Sunday, 18 March 2018

3 Dev Adam (1973)

There is a long and noble tradition in Turkish cinema of churning out knock-offs of Hollywood favourites with little care for subtlety, logic or copyright laws. 3 Dev Adam (which translates as 3 Giant Men) continues this, taking two beloved Marvel characters and a Mexican wrestling legend and crapping on their characters reputations from a great height.

The plot is in there somewhere. It's something to do with antiques or counterfeit US dollars. Spiderman is not your friendly neighbourhood web-slinger.

Instead he is a childish but a psychotic gangster, who gleefully buries a woman up to her neck in sand and then decapitates her with a speedboat propeller. Captain America, who has no shield but does have a girlfriend has come to Turkey with legendary Mexican wrestler Santo to sort Spidey out.

Who cares about the plot though. What you get is 90 minutes of war speed delirious nonsense, with a constant energy that means the film never gets dull. At one point, Spiderman tortures an enemy with a rodent oriented headset straight out of 1984, expect that instead of rats he uses a cute guinea pig. Oh, and Santo's favourite filing system for incriminating documents is to shove them down the front of his spandex trousers. He seems to do this a lot.

Things come to a head at the end where it turns out Spiderman can clone himself, or he has a lot of lookalikes lying around. I forget which. My brain hurts. It's a film where hairy men in stag do superhero costumes beat and grope each other into submission. Sometimes you don't need to over analyse things.

Saturday, 17 March 2018

Chopping Mall (1986)

A slasher film crossbred with Dawn of the Dead and Short Circuit, Chopping Mall is cheap cheesy gory fun.

The Park Plaza Mall has just unveiled a hi-tech security system, consisting of three shiny new robots programmed to disable and apprehend thieves using lasers and grappling hooks. Meanwhile, a gang of teens are having an after-hours party in one of the mall shops where they work. As the evening heats up, a lightning storm hits the mall and damages the computer controlling the robots and the highly armed mechanised menaces now want to bump off anyone who shouldn't be in their mall - which is just about anyone who is there.

Of course, a film like this is going to have a brainless plot (to repeat, the mall plans to stop shoplifters with lasers that can split a person's head open) and paper-thin characters. But director Jim Wynorski also manages to strike the right balance, so the result is something not po-faced and serious, or too irritatingly knowing, just first-class trash viewing.

Wynorksi also chucks in some in-jokes for Corman buffs, from posters for his previous films to cameos from the likes of Dick Miller, Paul Bartel and Mary Woronov.

Saturday, 3 March 2018

Shocker (1989)

Not Wes Craven's finest hour, Shocke
r feels like any one of the lame rip-offs of and sequels to his bona fide classic A Nightmare on Elm Street.

Horace Pinker (Mitch Pileggi) is a TV repairman who uses his job to complement his favourite pastime of killing families. High school football star Jonathan Parker (Peter Berg) keeps dreaming about Pinker attacking his adoptive family. When this happens in real life, Parker helps get Pinker sent to the electric chair. Unfortunately, all this does is turn the killer into an electrically charged demon who can zap between bodies, possess the original owners and turn them evil. It hasn’t done much for Pinker’s mood either, as he now sets out to get revenge.

Pileggi's scenery chewing turn gives the film some energy (as does the funny cameo from Timothy Leary as a TV Preacher), and the extended fight scene through various TV channels showing everything from graphic war footage to Leave It to Beaver injects some much-needed life towards the end.

However, for most of its running time, Shocker is just a standard goofy, 80s slasher film with all the clichés, such as unsympathetic characters, a soundtrack that alternates between hard rock and grating synths, and some cringe inducing wisecracks from the killer.

Saturday, 3 February 2018

Invaders from Mars (1986)

Noisy, shrill and charmless, this pointless Cannon Films funded remake of the 1950s paranoid classic is everything the original wasn't.

The plot follows the original, with young David Gardner seeing an alien spacecraft land in a quarry behind his house. When his normally warm and loving dad goes to investigate he returns cold and emotionless. As this behaviour starts to spread, taking in David's mother, teachers and fellow townspeople, his only ally is the school nurse, Linda Magnuson. Can they persuade the Marines to help them stop a Martian invasion?

The original may have had bargain basement effects and obvious padding to the running time, but it also had a bleak mood and the feverish quality of a child's nightmare, which, in this context, makes the ping pong ball eye aliens and rushed plotting work. This version has a big budget (much of which went on the impressive special effects), and a knowing, ironic tone, with portentous dialogue, telegraphed scenes of tension and several scenes played for laughs, but little else beyond this.

Tuesday, 26 December 2017

Sorcerer (1977)

Panned and largely ignored on its initial release (although it was up against Star Wars at the Box Office), Sorcerer is a beautiful, brutal and unbearably tense film.

The first half an hour or so is set up, where we learn something of the back story of Nilo (Francisco Rabal), a hitman who pulls off a killing in Mexico, Kassem (Amidou), an Arab terrorist who has just set off a bomb in the middle of Jerusalem, Serrano (Bruno Cremer), a crooked French banker, and gangster Scanlon (Roy Scheider) who has to flee after robbing a church and killing a priest whose brother is in the mob. All four find themselves in the South American town of Porvenir, a dismal place where, to quote Hunter S. Thompson, "men sweat 24 hours a day". With funds low and desperation high, their only way out is to drive trucks full of highly unstable Nitro-glycerine over treacherous mountain dirt roads to help put out a fire at an American owned oil well.

The film takes the same source (the novel Le salaire de la peur) as the 1953 French thriller The Wages of Fear. However, director William Friedkin, who denied this was a remake of the earlier film, stamps his own personal style on to the material with a mix of the documentary realism and stylised imagery seen in The Exorcist.

There is shaky handheld close-up camera work, which bring us right into the chaos and confusion, but Friedkin also seems to anthropomorphise objects. The jungle sometimes feels like a malevolent sentient being, with vines and branches leaping out from nowhere to attack the trucks, and, when viewed from the front with their headlamps glowing in the dark like eyes, the trucks almost have a life of their own, like beasts that the men are riding on an ancient mythical quest. Friedkin is also comfortable with regular passages of non-English dialogue, or even long passages of no dialogue whatsoever, using images to tell the story.

Visually the palette is rich, with blue skies and green jungle backdrops contrasted with fiery orange explosions and the ubiquitous brown mud. Sound also plays a big part in the film, from Tangerine Dream's creepy, gloomy score to the contrasting scenes of noisy chaotic action, and total silence.

The brilliant direction is backed up by a brilliant cast, headed by Roy Scheider, who, despite playing a mafia hitman, brings the same likeable and identifiable everyman quality to his role that he did in Jaws. From the rest of the cast Bruno Cremer makes the most impact, as the suave playboy thrown from a world of luxury and money into one of sweat, toil, desperation and poverty. These are people trapped by location and circumstance of their own making.

The other character is that of the landscape itself, which suffers as much as any of the people, both from the trucks ploughing through trees and churning up mud, and the fires and pollution of big business.

Tuesday, 19 December 2017

Miracle on 34th Street (1947)

Miracle on 34th Street remains perennial yuletide viewing, largely thanks to the charm of the cast, the innocence of the main characters and the lack of any heavyhanded preaching.

After seeing the Santa at the Macy's Thanksgiving Parade staggering around drunk, Kris Kringle (Edmund Gwenn) protests to the parade organiser Doris Walker (Maureen O'Hara). She offers him the job and he proves to be such a hit, he is taken on as the in-store Santa too. However, after a run-in with a psychologist, Kringle is sent to a mental institute - but a wily lawyer reckons he can get him out, if he can legally prove that he is the real, genuine, one and only Santa Claus.

Gwenn is utterly charming as Kringle, bringing a total unironic sincerity and a genuine sweetness that makes him impossible to dislike. The other star is Natalie Wood as Walker's daughter Susan, a girl brought up by her disillusioned mother to only believe in the rational and not to waste time on imagination. The character's pessimism stops her from becoming cloying, but Wood also manages to give her enough charm to make her likeable. Also, look fast for the always enjoyable Thelma Ritter making her big screen debut as a harried toy-hunting mom, before going on to memorable roles in the likes of Rear Window and All About Eve.

It is perhaps easy to label a much-loved film like this as timeless, but in many ways, it is very much of its time. A world without computers, iPads and mobile phones (and one where a mother happy to let a complete stranger spend whole days babysitting her young daughter and taking her out to the zoo) seems like a completely foreign one. Basing the story around departments stores and marketing men puts it between the time of post war euphoria and the increasing commercialism and Mad Men style ad campaigns of the 1950s. The film doesn't beat you over the head with a radical anti-capitalist message, but if there is anything to take away, perhaps it should be that amongst the noise, booze, shopping and stress, there should always be time for a little bit of magic.

Monday, 4 December 2017

My Bloody Valentine (1981)

My Bloody Valentine has little in the way of scares but there is enough gore and enough of a deviation from the usual slasher film template to make it stand out from the crowd and be worth a look.

The story (which, weirdly, reminded me of Jaws) takes place in the little coal mining town of Valentine Bluffs, where the residents are planning their first Valentine's Day party in 20 years. The last time they held one, there was an accident in the mine, an accident caused by the mine's safety officers being at the party. Only one man, Harry Warden, survived, and he killed the people responsible and ordered the town never to have another Valentine's party. So, what could possibly go wrong?

The cliché with slasher films is to have the story revolving around sexually charged teenagers, but here the story revolves around adults with jobs. What also sets this apart from others in the subgenre is the way director George Mihalka makes use of the locations, tying the story to the coal mining town (a real one in Nova Scotia was used) something which grounds the convoluted, slightly silly story, and the mine itself certainly adds to the claustrophobia.

A film where a deranged killer is cutting out people's hearts with a pickaxe is not going to skimp on the gore, so it's no surprise to hear that My Bloody Valentine suffered at the hands of the censors. The version doing the rounds now has had some of this restored, and the blood certainly gives a shocking jolt of energy which goes someway to compensating for the lack of inventiveness in the kills.