Sunday, January 31, 2010

Blowing our own trumpet...

It's been a nice few days for Chopping Mall.

Firstly we were kindly given the One Lovely Blog award by William Weird from over at the excellent Beard Weirdo Reviews blog. Many thanks for that!

And then Dan Goodswen at Total Film listed Chopping Mall (alongside 599 others) in his list of the 600 Movie Blogs You Might Have Missed.

It's good to see a whole lot of other LAMB blogs in the list too!

Large Association of Movie Blogs

So yeah, not a very content filled post, but hey, I'm pleased.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Big Screen Big Tune #1

Having recently written a bit about the film OST, I tohught I might as well start a series of posts dedicated to the best soundtracks and theme-tunes around. So here is the rather fabulous Green Slime.

The youtube video was put up by the Uranium Café, which is a very good blog if you're interested in these kinds of things...

Open the door you'll find the secret
To find the answer is to keep it
You'll believe it when you find
Something screaming 'cross your mind
Green slime

What can it be, what is the reason
Is this the end of all that breathes, and
Is it something in your head?
Will you believe it when you're dead?
Green slime, green slime, green slime

Friday, January 22, 2010

Hammer Horror - Dracula and Brides of Dracula

Part of the aim of writing this blog and of taking more notice of what I watch, is to improve my general film knowledge and to encourage me to fill in some of the gaps - whole genres and famous names that I know little or nothing about.

Sometime of course, fishing about in new genres just isn't appealing and I'll settle back into the safety of the Spaghetti Western or a predictably nonsense 'horror' film - like Attack of the Killer Shrews. Recent viewing however has seen me beginning to get to grips with classic American Film Noir (about which I'm sure I'll write something soon) and, for this post, the wonderful world of Hammer Horror.

I'm not quite sure how on earth I'd gone for so long with very little awareness of Hammer's output. As a firm fan of both Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing, with a fondness for slighly camp British horror of the last few decades, how had I never really become a Hammer fan?

Thankfully, I am now very much a Hammer fan. I bought A New Heritage of Horror by David Pirie (I.B.Tauris, £15) which, however much he tries to deny it in his introduction, is basically a history of Hammer's film output. And none the worse for it. Much as my love of Zombie films was gently lead and guided by Jamie Russell's Book of the Dead (Fab Press, £11), I found myself flicking through this book with a growing list of scribbled down "must-see" titles.

I started with X: The Unknown (radioactive slime crawls out from the centre of the planet and munches its way through some tasty radioactive things), Hound of the Baskevilles (Good fun adaptation) and The Devil Rides Out - which I enjoyed a lot and might have to re-watch and review)

My now fairly strong feeling that I was onto something rather wonderful was confirmed when I moved onto the Dracula series. So let's start at the begining shall we?

Hammer's 1958 version of Dracula is brilliant. THere are flaws a plenty but I think it'd be hard not to enjoy the film. It's well-paced, ever-so British and it has Christopher Lee draining the blood from those around him. What's not to like?

It was one of Hammer's first widescreen and colour production and really does look beautiful - although the colour of the blood is decidedly more akin to strawberry than it perhaps should be. Though obviously not being produced on a massive budget, the sets are wonderful, Dracula's Transylvanian castle is as real as you could hope for and the whole film carries its gothic mood wonderfully.

Budget constraints did force them to savage the plot somewhat (Johnathon Harker's family now live er... right near the castle) and many elelments are missing but this doesn't particularly hurt the film in itself. Whilst it might suffer in comparison to the novel, the story that remains is strong enough and moves along at a decent pace, aided no doubt by some brilliant acting. Christopher Lee is a perfect Dracula; just the right balance of menace, charm and pointy-teeth, whilst Cushing is brilliant in the somewhat more understated part of Van Helsing.

The film was one of Hammer's biggest successes and sold well the world over....

....So they made some more.

Needless to say, Hammer quickly realised that having Dracula destroyed at the end of the first film wasn't really the smartest move - they needed more vampire and they needed it now! Similarly awkward was Christopher Lee's absence; David Pirie writes that it's unknown whether he flat-out refused or asked for more money than Hammer could spend. Either way, he wasn't coming back. So neither was Dracula.

Infact, the follow-up to Dracula, 1960's The Brides of Dracula is pretty surprising as a Dracula film for er.... not having Dracula in it.

It's still pretty good fun; Cushing returns as Van Helsing who really does just happen to be in the right place at the right time all over again and is on hand to help stop the rise of the Baron Meinster who has escaped from his perpetual confinement and has gone on a bit of a rampage, sinking his teeth into the necks of the women he meets.

It's another good fun film, although there's decidedly less tension to it - despite the fact that I didn't already know the story, this Baron was so much less charismatic, so much less calm and cool, that I really did struggle to imagine him winning. Needless to say, he doesn't.

What it loses in tension and atmosphere -especially in the second half - however, it does mostly make up for by being generally a lot of fun. And we like fun films, right?

Of course we do.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Super Bad, Super Cool and the Rise and Fall of the OST

I've just finished listening to a really rather wonderful BBC Radio 2 programme called Super Bad, Supe Cool about the phenomenon of the Blaxploitation film.

The hour long show was narrated by Pam Grier (star of Coffy, Foxy Brown and many a great film, described by Tarantino as being probably the first female action star). It delved into several aspects of the genre - from the controversial and much disputed title 'blaxploitation', it's impact and significance for black actors and cinema-goers of 70s USA and the importance of the soundtrack in these films. Calling on a whole host of film and music luminaries from Isaac (RIP) Hayes (if you're young, you probably know him best as South Park's Chef) to Samuel L Jackson to Tarantino, Pam Griers examined the massive impact of cult-classic Shaft and it's lasting influence on cinema.

I can't add much to the show in terms of genre studies; you'd be much better seeking it out yourself. Sadly the 7 day listen-again feature on bbc iplayer has expired but it's floating around the internet for anyone tech-savvy enough to find it.

Perhaps the most interesting element of the show in general cinema terms was the aspect of the soundtrack; Shaft is credited as having changed the way in which music and film were considered as complementary cultural works; many of the blaxploitation films were sold on little more than the fabulous soundtracks that accompanied them. Whilst the film score was an established form - see Mr Morricone for more details... - this was the first real example of the stand-alone pop song being created especially for cinema.

The soundtracks to these films were pop albums in their own right; someone interviewed on the show recalls the 12" records of the soundtrack being given away as promotional tools for the films and then later outstripping film sales.

Nowadays this is something of a lost art; in the digital age songs are made to be recognisable, to be sold as singles, and you are far more likely to find a film soundtrack cd that comprises of a series of hit singles by pop and rock bands, lifted from albums for the film, rather than recorded specifically for the film.

The film score still exists, by all means: just look at John Murphy's excellent 28 Weeks Later score (and yes, though 28 days is the better film, it's 28 weeks that has the more thorough soundtrack), but it would seem that the pop/rock one-artist Original Sound Track has been largely forgotten.

So let's go repay a visit to the Shaft tune and remember better, funkier times:

Poster Hunt #6 - Count Yorga, Vampire

After completely missing out December, Poster Hunt makes a glamorous 2010 return with this rather lovely poster for Count Yorga, Vampire.

They just don't make them like that any more...

IMDb here

Trailer here:

Monday, January 11, 2010

Damnation Alley

Looking back over some of my other reviews, it becomes quite clear what sort of things I appreciate in a film; before even troubling myself with something as trivial as the plot, I've enthused about Christopher Lee, Ennio Morricone, killer shrews, alien monsters, robots, the undead etc, etc. So, if you were to pitch a film as being a post-apocalyptic adventure with giant scorpions and flesh eating cockroaches, do you really think I could turn it down?

Of course not.

I think I must be one of the few people who likes this kind of thing that hadn't seen this film before. It has a great following of lovers (and haters) all over the internet - despite having never been released on DVD. Though Anchor Bay did try a few years back, Fox are sitting tight on the rights for the moment.

Whilst in previous posts, I've praised some low budget flicks - Murder Party for instance - for knowing their limits and keeping their ambition firmly within the realms of possibility (both financial and artistic), Damnation Alley is decidedly at the opposite end of the scale. Let's be totally clear about this: Damnation Alley had a relatively enormous budget, set it's ambitions massively high and er... failed on an epic level.

Nowadays, with CGI (of variable quality) and all sorts of clever trickery, I'm sure the task of creating giant 8ft-long scorpions would not be so difficult but the 70s were a very different world. Wikipedia claims that this was originally attempted using full size remote-control scorpions but then abandoned due to poor results. I would love to own an 8ft long remote controlled scorpion! If anyone out there knows where one can be found, please do let me know.

Eventually they created some kind of savage montage attempt, putting really close up scorpions in the same screen as some further away action. Although it is thoroughly unconvincing, it's so thoroughly bonkers that you really do have to admire it.

Similarly unconvincingly threatening are the flesh eating cockroaches. Though they do have an awful lot of them, they are not really any bigger or scarier than normal cockroaches which, although a little frightening, tend not to be life-threatening. These ones, however, can strip flesh clean to the bone. And do.

Also of note, whilst we're looking at the special effects are the brilliant skies. This film was released in the same year as Star Wars, with Fox originally seeing Star Wars as the underdog to this, their major Sci-fi film for the year. Years later when we compare the two, the effects in Star Wars - though decidedly ropey in places - make the er... green and red skies of Damnation Alley seem laughable, but somehow charming.

Is there anything I missed? Oh yeah, plot. And one other vitally important feature but we'll come to that last.

The plot is decidedly so-so. It's based on a book by Roger Zelazny. I haven't read his book so can't really say how true the plot is to the novel but, from the well-documented fact that he hated the film, I imagine it was somewhat dumbed down. It's fairly standard post-apocalyptic fare: World gets nuked, loads of people die, earth turns on axis, USA becomes a desert, select band of survivors set out together and are confronted by aforementioned special-effects. The characters are two dimensional and uninteresting but... there're flesh eating cockroaches dammit! Who needs a plot?

Finally we arrive at the one massively ambitious creation that was a total success; so much so that it has inspired its very own cult following. Ladies and Gentlemen, I present to you, The Landmaster.

I'm sure that it would stand out entirely on it's own merit, but the dodgy effects elsewhere in the film make this purpose-built, fully-functional armoured personnel carrier seem truly phenomenal. To be quite honest, if they'd edited out all the dialouge and just shown non-stop footage of the bendy-middled, heavily armed twelve-wheeled behemoth I'd probably have enjoyed the film even more than I did. It's utterly fantastic and the fact it was designed and built for the film (at a cost equivalent today to $1,200,000) only makes me love it more.

This film will not challenge your brain. But if it doesn't at least make you smile, I'd be very surprised indeed.

[Pictures are obviously low quality without it having ever been released on DVD. I also couldn't find a trailer, but I do believe that the whole thing is on YouTube ]

Friday, January 8, 2010

Episode V: Chopping Mall Strikes Back

We're back.

It's been a long, long absence but - like many a zombie - the fact that Chopping Mall looked dead didn't mean that it was dead. Not at all.

Instead, Chopping Mall returns refreshed, renewed and reinvigorated for a new year, nay, a new decade of exciting, gorey, thrilling films. I plan to broaden the scope of the blog a little; wheras previously it was almost all reviews, with the occasional special news piece, the new year should welcome in a little more film criticism, cinema news and history and all sorts of exciting fun.

For now though, I'll review in 10 words or less the films I watched (or re-watched) over the Christmas period. Here we go....

1. G-force
Surprisingly good fun with animated guinea-pigs. Unexpected treat.

2. Paranormal Activity
Not half as scary as everyone said. Dull.

3. Murder Party
One of the best independent films of recent times.

4. Where Eagles Dare
Brits, Yanks, Nazis. Guns. 'Splosions. Cable-cars. Awesome.

5. The Commander
Lee Van Cleef. Donald Pleasence. Otherwise rubbish.

6. Cemetery Without Crosses
Spaghetti western fun of the highest order.

7. Muppet Christmas Carol
Possibly Michael Caine's career highpoint?

8. Meteorites!
Absolute crap.

9. Run, Man, Run (Corri, Uomo, Corri)
Sequel to the Big Gundown. Not half as good.

10. Shanghai Noon
Not enough Jackie Chan. Too much Owen Wilson.

11. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
Your Wu-Dan is a whorehose.

12. Inglorious Bastards
That damned armoured train.

13. The Mercenary
One of the best Westerns ever.

14. Boa Vs. Python
Snakes. Snakes. Snakes. Guns. Snakes. Boring.

15. Doghouse
Awesome Brit-Zombie flick. Might be worth a re-watch.

16. Avatar
Paper thin plot in staggeringly beautiful 3D.

17. Die Screaming, Marianne
Started well, middled bad, ended worse. Avoid.

18. Muppet Treasure Island
Best film ever?

19. Ipcress Files
Michael Caine with no muppets. Still pretty good.

20. Black Dynamite
One of 2009's best. DYNAMITE, DYNAMITE!

21. Inglourious Basterds
Best film of the year? I think so.

Bring on the new year!