Spoilers follow ...
- 10. Aug, 2016
Described by Chris Alexander as a ‘fetish film’, ‘Female Werewolf’ certainly injects new levels of salaciousness into this story of a woman who suspects she maybe some kind of werewolf. By the film’s close, we’re still not sure whether she is crazy, whether her perceived lycanthropy is her way of pigeonholing her lesbianism or whether, as a typically murky (but impressive) transformation into a briefly glimpsed beast might attest, she is actually given to sprouting fangs and fur. Tangibly, in the ‘real world’, when she inspects her appearance in the bathroom of her sparsely furnished flat, the searched-for protruding teeth are nowhere to be found.
Whether it is in her mind or not, whether the murder of sexy office girl Cheryl Singleton and her subsequent wraith-like reappearances are real, or just part of Carrie Gemmell’s secluded world doesn’t actually seem terribly important. What we have here is a continuation of Chris Alexander’s ‘vision’ for film-making – a Rollin-esque lack of regard for closure, or a hugely tangible storyline that scans like an hallucinogen or a dream. This may be his third full length feature, and we may have become more familiar with his doom-laden atmospherics, lack of dialogue and mesmerising attention to detail, but he still deliberately obfuscates for the sake of soaking his projects in a minimalist other-worldliness. Here – as always – we see signs of life: a roadway bustling, a snow-flecked POV shot from inside a car, Gemmell’s sparse office job – but it is all held defiantly at arm’s length. The true reality is in the enclosed isolationist’s world of half seen monsters, cold eroticism and blood – lots of blood.
I’m slightly worried there are no announcements of future filmic projects from Alexander. As of now, whenever one undertaking gets a DVD release, a follow-up is in the pipe-line. I really want there to be more from him. ‘Female Werewolf’ may echo a few moments from his earlier ‘Blood for Irina (2012)’ (starring Shauna Henry, only glimpsed here) but he clearly has plenty more stories to tell.
- 6. Aug, 2016
Disillusioned New York Taxi Driver Vinny Durand (Joe Spinell) is obsessed with cult film actress Jana Bates (Caroline Munro). He tells his mother, with whom he shares an apartment - actually Spinell’s home), that he intends to go to the Cannes Film Festival, meet Bates and direct her in a film that will kick-start his career as an acclaimed film-maker. His mother (played by Spinell’s real matriarch Mary – the star of the film, in my view) isn’t convinced. In a warning uttered without punctuation, she says, “Stop thinking about those crazy ideas, you’ll only get yourself upset again, I made baked macaroni, you don’t eat right.”
Caroline Munro seems to be re-dubbed throughout, with an American accent. Visually, she’s as 1980s as it is possible to get, her natural beauty often smothered by make-up and hair colouring and styling. She features in my favourite scene – wrapped only in a towel, running hysterically, barefoot down the middle of a bustling night-time road.
This includes what appears to be real news footage, charting the assignation attempt on then President Ronald Reagan (himself an ex-film star) in an attempt by an obsessed fan to impress actress Jodie Foster.
‘The Last Horror Film’ is by turns dreadful and very funny (especially the last scene). Every few minutes, we are treated to tracking shots of beaches, movie premieres and parties, incessantly accompanied by tuneless 80’s ‘songs, with hoarse-voiced singers, guitars and Linn Drums (which help to ensure the running time seems a lot longer than 90 minutes) – against this backdrop, Durrand comes across as a splendidly drab failure, who might even be responsible for a series of gory murders that seem to follow Bates around …
Filmed, without permits, at and around the Cannes Film Festival, this is somehow saved from being ‘a bad film’ by the genuine warmth and heart that belies the bad acting (although Spinell has moments where he is genuinely unnerving) and zero budget. It goes some way to explore whether or not horror films inspire real life horrific events. Bates’ comeback is that people watch the news, which is more terrifying than any horror films she has ever seen. It’s difficult to argue with that.
- 6. Aug, 2016
In the short space of time she is onscreen, objectionable brat Lucy (Amberley Gridley) sulks and pouts so much that when she is knocked down and killed by a speeding car during a spectacular strop, the relief outweighs any grief.
Next we meet Tess (Ryan Simpkins), a similarly uncommunicative young lady who initially displays all of Lucy’s charm (i.e.: none) – and yet Tess’s troubles are there for a reason: for years, she has suffered mental instability episodes throughout her life. We learn this from scenes of her isolation, even in her fairly bustling hometown, to the accompaniment of melancholy folk songs on the soundtrack.
With so little happening throughout the running time, and when much of that time is given to focussing on Tess’s sullen moping, audience sympathy is in short supply. It is suggested that Tess’s condition - a ‘dissociative identity disorder’ - makes her susceptible to Lucy’s undead presence. Her mother Jessica (Annika Marks), fashionably not that much older than her daughter, is wracked with befitting concern, but when her daughter is so cut off, so apathetic, as far as this drama is concerned, she just becomes a pain in the neck. With an unresponsive child possessed by a sulky adolescent, the subtleties of the drama are fatally unengaging.
And yet, amid the heart-wrenching soul-searching, Sarah’s wishes that her dead daughter Lucy needs to be ‘in a better place’ are somewhat unnerving, especially as the spirit seems unwilling to leave the host body. These scenes, and others, would have been so much more effective if more was made of the supernatural element.
Ultimately, despite what are presumably the best intentions of the cast and crew, two women screaming ‘Tess!!’ every time the young woman coughs or chokes or looks earnestly into the distance doesn’t really inspire much of a reaction. Sadly, I ran out of patience long before the film ended. As a guide in how not to look after a troubled teen, this may be useful, but as a horror film, it is unforgivably dull.
- 5. Aug, 2016
It’s nearly Christmas and in an English cul-de-sac, things briskly go from bad to worse. Young Jodie (Linzy Cocker) has come to visit her wayward mother Beth (Never McKintosh) and finds her in bed with an unknown man (Shaun Dooley); stomping away to the neighbour’s house, there’s then a raging argument in the street as she begs for her daughter to come home. In the middle of this, a helicopter overhead signals the arrival of a squad of military men in combat uniforms who promptly shoot the antagonistic Asian neighbour. Terrorism? Quarantine? Who knows?
In one of several unexpected twists, we then stay with Beth for the bulk of the story, as revelations about the true nature of events slowly come to light. She becomes almost feral as she survives death time and time again, and only when she at last finds Jodie cowering in the darkness of her neighbour’s is there cause for hope.
SPOILER – a genetic experiment gone wrong has produced a number of deformed killers, all of whom have been destroyed – all but one. To keep the situation a secret, a squad of military men swarm and evacuate the cul-de-sac, killing anyone who has discovered the truth. As often proves to be the case, the human beings who have caused the problem are also the cause of the death and destruction ‘necessitated’ by the need to keep it a secret. The briefly seen creature is not someone you can feel sorry for – a gurgling, screaming rampant, mindless killer.
Without giving anything further away, there is no happy ending to this, as young Jodie’s screams usher in the closing credits. The stark mood of ruthless killing and suburbia turned into a hell-hole is effectively showcased and nothing is every predictable. This is a hidden gem of economic story-telling. Happy Christmas!
- 4. Aug, 2016
A magnificent swooping shot towards and over Castle Dracula fades into an equally epic shot of The Demeter, the doomed ship that holds the casket containing Dracula, being rocked by a punishing storm – all with the backing of John Williams’ bombastic musical score. It’s clear this lavish production intends to be as spectacular as possible.
Frank Langella is a commanding, imposing and charming Dracula. A real life condition causes his very eyes to shiver –effective when Dracula notices butler Swales (Teddy Turner) has cut his finger whilst serving supper.
Interestingly, the characters of Mina (now Van Helsing’s daughter) and Lucy (Kate Nelligan) are swapped for this version: Mina is already sickly and prone to unpredictable behaviour even before Dracula’s arrival.
We have Trevor Eve’s rather sulky Jonathan Harker, Donald Pleasance forever eating or chewing as Dr. Seward and Laurence Olivier as a frail Abraham Van Helsing – Olivier’s health was precarious throughout filming, but he went on to live ten more years and continued making films.
In 2004 Director John Badham made the bizarre decision of draining much of the film’s colour for the DVD release. The result, especially for the scenes inside Castle Dracula, play almost like a black and white film (perhaps that is the intention. There are certainly similarities between this and the 1931 version: both films are based on the Hamilton Deane and John L. Balderston stage version, and both feature leading men who helped make the theatrical runs so popular). The resultant imagery however, has scenes that are visually very flat.
A sequence that looks out-of-place, beneath its own glossy over-production, is when Dracula enters Lucy’s room and seduces her. Striding through plumes of machine-generated smoke, the following canoodling melds straight into laser-lit choreography, with whirling dry ice, blood red lighting and cartoon bats. Flamboyant it might have been in 1979, this is the only scene that dates the film.
Having said that, the set-piece that most remember is that of a vampiric Mina emerging from the sewers to entice Seward and Van Helsing. Beginning as a reflection in a muddy pool of water (vampires cast no reflection – indeed, Dracula is not shown in the mirror as he enters Van Helsing’s room), she looms from the shadows as a frightening, ragged, decomposing spectre. Brilliant and terrifying this transformation is, from the lovely Jan Francis into a monster, I’m not sure it makes a lot of sense – Mina has only been dead a short while, and vampires are known to retain their youthfulness once bitten, not decay as Mina has done (only in death does she revert to her original self).
Equally, Dracula’s eventual demise stretches things a bit. The notion that old Van Helsing, dying from being impaled, manages to hurl a hook in The Count’s back with enough force to embed itself enough for him to then to be winched into the sunlight is difficult to invest in.
These niggles aside, this is a powerful and vibrant adaption, and highly enjoyable. Released around the same time as Werner Herzog’s ‘Nosferatu’ and the George Hamilaton-starring ‘Love at First Bite’, its commercial impact was compromised a little, which presumably scuppered further interest from Universal.
- 4. Aug, 2016
What is it that separates a good film from a bad one? Certainly not budget (or lack of), not even acting talent. Not necessarily a cohesive story. Generally speaking, it is down to individual taste. With horror, gore and special effects can be added to the list of things that don’t really matter – it is, I suppose, a translation of convincing mood, of atmosphere, of fear. I say all this because ‘The Witch’ has received widespread acclaim, yet is almost the polar opposite of successful horror films of modern times.
This concentrates on the ascension (or descension?) of young Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy) into a witch. Beginning with the exile of a family of six (Shortly – if briefly to become seven) to a farm beside a secluded forest. The head of the family William (Ralph Ineson) does his best to provide for them, but lacks skill as a hunter and is surrounded by mysteriously failing crops. Whilst in the care of Thomasin, the new baby vanishes – her older brother Caleb (Harvey Scrimshaw) also disappears only to return in a state of possession, and the two remaining youngest, Jonas and Mercy, display increasingly frightening behaviour. It seems an unexplained and tragic series of coincidences mars Thomasin, but as things transpire, events seem pre-ordained by the legendry Black Philip.
As a glut of unexplained circumstances occur that disposes of her family, Thomasin wanders in a trance, into the forest where she comes across a haven of naked witches who, after completing a ritual of dance movement around a blazing fire, physically rise and ascend into the trees. Laughing, Thomasin joins them.
The acting in this is extraordinary throughout, even from the youngest members of William’s family. Occasionally, the olde-world dialogue spoken with thick, regional accents, is hard to make out. And we only see a witch once in close-up. A seductive, long-haired woman emerges from a cottage deep in the forest and appears to seduce young Caleb (there is also an incident where her coven break into the barn when Thomasin has been imprisoned by her father, and drink the blood of the animals, but this is shrouded in darkness).
It has been suggested by a handful of reviewers that this could be a kind of loose prequel to ‘The Blair Witch Project (1999)’, which, if you forget the change in location, is an interesting possibility – if you want it to be. Any connection is, I think, entirely unintentional.
This is a leisurely-paced, stunningly shot psychological horror in which a family’s worst fears actually become a distinct possibility. It won’t please everyone, although it did well commercially and received well deserved critical acclaim.
- 3. Aug, 2016
This is a relentlessly grim and humourless film – understandably, given the subject matter. Another modern day take on Frankenstein (loosely speaking, most horror stories are), this deals with engineered babies and cloning, and the reaction of modern day media and ‘normal’ people.
Elisabeth is the ‘first’ of these experiments, and public reaction is exacerbated when one of Doctor Victor’s (Jeremy Childs) staff leaks a picture of her to the press: a normal looking child, she nevertheless has an electronic implement injected into her forehead. What follows are various viewpoints presented both for and against Victor’s experimentation – for some, it presents hope that certain diseases will be combatted as a result; for others, it represents a violation of their perception of the will of God (‘Humans not clones/There’s evil among us’ they chanted like a mantra).
But Elizabeth is not the first experiment. The rampant and deformed Ethan has that dubious honour. Locked in his room, barely shown to the audience, he has behavioural disorders and continues to grow less manageable. One day, Ethan brutally kills the nanny Mary (Shelean Newman).
Exhausted, Ethan approaches Victor, having killed Elisabeth in another rage, who embraces him fatherly before giving him a fatal injection. The crowd of protestors outside his home falls silent as Victor shows them Elisabeth’s corpse, asking ‘Is this who you were afraid of?’ Incensed, one protestor shoots the doctor, killing him.
The subject matter of cloning isn’t quite interesting enough to justify its screen time. The characters’ reactions to the various developments, Victor’s moral dilemma and his belief he is doing positive, progressive work against a whirlwind of protestation and alienation is very well conveyed. But it isn’t until Ethan’s escape and subsequent blurred violence that things become truly creepy. In the end, when the experiments have presumably come to a shuddering end, will the protestors be happy, or will they simply move on to the next Big Issue and be equally compelled to bring that to an end too?
- 30. Jul, 2016
This Hammer-esque shocker begins with two young lovers Julia (Marguerite Hardiman) and Ralph (Stephen Bradley) who, despite their parents’ disapproval of their relationship, become united by blood. “You are mine, now,” says the lad as they touch bloodied thumbs together – and then a voice only Julia can hear, says: “No. Mine!”
It is difficult to escape the critical mauling this film has provoked over the years, and to begin with, this seems a little unfair. The cast range from good to poor, but not noticeably worse than those used by Amicus and Tigon around this time. As things rumble on, however, the storyline becomes harder to follow, sluggish and tiresome. Mike Raven, who stars as the demonic Stranger, also co-wrote and co-financed this, and must take much of the blame. Out-acted in every scene he is in (by a cast including Ronald Lacey, Louise Jameson and Virginia Wetherell as Ralph’s sister Ruth), his regular transformations into an albino for his dark sacrifices and parlour tricks make no sense.
His master is Satan of course, and unless he finds a virgin willing to spend eternity with him in Hell, he must sacrifice young women, whilst being aided by a gaggle of equally white-faced maidens. With an acting style reminiscent of silent film players, Raven is dreadful throughout, even in moments where he over-flourishes his hands to open doors before him – just open them normally, you silly sausage.
Melchisidech, a comedy Cabalist (Nick Amer) is called upon to thwart The Stranger, using his ‘kosher Yiddisher magic’, and aides Lacey’s Parson and Ralph with allegedly relevant potions. To combat this, The Stranger summons a dwarf (Rusty Goffe) who possesses the same powers as he, but can operate during daylight hours (The Stranger can only perform his evil at night, it seems, illustrated by his nocturnal zombie-like white pallor).
Finally defeated, The Stranger descends back to Hell, leaving Julia and Ralph to be tortured on a rack powered by a possessed Ruth. Cunningly, Ralph breaks her spell by shouting ‘Help us’, and they both escape and live happily ever after. ‘Disciple of Death’ was virtually ignored upon its release, and ridden the previously enthusiastic Raven’s horror film aspirations. It has moments of merit, but is mainly a fairly desperate production.
- 29. Jul, 2016
It is difficult to convey what a massive film this was on its release. It transformed second-billed Anthony Hopkins from a highly respected and well-known actor into an international superstar, caused a degree of controversy and cemented Jodie Foster’s reputation as a major talent. Both won awards for this, and the film won several others.
It isn’t difficult to see why. Starling’s (Foster) initial meeting with Lector (Hopkins) has a tremendous build up – tales of Lector’s legendary brutality, warnings and a corridor full of inmates leering (and worse) at Starling as she makes her way to his cell. The following scene alternately fills the screen with first Hopkins’ face and then Foster’, and – considering they are really explaining the plot to the audience - is electrifying.
Starling’s isolation in her male-dominated job is nicely conveyed visually (without over-labouring the point) often simply by featuring her in scenes with men a lot taller than her. Her wilful lack of vulnerability ensures we are instantly on her side. When we meet Lector, such is his beguiling magnificence, we find ourselves on his side too. A dilemma for the audience, but a fascinating one.
Among this terrific cast, it would be an error to overlook the contribution of Ted Levine as Buffalo Bill. His perversion is told to us at first, and revealed slowly thereafter, culminating in a scene in which he hides his penis between his legs and displays himself as a vision of what he believes to be divine beauty. Much of the original novel’s detail regarding Bill has not been included in the film (how much more shocking – perhaps too shocking – it would have been to see him wearing one of his skinned female victim’s breasts, as in Thomas Harris’s story). And yet he still emerges as a deranged and frightening figure.
The double twist towards the end of SPOILER (a) Lector’s ingenious escape, and (b) the realisation that Starling’s back-up team have gone to the wrong house leaving her to face Bill alone, are perfectly handled. And yet for such a controversial film, there is little gore actually in it – it is the implied violence and Lector’s relish in it that shreds the nerves. ‘Silence of the Lambs’ is thoroughly deserving of its acclaim.
- 28. Jul, 2016
On beginning her new job, shy Marie (Sonia Suhl) is greeted with ominous words, ‘Since you’re new, you’ll have to get rid of the fish waste.’ Marie is shy, occasionally sullen, and seems to be suffering from an un-diagnosable disease which leaves marks over her body. Getting rid of the fish waste is only the start of her challenges, in this film set in a Denmark fishing village …
At first, the abuse she receives at work seems like vicious, testosterone-fuelled cruelty disguised as high jinks, and it isn’t until later we discover there is reason for the resentment the locals have against her family. Marie’s mother (Sonja Richter) is catatonic, and late one night, Marie spies her father Thor (Lars Mikkelsen) shaving her shoulders and back. This is doubly cause for concern for Marie, as blemishes she is beginning to exhibit also feature the sprouting of down-like hair.
Thor’s history is revealed slowly. His wife is heavily medicated because her disease has a history of turning her into a killer. When it appears Marie is similarly afflicted, the local doctor, under Thor’s instruction, takes steps to anaesthetise her, when her mother springs into life and kills him. Shortly after, he is secretly buried in the garden, and she drowns herself in the bath.
Online reviews compare this to ‘Let the Right One In (2008)’, in that it can be seen as a kind of coming-of-age drama as well as a horror film. There are similarities.
When her work-mates continue to torment her, their wariness of her family giving them an excuse to act in their vindictive manner, it is hugely satisfying when Marie’s lycanthropic rage leads her to kill main protagonist Esben (Gustav Giese) – in fact, it’s a pity his suffering isn’t greater! Eventually, Marie is taken aboard a trawler where the locals intend to kill her, most likely dump her in the waters. Her subsequent slaughter of the entire crew puts me in mind of Dracula’s exploits aboard the Demeter – it is last seen as a ghost shop, drifting aimlessly. On board, only Marie remains, sleeping and child-like again, alongside Daniel (Jakob Oftebro), the only person to show her consistent kindness.
The sedate pacing may not appeal to everyone, but this unspectacular direction allows the story to tell itself, and for the characters to breathe, and is the way a truly atmospheric horror story should be told. Highly recommended.
- 27. Jul, 2016
Directed by the acclaimed Hideo Nakata, this Japanese horror was part of a number of films featuring ghostly black-haired children that courted a wave of popularity (and American remakes) alongside The Ring, the Eye and The Grudge.
Recently divorced Yoshimi Matsubara (Hitomi Kuroki) and her young daughter Ikuko (Rio Kanno) move into a rundown apartment block where there is an alarming – and growing – patch of damp dripping from the ceiling. Ikuko attends the local school and adapts quickly, but sees ghostly images of a dark haired youngster. This little spirit is often accompanied by puddles of water that seem to be reaching out towards Ikuko, like fingers. Could this be the local child that has recently gone missing, leaving only her red school satchel behind – a satchel that crops up in the most unlikely places?
SPOILER: it emerges that the missing Mitsuko Kawai (Mirei Oguchi) drowned in a large water tank on the apartments’ roofing whilst trying to retrieve her satchel. Now a ghost, she now sees Yoshimi as a kind of mother figure, and haunts her and her daughter, leading Yoshimi to make the ultimate sacrifice and appears to travel over to the ‘the other side’ to appease the spirit and save her daughter. This scene is illustrated as Yoshimi elects to stay in the elevator frequented by Mitsuko’s spirit. When at last the sliding doors open before her, a vast outpouring of water envelops Ikuko. Of her mother, there is no sign – until ten years later when she revisits the apartments, dilapidated outside, but tidied and fresh inside. She sees her dead mother who assures her that as long as she is well, she is happy. Mitsuko is also there, but when Ikuko turns, she is gone.
This is a good, creepy film that also carries a real emotional sting. Although Mitsuko has a history of instability, there is little doubt that the watery hauntings are real, and these are achieved very convincingly – none more so than when Mitsuko enters her flat once again after the damp patch on the roof has grown once more, to find filthy water pouring from the ceiling in every room. The effect is very much as if it is raining on the inside and is highly unsettling.
The melancholy of the lonely little girl, now without a mother, is also palpable but at least we get (and she gets) some assurance that Mitsuko will always be watching over her.
- 23. Jul, 2016
Watching a clean shaven, unblemished young man behaving like a new-born baby can be a disconcerting thing; watching the early scenes of this, I was very much put in mind of Nicholas Roeg’s ‘The Man Who Fell to Earth (1973)’. Whereas David Bowie’s John Newton was an alien, Xavier Samuel’s ‘Adam’ is very much a construct from Earth technology, namely that of Viktor Frankenstein. ‘This is not what I intended,’ he admits when his attractive creation quickly begins to sprout lesions and decomposing skin, and is driven to end his progeny’s short life.
Adam’s strength, however, prevents him from an early death and soon he is roaming the outside world, uncertain and physically powerful, meeting resentment and misunderstandings along the way. The police officer who interrogates him speaks as ignorant people speak to foreigners; the thought being ‘if I shout loud enough he will understand’.
The problem with adaptions of Mary Shelly’s story is that it has been done so many times, it must be a huge challenge to still make the tale relevant and involving without criticisms of re-treading the same ground’. The other option is to add new layers and tweak the narrative so that it is laid open to criticisms that it strays so far from the original and that it is ‘Frankenstein’ in name only. By moving events into the present, and creating a version of the monster so entrenched in modern times, this version manages to be both faithful to the original, as well as adding a new dimension to it.
A tremendous central performance from Samuel ensures the audience is on ‘Monster’s side at all times, even when he kills his only true friend, blind Eddie (Tony Todd), with whom there are scenes that even inject an affectionate humour into the proceedings.
Directed by Bernard Rose, who, amongst other things is responsible for 1988’s dream/horror ‘Paperhouse’, this is a thoroughly enjoyable, intelligent and refreshing adaptation of the well-known story, its release coinciding with that of the perhaps better known ‘Victor Frankenstein’, starring bankable names Daniel Radcliffe and McAvoy.
- 22. Jul, 2016
If waking up one morning and finding the tower block in which you live, and those around it, have been sealed - and that you have no water and no electricity isn’t bad enough - the gang that Mark (terrific Lee Ross) finds himself lumbered with is unsettling indeed.
Abrasive neighbour Sergei, who talks like he thinks he is a gangster, breaks down the wall into Mark’s apartment (“Strengff in numbers!”), chain smoking bigot Enid (Sheila Reid), and sanctimonious nerdy twerp Aiden (William Postlethwaite) make up the motley bunch caught up in whatever maelstrom it is that has made people prisoners in their homes.
The enemy appear to be people in sealed orange overalls. There has been a virus epidemic, and the government are keen to contain it. Enid thinks it might be something to do with immigrants and is treated as if the idea is abhorrent and unacceptable; Mark is called a ‘sick b*****d’ for trying to help young, mute Nicu (Gabriel Senu) – two very topical reactions for modern times.
In the end we are fairly sure that Nicu is the only one to survive from the clan. Indeed, mute children like him have perhaps been ‘spared’ by the authorities for being unable to tell others about the outbreak – that is the only supposition I can come up with as to why a truckload of non-communicative minors are being taken to safety. But presumably they can communicate in others ways.
Unless they are being kept in containment by a Government body – in which case, it doesn’t matter if they can communicate or not, surely? The ending – such a major part of this or any other film – is confusing, and I can only imagine the producers left it that way deliberately. Some clarity would have been nice.
Watching stupid people being stupid is never less than truthful, and yet ‘Containment’ doesn’t quite have a strong enough storyline to make such a side-line hugely interesting. What begins as a fascinating scenario and study into human relations in the most extreme circumstances sadly soon becomes a less interesting run-around featuring mostly unengaging characters.
- 22. Jul, 2016
Blond American Sara Price travels to Japan and doesn’t approve of raw fish. Her revulsion at the still moving food on her plate is noted with amusement by a group of giggling Japanese girls. Why can’t everyone eat burgers? Having overcome this initial obstacle, she concentrates on the business in hand. Her twin sister, dark-haired Jess, who has a history of wayward behaviour, has travelled alone to the suicide forest of Aokigahara, and Sara is off to find her.
Considering the twins are played by the same actress (Natalie Dormer), their few scenes together are very well accomplished. As usual for big budget horrors, though, we never really know either of them. Their personalities are reduced to concerned looks and bad dreams.
“Do not leave the path:” Sara is as dismissive of this advice as she is of the locals who merely try to help her. Her arrogance does not endear her. Luckily, however, she meets (or is chatted up by) another American (although we are told he is Australian), Aiden. At last! Someone she considers worth talking to!
With guide Michi (Yukiyoshi Ozawa), Sara finds Jess’s tent, and once more goes against advice given, and stays the night in the forest. This is when some long anticipated frights are hoped for. What we get are a Japanese schoolgirl and three anaemic looking spirits.
The forest itself - actually filmed in Serbia - provides a very impressive backdrop to (the lack of) events. Although Dormer plays her two characters very well, her role is under-written, all efforts instead seem to concentrate on atmosphere or scares – neither of which are particularly effective. ‘The Forest’ is a very dull exercise, where the blandness of direction and characters render it something of a chore.
- 19. Jul, 2016
Well. Here’s a film guaranteed to infuriate those who don’t like open-ended stories, because this provides no real answers, even at the end. Beware the following spoilers, which really will soften the impact of ‘Blood River…’
Happy newlyweds Clark (Ian Duncan) and Summer (Tess Panzer) are stranded in the middle of the Nevada desert after their car suffers a blow-out. Looking in the boot/trunk, Clark is dumbfounded to find the spare tyre is no longer there. Some swirling camera work really does convey how desolate the location is, and how far away from civilisation the two characters are.
They make their weary way back to a cluster of abandoned buildings, where a drifter cowboy, Joseph (Andrew Howard) arrives and immediately impresses Summer, who is pregnant, with his forceful personality. Although Clark is angered and intimidated by this, the two of them agree to traipse back to the car to ‘siphon off the gas’, leaving Summer to discover a room full of photographs, where the various subjects have their eyes blanked out. Among their number is a picture of Summer, Clark and Benny (Summer’s elder child). Startlingly, she turns to see Joseph standing behind her, where he explains he is a kind of angel of retribution, and that her unborn child is his now. Only minutes earlier, Joseph was with Clark at the car, some five miles away … and in the boot/trunk was the body of Benny.
Initially, Joseph’s proclamations of angelic status seem as ridiculous as his accusations of Clark’s alleged ‘sin’ – the ravings of an outcast – but slowly, it seems likely that he may be telling the truth. Quite what sin Clark is guilty of we’re not sure. The body of the child in the car was not there earlier, and is likely a metaphor for Clark’s benefit. Summer’s crime, the reason for her punishment, is the sin of apathy – she knew what was going on and did nothing about it.
Child abuse, or child-murder, seems likely, although never remotely specified – such things are left to the viewer. Murder is improbable, as Benny’s photograph is unblemished when Joseph hands it back to Summer. The wounds inflicted on Joseph by an enraged Clark also disappear, including the re-growing of three removed fingers, indicating that everything Joseph has said is true.
With such a lot of questions unanswered, Joseph is next seen disappearing into the distance having been given a lift by what is presumably the next ‘sinner’. As he says in a voice-over epilogue, ‘when you meet up with me, it is already too late.’
This is a fascinating, harrowing and intimate portrayal of disintegrating trust and the horror of realisation, beautifully shot and intensely acted. Far from being benign, Joseph’s retribution is merciless – an early scene with a flirtatious Inn Keeper seems to paint him as just another lunatic slasher, although the woman (Sarah Essex) seems accepting of her punishment. This, in retrospect, is a clue. Close attention is required - but don’t expect any clear answers.
Andrew Howard in particular is extremely powerful as Joseph. If there are any prosthetics on display, they are very subtle. And yet as his enigmatic persona becomes more convincing, he appears not quite/more than human in certain scenes. The glistening eyes and lack of eyebrows add a certain inhuman menace to his fury.
- 16. Jul, 2016
This tale of gruesome murders around a supposedly haunted tin mine in Cornwall is similar to the kind of picture Tony Tenser or Pete Walker were producing at the time, although rather more ponderous – low budget, and full of well-known British actors. The real winner, as is so often the case, is the scenery. The barren Cornish beaches and windswept grassy hills make an effectively isolated stage for various deaths.
Ronald Lacey plays Michael Clare, an unhappy drunk and the son of odd, reclusive artist Victor Clare (Mike Raven). Victor has a mentally ill wife and fills his time painting and having affairs with his models. Victor is, by all accounts rather a tantrum-prone inadequate rather than the monstrous villain this film paints him to be. As the ‘mad sculptor’, he is entirely free of any sense of menace.
There is a sloppy approach to dramatic logic here, which the lack of budget cannot be blamed for. The (too) irregular murders are carried out with no pretence of cover-up, and yet no-one is ever on hand to notice any noisy disruption or trails of blood, or even to mourn very much for the victims. There’s a very vague lesbian subplot between young Millie and Marcia, but this leads nowhere.
The twist at the end is … strange, but rather effective. It doesn’t make a huge amount of sense, almost as if it had been added at the last minute, but as John Arnott’s Bill ‘explains’, “it was pre-ordained.” The idea of possessed clothing influencing the will of the wearer is a nice one. If some clues to this had been filtered through the storyline, it wouldn’t feel like so unsatisfying.
This is a tension-light film, but retains a definite charm. Although he throws himself into the role of Victor, Raven’s acting is wooden throughout – indeed this and the failure of his next project, the partially self-funded ‘Disciple of Death’, spelled the end for Raven’s horror film aspirations.
- 15. Jul, 2016
The camera prowls around the open fields, huge assembly rooms and rolling sports grounds to the sound of children singing, nicely and sedately setting the scene for this 1972 Hammer horror. Naturally, the camera comes to rest on the feet of a man hanging from a tree. It takes 94 minutes for us to find out who they belong to …
Sally Geeson plays the rather delicate woman in peril attacked in the first few minutes by a man with a prosthetic arm! When she meets the very friendly Headmaster of the school where her boyfriend Robert (Ralph Bates) is due to begin work, the fact that he has only one usable arm doesn’t appear to bother her unduly, at least not initially.
To say Cushing is excellent is rather like pointing out the sky is blue. His subtle wistful looks and occasionally rather breathy intonation when in close proximity to Peggy seem to betray the rather obvious fact that Headmaster Carmichael is behind the attacks on the unfortunate young lady. A testament to his performance here is that you remember him appearing far more than he actually does. The question is, is Peggy imagining it (she recently suffered a breakdown), or is Robert in cahoots with Carmichael?
A pre-Hollywood Joan Collins turns up as Molly the waspy wife of the headmaster (“She can be a terrible bitch!”). Curiously she considers Peggy almost a child bride to Robert – curious given the vast age gap between Molly and her husband.
The revelations, when they come, are very good. Peggy, a victim throughout, really has our sympathy as the bizarre double-twists are expertly delivered. The recording equipment where the deranged Carmichael broadcasts his private showcases are used to good effect in the finale, handsomely obscuring the fact that the scenes are simply filled with the Headmaster explaining the plot. Unspectacular, but enjoyably told and extremely well played by an excellent cast.
- 14. Jul, 2016
A ‘just married’ couple are driving through Las Vegas accompanied by a musical soundtrack that sounds as if it has been lifted straight from Hawaii Five-O. Everything is going well until the groom has his head blown away by a passing driver.
A similar shock happens later on. FBI Agent Naughton has all the hallmarks of a sharp-dressed hero. Before long, he is smeared along a sun-kissed highway by the same manic driver.
The storyline involves disfigured criminal Leonard Karlsson (Jeremy Fitzgerald), convicted of child molestation. He breaks out in a clumsily shot pre-credits sequence and starts a killing spree against the 12 jurors who convicted him. To hide his deformity, he takes to wearing the faces of his victims. Apart from this, we are never invited to learn much about Karlsson; he immediately becomes the standard slasher/killer whose victims are dispatched in a less than bloody way.
The characters are sketchily written. None of them are particularly obnoxious (a common complaint) but neither are they particularly interesting or easy to care about. Deputy Kent, who emerges as the unlikely hero, is probably the most likeable of them all – before he too is dispatched, leaving two young girls Vicki (Mercedes McNab) and Claire (Emily Hardy) to sort things out.
As a whole, ‘XII’ is competent, perfunctory and contains some gory moments, particularly towards the end. If we knew a little more about the main villain, he would have been more effective – as it is, he is simply another ‘bogeyman.’ My favourite aspect of this is the element of surprise; many of the deaths were truly shocking because the characters seemed the least likely to be despatched.
- 13. Jul, 2016
Middletown, a small Salem-like location in the sleety cold shadow of winter is excellently conveyed – full of tiny, welcoming local shops and diners and a community tainted by an increasing onslaught of vengeful ravens. Essentially, the story is just a series of set-pieces for the well-staged killings to occur, and is no less enjoyable for that. The ravens have fed on the carcasses of cows that have died from mad cow disease (a fact covered up by local Amish farmers in a bid, they hope, to continue their farming) – the results are similar to those in Hitchcock’s ‘The Birds (1960)’. CGI provides much of the avian group action, spliced unobtrusively with real birds for close-ups of the growing clusters. The effects never lapse into the cartoon-like spectacle some CGI is guilty of, although the attacks in greater numbers is less successfully visualised than the less ambitious charges.
The residents and their lives are intelligently scripted (very rarely lapsing into the illogical behaviour often employed by characters to further the tension) and very well played throughout. Sheldon Wilson’s direction keeps things interesting – visually, many scenes are strikingly framed by the black-feathered birds as they gather. Only the weather hampers the production – clearly, this is filmed during fluctuating snow storms; as such, show and frost is more prevalent in some scenes than others, sometimes in a very short timeframe.
As the death-toll mounts, there is a convincing sense of growing loss of control over the epidemic, and all deaths are accompanied by the flapping of black, oily wings. Well established characters die, providing an emotional jolt. Perhaps the idea of incensed ravens hurling rocks through the windows of a bus load of people is a step too far, although in fairness, the idea sounds more ridiculous than it actually appears.
I always try to enter into these wonderful horror films with little or no preconceptions. This occasionally leads to watching a series of clunkers, but some unknown gems too. ‘Kaw’ doesn’t attempt to change the face of horror, but it ticks all the right boxes and provides a highly cohesive and enjoyable whole.
- 8. Jul, 2016
The marriage between Mark (Sam Neill) and his French wife Anna (Isabelle Adjani) is crumbling. Anna is having an open affair with Heinrich (Heinz Bennent), blaming Mark’s elongated time spent away for his work (an undisclosed spying mission he is trying to walk away from). Their unfortunate child, and the most stable character, is Bob (Michael Hogben), caught between the increasing madness and paranoia of his drifting parents. It’s apparent that the child’s presence keeps Mark and Anna more grounded than would otherwise be the case, for when he is out playing, or at school, increasingly violent hysteria ensues.
Through a private investigator, Mark discovers his wife has a second apartment in the rundown side of town. When the investigator discovers a slimy, living organism in the apartment, Anna glasses him. Events spiral further into rich absurdity and madness and with that, ‘Possession’ lurches confidently into uncategorisable territory. It is also the most enjoyable and refreshing horror film I have seen in a long time.
Conversations are replaced with intense dramatic exchanges involving characters forever at the end of their tether, frenzied even from the outset. The direction comprises of shots that give the actors space to do their thing, and what intense performances are unleashed! Often shot in cool blue colours, this was filmed entirely on location in cinematically drizzly Berlin.
Director Andrzej Żuławski wrote this whilst going through a divorce, which might well have contributed to the fraught emotions exhibited by the characters.
Each time we see the organism, it increasingly exhibits human shape until ultimately, it assumes Mark’s appearance (as well as the sexual attentions of Anna). In a bid to outdo even its own outlandishness, I feel the ending is ultimately slightly disappointing – however it cannot be easy to bring a satisfying closure to such an outlandish and shocking series of events.
Meeting with disappointing sales on its release, ‘Possession’ was banned by the usual feint UK hearts as a ‘video nasty’ yet has assumed cult status. It also won Isabelle Adjani multiple awards for best actress for her astonishing performance. As it is, every performance is astonishing, from Bennent’s passionate portrayal of the flamboyant Heinrich, to juvenile’s Hogben’s commendable playing of Bob.
- 6. Jul, 2016
Thom (Jay Sutherland) is very attracted to Stacey (Helen Crevel), but she is in denial about this. Why else would he drive her all the way from London to the peak district for a wedding he isn’t even invited to? It’s all a bit unfair on Thom, but not as unfair as the fact that he’s accidently shot by a recently released ex-prisoner who is showing his son how to hunt deer on private land.
Realising there’s more than a chance of him going back to Her Majesty’s Pleasure as a result of this, the miscreant Weaver (Andrew Coughlan) intends to make amends by hunting Stacey, who is the only one who could engineer his downfall.
This is a solid, steadily paced thriller featuring some terrific scenery, a good line in plot detail (the ongoing notion of Stacey’s perfume giving her presence away, the lack of driving knowledge that impedes her getaway) and some occasionally lacklustre acting. Crevel overplays some of her earlier scenes, whilst villainous Coughlan underplays some of his.
Horror film idiocy, of course, takes a hold. Hunted through the night by a wild man with a gun, Stacey finds a deserted building, which she sneaks inside. Does she shut the door behind her? You’d think so, but no.
I enjoyed this a lot. ‘Footsoldier’ doesn’t set out to change the world, operates within its budget and has plenty of twists in the story to stop it ever becoming stale. There’s a moment when Stacey pulls out Thom’s wallet from her pocket, whilst taking a rest in the woodlands some way through her ordeal. In it, she finds a snapshot of her and Thom together, and breaks down. It’s a good, touching moment in amidst the relentless chase.