Friday, 30 December 2016

Bloody New Year (1987)

The Plan 9 from Outer Space of 80s British slasher movies, Bloody New Year can be called many things, but it can never be called dull.

After fleeing a menacing gang of gypsy bikers at a funfair, a group of teenagers/ young adults find themselves trapped on an island. Taking refuge in a hotel, they find it seemingly abandoned, and untouched since the New Year’s celebrations of 1959. But is it abandoned? Why do the group start disappearing one by one? And what are people from the past doing in the present?

Clearly made on a low budget, with little time or money for retakes, special effects or discussions on character motivation, it would be all too easy to sneer at a film like this. I suspect it is likely that director Norman J Warren had to contend with interfering producers insisting on seeing "scenes where X happens, like in Y film", hence at times the film is obviously aping the likes of The Evil Dead, Lamerbero Bava's Demons or the likes of Lucio Fulci's more delirious and disjointed zombie films. Sure the acting is lousy, the situations the characters find themselves in baffling, and their lack of reaction doubly so, and the end result is never going to knock Citizen Kane off the BFI best film list. There is an interesting idea buried somewhere in the film, involving a government time travel experiment gone wrong, an idea that, properly developed, would have lifted the film beyond a standard slasher.

However, fortunately, what we get instead, while goofy and incoherent has enough energy to be always fun, and never boring, thanks to the sheer audacity of some of the twists and turns of the story. Do not attempt to make sense of things, just sit back and enjoy the ride.

Bloody New Year by FLIXUMovies

Thursday, 29 December 2016

One Armed Swordsman (1967)

Possessing many of the virtues and faults of the genre, One Armed Swordsman is a success, despite uneven pacing and overlength, largely due to it’s charismatic star and some well-directed gory fight scenes.

Fang Kang (played by Jimmy Wang), has been raised as a disciple of master swordsman Qi Ru Er, after Fang's father died saving Qi's life. A violent fight with a group of fellow disciples leaves Fang minus an arm and left for dead. After being found and nursed back to health by the peace-loving Xiao Man, he lives out a tranquil existence of farming and fishing, until the day he finds out that his former master’s old enemies, Smiling Tiger and Long Armed Devil are planning to attack and murder Qi on his 55th birthday. Kang is forced back to his warrior ways but can he adapt his two armed fighting style to his one armed circumstances?

Like many films in the martial arts genre, when the action is in full swing, it is an exhilarating ride, with stylishly choreographed and bloody (even if it is bright red paint like blood typical if the era) fight sequences. It might be one thing accidentally getting a fist or a foot in your face, a sword could do something more permanent, as it did to Fang. However, once the fighting stop, things get too talky, and any momentum is soon dissipated. Jimmy Wang is an excellent leading man, who gets tp showcase his fighting skills and a sense of menace and danger.

The script does have some intriguing and loopy ideas, such as the half burnt instruction manual, useless to most fighters, but perfect for a man with only half the number of arms of most people. Wang would reprise a similar role in two films that he both wrote and directed, One Armed Boxer and Master of the Flying Guillotine, where this dreamlike lack of logic would be taken to even more satisfying extremes.

Many of the tropes that I always associate with martial arts films are here throughout the film, such as melodrama, crash zooms, and loud bombastic music. However, one cliché that was noticeable by its absence during my last viewing of this film was bad dubbing. This had always been an essential part of the viewing experience for Westerners, but now it seems the pendulum has swung the other way and many of these films have been reissued with original dialogue soundtracks and subtitles. This certainly makes One Armed Swordsman feel a little less goofy and a bit closer to being a straight action and drama film.

There are also some interesting themes in the script as illustrated by the two important lessons that Fang learns. The other warriors, both good and bad, are locked into their own rigid systems of fighting, unable or unwilling to change, which will ultimately lead to defeat for them. By being forced to adapt his style, Fang finds a third way, that allows him to become victorious. However, he also realises that ultimately revenge only leads to more revenge and eventually someone needs to walk away in order for the cycle to be broken, or as the Buddha himself said "Hatred is never appeased by hatred in this world, only by non-hatred."


Saturday, 24 December 2016

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016)

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, a prequel to the Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope manages to accomplish the difficult task of being acceptable viewing for fans without alienating those who have never seen a Star Wars film in their lives. It also brings something new to the franchise, a moral complexity, where there are not just good guys and bad guys, but bad good guys, and good guys who have to do bad things.

The plot is set just before the events of Episode IV, and covers the building of the iconic planet destroying monstrosity that is the Death Star. To help with their plans the Empire kidnaps scientist Galen Erso leaving his wife dead and daughter Jyn in hiding, being raised by rebellion fighter Saw Gerrera. Many years later Jyn (played by Felicity Jones) finds herself caught up in a plot to sabotage the Death Star which would also give her an opportunity to find her father. But with splits and factions within the rebellion and conflicting emotions for Jyn over both Gerrera and her father, can she trust her new allies - and can they trust her?

The film's main strengths lie in the story, which is fast paced, and has clear goals for the protagonists. It does not get bogged down in the Star Wars mythology, and without too much rewriting could have worked well as a sci-fi action film completely divorced from the Star Wars universe. However, the filmmakers are smart enough to include enough in-jokes for the nerds, whether it is cameos from characters both well-known and not, or the production design of the Death Star which flawlessly matches the clunky brightly lit seventies design of the original.

Where it differs from the original is by introducing a sense of moral complexity. The rebel who takes Jyn under his wing is later branded an extremist, and throughout we are shown examples of supposedly good people having to do bad things.

The characters are a mix of the new and the old; Jones does an excellent job of making Jyn likeable and believable, a tough female character to rival Princess Leia. It wouldn't be a Star Wars film without a droid, and here we get K-2SO, whose reprogramming has left with him with a seeming inability to be tactful (especially with statistics), leading to some great comic and dramatic moments. Donnie Yen brings his formidable Martial Arts skills to the role of blind warrior-monk Chirrut Imwe.

The action sequences are also a mix of the old and new; the aerial fight sequences, as much a part of a Star Wars film as droids and lightsabers, are done in the traditional dog-fight style, but the ground based action often utilises the chaotic handheld camera work of a war film such Saving Private Ryan.

The only big flaw revolves around the CGI work. At its best, it is barely noticeable, whether in sweeping planetary vistas or K-2SO. However, when two characters from Episode IV make their (dramatically important) appearances, the limits of the technology to properly capture the movement and complexity of the human face become apparent and distracting.

Overall though, a good film in its own right, as well being a worthy addition to the Star Wars universe, and a positive indicator for the future of the series.

Wednesday, 7 December 2016

Arrival (2016)

Arrival (2016)

Mankind's first encounter with extra-terrestrial life has long been a fascination of sci-fi filmmakers, with the emphasis often on the effect this has both on individuals and the planet as a whole. Arrival does have these elements but the emphasis is as much on the process of communication itself, and despite having a fascinating premise, and some good performances, the script flounders with a disappointing payoff.

When gigantic spaceships touch down in a dozen locations around the world.  Linguistics professor Louise Banks (Amy Adams) is called in by the US government to discover a way to communicate with them. But with panic on the streets, and nations on the verge of war, will she find a way before the aliens turn sinister - or before humanity destroys itself?

Adams does her best with the clunky dialogue that sounds deeper than it is ("We are so bound by time. By its order.”), managing to create some sympathy and emotional depth with her character. Forest Whitaker also does good work as Colonel Weber, the middle man between the scientists, the politicians, and the more gung-ho elements of the military.

The CGI is a mixed bag, with the huge spacecraft flawlessly blended into the Montana countryside setting, making it even more disconcerting. However, too much of what we see of the alien creatures feels like, well, it was created in a computer, which, granted, is the problem I have with most CGI.

However, the real problems lie with the script. Some of the plot twists rely on the highly unlikely, such as soldiers having unfettered internet in a locked down high security military base.  The underlying theme of a planet whose population is about to tear each other apart because of a failure to communicate is interesting and drives much of the tension, giving a ticking clock countdown to the work of Professor Banks. But the Deus Ex Machina pay off to this feels lazy, as if the writers have scripted themselves into a corner.

In addition, too much of the script is talky, resorting to the cliché of boffins standing around pointing at whiteboards, a pitfall perhaps of trying to explore the concept of language in a visual medium.

Thursday, 24 November 2016

The Curse of Frankenstein (1957)

The Curse of Frankenstein is the film that launched Hammer Horror on to the world, and there is a deliberate attempt to distance this film from both the Mary Shelley book and James Whale's iconic Universal version and create something unique. There are no pursuits to the North Pole, no fairy-tale castles, and no hunchback assistants, but the basic premise of the precociously talented scientist obsessed with creating a fully formed human being, and then being forced to deal with the consequences of achieving this remains intact.

Jimmy Sangster's script makes Victor Frankenstein the focus of the story but makes no attempt to portray him in a sympathetic light. This is a man who does not think in terms of good and evil, only in terms of getting his work done, and as a scientist who has no concept of the consequences of his actions. Peter Cushing brings a mix of charm, coldness, and nervous energy, to the role, creating a character who is determined, dangerous and unpredictable. While courting his cousin Elizabeth he carries on an affair with his maid, and when the latter finds she is pregnant, it is fascinating to watch the difference in his attitude to creating life in the laboratory and creating life with a human being.

Christopher Lee gives a similarly distinctive performance as the Monster. When he is discovered chained to a wall by his creator, his first instinct is to cover his face, still showing traces of vanity and humanity. The end result is a complex creature who is both a mindless killer, and a slightly pathetic pawn of somebody else's ambitions.

With two such dominating characters (and actors), it is difficult for the supporting cast to get a look in. Hazel Court does her best with the underwritten part of Elizabeth, but Frankenstein's increasingly moral and self-righteous mentor Paul Krempe (Robert Urquhart) is just irritating.

When placed in the context of the Hammer Horror story, what amazes in retrospect is how fully formed the style seems already, with so many of the tropes, such as the colour, the gore, the actors, the urgent, dramatic music, and the Gothic European settings already in place.

The Curse Of Frankenstein / Original Theatrical... by AndersEben

Wednesday, 16 November 2016

With Love And Hisses (1927)

Although starring the duo (along with their regular sparring partner, James Finlayson), this is not a Laurel and Hardy film featuring the familiar characters, but another early silent where the duo are still working out their roles. Despite the occasional blasts of crude energy, the end result is a little slow and sluggish.

There is no real story to speak of, just a selection of loosely strung together sketches featuring the misadventures of Home Guard Private Cuthbert Hope (a very effeminate looking Stan), Sergeant Banner (Olly) and Captain Bustle (Finlayson). What surprises is the earthy, coarse tone of some scenes - at one point, the sweaty, slobby soldiers are packed into a single train carriage, sticking their backsides in other people's faces, making revolting smelling food, while other gags involve skunks, swollen posteriors and (implied) nudity.

Some of the elements that would be staples of Laurel and Hardy are in place here, such as the perpetually splenetic Finlayson and the sparingly used caustic intertitles from HM Walker ("There were cheers and kisses as the Home Guards left for camp. The married men did the cheering"). Unsurprisingly, the most successful sections are the gags involving the duo working together to cause mayhem. Their combined carelessness leads to the destruction of the soldier's uniforms, and an elaborate and silly gag involving a conveniently placed and conveniently sized movie poster. They were perfectly talented on their own, but together, greater than the sum of their parts.

With Love and Hisses(B&W) 1927 - Laurel & Hardy by herbert-hueller

Sunday, 30 October 2016

I Walked With A Zombie (1943)

Despite the painfully lurid title, I Walked with a Zombie is not a horror film, but an unsettling melodrama with lashings of ambiguity and ambience.

Betsy Connell (Frances Dee) is a nurse, sent to Haiti to care for Jessica (Christine Gordon), the wife of sugar plantation manager Paul Holland (Tom Conway). Jessica, always seems to wandering around in a silent stupor, and the Voodoo practising natives think she is a zombie. But is there something more to it than that? Something that involves Paul's missionary mother and his jealous alcoholic half-brother Wesley?

This was the second collaboration between French director Jacques Tourneur and RKO producer Val Lewton, following their box office smash Cat People. Both films share a visual palette steeped in shadows, a plot steeped in ambiguity and uncertainty, and a shocking advertising campaign from the studio.

However, unlike Cat People there are no jumps or shocks, as Tourneur prefers a slow burning atmosphere of creeping dread. The world of this film is one of unresolved conflicts and contrasts - light and dark, Caribbean Voodoo and Western Christianity, science and superstition, slavery and freedom, none of which are ultimately resolved.

The script is the other strong point for this film, with characters that are not as straightforward as they first appear, and a refusal to provide any easy answers. It is also refreshing to see our zombies were originally presented on screen, a world away from the flesh eating, rotten corpses we are used to nowadays.

I Walked With A Zombie (1943 horror film... by Altair_IV

Sunday, 23 October 2016

The 39 Steps (1935)

Fast paced, sexy and brilliantly written and directed, The 39 Steps is a landmark in the career of Alfred Hitchcock that lays out his distinctive vision, both in terms of story and cinematic technique.

A simple evening at a London music hall turns into a nightmare for Richard Hannay (Robert Donat), when it ends in gunshots, a panicked crowd and a beautiful and mysterious woman who calls herself Annabella Smith (Lucie Mannheim). After a trip back to Hannay's flat, Smith reveals that not only is she a spy, but she is being pursued by enemy agents after uncovering a plot to steal British military secrets. When Smith is murdered in his flat, and Hannay framed for the crime, he has no choice but to go on the run, using the little information Smith and told him to find the secrets and clear his name. With this being a Hitchcock film, we also get a beautiful blond woman to join him for the ride.

The film starts off at a roaring pace and barely stops for breath. Within twenty minutes of screen time Hannay goes from rakish man about town to wanted man on the run. Hitchcock effectively deploys one of his trademark storytelling devices, The MacGuffin. This is an object or person that presents the motivation or goal for a character, in this case the stolen military secrets, and drives the story, without ever overwhelming it, so the audience can enjoy the digressions.

Hitchcock also shows an assured and developed cinematic technique, going far beyond the simple static framing and sluggish editing of some of his contemporaries. He uses the camera lens to manipulate the point of view and knowledge of the audience, mixing suspense and surprises, and throws in simple but effective methods such as quick transition shots showing changes of location help keep the breakneck pace.

All of this is aided by, as you would expect from Hitchcock, a well constructed script, with set ups and pay-offs. The "innocent man caught up in something dangerous" plot was something that Hitchcock had used before in the silent film The Lodger and the original version of The Man Who Knew Too Much and would use again, most notably in North by Northwest. But here is where we see him first trying other tropes and ideas that he would come back to, the sharp witty dialogue, such the icy cool blonde female sidekick, and the chemistry between the two lead actors. It is also a surprisingly, for the time it was released, sexy film, whether in the scene of the two stars handcuffed together on a bed, or the conversation between two ladies underwear salesman on a train.

The story itself does sound absurd, and at one point one character says that Hannay's tale "sounds like a spy story". This is the case with many of Hitchcock's films, but to use this is as a criticism is to miss the point of what a film like this is about. It does sound absurd, but, like somebody trapped in a dream, that is what he has to deal with, an ordinary man in an extraordinary situation.

Monday, 10 October 2016

The Sorcerers (1967)

The life and career of Michael Reeves was tragically cut short at the age of 25 by an accidental drugs overdose, and while much of the focus of his career is on the brilliant Witchfinder General, it would be shame if The Sorcerers was overlooked. Although made cheaply and quickly, it has a creepy, decadent atmosphere, a fascinating premise and a sympathetic and dignified turn from Boris Karloff.

He plays Professor Marcus Monserrat, an ageing hypnotherapist who has a bizarre new contraption that lets him and his wife Estelle enter and control the mind of anyone they can persuade to undergo his treatment. Not only that but they get to live vicariously through them, experiencing the sights, sounds and sensations that the subject does, the subject in question being Mike (Ian Ogilvy), a jaded party animal in Swinging Sixties London. But the scientific quest of the Professor starts to take a back seat as Estelle starts to want more and more thrills - including murder.

Reeves was, despite his youth and inexperience, gifted at using limited time and resources. He also made good choices both in casting and direction. With the former, he clearly realised the artistic and commercial potential of having a charismatic horror film icon in the lead role, and Karloff brings a humanity and sympathy to the character of Monserrat, who grows increasingly appalled as his creation spirals out of control. This trick would be repeated by Reeves with Vincent Price in Witchfinder General. He also gives the film a gritty, and at times, brutal feel, and doesn't skimp on the blood and violence. The photography is sharp with a documentary feel which does not paint a flattering picture of the groovy young swingers and their world.

The premise is ludicrous but Reeves quite rightly does not focus on how the machine works, but rather on the consequences of having this sort of power. This is in turn leads to a number of possible readings of the film. On one hand it can be seen as a morality tale of how absolute power corrupts absolutely, or alternatively, a metaphor for cinema itself, how we the audience vicariously live through the characters on screen.

The Sorcerers (1967) Trailer from from PICTURE PALACE MOVIE POSTERS on Vimeo.

Sunday, 18 September 2016

That's Entertainment! (1974)

Made to commemorate fifty years of MGM, That’s Entertainment is a nostalgic trip through the history of the studio's contribution to the genre that made them. It features the contemporary presence of several bona fide stars of the day, such as Frank Sinatra, James Stewart, Bing Crosby and Debbie Reynolds, all waxing lyrical about their experiences with the dances, songs and fellow artists, and clips from over sixty MGM films from the 1920s (starting with the first MGM musical, The Broadway Melody of 1929, the first film to feature the song Singin’ in the Rain) to the 1950s. Fascinatingly, when viewed together, the deluge of clips reveals some interesting things.

Firstly is the contrast between the sleek, extravagant sets in films such as The Band Wagon and Good News and the rather sad, dilapidated state of the MGM lot as it was by the 70s, on the verge of demolition. This certainly emphasises the gulf between the two eras, and increases the feeling of nostalgia. This is something that could well have been felt at the time of release, with the United States mired in the Watergate Scandal, and is tacitly acknowledged in the strapline on the poster (“Boy, do we need it now”).

Secondly, while we are used to seeing the likes of Gene Kelly, Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, and Eleanor Powell in musicals, the ubiquity of the genre during the 30s and 40s meant that all of MGM’s talent were expected to be able to sing and dance, and the sight of James Stewart and Cary Grant giving it their best is wonderfully surprising.

Thirdly is the gradual evolution of cinematic style, from simply pointing a static camera at performers on a stage, to two distinctive directing techniques. On one hand is the style made famous by directors such as Stanley Donen in the likes of Singin' in the Rain, where the emphasis is very much on individual performers, with long unbroken takes as the camera glides up and down in their wake. The polar opposite of this is the Busby Berkeley style, of grand, often surreal spectacle, with scores of performers moving in sync amid lavish sets, or in the case of Small Town Girl, Anne Miller dancing through a sea of disembodied arms holding musical instruments.

One thing that all of the clips have in common is an energy and exuberance, which means That's Entertainment is never dull viewing. It works as a primer for those new to the genre and trip through memory lane for existing fans.

Friday, 9 September 2016

Cafe Society (2016)

After one or two recent misfires, Woody Allen is back on form with Cafe Society. More of a witty drama than an outright comedy, this is a film which harks back to the era of some of his earlier work such as The Purple Rose of Cairo and Bullets over Broadway, although with a completely different style to either of these.

Bobby Dorfman (Jesse Eisenberg) is the youngest child in a 1930s New York Jewish family, where elder sister Evelyn works as a school teacher, while his elder brother Ben is a gangster. Desperate to escape all of this, Bobby moves to Hollywood, getting a job running errands for his high flying agent uncle Phil (Steve Carell). From here, he falls in love with Bobby's secretary Vonnie, has his heart broken in a particularly cruel twist of fate, moves back to New York, starts managing his brother's high-end nightclub, meets and marries another woman called Vonnie - then meets the original Vonnie again.

The different story strands illustrate themes that have recurred throughout Allen's career, particularly in regard to chance, fate, and justice, summed up in Bobby's observation that ‘Life is a comedy written by a sadistic comedy writer.’

Eisenberg does a great job of channelling the tics and mannerisms of Allen's onscreen character. He is aided by Kristen Stewart, who as Vonnie number one, switches gear believably between lowly secretary and Hollywood wife, Steve Carrel, who brings both toughness and vulnerability to the part of Uncle Phil and Blake Lively, who makes the best of an underused part as Vonnie number two.

It is also interesting to see Allen return to a subject that he seems to have left alone for a while. Jewishness is something that defines the Dorfman family, and while it does fuel a few trademark Allen one-liners, the abandoning of this by one of their clan drives one part of the story.

Allen is not afraid to both explore and criticise two big American mythologises of the 1930s, Hollywood and gangsters. While both are undeniably glamorous for the people viewing them from a distance, and financially rewarding for those involved, any wide eyed naivety is undercut by unpleasant bitchiness for the former and gruesome violence for the latter. He also, and not for the first time in his work, ends the film on a somewhat bittersweet note, with lives changed for the worse, hopes and dreams left unfulfilled and characters left wondering what could have been.

Friday, 2 September 2016

That's My Wife (1929) / Along Came Auntie (1926)


From their sometimes underappreciated silent era, That's My Wife is quintessential Laurel & Hardy, featuring the key ingredients of a well-structured script, great chemistry between the stars and a scheme that may be fool proof, but certainly isn't idiot-proof.

The script spends little time getting down to the action, and the gags are not strung together at random, but are driven by the plot, as well as driving it forward. Olly has a rich uncle who has promised him a large sum of money, provided he is happily married. Unfortunately, this is not the case, with Mrs Hardy having stormed out of the marital home in disgust at their malingering houseguest, Mr Laurel, just minutes before the arrival of said uncle. So, Stan is pressganged into putting on a dress and posing as the love of Olly's life, even when Uncle insists on a visit to a raucous nightclub.

Much mileage is got out of Stan’s poor attempts to pass as a woman, from his fondness for cigars to his dumbbell cleavage enhancement, but there is no shortage of slapstick, such as the recurring gag with a hapless waiter and a cake. Far from becoming repetitive, jokes like this start to take on a feeling of inevitability, that somehow when Laurel and Hardy appear in people’s lives, chaos and misfortune inevitably follow. But as well as their effect on other people, all the best Laurel and Hardy films are also about the effect they have on each other, and the way they seem inexorably stuck with each other. Indeed, by the end, Olly has lost his wife and his chance of getting his hands on a big sum of money, and all he has left is Stan.

For completists, a interesting companion piece to this film is a 1926 silent comedy called Along Came Auntie. Only Olly appears on appears on screen, Stan's contributions being purely on the writing side.

The plot has similar basis to That's My Wife, with a woman, played by Vivien Oakland, set to receive $100,000 and a truckload of diamonds from her aunt. Said Aunt is not a fan of divorce, which proves awkward as Vivian has, unbeknown to her current husband, taken in first husband Vincent Belcher (played by Olly, initially hard to recognise, being several pounds lighter than usual and hiding behind a big moustache) as a lodger in order to cover her mounting debts.

Much slightly strained farce ensues, with the film most noticeable for what it lacks compared to That's My Wife. Firstly the action all takes place in one house, often feeling like a filmed stage comedy, whereas the second part of That's My Wife moves out of the house and into the nightclub. Secondly the script does not have the same structure or pacing of That's My Wife, seeming both rushed and tiresome in places, and the characters bland and uninteresting. Thirdly, what is really lacks is the chemistry and partnership of Stan and Olly, again emphasising what a bright idea it was to pair them up together.

Along Came Auntie (B&W) 1926 - Laurel & Hardy by herbert-hueller

Friday, 12 August 2016

The Green Inferno (2015)

The Green Inferno harks back to the Italian cannibal films of the 1970s but lacks the truly disturbing edge of the likes of Cannibal Holocaust, as well as their grimy underground feel. In addition the misjudged tone and annoying characters blunt any satirical edge.

Justine (Lorenza Izzo) is a college student and daughter of a UN lawyer. After going to a lecture on female genital mutilation, and meeting hunky rabble-rouser Alejandro, she agrees to sign up his protest trip to take a gang of do-gooders to halt a logging company and their paramilitary security in the Amazon rainforest. It looks like their protest is a success, but after their plane crashes on the return trip, the protesters soon realise that the people they are trying to save would rather have them for dinner.

To his credit, Roth has made a mostly well-structured film in terms of plot, and there are also some brilliant set pieces, not least the plane crash, which is every bit as stomach churning as any gut munching scene.

While the most of the characters exist in order to be bumped off, Roth takes time introduce some tension in the group, particularly through Justine, who finds to her disgust that the crusaders are happy to put her life at risk without asking, banking on her daddy's reputation to avoid her getting killed.

The film also brings the cannibal genre into the twenty first century. For a start, the idea of Westerners flying into a foreign country uninvited with good aims, only to have the natives turn on them still seems topical. The narcissistic campaigners seem as obsessed with getting their work noticed on the internet or planning their next tattoo as with any good they are doing. However Roth seems to lack any ideas as to where to go beyond this, and the constant sneering at the mostly unlikeable characters becomes tiresome, not helped by misjudged scenes about drugs and diarrhoea.

The lush photography is wonderful and is a throwback to more highbrow 70s films such as Herzog's Aguirre, Wrath of God. The cannibals, while portrayed by a real South American tribe, are never shown to be more than obviously outrageous caricatures so I found it hard to get as offended I might have done if I thought Roth was trying to portray anything realistic. But for all the nods to more lowbrow Grindhouse cinema of the same decade like this, The Green Inferno lacks two important elements from these films.

Firstly is unsimulated animal cruelty, something that makes the likes of Cannibal Holocaust uncomfortable viewing even in these jaded times. Incidentally, it is something that Holocaust director Ruggero Deodato seems to regret, having recently completed a special cut of the film that eliminates nearly all of the animal footage, while keeping, it should be noted, nearly all of the human cruelty. Similarly, the focus in The Green Inferno is on the grim and gory fates that befall the cast.

The second hinges on the viewing experience itself. I watched The Green Inferno on a plasma screen TV from a DVD I had bought in a supermarket. I first saw Cannibal Holocaust on a grimy, wonky, third generation dubbed VHS (on a double bill with Cannibal Ferox), borrowed from someone at school who had bought it from an ad in the back of a horror movie mag, with the sound turned down so my parents wouldn’t hear it. Every aspect of this reinforced the feeling that I was watching something truly underground and transgressive, (which also distracted from the problems with the film). Without being able to capture these elements The Green Inferno becomes ultimately, just another horror film.

Eli Roth's The Green Inferno - Official Trailer by FanReviews

Wednesday, 27 July 2016

Night of the Demon (1957)

Night of the Demon is a wonderfully wry supernatural story, with the chills coming from the ambiguity and atmosphere, and the tension and drama coming from the battle of wits between the human lead characters.

Psychologist Dr. John Holden (Dana Andrews) comes to England from the US for a science convention at which he plans to expose renowned occultist Julian Karswell (Niall MacGinnis) as a charlatan and a cult leader. On arrival he finds that not only has his research partner, Professor Harrington, has died in a mysterious accident, but Harrington was growing increasingly afraid of the powers he thought Karswell possessed. Holden is having none of this however, even when Karswell tells him he is going to die in three days time. But as increasingly strange incidents keep occurring, Holden is forced to question whether the supernatural does exist - and whether or not his days are numbered.

Andrews does not totally convince as a scientist, but one thing he does bring to the role is a forcefulness and an unshakeable faith in rationalism that makes him a believable opponent to Karswell, an equally strong character supposedly based on the so-called “wickedest man in the world”, real life occult guru Aleister Crowley.

The tension between the two is palpable as the cat-and-mouse games escalate, but it also found an off screen parallel in tensions between this film's producer and director. Hal E Chester originally wanted to make a straightforward monster movie rather than ambiguity and atmosphere, and shot the scenes involving the demon without the director's knowledge. With little money in the budget, the end result is a little bit silly. The appearance at the beginning of the film sets completely the wrong tone for what is to follow, and the appearance at the end almost undoes the hard work that the director and actors have done up to then - almost,but not quite.

Director Jacques Tourneur had built a career on spooky and atmospheric horror classics such as Cat People and I Walked with a Zombie. He takes a similar approach here, with the end results feeling wonderfully spooky, rather than actually terrifying, with a ghoulish sense of humour thrown in, and much as the incidents affecting become ever more baffling they never truly spill over into the supernatural.

In addition, in all three of the demon's appearances, there are no external witnesses so it could still be argued that there is some ambiguity as to whether it makes it into the real world or whether it is simply a demon of the mind.

Night of the Demon (1957) by MargaliMorwentari

Sunday, 17 July 2016

Carry On Behind (1975)

Carry On Behind (1975)

Despite still turning in a profit, the Carry On Films were facing something of a crisis by the mid-70s. Several of the regular stars had walked away from the series, along with the regular script writer, and many of the box office rivals such as the Confessions series were hoping the smut ante as well as including actual sex and nudity. While Carry on Behind is in some respects a reworking of the earlier Carry on Camping, the new cast members help stop it feeling like a straightforward re-tread.

There is little in the way of plot, and instead we get a series of situations and sketches involving the assorted characters at the Riverside Caravan Park. Firstly, there is uptight archaeology professor Roland Crump (Kenneth Williams), whose joy at the discovery of Roman artefacts during the digging of a cesspit at the park is ruined by having to expert share a caravan with fellow expert Professor Anna Vrooshka (Elke Sommer) while they investigate further. Then there is randy butcher Fred Ramsden (Windsor Davies) and his dopey and clumsy electrician mate Ernie Bragg (Jack Douglas), both hoping to wow the ladies while away from their wives Sylvia (Liz Fraser) and Vera (Patricia Franklin) at Riverside. Elsewhere there is Arthur Upmore (Bernard Bresslaw) and his wife Linda (Patsy Rowlands), whose dream of a nice break away together is scuppered by the presence of Linda’s mother Daphne (Joan Sims), the lecherous campsite owner, Major Leaper (Kenneth Connor), and the camp site odd job man, Henry Barnes (Peter Butterworth), who bears a striking resemblance to Daphne’s estranged husband, Henry Barnes (Peter Butterworth).

Long-time Carry On screenwriter Talbot Rothwell had been forced to retire through ill health, so was replaced for this film by Dave Freeman, who had a long career in TV and film comedy, including the film version of hit TV sitcom Bless This House, starring Sid James. Not that you would notice the difference, with the usual blend of vignettes rather than story, groan inducing puns and innuendo, saucy seaside postcard humour and broad caricatures rather than characters.

This blend of the new and the familiar is perhaps the key to the film’s success. Kenneth Williams, Bernard Bresslaw, Peter Butterworth and Joan Sims were Carry On veterans, well versed in how to make the cheesiest of lines get a laugh. Of the newbies, Windsor Davies deserves praise for stepping into the character of the randy womaniser, the role usually filled by Sid James, and making it very much his own. The same can also be said for Jack Douglas, who brings his distinctive physical and verbal comedy style to the sidekick role usually filled by Bresslaw or Butterworth.

The real and very welcome surprise is Elke Sommer. She had made comedy films before, such as the Inspector Clouseau classic A Shot in the Dark, but the ribald and very English Carry On films are something else entirely. Nevertheless, she jumps in to the proceedings with aplomb and energy, the forceful and uninhibited Vrooshka acting as the perfect foil to Crump.

Monday, 30 May 2016

Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959)

For many people, Plan 9 From Outer Space is the gateway drug to the world of bad movies, and it was certainly the case for me. Writer/Director Ed Wood Jr can be accused of many things in terms of deficiencies of plot, characterisation and special effects, but there is no way you can call his work boring.

While on a routine flight airline pilot Jeff Trent (Gregory Walcott) and his co-pilot Danny are surprised by a bright light and loud sound, and are shocked to see a flying saucer. The saucer lands at a cemetery, where a number of suspicious deaths have taken place. It turns out aliens are hiding out there, carrying out their fiendish plan to take over the world: reanimating the dead, otherwise known as Plan 9 From Outer Space.

The basic elements of the story, mad scientists, atomic power, alien invasions, zombies (albeit the pre-Romero, non contagious, non-flesheating kind) are not unfamiliar in the genre films of the time. In the hands of another film-maker, what could have resulted is the sort of pleasant but forgettable film that so many others were churning out at that time. Thankfully the job was turned over to Ed Wood, a man whose enthusiasm for movies was only matched by his enthusiasm for vodka. This meant that his scripts were bursting with ideas, and while he was not always the best at shaping these into a coherent whole, they have an anarchic energy and anything-can-happen atmosphere, coupled with dialogue that veers between the drearily banal and the outrageously surreal.

There are so many other points of interest along the way, from the health and safety loving police sergeant who insists on punctuating every line of dialogue by pointing at things with his gun, the Styrofoam Gravestones, the outrageously camp chief alien, and the heroic disregard for continuity, especially in terms of what time of day it is.

The star of the film, Bela Lugosi died a few days into shooting, the sort of event that would have crushed a lesser man than Ed Wood. Instead, he simply carried on, getting his wife's chiropractor to play the Lugosi role with his cape over his face so that we can't see the difference, even though he is at least a foot taller than Lugosi.

When I first saw this, back in the early 1990s the consensus was that this was something silly and terrible, something to be sneered at. Nowadays, I feel nothing but admiration for Wood. Granted his film-making skills are not up there with the best, but his enthusiasm and tenacity shines through in the movies, The surfeit of ideas means the film never gets dull and stands up to repeat viewings. 

Sunday, 29 May 2016

Gorgo (1961)

Gorgo is a rare British excursion into kaiju, the genre usually associated with Godzilla, where huge seemingly indestructible monsters smash up major international cities. The two dimensional human characters are more than made up for by the sympathetic monsters, fast paced script and competent special effects.

A huge volcano erupts off the coast of Ireland, nearly sinking a salvage ship working nearby. While awaiting repairs on a nearby island, Captain Joe Ryan (Bill Travers) and first officer, Sam Slade (William Sylvester of 2001: A Space Odyssey fame) hear tales of a giant monster and mysterious deaths and disappearances amongst the fisherman of the island. When they discover that the monster is all too real, the pair and their crew manage not only to capture it, but also transport the creature to be shown off in a circus, where it is named "Gorgo" - but a group of scientists thing the 65 foot tall Gorgo may only be a youngster, and his mother is three times that size, and wants her child back.

The script with a plot straight from the Toho studios template, with a bit of King Kong thrown in as well is competent if unoriginal. The main point of interest is how unsympathetic the two main characters are, driven by greed, blind to the consequences until it's far too late, although Ryan gets to redeem himself by saving a cute little orphan boy. By contrast Gorgo and his mother, like King Kong are likeable, despite the destruction they cause, because of the treatment they have received from human beings

Director Eugene Lourie keeps things moving along in an entertaining way, and the scenes of panicking crowds as London gets smashed up are full of nervous energy and hysteria, with lots of handheld shots, close-ups and fast cutting. The special effects are also borrowed from Japan, with a man in a rubber suit stomping models of famous landmarks into the ground.

These scenes of destruction are even more interesting when put in an historical context. The film was released 20 years after the Blitz saw Nazi bombs raining down on England and right in the middle of the Cold War, when the end of the world could be around the corner. Filmmakers and film goers were eager to explore any potential apocalypse, are still are, but always seemed to prefer doing so in a fantasy context.

Gorgo (1961) Full Movie by TheCryptoCrew

Thursday, 5 May 2016

Chuck Norris vs Communism (2015)

Chuck Norris vs Communism (2015)

A breezy, pleasant documentary that poses an interesting question - what if you lived in a world where watching a Chuck Norris film was an act of political defiance?

Through a mix of talking head interviews and dramatic reconstructions, we are taken back to 1980s Romania, under the dictatorship of Nicolae Ceaușescu. Western Imperialist Capitalist culture was banned outright, but the government and Secret Service were no match for one enterprising citizen, and a woman who went on to have one of the most famous voices in the country.

The citizen was Teodor Zamfir, a man who had overseen the smuggling of scores of videos of banned American films into Romania and set up a dubbing studio in his apartment. The woman is Irinia Nistor, who was working as a translator for Romania’s Government controlled TV channel. Clandestinley approached by a colleague, she ended up providing Romanian language voiceovers for the bootlegged films, and as the underground network of viewers spread, Nistor became the second most well known voice in the country, after that of Ceausescu himself.

The title of the film, while understandably attention grabbing, is not strictly accurate. Norris was one part of a wider set of American films that was not limited to the action genre, but took in comedies and romances such as Dirty Dancing. These would all be viewed in clandestine screenings at somebody's apartment, and if word got around that one was taking place these could be busy affairs.

This is ultimately what Chuck Norris vs Communism celebrates, the communal joy of a shared experience, of being lifted out of reality, even if only for a few hours.

By 1989 Ceaușescu's regime had collapsed following a wave of violent protests, and he and his wife were tried and executed. With the collapsing economy and living standards he presided over, it is likely Ceaușescu would have fallen eventually anyway, and I don't think the director Ilinca Calugareanu is trying to imply the videos were responsible for his overthrow. But, there is no denying, they did help people get through the troubled times.

Chuck Norris vs Communism Official Trailer by filmow

Wednesday, 20 April 2016

Island of Terror (1966)

Island of Terror (1966)

Island of Terror is a fast paced, imaginative and at times, wonderfully cheesy slice of British sci-fi horror, straddling the twin sub genres of "science run amok" and "trapped on a remote British island". Despite the presence of director Terence Fisher and star Peter Cushing, it is not a Hammer film, and feels if anything like a precursor 1970s era Dr Who.

On a remote island the police constable makes a grisly find - the corpse of a local farmer, but without a single bone in his body. The local doctor is stumped, so travels to the mainland to seek help from top London pathologist Dr. Brian Stanley (Peter Cushing) and bone disease expert Dr. David West. Back on the island they find more boneless bodies - and a mysterious lab where a scientist was working on a cure for cancer. Has this got some link to the strange creatures responsible for the horrifying deaths? But with all transport and communication to the island cut off, will any of them make it off alive?

Island of Terror was very obviously knocked out cheaply and quickly, but the film-makers respond to it with typical British Gusto. Firstly, by cheerfully ignoring the ridiculous rubber monsters causing the terror, and secondly by focussing more on the script. Being trapped in a place is a classic horror trope, and the script does set up, albeit through portentous dialogue, plenty of reasons why they can not get away. The writers are also not afraid to throw in twists and shocks, and bump off important and likeable characters. Granted some of the attitudes have not dated well. Toni Merrill, Dr West's girlfriend exists purely, as the daughter of a wealthy man with a helicopter, to give the men quick transport back to the island. After that she spends most of her time screaming and needing to be rescued. The slightly patronising attitudes of the London lot to the island folk looks a little cringeworthy too, especially when it was big city slicker scientists that started the whole crisis in the first place.

Some of the special effects, such as the boneless corpses or an dismembering a hand are surprisingly gruesome and shocking for a 1960s film. Others, particularly the creatures themselves, are just awful. They look like rubber shells stuffed with noodles, and coupled with the weird squeaky electronic noises they make, could come straight out of 1970s Dr Who. Cushing, as usual, plays it admirably straight, and brings some dignity to these scenes.

In fact, with some minor tweaks, the whole thing could play as a 70s Dr Who story, with Jon Pertwee in the Cushing role, and similar ideas of science gone bad and threatening the world were explored in stories of that era, such as The Green Death and The Seeds of Doom. Plus, there is a perpetually screaming woman who always needs to be rescued.

The film finishes on a speech defending the scientist whose work caused all the problems, a sort of, "okay, it went bad, but at least he meant well". This is quickly followed by a twist ending along the lines of "at least it's not happening anywhere else", followed by a cut to a lab in Japan, where.... well, I'm sure you can guess.

Sunday, 17 April 2016

The Raid (2011)

The Raid is one of the most compellingly relentless action films of recent times.

Rama (martial arts star Iko Uwais) is a rookie officer in an elite Indonesian police paramilitary unit. His team's first mission is to infiltrate the high-rise slum fortress of ruthless gang boss Tama, previously considered untouchable by the police. However, things very quickly go wrong The problem? The apartment complex the cops are invading is occupied by tenants who range from assassins to thugs to certifiable psychopaths – and all the other scum the slums have to offer. The cops barely make it through the door before they’re spotted by the crooks, and from there it is an all-out war, floor by floor, as Rama and his teammates try to brave a nightmare of violence and destruction in order to make their arrest.

Writer and director Gareth Evans takes a simple concept and wisely avoids overcomplicating it, keeping the story moving forward at all times and also steers clear of modern cliches such as smirking one-liners, and “bromance”. The characters are far from invulnerable, giving a real sense of uncertainty to the outcome at times.

The action is shot and edited for maximum impact, with hardly a wasted shot or scene, leaving the viewer breathless. Granted, this does not leave much time to introduce the characters, many of whom, good and bad, get bumped off before we've barely had time to learn their names. This does have two justifiable outcomes however, as the scale of the carnage sets the tone of the threat, and the diminished cast keeps the story focussed.

While The Raid is ostensibly an action film, the gore, confined spaces and overwhelming tension at times make it feel like a horror film. There is also one other disconcerting element that links it to that genre - the building itself. The exterior has a slightly unreal feel, the overwhelming height giving the feel of a fairy tale castle. The interiors are nightmarish, dark, dingy, more like an insane asylum than a residential tower block.

The Raid Redemption (2011) - Trailer by geekpkcom

Thursday, 7 April 2016

Forbidden Planet (1956)

1950s sci-fi films often feature campy special effects and hostile outsiders from another planet trying to invade this one but Forbidden Planet stands out from the crowd in that it features neither of these things. MGM poured a lot of money into the excellent model work and borrowed a Disney man to work on the animated laser blasts and the famed "Monsters from the ID" and the threat comes not from "out there" but from deep within the mind of man.

In the 23rd Century, a star ship led by Commander John Adams (Leslie Nielsen) is sent to the distant planet of Altair 4 in order to find out what happened to an expedition who landed there 20 years earlier. On arrival the crew are met by the only survivors, Dr Morbius and his daughter Altaira, and their robot servant, Robby. Morbius tells them that his shipmates and their craft were destroyed by a planetary force when they tried to leave. The same force starts to attack Adams and his crew and ship but is it a force which may have a source closer to home than someone would like to admit?

The script for Forbidden Planet is both one of the best and weakest things about the film. The themes explored are serious and intelligent, aimed at adults, not the teenage drive-in crowd of The Blob, and are engaging and thought provoking. But it is also relentlessly talky at times, giving the film an often sluggish paced, something not helped by the slightly flat and stilted performances of the leads.

However, these occasional lapses are more than made up for by the sumptuous visuals, whether it is the spacecraft model work, the huge, imposing and beautifully realised Krell underground cities (structures that completely dwarf their human interlopers), or the eerie and disturbing animated silhouettes of the Id monster, courtesy of Disney’s Joshua Meador, who was loaned to MGM for the film.

The story is not entirely original of course. Forbidden Planet often gets branded as a space opera version of The Tempest, and while that is not strictly true, it does share some similarities with Shakespeare's play. The Tempest centres on Prospero, a magician exiled to an island with his daughter Miranda by his brother Antonio who then steals his title and property. Prospero uses his powers to cause a storm that shipwrecks Antonio, trapping him on the island where he can take his revenge. Morbius is the Prospero character with Altaira as Miranda, and Altair 4 stands in for Prospero's island. After that the comparisons don't really work as Adams and the crew are strangers to Morbius, and he is not driven by revenge, rather a desire to be left alone to carry exploring the planet and the Krell, the now extinct civilisation that lived there previously.

Forbidden Planet works much better if you judge it as a piece of work in its own right, and as a time capsule of the ideas, attitudes and obsessions of the time in which it was made. The first of these obsessions is Freudian psychoanalysis, which by the 1950s had come out of the consulting room and into popular culture, in particular the movies, through the work of directors such as Hitchcock. It is made explicit in Forbidden Planet through talk of "Monsters from the Id". The Id is what Freud thought of as the primitive, instinctive, often illogical aspect of our personality that demands immediate satisfaction, regardless of the consequences. Morbius thinks both he and the Krell have outgrown this, but it soon becomes apparent, particularly when handsome space pilots take a shine to his daughter, that he has not, and the raging torrent in his psyche takes a more literal and deadly form when linked to the highly advanced Krell technology.

Forbidden Planet is also very much of it's time in its look and attitudes. The Flying Saucer that the crew arrive in is another 1950s icon, albeit one here used by mankind rather than little green men. The film has some of the 50s can-do optimism of a country riding high from the post-war euphoria, with a new generation of pioneers, rolling up their sleeves and carving out new worlds. The craft is run like the ships and subs that some of the audience may have served on during the war 10 years earlier, even down to the cook with a taste for bourbon.

Robby the Robot is also a very old fashioned idea of a robot, basically a butler with a deadpan tone of voice. Although a wildly impractical design, he would go to become an iconic figure in further films and TV shows, and here, more importantly, plays an important role, driving the plot forward with his manufacturing capabilities and programmed attitudes towards human life. The deadpan tone also provides some comic relief to the sometimes very serious onscreen talking.

The astonishing, unsettling soundtrack is the work of electronic music pioneers Bebe and Louis Barron. It breaks all the rules of what a soundtrack should be in two big ways. Firstly it is entirely atonal, being composed and performed on oscillators made by the Barrons, and fed through echoes and tape loops. Secondly, by having their work represent everything from the ambient noise of the Krell buildings, the roar of the monsters and the ship’s engines, but also having it underpin key scenes to add to the tension, they blur the lines between diegetic and non-diegetic audio.

Forbidden Planet had a further influence beyond this, leaving an undeniable mark on the whole sci-fi genre. It paved the way for serious, adult sci-fi such as 2001: A Space Odyssey, as well as providing the template for Star Trek. The film and TV show both feature a ship run like a military craft, exploring new worlds and investigating mysteries, but using a scientific approach to explain things. In addition, the human drama in Trek and Forbidden Planet centres around the three main crew members, the First Officer, the ship’s doctor, and the steely, unflappable captain with an eye for the ladies.

Tuesday, 29 March 2016

The Great Dictator (1940)

Perhaps even more than his ground breaking short work, The Great Dictator is Charlie Chaplin's most important and daring work. At the time when world leaders, never mind Hollywood studio bosses were reluctant to annoy Hitler, Chaplin had the guts not only to put his reputation and money on the line, but to make the end product largely free from pious moralising, instead going for the giant raspberry in the face of the despot.

The plot is a slightly contrived piece of farce. Chaplin plays a barber (unnamed, just like his tramp character), from the fictional country of Tomania. During military service during the First World War, he saves the life of Schultz, a German pilot, crashing a plane and giving himself amnesia for 20 years. He eventually returns to his barber shop, only to find that a dictator, Hynkel, who is also a dead ringer for the barber, has come to power, and his goons are sweeping through the country's ghettos, smashing up businesses and rounding up Jews. The barber ends up in a concentration camp, from which escapes, just in time for Hynkel to suffer a mishap on a boat which ends with him in the camp and leaves the world with a serious case of mistaken identity.

The film largely consists of set pieces, featuring some of Chaplin's best physical comedy, much of it dialogue free as well, such as the graceful dance with the balloon, the hair raising plane ride to freedom, and the running gag involving confusion over the correct salute. Chaplin's reputation as a perfectionist is well deserved judging from the elaborate staging and construction of the scenes.

Special mention also needs to go to Jack Oakie, who plays a thinly disguised version of Mussolini, Benzini Napaloni, the ruler of neighbouring Bacteria. The state visit is an increasingly ridiculous exercise in one upmanship, with a misbehaving train carriage, uneven furniture, and a barber chair gag that predates the Bugs Bunny cartoon Rabbit of Seville.

The film only really comes unstuck at the very end, when the barber, impersonating Hynkel, takes to the microphone to deliver a heartfelt three minute monologue to the assembled crowd, both on screen and those sitting in the cinema. There is very little to find fault with in the content, a plea for kindness and humanity in the face of industrialisation and war, and a reassurance to those suffering under Hynkel/Hitler that freedom will eventually prevail. As a standalone piece it is certainly moving and stirring, however as part of the film, the speech jars with the style and content of that which has preceded it and moves towards the earnest lecturing Chaplin had avoided up to then.

Your perception of the film's success as a satire may depend on how you personally define satire. Other than the climax, rather than hand-wringing or over intellectualising Chaplin is more interested in showing Hynkel to be a stupid buffoon. He spent a lot of time studying and aping Hitler's mannerisms and speech patterns, and clearly wanted the audience to link their scornful laughter at Hynkel with their attitudes to Hitler. However, writing some years later in his autobiography, Chaplin said that could not have made the film if he had known at the time of the true horror of the Holocaust. While understandable, this would have been a great shame and a great loss to the world. Despots are invariably humourless, and fully deserve to have a raspberry blown in their faces. It may not bring them down, but it may make a chink in their armour, and sometimes, as Mark Twain once said, the human race has one really effective weapon, and that is laughter.

Saturday, 26 March 2016

Atlantis Interceptors (1983)

During it’s heyday in the 70s and 80s, Italian exploitation cinema tapped into the success of any number of successful films and genres, such as zombies, maverick cops and Mad Max style post-apocalyptic worlds. Atlantis Interceptors adds a new twist to the latter by splicing it with the well-known but untapped mythology of the lost undersea kingdom of Atlantis.

When radioactive material leaks from a Russian nuclear submarine sunk in the Caribbean, it causes the legendary city of Atlantis to rise from the sea. A group of scientists led by Dr. Cathy Rollins (Gioia Scola) team up with two mercenaries, Mike Ross (Christopher Connolly) and his sidekick Mohammed (Tony King), in a battle for survival after descendants of the original Atlanteans decide to reclaim the world for themselves by destroying everything and everyone already here. 

The script is a jaw dropping mix of fairly well constructed action and adventure, and baffling lapses in anything approaching logic. Well constructed in as much as it takes time to introduce Ross and his mercenaries in a way that pays off when needed, and also drops in twists and turns, and ups the stakes and the threat at the right time. Illogical as in where the hell did the Mad Max band of bikers come from, and why are they smashing up Miami, leaving a trail of bloody corpses and burnt out buildings in their wake? Unless I blacked out during a vital scene, no explanation is ever given as to how or why they suddenly appear.

Director Ruggero Deodato is perhaps best known for notorious pseudo snuff video nasty Cannibal Holocaust but this is a million miles away from the grim depressing feel of that. The model work and special effects are about what you would expect for something made cheaply and quickly, the action scenes are competently handled and the production design of a burnt out looted city is well executed. 

The human star of the show is definitely Christopher Connolly, who became a regular in the Italian film industry. Here he throws himself into the role with obvious relish and is great fun to watch.

Like any of these sort of films, please don't think about it too much, just enjoy the action, gore, cheesy dialogue and brain hurting plot twists. Oh and the disco theme tune.

Wednesday, 23 March 2016

Demon Cop (1990)

The phrase "worst film ever" has been bandied around so often that it has lost all meaning, but it also invites debate as to how we define what that phrase actually means. I have a great fondness for films like ROTOR, Gymkata, and The Courier of Death, as well as the work of Ed Wood, but while the makers of these may lack the budget and skills of others, their lack of self-awareness creates a fun, delirious, anything-can-happen approach that is rarely boring, at least not for long. Boring to me is a bad film, and the worst one ever would have to be the most boring.

Demon Cop is not boring, but neither could you call it entirely fun. It is in fact one of the most painful, deranged, useless, and hilarious messes I have ever sat through. The plot is just about impossible to decipher, crammed as is with characters and storylines that come and go at whim. An ageing Cameron Mitchell appears for an opening monologue, playing a chain-smoking psychiatrist who rambles on about Edgar Allen Poe and madness, none of which has anything to do with anything.

The main character is neither a demon or a cop, but a probation officer, who may or may not have been in Vietnam and may or may not have contracted something during a blood transfusion that turns him into a werewolf. Every now then two detectives show up and moan that they are investigating gang shootings when they should be on vacation. In addition, a radio talk show host and an ostensibly German Interpol agent put in appearances for some reason. At this point the relentlessness of the noise, the editing, the overloaded incoherent script, the teeth grindingly awful dialogue becomes too much and the experience becomes a painful blur, something to be endured, that you can brag about to your friends.

Without knowing anything about the film’s production history, I would say that it feels like somebody has got hold of some half-finished footage and gamely tried to stitch something together as quickly and cheaply as possible, to shove out to an unsuspecting audience.  The video box promises special effects from “the creators of Terminator 2”, but wisely avoids getting bogged down in too much detail as to who these people might be.

Demon Cop is hard to describe or write about and it’s even harder to recommend. Frankly if the inmates at Guantanamo Bay had been subjected to this rather than waterboarding, they would have sung like canaries. However, if you do get to the end with your brain catching fire, pat yourself on the back, as you will have joined a very elite club.