Monday 31 October 2011

Nightmare At The End Of The Hall (2008)

A TV horror movie that mostly feels just like a TV horror movie, Nightmare At The End Of The Hall manages to stay just above average with a decent, unfolding storyline that feels nice and supernatural while also never quite falling over the line into the far too unbelievable.

Courtney (Sara Rue, perhaps best known to many people for her role in the sitcom, Less Than Perfect) is a successful writer. Well, she's had one bestseller that was based on experiences from her schooldays but has been a bit stuck ever since then. That's how she ends up accepting a teaching position at her old school. But it's not long until she's unnerved by a young student, Laurel (Jacqueline MacInnes Wood), who looks exactly like her old friend, Jane. Jane commited suicide while at the school and this has cast a shadow over the lives of those who knew her for a very long time. Is her spirit using Laurel to taunt Courtney or to put over a message of some importance?

I can't really think of all that much to say about this film because there's nothing really onscreen that deserves being praised to the skies. However, everything is put together nicely enough and there are a couple of decent chills amongst the standard confusion and thrills you'd expect from a spooky mystery of this type.

Sara Rue is very good in her role and Jacqueline MacInnes Wood is excellent but both women are also ably supported by a cast that includes Duncan Regehr, Kavan Smith and Philip Granger (billed a bit further down but his character makes a great impression).

Nora Zuckerman's script adds the expected melodrama and keeps things light, the tone and content matched by George Mendeluk's unfussy but competent direction. Fans of stronger horror fare won't want to make this their first port of call but Nightmare At The End Of The Hall is a perfectly acceptable time-filler that rises just above the standard TV movie level.

Sunday 30 October 2011

The Toxic Avenger Part II (1989)

If you decide to watch The Toxic Avenger Part II without having seen the first movie then I'd have to question your sanity. Which is my way of saying that, no matter what I put forward in this review, you should already know what you're letting yourself in for.

The New Jersey hero, created after a prank went wrong and he fell into a barrel of toxic chemicals, returns for a mix of groansome humour, over the top violence and more Troma trauma. Tromaville has become quite a peaceful place but it's only a temporary lull. When Apocalypse Inc. come along they want to mess up everything, physically hurt people and run the whole town. They start their attack by bombing a home for blind people but soon realise that ol' Toxie will be too big a problem to deal with so they come up with a devious plan that gets our mutated hero travelling to Japan to find his father. Which means, as you may have guessed, some martial arts moves, naked Japanese women and plenty of fish. The people of Tromaville are left to be terrorised while clinging on to the thin hope that Toxie gets back in time to save them all.

I really liked The Toxic Avenger, despite it's many flaws, and it remains one of the better Troma movies available. In my opinion. But, as is the case with almost any Troma movie, it's an acquired taste. This sequel is even worse in a number of ways but if you liked the first film then you're not likely to hate this one.

The effects are as variable as they were in the first movie, with a couple of great gore moments in the opening 10-15 minutes offset by some terrible comedy dance moves, and the acting is consistently . . . . . . . . . . in line with the rigorous Troma standards (to put it politely). Toxie is played by two different people (John Altamura was fired at some point but his footage was retained, Ron Fazio took over and provided the voice throughout as well as any new acting required), Phoebe Legere is Claire, the blind girlfriend of Toxie (who I can only assume is supposed to be the same one named Sara in the first film but we're not supposed to worry about that) and a number of other people play . . . . . . a number of other people. I did like Lisa Gaye as Malfaire but acting isn't something valued too highly here. Nor is continuity. Or anything that gets in the way of the crazy antics. Like some semblance of believable reality.

Michael Herz and Lloyd Kaufman are once again the directors, with the latter also involved in the team that put the story and then script together, so they can shoulder most of the blame. They're used to doing that by now and they don't care. This is not a movie to watch if you fancy some classic piece of cinema, but it will do the job if accompanied by beer, pizza and a taste for something dumb and fun. Just.

P.S. The link below may not be the best version available. I tend to just pick the most readily/cheapest versions on offer for anyone interested but it's especially important to shop around, especially with Troma titles.

Saturday 29 October 2011

Prison (1988)

Quite a simple premise, the spirit of a dead prisoner returns for vengeance when the prison is reopened for business and full of inmates again. Directed by Renny Harlin, this is yet another enjoyable movie from a man who has very rarely done wrong by me.

It may lack the impact it wants to have, what with the story twists and turns being really rather obvious throughout, but Prison still has some good moments of tension here and there and a few fantastic death scenes.

The cast are all pretty good, too. Viggo Mortensen does well in an early feature role, Lane Smith is fantastic as a strict warden, Chelsea Field doesn't get that much screentime but holds her own in a movie overflowing with testosterone and Lincoln Kilpatrick is excellent. Support comes from Tom Everett, Ivan Kane, Tommy 'Tiny' Lister and even Kane Hodder so genre fans should be more than pleased with the assortment of faces onscreen.

The script, by C. Courtney Joyner and based on a story by Irwin Yablans, does what is needed though things quickly become far too strange to be explained away easily so that starts eroding at your suspension of disbelief from before the halfway mark.

Harlin directs as competently as ever. There are some nice camera shots and some great use of lighting which, along with a bag of practical effects, often leads in to some supernatural event. The gore on display is effective but not overexposed and the nasty deaths hold up as well today as they did back in the late 80s. It's a shame that the score, by Richard Band and Christopher L. Stone, never comes close to matching any of the visuals and weakens a lot of the atmosphere being built up.

Personally, I always felt that while Prison seemed to come and go when it was initially released the main reason for that was not because it was a bad movie but because it was quickly overshadowed by Shocker, released the following year. While the two are very different movies, there are enough similiarities in the methods of the killer and the advertising artwork to have possibly encouraged moviegoers to wait and see the "Wes Craven film". Possibly. That's my theory and I'm sticking to it, especially because I quite like Prison even if it's nothing to set the world alight (ironically enough).

Friday 28 October 2011

Out For A Kill (2003)

Remember Steven Seagal back when he was Out For Justice? Remember that time he was Hard To Kill? Well, you may not ever want to remember when he goes Out For A Kill (is that like going out for a packet of cigarettes?? Who the hell named this movie??).

I am just going to blurt out the plot of this film in one go because, trust me, if I stop then I may collapse in fits of laughter and nobody will believe me when I get to the end of the paragraph. Seagal this time plays an archaeology professor by the name of Robert Burns who gets caught up in a drug smuggling operation, is wrongfully accused of being involved with the big baddies and then gets out to track people down and kick ass thanks to the skills he had earlier in life before he was a professor of archaeology and was, in fact, a fantastic thief and actually earned his archaeology degree while in prison. So he can handle himself too, when he's not busy winning awards for his work in the field of archaeology. Most of this is information supplied throughout the movie, I'm not making any of it up. With the lives of those around him endangered, Seagal must go, ummmmm, out for a kill. Or two.

There are moments throughout this movie that aren't that bad. Some of the action sequences are okay and the film is never boring. But then director Michael Oblowitz (who also helmed The Foreigner) tries to put in some fancy touches and makes some stylistic choices that just don't work. Be it computer effects clearly at the edge of the FX budget boundary or a bit of unbelievable, gravity-defying wire-fu, the flourishes that detract from straightforward, solid action prove to be distracting mis-steps.

The screenplay, mostly written by Dennis Dimster, is generally awful and there's just nobody good enough to cover over the material with any decent acting. If anything, Seagal seems to get progressively worse with each movie while the likes of Michelle Goh, Corey Johnson (though he's almost not too bad), Tom Wu and Kata Dobo all show a lack of any talent. Perhaps that's the fault of the material, maybe it was too weak to overcome, but the performances certainly don't help.

However, there is more effort made to actually display the fighting moves of Seagal in this movie as opposed to the gun-heavy antics of The Foreigner so die-hard fans will find enough here to keep them entertained.

Thursday 27 October 2011

Xtro (1983)

Xtro is a weird movie, a very weird movie. It's a British sci-fi horror from 1983 and, thanks to some strange practical work emphasising great effects, it actually holds up surprisingly well to this day.

The plot revolves around a man who one day upped and walked out on his wife and son. The little boy says that his father was abducted by aliens but nobody else is buying that excuse. Three years later, the man reappears and somehow thinks that he can reforge those broken bonds with his loved ones. His son is happy to see him, and remains convinced that the alien abduction really happened, while his wife and her new partner are understandably confused by the whole situation. Things start to get very, very bizarre when the father confides in his son that the alien abduction was indeed very real and that he has a grand plan to put into effect.

Director Harry Bromley Davenport hasn't got much else of note on his CV but he certainly deserves a great deal of credit for the enduring appeal of Xtro to fans of the bizarre. As well as directing the movie, and the sequels, he helped to write the thing with the help of a few other people and he also provided the score (which I think also remains surprisingly effective).

The acting is okay but Xtro has so many moments that overshadow any acting anyway. Moments showing childish toys brought to life in order to terrorise others, moments in which an effects-covered mime artist proves somewhat disconcerting while crawling along on their back (sort of, see the pic below) and moments of slimy, nasty, painful alien birth procedures.

Philip Sayer, Bernice Stegers and Danny Brainin all do well enough with their roles, Simon Nash isn't too bad for a child actor put into some very strange surroundings and fans of Maryam d'Abo should enjoy her feature film debut, especially with the enjoyable moments of gratuitous nudity here and there.

Often incorrectly listed among the original 72 titles that made the "video nasty" list here in the UK, Xtro turns out to be quite unlike many other movies and certainly quite like anything else from Britain in the early 80s. Mixing the gruesome with the surreal and the real with the fantastical, it remains an enjoyable and rather intelligent sci-fi horror that deserves to be seen by more people.

Wednesday 26 October 2011

Riding The Bullet (2004)

Riding The Bullet is yet another movie based on a short story by Stephen King and yet another King adaptation with Mick Garris directing (he's also helmed Sleepwalkers, The Stand, The Shining TV mini-series, Desperation and others). Mick Garris can do okay with strong enough material and I liked his earlier collaborations with King but it seems that, as they've grown more familiar and comfortable with each other, the director has taken on a few of the author's failings. I love the written works of Stephen King but he can't hit a home run every time (who can?) and when he's not on top form his writing is often full of too much superfluous Americana while good ideas are swamped by all of the local colour and insignificant sideroads.

Riding The Bullet was the first story that King ever released online. It seemed to be a success and I enjoyed the story when I read it in standard printed form in Everything's Eventual (a fantasic collection of short stories from someone who really is a master of the form). But it's not a great story and it's not a very lengthy story. It takes about 60 pages or so to tell the tale so making a 90 minute movie out of the thing would seem to be a difficult task. The movie of Riding The Bullet runs for 98 minutes. That kind of tells you everything you need to know right there. Great movies have certainly been made out of shorter stories but Riding The Bullet doesn't even have all that much going on under the literary layers, so to speak, and with the movie not adding too much to the material it all feels like something stretched way beyond breaking point.

This is more of an enjoyable twist on the "ghostly hitch-hiker" tale than anything else as Alan Parker (Jonathan Jackson) heads home to get to his hospitalised mother (Barbara Hershey). On his journey he thinks back to childhood memories (one of them involving his turn to ride on "The Bullet" rollercoaster), talks to himself, encounters some characters that pad out the running time and then takes a lift from someone (David Arquette) that he begins to suspect shouldn't be in any condition to drive a car.

There's just nothing here at all worth noting. Garris scripted the movie from the Stephen King story and either lifts things directly from the source or adds completely pointless material (though a scene near the very beginning with a vision of death and some lively wall decor gave me hope for some impressively imaginative work that subsequently went into hiding for the rest of the movie). The acting is all fine and the soundtrack contains a few decent tunes. But by the time the end credits roll you can't help feeling that you just wasted your time watching something of complete insignificance.

Personally, I'd recommend this as one of the many Stephen King adaptations to avoid but die-hard fans may be better pleased with it than I was. It's doubtful though.

Tuesday 25 October 2011

The Toxic Avenger (1984)

Troma. A company not renowned for their subtlety or positive impact on the medium of cinema. But, what the hell, they ARE a fantastic independent company and they keep churning out wild and wonderful movies with refreshingly un-pc content year after year. But there are two movies, in my opinion, that stand head and shoulders above the others. Movies that remain quintessential TROMA movies. They have a mix of groan-inducing humour, crazy splatter gags and merchandise potential. One of those movies is the fantastic Class Of Nuke 'Em High. The other is The Toxic Avenger. It's not really a great movie if you judge these things along the same standards as, say, Casablanca or Schindler's List. But it's a great TROMA movie, which means that normal criteria is thrown by the wayside and we're looking at a niche product for fans.

Young Melvin Junko (Mark Torgl) is an irritating sap who works at a health centre. He spends his time cleaning up and annoying the bullies who hang around there (when they're not driving over innocent children) by simply being nearby and continuing to breathe. So the bullies play a prank on Melvin and, in the great tradition of horror movies, it goes horribly wrong. After an accident with a load of dangerous chemicals, Melvin is transformed into a mutated beast. The Toxic Avenger (played by Mitch Cohen). Toxie sets out to clean up the streets but finds his rage getting more and more out of control, even as he finally finds something that may resemble true happiness with cute blind girl, Sara (Andree Maranda).

The Toxic Avenger has everything you could want from a Troma movie. There's the underlying theme of environmentalism (also present in Class Of Nuke 'Em High, a movie that looked at the dangers of nuclear power), a bunch of annoying punks that you want to see get their just desserts, special effects ranging from the awful to the superb and deliriously over the top violence (the robbery of a fast food restaurant being one highlight).

Directed by Michael Herz and Lloyd Kaufman, who also helped write the script with about three other people, this film rises above the bad acting and low budget thanks to the fast pace and ability to throw so much onto the screen that something entertaining is always happening. Robert Prichard and Gary Schneider are fun as Slug and Bozo, respectively, while Jennifer Babtist and Cindy Manion are cute enough bad girls. And Pat Ryan has fun as the mayor.

If you haven't seen a Troma movie before then this may not be the one to start with but fans will enjoy it and newcomers can always find out where they stand.

Monday 24 October 2011

Siren (2010)

No, just no. Updating old myths is all well and good but it has to be done with a modicum of style and skill. Perhaps even wit. Intelligence would be nice. None of those things are present in Siren, a British horror movie that commits the cardinal sin of being completely boring for most of its runtime.

Eoin Macken and Anna Skellern are, respectively, Ken and Rachel, a couple who head out to meet Rachel's old friend, Marco (Anthony Jabre). They then jump on to the lovely boat they've been allowed the use of and enjoy some sea and sunshine. At one point, Ken and Rachel head below deck for some jolly rogering and poor old Marco finds himself taking the boat into shallow waters as he sees someone in trouble. Things start to go from bad to worse soon enough and the discovery of a female named Silka (Tereza Srbova) on the nearby island leads to some very strange events. Silka sometimes sings too. You think that Ken, Rachel and Marco would be slightly wary as they were told about the legends of the sirens by a colourful local moments before heading out to sea. But no. That bit of information just seems to have been inserted to hammer home the central idea for viewers.

The late Andrew Hull directs (and he also co-wrote the thing with Geoffrey Gunn) and as the movie has a dedication to him at the start of the end credits I don't want to really rip the movie apart and seem like a disrespectful asshole.

But it's a bad movie. Plain and simple. The acting is okay-ish (well maybe not really but it's passable) from most people involved, with the exception of Tereza Srbova who is pretty terrible (and makes everyone seem better by comparison), but the movie really doesn't do anything notable with it's main idea. Mixing in dream sequences at random certainly doesn't help, there's no tension generated because we don't really care about the characters and nothing onscreen to appease horror fans - no actual scares, no decent blood and gore (which horror fans don't always look out for but can appreciate if there's nothing else being offered), a teasing hint of eroticism that quickly fizzles out.

Anna Skellern is pleasant to look at, that's really all I can pick as a high point of a dull movie that squanders a potentially interesting premise and proves ultimately disappointing for everyone invloved (cast, crew and viewers).


Sunday 23 October 2011

Dead Meat (2004)

Written and directed by Conor McMahon, Dead Meat is a low-budget zombie movie with a distinctly Irish flavour.

It all starts off with mad cow disease, a farmer being attacked and then suddenly Ireland is being overrun with pale-faced folk hungry for the flesh of the living. Sadly, nobody told Martin (David Ryan) or Helena (Marian Araujo) about this and the two quickly find themselves in the middle of a bizarre situation. One with lots of zombies milling around them.

Dead Meat isn't a bad little film and it's one that deserves to be seen and supported by fans. Like most low-budget splatter comedies (which it is) there are some varied practical effects but the ones that work are worth the wait for gorehounds.

The movie suffers from the obvious low budget and, as is also often the case with these kinds of films, issues of pacing and a sense that most of the events onscreen lack any purpose. The protagonists end up trying to go from A to B, which is supposedly a place of safety, but you can't help wondering why they just don't divert to anywhere closer that could make for an equally adequate "safe house".

The acting isn't too bad though. David Ryan is okay, Marian Araujo makes for an appealing potential heroine, David Muyllaert is just fine and Eoin Whelan compensates for moments of his indecipherable, strong accent with such a hilarious turn that he steals the entire film. Amy Redmond is also amusing as a woman initially mistaken for someone already zombiefied.

It's a shame that McMahon couldn't do a bit more to cover over the weaknesses. Either a lot of the same areas were re-used or the sets were far too similiar and you have to consider that just changing camera angles and adding some dressing here and there would have made the situation a lot less noticeable. There's also the low lighting levels in many scenes, helping to hide any rough special effects but not helping with the onscreen tension or ability to see just who is fighting who and how the situation is developing.

Despite the flaws, this is definitely still worth a watch for fans of zombie movies and also contains an ironic punchline of an ending that makes for a particular statement you could imagine Romero having a chuckle at. Which edges the whole thing above average.

Saturday 22 October 2011

The Task (2010)

I'm not sure exactly why it irritated me so much but The Task is a bad horror movie, a lame duck full of fake scares and a bunch of characters that it's hard to care for.

"The Task" is a yet-to-be-broadcast show that kidnaps and terrifies half a dozen youthful types (three gals and three guys to, y'know, keep things totally even) and then deposits them near an infamous, derelict prison. The prison used to be run by a warden who defined the word sadistic as a starting point for his rules of governance. The six contestants have to spend a whole night in the building and complete a number of set tasks to each be in with a chance of winning a share of a large cash prize. Of course, as you might expect from a horror movie, the empty prison isn't quite empty as everyone thinks. But are ghosts roaming the cell blocks or has the TV show laid on a number of audience-pleasing surprises?

Bloodless, lazy and reliant on numerous moments when a sudden INCREASE IN VOLUME makes you jump, The Task embodies many of the worst aspects of modern, mainstream horror. Don't let the fact that this isn't a sequel or a remake cloud the issue, this is just as unoriginal as 101 other releases from the past year or so and adds to the problem by creating a scenario in which you never take any of the perceived threats all that seriously anyway, knowing that many of the main set-pieces (and I use that term in the very loosest sense as there is nothing here to get excited about or even to bother remembering) could be programmer-controlled japery.

The casting doesn't help. British actors are all well and good but why cast mostly good old UK folk in a movie depicting a bunch of Americans in America? Texas Battle is a familiar face after his so-so turn in Final Destination 2 but the other actor most recognisable to UK viewers will probably be Victor McGuire, a likeable guy but not the best actor to ever attempt an American accent. The girls fare slightly better, for some reason, with Alexandra Staden, Antonia Campbell-Huges, Amara Karan and Ashley Mulheron a little more convincing than Tom Payne and Marc Pickering.

It's director Alex Orwell's first time in the director's chair and that shows as he fails to do anything to impress horror fans and simply limps from one page of Kenny Yakkel's trite script to the next. There are numerous movies along similiar lines that you could choose ahead of this one. Session 9 makes much better use of an abandoned building (even the prison setting itself is never utilised to create anything close to actual spooky atmosphere), My Little Eye is a far superior horror riff on the reality show concept and even the flawed Death Tube has more entertainment value.

Just don't waste your time.

Friday 21 October 2011

Gutterballs (2008)

I have to admit that I was not sure if I was going to like this movie at all. Other horror fans had told me that Gutterballs was impressively sleazy but that's not always a good thing, depending on the tone of the film and how many other aspects it gets right. Gutterballs gets quite a few things wrong but I have to admit that I was impressed and entertained, overall.

The evening after a particularly nasty and brutal gang rape, a local bowling alley is the scene of a number of revenge killings committed by someone who seems particularly handy with the trappings of the ten-pin world. As is so often the case in these movies, the survivors continue to remain implausibly oblivious to their potential appointment with death long after normal people would have figured out that something was amiss.

Where writer-director Ryan Nicholson succeeds here is in his unabashed, unflinching depiction of some downright nasty nastiness. The effects on display here are often eye-wateringly impressive and many moments will make you wince. There's also some good humour here and there, some of which is obvious (I, personally, enjoyed the banter coming from the Wax-o-matic machine) and some of which I just hope was intentional so am giving the benefit of the doubt to (e.g. most of the script in the latter half of the movie, the movie is listed everywhere as a horror comedy so I think it's fair to say that most of the laughs were intended).

Sadly, the negatives really drag things down. The acting on display here is pretty atrocious and it seems that the women were just chosen for their willingness to show their breasts (not that I'm complaining TOO strenuously about that, mind) and the guys were picked thanks to their ability to swear, act like the worst kind of misogynists and endure whatever makeup work was required. Candice Lewald deserves some praise for being especially brave in her portrayal of Lisa, the victim of the graphic sexual assault while the other actresses deserve praise for their severe underwear allergies. To be fair, Mehola Terzic is preety good as plucky Sarah. And Dan Ellis is just generally pretty damn fantastic so that almost makes up for the rest of the actors struggling to generate any real screen presence.

The script is truly awful for a large portion of the film, none of the characters are worth caring about and it's only when the killing starts that the movie starts to feel like a movie. Okay, I suppose you could say the same about many low-grade slasher flicks so it's not the end of the world. Many of the lame lines can actually be construed as amusing but the constant profanity and derogatory comments in the first half of the movie just feels like someone asked the actors to improvise before checking their vocabulary levels.

There is also the occasional, lazy mistake such as a girl grabbing a guy round the throat with her right hand while grabbing his crotch . . . . . . . . with her right hand. Unless there was some body-transforming, Cronenberg-esquire stuff going on here that I wasn't aware of then that's just impossible. These things happen.

But with a nice line in sleazy, grimy, nastiness this movie should please those who think most horrors have nowadays become too tame compared to "how they used to make 'em". Ryan Nicholson is a horror film-maker who makes the kind of stuff that he loves/loved as a fan and that's clear in almost every scene. Sadly, so are some of the limitations but I'm going to let my horror-loving heart overrule my head this time round and rate it accordingly.


Thursday 20 October 2011

Sole Survivor (1983)

A movie that I'd seen mentioned numerous times over the years, Sole Survivor is a film that many people love and point to as a forerunner to the likes of Final Destination and the films of M. Night Shyamalan. While I can see the connections I also think that the quality and influence of this movie has been somewhat overstated as the rose-tinted glasses of nostalgia obscure the movie itself. I may, of course, just be missing out on something that everyone else sees. It happens occasionally.

Anyway, the movie is centred around the following premise: Denise Watson (Anita Skinner) is a very lucky woman, the only survivor of a major airplane crash. The doctor who has spent a long time helping her to recuperate, Brian Richardson (Kurt Johnson), explains the difficulties that she still has ahead as she attempts to head home and resume a normal life. A lot of survivors wonder just how worthwhile their lives are, many go on to die or commit suicide within the next year or two. Denise is, understandably, fragile and her mindset isn't helped by a kooky actress, Karla Davis (Caren Larkey), who seems to think that something is amiss. Denise also starts to see people around her, silent and sinister, and begins to suspect that they're not normal, living human beings.

Yes, from the above paragraph you may immediately be thinking "aahhhh, those connections mentioned are obvious now" but that would be a misrepresentation of this film. There are one or two strange incidents that almost cause Denise mortal danger (a la Final Destination) but as the story develops things are shown to have a more physical, yet sinister and supernatural, explanation. People are mystified as Denise grows more afraid throughout the film but there's no invisible Grim Reaper after anyone. The fact that people die, or are scheduled to die, ties in with a theory explained within the movie and makes for an enjoyably spooky chain of events leading up to an absolutely fantastic punchline.

Sadly, while the pieces of the puzzle are sliding together, nothing especially noteworthy happens for the first hour of the movie. The crash itself isn't shown, a number of tense moments end up deflating rather than reaching any entertaining peak, and the behaviour of most of the characters onscreen ends up being quite irritating while viewers get impatient for more than just random scare attempts.

Anita Skinner does okay in the title role, Kurt Johnson is the typical male co-star who doesn't believe anything strange is happening until he's sparked into action towards the big finale and Caren Larkey does her best while stuck portraying one of the more irritating characters. Robin Davidson, as young neighbour Kristy Cutler, lights up the screen with her presence and genre fans will enjoy seeing a young Brinke Stevens already at ease with some onscreen nudity.

Writer-director Thom Eberhardt (who would provide something much better with his next movie, Night Of The Comet) certainly puts a few decent ideas into this mix, and the film is just as heavily influenced by some greats from the past as it is allegedly influential upon more modern outings, but he mires those elements into something with sluggish pacing and nothing visually exciting to help en route to the, admittedly spooky, ending. I thought it was still worth a watch. Once.

Wednesday 19 October 2011

The Foreigner (2003)

The Foreigner of the title is Steven Seagal, a man entrusted to pick up a package and deliver it. Sounds simple enough. It soon turns out that a lot of people want to get their hands on this package and Seagal must fend off numerous foes while he tries to resolve the situation for the best.

Written by Darren O. Campbell and directed by Michael Oblowitz, The Foreigner is one big mess of a movie that somehow manages to avoid boredom by throwing in a BIG explosion every 20 minutes or so and letting Seagal kick ass often enough to appease his fans.

The acting is pretty terrible from all involved. Seagal himself is up to his usual standard (take that as you will) but the rest of the cast seems to be filled by jobbing actors who keep struggling to decide what accent they should be using. Max Ryan is the worst offender as Dunoir, the main foe for much of the movie, but Deobia Oparei uses his limited screentime to drag the movie down and Harry Van Gorkum isn't someone I will be looking out for in future. Jeffrey Pierce somehow comes out of this looking better than most, perhaps thanks to his laid-back character being a bit more relaxed than all of the uptight folk trying to keep straight faces. And Anna-Louise Plowman is both okay in her role and easy on the eyes.

Filmed in Poland and Germany, the movie feels like a cheap quickie made to please easily-satisfied action junkies. There are plenty of little editing tricks making the most of the footage and the same stuntwork crops up in most of the action sequences (just how many times do we need to see a "standard henchman" tumbling backwards from a ledge?) but I'd also have to admit that it actually does meet the requirements for low-grade action fare.

This movie marked the beginning of what we might call Seagal's wilderness years (numerous movies that didn't get theatrical releases before his "Steven Seagal: Lawman" TV show and his role in Machete) but it's still not the worst thing his fans could choose to watch.

Tuesday 18 October 2011

976-Evil II (1992)

Well, it's pretty unlikely that people got to the end credits of 976-Evil and thought "that was great but I really want another movie using the same concept and throwing in a bit of astral projection madness" but here we are anyway with 976-Evil II, a movie directed by Jim Wynorski (a name familiar to purveyors of schlock and perhaps still best known for the fantastic fun of Chopping Mall).

The plot is so silly that you expect someone from the Monty Python crew to come along and stop proceedings at any moment. Mr. Grubeck (Rene Assa) is the latest person to be seduced by the telephone number that offers a very specific horror-scope for each individual and he's been on a bit of a killing spree. Apprehended by the police, things get confusing when the killings continue while Mr. Grubeck is safley locked in a prison cell. Will nobody put 2 and 2 together and realise that the killer can astrally project himself anywhere while he's asleep? Spike (Patrick O'Bryan) doesn't know exactly what's going on but he does know, from bitter experience, just how dangerous that 976 number is. Perhaps Robin (Debbie James) can help him put all of the pieces together before more people are dead.

While it follows on from the first movie in some ways, mainly the use of the phone number and the returning character of Spike, 976-Evil II could just as easily have been moulded into an original movie that could have been just as silly and unscary while not needing to tarnish the good name of a fairly decent movie. There are no characters you really get to care about (Spike and Robin aren't really great leads while the script meanders from one limp set-piece to the next), no impressive death scenes and no real sense of the fun that's obviously supposed to be coming from the screen.

I knew that the movie would have some issues when the first sixty seconds featured some gratuitous nudity. Hey, I'm certainly not averse to nudity (gratuitous or otherwise) but it's never a good sign when a) it occurs within the first minute and b) it's not followed up by plenty more. If you offer nothing else then at least have the decency to go all out with the gratuitous nudity. One fleeting glimpse of nakedness at the start of a film does not make up for 90 minutes of tedium.

There is some fun to be had with the supporting cast - featuring the great George 'Buck' Flower, the lovely Monique Gabrielle and a bizarre cameo role for Brigitte Nielsen - and one scene utilising a twisted version of It's A Wonderful Life is genuinely entertaining but the rest falls flat. The script, written by Erik Anjou and based on a story by Rick Glassman, is inept in a way that fails to raise even unintentional laughs while Wynorski provides uninspired direction.

In summation, I was genuinely more entertained by the last Jim Wynorski movie I watched, which was Cleavagefield.


Monday 17 October 2011

976-Evil (1988)

Written by Brian Helgeland and Rhet Topham, 976-Evil is of interest to horror fans because it's the directorial debut of one Mr. Robert Englund. Yes, the one and only Freddy Krueger tries his razor-fingered hand at the horror movie game and shows that he's been learning more than just how to wisecrack and slash teens while hanging around on the set of numerous horror movies.

About 10 years ago I knew a woman who went through some personal upheaval and was distraught after her partner walked out on her. I used to visit and try to provide comforting words, all the while knowing how hollow and worthless they seemed. And the worst thing was that this poor woman wasted a LOT of money ringing up a certain "psychic hotline". I've never had much time for anyone who claims to have such powers in a way that can make them money, I think these people are manipulative opportunists (as opposed to anyone who believes that they have a certain gift and remains content to simply help others on occasion). So it was hard for me to sit there and listen to the nonsense that I was being told was "spookily accurate" when I could tell, from my unattached and unemotional viewpoint, that it was all bullshit. I could see just how much was wrong, how much was being interpreted by a desperate woman who wanted some answers to something she couldn't understand and how much was something anyone could say in a general statement to almost anyone on the end of a phone. Why tell you all of this? It's not a nice memory and there may be others reading this who have gone through the same thing. I don't mean to offend. I offer this up now because as well as being a standard horror movie, 976-Evil deliberately uses the murky, money-grabbing world of premium phone lines as a major stepping stone en route to a personal hell.

Young Hoax (Stephen Geoffreys) is a weak, bullied boy. He looks up to his cousin, Spike (Patrick O'Bryan), but also resents the fact that he seems to be the constant victim. Whether he's being given a kindly brush-off by Spike or having his head dunked in the toilet bowl, schooldays aren't exactly overflowing with happy memories for Hoax. So when he finds a card encouraging him to dial 976-Evil and find out his particular horror-scope he makes the call and follows the advice given to him. This advice works out well so he keeps using the service, eventually becoming consumed with a greed for the potential power to lash out and everyone who ever made his life miserable.

Starting off a bit unsure of itself, 976-Evil eventually builds into a pretty enjoyable horror film that rises above the small budget and has a bit of fun with the central concept. There aren't any huge set-pieces that will linger in the memory but there is a nice growing atmosphere of unease and danger as Hoax becomes more enamoured of the telephone service (think of young Arnie in Christine and you get the idea).

The cast are a mixed bag but Stephen Geoffreys is very good as Hoax, Sandy Dennis is entertainingly overbearing as Aunt Lucy and Patrick O'Bryan is acceptable enough. Lezlie Deane (who would go on to appear in an episode of Freddy's Nightmares and also the incorrectly-titled Freddy's Dead: The Final Nightmare) certainly has some screen presence and there's a small role for the superb Robert Picardo.  Jim Metzler and Maria Rubell may be rather bland but their characters help to dig up information around the sidelines just fine.

It's certainly not up there with the best low-budget, independent horrors but it's an enjoyable enough way to pass the time and shows that Robert Englund can do almost as well behind the camera as he does in front of it.

Tuesday 11 October 2011

Half Past Dead (2002)

Well, although it's not quite as enjoyable as Exit Wounds it has to be said that this Steven Seagal movie is a 100% improvement over the risible and shoddy Ticker.

The ridiculous plot sees Seagal and Ja Rule (his criminal buddy) incarcerated in Alcatraz. It's all been given a hi-tech makeover and also now does executions. The man awaiting his big moment in the big chair is Lester McKenna (played by Bruce Weitz), being fried for his part in a massive robbery and also managing to hide the $200 million haul before being caught. The warden (Tony Plana) is a tough but fair man and all is going according to plan until a bunch of heavily-armed opportunists land on the isolated prison and take hostages in an effort to get Lester to reveal the whereabouts of his hidden loot. Hmmm, I wonder if Seagal will be the kind of baddie who may just prove to be quite good? Oh, let's not forget that Seagal had been shot up badly some time ago and actually died for just over twenty minutes, which made him Half Past Dead, apparently.

Writer-director Don Michael Paul provides action fans with something dumb but undeniably slick. The editing is a bit jittery in places but the pace is just right and the plot takes a few predictable twists and turns as characters reveal their true intentions.

Seagal at least gets into a few fights this time, which always increases the watchability factor, but so do all of the other prisoners, and they're not all as entertaining to watch. Ja Rule gets plenty of screentime (he's okay but never believable as a tough guy), Morris Chestnut has some great moments, Nia Peeples is tough and sexy, Kurupt (??) is just annoying as a whiny prisoner named "Twitch" and Michael Taliferro is surprisingly likeable as the big bear on the block, "Little Joe". Claudia Christian is the Special Agent trying to communicate with the baddies and ascertain the situation while UK viewers may look twice when they see Ross King (better known here as that cheesy entertainment guy who pops up on GMTV) onscreen but, yes, it IS him.

There are occasional moments of humour throughout and some highly entertaining fistfights and gunfire (one scene involving Nia Peeples chasing Ja Rule is especially enjoyable) but the movie can't really do enough to compensate for the many lapses in logic and moments of just plain silliness throughout. Would a bunch of prisoners really care enough to follow Seagal's lead in a situation that lets them run free and have access to heavy firepower? Can people really keep firing that many bullets at each other without hitting each other? Can Ja Rule ever wipe that half-smirk off his face?

P.S. They made a Half Past Dead 2??

Sunday 9 October 2011

Spider Forest (2004)

Another example of the fine cinema we have had from South Korea, Spider Forest is a film that demands and rewards repeat viewings. Fans of movies such as Mulholland Drive and Memento will get the most pleasure out of this haunting and, at times, beautiful movie which has perhaps just as many interpretations as spiders onscreen.

A man (played by Woo seong-Kam) witnesses the brutal double murder of a couple occupying a cabin within the titular forest but as he pursues the perpetrator he is caught off-guard and knocked out. He wakes later and heads towards the main roads before seeing something that distracts him and leads to him being hit by a car. While he recovers in hospital, friend and detective Choi (Hyeong-seong Jang) tries to tease the story details out of him and piece together exactly what happened. This leads to a tale of the Spider Forest, a place in which spirits live as spiders because they have been forgotten by loved ones, and a mysterious young woman (played by Jung Su) who may hold the key that could unlock the man's damaged psyche.

Written and directed by Il-gon Song, Spider Forest is not a movie for horror fans wanting some easy scares or moments of crazy violence. There are one or two scenes of nastiness contained within the film but it is, for the most part, a mood piece with the atmosphere and ethereal quality of the Spider Forest itself relating to fragile memories and a longing for wrongs to be righted. This is just my take on it, however, and I've already mentioned the numerous interpretations possible (which I can't discuss here as I don't want to spoil anything for viewers).

The movie is a perfect mix of well-chosen camera moves, great acting from all involved (including Kyeong-heon Kang who has a small, but integral, role) and dialogue full of meaning. It seems to be slow and even meandering at times but everything is in there for a reason and solving the puzzle in your own way is immensely satisfying as the end credits roll.

I enjoyed Spider Forest while watching it but I have enjoyed even more thinking about what it offered me long after the movie was over.

Saturday 8 October 2011

Tetsuo (1989)

This is yet another movie that was shown as part of EIFF 2012 so the review has been moved, and slightly improved.

Please check it out here.


Friday 7 October 2011

Hausu AKA House (1977)

Madder than a bag of rabid badgers all wearing bowler hats, Hausu certainly isn't for all audiences and may turn off just as many horror fans as it manages to please. However, stick with this surreal, groovy, rainbow of supernatural shenanigans and bizarre deaths and you will find that it's not only a rewarding experience but also one that has influenced many other movies (intentionally or not).

The plot sees a young girl, spurning the opportunity to spend time bonding with her father's new love interest, taking a number of her friends to spend time at her aunt's house. The aunt is slightly eccentric and the house certainly has character but nobody realises just quite how much character until events are set in motion that put all of the girls in extreme danger. Because the house is hungry.

With all of the girls being named after their main traits (Kung Fu, Melody, Gorgeous, Fantasy, etc) it quickly becomes clear that Hausu is never aiming for something that's engrossing and believable. It's aiming to create a strange blend of lurid and colourful moments, fun sequences that border on the childish and a number of individual scare moments. If you can imagine an episode of The Monkees set during one particularly memorable Halloween (and, for all I know, they may have produced just such an episode) then you will have an idea of what to expect.

But don't dismiss this film as JUST one successive moment of weirdness after another. There's a bit more to it than that. Okay, so the acting is all quite over the top and the whole vibe may not be palatable to many but director Nobuhiko Ohbayashi, working from a screenplay by Chiho Katsura based on an original story by Chigumi Obayashi (daughter of Nobuhiko), works in a backstory that feeds into the events and also weaves one singular story strand from the start to the final scene that throws many of the visuals and events into question. Or not. You can take this movie in a variety of ways, which is a pleasure that so many of the finer Japanese movies offer. Give it a try.


EDIT: A rewatch led to me bumping up my rating, and generally loving this a little bit more.

Wednesday 5 October 2011

Transylvania 6-5000 (1985)

From the very title of the movie (itself a reference to the old Glenn Miller tune, Pennsylvania 65000) to the set up and development of the plot to the large number of groansome gags, Transylvania 6-5000 feels very much like a dated movie unlikely to appeal to modern audiences. Using archetypal horror icons can work (just see the excellent The Monster Squad for an example of just how well) but this film uses them ineffectually and can't even compensate for failing in that department with any comedy consolation.

Jeff Goldblum is the journo rolling his eyes in exasperation and disbelief as he's sent on a job to Transylvania to investigate the background of a video received by his newspaper (that reportedly shows Frankenstein's monster scaring two unsuspecting tourists). Ed Begley Jr. is the editor's son who is along for the ride, making up for in enthusiasm what he lacks in common sense. Once they have arrived at their destination they are treated to a bizarre experience, staying in a hotel that caters specifically for tourists by catering to every Transylvanian stereotype and cliche. Are there monsters on the loose or is the whole thing just a lot of nonsense?

Written and directed by Rudy De Luca, Transylvania 6-5000 at least benefits from a decent cast. Jeff Goldblum has never, in my view, been unwatchable and his cynical presence helps lift this vehicle just above the very bottom of the barrel. Ed Begley Jr is slightly irritating at times but he's not the worst comedy actor ever. Jeffrey Jones has fun, Michael Richards plays a butler who is essentially "Kramer with a fondness for practical jokes" and Carol Kane steals every scenes that she's in as an overly affectionate wife pestering her husband (John Byner) while he tries to get on with his work. There's also a decent turn from Teresa Ganzel as Elizabeth Ellison and Geena Davis looks gorgeous in a vamp outfit. Joseph Bologna is slightly disappointing as a potential mad scientist, Dr. Malavaqua, but he doesn't drag the film down severely, mainly because it never really reaches any higher than average anyway.

The jokes occasionally raise the shadow of a smile but this kind of material was mined for far superior comedy gold by the likes of Mel Brooks, Dean Martin & Jerry Lewis and even Abbott & Costello. By 1985 you would think that something sharper and smarter could have been created but that's not the case (I even enjoyed Transylmania and Stan Helsing more than this movie). A revelatory finale proves to be surprisingly sweet and gently amusing but it's also lacking in anything that actually makes up for the rest of the film being so disappointing and stale.

Tuesday 4 October 2011

Ticker (2001)

A Steven Seagal movie that ranks at the very bottom of the pile, if this isn’t his worst film then I despair at the depths he has reached.

Seagal plays a bomb disposal expert, Frank Glass, who teams up with a detective (Tom Sizemore) to try and save the city from the schemes of a mad bomber (Dennis Hopper). Jaime Pressly plays a young woman caught up in the midst of things while Peter Greene is the antagonistic detective who only serves to keep rubbing Sizemore up the wrong way.

Pretty appalling in almost every single way, Ticker is almost worth watching for the laughs it can provide but all involved should be embarrassed by the final product.

The script by Paul B. Margolis wouldn’t be out of place in any “McBain” segment of The Simpsons while director Albert Pyun fills out the movie with footage from other films, constantly makes careless mistakes and puts himself forward as an untalented hack for hire. It seems that his career best will remain the lesser Van Damme movie, Cyborg.

Seagal finally gets some action in the last 10 minutes or so but, overall, this is an unsatisfying watch for fans of his fight moves. Sizemore does okay but is hampered by ridiculously clich├ęd characterisation and motivation (including an enduring memory of lost loved ones that shows them turning and waving to him about half a dozen times, with love glistening in their eyes and radiating from every pore, before getting killed). And I could watch Jaime Pressly if she was showing me paint dry. Dennis Hopper, however, goes completely over the top and drags things down further with an accent that veers between American and Irish, depending on how he seems to feel at the time. The fact that the soundtrack is often full of lilting, Celtic music in the background whenever the bombers are onscreen is just another reason to dislike the movie – if I were easily offended then this movie would have hit the spot. Kevin Gage, Nas, Joe Spano, Romany Malco and many others step onscreen to take part in this debacle. There’s even a fleeting, and completely unnecessary, role for Ice-T.

Destined for a future that includes bargain bins, repeated showing on channels aimed squarely at undemanding males and inclusion in cheaply-priced “explosive” action boxsets, Ticker deserves to be seen by as few people as possible. 

Monday 3 October 2011

Sorority Boys (2002)

A lowbrow teen comedy that focuses on some clumsy cross-dressing for the majority of it’s comedy may not sound like something very appealing but I happily recommend Sorority Boys as a great laugh and a perfect distant relative along the branches of the fraternity comedy family tree that grew from the seed planted by Animal House (a movie given many nods throughout) many years ago.

Three young men are very popular members of the KOK fraternity, where the parties are always lively and the women are always attractive. In fact, if any women from the much-derided DOG fraternity try to get in then it’s not long until the cry of “dogcatcher” is heard and a net is thrown over the unfortunate individual, who is then ejected from the party. It’s a great life. Women are treated with a complete lack of respect, beer is drunk in large amounts and the guys don’t have a care in the world. Until the money that they’re safeguarding, to be used in the funding of the all-important “cocktail cruise” where futures are often decided, goes missing. Or is stolen. Proving their innocence will be difficult, due to the fact that they are run out of the fraternity. In an effort to buy some time the guys don some womenswear and end up spending more time than they ever thought they would in DOG house. You can probably guess what kind of antics ensue and what lessons could be learned.

While there’s no denying that Sorority Boys is fairly formulaic and predictable stuff, there’s also no denying that it aims to provide simple, unpretentious, laughs. The first 10-20 minutes are downright offensive for any female viewers but it’s all necessary stuff so we can watch the guys go along a very steep learning curve and be dealt some humility.

The men in drag are all good sports and look comical as women. Barry Watson is the one who comes close to almost looking ladylike for all of two minutes as Dave/Daisy. Harland Williams is almost scary in a dress but also constantly hilarious as Doofer/Roberta. And Michael Rosenbaum, as Adam/Adina, sits uncomfortably in the middle while receiving the roughest treatment at the hands of men he used to consider friends. Melissa Sagemiller is the pretty head of the DOG house while Heather Matarazzo, Kathryn Stockwood and Yvonne Scio also join in the miserable company.

The script by Joe Jarvis and Greg Coolidge is very mean throughout but also very funny. When the guys are mean it’s all a set-up for the comedy derived later in the movie as the tables are turned. When people are mean to the guys (dressed as women) it’s both hilarious and deserved. The fact that the guys quickly seem to get in touch with their feminine side is another well-mined rich vein of humour (Rosenbaum obsessing over the size of his backside may be playing up to a stereotype but is also very funny while Barry Watson gets so comfortable so quickly that it’s no wonder he gets one or two funny looks from the others).

Wallace Wolodarsky directs things with great energy to compensate for the inherent implausibility of the material. Cross-cutting between characters for extra comic effect, exaggerating some ridiculous situations and topping off any semi-serious moments with a rude punchline – these are just some of the ways in which Wolodarsky makes the best of the enjoyable, lightweight material.

It’s quite possibly the best cross-dressing comedy since Mrs. Doubtfire. Without the schmaltz. 

Sunday 2 October 2011

Fletch (1985)

Chevy Chase. In the 80s he was a comedy actor towering over all others. With his great turns in Caddyshack, the "Vacation" movies and, of course, Fletch. Despite the greatness of the other titles just mentioned, Fletch remains his best, and most suitable, leading role.

Chase plays Irwin "Fletch" Fletcher, a wise-cracking investigative journalist who is trying to uncover a big story about drugs being sold on a local beach. This puts him in contact with Alan Stanwyk (Tim Matheson), a man who asks Fletch to kill him and says that he will be rewarded handsomely for it. Obviously intrigued by this offer, Fletch starts to dig around and soon find that he's on to something big. Something that involves a lot of money, a lot of drugs, some dodgy policemen and a lot more that could prove to be too much for him to handle. Luckily, he has a number of disguises to help him in his endeavour.

With the brisk pace, constant wise-cracks and Harold Faltermeyer soundtrack, you'd be forgiven for thinking that you'd accidentally switched on some Beverly Hills Cop remake. It certainly has many similiarities but then develops into something different enough, and equally worthwhile, to make it worth watching on its own merits.

Chase is made for the role, all cheek and no shame. The supporting cast includes a number of great names. Geena Davis gets a small role, Joe Don Baker proves a menacing presence, Dana Wheeler-Nicholson is very appealing and there are small roles for the likes of M. Emmet Walsh and George Wendt.

The screenplay by Andrew Bergman (based on a novel by Gregory McDonald) is sharp, surprisingly tight and constantly amusing and it's well served by Michael Ritchie's competent direction. The movie may not be a classic, though you'll get some argument from people who saw the thing in the 80s, but it holds up better than many others from the era and provides solid entertainment for it's 98 minute runtime.