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.