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