Thursday, 20 April 2017

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (1986)

Over a decade after his nightmarish original director Tobe Hooper returned to make a sequel to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. This time however, instead of a minuscule budget and a skeleton cast and crew, Hooper had the big bucks of Cannon films behind him, something that proved to be a mixed blessing.

When radio DJ Vanita 'Stretch' Brock accidentally captures on tape the Chainsaw murder of two obnoxious callers, she seeks out the help of former Texas Marshall 'Lefty' Enright (a post rehab Dennis Hopper). Enright is on a vigilante quest to track down the cannibal family from the first film, who he blames for the murder of his nephew.

This film is definitely a curate's egg. On one hand, the script has some interesting ideas about family and social status, and there is a great darkly comic turn from Jim Siedow as Drayton the cook (reprising his role from the first film), whose award-winning chilli has some rather unsavoury ingredients.

On the other hand, much of the film feels like an empty, noisy, overblown derivative 80s slasher, the comedy is strained and the horror isn't that scary. The first film was as ground-breaking stylistically as it was with subject matter, but here Hooper follows where he used to lead, although I suppose this may have been down to demands from the money men at Cannon films. It feels like there is a good movie buried in there somewhere and from what I've read Cannon cut out a lot of the class war satire.

My recent viewing was my first watch in about 20 years and back then it was still banned in the UK. So, the thrill of watching something legendary (with Dennis Hopper in) on a third generation dub of a Japanese laser-disc perhaps made me gloss over the flaws. Watching a digitally remastered copy on TV, the context is more mundane, and the flaws more obvious.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 - Trailer by bulldog_mini

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Phantasm (1979)

Phantasm is a delirious mix of gore and laughs shot through with the claustrophobic lack of logic of a child's dream. Topped with a Goblin-esque synth based soundtrack, the end result is pitched somewhere between American suburban horror and baffling Euro weirdness, and is a unique and original effort in both subject matter and execution.

Still reeling from the death of his parents, Jody is a troubled teen who is being raised by his older brother in a small Oregon town. While spying on the local funeral home he begins to get suspicious of what is going on there, particularly the hooded dwarves who keep attacking him, and the mysterious Tall Man (played by the brilliantly chilling Angus Scrimm), who can lift a full coffin as though it were a surf board. Who is he and what are his plans for the funeral home residents? And will Jody end up joining them?

Phantasm is chaotic and not always entirely coherent, with some scenes seemingly cutting short or baring no relation to what has gone on before or since. Some of this may be down to time and money, as writer/director Don Coscarelli shot the film at weekends for a few hundred thousand dollars. But this lack of logic often works well, giving the feel of a child trapped in a nightmare, which contributes to the tension. With all the normal rules suspended, anything could happen, and you genuinely don't know what will crop up next.

This sense of being in a child's dream is heightened by the fact that Jody doesn't seem to go to school and during the course of the film gets to do the sorts of things that an adolescent boy would fantasise about, such as shoot guns, drive fast cars, and drink beer. The dream feeling is further enhanced by frequent scenes of characters being chased, something that Jungian therapists consider both common to the human experience and symbolic of someone avoiding confronting some painful emotion or feeling.

Phantasm has more than enough blood for the average gore hound, especially in scenes involving the iconic flying sphere. However, much of the horror comes from the discomfort and unpleasantness of the thought of the remains of the dead, especially those of loved ones being violated and exploited.

Monday, 17 April 2017

An Eastern Westerner (1920)

An Eastern Westerner is a breezy, no nonsense Harold Lloyd comedy, that makes up for a lack of big belly laughs with the charm, upbeat persona, and energy of its star

Lloyd plays a spoiled young New Yorker, living the high life at his increasingly frustrated parent's expense. After one party too many, they decide to send the boy to a relative’s ranch out west in the town of Piute Pass ("It's considered bad form to shoot the same man twice on the same day."), where he falls foul of every cowboy cliché and trope you can think of.

The plot is flimsy, and the gags take precedence, as often the case with short silent films of this era. Although he did not have the vaudeville background of Keaton or Chaplin, Lloyd was still incredibly agile and athletic, as showcased here with some hair-raising stunts and great chase sequences (even if one does involve a disconcertingly Klan-like hooded gang).

Obviously, it looks a little crude and underdeveloped compared to his later, more assured works such as Safety Last, An Eastern Westerner is still well worth a look, both for the laughs and to compare it to the later films and see how people like Lloyd helped shape the medium.

Saturday, 15 April 2017

Get Out (2017)

Horror and satire seem to make for a potent mix and Get Out is the latest entry in this sub-genre, joining the likes of The Stepford Wives and They Live. With genuine scares and a relevant social message, the film is a pitch perfect mix of excruciating satire and nerve shredding horror

Chris Washington (a star-making turn from British actor Daniel Kaluuya) is a young black man getting ready to visit the family of his white girlfriend, Rose Armitage at the upmarket country estate where they live. But no matter how friendly and welcoming everyone is, there is no denying something weird is going on. Why do the family's black housekeeper and grounds keeper, Walter and Georgina, seem so passive and mindless? What is going on with Mrs Armitage's hypnosis techniques? And why is one of the Armitage's guests warning Chris to "Get Out"?

This is a remarkably assured début from writer director Jordan Peele, who manages to get the balance between shocks and satire right, so that one does not overwhelm the other, and makes the shocks and satire genuinely shocking and funny respectively. The script is a master-class in discipline and structure, with hardly a wasted scene or line, clever set-ups that all pay off, and some great lines ("I would have voted for Obama a third time if I could"). Peele also throws in plenty of horror tropes that genre fans will instantly recognise, but does not rely on them to plug gaps in the story.

The cast is also uniformly excellent, led by Daniel Kaluuya as Chris, trying to retain his cool and dignity in the face of increasingly weird and uncomfortable events. As the Armitage parents, Catherine Keener and Bradley Whitford combine a welcoming charm with an unnerving forcefulness and underlying menace, and Caleb Landry Jones is memorably obnoxious as Rose's brother Jeremy.

Race is always in the news, but recent events have made this film feel even more relevant. However, what makes Get Out so different and successful is the unexpected way the topic is tackled. There are some scenes of Chris falling foul of authority figures, but the main focus of this theme is elsewhere. Equally hurtful is the patronising privileged condescension from the white liberals at the Armitage house. Despite their friendly attempts to ingratiate themselves, for them, black people are judged purely in terms of how useful they are.

Get Out Trailer 02.24.2017 by CineManiaTV

Friday, 17 March 2017

The Love Witch (2016)

The Love Witch is not just an intoxicating homage to both 1970s sexually charged exploitation films, and the dreamlike psychological thrillers of the Giallo genre, or Vertigo era Hitchcock. Beneath the lush colours, nudity and violence, writer / director Anna Biller has also crafted a thought provoking exploration of female identity.

Elaine (a breakthrough performance by Samantha Robinson) is a beautiful, self-absorbed witch who breezes into a Californian town to find a new husband to replace her previous murdered one. Her search leads to men falling at her feet - and then falling down dead. As Griff, the police officer investigating the deaths gets closer to the truth, will he be next to fall under her spell?

The heady intoxicating world in which all this takes place looks like a mix of classic Hollywood Technicolor and a perfect pastiche of the rich colours (and hairy characters) of sixties and seventies European exploitation cinema. This is all complemented by the sort of soundtrack of lush strings and female solo voice often found in those sorts of films.

Writer/director/editor/producer Anna Biller has Wes Anderson levels of detail in creating her completely self-contained cinematic universe, which, like Anderson's, feels both real and completely imagined. When late in the film, one character pulls out a mobile phone, the effect is jarring, making you wonder if the whole thing is set in contemporary times after all, albeit completely re-imagined in Elaine's mind. 

The story is pulpy, melodramatic and absurd but works better for taking place within this slightly artificial environment. The acting style ranges from (deliberately) am-dram to understated, all of which seems inexplicably chilling, as artificial and persuasive as a nightmare.

Beneath the masses of style is substance too, in the examination of some of the stereotypical roles men and ascribe to themselves and each other. Elaine in particular seems to have swallowed the idea of presenting herself as a sex object for men to take care of. This buys her some power over them, but when they crave an emotional connection, she seems to find the cognitive dissonance between fantasy and reality too much to take.

THE LOVE WITCH Trailer (Romantic Comedy, 2016) by hotmovietrailer

Tuesday, 28 February 2017

1990: The Bronx Warriors (1982)

What it lacks in originality and coherence, 1990: The Bronx Warriors more than makes up for in energy, glorious cheese, and a pulsing soundtrack.

Like many of the film's contemporaries, there is much in common with other successful genre films, in this case Mad Max 2, The Warriors and especially Escape From New York.

The year is 1990 and the US government has given up trying to police the Bronx, instead sealing the area off and leaving it to the gangs and criminals still there. Meanwhile, Anne, the teenage heiress to a giant arms manufacturing corporation is having some moral questions about her upcoming inheritance, so she runs away to the Bronx to join a biker gang. But the Corporation isn't about to let her go that easily, so enter ruthless, psychopathic mercenary Hammer (played by Vic Morrow), who has orders to get her back by any means necessary.

Although the premise and characters may sound like a none too subtle imitation of Escape from New York, it is not quite as straightforward as that. Carpenter's film paints Snake Pliskin as an anti-authoritarian nihilist, while Hammer is simply a gun for hire, who, by the end, turns into a pantomime villain. Genre stalwarts Fred Williamson and Christopher Connelly (The Atlantis Interceptors) take on the Isaac Hayes and Ernest Borgnine roles as Ogre the gangster and Hot Dog the cabby, the former being more of a Robin Hood figure than an outright villain. Meanwhile the biker gangs are actually the easiest to cheer for, coming across as the little Davids taking on the Goliath that is the Corporation.

Some clever shooting and editing helps cover up the limited resources available to the filmmakers, and there are some nice goofy touches such as the supposedly menacing gang on roller skates (no match for guys on bikes) or the drum solo on the soundtrack that, as the camera pulls back reveals an actual drummer playing away in the middle of some wasteland for reasons best known to himself.

The script has a few head scratching moments but also an energy that stops it from ever getting dull. Essential trash viewing.

1990 The Bronx Warriors b-movie CHEESE 1984 VHS... by uros-mrkonjic

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

The Hand (1960)

The Hand has a grisly premise and a seedy atmosphere but the film loses its way with a talky confused script, uninteresting characters, and poor acting.

Starting in 1940s Burma, the story sees three captured British soldiers being interrogated by the Japanese. When two of them each have a hand chopped off, the third agrees to talk. Cut to 1960s London and a policeman makes a gruesome discovery - a tramp who is missing a hand - is there a link back to the events in the Far East?

The majority of the film is taken up with the police investigation involving Inspector Munyard and his sidekick Sergeant Foster, two solid, characterless, permanently smoking detectives. The investigation mostly consists of the two of them talking, going to places, talking some more, and then smoking, which does not make for gripping cinema. It is not helped by the poorly written script, which feels like a great central premise that nobody knew how to write a pay-off for. The fractured, hard to follow storyline feels like certain key expositional scenes were either not written, not filmed, or cut out.

Having said that there is, for the time it was released, occasional brutal (if off screen) violence, and some surprisingly coarse language. The Hand also has a rather pleasing ambience of Trad Jazz, fog and Brylcream, so if those things appeal, come for the story, stay for the atmosphere.