Monday 14 December 2015

Twelve ingredients for every Christmas movie.

Yes, it's that time of year again. I get to drink mulled wine, wear amusingly horrid sweaters, and watch lots and lots of Christmas movies. Of course, not every Christmas movie can be an It's A Wonderful Life, an Elf, a Christmas Vacation, or a Bad Santa. And Shane Black only has so many workdays to provide us with snow-covered action greatness. But you can still have a lot of fun exploring the movies that can be found on Hallmark Channel, ABC Family, Channel 5 (here in the UK), and any other channel screening one bauble after another during the festive season. Many of them hit the same beats, many of them contain the same ingredients, and that actually ends up providing part of the enjoyment. I don't watch Christmas movies to be blown away by great cinema. I watch them to feel Christmassy and see the type of settled, crisp snow that we don't get here in Edinburgh (when we get snow here it either tends not to melt away quickly or become churned up by traffic and footfall).

So here are the main ingredients I see as necessities for every Christmas movie.

1) A title with an obvious festive link. Throw in the word Santa or Christmas, of course, and you're all set. But you can also use anything with the number twelve (The 12 Dogs Of Christmas, The 12 Disasters Of Christmas, 12 Dates Of Christmas, Twelve Trees Of Christmas, etc, etc) or just stick the word holiday in there (Holiday Inn, obviously, Holiday Affair, Holiday In Handcuffs). And using, or misappropriating, a famous Christmas Carol title or phrase can always work (a la every movie in the Silent Night, Deadly Night series).

2) Snow. You CAN have a Christmas movie without snow but I can't think of any examples just now. Snow doesn't automatically equal a Christmas movie, however, but the two go together like milk and cookies. There's even a Christmas movie simply called Snow (which also has a sequel).

3) An abundance of decorations, HUGE trees, and everything else that we don't always tend to have here in the UK. Much like the Halloween decorations, America really pulls out all the stops for Christmas. There are people who also do the same over here but they're a bit fewer and farther between. If you can reach the top of your tree without a stepladder in America then you may need to go shopping for a bigger tree. And it's that kind of spectacle that makes me watch average Christmas movie after average Christmas movie.

4) The main character names. Here are the most popular choices, based purely on my recollection of the many movies I have watched and with no grounding in actual facts or scientific study (apologies, but it's the way of the internet so I should be okay): Carol, Nick, Chris, Kate. The first three are obviously connected to the season. The fourth is just a popular common name to use in TV movies, as far as I know.

5) The cast can make the difference between your movie being simply distracting or moderately enjoyable. You could always choose to rope in some celebrity who is a bit past their prime, either for a main or supporting role. Or you could hire Christina Milian,who has popped up in a few Christmas TV movies, or Lindy Booth.

6) Romance. Many of the movies I've already mentioned have a love story at the heart of them. Even Santa himself has been looking for love in a few movies (such as Single Santa Seeks Mrs. Claus). It would seem that Christmas is the best time of year to find love, possibly because it can be viewed as a gift and a shot at redemption for some.

7) A non-believer. Whether it's someone doubting the existence of Santa Claus or even completely refusing to give in to the many delights of the season, every festive film should have a Scrooge.

8) Santa. Why did it take me this long to list Santa? Well, just as many Christmas movies don't feature the jolly fat fellow. But even when he's not in the middle of the action he's often watching over the main characters, perhaps helping to tweak destinies and cause happiness whenever possible. When he's not running the operation at The North Pole, figuring out how to keep his magic working  and trying to make sure Christmas isn't ruined for everyone (e.g. Santa Claus, The Santa Clause, and many more).

9) Elves. You could easily argue that elves have saved Christmas a lot more times than Santa. They make the toys, they often make the best hot chocolates, and someone has to clean up all that reindeer dung. Yes, elves appear in many Christmas movies. And if they're not onscreen then you can usually find a character who has certain elfin qualities.

10) Kids. I know, I know, I should have mentioned them earlier. Christmas is for the young, and the young at heart, so it's no surprise to find so many of the movies featuring children. If there's not a main role for a doe-eyed minor then you can usually find them in a supporting role that will either perk up the lead or remind everyone of the true meaning of Christmas. Having a "Tiny" Tim often helps to add some extra magic to the grand finale.

11) Ending on a miracle is acceptable in any Christmas movie. In fact, it's almost obligatory. The miracle can be big (someone finding the power to get up out of a wheelchair and walk, for example) or small (friends coming around to help someone with that competition entry that could lead to a much-needed grand prize win).

12) If you can get a popular tune in there then that is the bow wrapped around the main present. A bit of "Let It Snow" is always welcome, but the musical score just has to reference "The Dance Of The Sugar Plum Fairy" and I am happy.

And there you have it. All the ingredients for a fine bit of Christmas fare. Here is a Letterboxd list I keep adding to, for all your Christmas movie needs. And for anyone still doubting it, of COURSE Die Hard is a Christmas movie.

Ho ho ho.

Tuesday 8 December 2015

Spice World (1997)

Yes, I absolutely agree with you. Why would I do this to myself? Why, when I no longer feel the need to fill up my blog every single day with ramblings about what I've been watching, why do I choose to expend my time and energy on a bit of a ramble about Spice World? Well, maybe it's because I actually enjoy Spice World. And maybe it's because it's a film that needs more defending than most.

Before I go any further, and before I lose you (if I haven't already), let me emphasise that I don't actually view Spice World as a good, or great, movie. It's not really supposed to be. The Spice Girls aren't the best actresses in the world, at least one or two of them aren't even that good at the actual singing part of their job, but they don't have to be. And the script isn't that clever or deep or witty. Guess what, it doesn't have to be.

If you view Spice World as a movie then you'll be sorely disappointed. It's a time capsule, and when it was first released it was an opportunity for fans to have some fun in the company of The Spice Girls. And that doesn't mean Emma, Mel, Melanie, Geri, and Victoria. No way. This is a film that goes out of its way to strengthen their brand, a film that keeps viewers in the company of Baby Spice, Scary Spice, Sporty Spice, Ginger Spice, and Posh Spice. The personalities are heightened, sometimes being mocked but more often than not being embraced, and the other characters around them (mainly a manager played by Richard E. Grant and a documentarian played by Alan Cumming, who must have relished the chance to help skew similar material in Josie & The Pussycats) are just there to set up every scene for the girls.

Cameo roles abound, with the list of a-to-z celebrities including, but not limited to: Elton John, Jonathan Ross, Meat Loaf, Bill Paterson, Roger Moore, George Wendt, Hugh Laurie, Stephen Fry, Jennifer Saunders, Jason Flemyng, Bob Geldof, Kevin Allen, Michael Barrymore, and Bob Hoskins. You can have plenty of fun just spotting the familiar faces. You can also have plenty of fun, honest, if you allow yourself to applaud the stars of the shows for at least livening up the screen with their usual mix of energy, humour, and sheer will.

You can judge me and laugh all you want. The Spice Girls left their mark on the world of modern pop because of the perfect mix of product and packaging. There was something for everyone, aesthetically speaking, and the songs were upbeat and catchy. This movie captures that appeal, gives a little taste of what it felt like when Girl Power took over the UK in the late 1990s (hey, don't shoot the messenger, I'm referring to the band and their ethos). And that's what it set out to do. If only I had such a perfect movie snapshot for Carter USM, dammit.


Go on. Treat yo'self -

Sunday 22 November 2015

Jessica Jones (2015)

Over the past few days, and for at least a few days ahead, you will no doubt have seen/will see plenty of online critiques of Jessica Jones, the latest Marvel TV show helping to build an enjoyable, cohesive, superhero universe on Netflix that complements the recent cinematic output from the comic book powerhouse. Would it be able to compete with the great success of Daredevil, the previous show that premiered on the streaming service?

Dare you to miss Jessica Jones

For the relatively uninitiated, the titular character is played by Krysten Ritter. The main villain, a man who can use mind control to make others do his bidding, is a man named Kilgrave, played with superb charm and menace by David Tennant. And Rachael Taylor and Carrie-Anne Moss play important, supporting female roles. Oh, and fans of comic books may also like seeing Mike Colter as Luke Cage.

From timelord to mind ruler

I am not going to be breaking down elements of this show. I haven't read the source material. I don't want to comment on each episode individually. If you're after that then you can browse at least three dozen other websites (at a conservative estimate).

No. After watching all 13 episodes of Jessica Jones in record time (for me, anyway), I was compelled to praise it for a depth that I hadn't at all expected. Daredevil was about the dangers, and moral quandary, of vigilante justice. It also generally kicked ass, and had yet another astonishing performance from Vincent D'Onofrio, a man who can probably deliver astonishing performances in his sleep.

Jessica Jones may be equal in the kicking ass stakes, almost, and may benefit immensely from that Tennant performance, but the most impressive thing about it is that, both overtly and in so many layered ways, it's about consent and control. It's there at the forefront, of course, with a villain who can make people do exactly what he wants them to. But that's almost irrelevant when the series starts to show more of the supporting characters and their relationships with one another.

Living, or just surviving?

Jones herself, for example, likes the feeling of self-control she can get by slumming it as a private eye, allowing her to seek out information that other people will use, while also helping her to keep a low profile. Jeryn Hogarth (played by Moss) is a powerful lawyer who quickly shows a very controlling, indeed ruthless, personality. She's involved in a bit of a . . . . . . . . complicated situation with her love life, and as things develop we get to see more and more instances of her trying to control those around her and keep them acting in her own best interests. Wil Traval plays Will Simpson, a man who first encounters Trish Walker (Taylor) in a violent scene before looking to create a, to put it simply, better second first impression with her later on. He apologises profusely, seemingly very sincere while always having the excuse that it wasn't actually him in control of his own actions. But what part of that provides full justification for the actions of the people onscreen, and what part of it is a very handy get-out clause for anyone who knows how Kilgrave works? Even the main villain, as shown in the most interesting backstory sequences, spits out pathetic, wheedling lines like: "what's the point in having ears if you don't listen to me?"
That may not sound like a particularly interesting piece of dialogue, but it sums up everything the show covers - as does the episode title itself, AKA 1000 Cuts.
And that really is just the tip of the iceberg - a mass made up of guilt, resentment, debated responsibilities, more apologies, obsession, and lots and lots (and LOTS) of emotional manipulation.

Jessica and "Patsy"

While it's decidedly not aimed at kids, and really don't just let your kids sit down to watch this (although I'd say teens won't be too scarred by anything here), it's impressive that this show has such a strong, yet flawed, female lead, and addresses issues that we've previously seen dressed up and romanticised in the likes of Twilight and 50 Shades Of Grey.

AKA Badass

There is plenty more to dig into here, and I am sure that better minds than my own have already started on that, but this post is here just as an attempt to encourage anyone to watch the show. Whether you like "superhero" fare or not, this is well worth your time. And I hope the continuing relationship between Marvel and Netflix delivers more of this fascinating content.

Saturday 21 November 2015

Edinburgh's Wild Wild West

Moving away from the huste and bustle of the centre of Edinburgh, walking down the main road that runs through Morningside, and then turning into Springvalley Gardens will take you into . . . . . . . Springvalley Gardens. But take one more right turn, through an unspectacular archway that looks like it leads to nothing more than one or two small business, and you will find yourself here (see pics). Edinburgh's own little slice of the Wild West.

Wells Fargo, of course.
Props Tom L Shattuck and Charlie Fick
There have been a number of articles that have highlighted this quirky attraction over the years, and I kept reading about it and then almost immediately forgetting to check it out. Recently, however, articles about the area have also taken the time to warn people that the building frontages have fallen into disrepair over the years. Probably a mix of our usual weather and standard city life encroaching further into ever nook and cranny of Edinburgh (as I was taking photos I tried my best to hide the more modern signage telling me about the area being monitored by CCTV, amongst other things).

And that spurred me on, no pun intended. I had to see this place before it disappeared. Perhaps when it's gone there will be no way to know it was ever there. Nothing apart from memories and maybe some photos. Like these ones.

Barkeep? Barkeep!!!!
I'm the law round these here parts.
But even the law likes a drink on occasion.
 So get along to it, have a look while it's still there. Here is a map (WW = Wild West, obviously).

While digging around for the origins of this Edinburgh anomaly, I discovered that the main man behind it was a Michael Faulkner (as mentioned in this Edinburgh Spotlight article). That led me to a blog written by Faulkner, in which the following is written in a 1 May 2010 entry:

"When we were designing the facades for the township of 'El Paso', which took three of us (Sean, Rab and I) four months to build and which formed the exterior of my Santa Fe furniture business in Edinburgh, we used stills from Cat Ballou, along with several other classic westerns, for inspiration. This is the only digital image I can dig up:

*please visit blog entry linked to see original image*

When the photograph was taken the signage, which we were at pains to get right, was incomplete but most of the structure was in place. As well as the railroad, general store, jail house, cantina and livery stables which you can see, we built a saloon, sheriff's office and stagecoach depot which are out of shot to the left.

We were proud of the place but I don't like to go back now, as the closure of the business was a big part of an even bigger life reversal. As far as I know the structure is still in place, ten years on, in Springvalley Gardens, Morningside" 

And here are some more photos.

Not even big enough to be a one horse town
Not gonna lie. I got wood.
Not bragging, but I think I could escape that one.
Nobody would trade with me today.
And some more.

I asked for some new shoes for my horse. I'm still waiting.
I hope they get back in the saddle some day.
Y'all come back now.
I've done it now. Marked it off my small, and not very interesting, bucket list. And I encourage others to do the same. Embrace it while it's there. And, hey, share a pic or two to encourage friends to do the same.

Tuesday 17 November 2015

Just follow the Arrow

Despite a recent foray in to the US market, after a successful fundraising campaign, Arrow Films have really been known as one of the best suppliers of shiny discs for home entertainment enthusiasts here in the UK for the past few years.

There HAVE been mistakes along the way (a few seconds missing from Zombie Flesh Eaters caused by the branching options, I believe, and the sepia prologue of The Beyond being black and white are two of the most notable examples, although fans are still eagerly awaiting news on the seconds that were snipped from their recent, otherwise excellent, release of Shivers).

But the rest of their output more than makes up for these mistakes. And, to be fair, the company is very good at communicating with customers and arranging replacement discs when bad things happen. They also set their RRP with a nice balance of pre-order value and the ability to supply other sellers with copies (unlike, for example, 88 Films and their American Ninja debacle, which I have yet to forgive them for - long story short, the release date was mucked around, the pricing was set incorrectly, with them denying that they were responsible for, ummmm, the pricing of their own product, and their were people very unhappy when the price was slashed not long after release).

Having always been there for the horror fans, with particular attention paid to the likes of Lucio Fulci, Dario Argento, and George A. Romero, to name a few, Arrow have now managed to surpass even those earlier releases with some recent output that will take your breath away. Or, to be fair, Arrow may have always offered such a range of quality and variety without me noticing, due to me having my head all too often buried in the horror section anyway.

You might struggle to find it at a decent price now but The Scarlet Box Hellraiser Bluray set is just about the best thing I've ever seen. Mind you, that's another horror release. As was their recent boxset of two very different movies based on The Black Cat. And their gothic Vincent Price set. And much more.

The REAL draw lately comes from their increasingly interesting journeys into releases that aren't such an easy sell. Next year will see a release of a Rainer Werner Fassbinder collection, perfect both for newcomers like me and fans who want the films displayed as beautifully as possible. There's also the Nikkatsu Diamnond Guys set (Vol 1), some more blaxploitation (Sheba, Baby is coming), the apparent beauty of the Battles Without Honour and Humanity set, and a little something entitled Kiju Yoshida: Love + Anarchism.

Are Arrow Films the only people looking after cinephiles in such a good way? No. Some fans may like to also check out the aforementioned 88 Films (I have also enjoyed Blastfighter and Night Train Murders from them) and there are some real gems being released by Eureka! And let's not forget the BFI range.

Any why am I writing all this? Well, I've been overwhelmed by awesome releases lately. That's one reason. I wanted to celebrate their greatness. The second reason, I haven't written anything here for a while. Third, and perhaps most important, is the fact that more and more people should be encouraged to use these guys and order direct from them. Arrow Films, in particular, offer both rewards points and also send orders out earlier, whenever possible, to those who have ordered from their site.

Oh, and as Christmas is coming up, you may also want to know where to get the best sweaters and tshirts. It's right here - darkbunnytees.

Friday 30 October 2015

Is Spectre a Bond film that completely misunderstands Bond?

Unfortunately, what has set me back to the keyboard is a movie that has disappointed me. Well, not just disappointed me. Perhaps saying that it angered me would be closer to the truth. You see, many have decided to come out again in favour of James Bond, and many are heaping some great praise upon Spectre. And I, for the life of me, can't see how this is possible. From the perspective of a Bond fan, Spectre is a bad movie. It is, in my eyes, the worst instalment in the entire official series. And I've endured The Man With The Golden Gun.

For anyone interested, I have previously written about Bond movies here (Connery, with a hint of Lazenby), here (Moore), here (Dalton), here (Brosnan), here (Craig), and here (a couple of interesting movies that are never really considered "canon"). And I reviewed Skyfall here. I'm not linking to those reviews and articles to claim to be any kind of expert. I simply think that if you browse through those and share any of my taste then the following may be a bit easier to stomach. Otherwise, feel free to think of me as someone talking out of his posterior.

Now, although this won't be a full, standard movie review, I'd like to try to pinpoint a few aspects of Spectre that make it such a bad Bond movie. Let me try to highlight everything in, hmmmmmmm, 7 main points.

1) That opening. The opening sequence of Spectre has some great moments. In fact, up until a building collapses and Bond (Daniel Craig, once again totally at ease in the role) has to get to ground level, I was very happy. But then it simply reprises the opening minutes of Casino Royale. We've seen Bond do this before, keeping pace with a target through a busy, exotic locale. We've seen him do many things before, of course, but the familiarity of his drinking, his seduction of women and his one-liners are part of the appeal. Watching repetitive scenes, as opposed to repeated character traits, isn't the same thing. Then we have some great helicopter stunt work. Seriously . . . kudos to all involved. But was I the only person noticing one or two moments of green screen that were all-too-obvious? The 21st century equivalent of Roger Moore's stunt double taking up most of the screentime in his latter outings? The visuals were decidedly so-so, and a bit irritating in their incessant reminder of the events from the previous movies that have SHAPED our hero (don't you know), but I could have accepted them if they'd been accompanied by a decent song. Oh no. The worst Bond movie in the Bond-verse also has the worst Bond song. I don't think Sam Smith should ever be allowed to write jingles for breakfast cereals after his godawful slice of drabness put forward here.

2) The ladies. Bond has always been about the Bond girls as well as the man himself. And there was much talk about Monica Bellucci being a leading Bond girl. She is *gasp* 50. I love Monica Bellucci, and was looking forward to seeing her role in the movie. If anyone had told me that she was in it for about all of five minutes then the poor treatment she receives at the hands of the scriptwriters might have been easier to stomach. The other main Bond girl here is played by Lea Seydoux, who easily fares better than Bellucci. Sadly, the makers of the movie use her as a way to show a Bond developing a heart and feelings. You know, like he did in Casino Royale . . . . . . . . before events changed him into the figure we knew he had to become.

3) This is not a Mission: Impossible movie, but nobody told the writers that. Okay, Q (Ben Whishaw) is a younger man here than he ever was in the older movies, but we don't need an unnecessary scene putting him in some danger out in the field. We can watch Simon Pegg try to keep up with Tom Cruise for that kind of fish-out-of-water fun in an action spy franchise. And I know that the new M (Ralph Fiennes, who looks more and more like Leonard Rossiter with every performance he gives) has seen action in the field, but that doesn't make me want to watch him join in the battle either.

4) Stunt set-pieces are for the stunts and the gadgets. This is pretty much why every Bond movie exists. So it's weird to see a car chase occur in which Bond spends a large amount of the time speaking on the phone to Moneypenny (Naomie Harris). Or a fight sequence in which Bond faces off against a physically superior opponent (Dave Bautista) for no reason whatsoever. Seriously, you're supposed to think that there's always a reason for Bond and co. to be in physical danger, but the last 30-40 minutes contradict that, as it contradicts so many things.

5) Bond, as he is displayed onscreen, isn't the introspective type (bar occasional moments of brilliance, such as THAT final scene in On Her Majesty's Secret Service). Whether by choice or necessity, he acts and he moves on. Sometimes the consequences aren't as good as expected, but the alternatives are often a hell of a lot worse. Not here, however. Oh no. This is a thoughtful Bond. A Bond who looks as if he wants a bit of a holiday. Which isn't what you really want from your number one international secret agent.

6) The villain(s). A good Bond movie can be made or broken by the villain. Christoph Waltz is on hand here, another reason to rejoice. Until you realise that he's given a character who is completely mishandled. The big speeches never feel powerful enough, the threat only gets specific in a strange, and ill-fitting, torture sequence, and his development from the start of the movie to the end is as laughable as it is predictable.

7) Can I fit my problems into only seven main points? Oh, oh, I think I can. The biggest problem with Spectre is one that almost occured in Skyfall. Director Sam Mendes and co. seem unable to decide on just what to do with their lead character. One minute they're tearing down his established world, allowing him to rise again from the ashes like some kind of 00-phoenix. The next they're trying to shoehorn in familiar elements that they either want to reinvent for the modern era or they're adding unwanted touches from other movies that were themselves influenced by Bond (the shadow of Christopher Nolan seems to be a problem here, yet again).

Bond CAN be serious (Licence To Kill remains one of the best in the series, and it's also one of the darkest). He CAN be silly (look at most of those Moore outings). He can be an entertaining mixture of the two (as has been the case with most of the Brosnan and Craig films). But he always has to ultimately be Bond, and everything else should stem from that. Don't try to make a movie that you then use to shape James Bond. Let James Bond shape the movie that you're making.

Buy the Bond boxset here -

Thursday 24 September 2015

The Green Inferno (2013)

Please note, this is my same review as it originally appeared over at Flickfeast. But f you didn't see it there then please enjoy it now.

Expectations have been high ever since Eli Roth announced that he was working on a cannibal movie. The fact that it was titled The Green Inferno – a title that was originally going to be used for Cannibal Holocaust (and ended up being the title of a cash-in “sequel”) – clued most horror fans in to the fact that this should be a goodie. It should be intense, gory and slightly disturbing.

Thank goodness, then, that The Green Inferno is intense, gory and slightly disturbing. It may well be the best film that Roth has directed so far, and it’s certainly the best, full-on, cannibal movie that I can think of since the heyday of the subgenre. It takes time to put everything in place, but viewers are then rewarded with a second half that moves from gruesome set-piece to gruesome set-piece.
The plot sees a bunch of young activists travelling from America to Peru to protest against the destruction of the natural habitat by a nasty corporation with nasty, big bulldozers. That’s dangerous enough, thanks to the armed guards on the site, yet it’s nothing compared to what happens after the protest. The small plane that they’re travelling in crashes, leaving them in the middle of the jungle. However, they’re not alone. It’s not long until some jungle inhabitants drug the youngsters, take them back to their village, and start to plan lunch.

It’s hard for me to think of any major flaws here. The characters, despite being potential menu courses, are all quite well-written, and certainly all get enough moments to mark themselves out from the group. This was a pleasant surprise, as I really expected a bunch of unlikable and interchangeable victims, but that wasn’t the case. The first half might be slow for some, yet Roth rewards everyone with a second half that starts to deliver the goods and doesn’t really let up until the end credits. Even the humour, so often an easy source of criticism in his previous movies, is perfectly pitched here. The movie doesn’t provide a lot of obvious laughs, although there are some, but the sly wit of the commentary here is probably the furthest that Roth has ever moved away from his comfort zone of “Jock talk”. Cannibal Holocaust was about people meddling where they had no right, and different forms of savagery, from the visitors and from the local inhabitants. The Green Inferno is about people meddling where they have no right, and also pretending to do more, and be better, even while operating within a protective bubble of privilege and ignorance.

The cast all do well, with Lorenza Izzo really easy to root for as the nominal leading lady. Ariel Levy, Daryl Sabara, Aaron Burns, Kirby Bliss Blanton, Sky Ferreira, Magda Apanowicz, and Nicolas Martinez all make their characters feel like proper individuals, as opposed to “potential victim #2″ or “shrieking white girl”, for example. They’re all helped by the script, which Roth wrote with Guillermo Amoedo, and it also helps that a few of the people involved will be familiar to fans who saw Aftershock. They’re vaguely recognisable, yet not so famous to be exempt from any of the ordeals that the cannibals may have planned for them. Richard Burgi also does well with his few minutes of screentime, although he gets to avoid the jungle madness.

With some lush cinematography, an appropriate score by Manuel Riveiro, and a real feeling of authenticity to the whole thing, The Green Inferno manages to cram in all of the obvious homages that fans of the cannibal movie subgenre will expect while also standing proudly as a new leader in the ravenous, though admittedly sparse nowadays, pack. The screen may not be dripping with gore at every opportunity, which only makes it all the more powerful when it’s put front and centre (kudos to the special effects guys for such moments of visceral brilliance).

Roth is a master of hype, and it seems as if he’s been building up The Green Inferno for a long, long time. That will inevitably lead some people to view the film and feel disappointment. Hell, this review will also help to do that, so I apologise for getting your hopes up. I won’t apologise too profusely, however, as I feel that, on this occasion, you CAN believe the hype. The Green Inferno is a modern horror classic . . . . . . . . . . . . for those who have the stomach for it.


Monday 7 September 2015

The Ghoulies Movie Series (1984 - 1994)

Movies are made for all kinds of reasons. To tell a fantastic story. To teach a lesson. To make money from fans of established properties. Or to get as much as possible from the latest trends. Empire Pictures, the main production company behind Ghoulies, would often work with that last motivating factor. Ghoulies was a dark comedy horror that began development before the release of Gremlins, but the timing of it made it seem designed to cash in on the success of Gremlins. In fact, after the release of the latter movie, we ended up with a whole host of mini-creature features. The Critters series - another apparently started before Gizmo and co. ruled the box office - remains one of the most consistently solid b-movie quartets I can think of (with only Tremors coming close to it), but it was a rare cash-in that managed to avoid feeling lazy and cheap. The standard of the other movies to come out in the subsequent years would be more in line with Munchies and Hobgoblins.

Ghoulies (1984) looked as if it had some potential. Although initially a bit of a head-scratcher, it was easier to enjoy when you realised that the comedic elements were intentional. The creature design wasn't too bad, the special effects weren't appalling, and it had the benefit of a cast that included both a pre-fame Mariska Hargitay and Scott Thomson (Copeland from the Police Academy series). And the video cover had a slimy monster popping out of a toilet. I was 9 or 10 when I first saw that cover and I knew that I had to see the movie. Bear in mind that I MAY have seen this movie before Gremlins. My memory is hazy, but I recall filling up my Gremlins Panini sticker album for a long, long time before getting to see the movie itself. This review here will sound like me repeating myself if you just read this paragraph.

At NO point does this Ghoulie, or any other, wear this outfit.

Ghoulies 2 (1988) went one better. The monsters were coming out of the toilet again, but this time a couple of taglines played up the mix of comedy and horror.
One read: "Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the bathroom"
The other: "They'll get yours in the end."
The creature design was even better this time around, the laughs were more obvious, and the carnival setting helped a lot (more horror movies should make use of the carnival atmosphere). It also had the enjoyable Phil Fondacaro in a fairly substantial role, and J. Downing as the kind of uptight, heartless businessman/human villain viewers just love to see get their comeuppance. Ghoulies 2 wasn't just good. It was, that rare thing indeed, superior to the first film.

But, just when you thought the series might end up as a pleasant surprise, along came Ghoulies Go To College (1991). AKA Ghoulies III. I guess that someone somewhere assumed that if the sassy creatures had drawn such a great response from viewers while in a carnival setting then it would be a win-win situation to place them in the middle of a . . . . . . . . . . . . . frathouse comedy. Oh yes, that happened. And Kevin McCarthy was roped in to play Professor Ragnar. And did I mention that the creatures now talk? Which allows every scene to practically overflow with "witty wisecracks". The end result isn't good, although it's a relief to see the makers of the movie actually remember that it should have some decent monster action by the time we get to the grand finale. Film fans may find it worth a watch now to see Kane Hodder in a very brief role, playing a sap who ends up stuck in a mop bucket, and Jason Scott Lee giving no sign whatsoever of the talent that he would be able to display in the next few years. At least there's also a fleeting amount of gratuitous nudity to ease the pain.

Last, and very much least, we were given Ghoulies IV (1994). And when I say that we were given it I mean given in the same way that people are given a punch in the face, or radiation poisoning, or even syphilis. Directed by Jim Wynorski, a man who has given me delights as varied as Chopping Mall and Cleavagefield, this movie insults the audience with the most tenuous of links to the first film (okay, the male lead kinda reprises his role), a rambling and shoddy plot that it's hard to remotely care about, and a couple of creatures that AREN'T EVEN REAL FUCKING GHOULIES! Sorry, but when you stick with something over the years you can be irritated greatly by small details like that. It was the coffin nail in a series that had taken a more unusual journey than most. Think about it, we never even got to see a Ghoulies In Space outing (the usual check-point for horror franchises).

Know what these are? NOT FUCKING GHOULIES is what they are.
I hope I'm not alone in my fondness for the first two movies, but I'd be very interested to find someone who enjoyed the later instalments. If only to make sure they can receive the right medication.

Buy the first two movies right here -

Wednesday 2 September 2015

School For Scoundrels (1960)

Based on a popular series of comedic novels, School For Scoundrels is a constant pleasure from start to finish, mixing the best of British with a familiar tale of one poor zero trying to turn himself into a bit of a hero.

Ian Carmichael is Henry Palfrey, the poor schmuck who finds himself in the doldrums when he realises just how much of a schmuck he actually is. He's a polite, nice guy. Which leads to him being patronised by hiw workforce (mainly one man, played by Edward Chapman), having the wool pulled over his eyes by some dodgy car salesmen (Dennis Price and Peter Jones), and, most importantly, being overshadowed in a competition for the woman he loves (Janette Scott) by a charismatic bounder (Terry-Thomas). Hoping to make himself a better man, Henry enrols at The School Of Lifemanship, an institution run by Dr. Potter (Alastair Sim) to teach people all of the tricks required to maintain a position of superiority in any social situation. It might just help him become a winner, but maybe not in the way that he had always envisioned.

Considering the quality of the final product, it seems redundant to comment on how troubled the production was behind the scenes. So I won't. I'll just say that Robert Hamer is credited as director, with Patricia Moyes and Hal E. Chester being the named writers. And, taken at face value (judging by the final result - which is really all there is to do in many instances), they all did their bit to create a minor classic of comedy.

But let's not underestimate the value of the perfect cast. Whether being walked all over or asserting his dominance, Carmichael is, essentially, a very likable lead. This makes his mistreatment all the more affecting, and his attempts to achieve success all the more enjoyable. A good hero, however, needs a good villain, and that spot is taken by the irreplacable Terry-Thomas. Few people, if anybody, could play a charming rogue like Thomas, and he's in his element here. As is Alastair Sim, who fades into the background for most of the main scenes, yet remains memorable thanks to the strong impression he manages to make in the first 10-15 minutes. Scott is suitably lovely as the woman who drives our hero to such extreme "self-improvement", and every other player fits perfectly in their respective roles, with John Le Mesurier also deserving a mention for his wonderfully disdainful head waiter.

Timeless, charming, often outright hilarious, cutting, and smart. School For Scoundrels is essential viewing if you're a fan of any of the cast members, a fan of British cinema, or just a fan of great comedy. You could even call it educational.


School For Scoundrels was digitally restored for the Studio Canal DVD (August 31st) and Blu-Ray (October 5th) release here in the UK. Extra features include interviews with Peter Bradshaw and Chris Potter (about the film and the source material), and an interview with Graham McCann (about Terry-Thomas). There's also a stills gallery and a trailer.

Monday 31 August 2015

Wes Craven (1939 - 2015)

I cannot just take back everything I've ever said about Wes Craven, so I'm not going to, but his passing made me take a moment to think about his body of work. And, DAYUM, he certainly cast one hell of a huge shadow over the horror genre. Over the years I have joined in conversations about Craven to offset some praise that I may have seen as overly enthusiastic. I referred to the man as a great craftsman, as opposed to a great artist, and I would often mention my annoyance with his obsession over booby traps and how they were so often used in his work to hammer home the point about how thin the veil can be between civility and savagery. And then there was the fact that his name was used, rightly or wrongly, to sell a lot of inferior movies to us horror fans in the past couple of decades. Hey, he's not the first and he won't be the last. It just took the shine off his reputation, and made it even easier to forget about his fantastic legacy.

Let's start at the beginning, and look at a number of his better-known works.

The Last House On The Left (1972) may well be a sleazy reworking of The Virgin Spring but it led to numerous horror/exploitation movies that would either wear their influence in the title (The Last House On Dead End Street) or in their obviously similar plotting (Night Train Murders AKA Late Night Trains). And that infamous tagline has also been riffed on by numerous, inferior films. Not only was Craven a startling, daring director, but he also seemed to align himself with great marketing.

And then, after a little-remembered movie entitled The Fireworks Woman (1975), came The Hills Have Eyes (1977).

Craven once again seemed to single-handedly create a new horror genre touchstone with his intense, nasty tale of inbred killers pushing a family well beyond breaking point. And he created, arguably, his second major horror icon with the help of Michael Berryman.

The next few years brought some interesting additions to Craven's filmography, including some TV work, a comic book movie (the enjoyable Swamp Thing - which benefits from a great cast and a scene in which Adrienne Barbeau bathes in jungle waters that would have made the teenage me spontaneously combust if I'd been fortunate enough to see it nearer the time of its initial release), and a much-maligned sequel to The Hills Have Eyes that features one of the most amusingly unfathomable flashback sequences ever, with the notable exception of Freaked.

Thankfully, in the very same year, Craven also served us up a very dark dream. A Nightmare On Elm Street (1984).

"If Nancy doesn't wake up screaming she won't wake up at all." ANOTHER great tagline. I think it would be redundant of me to try digging deeper into this horror classic. Most people know by now that Craven got the idea from a bizarre news story, and New Line Cinema developed in the '80s into "The House That Freddy Built." What I will tell you, that you may not know already, is that I first saw this movie when I was about 10-11 years old. And I loved it. It was the most intense horror I had ever seen at that point in my life (Halloween was already a comfortable old friend by then, and I had yet to really delve further into the genre). It had some fleeting nudity, a cute leading lady, torrents of bloodshed, and unforgettable visual flourishes. And it also had Freddy Krueger. Yes, the first movie may have kept the slasher icon (ANOTHER icon) as a darker, less talkative, character but he was still the main draw. Just waiting to see what he would do next was equally exciting and terrifying. He broke all the rules. As did I, that very night, when I ended up switching on my bedroom lamp for the duration of the night, to ward off the boogeyman (a situation that seriously displeased my mother when she came in the next morning to find that I'd been letting a bulb burn all through the night).

That would have been enough for most directors, but Craven used his success to keep delivering more interesting slices of entertainment for us horror fans. They weren't all good, but how can you not love Deadly Friend (1986) when it gave us all THIS moment? And The Serpent And The Rainbow (1988) became, for many, the only non-Romero "zombie" movie to provide scares without repeating the gore and shocks that we'd already seen so many times before. Shocker (1989) and The People Under The Stairs (1991) may remain more products of their time than actual enduring classics but I can't deny having a lot of fun with them when I first saw them. I don't think many would say the same about Vampire In Brooklyn (1995) - although, in fairness, I haven't even seen this one for myself yet; it's reputation precedes it.

A low point? Perhaps. But not for long. Because along came Scream (1996).

Scream took the horror genre conventions and played with them in a perfect way to blend real scares/thrills with major entertainment value in a way that had eluded Craven when he tried to explore thematically similar material (a la meta-layering) in the unjustifiably dismissed New Nightmare (1994), a film which has at least grown in stature in the years since it was first served up to unwitting, and perhaps unprepared, audiences.

Scream has divided horror fans in recent years. While it's hard to deny that it gave the horror genre a much needed shot in the arm it's equally hard to deny that it also led to some major bad habits that don't look likely to be broken any time soon (the floating head poster design being just one minus, with the pop culture riffing also sitting uneasily within scripts that aren't clever or witty enough to carry it off successfully). I've even been sucked in to the recent MTV TV show. Don't judge me.

Some of those bad habits came to the fore when Craven teamed up with screenwriter Kevin Williamson once again to refresh the werewolf movie with Cursed (2005). I am one of the few people who find Cursed to be a lot of fun. It's majorly flawed, with two of the biggest problems being poor CGI and a distinct lack of decent bloodshed (leaving the film, ironically, feeling quite toothless), but the script is fun, the central performances from Christina Ricci, Jesse Eisenberg, Judy Greer and Milo Ventimiglia are great, and it has a clear love from the cinematic history of lycanthropy that it is springboarding from.

Didn't like Cursed? No problem. Craven showed that he could leave the CGI aside to craft some masterful suspense when he released Red Eye (2005).

Cillian Murphy and Rachel McAdams helped make Red Eye so enjoyable, but it's clear that the direction from Craven is what enables this particular piece of hokum to flat-out entertain, despite a central premise that is absolutely ludicrous when you give it even a few seconds of actual thought. Thankfully, Craven doesn't let you have any time to figure that out. He's busy letting his cast have fun in a game of cat and mouse that involves wince-inducing use of a pen, bluffery, and the constant threat of escalating violence.

My Soul To Take (2010) may not have been a great swansong for the horror master, which is why we're lucky to have Scream 4 (2011). Some may disagree, but I think it took the franchise to the next logical step, and showed that Craven could easily create new and imaginative ways for teenagers to perceive horror. Which, in a way, is what he did all the way back in that Last House On The Left.

RIP Wes Craven - check out his entire filmography at IMDb here, as I deliberately kept this piece focused on his horrors, and more specifically the horrors that I had seen, and you'll probably be tempted to watch at least one of his movies this week.

Saturday 29 August 2015

Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2015: Post The Second (And . . . . . Last)

It's all winding down now. As we reach the very end of the month, people start to realise that you can't escape hangovers for an infinite amount of time. Worst of all, a lot of people are about to be hit by a LOT of delayed hangovers all at once. But as long as they saw some shows, and perhaps even enjoyed some of them, then it's all been worthwhile. Maybe.

For my own part, following on from the first post here, I was also able to see the following:

Stewart Francis - Pun Gent - I've been a fan of Francis, and his magnificent puns, for a number of years now. He's as hilarious live as he is exhausting (any more than an hour and I think I would have needed pain relief for the constant laughing). He did, however, also come out with a few jokes that were in very poor taste. Oh, I still laughed, even while cringing slightly, but it's worth bearing in mind that seeing him live means hearing a few gags that certainly wouldn't make it on to any of his TV appearances. ****

360 All Stars - A drummer who can also play keyboard, at the same time. A beatboxer/DJ. A couple of breakdancers. A BMX stunt rider. A guy who goes around in a giant hoop. And Mr. Basketball. This motley crew really live up to their team name in a show that's loud, energetic, and hugely entertaining for all the family. There's some repetition here and there that may annoy some, but this was a show that seemed to go down a storm with everyone in the audience. ****

Breakfast At Piffany's - Another person I have been a fan of for some time is Piff The Magic Dragon, and Mr. Piffles. Focusing on comedy more than magic, this was a fun time with a late-night crowd. I have to kick myself for not remembering the name of the female assistant to Piff, because she often stole the show by putting on a big showbiz grin while being saddled with the tidying up, moving heavy objects, and generally unglamorous jobs required to keep the show moving. Very funny, and with a surprisingly glitzy, funky finale. *****

Morgan & West's Utterly Spiffing Magic Show For Kids (And Childish Grown-ups!) - I have now seen Morgan & West a couple of times, and they tend to both entertain and slightly irritate me. Their patter on stage is great, and that goes doubly so for this show aimed at kids in which West plays up the fact that he is not a fan of kids at all, but many of their tricks are based on very simple techniques/cheats. Of course, you could say that about all magic shows, which is why the presentation goes a long way, and the presentation here (for both kids and us childish grown-ups) was wonderful. The duo seemed to be a firm favourite as I chatted about the act with my 11-year-old daughter once we'd left the venue. ****

The Room: The Musical - Oh boy. Nothing in recent memory has made me laugh as much as this did. All of the cast were great, the actor playing Tommy Wiseau was uncannily perfect. The songs were funny. If you've endured/experienced The Room then you owe it to yourself to see this. Unfortunately, I don't think it's going to be shown again after this festival. Unless I was lied to. Do whatever it takes to see this tonight. Seriously (ummmmmm . . . . . . within all standard legal boundaries, of course). *****

Photo taken from the Facebook page of The Room: The Musical, and is credited to Tim Kelly. See more of his photography here - - or here -

Friday 28 August 2015

Scalarama 2015

Did you know that September is the unofficial month of cinema? Scalarama 2015 is the fifth year of a fine tradition that encourages people to broaden their cinematic horizons, revisit some sorely neglected classics, and generally have as much fun as it's possible to have in a cinema without trying to re-enact that Diner trick.

The website, with plenty of further details, is here. Check it out.

Highlights include a John Waters retrospective, screenings of Eyes Without A Face, The Dance Of Reality, Roar, and a 16mm print of The Begotten, as well as a look at some interesting films from female directors, including The Watermelon Woman and Girlfriends (1978). There's a Shirley Clarke retrospective, and much more.

I'll be hoping to check out a few of these films myself in the coming weeks, so a few reviews will certainly end up here on the blog. I hope that other folks out there will check their local cinema listings and perhaps buy a ticket for a cinema experience a little different from the usual blockbuster fare.

Sunday 23 August 2015

Madman (1982)

Let me start this review by quoting the opening text from Student Bodies (1981):

"This motion picture is based on an actual incident.
Last year 26 horror films were released . . .
None of them lost money."

Madman was released in 1982, not so much riding a wave of slasher horrors, but perhaps more trying to be drowned by the stab-happy deluge. To stand out, it would have to feature some great kills, memorable chaacters, top notch FX work, and more great kills. Alternatively, it just had to be viewed on videotape by some of the kids who were fast discovering the many pleasures now available to them through the magical portal of video cassettes. While I can't speak for everyone, I found the movie, and found that it lodged itself in my mind, thanks to the second scenario. I even saw Madman way before I ever saw The Burning, making it probably the first Friday The 13th derivative that I was exposed to (although it certainly wouldn't be the last, by a long shot).

Despite the slasher titles I have just namechecked, Madman actually starts off in a scene that aligns it most closely with The Fog. A campfire tale sets up the scary atmosphere, and reveals the backstory/legend of Madman Marz, and it always surprises me that more horror movies haven't made use of the campfire tale tradition, a simple precursor to most forms of modern storytelling. But once everyone leaves the campfire we end up treading much more common ground, as individuals wander far enough away from the group to be picked off by the vicious killer. And that pretty much covers the entire plot.

While I can't say that the acting is all that great, or that the characters are even all that memorable, Madman benefits from the memorable turn from Paul Ehlers in the title role, and is also of interest to any horror fans who want to see Gaylen Ross in horror genre fare other than her most well-known film (Dawn Of The Dead). Tony Fish, Harriet Bass, Seth Jones, Jan Claire and all of the other main players cover a pretty wide range of talent levels, from good to bad.

Although they are sparse throughout the film, the special effects and gore gags are fairly well done. A couple of heads are removed from necks, sharp things are stabbed into bodies, and there's also a highly effective hanging that makes a great impact thanks mainly to the physical performance of the actor involved (kudos to him for such a convincing moment). And the hideous visage of Madman Marz himself is actually a solid piece of work, displayed to best effect during one particularly enjoyable jump scare.

Strangely enough, I guess Madman falls down for fans of slasher movies when it fails to adhere to the rules that had already been well established by this point. Yet, somewhat perversely, it's this lack of adherence to those rules that also help it to stand out, even after all these years. Yes, you get the kills and you get a finale that reveals where some of the corpses have been placed, but the film also consistently surprises, whether by focusing on some genuinely good atmosphere and scares ahead of the bodycount or just in the victim choice/order.

If you ask anyone about Madman, and are lucky enough to stumble across someone else who has seen it (it's a title often forgotten or simply overlooked by even many members of the horror community), then the chances are that they will remember it for one of two reasons. The first is a particularly impressive kill scene/grisly aftermath. The second is the catchy theme song. Let it invade your ears here . . .

James Oliver, writing in the booklet that accompanies the Arrow Video release, lists a number of flaws that the film has, and says: "the (regrettably plentiful) songs are awful". With respect, James, I have to disagree. I used to think that the main theme song was a memorable one, and also recall the score being pretty solid throughout. Revisiting it today, I still think exactly the same. Oh, it may well be a case of love or hate it when it comes to the soundtrack, but I am firmly on the side of love.

Actually, never mind my sudden focus on the soundtrack for this last paragraph, the film itself may well be a love or hate it affair. Until this Bluray was released I always thought that nostalgia was tinting my view of the film. That wasn't the case. It's an undervalued diamond in the rough that deserves to be discovered by horror fans who think they have already seen every slasher movie worth seeing. And this package is the best way to give it a go.


Madman is goes on general releases on Bluray tomorrow here in the UK, thanks to those lovely, lovely people at Arrow Films. The bumper selection includes some bonus content from previous releases, plus a few goodies that may be seeing the light of day on shiny disc for the very first time. I haven't had time to go through everything yet, but I am keen to explore further. And the film itself is the best I have seen it. Here are the specs, as listed on thier site:

  • Brand new 4K transfer from the original camera negative

  • High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD presentations

  • Original Mono audio (uncompressed PCM on the Blu-ray)

  • Optional English SDH subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing 

  • Audio commentary with director Joe Giannone, Madman stars Paul Ehlers and Tony Fish and producer Gary Sales

  • Audio Commentary by The Hysteria Continues

  • The Legend Still Lives! Thirty Years of Madman – a feature-length retrospective documentary on the slasher classic including interviews with various cast and crew

  • Madman: Alive at 35 – Sales, Ehlers and star Tom Candela look back at the making of Madman, 35 years after it was filmed

  • The Early Career of Gary Sales – the Madman producer discusses his career in the film industry

  • Convention interviews with Sales and Ehlers

  • Music Inspired by Madman – a selection of songs inspired by themovie, including the track ‘Escape From Hellview’ from former CKY frontman Deron Miller

  • In Memoriam – producer Sales pays tribute to the some of the film’s late cast and crew, including director Giannone and actor Tony Fish

  • Original Theatrical Trailer

  • TV Spots

  • Stills & Artwork Gallery with commentary by Sales

  • Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Matthew Griffin

  • Collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by critic James Oliver, illustrated with original archive stills and posters.

  • Order your copy here -

    And then feel free to shop on Amazon to boost my income -