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.