Wednesday 26 December 2012

The Top Ten Films of 2012

      It's that time of year when everyone seems to be producing lists, and as this is HMC's first year of being fully up and running it's only fair that it gets to join in the fun. Listed below, and in reverse order, are my top ten horror films of the year. The only proviso was that they had to have been either released this year, or seen on the big screen this year, and not as part of a retrospective or revival. 
      Before we go to the list, let's pause a moment to consider the films this year that fit into the broad category I'm simply going to label 'Rubbish'. Needless to say there was a lot of rubbish on the big screen in 2012. The good rubbish - the kind that made me clap my hands and laugh out loud - included marvellously trashy possession thriller THE DEVIL INSIDE and the sharks in a supermarket shenanigans of BAIT 3D. Most of the truly terrible films were confined to film festivals (HIDDEN IN THE WOODS, THE HELPERS, OUTPOST II) but there was some proper trash on the UK cinema circuits as well. Ridley Scott's PROMETHEUS left me entirely cold with its enormous budget and its made-up-as-they-went-along script, but the winner of worst horror film of the year, and indeed of any year, goes to PIRANHA 3DD. Truly one of the most embarrassing experiences I have ever had in the cinema, and one that made me feel sorry for the horror genre and its fans, this was a sequel that lacked everything - taste, style, horror, comedy - in fact everything that its predecessor had plenty of. One of the few films I have seen that has no redeeming features at all.
      But that's enough of the rubbish - onwards with the good stuff!

10      Maniac

      It caused walkouts at Cannes, and for all the right reasons. William Lustig's MANIAC (1980) is a masterpiece of demented sleaze - 88 minutes inside the head of a psychopathic killer (played by Joe Spinell) that makes for very uncomfortable viewing. Who on earth would want to remake a film like that? Perhaps the most startling thing about the MANIAC remake is not that it happened at all, not in an era when anything and everything from horror’s recent history is fair game for a terrible updating (PROM NIGHT, SORORITY ROW and pretty soon SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT) but that it’s actually very good, staying true to the spirit of the original while being very much its own sleazy grim voyage through the mind of a psychopathic killer, seen almost entirely, in this version, through his eyes. Elijah Wood is worryingly good as Frank and his performance is terrifying, tragic, and, I really hope, not career-destroying. I've written about this movie at length in the forthcoming Little Book of House of Mortal Cinema, due out next year. Herein endeth the first of two adverts for that in this column.

9      The Seasoning House

      Still awaiting UK distribution (quite possibly because of the number of cuts that will probably be needed), this year’s London FrightFest film festival opened with THE SEASONING HOUSE, a grim, brutal, bleak British horror film set in an Eastern bloc brothel. It’s the kind of film that only gets watched all the way through by individuals with an iron constitution and really isn’t my sort of thing at all, so I hope it says something that even I thought this film was rather brilliant, and it was my pleasure to be able to tell director Paul Hyett and members of the cast that when I got a chance to talk to them afterwards. There will be a full write up of THE SEASONING HOUSE, and some snippets of my interview with the stars, in The Little Book of House of Mortal Cinema, and I promise that's the end of the adverts.

8      The Aggression Scale

      Premiered at the Prince Charles Cinema earlier this year, and now available on DVD, Stephen C Miller's debut feature is a cracking horror thriller that takes the HOME ALONE concept of gangsters breaking into a family home, only for them to face the psychopathic and resourceful teenage son of the family who scores 100% on a psychiatric scale measuring aggression. Great performances, editing, score, and a lot of gory violence made this one of my favourites this year.

7      The Pact

      One of the most pleasant surprises of 2012 was Nicholas McCarthy's debut feature THE PACT, which kept me guessing and impressed me mightily with some clever and atmospheric direction, an obvious and extremely welcome EuroHorror influence, and a climax where the suspense built beautifully. Highly recommended. Nick is working on his next feature now and I can't wait to see it.

6      The Awakening

      Released late in 2011 but not seen by me until January this year, so it counts, here is my good friend Stephen Volk's atmospheric turn of the century ghost story. Throughly deserving of a place in the top ten, THE AWAKENING kicked off with an opening reminiscent of the beginning of Hammer's HANDS OF THE RIPPER or the BBC adaptation of THE TREASURE OF ABBOTT THOMAS and then took the genteel ghost story route to provide its subtle shivers. There isn't enough of this sort of thing around and there should be a lot more.

5     [Rec] 3

      I got married this year, so how could my wife and I not love this? One of two films on this list that had as many people reviling it as loving it, [REC] 3 wins hands down as the most romantic horror film of the year. A light bouncy tone with plenty of humour meant that those who wanted the same thing again as was delivered in [REC] and [REC] 2 were bitterly disappointed but never mind - the latest set reports from [REC] 4 suggest they'll have plenty of miserably grim apocalyptic zombie horror to enjoy in the New Year. In the meantime Kate and I have the BluRay of this on the shelf and it's already been watched more than twice.

4      The Cabin in the Woods

      If [REC] 3 divided opinion, Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard's CABIN IN THE WOODS would have caused a geek war if such individuals were inclined to take up arms rather than a computer mouse or XBox controller instead. Loved and hated in possibly equal amounts, there has to be something very special about a film that causes such admiration on one side and such utter vehemence on the other. I loved it - witty, clever, metafictional, and poking fun at the horror genre in such an affectionate and knowing way I still can't understand how anyone can get upset with this unless they take the genre so seriously that they probably shouldn't be partaking of much of it anyway. Excellent film.

3      Sightseers

      How did that get in there? Sneaking in at number three is Ben Wheatley's properly funny, properly horrific, properly British film of a couple who go on a typically dull British holiday and end up murdering a whole load of people. This is a film for all of us who grew up going on holidays like that, only to end up imprisoned in a rain-washed caravan having to watch CARRY ON CAMPING on a black and white TV set with a bad reception. I loved it.

2      Sinister

      God this was good. As I mentioned in my review earlier this year, I don't think I have been so scared in a cinema in thirty years, and the terror-stricken FrightFest audience were the best to see it with. I can't wait for the BluRay of this to revisit the cringing terror and suspense that this movie was able to rack up. Properly terrifying and worthy of your attention if you haven't seen it already, this would have been the best horror film of the year by a country mile if not for...

1      The Tall Man

      So how does a film I never even reviewed get to be number one? Well for lots of reasons, the main one being that you can't write a reasonable review of this one without spoiling the surprises it has in store, so I'm not going to even try. A massive hit in its native France (under the far more appropriate title THE SECRET) the film suffered from some appalling negative reviews by usually reliable magazines like Rue Morgue (a serious miss there, chaps!) and a title change that had many, including me, thinking it was PHANTASM V. I'm not going to say much else about this other than go and see it and expect to have everything you have been shown at the beginning of the film subverted and turned inside out by the end. My one major intention with House of Mortal Cinema is to bring to light unjustly neglected movies that discerning horror fans should see, and movies like THE TALL MAN, or whatever you want to call it, is the reason this site exists, so it gives me tremendous pleasure (as well as an enormous sense of well being) to give it the number one spot.

And there we are! See you in 2013, when HMC should be up and running again properly, & will hopefully include coverage of the movies shown at February's Glasgow FrightFest (including THE ABCs OF DEATH amongst others).

Happy Scary New Year!!!!

Saturday 1 December 2012

Sightseers (2012)

What a marvellous surprise. Despite the tremendous promise of the trailer that was shown at this year’s FrightFest, I was still a bit unsure as to what I would think of director Ben Wheatley’s latest effort. I needn’t have worried. SIGHTSEERS is very, very good indeed, and is the equivalent of such brilliant blacker than black BBC TV comedy fare like the first series of Julia Davis’ NIGHTY NIGHT, or her work with Rob Brydon in HUMAIN REMAINS. In fact the couple in SIGHTSEERS could easily have been a half hour in that show. Thankfully their adventures easily make for a ninety minute feature which is good for us, and good for the reputation of British cinema. There hasn't been anything quite as funny, disturbing, quirky, unpleasant and yet endearing as this on the big screen for as long as I can remember.
Alice Lowe and Steve Oram, who also wrote the script, play Tina and Chris. Tina is the archetypal thirty-four year old woman who has never had a relationship and still lives with her domineering witch of a mother, knitting her own underwear and dreaming of romance in faraway places like Redditch. Chris is a ginger bearded plastics engineer who is ‘on sabbatical’ and has a penchant for caravanning and tram museums. They’ve been going out together (whatever that may mean in their world) for three months, but now it’s a big moment in their relationship: their first holiday together. Their itinerary will include such British tourist standbys as Blue John Cavern, Ribblehead viaduct, and a pencil museum. It will also include a number of murders as members of the general public do tiny things to rile Chris and cause him to do them in in increasingly unpleasant ways. Initially horrified by this, Tina soon starts to get in on the act herself, especially when she catches the bride-to-be at a particularly awful hen party trying to get it on with her man.
It’s rare that a film is actually able to live up to the poster claim of ‘Instant Cult Classic’ but SIGHTSEERS may well be it. It’s a film that encapsulates perfectly a specific type of British holiday and indeed British holidaymaker. Where it scored in spades for me was that it doesn’t shy away from the horror aspects of what is going on.  It would have been easy to make SIGHTSEERS a charmingly quirky comedy about a couple who just happen to kill people. What director Ben Wheatley does for an already splendid script is give it a sense of depth, atmosphere, and realism that means that often you’re laughing at things and then realising you’re properly disturbed by them. Jam packed with quotable lines (“He’s not a person, he’s a Daily Mail reader,” “Every time I find my oeuvre someone shits on it”) SIGHTSEERS is a film whose reputation will grow and grow. I suspect it will do very well in Europe and will either be a fantastic hit or a colossal miss in America, in the same way no-one would have been able to guess how Monty Python would do there.
SIGHTSEERS is really great and I loved it. Writing about it now has made me want to watch it again and I no doubt shall. In the meantime get down to your local cinema and support a bit of homegrown British comedy horror brilliance that we can all be proud of.

Friday 30 November 2012

Exorcism (1975)

I don’t know what it is about me and the films of Jess Franco. A bit like a woman you know is bad for you but whom you can’t resist, they draw me back time and time again, even though while I’m watching I have a sort of guilty feeling that I should be spending my time doing something far more worthwhile. EXORCISM is a 1975 effort of his that was also know as DEMONIAC in its more horror-orientated ‘unerotic’ form (although I’m not sure you can call the more complete version I have just seen erotic), and came out in Europe under the wonderfully sleazy title THE SADIST OF NOTRE DAME. In fact, like many of Franco’s films, it’s quite possibly had more titles than people who have actually seen it, or at least people who stayed until the end.
A character knocks on a door wearing one kind of coat and then enters the room dressed entirely differently. A girl gets out of bed in closeup only for the long shot to show her getting out of bed again. The camera wobbles, goes out of focus, into focus and then out again. That is, of course, if it’s being touched by a living person at all and not just left in a corner to seemingly randomly record whatever might pass for acting in whichever hotel room has been rented for the purpose. Scenes either begin or finish on close-ups of ladies’ pubes, and when  they don’t there’s a fair bit of crash-zooming in on them in the middle. 
To his critics (of which there are many, including me on the days when I’ve got a bit exasperated with his work) the above is probably a reasonable summary of Franco’s oeuvre, never mind this film in particular. What’s a shame here is that the plot of the film is actually quite interesting, and in the hands of someone capable of taking a bit of time and care could have been a superbly subversive commentary on censorship and freedom of expression.
Franco himself plays Paul Vogel, a demented defrocked priest who writes saucy stories for ‘Venus’ publications. He overhears a conversation between Lina Romay (of course) and her editor about attending a black mass. Actually it’s a saucy show Lina and her lady friends put on for debauched millionaires, and we’ve already seen one over the opening titles (which, by the way, give up and go away before a directorial credit ever appears).  Vogel spies on the show, goes even more mental than he was before, and starts to kill everyone involved, believing he’s doing the Lord’s work because he can absolve his victims of their sins as they die, thus ensuring their passage into heaven. 
I may be damning Franco with faint praise here, but his ability to make attractive naked ladies not at all erotic in scene after scene of  soft core gropiness must require some kind of special ability. What it also does is keep your mind on the plot (and the technical gaffs and mistakes of which there are a few), make you feel just as disturbing a voyeur as some of the audience members in the movie, and also remind you that no matter how bad Franco gets, for some reason he always has the most amazing eye for locations - some of the buildings he picks out for this film are fabulous examples of architectural flamboyance. 
I spend too much time watching Jess Franco films. I probably spend too much time writing about them, too, and this won’t be the last time. But those are my sins and I feel I shall have to live with them. Just as long as some demented priest doesn’t come along to show me the error of my ways.

Sunday 11 November 2012

The Queen of Spades (1949)

It’s time for a bit of class at House of Mortal Cinema. Thorold Dickinson’s film of Alexander Pushkin’s short story is something that had entirely passed me by until it was flagged up on Facebook recently as being a ghost story worth seeking out. It certainly is that, but it’s also an extremely well made, cleverly shot film that’s well worth 91 minutes of any film aficionado’s time, with a couple of turns by future stars of BritHorror to make things even more fun.
Anton Walbrook is Herman Suvorin, a lowly Captain in the engineers of the St Petersburg Russian army of 1806. Obsessed with the card game of Faro (the rules are explained in the film and it’s very easy) he refuses to play unless he can be guaranteed to win. Seeing as Faro is purely a game of chance this seems impossible, until he wanders into what looks like a 1920s German expressionist movie version of an Amicus anthology movie bookshop, complete with devilish-looking proprietor and books to match. He picks up the one about selling one’s soul for gain and reads the tale of how, many years ago, the Countess Ranevskaya (the mighty Edith Evans in 1806 time) sold her soul to win at that very same card game so that the money stolen by one of her many lovers could be returned before her husband found out. The Countess just happens to be very much alive and living in St Petersburg. Suvorin hatches a scheme to make contact with the old woman, but it all goes wrong and she dies as a result. Later he’s visited by her ghost who reveals how to win at the card game but only at a price.
There’s a lot to love about THE QUEEN OF SPADES. The first half an hour is pure gothic horror, the second act may have you wondering if it’s going to get scary again but then it does, in spades (sorry), and by the time the film is over I was wondering why on earth I had never heard of it before. The production design is stunning and, as mentioned above the photography makes many of the scenes feel as if they are from a film shot thirty years earlier. The cast is uniformly excellent, with Walbrook and Evans playing their very best unrestrained gothic. The rest of the cast includes a wealth of faces who would become familiar to Brit Horror fans including Ronald Howard (CURSE OF THE MUMMY’S TOMB), Yvonne Mitchell (DEMONS OF THE MIND), Anthony Dawson (CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF), Miles Malleson (DEAD OF NIGHT & many others), Michael Medwin (NIGHT MUST FALL and lots of British TV) and if you look closely you’ll spot Hammer’s favourite landlord, George Woodbridge (Mr PIPKINS himself) as a footman.
The real star of QUEEN OF SPADES, though, is director Thorold Dickinson, Bristol born and a director of apparently international standing. Some of his framing, camera setups and overlays are just marvellous, to the extent that if they were seen in a film today they might be considered impressive: a shadow ‘ghost writes’ a letter; a spider’s web is superimposed on the face of a female victim about to be ensnared in a trap, and the way in which the ghost’s visit is enacted are all wonderful moments in a movie that rewards repeat viewings. An unexpected treat. 

Sunday 4 November 2012

Bait 3D (2012)

This Australian rip off of SNAKES ON A PLANE should really be called SHARKS IN A SUPERMARKET and who knows, in some territories that demand more accurate titlings perhaps that’s what it’s called. Sadly the line ‘I’ve had enough of these motherfucking sharks in this motherfucking supermarket’ isn’t in evidence, which is a shame, as otherwise it would easily win best trashy movie dialogue of the year. Many of the other elements of David R Ellis’ Corman homage are all present and correct, though, and if you had a thoroughly chucklesome time with Samuel L Jackson and the gang in that, the chances are you’ll have a ball with this too - I know I did.
Xavier Samuel (from THE LOVED ONES, a properly good Australian horror picture) plays Josh, a former lifeguard who, because of some pre-credits shark based trauma now earns a living stacking shelves in the local Oceania supermarket. Life in this supermarket appears to be rarely dull, as all the cliched characters you seem to get in monster movies like this shop there. It’s an especially bad day for Josh because his girlfriend Tina (Sharni Vinson) who left him for foreign shores after he decided to live in a filthy flat and lost his ability to spoon coffee into a mug properly has returned from the Exotic Foreign Land of Singapore (which happens to be a coproducer of BAIT 3D) with her hunky Singaporean boyfriend in tow. Scarcely do they have the chance to exchange smouldering glances across a crowded baking products aisle (Josh and Tina I mean, although the alternative might have been even more fun) than vicious hardened B-movie criminal Julian McMahon is carrying out a one-man holdup, cunningly disguising himself as a customer by wheeling a trolley for all of two seconds before abandoning the subtlety route and pulling his weapon out (I know I know but a film like this positively begs you to have whatever fun with it you can).
Josh’s day couldn’t possibly get any worse, could it? Well before you can say ‘What’s that coming over the hill?’ a MASSIVE tidal wave has swept through the town and the supermarket, submerging most of its quality goods and letting in a couple of sharks for good measure. Most of the cast (I won’t say stars as that would be a bit too charitable) get trapped on the upper floor of the supermarket and have to spend their time jumping from frozen meat counter to frozen meat counter while they try to think up ways to avoid / trap / get eaten by the shark. And oh my do they come up with some incredibly silly ones that I shall leave you to find out for yourself.
Just in case this film isn’t a whole load of enough stupid already there are also a group of secondary characters trapped in the downstairs car park, including the horror standbys Bickering Couple and Annoying Small Dog. Some of the dialogue here is priceless, and I actually mean that in a good way. When a joke about fake Gucci shoes has you smiling while an improbably enormous killer fish ambles past the characters delivering the dialogue you know you’re having a good time with a very silly film.
BAIT 3D is very silly indeed. It is also much, much better than what I was expecting to see. Fans of sub-par rubbish like the recent spate of Roger Corman SyFy movies like DINOCROC vs SUPERGATOR and of course the now immortal drive-in cheesiness of SNAKES ON A PLANE will have a great time with it. I also have it on good authority that a sequel script is currently being ironed out - I kid you not. Apparently BAIT 2 will be set in a school that suffers the same treatment as the supermarket here. On the basis of how much fun I had with original, the makers of BAIT 2: SCHOOL OF SHARKS can have my price of admission right now. But only if they use that title.

Friday 2 November 2012

The Clinic (2010)

     The opening caption ‘Based on true events’ seems to be de rigeur for many a horror film these days, and it’s all present and correct at the beginning of THE CLINIC, but don’t let that put you off what is actually another pretty decent little Australian horror picture. 
      It’s another film that, like LITTLE DEATHS, I picked up on a whim (this time for £3 at HMV), and was subsequently delighted to discover that it’s actually rather good.
In 1979, (a time before DNA testing, we are rather ominously told at the beginning) a young couple, Cameron and heavily pregnant Beth, are travelling across Australia to visit Beth’s parents for Christmas. They stop for the night at the kind of motel one should never stop at in this kind of film, and Cameron does the stupid movie thing of popping out for some food in the middle of the night, only for his car to run out of petrol. By the time he gets back Beth is gone and no-one admits to her ever having existed.
Meanwhile Beth has woken up naked in a bath full of ice. Her baby is gone and all she has to show for it is a lower midline incision in her abdomen. She pulls on some clothes and goes wandering around what looks like the abandoned meat processing plant she has been brought to and is now a prisoner in. She eventually discovers four other women, all with identical scars, all of whom have just been deprived of their babies under mysterious circumstances. 
Where things take a turn for the fun and horrible is when the women discover the babies alive and well but locked in cages. There is nothing to identify them save a coloured marker. It transpires that the mother of each child has a corresponding marker inside them that was put there at the time the baby was removed. It then becomes a question of how far is each mother prepared to go to discover which baby is her child, and the film quickly becomes a trial of survival of the fittest as the women begin to stalk each other.
What’s extra good about THE CLINIC is that it doesn’t stop there. Once we discover the reason for all this there’s a great twist and an appropriately blood-drenched climax that makes what has gone before all the more worthwhile for sticking with. Nicely directed with some good performances and makeup effects, THE CLINIC is the kind of understated-but-gory and well thought through low budget horror film that we could do with a lot more of. Kudos to all involved here, but especially first time writer-director James Rabbitts who, like John V Soto who did NEEDLE (also reviewed on here) is another Australian horror director who will hopefully go on to even greater things. Another little gem that’s out there at the moment for minimal cash outlay.

Thursday 25 October 2012

Little Deaths (2011)

I picked up a DVD of this movie on a recent visit to the US, where, in an example of the schizophrenic attitude to censorship that seems to exist over there, the profile of the girl’s breast on the cover is covered up by a banner proudly proclaiming that the film you are about to see is ‘Unrated’.
I’d not heard of LITTLE DEATHS and it doesn’t seem to be available in a UK release version, which made me quite surprised to discover that it was a British film. With the wealth of poorly shot, badly acted, cobbled together straight to DVD rubbish that’s on the shelves these days, perhaps what was even more surprising than that was that LITTLE DEATHS is really very good. While the budget is obviously low, the film is professionally made, slickly shot, and well acted, already elevating  it way above most of the random movie acquisitions at the House of Mortal Cinema.
But the best thing about LITTLE DEATHS is that it’s what I would describe as proper horror.
There were a number of times when I was left staring at the screen thinking ‘I can’t believe they just did what they did’, and it’s been a long time since I’ve watched something sufficiently perverse and horrifying that I know I would never have come up with in a million years.
Of course there’s a danger I’m overselling this one before I’ve even told you what it’s about. LITTLE DEATHS is an anthology horror movie, consisting of three short stories from three different writer-directors. There’s no overall framework, and the stories aren’t connected in any way, other than through the themes of perverse sex and outrageous horror. The first, Sean Hogan’s ‘House and Home’ is probably the most straightforward, in which an attractive, affluent, God-fearing couple invite young homeless girls home to sexually abuse, only for it backfire on them quite spectacularly. The second ‘Mutant Tool’, by Andrew Parkinson, is even more outrageous than what it says on the tin. Somewhere in a secret laboratory a man with the biggest penis ever committed to celluloid (and that includes Frank Henenlotter’s BAD BIOLOGY) is being kept prisoner for medical experiments. Quite what the purpose of these are is never explained and the story is a bizarre and unsettling little piece that leaves you open-mouthed. Simon Rumley rounds things off with ‘Bitch’. A young woman is terrified of dogs and deals with this phobia by having her boyfriend act like a dog (including wearing an appropriate mask) during their ‘leisure time’. When she upsets him he devises a terrible means of punishment that rounds off the movie perfectly and perversely.
It’s a long time since I’ve seen a horror movie that’s horrific for the right reasons, and the fact that LITTLE DEATHS was such a random acquisition from a Best Buy store probably made the experience sweeter still, but it’s definitely worth a watch by fans of extreme British horror, who I would direct to Amazon where copies still seem to be available.

Tuesday 9 October 2012

Blood From The Mummy's Tomb (1971)

Good old Hammer. Only at the height of their powers could they take a minor Bram Stoker novel, fill it with slashed throats, a crawling severed hand (what exactly was the point of that, by the way?) and a sexy leading lady, and just by accident produce an original and satisfying spin on the mummy theme that still works forty years on.
      Valerie Leon is Margaret, daughter to Andrew Keir's Professor Fuchs, an egyptologist of distinctly dodgy inclination, who seems to have half a rebuilt tomb in the basement of his ordinary-looking suburban house, a whole load of Egyptian artefacts, and a number of colleagues who want nothing more to do with him after some escapade abroad many years ago, which culminated in their breaking into the tomb of Queen Tera (Leon again). Tera, by all accounts, was a pretty naughty piece of work (well, she was definitely pretty, and sadly we don't get to find out how naughty she was capable of being). What's far more worrying is that the professor seems to have some poorly researched and badly thought out plan that involves the life of his daughter and the supplanting of her existence by said evil queen on the occasion of her next birthday.
      Even more dodgy but better organised Corbeck (James Villiers) is keen to see Tera rise again for his own ends, and he aims to assist the queen in reclaiming the artefacts needed to complete the ceremony. George Coulouris is locked up in one of the best Hammer loony bins and, in a superbly edited and shot bit of mayhem, ends up dead and his snake statue gone. Hugh Burden has a heart attack and has his jackal skull stolen, and fortune teller Rosalie Crutchley gets her cat pinched while her companion (labelled 'Saturnine Man' in the credits) looks on. It's all for nothing of course as the surviving cast members succumb to another what-shall-we-do-to-end-it-oh-let's-have-the-roof-fall-in Hammer climax, with either Margaret or Tera ended up being mummified for real in a closing shot that's possibly the best one in a film that's really rather good all the way through.
      With a title that means nothing other than that James Carreras had learned to copy Tony Tenser's approach to titling films by reaching into a box of cards labelled with 'horror' words until the right combination came up, a director who died before filming finished, a star who left once filming had started, and a script by a writer who was both banned from the set and notorious for screenplays that were a bit difficult to make any sense of sometimes, it's a wonder that BLOOD FROM THE MUMMY'S TOMB is any good at all. What's more surprising than that is that it's actually well worth watching, and is easily the best (along with the 1959 THE MUMMY) of the films Hammer made that had a connection to ancient Egypt. It's rare that the fourth movie in any horror film cycle has anything to commend it, and following in the wake of CURSE OF THE MUMMY'S TOMB and THE MUMMY'S SHROUD one could be forgiven for expecting Hammer's MUMMY 4 to be a right load of derivative old rubbish. Instead it's original, well directed, and being shot in what looks like the depths of winter only serves to heighten the creepy atmosphere that pervades the movie right up to that classic final shot.
       The acting is fine throughout, with the usual collection of British character actors and eccentrics (Aubrey Morris take a bow you loveable weirdo, you) and Valerie Leon, having been used as decorative set dressing in a number of Carry Ons, getting the role that she was born to play. Hammer didn't always get their casting right but she is uncannily perfect for the roles of both Tera and Margaret. Fine stuff all round, BLOOD FROM THE MUMMY'S TOMB is a Hammer film that's definitely worth preserving.

Friday 5 October 2012

Sinister (2012)

On general release in the UK today is SINISTER (the US has to wait another week for some reason). An undisputed success at FrightFest this year, and my own personal favourite of the festival, it's one of the scariest films I have seen in years, and possibly the scariest film I have ever seen in a cinema.
      Once-successful true-crime writer Ethan Hawke, with the hope of rekindling his writing mojo and creating another bestseller, moves his family into a house where something quite dreadful has happened. We know it has because it's the opening shot of the film. In fuzzy Super 8mm we see most of the family who previously lived there hanged. It's a disturbing image and sets the tone well for what is to follow. Only one child from the famliy escaped this bizarre execution and now they have gone missing, which is part of the mystery Ethan hopes to solve. What he uncovers is something far more complex and far more frightening than he was expecting and soon his own family is threatened.
     I don't really want to say much more about the plot than that, mainly because I came to SINISTER cold. In fact it was worse than cold. 'From the producers of PARANORMAL ACTIVITY and INSIDIOUS' says the poster, which had me bracing myself for at best the kind of bumpy-but-fun ghost train ride that INSIDIOUS was, and at worst the kind of hoary old rubbish that had me and the rest of the Bristol cinema audience I saw it with staring at the screen at the end of PARANORMAL ACTIVITY in disbelief. "Is that it?" said someone a couple of rows in front of me at the time and murmurs of agreement quickly followed.
     SINISTER is MILES better than either of these films. What the poster doesn't say (in big letters anyway) is that it's directed by Scott Derrickson, whose THE EXORCISM OF EMILY ROSE was an interesting courtroom drama horror picture (and there aren't many of those around) which was punctuated at regular intervals by flashback sequences that played like mini-tributes to the lavish visual style of a number of Italian horror directors, most notably a scene reminiscent of SUSPIRIA outside a university building and a beautiful, dreamlike, ethereal outdoor sequence that reminded me of Fulci's THE BEYOND. I only caught up with EXORCISM OF EMILY ROSE because of SINISTER and on the basis of these two films Mr Derrickson needs to be on every discerning horror fan's radar for the foreseeable future.
      SINISTER, however, doesn't draw on film so much as literature for its inspiration. In fact I can't remember having seen so many images in a recent movie redolent of the 'corner of the retina' fiction of MR James. It's very difficult to create scenes of prolonged and sustained intensity in any movie, but SINISTER makes it look effortless, winding up the suspense with little more than a darkened corridor and the slightest hint of something lurking there.
     I've said enough. Go and see SINISTER. It's great, it's scary, and it terrified the hardcore FrightFest audience of which I am proud to say I was one. If nothing else, see it before the inevitable string of sequels diminish the impact of what is destimed to become a classic of the genre

Monday 24 September 2012

POST No. 100: House of the Long Shadows (1982)

“Please don’t interrupt me while I’m soliloquising!” 
HOUSE OF THE LONG SHADOWS may not be the best film Vincent Price ever appeared in. In fact it’s probably not the best thing anyone involved with it worked on, with the possible exception of Desi Arnaz Jr (I know, me neither, he may well be better known in the US, at least I hope so for his sake). But that is definitely one of the best Vincent Price lines ever. It’s presumably courtesy of screenwriter Michael Armstrong, he of MARK OF THE DEVIL infamy, as well as HAUNTED HOUSE OF HORROR. The latter film is well worth watching on DVD with Armstrong’s commentary, by the way, as it was drastically altered prior to release, with extra sequences inserted directed by Gerry Levy (THE BODY STEALERS - a film no-one except the most obsessive 1960s BritSF movie fiend ever need consider watching) that didn’t add to the main plot at all.
      But I digress. HOUSE OF THE LONG SHADOWS is an interesting film. It’s very much a last hurrah for an interestingly disparate group of horror specialists including Price (who appeared in so many marvellous AIP pictures and THEATRE OF BLOOD), John Carradine (whose career really peaked in the Universal era before he appeared in a cavalcade of increasingly awful pictures from the 1950s onwards, - THE HOWLING being a notable exception), Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing (who starred in almost everything brilliant about British horror ever), Sheila Keith (who starred in almost everything else brilliant about British horror, namely HOUSE OF WHIPCORD, FRIGHTMARE and other Pete Walker pictures), screenwriter Armstrong, and of course Pete Walker himself, who started making his own nasty brand of horror in the early 1970s with THE FLESH & BLOOD show before moving on to infamous success with HOUSE OF WHIPCORD and others. 
      Getting all these elements together might have seemed a bit daunting even for the most capable of producers. Of course Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus of the Cannon Group actually weren't really capable at all - at least not of producing quality cinema (their biggest hit was apparently BREAKDANCE). They did, however, become famous for being able to separate investors from their money so they could  produce films that on the whole lost vast amounts of money due to Cannon giving the public what the public didn’t really want on a regular basis until said investors realised what was going on.
      And that’s one of the problems with HOUSE OF THE LONG SHADOWS. It’s an old dark house thriller. Unfortunately this kind of picture went out of fashion in the early 1940s and never came back. Sadly Walker’s proposed project to Cannon about a murderous aborted foetus back from the dead and looking for revenge was rejected by Golan in favour of a ‘proper horror film’. It's a great shame that the project, called DELIVER US FROM EVIL (what a great title) and also due to be written by Armstrong, never reached the screen. Instead we have HOUSE OF THE LONG SHADOWS. The screenplay was apparently written very quickly in about two weeks and unfortunately it does show, with the film taking ages to get going.   
      Once it does, and the old horror stars are reassembled, each after having their own superb visual introduction, the film is a delight. In the last half an hour or so there are some well-orchestrated nasty murders and you can tell that this is where Walker’s heart is. Sadly the opening half, documenting writer Arnaz’s bet with publisher Richard Todd (presumably driving Walker’s trademark Rolls Royce at the beginning) that he can write a great gothic novel in the tradition of Wuthering Heights isn’t just slow but rambling and uninspired as well. Only Norman Rossington as a deliciously melodramatic Welsh railway station master is worth watching or listening to, and Arnaz and Julie Peasgood as the young leads just don’t have the charisma of the stars of 1930s vehicles such as Barbara Stanwyck or Dick Powell.
      One can’t be too hard on HOUSE OF THE LONG SHADOWS, though, as it’s a film that by rights shouldn’t even have existed in the Jason Voorhees / Michael Myers dominated horror cinema of the early 1980s. The leads are an absolute joy, with Vincent Price getting to do what he was always best at (and getting to call Christopher Lee a bitch - which must be a cinematic once and only), Mr Lee doing his very best arrogant and slightly miffed fish out of water bit, Cushing playing around with one of his ‘weak character’ roles - a bit like CREEPING FLESH’s Emmanuel Hildern but without the brains or reckless abandon, and John Carradine doing a nice job of being the slightly incensed elderly master of the house. Sheila Keith is just wonderful as well, and her performance here only makes it all the more regrettable that this was to be her last appearance in a horror subject until the Amicus spoof episode of Steve Coogan’s Dr Terrible’s House of Horrible (And Now The Fearing). The bit players aren’t bad either, with Benny Hill regular Louise English as the pretty girl who gets her face burned off by acid, and Richard Hunter in the typical Walker male role of henpecked weakling of a husband.
      Even Richard Hartley does a creditable job trying to sound like Walker’s regular composer Stanley Myers doing haunted house music, and the location itself is nicely spooky. Apparently the house belonged to a friend of FLESH & BLOOD SHOW screenwriter Alfred Shaughnessy, bringing Walker's horror career full circle as he never made another film after this (shame).
        So as I said HOUSE OF THE LONG SHADOWS is an interesting film. Until its recent DVD release I hadn’t seen it since it first came out. Final Cut Entertainment’s transfer is okay, by the way, but the ‘Remastered Widescreen Edition’ doesn’t look anywhere near as good as this picture did when it first came out, or when it was shown on television many moons ago. It does, however, look better than the Guild Home Video release of many years back, plus there are some nice extras of a documentary and a commentary track from Walker.
      But of course now what I REALLY want to see is the script for DELIVER US FROM EVIL...

Friday 21 September 2012

Grabbers (2012)

If you ever go across the sea to may just get your blood drained by a giant tentacled monster from outer space. Unless you’re pissed that is, as alcohol is toxic to it. That’s the premise for this Irish love letter to the great giant monster movies of yesteryear.
Richard Coyle is the Alcoholic Policeman with a Past who has to welcome pretty temporary police officer Ruth Bradley onto a remote island off the coast of Ireland when she arrives to cover his regular colleague’s two weeks of leave. He’s not happy about it and pretty soon he’s even less happy when marine ecologist Russell Tovey starts chatting her up over the body of one of the mutilated whales that have been washed up on the beach overnight. Everyone is baffled by the discovery but that’s because they haven't seen the weird thing from outer space that crash landed in the sea at the beginning of the film. Nor have they seen the horrible fate of the fishermen who happened to be nearby in a prologue scene that wouldn’t be out of place in an old 1970s episode of DR WHO like Terror of the Zygons or Horror of Fang Rock.
It soon becomes apparent that the island is under attack from a great big tentacled gloopy monster that has laid eggs all along the beach. These eggs hatch out, giving rise to a whole load of tiny baby gloopy monsters that are just as hungry for human blood as their parent. The only thing that can deter them is if your blood alcohol levels are punishingly high, which is the excuse for everyone on the island to indulge in a lock-in in the island’s only pub as a storm rages outside and the creatures gather to attack.
Reminding me of everything from Terence Fisher’s 1966 Planet Production ISLAND OF TERROR to Ron Underwood’s TREMORS and the Dr Who I've mentioned above, GRABBERS is an old-fashioned monster movie that’s loads of fun. It’s been described as FATHER TED vs ALIENS and that’s probably the best way to approach it. There’s very little in the film that’s original (the idea of getting pissed to avoid being attacked popped up in William Fruet’s INVASION OF THE BODY SUCKERS aka BLUE MONKEY back in the late 1980s) but there’s a simple pleasure to be had in this movie which apparently has done extremely well in its homeland. The FrightFest screening I attended was apparently the only chance I would get to see GRABBERS ‘in this form’. I can only guess what that means, although admittedly some of the Irish accents at their most drunken might need a bit of dubbing for overseas markets. Other than that it’s a gleeful monster romp with likeable characters, an engaging setting and it deserves to do well.

Tuesday 18 September 2012

I Drink Your Blood (1970)

Lurid, sleazy, daft and amazingly blood drenched for a film made in 1970, David Durston’s horror picture for Jerry Gross was yet another of those films that until recently I had avoided simply because the plot (young boy infects hippies’ meat pies with rabies and turns them into insane killers) sounded too unpleasantly excessive to be any fun. Well I’ve been wrong before and here’s a good example. I should have checked out I DRINK YOUR BLOOD years ago. Of course if I had I would probably have ended up watching one of the numerous cut and hacked about versions out there, so perhaps it’s just as well that I waited for the uncut DVD, and even that came out ten years ago, thus demonstrating that even I’m not able to keep up with everything.
There aren’t that many classic exploitation films that open on a naked man standing behind a strategically placed sword, and it’s quite possible that this is the only one. We find ourselves at a ritual of the naked members of SADOS (Sons And Daughters Of Satan) which is basically a group of spaced out hippies led by Indian leader Bhaskar Chowdury. Unfortunately their chicken-slaying antics are witnessed by a local girl from the nearby town. Two of the gang molest her and, when the group move into the almost-ghost town where she lives, her grandfather Doc Banner, who also happens to be the local vet, goes to the old hotel where they are staying to have it out with them. They beat him up and feed him LSD. The Doc’s twelve year old grandson Pete (Riley Mills - quite possibly the best actor in the film) determines to get revenge. He shoots a wandering rabid dog, extracts some of its blood, and injects it into meat pies which are then sold to the hippies by the local bakery. It’s rather a sparse bakery, by the way, that doesn’t seem to sell anything but the meat pies in question. This is probably quite fortunate as a cream puff or lemon meringue injected with rabid dog blood might arouse suspicion.
The hippies tuck in and pretty soon are wandering around foaming at the mouth and attacking anyone who crosses their path, hacking off limbs with an axe or, in the case of pretty, mute Lynn Lowry, using an electric carving knife in a scene David Durston has proudly remarked was written especially for her. Pretty soon all the construction workers who are building the nearby dam are infected too, and the last twenty minutes is a riot as the remaining few survivors try to get to safety with only the maniacs’ fear of water as an often-hilarious means of defence.
Unless you’re familiar with it, I DRINK YOUR BLOOD doesn’t do what you’re expecting. The opening half an hour prepares you for a hippy version of the old Roger Corman Hell’s Angels pictures of the time before it turns into a crazy, manic, ebullient version of NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD but with sleaze and silliness instead of the satire, and I don’t mean that as a bad thing. The murder scenes are way over the top, and once the film gets going it feels like a forerunner for the late 1980s gore epics of Peter Jackson such as BAD TASTE and BRAIN DEAD.  
Really worth taking a look at if you’re a fan of any of the above, I DRINK YOUR BLOOD has already been watched several times at Probert Towers and we’ll no doubt be watching it again when we fancy a dollop of daft, blood-drenched, drive-in craziness. With added hippies.

Friday 14 September 2012

Cockneys vs Zombies (2012)

What’s that coming over the hill? A far, far better film than anything with this title deserves to be, that’s what. Starting off on a construction site in London’s East End where vultures loom ominously and incongruously, workmen uncover a crypt sealed up in 1666 by order of King Charles II. Before someone can say “Maybe there’s gold in there,” or just after, actually, two likely lads have broken in, stumbled about a bit, and got attacked by the kind of reanimated skeleton one normally only sees wandering down fashion catwalks. 
Meanwhile Rasmus Hardiker is planning to rob a bank with his utterly incompetent gang so they can save his Grandad (Alan Ford) from being thrown out of the old folks home where he lives with Honor Blackman, Richard Briers, Dudley Sutton in a wheelchair, Tony Selby and his wooden leg, Georgina Hale still playing the trollop after all these years, and a host of other sitcom regulars and bit players that will provoke nods of affectionate nostalgia in those of a certain age, and blank looks from everyone else. 
Rasmus’s gang includes Mental Mickey, who’s had a metal plate inserted into his skull after his exploits in the Iraq war, and Michelle Ryan (ex Bionic Woman revamp) as a safecracker. Mental Mickey isn’t entirely stable, and has a lockup filled with machine guns and other weaponry which needless to say comes in terribly handy at the end of the film. The bank in question is run by obnoxious Tony Gardner and when everything goes wrong despite the entire gang (including Michelle) wearing fake moustaches as disguises they end up taking hostages and escaping from the bank only to find the East End of London in the grip of a zombie apocalypse. Will they get to the care home before Grandad and his chums get eaten?
COCKNEYS VS ZOMBIES deserves a UK cinema release, it really does, especially as this is the only country where audiences are likely to get most of the in-jokes and “cultural” references. The soundtrack is great, featuring everything from The Automatic’s title song to the Kaiser Chiefs’ I Predict a Riot to the theme from Grandstand, with cockney chart toppers Chas and Dave providing the end title knees up with a specially composed song about the living dead. A scene in which the slow-moving living dead chase the even slower moving Richard Briers aided only by his Zimmer frame deserves to enter the Britcomedy hall of fame, and the ending rounds off the good-natured jaunty merriment of it all. I liked it far more than I was expecting, and it’s also a delight to see a film in which OAPs end up being the heroes. Congratulations to writers James Moran & Lucas Roche and director Matthias Hoene for making such a good-natured funny horror film in the spirit of SHAUN OF THE DEAD. If there is a sequel only NORTHERNERS vs ZOMBIES could possibly be more entertaining.

Tuesday 11 September 2012

Livid (2011)

Since MARTYRS, THE HORDE and L’INTERIEUR, the prospect of watching a modern French horror film has filled me with dread - but in the very best way. While I can’t say I enjoyed any of the above there’s certainly an integrity to the modern French horror movement (they’re bound to call it a movement, aren’t they? or at least their critics will) that means that anything that comes from those shores is at worst worth a watch and at best something really special.
LIVID is a film that falls somewhere between those two pillars. It’s the follow-up to L’INTERIEUR from writer-directors Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo and while their previous movie had no supernatural elements LIVID plays out like an uneven fairy tale, but the kind you might have found in the Pan Book of Horror Stories, which is interesting as apparently the film was originally going to shoot in the UK.
There’s definitely a distinctly unpleasant, British feel to the opening of the film. Lucy is on her first day as a community nurse. She’s taken around the patients by the older Mrs Wilson and their day culminates in a visit to a huge crumbling mansion on the outskirts of town. Here, seemingly confined to her bed with an oxygen mask over her face and being transfused what looks like black blood, is the ancient Mrs Jessel. Mrs Wilson lets on that there’s meant to be a fabulous treasure hidden somewhere in the house, and later that night Lucy and her fisherman boyfriend Will and his friend Ben come back to steal it.
So far, so ordinary, and as if to emphasise the traditional horror elements of this first half there are even a couple of in-joke nods to AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON and, of all things, HALLOWEEN III. But Mrs Jessel has trained in dance at the Tanzacademie in Freiburg and if you don’t know what that means then you need to go back to Dario Argento school right now. Once they break into the house and find rooms filled with grotesque tableaux composed of taxidermy specimens, culminating in Mrs Jessel’s seemingly dead daughter, the film takes a turn for the truly weird and gory. The significance of all those missing children posters we saw at the beginning of the film gets explained, too.
Well, I say explained, but in fact the last half an hour of LIVID doesn’t actually let you understand what’s going on - it just presents you with life in the Jessel house as it is at the moment when Lucy and her friends break in. There’s a laboratory and flashbacks to a dance school and some bloodstained ballerinas all mixed in with a lot of oddness and horror, and the atmosphere is terrific. I’m not a fan of confusing or pretentious horror cinema but I thought LIVID was rather more pleasingly ambiguous. I have no idea what actually happened at the end or what was going on at various points during the proceedings but I did get the feeling that the film-makers knew but were leaving me to work it out for myself. Even if you don’t like that kind of thing LIVID has a certain kind of decaying Gothic European atmosphere nailed perfectly, and for that alone it’s worth watching. In fact out of all the films I listed at the start of this review, this is probably the only one I would want to watch again.

Friday 7 September 2012

Shock Waves (1977)

Nazi zombies! Doesn’t that sound like a great idea for a horror film? Perhaps not an entire subgenre but certainly a film? Of course it does! Of course anyone who’s seen Jean Rollin’s ZOMBIE LAKE, and far more recently OUTPOST II, will know how it’s possible to monumentally waste such a good idea, but fortunately before all of that there was Ken Wiederhorn’s SHOCK WAVES, a film I had steered clear of for many years on the basis that I saw Mr Wiederhorn’s RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD PART II in the cinema on its initial release, and despite some reviews to the contrary I wasn’t convinced that it was going to be any good.
SHOCK WAVES is certainly patchy, and even for a mid 1970s film it takes a while to get going. What it does have working for it, however are some of the creepiest zombie Nazi sequences ever put on film, including a fair few shot underwater which means that, while SHOCK WAVES will never be considered a classic like Fulci’s ZOMBI 2 or anything by Romero, it’s certainly worth a watch by anyone with a passing interest in the genre.
A group of 1970s young things with awful Laura Ashley dresses (Brooke Adams) and bouffant hairdos (Luke Halpin who, in the interview on the DVD, still has the same hairstyle - well done that man for sticking to his Barry Gibb guns!) are off on some kind of weird pleasure cruise on a boat captained by mad John Carradine who throws the radio overboard and gets killed as soon as there’s not enough money to pay him any more. After encountering a rotting Nazi ship that’s decided to pop up out of the water the yacht runs aground on an island and the survivors eventually stumble across a rotting country house where Peter Cushing lives, looking as if he’s been wearing the same clothes for the last thirty years. Cushing explains that he was responsible for creating a special Nazi Death Corps capable of working underwater without the need to breathe. This zombie regiment has been recruited from psychopaths, sadists, and all the other kinds of people you might think twice about putting into your death squad regiment. It’s therefore perhaps not surprising when Peter reveals that the zombies didn’t behave in quite the way they were supposed to and started attacking everyone. They’re supposed to be safely stored underwater but as we have already seen, they’re now on the march again and are getting closer.
As I’ve mentioned above, where SHOCK WAVES really wins is in its zombies, which have some great makeups by Alan Ormsby and are played by men who seem to be able to hold their breath underwater for a very long time. There are a lot of scenes of them wandering around but Ken Wiederhorn has somehow grasped the kind of magic that’s lacking in many similar pictures where these shots would get boring very quickly. Peter Cushing is obviously in it for marquee value as he doesn’t last long and his info dump could have been achieved with the discovery of a diary. Still, it’s just another little extra that goes a way towards elevating SHOCK WAVES out of the mire of low budget rubbish and into something approaching a minor classic.

Monday 3 September 2012

Isolation (2005)

Nobody told me Ireland has been knocking out some cracking little horror films over the last few years, but with DOROTHY (already reviewed on this site), GRABBERS (coming soon) and this I’m going to give Ireland its own category. Bought blind at the video shop the other day ISOLATION was far better than we were expecting and may just have created a whole new horror subgenre.
All is not well on a remote Irish farm where it never stops raining and the only ground surface seems to consist of mud of varying runny consistencies. Penniless farmer Dan (John Lynch, who’s excellent) has agreed to allow one of his cows to be used in a genetic experiment organised by the obviously villainous John (Marcel Iures). The cow is pregnant but it’s going to be a difficult birth. Vet Orla (Essie Davis) gets bitten by whatever is growing inside the cow during a routine examination, and when the calf is eventually born, after great difficulty, both it and the mother have to be put down. The calf is inexplicably found to also be pregnant, but with a number of mutant hybrid creatures that are presumably a by-product of the experiment. The mutant foetus things aren’t dead, however, and it turns out they have the potential to infect the rest of humankind. John orders the place quarantined and the search is on for the creatures.
I don’t know if there are any grim veterinary horror films out there but ISOLATION may well be the first, and very very good it is, too. The entire film is seriously dark and unpleasant, the characters all feel real, and the animal stuff made me wonder if the picture hadn’t been made by a bunch of vets who wanted to make a horror film. The nail gun they use to kill the calf and its mother looks like the kind of thing that’s probably used in real life, and the horrible gloomy surroundings just add to the sense of nihilism and hopelessness that doesn’t let up for the entire picture.
With all that going on you might think that the appearance of mutant cow foetuses might ruin it all, but not a bit of it. The creatures are barely shown, and when they are there’s not a pixel of CGI in the house - just horrible-looking puppets shown very briefly so as not to diminish their effect. If you need a description the only thing I can liken these weird, bony creatures to is the gun Jude Law makes out of his own teeth in EXISTENZ. In  fact, probably the best way to describe ISOLATION is a Grim Irish Cronenberg Veterinarian Horror picture. I thought it was great and I can’t believe it isn’t better known. It’s on this site because it deserves a lot of love and attention and I hope this review helps it to get some. Much, much more Irish horror, please!

Saturday 1 September 2012

The Possession (2012)

There’s been quite a flood of devil movies from Hollywood in the last couple of years, ranging from the almost unimaginably pompous (THE RITE, in which Anthony Hopkins stars in a piece that felt like James Herriot with priests, and bad James Herriot at that) to the really quite good (THE LAST EXORCISM, which did a great job of using the documentary / found footage format and only stumbled right at the end). In the old days the crappy ripoffs would come from Italy but now Hollywood makes those itself as well (THE DEVIL INSIDE - my review of this hilarious bucket of old cobblers is currently the most popular review on this site). There are more of these movies to come and the latest to hit UK cinema screens is THE POSSESSION.
‘Based on a true story’ says the kind of title card that will have the more cynical among us taking that with a pinch of salt, or possibly even a maxi-pack multi-buy economy sack of it.
So there’s this wooden box that’s owned by an old lady and has something horrible living in it. Before the old lady can somehow destroy it she’s had the crap beaten out of her and the box is for sale as part of a grand clear out because now she’s bandaged up and confined to bed presumably her son thinks she will never need any of her belongings ever again.
The box is bought by Em (Natasha Calls) one of the two young daughters of divorced PE teacher dad Clyde (Jeffrey Dean Morgan last seen in Hammer’s THE RESIDENT which really wasn’t very good at all). Both Clyde’s profession and his ability to be a bit hopeless (e.g. completely forgetting to attend his elder daughter’s school performance for no good reason) did not endear me to him as a character, but then neither did his irritating ex-wife Stephanie (Kyra Sedgwick) so it’s left to the kids to steal the show, especially little Em who gets the box open, slips on a ring she finds there and is soon doing her best Linda Blair impersonation before Linda Blair ended up in awful women in prison films. 
There was a demon in the box and it’s trying to take over Em, leading to the very best sequences in the film, including one set in an MRI scanner that’s superbly creepy and something I’ve never seen done before. It’s not a straightforward, find-a-Catholic-priest-who-isn’t-drunk-or-in-prison-to-help kind of demon, though. Having played with the idea of a lamia in his DRAG ME TO HELL here producer Sam Raimi throws a dibbuk at us. Finding this out, Clyde goes off to the Jewish area of town (do all American cities have these?) where I was worried / hoping for a moment that he might encounter Sacha Baron Cohen as the requisite exorcist. He doesn’t, but once the film hits this bit it does all become a bit too silly and in the hands of a different director could have been properly hilarious. As it is director Ole Bornedal plays everything straight so there are no real surprises here.
THE POSSESSION is a reasonable timewaster and has a couple of good scares that will make it worth diehards like me watching it. Everyone else can wait for SINISTER to come out so they can properly have the pants scared off them. 

Tuesday 28 August 2012

[REC] 3 (2012)

To put this review of REC 3 into context I should first state that I loved the original REC. In fact my review of it is on this site. I should also state that I really didn’t like REC 2, which substituted much of the first film’s manic kineticism and gleeful sense of anarchy for a bit too much wandering around dark corridors and attempts at quasi-religious po-faced explanation that detracted from the sheer terror of the original REC’s final scene. Much of the reason the first film worked so well for me and the second didn’t was, oddly enough, REC’s emphasis of style over substance. It wasn’t important why the events were happening, they just were, and in such a gloriously fast-paced way that even after multiple viewings I still come out of the original feeling exhausted and deliriously thrilled.
I loved REC 3.
The sense of anarchy is back - what better place to have zombies smash up than a wedding? The feeling of random violent horror is back as well, but this time there’s some comedy and a lot of romance and the whole mix works perfectly. In fact REC 3 may be one of the most romantic horror films I have ever seen, and whether or not that works for you within the context of a zombie horror picture will very much determine whether or not REC 3 is going to be your kind of thing.
Kicking off in typical ‘wedding video’ style with childhood pictures of the bride and bridegroom, REC 3 continues the handheld video recording format of the first two films as we find ourselves at the wedding of Koldo (Diego Martin) and Clara (Leticia Dolera), which is being filmed by Koldo’s cousin Adrian. We get through the marriage ceremony and the reception, learning along the way that one of the guests has been bitten by a dog earlier in the day. It’s not long before guests are being attacked and Koldo ends up trapped in the kitchen with a couple of other guests and Adrian, who is still filming. A very sly dig at the found footage format results in Adrian’s camera being stamped on, the title card of the film coming up (is this the longest pre-credits sequence ever?) and the film switching to Steadicam-filmed widescreen, which in itself has been the subject of a gag earlier on as well. Koldo is now separated from Clara and the rest of the film documents their attempts to find each other, avoiding zombie hordes along the way. 
There are some delicious jokes and comedy moments in REC 3 that don’t detract from the horror one bit. A children’s entertainer whose costume consists of a massive sponge emphasises that he’s playing ‘John Sponge’ and not ‘that other children’s character you mustn’t mention’ and one of the characters isn’t a guest at all but has turned up to check on music royalties. At one point Koldo takes the armour from a nearby church display of St George and sets out with his Sancho Panza-inspired comedy sidekick who is funny for just the right length of time before he is dragged off and killed.
There are a lot of very fine touches, including the zombies all being reflected in mirrors as the creature from the original, and televisions on at the wedding are playing news coverage from the first film. The change from handheld home video to standard widescreen format is absolutely the right thing to do and prevents the film from becoming contrived.
So in case you haven’t yet realised, I really, really liked REC 3. It’s clearly a film made by a man in love, both with the genre and with the lead actress who just happens to be his wife. By turns terrifying, funny and incredibly touching, here at Probert Towers REC 3 is destined to become one of our favourite feelgood horror films of all time. There should be more like it.