Thursday, 24 December 2009

30 Days of Night (Movie version - 2007)

These vampires don't sparkle. This is more like it. I've always wished there were more movies where vampires were utter beasts instead of woeful fops, and 30 Days of Night gave me exactly what I wanted.

The graphic novel, by the legendary team of Steve Niles and Ben Templesmith, was a masterpiece of twisted comics storytelling, with a tight script and disturbing artwork that perfectly captured the chill of the setting and the madness of events that unfold in its pages.

When the movie was greenlit, many fans were worried that the film would be a poor imitation of that stupendous first graphic novel in the 30 Day of Night series, but when the film hit, those worries were largely silenced. 30 Days of Night is a violent, brutal and scary movie that hits all of the beats of the graphic novel, and also does a grand job of translating Ben Templesmith's gorgeous and unnerving artwork into moving images.

Josh Hartnett and Melissa George are superb in the lead roles. I'm not a fan of either of them really, but they're on fine form here, as are the rest of the cast as their characters are put through all hell while fending off a horde of animalistic vampires.

The limited colour palette of the film gives the tale the same washed out, nightmarish quality as the source material, and the little CG touches on the faces of the vampires are subtle enough to pull them out of normal proportion while keeping them grounded in reality.

The pacing and direction are excellent, tension winding tighter and tighter until that marvelously downbeat ending. This is far from being a fluffy, romantic vampire flick. These vamps are utter, demented bastards that deserve to be feared. There's blood, characters you give a toss about, a frightening location and a relentlessly claustrophobic story that deserves every bit of praise it gets. 30 days of Night is certainly the best widely released vampire film that there's been in a very long time indeed. Take a bite.

Thursday, 17 December 2009

Mister X: Condemned (Dark Horse Books 2009)

The collected edition of the latest Mister X story, Condemned, brings together all four issues of the Dark Horse mini series and is a welcome return to Radiant City for fans of the mysterious architect and the dangers of psychetecture. The original run of Mister X is a genuine cult classic, and much beloved by me. I was too young to enjoy it the first time around, but after being introduced to the character by a close friend I was hooked and picked up a bunch of the original issues on eBay. Since then I've been hooked, soaking up every art deco flavoured panel.

If you're not familiar with the universe of Mister X and Radiant City, the story follows the mysterious Mister X as he returns to the city he designed, the architecture of which was intended to promote mental well-being, sort of feng shui on a massive scale. Unfortunately the city's design began to send its inhabitants insane, turning them into murderers, drug addicts and lunatics. Mister X returned to try and correct the problem and save the city before it descended into chaos. The Condemned mini series sees him back again, and getting wound up in a murder mystery to boot.

Dean Motter has brought the character and his universe back with every bit of the noir/art deco style that the classic issues contained, and grips the reader from start to finish with a tale full of the customary twists, turns and intrigue. Mister X is an enigmatic figure who loses little of his power no matter what the reader discovers about him, and that's one of Motter's greatest strengths. Even when you have all the facts in front of you, there always seems to be more to discover.

One of the great things about Mister X is that it hasn't aged much at all since its inception, largely down to the world it is set in being so complete and beautifully crafted. The art is gorgeous and pulpy, the script tight while having a great depth, and the overall package has left me clambering to dig out those classic issues again. The concept of a city driven mad by its own buildings is quite sinister, and the revelations about the 'Ninth Academy' in this series are superb.

It's a cool jumping on point for people who want to get the hang of the Mister X universe without forking out for the archive hardback, but once you've read Mister X: Condemned, that hardback will become very difficult to resist. A great work of comic art noir, and a superb story to boot. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have some shades and a long black coat to don, and some shadows to skulk around in.

Whoops/Format change

Wow, two weeks flew by quickly didn't they? After writing that review of From Beyond, I was deep into writing material for work, and The Genre Addict had to fall by the wayside for a while. I'm managing my time much better now, and the site can continue at last.

I'm going to take the site in a slightly different direction from this point. I will also be covering individual stories and episodes from TV shows in the Genre Addict reviews, as there is a wealth of incredible material from the small screen that deserves a mention, either for being phenomenal or for being turgid. Either end of the spectrum is cool with me.

I may well also include entire runs of TV shows that didn't air for long, just so I can bring up some issues as to why these shows failed as well as talk about what was great about them. I will, of course, be covering some of the best examples of genre TV, not just the duds.

I also realize that I'm yet to post a review of a comic or a book, which will be rectified shortly, and I'm also looking to cover more cartoons and anime. There's lots to look forward to, and while I may not post new content daily right now, I'll be doing so as often as I possibly can. Thanks for visiting The Genre Addict, and I hope you all have a great Christmas.

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

From Beyond (1986)

From Beyond is a curious film, almost forgotten by many horror fans who are only too familiar with the previous film made by the same team, namely the glorious Re-Animator. From Beyond reunites a bunch of people from that flick, including director Stuart Gordon and producer Brian Yuzna along with Jeffrey Combs and Barbara Crampton, and much like that previous film it is an adaptation of a story originally by H.P. Lovecraft.

Good credentials really. While the cover may make it look rather dark and unnerving, From Beyond is a blast. Full of outlandish gore and a very old fashioned 'mad scientist' style script, it is almost camp in its execution, but it's hugely entertaining too.

Jeffrey Combs is back as a mad scientist after his turn as Herbert West in the (quite deservedly) legendary first Re-Animator movie, but he's not quite as deranged in this flick. The lunatic genius of this piece is played by Ted Sorel, who hams it up to a huge level and is clearly having a blast, even when under thick layers of latex and gobs of gore.

The plot, if you're not familiar with the Lovecraft tale it takes its inspiration from, is simple. Nutjob scientist devises a machine that can open up other dimensions so they can be seen by regular humans. Of course, things go awry and ...something... crosses over. Cue possession, masses of insane gore, wiggly bits coming out of people's heads, and all the pink and green gels over the lights that you could possibly want. It's mental, but I lapped up every hideous, cheesy moment. Where Re-Animator was dark and grimy, From beyond is bright neon colours and 50s-style kitsch with 80s effects and photography.

By the end of the film, I was kind of wondering what I'd just seen. It's camp and silly, but it is also horrendously violent and very weird indeed. The thing I found strange about it is that there appears to be another film tacked onto the end of it. The end of the second act could almost be the end of the film, and then it goes off at a bit of a tangent and gives us more. Much more.

From Beyond is horror as entertainment, plain and simple. All of the ingredients are there for a genuine classic of 80s horror, but there's something missing from it that would elevate it to that status. It may be that with the cartoonish lighting and the distinct feeling that even the characters know they're in a B-movie, it's hard to take it seriously on any level. Then again, that may well have been the point. I found From beyond to be like a good takeaway- messy and satisfying, but something of a guilty pleasure.

THE ADDICT IS BACK IN ACTION

Hello my fellow addicts. NaNoWriMo is over, and I won by 64 words, leaving this early first-two-thirds of the novel at 50,064 words.

Lots of work to do until it's finished (such as the other 25k I need to write, then edit and polish the whole thing), but I hit the 50k mark for the event. Huzzah!
Anyway, the Genre Addict is back in business after my hiatus, and will continue today with......

Stay tuned!

Monday, 16 November 2009

Generation X (1996)

Think Bryan Singer was the first person to bring the X-men to life in live action? Think again! This 1996 FOX TV movie was actually the first X-Men feature film to be made, adapted from the X-Men spinoff comic series created by Chris Bachalo (we're not worthy) and Scott Lobdell. Made for 4 million dollars for Fox TV, this is a curious thing indeed, and a film that is very dear to my heart.

A little history. The Generation x comic book series featured Jubilee, aka Jubilation Lee, amongst its motley group of characters. Jubilee had always been by favourite X-men character, thanks to her sense of humour and her powers being a bit crap. I always found that quite endearing, and followed the character wherever she went for a few years (her run as Wolverine's sidekick was truly great in my humble opinion. Actually, scratch that, it was great no matter what other people think. Heh).

To me, it was one of the finest major comic book series of the 1990s, that much maligned decade of comics history. Sure, the first issue had a swanky reflective cover, but it was the content that drew me in. It ran for 75 issues, and despite a couple of mediocre iossues here and there, stands up as a great body of work featuring some of the most interesting characters the X-Men universe had to offer.

When this film was announced, I was ecstatic. I didn't care that the casting was all wrong, that favourite characters like Chamber weren't in it, or that the plot had very little to do with the larger X-Men universe, but I lapped it up. I read everything I could about it in imported movie and SF mags, and cherished every glimpse of the cast in costume. It looked cheap right from the start, but damn, it was an X-Men film at last, and Jubilee would be in it, played by Heather McComb.

I was almost camping out right outside the old Metro video shop's doors the week the film arrived in the UK, and the day it went on their shelves, it had barely been there thirty seconds before I was walking out with a rental copy. I hurried home and basked in 90 minutes of tacky fun that, while it has many problems, I absolutely loved. I rushed back the next day to return the video and asked when it would arrive on sell-through.

They didn't know, but offered me the rental copy to buy after the weekend was over. I agreed, and when that Monday in 1997 arrived, I was walking happily home with a big-box copy of Generation X, all of my own. I still have the video, and the handwritten receipt from Metro is still inside the case. Funny how these things can become quite so cherished, really. Such is the geek mentality, I guess.

The basic plot of the piece follows the comic series closely- a group of young mutants are brought together under the guidance of old-school X-Men characters banshee and Emma Frost and taught to develop their abilities further, so that one day they can fight crime. A mad scientist (played with demented glee by the ever wonderful Matt Frewer) from Emma Frost's past has created a dream device that allows the user access to the dream dimension. It emerges that Tresh (Frewer) is aiming to use the machine in order to mutate and become omnipotent. Generation X get caught up in his plot, and together they must deal with him before he becomes what is essentially a god. The plot is ambitious for a TV movie, and while the effects are atrocious in some places, it is carried off well.

It's the characterization that I love about this film though. The characters from the comics, namely Banshee, Emma Frost, Jubilee, Skin, Mondo and Monet are all brought to life with persoonalities that are very close to the source material indeed. This is despite the fact that two of these characters are the wrong race (Jubilee is supposed to be Chinese, Mondo is supposed to be Samoan) and the other characters, namely Refrax and Arlee are rather pale imitations of other characters (they replaaced Generation X comic characters Chamber and Husk due to the cost of the effects those characters would have needed- although I am certain that this could have been got around quite easily, at least in the case of Chamber). They still work well together as a group of young people trying to come to terms with being very different to everyone else.

The X-mansion used in this TV movie is actually the same mansion that was used in the first Bryan Singer X-Men movie that would come a few years later. The film is full of little nods to the comic book source material it came from, such as Refrax's 'X' shirt and the Wolverine video game visible in the arcade scene. People like me love that stuff. Mind you, it is also a supremely silly film as well.

There are mad angles and garish lighting in almost every frame, apparently put there to continuously remind you you're watching a film based on a comic, and this does grate on you after a while, but the humour and the characters keep you interested. Mind you, it is definitely a flick for the diehards. As a film, it is rife with flaws and production limitations, but as an adaptation of a Marvel comic, it walks all over things like Ang Lee's Hulk, Elektra, Man Thing and Spider-Man 3. Don't expect anything other than a cheap comic adaptation if you ever get to see this, and you'll enjoy it. Probably not as much as I do, but then, I'm a bit odd really.







Thursday, 12 November 2009

Genre Addict on hold... for now

Hey all, thanks for continuing to visit THE GENRE ADDICT! Here's a quick update on what's going on with the site and its future...

Due to other commitments (dayjob writing, the magazine, and taking part in NaNoWriMo again), I am taking a break from The Genre Addict for the remainder of November. A number of reviews are on the list to be done, and a couple of them are underway, but due to my current workload I must cut back on the daily reviews for the time being. Reviews shall continue soon though, possibly in a new format (check out the NEMESIS movies one I did recently).

Other news?

Once the site hits 50 reviews, I will compile these into book form as The Genre Addict: Volume One, which will also include a brand new essay on genre movies. Once that is out, Volume Two will commence creation right here! The idea is to build up a Genre Addict Library, with a new book released every couple of months or so with 50 reviews and a new essay. More news on thsi soon.

Lastly, I am considering looking into the possibly of doing a Genre Addict column in a magazine or on a larger site. We shall see how this goes...

Your humble Genre Addict,
Andy

Monday, 9 November 2009

Nemesis, Nemesis 2: Nebula, Nemesis 3: Time Lapse

I am a sucker for bad films, as you probably know already from reading The Genre Addict, but I am more of a sucker for bad films with cyborgs and explosions in them. Thus, back in my teens when I discovered the Nemesis films, I was in paradise. These flicks are atrociously made, badly written, and stuffed with terrible effects. Also, after the first film (which is actually pretty good as far as B-Movies go), there were a bunch of cheap sequels that were progressively more ridiculous.

In short, they were terrible, and I lapped them up. I loved these flicks (yeah, even Nemesis 3: Time Lapse, but I'll get to that) in all their sweaty, b-movie sci-fi, cyberpunky, martial arts, cheap effects-laden glory. They are a relic of what I see as a golden age of bad flicks, when the video shop at the bottom of the hill had endless cheap SF and martial arts b-movies in the classic (to me anyway) big-box VHS format. Oh yes indeedy. To top it all, each tape came stuffed with crap trailers for other crap films. Bonus!

A few months ago I went back to that video shop in my old hometown and discovered they were selling off their old VHS stock, having moved over to DVDs long ago. I found all three Nemesis movies I rented from them as a teenager, available for two measly quid for all three of them. At long last I fulfilled a sad old teenage dream of owning those films in the big boxes. What can I say? I'm a geek. Why else do you think I spend my time riffing on old tat like the Nemesis films?!

There are actually four Nemesis movies, but I've never seen the fourth one, (Nemesis 4: Cry For Angels, aka Angel of Death, aka 'The one where the bodybuilder girl gets nekkid alot') as I'm either too broke to waste cash on a film I may well despise, or I'd rather stick with the sweat and the cheese of these first three films. Albery Pyun was a hero of mine for a while with these slabs of weird sci-fi junk, and I still love 'em, even though after that first semi-cult-classic cyberpunk film, they went off at a very odd tangent and gave us a huge female bodybuilder and a desert full of very strange cyborgs (either the one in a rubber monster suit or the cackling girls in white wigs).

Anyway, onto the films themselves.

Nemesis (1992)

Albert Pyun's Nemesis is something of a cyberpunk cult classic. Yes, the script, acting and production values are a little cheap, but as a piece of science fiction/martial arts/action mayhem, it works very well indeed. Starring the B-Movie version of Jean Claude Van Damme, namely Olivier Gruner, Nemesis plays like a mad mix of Blade Runner and Bloodsport, with bits of The Terminator in there too. For added bonus points, the movie has a few scenes featuring B-pic legend Brion James, sporting a smart suit and shades along with a comedy Germanic
accent.

The film follows Alex (Gruner), a cyborg hitman who is almost killed when a mission goes rather wrong, pitting him against an anti-cyborg militia. He is rebuilt and hides out in the desert for a long time, until a bunch of cyborgs force him to carry out one final mission to get them closer to the head of the militia. The plot ain't the important thing though. The important things here the explosions, the asskicking fight scenes, the cyborgs with guns in their heads and the fantastic locale that much of the film takes place in.

It's not rocket science, but it is a lot of fun. While most of the elements are nicked from other films (including Pyun's own hit, CYBORG), the first Nemesis film has some great moments. The opening scenes in the city are grim, and the subsequent scenes in the desert are given more impact due to their sheer contrast. It's a dirty, violent mini epic full of mayhem, gunfights and characters being vague in shades. It was also crying out for sequels, but probably not the sequels that followed it...

Nemesis 2: Nebula (1995)

Eh? Look, I love this film, I really do, but it is bloody weird as sequels go. Where the first flick took place in the future, after the first five minutes the first sequel takes place in 1980, followed by a jaunt to the present day, where a baby that is taken into the past has grown up to be a superhuman warrior in the shape of world class bodybuilder Sue Price. She has been raised by a tribe in Africa, who reveal her origins to her once a marauding cyborg arrives from the future to destroy her.

Why? because she hold the secret to the end of the human/cyborg war in her DNA, or something. This follows a prolonged battle between Alex (Price) and the cyborg, Nebula.

The Nebula character is represented by a stuntman in a rubber monster costume, who has had a cheap digital effect laid over it, and is basically a cross between the Terminator and a Predator. An hour of the film is made up of this battle, while secondary characters run around trying to avoid explosions.

Sue Price, while one of the worst actors ever to appear in a film, looks incredible as the superhuman Alex. Her dialogue is wooden in the extreme, but her presence is awesome, as is her action work. She's the star of the whole thing by a mile, and the endless fight between her and Nebula is actually quite brutal. A sequel largely in name only, Nemesis 2 saw the series go off at a weird tangent. That said, it still walks all over what followed it...

Nemesis 3: Time Lapse (1996)

Oh Christ this film is bad. Even I have limits when it comes to what I can put myself through, but there are moments where Nemesis 3 actually makes me want to weep and scream at the heavens, generally when I think about the good parts of the first two flicks. The links to the first film are wafer thin, and big chunks of this third film are made up of flashbacks to the second! The plot, what there is of it, is convoluted in the extreme.

The use of digital effects and a terrible CG robot make the production look even cheaper than the tarty cyborg women in white wigs who keep cackling at each other. Shot back to back with the second film, you can't help but wonder what was going through the cast and crew's heads while making it. Where the second film was an all-out action fest that, while a lousy idea for a sequel, was a fun slice of sci-fi tinged action, this is an insane mess of a film that ultimately goes nowhere.

Once again the Arizona desert is used to double as Africa, where six cyborgs arrive from the future in order to destroy Alex (Sue Price again) and put an end to the war in the future. Alex has amnesia due to a head wound, and spends much of the film piecing together what happened through the aforementioned copious flashbacks to the previous film.

Instead of closing off the series and answering some questions, it instead just keeps making things blow up until all of the cyborgs are dead and we are promised NEMESIS 4 as the credits roll. The thing is, the footage used to tease us for that fourth film was shot during the location work for this flick, and then the fourth film didn't take place anywhere nearby, or indeed have anything to do with these two sequels other than Sue Price being in it! Still, I only have myself to blame for sitting and watching this junk anyway I guess. It's entertaining at some points, but nowhere near the film it should have been.

The Nemesis films had a ton of potential to develop into something truly worthy of cult status, and instead we were offered one great film, one fun sequel, one atrocious sequel and one (so I'm told) half art house, half soft porn film to end the series. I am quite curious to actually sit and watch Nemesis 4, just to see what all of the derision towards it is actually about, but I'm not sure my mind can take it just yet after watching these three back to back.

Sunday, 8 November 2009

Carnival of Souls (1962)

Carnival of Souls is, to these eyes, one of the finest horror films that has ever been made, and certainly one of the most unsettling. It is rare that a genre film carries some genuine scares, and this film continues to deliver even now. Its atmosphere is deeply disturbing, largely down to the stark and frightening score, performed entirely on organ, along with some very creepy visuals that are more dreamlike and surreal that horrific.

This is very much a horror film in the sense of the concept rather than flying innards. Made on a low budget and originally seen as a B-movie, Carnival of Souls went on to become one of the most appreciated genre films that has ever been released.

The film has a unique feel all of its own. It plays like a lengthy episode of The Twilight Zone, and like the classics that Rod Serling brought us, gripping the viewer by forcing them to try and work out what is real and what isn't. Directed (and produced) by Herk Harvey, Carnival Of Souls tells the story of a young church organ player who, following a car accident in which she loses all memory of the incident, begins to have disturbing visions of strange, ghoulish figures chasing her. As the film progresses, she begins to realize that she may not have actually survived the crash...

With one of the most memorable endings in horror cinema history, Carnival of Souls is nightmarish in the most real sense of the word. The fact that it is in black an white adds plenty to the dreamlike quality, but the visuals that are presented have a huge impact. The sight of the fairground at the end, filled with demented, ghoulish figures chasing our heroine as the organ soundtrack whirls ever more chaotic around us, is the basis of countless hellish dreams since the film's release.

While the 'real world' scenes are shot in something of a static manner and highlight the limitations of the production and the experience of the crew, the increasingly strange set pieces are shot with a huge amount of visceral power, and they are edited in a rapid-fire motion that enhances their scare value rather than eliminating it (as with the current crop of horror flicks). It may well have been a cheap film to make, but the atmosphere is priceless.

I have an almost unnatural love affair with this film. It scares the crap out of me, and yet I can't stop putting myself through it. You see, there is something about Carnival of Souls that is much more distressing than gore or other cheap scares. Made for a pittance by a cast and crew of essential unknowns, the film captures a delirious nightmare within its frames, and once viewed, is almost impossible to forget. An amazing film, even if you do need a hug after watching it.

(Incidentally, you can legitimately Download Carnival of Souls for free at the Internet Archive as the film is in the public domain now. It is well worth watching!)

Friday, 6 November 2009

Dark Breed (1996)

From an era when PM Entertainment were spitting out low budget action and SF b-movies left right and centre comes this ambitious but extremely derivative flick that is a big fat rip-off of Species, Alien, Predator and maybe bits of the X-Files as well. A bunch of astronauts are infected with an alien virus while in space, and upon their return to Earth they head off on a killing spree.

Starring Jack Scalia, the film follows a team of government operatives as they try to track down the infected astronauts and stop them causing chaos. Of course, the astronauts have other ideas. Their ideas tend to be 'talk in a dodgy scary voice until we turn into massive monsters', which they do.

Dark Breed is quite an achievement, as you couldn't give a toss about a single character, and you're very tempted just to skip forward until things start blowing up again. It features production values far above the usual PM Entertainment fare of the era, but this is from the era of home video, and thus on DVD the limitations of the budget and the dated CG effects are very obvious. That's not to say the effects are bad, as they're actually pretty good, and way above a lot of other b-movies of the era.

The film itself is stuffed with elements that have been taken directly from other titles (there's even an 'Alien' style chestburster scene for crying out loud), and it can actually be fun picking them all out. I recommend a Dark Breed drinking game, where you have a shot every time you spot something nicked from another movie. You'll be on the floor, unable to speak or remember your name before the middle of the flick.

The cast are pretty bad, even for this calibre of film, but they join the dots passably until things start blowing up again. Oh look, someone;s running away from an explosion in slow motion! Awesome. It's a fun film to go with a pizza and some cans, but only if you tune the volume up and enjoy things going BANG while pointing at the screen and laughing. Fun, but about as compelling as a verruca.

Normal Service Will Resume Shortly

Hi all! Thanks for visiting THE GENRE ADDICT! I was unable to post a daily review yesterday, and I'm afraid there won't be one tomorrow as I'll be away, but I'm posting today's review early for you to check out. The next column after the one that follows this post will be released on Sunday evening. Things are ultra hectic this week, but I shall endeavour to catch up, and there may well be an extra review or two for you over the coming week. There are some classic titles on the stack to come, as well as some not-so-classic ones, as ever! I hope you're enjoying the mix of genre classics and genre disasters as much as I am. Normal service will indeed resume shortly!

Andrew Hawnt
The Genre Addict

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Turkey Shoot (aka BLOOD CAMP THATCHER) (1982)

Turkey Shoot, otherwise known as Blood camp Thatcher, is an interesting addition to anyone's exploitation collection. Set in a strange, dystopian future, people who refuse to conform to a government-enforced ideal are thrown into a prison camp, where they are regularly beaten and humiliated by the fascistic staff. An odd mix of science fiction, action and horror, it stands out as one of the more unique entries in genre cinema from that most beloved of eras.

While the bad guys are for the most part a little generic, there are some real bastards amongst them, like the chief warden Ritter, played with malicious glee by Roger ward, whose imposing figure is one of the standout aspects of the film. The heroes of the film are played with equal measures of defiance and fear, and for the most part they do so admirably. Lead hero Paul Anders (Steve Railsback)and love interest Chris Walters (Olivia Hussey) are spot on as the main characters, and you do end up genuinely rooting for them once the carnage begins.

Some of the inmates are forced to take part in a 'Turkey Shoot', an ultra-violent manhunt which is instigated by the leader of the camp, Charles Thatcher (hence the title of 'Blood Camp Thatcher', which was originally taken as a sleight against the former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher). Mayhem ensues, with machetes being embedded in heads, people being gunned down left right and centre and all manner of other atrocities hitting the screen.

It is a fun watch, but the social commentary aspects of it (shades of Nineteen Eighty Four are evident, for example) are a bit blunt at times. The plight of the inmates is played out nicely, with humiliation, torture and fearmongering leading to them sharing a kind of joint mania, but the film takes a little too long to get going to maintain interest in their struggles. By the time the action starts, you're getting a little sick of hearing about how hard life is in the camp.

Made in Australia, Turkey Shoot feels very different to many US and UK based genre films in terms of tone and construction, but it is also much more satisfying than many genre entries thanks to a fantastic final act and the refusal of the characters to give in, no matter what is done to them.

For the schlock fans there is plenty of action to enjoy, and red stuff is in evidence while there's never all that much of it to be seen. It has that great atmosphere that exploitation/Grindhouse style flicks of the era carried, and it is certainly an enjoyable watch if you try not to think too much about it.

One of the nicest touches to the film is the opening montage of riot footage, which sets up the film's world nicely and also gives it some scale. After that, the film takes place pretty much in one location, but you are given some nice clues as to what's going on in the rest of the world. While a long way from being perfect, Turkey Shoot is far from being a turkey.

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Cat In The Brain (1990)

Lucio Fulci's demented pseudo memoir is a hell of a viewing experience. The idea is ingenious and ever so slightly cheeky, as much of the film is made up of clips of earlier works by Fulci, all tied together with original footage that tells the story of a horror film director going a bit mad. The director, called Lucio Fulci in the film, is played by, erm, Lucio Fulci himself, and is bloody and weird, as well as just bloody weird.

The fictional version of Fulci is hallucinating murderous acts inspired by the gore of his films, and as the film progresses he becomes convinced that he is responsible for a series of murders.

The English dub on the disc I watched is laughable, but the film holds the attention nonetheless. Scenes of manic ultra violence, orgies, bodies being chainsawed to pieces, people being murdered and countless other nastiness are intercut with footage of an old man losing his marbles in the name of art.

Cat In The Brain is far from your average horror film, and has been banned in several countries for years since its original release. The glorification of the gore and sleaze in this film does being to light the psychological effect that making these things must have on people after a while.

Cat In The Brain could be seen as Lucio Fulci's attack on censorship. Following so many of his films being cut to ribbons by the censors, this could be taken as a direct response to their deeds, as this film is so ludicrously obscene at times that it defies belief (and thus it couldn't really be censored as the resulting film would be about 5 minutes long). Cannibalism, flying innards, brains being chomped on, eyeballs exploding out of heads and more are fired at your from your screen, and more besides. watch this at 3am on your own with the lights off, and see how well you sleep for the weeks ahead.

Taken on another level, cat In the Brain is a cheap, relentless cash in and rush job, a 'Greatest Hits' package with some added bells and whistles. However, it is much more than that would suggest. While it does feature a ton of footage from his other films ('The Beyond' for example), it is cut together in way that is at times deeply unsettling, as well as fascinating. There are scenes from his films that are intercut with footage of Fulci 'directing' the scenes as they happen, which works really well in the context of this film.

As a film in its own right, cat In the Brain will confuse the hell out of you if you're not familiar with who Lucio Fulci was and the films he created, but for horror fans who know what to expect from a flick with his name on it, this is a thoroughly entertaining and hallucinatory experience that will probably change the way you view his films forever more.

The gore on show will not surprise fans of his work, but it is the sheer amount of gore in this film that will make some people balk at its content. This film is insane, and well deserves its status as one of the most curious horror films that has ever been made.

WARNING: THE BELOW TRAILER IS EXTREMELY GRAPHIC

Monday, 2 November 2009

One Missed Call (2008 remake)

Why do I put myself through watching remakes? I really don't know. Occasionally they can kick all kids of backside, such as the Zack Snyder remake of Dawn Of The Dead, but for the most part they are far from satisfying as films go. This 2008 remake of the 2003 Japanese horror flick Chakushin Ari plays like a Final Destination film rip-off instead of the release it was based on. The cast, aside from Shannyn Sossamon, are woeful. There are some nice effects sequences but little else to write home about.

This by-the-numbers remake is light on scares and heavy on postmodern apathy towards telling a decent story. After the first fifteen minutes you can pretty much plan out the rest of the film in its entirety. Aside from a couple of beats, I was spot on. Blah, people getting picked off one by one, blah, refusal of other characters to believe until it's too late, blah. You get the idea.

Where the Japanese version is cut together in a much more suspenseful fashion, this remake is devoid of any of the tension of that film, instead relying on music cues and the constantly constipated expressions of the cast. From the second act onwards the film plays like a weird mix of CSI, The X-Files and Urban Legend rather than anything else, and for much of its length you're either bored of waiting things to happen or bored of following the dots.

Cinematography is pedestrian at best, the scare sequences look like music videos and between those sequences the viewer is treated to prolonged slabs of tedium. Once again, after The Ring and The Grudge etc, we are reminded that remakes are for the most part a stupid idea. I was hoping for a good watch with this movie, and was seriously let down. One missed call? One missed opportunity, more like.

Sunday, 1 November 2009

The Living Dead At The Manchester Morgue (1974) (aka Let Sleeping Corpses Lie etc)

Here's one of the gems of the horror genre that is much loved by the diehards and somewhat notorious. One of the benchmarks of the zombie genre that other films are generally compared to, this is one of the more intelligent entries in the pantheon of the undead, and there is actually something of an environmentalist message in there with all of the chaos and grue. It is also a strange film to watch due to its pedigree, as it was a Spanish/Italian co-production set in rural England!

Two mismatched travellers are thrown together when a girl in a car hits a guy's motorbike, meaning he has to ride with her while his bike is being fixed. A twist of weird science causes the dead to rise from the grave, and these two characters must fend off hordes of zombies who want to rip them to pieces and munch away on their flesh. Pretty standard scenario really, but it is handled with a huge amount of flair and an eye on the plot and pacing rather than just lashings of gore.

The violence is there in spades, as well as buckets of the red stuff, but more than anything this is a film that is surprisingly coherent and watchable despite the bizarre dub on some of the characters! This was one of the more notorious 'Video nasty' titles, and was banned for a while, which is a shame. The thing with this film is that the splatter is never gratuitous, and the zombies are much creepier than in many other films. The zombies themselves are rather pale and gaunt rather than the usual worm-food we have come to know in this type of flick, making them look much more frightening.

Directed by and starring Cristina Galbo as Edna and Ray Lovelock (best name ever or what?) as George, this film is one of the most important zombie flicks ever made, right up there with Night Of The Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead and Zombie Flesh Eaters. This is down to it being very much its own entity and not generally being like anything else in the genre. It may be ridiculous in some places and truly horrific in others, but it is one of the strongest zombie films ever committed to celluloid.

Known by over a dozen titles around the world (including 'Let Sleeping Corpses Lie', 'Don't Open the Window' and 'Breakfast With the Dead' amongst others), 'The Living Dead At The Manchester Morgue' is one of the truly special horror films that were made in that spectacularly productive period for the genre. It is impressive in its setting and its execution, along with being one of the few undead films to genuinely make you feel rather uneasy. Blessed with a chilling soundtrack, a cast bordering on pretty good and some of the most memorable visuals in any zombie film ever, this is a flick you need to own and need to watch and enjoy again and again.

The Anchor Bay DVD release of the film is fantastic, packed with extras and available with a lengthy booklet containing a comprehensive essay on the film and its history. Made just five years after George A Romero's seminal Night Of The Living Dead, this is a much more violent and grotesque film with a level of plot sophistication that is really rather unexpected. Oh, and the 'regional' accents dubbed onto much of the cast are hilarious, and pretty much worth watching the film for on their own!

Saturday, 31 October 2009

Mother of Tears (2007)

Dario Argento has long since been seen as a master of the horror genre, but a great deal of his work is dismissed as being of lesser quality by people who are constantly comparing more recent works to earlier films such as Suspiria, Tenebrae and the like.

Much is made of the fact that later films don’t look like the earlier ones. This isn’t just down to changes in his methods and artistic approach- remember, technology and film production has moved on a hell of a lot since the heady days of the Italian maestro’s trademark projects.

Mother of Tears is the long awaited final chapter in the ‘Three Mothers’ trilogy, the first two parts being horror buff staples Suspiria (1977) and Inferno (1980). This final film eventually arrived in 2007 (and only recently got a UK DVD release), and fans have been divided in opinion, which is easy to understand when watching the film.

I enjoyed it, but the film is at times very confusing. Not in regards to the plot, which is pretty straightforward, but the fact that there are times when you feel as though you are watching two films cut together. On one hand there is a rather enjoyable supernatural thriller with Dario’s famous daughter, Asia, in the lead, and on the other hand there is a poorly made gorefest with ‘spooky’ women being all ‘spooky’ at people.

There are scenes in which the acting, direction, cinematography and the whole shebang work perfectly, and then you get scenes that are horrendously captured, dubbed and composed. This mainly refers to the group of cackling harpies that fill Rome once the demonic artefacts have been uncovered and the third Mother is unleashed.

Argento’s visual flair is still very much in evidence, and the film does play well alongside the earlier entries, but ultimately it buckles a little under the weight of expectation that fans have lavished on the project over the years. There is much in the way of fan pleasing going on here. As a whole though, the film is a fun watch if you try to not take it too seriously.

Aside from some rather suspect CG, the production is slick, the cinematography is mostly beautiful and Asia adds some much needed star power to a film that is, aside from Asia herself and Udo Kier, lacking in familiar faces. There are some awkward moments where the dub is very noticeable, but for the most part it is presented with on-set or location sound, which helps.

There is gore, sadism, nudity, violence, blood, mad angles, the supernatural, lots of action and lots of atmosphere. This is very much an Argento film, and as the final part of the Three Mothers trilogy, it does actually deliver.

Friday, 30 October 2009

The Amityville Horror (2005 Remake)

Remakes. Oh dear. I have big issues with remakes of classic horror titles, but now and again a remake is necessary. Amityville is a good example of a franchise that had loooooong since run out of steam. The original 1979 film had Margot Kidder and James Brolin being fantastic in it, but that was followed up with a string of increasingly poor sequels, some of which are downright painful to watch (and believe me, I have sat through enough of them). The original impact of that first film had been diminished to a terrific extent, and if it was going to do anything worthwhile again it needed a makeover.

Directed by Andrew Douglas, this 2005 remake stars Ryan Reynolds and Melissa George, and there are times I would have rather been watching one of the nineties video sequels. It is a pedestrian retread of the original at best, and an empty mish-mash of quick cuts and post production tricks at worst. The cast is well chosen and do a good job with a script that just joins the dots, and aside from adding some nice character arcs, doesn't do a great deal with the story itself.

You know the tale. A young family move into a house that had been the site of a multiple murder, and weird things start to happen around the creepy house, ending up in a bloodbath once again. The Amityville house has been recreated really well, but there's nothing of the original's tension on offer here. Scares this time around seem to be centred around sound effects and well-worn scare tactics. There is little of the original film's demented, manic atmosphere, and even the denoument seems to go off like a wet sparkler.

This is what gets me about remakes. Even people that are not familiar with the original source material are going to know what to expect. That takes all the scares out of the piece, and in a film like this, it is new scares that are needed. These are few and far between. The film is shot really well, with a great eye for detail and shot composition, but these only serve to highlight the flaws in what is ultimately a very dull remake.

There are some nicely handled effects shots, but the original was never about effects, and that was its power. Tension and suspense are replaced here with some nifty special effects and some tense music cues, but nothing that is really going to make you leave the light on.

Thursday, 29 October 2009

Sky Blue (aka Wonderful Days) (2003)

This South Korean animated movie took a total of seven years to make, including the development of various pieces of software that were needed to pull off its startling visuals. All of that hard work is very much in evidence onscreen, even when the plot vanishes altogether in a haze. It really is a stunning thing to look at, but the viewer's involvement in the story is limited at best.

The year is 2140, and an organic city called Ecoban has been built after a massive environmental disaster has screwed everything up for humanity. A (you guessed it) rebel freedom fighter is loose in the city, trying to discover its secrets in order to free the slaves that work outside the city, feeding it power. Meh. The plot isn't all that gripping, but the film is a masterpiece of construction.

Using a beautifully handled mixture of cel animation (the characters) and CG (pretty much everything else), Sky Blue is a marvel of a film to look at. Dystopian cityscapes, thrilling vehicle chases on land and in the air, futuristic computer interfaces, flawless textures and weather effects and more are there for the eyes to feast on. It truly is astonishing, and even the raindrops are perfect. The CG elements are literally at the photoreal level in some scenes, and where some films like this tend to feel like the 2D characters have just been slapped on as an afterthought, here they are blended very well with the lush CG world they inhabit.

As a piece of beautifully made cyberpunk entertainment, Sky Blue is flawless. As a film, it lacks a real sense of depth to the story and the chharacters, but this is to be expected to a certain extent thanks to the translation from its original language. Still, the English voice actors do an admirable job with the translated material. The score is cinematic in scope and wonderfully varied, which helps to add some size to the piece (some parts remind me of John Williams and Howard Shore's efforts).

It is mosst certainly worth watching, for the visuals alone. Watch it on the biggest, clearest screen you can possibly find, and immerse yourself in one of the most stunningly realized science fiction worlds that has ever been shown. In fact, it may actually be those visuals that take you out of the story a little. You are so busy thinking "Wow, that looked awesome", that you sometimes forget what is actuallly going.

That said, some of the characters are kind of engaging, but nowhere near as much as how the film looks. It is worth your time to see this film. Your eyes will thank you for it.

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Elektra (2005)

While the Daredevil movie was never really going to get a sequel off the ground any time soon after its release, there was sufficient interest in the supporting character of Elektra, played by Alias star Jennifer Garner, for a spinoff film to be made. As it does deal with what happened to Elektra after her 'death' in Daredevil at the hands of Bullseye, I suppose this could also be seen as a semi sequel too.

The only returning cast member is Garner herself, and despite her strong performance, the Elektra movie is quite frustrating. It has a ton of potential from the cool opening scenes, in which we see Elektra doing what she does best as an assassin, but after about ten minutes the film goes off on a weird tangent. This ain't the gritty, real-world setting of Daredevil. No, here people have supernatural powers and ninjas explode into green gas when killed.

After those glorious opening scenes, which perfectly capture the Elektra we know and love from the comics (much more so than was captured in Daredevil, incidentally), the film turns into something that feels very much like a pilot for a failed TV series. You get the cute kid and the love interest, along with the mysterious ninja assassin Elektra making up an uneasy family unit for some of the film. It doesn't work.

Terence Stamp is cool as Elektra's former sensei, but seems a bit out of place in a cast that is a tad bland. The villains are cartoonish and far too outlandish for a film that supposedly follows on from the urban jungle feel of Daredevil, but it is always a pleasure to see Cari Hiroyuki Tagawa onscreen (he was great as Shang Tsung in Mortal Kombat...hehe) as the big bad guy boss.

It all feels rather disjointed, and no amount of cool editing tricks and shots of Elektra's hair swishing about in slow motion can hide the fact that it has a weird script and a rather incoherent storyline. There are some great visual elements to the movie, such as the battles during the final act, but the main issue with the film is that it has a great beginning and a great ending with next to nothing between the two.

It's fun enough to watch, as long as you try not to think about what is going on too much. As with most films of questionable pedigree, I enjoyed it, but the critical side of me keeps crying out "But that bit was shit! And that bit was stupid!" Sometimes though, you need to see a film for what it is.

This is a bit of silly fun, with some great action sequences and a script that could have been so much better than it was. The film's saving grace is Jennifer Garner herself, as she really put her all into the role and the training, but you need more than just a brilliant leading lady to have a good film. Ideally I'd like a new cut of the film that takes out the whole second act. Then it would have been awesome. Awesome and short.

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Daredevil (2003)

Daredevil is one of those few Marvel Comics movies that has its major problems. It had the potential to be a masterpiece of a comic book movie, but instead feels like something of a missed opportunity.

Personally, I really like it, despite its faults. Ben Affleck had a love for the character and the source material, and makes very good Matt Murdoch. Jennifer Garner, while rather miscast as the Greek assassin Elektra, still puts in a strong performance, and Michael Clarke Duncan is pretty much note perfect at the Kingpin. It is in the film;s structure itself that the problem lies.

Director Mark Steven Johnson has made a serious film that has all the ingredients of a hard, action packed comic flick that does bring Daredevil to the screen in impressive fashion. The thing is, there are elements that feel a little too much like studio intervention. This should have been The Dark Knight of Marvel movies, but at the time there wasn't really a market for darker superhero films (remember, this was in the midst of the X-men and Spider-man era of comic book films), and as such the mix of badass Daredevil action and characterization is mixed here and there with something a tad camp.

There are parts of the film that make me cringe, in particular things like the burning 'DD' symbol on the ground, stolen directly from 'The Crow', and the rather rushed romantic element between Daredevil and Elektra, but there is a ton to love about the film too.

Take Colin Farrell as Bullseye for example. Sure, the costume and makeup is a bit silly, but his deranged performance is great, and he gives the part some real danger. While some of his lines are hokey, he pulls the part off with some class. Michael Clarke Duncan's Kingpin is everything the character should have been, but his integration into the story is patchy.

The Daredevil movie is also set in a much more believable setting than some of the other Marvel films. people bleed. Bones break. It is shot in a gorgeous manner, and that's something I really love about the film. Director of Photography Ericson Core did a hell of a job, and the film looks superb. The framing and construction of each shot is flawless. It's just a shame that the effects work in some shots is below par and takes you out off the action now and again.

It sticks to the skills and abilities of the characters really well, and the fight scene choreography (along wwith the stunts) are straight out off the comics. The climactic battles are spot on, in particular the notorious scene between Bullseye and Elektra (comics fans know the one I mean), which does bring some of the shock from the comics page with it.

An aspect of the film that I was really grateful for is that the origin story doesn't take too long. Origin story movies are great when done right (Iron Man, for example), but there are times you just want to skip straight into the actual action. Daredevil's origins are told quickly and clearly, and bring the non-comics audience up to speed easily without alienating or boring the fan audience.

Daredevil isn't a bad film, but it has its problems. The director's cut is a much better version off the film than the regular cut, but still it has room for improvement. It was a bold film to make, as Daredevil was a rather lesser known character outside of the comics world, and it is a worthy addition to the line of Marvel movies, but it is far from perfect.

Monday, 26 October 2009

Resident Evil: Apocalypse (2004)

The first Resident Evil movie annoyed a lot of the diehard fans of the game series (as well as a lot of movie fans thanks to the patchy direction of Paul WS Anderson), and thus this first sequel was stuffed with elements from the game, such as the Jill valentine and Nemesis characters, and was actually pulled off pretty well.

Still, it annoyed even more people. You just can't please the fans sometimes, I guess. For what it's worth, as I'm not a gamer I ony have the films to go on, and I enjoyed this sequel in a brainless b-movie kind of way.

Where the first film came across as a kind of sci-fi George Romero movie, this one is a pretty straight video game film, and that's where it suffers the most. As well know, most video games make rotten films. As readers of this site know, I'll sit through all kinds of crap, but video game movies are something that can either be great fun or unwatchable (believe me. I sat through 'Dead Or Alive').

Milla Jovovich is back as Alice, crossing the movie universe created in the first film with the chronology of the games (I believe this one is largely based on Resident Evil 3). The Umbrella Corporation are still up to their old tricks, and the T-Virus has escaped into the inhabitants of Raccoon City. The city is quarantined, leaving the survivors (including Jill Valentine and her badass colleagues, and the now superhuman Alice) to fend for themselves against hordes of infected zombies.

It looks a little cheap, it comes across a little tacky, and it was never going to win any prizes for a deep screenplay or direction, but by God it is a fun bit of entertainment. That's the problem a lot of people have with Paul WS Anderson- they can't always get past the idea that he's just trying to make a film that goes BANG.

This is something he does very well indeed, and when you're in the mood for something that will just hit all the right notes in terms of action and fun, you can't go wrong. If you're after social commentary, then you've picked up the wrong film.

Basically, this is about as close to playing a video game as it gets in a movie. Stuff explodes, Lickers are blown to bloody pieces, heroes and heroines swap snappy one-liners and a million rounds of ammo are spat out at growling zombies. What's not to like?

The makers put Jill valentine (played by Sienna Guillory) into the exact costume from the game, Nemesis looked cool (if a bit cheap), and Milla Jovovich blew stuff up like the pro she is, and yet people still took issue with it. Me? I like it. It's silly and camp, but it is an ideal flick for cheering yourself up. I mean, who doesn't love to see zombies and monsters getting blown up? Exactly. pass the napalm. Let's play.

Sunday, 25 October 2009

Rise: Blood Hunter (2007)

With vampires being so damn popular right now, I thought I should really review a vampire flick or two. Here's a film from a while back I found to be a little different from the herd. Rise: Blood Hunter was released prior to the whole Twilight thing taking all the fun out of the vampire genre, and thus it is largely untainted by the realms of shoddy urban fantasy. Don't get me wrong, I love urban fantasy (I should do seeing as my own fiction is arguably urban fantasy), but I like urban fantasy with, erm, bite.

Thankfully, Rise: Blood Hunter ain't a film where vampires are overly romanticized. This was put out after the Underworld franchise had got off the ground and had given audiences the image of vampire films as sexy, violent adventures. Sexy and violent are two words that perfectly describe Rise: Blood Hunter.

Lucy Liu plays reporter Sadie Blake, who is murdered and awakens in a morgue as a vampire. The film follows her quest to take out revenge on those that created her. Along the way she meets up with a hardboiled cop played by Michael Chiklis, who does the Hardboiled Cop Thing very well indeed (see 'The Shield', as if you needed proof). His daughter has been taken as one of the vampire clan that killed Sadie, and thus the two of them team up to wage war on the bloodsuckers.

While the film has its fair share of vampire characters looking suave and mysterious, the fop factor is balanced nicely by some rather brutal violence and a script that bristles with anger and rage. It is far from perfect, but it is also a very long way from sucking, if you'll pardon the expression. There is no ridiculous CG, no outlandish stunts, and not a frilly shirt in sight. Plus, none of the vampires sparkle, so extra points there.

Rise: Blood Hunter has a lot working in its favour, such as an excellent performance from Lucy Liu as the determined and icy lead character. The counterbalance of Chiklis makes for great viewing. It is largely down to these two cast members that the film is so watchable, as the rest of the cast do vary in quality. It's shot beautifully, and the lack of mad CG effects gives it a somewhat harder edge.

The direction and editing are probably the star of the show though, and are snappy enough to keep things moving along nicely. The film doesn't outstay its welcome either, and while it flopped at the box office, it has built up a cult following on DVD, and I'm proud to be one of those pesky people that really rather liked it. It may be seen as a misfire, but as a vampire film, it at least offers something a little different to the genre.

Rise: Blood Hunter trailer

Saturday, 24 October 2009

Hellraiser: Deader (2005)

This was number seven in the legendary horror series (which was followed up with Hellraiser: Hellworld), and the third to go directly to DVD. These sequels have been of a varying standard, and each successive film feels further and further away from the original premise of the first film (andthe original novella, The Hellbound Heart that it came from).

This instalment was originally written as a completely standalone movie, with the Hellraiser elements added on as an afterthought. It sticks out lie a sore thumb, but it's an enjoyable way to spend 90 minutes or so.

Kari Wuhrer stars as a hard-boiled American reporter working for a London based publication. Her speciality is weird cases, and when she is shown a bizarre video of a cult apparently bringing the dead back to life, she sets off to discover the truth. Naturally, she begins to be drawn into their dark, supernatural world, with suitably chilling results.

Good film, but it would have worked much better without the Hellraiser elements tagged on, as they are so blatantly afterthoughts that it hurts.

It's nice to see Pinhead and the cenobites again (for the whole minute or so of screen time they get...grr), and making one of the characters a descendant of the original toymaker (thus linking it to the plot of part 4, Bloodlines) is a nice touch.

The cast are for the most part above the usual quality for this kind of fare, with only one or two of them hamming it up for the sake of it. Kari is far and away the most convincing aspect of the movie, and carries the story really well. Some higher profile roles for her would go down a treat.
Coming across as a cheap update of Flatliners, it doesn't rely too much on expensive effects and instead goes for a more psychological feel. Sure there's gore, cenobites, boobs, lightning and chains, but the most successful thing in the look of the movie is the subtle use of camera effects and simple filters, which add a strong atmosphere and a certain amount of style. The money available has been well spent.

Doug Bradley? He's cool, but is blatantly on autopilot as Pinhead. He's looking a bit tubby in the costume this time out as well. Pinhead is about as far away from scary as you could get in this movie, and his lines are more fantasy than horror. The makeup is more convincing, but the performance? Coasting all the way.

Overall? If this hadn't had the needless Hellraiser material added, it would have been a much stronger film. As it is, it's a very enjoyable and rather creepy addition to a series that has been gradually going downhill. It's not necessarily back on track with this movie but it's getting there. It's just a shame the series got even more derailed with the film that followed this. Hopefully the remake will help to make the Hellraiser name mean something chilling again.


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(This archive review is a tweaked version of one originally published on my personal journal way back in '05. I still feel the same about this flick)

Paprika (2006)

A good friend brought this delirious anime to my attention, and from the psychedelic cover art I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, which is a feeling that lasted for the whole film until its mind bending climax. Made in 2006 and helmed by renowned anime director Satoshi Kon (Perfect Blue, Tokyo Godfathers), Paprika is a hallucinogenic, surreal work of genius that needs repeated viewings to truly get your head around it.

Based on a 1993 story by Yasutaka Tsutsui, it takes place in the near future and follows a detective and a ‘dream therapist’ as they try to recover a stolen device that allows entry into peoples’ dreams. By literally the second minute, you have no idea what is real and what is a dream, as the story takes delirious turn after delirious turn.

That’s not to say the film is a mess- it really isn’t. It is just that it flies so much in the face of conventional, linear storytelling that you really have to pay attention to stay on top of everything that is going on. The sequences in which the dreams of various people march and march and march in a disturbing and rather macabre procession of ingenious creatures and creations are unforgettable. Those with a fear of dolls will have something to scream about with this film as several of these dream sequences involve masses of talking dolls with terrifying faces.

The character of Paprika herself is a wonderful creation, life affirming and ethereal yet childlike. The use of CG mixed in with the traditional cel shaded animation adds a powerful extra dimension to proceedings, which tend to fly off at mad tangents whenever the fancy takes them. Such is the nature of dreams- unpredictable, unusual and utterly surreal. The art direction in this film is really quite astounding, and the soundtrack and voice actors perfectly suit the visuals, which is where some anime movies fall down dead. This one excels in pretty much every area, but as mentioned before, the story can sometimes be a tad difficult to follow. Stick with it though, and you re in for an anime experience you won’t forget. This is another important feather in Kon’s cap, and needs to be seen to be believed.

As the detective and therapist become ever more involved in the mysterious occurrences in the dreamscape, the real world starts to unravel around them, and the truth of the whole thing is delivered with a satisfying twist both in terms of plot and visual impact. The DVD is presented in lush 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen with gorgeous colours and a perfect sound mix. On the extras front it is limited to a Filmmaker commentary, but I can let that slide as quite simply the film is incredible to watch and savour.

Friday, 23 October 2009

A For Andromeda (2006)

This retelling of the classic 1960s science fiction drama was made in 2006 by BBC4, and is quite honestly one of the most beautiful pieces of science fiction television I have ever had the pleasure of watching. The DVD is a prized possession, and with every viewing, this elegant, graceful adaptation improves. It was made on a relatively low budget, but this isn't all that evident. What is evident here is class, and lots of it.

I saw this on its original TV airing and snapped up the DVD as soon as I found a copy. A For Andromeda is gorgeous science fiction, the likes of which really isn't made enough nowadays. It is a story of ideas, science and morality that, thanks to the care taken in making it, is yet to date, and probably wont do for some time yet. The cast is phenomenal, for a start. Tom Hardy, Jane Asher and David Haig are all on top form, but it is Kelly Reilly that takes the breath away here as the dual roles of Christine Jones and Andromeda. Her mannerisms later in the film are outstanding, and go a long way to differentiating between the two characters she plays.

The plot of the piece, which after the original was stolen for films such as Species, surrounds a remote scientific outpost that receives a signal from the stars, containing information on how to build a supercomputer and in turn a living being. The Ministry of Defence takes interest, and soon the alien technology is being used to design biological weapons. This goes awry when Christine is killed (we are never shown how she dies, but it involves the supercomputer), and the new lifeform that is being grown copies her likeness and awakens with her face and voice. This causes some very palpable tension between Andromeda and Tom Hardy's character, whom her human incarnation had been having an affair with. Thing then take a much more sinister turn as the real meaning behind the message and the creation of Andromeda become apparent. The film has one of the most moving final acts of any TV based drama I have ever seen.

The locations in the film are bleak when it comes to exteriors and claustrophobic with interiors. The few effects that are used in the film are so well implemented that you barely notice their presence, and the soundtrack is understated and eerie. The sub-plots are few, giving ample screentime to the main plot and the conflict off the characters. As a piece of TV drama it is near flawless, and as a piece of science fiction it is beautiful. Nothing is overstated. Nothing is blown out of proportion. This small production with its small, self contained story manages to come across as epic through dialogue alone. The implications of the technology drawn from the alien codes is plain to see, but then, when people start trying to play God, its dangers become all too clear.

I honestly wish there were more science fiction productions like this being made. Small budget, talented cast and crew, and an idea that carries a good deal of dramatic weight. It doesn't rely on special effects, set pieces or bombast. It makes its point quietly and in a most tasteful manner that still manages to be quite unsettling and frightening. A For Andromeda is a one-off production that is truly special, and the DVD, containing a great making off feature and a production booklet with extensive notes, is an absolute must have. I would rank this up there with Doctor Who's 'Blink' and 'Human Nature' stories and the magnificent Torchwood: Children of Earth mini series as some of the best science fiction made this decade. Sublime.

The BBC page about A For Andromeda

A great clip from the TV film: