Thursday, 31 March 2011

Wine of the Month

"Drink wine!

You will achieve eternal life,
Wine is the only drink that
Will return to you your youth.

Divine season of wine and
Roses, of good friends!

Enjoy the fleeting moment
That is your life!"


Omar Khayyam 1073 – 1125

Okay, Omar. I don’t need to be told twice!

With a brilliant cherry red centre, garnet and tawny rim and medium-to-high depth, Faustino VII - a deep red rioja - also boasts an intense and complex aroma full of spices, wood, vanilla and erm, leather. Yes. Leather. A powerful, knee-weakening and well finished palate develops into elegant meatiness, meaning this month’s wine of the month goes down well with stewed meats, sautéed seasonal vegetables and a moody Jaume Balagueró movie. Alternatively, try serving this with a Paul Naschy 'Hombre Lobo' flick. It won't disappoint. 

Waldemar want refill!

Thursday, 24 March 2011

Arrow Video to Release Argento's Neo-Giallo Collection

Much of Dario Argento’s film work post Opera has garnered a somewhat mixed response, with critics and fans branding it uneven at best, and odiously abhorrent at worst. A far cry from his bombastic and dazzling work during the late 70s and early 80s, Argento somehow failed to recapture the reverence and high regard he was once held in. What he did though was continue on his dark odyssey to forge ahead in his exploration of cutting edge film techniques, consistently violent imagery, nightmarish atmospherics and deranged stories involving maniacal killers and rhapsodic bloodletting. Argento can be accused of much, but resting on his laurels is something he’s never done.

Those lovely folks over at Cult Labs and Arrow Video have collected four of Argento’s latter day titles and packaged them together in the forthcoming The Neo-Giallo Collection, complete with original art by Rick Melton. If anything, they make an intriguing showcase of his more recent work and exemplify how the giallo has evolved over the years as a sub-genre… And get a load of those extras!

NEO GIALLO COLLECTION SPECIAL FEATURES:
- 4 of Dario Argento’s late Giallo works collected in this exclusive boxset
- 9 option reversible sleeves of original and newly commissioned artworks!
- 4 double-sided fold-out posters with newly commissioned artwork for each film
- A host of extras for every film including Making ofs, trailers, booklets by Alan Jones (author of ‘Profondo Argento’) and more! Release Date 2nd May 2011 - RRP £39.99

THE STENDHAL SYNDROME SPECIAL FEATURES
- Reversible sleeve with original and newly commissioned artwork
- Double-sided fold-out poster
- Booklet by Alan Jones
- The Complete Dario Argento trailer gallery [18 films]
- Original Theatrical Trailer
- Choice of original Italian & English audio

The Stendhal Syndrome 118 mins 5.1/Stereo Audio Language: English & Italian Subtitles: English Aspect Ratio 16x9


SLEEPLESS SPECIAL FEATURES
- Reversible sleeve with original and newly commissioned artwork
- Double-sided fold-out poster
- Murder, Madness and Mutilation: Sleepless and the Modern Italian Giallo
- The Making of Sleepless
- Trailer
- Photo Gallery
- Press Kit [ROM Content]

Sleepless 113 mins 5.1/Stereo Audio Language: English Aspect Ratio 16x9



THE CARD PLAYER SPECIAL FEATURES
- Reversible sleeve with original and newly commissioned artwork
- Double-sided fold-out poster
- Booklet by Alan Jones
- The Making of The Card Player
- The Complete Dario Argento trailer gallery [18 films]
- Original Trailer
- Choice of original Italian & English audio

The Card Player 99 mins Stereo Audio Language: English & Italian Subtitles: English Aspect Ratio 16x9


TERROR AT THE OPERA SPECIAL FEATURES
- Reversible sleeve with original and newly commissioned artwork
- Double-sided fold-out poster
- Booklet by Alan Jones
- Dario Argento Filmography & Biography
- Terror’s Photo Album
- Opera by Deamonia Music Video
- The Complete Dario Argento trailer gallery [18 films]
- International Version with choice of original Italian 5.1/Stereo soundtrack & English audio
- US edit feature with choice of original track or Cannes Dub audio
- US Trailer
- International Trailer
- Top 6 Gore Scenes menu

Terror at the Opera 102 mins 5.1/Stereo Audio Language: Italian & English Subtitles: English Aspect Ratio 16x9

Saturday, 19 March 2011

Wake Wood

2010
Dir. David Keating

In an attempt to cope with their grief after the death of their young daughter, a couple move from the city to a remote Irish village called Wake Wood. Their acceptance as members of the close-knit community leads them to the discovery of an ancient pagan ritual practiced by the people there in order to help ease the sudden loss of a loved one. The tradition, secretly preserved for many centuries, enables the grief-stricken to bring a deceased person back from the dead for a period of three days within one year of their passing. But the ritual is bound by strict rules and conditions, which, if broken, demand a terrible price be paid…

Wake Wood is the latest horror film from the legendary and recently revitalized Hammer Films. It is also this writer’s first taste of their latest output - having not yet seen The Resident or Let Me In, and not counting the lacklustre web series Beyond the Rave. It effortlessly evokes the spirit and eerily off-kilter tone of the studio’s earlier classics. A stately, old fashioned slice of horror, Wake Wood could have easily been made in the 60s or 70s, its slow-burning story takes its time to set the scene, introduce believable characters before plummeting into hellish territory and blood-soaked terror.


Combining elements of various ‘folk horror’ titles such as The Wicker Man and Blood On Satan’s Claw, with the grieving parental nightmares of Pet Semetary and The Monkey’s Paw, Wake Wood boasts a strong story imbued with the haunting central concept: what would you do to spend a little more time with a dead loved one? That the loved one is, in this case a child, renders the notion just that little bit more provocative. Unfortunately Wake Wood never really explores the debate that surely enshrouds around such a weighty concept. The characters of Patrick and Louise feel a little underdeveloped; they never really question their actions or the oft hinted at consequences, they just go with the morbid flow. As soon as they are told they have the opportunity to spend three days with their dead daughter, they just take it. No discussion, no painstaking analysis of the rights and wrongs of taking such actions, or what it all means in the grand scheme of things.


However, this could of course just be testament to their devotedness as parents, that they wouldn’t question one thing about being able to spend several more days with their dead daughter. The film still manages to captivate with the striking central idea and a clammy tension begins to fester before long. The cold, eschewed atmosphere instantly recalls Hammer Horror titles of yore, as does the contrast of the mundane with the intrusion of the otherworldly upon it. The odd pagan/occult practices and rural Irish setting add a further element of otherworldliness. Keating directs the action in an unfussy, even coldly detached manner – perhaps hinting that when dealing with such potentially spiky matters of the heart, one needs to distance one’s self from them. While Wake Wood doesn’t look particularly interesting, it is this very ordinariness that makes the later events in the story stand out so much. How such things could be taking place in such a mundane, banal little village is chilling to comprehend. It is this juxtaposition that makes Wake Wood such a powerful film.


The film was shot in Ireland – with parts of Donegal forming the village of the actually-not-very-Irish-sounding Wake Wood. Ireland is the perfect setting for such a tale, as many far flung little places still exist where a mystical past encroaches heavily on contemporary society. Such remote places exist where families have lived their entire lives in the same town, amongst the same people, viewing outsiders with contempt and suspicion, as much as outsiders view them with suspicion. The sense of community in Wake Wood is strikingly similar to that of the community of Summer Isle in The Wicker Man – all knowing glances and pinched lips. At least Brendan McCarthy’s screenplay doesn’t paint the locals with the usual wide-eyed broad stokes. Not completely, anyway. Indeed, Wake Wood skulks in the formidable shadow of The Wicker Man, with its incestuously tight-knit community and ritualistic sacrifices. This tradition of the town’s, and the ritual at its dark heart, is never explained. All we are told is that it is a practise the villagers have secretly preserved for many centuries. For them, rather disturbingly, it is common practice, an everyday thing - as such the film maintains a robust air of mystery. The practice enables the villagers to say a final farewell to their departed before they make their way to the spirit world. The ceremony itself and the ‘rebirth’ it culminates in are chillingly created and unsettling in their weirdness, completely at odds with the surroundings.

Eva Birthistle plays a similar character to the one she portrayed in The Children, a doting mother weighed down with regrets, while Aiden Gillen struggles to breathe much life into the rather bland Patrick. Timothy Spall is as reliable as ever in the role of the head of the village, but the standout performance is that of Ella Connolly as Alice, the ‘living-dead’ daughter; equal parts quietly haunting, tragic, innocent and doe-eyed malevolence.

Wake Wood is an intelligent and thought provoking film which manages to quietly chill the bones as much as it stirs the emotions; all the while prodding at seriously dark questions. A very welcome return from Hammer.

Vertigo Films will be releasing Wake Wood (cert. 18) at UK cinemas on 25th March 2011 and the DVD release (£15.99) will follow on 28th March 2011 courtesy of Momentum Pictures. Special Features include: interview with cast and crew; deleted scenes; trailer; teaser trailer.

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Primevil

2010
Dir. Roel Reiné

AKA
The Lost Tribe
The Forgotten Ones
After Dusk They Come

When a group of friends onboard a yacht rescue a delirious man from the sea, they find more than they bargained for when he shipwrecks them on an uncharted island during the night. Exploring the jungle the next day, the group discovers a deserted military camp and an abandoned archaeological dig site. But no people. Hearing strange noises and movements in the trees, they soon realize that the island is actually inhabited by a tribe of primitive humanoid creatures, and that they have now become the prey...

Given its highly troubled production history, it is a wonder that Primevil has made it to DVD at all. When it was shot, it was originally titled The Tribe, and featured a plot revolving around a group of teens that are shipwrecked on an uncharted island and come face to face with a tribe of humanoid creatures who pick them off, one by one.
Due to some major problems during post-production, the cast were unable to return for re-shoots. The film was then re-shot with an entirely new cast.
The new plot revolves around a group of older friends who are shipwrecked on an uncharted island and come face to face with a tribe of humanoid creatures who pick them off, one by one. Oddly enough, a brand new subplot has also been included in which Lance Henrikson appears as a renegade priest dispatched by the Vatican to the island to bump-off a group of archaeologists and destroy their findings, as they pretty much prove the theory of evolution…

Still with me??

This new cut has been retitled The Lost Tribe AKA The Forgotten Ones AKA After Dusk They Come, and was quietly released direct to DVD in various territories.
Now set for release in the UK, the film has been retitled yet again, this time going by the more generic sounding Primevil

You still there? Come back!


Primevil resembles what would happen if Predator were to shack up on a jungle island with The Descent. It is a strangely old fashioned feeling film that benefits from a strong cast, gorgeous cinematography, rousing score and breathtakingly taut suspense. After a rather uneven opening things finally get going once the yuppie pals are shipwrecked on the island. Reiné slowly cranks the tension and atmosphere to stifling proportions and the story begins to zip along at breakneck speed, as fleetingly glimpsed ‘things’ lurking in the impenetrable jungle swiftly dispatch the group.

The island itself is like another character. It springs to vivid life thanks to a truly unsettling soundtrack of animal noises, insects and barely audible rasped whispers. It is hot, steamy and inhospitable. Reiné is also the director of photography, and though everything is lensed beautifully, he is still careful to capture the inherently sinister qualities of the island. It is not a tropical paradise; it is unwelcoming and alien landmass, which from the outset is portrayed as a strangely ‘off’ place. The more the friends explore, the more the jungle seems to stir around them, omitting inhuman and guttural sound effects, snarls, grunts, growls – and were those words? The initial creepiness soon builds to tightly wound terror and panic as the blood begins to flow and the friends take flight.

Once we’re left with sole survivor Anna (Emily Foxler), the film really comes into its own; equal parts ludicrous, tense, feverish, nasty and unsettling. When we finally see the humanoid creatures, they don’t disappoint. They resemble a strange mix of the crawlers from The Descent and the formidable bounty hunters of Predator – hulking bat-faced primates sporting dreadlocks and bad tempers. They’re big, imposing and brutal. Some impressive wirework depicts them hurling themselves through the forest at speed in a number of adrenaline-fuelled chase sequences.

The subplot involving Henrikson, in what essentially amounts to a thankless cameo as a renegade priest out to destroy the archaeological findings, is left unexplored and is pretty much discarded before the halfway point. The thought of the Vatican deploying priests to far-flung corners of the earth to destroy evidence of evolution is a tantalizing one.
Action veers between genuinely suspenseful sequences and more out of place ‘emotional’ moments in which the music swells and people say stuff like ‘Save yourself.’ There is a strangely touching and ultimately devastating moment when Anna finds her mortally wounded beau in a cave. Really rather nasty and unnerving SFX - including a disembowelling – adds to the grainy realism and CGI is thankfully not relied on.

Primevil is a pretty decent man vs. nature/monster movie that exploits timeless notions such as fear of the unknown, being stranded in an isolated place, being at the mercy of nature, and encountering long forgotten monstrosities. That it riffs on other classics such as Predator (right down to the heat-vision POV shots) and The Descent (right down to aping one scene pretty much shot for shot) is not necessarily a bad thing, though the marketing does play on these influences a bit too much – check out that DVD cover!


While it may have had a troubled production, a plethora of titles, an uneven first act with slightly confused storytelling and overlooked/abandoned sub-plots, Primevil still emerges as a surprisingly effective and oddly enjoyable old-fashioned horror thriller that has the integrity/audacity to take itself seriously.

Primevil (cert. 15) will be released on DVD (£12.99) by Revolver Entertainment on 21st March 2011.

Monday, 14 March 2011

Altitude

2010
Dir. Kaare Andrews

When five friends set off to see Coldplay in concert, rookie pilot Sara offers to fly them there in a rented plane. Shortly into the flight however a mechanical failure results in the plane heading into a steady, unstoppable climb, as a massive storm closes in. As fuel begins to run out and the plane climbs ever higher, emotional tensions within the confines of the small aircraft begin to rise.

But the problems onboard prove to be the least of the friends’ worries. Outside, hidden in the depths of the storm clouds, a mysterious and monstrous force is lurking. Its sole purpose is to destroy the plane and its passengers…

Altitude comes hot on the heels of various other ‘confinement thrillers’ - such as Wind Chill, Frozen and Buried – in which characters are menaced in a confined location and come under threat from each other as much as the ‘thing outside.’ Kudos to the filmmakers, they’ve actually attempted to create something genuinely different and fresh. Altitude is not just a teens-imperilled-by-a-monster movie. Nods aplenty to The Twilight Zone, Weird Tales, HP Lovecraft, Donnie Darko, E.C. Comics, Forbidden Planet, Lifeboat and Sphere, abound.


With such an original, intriguing and downright irresistible premise, Altitude is a movie that promises much, but never really delivers on its potential – it may be unique, but it is also an incredibly frustrating film. Despite such a powerful premise and the fact that director Andrews has the ability to mount tension very well, it never really reaches the heart-stopping heights (sorry) that it could. While the plot is certainly character driven, it suffers from a collection of weakly rendered characters we neither care about, nor root for. All are the usual horror stock types and are there to make up the numbers. None are particularly likable, but one in particular – the jock – is one of the most unnecessary and insufferable characters in recent memory. They pretty much ensure from the get-go that engaging with them on any level will be impossible. Bloody Coldplay fans, eh? The fresh-faced cast are a little lightweight to convince us they really fear for their lives.


The screenplay by Paul Birkett is constantly trying to surprise us, and keep our attention, with twist after revelation after contrived reveals; uncoiling with seemingly wild abandon and serpentine chutzpah. Throughout the course of the film, every character unburdens a dark secret that adds to the tensions within the plane. After a while this become a little tedious, and when we finally get to the big ‘twist’, it feels like a major let down. Or rather, it would have been a major let down had the journey to it not been so increasingly disappointing to begin with. So much of the drama seems to be padding out the running time while we wait for the monster to show up. Ridiculous conclusions are drawn far too soon – like characters attempting to climb out of the plane to the tail in order to fix the mechanical fuck-up, or deciding that one of them is so much of a menace to the others that he needs to be tied up. Obviously realism isn’t what Altitude is aiming for, but if certain scenes were a little less far-fetched, it might have worked better. Too much time is devoted to ridiculous melodrama and Dawson’s Creek ‘relationship talk.’


Director Andrews is also an award winning graphic artist – it really shows – and he has a strong visual sense, deftly creating a nightmarish and Lovecraftian atmosphere of doomed dread and hopelessness. The brisk and constant twists and fantasy tinges ensure we never really know where the story will go next, and that anything is possible. As flawed as it is, Altitude is still an entertaining ride and is head and shoulders above most other low-budget horror fare out at the moment.

A half-hearted, slightly disappointing oddity that nonetheless boasts a highly appealing Weird Tales/Twilight Zone mood, but it never reaches the giddy, queasy tension it potentially wields.

Altitude (cert. 15) is released on DVD (£15.99) and Blu-ray (£19.99) by Anchor Bay Entertainment on 14th March 2011. Special Features include: audio commentary by director Kaare Andrews; Altitude: Behind The Scenes; Green Storm featurette; original concept gallery; trailer; 2.0 Stereo and 5.1 Dolby audio options.

Thursday, 10 March 2011

Freeway

1996
Dir. Matthew Bright

When juvenile delinquent Vanessa witnesses her mother and stepfather being hauled off to jail on drugs and prostitution charges, the teenage tearaway goes on the run from a social worker who wants to put her into care. She sets off to seek sanctuary at her grandmother's house. Along the way however, she has a run in with a charming, but sadistic serial killer/paedophile who she discovers has been preying on vulnerable young women on the freeway…

Matthew Bright’s cult indie hit Freeway is a thoroughly twisted take on the tale of 'Little Red Riding Hood’; a tale that has consistently proved it is ripe for reinterpretation time and again. Much like the original tale not just being a story about a girl eaten by a wolf (it’s actually a rites of passage story about burgeoning sexuality and the threats that accompany blossoming womanhood), Bright’s take isn’t just the tale of a girl who has a sordid encounter with a serial killer – it actually unravels as a damning indictment of the US justice system and how it treats the young delinquents in its charge.


Cartoon images of girls being chased around by a wolf play out under Danny Elfman’s deranged and discordant theme music. Strings trickle, guitars snarl, female vocals coo and pant, and drums crash, creating a wildly off-kilter and exciting tone that smashes throughout the ensuing film. Transporting the high-gothic story of Red Riding Hood to gritty ghettos actually works pretty well. Even the sight of Vanessa (Reese Witherspoon) fleeing her home with her few belongings in a wicker basket doesn’t feel contrived. The Red Riding Hood motif is offered throughout the film in glimpses of cartoons on TV sets, knowing slices of dialogue and clever use of metaphor.

As Vanessa, Reese Witherspoon excels as an undereducated, though undeniably world-wise and street-savvy girl, dragged up by her junkie mother. She’s portrayed as a victim of her darkly unfortunate circumstances, and though she appears tough and impenetrable, there are moments when it is obvious she is a young girl lost in the world. At heart she is good and honourable, and even though she has spent much of her life ‘straying off the path’ and onto the wrong side of the law, she displays a code of ethics and morals that belie her years.
Bright constantly seems to be saying that while Vanessa has a troubled past and leads a volatile existence, it isn’t really her fault – it's important to consider the external circumstances weighing down upon her. When she talks about her past, it doesn’t sound good; it is littered with abuse, prior charges and arrests. It would be easy to judge her, but because we’ve spent a great deal of the film’s running time (well, all of it actually – Witherspoon carries this film) with her, we’ve been privy to who she really is: a confused and broken girl in need of guidance and understanding. She’s had a hard life, but she is basically good.



The script is peppered with quirky, quotable one-liners, most of which are uttered by Witherspoon, who mouths off stuff like “Get your goddamn hands off of my anatomy” and “Well, I get claustrophobic sucking strange dick,” with aplomb.
Freeway exhibits a vague Wes Craven-esque idea of generational conflict throughout. Children are depicted as being at the mercy of care(less)-homes, predatory parental figures, ineffectual social workers and sadistic prison wardens. It’s a fairytale malaise that constantly presents Vanessa with situations in which she has to fend for herself and rely on her own resourcefulness and wits.

One of the standout moments comes with the prolonged and progressively sinister scenes involving Vanessa being quizzed by Bob (Kiefer Sutherland) – a ‘child psychologist’ who gives her a lift when her car breaks down. Of course, we know that he is the serial killer mentioned in various news broadcasts, but Bright takes his time to build tension and menace around the unveiling of this revelation. Bob’s initial ‘concern’ for Vanessa, and mild-mannered questions are laced with double meaning (these scenes prove even more effective when viewed again), gradually become more menacing and obviously sinister as he gains her trust. Kiefer Sutherland is cool and creepy without descending into histrionics. His serial killer is calculating, cold and sadistic, completely at odds with how he looks to the wider world. When Vanessa disfigures him she essentially exposes his inner corruption for all the world to see.



Creepy, voyeuristic shots and predatory glances are sprinkled like breadcrumbs throughout these scenes, especially when we’re introduced to Sutherland’s psychotic killer. Pulling onto the hard shoulder, we see what he sees through his wing mirror as he quietly reverses back along the road: Vanessa bending over the hood of her car inspecting the engine. It’s chilling in its simple implication.

As Vanessa’s mother, Amanda Plummer delivers a typically unhinged performance, and still manages to evoke sympathy. Brooke Shields also manages to lend her character, Bob’s loyal and Right-Wing wife, real pathos when she discovers her whole marriage has been a sham. It is genuinely sad and chilling when she does what she does when she finds out about her husband and his ‘history.’ No mean feat given the Right-Wing, pro-death penalty jargon she spouts throughout the film. Another little highlight is the appearance Brittany Murphy, who had a small role in this early on in her career. She plays the ever-spaced out and strangely lovable Rhonda who is prone to stashing drugs in her ‘cooch.’

While there are moments that are genuinely disturbing, and the actual subject matter could have been as unsavoury and exploitative as it sounds, Freeway is actually a hilarious, subversive and supremely dark comedy that also manages to raise some pretty important and provocative questions about our perceptions of troubled youths and juvenile delinquents.

Daily Mail readers should proceed with extreme caution…

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

I Spit On Your Grave

2010
Dir. Steven R. Monroe

A young writer is brutally gang-raped while staying at a secluded cabin. She is left for dead by her attackers, whom she systematically hunts down to extract unmerciful and gruesome revenge.

The remake of I Spit On Your Grave is a film of two distinct parts. The first unravels slowly, sweatily, as Jennifer (Sarah Butler) arrives at her rented lakeside cabin in the middle of nowhere and sets about preparing to write her second novel. The cabin is idyllic - though it is obvious just from looking at it, things will become more ominous when night falls - and Jennifer, like any good writer, has stocked up on the red stuff to get those creative juices flowing and help her settle in. No, the other red stuff. Events move slowly, purposefully and the slow-burning tension is ignited from the get-go, only to increase as the story unfolds. We follow Jennifer as she goes about her daily, mundane routines, oblivious to the fact that she is being watched and filmed by the young men she encountered earlier at a gas station. She incurred their curiosity and wrath when she inadvertently humiliated (emasculated) one of them. Realising that she is staying at the cabin they skulk around the surrounding woods at night and film her. Every so often she wanders out into the cold, dark night to investigate strange noises, raising the tension that little bit more. We know what’s coming, and director Monroe knows that we know, and he builds queasy suspense with ease.


The events that follow are harrowing. The depiction of her attack is difficult to watch, but the most affecting moment comes in the stifling quiet of the aftermath as she slowly hobbles away in a state of shock, her body and spirit broken. It’s a pathetic, stark and overwhelming sight.

After she disappears, the film makes a strangely daring and somewhat frustrating move and begins to follow her attackers; not so much in an attempt to flesh them out, but just to observe them from a distance and maybe even relish in their anxiety when they don’t find Jennifer’s body right away... The sheriff (Andrew Howard) is a thinly-drawn family man, but after witnessing what he did to Jennifer, no amount of picturing him cuddled on the couch watching TV with his pregnant wife and little girl will make us feel anything but contempt for him. He is the ringleader – his role made all the more shocking because of his status as a sheriff – someone who should have helped Jennifer. Writer Stuart Morse doesn’t even attempt to make us care for these men. Likewise, director Monroe is perhaps more concerned with setting up tension surrounding Jennifer’s imminent return to draw blood, than character profile.


When Jennifer does finally return to the narrative, the film switches gear into what at times resembles a crowd-pleasing and tightly wound revenge fantasy. As she dishes out vigilante punishment, she layers on the wry, disgruntled and faux-feminist sass, spouting lines like ‘Is that any way to treat a lady?’ before producing a sizable pair of garden shears and castrating one of her attackers.

The punishments walk a line between intricately designed Saw-type restraints boasting nasty pay-offs, and the Grand Guignol showmanship of vintage Italian horror movies – the scene with the eyelids, fish-hooks and hungry crows is pure Argento – brutal, fantastic and more than a little convoluted.

As Jennifer, Sarah Butler delivers a very convincing performance, and she remains credible even when she returns later and starts sassin' it up big style. As her attackers Jeff Branson, Daniel Franzese and Rodney Eastman (pretty Joey from A Nightmare of Elm Street 3 and 4, who ain’t so pretty anymore!) are suitably menacing and sleazy; all crotch-grabbin’ and phlegm-spittin’ rednecks that can not, and will not, be reasoned with.


With no moral grey area, Jennifer is allowed to let rip in the full knowledge that the audience will side with her. This isn’t a film to pose provocative questions, it merely attempts to uphold the spirit and atmosphere of the original, which is does quite well. It is nowhere near as polished and slick as many other recent remakes of old exploitation flicks have been. It is also unexpectedly, slyly humorous; particularly in the last act. Whether or not this is appropriate given the tone of the first two acts, it still works somehow; especially in a film depicting events this grim, a little light relief was mildly welcome. Then again there is the argument that with a film such as this, depicting events this grim, there should be no place for humour and that the director has copped-out and gone down the multiplex route. The fact is though, the original was a grimy, sleazy exploitation flick deliberately fashioned to draw the grindhouse crowds. The pro-feminist coda was slapped on post-release. It is also worth mentioning that Monroe has the sense not to have Jennifer use her feminine charms/wiles to lull her attackers into a false sense of seduction before she bumps them off. Her approach is blunt and to the point.

This remake is a well made, compelling and disturbing film, and one struggles to imagine any other way in which Monroe could have tackled such controversial source material.

Saturday, 5 March 2011

Damned by Dawn

2009
Dir. Brett Anstey

Prompted by the arrival of a mysterious package from her terminally ill grandmother, Claire drags her reluctant new boyfriend off to meet her family at their remote country home where she hopes she will discover the motivations behind the unexpected gift. Things go well until Claire’s grandmother begins rambling on about a female spirit she is expecting to come in the night to escort her body into the afterlife.
That night, as a violent thunderstorm rocks the house, the family is awoken by a succession of piercing, otherworldly shrieks, which prove to be the cries of a banshee. As the terrifying sounds ring out, the dead are summoned to rise again, so beginning a waking nightmare for Claire and her family as the banshee and her army of the undead unleash their fury upon the living.

The figure of the banshee in traditional Irish folklore is a tragic, sorrowful one. She was said to appear wailing mournfully near the house of someone who was soon to die. Many cultures have their own banshee-like figures, even places like Mexico, where she is referred to as La Llorona (The Crying Woman) and holds a significant position in the folklore there. Throughout the years though, representations of the banshee in cinema, particularly horror cinema, where she appears most often, portray her as an evil entity; the very sight of whom will cost a person their life. This is perhaps tied in to the notion that anyone who saw or heard a wailing banshee would shortly thereafter pass away. She is traditionally a harbinger of doom and death. She has made numerous appearances in horror films throughout the years, though for this writer, the most memorable and unsettling was in the Disney flick Darby O’Gill and the Little People… *shivers*

Damned by Dawn, the debut feature by writer-director Brett Anstey, relocates the legend of the banshee to Australia, and places her as the figurehead of an ancient Oirish family curse. A huge crowd-pleaser at the Film4 FrightFest in 2010, the film has been drawing favourable comparisons with Undead, and has even been dubbed Evil Dead IV.

For a film with such a low budget it manages to be creative, inventive, atmospheric and about as entertaining as independent horror movies get. From the moody and eerily unsettling opening shots of dank mists enshrouding a creepy forest – complete with spooky narration about banshees, death and family curses – Anstey impregnates the film with style and buckets of atmosphere. Unfortunately, as events unravel the constant use of cheap CGI bog down proceedings and undo much of the carefully wrought atmosphere and tension. With a fantastic concept though, the film still succeeds in spinning a fairly gripping yarn. Once the story kicks in, and believe me, it takes its sweet time in doing so, Damned by Dawn plays out as a taut siege movie with an abundance of striking shots featuring floating wraiths, flying skeletons, gaping wounds and creepy-crawlies. It’s easy to see why the film has been called Evil Dead IV – some of the camerawork in scenes where characters are running around the moonlit, fog-strangled forest is breathtaking and more than a little Raimi-esque.

The characters are all fairly likable, though a little underdeveloped – all except for heroine Claire (Renee Willner) of course - and the performances are rudimentary.
Once our doe-eyed couple reach their destination and granny starts spouting creepy jargon about death and evil spirits of the dead, before being dragged off into the surrounding forest, Anstey builds tension carefully as the banshee and her fleet of flying skeletons offs the cast one by one.


As mentioned however, the film does suffer from its reliance on cheap CGI – it is most effective when it deploys the use of prosthetics and practical effects, and Anstey proves he has a keen sense for creating visually arresting moments. Things begin subtly enough with only fleeting glimpses of a shrouded figure floating through the forest in the dreams of various characters. The arrival of the banshee during the thunderstorm is heralded by what initially sounds like a ferocious draught blowing through the crack of a window in an empty room in an isolated house – it is a moment charged with haunting power. Unfortunately from here, Damned by Dawn goes all out to be as unsubtle as it can possibly be, with the sinister shriek eventually beginning to grate and the creepy menace replaced by continuous shots of CGI ghosts, cockroaches and screaming, bloody-eyed banshees.

The tone of the film seems unsure of itself too, at times. Too hokey to be truly scary, and a little too skewed and disturbing in a slightly off-kilter way to be really funny, it falls somewhere between and just can’t quite seem to hit its potential mark. That said, it’s an enjoyable and arresting treat for gorehounds favouring stylish oddities.


Damned By Dawn (cert. 15) will be released on DVD (£15.99) by Momentum Pictures on 7th March 2011. Special Features include: audio commentary by director and crew; making of featurette; trailer; optional English subtitles for the hard of hearing.

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

Sharktopus

2010
Dir. Declan O’Brien

An eviiil, egotistical bio-geneticist, along with his sexy daughter, develops a hybrid half-shark/half-octopus for the US military. Code-named S11, the creature has been designed as the ultimate weapon in aquatic attack and defence. Natch. But when its control unit malfunctions during a test run, the S11 is accidentally unleashed and sets off in the direction of a popular tourist resort. Oh noes! Can our intrepid heroes - eviiil egotistical bio-geneticist’s sexy daughter and a buff ex-employee-turned slacker/mercenary - track down and capture the mutant killing machine before it snacks on a buffet of oiled-up, dressed-down holidaymakers?! Can they heck!

Half Shark. Half Octopus. All Killer.

With a title like Sharktopus, let’s face it, one really ought to know what to expect – or more to the point; what one is letting oneself in for. Playing out as a mainly enjoyable, good-natured, tongue-in-cheek monster romp, the film has already been garnering a sizable cult following for being so bad it’s, well, only rather entertaining. Add to this the fact that it is the latest sci-fi horror creature-feature from legendary B-movie producer Roger Corman and you may find reason to get excited. Don’t get too excited though, he’s only producing this one, and though it may share much in common with the abundance of schlocky B-movies he produced throughout the 60s, 70s and 80s, it doesn’t quite have the sly wit or subversive humour that made his own directorial flicks so damn good. Sharktopus does seem to be in keeping with one of Corman’s usual ethoses though: shoot the film as quickly and cheaply as possible and then get the hell out of there! The savvy old geezer has sensed he was onto a winner with this one – particularly in light of the likes of cheap B-frights played for laughs being churned out by the likes of The Asylum, and he’s gracefully hopped on the latest trite creature-feature bandwagon purely for the money. At least he’s always been honest about this, but unlike when he was writing and directing his own stuff, this lacks his appealing beatnik charm and droll wit.


Opening with a barrage of sunny locations, frolicking beach babes and washboard-chested surfer dudes, the tone of Sharktopus is instantly set. Like the film’s more recent contemporaries such as Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus, Mega Piranha and Shark Attack III: Megalodon, it is played purely for cheap laughs. In fact, Sharktopus follows these other films ridiculously closely in terms of story, too – the involvement of scientists-playing-god, evil military schemes, experiments with deadly animals gone wrong, old flames coming back to help destroy the monster, bug-eyed extras getting eaten by shit special effects and the revelation that the lady scientist/marine biologist/bio-mechanic is totally hawt when she takes off her glasses and lets her hair down. Crazy!



Sharktopus unfolds as a series of scenes featuring busty, bikini-clad lovelies and hunky himboes being attacked and eaten by the titular monster as they sunbathe, frolic, bungee jump, broadcast pirate radio shows, whatever, while our intrepid heroes bluster around after it, failing to stop it until one of them finally remembers that they can somehow blow up its brain. Or something. Hey the science in these flicks is usually pretty basic, and inaccurate. And have you seen the labs they create these monsters in? All pretty IKEA lighting and smooth surfaces. I want one. I suspect the lab in Sharktopus was the same one Tiffany used in Mega Piranha to create her, well, mega-piranhas. Also present is the obligatory love story in which the constantly bickering hero and heroine eventually fall for each other/rekindle a dead romance. Once order has been restored they walk off into a cheap sunset.

The characters spout more cheesy one-liners than the titular beast has teeth; the best of course being “It’s armed and dangerous!” Geddit? Armed and dangerous? Nevermind. Eric Roberts does his usual ‘bad guy’ impersonation, while immaculately groomed leads Kerem Bursin and Sara Malakul Lane play it fairly straight. The rest of the cast play everything for laughs and appear to be enjoying themselves immensely.


O Hai! I wantz noms.
The highlight (for this writer anyway) comes when producer Corman makes a highly telling cameo that could be said to reflect his entire movie making career. Sauntering onto a beach he witnesses a blonde, skimpily dressed women with a metal detector (!) attacked by a cheap looking monster and get dragged off into the sea. He picks up the gold coin she had uncovered and carries on about his business. Corman of course made a career of going straight for the money after he’d overseen a plethora of beauties get menaced by cheap and shoddy B-monsters. A producer’s gotta eat, right?

Sharktopus is for those who loved Mega-Piranha et al (let's face it - who didn't!) and is of course best enjoyed through the bottom of a wine-glass in the company of friends who should know better. And then followed by Corman’s Little Shop of Horrors, Creature From the Haunted Sea or A Bucket of Blood to remind you how good he can really be!

Sharktopus (cert. tbc) will be released on DVD (£5.99) by Anchor Bay Entertainment on 14th March 2011.