Saturday 26 December 2015

Top Ten Films of 2015

Once again it's that time of year when I (and everyone else who runs one of these review sites) pick my favourite new movies of the last twelve months. 2015 was one of the best years in living memory for great films, and it actually ended up being very difficult to pick just ten, never mind put them in any kind of rank order. This is the fourth year running that House of Mortal Cinema has done this, and I remain, as always, delighted and not a little surprised that I've managed to keep the site going. The rules are the same as ever, namely that this is an entirely personal list, so feel free to agree wholeheartedly or disagree as vehemently as is safe for you and those around you. Films under consideration had to be shown in the UK for the first time during the year, either at the cinema, on disc, or at a festival. I was lucky enough to attend Glasgow Frightfest, London Frightfest and Abertoir this year and it was wonderful to be so spoilt for choice. Please also bear in mind that despite attending three film festivals and reviewing over 100 DVDs and Blu-rays there are some films I didn't get to see this year (eg BONE TOMAHAWK) so if you feel there are any glaring omissions they're unlikely to be deliberate. Probably. 

One item that seems to be extremely popular every year is my list of what I thought were the worst films, so before we get to the good stuff, let's take a look at some examples of films I never, ever want to have to watch again:

The Five Worst Films of 2015

Saying this kind of film is awful sometimes feels a bit like berating the child with the lowest IQ in the class. But then I remember that these things are shot on budgets of less than £10 000 with the intention of a quick sale through Tesco’s to unsuspecting customers who need to be warned that this sort of shot-on-camcorder rubbish isn’t worth ten pence never mind ten pounds. Winner of my shortest review ever, and one that was extremely popular, so hopefully a few managed to dodge this particular shit bullet. Supremely terrible non-film-making at its most cynical and, well, crap.

Only just higher on the JLP crapometer was this load of cheapjack manipulative slurry that would have been by the numbers if any of the film-makers could actually count. Cynical and exploitative in all the wrong ways, GIRLHOUSE felt as if it had been put together by people who wanted to do a nudie horror version of Big Brother, only with no nudity and no horror.

3 The Treatment

This Belgian version of Mo Hayder’s novel was filled with dismal settings, maladjusted characters, and a plot that involved a rather unpleasantly unfair depiction of mental illness. All filmed in grey. Didn't like it at the start. Hated it by the end.  

2 The Asylum

Marcus Nispel, he of the FRIDAY THE 13TH and CONAN remakes gave us this, a film so terrible it had to undergo three titles changes before it could get a DVD release. Aka BACKMASK and EXETER this was a remarkably professionally made pile of utter shit, the combined elements of which were so awful the entire endeavour actually ended up being really very funny.

1 Hellions

Not funny at all was PONTYPOOL director Bruce McDonald’s return to Frightfest with this, a film that promised so much and ended with me wanting to punch everyone associated with it. You get Worst Film, Mr McDonald because you are not a cheapjack Tesco’s entrepreneur, nor are you someone who has no understanding of how to put together a proper film. You can do much, much better than this, but if you’re not careful you’re going to end up as next year’s Brad Anderson. And no-one wants that.

Right, now I have all of that off my chest, it’s time to move onto the (much) better stuff. Okay! Time to take a deep breath and count down my top ten of 2015:

A delightful horror comedy in which Ryan Reynolds (no, honestly, come back) goes insane, kills Gemma Arterton and keeps her head in his fridge. Soon she’s talking to him, as are his pet dog and cat. The broad swings from glossy humour to splattery horror are so broad you need to love both to love this. I do and I did.

9 Spring

The spirit of 1970s Jess Franco Euro Horror at its best lives again in this, a love story with touches of science, legend and plenty of horror, with some gorgeous Italian locations. Languid and deliciously strange this won’t be everyone’s cup of tea but personally I think horror cinema would be better off if we had a few more films like this.

8 Frankenstein

Everyone seemed to be doing their own version of Mary Shelley’s book this year. This is the one to watch, because this is the one that will have you in floods while at the same time you marvel at just how cleverly Bernard CANDYMAN Rose has updated the story to modern-day Los Angeles. Featuring a remarkable lead performance by Xavier Samuel as the monster and a fine turn by Tony Todd as the blind man, it turns out 2015 wasn’t the year to give up on new adaptations of this old classic after all.

7 It Follows

I know, I know. This one has made so many best of year lists and I’ve only got it at number seven? Don’t get me wrong - I thought David Robert Mitchell’s debut film was very good. It just didn’t terrify, or move, or entertain me, as much as the films I’ve placed higher than it. 

6 The Witch

Not getting a UK release until 11th March next year, this seventeenth century New England horror stars Ralph Ineson (Finchy from THE OFFICE) in a claustrophobic, grim and unrelenting tale of an isolated family torn apart as much by their own religious beliefs as anything that may or may not be lurking in the cold damp woods. It’s a film that can be read on many levels, all of them pretty devastating, and all of them with the message that no matter how bad a situation might seem, having religion can make it ten times worse. Great acting (especially from the kids), at times this was a bit like Ken Loach makes THE CRUCIBLE but don't let that put you off - even Dennis Wheatley fans might get a grim and grisly kick out of this one. For aspect ratio geeks (and I'm one) it's interestingly been shot in 1.66:1, which you don't see much of nowadays.

Missing last year’s Top Ten because its cinema release was the day after I posted the list, 2015 saw the Blu-ray and DVD release of one of the funniest horror comedies in years. A bit like THE YOUNG ONES but with vampires, this New Zealand picture from some of the team behind FLIGHT OF THE CONCHORDS was funny, gory and utterly charming. And I still think the Unholy Masquerade is a tribute to the works of R Chetwynd-Hayes.

4 They Look Like People

A slow burner of a picture in which the world is being replaced by monsters, or is it all just in the lead character's head? Keeps you guessing up to the final sequence, which turned out to be properly terrifying, edge of the seat stuff that had me reduced to jelly. 

3 There Are Monsters

There were no doubts in this one. Proof that not all shaky-cam found footage movies out this year were worthless, this gave us a world where people are gradually being replaced by monsters that ‘eat you from the inside out’. Excellent use of the found footage technique provided some almost unbearably suspenseful scenes in a movie that scared me so much it’s been ten months since I saw it and the memory of it still gives me the shivers.

2 The Invitation

More almost unbearable suspense, this time at an LA dinner party where the guests get locked in and subjected to some very disturbing cult stuff indeed. I won’t say any more because that would spoil it. But not as much as their party gets spoiled, oh goodness me no. 

1 Summer Camp

When I went through the list of my favourite films this year, there was only one that I wanted to see again right this minute, possibly several times. Premiering at London Frightfest and yet another awaiting a distribution deal, this was [REC] producer Alberto Marini’s directorial debut. Four American counsellors come to look after children at a Spanish summer camp not knowing that a rage-inducing plague is about to break out. A deceptive beginning makes you even less prepared for what is to come. By halfway through this I was on the edge of my seat, which is where I stayed to the end. I did not attend another screening this year where there was so much enthusiastic cheering and raucous applause throughout, and I want to see it again right now. 

So there we are. Like I said, there were so many great films to choose from and I actually feel guilty that excellent movies like WHIPLASH, TALES OF HALLOWEEN, THESE FINAL HOURS,  DUKE OF BURGUNDY, NINA FOREVER, DEADMAN INFERNO (a Japanese Yakuza vs Zombies pic and bloody excellent), TURBO KID, WYRMWOOD, DEATHGASM, and WHITE GOD just didn’t make it in, but they’re all definitely worth catching up with. 

As always I’d like to thank everyone who has taken the time to visit the site and read what I’ve written here. I’d be lying if I said keeping this going was anything other than huge amounts of fun, and the vast amount of really good movies out there more than makes up for the few duds that slip in under the radar. It’s also been a fantastic year for meeting people at festivals who have been kind enough to say nice things about the site. Thank you everyone. Take care, keep being nice to each other, & I’ll see you (and probably around 400 more films) in 2016. 

Wednesday 23 December 2015

The Bridge - Season 3 (2015)

After two hugely successful and critically acclaimed seasons (and numerous remakes around the world) THE BRIDGE (aka BRON / BROEN) returns minus one of its leads (the reason for which will be obvious for anyone who watched THE BRIDGE II and if you haven’t then you should) and a new set of problems for Swedish detective Saga Noren (Sofia Helin). 

When the murdered body of a famous female gender theorist (and owner of Copenhagen’s first gender-neutral school) is found arranged as part of a grim and bizarre tableaux at a Malmo construction site, Saga is called in to investigate. Teamed this time with a female representative from the Danish police force it’s not surprising that the two of them don’t hit it off. When an accident renders her new partner incapable of continuing the case, Saga gets teamed with Henrik (Thure Lindhardt) who has a complicated back story of his own. When Saga’s mother turns up saying that Saga’s dying father wants to see her, we start to learn more about Saga’s own grim past.

It would be unfair to reveal any more of the plot of THE BRIDGE III, and it would actually be quite difficult as well, suffice to say that the writing is as complex and razor-sharp as ever, leading the viewer off at tangents into any number of complicated sub-plots without ever becoming confusing. The pressures on Saga in this one are pretty much overwhelming, not least from her own colleagues who are  all-too-aware of her responsibility for Martin’s fate at the end of series two. 

People familiar with the look of THE BRIDGE will no doubt be pleased to hear that Season III looks as bleak, grey and washed out as the first two seasons, with the usual emphasis on Ikea-minimalism to interiors. Acting is excellent across the board but special mention must go to Helin, whose portrayal of Aspergers-suffering detective Saga is nothing short of astonishing. Subtle and nuanced, this is one of the finest characters to grace modern crime television in many a year.

Arrow’s three-disc Blu-ray or DVD set comes with an hour long making of, plus an on-stage interview with Sofia Helin. If you’ve not yet caught up with THE BRIDGE, they’re also bringing out a special BRIDGE TRILOGY nine disc box set for those lucky people who have yet to discover this unique and excellent piece of Scandinavian crime drama. 

Arrow Films released THE BRIDGE SEASON III on Region B Blu-ray and Region 2 DVD on 21st December 2015

Thursday 17 December 2015

What Have You Done to Solange? (1972)

One of the best giallos to be directed by someone not called Argento, Bava or Martino gets its UK Blu-ray premiere courtesy of Arrow Films, in a beautifully restored print with plenty of worthwhile extras.

Naughty gym teacher

Naughty gym teacher Fabio Testi is having a discreet snog with one of his pupils (Cristina Galbo) in a boat on the Thames when she witnesses the killing of a girl on the riverbank in broad daylight. When it turns out the victim attended the same Catholic Girls' School where Cristina is a student and Fabio regularly takes the girls for some random kind of ballet / jigging around session, they find themselves in a dilemma. 

Lovely sweater
        When more girls are killed, all by the same grisly method of despatch, it becomes obvious that the black-gloved killer who likes to disguise himself as a priest is on some sort of vendetta. But what? And who is Solange and why, an hour into the film, have we still not encountered anyone of that name?

Lovely transfer
All is revealed in Dallamano's very un-giallo-like giallo. I say that because despite having many of the staple elements of the sub-genre (pretty girls dying horribly, black-gloved killer, complicated plot, amateur sleuth), WHAT HAVE YOU DONE TO SOLANGE differs significantly in that there's a logical (and quite horrible) reason for the killings, everything fits together and makes sense, and the killer isn't someone the scriptwriter has decided on in the last five minutes of the film. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that if you don't like giallos but you do like 1970s crime pictures you'd do well to give SOLANGE a try. The English dub's not bad and there's an Italian language track for 'purists' (it looks as if it was filmed in English anyway).

Camille Keaton!
  Aristide Massacessi's photography is lovely and lush, imparting a peaceful, pastoral glow to a London long gone that will fill those who can remember it like that with nostalgia. The acting is pretty much what you would expect, with most of the cast being reined in by Dallamano so the film never approaches hysterical levels, even though the subject matter at times could easily have seen the movie sliding that way. In the hands of someone like Andrea STRIP NUDE FOR YOUR KILLER Bianchi SOLANGE would be a sleazy, nasty, unbearable mess. Instead it feels more like the kind of thing that could almost pass for a British television crime serial, only with a lot more nudity.

Milk in the 1970s!
Arrow's transfer of SOLANGE looks splendid. You can see every bobble on Fabio Testi's ghastly cardigan, but more importantly Massacessi's photography benefits hugely from the treatment. As I've said above you get English and Italian language options. An insightful feature-length commentary from Alan Jones and Kim Newman is so good it's almost worth the price of the disc, but if you want more there's Michael MacKenzie's informative, erudite and well thought out video essay on SOLANGE and its two 'sequels' - WHAT HAVE THEY DONE TO YOUR DAUGHTERS and ENIGMA ROSSO / RINGS OF FEAR, (a film which looks jolly tatty). There are also a number of archival interviews from 2006 with stars Testi and Karin Baal and producer Fulvio Lucisano. You also get a reversible sleeve and collector's booklet with articles on the giallo scores of Ennio Morricone and a career retrospective and interview with Camille Keaton.

Arrow Films released Massimo Dallamano's WHAT HAVE YOU DONE TO SOLANGE on dual format  DVD & Blu-ray on 14th December 2015

Sunday 13 December 2015

The Last of Robin Hood (2013)

  This remarkably (and at times perhaps inappropriately) restrained biopic about the final two years of the life of Errol Flynn, and of his final relationship with underaged Beverly Aadland, gets a release in time for Christmas courtesy of Metrodome.

Teenage Beverly Aadland (Dakota Fanning) is a chorus line girl rehearsing for a new Hollywood musical when she’s spotted by Errol Flynn (Kevin Kline) and invited ‘back to his place’. Approaching fifty, and already infamous for his penchant for girls far younger than himself, Flynn soon finds himself hopelessly smitten with Aadland, pursuing and seducing her with intentions of helping her in her movie career.

These intentions do not go unnoticed by Beverly’s scheming, one-legged, horn-rimmed spectacle-wearing mother Florence(Susan Sarandon). A willing collaborator in Beverly’s organised rise to fame, Florence agrees to accompany Flynn and Beverly on their trips to New York and elsewhere as ‘chaperone’. Florence’s  husband leaves her in disgust, and when Flynn’s driver recognises Beverly as having attended his school and informs Flynn that she can’t be any older than fifteen, it just adds to Flynn’s problems of fading popularity and ailing health from a life of excess. 

Told in flashback, THE LAST OF ROBIN HOOD is a reasonable stab at a non-judgemental, sympathetic look at the Hollywood star’s final years. Unfortunately, a bit of extra bite is just what this movie needed to elevate it above the status of an average TV Movie of the Week. There’s a fine, glossy feel to the picture, with everything shot in bright pastel colours. However, while watching it you cannot help but feel that the subject of an underage affair with a girl with a domineering mother whose own dreams of stardom were dashed when she had to have her leg off really deserves a more lurid, and perhaps lunatic, approach. One wonders what John Waters might have made of it all.

The casting is pretty good. Susan Sarandon (in a role one wishes Divine had been alive to play) manages to strike a fine balance between concerned mother and ruthlessly opportunistic hag, with the latter eventually winning out. Kevin Kline does a good job of being womanising, boozing, drug-taking Errol Flynn and still making him the extremely likeable kind of chap he obviously must have been. The only bum note is Dakota Fanning, pale and uninteresting, who looks in need of a good meal and perhaps a blood transfusion, or even some of the pep pills Flynn must have been consuming by the barrel-load at that time. 
Metrodome’s DVD contains no extras. LAST OF ROBIN HOOD is by no means a bad film, and if you’ve any interest at all in the Hollywood of this period, or if you’re fan of any of the three main stars, you’ll definitely want to give it a watch. Everyone else hopefully knows by now whether or not they need to catch up with it.

THE LAST OF ROBIN HOOD is out on Region 2 DVD from Metrodome from 14th December 2015

Thursday 3 December 2015

Future Shock! The Story of 2000AD

The documentary about one of the most important and influential comics in Britain - no, sorry - one of the most important and influential comics in the world -  gets a UK DVD release courtesy of Metrodome.
It’s difficult now to describe the effect 2000AD had when it appeared in newsagents back in the late 1970s. I can remember it because I was there, and I was the proud owner of the first 50 issues until my father decided they would be better off down the local market rather than cluttering up my bedroom. 

Pat Mills
I was also a keen 8 year old reader of Action, the comic that preceded 2000AD but set the tone for its graphic, ultra-violent approach to storytelling. The story of Action provides a nice introduction to the subject of the documentary proper, which features interviews with many of the main movers and shakers including creator Pat Mills (who also gets the last word), a number of editors from the comic’s history, and some of the artists and writers who worked for the comic and went on to become superstars in their own right (Neil Gaiman, Dave Gibbons, Grant Morrison and more). 

John Wagner
We get some insightful and biting comments on the Stallone JUDGE DREDD movie and quite a bit of praise for the more recent Karl Urban-starring DREDD (Mr Urban is also interviewed). The influence of the comic on other movies is also touched upon - Nacho Vigalondo pops up to talk about his movie TIMECRIMES and there’s a bit of chat about Richard Stanley’s HARDWARE as well.
Are there any glaring omissions? Well I’ll admit British comic history is not something I know a lot about, but I was surprised there was no mention of Starlord, the short-lived IPC sister title that gave rise to John Wagner and Carlos Ezquerra’s Strontium Dog, itself one of 2000AD’s most popular characters that remained following the merging of the two titles.

Overall, though, this is an excellent documentary, both of the changing face of Britain through the 1970s and 1980s and how 2000AD became an unlikely voice for some of the angriest and most creative satirists in the country, even if some might not have realised it at the time.
              Metrodome’s DVD comes with a pdf file as an extra that’s a fantastic introduction to some of the comic’s most famous characters. Basically you get the first episode of the adventures of Judge Dredd, Rogue Trooper, Slaine, Nemesis the Warlock, Strontium Dog, Halo Jones, Nikolai Dante, ABC Warriors, Kingdom, and Shakara. Pop it into your computer and glut yourself on the very best the UK comics industry has to offer. After you’ve watched the documentary, of course.

Metrodome are releasing FUTURE SHOCK! THE STORY OF 2000AD on Region 2 DVD on 7th December 2015