Sunday, 31 March 2013

Breakdown (1997)

A quick note for those thinking that some Kurt Russell movies may have been missed on this journey through the filmography of the great man - don't forget that some of the movies have already been reviewed on IMDb and there are also one or two that have been reviewed here in the past (such as Executive Decision, which was reviewed as part of my Seagalathon). And now back to our normal broadcast day.

The long, quiet roads stretching through America have often been used to decent effect in thrillers (most notably, for me anyway, in the sublimely brilliant The Hitcher) and they are once again the setting for tension and unease in this enjoyable movie directed by Jonathan Mostow, who also co-wrote the screenplay with Sam Montgomery.

Kurt Russell plays an everyday Joe, named Jeff (sorry for the confusion there, I should really rewrite that bit, but we all know that I'm not going to now), who is driving on a long and tiresome journey with his wife, Amy played by Kathleen Quinlan. When the car suffers the breakdown of the title, Jeff and Amy are seemingly fortunate enough to be approached by a trucker named 'Red' (the great J. T. Walsh). 'Red' offers them a lift after he's unable to help them get the car started and, after an initial polite refusal, the couple decide that Amy should accept the lift while Jeff waits with the car. Some time later, with no help in sight, Jeff finds the fault with the car, fixes it and gets on his way. He makes straight for the predetermined meeting point, expecting his wife to be there, but finds that nobody has seen her. Jeff tries to consider the possibility that there has been some confusion between him and his wife, but things take a turn for the strange and disconcerting when he sees 'Red' driving along in his truck, gets him to pull over and then hears the man tell him that he's never met him before in his life and has no idea where his wife is. Maybe the car trouble wasn't the worst thing that could happen out on the desolate highways.

Covering a lot of familiar ground, Breakdown may cause a lot of viewers to dismiss it as tired thriller fare that's too derivative and not exciting enough to ever become a top priority in the viewing pile. I have to admit that it doesn't do quite enough to ever become a top priority, but it has a bit more to it to save it from complete dismissal.

First of all, there's the cast. Russell is always great in an Average Joe role and he's exceptionally good here, always believable even as the whole situation gets more and more perplexing. J. T. Walsh never put in a bad turn in his life, at least not that I'm aware of, and gives another fantastic performance here. Quinlan may, understandably, not get as much to do, but she's perfectly fine and the relationship between her and Russell is well sketched out and nicely done. M. C. Gainey, Jack Noseworthy and Rex Linn provide some good support and even every minor character gets enough to do to make themselves somewhat memorable.

Second, we have the direction and story from Mostow. While he's never been a director sitting atop any favourites list, Mostow is a solid talent who can do very good things with the right material. Thankfully, in the shape of the script by himself and Montgomery, this is the right material. He starts everything off in an easily recognisable reality before pushing everything gently, but firmly, into cinematic thriller territory and he has the good sense not to try to turn the everyman hero into Rambo.

Third, we have the actual setting of the film. Those miles and miles of open road. A fine environment when travelling from A to B, but a harsh and scary environment when something goes wrong.

Despite a final reel that goes for a standard "Hollywood" finale, Breakdown does enough to warrant a viewing and may even become one that people find themselves revisiting now and again, when they're in the mood for a thriller that hits all of the right notes while also feeling a bit different from the norm. Fans of Russell and Walsh will most certainly want to give it a try and fans of fun thrillers should do likewise.


Saturday, 30 March 2013

The Legend Of The Seven Golden Vampires (1974)

With Christopher Lee hanging up his cape, it was up to Hammer to come up with a Dracula movie featuring the character without leaving someone floundering in Lee's enormous shadow. To be fair to them, they came up with a great way to let everyone involved off the hook, although it would have been nice to see how Mr. Lee would have fared in this curious adventure.

So Dracula (John Forbes-Robertson) takes over the body of a Chinese man (Shen Chan) and heads off to a Chinese village that is home to other vampires who prey on the locals. Fortunately for the villagers, the famous Van Helsing (Peter Cushing) is lecturing in the country and persuaded by a young student (David Chiang) to visit the village and help try to destroy the evil.

One of those bizarre hybrid movies that should perhaps never have come about, The Legend Of The Seven Golden Vampires (to use the UK title) squeezes some Hammer horror moments in between some Shaw Brothers fight sequences and ultimately fails to wholly satisfy fans of either company.

That's not to say that there aren't a number of enjoyable aspects. There are actually some nice, eerie moments here and there and the fight scenes are energetic and athletic enough, but there's nothing making you care for anything in between. The actors are all generally pretty poor. Cushing is as great as ever, Chiang does well enough, but the likes of Robin Stewart, Julie Ege, Robert Hanna and Shen Chan fail to make much of an impression. Of course, when the action sequences start it's easy enough to forget about the failings and just enjoy the unique spectacle.

Direction from Roy Ward Baker (with some uncredited work by Cheh Chang) is pretty uninspired and the script by Don Houghton seems to line up one groan-inducing moment of dialogue after another. If there had been more action or more horror then this could have been a much better movie. As it is, it stands as a lightweight Hammer movie and a fun experiment that didn't really pay off. Although it's still better than the two movies that preceded it.


Friday, 29 March 2013

Naked Ambition: An R Rated Look At An X Rated Industry (2009)

Naked Ambition: An R Rated Look At An X Rated Industry is a slightly deceiving title for this documentary. It's correct, in some ways, but the focus isn't so much on the industry itself as it is on Michael Grecco's attempt to make a glossy, coffee table book of photography that shows many elements of that industry in a different light.

Grecco also directed this piece and the whole thing feels very much like an art installation on film. Which is, essentially, what it is. Yet in casting his eye over everything and showing it through his camera lens he removes something from it. Everything is put under intense bright lights, posed to show things off from the best possible angles and even sometimes made to look completely different from how it normally looks. Which is all well and good when it comes to what Grecco is setting out to do. He achieves his aims and well done to him for that, but he ends up showing viewers a lot of stuff that doesn't feel as if it even belongs in the world of porn.

Set during the AVN Awards and Convention (which is like the Oscars for the adult entertainment industry), Grecco focuses on a couple of stars - namely, Joanna Angel and Sunny Lane - who have happily decided to give him a fair bit of their time. He tries to follow their story as they discuss how they got started in the business and what they hope to get from it. Those moments are fine, they may not be the most revelatory discussions, but they serve as a reminder of how the people engaged in various sex acts for entertainment are very real and have very real ambitions. It's when Grecco looks elsewhere, when he tries to cover the broad and interesting spectrum of fans and stars at the AVN, that things start to become less interesting.

If you learn one thing coming away from this documentary, which IS diverting and enjoyable enough here and there, it's not anything about the world of porn. Nope. This documentary will remind you of how important context is because that's what is missing. Women who act in porn being shown photographed while posing in a sexy manner are just attractive women being photographed while posing in a sexy manner. Sex toys set on blank white backgrounds to look like strange pieces of sculpture are just strange pieces of sculpture. I could go on, but I'm sure you get the picture.

There ARE a number of scenes with Grecco finding out, and allowing the viewer to find out, a little bit about the unique subject he has decided to photograph. Sadly, there aren't enough of them. The documentary becomes more watchable whenever Sunny Lane or Joanna Angel appears (no, not for the obvious reasons so stop that childish sniggering now), but they're not onscreen enough to make the whole experience feel like more than a flick through an art book that only has one or two pages to make you stop and really take it in. That's all it is. Which, ironically, is probably an end result that Grecco is very pleased with.


Thursday, 28 March 2013

Cold Prey (2006)

It shouldn't be so difficult to make a good slasher movie. Fans of the sub-genre will know that all you need is a bit of style, some inventiveness and a good killer. And if you can throw some gratuitous nudity into the mix, then all the better. Yet the seemingly neverending stream of bad slasher movies may make people think that something REALLY special is needed in this day and age to sate fans of the sub-genre. Thankfully, movies like Cold Prey come along to remind everyone how simple things can be. I'm not saying that Cold Prey didn't take some considerable talent to make or that it was a walk in the park for those involved, but I am saying that it provides solid entertainment and some decent set-pieces without rewriting the rulebook for the slasher movie.

Cold Prey is all about a bunch of people who go on a snowboarding vacation. They get up a mountain and start having fun only for one of them (Morten, played by Rolf Kristian Larsen) to spoil it all by falling badly and breaking his leg. A fall leading to a broken leg is bad at the worst of times, but in an isolated environment with such low temperatures it could spell disaster. Luckily, there's a hotel nearby so they head to it and get inside. You might be able to guess where things are heading now. Yes, the hotel is unoccupied, or so they think.

Directed by Roar Uthaug, who also wrote the thing with Thomas Moldestad and Martin Sundland (from an idea by Jan Eirik Langoen and Magne Lyngner), Cold Prey exceeds expectations thanks to the mix of likable characters, tense moments and, despite the horror genre requirements, a certain amount of plausibility.

The acting from all involved - the main five players being Ingrid Bolsø Berdal, Rolf Krisitan Larsen, Tomas Alf Larsen, Endre Martin Midtstigen and Viktoria Winge - is pretty good, the script isn't that bad either and everything just feels as if it was put together with a bit of care and intelligence. The environment helps a lot. The isolation factor, so crucial to many horrors of this kind, never feels too contrived and the fact that the external temperature is so cold also keeps the characters in the area they end up so desperately wanting to leave.

So while it may not be the most original horror movie that you will see, this remains an entertaining watch that still manages to feel surprisingly fresh. And now I also have to check out the sequels.


Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Demon Wind (1990)

No, this is not a film about flatulent phantoms. Amazingly enough, this is a bit stinkier. Demon Wind is a rip-off of The Evil Dead movies via Night Of The Demons. Without the talent or enjoyment factor of either.

After a suitably demonic opening scene, the movie starts the main section in the here and now by introducing viewers to Cory (Eric Larson) and his girlfriend Elaine (Francine Lapensee) as they head towards the farm once owned by his grandparents. The farm and grandparents featured in that demonic opening scene, of course. Cory and Elaine are joined by a number of friends, all of whom are pretty bloody irritating, and then proceed to the farm and almost immediately start experiencing some . . . . . . oddness. They try to leave, but some pesky mist blows all around them until they end up back where they started. Surprisingly unflappable in the face of ongoing weirdness, the vapid young things hole up in the farm and start to try to figure out just how they can best get rid of the evil forces that seem to be out to get them.

Written and directed by Charles Philip Moore, Demon Wind isn't even entertaining in a "so bad it's good" way. It has the potential, but the properly bad stuff just keeps piling up and piling up until the accidentally amusing moments aren't enough to lift the spirits of anyone watching the thing. There's a final act, in particular, that may cause a minor giggle, but then plays out for a further five or ten minutes while viewers sit in dumbstruck disbelief.

The cast are all terrible, with Bobby Johnson being the worst of the lot. It's not all his fault as he's asked to portray the asshole of the group, but he is so annoying that you will start to wish him gone mere seconds after he appears in the film. Stephen Quadros and Jack Vogel are almost as bad, the former being an ass-kicking magician type while the latter is his hetero life partner (or something). Poor Sherry Leigh and Lynn Clark don't fare quite as badly, but don't do much of note either.

The practical effects aren't bad in places and there are some nice touches here and there, if I'm being very generous, but there really isn't enough here to appeal to anyone but the most masochistic of bad movie fans or people who just don't have access to enough scenes featuring a chauvinistic pig referring to his girlfriend every so often by saying "that's why I keep her around." Everyone else should avoid it like any of those flatulent phantoms that I mentioned in the opening line of this review.


Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Samurai Cop (1989)

Let's not waste any time here getting to the point. Samurai Cop is inept nonsense that looks as if it was edited and put together by a team of blind chimpanzees. The acting from everyone onscreen is horrible, not helped at all by horrible ADR, and the main man both looks and acts like some dark-haired Johnny Bravo let loose in an adult world. Written and directed by Amir Shervan, it's hard to tell whether or not it was ever supposed to be played out as a serious action thriller. Sexism, sadism, casual racism, it's all here. The whole thing is awful which means that it's also pretty hilarious, if you view it in the right frame of mind.

The story, as slim as it is, concerns a big Japanese gang that is taking over the city (thanks, in no small part, to a main henchman played by the mighty Robert Z'Dar). To stop the gang, the local cops bring in Joe "Samurai Cop" Marshall (Matt Hannon), a man who spends his time either fighting people, trying to chat up women or . . . . . . . sleeping with women (including an officer named Peggy, played by Melissa Moore - billed as Melisa Moore - who is portrayed as a bit of a nymphomaniac for no reason whatsoever). His partner is Frank Washington (Mark Frazer), a black cop happily playing second fiddle to Joe while also . . . . . . . . . . ummmmm . . . . . no, actually that's it. He shoots a few people, sure, but he looks up to Joe at every opportunity like a child seeking approval from an inattentive father. The bodycount starts to rise, the Police Captain (Dale Cummings) starts to complain about a foot going up his ass leading to a foot going up there ass and people all having sore asses. Or something. I'd lost half of my braincells at that point. Weak action sequences are intersperses with moments of gratuitous nudity for just over ninety minutes and then the end credits roll, featuring a cast list of names such as Miceal Jackson, Gabriel and Holland as some kind of one last finger up to the viewer for enduring such nonsense.

In terms of traditional filmmaking this is a 1/10 movie, but in terms of sheer entertainment, thanks to the comedy (unintentional or not), it's pretty much a 10/10, hence my rating that puts it slap bang in the middle. Matt Hannon and Mark Frazer make one of the least convincing cop duos that I've ever seen while Robert Z'Dar is amusingly over the top for his every moment onscreen. Krista Lane plays a flame-haired female member of the gang, who doesn't do all that much apart from look pretty, and I'm happy to admit that I was shallow enough to enjoy her presence as she sometime hung around and looked pretty. Jannis Farley also seems to have been hired for her ability to look pretty and I also enjoyed her scenes. As already mentioned, Melissa Moore is saddled with a completely bizarre bit of characterisation and Dale Cummings goes through every page of "How To Be An Angry Police Captain For Dummies."

Writer-director Shervan certainly never lets things get dull, which is another saving grace for the movie. There are chases, fights and/or deaths every other scene. None of it makes a lick of sense, there are more than a few moments that may be viewed as outright offensive to some and none of the characters are at all likable, but it's entertaining for all the wrong reasons. If you're not won over by the time our hero is brought down to Earth with a bump and dismissed by a sexy nurse then you may as well switch off the movie because that one moment exemplifies how this atrocious piece of work can gleam like gold. Fool's gold, but gold nonetheless.


Monday, 25 March 2013

Pumping Iron (1977)

It may not be entirely factual and it may not even be entirely "real", but Pumping Iron stands up today as one of the best documentaries you can treat yourself to. It's all about bodybuilders and looks at both amateurs and professionals as they train to take part in the Mr. Universe and Mr. Olympia competitions in 1975. The focus of the whole thing is Arnold Schwarzenneger, not quite the star he would become, but already emanating charisma and a forceful presence as he sets out to defend his Mr. Olympia title and try to win it for the sixth time, fending off Serge Nubret, Franco Columbu and a young Lou Ferrigno.

Based on an idea by George Butler (who co-wrote the book "Pumping Iron" with Charles Gaines and then co-directed this with Robert Fiore), it's certainly a documentary with an interesting subject at its core anyway, but things are made doubly interesting by the presence of Arnie. The man is the physical embodiment of how to achieve success by putting your mind to it and shedding the blood, sweat and tears. Of course, the same can be said of all the competitors shown, but there's a reason that Arnie is the only one of them trying to win Mr. Olympia for the sixth time. He's charming for every moment that he's onscreen, even when he's deliberately attempting to psyche out a nervous Lou Ferrigno, but he's completely focused on absolutely everything he does, whether that's weightlifting or speaking to an interviewer or making "smalltalk" with the competition before going on stage.

If this was all just about Arnie, however, then it would soon get pretty tiring. Thankfully, the other tales being told are equally worthy of the time given over to them. Seeing Lou Ferrigno being trained and motivated by his father hammers home just how much effort is required in every department. Ferrigno has the size, but does he have the definition? Does he have the ability to pose fluidly and perfectly, showing off his muscles in the best way possible? Then we have the sportsmanship, or lack of it, shown by Ken Waller as he competes in an amateur competition against Mike Katz. The latter seems like a fairly sweet guy, which is a shame when he ends up alongside someone like Waller (who doesn't seem to have the skills/charm/intelligence of Schwarzenneger and so just resorts to pettiness to help him have the upper hand in the competition).

Great documentaries are the ones that just get the stars to align while the camera is rolling. They capture lightning in a bottle, as I've mentioned before, and they appeal to a broad audience, no matter how niche the subject matter seems to be. I can see Pumping Iron putting off plenty of people - there were moments in the first 5-10 minutes in which I wasn't sure if I could keep watching those bulging muscles and veins (it's pretty gross to a weedling like me) - but how can you really not want to watch anything that starts off with Schwarzenegger learning some ballet moves to improve his posing technique?


Sunday, 24 March 2013

End Of The Line (2007)

Written and directed by Maurice Devereaux, this impressive Canadian horror takes a lot of unoriginal ideas and makes them into something pretty interesting and highly entertaining. I'm not going to say that it feels completely fresh and new because it doesn't, but I will say that it avoids feeling so familiar as to breed any contempt.

Ilona Elkin plays a nurse named Karen who ends a hellish shift with no small amount of relief and sets off on her journey home. While waiting in the subway she is pestered by one major creep (Patrick Wilcock) before being saved by a young man named Mike (Nicolas Wright), who pretends that they're friends and keeps her company for a while. When the train arrives, Karen gets on and thinks that she is now about to get home soon. Wrong. The train stops after a very short while, leaving the passengers stuck there, in a tunnel. Things seem bad, but they get a hell of a lot worse when a group of religious zealots all get a message from their leader that orders them to start killing people as the apocalypse begins. Karen, Mike and other passengers on the train have to get to safety while figuring out just what is going on with the world outwith the subway. IS it the apocalypse or have they just been very unlucky?

The dangers of a subway system at night and the horror that can come from cult members happy to blindly follow orders as they believe themselves to be in the right, these are the two main elements that weave together quite nicely to make up End Of The Line. There are some other ingredients, and some perfectly executed jump scares in the first few scenes, but the main body of the film is taken up with subterranean terror caused by those intent on delivering souls to god as they prepare for an apocalypse.

The writing and direction from Devereaux are fine. This is his fourth movie and, from a brief scan through his resume, he appears to have improved slightly with each outing. There are many moments in which the low budget is pretty obvious, but there are just as many moments that do much better than expected with the limited money and resources available.

Where things fall down slightly is the acting department. Ilona Elkin and Nicolas Wright are likable enough in the main roles, but they're not the most naturalistic performers. Neither are Emily Shelton, Neil Napier, Tim Rozon or Nina Fillis. Patrick Wilcock isn't much better, but he gets a role that allows for a more over the top style and his character at least looks as if he's relishing every opportunity that the horrible situation affords him.

To sum it up then, there's an interesting and fun central premise, a decent amount of blood splattered across the screen and some moments that really manage to get the cloying and dark atmosphere right. Which certainly means that this is worth seeing if you're a horror movie fan.

End Of The Line is showing at The Filmhouse today as part of the run up to the 20th Dead By Dawn so get your tickets here - - and enjoy it on the big screen.


Saturday, 23 March 2013

Escape From L.A. (1996)

People have been getting quite worked up over the past few days after hearing news that the mighty Escape From New York has been lined up for the remake treatment. I can see why that news would be upsetting, but I also think that most people seem to be forgetting that Escape From New York has already been remade on at least two occasions now. The first remake was set in L.A. and directed by John Carpenter. The second one, off the top of my head, was directed by Neil Marshall and called Doomsday.

I know, I know, Escape From L.A. isn't a remake, it's a sequel. Of course it is. It just happens to hit almost every beat from the original movie in exactly the same order. The opening, once again, tells viewers about the disintegration of America and how a certain area of land has been made into a point of no return for most citizens. The danger, once again, comes from the daughter of the POTUS and the one man who may be able to get the job done is, once again, the mighty Snake Plissken (Kurt Russell effortlessly reprising the role 15 years after the original film). Snake is, once again, given very little choice in the matter and ends up using a one-man vehicle to get into L.A. before wandering around and meeting a variety of oddballs as he tries to reach his goal.

The fact that everything is so familiar is both a big positive and BIG negative for the film. Russell is great, in one of his best roles, and the supporting players all bring some fun to the proceedings but the old familiarity breeding contempt adage starts to come true as each scene clearly plays out as a pale imitation of good stuff from the original movie. There are no surprises here for fans of Escape From New York.

There is, however, still plenty of fun. Carpenter, who wrote the script with Debra Hill and Kurt Russell, may not be at the top of his game when it comes to the visuals (a lot of these mid-1990s effects look worse than the stuff in the 1981 film, which at least has a certain retro charm to it nowadays) and makes one huge mis-step with a scene featuring some surfing that has to be seen to be disbelieved, but he throws enough good people onscreen to guarantee that movie fans will at least spend most of the movie with a smile on their face.

Cliff Robertson plays the president this time around, Stacy Keach and Michelle Forbes are the people who give Snake his instructions and try to keep tabs on him, Peter Fonda is a wise old dude, Steve Buscemi is slippery Eddie AKA Map To The Stars Eddie and Bruce Campbell is a creepy surgeon. Valeria Golino has a small role as a woman who enjoys the freedom that living in dangerous L.A. provides and Pam Grier is enjoyable as Hershe Las Palmas. A. J. Langer is the daughter of the president and Georges Corraface is the revolutionary type that she falls in with, but both are overshadowed by the supporting cast, which also includes the great Al Leong and Peter Jason in small roles.

While certainly not as bad as it was made out to be when initially released, Escape From L.A. just isn't a patch (pun possibly intended) on the first film, but it has plenty of enjoyable little moments throughout and shows some strong ideas at its core as it weaves the basic plotline through an America that Carpenter shows to be horribly restrictive and in need of adjustment. It's set in 2013, but it's a 2013 where personal freedoms are kept in check by the government, American citizens are treated like a foreign invader once a judgment has been made and people are controlled by a mixture of lies and misinformation. Thank goodness it's only a movie, eh.


Friday, 22 March 2013

After Porn Ends (2010)

This documentary, directed by Bryce Wagoner, interviews a number of ex-porn stars and tries to show both positive and negative aspects of working in the adult entertainment industry. It is an industry that has often been looked down upon, and has become harder and harder (no pun intended) over the years with the rise of the internet and the many sites now hosting content for small fees, or even free. Do the people interviewed here look like they have had their souls blackened, their beauty worn out and their goodness all screwed away (not my attitude, but one I'm sure many critics of porn would quickly take up)? Of course not. Well, not all of them.

The people onscreen here are, as in any profession, a real mix. Yes, some of them look as if they'll never shake off that air of regret (such as Crissy Moran, a young woman who couldn't be further removed from the image that she once projected in films), but some seem to have survived in quite good shape. It's perhaps not unsurprising to see that the male stars of the industry have fewer regrets (Richard Pacheco comes across as especially well-balanced, but John Leslie, who died of a heart attack before the film was released, and Randy West seem happy enough), but there are moments with almost everyone being interviewed in which pain flits briefly across their face.

People get into the porn business for a number of reasons and, as mentioned here, many people get into the porn business for all the wrong reasons. There are people who have had tough times and want some fast cash, there are people who seem to take no small amount of joy from the attention that it gives them and there are a few people who are completely comfortable with it and view their career in porn as a means to an end. Asia Carrera is one of the latter people, but personal tragedy in her life meant that she didn't really get the future that she had envisioned for herself. Nina Hartley, William Margold and others give their own opinions on what the industry can do to people and just what qualities are needed by those who want to make it work for them. They make a number of sensible points, but stories from people like Houston, Shelley Lubben and Raylene prove just how many folk have gone into the industry with either an incredible air of naivete or no small amount of willful ignorance. And I am sure that it will keep happening, even as the job and the physical demands keep getting tougher and tougher.

Aside from those already mentioned, stars featured here include Amber Lynn, Mary Carey, Sandra Margot and Seka, as well as many others, so the documentary works as both a look at the toll a life in porn can take on someone and also a celebration of its more enduring stars. It may make for uncomfortable viewing at times, but the aim of the thing, in my view anyway, isn't to make viewers of porn feel guilty and ashamed. It's to show that the people behind the orgasmic groans and lustful moans are people who deserve a bit of gratitude for their hard work as opposed to the stigma that gets attached to them and the hypocritical reprimands from people, many of them viewers of the very material that they then go on to loudly protest.

While After Porn Ends seems to show all of the subjects onscreen without comment, people will undoubtedly take away from it what they want to. Personally, I think that porn is okay in moderation. I'm not going to pretend to be on some moral high horse as I end this review, I've seen porn and my teenage years were often little more than a series of obstacles on my way to seeing women in states of undress. There's no denying that it can be incredibly damaging, both for the stars of the industry and for viewers who get addicted to viewing sexual acts rather than actual participating in a healthy sex life, but the same can be said of many professions and many things that are now part of our modern lives. What happens After Porn Ends is, ultimately, up to each and every single one of us. Just like any other set of attitudes.


If you enjoyed this review then you may well enjoy ALL of the reviews in my book of collated movie reviews. And it's really not that expensive, although it enriches my soul. Honest.

The UK version can be bought here -

And American folks can buy it here -

As much as I love the rest of the world, I can't keep up with all of the different links in different territories, but trust me when I say that it should be there on your local Amazon.

Thursday, 21 March 2013

The Satanic Rites Of Dracula (1973)

The last Hammer movie to feature Christopher Lee in his most iconic role and the last Hammer movie in which he would share screen-time with Peter Cushing, The Satanic Rites Of Dracula should have been a better swansong for the battling duo but, well, it is what it is. Which is rubbish, but entertainingly daffy rubbish.

It's the 1970s and Scotland Yard are investigating a strange cult based in London after an undercover agent escaped from the place and tried to provide them with more information before inconveniently dying. Inspector Murray (Michael Coles) and an agent named Torrence (William Franklyn) visit noted occult expert Professor Van Helsing (Peter Cushing) for help and as secrets are uncovered Professor Van Helsing starts to worry about his granddaughter (played by Joanna Lumley this time), the possible return of Dracula and a plan that may involve the use of some truly horrendous, and deadly, bacteria.

There's something sad about seeing the Hammer movies in which they tried to modernise their material and appeal to a dwindling audience. They were trying to change with the times, but instead ended up losing part of their charm, losing their ability to release something that looked like a quality product and feeling more desperate with each release. To highlight the losing battle that they were fighting, just compare this movie to the other big horror titles of the year - films like The Exorcist, Don't Look Now, The Wicker Man, and The Legend Of Hell House.

Thankfully, the sadness of just how dated and poor this movie is ends up being tempered by how it's also completely bonkers. Even the weak ending is more enjoyable because of how ridiculous it is. Don Houghton is the man who came up with the script and Alan Gibson is in the director's chair, both men returning to continue the modern day Dracula saga that they started with Dracula A. D. 1972.

Lee and Cushing are, of course, great in their roles while Michael Coles and William Franklyn both do well with what they're given. Joanna Lumley is better in the role of granddaughter Van Helsing than Stephanie Beacham was and small roles are ably filled by the likes of Richard Vernon, Freddie Jones and Barbara Yu Ling.

The best thing about the film is that, if nothing else, it allows for the stories of the characters to come to a natural, and satisfying, conclusion. Cushing would return as Van Helsing (fighting a version of Dracula removed from the Christopher Lee incarnation) in The Legend Of The 7 Golden Vampires, but it's easy to view that as just a curio piece, separate from this series and cinematic universe. Because it is.


Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Ghoulies (1985)

One of the more enjoyable Gremlins rip-offs to come along in the 1980s (though nowhere near as much fun as Critters), Ghoulies is a bit of inspired lunacy that almost provides fun entertainment. Almost. Unfortunately, the separate parts don't come together to form a completely satisfying whole.

There's a bit of hocus pocus from yesteryear to kick things off before the movie then moves forward to the here and now. Jonathan (Peter Liapis) and Rebecca (Lisa Pelikan) move into an old mansion and while they do all of the usual 1980s stuff - bicker at each other, throw a big party, wear some dodgy fashion choices - it's not long until Jonathan finds himself becoming obsessed with the occult and a plan to raise up and control the titular creatures.

When I first saw Ghoulies in the mid to late '80s, I had no idea that it was attempting to be both a horror and a comedy. I just thought that it was stupid. It IS stupid, but it's also relatively entertaining now that I'm old enough to see the humour. Directed by Luca Bercovici (who co-wrote the script with Jefery Levy), it throws in everything but the kitchen sink and it almost works.

The cast may not be all that great, but they're not all bad either. Liapis and Pelikan are involved in many of the more ridiculous moments so they do okay with what they're given, Michael Des Barres gets to be all menacing and over the top and Scott Thomson gets to be, as always, the guy who makes viewers say: "isn't that him from Police Academy?" There isn't really anyone else too recognisable in the cast, with the notable exception of Mariska Hargitay in the role of Donna (her feature film debut, a role that I don't think she mentions too often in interviews about Law & Order: SVU).

A lack of star power isn't too bad though, not when the ghoulies themselves are the stars of the show. While they may not be top tier practical creations, the puppets at the centre of much of the action have a great mix of personality and nastiness. As flawed as the film is, it has that one essential ingredient and that was enough, alongside a few enjoyable moments here and there, to lead the way towards a tidy profit and a few sequels.


Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Munchies (1987)

Gremlins. What a modern classic, eh. You can tell that it's a modern classic thanks to a number of things. There are all of the positive reviews to read. There are the many fond memories you can hear from people who first saw the film in their early teens. And there are the numerous films that came along afterwards and tried to copy the formula. Films like Critters, Ghoulies, Hobgoblins and Beasties (which is about as rare as a very rare thing indeed). Oh, and Munchies. Munchies isn't really the worst offender, but it feels like it. The creatures all have slightly crazy personalities, supposedly amusing voices and they multiply when they get themselves chopped up.

Harvey Korman gets to embarrass himself not once, but twice, taking on the dual roles of the decent Simon Watterman, a man who discovers the first "munchie", and his twin brother, the dastardly Cecil. Cecil causes problems, of course, when he finds out that something is happening that could be good news for his brother so he comes up with a plan which leads to some chaos and destruction. Simon's son, Paul (Charlie Stratton), and his girlfriend, Cindy (Nadine Van der Velde), end up trying their hardest to fix everything, but it will be easier said than done when the munchies start causing havoc.

There are times when I look at a movie review or plot description that I'm writing and I just struggle to get everything as I want it. Those times often see my just staring at a blank screen or page for a while until inspiration strikes and I can put things across in the best way possible. This isn't one of those times. I just looked over the above description and decided that while it wasn't perfect it would do. And that's exactly what the makers of this film must have been thinking while filming every scene.

It's not an absolutely terrible film, it's just an absolutely slapdash film. A film in which every corner has been cut and little thought has been given to actually making it all more fun. Tina Hirsch directs with the emphasis on forward momentum and a sense of fun, as opposed to anything requiring any attention to detail or logic, and the script by Lance Smith is a heap of nonsense. Thankfully, I quite enjoy nonsense now and again (as people familiar with my taste may already know) and so I enjoyed this a little bit more than most people would.

The acting from all involved isn't as bad as you might expect it to be. Harvey Korman is always fun, to some degree, and his performance as Cecil is amusingly over the top. Charlie Stratton and Nadine Van der Velde are both okay, but a bit bland. Charlie Phillips and Hardy Rawls ham things up as, respectively, Eddie and Big Ed, two law enforcement officials thrown into the middle of the situation. Alix Elias is quite funny, even if I kept wondering how Carol Kane would have done with the role, and it's always good to see Robert Picardo pop up in a very small role. The worst acting actually comes from the puppets, who never look convincing in the slightest and then make everything worse with the many attempts at funny one-liners (the biggest problem = they're just not funny).

Made on a small budget, this absolutely revels in its cheapness. Fans of schlock will find some minor entertainment value, as I did, but everyone else will find thousands of worthier films to prioritise ahead of this.


Monday, 18 March 2013

The Kid With A Bike (2011)

French-language cinema has, for me, taken a number of twists and turns over the years. Many French-language films would appear on UK TV in the 1980s, some marked with that infamous "red triangle" (signifying adult content at one time), and they all seemed to address very adult subject matter in a very adult, and unflinching, way. A lot of the movies that I saw seemed to feature a lot of sex, but maybe that's because my young brain would seek out any film that sounded as if it would show me those bits and pieces that I was always curious about at that young age. Stop sniggering, I still have a healthy curiosity now, but I'm sure that many people can still remember that strange time when hormones are raging and everything seems so strange and exotic. Yet, the French-language cinema of today is well known to many as a fertile ground for fine modern horror and when they try to do something more akin to the adult output of yesteryear it ends up feeling false and horribly cliched. Like American Translation. Thankfully, they can still do some fine films and The Kid With A Bike is one of them. Which is Belgian. But a Belgian film in the French language.

Funnily enough, it's all about a kid named Cyril (played by Thomas Doret). With a bike (played by a bike). Cyril is an angry young boy, stuck in a youth facility after being placed there by his father (Jeremie Renier). He refuses to take in the harsh reality of the situation when his father's phone number is no longer in service and he is told that he has moved so he runs away to see for himself. The flat is empty and his bicycle is no longer there, apparently sold by his father. While trying to evade the people who want him back in their care, Cyril clings on to a woman named Samantha (Cecile De France). Samantha, obviously moved by the plight of the boy, manages to get his bike back for him and Cyril asks her if she will take him on weekends. She agrees, but her kind and patient nature may not be enough to help a young boy so full of rage and confusion.

Written and directed by the Dardenne brothers (Jean-Pierre and Luc), The Kid With A Bike is one of those movies that may resonate more with people who can identify with one or more of the main characters. This may sound like stating something obvious, something that applies to every movie even, but I really think that some films have an honesty at their core that can be best appreciated by those who have been in the shoes of the main character. Other people can also enjoy the movie, and the universal elements that it contains, but some people will get a bit more out of it. I'm not going to go into detail, it's a movie review and not a diary of my turbulent teenage years, but I'd certainly experienced a few of the highs and lows that Cyril goes through and most of the movie rang true for me.

The script and direction is very good, with a minor failing being the rushed way in which Cyril falls in with a local lad named Wes (Egon Di Mateo), but the film is really taken to a higher level thanks to the performances of all involved. Young Thomas Doret does great work as the young boy who can think of no other way to react to his situation apart from lashing out (the character walks a fine line between being a complete brat and being someone with all defences fully up), Cecile De France is lovely and believable as the woman who takes it upon herself to try to help save a life and even Jeremy Renier is great as the father who just can't manage looking after a child any more. Interestingly, the film doesn't make the absent father into a completely loathsome figure, but prefers to show him as someone who just isn't strong enough to raise his son alone. He truly thinks that he's acting in the best interests of all involved, but he doesn't see the consequences of his actions.

This may not be the first choice for a movie evening, but it's definitely a rewarding one and it's a film that beautifully captures a range of different emotions without ever feeling too heavy-handed or manipulative, in my view. I hope that it ends up being seen by people who get as much out of it as I did.


Sunday, 17 March 2013

Tombstone (1993)

As is sometimes the way, Tombstone is a fantastic film that really seems to have defied some long odds to come together as well as it has. Kevin Jarre, who wrote the main script, was initially due to direct the film, but was fired just after he directed a number of scenes featuring Charlton Heston. George P. Cosmatos is the man who now has his name listed as director, but Kurt Russell played just an important, and maybe even more important, role in getting everyone back in the game and getting the movie finished. It's not surprising. Russell had a plum starring role in a movie chock full of great actors being allowed to do great things.

The film is all about Wyatt Earp (Russell) and his brothers (played by Sam Elliott and Bill Paxton) as they settle into life in Tombstone and try to enjoy some peace and quiet. Doc Holliday (Val Kilmer) is also in town and it seems like everyone may get to enjoy life a bit more with the days of being a lawman in Wyatt's past. But people don't always get what they plan for and Tombstone soon starts to see more and more violence in its streets, so much so that the pressure mounts for Wyatt to return to his old role. That is something that he just doesn't want to happen, but he may not have a choice in the matter if some of the more trigger-happy cowboys keep causing so much trouble.

Kevin Jarre's script was, apparently, pared down quite a bit from its initial size, but what's here is all good stuff. There are some superb lines of dialogue and characters are well sketched out. Despite how densely populated the film seems, everyone is given a decent share of the screen-time. Oh wait, that's not quite true. All of the men are given enough time and space, but most of the women in the movie are given fairly short shrift. Dana Delany fares better than most in the role of Josephine Marcus and Paula Malcomson and Joanna Pacula have one or two good moments, but Lisa Collins and Dana Wheeler-Nicholson needn't have bothered turning up, considering the little that they have to do. In fairness, the film is a look at Wyatt Earp and his friends and family and that famous gunfight at the O.K. Corral so decisions would have been made to keep the focus on the men about to get themselves involved in a historic shoot-out.

The direction, from whoever was in the big seat, is absolutely fine, but the cinematography, set design, etc. all pale in comparison to the work done by the casting department. Simply put, Tombstone has one of the best casts in a 1990s movie that you can think of. Let me just reel off the better-known names and see how long the list gets: Russell, Elliott, Paxton, Kilmer, Delany, Pacula, Powers Boothe, Michael Biehn, Charlton Heston, Jason Priestley, Stephen Lang, Thomas Haden Church, Michael Rooker, Harry Carey Jr, Billy Bob Thornton, Billy Zane, Wyatt Earp (you read that right, he's a distant relative of the lead character), Terry O'Quinn and the voice of Robert Mitchum.

Feel free to re-read that list and soak up just how much quality is scattered throughout it. The fact that, despite so much competition, this film ends up being owned by Michael Biehn and Val Kilmer, in their separate scenes and also any that see them sharing the screen, just shows how good those two actors are. One moment in particular, with Biehn's Johnny Ringo showing off his gun-twirling skill before being delightfully mocked by Kilmer, is up there with the very best in the Western genre (maybe even THE best, in my opinion). Russell is very good in the main role, as you'd expect, but Wyatt Earp is the unshowy, earnest heart while Biehn and Kilmer get to be a lot more flamboyant and fiery.

While not an entirely perfect film, Tombstone somehow manages to put so many individual great moments together that it feels almost like an instant classic. It becomes more than the sum of its parts, but that's because all of those parts are so well cast.



Saturday, 16 March 2013

Dracula A.D. 1972 (1972)

I don't know what the general consensus is on this Hammer horror movie but, for me, it's one of the worst of the lot featuring our favourite fanged count. Even if it is also amusingly groovy.
No, no, NO, don't look at the camera.

After Dracula (Christopher Lee) is yet again laid to rest by the brave Van Helsing we move forward to the Britain of the seventies where one of the Count's followers (Christopher Neame as Johnny Alucard) is doing his best to bring the master back to life, allowing him to exact his revenge on the descendants of Van Helsing (Peter Cushing is on board for this instalment and also has a granddaughter played by Stephanie Beacham).

No, no, NO, DON'T look at the camera.
Directed by Alan Gibson and written by Don Houghton, this vampire movie suffers from a number of distracting flaws. First of all, the updating of the ongoing battle between Dracula and Van Helsing to the 1970s makes the movie, ironically, appear much more dated than any other movie in Hammer's Dracula series. Then we have the terrible acting. Cushing and Lee are as good as ever but the support from the "hip youngsters" is cringeworthy. Beacham doesn't do well but even her poor performance is better than most of the others on screen, with the exception of the gorgeous and magnetic Caroline Munro - who is gorgeous and magnetic and I won't hear any different.
Ahhh Caroline, you can look at the camera if you want to. No? Okay.
Everything is flat and unexciting, from the painful script that strives to be down with the kids to the execution of the few set-pieces, and we get a distinct lack of any pleasing bloodletting or lusty behaviour to compensate for the many dull moments.

This photo highlights the complete lack of bloodletting or lusty behaviour.
Is there any way it could be made any worse? Maybe a gratuitous scene featuring a couple of ear-hurting musical numbers from "Stoneground" - who also get namecheked as if they were appearing on some Saturday kid's TV show - with one or two of the band members doing their best to stare at the camera whenever they get the chance (see the top pic as an example). It's a testament to their presence that Lee and Cushing manage to raise this movie to the tier of average. Without them, it would definitely rank even lower.


Friday, 15 March 2013

The Beyond (1981)

Lucio Fulci is a director who tends to invoke extreme reactions in people. His work is often extremely gory, more than a little bit bonkers and very atmospheric, but there are many of his films that people also just dismiss as nasty, misogynistic trash. I've not seen too many of his movies, but I've seen enough to know that I like his stuff, even if it is completely off the wall at times. City Of the Living Dead (please be kind to my brief review, it was one of my first for Flickfeast) remains a firm favourite in the zombie movie sub-genre, thanks in no small part to the atmosphere that's laid on with a shovel. The Beyond is its equal.

Catriona MacColl plays Liza Merril, a woman who finally has a shot at getting something good happening in her life when she inherits an old hotel in Louisiana. It's unfortunate that the hotel is built over one of the seven entrances to Hell and that a long-dead artist named Schweick seems intent on leading hordes of the undead into the world of the living. If Liza heeds the advice of blind Emily (Cinzia Monreale) then maybe she, with the help of Dr. John McCabe (David Warbeck), can stop all hell breaking loose. Literally.

Fans of City Of The Living Dead should love this movie as it's certainly a thematic companion piece to it, making up a nice trilogy of sorts that would be completed by The House By The Cemetery. Fulci also co-wrote the screenplay with Dardano Sacchetti and Giorgio Mariuzzo though it's hard to imagine them doing much more than imagining nasty, gory death scenes and then making the rest of the plot up while the cameras were rolling. To be fair, a lot of the footage from the last third of the movie was added at the insistence of the distributor, but the movie feels like a melting point of ideas and outrageous horrors anyway so nothing ever feels too incongruous, even as everything gets crazier and crazier.

MacColl is a lovely leading lady, David Warbeck acts capably alongside her and Cinzia Monreale plays a young woman who can sit at a piano and play her own spooky theme music. Veronica Lazar and Anthony Flees are given enough just enough screen-time to make it clear that they might not live to enjoy any retirement in their old age and Maria Pia Marsala is a young girl who sees a lot more blood and death than any young girl should see.

The acting is uneven, of course, and so are some of the special effects moments, but the good far outweighs the bad when it comes to the eyeball trauma, flesh being lashed off in chunks, faces being severely disfigured, tarantulas enjoying some meat treats and the atmosphere that starts to build up during the middle of the movie and thickens and thickens right up until those brilliant final images.

In case you didn't realise it already, this is another film that I hold dear to my horror-loving heart, flaws and all.


Thursday, 14 March 2013

They Live (1988)

Ahhh, good ol' John Carpenter. Despite strong competition from a number of extremely talented people, he remains my favourite director of all time. I've tried to see every feature that he's ever helmed, from Dark Star to The Ward, and I've seen most of his output more than two or three times. In fact, I usually mention Halloween, The Fog or The Thing whenever I am pushed to list any kind of horror movie Top 10. The man has supplied me with an embarrassment of cinematic riches over the years and They Live is yet another.

Based on the short story, "Eight O'clock In The Morning", by Ray Nelson, They Live is a blend of sci-fi, action and horror that tells the tale of a drifter (played by Roddy Piper, the character is never named in the film, but listed as Nada in the end credits, ) who arrives in a city and just wants to get himself a job and then some money in his pocket. He ends up working on a building site with Frank (Keith David) and Frank then shows him a place where he can get a meal and rest his head at night. Times are hard for a lot of people so the kindness is much appreciated. While things start to look up for our lead character it's not long until a complication arises in the form of a pair of sunglasses. Not just any sunglasses. These sunglasses are made from a special material that allows anyone wearing them to see the awful truth. Humans are being kept docile and compliant by an alien race. They use subliminal messages to keep people in their place and the only way to get things back to normal is to find out where the main signal originates from and destroy the source. Thankfully for the human race, our hero is willing to give it a go, but not without some help from a woman named Holly (Meg Foster) and, of course, Frank.

As well as directing and adapting the story for the screen, John Carpenter also supplies another cracking synth score (this time with the help of Alan Howarth) and once again shows how to make the most of every dollar of a film budget. I'm not saying that the movie looks like a blockbuster, or that it's even perfect, but the visuals do a fine job of showing what needs to be shown and giving a sense of the all-encompassing nature of the alien infiltration, thanks to some canny work from the art department and special effects team.

Ex-wrestler 'Rowdy' Roddy Piper does a solid job in the main role. He's not going to get any Shakespearean roles, but he's able to convincingly chew bubblegum and/or kick ass. Keith David is always great and in this movie . . . . . . he's great. Meg Foster has one of the more thankless roles, but she makes quite an impression and holds her own in amongst all the testosterone. Speaking of testosterone, this is the film that has a brawl between Piper and David that seems to go on for half the movie. It starts off as good fun, then gets boring, then gets into thorough overkill territory and then keeps going for so much longer that it becomes good fun again.

As relevant today as it was back in the late '80s, They Live is a film that will always resonate with those who despair at the ever-increasing gap between the poorest sections of society and the richest. The fact that it has supporting turns from Peter Jason, George 'Buck' Flower and Raymond St. Jaques (who may not be as instantly recognisable as the other two, but who gives a great performance) and one of the greatest one-liners in sci-fi horror history just adds to its ability to hit the sweet spot for genre fans.


Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Hospital Massacre AKA X-Ray (1982)

Directed by Boaz Davidson, who also wrote the story that was developed into the screenplay by Marc Behm, Hospital Massacre AKA X-Ray is a film so inept in so many ways that you'll watch it and start to wonder when Leslie Nielsen will appear. It feels like a spoof, but it's also brilliantly demented entertainment that's never dull for one minute of the run-time.

The lovely Barbi Benton plays Susan Jeremy, a young woman who heads in to hospital to receive some test results. Unfortunately for her, the doctor that would have seen her has been killed and her x-rays have been switched by a madman who obviously wants her to stay in the hospital long enough for him to make her clinically dead. Susan initially goes along with the hospital procedures with nothing more than a slight hint of impatience, but as time drags on she starts to get more and more frustrated. That frustration turns into real anger when she realises that her life is in danger and is unable to convince any of the hospital staff around her.

Boaz Davidson might be best known to a lot of people as the director of a number of films, including the very first, in the Lemon Popsicle franchise. That's certainly where I knew his name from anyway before seeing any of his work in the horror genre. I think it's fair to say that he brings the same subtlety and restraint to the slasher movie as he did to the teen sex comedy. So that's none at all then.

Thankfully, a lack of subtlety and restraint isn't the worst thing for either a teen sex comedy or a slasher horror movie and that's why I remain a fan of Boaz Davidson's work. His films may never top any "best of..." lists, but he makes some fun stuff that just needs to be watched in the right frame of mind. And usually a smirk, ready to develop into a grin.

I'm not going to pretend that the cast members do any great work, but they manage to keep a straight face while delivering some truly laughable dialogue, and they deserve some small amount of praise for that. Benton is a very attractive leading lady who puts herself across as being quite likable, Charles Lucia (billed as Chip Lucia) is a handsome doctor who seems more helpful than anyone else in the hospital and John Warner Williams is a doctor who refuses to believe any of the outlandish claims from Benton's character, though he's only too happy to get her topless for a prolonged examination/bit of gratuitous nudity. Gloria Jean Morrison and Karen Smith are two stone-faced nurses who won't put up with any histrionics.

There's a score derivative of some classic horror movie tunes, a lead character who just can't seem to help herself at all and proves to be one of the clumsiest people to try to survive to the end of a slasher movie, a great selection of scripted moments that have people saying something and then completely contradicting themselves/turning around a moment later and a classic comedy moment in which a room full of people in traction are shown moving frantically as someone walks into their room.

However, there are also a number of entertaining deaths, some absurd moments that carry on until they become surreal and a surprisingly decent finale that stands as some small reward for viewers who make it all the way to the end.

The comedy factor may not usually be the main thing that horror fans look for in their movies, but this one is really worth seeing if you go into it in the right frame of mind.


Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Braindead AKA Dead Alive (1992)

Despite the fact that he already had a number of films under his belt at this time, it's hard to argue against the fact that Braindead put Peter Jackson firmly on the road to great success (though few could envision just HOW great that success would be). Other films from him would have more importance (Bad Taste being his debut feature and The Frighteners being the film that led to the creation of WETA and that work that would help make The Lord Of The Rings movies) but Braindead will always have the blood and guts. And more blood. And more guts. And LOTS more blood.

The story is a simple one, set in New Zealand in the 1950s. Lionel (Timothy Balme) lives at home with his domineering mother (Elizabeth Moody) and doesn't really get to enjoy life as he should. This looks set to change when he somehow ends up taking the lovely Paquita (Diana Penalver) on a date to the zoo. Unfortunately, Lionel's mother is following them and she ends up being bitten by a Sumatran rat-monkey. It's not long until she gets very sick and then dies. Then comes back to life. Poor Lionel can't bring himself to kill his zombie mother so he tries to control the situation, even when the bodies start to pile up and things get more and more dangerous. And bloody. It's important to mention that because Braindead actually held the record for the most fake blood used in a movie for many years.

Anyway, the above description might help you know what the core of the movie is about, but it doesn't even begin to describe the various, gory pleasures available throughout. From the opening sequence showing the Sumatran rat-monkey being collected by a New Zealand zoo official to a nauseating and memorable dinner scene to a priest who can do more than just pray for help when faced with trouble to another nauseating and memorable dinner scene to every bit of physical trauma and bloodshed in the second half of the movie, this is just one spoonful of gory goofiness after the next. And I've STILL not mentioned the best bits.

There is actually a bit more to it than just the zombie carnage, including some sneaky behaviour by Lionel's lecherous Uncle Les (Ian Watkin), but only a bit. The film is most concerned with getting from one pile of gore to the next and the singular focus is somewhat impressive. Having said that, Balme, Penalver and everyone else onscreen do great work, even when acting alongside some of the more outrageous practical effects or under heavy make-up.

Jackson also helped to co-write the screenplay with Fran Walsh and Stephen Sinclair and it's wonderfully economical in places while leaving plenty of room for the scenes that don't really focus on the dialogue (aka about 3/4 of the film). It's just a shame that, as is often the case with Peter Jackson movies, the rest of the film isn't as neat and concise. Of course I don't begrudge the man his scenes of bloody excess, but it's a shame that so many moments tend to overstay their welcome by a minute or two, leaving the whole thing feeling just a bit too much like overkill. It's hard to argue the point, however, when so many moments during the blood-drenched finale leave a big smile on my face, but there's just a slight imbalance somewhere that stops the movie from being as perfect as the younger version of me used to think it was (before I'd exposed myself to a fuller range of crazy horror movies out there).

I can't imagine any horror fan who likes to see a bit of the red stuff thrown around onscreen disliking Braindead. If you like your horror movies to be more restrained and/or psychological then don't rush to see this one, but if you like zombies, inventive practical gore gags and more fake blood than you'll see in almost any other film . . . . . . ever, then this is for you.


Monday, 11 March 2013

The Night Evelyn Came Out Of The Grave (1971)

The Night Evelyn Came Out Of The Grave is a film that I know I should score pretty low. I laughed during many moments, I was never scared for a second and the camerawork seems to be planned to highlight the bad (over-)acting throughout. Yet, despite the major flaws, I liked it. I liked it a hell of a lot.

The plot sees Lord Alan Cunningham (Anthony Steffen) caught in a vicious cycle of ever-so-naughty behaviour. He has a thing for redheads, you see, and likes nothing better than taking them back to his estate, eventually getting them to put on some long, leather boots and then get a bit kinky before he spoils it all by taking things to far and causing them no small amount of trauma in the form of making them dead. Lord Alan just hasn't been the same since his wife (the titular Evelyn) died during childbirth. His doctor (Giacomo Rossi-Stuart) keeps trying to help him, while others (Joan C. Davis as Aunt Agatha, Enzo Tarascio as cousin George and Roberto Maldera as Albert) may or may not be messing with his mind. Perhaps everything will work out for the best when he meets and decides to marry the lovely Gladys (Marina Malfatti). Perhaps not.

Directed by Emilio Miraglia, who also co-wrote the uneven script with Fabio Pittorru and Massimo Felisatti, The Night Evelyn Came Out Of The Grave may not count as some long lost masterpiece, but it has some stylish moments scattered here and there and the central plot allows for a heady concoction of fetishism, sex and death. Call me shallow, but it works for me.

The cast are a mix of heavy breathing and widened eyes, with the only real suave character being the good doctor. They are easy to point and laugh at, but it's worth bearing in mind that a) I saw the dubbed version and b) the film is from a time when that overcooked melodrama was much more common than it is nowadays. If only Nicolas Cage had been at this stage of this career at the end of the 1960s/start of the 1970s . . . . . . . . . he could have been a giallo superstar. Thankfully, there is at least the added enjoyment of watching the likes of Marina Malfatti and Erika Blanc occasionally in various states of undress.

The plot twists and turns nicely and it's fun to get to the finale and discover just what's going on, even for people who have been one step ahead the whole way through. There aren't too many death scenes, but the ones shown are memorable enough and one in particular stands out from the crowd (I'd give a clue to what it entails, but I don't want to spoil anything for those lucky enough to get their hands on this film).

When this film started I was laughing within the first few minutes and I didn't really stop laughing until the end credits rolled. But, for all that, I've also grown fond of it and enjoy it for the bit of off-the-wall entertainment that it is. Those who like their movies to be just a bit less laughable should remove a point or two.


Sunday, 10 March 2013

Dead Birds (2004)

Modern horrors come in all shapes and sizes, but many people keep trying to insist that they're all unscary and not worth your time. There are many, many fine horror movies still being made and released each year, it's just that the better movies aren't always as easy to hear about and get hold of. Most people will know this already, I'm not saying anything new, but it's always worth remembering every now and again. Especially when you come across a movie like Dead Birds (recommended to me many years ago by the fine folks who used to populate the IMDb Horror board).

Henry Thomas, Patrick Fugit, Michael Shannon, Isaiah Washington, Nicki Aycox and Mark Boone Junior star as a bunch of outlaws who rob a bank in 1860s America. They then hide out at an abandoned plantation before their next stage of the plan - getting to Mexico and splitting the gold. But it's not long until mistrust starts to take hold, as well as a sense of unease about just where they're holed up for the night.

With great acting from all involved, Dead Birds is a horror movie that feels a bit different while hitting a number of familiar genre beats. Henry Thomas is a decent lead, but the real treats come from the supporting cast (especially Michael Shannon before his name was so well known and Isaiah Washington). Nicki Aycox could easily, in a lesser film, be sidelined as nothing more than a token female character in the group, but she's given some decent moments and she does well with them.

The script by Simon Barrett does a great job of making each bit of character motivation clear and also allowing for some flashbacks that provide imagery to feed into the fear-filled present. The main characters may not realise how the fear is building until the second half of the movie, but it is. All around them.

Director Alex Turner also deserves praise for his handling of the material. There are a few jump scares here and there, with some decent CGI helping one or two of them, but he also keeps ladling on the atmosphere like golden honey. The film may blend Western elements with the horror, but it's not trying to be a horror Western, specifically. Oh no, it's just a horror movie that happens to take place in years gone by when there was a shorter life expectancy and bigger divisions amongst men (namely race and allegiance to certain flags). It's a real shame that Turner doesn't have much more to his credit yet.

Do check it out when you get the chance and I don't think you'll be disappointed.

Dead Birds is showing today at The Filmhouse - buy your ticket here - as part of the 20th anniversary celebrations on the run up to Dead By Dawn.


Saturday, 9 March 2013

The Pool (2001)

Having heard about, but not seen, The Pool for years, I was expecting something awful. Something so bad that it would easily become a movie by which I could judge all others (e.g. "well, it's bad, but it's no The Pool"). So when it turned out to be a decidedly average slasher with one or two half-decent moments I was pretty disappointed. I had to throw away the list of derogatory words I had noted down for the review and start with a completely blank page/screen.

A bunch of bright young things decide to celebrate their freedom from a prestigious European school by partying in a swish swimming pool. The big problem is that they're not alone in the building. There's also a masked killer eager to hack and slash through them before the night is over.

Directed by Boris von Sychowski, The Pool is absolutely generic stuff. If one or two more death scenes had shown some wit and imagination or if some more style was layered over everything then that wouldn't have been so bad. However, style is in short supply and there's really only one death scene that shows both wit and imagination.

The most fun to be had comes from spotting familiar faces among the cast. Isla Fisher and James McAvoy are the most recognisable of the bunch, but UK viewers might also know Cordelia Bugeja and/or John Hopkins while German viewers may have already seen Paul Grasshoff and Elena Uhlig in other projects. Jonah Lotan has done his fair share of TV work, as has Linda Rybova. While many of the faces may be familiar to viewers in different parts of the world, it's a shame that almost everyone is pretty bad. Perhaps it's because they have been thrown into such a strange mix or perhaps they just ARE that bad, it's hard to tell. At least Fisher isn't in it for that long and McAvoy is always dependable (though even he struggles).

The script, by von Sychowski and Lorenz Stassen (with some help from Ryan Carrassi in adapting the dialogue), doesn't help anybody. Exchanges between characters are dull and there are no memorable one-liners that you'll find yourself quoting once the end credits have rolled. In fact, there is nothing here that you will remember, or even want to remember, once the end credits have rolled. It's not eye-searingly awful to endure, but it's just not worth bothering with. Mercifully, it's beginning to fade from my memory already.


Friday, 8 March 2013

Battle Royale (2000)

Before the main review, do remember if you're in the Edinburgh area and consider yourself a bit of a horror fan then THIS is for you - the All Night Horror Madness at The Cameo promises to be a great night and after enjoying the movies that are lined up I will be placing reviews here next week.

In the future, Japanese society isn't holding up as well as it used to and so the government takes more and more extreme measures to punish and cow the population. In a premise familiar to movie fans, people are grouped together and left in an area that they can only leave once all bar one is dead. They are given a bag with a weapon (well, a useful item ranging from binoculars to a gun), they have exploding collars around their necks to keep them in line and they have to be ready to move at any moment when certain areas are designated as danger zones and can no longer be occupied (otherwise it leads to that exploding collar . . . . . . . . exploding). The most upsetting thing about it is that those picked for the battle are just schoolkids.

That's the basic core of Battle Royale, but it doesn't really begin to cover just what makes this movie so fantastic. It is a Lord Of The Flies for the 21st century that also manages to mix in elements of Wedlock and The Running Man with a bit of Class Of 1984 and just a pinch of Heartbreak High (or the Japanese equivalent). As highly derivative as it is, it also manages to feel very fresh and interested in more than just stringing together darkly comedic death scenes. Okay, you may find that hard to believe as each death is accompanied by the name(s) of the deceased and the running count of how many are left alive, but it's true.

Based on the book by Koushun Takami, the script by Kenta Fukasaku is handled perfectly by his father, Kinji Fukasaku. With 42+ characters, it may seem quite dense and confusing in the early scenes, but things soon settle down as the deaths begin and viewers are given time to familiarise themselves with the main characters.

Takeshi Kitano plays the (ex-)teacher who explains the rules to the children before sending them out to begin their fight for survival. Tatsuya Fujiwara, Aki Maeda, Taro Yamamoto, Masanobu Ando, Ko Shibasaki, Chiaki Muriyama and Sosuke Takaoka all play various combatants who manage to stand out from the crowd. Ando and Shibasaki are particularly enjoyable thanks to their clear sociopathic tendencies, but everyone does well in their respective roles. There are times when you get the usual histrionics associated, rightly or wrongly, with the Japanese acting style, but they are few and far between.

The violence and death may be ugly, but the movie has some nice camerawork that keeps the action in focus without revelling in every single drop of blood spilled. The soundtrack, mixing well-known classical pieces with music by Masamichi Amano, fits perfectly with the way everything is presented.

Even now, while writing this review, I am struck by what a strange movie Battle Royale is and what a delicate balance of elements it maintains from start to finish. There are emotional moments, there are horrible and hilarious mistakes that end up in multiple deaths, there are moments in which the rules of the schoolyard run in scary parallel to the rules of the deathmatch and the whole thing almost bulges at the edges of each frame with social commentary. And, of course, there are all of those schoolchildren frantically trying to kill each other.