Saturday, December 10, 2011

James Bond triple bill

So, from the exciting introduction to the Bond universe that Dr No provided, I moved along (chronologically, of course) to a trio of films that pretty much embody what James Bond is. These films are the very peak of 'Bond-ness', they're so jam packed with all the exciting (and ridiculous) tropes that came to define the the Bond film as a series that it's no surprise that Austin Powers found the vast majority of its material here - some of the scenes are almost shot-for-shot identical!

From Russia With Love (1963 / Terrence Young / Sean Connery)
Goldfinger (1964 / Guy Hamilton / Sean Connery)
Thunderball (1965 / Terrence Young / Sean Connery)

Both From Russia With Love and Thunderball feature Spectre plots for our heroic agent to battle, whilst Goldfinger is much more of a one-man villain. From Russia takes us from the early form of Dr No and ramps it up by throwing a whole lot more excitement at it. Bond now has some serious gadgetry (albeit relatively basic) and his quick-assembly sniper rifle is particularly useful. We also meet some of the most fabulously English of scenes - the foreign spy on the train who gives himself away by drinking red wine with fish! What a mistake! Sean Connery, as ever, is fabulous throughout but I couldn't help feeling that, whilst From Russia threw an awful lot of exciting elements at the plot, the structure of the story itself was slightly lacklustre. Like Dr No, it had it's peaks and a few very memorable moments but as a film it was certainly lacking something.

Goldfinger, easily one of the very best of Bond, takes all the elements that From Russia contained and turned them up a bit. Rosa Klebb's killer shoe becomes Oddjob's killer hat, a comparatively timid attempt to steal a code-machine becomes an audacious plot to irradiate all of America's gold, etc. etc. Goldfinger turns the heat up - and possibly overdoes it. Here then, we find lasers! gadget cars! sprayed gas! an implausibly strong Korean! and all sorts of other madness.

I'd call it a film of hits and misses: when it gets it right, it gets it very right indeed... but occasionally it's not quite so strong. A prefect example of the latter would be the extended Bond vs. Goldfinger golf showdown. I'll repeat that: golf. I mean, whoever thought to set a dramatic encounter over a (long) game of golf? When we've been teased with bullet-proof cars and tear-gas briefcases, an elaborate ball-swapping plot that centres on Bond's recognition of the Slazenger 5 golf ball is... boring.

That said, some of the scenes are undeniable classics. The sight of Bond, strapped to a chunk of metal with a high-power metal-cutting laser edging ever closer towards painful emasculation is as unforgettable as James Bond films get. It would be sublime even without dialogue but the now classic exchange "Do you expect me to talk / No Mr Bond, I expect you to die" is so wonderfully blunt that it just makes the scene perfect.

The only thing, to my mind, that really stands in the way of Goldfinger being the absolutely perfect Bond film is the utterly ridiculous names used throughout. So Goldfinger likes gold? And his first name is Auric? Like the element? And his odd job man is er... called OddJob? And the major plan to contaminate Fort Knox is called Operation GrandSlam? And the sex-interest woman is called Pussy Galore? All this and more: Goldfinger is about as subtle as a sledgehammer. Whilst I'd never demand a thoughtful or challenging Bond film, Goldfinger does occasionally feel like it's treating us like idiots. I had absolutely understood that the sexy woman would have sex with Bond without her being named Pussy Galore (suitably mocked by Austin Powers' Alotta Fagina). It's, sadly, the kind of choice that makes this film feel so dated - even more than its two predecessors.

The last time I saw Thunderball - where we're back with Spectre and have a plot of nuclear-ransom - was before the Austin Powers films; it's hard to watch it in the same way now. We get scenes in the Spectre lair with 'number one' frying his cheating agents (whose steaming, but now empty, chairs return to the table), an eye-patched villain and a fantastic opening scene with a Spectre agent dressed as a grieving widow. Bond doesn't actually shout "That's a man, maaaaan!" but I could here it in my head...

As a film Thunderball is the most coherent and elaborately plotted yet but (for all that I teased Goldfinger) it lacks some of the more outrageous fun. There's no decent villain - eyepatch man does little besides giving grumpy orders - but there are some decent scenes (chase scene through the carnival!) and it does hang together as a pretty decent film. Sadly, there are far too many dull action sequences for it to be a true classic... Underwater scenes galore here and none of them are much fun. Some stirring music isn't enough to save a long, slow, flippers-and-wetsuits harpoon-battle snooze of a scene in what ought to be the most exciting part of the film.

Despite some flaws in each, these three Bond films are a pretty exciting triple-bill of action fun and, taking over where Dr No left off, make a convincing case for crowning Sean Connery as best Bond ever. From here, there's only one more Connery-Bond left before we come to George Lazenby's disasterous effort...

Monday, November 14, 2011

Repulsion and Happy People

Three Two more from the Film Festival! Something old, something new, and something informative...
[Bellflower was going to be included in this group... It'll be coming soon instead...]

Repulsion is early Polanski and definitely 'classic' enough that it'd usually fall way outside the focus of this blog: I tend to lean away from writing about the classics, if only because plenty of people have already written plenty of words about these films - what's left for me to add? So I'll be brief...

[There are a couple of nice reviews to be found at Korova Theatre and Radiator Heaven]

Repulsion is a thriller in the old, almost forgotten sense of the world. It thrills. Every single person watching jumped at least once in the film, as poor Carol's hallucinatory nightmare threw shocks and scares at her in fits and starts. Polanski throws in a wonderful mix of the increasingly repulsive - an uncooked rabbit left out to gather flies and rot - the imaginatively uneasy - a crack in the wall that threatens repeatedly to burst apart - and the threat of real violence - sexually aggressive men pounce at Carol from every corner, some real, some imaginary. It's edge of the seat stuff that is propelled by a pulsing score and a camera that hovers voyeuristically around doorways and windowframes, beckoning the viewer into Carol's paranoid fears.

So little of her condition or the realities or origins of her fears is explained that you leave the cinema desperately untangling plot elements in your head, guessing and re-guessing which of the more plausible elements were imagined and which of the more outlandish were real. Great stuff.

Happy People - A Year in the Taiga
This documentary of Siberian life came with a "Narrated by Werner Herzog" tagline - surely as good a guarantee of an interesting film as there can be. Thankfully, it doesn't disappoint. We are taken, in a fairly straight-forward manner, through a calendar year in the lives of the trappers/hunters of a a Siberian village in the Taiga. Herzog contributes, as you might imagine if you've seen his (fabulous) Encounters at the End of the World, some perfectly dead-pan humour and a fair bit of admiration for the trappers. Occasionally, his wistful reminders that, out in the wilderness, they are free of government, free of taxes, free of bureaucracy, etc. etc. is a little too heavy-handed, but for the most part, his narration fits the documentary well.

Far more impressive than anything Herzog can provide are the demonstrations of traditional skills (especially the making of skis and the hollowing of a dug-out canoe), the rugged philosophy of the trappers and, above all, the sheer beauty of the landscape. The rive they live by and hunt around is an enormous sheet of ice for most of the year and comes slowly to life around May, looking something like a glacier rolling down a valley but much, much faster, carrying enormous chunks of ice as it flows. For the next couple of months it's navigable by boat, but after that it turns back to ice and becomes the domain of the snow-mobile. Happy People is a fabulous watch and, although occasionally too sentimental, it's a fascinating window into lifestyles we rarely see.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

LIFF25: El Sicario, Budrus and I Am Jesus

Ok then! Here come a few more review from the Leeds International Film Festival. I'm currently seeing more films than I can write about, so a review of Fanomonen's Night of the Dead will have to wait a day or so. For now, here are three documentaries from Monday and Tuesday...

El Sicario
This is certainly not a cheerful one! El Sicario can be summed up pretty quickly as one man in one room talking about the horrible things he has done. In a bit more depth, it is an ex-hitman in a hotel room in Ciudad Juarez, explaining over the course of 80 minutes what his life has contained. With his face masked throughout the film and no props other than a pad of drawing paper and a squeaky black marker, the hitman proceeds to explain the procedures of induction to the Mexican drug cartels and the jobs he had to carry out.

It is, as you can probably imagine, pretty gruelling stuff. He talks us through the day-by-day plan of a typical kidnapping, explains how the narcos (cartels) ensure there is at least one policeman in their pay amongst every group of new police recruits and recounts stories of strangling kidnapped people on the orders of the boss (if you strangle them before cutting them up, they bleed less, he explains).

Whilst this would all have worked equally powerfully (and in less time) if it were a written interview, his stories are compelling (and gruesome) enough to ensure that the time flies by. It's a grim but fascinating account of a lawless, dangerous life in a dangerous part of the world (Ciudad Juarez is now, apparently, the most violent city on the planet!)

Although you might not expect it from merely glancing at the subject matter, Budrus is a much more uplifting film than El Sicario. We've moved from Mexico to Palestine and are witnessing the residents of Budrus' attempts to prevent the Israeli fence from going through their lands, particularly their cemetery. In the face of the Israeli army's tear-gas and barricades, this is a film about people coming together to protect what they love (and, thankfully, succeeding). 

An especially powerful moment comes when a large group of Israeli peace-activists join the Palestinians in their village in opposition to the army. The interviewed army leader's claim that the destruction of this Palestinian village's cemetery was necessary for "Israelis to sleep soundly at night" rang somewhat hollow as a line of Israelis stood face-to-face with their own army. Perhaps even more shocking was the grumbled complaint from the army captain that they could no longer "use force" to crush the (nonviolent) opposition because "there were Israeli Jews in the group" - the implication that it was absolutely fine to violently crush peaceful Palestinian opposition remaining unspoken but unmissable...

I Am Jesus
From the serious to the ridiculous: I am Jesus is a wonderfully straight-faced documentary about three different people who fervently, honestly, astonishingly believe themselves to be the second coming of a certain Jesus Christ... 

From mental ex-secret-service hippy David Shayler ("I first realised I was Jesus whilst tripping on mushrooms...") via the bearded, robed Brazilian Inri Christo, to the messianic monk of the Siberian wilderness Vissarion, I have no hesitation at all in labelling these people as deluded, ego-centred freaks. For all that, little of what any of them do could possibly hurt anyone, so they're probably just best left to it really.

Great fun to watch and worth the ticket for the followers of Inri Christo's "mystical version" of Eye of the Tiger alone... 

Oh my...

Saturday, November 5, 2011

LIFF25 - Convento, Battenberg and Architects of Harmonic Rooms

Aaaaand the Leeds International Film Festival has kicked off. The opening gala of Wuthering Heights was not really the thing for me so, skipping over the first day, my festival started on day 2. There were lots of exciting sounding bits and pieces on today, including Human Centipede 2, Invasion of the Bodysnatchers, 22nd May and The Beat is the Law - Pulp and the Sheffield music scene. I saw...

This was an incredibly fun animated short, a crazy magpie battling a squirrel armed with a fishknife in a scary guesthouse. With a train that brings battenberg cake.  It's about as cool as that sounds.

This was a "poetic documentary" about a curious Dutch family who, part-way through a ballet career, moved out and bought a shabby old convent in Portugal. The (now ex-)
ballerina and her two sons live a quiet, happy life in this convent. One of them attaches motors to various animal skulls to make mechanised creepy sculptures whilst the other is er... best friends with his horse.
It's a beautifully shot and gently paced documentary but its long, lingering shots are, I thought, a weak point in the end. The three people have so many interesting things to say when they do get to speak that I left thinking it was a shame we heard so little from them. For all that, it is utterly gorgeous and definitely worth a watch.

Architects of Harmonic Rooms & Records
This was a selection of six short films put together by the same people, exploring a handful of different underground artists and their thoughts on their work. So we get the (unbelievably naïve) Josephine Foster singing re-arranged Spanish folk, avant-garde screaming noisesmiths debating the merits of playing naked and punching pianos, and and Costa and Nero, a pair who re-work Greek folk tunes on guitar and bouzouki.
The pick of the bunch though was the much longer, completely mad experimental noise trip through salvaged-from-VHS 70s and 80s Asian horror. We had bass drones accompanying vampire bats, Frankenstein-esque experiments scored with throbbing guitar and a jangling crescendo of other living-dead far Eastern monsters. I just wish they'd given out a list of the films they'd culled their clips from! Great fun!

Monday, October 10, 2011


Last weekend, the 25th annual Leeds International Film Festival launched its programme, ahead of the festival in November. There's heaps and heaps of exciting things to look forward to in what is, surely, one of the UK's premiere film festivals, so I thought I'd do a (very) brief preview here.

The Official Selection is the home of the big names, high-art and gruelling drama but really does host all sorts of things. It's nice to see the festival score the coup of a whole bunch of UK premier showings of European and World cinema as well as a handful of very exciting retrospectives. Psycho on the big screen is surely one not to be missed and, though I've seen them before, Waltz With Bashir and Persepolis are both great and worth a cinema trip. For the more hardy, Bela Tarr's epic Sátántangó - which is seven and a half hours long! - is screening in the Hyde Park Picture House. Thankfully it comes with two interval breaks!

In the gleefully brutal and bloody Fanomenon strand, meanwhile, there are also a few exciting treats to look forward to. Heading up the classic genre film retrospectives are Alien, Aliens and Invasion of the Body Snatchers but even these treats don't seem so tasty when compared to the bounties on offer in the new films selection. Monster Brawl, which pitches all the horror favourites against each other, looks too-good-to-miss whilst Exit Humanity's American Civil War zombie apocalypse would surely be the most gloriously insane zombie adventure imaginable, were it not for it being partnered up with Yoshihiro Nishimura's Hell Driver and Cuba's very first zombie film, Juan of the Dead. Oh my! That's three slices of very different but very exciting ZOMBIE ACTION! Hurrah!

Thirdly, and no less excitingly, comes the fabulous news that all Cherry Kino film screenings are FREE (!) this year! Cherry Kino is the semi-independent experimental film strand of the festival and hosts screenings and workshops of 'wondermental' films all year round. CK has it's own web presence in a blog (HERE!) and should bring some reliably curious, strangely beautiful experimentation to the screen. And it's FREEEEEE!

This is, obviously, a brief and over-excited preview. I didn't even find space to squeeze in a mention of the exquisitely bonkers-looking Japanese sub-section of the Fanomenon strand (hint: it'll be weird!), the Cinema Versa documentary strand or the short films strand. And the Official Selection definitely demands some more attention too. More to come soon!

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Watching James Bond films. All of them. In order.

So... this week I've taken on a new and exciting challenge: I'm going to watch all the James Bond films, ever single one, in the order they were made. Now, I'm not a complete masochist so I'm not going to set any kind of time limit on this: I'm not watching all 22 (twenty two!) back-to-back! I'll take it nice and slow; I'll put on the tux, shake my vodka martini and then relax and watch Bond, SPECTRE and all manner of exciting things.

Dr. No (1962 / Terence Young / Sean Connery)

And what better place to start than at the beginning? Dr. No, the film that started it all, is still a decent litle thriller by today's standards. It's packed to the brim with awesome and very memorable moments - Ursula Andress emerging from the sea! - and it cracks along at a decent pace, with attempted spider-aided assassination, fist-fights and car-chases. It doesn't have some of the classic elements we came to associate with later Bond films - gadgetry is decidedly thin here - but it does a lot of what you'd expect from a Bond film and does it well.

Sean Connery lays down a serious argument for his place as Best Bond Ever with his brilliantly suave performance, whether flirting in the casino or punching SPECTRE agents in the head - leaving the bloodied, dead agent in the car for the valet to deal with! There's no evil henchman on show (although sometimes that's a good thing) but Dr. No himself with his EVIL METAL HANDS is charismatically evil, a perfect villain.

The unavoidable criticism of the film, sadly, is that the ending just isn't very good. After such a decent story and some brilliant scenes, Bond and Dr. No's fight in what appears to be a climbing frame over the er... yellow-lit toxic bubbling water of death is really pretty lacklustre. Having built him up as a booming-voiced overseer, a metal-clawed monster, a smooth-talking SPECTRE agent, Dr. No's ignoble exit into the - oh so terrifying! - bubbling water is a complete let down really. Still, at least they make up for it a bit by blowing up the base... We all like a good explosion!

It's a good film, great fun to watch and, in many respects, just what you want from a James Bond film. But it's not perfect. Right, on with the list.... From Russia With Love next.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Massacre in Dinosaur Valley


Cannibals, cannibals, cannibals! A-biting and a-chomping! Snackin' on Human flesh!

For all that we might weave outrageous fantasies of Vampires and Were-wolves, of Aliens and Ghouls, of the half-dead and the undead and all manner of imaginary beasties, there's nothing quite as shocking as the atrocities and horrors enacted upon people by... Other People! From the Nazis to Human Centipedes, many of the most threatening films feature the cruelties of humans.

Somewhere within this tradition is the, now somewhat passé, strand of Cannibal films that excited 70s and 80s audiences. Some of these films, mostly Italian, clawed their way to notoriety, even infamy - I'm thinking Cannibal Holocaust... - whilst others drifted along in (mostly deserved) obscurity. Their sad drawback, as the 21st century viewer can't fail to notice, is that the exciting, blood-curdling thrilling tales of Amazonian savages exacting bloody acts of cruelty upon (mostly buxom and nubile) Europeans tend to extensively racist... The 'White man's burden' in this case is usually some civilizing mission to the Amazon rainforest, where civilizing usually involves (with a degree of historical accuracy) slaughtering the 'savages' they encountered.

That said, Massacre in Dinosaur Valley is obviously aware of this racist subcurrent and is careful to balance the acts of Native savagery with a good deal of Caucasian savagery too. It is, of course, sexist from start to finish but... well... it was made in Italy in the 70s...

After a spot of messing around in a Brazilian bar, a plane carrying a professor and his (beautiful) daughter, a young paleontologist, a US army vet and his alcoholic wife and a photographer and his two (beautiful) models crashes in... Dinosaur Valley! We lose a couple of the characters in the plane crash but the rest of the party set out into the jungle in a bid to escape to civilization. The story is, despite being utterly predictable, crass and unimaginative, astonishingly good fun from start to finish. As expected, we lose several of the characters along the way as they fall victim to jungle dangers such as piranhas and quicksand, until our remaining three - the brave young paleontologist, the professor's daughter and one of the models - find themselves caught up in the natives' tribal rituals, which involve dinosaur masks, claws and... gratuitous nudity! Hurrah!

Mostly unscathed, our heroes escape downriver and fall into the clutches of some rather unpleasant gem miners, who lock up the man and cart the women off to their bedrooms. Thankfully, predictably, all turns out more or less OK, as the baddies get their come-uppance and the good guy gets the girl as all her feminist leanings melt into nothing in the face of his rugged, heroic masculinity... (Hmmm)

As you should have worked out by now, Massacre In Dinosaur Valley is nothing if not trash but it is supremely enjoyable trash. It's poorly acted, poorly scripted and never really surprises but it does everything with such unabashed enthusiasm that, for a b-movie fan, it's very hard to sneer at it. Great fun!

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Dirty Pictures / Oasis of Fear / An Ideal Place to Kill

Some people's names just roll off your tongue. Umberto Lenzi. Ummm-berrrr-to. Ummmmm-berrrrr-to Lennnn-zi. How could you not do well with a name like that? Well, whether his success was dependent on his exquisite name or not (I guess it probably wasn't), this Chopping Mall post kicks off the first of an Umberto Lenzi two-parter. Hurrah for 60s and 70s Italian cinema!

I've already looked at one Lenzi film here, Nightmare City, which, whilst it might not be the pinnacle of zombie films, certainly has some decent and very memorable scenes. So from Nightmare City, let me drag you back in time a while... we are in early 1970s Italy and an English & Danish couple are funding their hippy bohemian lifestyle by selling smutty photos in public squares and streets.

Oasis of Fear (my favourite of the many titles) is an inconsequential but fun little film. Ingrid and Dick's porn-peddling business goes, rather predictably awry and they find themselves, after a run in with the polizia, on the run towards the border in their unfortunately distinctive car (Seriously: if you're doing something illegal, would you operate from a yellow sportscar with stencilled flowers? No, neither would I). After a series of still-more unfortunate encounters, the pair find themselves without petrol, money or food, sneaking into the house of a rather glamorous and apparently lonely woman for some sustenance.

Predictably, seeing as the couple are clinging very tightly to the sixties, their evening turns into a rather pleasant mix of food, drink and sleazy encounters. Also predictably, things don't look quite so rosy in the morning.

The main of the film takes place in and around this house, as Dick and Ingrid find themselves slowly uncovering the truth of Barbara Slater's life and, through a series of escalating mistakes, drag themselves ever deeper into a mess that was not of their making. Whilst Oasis of Fear is not particularly violent, fast-paced or exciting, there is a decent and continual build of suspense throughout: you may well find yourself shouting "No, don't do that" at the screen as the lead couple make yet more mistakes, but they thankfully rarely cross the line that separates "tragic mistake" from "irritating stupidity".

I don't really want to read much further into this film, as to do so would rob it of its tension, so I'll come to a close more or less here. It's worth mentioning that Irene Papas is a fabulous actress - playing the lonely Barbara Slater - and the film's success in many ways hinges upon her. I don't think it's giving too much away either to add that half the enjoyment of this film rests in their being no conventionally 'good' characters. Much like the Spaghetti Western, this film seems to echo American cinema but removes the tired good-bad opposition from it, instead creating a world full of unpleasant, self-motivated villains, yet all the while never quite alienating the audience.

(And yes, I wrote all that without mentioning the word Giallo. Whilst it might technically fit into the giallo genre, it just doesn't feel giallo-enough for me to consider it as one)

Coming soon: Deep River Savages / The Man from Deep River / Il paese del sesso selvaggio

My copy of this came from Shameless Entertainment's lovingly restored copy, blending some Italian (and thankfully subtitled) scenes with the otherwise English dub. Definitely worth checking out. The screencaps here are not from my copy though.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

La Horde

Zombies were what got me into b-movies, monster flicks and horror in general. Though I was never the bravest of film-goers back when I was young, from the moment I watched Night of the Living Dead and then Dawn of the Dead, I was smitten. (But not bitten!). So I went out and hunted other zombie films, read books about zombie films (Jamie Russell's Book of the Dead is fantastic) and generally immersed myself in the world of the zombie.

Over the next few years, I watched some gems, some forgettable films and some utter atrocities (Lake of the Zombies, I'm looking at you!). Sadly, however, it doesn't take very long until you find yourself pretty saturated with zombie films. The downside of a reliably consistent mythology such as zombies is that they very quickly all become the same. Even the Great Debate of zombie cinema is only concerned with the speed they move... Plots, films, set-pieces and characters all very quickly blur into one, leaving only a few stand-out films or scenes that hang around in your memory (like Zombi 2's underwater zombie fight!)

It's certainly well-documented that zombies have, over the last few years, been very much back in fashion, but this doesn't necessarily bode well for decent movies. Whilst the Resident Evil games are fun, the film cross-over (at least, the first one) was pretty dire and Zombieland was a sentimental, overhyped, deeply-flawed trampling of the zombie legacy. There've been some decent funny approaches to the zombie - Shaun of the Dead and Dead Snow both show much love for the genre they parody but, whilst parody is fun at times, there has been little meat for the lover of zombie cinema to get their teeth into. The first half of 28 Days Later is probably the height of 21st century zombie cinema, if we're honest. All of which should go someway to explaining quite how refreshing it was to watch La Horde, France's contribution to 21st Century Zombie Cinema!

La Horde has had some pretty mixed reviews across the internet, but I must say that I thought it was great, a fabulously fun ride from start to finish that reminded me how long it was since I'd seen a zombie movie even half as good. I would quite confidently suggest that a large number of those who've been negative about this film didn't like zombie cinema in the first place. And this is important. Whilst La Horde is great fun, it's certainly no crossover hit in the sense of 28 Days. This is a film made for zombie lovers by zombie lovers.

What we get here is a film that's fast, funny, fresh and gory enough to maintain interest yet that treads very carefully within the boundaries of the zombie mythology that we know and love. The set-up is essentially a familiar one, a group of people who do not get along at all are tasked with relying upon each other to survive a relentless mass of the living dead. This has been the broad set-up for many a zombie film and, provided the interaction between the characters is fresh and interesting, it's a set-up that still has much to give. The choice to align a criminal gang and a police force in La Horde is an inspired one, and one that becomes still more inspired as it the film slowly messes with our opinions on exactly who the 'goodies' and 'baddies' are within the group. Refreshingly, the woman of the group is utterly bad-ass too. Women in zombie films have so often had to accept the role of screaming idiot, so Claude Perron's snarling, zombie-smashing character is decidedly welcome.

The Zombies, as so often in a decent zombie film, do not steal the limelight at all (there are thankfully no humorous or particularly distinctive examples) and exist to snarl, snap and splatter, bashing endlessly against locked doors and hunting down the living. They're fast - but that's fine - and they're dead. The reason for their zombification is never really explained and hardly even alluded to (cue much disgruntled muttering on the IMDB messageboards) but this is simply not a problem: anyone who thinks a zombie film is about an explanation for what might provoke a zombie attack is misunderstanding the genre. Zombies are the eternal 'other'. They embody threat, fear, isolation and death, they are nightmares; finding plausible reasons for their existence is somewhat besides the point.

Mostly, what appeals about La Horde is that it is a great fun film. A frantic dash through walking corpses full of suspense and... some good splatter.

And splatter is what a decent zombie film is all about...

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Yakuza Deka: The Assassin

Given that I know a fair bit about horror and thrillers (especially the lowbudget 70s European attempts!), they're not that difficult to write about or evaluate in some form. I do, after all, have plenty else to compare them with. This becomes a sort of self-sustaining reason for me not really writing about much else on this blog. You see the word 'Western' in the banner above? Not once have I written about a Western (although I have watched loads...). The same with Noir. And, for that matter, Slashers flicks too.

Nowhere in the banner above does it say 'Japanese Action'. I don't know much about Japanese action. I'd even go so far as to say I know almost nothing about Japanese action films. The 'almost' in that sentence is important, however, as I am currently sure of one important fact concerning these Far Eastern flicks: Sonny Chiba kicks ass.

---This review does, technically, contain spoilers.---
---But they won't spoil your enjoyment of the film---

I bought volume 1 of Optimum Asia's digitally remastered Sonny Chiba collection some time ago and, although I have previously watched all three of the films, a re-watch of Yakuza Deka: The Assassin last night reminded me just how good they are. Chiba is a relentlessly charismatic star, his round-ish face and wry smile grinning out from under a wide-brimmed leather hat announces his arrival in the film and, with no disrespect to the other actors, the scenes without Chiba on screen positively drag compared to his screentime.

Yakuza Deka: The Assassin gives us a fairly routine action plot: Chiba plays Hayata, a policeman is sent deep undercover by his force, infiltrating and working for a Mafia gang, a gang whom he later betrays - in a wonderful blaze of gunfire - in order to earn the respect of a rival marijuana smuggling gang. He does, of course, eventually gun the rival gang down too. Whilst none of this is exactly ground-breaking stuff, it does allow us to go on a fast-paced dash through streets, brothels, drug-dens, amorous horserides (!) and Mafia HQs.

And that's where my action flick vocabulary runs out. I think it's a mark of a decently paced action film that they do, in fact, resist description. There's hardly a moment to pause to think amongst the double-crossing, the sniper rifles, the chases and the fighting and this is very much to the film's advantage (the only slow scenes - especially a drug-induced hallucination - are pretty tiresome). All I shall add is that the movie does manage a satisfactory explosive ending, rather than limping to a quiet finish, and will almost certainly leave any fan of action films grinning from start to finish.

Monday, July 4, 2011

The Horror of Frankenstein

Ahh, just as I was about to go to bed, having finished and (briefly) written up Humanoids From the Deep, I spotted that ITV4 were running Hammer's The Horror of Frankenstein. In HD.

Well, how on earth could I refuse? Horror of Frankenstein is a fabulously tongue-in-cheek offering from Hammer in their latter days. As something like the sixth in their Frankenstein films, it's much heavier on the camp action, the smiling buxom women and the smutty jokes than it is on the suspense (Sample line: "I really need to go home and complete my anatomy homework. Will you help me, Maggie?" "Oooh yes, shall I take my clothes off now or later?") but sometimes a bit of cinematic trash is more than welcome. Hell, did I say sometimes? Cinematic trash is always welcome!

Young Victor Frankenstein is played by Hammer regular Ralph Bates (Taste the Blood of Dracula, Lust for a Vampire etc.), preparing to spend a summer away from school doing all the things that normal college kids do: scientific experiments, pursuing the secret of life, re-animating dead flesh, kid-stuff like that. Bates' leering aristocratic arrogance is so wonderfully repulsive that he becomes utterly captivating. He's certainly no Peter Cushing nor Christopher Lee but, to my mind, Bates carved out his own minor Hammer legacy: a sneering, slimy legacy, but a legacy nonetheless.

As a whole, there's no denying that this is on the lower end of Hammer's output. Several of the mid-film scenes really do drag and, other than Ralph Bates, little of the actors have much to recommend them (although I don't think any of the women were cast for their acting abilities...). Despite this, the fun moments are as fun as they mean to be and even the dull moments are lightheartedly dull (everyone knows that earnestly dull is far, far worse!).

The monster, when he finally appears, is satisfyingly monstrous, although anyone familiar with the book (or any half-faithful film) will be disappointed at the monster's instinctive brutality: we all know the monster is supposed to be a sadly misunderstood mistake of nature. Instead, this film plays out as a kind of cross between Karloff's Frankenstein - as imagined by someone who's never seen the film - and Mel Brooks' Young Frankenstein - albeit without much in the way of jokes.

This might all seem a fairly negative dismissal of what is, essentially a very enjoyable film; I don't mean it to be. The Horror of Frankenstein is a fairly flawed but entirely watchable blend of diluted horror folklore and camp period drama. It's hardly memorable but it is great fun.

Note: The HD transfer is, though better than the standard definition print, none-too-astonishing. I'm no expert - not by a long stretch - but I've certainly seen much crisper HD versions of old films. Whilst I obviously can't complain too hard (it was, after all, on TV for free) this is someway short of HD worth paying for.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Humanoids From the Deep

Sometimes it's nice to follow one movie with a similarly themed one. But, I asked, where on earth do you go after The Island of the Fishmen? How could I possibly follow up this Roger Corman distributed, low-budget thriller about an island plagued by half-men, half-fish creatures?

Well... how about a Roger Corman produced, low-budget thriller about a small town plagued by half-men, half-fish creatures? It's time for Humanoids From the Deep! (1996 version)

Right from the start it's pretty apparent that this is a (slightly) more upmarket affair: the opening credits feature soldiers, flamethrowers and guns! Humanoids From the Deep, for all it's shlocky monster fun is a pretty neat little film, all told, and whilst it's missing some of the too-crappy-to-be-believed charm of the Island of the Fishmen it's definitely an entertaining film. A shady fishing company is dumping chemicals in the water, chemicals that might well be having a terrifying effect upon the local sealife. It's paint-by-numbers monster horror in many respects but it's none the worse for it.

I don't really want to say too much about the plot, suffice to say that within the fishing company we have the necessary conscience-stricken good-guy and the profit-at-all-costs badguy, content to poison the water with unknown growth hormones. Of course, the situation comes to a bit of a head when Good-guy's daughter goes missing (along with several local environmental protesters) and he starts to investigate. Before long, Government agencies have arrived, scary fishmen are grabbing people all over the place and all hell has broken loose. The film suffers from the occasional dull moment in it's opening half but, from about 45 minutes in, it's a rollercoaster of murder, mayhem and fish!

This is not the original Humanoids of the Deep (1980, IMDB page here) but rather the 1996 remake. This new version is, by all accounts, less sleazy and less splattery. While that might be a shame, as I haven't seen the original I am in no position to judge this one in relation to it. I know for sure that this is an awful lot of fun and, thankfully, doesn't take itself too seriously at all. If the original's even better... well, I'd better watch that one too!

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Island of the Fishmen aka L'isola degli uomini pesce

Well, it's been a while since I wrote (or watched, for that matter) anything as gloriously silly as Island of the Fishmen. Whilst I have seen it before, it was only once and somewhat over a year ago, so I thought this re-imagining of Dr Moreau's isalnd was ripe for another watch. And what a (ahem) treat it is!

It opens as you might expect a tense serious monster film to: the sea is still, several injured men look silently at the camera and a gull screeches overhead. Something has gone very wrong here, but we just don't know what! Maybe this will be, despite the name, a slow-building tense affair, all hinted-at flashes and unsettling curiosities..... OH WAIT, NO! MONSTERS HAVE ARRIVED!

The boat rocks, the men shout and scream, despite clearly being in a studio rather than the ocean they are plunged into the sea! We see flashes of fishy monster hands and eyes... and all this in the first five minutes.

The greatest thing about this film is that, unlike many of its ilk, it never really slows down. All too often, I've watched dull films with snappy titles, fun beginnings and then a tedious 45 minute crawl towards a decent finale, the kind of film that makes 90 minutes seem like a very long time indeed. Thankfully, Island... is not one of these. The pace does dip and wobble but the sense of threat and excitement never really leaves. Even within the first half hour or so most of the first characters meet grisly fates (more fishmen!) , presumably-poisonous snakes have threatened the others and native islanders have attacked and captured our heroes. Through all this carnage walks the impressive mustachioed badguy, Rackham (Richard Johnson), sneering and snarling his lines at his captive would-be wife and our shipwrecked hero.

From here on in it just gets sillier. We learn about the rediscovery of Atlantis, the origin of the savage clawed fishmen and the dastardly Rackham's true plans. It's chaotically silly stuff that makes little sense to anyone but it romps on through with gleeful abandon. And it is great fun.

I don't want to give too much of the fabulous plot away but I couldn't help but mention the volcano shots... Every now and then the camera cuts to some very impressively shot footage of erupting volcanoes - obviously lifted from a nature documentary - which, when contrasted with the unspeakably silly Fishmen costumes, makes them look even more ridiculous than they otherwise would have done.

N.B. This was re-cut and re-released in the US as Screamers. I'm not really sure in what ways that version was different, as I watched the Italian print, but I do know that Roger Corman re-shot the intro to add more gore... The poster for Screamers bears almost no relation to what happens in the Island of the Fishmen!

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Banning the Human Centipede II

A day or two ago, the UK's national organisation of stopping-you-watching-things, the BBFC, announced that they had rejected The Human Centipede II (Full Sequence) as a work too depraved to be released in the UK, a film that couldn't be salvaged by any measure of cuts, a story that would corrupt and damage our all-too-fragile sensibilities.

In one word, this is ridiculous.

To explain why, I'm using this post to write out three of the reasons I believe this. Namely, that 1) this move reveals awkward things about what we do and don't accept, 2) that the evidence upon which we base the 'dangers' of watching bad things is pretty slim and 3) that censorship simply doesn't work.

What we ban.
The BBFC have always had a major downer on sexualised violence. This might not be such a surprise in itself but it becomes more unusual when you consider that they are considered one of the more lenient bodies in almost all other forms of violence or abuse. Although this has always been the case (see David Pirie's New Heritage of Horror) it is becoming more and more obvious as other very violent films or very explicitly sexual films are released uncut, whilst any combination of the two tends to fall foul of the censors' scissors.

David Cox's Guardian article is spot-on in picking out this detail and makes the following point (quoting the BBFC's explanation):
The board explain that the original film was OK (if "undoubtedly tasteless and disgusting") because its centipede was the product of a "revolting medical experiment", whereas its successor is unacceptable because its own centipede is "the object of the protagonist's depraved sexual fantasy"
So there we have it. Apparently, the minute someone is enjoying their disgusting creation, rather than simply experimenting, it becomes something which no-one should watch. The inconsistency here is phenomenal: this is, as Cox says "an ideological step", exposing a curious belief that repulsive violence, sadistic actions and grisly surgical detail are in someway only bad if someone in the film derives some kind of sexual pleasure from them.

And if this is the case, as the BBFC seems to think it is, then there had better be some good evidence to support it, right? Oh...

Why we ban.
There really still isn't very much clear evidence that watching something nasty in any way makes you nasty.

I should point out, I'm talking about censorship rather than restriction. I have no problem at all with limiting children's access to films but I think we're on much more troublesome ground when it comes to adults.

The BBFC state:
It is the Board’s conclusion that the explicit presentation of the central character’s obsessive sexually violent fantasies is in breach of its Classification Guidelines and poses a real, as opposed to a fanciful, risk that harm is likely to be caused to potential viewers.
Oh. So this film "poses a real risk that harm is likely to be caused to potential viewers", does it? Even when we get around the incredibly vague probability of this sentence (risk...likely...potential..) it is quite a bold statement. What kind of harm do they mean? And how is it measured? Even more interestingly, why is it that sexualised violence poses more risk than non-sexualised but equally brutal and graphic violence?

In fact, do they have any evidence to suggest this at all?

It would seem not. Ah well, it hardly matters really because, as anyone with half a brain could tell you...

Censorship doesn't work.
It's a curious thing. In a world in which movie and film industries are having remarkable difficulty in forcing their 'customers' to actually pay for their 'product', how does the BBFC think a ban will effect the viewing figures of The Human Centipede?

It was not submitted for a cinema release, so we can already discount cinema screenings. What the BBFC's ruling does is to make DVD sales of the film illegal in the UK. Despite this, we can absolutely take it for granted that the moment this film actually hits DVD somewhere in the world, it'll show up on the internet in high quality, just waiting to be downloaded.

Not only will it be available, however, but it now has a whole heap of free publicity. At the time of writing this, the BBFC's decision is reported as news on the front pages of several national newspapers' websites (inc. Guardian, Daily Mail, Independent) and is now something that people have heard of. The classic censor's argument about protecting the children is also obviously poor: nothing makes a fifteen year old want to see a film so much as being told it's been banned! And, with the internet, they (and everyone else) will be able to access it easily.


So, in short, a disaster. For dubious reasons, the BBFC have inflicted an unenforceable ban which will almost certainly massively increase the number of people who see the film. Gee, that was smart, wasn't it?

Monday, May 30, 2011

Why You Should Watch The Tunnel

A week and a bit ago,
The Tunnel, an indie Australian horror film was released for free online. The creators have taken a daring approach to film distribution, attempting to cover the $135,000 production cost of their film by selling individual frames on their website, releasing a deluxe DVD and organising a couple screenings. A lot has been said already about this side of the project so... let's ignore it all together and focus on the actual film.

The Tunnel is a pretty damn decent 'found-footage' style movie. As such, comparisons to other similarly styled/gimmicky (delete-as-per-your-taste) are absolutely inevitable. Amongst such competition, by my reckoning, The Tunnel mounts a pretty strong defence and, whilst it's by no means the best around, it certainly holds its own. And kicks Paranormal Activity all over the park (although, in truth, that isn't exactly hard...)

The unique selling point in this case is the presentation of the story as a documentary, with talking-heads style interviews with several of the lead characters involved in the story. This, as should be immediately obvious, has a fairly massive downside... You. Know. Who. Survives. I'm not giving anything away here at all (I do seriously hope lots of people will watch this) but, given that we expect people to die in horror films (that's what happens!), the fact that the film makers show us two of the four lead characters talking to the camera from the start leaves the audience to draw some fairly easy conclusions!

Minor documentary-gripe aside, they do succeed in setting up a genuinely intriguing story. With contemporary fears over water-shortages, the New South Wales government have come up with a new plan to use the miles of abandoned train tunnels that run underneath the city for water storage. For various reasons, this leads to our starring group of intrepid (and possibly implausibly stupid...) band of journalists to go exploring in the dark. Sadly, they've told no-one they were going (they clearly haven't seen 127 Hours). And they're staggeringly under-prepared and under-equipped. Even Theseus took a thread with him when he went into the labyrinth!

Needless to say, all sorts of tragedy, violence and scary noises ensues.

Again, I don't want to go into too much detail about what actually occurs. The camera wiggles, night-vision comes and goes, screams and cries echo through the tunnels. It's stylishly and competently put together and puts their sub-Sydney environment to good use. The only criticism I can really level at the film, however, is that with such an interesting background story created for the film, much of the detail and interest gets forgotten about from around halfway through. They're not the only ones who do it - District 9 forgets entirely about its mockumentary format from about 30 minutes in - but it did leave me wanting a little bit more from the story. I'm not the kind of viewer who likes to be spoon-fed an easy solution, but having interested me in the story, to forget about it was a bit of a let down. Perhaps, like the creators of [REC], they intend to reveal a lot more of the story, the causes, etc. in a future instalment. Perhaps they don't.

Either way, The Tunnel is a well-made, decently paced and enjoyable film. It's interesting, genuinely creepy in places and leaves you wanting more (or though not in an entirely positive way). Oh, and did anyone mention that it's free?

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Cannes ban von Trier...

Oh dear, oh dear, Lars von Trier has certainly upset the Cannes-folk, hasn't he?

Does anyone really not see how ridiculous this is? Has anyone who does insist that it was a very serious issue actually seen/heard the video? He preceded the comments by pointing out that his next film was a four hour long hardcore porn film starring Kirsten Dunce. With no dialogue.

This man is bored. This man is bored of the dull routine of press conferences and he rambles off on a provocative wander. He clearly has no idea where this ramble is going and laughs at himself throughout. So you don't like the humour? Fine, I can't say I'm wild about it either, but the "von Trier is a Nazi" headlines that everyone has been churning out just seem like willful media aggression. Which is pretty pathetic.

But the media are the media, they're always been smug hypocrites. Luckily, the Cannes organizers are above all that ... just as bad. It'd be bad enough that they were dismissing him for what was clearly a joke, given with all the other stuff they've put up with, if it weren't for the smiling face of Emir Kusturica who's running this year's Un Certain Regard competition at Cannes. This is the same Kusturica who has very seriously made comments suggesting an extent of support for Milosevic.. Suddenly, Lars jests don't look so important...

Edit: The Daily Beast have a very interesting post with a response from von Trier.

“It was stupid and the wrong place to be sarcastic,” von Trier admitted. “Of course, I don’t sympathize with Hitler. And, as we all know, the Holocaust was the cruelest and most barbaric crime against humanity of the last century … My only excuse is that if I think a press conference is getting boring I start to perform. [...] The reason that I make these Jewish jokes is that, for half my life, I thought I was Jewish. If you’re Jewish, you’re allowed to make Jewish jokes. So it’s hard to break that habit when you find out that you’re not really Jewish. All of my children have Jewish names. I’m sorry that people took it the wrong way. But I know why; I was stupid enough to talk to the world like I talk to my best friends.”
What we have here, as so many times before when the world reacts with shock to particularly callous/offensive remarks is an absolute lack of context. The people at the press conference are familiar with von Trier's style (there is plenty of laughter or at least nervous tittering through the video) and the people who watch von Trier's films are familiar with his style. It's only when remarks given in a closed circle spread (inter)nationally that things start to kick off and the apoplectic rage blinds everyone...

Anyway, if nothing else, this gives me an excuse to stick a couple of awesome Nazi-themed posters from sleazey films in this post. So without further ado, here's and . Quality, family-friendly entertainment, I'm sure...

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Cannes 2011

So Cannes 2011 starts tomorrow, everyone's favourite round-up of often pretentious, frequently over-serious and yet still usually fantastic film. There's almost no point getting too excited about any of the films on the actual bill because, months down the line when they actually get a release, the interest usually wears off before I get to actually see them. So I'm taking a fairly laid-back approach to it this year, mostly just reading the occasional review or summary. Or I might read everything I can find. We'll see...

Neither Empire nor Total Film have much up yet for Cannes besides the month-old line-up announcement. More from them to come soon, I'm sure... The Guardian's Cannes section has a predictably thorough-but-earnest Peter Bradshaw analysis of the main contenders up, whilst Mark Kermode is not going (he's not much of a fan).

But what about the films themselves? Well, to be honest, very few of them are really shouting to me. I'll keep half an eye out for the Lars Von Trier contribution (Melancholia) and Almodóvar's latest (The Skin I Live In) whilst Takashi Miike's Hara-Kiri: Death Of A Samurai certainly has potential (Peter Bradshaw, needless to say, is not interested!).

Half the fun, however, is usually to be found in keeping an eye on the mad as can be films in the marketplace, fighting desperately for distribution deals. There're almost always a good few horror and other indie gems to look out for there, so I'm sure that's where my attention will be focused.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

The death of cinema?

So I've been meaning to write this for a few days now. Shame it's taken me so long...

As reported in the Guardian and many other places on Sunday, several big-name directors have joined the cinema industry in attacking movie-industry plans to shorten the amount of time between the cinema debut of a film and its home availability, by making video-on-demand (that's streaming) films available as little (?) as two months after the film's release.

They roll out some interesting claims to fight these plans: VOD releases will increase piracy, they say, and will force cinemas to close. These are BAD THINGS and, if big, important names are saying them they MUST BE TRUE. Right?


One of the marks of almost any cultural industry (ugh, I hate pairing those words) is that those who've climbed their way to the top tend to have an (entirely to be expected) fondness for the status quo. Things are how they are and should be as they should be. Why would you change anything?

Sadly for them (but not for us), life doesn't work like that. We like progress. We like exciting new things. We like big shiny fun things that no-one else in the history of mankind has ever had. Hence we invent stuff, we find new ways to look at the world, we radically alter our relationship with life, culture, art and the environment. I am by no means suggesting that this is always positive - it's not, the obscene quantity of human-created human suffering is testament to that - but I am suggesting that it's inevitable: we're just not adapted to maintaining the status quo. Things will change.

So let's return to Earth for a moment and go back to look at their claim. It will increase piracy. It will. Will it? The evidence that it would is very shaky. Let's be blunt: it's very easy to find films on the internet. I (obviously) am not about to link to anywhere you can get it but the current box office smash Fast and the Furious 5 is all over the internet. I have no idea what kind of quality it is, but it's there and that's enough.

Now, what we have here is the Film Industry's Music-Industry-Moment. For the music industry, this happened somewhere around the whole Napster deal. Faced with a very clever technology (hello internet!) capable of delivering high quality content at (even then) fairly decent speeds, they were poised to make an industry revolution. They bottled it. Years later and the Beatles music has only just been made available online (November last year). No-one was keeping count, but thousands of Beatles albums were certainly downloaded in that time. Today's online music sites still often provide higher quality music than some shops sell.

The point I'm approaching (slowly) here, is that refusal to engage with digital distribution for fear of increased piracy is futile and narrow-minded. The Film Industry has to take the initiative and provide a decent service that people will pay for before they get used to downloading films. If they wander blindly into the same place as the music industry there is no way back.

The second point, and I think the one I object to more, is that it will mean cinemas to close. This relies on out automatic linking of "closing things = bad" without pausing to think about the relation in question: why will people choose to watch a film at home rather than in a cinema?

Some of the answers are related to progress again - we have bigger better TVs with bigger better speakers, the gap between home and cinema has narrowed - but there's also an implicit condemnation of the way cinemas are run and have been run for years.

Cinema visits in the UK are horrendously expensive. The price for a single ticket is already bordering on the price for a DVD in some cases. I might like the cinema but I can't afford to go as much as I'd like. If me and four friends each bought a DVD we'd have spent little more than it'd cost the five of us to go to the cinema and we'd see five times as many films.

It's also astonishing (and, depressingly true) how regular it is to hear serious film-fans describe the cinematic experience as being deeply disappointing. We brave the ticket prices, stump up and march in. The sticky floors and chewing-gum covered seats are what welcomes us. The bunches of screaming kids chucking sweets at each other and talking continues throughout. You leave thinking, 'I wish I could've seen that in my own house'. Seriously, what would it cost a cinema to have a member of staff to kick out the people who ruin a film for everyone?

So there we have it. Cameron, Bigelow et al are clinging to what they love. The cinemas are using this as another excuse to neatly avoid considering why less people go to the cinema and they're all intent on digging in their heels to slow the inevitable. And, I should add, by the inevitable, I certainly don't mean the death of cinema. This is not the end. This is another chapter. I love the cinema and will continue to go but it shouldn't need to be carefully protected: to survive it must make progress too, it must work to provide an absolutely inimitable experience that we're prepared to pay for.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

European Post-2000 Horror

So... after the brief but exciting burn-out that was the intensive Argento-fest in March, it's time to move to a bit of a new project. This one, rather than the as-much-as-possible-in-a-week format, will be somewhat more drawn out, allowing me to do other stuff in between. Like eating. And sleeping.

The project plan is to watch more Horror. Specifically, Horror from Europe (this is not a slight on the rest of the world, honest! I'd just like to see more Euro-Horror). Even more specifically, European Horror from the last 'decade'. I'm taking decade to mean Y2K onwards, so perhaps should better say the project's full name ought to be: 21st Century European Horror.

Now I've seen a few of these already - I expect you have too. I'm not going to be strict about only watching new things, about the boundaries of Europe or... well, about anything really. This is supposed to be fun, after all.

There's a nice list by someone called 'propelas' here of some of the highlights of C21EH (as it shall now be known). 'ratty1984' also contributes a short list over at IMDB. Although I love lists (I really do...), my intention here is not to make a list, I have no plans to be comprehensive about this, I just want to watch some horror.

And with films like Martyrs, El Orfanato, [Rec] (and [Rec]2) and Sauna (AKA Filth) on the list, it should be good fun. c21EH, here we come...

Edit: And new project means new banner, hurrah!

Monday, March 28, 2011


SUSSSSSSSSPIRIA! On a great big screen!

Last night, after a week of Argento film's, I got to see his spellbinding masterpiece Suspiria on a cinema-screen in the National Media Museum as part of the Bradford International Film Festival. I'd obviously wound myself into a bit of a frenzied excitement about it through the week and it certainly did not disappoint.

Every time I hear someone say they choose to watch films at home rather than at the cinema, mostly due to all the other film-goers, I think to myself "You've just been going to the wrong films with the wrong people!". Last night's audience had almost all seen the film before and sat in captivated silence, tittering nervously at the occasional gentle comic moments and - even before fun - audibly anticipating oncoming moments of horror. If a bad crowd can ruin a film, a great crowd can make one. Not that Suspiria needed any help in that respect...

My first and only minor gripe is that it was very sadly the cut version. This was an original cinematic print taken from the Media Museum's extensive archive and so was a print of the X-rated version that the BBFC approved in 1977, after demanding 1m13 of cuts (Cut info at Melon Farmers). Now, to those not familiar with horror film, particularly of BBFC-butchered horror film of a couple of decades ago, 1m13 might not sound very much. It also might not sound so important if I tell you that the full extent of the cuts involved removing a series of close-ups of stabbing, someone struggling through barbed wire and a dog biting a man's throat. Cuts, however, do make a difference to the rhythm and pacing of a film. Suspira is a film that, like so many Argento, thrives on the atmospheric build-up, to the point that the death scenes actually become a kind of release. For a couple of them to be dramatically shortened here was a shame.

Still, whilst that was the downside to it being an original theatrical print, there were certainly upsides. The first (and some would reject this) was that the image did have a wonderfully scratchy look. Anyone who's seen a film in cinemas that was filmed entirely in HD-digital knows how clinical and sterile it can look (I'm looking at you Public Enemy!) and, whilst I'm not suggesting scratchy is the way forward, there was certainly something enjoyable about watching a 70s film I thought I'd never see in a cinema, complete with all the visual wear and tear that a 30 year old 35mm reel has experienced (even if carefully looked after by the Museum)

The second benefit was the sound. The sound! Anyone who's seen Suspiria, an Argento film or evne read any of my blog from this week will know that sound makes up an enormous part of Argento's films. Suspiria is (arguably) the very best of these, scored again by the ever wonderful Goblin, and positively throbs, jangles and crashes at you. Original print, combined with cinema sound system made it an utterly fantastic experience that I'm sure I'll never be able to repeat (especially as most commercial releases saw the soundtrack savagely remixed).

The film itself is a whirling, semi-nonsensical, breathtaking journey of colour and sound, moving from the giallo murder-mystery into something a whole lot more supernatural, with savagely brilliant results. I really don't want to say too much more about the actual film, save to say that it is pretty much the best example of all the techniques I've been seeing this week in all his other films. It's not perfect (the scene-with-the-bat is awful) but it's brilliant, beautiful and should be seen by everyone.