Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Here Comes the Devil

When I spotted Here Comes the Devil (AKA Ahí va el diablo) was showing as part of the Leeds International Film Festival's horror and genre film strand I was more than a little excited.  Earlier this year it screened to audiences in Austin's Fantastic Fest and to say that it had done well there is something of an understatement: Here Comes picked up awards for best actor, best actress, best screenplay, best director and best picture in the horror category.  There are only two explanations for this: either the other films in competition were hardly strong, or Here Comes is really something quite special.

So of course I had to go and see it. 

Some hours later, I'm still not quite sure what to make of it. It's a solid little film, it ticks a lot the boxes you'd expect and a few you might not, but it doesn't really offer much by way of surprises. I definitely came out grinning, but I don't think it made my jaw drop.

The premise is pretty familiar. Some children disappear and then turn up the next day. Only, when they re-appear they're... different. Cold, unemotional, quiet. I don't think I'm spoiling anything if I tell you there's some supernatural/possession stuff going on. Most of the rest of the film focuses on unravelling the changes that have taken place, whilst Sol and Felix (the parents) struggle to cope with what has happened.

Director Adrían García Bogliano (I'm definitely going to check out more of his films) has explained that he was keen to step away from the slasher/giallo genres that he was comfortable in and embrace the challenge of supernatural horror. It's an interesting challenge, one that wasn't entirely successful but is never dull.  Here Comes has the prints of giallo and slasher all over it: in often seems to reveal too much visually, keeping hold of the mystery but losing a lot of the horror atmosphere in shock scenes.  Similarly, it never quite escapes from the clichés of supernatural horror: the darkened eyes, the creepy man, the local legend, the levitating body - they're all here. At times, this all seems laid on a little too thick.

But these are minor gripes. Genre film is - by its very nature - bound to be somewhat generic. And the collision of giallo, slasher and supernatural is not really a bad thing (although perhaps some of the scenes are too implausible or too obviously gratuitous). It's a fun film. The real problem is that it suffers from what I have termed Stupid People in Horror Syndrome (SPiHP). Some of the characters are just way too dumb. None of them talk to each other, none of them just talk to the police, none of them think about what they're doing. There are only two things you should feel for the sufferers in horror movie: you should either identify with and feel sorry for them, or you should just look forward to them dying. Here Comes does work hard to make you care about its lead characters but my will to see Sol live, as she repeatedly went off alone to do stupid things, was crumbling. Which was a shame.

None of this should detract from the fact that Here Comes is a good fun film to watch. I'm not usually much of a fan of possession-type films but I thoroughly enjoyed this and would definitely call it one of the better modern horror's I've seen recently. A solid, exciting genre flick for sure, although I'm still not sure quite how it won so many awards...

Friday, November 2, 2012


Last night the Leeds International Film Festival kicked off with Argo, which Ben Affleck both directed and starred in.  Now, I don't really pay that much attention to Hollywood projects very often, so I'll admit that I knew almost nothing about it beforehand, even though it's apparently big news.

I was pleasantly surprised. Sort of.

Argo has at least two films in it, and at least one of them is quite good. It dithers a bit between whether it wants to be serious or comic, commits to neither and kind of crosses back and forth somewhat awkwardly.  The opening, in which the (real historical) Iranian hostage situation unfolds suggests the film was keen to take quite an interesting approach, treading quite carefully in what it did. There does seem to be a degree of sympathy towards both the American embassy staff and the rioting Iranians, neither side being explicitly vilified.  The behaviour of the embassy staff, whose first priority when the building is attacked is to shred all their documents, gently suggests that possibly they were doing work that went a little beyond their diplomatic roles.

All this nuance and subtly vanishes, however, almost immediately after the scene is set. From about 20 minutes into the film we revert into classic thriller mode: there are good guys and there are bad guys. The good guys are threatened by the bad guys. The good guys must try to escape. This, in itself isn't really a problem. Argo is billed as a thriller and absolutely delivers on its promise. The film is tense, exciting and well-paced, scenes of life-or-death suspense alternating with gently comic moments. As a thriller it ticks a lot of boxes.

Sadly, having set the scene very firmly in Iran and very explicitly as 'based-on-true-events' story, the humorous-thriller tone of the film is, to my mind, slightly at conflict with the political side of things.  There's no escaping or forgetting the fact that Iran and America are still far from good friends and that the West is decidedly prone to Islamophobia: in Argo it seems that pretty much anyone with a beard (or at least, a beard longer than Affleck's own) is an enemy. From about halfway through it has become very clear that anyone who approaches the heroes who looks even slightly a bit like a Muslim is absolutely bound to be a murderous, brutal agent of the state. Which is a bit of a shame.

Really, they ought to have pushed it one way or the other. This could have been a good, serious (though possibly rather weighty) look at relations between Iran and the US or it could have been a kick-ass entertaining thriller with no need to be grounded in the real East-West conflict that it patently doesn't really care about. Instead, it staggers between the two, reassuring audiences that America are the good guys, Iranians (real: anyone vaguely middle-eastern) are the bad guys and the US will surely triumph.

For all that, it is still quite a lot of fun.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Halloween Bloodbath

It seems like I haven't really had enough horror films featured on Chopping Mall lately. Which is a shame: horror films are really what this blog is all about. Even the name comes from a horror film. Perhaps there's no better time than Halloween to catch up on some splatters, slashers and spooks. So here is Chopping Mall's extra special Halloween Bloodbath Horror Film review! Here we go....


Now this was really quite something. It's a while since I've watched anything that screamed 80s any louder than this. In fact, I'm not sure I've ever seen anything more 80s. This is a film set in an aerobics class, with pumping disco music throughout, enormous haircuts, occasional moustaches and lots of lycra. This could almost be a museum piece: look at what people wore in those days!

Once you get over the disco beat, though, this is pretty standard slasher fare. The film is set in and around Rhonda's Gymnasium. Sadly, Rhonda's place seems to be plagued by murders. A woman is stabbed in the shower. Things go bump in the night. Etc. We get the usual crew: a slightly creepy police man who could be capable of murder; a slightly creepy strapping-handsome-gym-beefcake who could be capable of murder; some ditsy ladies who clearly aren't capable of very much apart from aerobic and squealing; Rhonda and a creepy lecherous idiot guy who we're clearly supposed to suspect as the murderer but patently isn't.

It's not really very much fun.  The gore is disappointingly minimal - although the stabbing in the shower isn't bad - the fight scenes are hilariously awful (complete with video-game-esque THWACK sounds), the acting isn't much better and the plot is nothing if not predictable. But perhaps I'm being too hard on this one: it's not without it's charm.  I'd imagine that after a few beers, or just put on as background noise, this wouldn't be so bad.

Bikini Girls on Ice

I saw this listed as one of those "so bad you will not believe your eyes" titles and ...oh boy... it certainly was. BGoI is clearly one of the many victims of the "good name - crap film" syndrome that plagues modern B-movies (See Mega Shark vs Giant Octopus.  Or, rather, don't).  But how could this be? How could you go wrong with a title like Bikini Girls on Ice? What kind of idiot would you have to be to screw that up.

Sadly, screw it up they did. BGoI - which is sadly not about ice-skating women - follows a handful of women who, whilst on their (apparently very long) way to a bikini-car-wash fundraiser, break down at an abandoned garage. Blah, blah, the usual business. There is, of course, some murderous psychopath lurking in said abandoned garage who picks off the stranded visitors one by one. At first they assume that the missing people have just wandered off but, once they've found some body parts, they realise they're living through a nightmare. Blah blah blah.

Seriously. This was astonishingly dull. Not only did it have absolutely no sense of tension or surprise (you absolutely knew what was going to happen ages before it did) but they completely forgot to create a convincing explanation for why the killer was killing! It's not even like I have high standards - the eventual motive in Aerobicide is rubbish - but I do expect at least a gesture at a decent motive.  That's really what a slasher is all about: without an explanation of the killer's motive, a slasher becomes just a string of pointless death scenes. To get away with that, you'd have to at least make those death scenes really spectacular. Sadly, these ones aren't. 

Ultimately, Bikini Girls on Ice makes 80minutes feel like a very long time and gives little by way of entertainment.


Aaaand finally: here's something to really get excited about. Killdozer, also blessed with a brilliant name, manages to live up to it.  I would call this a by-numbers killer-vehicle-terrorising-everyone flick, but I'm not sure there even is a by-numbers layout for this ...er... niche genre.

There's surprisingly little to say about it: conveniently cut-off from the rest of the world on an island in the middle of god-knows-where, a small team of basically unlikeable construction workers find themselves unexpectedly terrorised by one of their own bulldozers. Most of the film follows the machine picking them off one-by-one until they really begin to get it together and fight back.

It's absolutely as silly as it sounds. What sets it apart from disappointing modern killer-object movies (like Rubber) is that they play it absolutely dead straight. There isn't even a hint of smug, self-aware laughter here. They must have been sniggering on set but none of it carries into the film. If only more silly horror would take itself so seriously. Great fun.

Phew. All done. Let's go and watch Beetle Juice now?

Leeds International Film Festival

This week sees the return of the UK's biggest film festival outside of London! Hurrah! I've enjoyed lots of pretty great films at LIFF over the last couple of years (and have regularly promised far more reviews than I've actually written), so I'm looking forward to some more.

This year I'm lucky enough to be doing some work there - which sadly means I won't get to see half as many films as in previous years (booo!). So I'm going to preview a few I'm looking forward to (and might actually get to see) here.  Over the next couple of weeks I also plan on watching a handful of the festival films I can get my hands on and putting them up here. Obviously these will mostly be the older one - I'm not likely to find a DVD copy of Russian zombie flick Meteletsa, which is getting it's world premiere here in Leeds - but there should be a few interesting things to watch. My very own festival outside the festival.

In terms of things to look forward to, though, I'm spoilt for choice.  The most alluring horror treat, to my mind, is the sinister looking Mexican flick, Here Comes The Devil (Ahi va el diablo), which swept the horror awards at the last Fantastic Fest. I might actually get to see this one and am already pretty excited.  There's a decent spread of homegrown horror too: Heretic and Before Dawn both look particularly exciting. The latter is a straight-faced zombie movie - something all too-rare since Shaun of the Dead.  Whether either of them can possibly match last-year's glorious bloodbath of nastiness, Inbred, remains to be seen...

In terms of classics, there's Django, The Shining, King Kong vs. Godzilla AND Return of the Living Dead. All on a big screen! Coo! Sadly, I think I'll miss all of them. I might get to see Matango: Fungus of Terror though, which should probably make up for it somewhat.

Actual film reviews coming soon. Expect Belgian wheelchair-bound comedies and Canadian SciFi oddities amongst other things.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

More Bond: Double bill DaF & L&LD

Diamonds Are Forever

After the disappointment of On Her Majesty's..., I expect everyone was as glad as me to see Sean Connery resuming Bond duties, taking the role back from Lazenby for one last Bond film.  I had hazy memories of Diamonds Are Forever being - as well as one of the better titled Bonds - one that I'd particularly enjoyed. Sadly, it seems I was getting my Bond films confused: DaF is a pretty dull outing, really.

I'll give the creators some credit: the henchmen are pretty creepy. Mr Kidd and Mr. Wint march around killing off a variety of implausibly trusting truck drivers and smugglers.  It's more than can be said for Blofeld, though, who makes a fairly pathetic villain here. There's none of the mastermind threat that he had in earlier films: it seems that in each appearance he moves another step towards Dr Evil...

Most of all it isn't that DaF is bad in any real sense (at least no more bad than other Bonds) but that it's not a lot of fun.  Bond just isn't serious or important enough to get away with being boring. Even the quiet bits are supposed to be fun. Lurching between explosions, fights, car-chases, innuendo-laden chitchat and sex scenes Bond films are supposed to rattle along at a pretty relentless pace. Sadly DaF is just a little too slow. The climactic show-down just sees Bond gently bashing Blofeld's submarine against a wall... Even Lazenby had a helicopter-attack-on-mountain-fortress payoff! This one's just too tame. And not even Shirley Bassey can rescue it from that.

Live and Let Die 

L&LD can be accused of many things but it's certainly not boring. It's almost as if, face with reinventing Bond in a Roger Moore shape, the producers just decided to throw all sorts of fun at the film and see what stuck. 

It obviously cashes in heavily on the then-popular blaxploitation trend (just two years after Shaft!).  Too those unfamiliar with those films it might seem more racist than er... anything else: Bond has left genealogists in stuffy British boardrooms behind and is now traipsing through Harlem (and sticking out like a sore thumb).  For a large part of the film it does seem worryingly like every single Black character might well be a baddie, which does get a little awkward. Eventually the goodie-baddie balance is restored somewhat so it's definitely not racist, no, not at all, never. Hmm...

Either way, it's a hell of a lot of fun. They just ramped everything up a bit. We have poisonous snakes, revolving walls, super-gadgets, speedboat chases, comic characters.  This is perhaps the first Bond film that feels really self-referential - it verges on the edge of pastiche at times - but for the most part it carries it well, staying just the right side of the line.

The 'comic' sheriff was a mistake though: a Southern States, gum-chewing, noisy, moron character played for laughs, it's hard not to wince at each appearence he makes. Mercifully, his role is only brief, and it is intercut with the pretty-awesome speedboat chase.  The producers made no such mistake with the villains though: claw-handed henchman Tee-Hee, snake-wielding face-painted Baron Samedi and the mastermind-villain-who-relies-on-Tarot-cards Kananga make a pretty formidable bad-guy line-up.  Even if they do repeatedly fall for the classic mistake of explaining their entire plan first and then leaving Bond to die and looking away as he escapes.... But we can't all be perfect.

L&LD ushers in the Moore era which, if I remember rightly, brings with it a fair number of pretty awful films but, in itself, is a pretty mad and fun Bond movie.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012


Ah, 1970s Italian films. There's really nothing like them. I'm not nearly well versed enough in cinema history to know what it was that fuelled the explosion of fabulous Italian cinema in the late 60s and 70s but I'm glad it happened. From Spaghetti Westerns to supernatural slashers, a number of my favourite films, directors and film scores come from the era.  

More often than not, these films get unfairly dismissed or overlooked.  With large multi-lingual casts speaking whichever language came naturally to them and then being dubbed for release, cheap sets and often clumsy dialogue, a lot of modern film fans sadly mistake these for bad films. They're not.  With the exception of a few well-known greats - like Sergio Leone and Ennio Morricone - most of the star-players of Italian cinema seem to be restricted to only cult appreciation. It's a shame because so many of these films are beautifully shot and scored, and ought to be better known.

Torso, today's film, is a giallo flick from Sergio Martino. Like so many of the genre, a number of artsy, rich, female American students meet their end at the hands of a sadistic sexually driven killer (the Italian title translates as The Bodies Presented Traces of Carnal Violence...).  Of course, the aim is to catch the killer but you can never really ignore the obvious glee the film takes in punishing these confident, promiscuous women. Besides the obvious sexism - which these films held in common with most other films of the era - the Italian cinema cycles are so confusingly anti-American. Just as the Spaghetti Western took a classic American good-versus-bad narrative and turned most of the Americans into greedy, cold-blooded murderers, mercenaries and cowards, Giallo films are obsessed with Americans but brutal towards them too.   Here, the Italian art professor registers his surprise that his student, "a product of American technology", could possibly have real feelings for art. He suggests that perhaps her real reason for being in Perugia is to "buy the coliseum".  The irony of these films' resistance to American capitalism being delivered side-by-side with English dubbed dialogue for sale to foreign markets is apparently lost on the film-makers...

Anyway, in Torso we have a bunch of art students being picked of by a killer. It's not really the plot or the mystery that holds the attention here so much as the tension and drama surrounding the murders.  The first death, early in the story, is a masterpiece of suspense. A couple have sped off from class to a deserted spot to have sex in their bright-red mini (it is the 70s...). The camera lurks in the bushes, creeping around the car for a better view, making the viewer just as sleazy a voyeur as the masked man whose viewpoint we are seeing.  Expendable Boyfriend #1 spots the masked man and charges out of the car and into the undergrowth in pursuit.  We're left alone with Flo in the car, the camera still lurching uneasily, as plucked strings warn of what's to come. You know she's going to die. But that's not the point.  Even though it's predictable as can be, with plenty of the those moments where you just want to scream "NO, no, no, stay in the car!", at the hapless soon-to-be-victim, the real art of the seen is in the buildup to the inevitable.  The strings get more insistent. Someone in the orchestra has found a drum and begins gently tapping it. The camera lurches more awkwardly. We see a flash of leather gloves, a movement in the bushes, a peeping figure round the wall. Suddenly it's all crescendo and murder.

Throughout, the score and cinematography are what really drive this film.  Even in moments of calm the camera has a tendency to creep around obstacles in a disarming manner.  As with more famous examples, such as Argento's Proffondo Rosso / Deep Red, a certain amount of the mystery revolves around seeing: mistakes, confusion and half-glimpsed actions lead detectives and characters astray and the viewer becomes a part of the voyeurism that drives the story. The camera shoots from face to face, watching people watching. The score is similarly impressive: silence is used to good effect, and the absence of music is often as tension-building as the music itself. When the music does kick in, little recurring patterns foreshadow moments of violence and build towards violent, noisy bursts. Guido and Marizio de Angelis did a very good job here.

Torso is not the giallo I'd suggest for anyone's first taste of the genre - probably some Argento would be as good a start as any - but it's a decent film. However much the dialogue and plot may be somewhat clumsy, there's a lot of style and tension in it that is all too often missing from modern films.

Monday, September 17, 2012


The weekend of the 8th & 9th of September saw the launch of Leeds' first DIY and experimental film festival No/Gloss. As a big fan of film festivals with half-an-eye on experimental film this was pretty exciting. I was only able to attend for one of the two days but I had a great time there.

Keeping with the DIY aesthetic, the organisers held it in Wharf Chambers - a co-operatively run Arts-space near(ish) to the Corn Exchange, Leeds. This meant that festival goers could take advantage of the Sam Smiths beer on offer as well as some pretty tasty vegan food. A crowd of film-fans had descended like hungry-wolves on the black-bean paté sandwhiches (would hungry wolves eat black bean paté? Not so sure...) but I can vouch for the herb tofu. Great stuff.

The set-up in place at the main screen saw films being shown in three sessions with short breaks between each batch of films. There was a second screen as well, with a long list of shorts that were on a rolling playlist.  Sadly, this screen got a bit lost amid the bar, food-counter and conversation of the main room so I didn't really see very much that was shown on it. But the glimpses I caught did seem interesting.

I'll write a separate post to review some of the films over the next couple of days, so for now I'll content myself with saying that the films were varied and interesting.  The speed which the schedule see-sawed between funny and depressing did seem a little awkward - finished watching a gritty investigation on homelessness in Manchester? Here's something funny! - but perhaps that served to emphasise the sheer variety. I'll put a couple of my favourites at the end.

All in all, NO/GLOSS was a triumph (from the point of view of a punter, at least). And I sincerely hope we'll see future instalments of this welcome addition to Leeds' busy cultural calendar.

Some of the best shorts:

Probably my absolute favourite. Bottle by Kirsten Lepore. One of those films that reminds you what fabulous things you can do with a little patience and a whole lot of imagination. A lovely film.

Post Fracas by Xander Robbin is a completely bonkers look at the feelings experienced by a family after being humiliated on a TV-gameshow. A lot of fun

POST FRACAS from Xander Robin on Vimeo.

Surface ii by Sam Spreckley is a beautiful abstract piece. Mesmerising.

Surface ii from sam spreckley on Vimeo.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

On Her Majesty's Secret Service

In my last post on a James Bond film, You Only Live Twice, I admitted that the James Bond project was moving along somewhat slowly.  Inwardly, I promised myself that I'd speed it up a bit, crack through a few more films and get on with it.  But then I looked at the next film on the list: On Her Majesty's Secret Service. Oh dear.

OHMSS is a film I'd only seen once. It has a reputation as a low-point of the Bond series: people can argue forever about who their favourite Bond is but none of them ever say George Lazenby. Ever.   More than that, it's one of the very few Bond films that, after watching it, I never felt the need to return to again. But that was years ago. Surely my memory was deceiving me? Surely it wasn't that bad?

It was.

Well... maybe not entirely as bad as I remembered. Just mostly as bad.  There are a few decent moments and sequences in it but, for the most part, this is a pretty dull film. First off, it's slow. Bond films usually move along at a fairly brisk pace - conversation, fight, conversation, fight, etc. etc - but OHMSS just crawls along. Although the plot itself is no better or worse than most other Bond films - Blofeld + world domination + mind control - it just takes forever to actually get exciting.  When it does pick up, the film's actually not bad. The final, say, 20 minutes are pretty pacey. We have a bobsled-run chase/fight, some decent explosions and good gunfights. It's just such a shame it took so long to get there!

There's basically two ways of looking at OHMSS: if you treat it as a Bond film, it's a disappointment. The tone's all wrong, Lazenby isn't a great Bond and Telly Savalas is a rubbish Blofeld. On the other hand, if treated as a generic spy/action flick it's pretty decent. The [spoilers!] grim ending is so very out of place amongst Bond films: usually marooned in the sea/jungle/desert cosying up to a beautiful woman, Lazenby's Bond is left biting back tears, sat next to his dead wife. It's not a bad ending - but it's not Bond.

Still, OHMSS was slightly-less-bad than I had expected, which is pretty much all I was hoping for. Hello and goodbye Mr Lazenby. Next time it's back to Connery...

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

[REC]3 Génesis

I arrived at this film with high hopes. The first [REC] is a film I absolutely love. Studying Spanish and being mad-keen on zombie films, it seemed almost too good to be true that one of the twenty-first century's best zombie films was filmed by two Spanish directors in an appartment block in Barcelona. It's a powerful, scary zombie film (that staircase death!) that managed to breath new life into both the zombie and the found-footage genres. Impressive stuff.

The second in the series was by no means as good but it was still streets ahead of most of the competition. Balaguero and Plaza played around with the restrictions of the found-footage film, spiced up the zombies with a bit more religion (not to everyone's taste) and spent their obviously increased budget on quantities of guns and gore. More impressive stuff.

Coming to the third instalment, then, my hopes were high. Almost worryingly high.  I'm pretty sure that at some point Balaguero and Plaza had said they intended to stop after the second but, given its commercial success, rights-holders Filmmax said they'd continue with other directors in that case (I might have imagined this. But I think it happened). Whatever the details of the scenario, B+P did sign up to do more [REC] films but planned two more, of which they would direct one each, rather than co-directing as before. [REC]3 is Plaza's segment. It takes place, as far as I can tell, at roughly the same time as the first film. What seemed like an isolated outbreak clearly wasn't...

It opens in the now-familiar shaky-camera style. We're at the wedding of Koldo and Clara. As the family and friends move on to the reception, however, it emerges that the Uncle's dog-bite may be infected. Badly. Coughing blood and staggering, there are no prizes for guessing what happens next. It is, essentially, all fairly predictable. We're ushered into a secure location (country house), introduced to the characters/victims (wedding guests) and then a zombie is thrown into the mix and all hell breaks loose.

That said, [REC]3 handles it all pretty well. The country house makes a refreshing change from the apartment block of before, the characters are (mostly) intelligent and likeable and, most crucially of all, the gore is good. Some cruel, splattery deaths are dealt to zombies and humans alike, characters are killed off, heads and limbs are hacked at. It's gleeful, bloody stuff (which is exactly what we want, right?)

It's certainly not as innovative or as well-crafted as the first film, I'll accept that, but I'd say that it gave [REC]2 a pretty close run. [REC]3 is a well-made, straight-faced, zombie-movie. And I enjoyed it a lot.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Suspiria in a Swimming Pool

The Russian synchronised swimmers just did their routine to Goblin's creepy and wonderful score to Dario Argento's Suspiria!

(video via AVClub)