Monday, 23 January 2012

UNDERWORLD: AWAKENING (2012)


The fourth film in the Underworld franchise sees Kate Beckinsale back in the boots and long coat of her trademark Selene character after the sidestep of the third film, the prequel Underworld: Rise Of The Lycans. Selene awakens from cryogenic imprisonment to discover twelve years have passed since the events of the second movie (Underworld: Evolution), vampires and Lycans have been revealed to the world and a massive purge of them has begun, wiping out thousands of each supernatural creature in the process.

Selene discovers that a second prisoner was held captive beside her, the young girl Eve, a hybrid child with a greater link to the film's vampiric heroine than she can initially believe. Selene escapes from captivity and seeks out Eve, and a new battle begins as the remaining Lycans chase them down to take the prize that Eve holds in her DNA.

Underworld: Awakening is an interesting place to take the franchise after the first two films and the prequel, as instead of directly continuing from what has gone before it takes a leap into the near future, which adds a strange dynamic to the mythos and its continuing action. I found it to be thoroughly enjoyable, albeit far from what anyone could call high art. However, going to see an Underworld movie negates expecting more than what you are presented with – i.e. a noisy, action-packed genre movie which is lots of fun throughout its brief running time.


There are some quieter moments throughout the film, the best being those moments between Selene and Eve (the young actress India Eisley, who puts in a great performance considering the duality of the character), but many viewers will be aching to get to the next action scenes. The good thing is, there are plenty of deafening, eye-melting action sequences, but they are well-integrated into the story and help the plot to hurtle along as a satisfyingly breathless pace.

There are mad scientists, underground Lycans, a likeable police officer/sidekick for Selene (Detective Sebastian, played by Michael Ealy), insane battle sequences and the finest production values since the first film. The Lycan transformations have never looked better, and aside from a couple of moments when effects don't seem to have been rendered properly the whole film looks amazing.


The cast is above par for current genre fodder, with Stephen Rea and Charles Dance adding some dramatic weight to a script that could have gone very awry otherwise. The star of the whole thing is undoubtedly Kate Beckinsale herself, as not only is she on top form in her action scenes, she gets to further explore a new side of the Selene character with some very sombre scenes that add a roundness to her persona.

One thing that I must raise: I saw Underworld: Awakening in 3D, and while there are few moments in the action sequences that used the 3D well, for the most part the 3D aspect of the film is utterly pointless, and I felt more than a little cheated by that. I really enjoyed he film, but the 3D almost spoiled it for me. 3D works best in films which have a bright colour palette, not the largely blue/monochrome palette of the Underworld universe.

That quibble aside, I had a blast watching Selene and Eve ripping Lycans to pieces and making stuff explode. Money well spent. Incidentally, the soundtrack album is amazing, but you'll struggle to hear any of it during the movie aside from the end credits. The trailer:


Lacey Sturn of Flyleaf - "Heavy Prey" from the soundtrack to UNDERWORLD: AWAKENING:
   

Sunday, 22 January 2012

BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS (1980)


One of the most blatant Star Wars rip-offs in history (only really topped by the 'Turkish Star Wars' which actually sole footage from George Lucas' masterpiece), Battle Beyond The Stars is a delirious fever dream for anyone well-versed in 70s/80s TV. I mean, this thing has John-Boy from the Waltons (Richard Thomas) in the lead as Luke Skywalker-lite, George Peppard (Hannibal from 'The A-Team'), Robert Vaughn ('The Man from U.N.C.L.E.') and even John Saxon ('A Nightmare on Elm Street' 1,3 and 7 and many, many more titles) amidst its cast.

A young man must gather a motley band of adventurers in order to do battle against the evil forces of Sador (Saxon), the Darth Vader/Palpatine type character of the flick, from blowing up the peaceful planet of Akir.

Really, all it is seems to be an excuse to rip off Star Wars and every sci-fi cliché in the universe. From the way it's shot and edited (look out for all those diagonal wipes!), the score, the characters, the effects, everything is stolen from something else. The plot is basically The Seven Samurai all over again, but in space.

Everything is lifted directly from other properties (I even spotted a rip-off of the TARDIS console in there), and it really is a million times worse than the film I remember seeing on TV when I was a kid. No wonder I liked it so much back then- there are plenty of lasers, lingering model shots of spaceships, clear-cut good guys and bad guys and lots of explosions. As a more mature viewer now though, it's unintentionally hilarious.

Some of today's favourite WTF moments have included noticing the automatic doors on one ship sound EXACTLY like Darth Vader's breathing, and the sheer nightmarish quality of Sybil Danning's costume (a somewhat crude and revealing mix of Barbarella and Thor!).

There are Jedi-style aliens, cheerly androids, an Empire-like legion of villains, stormtroopers, rickety starships and derring-do galore. It's loveably awful for the most part, and just plain awful for the rest of it. The best thing to do with this film would be to cut out every single scene apart from the space battles fought between (admittedly well-created) model spaceships. Those scenes are fun, if woefully cheap.

John-Boy looks bored throughout the film, as do most of the cast apart from George Peppard, who seems to be having a blast playing what is essentially a gay cowboy version of Han Solo. Battle Beyond the Stars is passable enough entertainment, but for all the wrong reasons.

Actually, my girlfriend has been sat beside me and glancing over at odd scenes here and there throughout the film. She described it thusly: “It's like the people who made it went to a sci-fi supermarket and stole everything from every aisle.” Well said.


Wednesday, 18 January 2012

RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD 3 (1993)


We all have our favourite zombie movies, don't we? For many it will be perennial classics like Romero's DAWN OF THE DEAD, and quite rightly so. While I do love that flick, my two favourites have to be Shaun of the Dead (2004) and this one here, Return of the Living Dead 3 (1993). This film is dear to my heart as I saw it at the height of my addiction to VHS rentals from Metro Video in Sheffield, my old stomping ground.

There is something about this film that works extremely well. While it lacks the gonzoid brilliance of the first or the slapstick comedy of the second, it has a unique atmosphere and fascination for me. Really a sequel in name only (as well as the inclusion of the Trioxin chemical that brought the dead back in the first two), it was directed by none other than Brian Yuzna and is pretty much a perfect horror film to these eyes. The budget was clearly limited, but the production doesn't suffer from the lack of a massive wad of cash. If anything, it makes it work even better.


ROTLD3 concerns a military operation to use a new form of Trioxin to animate the dead and turn them into zombie soldiers. The son of a Colonel and his girlfriend Julie (the awesome Mindy Clarke) discover what's going on (they originally believe that animals are being experimented on and set off to disrupt the operation). In the chaos that ensues, a zombie outbreak kicks off and soon Julie is infected with the Trioxin (by her boyfriend no less – he gives it to her after she is killed in a motorbike accident).

She begins to transform, but amidst the bloody mayhem as zombies begin to attack a nearby town, Julie discovers she is able to hold on to her humanity by causing herself pain. Thus begins her transformation into a horrifically modified half-zombie version of herself, covered in shards of broken glass, nails rammed through her hands, her body pierced and mutilated to the point that she looks like a Cenobite from the Hellraiser movies.


It's a shocking and shockingly effective visual, and she is electrifying once her metamorphosis is complete, becoming almost a zombie superhero as she battles against the undead while fighting off her own cravings for brains. Yuzna's direction makes the most of a decent cast and a tight budget, and Return of the Living Dead 3 leaves the viewer satisfied on many levels. There is plenty of gore to be found, but there's also a compelling story and enough tension and thrills to maintain interest for 90 minutes.

The film's third act is brilliant, and a near-perfect example of low-budget horror moviemaking at its best. Evocative of an era very dear to me, I like to think that it isn't just nostalgia that colours my opinion of this film. I really do think it's one of the greatest zombie movies ever made. Now, I want some braaaaaaiiiiinnnssss.....

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

TRAILER TREASURES: CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST (1979)

Ruggero Deodato's CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST is genuinely one of the most infamous movies of all time, and quite rightly so. Depending on your viewpoint, it's either a very knowing and well-constructed swipe at the media and our attitudes to other cultures, or it's a vile, gory and unsettling exploitation movie with some truly nasty gore. Personally I'd say it's a bit of both.

This trailer is fascinating - while it gives you glimpses of the violence, the gore and the sleaze aspects it also does give you some of the chilling atmosphere of the film thanks to the use of the music, which recurs in the movie. That music, swaying, pleasant and almost romantic, gives the shocking visuals so much more power than they would otherwise have.

So wherever your opinions may lie regarding the film itself, you've gotta admit the trailer has some power. Here it is.



Full review of this notorious video nasty COMING SOON!

Monday, 16 January 2012

GRINDHOUSE TRAILER CLASSICS VOLUME 3

After enjoying the hell out of the first two volumes of this glorious series of DVDs from Nucleus Films, the moment I saw volume 3 had been released, I needed it in my life, even though I was still reeling from the battering my bank balance took over Christmas. Soon it was in my sweaty grasp and I sat down for a third helping of horror, action, martial arts, blaxploitation and sleaze trailers from the heyday of the grimy fleapit cinemas (which I sadly missed out on as I wasn't born until '78).

It's been a fascinating experience watching these DVDs, as not only are they ridiculously enjoyable, they also offer me a glimpse of a scene and an era I never got to experience firsthand (I do, however, remember being aware the Video Nasties controversy was going on in the 80s).

Volume three is a little different to the first two entries in the series, and features far less horror (and far less titles you may have heard of), instead leaning heavier on the sleaze/exploitation side of things. This is all well and good, and is still an interesting look at a bunch of low-budget turkeys, but it does sadly lack the gusto and chaotic glee of the earlier discs. This is understandable, as the first two contained a total of 110 trailers, so it can't be easy finding more material for new editions, especially considering the 72 trailers Nucleus compiled for their Video Nasties: The Definitive Guide box set (I watched disc 2 of that again today – absolutely marvellous).

While there are moments when you do kinda feel the disc is scraping the bottom of the barrel in terms of the trailers included, there are still some brilliant gems in there ('Schizoid'/'Lizard In A Woman's Skin', 'Linda', 'Invasion of the Flesh Eaters/Cannibal Apocalypse', and shockingly tasteless flicks like 'Nazi Love Camp 27' and 'Tarzana- The Wild Woman'), and a lot of fun to be had.

As a devout horror fan, I would have liked to have seen more of the red stuff flying about, but it's a small complaint really, as volume 3 still offers great value for money considering the content on offer. That said, if a fourth volume ever happens, I'd love some more blood and guts amongst the thighs and chests. Extras include a featurette with movie expert Kim Newman, a poster gallery and 28 extra trailers for other releases. A fine hamper of sleazy delights.

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

GRINDHOUSE TRAILER CLASSICS VOLUME 2

I watched this second volume of Grindhouse trailer classics back-to-back with the first volume over Christmas, and I can tell you, my friends, that I had the most awesome dream after doing so. Y'see, after over three hours of demented exploitation, horror, action, sleaze and assorted other insanity that makes up the 55 trailers on offer in each volume, I dreamed I was atop a Mad Max style car, zooming across a post-apocalyptic wasteland, firing a roof-mounted gatling gun at a swarm of marauding alien spaceships. Bliss.

Then I woke up and had to make everyone breakfast, which was a bit of a slam back to reality, really.

This second volume of awesome Grindhouse awesomeness features 55 more inspired chunks of trailer lunacy which are undoubtedly better that the films they advertise. From exploitative romps like The Black Gestapo and Ilsa, The Tigress of Siberia to the nastiness of Snuff and the sleaze of Wanda The Wicked Warden, it's another essential release from Nucleus Films (fast becoming my favourite company alongside Arrow).

While featuring less gore than the first volume, it's still a fascinating disc for any lover of old-school cheapo movies, and I loved every second of it. Lovingly compiled and presented in the best quality possible (considering the limitations of the source material), I cannot possibly recommend this series of DVDs highly enough.

There is no featurette starring Emily Booth this time, however there is a feature with Stephen Thrower, author of Nightmare USA, who talks Grindhouse like the pro that he is. There is no poster gallery in this volume, but hey, the content itself is what matters with these releases, and they are a wonder to behold for geeks like us, folks. Buy them and enjoy every crackly, scratched, mono-audio minute of it. Bliss on a disc.

GRINDHOUSE TRAILER CLASSICS VOLUME 1

Christmas can be a wonderful thing if you've pointed friends and family at your Amazon Wish List, as it means they can't go far wrong with anything they buy from it. I am most grateful this year as my Christmas stash included the first two volumes of Nucleus Films' glorious series of GRINDHOUSE TRAILER CLASSICS on DVD. There's a third volume that has been released, which I'll be snapping up once I've written the reviews of these first two.

Dear reader, these DVDs are brilliant. They are essential. They are insane and glorious and beautifully nasty. This first volume features 55 trailers for films that are largely forgotten in the annals of cinema history, but they provide an incredible snapshot of an era of genre cinema that people like me are fascinated by, and while I was born after the Grindhouse cinema boom, I am still hugely interested in that era.

Those films are low budget masterpieces of awful acting, dubious scripting, lashings of gore and astonishing levels of exploitative sleaze. Stuffed with horror, Blaxploitation, Nazisploitation, action, martial arts, sleaze and enough scratchy film reels to make any old-school cinephile salivate, this first volume of Grindhouse trailer classics is a perfect party disc, a perfect evening's viewing, and a perfect addition to any genre addict's stash.

There is an excellent featurette on this disc entitled 'Bump and Grind', presented by UK scream queen Emily Booth, which is fascinating in itself, along with a gallery of Grindhouse poster art and a Nucleus promo reel. It's from the same people behind the amazing, all-encompassing box set Video Nasties: The Definitive Guide, and you need it in your life.