Monday 28 May 2012

The Blood Beast Terror (1967)

Peter Cushing described it as the worst film he ever made, and he had just appeared in that remarkable and quite insane catalogue of British cinematic lunacy CORRUPTION. Leslie Halliwell described it in his Film Guide as ‘totally idiotic cheapjack horror fare’, if my memory serves me right. So is THE BLOOD BEAST TERROR, Tigon’s 1967 horror picture about Wanda Ventham turning into a giant bloodsucking death’s head moth any good?
      Not really, no.
      No-one loves the British horror films of the 1960s and 1970s more than I do. I even have love for CORRUPTION, and Robert Hartford-Davis’ dodgy sleaze-filled follow-up THE FIEND, but even I have to admit that THE VAMPIRE BEAST CRAVES BLOOD (the US title for this film - it’s not very good either, is it?) really is scraping the bottom of the barrel.
      In a prologue composed of stock footage of a variety of jungle animals from various continents, we see some young chap being paddled down a tributary of the Thames before excitedly discovering what will later turn out to be moth cocoons. From there we get such an abrupt cut to the main credits that one almost wonders whether any of this footage was actually shot for the film in question or given to Tony Tenser as some random abandoned project that he could try and put together a film around. 
      Young men are turning up drained of blood in the Victorian English countryside. Professor Mallinger (Robert Flemyng), local moth expert, medical expert, and expert on eagles (we find out later) is quick to proclaim the victims dead, even if sometimes they need a little bit of help from him to get them there. Inspector Quennell (Peter Cushing, looking as if he’s making up all his own lines in this one) is on the case, wondering why giant moth wing scales have been found at the murder scenes and why Mallinger’s butler regularly tortures the house’s resident pet eagle, but then so do we - it’s never really explained.
      Professor Mallinger is actually busy creating a giant vampire moth mate for his giant vampire moth daughter (Wanda Ventham). Quite how he made her into this rather unconvincing creature in the first place is never explained, certainly not by him, as he has a change of heart and ends up dead while setting his latest embryonic creation on fire. Wanda succumbs to the flames of a bonfire and that’s about it.
      As a horror film THE BLOOD BEAST TERROR isn’t terribly good, and as 1960s BritHorror it’s remarkably grotty, being only one step above Laurence Huntingdon’s awful THE VULTURE. The camerawork is amongst the most static I’ve seen, Robert Flemyng occasionally gets annoyed and looks at the camera, and pretty Vanessa Howard doesn’t get to do much more than fall down a flight of stairs to start the requisite climactic fire. Definitely only for all the completists out there, who can at least be relieved that it isn’t THE VULTURE, of which more another time. I would have put this in the 'Trapped in the Room With It' section but Peter Cushing makes it just ever so slightly more bearable than that.

Thursday 24 May 2012

Iron Sky (2012)

A German-Finnish-Australian science fiction satire about Nazis on the moon invading earth and led by Udo Kier? Could any film live up to this kind of promise? We saw this last night in a packed, sold-out screening in Bristol and all I can say is yes - IRON SKY is marvellous - clever, funny, and packed with satirical and cultural references that caused cheers and clapping throughout its running time.
It’s 2018. In 1945 the Nazis escaped to the dark side of the moon, where they have been busy building their swastika-shaped moon base and planning a return to earth. Their equipment is, however, rather outdated.  Black male model James Washington (Christopher Kirby) is sent to the moon as a publicity stunt to help re-elect the current president of the United States (a Sarah Palin lookalike we never learn the name of). His capture results in the Nazis discovering that all they need to get their massive antiquated battle machine Gotterdammerung up and flying is an iPhone. Their leader, Wolfgang Kortzfleish (Udo Kier) sends his heir apparent Klaus Adler (Gotz Otto) and his schoolteacher girlfriend Renate (Julia Dietze) along with the newly albinised Washington to get more of the devices and to tell the US President that they will soon be at war with the master race.
To say any more would be to spoil a movie that keeps you guessing throughout as to what is going to happen next. The satirical angle is played very heavily indeed, with lots of barbed comments about America’s past war involvements, but the rest of the world doesn’t escape either. The whole film culminates in an epic space battle that looks as if it cost a fortune - in fact the special effects throughout are excellent. The music score, by the industrial band Laibach is one of the best I’ve heard all year - clever and witty in its thematic variations of well-known Wagnerian themes as well as providing rich and varied original tracks that augment the on-screen action perfectly. 
       In fact, overall IRON SKY really is a remarkable and splendid achievement, and in a summer which promises to be filled with bloated Hollywood remakes, sequels and prequels this film really does deserve to be seen. Shame on Revolver Entertainment, then, that they have apparently relegated it to one single night of cinema showings around the country before putting it out on DVD in a couple of days’ time. Still, at least it is getting a UK release. I'll be very interested indeed to see how it does in the US. If you’re a fan of sci-fi, comedy, moon Nazis, or Eurofun and don’t mind a few subtitles now and then (which will probably kill the US sales, thinking about it) IRON SKY is definitely worth looking up.

Saturday 19 May 2012

Dinocroc Vs Supergator (2010)

There are quite a few of these Roger Corman-produced monster mashups out there at the moment, all of them apparently produced for the ‘SyFy’ Channel, which makes one wonder: if the TV network in question can’t even spell itself properly anymore, what hope does the discerning viewer have to find anything of quality on it?
Well, DINOCROC VS SUPERGATOR most certainly isn’t anything of quality. It is, however, remarkably undemanding fun if viewed with every part of one’s brain switched off apart from the ‘ten year old monster movie fan’ bit, and to be honest if that part is lacking you’re probably better off giving this one a miss.
  Somewhere in Hawaii a group of daft scientists is trying to solve the world’s food shortage by creating a giant mutant crocodile version of a Tyrannosaurus Rex. When, amazingly, this plan fails to alleviate the plight of the starving millions, they create an enormous super alligator with spikes all down its back in case that’s the answer. Obviously possessing more common sense that the entire research team combined these two giant supermutations promptly escape and teach everyone a lesson by eating them.
One of the things I’ve never really understood in poorly thought out monster movies like this is how the attempts to solve the world’s food shortage always seems to result in the creation of not just huge monsters, but huge monsters with enormous appetites. In fact it’s quite remarkable how many people these two genetically altered reptiles get through in the movie’s running time. The monsters often appear from lakes that are far too shallow or from behind trees that are much too small to actually conceal them to chomp on their prey as well, giving the film the feel of one of those old Terry Gilliam Monty Python cartoons. 
Arch villain David Carradine employs enigmatic bounty hunter The Cajun to despatch the creatures. The Cajun (that’s how he appears in the end credits) is the sort of chap who catches crocodiles by the rather foolhardy method of dripping his own blood into the water, calling into question Mr Carradine’s claim that this individual is ‘the best’ unless he means ‘the best person who catches monsters using deliberate self-harming methods’ in which case The Cajun probably is, but then how much competition is there going to be for a title like that?
Anyway, our Cajun friend travels from Louisiana to Hawaii, wears exactly the same costume throughout the film, and insists he can operate both his boat and his enormous exploding Dinocrossbow he’s brought along at the same time. He then goes on to prove he can’t and that he needs the help of Girl Villain With Weird Essex Accent to help him. Meanwhile secret agent and appalling shirt-wearing Paul Beaumont (Corey Landis) has hooked up with dyed blonde hair pink lipstick and hotpants-wearing Conservation Officer Cassidy Swanson (Amy Rasimas) to investigate naughty David’s Rubbish Research Facility.
It all ends as stupidly as one could possibly hope for, with Dinocroc and Supergator having a Massive Non-Mammalian Smackdown of low budget CGI proportions. Add in some homo-erotic subtext between the male leads and a strategically placed bath at the end and DINOCROC VS SUPERGATOR is probably the most fun you can find in the £2 bargain bin this week. And to finish off here's a fairly decent poster for the film where unfortunately they've managed to spell the title wrong.

Wednesday 16 May 2012

127 Hours (2010)

I’ve been a fan of Danny Boyle’s since I saw SHALLOW GRAVE on its initial cinema release, and my appreciation for the man was understandably increased when I read that the reason he got Simon Boswell to score that film was because Boyle was familiar with Boswell’s work in contemporary Italian horror cinema of the time. Several of his subsequent films have contained elements of horror (the dead baby of TRAINSPOTTING, the blinding of the beggar child in SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE) and he even made a good stab at a properly disturbing British horror film with 28 DAYS LATER. 127 HOURS is based on a true story, but is no less horrific for that. In fact as an out and out horror film it qualifies on several levels, all of which work well enough together to form a tour de force experience in disturbing cinema.
Aron Ralston (James Franco), a mountain climber, canyoneer and thrill-seeker sets off for a weekend’s exploring of the Blue John Canyon in Utah. He gets to ride his mountain bike over the landscape, meets a couple of girls who invite him to a party, and then falls down a gorge and gets himself stuck when his right arm gets wedged between a boulder and a canyon wall.
This is where the film gets interesting, and where it becomes a virtual single-hander (sorry) for actor James Franco, who has to contend with diminishing water and food, the elements, the fact that no-one’s going to come and rescue him, and the fact that unless he can do something to free his trapped arm he’s going to die there.
Thankfully, Boyle is a director who appreciates that this kind of material, if presented to a paying audience, needs to be entertaining first and worthy second. He also appreciates the difference between keeping an audience engrossed and poking them in the eye every couple of minutes to remind them to wake up. Consequently, while we get a lot of visual trickery (split screen, CGI, soft-focus flashbacks), none of these techniques ever feel intrusive, and Boyle gets the balance just right so that they add to the feelings of Ralston’s isolation and desperation rather than detract from them.       And yes, I do think 127 HOURS is a horror film. On the most superficial level it plays on Algernon Blackwood’s themes of man vs the wilderness. A wonderful shot early on takes us from Ralston’s just-trapped self out of the gorge and across the beautiful but wild and forbidding landscape in which he has become hopelessly lost, evoking as great a sense of cosmic horror in this one man’s insignificance in such a vast and empty place as Lovecraft could ever hope to achieve.
       Then of course there’s the climax. Ralston’s arm has to go. He has no medical training, an improvised tourniquet, and a cheap stocking-filler knife. The end titles mention the old ‘certain scenes have been altered to heighten dramatic impact’ get-out clause but in this case I really didn’t mind, just as I didn’t mind that the amputation would have been a bit more involved and rather more torturous than what’s depicted on screen. 127 HOURS is an example of this kind of story being told in the right way. It’s based on a true story but it’s presented as an entertainment, with all the suspense and human interest a good telling of such a tale requires. It even has a happy ending that ties in the story to the real life character without becoming too sentimental. Full marks to Danny Boyle.

Friday 11 May 2012

Piranha 3DD (2012)

PIRANHA 3D was one of my favourite films of 2010, a riotous, glorious mix of the elements that made 70s and 80s exploitation cinema great, delivered with just enough of a twinkle in the eye that all the daft gore-soaked proceedings ended up being one of the most enjoyable efforts of the year. Movie sequels, and in particular horror movie sequels have a habit of failing to meet up to their predecessors, and while I really should have learned my lesson by now I was still looking forward to seeing the follow-up, which has somehow managed to get a UK cinema release. The only thing I can say about it that isn’t entirely damning is that at least it lives down to the ‘bad sequel’ tradition.
PIRANHA 3DD is terrible, absolutely terrible. In fact I might go as far as to say that this is the worst film I have ever seen at the cinema. I may have seen more execrable horror movie product on DVD, but never on a big screen have I seen such a cavalcade of failure on every possible level. I’m not in favour of film censorship but there are some films people should never see, and this is one of them. 
The film begins with a recap of the first followed by shots of the grim, depressing, deserted place the first film’s Lake Victoria has now become. For a split second the viewer is conned into thinking this film is going to develop along interesting and bleak lines, and then suddenly we’re on a very cheap looking set with Gary Busey wading through some water looking for a cow that he finds semi-submerged and dead. The cow explodes and suddenly we’re at ‘The Big Wet’ (or something) an adult-themed water park that’s due to open in three days.
       With all the ham-fistedness of Garth Marenghi on a bad day we are then subjected to a series of deaths and sex scenes that are handled with such appalling incompetence and extreme poor taste that by the time some poor young chap was trying to cut his own penis off after having sex with a girl who somehow had a piranha inside her, the whole enterprise was starting to feel rather shameful. This is nothing, however, compared to the terrible, terrible climax, where the evil villain who owns the water park ends up having his severed head bouncing between a pair of breasts in a scene that does not do the reputation of our beloved genre any good at all.
       PIRANHA 3DD does not have one single redeeming feature. The 3D is terrible and makes a mess of trying to reproduce gags from the first film. Even Christopher Lloyd rambling on about ‘The Laughing Diarrhoea Baby’ that’s managed to get more hits on YouTube than him can’t redeem it. It is badly written, shot, edited and acted, and just when you think things can’t get any worse David Hasselhoff turns up with his Casio keyboard and starts singing. Seriously. The film runs a scant 83 minutes but the end titles go on for ages, include a mass of out-takes and continue to embarrass Mr Hasselhoff and run his career into the ground even more than the poor chap has managed to do to himself already. It’s a rare day when I feel stupid for having watched a film. PIRANHA 3DD is that film. The only good thing I can say about it is that now I can watch absolutely any other film in the universe and it’s going to look like a masterpiece next to this. 

Monday 7 May 2012

Piranha 3D (2010)

The subject of far more vilification than it deserves, Alexandre Aja’s remake of the 1978 Joe Dante pic is so far over the top in every aspect that anyone who takes it seriously just hasn’t got their head on properly. Aja himself has said that he wanted to make an homage to the splatter films he grew up watching during the 1980s and he more than achieves that here.
It’s Spring Break, which according to this film is obviously some kind of public US holiday where young women with large breasts try to fit themselves into the tiniest possible costumes before setting off for any reasonable-sized body of water, where they can be ogled by young men, the collective brain tissue of whom could probably, at a pinch, work out how many breasts a normal woman is meant to have, if they weren’t being distracted by pounding dance music, Eli Roth, and a porn film crew. Probably. 
Just before all this wet nudie merrymaking is about to begin there’s an earthquake beneath the lake where our film is set, opening up an ancient chamber filled with massive, vicious, flesh-hungry piranha, who quickly put paid to angler Richard Dreyfuss, introduced pre-credits in a nice nod to his role in JAWS and dead before the title of the film even gets to the screen. Experts are called in who go diving and get eaten, leaving slightly miscast Sheriff Elisabeth Shue and only scientist left alive Adam Scott to take the specimen they’ve captured to screamingly mad fish shop proprietor and apparent expert on everything marine and prehistoric, Christopher Lloyd. Mr Lloyd explains what we’ve already realised and with all the aforementioned scantily clad individuals massing on the lake the scene is set for one of the best scenes of mass carnage in a horror film in recent years. 

PIRANHA 3D runs slightly less than eighty minutes and manages to cram in more breasts, blood, gore, severed limbs and screaming teenagers than every other film made in 2010 put together. The piranha attacks are well staged and the film is edited to wring maximum suspense out of the numerous cliffhangers that pepper the movie in its final half hour. There are plenty of sight gags, too, and more than anything the film feels like a perverted, ridiculous, adults-only version of a Warner Bros cartoon, with several shots of piranha almost giving knowing winks to the screen. The 3D is used well to complement all the mayhem, with some memorable gags that are probably best witnessed first hand rather than have me spoil the surprise here, or then again perhaps not. Having just rewatched this on DVD with the benefit of a surround sound system I can also testify that the 5.1 mix is excellent as well. I haven’t really mentioned the acting but everyone does what’s expected of them, with some notable overacting by Mr Lloyd and an appropriately cocaine-fuelled over the top turn by Jerry O’Connell as porn director Derrick Jones. 
PIRANHA 3D is loads of fun. I’ve now seen it three times and I’m still not tired of it, and if that’s a film-viewing sin - well, I’ve committed worse. It’s a movie for anyone who gets a kick out of the old dangle-your-legs-in-the-water-and-realise-you’re-minus-them gag, the old carrying-someone-injured-out-of-the-water-and-they-fall-apart-in-the-middle gag, and the old The End - or is it? Oh No! - It's Not! gag. The sequel, PIRANHA 3DD, hits cinemas soon. Sadly, it has a different director, and those who disliked the original will no doubt have no interest whatsoever in knowing that encouragingly it’s written by the two chaps who penned the last few SAW sequels and the better than expected THE COLLECTOR. I intend to be in the front row. With my 3D glasses on.

Thursday 3 May 2012

Dawn of the Mummy (1981)

      When nations come together anything is possible – world peace, an end to poverty and hunger, even a new respect and tolerance for different cultures. It’s also possible to end up with DAWN OF THE MUMMY– a South African-Egyptian co production with Italian special effects and disco music from the Palestinian bloke who wrote the theme for the HE-MAN cartoon series. It’s difficult to know where to begin with this film that rode on the coattails of the popularity of the zombie subgenre kick-started by George Romero’s DAWN OF THE DEAD and kicked along like a rapidly deflating football by a bunch of delinquent Italian schoolboys led by Lucio Fulci with his questionable chums Bruno Mattei and Marino Girolami. 
What could have been a fantastic bit of gory knockabout fun is fumbled a bit by director Farouk Agrama, who basically crosses the standard ‘mummy’s curse’ storyline with BBC Children’s TV favourite BAGPUSS. For those unacquainted with the saggy cloth cat who came to life when little Emily wasn’t looking, the premise of the TV show was that when Bagpuss woke up, all his friends woke up as well. And what a ragbag collection of motheaten Victorian horrors they were, including Gabriel the toad, Madeleine the rag doll, and some tiny rodents who usually lived in a ‘Mouse Organ’ (US readers are better off not asking). Maybe one day BAGPUSS will have to be featured in the TV section. Anyway, in DAWN OF THE MUMMY, when the titular ancient pharaoh wakes up, all his friends wake up too, but rather than then enact a winsome children’s story (although that would have been interesting) they proceed to wreak havoc and eat everyone. 
      This all sounds great but for the most part it’s sadly not, due to a marked degree of incoherence in the plotting and no acting or characterisation to speak of. Horror prospectors keen to sift through the detritus of stuff like this will be rewarded with two fantastic bits: the reanimation of the mummy’s undead servants against a setting sun is superb, as is the ending where everything goes mental (starting with a wedding reception where the bride ends up on the menu). The aforementioned pounding euro-disco music is remarkably catchy as well, and deserves a CD re-release (it’s already on LP, oh yes). The poster's fantastic, too. In fact it looks as if they spent more on that than the entire film. Apart from those redeeming features that definitely make it worth a watch or two for those of us who just can't help ourselves, DAWN OF THE MUMMY gets a ‘poor - could do better’ mark. But it’s still about 1000000 times better than any Mummy films that have been made since then. Let’s just hope they never let Stephen Sommers loose on BAGPUSS.