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:

Thursday, 22 October 2009

Memory Run / aka Synapse (1996)

This is an interesting one. I had previously enjoyed this film just as a low-budget piece of science fiction/cyberpunk action, but upon researching it for this review, I discovered the whole story behind its plot, which makes it much more interesting, and has made me rethink it a bit.

The story behind this film was based on a 1968 novel, 'Season of the Witch', by a man called Hank Stein. Memory Run, or Synapse as it was otherwise known in some markets, is set in a dystopian future and tells the story of an arms dealer who is smuggling weapons to a resistance movement who are fighting against LifeCorp, who now rule all government. This dealer, Andre, is framed for the rape and murder of a wealthy woman and as punishment he is forced into being experimented upon.

His conciousness is taken out of his body and implanted into the body of the murder victim, Celeste. Upon waking up as a woman, Andre/Celeste escapes the facility and is marked for termination. She finds her way to the resistance fighters, The Union, and becomes an uneasy ally of theirs. Thus the chase is on for her to try and reclaim her body while helping The Union to topple the sinister regime.

While it does have some rather hackneyed sci-fi plot devices such as the Big Corporation and the Motley Band Of Resistance Fighters, the idea of a main character undergoing a gender change and having to come to terms with their new body is very interesting. It throws up all kinds of internal conflicts for that character, which are sadly not explored to their fullest extent in this film. Director Allan A. Goldstein got thee most of a limited budget, with sets and locations well filmed to give some added scale to proceedings.

There are some familiar faces in the movie, such as Karen Duffy (otherwise known as a writer and former MTV VJ), the ever marvellous Saul Rubinek, Matt McCoy and Chris Makepeace. Not familiar with these names? If you've watched TV or films for any length of time, you'll have seen them crop up in a few things. Karen Duffy carries off the dual role of Josette and Celeste very well, especially considering she is playing a man's mind in a woman's body for much of the flick. She does so with some style and aplomb, despite the limitations of the script.

So with a pretty decent cast for a low budget film and a plot based on Hank Stein's novel, the film is an entertaining enough bit of science fiction, but so much more could have been done with it, considering its origins. Hank Stein underwent a gender change some time after writing the book, and has since been known as Jean Marie Stein, and has written extensively on gender changes and helping those who are dealing with this issue.

This gives the film a little more poignance for me, although I would have liked to have seen the gender issues dealt with more onscreen. Certainly, they are talked about and there is a great deal of conflict in the Celeste character, but such a defining aspect of the character is rather glossed over in the movie, in favour of more explosions and gun fights. This is a shame, as it would have given the film more of a lift, and possibly more respect than it is given.

The film is well shot and looks good aside from the very cheap and very dated digital effects (along with some rather dated design aspects) but it does make you think, and that's kind of the point of science fiction in the first place, isn't it? Low budget and a bit silly the film may be, but to me this is a bit of a gem. It's sometimes rather impressive to see what the bargain bins can yield. I would recommend this film to anyone interested in the subject matter or indeed that has read Stein's novel. If you're looking for big budget SF stuffed with social commentary, you're looking in the wrong place, but this is a pretty bold stab at something different from an era of SF cinema that was pretty bleak.

Andre awakens in his new body as Celeste...

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Live Feed (2006)

While the cover may make it look something like a cross between Hostel and 8mm, Live Feed is a rather different animal, but not all that different. This fun little horror film had a woefully low budget, but a lot has been done with the money that was available, and the tension is palpable in several scenes towards the end. This low budget romp will please fans of the above mentioned films along with stuff like the first couple of SAW films, My Little Eye and similar titles. The set-up of the film is hackneyed and a little silly, but once the chaos gets going, there are some thrills and (blood) spills to be had.

The film follows a bunch of young friends (each one pretty much fitting one horror film stereotype or another) on holiday, who fall foul of a gang and wind up taking refuge in, of all places, a seedy adult cinema/hotel/brothel. There, they discover all manner of nastiness going on, and without giving too much away, they're soon fighting for their lives as the gang, along with various psychopaths including a giant man in a rubber apron, start picking them off in horrific ways, and serving, erm, 'parts' of them up to their boss as freshly cooked delicacies.

The premise is mental, as is much of the film. The cinematography is great for an independent low budget film, giving it a great visual aspect for the most part. The use of CCTV footage and a film-within-a-film idea help it look interesting, too. There are scenes in which the budget, the shooting schedule and the limited resources are evident, but the gore is top notch and the violent scenes look great. Even the edit is of a pretty good standard. There's blood, guts, OTT violence, naked flesh, insane characters and stir-fried cocks. What more could you want in a horror film?

Maybe a decent script, for starters. Where the film lets the viewer down is the dialogue. To be frank, it is terrible to the point of giving me an aching neck from all the cringing. Couple this with a motley cast of 'people who can act' and 'people who wandered in off the street' and it makes for uneven viewing. The cast varies from terrible to pretty good. Taayla Markell is the star of the bunch as Emily, and unlike the usual standard of talent in this kind of flick, she has some actual presence.

It may not be high art by any stretch of the imagination, but it ticks all the boxes for gore lovers and fans of the current batch of popular fright flicks. As a whole, the film does play like a lesser cousin of recent films like The Hills Have Eyes remakes, Hostel, Wrong Turn, Wolf Creek and similar titles, but it has enough entertainment value for you and some friends to have a fun evening in with pizza and beer. That's probably why I enjoyed this cheap-ass lump of gore and sleaze, actually...

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Gunhed (1989)

Cyberpunk! Industrial wastelands! Robots kicking the crap out of each other! Gunhed has all the ingredients of a genuine cult classic, and while it is incredibly impressive to look at, as a film it is as cold as the robots that it features. The visual aesthetic is brilliant, full on apocalyptic cyberpunk from an era when cyberpunk was the cutting edge of cool when it came to sci-fi. The look of the film feels very much like the glimpses of the future war you get during the first Terminator movie, and on a purely visual level the film is superb.

Okay. First thing first. The Dub on this half Japanese language, half English flick is atrocious. I'm viewing the UK VHS release that was put out by Manga Live and the voice acting is about as natural as neon yellow eyes. I must track down the original language version at some point, but for this review I'm stuck with the VHS I found second hand a while back.

If you like mecha, cyberpunk and post apocalyptic shenanigans, along with characters in goggles and combat gear, oneliners and lots of explosions, then you'll enjoy this. However, if you like a plot, a proper script and some decent acting, look elsewhere. GunHed certainly has the right look, but it is in the storytelling that it falls flat on its big metal face. This may well be down to the film's woefully incoherent edit. Scenes have been spliced together seemingly at random for some of the running time, which is a pain.

The plot? Basically, after the Big Apocalyptic War that happens conveniently off-screen in so many films like this, a bunch of scavengers go to the stronghold of the enemy computer's mainframe. The evil machine reawakens, and in order to get out of there alive they must resurrect the GunHed, a famous military fighting machine (basically a massive robotic tank). Thing probably go much smoother with the original dialogue track, but I scan;t see it being all that much more impressive.

So, with the standard storyline in place and all manner of BIG GUNS bolted onto things, the viewer is treated to some spectacular visuals. The low budget of this film has been used to great effect, and the model work and miniature work that is on show was realized very well indeed. It's almost seamlessly cut into the regular live action, and even the video effects, dated as they may be, are impressively integrated into the live action footage.

GunHed is a mess in terms of plot, editing and dialogue, but as a series of action set pieces involving cyberpunk style characters and big, greasy robots, it's a fun watch. There is a very cartoonish feel to a lot of the film, and this kind of works in the flick's favour as it stops you having to think too much about what is actually going on. Boom! Stuff exploding! You get the idea. Aside from one woeful creature makeup, it's a bit of a visual treat. Disengage your brain, strap on some combats and a long coat, and get some 'Hed.

Monday, 19 October 2009

Don't Look In The Basement

No, seriously, don't look in the basement. If this 1973 film had been made in the UK, it'd have been called 'DON'T LOOK IN THE CELLAR', and would more than likely have been about the horrors that lurk under houses all over this country: Old lawnmowers, half-empty tins of paint, wobbly step ladders and secret porn stashes. Yeah, that would have scared the pants of us.

As it is, 'Don't Look In The Basement' is a semi-notorious exploitation flick that demonstrates some spectacularly bad taste, as well as some spectacularly bad acting, direction and writing.

The basic hook of the film is that, as the saying goes, the lunatics have taken over the asylum. They have done so quite literally here. If poking an exploitative finger at mental illness is your thing, then you'll no doubt love this film, but for the rest of us, the treatment given to the mentally unstable in the film is much more horrific than the splatter and violence that is on show.

It is a remarkably badly made film, and not all that much loved in diehard horror circles. I do wonder of it was banned because it's so badly made, but that would be cruel of me really. I must say though, I'm kinda surprised that this hasn't had a cheap and nasty Hollywood remake done yet (aw hell, now I've said that, Platinum Dunes will probably leap on it and have one out by the end of the week).

The budget is plain to see, by which I mean there was barely enough budget to get the camera running, by the look of it. It's shot in a manner that says "Am I pointing the camera in the right direction?" and the cast have the feel of 70s porn stars to their delivery (Ironic really as the lead actress, Rosie Holotik, was a Playboy model), making for plenty of moments that are unintentionally funny.

But on the flip-side of all this is the violence of the film. It is with the violence, the blood and the screaming insanity of many of the inmates that leave a lasting impression with the viewer. Ridiculous as the film is, there are a few moments that are genuinely unsettling due to the unhinged nature of the characters. Actually, there has to be special mention made of Rhea Macadams, whose performance as a mad old lady is really quite unsettling.

Director S.F. Browning gained almost instant notoriety with this bit of sleaze, and you can see why. Chunks of this film are as insane as the characters, and possibly it is the big empty spaces of boredom between those chunks of delirious violence that make the shocks so effective. An incoherent, but interesting little film for the completists.

Sunday, 18 October 2009

Death Trap (aka EATEN ALIVE, HORROR HOTEL etc)

Another 'Must see at some point' film has now been crossed off the list, and to be blunt, it was a rather anticlimactic experience. I guess that's probably the same feeling that most people that saw this on its original release way back when.

This is a notorious Video Nasty, but it is probably known most widely as 'That dud of a film Tobe Hooper did after The Texas Chainsaw Massacre'. Its reputation may also stretch to the notorious crocodile scene at the climax (well, it's more 'where the film stops' than a climax), or the role of a young Robert Englund.

Rather than being an unsung gem, I found Death Trap (or whatever it's called in your part of the world) to be a bit of a chore to watch. I don't mean it freaked me out (man, you wouldn't believe some of the stuff I've seen).

It's cheap, it's certainly nasty, and sadly, it is rather dull. Granted, following TCM must have been a nightmare, but this is something of a mess of a film. It's also rather badly shot, quite clearly on a soundstage.

One aspect that really got my back up was the fact that the film takes so long to get going, and then when it finally picks up some pace it doesn't seem to go anywhere in particular. It has that sleazy Grindhouse atmosphere to it that has regained notoriety in recent years thanks to the Tarantino/Rodriguez double bill project, but that's about all it does have going for it.

Neville Brand's performance as the psychotic, scythe wielding hotel manager Judd is the one high point of the film, and he plays the part with delirious glee. His yelling and maniacal laughter does get a bit annoying after a while, and by the film's end you realize that a good chunk of the film's running time was spent in a mid-shot of Judd as he laughs and gibbers while shaking his scythe at the camera.

There are flashes of Tobe Hooper's more stylish and tense directorial nuances, but these are sadly fleeting. It's passable viewing as part of a horror marathon, but only if used to break up a run of classics. It has its moments of entertainment and its moments of shock and gore, but as one of the titles to be stuck under the 'Video Nasty' banner, it isn't all that nasty.

Stuart Gordon's DeathBed


It kind of annoys me when a producer gets top billing over the film's director. Stuart Gordon, of Re-Animator fame amongst other things, is billed right over the title, when the film was directed by Danny Draven (although Gordon was on set a fair amount).

Credit to Draven, who did a pretty admirable job with this 2002 movie from Full Moon Pictures and Darkwave films. Where so many low budget horror flicks rely solely on nudity and ridiculous gore to keep people watching, 'Deathbed' differs by offering some actual tension in its construction.

Yeah, it's cheap and some of it looks as though it was shot on a mobile phone, but for the most part it is an enjoyable little flick that does something a little different. Fantasies and suppressed memories begin to invade the life of a children's illustrator and her photographer boyfriend after they find an old metal bed in a secret room in their apartment building. The fantasies become ever more violent and unnerving, and finally the madness starts to spill over into the real world.

Yes, there is nudity. Yes, there is gore. However, neither are gratuitous. While the acting and script are well below par, it is Danny Draven's direction that kept me watching. Lord knows it wasn't the performances of the cast.

The best has been made of a stretched budget, and padding is minimal throughout the film's scant 82 minutes running time. That said, the epilogue isn't really needed, and could have been trimmed a bit, if not cut altogether. Far from being a great film, Stuart Gordon's DeathBed is good late-night viewing for the dedicated horror junkie who doesn't mind cheap productions and wants something a little different.

Flesh For The Beast


My journey of discovery with the cheapest, nastiest buckets of low-grade gore continued today with a viewing of the low budget train wreck/masterpiece (depending on your outlook) known as Flesh For The Beast.

Here's a film that has a lot going for it, but ultimately is rather incoherent, even for a low budget horror flick. Where many films with such a small amount of cash to work with tend to look absolutely awful, this one is, visually at least, quite a way above the crowd.

The plot isn't all that important here (viewers who check this film out are there for the gore and the skin), but it serves its purpose. The gist: A group of parapsychologists are invited to a big, spooky mansion by a rich lunatic in order to study and ultimately do away with some spooks.

It's handled well considering the tiny budget. As ever with low budget films of this ilk, the cast is patchy to say the least. Dialogue isn't so much spoken as hiccuped and thrown at the outside world.

There are one or two amongst them that are above the others in terms of ability and delivery, which works in the film's favour, but this makes the film a little disjointed as a whole. You're kinda thinking 'Oh, he/she's cool' one minute, and the next you're staring dumbfounded at the plank of wood reciting syllables before the camera. There's a fun cameo from former Bond girl Caroline Munro and also horror veteran Aldo Sanbrell too, which add a nice touch to proceedings.

The effects are nicely done, but there are occasions when the 'demon' makeups/masks look a bit too much like party masks. The infamous 'writhing in gore' scene is pretty screwed up, and worth watching the film for in itself. Basically, if you know what you're in for with Flesh For The Beast, then you'll get it in spades.

A fun little film that has actually had a great deal of thought put into its execution. In fact, the way it is shot actually brings to mind the classics from Hammer. A mixed bag indeed, but an enjoyable piece of schlock.

Laid To Rest

The horror genre has been treading water for a while now, thanks to the endless remakes of classics and Western retoolings of Asian horror films. It had been growing stale for a while, but that rash of remakes has been, for want of a better term, nailing the genre's coffin shut somewhat.

Thankfully there are still the odd gems that crop up and take you by surprise. Laid To Rest is just such a film. The premise is very, very basic. Masked psychopath butchers a bunch of people. That's about it as far as the story goes, but it is handled in such a way that it feels very fresh and very powerful.

The difference is, you're actually bothered about these characters throughout the film, and when various people meet their (very) grisly ends, you're hooked even more.

Laid To Rest is an independent slasher film from director/writer Robert Hall, and stars his wife, Bobbi Sue Luther, in the lead role. The rest of the cast raised an interested eyebrow when I first heard about the film, as it features both Lena Headey and Thomas Dekker from Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, as well as several other very talented people. The cast is on a rather higher level than your average slasher effort, which goes a long way to pulling you into the tense story.

Star of the whole thing is undoubtedly ChromeSkull, a new slasher icon that brings to mind a sleek amalgamation of Michael Myers, Jason Voorhees, Patrick Bateman and in terms of cruelty, Hannibal Lecter.

Without saying a word, he is a huge presence, played to chilling effect by Nick Principe, who is destined to play some of the aforementioned titans in other films. He has to be. Anyone that can put that much charisma into a performance while wearing a chrome skull mask and never saying a single word is meant for greatness.

The production values of the film are excellent considering its budget, with some truly impressive splatter and very inventive kill scenes. One particularly grisly moment comes when a character's entire face is hacked off in full view of the camera. Cinematography-wise it is reminiscent of other recent urban horror efforts such as the Wrong Turn films, but the crew have put a very personal spin on things. With a small cast, great visuals and the makings of a new legend in the ChromeSkull character, Laid To Rest really delivers everything a horror fan can want in a film.

Cannibal Apocalypse

I’ve been reading up on the greats (and the not-so-greats) of the cannibal and zombie subgenres of horror, and this film kept getting mentioned, so I thought I should check it out. Thank (Insert deity) here for HMV sales. The version I bought is the uncut edition of this insane 1981 film.

The film was banned for a few years, and it is easy to see why when watching it. John Saxon takes the lead over a cast that has a couple of other decent performers in it, but Mr Saxon is far and away the best thing about the film. The idea of the movie is nice and different- cannibals let loose on city streets, instead of in the jungle. The cause of this cannibalism is a rabies-like virus that makes whoever is infected with it crave meat.

A group of Vietnam veterans had brought the virus over from their ordeal in the war, and while John Saxon’s character is (almost) okay, his two buddies ended up locked up in an institution.

His former friends escape, and the mayhem begins. This is a very different approach to a horror film, and while there is gore galore, the film seems a whole lot more serious than its genre would normally allow. There are some interesting ideas on show here, handled pretty well by director Antonio Margheriti, but the film is let down by a number of atrocious actors delivering rather suspect dialogue.

The action is nicely staged and well shot, and the splatter effects are suitably horrific, but it is the concept itself that raises this above your average horror fare. It’s just a shame the cast is so terrible aside from Saxon!

The most interesting scene, for me anyway, was the shootout in the deserted supermarket, between one demented cannibal and a group of bikers he has started offing following a chilling incident in a cinema. This scene alone was worth the paltry sum I paid for the film. The soundtrack is another matter. It is so utterly wrong for most of the film that it is almost comedic. Funky disco beats accompany extreme, brutal violence, resulting in a very odd viewing experience.

The transfer is crisp and clean considering the age of the film and the original materials it was created with. The sound is a dull mono mix but I couldn’t really expect anything else. There are some fascinating extras on offer though, with a 54 minute documentary on the movie, trailers, filmographies, a tour of the locations, and a short feature on the film’s notorious edits that were made in the era of the video nasty.

It is nasty indeed, but it is the ideas that are more horrific than the action itself. Certainly a film that is probably only enjoyed by sadistic horror diehards, Cannibal Apocalypse (despite its misleading title- what apocalypse?) is an interesting entry in the horror pantheon that delivers on most of its hype.

Saturday, 17 October 2009

Demons and Demons 2

(A double dose of cheap splatter to get things underway! There will be DOUBLE FEATURE reviews like this from time to time, when the flicks in question call for it!)

Demons

Directed by Lamberto Bava and produced by some bloke called Dario Argento, DEMONS is one of those films that divides opinions. If you can stand the atrocious acting and the infantile script, then you'll find an entertaining slab of nastiness that, by the third act, straddles a line between horror flick and post-apocalyptic action film.

While it may be a terrible film in many ways, it is also fabulously entertaining. If you're not familiar with the plot, the basic premise (which is a ton of fun) is that of demonic creatures getting through into our world via a cinema, erupting forth from the frames of a horror film. Chaos ensues, as does gore galore.

There are moments when you wonder just how they could fit so much wood into one cast, but the ludicrous special effects used for the possessed 'Demons', and the chaos they bring about, are fantastic. This 1985 film is very much of its time, with some awesome examples of bad hair and odd clothes, along with a screaming old-school metal soundtrack which makes it even more fun.

The splatter is just about gripping enough to sustain your interest, but it may well be the amateurish acting that lives on in your memory more than the green-slime spewing beasties. The whole idea behind the making of the film was to create something that was just big dumb entertainment, and in that regard it succeeds to a great extent. DEMONS is perfect for some entertainment that won't tax your brain but will engage you in some good laughs and a few genuine shocks. Bava's direction is snappy and keeps things moving along nicely, but beyond the gore, it's a bit empty.

Demons 2

The 1987 sequel was was once again directed by Lamberto Bava and produced by Dario Argento, who also had a hand in the script. DEMONS 2 is a better made film all round, but that's not to say it's great. I love it myself, but I'm trying to give you an honest critique. The crew seemed to hire some better actors for this outing, but it feels more like a remake than a direct sequel to that iconic first film.

In this film, the plot centres around similar demons from the first flick turning up in an 80s yuppy apartment block. They find their way into our world via a TV at a party this time, and before you know it there are people being 'turned' all over the place, my favourites being the party host herself, the kid and the dog, all of whom have passed into horror folklore for their messy transformations.

Again, there is nothing particularly deep here. After all, it's called DEMONS 2 for crying out loud. It's gory and violent, and oh look, there's a group of misfits involved. It does retread some of the same ground as the first film, but it has a great climax, albeit one shot in the most 80's music video style you could imagine. Al it's missing is Bonnie Tyler screaming about THE PASSION IN THE NIGHT or something.

DEMONS 2 is an entertaining bit of sticky, bloody fluff that, when viewed with a pinch of salt, is almost as fun as the original. Almost.

Friday, 16 October 2009

Welcome to THE GENRE ADDICT!

Hey, schlock lovers! Welcome to THE GENRE ADDICT! This blog is here to bring you a daily review from the worlds of Horror, Science Fiction, Fantasy, Action, Exploitation, Splatter, Anime and all that other good stuff that causes geeks to fetishize things that don't really exist. Yeah, I'm one of you too, and here I'll be bringing you a review each day of a film, book, comic or whatever from the genres that make fandom so much fun.

Who am I? I'm a writer for a national magazine and a slew of popular culture blogs, as well as being a struggling freelancer and SF author. I love genre products to an almost unnerving extent, and am eager to bring you some cool content to your own personal slice of the Blogosphere.

The Genre Addict will be made up of brand new reviews of classic, not-so-classic and new films that fall into the horror and SF genres and the like, as well as a few reviews from my personal archives. The remit? Genre stuff only. Flicks and books to geek out to.

I hope you find something to enjoy here, and maybe you'll discover a film or something that you may have previously missed out on...

Let the Mayhem begin.
Andrew Hawnt
October 2009