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. 

Wednesday 22 August 2012

Burial Ground (1980)

Ah, the early eighties, when the Italian film industry decided that it had nothing better to do than churn out a series of rip-offs of George A Romero’s DAWN OF THE DEAD, phenomenally successful on its release in Italy as ZOMBI. Lucio Fulci was quickest off the mark and so his film became ZOMBI 2 in his homeland and ZOMBIE FLESHEATERS in the UK. 
      There were several candidates for the title of ZOMBI 3 including another Fulci effort and the film under review here, which went out under the title of BURIAL GROUND in the US and THE ZOMBIE DEAD in the UK, when it was released a few years ago in an uncut print for those two or three people who had been awaiting its arrival. 
      It’s directed (to use the term in its loosest context) by Andrea Bianchi and it wins hands down as the worst of this specific sub-sub-sub genre of film (except maybe for Jean Rollin’s ZOMBIE LAKE, but that’s a different story). The plot involves that well known and time-honoured set-up of a group of people trapped in a country house because flesh-eating warrior monks have been brought back to life by the Professor who lives there. If this encourages you to see this film then believe me, reading about it is a lot more fun, and quicker, than subjecting yourself to the 81 minute running time. 
      This being a European horror film these characters behave like X-Rated soap opera rejects with various marital disharmonies, perversions and one very, very strange mother-son relationship (popular Italian actress Mariangela Giordano at a career low). Cue a series of boringly-directed close-encounters with the zombies accompanied by that strange wheezing and burping synthesiser soundtrack so popular in films of this type. “They move so slowly,” say a character at one point “we might as well let them in!” leading to the predictably inevitable disembowelments with an especially bizarre fate in store for Mariangela. 
      The film rounds everything off with a final act of hilarious ineptitude. As the monsters wave their rotting hands over the face of helpless (but really rather pretty) Karyn Weil we are treated to a caption which claims to be an excerpt from the ‘Profecy (sic) of the Black Spider’, which amongst others thing promises us ‘Nigths of Terror’. 
       Presumably the budget couldn’t stretch to correcting typos. Or perhaps the Nigths are something completely different that this film has somehow neglected to explain. I see that this film has recently been re-released on BluRay in the US and I have to say that if there is one film in the world that might benefit from that technology’s improved clarity of sound and vision BURIAL GROUND is not it.

Saturday 18 August 2012

Parasomnia (2008)

I’ve always harboured a sneaking liking for the films of William Malone. His remake of HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL (1999) was far better than many reviews gave it credit for, even if the ending did rather end up drowning in excessive special effects. His 1985 feature TITAN FIND was an ALIEN ripoff that showed imagination on a low budget, and an ability to keep Klaus Kinski under control, and FEARDOTCOM (2002) was an interesting if perhaps overly ambitious horror film that tried to squeeze a bit too much into its running time to allow coherency.
       PARASOMNIA is the tale of Danny (Dylan Purcell) who, while visiting his friend Billy in a psychiatric rehabilitation unit happens across the room of Laura, a young woman with parasomnia, which means she spends most of her life asleep, waking only momentarily before once again becoming unconscious. In one of those situations that only occur in horror movie hospitals, just down the corridor from her is convicted psychopathic killer, bookshop proprietor and evil mesmerist Byron Volpe (Patrick Kilpatrick) suspended from the ceiling and kept in isolation for however many hundreds of murders it’s claimed he’s done. Danny learns that a group of scientists want to experiment with Laura so he kidnaps her from the clinic. This angers Volpe who wants her for himself. Volpe escapes, killing what seems like everyone in the hospital, grabs Laura, and sets the scene for a very unusual showdown indeed.
       Like Malone’s other pictures, PARASOMNIA is far from perfect, but there’s plenty here to enjoy, be intrigued by, and to raise your eyebrows at as well. In fact it’s a long time (and perhaps never) since I’ve seen a mainstream film that manages to include nods to so many outre sexual practices. During the course of PARASOMNIA’s opening hour, Laura is the subject of bondage, pet play, and she dresses up in a cheerleader costume for Danny, not to mention the fact that her almost constantly soporific state necessitates her having to be washed and fed by him as well. Quite a few pretty girls end up on their knees as a result of Volpe’s mesmerism, and a couple end up blindfolded as well. After this, a climax involving a steampunk version of Holst’s Jupiter suite played by clockwork instruments and a couple of gorgeous girls in Victorian dress in the villain’s lair, while Jeffrey Combs’ police detective plays Russian roulette in a corner, and a helpless Danny looks on as Laura reclines in a coffin covered in peacock feathers is as unexpected as it is delightful.   
      PARASOMNIA is deliciously kinky, wonderfully quirky, and fully deserving of the attention of any horror fan who fancies something off the straight and narrow. It deserves to be better known, and I hope William Malone gets the chance to make some more eclectic, eccentric and elegant pictures like this one.

Thursday 16 August 2012

Don't Go In The House (1979)

There are a number of films from the 'Video Nasty' era that until recently I had stayed away from, reasoning from what I knew of them that they probably weren't the kind of films I would get much out of. Recently I've finally been getting round to watching them and, as perhaps might be expected, some are as boring (Joe D'Amato's ANTHROPOPHAGOUS), unpleasant (Wes Craven's LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT which no matter how hard I try I find I can't like at all), sleazy (TOOLBOX MURDERS, NIGHTMARES IN A DAMAGED BRAIN) and silly (KILLER NUN) as I expected. A few, though, like Meir Zarchi's I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE have proved unexpectedly rewarding. Joseph Ellison's 1979 DON'T GO IN THE HOUSE is another I'd steered clear of because reviews had caused me to think it wouldn't be my sort of thing. Having watched it I'm pleased to say it falls into the latter category and I certainly think it has enough merit to warrant a write up on here, especially as I feel guilty for having thought so ill of it for so many years without actually seeing it.
      A one-line summary of the plot (man burns women to death in his custom-made furnace room after being tortured by his mother when he was little) is pretty much a recipe for Grimsville and while this film is just that, it actually handles its subject matter in a far less exploitative way than I was expecting, with some genuinely scary and terrifying touches along the way.
      Donny Kohler lives in a big old house with his overbearing mother who, when he was a little boy, would hold his arms over the flame of the gas stove when he'd been naughty. There's the suggestion in the script that Donny is illegitimate and that this, as well his mother's religious beliefs has contributed to these regular punishments. Donny still bears the scars of these episodes, which does make it a little odd that he works in a furnace used for waste disposal.
      At the start of the film Donny comes home to find his mother dead in her favourite armchair and she slowly rots throughout the picture. His traumatised reaction to this is to cover one of the rooms in their rotting mansion (obviously a real - and excellent - location) in sheet steel. Then off he goes to find women to burn in it. I was expecting the murders to be far more unpleasant, gratuitous and leering than they actually are. The only victim we see killed is the first, suspended naked from a hook and subjected to Donny's flamethrower (actually double-exposed flames that look only slightly more convincing than Abel Salazar's fate at the beginning of THE BRAINIAC). 
      The burned corpses, however, are something else again, and these, together with the makeup for Donny's dead mother, are responsible for providing the most unsettling sequences, especially a bit near the end where they come back to life in a moment which may have inspired the ending of William Lustig's MANIAC the following year.
      The film flags a bit in the middle when Donny plans to go to the disco and spends an inordinately long time at an outfitters that for all I know may have had a stake in the production. The movie must also have been made at the height of disco fever as there's a prolonged scene that was probably considered by someone behind the scenes essential to sell the picture. 
      DON'T GO IN THE HOUSE is a grim, serious slasher film. It's right up there with other properly disturbing pictures like Lustig's MANIAC. Director Joseph Ellison occasionally displays flashes of brilliance in several well put together sequences that scared me silly, especially the climax. It sits a little unevenly between trying to be a serious piece while at the same time occasionally trying to be a little more mainstream. I have no idea if Ellison did anything else but he should have been encouraged to as, while this film is hardly the kind of thing you would recommend to friends, it's much better made than many of its contemporaries and displays an integrity that makes it both satisfying and properly disturbing viewing.

Monday 6 August 2012

Spellbound (1945)

Alfred Hitchcock’s 1945 thriller deals with passion and intrigue in the sexy world of psychiatrists. What do you mean psychiatrists aren’t sexy? Ingrid Bergman’s one in this, and Gregory Peck is as well. Well, actually, he’s not, but for his first few minutes of screen time he does an excellent job of acting the way psychiatrists really do, taking a random half day off to go wandering about in the countryside and collapsing in a dead faint if he has to go near an operating theatre. 
      It all starts to go wrong when Ingrid draws a vagina on the tablecloth for him at teatime. Gregory gets all shaky and wobbly when she starts talking about swimming pools and before Bela Lugosi can leap in to say ‘Freud - you are avenged!’ Ingrid’s losing all control and coming to Gregory’s room at night. Unfortunately Gregory’s not quite in control of himself either, poor chap, and when he kisses her he starts to go all wobbly again. But it’s not her, it’s the dressing gown she’s wearing. “What’s wrong with it?” she asks. Anyone who has gone to medical school will know that the approved answer is “You’re still wearing it” and Gregory gives himself away by not coming up with the goods. It turns out he’s been impersonating Dr Edwardes, the new head of Green Manors, the institution in which all this is taking place, and, confused by Ingrid’s vagina, dressing gown, and with being in a Hitchcock movie in general, he promptly dashes off to a posh New York hotel in the hope of maybe working for Universal instead. “I always thought there was something unscientific about him,” says Leo G Carroll, probably because Gregory has been there a whole day and a half and has yet to produce one giant guinea pig, frog or tarantula capable of crushing a house which would guarantee him a job over at Universal in a few years' time. Leo’s another psychiatrist and ex-head of Green Manors because Gregory, or rather Doctor Edwardes, was intended to replace him. 
      Doctor Edwardes has, in fact, been murdered! Ingrid travels to New York where Gregory has been trying to remember who he is. She employs the tried and trusted psychoanalytic therapeutic techniques of forcing him to buy a railway ticket, exposing him to the very police who are searching for him, and rubbing herself up against him. A lot. Gregory’s terrified of black tracks on white lines. Dr Edwardes loved skiing. The two couldn’t be connected, could they? Oh yes they are, but we don’t get to find out about that until we’ve sat through a trippy Salvador Dali-designed dream sequence that really should have been in colour. There was a Dali exhibition on in London a few years ago & I was lucky enough to be able to see the painted backdrops used in this sequence and they really are a surrealistic delight to behold. A shame they weren’t preserved on the screen in all their glory. 
      Anyway, Gregory dreams all the answers in the kind of sequence that would keep Italian film directors in business way into the mid 1970s. The reason for his fear is also explained in the kind of flashback giallo lovers everywhere were to see again and again in the decades to come. I’m not going to give away any more of this as SPELLBOUND is definitely still worth watching for some great suspense sequences, some stylish camerawork and some absolutely beautiful and subtle noirish lighting, even if its treatment of the world of contemporary 1940s psychiatry is about as accurate as Robert Bloch’s depiction of that same world twenty years later. Twenty five years later of course, SPELLBOUND would have definitely been made in Italy. The title and poster would have approximated the French one shown above, with the villain swigging from a bottle J&B, Morricone doing the music instead of Rozsa, and Edwige Fenech in the Gregory Peck role. But who would have played Ingrid? Answers on a bloodstained postcard please...

Friday 3 August 2012

Snakes on a Plane (2007)

It was a heady day in 2008 when, after many years of enjoying exploitation movies “normal” people might cross the street to avoid having to even acknowledge, that I realised once and for all that relying on the opinions of others to determine my viewing pleasure was a mistake. SNAKES ON A PLANE got mostly terrible reviews from everyone with an opinion to give, and yet when I eventually caught up with the movie all it proved to me was that they still don’t seem to be teaching the history of exploitation movies in film critic college. Far from the cynical, manipulative, edited and then re-edited utter waste of time I had been led to believe, SNAKES ON A PLANE is a glorious example of the type of film Roger Corman used to make and the Italians used to rip off with equal gusto. In fact so strong is the Corman influence I actually thought we were in the Philippines rather than Hawaii at the beginning.
The ludicrous plot involves the efforts of FBI agent Samuel L Jackson to protect key witness Sean Jones (Nathan Phillips) in a federal prosecution case against crime boss Eddie Kim (Byron Lawson). Unfortunately Eddie loads the plane carrying Sean and Sam back to LA with more kinds of venomous snake than could feasibly be smuggled onto an ocean liner let alone a Jumbo Jet. Cunningly disguised as pizzas and caused to run riot by the massive doses of mad snake pheromones that the passengers’ flowery lei neckwear has been doused in, it’s not long before a naughty couple are having sex in the biggest aeroplane toilet ever only for them to become the first victims in what becomes utter chaos on board. Samuel gets mad and has to defend a cast including Julianna Margulies as the stewardess-who’s-actually-leaving-to-go-to-law-school, Rachel Blanchard who was Robert Webb’s American girlfriend in PEEPSHOW, and co-pilot David Koechner who dies horribly in this and went on to die horribly in FINAL DESTINATION 5 and PIRANHA 3DD (a film where everyone concerned in its production deserved to die horribly as is discussed elsewhere on this site).
There’s lots of knockabout snakey fun, including a guest appearance from a massive anaconda that will have you marvelling at the crime syndicate’s smuggling skills (how did they fit that one inside a pizza box?) before Troy (Kenan Thompson) has to land the plane with his PlayStation skills. 
SNAKES ON A PLANE is hugely enjoyable. I’ve seen it at least three times now and it does its job of being a feelgood ridiculous fun when-animals-attack exploitation picture extremely well. If the fact that once director David Ellis got the all clear to make a more ‘adult-oriented’ picture he took his film back to the cutting room to add a lot more gore and nudity doesn’t endear you to the whole cobbled together cheesy grindhouse feel of this picture you’re better off not watching it. And if I’m making the film-making approach sound a bit callous, that’s not what comes across on screen. Rather this is the kind of ludicrous, over the top, nonsensical, laugh out loud feel good horror picture you just don’t see very often. It deserved its success and I’d certainly watch a sequel, as long as it had Samuel L Jackson getting very annoyed by another type of made up venomous creature under extremely silly circumstances.