Friday, November 19, 2010


[as these films were all seen on cinema screens rather than DVD, screenshots are much harder to include. I'll stick to poster/cover images and trailers where possible]

One of my first films of the festival was the Chilean film-cum-documentary Huacho. I describe it as such because, the film is so very 'real-life' as to feel as if we are watching the reality of their existence - an idea only supported by the cast only being credited with a single name.

The basic premise of Huacho is that we enter into the world of one poor Chilean family, living in very rural setting, as they struggle on through their lives. The film takes place over the course of a day; the opening scene is breakfast; the closing scene is the family all heading off to bed. Between these scenes we follow each member of the family in turn.

It's a decidedly minimal venture in film making. There are scarcely any named characters outside of the central family and we're shown them in happiness and in sadness. What's crucial to the film - and what makes it so interesting - is apparent lack of agenda. Although their lives are certainly difficult and you could easily read all sorts of criticisms into it (rural-urban poverty gap etc) there is no escaping from the fact that, at the end of the day, each of them is smiling. This might not sound much, but in a film quite as subtle as this it certainly is. We are invited into their lives to see how they cope with a normal day; there is no heavy handed, dramatic plot-line that, by a stroke of luck, sees them all become rich and famous. Nor, to the other extreme, are we lead to believe that their existence is impossible or too miserable to cope with. Rather than either of these false creations, we see how people simply get on with life, even if it is hard.

Huacho is an incredibly sensitive film which takes us on a journey through lives we would otherwise not see and, thankfully, never uses them to make a point or send a message. It's not a thrilling watch but it's definitely worthwhile.

The only trailer I found is only in Spanish but it does give a sense of the film:

Some time later...

Ok, ok, it's been a while. This blog hasn't been updated in faaaar too long.

Not to worry though. Half of the reason for this is that, in volunteering at the Leeds International Film Festival (the UK's biggest outside London, apparently), I've been way too busy watching films towrite much about them!

So, coming very, very soon will be reviews of every single film I've seen as part of the festival. Let's go! Dr Strangelove, Huacho, A Town Called Panic and many many more to come!

Starts tomorrow, stay tuned!

Monday, October 4, 2010

The Idiots


I've not seen a lot of Lars Von Trier's films (Antichrist, *shudder*) and generally know more about him from interviews and reviews than from his films. What I do know, however, is that clear meanings and easy answers tend not to be big in his films. The Idiots is a perfect case-in-point and, whilst I would never say I want a director to be heavy handed, to spell things out in an overly laboured manner, I do sometimes, just sometimes think that, when you finish a film and think, "uh..... what?", the director has actually failed slightly.

The basic set-up here is that we follow Karen and her time with 'The Idiots' who are a bunch of white, middle-class hippies in Denmark who are living together peacefully enough in a commune (well, Stoffer's uncle's house) and get their kicks by prancing around in public pretending to be mentally retarded. They call this 'spazzing'.

Now sure, top marks for potentially offensive material but this is nothing unique in itself. In fact (and yes, I realise it's actually a later example) the League of Gentlemen springs to mind as a comparison (Legz Akimbo theatre group have a day pretending to be disabled). The difference however is that whilst the League of Gentlemen's characters are awful, horrible people who you watch whilst peeping through your fingers, unsure whether to laugh or cry, the characters of The Idiots by contrast are sympathetic, funny and friendly (for the most part). They have a good time "spazzing" and then go home to laugh about it.

Ah, ok then. So if we're not groaning at the characters' sheer insensitivity we must be laughing at their targets, right? After all, this is a projected social-attack. They pretend to be retarded to draw responses from the people in society, to demonstrate how poorly most people know how to react or engage with the mentally handicapped, right? This is about sticking it to the man!

Hardly. Although lead Idiot, Stoffer, firmly believes they are challenging societies values, von Trier goes out of his way to make it clear they are a long way from that. Most of the people we see reacting to the Idiots are a little awkward, sure, but generally pretty nice. If anything, Stoffer must have been fuming and just how accepting their victims were. In an excruciating scene in which Stoffer dumps his pretend-idiot friend in the hands of a group of Hell's Angels and scarpers, the director shows us extreme and selfless kindness on the part of the bikers; it becomes clearer and clearer that the cold, unsympathetic, economy-lead society that the Idiots are kicking against are simply all too accepting.

So what is the point? Well that's less clear.

Let's turn briefly to the more simple goods and bads: the acting is simply fantastic. You don't have to understand, agree or approve of a film to notice the acting and, whatever you think of the Idiots, there is no doubt that von Trier was working with a fabulous team of actors; they're just so credible it's er... incredible (!). Similarly the (wonderfully unconventional) sex-scene is simply brilliant, jaw-dropping and unforgettable. I don't want to say too much and spoil it but let's say it involves lots of people and a bit of running around the garden...

Where the film falls down however are the unexplained or implausible points. For such a well acted film, the occasional structural hole is just irritating. For one, much of the film is shot as a documentary. We have interviews with the Idiots looking back at being Idiots yet the story has no real close. This is simply irritating (and very similar to the drifting approach to documentary that plagued District 9) as it makes no sense; if we can talk to the characters afterwards it doesn't follow that we leave the story and such an undecided ending. There are certain characters missing from the interviews - why? what happened to them? why doesn't anyone finish their story? This is not ambiguity; this is a set of lazily loose ends that go nowhere.


My major problem with it though is, when all is said and done, not a very major problem. It only sticks out so much because it is the last scene in the film, from which we fade to black and so it obviously hangs around in the memory. In it, we see Karen go home to her family and pretend to be an Idiot there. It turns out that she actually joined the Idiots the day before the funeral of her child and had been hiding from the reality of it ever since. Ok. So a woman disappears the day before her child's funeral? What do you do? "We thought you were dead" says Karen's sister... so why wasn't there a police hunt for her? Since when did almost-certainly-depressed women vanishing before a very depressing funeral get shrugged off with a "oh she's probably just dead"? Seriously? I totally understand that part of the point was the uncaring, heartlessness of her family but you still don't just presume someone's dead and do nothing about it. Even more impressively, her piggish brute of a husband jumps to the staggeringly illogical conclusion that, seeing as she is, in fact, alive, her disappearance for two weeks from the funeral and her family demonstrates that she "didn't care about it very much". If this were a less realist film, if the characters and reactions were all so implausible I might let this slide as but in this context it just sticks out as patently unrealistic and silly. No-one could come to the conclusions her family and husband come to.

If that seems like a bit of a rant over a comparatively minor point, well, it is. But it's a point that did irritate me and certainly lessened my enjoyment of the film. Generally, however, it's an enthralling, interesting and funny film which is definitely worth watching. You do feel slightly uncomfortable afterwards when you realise that, without any clear message, your enjoyment of the film is derived mostly from watching people pretend to be retarded but... perhaps that guilt is the point?

[no screenshots, sorry]

Thursday, September 16, 2010

2LDK - Stop pushing boundaries!

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Let's look at modern films. With a few notable exceptions, cinema seems hellbent on the bizarre (and frankly WRONG) notion that more = better. From Lord of the Rings (MOAR FIGHTING PEOPLE!), to Avatar (MOAR DIMENSIONS!, MOAR MONEY), to Inception (MOAR LAYERS OF REALITY!) there is a definite trend towards the idea of giving you "more bang for your buck". As cinema prices skyrocket, some bright spark seems to have formulated an idea:

If we throw millions of characters, a mountain of subplots and the biggest special effects ever made at the audience, all spread across roughly 3 hours, then they can't possibly leave the cinema disappointed and wanting their money back.

Can they?

Well yes. They can. Every time I leave the cinema with a numb rear-end from 3hrs in a seat, having just watched special effects equivalent to the GDP of a small country I feel slightly hollow inside. Modern blockbusters tend to be simply too sprawling, too epic, too mammoth. They need to be cut down to size. Even Inglourious Basterds (my favourite of last year) clocked in at 3hrs or so and would've benefitted from being much shorter. Tarrantino had talked about having enough material to make several films; he should've done just that, rather than bashing them together into a film which (although wonderful) was simply too much.

So imagine my delight when I stumbled upon this:
The Duel Project was a challenge issued to Ryuhei Kitamura and Yukihiko Tsutsumi by producer Shinya Kawai during a night of drinking. The challenge was for the two directors to see who could make the best feature film with two principal actors/actresses battling in one principal location in the time span of one week.

Quote from wikipedia.

So... hardly any characters, a single location and an incredibly tight schedule? Fantastic. This is the kind of back to basics approach that cinema needs.

To date, I have only seen 2LDK, Tsutsumi's half of the project. It clocks in at about 70 minutes. It has only two speaking characters. It's entirely set in one flat (2LDK is a Japanese term to describe a 2 bedroom shared apartment). It's fast, funny, witty, brutal and violent in equal measures.

The two characters are rival actresses, competing for the same role and discussing their chances. The two very different people begin to needle each other, moving from gentle jibes to cutting remarks and finally escalating to full-on fighting. It's fantastic. There's not a single dull moment as the tension is slowly cranked up from a relatively mundane beginning until the outbreak of violence is almost a relief.

I clearly wouldn't want every film to follow this pattern (though I'm certainly anxious to see the other half of the Duel Project) but it is very refreshing to be shown what can be done with so little. Hollywood terms would have us believe that "low budget" meant only "crappy horror" (no bad thing!) or "over-earnest indie dirge" (which is all too often true!). 2LDK is a timely reminder that there is a lot more to a film than the MOAR IS BETTER fallacy that blockbuster cinema perpetuates.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Driller Killer (or "The Trouble With a Reputation")

Abel Ferrara's Driller Killer is a film far better known for its reputation than for its content. For those that don't know, the film is a slasher flick from the US in 1979 and gained it's level of notoriety in Britain in the early 1980s when it was included in the Director of Public Prosecutions list of films to be charged under obscenity laws. This list became known as the "video nasties" and would eventually prompt the creation of the UK's Video Recording Act 1984, a piece of law that, for the first time, meant it was a legal requirement to have any video sold in the UK approved by the BBFC (the UK film regulatory office).

Driller Killer, available unrated on VHS at the time was promptly banned. It was not approved for release by the BBFC until 1999, some 15 years later.

All this excitement does, of course, make it a 'must-watch' for any self-respecting lover of trashy, gorey, sleazy cinema. Sadly, the film itself isn't very good. And let's be honest: my standards are pretty damn low!

Let's start with some plot; Reno is a struggling artist living in New York. He does some moderately good paintings and gets the occaisonal comission but is having some difficulty making ends meet and paying the rent is becoming a pressing issue. And then blah blah blah stuff happens and he turns into a psycho with a drill. It's hardly riveting stuff.

But we weren't watching it for the plot were we? We were watching it for the DRILLING! The KILLING! The depraved mess that saw it banned for 15 years from shops in the UK. As might be expected, time has not treated this shock factor well; we see more and bloodier films all the time, a slope that leads Abel Ferrara's sick and twisted video nasty looking like a film we might catch on evening television. Yeah there're a couple of fairly powerful scenes (I'm thinking the drill in the tramps forehead...) but it's hardly the stuff nightmares are made of and it's hard to imagine it having a corrupting effect on anyone really - video nasties were blamed for violence in the 80s as much as violent computer games are today.

The most damning thing you can say about this film is that, far from being especially good or bad, far from being impressively depraved or tame, this is really quite middle-of-the-road. I wanted to love it, I wanted it to live up to its reputation but I came away feeling vaguely disappointed.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Stonehenge Apocalypse: What's the disaster genre about?


There's something so captivating about the end of the world. Pretty much ever since someone thought "hey, who needs a plot when I have special effects?", the apocalyptic disaster has been a mainstay of the cinema world. It's pretty much the ultimate one-upmanship in cinematic disaster terms (speaking on a terrestrial level at least). Why blow up a car when you could blow up a house? Why blow up a house when you could blow up a whole street? Why blow up a whole street when you could... And so on and so forth until someone says: "Let's destroy the whole damn WORLD!". And everyone high-fives him/her for their brilliant idea and they all go down the pub to have a drink and to bask in how awesome they are.

At least that's how I imagine the boardroom discussions that precede a disaster movie.

From H.G.Wells' War of the Worlds through to last year's 2012, the disaster movie has a pedigree of at least 60 years. It's risen and fallen in popularity over that time but, for a genre in which special effects play at least as large a part as characterisation, plot or any of that "traditional" stuff, as special effects improve the genre will find new heights. Or... it'll find bigger and better explosions at the very least.

On the flip-side to this, though, is the fact that - as trashy low-content, low-brainpower movies, they fall squarely into the b-movie half of our (conceptual) cinematic Venn-diagram. As everyone know, B-movies and big-budgets do not exactly go hand in hand. This can spell awkward difficulties for the disaster movie, the very definition of a "the-more-cash-the-better(bigger)" genre.

So who will rise to the challenge and step up and create the low-budget disaster flick? Well... just about everyone in fact. There's heaps of them. Puzzlingly, for a type of film whose continued existence is only validated by special-effects improvements, everyone seems to take a gleeful pride in churning out disaster movies with craptastic effects. Perhaps they're confident that their obvious enthusiasm will override any technical issues. Perhaps even more surprisingly, this mostly seems to be true.

The film that sparked this post was the SyFy channel's very own Stonehenge Apocalypse. There are certain things you expect from a SyFy original: bad acting, crap CG effects, a silly idea and 90 minutes of good, solid FUN. Stonehenge Apocalypse takes these values very much to heart and delivers each in spadefuls.

The basic plot-line is that all the world's ancient monuments are connected by lay-lines (or something like that) and channel electro-magnetic fequencies all over the place. When Stonehenge moves and starts to vapourise people (yes!), the world begins to get worried; the British scientists want to study it, the British military want to nuke it and only the once-superstar-but-now-discredited physicist from Maine can offer an explanation. Except of course no-one listens to him because he's waving around a device that looks like a portable tv and babbling about undiscovered ancient civilisations.

This film has quite literally everything you could ask for: Agressive ancient monuments, over-zealous military, a cult, gunfights, a lone hero who sees things clearly. And they blow stuff up too! I shan't give away too much about which places get blown up (though would it really matter if I did?) except for the Pyramids (which I just HAD to include a picture of) and um,.. the ENTIRETY OF INDONESIA. We don't really see Indonesia explode, but it's passed off with a bit of a shrug; "oh yeah, Indonesia just exploded".

So thank you SyFy channel; thank you for reminding me that actually I was wrong. THe disaster movie is not about the quality of the effects, not at all. The disaster movie is about blowing stuff up and having a lot of fun. Stonehenge Apocalypse ticked both those boxes.

A few of my favourite shots now:


And a COmputer-Generated Plane! Wow!

Seriously, this film is brilliant. Go watch SYFY NOW! (Sky 129 in the UK)

Please remember to check out our new sister blog Cult Collage!

Friday, July 16, 2010

Poster Hunt #11 - Nightfall (and New Blog! New Blog!)

First up, here's a Poster Hunt for July.

Here are a couple of posters for Jaques Tourneur's Nightfall (IMDb) from 1957, starring Aldo Ray, Brian Keith and Anne Bancroft. I don't write much about the films for these Poster Hunt posts (as I select them for artwork rather than the film - most of them I haven't seen), so if you do want to know more about the film I'll direct you to this comprehensive blog post at Noir of the Week.

Every day for five years? That's quite a claim!


Secondly, I'd like to introduce you to Chopping Mall's edit: SHORT-LIVED, NOW DEFUNCT) new sister blog, Cult Collage. The focus of this one will be mostly pictures (although music might feature occasionally too) and it'll pick up on interesting film and non-film related ephemera. It's pretty difficult to describe what I intend it to be; I think a collection of interesting images sums it up best, with a leaning towards pulp-art.

Currently it only has the 11 Poster Hunt pages from this blog but it'll be updated often (far more often than this one) with other interesting posters, leaflets and ephemera.

So head over to:

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Sherlock Holmes or Have The Asylum Upped Their Game?

[Screenshots and pictures coming soon]

Nowadays, with golden age of the b-movie so far behind us, with double screenings a rarity and everyone so enthralled to the big-budget CGI of Hollywood, the b-movie has become a self-conscious postmodern creation. No longer does it just happen to be bad, trashy, sleazy or cheesy; the b-movie style is actively sought, a nostalgic re-creation of the kind of films that were once so important and are now generally obsolete.

There seems to be three different directions that the modern b-movie goes, with all of them falling somewhere within this triangle of styles/intentions. At one extreme we have the indulgent nostalgia of films like Planet Terror, Death Proof etc; these are big-budget films made by big-name stars - their link the b-movies is through being a loving recreation of the tropes and cliches of this kind of cinema - we get girls on bikes, exploding heads, senseless killing and big guns.

Another extreme is the ironically crappy film; though they might not have started out intending to be such a thing, Troma Films have become the standard-bearers of this variety of b-movie. They're awful films. We know they're awful, they know they're awful, but they clearly have such fun making them and throw everything they can at making them silly fun to watch (the recurring continuity-smashing car crash has become an incredible in-joke) that we can forgive them an awful lot. They're certainly not to everyone's taste but you can't doubt their love for what they do for an instant; Lloyd Kaufman's passion and constant championing of independent craptastic cinema is astounding.

Now we come to the third point of the triangle and it's by far the least interesting; b-movies churned out for cash. Of course, that's what a b-movie always was, although by now it's so far removed from creativity and any pretensions of art that it tends to be very dull. As much as Troma represented the previous point, this one belongs primarily to The Asylum (although Video Brinqueado have a fair claim to make for this title too...). Asylum films tend to me send-ups or rip-offs (depending on your point of view) of major budget Hollywood productions. From Transmorphers through Alien Versus Hunter to Sunday School Musical. Whilst some of these might sound funny, that's exactly the point; Asylum's creativity rarely extends beyond a humourous title. These films are cheaply made, imagination-less cash-ins, trading on selling cheap films with funny titles that no-one will enjoy. Death Racers their rip-off of the Hollywood remake of Death Race 2000 that starred the Insane Clown Posse was impossibly awful; not bad in a so-bad-it's-good way but in a please-god-rip-out-my-eyeballs way.

Of late, however, Asylum seem to have upped their game somewhat. First came last year's Mega Shark vs Giant Octopus which - as well as not actually being a direct rip-off of anything - was actually, as far as Asylum films go, pretty damn good. So much so that it generated enough internet hype to earn it a limited cinema release and the director a handful of interviews in film magazines and broadsheet newspapers. I watched it, I enjoyed it but I noted it down as a one-off fluke for the Asylum and didn't get my hopes up for more.


I have just finished watching Sherlock Holmes (NOT the Guy Ritchie version, but the Asylum's) and... though I find it hard to admit, it was really quite good.

We have lesser-known but not unknown actors, a good fun story and... DINOSAURS.

The dark of Victorian London fortunately encouraged them to make a film with (slightly) less crappy CG effects than many of their previous efforts; smoky moonlit streets creating far more atmosphere than I can recall in an Asylum film before. The story is indeed completely bonkers - possibly blending elements of Conan-Doyle's other masterpiece The Lost World - but is certainly never dull. Strange deaths and reports of prehistoric monsters are haunting London and only Holmes will be able to put together the clues to discover the answer.

It's at it's best when it's being mysterious and - to tell the truth - does fall apart somewhat around the hour mark as they swap intrigue and mystery for a bombastic last half-hour but hopefully by then you'll already have been suckered in.

I should make it very clear; I am by no means claiming that this is some masterpiece; it's crap... but it's not nearly as crap as you might expect and, above all, it's entirely watchable crap. If the Asylum can churn out produce more like this, I'll have to revise my opinion of them.

(They currently have Titanic 2 in the works! Keep an eye out for that...)

Monday, July 5, 2010

Let Me In // Let The Right One In

This is just a short and grumpy post.

Let Me In. If you've been paying attention you'll know that it's the forthcoming remake of 2008's (?) Let The Right One In, a Swedish film that is easily one of the best horror productions of recent years (maybe even the decade?) and an antidote to the sparkly fang-less prancing of the Twilight saga.

Matt Reeves, the director of the remake is reported in Empire as saying that he simply can't understand the furore around the remake, claiming it should be normal as Hollywood has been churning out remakes for years. Quite apart from the fact that the "it's happened lots of times before" argument is a completely pathetic method of avoiding the point entirely, he has also chosen to ignore that the remake culture he refers to is usually concerned with remaking films that are twenty or so years old. Not two.

As an example, the remake of Nightmare on Elm Street, although completely unnecessary, is clearly catering to an entirely new audience, a younger generation who haven't seen the original but are (perhaps unwittingly) just waiting to be shepherded in to the world of gory horror flicks.

Let Me In, however, is surely only really being made to cater to those who are too damn lazy to read subtitles. The recent Spanish zombie masterpiece [Rec] was given the same treatment and turned into Quarantine, a move almost universally condemned, and I really struggle to see how the situation will be any different here.

For anyone who's read the (fantastic) original novel by John Ajvide Lindqvist, there is perhaps a glimmer of hope that they'll go back to the text and pick out some of the interesting sub-plots that were stripped in the first transition from page to screen. This is surely the only thing which could justify a re-make. It is, however, pretty unlikely as Lindqvist wrote the screenplay for the original and hasn't touched the new version (as far as I can see, anyway)

So, it's fingers crossed hoping for increased faithfulness to the text, but I'm afraid I'm entirely sceptical. I'll still watch it, but it'll have to work twice as hard to convince me that it's a worthwhile film.

Trailer for the original:

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Just like Dracula... it rises, it rises!


Once again I've ignored this blog for way too long (not one singe post in June! Eesh...) and it's become dormant and sleepy.

Once again I have a handful of "real world" reasons that I can mumble in an ashamed manner until I feel I've justified myself.

But more importantly: once again it's time to kick Chopping Mall's battered corpse into life! There it was, thinking that it could finally slip happily into the afterlife of eternal peace, only to discover that one quick occult-magic session, half a pint of roosters blood and a little bit of typing were all that was needed to drag it kicking and screaming and frothing at the mouth back into some sort of life. Much like Christopher Lee's Dracula, however many times it dies, we can always pull it back from the grave.

Last time I pulled the blog back from the abyss I gave it a spangly new banner and fiddled with the look of it. That isn't happening right now but here we go anyway... (not entirely true; I have replaced the banner with a slightly more minimal alternaternative I made a while ago)

June was a fairly slow month for films for me. Between other excitements though, I did manage to watch the following:

1. Fear In the Night – Hammer psychological horror set in an ex-school. Really rather fab and surprisingly menacing for a Hammer film.

2. Terror En Tren de Medianoche (Terror on the Midnight Train) – Set in a quiet Spanish town, the Station-Master discovers some eerie secrets about a train that arrives in the dead of night to ferry the dead. Ever so slow to get going but rewarding if you can stick through it.

3. Black Snake – Dreary Russ Meyer flick set in a slave plantation. Dull as anything.

4. Dr Moreau’s House of Pain – Bad prosthetic monsters, bad plot, bad acting, bad film. For all that it is still quite light-hearted silly fun. If you know anything about Dr Moreau you'll know what kind of thing to expect.

5. El Asesino del Parking – Spanish slasher flick about a guy who kills in carparks. One of the highlights of the month's films; this manages both to be gripping murder mystery and also rather wonderfully gruesome. I'd recommend it to anyone, though it's not for everyone.

6. Opera – Argento slasher. Easily one of the best; bloody and great fun. There really isn't much else to say; if you've seen an Argento film you'll know the kind of thing to expect - beautiful cinematography, grisly deaths - and if you haven't then I'd say here was a good place to start.

7. The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner – You have to be in the right kind of mood to appreciate the very introspective gritty British dramas. Luckily I was, and this is fascinating and rewarding. Not a popcorn-and-laughs kind of film but certainly essential viewing.

8. Sunshine Cleaning – Crime-scene cleaning comedy. This was fun in a light-hearted and frivolous way. I think I'd expected a little too much from it really and was left a little disappointed, but it's amiable enough stuff.

9. Blade Runner (Final Cut) – Awesome sci-fi fun with Han Solo and robots. Yeah? Does it really need any more words? You've already seen it right? (If the answer to that was 'no', stop reading now and go hunt out a copy)

10. Solarbabies – Cheesy 80s dystopian roller-blade flick. Quite fantastic in a bonkers sort of way, although it does carry it's share of sickeningly sweet sentimental fluff. Definitely worth it for the roller-blade action and the synth soundtrack though.

11. Quarantine – Awesome Canadian dystopia with sickness and oppression. Power-crazy leaders, a brutal law-enforcement force and a mysterious terminal illness have created a futuristic America of nightmares. It's a surprisingly enjoyable and well put-together film.

12. Dragon Lives Again – Awesomely dubbed bonkers martial arts with “Bruce Lee” - a character, not the actor. This is something quite surreal, involving other worlds, 'Popeye', 'Dracula', a whole host of reanimated mummy-ish creatures and some fantastic marshal arts.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Son Of Hitler

Sometimes you just can't understand how or why a film was forgotten about. Sometimes you really can. Let's just start with the title: it doesn't bode well (or perhaps it does, depending on your opinion!). Son Of Hitler. Ok. Right. It's a film about the son of Adolf Hitler. Unless of course it's another Hitler or some kind of clever metaphor for... no, no, no, it's that Hitler. Yes.

Well... - you might say - perhaps it's some kind of historical documentary about Hitler's ideas living on (no...) or... let me see.... could it be some kind of conspiracy theory about real surviving heirs? Again.. no. This is a fictional film about Hitler's son. It is also a comedy.

Wow. A comedy, you say? Yes, a comedy.

Peter Cushing stars as nazi-saluting Heinrich Haussener, camping it up rather as he stomps around in a desperate attempt to find young Wilhelm Hitler, Hitler's surviving son who was raised in the mountains in complete ignorance of the war. Or of reading. Or writing. Or what his name is. (He's also implausibly young, given that this is set when it is filmed - some 30 years after the war - but that's another issue)

And herein lies the er... 'comedy'. Young Wilhelm is coming down from the mountains, birth-certificate (that he can't read) in hand and is completely mystified by everyone's astonished reactions. A local post-master chases him out the shop, he goes to a bar and drinks beer wearing full Nazi insignia, a judge declares his 'lies' the workings of a damaged mind and commits him to a mental institute immediately.

It's a bizarre mix of political 'humour' and slapstick fun. The slapstick element in fact almost succeeds in it's complete bizarre senselessness - the straight-jacketed mental patients being forced to play football in the mental institute is a stand-out scene, the institute officer acting as referee finding it impossible to understand why they can't master a simple throw-in... - as well as some mildly diverting comedy involving a paternoster lift - although whilst watching you can't help but wish there were more skilled slapstick comedians diving in and out; it's ever so Marx brothers but with none of the finesse.

This should hardly come as a surprise, as finesse is surely a word that few could associate with this film. Quite what poor old Peter Cushing is doing in this film, making over young Wilhelm in the desperate hope that he can continue the work of his father, is anybody's guess. You really hope that he told his agent to get him back onto a Hammer Horror set as fast as possible. This was just one year after his appearance in Star Wars! Surely there must have been some mistake in signing up for this?

For those of us who can sit through anything with Peter Cushing in, it might well be worth a look, and for the rest? Well, it's not entirely without merit.... merely almost entirely without merit! The handful of semi-humorous scenes do relatively little to make up for the tragically unfunny script, appallingly bad central concept and cack-handed production. You really do wonder at point this seemed like a good idea. And how many of the cast and production team kept coming back each day fully aware of what kind of monster they were making.

This film should never have been made. But as it has been made, you certainly ought to watch it. Sadly, it's rare as hell and - I WONDER WHY? - appears never to have had a very limited release and has never made it to DVD. Let's hold out for the Blu-Ray copy then, yes? Fingers crossed.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Big Screen Big Tune #3 - Zombi 2

This month, after a short break, Big Screen Big Tune is the brooding, stormy masterpiece by Fabio Frizzi for Lucio Fulci's Zombi 2. Enjoy.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Poster Hunt #10 - Suspiria & Giallo

Whilst most of the posters I've selected for Poster Hunt have been classic style, painted scenes, I thought that this time I'd go for a more modern, minimal look: clean lines and bold block colours.

So here we have two posters, the first for Dario Argento's Suspiria (a truly fantastic film, I recommend it highly) and the second for his much more recent Giallo (which I haven't seen and which received very mixed reviews)

Regardless of the quality of the films though, the posters are certainly both gorgeous.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Zulo (Hole)

Right. Zulo. Hmm...

Zulo is, despite being clever, intriguing, mysterious and a whole host of other good adjectives, at it's heart a 77 minute long short-film.

For reasons I've never entirely understood, we don't seem to have much of a tradition of short-films in the UK (or the US as far as I know). Sure, there are handfulls of short-films screened at film festivals but compared to the Spanish, we're a bit thin on the ground in the short film category. Just google cortomentraje to see the wealth of - often free-to-watch- Spanish language websites devoted entirely to the short-film. It's a difference that's even reflected in the language; in English we say short-film, implying a mini version of a 'real' film, whilst in Spanish the words cortomentraje and largomentraje are given equal standing. Each exists in it's own right, rather than one being a diminished form of the other. (As an interesting aside, the same happens in literature: the Spanish have cuentos and novelas whilst we only manage story/novel and short-story/novella)

With the cultural differences out the way, the puzzling aspect about Zulo is that, by rights, it ought to be a short film. To summarise the plot briefly (it can only be brief): a man awakes to find himself in a hole. He is kept there, fed but imprisoned by two monosyllabic balaclava-sporting captors.

That's more or less it.

It's decidedly well done; the cinematography is never less than beautiful, it's claustrophobic and intense and you can really feel for Manuel as he slowly goes mad, desperately trying to keep hold of his physical condition (running in circles around his tiny prison) and cling to his sanity. Jaime Garcia Arija is fantastic as the imprisoned Manuel and, generally, it's hard to find fault with the film.

Except for there being 77 minutes of it.

I feel ungrateful for moaning about this - I definitely enjoyed it as a whole - but it was simply too long for the content. With a few of the endless broodingly slow scenes clipped, this would be a tense and brilliant psychological thriller I'd recommend without hesitation. As it is, it's merely good. Damn with faint praise, yes, but still worth a watch if you've got a quiet hour and a bit.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Poster Hunt #9 - Blood Bath

A fairly late-in-the-month Poster Hunt, this classic and enticing poster comes from the B-movie super house that was American International Pictures.

This actually sounds pretty intriguing! From IMDb:
Roger Corman, noted producer/director, hired Jack Hill in 1964 to write and direct a horror film with the condition that he make liberal use of footage from "Operation Titian", a thriller Corman produced with Francis Ford Coppola (!) in Yugoslavia, but deemed unworthy of USA release. Hill was given actor William Campbell, Titian's star, and hired Lori Saunders (still using her original name of Linda Saunders, and soon Petticoat Junction-bound).

However, Corman didn't like the resulting film about a murderous sculptor possessed by the spirit of his ancestor, who was killed by a beautiful witch. So he shelved it for a year, bringing it out for director Stephanie Rothman to revise. Rothman turned the possessed sculptor into a vampire, shot extensive new footage (using a few members of the supporting cast) and---bingo!---"Blood Bath" was out in the theaters at last,

Might have to hunt this one out!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Terror on the 40th Floor

Sometimes, a review just doesn't tell you whether you want to watch it. Sometimes, writing a review just isn't appealing.

With these two things in mind, I present to you the ultimate im gimmick-y blog posting: the first 30 minutes of the film, blow by blow. There's no spoilers (there's hardly a plot), but hopefully it'll give you an idea of whether you want to watch it (you don't).

Here, then, is Terror on the 40th Floor. A disaster movie about a skyscraper. Die Hard, this ain't.

29secs: Awesome synth tune kicks in. This has started well. And look! Father Christmas. It must be set at Christmas.

1min: The strings kick in. The music’s nice, but the credits are otherwise pretty dull.

2mins: There’s an office party going on and they’re all drunk.

3mins: Woman on the phone is arguing with her mum about whether she should be with her son,
rather than at the party. She probably should. This is all going to end badly.

5mins: A guy sneaks off with two girls and bursts in upon his morose father brooding in his office. They’re invited in for a drink.

6mins: It’s champagne. Wow.

7mins: Another guy burst in with two girls. Suddenly the party is relocating to the office.

8mins: Most of the drunken revellers are heading home, the security guard shepherds them out.

9mins: Kelly who should be locking up and checking the building is clear is encouraged out of the building by the boss.

10mins: Charley arrives and er… rather implausibly has been demanded to perform maintenance work on the building ON CHRISTMAS EVE.

11mins: Back to the remaining party group upstairs. Champagne flows as they begin to flirt…

12mins: Oh noes! Charley the maintenance man is drinking from a bottle of liquor! How terribly irresponsible. He just knocked something on the floor too.

13mins: More boring flirting. The dialogue is pretty crappy.

14mins: Charley is doing something strenuous in the dark. Not sure what. He takes another big swig of liquor.

15mins: Ahahaha, he just kicked over a tiny lantern, which set everything on fire. Including his legs. What a shame. The security guy is running around too.

16mins: Oh, the ambulance has arrived ever-so speedily. But one of them has already died. Hard luck, buddy. The other man, merely injured, was the security guard who has informed the emergency services that there’s no-one inside the building. BUT THERE IS!!!11!!!!

18mins: The fire has climbed seven floors in the last three minutes of film. What’s going to happen in the next 80 minutes?

20mins: There’s a little bit of boozy seduction going on here. And some comparison of notes between old flame and new.

20mins + 30secs: He has a wife! Eeek!

21mins: Guys are fighting fire. It’s not very clear what’s going on. Sirens wail. They’re cutting the power.

23mins: He seducing her by describing the boardroom. What a player…

24mins: The music’s gone really dramatic… not a lot’s happening though. Until…. Snogging!

25mins: Ah! But up comes the topic of his wife.

26mins: Hazy flash-back (or is it flash-forward) to games of badminton in the sunshine. And then she drops the bomb: “Jim.. I…I’m pregnant

28mins: “So.. we can have an abortion or get married?”

29mins: He’s gotta think about it.

29mins: Back to the now, sirens wail. Not a lot else is happening.

In conclusion: unless you're gripped by these details and care about the cheating businessman or any of the other boring, thin characters... I really wouldn't bother with this one.

Thank you and goodnight.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Angel Blade

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The last thing I posted here (see below) was a rant/argument about how the "b" in "b-movie" didn't mean bad. Sadly, as is so often the way when you try to make an argument, the next thing to come along so totally undermined my point that I'd have quite happily pretended it didn't exist. But I shan't, if only because admitting that there are exceptions to any argument is a good thing to do.

That next thing that came along was Angel Blade.


Now, I'll be straight about this from the begining; I bought Angel Blade on DVD for £0.99 at the nearest er... 99p shop. So I'll admit that I wasn't necessarily expecting a masterpiece (although I did pick up a couple of Dario Argento films there too... Wine some, lose some). And masterpiece it most certainly wasn't.

I would have no hesitation in naming Angel Blade as one of the worst films I have watched in recent memory.

The creative 'team' doesn't exactly bode well. From the "Deavid Heavener Entertainment Group" comes a film that is written by David Heavener, produced by David Heavener, directed by David Heavener and starring David Heavener. The guy has taken the role of the auteur to a higher degree. You feel it was only really physical impossibility that stopped him giving himself all the other parts in the film. Oh yeah, and the fact that his (and only his) numerous sex-scenes wouldn't have been as fun for him to write/direct/star in if there wasn't anyone else around...

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I'm getting ahead of myself though. I'll go back to the premise of the film. A mysterious killer is murdering prostitutes in LA. So far so good. Anyone who's seen Franco's New York Ripper or indeed pretty much anything made in Italy between 1960 and 1980 can tell you that this is a fine starting point for a film. It guarrantees you a good dose of sleeze, gore, intrigue and action. Perfect. Who could mess this one up?

David Heavener, that's who.

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By null at 2010-03-30

The plot manages to be both confusing and dull, the sex scenes bear very little relation to the film - more like sexual interludes than actual scenes - and the 'astonishing' secret of the film is laughable. (Oh yes, here come the spoilers...) Not content with merely being writer/producer/director/lead policeman character, David Heavener's character is also the psycho killer. His reasons? Just wait and see... (drumroll) The reason that David Heavener, once-good cop, has gone on a pregnant-prostitute killing rampage in LA is because... his pregnant girlfriend/wife walked off a roof and died.


I'll write that again. The reason that David Heavener, once-good cop, has gone on a pregnant-prostitute killing rampage in LA is because... his pregnant girlfriend/wife walked off a roof and died. It wasn't that she was killed in the line of duty. It wasn't that she was even killed at all. She was looking through the viewfinder of her camera and, in perhaps the most implausible moment in cinema history, she walked. off. the. roof. of. a. building. Splat.

Oh dear.

If however, all this gives the impression that I didn't enjoy this film, you're very much mistaken. Cinematic genius apart, Angel Blade is a stunning example of just how badly you can tell a nonsense story and, as such, is totally worth a watch! I might leave it a while until a second viewing though...

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Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The 'B' in B-Movie Doesn't Mean Bad: A Rant.

As you can probably tell from just the briefest glance at this blog, I watch a lot of what would commonly be called ‘bad films’. Before we go any further, it should be made clear that this is a misleading and unfair label for these films. Films today tend to break down into depressingly few categories. They are either Big Budget, Independent, ‘Art-house’ or Foreign. Anything else tends to get labelled as bad. What’s even more disappointing is that, in the vast majority of cases ‘independent’, ‘art-house’ and ‘foreign’ often run together. So we’re left with: Big-Budget-Small-Brain-Blockbusters (the kind you eat popcorn with), Arty/Weird/Intellectual/Foreign/Independent (the kind you sip red wine with) and ‘the rest’ (the kind you drink lots of beer with).

This ‘the rest’ category has a bad image nowadays. Once-upon-a-time, in the days of the b-movie, these films were important. They didn’t have the cash of the Hollywood hits, nor the intellectual/pretentious (delete as appropriate) element of the indie/arty/weird/foreign film. No. They were made on tight budgets, with tight time-limits and tight resources. They were made to be enjoyed. This is pulp cinema. Nowadays we associate the term ‘b-movie’ and perhaps even ‘pulp’ with ‘bad’. This is simply not (necessarily) the case.

Compare film to literature. Again, we find the blockbusters (your Dan Browns etc), an appreciation for ‘classics’, an appreciation for the experimental/philosophical/foreign/intellectual but you also find an considerable about (albeit way less than there used to be) of pulp literature. Whilst you might very well want to label Dan Brown as pulp (and are probably correct…), there is a difference. By pulp I’m talking about the books that are churned out at an astonishing rate. The detective stories and murder mysteries that fill shelves in bookshops and libraries and lie discarded on trains, benches and café tables.

These are not high-art. Nevertheless, they are also – to put it simply – not bad. The most essential thing whilst writing genre-fiction to be sold, read and forgotten about is obviously not to be inventive, challenging or weird – that’s not what your readers (or perhaps better, customers) want – but the author is required to at least write a cracking story. It’s got to be exciting. It’s got to be mysterious. It’s got to keep you turning the pages. They might not be books you’d recommend to a friend, see reviewed in the newspaper or ever want to read again, but they should be books that are gripping reads.

The same applies to film, or at least used to.

Most of the films I prefer to watch do not have brilliant special effects. They don’t have exquisite cinematography. They don’t have big name stars neither in front of nor behind the camera. They don’t have challenging dialogue, open-ended ambiguity, subtleties or philosophical concerns. They are simply good fun.

Sadly it seems that nowadays many people can’t help but sneer a little at the thought of watching Hammer Horror, Toho Godzilla films or anything that wasn’t made by James Cameron or Michael Bay. At the opposite end of the spectrum there are those that sit and smirk at everyone else, whilst claiming there is no such thing as cinema outside of the masterpieces of Michael Haneke, Kurosawa et al.

What confuses me still more is that we seem perfectly content to watch the same kind of material on TV. We watch hours of detective shows, crime dramas etc, many of which are feature length and produced with no greater budget nor skills than the films we have been content to ignore. Is it simply the element of laziness? Is it just because we can sit down on the sofa, sip our mug of coffee and let it all wash over us? The answer, sadly, is probably yes.

Friday, March 19, 2010

El Crack

When you think of film noir, you think of it's true home - America. We think of corrupt cops, mean streets, whisky on the breath of hard-working loner detectives and screeching tyres through the city.

As you turn towards the 70s, the real Noir has long ceased to be and is now replaced by the neo-noir. The relationship between these films and the original classic Hollywood output is confusing and often contradictory. They are at once parodies of classic noir, re-imaginings of the genre and cinematic love-letters to a genre left behind.

This brings all sorts of other concerns; unless they go to the extent of setting themselves within the time period of the classic noir, contemporary issues become involved, the world had changed between the 40s and 70s and so the hard-boiled detective story had to as well. Similarly, if we move the narrative away from America, the different geography brings it's own tensions, styles and attitudes. The final product is, in many respects, a million miles away from the film noir, yet somehow remains linked.

In real terms, films like El Crack (Spain, 1981) are as far removed from true noir as American teen slashers of the 90s are from Italian giallo thrillers. Only a few core elements are left to connect the two genres yet somehow you can't help but see a link.

In making El Crack, they certainly intended the link to be visible; from the opening dedication to Dashiell Hammett to the corruption, gunshots and nighttime city, this is both desperately seeking comparisons to American noir and making a statement of Spanish independence. It is both derivative and original. It's also pretty good fun.

Alfredo Landa plays the central detective, Germán, excellently. It is his performance that both links and distances this from the American noir. He is an ex-cop, a workaholic detective who is too honest and honourable for his own good. He passionately works late into the night on his case - a missing girl - fuelled by coffee, cigarettes and (asserting the Spanish-ness) the odd calamari sandwhich.

The other characters are mostly 'by-numbers' hard-boiled characters; Germán has a slimy ex-thief assistant and lives in a world populated by crooked cops and businessmen who think themselves above the law. Where it branches far from Noir however, is Germán's love interest. I don't know whether it came about as a result of Spanish Catholiscism, a deep-routed belief in the family unit or whatever else but, rather than the femme-fatal of the American noir, charged with sex and danger, Germán is pursuing a relationship with a pretty but conservative nurse. It's all very civilised; he picks up her daughter from school while she works, they go for strolls in the woods or off to see a film. It's all very... nice.

These niceties only serve to make the brutality of the last third of the film more brutal. Germán may be a much milder man than the creations of Chandler or Hammett, but when he's pushed he acts surprisingly coldly in pursuit of justice.

The only real criticism of the film is that the pacing is a bit awkward. European films do tend to be a lot slower than American films; we seem to prefer slow build rather than a rollercoaster of climactic moments, but this one is decidedly on the slow side of 'slow-build'. The first half and hour to forty minutes do drag somewhat but, I promise you, it's worth persevering as the film builds slowly but surely towards a thrilling ending.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Poster Hunt #8 - Goliath and the Vampires

This gorgeous piece of retro poster-art looks back to a day when a film could be sold entirely on the strength of a poster. And looking at this one, you can see why!

SEE: The Revolt of the Faceless Humanoids? Count me in!

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Big Screen Big Tune #2 - Django

Yeah, yeah, yeah, we all know that Ennio Morricone was the true king of the Spaghetti Western soundtrack but there were definitely some others out there too!

For the second Big Screen, Big Tune, we present Luis Bacalov's theme song for Django.

Chorus: django!

Django, have you always been alone?

Chorus: django!

Django, have you never loved again?
Love will live on, oh oh oh...
Life must go on, oh oh oh...
For you cannot spend your life regreatting.

Chorus: django!

Django, you must face another day.

Chorus: django!

Django, now your love has gone away.
Once you loved her, whoa-oh...
Now you've lost her, whoa-oh-oh-oh...
But you've lost her for-ever, django.

When there are clouds in the skies, and they are grey.
You may be sad but remember that love will pass away.

Oh django!
After the showers is the sun.
Will be shining...

[instrumental solo]

Once you loved her, whoa-oh...
Now you've lost her, whoa-oh-oh-oh...
But you've lost her for-ever, django.

When there are clouds in the skies, and they are grey.
You may be sad but remember that love will pass away.
Oh django!
After the showers is the sun.
Will be shining...
Oh oh oh django!
You must go on,
Oh oh oh django...

Emily Booth

Emily Booth has, on reflection got to be pretty much the coolest women in horror. There are precious few people who take horror and genre-films very seriously and fewer still who try to drag it kicking and screaming, bleeding and oozing, into the mainstream's attention.

In this respect, we ought to forget about Emily Booth being one of the coolest women in horror. She is one of the coolest people in horror. I mostly know her from the sublimely awesome show Shock Movie Massacre. You could probably count the number of recent television programmes about genre film on the fingers of one hand. Perhaps even after several of your fingers were sliced off in a Hong Kong based revenge epic...

But Shock Movie Massacre IS a genre-horror tv programme, and best of all: it's really good. I've read interviews with the producer (I think) who sadly claimed that it was unlikely ever to get a proper release as a series on DVD as the numerous gory cult-movie clips were only ever licensed for TV. This is sad. But don't get too down about it, the entire series is (sssshhh, wisper it!) available online if you hunt around a bit.

Perhaps we shouldn't bother turning back to this series though; she's now presenting a new series, Gorezone Movie Massacre that you can get on the cover DVD with Gorezone magazine (which I sadly haven't seen) as well as producing her own (excellent) series Emily Booth's Behind The Screams (available on YouTube). The most recent of these takes a peek behind the filming of Doghouse, in which Booth played the awesomely terrifying "Snipper", zombie hairdresser on a rampage!

What comes out most clearly when watching her shows - whether she was chatting with Paul Naschy, diving out of cars or learning how to fake a good decapitation - is that she clearly loves the films she's talking about. As the horror-fan is typically confined to basements and attics, shying away from daylight as if they were vampires, it's refreshing to see people speaking publicly and passionately for horror films.

Keep doing it, right?

Emily Booth on Twitter

Thursday, February 18, 2010

World Gone Wild

After wading through a lot of horror recently (especially Vampires!), I was begining to feel the need to turn my gaze to something a little different. At this point, I usually sit down to choose between my other two favourite genres; is it to be Spaghetti Western or camp 80s Dystopian thrills?

I chose the camp 80s dystopia and World Gone Wild certainly didn't disappoint.

Made in the 80s? Check.
A desert world where water has become the most precious commodity? Check.
Adam Ant as a bad guy? Check.
Killer frisbees, motorbikes, gunfights and moonshine? Check, check, check, check.

It would be grossly unfair to call this a b-movie by numbers - it's not, it's exciting and original - but I think it'd be true to say that it does more or less some up my idea of what a b-movie is.

From the opening voice-over telling us just how ruined the world is (no rain in 50 years), the crappy camera effects in the opening credits and the entirely amazing theme song (AVAILABLE ON YOUTUBE HERE) you just know what kind of movie this is going to be. The bad guys will sneer, the world will be full of wreckage and rubble, people will have regressed into a shouting, snarling, gambling, boozey mass, a dashing hero will save the day, everything will be fine. Needless to say, all of these things are true. The thrill of World Gone Wild is not that any part of it is unexpected, shocking or particularly innovative, just that it's really good fun!

Disengage brain, open a beer, cook some popcorn; this is a film that is made to be enjoyed. From Adam Ant's wonderful smirking bad-guy to the villagers with their 80s haircuts, defending their livelihood with a wall of abandoned cars, if you like dystopian films, 80s cheese or b-movies in general, you can't fail to enjoy this.