch. It's just such a tough experience.

There are two things that this film does very well. First of all, the technical side shows a confidence and canny knack for judging things perfectly that you wouldn't necessarily expect from someone making their feature debut. While the film features violence, sexual abuse, and nudity, it never ever throws all of those things together in any one scene to make it seem exploitative. This is a harrowing story being told, it's not a slice of shockerama to be viewed as a challenge for horror fans (as some others might be, not that I am going to namecheck them here).

Second, the acting is perfect from all involved. There are no overwrought histrionics here, which isn't to say that the characters never get loud and emotional (because they do), and no moustache-twirling moments for the villains. They are evil people, that's clear from the very beginning, but it doesn't have to be shown in an exaggerated way because their despicable behaviour means that even the more mundane moments feel awful because the mundanity is just part of their day in between moments that allow them to get their kicks. Cummings has to do all the thrashing and screaming, which looks like it would have been incredibly draining, but Booth and Curry play their parts with a mix of chillingly quiet menace and explosive anger. Cummings may be the latest prey for them but she's also the latest accelerant on a strange relationship that has been burning too hot for some time now. Porter, Damian de Montemas (as the father of Vicki), and Harrison Gilbertson (Vicki's boyfriend) also do well, and Fletcher Humphrys makes a strong impression in his small role, playing a hard man owed some money by John.

There's a lot more that can be said here: praise for how Young gives backstory to almost all of the main characters without using it to justify any of their actions or manipulate viewers. the framing and shot choice that underlines the violence without gloating over it, the fact that these people are pretty much hiding in plain sight and how they can get away with that in their neighbourhood, and more. It may not be entirely new ground that we're being taken through, but it's got a lot of interesting details tucked away behind the same old doors and walls.

8/10

Here's the film on shiny disc.
Americans can pick it up here.


Friday, 28 September 2018

Filmstruck Friday: Pink Cadillac (1989)

Clint Eastwood can do many things. He can squint perhaps better than anyone else in cinema. He can portray iconic characters who usually solve their problems with violence. He can direct, some of his films being much better than some others. And he can even get away with temporary embarrassments. Some may have forgotten his famous dialogue with an empty chair in an attempt to make some political points a number of years ago. I haven’t. Regardless, it was a blip. He’s allowed a blip. Because Clint Eastwood can do pretty much whatever he likes. Except comedy. No, that is not one of his strengths (unless he’s co-starring with a great ensemble – a la Kelly’s Heroes – or an entertaining orangutang – “right turn, Clyde”). Pink Cadillac is an action comedy, but it’s sadly lacking in both action and laughs.

Eastwood plays Tommy Nowak, a skip-tracer (seems to be the same as a bounty hunter) who ends up tracking down a woman named Lou Ann McGuinn (Bernadette Peters). Lou Ann was found with counterfeit money that actually belonged to her husband (Timothy Carhart) and his fellow crooks. Heading off in his prized car, the pink cadillac of the title, Lou Ann hopes to evade the law long enough to spend more of the counterfeit money and somehow turn it into real money, thanks to some good luck at casinos, that will set up a better future for her child. Nowak finds Lou Ann quite easily, but he's unsure of the best way to get things done when he hears about her dilemma, involving her child, her husband, and a group of white supremacists who were due all of the money that she drove off with.

The first film written by John Eskow (who has written some others that I have really enjoyed), this script shows an obvious unease, a lack of faith in any of the main elements. That's why the comedy is never funny enough, nor are the action moments as thrilling as they could be. That could have been an issue easier to overlook if the leads were better but Eastwood seems determined to remind viewers that he is working hard at pretending to have fun.

Director Buddy Van Horn directed three movies in total, all starring Clint Eastwood. Starting with the passable enough Any Which Way You Can, he then moved on to the disappointing The Dead Pool (which is also places Jim Carrey in a small role, his very brief cameo in this movie means that he has been in two more Clint Eastwood films than most people would think him suitable for), and finished with this one. They must enjoy working together, however, as Van Horn has spent many years doing stunt work, either performing or co-ordinating the work, for many other Eastwood movies. So it's a distinct possibility that everyone working on this film was having a blast. They just didn't manage to convey that to viewers.

Eastwood is at his worst here, and I consider myself a fan of the man. This was a role that should have been bulked up and developed for someone more naturally comedic (with some hard work, this could have been a great vehicle for someone like Chevy Chase or Eddie Murphy). The material being weak is no excuse for Eastwood being so uncharacteristically lacking in charisma throughout, and that is the biggest problem that the film has. Peters tries harder, and she's as enjoyable as usual, but isn't given enough to do. Carhart is okay as her asshole of a husband, Michael Des Barres is good as the main baddie, and I would have liked to see him be even more of a threat, and you get a fun turn from Geoffrey Lewis, as well as a fleeting bit of screentime for Bill Moseley.

What can I say to sum things up any clearer? You get a weak script, weak direction, and a weak leading turn from someone who is usually on much better form. The saving grace is Peters, but even she doesn't do enough to make this worth your time. 

3/10

You can, if you feel the need, buy it here.
Americans can get it here.


Thursday, 27 September 2018

Scream Blacula Scream (1973)

Blacula was a big success when it was released in 1972. So, as expected, a sequel was quickly created. And it is, also as expected, not quite as good as the first film. It's not bad though. Not bad at all.

William Marshall returns to the title role, once again bringing such a great presence and certain dignity to the role. He's resurrected by a young man (Willis, played by Richard Lawson) who wants to become a leader in his voodoo circle. That doesn't go to plan. Willis is instead almost immediately bitten and ordered to stay within the confines of his own home. Meanwhile, Mamuwalde (AKA Blacula) starts to venture out into the night once more, quickly falling for the lovely, and voodoo-wise, Lisa Fortier (Pam Grier). Perhaps the magic that brought him back to life can cure him of his vampirism.

Writers Joan Torres and Raymond Koenig also return, joined this time around by Maurice Jules, and they continue to use the main character in a mixture of traditional vampire moments and also scenes that let him angrily call out situations that he sees around him (specifically when it comes to how people treat one another, as well as how valuable heritage and history are).

It's Bob Kelljan in the director's chair, taking over the role from William Crain, and he does a decent job. Although the film lacks the freshness of the first film, obviously, it makes up for that with the added voodoo elements and a handful of vampire moments that come very close to being genuinely creepy. This may be due to the fact that Kelljan had already given audiences the Count Yorga movies (which, as of this moment, I have yet to watch - sorry, not enough hours in each day). The third act is also almost on a par with that of the first film, walking a familiar path, but with just enough of a twist to avoid it feeling like a carbon copy.

Marshall is just as good here as he was in the first movie and, having recently rewatched that film (before getting to this one), I wouldn't expend too much energy arguing with anyone who wanted to hold him up as one of the best incarnations of Dracula, even if he's a successor to the title rather than the, ummmmmm, original fangster. Grier is good enough in her role, although she's not at her very best (the really good stuff is saved for her leading roles in this era). Lawson suffers from the script making him too weak and whiney, but Don Mitchell manages to even things out with his fine turn, playing the man who puts two and two together and comes up with a batty result.

I was tempted to rate this even higher, placing it much closer to the first film, but I ultimately realised that there's not much in the first hour of the film that comes close to some of the great moments in the finale. There's a lot to enjoy, here and there, but it's only the last 10-15 minutes that show how much more could have been done with the premise. Well worth a watch if you enjoyed Blacula, but it doesn't really avoid many of the standard sequel problems (especially when it comes to the plotting, which is copied almost beat for beat).

6/10

The double-pack can be bought here.
Americans can get the movies here.



Wednesday, 26 September 2018

Prime Time: Darktown Strutters (1975)

Despite knowing that my own experience of blaxploitation movies is rather limited, certainly in comparison to other connoisseurs, I am going to go out on a limb here and describe Darktown Strutters as one of the most bizarre examples you could choose to watch. I’m not even sure I can describe the plot, which often takes a backseat to some hijinks that seem to have been lifted from some unfilmable episode of The Monkees.

Okay, here is my best attempt. Trina Parks is Syreena, she’s a badass leader of an all-girl motorbike gang. She’s also searching for her missing mother, Cinderella, who subsequently finds out used to provide a service for young women who found themselves in a state of impending motherhood and wanted to, let’s say, avoid the end result. There are some comedy cops bumbling around, some KKK members that like to chase the gang and cause a lot of trouble, and a man named Commander Cross (played by Norman Bartold) has a scheme to replace prominent black males with identical copies that will be programmed to fall in line and insidiously, exponentially, spread a message dictated by white America.

If some of those details are incorrect then please accept my apologies. I can only tell you that I spent most of the movie either grinning gleefully or cringing at the casual awfulness of some of the comedy ("highlights" include some light-hearted attempted rape, a dollop of homophobia, and those bumbling cops, both inept and abusive . . . hilarious).

The script by George Armitage was apparently written in just a few days, which explains a lot. This is the product of some fever dream, although that's not to say that there aren't enjoyable moments. Most of my grinning took place during some of the musical moments, and most scenes featuring Parks are hugely enjoyable, thanks to her being a wonderful badass in the lead role.

Aside from Parks, and Bartold (as the villain of the piece, he gets to make more of an impression than some of the other cast members), nobody else really stands out. There are just too many disparate moments, and no attempts to make the characters anything more than cartoons ready to set up or fall for a gag.

Director William Witney feels like he's herding cats here with the many tangents that see the film hurtling towards more insanity, veering back to the plot (itself not entirely sane), and then enjoying another diversion when it's time for a chase or a song. He keeps everything cheap 'n' cheerful, and at least maintains a consistent tone of whackiness, even if some of the material maybe shouldn't be given the whacky treatment.

The good and the bad end up almost cancelling each other out here, leaving you with a film that falls squarely in the middle. Darktown Strutters will rarely be high on any list of favourite blaxploitation movies but its non-stop deluge of delirium make it worth a watch, especially if you've already worked your way through a lot of the usual suspects.

5/10

There's a pricey DVD available here.
Americans can get this disc.


Tuesday, 25 September 2018

Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018)

Here it is. The Star Wars spin-off/prequel that we were all excited about when Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (the masters of making unlikely hits) were attached. That excitement started to fade when they parted ways from the project, the safe "creative differences" was the excuse given. And then there were expensive reshoots. And then the film was released, going on to achieve some fairly disappointing numbers at the box office.

I didn't rush to see it, and I didn't hear from too many people who did. It felt like something lacking the spectacle and magic of the main movie series (which even includes those much-criticised prequels, I hasten to add). It felt a bit, dare I say it, pointless.

The mess that led to this film underperforming and being viewed as a big mistake in the ongoing development of the Star Wars cinematic universe is a bit of a shame, because the film itself is a fun sci-fi adventure that benefits from some great lead performances and an enjoyable backstory for a beloved cinematic icon. Okay, we never needed that backstory, I agree, but the writers here - Jonathan and Lawrence Kasdan - at least make it a fun one.

I'm not going to cover the plot details here. It's enough to say that the film follows young Han (played by Alden Ehrenreich) as he sets out to make a name for himself, gets involved with someone who taches him a valuable lesson or two, befriends a large Wookie, meets Lando Calrissian (owner of the Millennium Falcon), and ends up flying through the Kessel Run.

I can't emphasise enough how much this film is lifted by the casting of Ehrenreich in the main role. Some may disagree, and my wife numbers among them, but I think he has just the perfect mix of what young Han should be, in terms of both looks and attitude. I first enjoyed Ehrenreich's acting, like so many other viewers, when I caught him in Hail, Caesar! and I hope that he just keeps going on to bigger and better things (and I would have liked to see him in another Solo movie, but that seems unlikely now). The other three people who easily hold the screen alongside Ehrenreich are Woody Harrelson (as Beckett, a criminal type who becomes a bit of a mentor), Joonas Suotamo playing Chewbacca, and Donald Glover as Lando. All of them are fantastic, but it's Glover who would steal the movie if it wasn't full of so many great little moments for everyone. Emilia Clarke, playing the woman who inavdvertently set Han on his path through life, is better here than she has been in some other movie roles, Paul Bettany gives a fine performance as a crime boss that you should never cross, and Thandie Newton, Jon Favreau (his voice anyway), and Phoebe Waller-Bridge (also a vocal performance) all do solid work. Waller-Bridge has the most fun, which makes it a shame that her character wasn't onscreen for a bit longer.

Ron Howard is the man who ended up in the director's chair. He does the perfectly competent job that you would expect him to do. It's not up there with his best work, and it's not up there with the best of the Star Wars movies, but it's a genuinely good time for viewers wanting to sit back, relax, and spend a couple of hours in the company of a reluctant hero they can find out a little bit more about. The script drops a number of lovely little details throughout, fleshing out a few of the main characters in scenes that entertain without ever betraying their essence (although it's quite easy when you keep things so simple - e.g. Lando is a charming rogue).

There are some touches that feel a bit forced, especially in the third act, but the pleasant surprise is just how much the film feels like Han at every turn. The music by John Powell aside (it never hits the heights that viewers might expect), this feels effortless and charming. It's one that I can see myself revisiting often, which is all down to how much I enjoyed spending time with these characters.

8/10

You can buy the shiny disc here.
Americans can buy it here. Or buy other goodies instead.


Monday, 24 September 2018

Mubi Monday: Rope (1948)

Alfred Hitchcock once said something about how an explosion will give audiences a fright but showing a ticking bomb under the chair of some unsuspecting potential victim would have them on edge right up until the explosion. I'm paraphrasing but I remember the essence of his message. He liked to scare people, but he equally enjoyed making them tense.

Rope starts with a murder, committed by Phillip (Farley Granger) and Brandon (John Dall). The body is hidden in a chest and, for the rest of the movie, there it stays while the two murderers host a small dinner party, all the while hoping that nobody suspects that they're sharing a room with a hidden corpse. The one person who may suspect is Rupert Cadell (James Stewart), an old schoolteacher they believe would actually enjoy their whole plan. Of course, they cannot tell him what they have done. The only thing they can do is enjoy watching Cadell mull over how strange the evening is.

As famous for the way it was shot as for the content, Rope is a film unfairly viewed by some (including Hitchcock himself, and I should mention that it was he who directed it) as nothing more than a gimmicky experiment. There's no denying that the lengthy takes, the logistics of how every shot was set out, and the manipulation of the main environment (including a wonderful display showing the city skyline turning from day to night), is technically impressive, but that's only part of the reason to enjoy the film. The script, by Arthur Laurents (from a play by Patrick Hamilton), is a lot of fun, allowing viewers to watch two nasty individuals grow increasingly edgy as their own arrogance starts to bite them on the backside.

Granger is the more agitated of the pair, tense from the very beginning and only getting worse when alcohol is added to the mix. Dall gets to have more fun, unflappable throughout, even as it looks more and more unlikely that their "perfect crime" will be discovered. Stewart, despite the fact that he didn't think himself suited to this role, is his usual good self, a smart and sophisticated man who is equally happy chatting to the other guests as he is joking with the maid (Edith Evanson). Joan Chandler and Douglas Dick are both enjoyable enough as the other, younger, guests,  and both Cedrick Hardwicke and Constance Collier are very good as the two older attendees, with Collier a particular delight.

Although it would be easy to confuse Rope with the attitudes of the two main characters - smug, self-absorbed, interested in creating something audacious and impressive just for the same of being able to say it was done - I think it holds up as a fine piece of thrilling cinema. Few other films spend the entire runtime showing you that ticking bomb under the chair. This one does, and to great effect. The ticking bomb just happens to be in the shape of a stashed corpse.

8/10

A fine selection of Hitchcock films, including this one, can be bought in this set.
Americans can buy this set.