Friday, 30 September 2011

MIRRORMASK (2005)

A script by Neil Gaiman. Production by the Jim Henson Company. Designs and direction from Dave McKean. Mirrormask is a thing of rare beauty, a treasure, precious and lovely. It's also criminally unappreciated by the masses, and bombed on its original release.

This is sort of understandable, really, such is the magnitude of invention on display throughout it. It's easy to see why the moviegoing public didn't take to it during its limited theatrical run, but it's also plain to see how and why the film has developed such a strong cult following over the last few years.

I was introduced to the film when a pack of promo material was delivered to the comic shop I used to work in. It contained posters, postcards, film cells and the like, and I was instantly captivated. As soon as the film was released, I took it in and was swept away by its sublime and fantastical escapism.


Mirrormask is an extremely rewarding film with multiple viewings, but on first impressions there may be a little too much going on to take it all in. It tells the story of Helena, a teenage girl who lives with a circus troupe and dreams of escaping her life of performance. Following the hospitalization of her mother, she finds herself trapped in a dream world in which she must set about a quest to find the mythical MirrorMask in order to save a dream version of mum (and in turn the kingdom itself).

She is helped along the way by the mysterious rogue Valentine, a juggler with the gift of the gab, and an assortment of otherworldly creatures amidst a landscape the likes of which had never been seen on screen before.


It is dreamlike rather than epic, unsettling rather than thrilling, and completely unforgettable. Another point is that at times, the film is remarkably frightening. Many people raise issue with the script, as it does carry a great deal of resemble to Labyrinth and suchlike, but I find it beautiful.

Starring Stephanie Leonidas as Helena alongside people such as Gina McKee, Rob Brydon and Stephen Fry, the film is a unique look into the minds of both Gaiman and McKean, and carries all of the hallmarks of their individual talents with a computer-generated land of miracles and horrors.

The CGI holds up well even now, and I would say that the fact the world is so stylized and the story involves such deep and strange dreams has stopped it dating much. The film has its devout fans and its harsh critics, but for some of us it worms its ay into our minds and doesn't let us ever stop loving it. The world of Mirrormask is a collage of bizarre images and scenes interspersed with progressive jazz rather than epic orchestrations, which works together in a surreal and sublime fashion.


Actually, it may be the score that goes some way to making Mirrormask feel even more avant-garde than it really is, which in turn may have turned some viewers off of it. The influence of the Henson company is rather apparent throughout the film's length, but this is never a bad thing. Seldom has there been a company whose name alone assures you that quality and imagination will be flashed before your eyes, and wherever Mirrormask may disappoint some viewers, it is sure to thrill them in others.

The use of multiple roles for cast members (i.e. real world/dream world counterparts) is very well handled, and a big shout-out must go to Gina McKee for her gorgeous portrayal of both Helena's mum and the terrifying evil Queen of the dream realm. This is a film that will not be to everyone's tastes, but for those with a sense of wonder and an appreciation of the work of the people involved in creating it, it is a beautiful experience that only gets better with age. A disaster to some, but a masterpiece to others. I'm proud to be in the latter camp.

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

MACABRE (aka FROZEN TERROR- 1980)


This first directorial effort from Lamberto Bava, Macabre (aka Frozen Terror) has had its twists revealed and spoiled via many a VHS and Dvd cover, so it won't spoil thing too much more if I tell you there's a severed head in the fridge. I don't mean MY fridge, by the way (although what's in YOURS is your own business). This horror-tinged thriller does live up to it's name, as some parts of it are extremely macabre indeed.


Including child murder, grisly accidents, necrophilia and the aforementioned severed head in the kitchen, the film follows a middle aged woman who moves into a boarding house after the death of her young son and her lover, whose head ends up on ice (and in her bed on multiple occasions).

 The, erm, macabre aspects of the film work very well, and some shots are deeply unsettling (the sex scene with the severed head is particularly weird), but a tiresome dub and some cumbersome scenes rob it of much tension outside of those scenes. The woman's psychotic daughter is a high point of a wooden cast, and she gets some very creepy scenes indeed, not least the shocking murder of her brother.

There is an air of taboo about the film, which itself creates the atmosphere rather than the actual plot, and the strong climax rounds it off nicely, leaving you with a more positive opinion of the flick than the other eighty minutes. It's based on supposed real events, which adds a bit more authority, but not much.

One aspect of the movie that is noticeably good is the cinematography, much of which is quite beautifully framed. Beyond the shocks and the look of the film, there's not a great deal to recommend Macabre with, but it is worth watching as a curiosity of an earlier style of moviemaking and the burgeoning style of Bava.

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

COMING SOON: DIARY OF A GENRE ADDICT - THE SERIES!

The web series version of DIARY OF A GENRE ADDICT will be starting soon, featuring a new review each episode and informal wibbling about the geek lifestyle and cult movies from me, your humble writer-turned host! The textual version of the site will continue alongside these videos. Here's the opening title sequence that will usher in the show!


Friday, 23 September 2011

BRAIN DAMAGE (1988)


Frank Henenlotter, the man behind the classic BASKET CASE (and its not-so-classic sequels) took a trippy detour with this bizarre horror comedy. Coming across like a drug-fuelled Sam Raimi flick, it follows normal guy Brian as he becomes dependent on the secretions of a phallic brain monster called Elmer, whose 'juices' send Brian into a state of euphoric hallucination. The thing is, Elmer needs to eat human brains in order to stay alive, and once Brian is hooked on his juices and addicted to the glowing lights that each hit makes him see, chaos is the order of the day. 

Brains are sucked out through people's mouths, the tops of their heads and more, Brian is subjected to mad hallucinations (including the sight of him pulling out his own brain matter which is then followed by a torrential explosion of blood), and a deranged elderly couple spend a lot of screen time screaming 
'Aaaayyyylllmmeeerrrr!' 


Deliciously mad, gloriously messy and fabulously crude, Brain Damage is one of the most unique horror films of the 80s in terms of visuals, the comedic terror of the Elmer creature and the thinly-veiled drug addiction allegory. 

The budgetary and technological limitations of the film actually work in its favour, adding a somewhat cartoonish feel to the violence and the delirious dream sequences and trippy moments. That's what gives it that Raimi style atmosphere, and also what makes the film seem so cheerful even while Elmer is sucking people's brains out of their skulls. I mean, it's hard not to love a film featuring a well-spoken demonic cock/turd with a cheerful face as a main character, and even moreso during the unnerving fellatio scene. 


One moment fans should keep an eye out for is the rather unexpected cameo from a certain other Henenlotter film, namely BASKET CASE. It's a beautifully placed little moment that works perfectly. For all of the chaos that fills Brain Damage, there's a serious message about drug dependency somewhere in there, but amidst the outlandish mayhem, wooden acting and brain-sucking fun, it can get a little lost in the mix. 

Rick Hearst is the best onscreen actor in the film, giving Brian a sympathetic demeanour even while tripping on Elmer's blue goo while it;s being pumped into his head. The film was trimmed a fair amount upon its original release in cinemas and on home video, but it is now available uncut on DVD and is well worth your time. 

Personally I tracked down the Palace Horror VHS edition of it I remember craving as a teenager and watched it in all of it's videotaped, blurry glory. While not the greatest film in the world, Brain Damage is the perfect alternative viewing when you don't think you can sit through Evil Dead II again for a while. And remember, kids: Don't take drugs, especially if they are administered by penis-shaped parasites with several rows of fangs.  

Sunday, 18 September 2011

NEON MANIACS (1986)

Neon Maniacs is one of the most sought-after films of my teenage video-renting days. For some reason I've never owned a copy until now, but it was one of the best rentals I ever got back in the day. The cover art alone was enough to entice me in with its promise of mutants and mayhem, and now, after many years, eBay has provided me with a gloriously well-preserved big-box VHS tape of this glorious horror/SF/comedy movie. Twelve varied, mutated, armed and dangerous maniacs attack a group of kids in San Fransisco, hacking them to death and leaving only one survivor, Natalie. She goes to the police, who of course don't believe her story of monsters and carnage, especially as there are no bodies and no evidence other than some green goo.
A young geek girl (and amateur Ghostbuster) believes the tale though, and attempts to learn more with the help of her trusty video camera. Along the way she discovers the secret to harming the monsters, and forges a typically uneasy alliance with Natalie and her new boyfriend Steven, a wholesome guy who happens to front a very wholesome rock band, as they plan to stop the Neon Maniacs (who are now chasing Natalie for reasons that are never explained). The maniacs themselves are a mix of awesome and awesomely bad, either looking fantastic or just plain silly, but it works, dammit.
There are moments in this film that are unintentionally hilarious, such as the gloriously cheesy battle of the bands at the film's climax, but there are also some fine scenes of good old-fashioned 80s horror action, with the various monsters chasing and attacking folks in the blunt visual style of the era. There's no real explanation for the existence of the creatures, or why they can be destroyed a certain way, but that matters little.

Neon Maniacs is a near-perfect slice of low budget 80s horror mayhem, although there's less gore than you may expect. Something that sets it apart from a lot of schlock though is that the main characters are pretty well thought-out, but it's the incredibly endearing geek girl and budding badass Paula (played by Donna Locke, whose IMDB page only has Neon maniacs on it. I wonder what happened to her?) that steals the show.

There's an odd mix of teenage drama, comedy, action and gleefully demented horror at play throughout Neon Maniacs which gives it an atmosphere all of its own, and if you share my love for cheap 80s b-movies, then you are sure to love this film as much as I do. For the proper effect, find a copy on VHS and watch it on an old analogue TV in the middle of the night, and do your best to ignore the jumps in logic that pop up throughout it, or just how incredibly silly the whole thing is. Aaaahhh, perfect.

Saturday, 17 September 2011

My VHS Adventure Continues

That Horror VHS group I've been addicted to on Facebook of late really has brought back my love for horror on VHS, which is how I originally became obsessed with the genre in the first place. The thing is, now I have actually started to plan expeditions to find more tapes for my rapidly evolving collection (which is already reaching the numbers of my glory days as a horror collector back in the day). I've been making plans whenever I have the time to do so, and am now starting to look further afield for hidden treasures.

 Local charity shops have been stripped of their horror, and particularly fruitful locations are now aware of me and my VHS horror addiction, to the point where they are getting more in from their other branches for me to buy. This is most pleasing.

 There are a few second hand stores on the outskirts of the city centre that have also been a promising playground for me, but now I am planning my ultimate day of VHS haulage thus far, which will see me hand over as much cash as I can afford in order to strip seven stores clean of their gore, splatter and other nastiness. These seven stores all lie on one street, twenty-five minutes away by bus, and I know of the delights they contain thanks to a previous adventure hunting for old SF paperbacks.

Then there is the plan to visit my home town and do the same in the area which is known for its charity shops and second hand dealers, but this requires a train journey and my larger luggage. Am I just hoarding? No, I'm not. This is all part of a plan to build myself a little sideline in second-hand film dealing. You see, one of my ultimate ambitions for the future, alongside my writing aspirations, is to run a second-hand movie and book emporium full of curios, rarities and treasures of an odd variety.

I'm starting now by searching out everything that I know people will want and what they will pay for, as well as bolstering my own collection. It may be seen as a bit of a sad thing to do, a little bit tragic that I'm having so much fun looking out old-school horror on a dead format, but I'm having so much fun that I don't really care. I mean, this does have 'addict' in the name after all, but I know I'm addicted, and while I might not be able to go cold turkey (*twitch*), I am having a great time filling in the jigsaw that is the old-fashioned video rental shop that resides in my head. Get that tracking sorted, I'm coming for YOUR tapes.

Monday, 12 September 2011

ANTHROPOPHAGOUS: THE BEAST (1980)

One of the most notorious of all of the 'Video Nasty' titles that were dragged into a political nightmare during the 1980s, 'Anthrophoagous: The Beast'(aka just 'Anthropophagous' or once it was heavily cut as 'The Grim Reaper') still has the power to disturb thanks to its two most infamous scenes. I first saw this film uncut at the age of 15 on a pirate tape my cousin passed me, back to back with an uncut version of 'The Exorcist' (five years before the Exorcist was rereleased), and it freaked me out thanks to the two scenes I'll get to in a while.

The film is still banned in the UK in its uncut state, and thus I used the heavily cut version of the film, 'The Grim Reaper', and pieced the full version together with online videos of the uncut material. This Italian production would be largely forgotten by now were it not for the sheer extremity of certain parts. Right, let's get those two ultra-notorious scenes out of the way first, then I can talk about the film itself.
The two moments that will still make a lot of people squirm are the moment the villain pulls the foetus out of a pregnant woman and eats it on camera, and the other (and slightly less tasteless) is the ending, during which the titular psychotic cannibal eats his own innards as he dies. They are truly, unforgettably unpleasant shots, and it's easy to see why the film was banned in its uncut state over here, and why heavy cuts were made to subsequent releases.

Okay, onto the film itself. The movie was shot by a crew that was on holiday, and it shows in the relaxed and picturesque manner in which the footage of the gorgeous locale plays out. It's almost a travelogue for a while. Basically a group of tourists sail to a beautiful Greek island, which they discover to be almost completely deserted. It's empty for a reason. There's a demented, malformed cannibal on the loose! There's a back-story to the character of Nikos Karamanlis, aka the Anthropophagous beast, but it's not really of much consequence.
The performance of Luigi Montefiori (known to fans as George Eastman) as the cannibal madman is chilling in its lumbering menace, while Joe D'Amato's direction is much better than the script deserves. The story is lousy, basically a set-up for carnage, but there are some very memorable scenes and some genuine tension (especially in the catacomb scenes).

While not a very good film in itself, Anthopophagous: The Beast is essential viewing for those with a penchant for the real Video Nasties of the era, and horror completists in general. In the right mindset, it's an amazing piece of work, but don't expect pristine film-making. The VHS cover art was one of the most infamous images alongside Cannibal Holocaust's gaudy cover at the time, and it remains a harrowing and unsettling film, even if it's sometimes a chore to sit through more down to the cast than the gore (That said, Tisa Farrow is one of the few bright sparks in the whole bunch)! Just avoid the cut entitled 'The Grim Reaper' as it's trimmed so much that the film barely makes sense.

Friday, 9 September 2011

Must... Stop... Hitting... F5

 The Horror VHS group on Facebook I mentioned recently is sucking my soul out through my eyes. If I'm not glued to some demented film or other, I'm glued to the Horror VHS Collectors Unite group, reading threads I never thought I'd read on FB, about the delights of horror on VHS. I'm addicted, and it feels good, dammit.

I think it's something to do with the fact that at long last I'm in touch with people who share my love for the VHS format (and all of its problems and limitations). It's amazing to be able to browse through literally thousands of photos of VHS collections that I could only dream of, as well as posting my own paltry offerings now and again.

It's a fun place to be, even with the occasional argument that breaks out (hell, it;s the internet. It happens), and I'm thoroughly enjoying joining in with the fun even though the majority of members are from the US and thus have different kinds of experiences to my own as a viewer and collector.

The problem is that my bank balance and available space is now suffering a bit, as are my sanity and my F5 key. Refresh... refresh... refresh I go. I can't help it. I need MORE pictures of battered VHS tapes in tatty covers. I need MORE discussion of obscure, crap old horror flicks. It makes me happy, dammit. Wait, what am I doing? I missed a couple of minutes! (hits F5 in a separate tab...)

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

FINAL EXAM (1981)

It may take an hour for it to kick into gear, but FINAL EXAM is a surprisingly effective slasher from that heyday of the genre, the 80s. After a grisly opening sequence, there is a solid hour of character building before anything else really happens. This ain't really a bad thing, as it means that by the time the mayhem kicks in, you're actually quite fond of these cookie-cutter characters. As a bunch of college students prepare for their final exams (BOOM! Title right there), a nameless maniac sets about going on a violent rampage without rhyme or reason.

There's no real explanation for his acts of carnage, and the film fits every stereotype of the genre to a T, but there's something about Final Exam that seems to set it apart from the usual fare. I think it's the fact that there's such a long time spent with these characters (and their pranks, cliques and conflicts) before the violence starts that you are rather more invested in them than you would be if they'd started being mown down in the first ten minutes.

The final act is a lot of fun, and after the lengthy build up the film's shift in tone and pace is both welcome and well-handled. Final Exam's final showdown is exciting and rather different to what you may expect, ending the flick on a high note.

It's a curiously bloodless film considering the genre and subject matter, but it's tense when it needs to be and has a deliciously John Carpenter style score. One scene early on in the film sticks out as being uncomfortable to watch for a modern audience, and that's a college prank involving a fake mass shooting, but aside from that Final Exam is an enjoyable peek at the 80s slasher genre and one that is certainly of a higher quality than a lot of them. Certainly one to check out for 80s slasher fans, but really only one for the completists unless you can find a cheap copy.

Monday, 5 September 2011

CARRIE (1976)

Adaptations of Stephen King's work are a hit-and-miss affair at the best of times, but there are some of them tat have become genuine classics not only in the realms of cult cinema geeks, but in the big, wide world of Genuine Appreciators of Fine Film. GAFFs, if you will. Carrie, King's first published novel, became this incredibly powerful supernatural horror film following on from the book's success.

Sure, Carrie herself is physically very different in the film to how she is described in the book (she's played brilliantly by the slim and ethereal Sissy Spacek in the film, while the character in the book is chunky and curly-haired), and the ending may be a little different (understandable considering the budget required to accurately film the book's climax), but it's a damn fine film.

Much more than just a screen adaptation, Carrie is very much a film in its own right. It has no pace issues, no problems with translation from page to screen, and a very strong cast (also featuring a young John Travolta). Carrie is an exercise in building tension, with the inevitable manifestation of her latent telekinetic powers clear from the beginning, making the final act hugely satisfying to watch, no matter how many times you view the film.

It tells the story of Carrie White, an innocent outcast suffering from bullies at high school, and her difficult life at home with her demented, hyper-religious mother (Piper Laurie). Carrie is constantly suffering at the hands of her peers, and when the prom rolls around, those peers plan the ultimate humiliation for her. Unfortunately for them, that humiliation brings her burgeoning psychic powers to life, resulting in an unforgettable orgy of destruction, blood and mayhem.

It's a pay-off that is very much worth the wait, and after much of the film has been told in a rather affectionate style, the manifestation becomes all the more horrific. The split-screen moments of the climax are ultra-effective, adding an extra blast of tension and shock to what happens in that hall.

Sissy Spacek is a revelation as the fragile, waif-like cinematic Carrie, and it is her transformation from timid victim into a telekinetic monstrosity that is so very compelling. I loved the book, but I think I may love the film a bit more. This is possibly due to the fact I saw the flick before reading the novel, but it also may be down to Brian De Palma's perfect handling of both King's story along with the budgetary and technological restrictions of the day.

Carrie is a masterpiece of storytelling, character and suspense, with one of the greatest endings of them all. Even when you know the story off-by-heart, neither the book or the movie ever lose their power. This is about as perfect a horror yarn as you could desire.

Saturday, 3 September 2011

THE HUNGER (1983)

Let's get something straight. I'm not a big fan of vampires. I used to be far more interested in the famous bloodsuckers, but after popular culture being saturated by them over the past decade (Buffy, True Blood, The Vampire Diaries, Urban Fantasy, and the abomination that is T******t (I can't even type it without wanting to go on an axe rampage) to the point of almost everything having fangs for a while, I'm pretty much all vamp'd out.

Thankfully there are some films that don't adhere to the foppish, forlorn vampire stereotype that has become to prevalent off late, and it makes me love them all the more. One of them is the awesome Near Dark. Further back there's the original flick of The Lost Boys, and a bit further back again offers you The Hunger. This brilliant 1983 vampire movie starred David Bowie, Susan Sarandon and Catherine Deneuve in a stylish and atmospheric supernatural thriller which is quite possibly one of the most erotically charged vampire films ever made.

The Hunger starts off in high style with a performance of legendary Goth scene pioneers Bauhaus (literally the first shot is Peter Murphy singing 'Bela Lugosi's Dead') in a nightclub, mixed with hots of Deneuve and Bowie being very stylish indeed. Right from those opening moments the style and visual beauty of this film is very apparent.

Adapted from Whitely Strieber's novel of the same name, the film follows two vampires (Bowie and Deneuve) as they drink the blood of unwitting victims and enjoy a life of debauchery. They have no fangs, instead slitting the throats of their victims with miniature daggers hidden in pendants, they don't fly, sparkle or turn into bats, and they are very, very cool. They look for Susan Sarandon's character in earnest, and as the film progresses you find out more details of their quest.

The Hunger isn't a film that bashes you over the head with information, and it's all the better for it. Tony Scott's direction is beautiful, and while the film does get a bit too arthouse for its own good here and there, it's a gorgeous, sumptuously realized work of art that manages to give the vampire myth some mystery back. Yes, it does indeed feature an iconic (and extremely sensual) love scene between Sarandon and Deneuve, but that scene is so beautifully shot and presented that it seems like a painting.

That's what The Hunger is. It's fine art. Its mixture of gothic noir, horror and subversiveness may put some viewers off, but for those of us with an eye for macabre art and films that do things rather differently than the herd, The Hunger is nigh-on perfect. A film to be savoured, studied and appreciated, it's a million miles away from your usual cheap vampire fare, and thankfully light years away from the largely dull vampire tales of the present day.

PHANTASM (1979)

Made in 1977 and released in 1979, Phantasm is one of those films that lives on in infamy throughout cult movie circles around the world, and it's a justified notoriety. Phantasm is literally oozing with atmosphere, be it from the chilling score, the infamous silver ball sequences or the bizarre zombie dwarf scenes.

The film introduced the horror genre to Angus Scrimm's malevolent Tall Man being, a supernatural entity masquerading as a silent grave robber, who steals bodies and turns them into zombies in order to do his bidding.

It starts off innocently enough, with musician Jody looking after his 13 year old brother following the deaths of their parents, but by the time the credits roll, there has been gore, flying silver balls with blades and drills sticking out of them, alien dwarves, an inter-dimensional gateway to what looks like a cross between Mars and Hell, lots of creepy music and Angus Scrimm being an unnerving presence as the freakishly odd Tall Man.

It's really not your average supernatural film, mixing ghosts, horror, science fiction, an almost Spielbergian sense of familial nostalgia. It's a weird mix, but it works extremely well. It worked so well that there were three sequels of varying quality, but none of them really matched the freezing cold atmosphere and unique visuals of the original cult classic.

The budget limitations aren't as apparent as they could be, and despite the mad things going on onscreen, it holds together very well and suspension of disbelief is easy. The terrifyingly quiet and lumbering form of the Tall Man is of course one of the film's main attractions, and it's his stony countenance and besuited frame that make him so very creepy. It's easy to see why both Scrimm and the character became so iconic to the horror genre.

Even though it's not strictly a horror film, Phantasm was embraced by the scene and subsequent entries in the series took the horror angle further. The mausoleum scenes are marvellous, stark and cold in their appearance, which also goes for much of the film. The supernatural elements are all quite stark while the regular-real-world elements are a little grimy. Phantasm's story may initially seem a little too wacky to be this brilliant, but stick with it to the end and you won't be disappointed. A cult classic in the truest sense of the term.