Saturday, 30 October 2010

George Romero Week at The Death Rattle

As some of you may know, Aaron over at The Death Rattle has been busy all week, posting about the work of George Romero. Romero’s work is generally considered to be groundbreaking, genre-redefining stuff; he’s often credited with reinventing modern horror cinema with his morbidly bleak masterpiece Night of the Living Dead. Throughout the years he is a filmmaker who has consistently proved he has a unique and singular vision, effectively realised with each cinematic offering.

So head over to The Death Rattle to check out Aaron’s guide to Romero’s Top 13 movies, a Poll of the Dead and various guest posts by the likes of B-Movie Becky from The Horror Effect, Carl Manes from I Like Horror Movies, Neil Fulwood from Agitation of the Mind, Brian Bankston from Cool Ass Cinema and Richard of Doomed Moviethon and Cinema Somnambulist. There’s also a little something on Romero’s mould-breaking vampire tale Martin, by your’s truly. But don’t let that put you off.

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Life Blood

2009
Dir. Ron Carlson

AKA Pear Blossom

New Year’s Eve, 1969. Totally hot, ample-bosomed lesbian lovers Brooke (Sophie Monk) and Rhea (Anya Lahiri) are at a totally hot, swinging party in LA. The evening’s glitter ball bedazzled festivities are cut short when Brooke stumbles into the bathroom and interrupts Hollywood A-lister Warren James (Justin Shilton) totally attempting to rape a young fan (Scout Taylor-Compton – Halloween, Halloween II). Brooke, being a totally hot, feisty and opinionated lesbian (well it was the Sixties!) naturally objects to this sort of not-cool behaviour and stabs the would-be rapist in the throat. In a really hot, pouty way. A lot. Escaping to the desert in their car (“I just wish I could let the top down and let this warm desert air cleanse my body”), Brooke and Rhea then encounter God herself (supermodel-slash-actress Angela Lindvall), who, after she takes on the form of a cheap CGI sandstorm, is revealed to be A TOTALLY HOT GIRL! Who is naturally clad in very see through, very skimpy negligee. She offers to turn the pair into immortal, vampiric angels of death, destined to wander the earth destroying evil wherever they find it.

Cut to forty years later. Our leggy lesbian lovers are resurrected from their desert tomb/womb to begin their totally divine mission. This naturally involves a shot of them strutting along a moonlit desert highway in their sexy lingerie. Not in slow motion though, because that would just be silly. Enamoured with her newfound power and immortality however, sassy Brooke decides that satisfying her constant bloodlust is much more fun than doing God’s work and goes on a totally horrifying killing spree that only Rhea can end!!


Life Blood holds much promise in its trashy, irreverent premise. Dubbed ‘Daughters Of Darkness meets Thelma and Louise’, the concept of hot lipstick lesbian vampires getting it on and kicking ass in the name of the Lord (who is also an alluring and provocatively attired hottie, of course) holds the promise of much guilty pleasure. But does it deliver on this lurid and preposterous promise? Hell, yeah! Well actually, yes and no. While there is much to delight here – lesbians, midget cops, boobs, gore, ludicrously funny dialogue, irresistible campiness and a sordid Joie de vivre all executed with a quirky camp charm, Life Blood positively zips along for its first act, content to revel in its own kinky trashiness. Until our lesbian lovelies need to seek refuge from the rising sun, that is.

When they hide out at a gas station, the movie pretty much slams on the breaks and doesn’t seem to know what to do next. While it is necessary to the plot for Brooke and Rhea to hide from the sun in a confined location, and was also most likely due to budget constraints, the second act feels dragged out, with the rest of the film playing out in the confines of the gas station. Having Brooke kill and drink the blood of whoever enters the station just isn’t enough, and the story skimps on the alluring promise of vampire lesbians ridding the world of nasty sinners. Even the priceless dialogue (“Can we close the blinds? This desert’s really hot”) can’t keep things ticking over. A modest body count is racked up nonetheless as Brooke offs everyone who enters the gas station, appropriately (yet very oddly) called 'Murder World.' And that is pretty much it for the rest of the film! She also bumps of Rhea when they have a hot girl fight about how to use their powers. Once night falls though, Rhea revives from her hot girl fight attack and gives chase. The ending, when it comes, is of the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it variety. An all too brief showdown is over in a flash, quite literally. Evil is predictably smote and our now lone avenging lesbian vampire acquires an unexpected sidekick.

The avenging angel theme recalls such titles as The Prophecy and recent clunker Legion, but Life Blood never really does anything with the intriguing premise of God-created, heavenly vampiric avengers sent to drain the life from sinners who cross their path. Instead, what we get is a movie set in a gas station in which two lesbians bitch and fight and kill some people. While its potential to become a future trashy cult classic is debatable, Life Blood still manages to unspool as a lurid, mainly enjoyable, blood-soaked romp with a distinct comic book vibe.

Hey, it’s about totally hot vampire lesbians fucking shit up for God! What were you expecting?

Life Blood (cert. 18) was released on DVD (£12.99) by Chelsea Films on 11th October 2010.

Not Like Others

2008
Dir. Peter Pontikis

AKA Vampyrer

Vera (Jenny Lampa) and Vanja (Ruth Vega Fernandez), a pair of vampire sisters, struggling to live in seclusion in the bleak suburbs of Stockholm, are forced on the run when Vera kills and feeds on the skin-headed leader of a biker gang in a nightclub. While evading the thuggish gang, Vanja reveals she wants to quit their vampire lifestyle and try to live in the real world. Terrified by of a life of solitude, Vera decides she will do anything to keep Vanja by her side. Meanwhile, the skinhead bikers are closing in…

What with Not Like Others being a Swedish vampire film and everything, it is quite difficult not to draw comparisons between it and Let the Right One In. Both films were even released in the same year and while this one was relegated to the shadows of the other, that’s not to say this is a bad film; far from it in fact. It is just that Let the Right One In is such a lyrical, one of a kind masterpiece. While they do both feature a stiflingly close central relationship, vampires and a wintry Swedish setting, there the similarities end, and to make further comparison would do this film great disservice. From the get-go Not Like Others sets out to stalk along a grainy, handheld-filmed path all its own. Following along the same bloodlines as the likes of Martin, The Hunger, The Addiction and of course Let The Right One In, Not Like Others takes a strikingly original approach to its vampiric subject matter. Adopting a highly realist slant, enhanced by the use of digital photography, natural lighting and real locations, this accomplished debut feature from writer-director Pontikis unfurls as a highly compelling and strangely poignant lo-fi indie horror.


The story plays out in eerily empty, bitterly cold streets, fluorescent-lit hallways and dark and seedy clubs, and always in the dead of night. Actually, the events depicted all happen during the course of one night. Stockholm is depicted as a lonely, bleak city and danger seems to lurk in every dark corner. The lonely existence of the sisters is evoked seamlessly, and they have few interactions with anyone other than themselves. Their relationship is a stifling one of severe co-dependency that calls to mind the claustrophobic friendships (and the dangerous imaginary worlds created therein) exhibited in the likes of Fun, Disco Pigs and Heavenly Creatures. Once Vera has bled the biker dry, in a moment that is shocking in its jolting frankness, and the biker gang are in hot pursuit, the film, far from becoming just an extended chase, opens up into a study of existential crisis. Vanja longs to live a normal life and realises that her sister can’t be a part of it. Up until now they’ve been each other’s worlds and Vera doesn’t take the news well.

In keeping with the realist approach, the word ‘vampire’ is never uttered. In fact no obvious conventions or clichés are evident – are they really vampires, or just extremely unhinged and delusional outcasts? We see Vera drinking the blood of the biker, and Vanja stealing bags of blood from the hospital and being sick when trying to eat ‘normal’ food, as though she can’t ingest it. But things are still strangely ambiguous. They have seemingly no home or no roots and just seem to drift unnoticed through society, phantom-like - they even gatecrash a party and no one seems to notice them. The clothes they wear are also indicative of a life led on foot, they are dressed in warm coats and running shoes as though constantly on the move. Little touches like this make us wonder about where the girls have been, where they come from and how long they’ve been around – as does a quip about the usage of 1950s era lingo. These little flourishes wrap the film in a melancholy veil. Tension slowly builds and the realisation that things will not end will is prevalent throughout. As the sisters flee down street after street, past the lit-up windows of houses and the lives being lived within them, we get an overwhelming sense of their ostracization and the feeling that they’ve always been on the outside of society looking in; particularly Vanja. Events soon feel claustrophobic as they are constantly stifled by the perpetual night they unravel within.

Not Like Others is an original, purposeful and exceptionally bittersweet take on vampire lore and it presents its protagonists as sympathetic, misunderstood characters. The result is a surprisingly moving story of two sisters whose common dependency upon human blood, and each other, become the very things that threaten to tear them apart.

Not Like Others (cert. 15) was released on DVD (£12.99) by Chelsea Films on 25th October 2010. The disc features Stereo 2.0 or Dolby Digital 5.1, English subtitles, Scene selection and Trailer.

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

XII

2008
Dir. Michael A. Nickles

Five years after being convicted for the abuse of a minor, Leonard Karlsson (Jeremy Fitzgerald) is released from prison bearing a hideously disfigured face; the result of sadistic beatings administered by fellow prisoners. Hell-bent on extracting brutal vengeance on the twelve jury members responsible for his incarceration, he returns to the remote Arizona desert town in which his trial was held. One by one, he abducts and sadistically slaughters the jurors…

Opening with a rapidly edited montage under the credits detailing Karlsson’s alleged crimes, subsequent imprisonment and torture at the hands of his fellow prisoners, XII begins proper with a shockingly brutal murder that seems to come out of nowhere, involving a newly wed couple, a shotgun and a lone desert highway. From here we’re introduced to FBI Agent Naughton, who is hot on the trail of a bizarre serial killer making his way across the country, abducting people and skinning their faces. We catch a glimpse of the killer’s handiwork when Naughton examines the body of the unfortunate bride from the previous scene. So far so good, XII hits the ground running and looks set to maintain its course. A number of other characters, including waitresses Claire (Emily Hardy) and Vicki (Vanessa McNab), are introduced and we’re given a snapshot of their humdrum lives in a tiny town in the middle of nowhere. We also find out they are desperate to go and make new lives for themselves in the city because it’s all they talk about, and that Agent Naughton is a family man, because he talks to his young daughter on the phone loads.


The characters are fleshed out by a number of reliable actors, including Nick Searcy as down-trodden Officer Kent. Newcomer Emily Hardy provides a convincing performance of an at times infuriatingly weak character. Sure, this is the whole point – all Final Girls must go through the metamorphosis of victim to survivor - but Claire is just such an infuriating, wet blanket of a girl throughout. More convincing of a young woman with the balls to make a stand and defend herself when a killer comes calling is Vikki, played by Mercedes McNab with a dry, delightfully acerbic wit. Having the members of a jury as the film’s victims not only ensures a pre-destined body count – the ‘twelve’ of the title – but also provides a more engaging ‘fodder list’ than the usual bunch of randy teens heading to an isolated backwoods cabin to party.

The location of the small town in which these characters live is effectively realised – a couple of scattered homesteads here, a few trailers in a small park there, a titty bar and a diner pretty much make up this place. To make matters worse, in the lead up to Christmas the place further empties, leaving a small number of residents behind. Easy prey for the killer headed to town. And Karlsson is one seriously creepy, repugnant killer. He recalls old-school ‘revenge’ slashers such as Cropsy and Freddy whereby a ‘wronged’ individual reappears after years in exile, hideously disfigured, to seek bloody retribution. Swirling another element of A Nightmare on Elm Street into proceedings, the vengeance-seeker in this film is also an accused child killer. Though we’re never sure if he was guilty or not of the crimes he was accused of. He never attempts to proclaim innocence – then again, it’s revealed his tongue has been cut out. This area of ambiguity is never explored. Is this a wronged man, driven insane by the crimes inflicted upon him? Or is he just a monster, plain and simple? Either way, his revenge is swift and merciless.

Another interesting, though unfortunately underdeveloped idea is the central premise of someone extracting revenge on the jury responsible for his imprisonment. This group of people are being ‘punished’ as a result of their civic duty. They were only attempting to be responsible citizens. Is this perhaps a sideswipe at a culture resigned to shoot first and ask questions later; a culture in which the accused are already believed guilty before considered innocent? Who knows? These ideas are left on the back burner in favour of gratuitous, though admittedly very effective, scenes of torture and flaying.


XII is a mildly thrilling tale that while effectively put together, often lacks the real tension it could have mustered had it not stuck so rigidly to convention. Despite pulling a ‘Psycho’ by offing a character that was set up as the protagonist early on, it’s just too predictable. In its favour though are buckets of atmosphere and decently realised ‘Texas Chainsaw’ visuals – all harsh, amber-hued and burnished landscapes, bright blue skies and sunspots on the camera lens – courtesy of director of photography, Mark Petersen. The genuinely unsettling score courtesy of Tim Montijo and grimy Hooper-esque production design by Daniel Gomme also enhances the sinister, unsavoury moodiness of events.

An average slasher adequately executed. Sorry.

Sunday, 17 October 2010

Jamie Lee Curtis: Scream Queen

During the years 1978 – 1981 it was virtually impossible to visit the cinema or your local video shop without encountering at least one slasher film boasting a masked homicidal maniac, stalking ‘n’ slaying copious amounts of randy teens in various dark locations with weird noises that needed to be investigated. Alone. It was also pretty much guaranteed that at least one of these films would star now legendary scream queen Jamie Lee Curtis, an actress whose early career was built on displaying her ample lung capacity.

A new book by David Grove sets out to explore and celebrate this particular part of Curtis’s career, which as I’m sure you’ll agree, involved a number of seminal shockers now revered as classics. Beginning with Halloween in which Curtis portrayed Laurie Strode – who became the prototype for the ultimate scream queen - subsequent roles followed in The Fog, Prom Night, Terror Train, Roadgames and Halloween II.

Jamie Lee Curtis: Scream Queen details Curtis' career and life during her scream queen era and includes detailed and never-before-seen production histories - as well as running commentary - of the horror films that made Jamie Lee Curtis a genre icon. Featuring hundreds of interviews with Curtis' friends and colleagues - including John Carpenter, Richard Franklin, Debra Hill, Paul Lynch, Rick Rosenthal, Roger Spottiswoode - and years of intense research, Jamie Lee Curtis: Scream Queen is a comprehensive biography, an invaluable film reference, and a painstaking document of horror film history.

David Grove is the author of Fantastic 4: The Making of the Movie (Titan Books) and Making Friday the 13th (FAB Press). He has written for such publications as Dreamwatch, Fangoria, Film Review, Film Threat, Hot Dog, MovieMaker, Rue Morgue, Sci-Fi Magazine, Shivers and Total Film.

Head over to BearManor Media for more info.

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

My Son My Son What Have Ye Done?

Opening with the words ‘David Lynch presents a film by Werner Herzog’; words that automatically instilled fluttering in this particular writer’s heart, My Son My Son What Have Ye Done? is a film that instantly suggests boundless possibilities, high expectations and the promise of something memorable, provocative and left of centre. The question is, does it live up to the promise? Of course it does. However, in true Lynch/Herzog fashion, it does so in unexpected ways that manage to surprise and delight.

Head over to Eye for Film to check out my full review...

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Cold Prey II

2008
Dir. Mats Stenberg

Having survived the massacre that claimed the lives of her friends in an abandoned hotel at the hands of a psychotic, seemingly feral killer, Jannicke (Ingrid Bolsø Berdal) finds that her nightmare is far from over. Taken to a rural hospital to be treated for shock, she realises that the body of the monstrous brute she thought she’d killed has been recovered along with those of her friends’ and brought to the hospital where she’s staying. On closer inspection, the doctors discover the killer is not dead at all, and before the night is over Jannicke finds herself fighting to stay alive in the midst of another bloodbath…

Cold Prey II is one of those rare specimens – a slasher sequel that is actually good. It maintains the momentum of the first instalment, picking up directly where it left off (the first of many nods to Halloween II), adds to the story and doesn’t just recycle itself in the hackneyed manner of so many slasher sequels. Viewers will reap a much more rewarding experience by watching Cold Prey II in quick succession of its predecessor – it flawlessly flows as a continuation of the same story. Despite the fact that one of the things that made the first film so effective was its stripped back, sparse simplicity, Cold Prey II does the unexpected – it actually expands the back-story of various characters, including the killer – and does it well. And that it is just as suspenseful, tautly constructed and atmospheric as the original is another unexpected bonus.


Joining the ranks of other hospital based slashers such as Halloween II, Phobia, Visiting Hours and X-Ray, Cold Prey II sets itself apart with smart writing and assured direction. And because it’s actually good. Bloody good, in fact. Not content to rest on its laurels – it immediately begins setting up a new cast of well-rounded, likable characters to become acquainted with – and it is a credit to the filmmakers that they actually take time to do this. This may be a sequel, but its characters are given the same development as their predecessors, which is another surprising aspect of the film. While it is aware of its status as a slasher sequel and delivers what you’d expect – bigger cast, higher body count and more elaborate kills - Cold Prey II still unravels as a refreshingly solid and intelligent horror flick: the body count might be bigger, but the bodies are fully developed characters that react realistically to their predicament.

Making a welcome return is Ingrid Bolsø Berdal as Jannicke, a genuinely likable and resourceful Final Girl in the grand tradition of the likes of Nancy Thompson, Alice Hardy and Laurie Strode. Relieved that she survived her ordeal in the first film, we now root for her to make it through this one as she’s more vulnerable than ever; tired, drugged and trying desperately to remain vigilant. While she might echo the likes of Linda Hamilton or Ellen Ripley in the more gung-ho scenes, she’s still vulnerable, ‘attainable’ and relatable enough to ensure she hasn’t transcended her boundaries of ‘ordinary girl in extraordinary circumstances’. The sight of her in hospitable gown, cardigan and slippers is enough to remind us of that. She’s joined by Camilla (Marthe Snorresdotter Rovik), a thoughtful nurse contemplating moving to Oslo, several other hospital staff including a lovelorn cop, a stressed doctor, kindly nurse and a little boy waiting for his parents to pick him up (Newt, anyone?) who are of course, gradually whittled down one by one in an increasingly tense narrative that relies on slow-burning tension long before the blood begins to flow. Meanwhile the local sheriff begins to retrace an unsolved case from years back to uncover the identity of the killer.


The characters, as mentioned, behave realistically and do everything right for once – the police are effectual and immediately investigate Jannicke’s seemingly crazy claims, they take her seriously and they don’t treat her like a lunatic. How strange! Stranger still – a bunch of doctors, nurses and security guards that actually do their jobs instead of sneaking off to have sex in the closet, like most characters do in slasher films. When they go to search where Jannicke said the bodies of her friends are, they find the bodies, including, most surprisingly – the body of the killer. Tension comes from when and how he’ll revive, or even if he will – maybe he had an accomplice in the first film that’ll show up? That’s the fun to be had here, and director Stenberg knows it and milks it for all its worth. The revelations when they eventually come, don’t disappoint – and in a strange way are as scant as the revelations in the first film. One problem the script doesn’t fall into is exploring in too much detail the origins of this killer – the writers know that’s exactly what took away Michael Myers’ menace… The formidable killer in this remains as cold-blooded and calculating as ever. All we know is that his parents owned the hotel from the first film, his disappearance as a boy was no accident and from a young age he was described as ‘not normal.’ His appearance recalls nightmares of abominable things lurking in the deep snow... 


The hospital setting emphasises the isolation and vulnerability of the characters and with this being a slasher movie, is eerily deserted. The explanation for its emptiness echoes Assault on Precinct 13; its being shut down and all the patients have been transferred, leaving only a small group of staff behind. This actually mirrors the plight of many small rural communities in Norway; their hospitals, local businesses and schools forced to close because people have moved to the cities. See? Slashers can offer topical social commentary too. And be believable in the process.

As highly original, compelling and nerve-wrecking a slasher of the highest order as its predecessor.

Cold Prey

2006
Dir. Roar Uthaug

AKA Fritt Vilt

A group of friends on a snowboarding excursion in deepest, darkest Jotunheimen are forced to seek refuge in a seemingly abandoned hotel in when one of them breaks their leg. While exploring the building they discover that the hotel was shut down in the Seventies after a series of mysterious disappearances, including that of the owner’s young son. It soon becomes apparent to the group that they are not alone in the hotel; a mysterious psychopath begins to pick them off, one, by one, by one…

While the premise of this expertly crafted and smartly scripted Norwegian slasher flick seems to creak under the weight of its own cliché-ridden conventions, the execution of Cold Prey/Fritt Vilt (pardon the pun), is what is most surprising and unconventional and sets this film well apart from its myriad of lesser contemporaries. We open in typical slasher style, with the apparent death of a young boy at the hands of an unseen assailant in the midst of a blizzard. Skip forward twenty-odd years to present day and we’re introduced to the main characters as they make their way through startlingly beautiful snow-covered landscapes on a snowboarding expedition. Of course, once they enter the hotel to seek refuge, this is where the slow-building sense of dread and isolation begins to build to an ever pleasing crescendo and events begin to turn increasingly bloody for our gang.


Supremely creepy atmosphere and location aside, Cold Prey also benefits from having a smart script that consistently subverts expectations. Yes, while it knows that we know the rules of slasher movies verbatim, it doesn’t offer knowing, tongue-in-cheek smugness a la Kevin Williamson, instead, it opts to simply sidestep conventions slyly and play up to them before pulling out the proverbial rug, chucking in a few loving references to the likes of The Shining as it goes – without detracting from the story. The script actually credits the audience with a modicum of intelligence and reveals as much as it needs to as it goes along. In lesser films a flashback shot to Jannicke discovering a bullet while rummaging around in some drawers would be inserted into the narrative when she discovers a gun that isn’t loaded…


What Cold Prey also does that is instantly refreshing, is present its audience with a group of well-rounded, likable characters. It benefits the film immensely that this lot actually seem to have a history, and unlike most slasher movie fodder characters, they enjoy each others’ company and don’t spend their time squabbling. Even the various ‘types’ they initially appear to be are almost instantly subverted through dialogue and actions. While all the archetypes are present and correct: the jock, the sensible one, the slut, the horny boyfriend, the joker/comic relief – all of them sidestep pre-conceived notions and, boasted by decent performances courtesy of the very likable cast, become characters we actually care for.


When the group discover they are not alone at the hotel, they do everything they’re supposed to: stick together, try to formulate a reasonable plan, arm themselves and support each other. Of course, this does no good, but at least it’s refreshing to see characters use their heads for something other than decapitation gags in a slasher film. While we are given some basic information about the hotel, its previous inhabitants, bloody history and how the killer is connected to it (remember the pre-credits sequence?) – the screenplay (courtesy of Thomas Moldestad, Roar Uthaug and Martin Sundland) remains chilling in the simplicity of the killer's modus operandi, and rather echoes the terrifying anonymity of Michael Myers in the first Halloween. Consistently cranking up the tension, offering us an imposing, seemingly unstoppable killer and boasting an irresistible, resourceful and courageous final girl in Jannicke (admirably portrayed by Ingrid Bolsø Berdal) – Cold Prey is one of the most compelling, tightly-wound, suspenseful slashers in memory. A shining example of what a great slasher film can be.

Random Creepy Scene #6089: Halloween Special!

John Carpenter manages to create moments of nail-biting tension, suggestive chills and an unnervingly creepy atmosphere punctuated with shrill jump-moments throughout his seminal masterpiece, Halloween. The director has laced his groundbreaking slasher with creepy images and moments of spine-tingling dread. Most of the creepiness comes of course from the frequent glimpses of The Shape…

The presence of The Shape, indeed even the mere threat of his presence is enough to render any previously cosy domestic space or autumnal leafy suburb, a now creepy, dangerous place, saturated with menace. Carpenter’s expert use of widescreen and his placing of The Shape just on the periphery of many shots - lurking in the shadows and corners - is more than enough to generate chills and the threat of violence and set hearts pounding… Indeed even when he appears to Laurie in broad daylight, his presence obviously doesn't belong in cosy suburbia - his eerie menace juxtaposed with familiar settings, and in broad daylight, is positively haunting. It isn’t what The Shape does in these shots that makes proceedings so creepy, but what he doesn’t do. Anything. He just stands there.

There is something unbelievably chilling about that blank white face slowly emerging, phantom-like from the darkness, and hovering just out of the sightline of the oblivious characters. The stuff of nightmares… Enjoy.