Wednesday 31 October 2012

The Brides Of Dracula (1960)

While this is the second movie from Hammer to use the Dracula name it doesn't actually feature Dracula himself. But we're still in Transylvania and there are still fanged threats around, mainly thanks to the dapper Baron Meinster (David Peel), and when a young travelling woman (the lovely, though not overly endowed with acting talent, Yvonne Monlaur) finds herself in trouble she is more than a little relieved to be given a helping hand by the great Dr. Van Helsing (played again by the great Peter Cushing). But things don't stop there and it's not long before Van Helsing realises that there is more than one vampiric beast he needs to lay to rest in Transylvania.

Directed by Terence Fisher, and written by a quartet of people, The Brides Of Dracula may not quite manage to make you forget that you wanted to see Christopher Lee appearing in the title role but it certainly manages to make its own mark thanks to a mix of great atmosphere, spooky imagery and moments of originality (Van Helsing dealing with a bite wound springs immediately to mind).

Cushing is as good as he always is, Monlaur is very pretty, Peel tries hard with the character he's given and Martita Hunt and Freda Jackson do very well with their screen time. There's also a very small role for Michael Ripper as a coachman and the beautiful Andree Melly makes a great impression as Gina but this is all about the dread and foreboding ladled over everything and it works very well in that respect.

The finale may not be quite as intense and exciting as some other releases from the studio but it again impresses with a bit of originality and I enjoyed the use of that Gothic horror staple - the creaky old windmill - immensely. There's really only one thing I can hold against it, but it's a biggie, and that's the fact that the title is a big, fat lie.


Tuesday 30 October 2012

Dark Night Of The Scarecrow (1981)

Fondly remembered by many as one of the scariest TV movies ever made, let me bring everyone crashing down to the here and now by simply saying that it's not. Dark Night Of The Scarecrow is a good little film, and it has a few nice, spooky moments but it's not up there with the likes of Don't Go To Sleep (which I can't find anywhere on DVD but can find HERE on YouTube in its entirety), Don't Be Afraid Of The Dark and, of course, Ghostwatch.

The story is all about the kindly but mentally challenged Bubba Ritter (Larry Drake), a man who spends a lot of time hanging about with a young girl called Marylee (Tonya Crowe). When Marylee is attacked by a big dog, Bubba gets the blame. There are a number of local men (stirred up by Otis P. Hazelrigg, played by Charles Durning) looking for any excuse to teach him a lesson and the harming of the young girl gives them all the impetus they need. Frightened Bubba tries to hide himself as a scarecrow but it's no good. The men discover and kill him. When they realise that they made a mistake, the little girl ends up recovering and her life was actually saved by Bubba, they begin to worry. Thankfully, the court believes the story that they concoct and they remain free men. Justice will have to be served in another way.

Directed by Frank De Felitta, and scripted by J. D. Feigelson (who wrote the story for the film with Butler Handcock), Dark Night Of The Scarecrow moves along well enough and has one or two great set-pieces but the real plus point for the movie is how dark the undercurrents are. The treatment of Bubba and the lynch-mob mentality is disturbing enough but things get even more uncomfortable as the mental state of Otis P. Hazelrigg becomes clearer.

The acting from all concerned is very good. Larry Drake doesn't have a lot of screentime but is memorable in his role. Charles Durning is a highlight, but he's matched by Robert F. Lyons, Claude Earl Jones and Lane Smith - each and every one a coward only acting brave as a gun-toting posse. Jocelyn Brando also does well as Bubba's loving mother and Tonya Crowe acquits herself capably.

It's not full of blood and guts, instead presenting itself as one of the many horror movies proving that you don't need gore to please fans of the genre. The atmosphere is nice and spooky at times and the final few minutes are great but, overall, the movie is a solid one as opposed to any kind of classic.


Fans of the film will be happy to find that this Bluray release is region-free -

Monday 29 October 2012

The Truman Show (1998)

In this day and age, we can be going about our daily business and, unwittingly, find ourselves on camera almost all day long. CCTV is so prevalent in the UK that it's easy to imagine the country as nothing more than one big TV studio with all of us citizens starring in some show that we don't know about. Easy to imagine but, of course, complete fiction. What isn't complete fiction is the way in which more and more people, all around the world, now crave fame and put themselves in the public eye to get it at any cost. All you need is a modicum of talent, and sometimes not even that, and an ability to lose your dignity, your privacy and the right to make any human errors without being judged by the watching public. People want fame, people want to be celebrities.

That's the sweetness that lies at the dark heart of The Truman Show, an astonishing film that stars Jim Carrey as Truman Burbank, a man unwittingly the star of a show that enthralls audiences worldwide. Truman Burbank is a huge celebrity, he's the most recognisable man on the planet, and yet he's unaware of it. In fact, Truman seems like the kind of man who wouldn't even want it. He lives his life in blissful ignorance of the fact that cameras are on him at all times, everyone around him just plays whatever part is required to keep his life a seemingly normal one and his world is a brilliantly-realised fake one. Of course, all of these things are also symptoms of some major mental health issues, which is why Truman struggles to grasp the truth even when a number of revealing incidents (a light falling from "the sky£, the reappearance of someone who had died many years before, problems with his car radio) start to make him look closer at everything around him. Would his wife (Laura Linney) be complicit in such a scheme? His best friend (Noah Emmerich)? What about the young woman (Natascha McElhone) he once loved, the one who was then taken away to Fiji after having - no pun intended - "an episode"?

Directed by Peter Weir, with a wonderful script by Andrew Niccol and a beautiful score by Philip Glass, The Truman Show isn't quite perfect but it comes damn close. Carrey gives a great performance in the main role, a role that sees him as the focus of pretty much every shot throughout the movie, but he's also allowed to invest his character with a few mannerisms that we've seen before so there are moments in which he feels like he's doing his schtick as opposed to being the everyman that Truman is. Those moments are very few and far between but they are there. Elsewhere, there's another great turn from Ed Harris as Christof, the creator of The Truman Show and someone with a clear relish for playing god. Paul Giamatti and Philip Baker Hall have small roles in the studio environment, while Harry Shearer also pops up as an interviewer who explains even more about the history and logistics of The Truman Show. Laura Linney is very good as the actress given the job of being Truman's wife and Natascha McElhone does well as a young woman who motivates Truman to want to travel abroad but the star turn really comes from Noah Emmerich, playing Truman's best friend. Emmerich brilliantly captures every aspect of his character, always putting on a convincing performance even while lines are being fed to him via hidden earpiece.

It's sad to see someone so unwittingly manipulated, their every move anticipated and pushed in the right direction, every aspect of their environment controlled and surrounded by people lying 24/7. But perhaps the saddest thing to realise is that celebrities who are aware of their own celebrity status can end up leading lives almost exactly like that of Truman and audiences will often push moral issues to one side whenever something or someone so entertaining pops into their lives.


Sunday 28 October 2012

A Prophet (2009)

Directed by Jacques Audiard (who also co-wrote the screenplay with Thomas Bidegain, based on the original incarnations of the tale by Abdel Raouf Dafri and Nicolas Peufaillit), A Prophet is an absolutely fantastic crime movie that mixes in some great characterisations with some Machiavellian moves, some moments of thoughtfulness with explosive violence and  equal amounts of hope and despair.

Tahar Rahim plays Malik El Djebana, a young Arab man who is sent to a French prison and tries to keep himself to himself. That doesn't last long, however, and once the head prisoner, Cesar (Niels Arestrup), asks him to do a job for him he is then dragged in to more and more schemes that involve him learning all about the criminal politics in and out of the prison. Malik watches and listens to everything and learns a hell of a lot, something that helps his self-preservation as the situation being created by Cesar and his underlings becomes increasingly dangerous.

It's a very traditional tale in many ways, the youngster who enters the criminal world and swiftly rises through the ranks while facing ever-increasing challenges and risks. What separates A Prophet from 101 other movies on the same subject is the way it nicely walks a line between something cinematic and something that feels very real. The other unique ingredient is the race of the lead character and how that feeds into the storyline, an essential factor in just how he can interact with certain groups and gain each foothold that he seeks.

The script is excellent and the direction from Jacques Audiard perfectly judged. Things move along at a brisk pace but there are tense scenes in which time slows right down, with every second vital as Malik weighs up his situation.

All of the cast do an excellent job. To honours go to Tahar Rahim but Niels Arestrup easily shares the top spot. Adel Bencherif, Jean-Philippe Ricci, and Slimane Dazi are also very good, along with absolutely everyone else who appears onscreen.

A Prophet is one of those movies that is actually quite hard to review in the blog format. I could either sum my feelings up for it in the first paragraph and leave it at that or I could explore every detail of the movie and create an essay going on for thousands of words but that's not the format for my blog so I'm going to settle for this middle ground with a review that I hope, as usual, gives enough information and "flavour" to people who may then check out the film and enjoy it for themselves.


Saturday 27 October 2012

Ghostbusters (1984)

The 1980s is a strange time. It's easy to look back and point and laugh at a decade that had so much excess. The big shoulder pads, the clouds of hairspray, lots of clothing in nigh-on luminous colours. But when it comes to movies it was almost a golden age. Before you stop me and tell me off for letting nostalgia overrule my critical faculties let me just make one thing clear. EVERY year has a fair share of great movies and stinkers. Every year. I am well aware that we can look back with fondness at certain times simply because the rubbish has been forgotten and, boy, did the eighties have a lot of rubbish. But it was also, in a way, the perfect mix of cinema made with the latest technology that still relied mainly on practical effects. Of course, there WAS CGI but it was still a bit of a novelty. The best films, the ones that we remember with such fondness, from that decade are, in my view, so fondly remembered because they took us all on an incredible journey and they did it in a way that felt more realistic, despite the outlandishness of the plots. I'm thinking of the likes of The Goonies, Gremlins, Back To The Future, Labyrinth, The Thing, An American Werewolf In London, Die Hard, The Terminator, The Lost Boys and quite a few others. Of course, nostalgia does contribute something (especially in the case of The Lost Boys) but I don't think that any of these movies would be remembered as fondly today if they were full of dated CGI. Just look at An American Werewolf In Paris compared to its predecessor. Actually, don't do that. You don't want to lose your eyesight.

Ghostbusters is one of those movies and that's why I stopped listening a long time ago when the talk of a third movie kept going round and round and round for years (who knows, if you're reading this some time in the future then maybe the damn thing finally got made). A third movie just won't have the heart that this movie has. It won't have the same texture. The second movie isn't all that beloved (though I like it) so why not let sleeping dogs lie. Or sleeping ghosts rest in ecto-containment units, or something.

Directed by Ivan Reitman, and written by Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis (with some uncredited work from Rick Moranis too), Ghostbusters is all about three men (Aykroyd, Ramis and Bill Murray) who become . . . . . . . . ghostbusters. They end up doing great business, so great that they have to hire an extra member of staff (Ernie Hudson) but the increase in paranormal activity also leads them to believe that something big is happening. Maybe that something is linked to whatever is happening in the apartment of Dana Barrett (Sigourney Weaver). Whatever it is, the guys try to stay ready for action even while weaselly Walter Peck (William Atherton) tries to make big trouble for them.

I don't even know why I wrote that last paragraph. You already KNOW Ghostbusters. Or know OF it. If you don't, stop reading now and go and watch it. Now. Seriously.

It's a great supernatural comedy, it's one of the best outright comedies of the decade, if not THE best, it features brilliant performances from everyone involved (and I'd better mention the superb turns from Annie Potts as Janine Melnitz and Rick Moranis as Louis Tully, two absolutely classic supporting roles) and if you don't think that every line is worth quoting then you'd be hard pushed to deny that every other line is worth quoting.

It's one of my favourite movies of all time and I can't really think of anything worthwhile to convince you to see it if you haven't already done so. There's that great theme song, the pace and editing are both pretty perfect, every single main character is memorable for a different reason and it features the best use of marshmallow I've ever seen outside the world of adult entertainment (don't ask!).

On a more personal note, I have since been relieved to discover that I wasn't the only one to think that the big villain named Gozer (Slavitza Jovan) was a bit sexy while also being really, really evil. On a less embarrassing personal note, I will always have an added fondness for this film because of the cinema that I saw it in - I can't recall if it was The Dominion here in Edinburgh or The Odeon that has long since closed down but whoever put little "ghosts" over all of the side lights deserves good karma forever. You, sir or madam, helped this movie to leave a smile on my soul that has not waned in over a quarter of a century.


Friday 26 October 2012

Underworld: Awakening (2012)

First of all, my overview of the preceding Underworld movies can be found here.

At the start of Underworld: Awakening the audience is told by Selene (Kate Beckinsale) about "the purge". Yes, humans finally discovered that there really were vampires and werewolves (aka lycans) and set about eradicating them. After telling the audience this information, Selene is then taken out of action and frozen. She ends up in a lab for many years. But the movie is called Underworld: Awakening so you may be able to guess that Selene doesn't stay frozen in the lab for the entire movie and when she gets out there are a few revelations.

If you enjoyed the first two Underworld movies then I can't think of any reason why you would dislike this one. It's more of the same and it's all done very well. Mans Marlind and Bjorn Stein share the directing duties and Len Wiseman (director of those first two movies) is one of the four people who helped to create the screenplay, which brings in a few new ideas and easily mixes them in with the familiar elements and style that fans of the movies have come to expect.

Beckinsale is the star of the show, once again all black leather and cat-like agility (is it getting hot in here or is it just me?) but there's a good supporting cast of players with the likes of Michael Ealy, Theo James, Kris Holden-Ried and Sandrine Holt doing a decent job. India Eisley is a very good young actress getting to play a very fun character and I was surprised to see Wes Bentley put in an uncredited cameo appearance. The most fun, however, comes from watching Stephen Rea and Charles Dance playing their parts. The two great actors appear to have a lot of fun while they play two very different characters.

The special effects are almost as good as they were in the second movie (which remains my favourite of the series so far) though there are definitely times when the CGI isn't quite up to the task, such as an otherwise enjoyable chase sequence involving Beckinsale, Eisley and Theo James trying to drive away from relentless lycans.

Overall, however, this is a bloody good time. The action feels as if it is non-stop, the visuals are cool, there is a nice helping of gore and bloodshed and the development of the characters this time around takes one or two interesting turns. Okay, it also feels very lightweight (thanks to the streamlined storyline and the runtime clocking in at about 85 minutes, despite the IMDb listing putting it at 88 mins, including the opening recap for newcomers) but it's blockbuster fun and that's all it wants to be. Mission accomplished.


Thursday 25 October 2012

Freerunner (2011)

Horrible, just horrible. Freerunner is, annoyingly, a half-decent premise surrounded by a complete turd of a movie. One or two decent stunts save it from being the worst of the worst but it's such a lazy, poorly executed film that I actually felt angry while watching it.

I don't know what's more unbelievable. The fact that I have continued to try to convince myself that one day the likes of Danny Dyer and Tamer Hassan will one day appear in another decent film or the fact that it took THREE writers to cobble together this nonsense.

Mind you, while the writing is bad it's almost par for the course for this kind of film - the emphasis is, at least, on the action. I'm not letting Matthew Chadwick, Jeremy Sklar and Raimond Huber completely off the hook but most of the blame should be passed on to director Lawrence Silverstein, who took a movie all about freerunning (a smooth and entertaining pursuit) and decided to let all of the action scenes look as if they had been filmed by a pack of dogs who just happened to be in the vicinity.

Tamer Hassan plays yet another onscreen hard man, Danny Dyer is a cocky arsehole and there are a bunch of freerunners who run about the city, snatching flags while people bet on the results. Sean Faris plays Ryan, a freerunner who wants out and decides that he will get someone to bet a LOT of money on his final race, allowing him to retire a rich man. For some reason, he sees happiness in his future with his girlfriend Chelsea (played, HORRIBLY, by Rebecca De Costa - I mean, seriously, I am tempted to start a Kickstarter campaign to just pay her off so that she never acts again). Unfortunately, that all goes to pot when the runners are all gassed and wake up to find that they have exploding necklaces on and must now race for something much more important than money. That's the plot, in a nutshell.

Taking a number of elements from a number of superior movies (off the top of my head I'll namecheck Wedlock, Battle Royale, The Tournament and District 13) and then draining them of all fun before throwing them to the bottom of a barrel that is then filled to the brim with excrement, Freerunner is a waste of time and it's more frustrating because it's not a complete waste of time. The core idea is sound, it's just developed so poorly.

It doesn't help that nobody onscreen appears to have gone to any actual acting classes. Hassan is in the movie for a very short amount of time so almost escapes unscathed . . . . until we get to his awful last scene. Dyer just gets worse and worse in every movie recently and I'm starting to get embarrassed for him. No doubt he would be a geezer about it and tell me not to shed any tears while he was quids in and having a good laugh but I spent more time than most people fighting his corner (based on his fun turns in Severance, Human Traffic, The Football Factory and even Mean Machine) and this is the last straw. I'll still end up watching his movies, to review them, but I'll always brace myself for the worst rather than hope for something better. Sean Faris is pretty bland, I already mentioned that Rebecca De Costa was awful and Casey Durkin is stuck with providing all of the exposition for those who weren't able to keep up with the complex plot. Oh, she also bares her breasts for a second to keep male viewers happy - it feels very much like a halfway "restore point" compared to how tough going the movie is. Ryan Doyle is a tough, win-at-all-costs, freerunner but he's just as bland as Faris. In fact, only Joe Zamora and Tony Vo stand amongst their fellow runners and gamblers while the much older Seymour Cassel shows everyone how acting SHOULD be in his short amount of screentime.

In case I haven't made myself clear enough, Freerunner is an awful film with awful camerawork, an awful script and awful acting. Could I do something better with a group of freerunners and my own camera? Get me the freerunners and the equipment and I'll show you. Hell, if the people involved in this movie can keep getting work then I don't see why I can't break in to the industry and easily make something better than this.


Wednesday 24 October 2012

Carnosaur 2 (1995)

In case you haven't seen Carnosaur, or have been lucky enough to wipe it from your memory, here is my review of it here (0 out of 4 people found that useful, oh woe is me). For those wanting to get up to speed without going through any unnecessary pain, here is the briefest synopsis - someone went out of their way to recreate dinosaurs and that led to a number of scenes in which a puppet was shown with lots of fhasling lights behind it whenever it would attack someone. Things built up to a finale in which the puppet had to be dealt with, of course.

Carnosaur 2 might follow on from the first movie but you wouldn't really know that while watching the film. It works just fine as a standalone film - there's a throwaway line or two explaining the science behind the thing but that's about it. In fact, I can't even recall if the main character mentioned anything that linked specifically to the first movie so perhaps the only link would be dinosaur puppets.

Okay, okay, I'm being a bit harsh there. The dinosaurs are made to look a bit better this time around but that's the only improvement. The plot sees a bunch of folk that it's hard to care for investigating a mystery that isn't a mystery at an abandoned facility. People start to get picked off and then the truth comes out that there might be some dinosaurs in the facility. Oh dear.

Directed by Louis Morneau, and written by Michael Palmer, Carnosaur 2 loses the sense of fun that the first film had. Oh, the first film was bad but it was bad in an enjoyable way. This one even misses that mark and is just bad. We get the usual low-budget setting with no invention to provide any variety, an awful script and a cast of far-from-A-listers.

It's always good to see Miguel A. Nunez Jr. onscreen, no matter how small his role, so that's a small plus that makes up for having to spend time with John Savage, Cliff De Young, Don Stroud, Rick Dean, Ryan Thomas Johnson and even the pretty Arabella Holzbog. They're not awful but the individual below-average ability seems to join together and form one great pool of soul-sapping . . . . . . . . rubbish.

If you fancy seeing something that has some cheap dinosaur effects in it, a mixed bag of actors and a number of moments that will provide you with unintentional hilarity then see the first movie. If you fancy torturing yourself, as I often do, then see this one.


Tuesday 23 October 2012

Gut (2012)

Written and directed by Elias (I know, I know, many people distrust any director who only goes by one name but put that prejudice aside for the moment and hear me out), Gut is a low-budget, independent horror that works hard to make the most of its limited resources. Elias has written and directed a few shorts before this one but this is his first feature and he definitely deserves some praise for it.

The plot revolves around Tom (Jason Vail) and Dan (Nicholas Wilder). These two men work together but they used to be almost inseparable friends when younger, or so it is implied. Life has led them in different directions with Tom now attempting to create domestic bliss with his wife (Sarah Schoofs) and daughter (played by two young girls, Kirstianna and Kaitlyn Mueller) while Dan keeps doing what he's always done, he stays at home and watches lots of horror movies. Ideally, he wants to also spend time with his buddy and enjoy the movies with company but it will take something extra special to convince Tom to pop round. He finds something special but it's so dark and disturbing that neither man can shake it out of their minds once it's over. Is it actually real or just a very well-crafted slice of extreme cinema?

It's far from perfect but I have to say that Gut is one of the better low-budget, indie efforts that I've seen in recent years. Let's face it, any film that doesn't simply try to blend in with the oversaturated zombie or vampire movie market deserves a certain amount of goodwill for not just taking the easy option. Others have already mentioned that Gut is quite a Cronenbergian movie and that's a fair comparison to make. The modern classic Videodrome springs to mind. Gut may not have the body horror of that Cronenberg movie but it shares the theme of people stumbling upon extreme entertainment and finding their thoughts polluted by it.

Jason Vail and Nicholas Wilder aren't too bad in the lead roles but they're not great either. Wilder does better with his role but Vail is the one who has to bare himself, literally, and kudos to him for that. Sarah Schoofs is probably the weakest link but Angie Bullaro is a pleasure to watch as a waitress who Dan starts to flirt with, to the surprise of both himself and Tom.

It has a strange eroticism to it, even during the sequences shown on the mysterious tape itself, and this is the best aspect of the film. It's what makes the whole thing more than just a slow burn, more than just a tease. All of the minor failings (the pacing being just a bit too slow, the acting just falling short of something polished, the obvious limitations of the budget) add up, sadly, to drag the film down and it won't be one that people reared on a diet of mainstream cinema may be prepared to watch from start to finish but I hope that horror fans find it and give it a chance, I think that Elias has the potential to give fans even better stuff further down the line and I recommend checking it out as something a bit different from the norm.


Available to view here for US peeps -

Monday 22 October 2012

The Mummy (1959)

Well, despite the pedigree (Terence Fisher directing, Jimmy Sangster writing, Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee starring) this is a mummy movie and, when played as straight horror, I have always found mummy movies to be a little bit lacking in atmosphere, scares or anything else that can put them higher up the horror league table. So the fact that I've given this a 7/10 is actually a very good sign.

The plot is the standard gubbins that you get from every mummy movie: a tomb is excavated and a mummy is released to exact some revenge. Deaths occur. Then there's someone who looks like a lost love (in this case it's Yvonne Furneaux playing both Isobel Banning and Princess Ananka).

The direction from Fisher is fine, even if the material isn't quite as exciting as most of his other Hammer films, and the script by Sangster structures things in a way that helps the pacing of the movie by making viewers wait longer for "the big reveal" and building up the storylines for each character.

It all looks nice enough, and there's always entertainment provided by watching Cushing and Lee (with the former being the hero of the piece and the latter doing a great job as the bandage-swathed mummy), but it's also just not that exciting. George Pastell gives a worthwhile performance as the man trying to control the mummy, and there's a fantastic exchange between him and Cushing, but the movie still can't quite claw its way up to anything great because it adds nothing new to the mythos of this creature.

Why the generous rating then? Well, although it's retreading very familiar territory (an accusation I realise that could be levelled at almost every Hammer movie ever released) it does it very well. The performances are all great and the mummy is given an adequate backstory that allows it to be depicted as quite a sad and pitiable creature, much like Frankenstein's monster. If I actually liked mummy horrors then I'm sure I would have rated this one as highly as many other Hammer fans. It's a very good film.


Sunday 21 October 2012

Burial Ground: The Nights Of Terror (1981)

Burial Ground: The Nights Of Terror is a surprisingly enjoyable and atmospheric horror movie that suffers from a lot of bad (over-)acting and the presence of THIS guy

playing one of the creepiest "children" that I've ever seen onscreen. That's probably due to the fact that he was a midget already in his mid-20s when he portrayed young Michael, a boy who dotes on his mother a little too much. But more on that later.

The plot is simplicity itself as a bunch of people arrive at a villa and start to encounter some zombies. It's all the fault of a professor, he managed to wake them up moments before becoming their first victim. That's all you need to know. The characters onscreen aren't all that well fleshed out or even interesting but they're there and they're in peril and that's all that's needed.

Directed by Andrea Bianchi and written by Piero Regnoli, Burial Ground: The Nights Of Terror has enough gore to appease fans of blood and viscera and plenty of atmosphere despite the many flaws. The zombies aren't the best I've ever seen but they're grimy and maggot-strewn and when heads are damaged the makers of the movie have gone for an interesting way of depicting the trauma, it's done in the style of shattering ceramic as opposed to bloody mush. There's some blood and mush on display but the shattering of each dried corpse head is a nice little touch that helps make the movie memorable.

The other thing making the movie memorable is the very strange and incestuous relationship depicted between young Michael (Peter Bark, pictured above) and his mother, Evelyn (Mariangela Giordano). The film hits all of the usual beats, in many ways, and shuffles from one zombie moment to another and then takes a massive swerve when Michael finds himself being offered comfort by his mother and trying to exploit the situation in a very Oedipal way. It's probably the most disturbing part of the whole film and certainly made Peter Bark an actor held with warped affection in the schlock-loving hearts of many genre fans.

Mind you, at least Bark and Giordano make an impression, which is more than can be said for the rest of the cast. It's not entirely their fault, they are ill-served by weak material that sometimes feels like it's going to veer into softcore porn territory before it gets back on track with yet another zombie appearance. The acting is bad, the script is weak and the film isn't one to recommend to anyone who wants a wholly satisfying movie experience. Thankfully, there are some positive aspects (mainly that atmosphere and the special effects here and there) to make it worth viewing at least once and I'd certainly advise fans of zombie movies to at least make up their own minds about it.


Saturday 20 October 2012

Bedevilled (2010)

Bedevilled starts off as a slow, dramatic piece, develops into something harrowing and even difficult to watch and then moves to full-blown horror for a finale that actually provides quite a welcome relief from the casual brutality and nastiness of the preceding hour or so.

Ji Seong-won plays Hae-won, a stressed out bank worker who decides to take a vacation at an island she used to live on as a child. She gets to meet up with her childhood friend, Kim Bok-nam (played by Seo Yeong-hie) and soon starts to appreciate her chance to relax. It's just a shame that she didn't take up the offer from her friend a long time ago. Kim Bok-nam has written many letters but Hae-won didn't reply. After only a short while on the island it soon becomes clear why Kim Bok-nam always seemed so desperate to hear from her friend and why she likes to think about life off the island. She is being constantly abused by her unfaithful husband (Park Jeong-hak) and none of the other women in the small population seem to think that there's anything wrong with the way that she's being treated, even while it is happening in front of her daughter. But there are many years of resentment and anger just waiting to burst out of that victimised woman and it may only take one tragic moment to unleash it all.

Directed by Jang Cheol-soo and written by Choi Kwang-young, Bedevilled becomes quite horrific even before it tilts into the standard genre moments. There are times when it looks beautiful, including quite a gorgeous final shot, but it's hard to appreciate the aesthetic beauty of the setting and the cinematography when so much being shown is just downright ugly.

The film shows how communities can allow abuse to go unchecked through a mixture of inaction and even, good grief, approval. It's hard to decide who the worst person onscreen actually is: the abuser, the community not taking the abuser to task or the outsider who knows that it's wrong but doesn't do anything to help. The film actually, on the surface, gives viewers nobody to root for. Hae-won is selfish and unlikeable and, even worse, lets her friend down when she's needed the most while Kim Bok-nam suffers too much for too long without trying to better her situation. And, of course, the abusers and those who allow the abuse to happen are vile. BUT, and I hasten to say this before complaints start flooding my email inbox, the depiction of someone so horribly victimised here is horribly and sadly realistic, I'm sure. Having endured hardship for so long, it becomes the norm. With such a controlling partner and nobody able to help her start afresh, Kim Bok-nam is resigned to her fate. She wants a better life for her young daughter but she thinks that it's too late for herself. It's quite heartbreaking to watch.

Bedevilled is a fantastic film to watch if you're either a horror fan who can handle a very slow burn on the way to a big finale or if you're a fan of pain-filled drama who can also handle a few more extreme moments. Fans of world cinema will be very pleased to see yet another great outing from South Korea.


Friday 19 October 2012

The Sentinel (1977)

If Michael Winner was anyone else he'd surely have a bit more recognition from people. But he's Michael Winner. He's the annoying windbag who went from directing movies to critiquing restaurants and telling people in the most patronising manner to "calm down, dear" while advertising insurance. And he had the cheek to do that after "glorifying" vigilante justice with a the first few Death Wish movies. Here's the thing that's easy to forget. Death Wish was a very good film. As was The Mechanic. And The Jokers. The Sentinel is an unfairly neglected horror that manages to throw in some real mystery, real shocks and some great performances. Unfortunately for those who hate him, it was developed into a screenplay (based on the Jeffrey Konvitz novel) by Michael Winner, produced by Jeffrey Konvitz and Michael Winner and directed, of course, by Michael Winner.

The Sentinel is all about a beautiful young woman who moves into an apartment and then starts to worry about her sanity as she starts to see stranger and stranger things happening around her, things involving her strange and creepy neighbours. Maybe it's all tied in to the old man who lives upstairs, the one that she never sees out and about because he never goes out and about. He seems to just sit there, gazing out of his window, like some kind of sentinel.

The script and direction don't really seem to be all that spectacular here but as the movie builds towards a fantastic and horrific climax it becomes easier to see that, in fact, everything is almost perfectly crafted. The film has a real sense of mystery and develops the plot beautifully. Even if you remain a step ahead of the film, it's a pleasure to see how every detail is revealed and how the unreal horror continues to pile up in a surprisingly realistic manner.

Another pleasure here is the cast. Winner managed to get himself a superb cast here, with some big names even in small roles. There's a fleeting appearance by Jeff Goldblum before he became a well-known actor, Christopher Walken gets a bit more screentime but was also in the very early days of his career and then you also get to see Ava Gardner, Beverly D'Angelo, Burgess Meredith, Eli Wallach, John Carradine, Jose Ferrer, Martin Balsam, Sylvia Miles, William Hickey and Jerry Orbach. Each and every one is a great actor, with Burgess Meredith being one of the very best. Then there's Chris Sarandon in a main role, doing an okay job, and the beautiful Christina Raines playing Alison Parker, the beautiful young woman. Heck, Tom Berenger even appears in the last minute or so for perhaps the smallest role of his career.

There was (and, indeed, still is . . . . I suppose) quite a controversy regarding the decision made by Winner to use people with real deformities during a scene in which "denizens of Hell" appear but, for some reason, I didn't find this bothersome. Perhaps I should have, and future viewers have been forewarned, but I didn't. In fact, that sequence felt as strange and disturbing as the rest of the movie, which meant that it felt as if it belonged right where it was.

I really like The Sentinel and I encourage others to at least check it out. It might be fashionable to automatically dislike and mock any Michael Winner movies but it's a lot more enjoyable to give them a chance and maybe even be entertained by them.


Thursday 18 October 2012

The Curse Of Frankenstein (1957)

Okay, before the review starts let me just ask you one question, based on a supporting performer in the movie.

Tell the truth now, is this not the best "direct look to camera" that you've ever seen?

I think it is, hence its inclusion here.

But let's get to the entire movie.

The first proper Hammer horror that set the template for many movies to come (the Technicolour horror, the updating of the Universal classics taken mainly from literary forerunners, the greatness of Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, etc), this also remains one of their best movies.

It's a pretty familiar tale, with enough changes made for everything to feel fresh and exciting. Peter Cushing plays the obsessed scientist and it's not long before one small success in the ongoing battle against Mr G. Reaper sees our protagonist getting quite obsessed with actually creating life and playing god. His long-time companion, and former tutor Paul (Robert Urquhart) tries to keep things from getting out of control but Hammer fans will already know how things will unfold.

Directed by Terence Fisher, and written by Jimmy Sangster, The Curse Of Frankenstein has plenty going for it. The pacing is perfect, the character of Victor Frankenstein is brilliantly portrayed by Cushing and it's easy to quietly root for him even as his methods become more and more unhinged, Urquhart makes for a decent friend/voice of reason and the script and cinematography are both well above-average for something that people could easily dismiss (both then AND now) as pulp genre fare.

Hazel Court is lovely enough as Elizabeth, though she doesn't get all that much to do, but Christopher Lee is a bit of a disappointment as the creature. Not his fault really, it's just hard to top that original design and performance with Boris Karloff in the role. Hell, even De Niro didn't manage it so Lee shouldn't feel too badly as he certainly doesn't embarrass himself either. It's also fun to see a young Melvyn Hayes (probably best known to UK TV viewers from his role in It Ain't Half Hot Mum) in the role of young Victor and Valerie Gaunt is great as a housemaid who dares to threaten the baron when she realises that she will never be more than his secret mistress.

A great success when first released, this movie deserves to be seen and enjoyed by fans for many, many years to come and deserves all of the adoration it has received over the years.


Wednesday 17 October 2012

Spiders (2000)

Yes, Spiders is a bad film in many ways. It's a horror movie about giant spiders so you should know what to expect. However, Spiders is also great fun in many ways. It hits absolutely every beat that you expect and it shows no shame in doing so. In fact, there are even a few laughs and self-aware moments in the script - especially when one young man realises the situation developing and says that it's "like a bad science fiction movie" - as well as the required amount of spider mayhem.

The plot involves a bunch of young folk putting themselves in peril by being in the wrong place at the wrong time. A space shuttle crashes and they go to investigate the wreckage. When a bunch of government types turn up to remove bodies and help any survivors, the young folk try to keep hidden and go along for the ride to find out just what's going on a la the Scooby gang. Unfortunately, what's going on turns out to involve conspiracy theories, meddling with things that shouldn't really be meddled with and, of course, some big, ugly bastards with eight legs.

Directed by Gary Jones, working from a script by Stephen David Brooks, Jace Anderson and Adam Gierasch that was based on a story by Boaz Davidson, Spiders isn't going to be the first film choice for anyone seeking high art but it's surprisingly good for what it is.

The special effects, for starters, are very good at times. That will probably have something to do with the fact that KNB Effects worked on the movie. Not every practical effect is convincing, and the CGI is pretty poor in places, but there are some great moments of gore and gloopiness.

The acting is also . . . . . . . . . oh wait, nope. The acting isn't that good BUT everyone involved somehow manages to give the impression that they're being a good sport about it all, going along with every ridiculous turn of events. Leading lady Lana Parrilla is likeable enough, even if her character does lose her glasses about a third of the way into things and then never needs them again (a hilariously obvious war to show the transition from brainy to brainy beauty). Josh Green is okay, if a bit bland, and Oliver Macready and Nick Swarts both do well, it's just a shame that they didn't get more to do. Mark Phelan is good enough in his role and the spiders go about being very spidery.

There are people who never want to see these kinds of movies being made, ever. But if you're going to make a film like this then THIS is how to do it. With a sense of humour, a number of moments that meet audience expectations and no limits on where the craziness could end up.


Tuesday 16 October 2012

Familiar (2012)

Sometimes I look around and smile at my loved ones, inhale the scent of roses and remember how good life is. Sometimes, of course, I look around and scowl at people, inhale the sick aroma of yet another fart from the dog and moan about how there are never enough hours in the day and how I always have so much to do. Thankfully, when I'm in the latter situation there is usually a point at which a little voice in my head will tell me to buck up and appreciate all that I have and all the good things that come my way. The little voice directs me back to the first option.

This way of thinking, and good quality of life, ties in with Familiar, a short film written and directed by Richard Powell. I was sent an email asking if I'd check it out and, as ever, I thought this was very nice of whoever would make such a request (in this case it was producer Zach Green). It's great to see something that I've heard absolutely nothing about beforehand and it's even better when the film turns out to be great, as this one did. See? It's a good life. The little voice is often right though it never used to be so positive.

Familiar is all about that little voice inside. It's not a nice little voice but it's quite constant and determined while speaking inside the head of John Dodd (Robert Nolan). John isn't a happy man and the voice keeps reminding him of that fact. Maybe he will be happy soon, his daughter (Cathryn Hostick) is about to head off to college and he can then leave his wife (Astrida Auza), or maybe people and circumstances will seemingly conspire to keep him miserable.

There may only be a cast of three for this film but at least all three do a good job, with Robert Nolan the obvious highlight - the focus is on his character and the near-constant inner monologue is his. The script is sharp, twisted and also horribly believable in many ways. Anyone who has at some point sat at home and tried to blame everyone and everything else for holding them back in life will recognise the venom on display here.

The whole thing is also beautifully shot, which helps draw viewers in as the anger and paranoia of the main character quickly turn into something potentially dangerous. In fact, the film expertly builds from standard domestic unhappiness to real horror so cunningly that viewers may well find themselves, quite rightly, stunned by the time the end credits roll.

It runs for just over 20 minutes, which is enough time for layer upon layer to build up en route to the great finale, but I would love it if this was expanded into a full-length feature somehow. I don't think it's an impossibility. As a decent alternative, I'll definitely head along to see ANY feature that writer-director Richard Powell comes up with so I encourage everyone to lend their support to a considerable talent that I hope to see much more from in future.


Check out the trailer here -

Dragon Wasps (2012)

I have started noticing lately that there are a few golden rules to adhere to if you ever find yourself in a potential b-movie situation and want to avoid trouble. Dragon Wasps illustrates a few of them, which I will mark and then expand upon in footnotes.

An entomologist* named Gina (played by Dominika Juillet) is a young woman working in an area of rain forests*. She is, however, just there to find her father* as opposed to the real reason that she gave. When her friend, Rhonda (played by Nikolette Noel), finds out about this she has a bit of a moan and a sigh but then agrees to help find the missing man. It's not long until the two women find themselves in military territory but, thankfully, they manage to persuade a team* led by John Hammond (Corin Nemec) to help them on their quest. There are some local baddies in the area not afraid to shoot at the military but dodging bullets becomes a secondary concern when the sky suddenly fills up with . . . . . . . . . dragon wasps.*

It's hard to imagine how much further these movies can go. I'm still afraid of wasps (I'm a wuss in real life, I admit it) but the brains behind movies such as this one obviously don't think normal wasps are scary enough. So they make them big. And THEN they also make them able to shoot flames. I'm wondering just how long it is until we see the movie Gorgon Bees appearing on the Syfy Channel.

The strangest thing about Dragon Wasps, however, is that it's not actually that bad. Oh, it's bad. I've not lost my mind after watching too many of these creature features. The acting from Nikolette Noel is pretty godawful and I can't really find anything too complimentary to say about Dominika Juillet or Corin Nemec either. In fact, the supporting cast members did a better job. Benjamin Easterday was fine, Cosondra Sjostrom was the prettiest soldier I have seen in some time (it's a shame that she didn't get more to do) and Gildon Roland was an intimidating villain.

Direction from Joe Knee was fine, I suppose, and the script by Mark Atkins and Rafael Jordan was mildly amusing in places. The pacing may not have been perfect but the special effects a) weren't as eye-searingly bad as is often the way of these films and b) weren't overused. Those big, bad dragon wasps get enough screentime but the movie isn't full of cutaway shots to them and a lot of the plot deals with the soldiers having to deal with the local guerrillas.

There are also some fun moments to do with the effects of cocaine, some fun incubation/hatching scenes and a nice line in over the top bravado from Nemec's lead character. The movie is bad but it has the good sense to be bad with some fun in the mix.



*Entomologist - choose your career carefully. Never become an entomologist. Try becoming an etymologist instead. Nobody ever got themselves murder death killed by a mutated strain of words (well, if you don't think too much about Pontypool)

*Rain forests - there are some places on our planet that are safe and secure and rarely see problems caused my crazy local wildlife. Rain forests are NOT those places.

*Lost family member - give it up. They're either gone or in a very bad way or helped to cause the damn problem in the first place. Drop them like a hot potato and adopt other people who can fill that role. Preferably choose someone not working in the field of genetics.

*Enlisting army help - if you're doing something that you can ask the military to help you with then maybe you shouldn't be doing it.

*Last but not least - if you spot any bad CGI then run in the opposite direction. Those computer effects are probably out to kill you.

Monday 15 October 2012

The Secret Cinema (2012)

Written, produced, directed and shot by Jason Coffman, The Secret Cinema is a nice slice of intrigue with plenty of potential horror left to the imagination of viewers. Tying in to a previous short film from Rabbit Room Productions (the excellent Tape), I am going to brace myself here for some possible repercussions from the film-maker and just blurt out the fact that I didn't quite like this one as much as the previous film. I didn't really dislike it but I just wasn't as impressed with the general premise this time around, perhaps because it felt more familiar to me while Tape felt quite fresh.

Anyway, here's the plot. A man wants to see something new and edgy and so is taken along by a friend to the secret cinema of the title. There he sees something wild, something offered to audiences by the masked Mr. Lake. The next day he has the opportunity to process the film that he saw and do something about it, though probably not in the way that you expect.

The Secret Cinema is a good watch but it's hampered by a few flaws throughout. The first problem is the acting from Neil Calderone and Tyler Pistorius, the two main characters who visit the cinema. I don't want to be unnecessarily cruel but the two men aren't the best actors I've ever seen, though Pistorius pulls off an amusing double-take. The second problem comes from the script. It just doesn't feel right because it often feels like it's trying too hard, especially when one or two of the lines sit at odds with what has previously been said (something I can't go into further detail with as I don't want to spoil anything).

However, the film is about imagery, both seen and implied, and it gets things right in the visual department. This is helped in no small part by the presence of Stephanie Leigh-Rose and Heidi Foland, playing beautiful but slightly creepy women, but really hits its stride when it comes to the work of the mysterious Mr. Lake.

But let me end by explaining why I watched this short. It's made by someone I know through a lot of online chat, involved the talents of many other people I know in the same capacity, and has been highlighted by quite a few people as something worth seeing. Whether I loved the end result or not doesn't take anything away from my admiration for Mr. Coffman and co. and the work that has so far been released by Rabbit Room Productions. They at least try to create something entertaining and unique and you can't say that about everyone making movies out there. So keep up to date with their output and give them your support necause they deserve it.


The site for Rabbit Room Productions is a work in progress at the moment so I'll end with this link here, once again -

Haunted (1995)

James Herbert is a fantastic horror writer and, arguably, the best writer within the genre to come out of the UK in the past 50 years. Okay, there's very stiff competition from writers as varied in style and content as Clive Barker, Graham Masterton, Shaun Hutson, Kim Newman and Ramsey Campbell but, to me, Herbert is at the very top of the tree. And deservedly so. Yet very few of his works have been made into films and even fewer have been made into great films (at the last count, by my estimation, that figure would be . . . . . . . . . . zero). I stumbled upon the works of Herbert like so many others of my generation. Basically, I saw copies of The Rats at almost every jumble sale and eventually picked it up, along with a copy of The Fog. Puff your chest up if you like but I'm pretty certain that many people born in the mid- to late 70s, as I was, thought that The Fog by James Herbert and The Fog by John Carpenter were one and the same until they eventually got around to reading the book. In fact, there may even be some people reading this now who never realised that the two stories were very different. Which brings me, in a ridiculously roundabout way, to Haunted, a movie based on the novel by James Herbert. I read the novel many years ago and really enjoyed it. It was a great read, not Herbert's best but very enjoyable nonetheless. I never managed to see the movie until now. Perhaps if I'd seen it back when it was first released I may have found it a bit more enjoyable but I strongly doubt it. Because the film is pretty rubbish.

The story is a pretty cliched one, but cliched doesn't always mean something bad. Aidan Quinn plays someone who doesn't believe in the paranormal and he's asked along to a large country house to help prove to an elderly woman (Anna Massey) that the ghost she thinks is haunting her house isn't a ghost at all. When he arrives at his destination, he meets a beautiful young woman (Kate Beckinsale) and then is soon introduced to her two brothers (Anthony Andrews and Alex Lowe). The siblings seem to take very little seriously and there are moments when they seem to be a little bit too affectionate to one another. But whatever is going on with this slightly strange family, there's a ghost to be disproved and that should remain the top priority.

Directed by Lewis Gilbert, who also co-wrote the script with Timothy Prager and Bob Kellett, Haunted has very little to praise. The acting is okay, with the lovely Kate Beckinsale being a highlight and a wonderful, though small, appearance by John Gielgud but the script is clumsy and awkward (in terms of exchanges of dialogue and the way details are revealed), the pacing is off and everything feels very . . . . . . stagey, despite some outdoor scenes. As much as I disliked, though certainly didn't hate, The Awakening, I now recommend that movie instead of this one to fans of Haunted, the novel.

Despite my disappointment in the movie, it's a hard one to rant about. The setting and some of the cinematography is lovely and it doesn't seem to deliberately try to insult the intelligence of viewers. Oh, except when it comes to using body doubles for nude scenes. Yeah, you know how body doubles work. You have stars that don't want to do nudity and so "inserts" are shot that give audiences a bit of naked flesh while the stars actually didn't disrobe, providing a nice (though I've always thought unnecessary) illusion. That's how using body doubles is supposed to work, at any rate. Not in this movie though, oh no. This is the film in which you get to see the faces of the doubles too. In fact, in one scene "involving Aidan Quinn and Kate Beckinsale" I actually saw that Aidan Quinn was no longer Aidan Quinn and I wondered if some different footage had been slipped in to the film as either some kind of joke I wasn't getting or some psychological horror that was never again mentioned. The simple fact is that it was all down to bad shot choice.

I'm sure that Haunted will appeal to some people but I can't think of any horror fans that it will appeal to. As a big James Herbert fan, I just grow more and more disappointed every time I see his work mistreated and not given a chance to connect with moviegoers. Maybe one day that will change. I've never stopped hoping that one day someone would, at the very least, see sense and adapt the superb Creed.


Sunday 14 October 2012

Arachnoquake (2012)

Arachnoquake - that's a great title, isn't it? Up there with the likes of Piranhaconda, Sharktopus and Frankenfish (which, don't laugh, is actually better than the title would make you think). Okay, I admit that a title like that probably wouldn't get everyone excited but most people know by now that a title like that will get me excited. My childish little mind starts to fill up with fluffy dreams of naive potential. I'm not completely stupid, despite how it may appear, and I know that these movies are more than likely to be horrible nonsense full of bad CGI but I also know that a lot of them make up for their failings with big helpings of humour, sometimes intentional but often not.

Arachnoquake starts off with a sense of humour accompanying the preposterous premise and bad CGI but quickly slumps to become just another horrible creature feature churned out for the Syfy Channel.

The biggest name in the cast would be Edward Furlong and it's a shame to see him in something this bad, especially after his appearance in the excellent Below Zero. Sci-fi fans might also enjoy seeing the likeable Ethan Phillips (best known to many as Neelix in Star Trek: Voyager) getting a decent amount of screentime. There's not much else here though.

Directed by Griff Furst, with a script by Paul A. Birkett based on a story by Eric Forsberg, Arachnoquake is a tale of giant, dangerous spiders released from an earthquake and the people who are thrown together and try to survive and escape the situation. Things start off ridiculous and fun but the movie just spirals down and down until it's nothing but ridiculous, sadly.

Aside from those already mentioned, Bug Hall plays a lead role and Tracey Gold is the person who just happens to know a thing or two about spiders. The rest of the cast is full of the hopeful and the hopeless, all playing characters that it's almost impossible to care for.

I suppose that I should grudgingly concede that things are okay on a technical level but I'm not even sure if that's true. The camera is usually pointing the right way and the audio is fine but when so many other aspects are poor or missing (such as the not-so-special effects, shot composition, the bland score from That's What I Call A Syfy Movie Vol. 4) it's hard to even admit that there's a minimum level of competence on display, though I suppose there is.


Saturday 13 October 2012

Dracula (1958)

I am about to start a long and enjoyable journey through the entire collection of Hammer movies (or as man as I can get my hands on anyway) and encourage fans of the great studio to stop by now and again. I watched a number of these movies last year but feel that I know more now, in terms of the roster of great actors and my own writing style, to be able to deal with them in a more deserving manner. Here's something to keep in mind when reading any of my Hammer reviews. There's a simple formula that makes up at least half of my ratings for these movies. If Christopher Lee is present then there are 2 bonus points. If Peter Cushing is present then are 3 bonus points. So any film featuring both stars, as this one does, automatically starts off as a 5/10 movie even before the title has appeared.

Anyone wishing to join in, you'd do well to pick up this absolute bargain of a set. You know it makes sense.

Anyway, enough of the introduction. What can be said about Hammer's first use of the most famous vampire in fiction? It's a solid adaptation of Bram Stoker's tale with some changes made here and there, some understandable and others (such as the changing around of the characters Mina and Lucy) somewhat puzzling.

Christopher Lee puts on the cape and shows his fangs for the first time while Peter Cushing is a fantastic Doctor Van Helsing. Michael Gough gets a small but enjoyable role while Melissa Stribling and Carol Marsh are the ladies put in jeopardy. And Valerie Gaunt makes quite an impression as the first vampire encountered by Jonathan Harker (played by John Van Eyssen, an unmemorable actor given less screentime than you'd expect). Stakes are sharpened, garlic is hung around and blood flows.

Directed by Terence Fisher, and written by Jimmy Sangster (adapted from Stoker's novel, obviously), this movie may seem tame nowadays but it still has some great moments and there's no denying the affection that fans of Hammer horror can have for any of their movies when the deep red starts to spill over and the characters find themselves having to show what they're really made of. In fact, blood spattering over the name of the title character is the very first image to be given the screen all to itself just as the opening credits end.

We also get some moments throughout (one involving a vampire victim trying to lure away an innocent child) that remain effective despite the age of the film. There is a mythology established that Hammer would then go on to adapt to fit whatever the future movies required and you just can't watch the film without really feeling that it holds an important place in the history of horror. It wasn't the first big genre name to be given the Hammer treatment but it easily showed that all of the classics could be entrusted to the studio and turned into icons for modern audiences. Lee is as commanding a presence as he often is, Cushing is as wonderful as ever and a climax involving the two men in a fight to the death provides a satisfying end to yet another quality Hammer product.


Friday 12 October 2012

Feed (2005)

Directed by Brett Leonard and written by Kieran Galvin (based on an idea by the two leads, Patrick Thompson and Alex O'Loughlin), Feed is a standard thriller in many ways but it takes things to such extremes that everything soon becomes quite horrific. It's also, sadly, a bit muddled in pretty much every other scene. The movie clearly wants to do a good job, make some interesting points and mix a lot of psychology in there with the more visceral stuff.

The basic plot sees an investigator of cybercrimes (Phillip Jackson, played by Patrick Thompson) trying to capture a twisted sicko (Michael Carter, played by Alex O'Loughlin) and put him where he belongs. The sicko runs a website that features ladies of a larger size. Nothing wrong with that if that's where it ended. Oh no, Michael keeps feeding and feeding these women and eventually starts taking bets on just when they will die. Phillip becomes more and more determined, some might say obsessive, in his attempts to catch Michael but the potential killer always seems to be one step ahead of him. AND he finds it easy to justify his actions. Hell, even his victims don't really see what he's doing wrong. He looks after them, he shows them affection and he always, always feeds them.

It's an interesting idea and it makes for, as you might expect, a number of grodd moments but Feed fails to make the most of the interesting psychology that it has going on. The fact that those being fed are so content and don't even realise that they are being slowly but surely moved towards their death.

The varying quality of the acting doesn't help. O'Loughlin is the best onscreen, possibly thanks to getting most of the best lines in the script, and Gabby Millgate is very good as the latest food lover but Patrick Thompson is pretty lousy, Jack Thompson is just as bad and Matthew Le Nevez is just . . . . . . there.

Leonard doesn't do too bad in the role of director, he's just let down by the muddled script and the uneven acting. The first 5-10 minutes contain the best moments but there's enough unpleasantness in the story to make it worth a watch for those who can stomach it (no pun intended), the ideas of the story are interesting and the movie has a fair selection of interesting covers on the soundtrack to accompany some of the startling imagery.

Not awful but it could have been so much better.


Thursday 11 October 2012

Intruder (1989)

A bunch of people are working in a store at night and someone starts to kill them off in a number of imaginative ways. That's the plot of Intruder. It's flimsy, it's simple and it's all that is needed to get from one gory death to the next.

Let me start by saying that I didn't LOVE Intruder. In fact, there were a few scenes that had me wondering if everyone who had ever recommended the movie to me had suffered from a temporary lapse in taste. The characters, for the most part, aren't all that appealing and the structure of the film sticks so rigidly to the slasher formula - people go their separate ways to be picked off without anyone noticing until the big reveal in the third act - that it borders on parody.

Then I started to get the vibe of the thing. It was a good time on a disc, nothing more and nothing less. There may be no standard logic to the whole thing but it's unnecessary. This is a movie all about providing viewers with the best in gory mayhem while also playing around with camera angles that show you the action from the inside of a telephone, for example. It's a lot of fun and that's all it aims to be.

Sadly, it still suffers from that bland cast. Dan Hicks is superb in his role, and it's always good to see both Ted and Sam Raimi popping up in horror movies (this was written and directed by Scott Spiegel, from the story idea by himself and Lawrence Bender, and that's why the a lot of the folks comes from the Evil Dead II talent pool) but Elizabeth Cox, sadly, doesn't give her character any warmth, which means that viewers don't really care all that much for her while she's in peril. Renee Estevez isn't much better. The rest of the cast are pretty much interchangeable, with the exception of David Byrnes who plays an ex-boyfriend who can't accept that things are over. The character played by Byrnes is also, of course, the main suspect but is he the killer?

But, oh boy, those death scenes. Never mind the mixed bag of actors onscreen, once the kills start up this is one slasher movie that may instantly barge its way into your Top 10. The 30-45 minute middle section is about as good as it gets when it comes to this kind of stuff. It's just a shame that the start isn't all that great and the final 20 minutes are pretty damn boring but this is still the best movie that Spiegel has directed and he can easily be proud of the final product.

Highly flawed but also highly entertaining.


This Bluray is suitable for all regions -

Wednesday 10 October 2012

Phenomena (1985)

When I first saw Phenomena many years ago I didn't realise that I was watching my first Dario Argento movie. I didn't even realise that it was called Phenomena. You see, when I was about 16-17 years old, Phenomena was available here in the UK in an edited form entitled Creepers. When I picked up the videotape for £3 and took it home to give it a watch all I knew was that a) it had the lovely Jennifer Connelly in it, b) the soundtrack was a mental mix of random metal from someone I didn't know - Goblin - and bits of Iron Maiden and c) it was quite ridiculous but entertaining.

The years have passed and I am older, though not always wiser, and can view the film in a different way now. First of all, I can't really admire Jennifer Connelly as I used to because she's about 14 or 15 in this movie and I'm now far too old for her (though in real life I'll always have a tiny little dream that won't die about me being in with a chance to woo her if only she'd coincidentally bump into me here in Edinburgh). Second, the soundtrack is still a mental mix but I am now very familiar with the great work of Goblin. Third, the film is still ridiculous but just as entertaining in a slightly different way from when I first saw it.

The plot sees Jennifer Connelly as young Jennifer, starting her time in a remote school for girls. There have been a number of murders in the area so Jennifer may want to try and curb her pesky sleepwalking habit. The other girls in the school aren't very nice to her at all but Jennifer soon befriends an entomologist, Professor John McGregor (Donald Pleasence), who lives nearby and when the professor notices that Jennifer seems to have a way of somehow communicating with insects he starts to think that she could be the one to find out who is behind the murders.

Phenomena, like many of the later films from Argento, is not a wholly satisfying movie but it has moments of style and nastiness to make it well worth a viewing for horror fans. It also has a moment in which Jennifer Connelly calms down a bee and a moment in which she follows an insect to try and track down a killer.

The acting is a real mix. Connelly is quite good in her role, Pleasence is the best of the lot and Daria Nicolodi gets to act a bit over the top, as does Dalila Di Lazzaro. Patrick Bauchau is quite good and there's a smart chimpanzee (though not that smart as, apparently, it took a dislike to the lovely Miss Connelly and, apparently, tried to bite her finger off).

There are also, as you would expect, one or two excellent set-pieces to enjoy as the mystery killer goes about their business. A climax that is as sanity-shattering as it is truly horrific ensures that things at least end on a high note.

I'll always have a soft spot for this movie and it has its fans but it's not a film that I would unwaveringly recommend to any and every horror fan. If you ever have the time and opportunity then do give it a one-time watch and see what you think of it. Just don't blame me if you absolutely hate it.


Phenomena is available in this excellent Bluray which, be warned, changes to Italian audio every now and again to make use of the most complete print -