Sunday, January 15, 2017

Beyond the Gates (2016)

Gordon (Graham Skipper) returns to his hometown because his father has disappeared. It’s not the first time the alcoholic has gone AWOL, but this time, it seems to have stuck.

So Gordon has to reunite with his brother John (Chase Williamson), who stayed behind when Gordon left town and their father for good, to pack up their father’s house and the obsolete video store he owned. Both brothers have obviously suffered from abuse by their dear dad. As a consequence John as a young-ish man has turned into the sort of charming fuck-up who might soon replace the “charming” with criminal, dead, or drunk, and Gordon has difficulties to not turn into his father, fighting alcoholism and a tendency to violent outbursts. His girlfriend Margot (Brea Grant) is coming to help sort through dad’s baggage too – after all, that’s what she’s been doing for Gordon for some time now, it seems.

Going through their father’s old office, John and Gordon find that most 80s of things – a VCR board game. There’s something strange going on with the game, though: the somewhat sinister woman (Barbara Crampton) on the game’s video tape tells the brothers the game is the only way to save their father’s soul, and might react to what’s going on around it, which is disquieting enough, but soon, board game and reality start to mix in sometimes bloody ways, turning the lives of the brothers and Margot into a fight for their life, limb and perhaps their very souls.

Jackson Stewart’s Beyond the Door is a lovely bit of indie horror cinema, paying homage to the aesthetics of certain parts of 80s horror like a lot of films do these days, yet without falling into the trap of becoming too much of a copy of the style. Well, I’m not sure the film could actually afford to become one – this is after all a film where stepping into a different dimension happens via the movie magic of blue and purple lighting and some dry ice fog – but it is clear that Stewart knows what he’s doing in looks and tone.

I imagine some viewers will be frustrated by the film’s slow beginning and the rather budget conscious way it builds up to its climax, but I found myself charmed by the character interactions between the leads, appreciated how lacking in melodrama the treatment of the brothers’ backstories was, and generally found myself interested in these characters as people to observe for a movie’s length. Stewart is a pleasantly economic director of these character interactions, never letting things become too concise but also not falling into the trap of confusing the creation of believable people with long, rambling and pointless dialogue scenes. The film’s central metaphor on the other hand is as on the nose as they get, but that works out fine in a film taking its time for its characters as this one does.

Stewart treats the supernatural elements (Jumanji light – but with gore?) equally well, obviously putting all of his tiny budget on screen in a way that mostly works fine, demonstrates imagination and never descends into smugness. There’s fan enthusiasm even for the hokier parts of the horror genre that still doesn’t get in the way of the film’s own story, some pleasant macabre details, a smidgen of wonderfully gloopy gore, and Barbara Crampton glorying in her new role as queen of indie horror character actresses with some classy, controlled scenery chewing. Everything going on is rather small scale, of course, yet Stewart works so well with what he’s got, I enjoyed Beyond the Gates thoroughly, with a pleased grin pasted on my cynical old mug for much of its running time.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

In short: Shark Lake (2015)

Clint Gray (Dolph Lundgren) is smuggling rare, dangerous and endangered animals for some gangster boss (Don Barnes). On the night when the local sheriff’s department finally catches up to him, he and his truck take a nosedive into a lake, freeing a pregnant shark. Nobody will notice that little problem until five years later, though.

Right about the time when Clint gets out of prison, a series of killings begins which most of the local police at first ascribe to bears. Most, that is, but Meredith Hernandez (Sara Malakul Lane), not only the only competent copper in town, but also the officer who arrested Clint, and the woman who took in his daughter Carly (Lily Brooks O’Briant).

She’ll soon be proven right, too, for it’s not bears, it’s (spoiler!) sharks. Because sharks alone supposedly don’t make a movie, there’s of course also a sub-plot about Meredith’s unwillingness to let Clint see his daughter again as well as another completely pointless one – taking up ninety percent of the meagre screen time Lundgren gets hired for these days even if he is supposedly a movie’s star – concerning the gangster boss pressing Clint into his service again to catch his damn shark. Also appearing are an oceanographer and would-be love interest for Meredith, a big shot BBC shark hunter (of course coming to a sticky end), and a lot of other people who couldn’t act their way out of a paper bag.

In fact, the only people on screen who have their act together as thespians are Lundgren (don’t laugh, he’s a pro at this semi-cameo business by now), the actual lead Lane (putting in a ridiculous amount of effort the script neither asks for nor deserves, winning hearts and minds – well, mine at least – in the process), and Lily Brooks O’Briant (even though we all know by now how much I dislike child acting as a whole). The rest of the cast is all sorts of embarrassing: some painfully so, some in a funny way.

Otherwise, this is the most SyFy Original movie ever made that isn’t actually a SyFy Original, though the melodramatic sub-plot is so treacly I don’t think the SyFy Channel would actually go with it for reasons of artistic standards. Lundgren is as always first listed in the credits but actually just popping in for two or three days of shooting at best, while the rest of this thing plays out nearly exactly as you’ll think it will.

Jerry Dugan’s direction for its part makes no impression whatsoever, so this one’s mainly for the Dolph completists (poor souls that we are), the habitual watcher of shark movies (again, poor souls we), and people who like to hope for better gigs for clearly overqualified lead actresses.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Past Misdeeds: Resurrecting The Street Walker (2009)

Through the transformation of the glorious WTF-Films into the even more glorious Exploder Button and the ensuing server changes, some of my old columns for the site have gone the way of all things internet. I’m going to repost them here in irregular intervals in addition to my usual ramblings.

Please keep in mind these are the old posts without any re-writes or improvements. Furthermore, many of these pieces were written years ago, so if you feel offended or need to violently disagree with me in the comments, you can be pretty sure I won’t know why I wrote what I wrote anymore anyhow.

James Parker (James Powell) is an aspiring filmmaker working as an unpaid serf aka "runner" for a shady little movie production company to get his foot in the door of professional film work by letting himself being exploited. This job and the fact that his dreams of becoming a filmmaker don't seem to lead anywhere  put quite a strain on him and the relationship with his family, who are the ones paying for his livelihood after all.

James' friend, the film student Marcus (Tom Shaw), films him in his attempts at making it, and what Marcus is shooting is the basis of the documentary Resurrecting The Street Walker purports to be. Intercut with Marcus' footage are interviews with Marcus himself and the other people in James' life hinting on something dreadful James seems to have done.

The bad times begin when James finds the reels of an unfinished black and white horror movie from the mid-80s called "The Street Walker". It's a film in the Maniac tradition, following a serial killer (Gwilym Lloyd) who pretends to be a director looking for actresses uncomfortably closely. The film stock the movie we are watching uses doesn't resemble that of a film of that decade too much, but the griminess and the vibe of seediness that is running through the material is exactly right for what Resurrecting is going for. The staging of the film inside the film - from camera placement to the disquieting feeling of authenticity that dominates horror films in the Maniac tradition - is done believably enough to make at least me squirm in my seat. The film's (actual) director Ozgur Uyanik is making good use of an experienced horror movie watcher's expectations here to build tension.

Not surprisingly given his personal obsessiveness when it comes to filmmaking, James grows even more obsessed with this particular film and tries his damndest to talk his boss at the production company into agreeing to a rather dubious plan to complete it. First it's only a question of editing, but after some time, James is convinced he needs to shoot a few scenes to give the film an actual ending.

Of course, everything (and everyone around him) seems to conspire to not let the young would-be director finish what he so desperately wants to. Of course, James slowly begins to unravel. At first, it's only minor things like a somewhat unhealthy fixation based on spurious hints on the idea that "The Street Walker" might be a snuff film, or at least that one of the victims might have accidentally died during the filming, but the more problems get into James' way, the more he begins to unravel, until he commits that final act Resurrecting The Street Walker doesn't show as gorily and directly as one would have expected.

This reserve at a point where other films would go all out on the violence points at how clever this film actually is, and how little it is satisfied with just doing the typical horror movie thing, even if the film's ending is obvious from very early on, which is of course part of its point.

Showing James' slow psychological break-down is more important to Uyanik than going the probably more marketable, yet also very boring, slasher route, and he's helped by an excellent and sympathetic performance by James Powell and a script that shows James as a likeable - if overly obsessive - guy slowly breaking through outside pressure and his own inability to admit defeat in an ambition of becoming a filmmaker that is the only thing his life has ever been about. In fact, one of the few gripes I have with the movie is that James is perhaps a bit too likeable, especially compared with the victim of his final act of violence whose only sympathetic character trait seems to be "being pregnant". Don't worry, the film does not directly argue that what James is doing is right or reasonable, or that his victim "deserved it", but I still would have wished for a victim that's as developed as the killer.

This is the sort of problem that only comes into play in a film with as high a standard as Resurrecting The Street Walker sets in the rest of the character department, so it's a sort of luxury problem caused by the film being really pretty fantastic at doing characterisation inside the fake documentary frame, a frame that all too often pushes filmmakers into not developing their characters too well, or even at all.

I especially liked how believable the "mockumentary" aspect of the film played out, deftly avoiding the "why are these people still filming?" problem that seems to annoy certain audiences (not me) about POV horror and fake documentaries so much. Resurrecting is believably structured like a real documentary, achieving a lot of its effect by building the feeling of authenticity (especially by using its directors own experiences as a runner for good effect) that this type of horror movie should live on. Although the film keeps quite a few things ambiguous, as they should be in any film that doesn't go for the gross-out, Uyanik makes great efforts to keep everything around those ambiguous elements believable and understandable, putting the lie to my beloved "naturalism is a dead end" mantra. Well, how about "naturalism is a dead end outside of fake documentary footage"?

Anyway, Resurrecting The Street Walker is another feather in the cap of (very, I suspect) low budget movies from the UK that are still interested in making horror films that go beyond fan service and succeed quite brilliantly.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Three Films Make A Post: You were right to be afraid of the dark.

Daemonium: Soldier of the Underworld (2015): This Argentinean SF/action/horror film directed by Pablo Parés and apparently written by half a dozen people consequently features a nearly unintelligible and wildly overambitious plot that includes everything you might think of - from battle androids to rebellious arch angels –, characters whose design looks cheap yet awesome in all the right ways but who mostly lack any visible reason to do the things they do, and a running time of nearly two hours where eighty minutes would have sufficed.

Yet this is also clearly a labour of love that looks and feels like the adaptation of an especially bonkers European science fiction comic. It throws visual clichés and inventiveness at its audience with great vigour and enthusiasm, features some wonderfully chosen and framed locations (Argentina apparently looks like a weird far future post-apocalyptic wasteland), and has action scenes that are bloody, clever and much better staged than you’d expect. So, despite its flaws, I find this one impossible to dislike. This was clearly made by my people.

The Frontier (2015): Oren Shai’s deeply 70s cinema and noir inspired and 70s set crime movie is a bit of a mixed bag. Jocelin Donahue’s main performance is excellent, and Kelly Lynch and Jim Beaver lend equally good support, but the rest of the acting is very hit or miss, which is no surprise seeing as the film demands from its actors to approach 70s-style naturalism with a conscious distance. This also follows from a script which at times can feel stilted and too interested in demonstrating its knowledge of gestures taken from other movies than in making its own. The result is a film that often feels artificial for no good reason beyond demonstrating the filmmakers’ ability to make it so. Which, ironically enough, is the polar opposite to the kind of 70s cinema it can’t stop telling us it is inspired by; while the noir way of stylisation (the film’s other hallmark) never was interested in stylisation as an end in itself.

Legend of the Phantom Rider (2002): In theory, Alex Erkiletian’s western/horror mix about two ancient spirits – one good, one evil, of course – doomed to be reincarnated again and again to murder one another this time around having their little spat in the Old West, sounds like a sure enough bit of entertainment. At least if you like your westerns and your horror films and like them even better when they get together (that is, if you are me).

Unfortunately, practice finds this direct-to-video film to be rather tedious, giving us scene after scene after scene supposed to prove to the audience how evil the bad guy is but which mostly demonstrate that watching a bald guy who can’t act for shit (Robert McRay) being a bit off a sadist gets boring pretty damn quick. I have no idea how his henchmen cope with the boredom.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Renegades (1989)

Buster McHenry (Kiefer Sutherland), 80s action movie cop by trade, spends his vacation on a private undercover mission, trying to puzzle out the identity of the crooked cop helping violent dirt bag Marino (Robert Knepper when he was still Rob in an excellently lizard-like outing) do his violent deeds. Unfortunately, Buster’s plan to achieve this goal consists of planning the robbery of a jewellery store with Marino, in the hopes off convincing Marino to let him meet the bad cop in person before the robbery can actually take place. However, idiotic plans like this can go wrong rather easily, and soon Buster finds himself indeed committing the robbery with Marino and his gang, and still without the information he seeks. Dead civilians and quite a bit of property damage result.

On the flight, the gang and the idiot cop stumble into an exhibition where Marino finds the time and inclination to grab the holy lance of the Lakota, and shoot one of the Lakota men watching over it. That man’s brother, Hank Storm (Lou Diamond Phillips), promises to get back the lance and take revenge for his brother. A fine opportunity to start on this work opens up to Hank when his mystical Indian tracking powers (seriously, that’s how the film plays it and will continue to play it) lead him to Buster, who is in rather bad shape after Moreno ended their short-lived partnership by shooting him.

Luckily for Buster, Hank’s dad (Floyd “Red Crow” Westerman himself) is a capable shaman and takes time out of his busy schedule to pray his gunshot wound a bit better. Who needs a physician, right? Once that’s over, Hank and Buster will have to team up, at first (of course) very reluctantly but increasingly (of course) with full 80s buddy movie man love.

I am not the greatest fan of 80s buddy movies but it’s pretty difficult not to like a film whose future buddies are young Kiefer Sutherland (in his pre-“torture is awesome” phase) and Lou Diamond Phillips (in his pre-“Sheriff roles only” phase). Together, in good 80s action movies tradition, they fight slightly more crime than they commit themselves, crash cars, smash a large amount of things, and hurt or kill a lot of people in hilarious and improbable ways.

Director Jack Sholder’s just the right kind of guy at the right kind of place here, shooting the insipid, the hilarious and the exciting all in the straightforward and unpretentious manner this kind of thing demands, until nothing made of glass isn’t broken. It’s such a bunch of merry carnage (not terribly brutal as these films go) broken up by semi-embarrassing Indian (that’s the word the film prefers to use, even though it has the perfectly good word “Lakota” right there in the script; Buster of course is racist dickhead enough to always call Hank “chief”) mysticism, and general nonsense that it’s easy to miss that the script actually has some perfectly neat ideas beside the nonsense.

For once, the captain character in this sort of film (given by cop specialist Bill Smitrovich) does have an actual role to play in the plot apart from reaming out the insane, violent cop working for him, and even Buster’s absurd crusade against crooked cops has a reason to it. It’s nothing original, mind you, but I do think including some bits and pieces that actually make a degree of sense and hint at the real world in a plot only helps to make the general outrageousness of your typical action movies that decisive bit more interesting. Characters for their part are seldom not improved by adding some motivation for their actions either.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

In short: Blood Trap (2015)

aka Bite

Freshly pensioned prison guard Roman (Costas Mandylor) assembles a bunch of pea-brained violent idiots (among them Gianni Capaldi and featuring a pleasantly short appearance of Vinnie Jones) for a brilliant plan: kidnap Nika (Elena Mirela), the daughter of one of the richest gangsters alive, from the stately mansion she resides in and press her Dad into paying a ransom of forty million dollars. Whatever could go wrong?

Well, for starters, while casing out said stately mansion, our protagonists somehow managed to overlook that with every sunrise, the mansion is automatically sealed off from the outside by practically indestructible blackout shutters. As it happens, that’s exactly the time of day when the kidnapping is going down, so the idiots find themselves locked in with their supposed victim. Of course, who exactly is going to be whose victim here might just become a pressing question when trapped in a mansion among whose other features include a freezer room full of human body parts, another room with 28 babies, and crazy naked people crawling through sewer tunnels.

I don’t write this sort of thing lightly or often anymore, but I have no idea what I just watched. What starts out as one of these generally insufferable would-be Tarantino movies, just with really abysmal dialogue, quickly turns into the weirdest horror comedy I’ve seen in quite some time. Director and writer Alberto Sciamma’s sense of humour is deeply peculiar, and if you’re like me, it might not make you laugh, but it sure as hell will get your eyebrows up into the stratosphere. I most certainly won’t forget that moment when Mandylor starts walking around in a golden full plate armour any time soon. Then there’s the Viagra torture scene, and…well, most everything that’s going on in the film’s second half is pure weirdness gold.

Much of the film, and not just its sense of humour, is utterly inexplicable, not because the elements it consists of are terribly original but because the way Sciamma uses them is so off. The film is clearly following a very individual vision, fuelled by old exploitation movies, and an unironic weirdness that may not be funny (though it might very well be) but that sure as hell did interesting things to my brain while I watched it. Apart from that, Blood Trap is also really nice to look at and stylishly directed, which of course makes the grotesqueness of its contents all the more potent.

So, I certainly do not have any idea what it is all about, but I highly approve of Blood Trap.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Child’s Play 2 (1990)

It’s some months after the end of Child’s Play. Nobody believes the crazy story little Andy Barclay (Alex Vincent) and his mother tell about the murders around them having been committed by a doll possessed by a serial killer out to steal Andy’s body, so Mum has been locked up in a psychiatric facility, and Andy is temporarily given into the joyous hands of the foster system. The film never tells us who the police think killed all these people, though they don’t seem to suspect Andy or his mother.

Be that as it may, out to prove that there was nothing at all wrong with their doll Chucky, the company who made him refurbishes the thing, finding nothing (which seems rather curious, what with the thing bleeding in film number one and all), but providing Chucky with the opportunity to live again (and of course to still be voiced by Brad Dourif). Of course, Chucky quickly sneaks and murders his way out.

While that’s going on, Andy is being given to his first foster family. As these things go, Joanne (Jenny Agutter) and Phil Simpson (Gerrit Graham) aren’t bad fosters at all. Well, Joanne’s pretty fantastic at least, while Phil – sceptic of Andy right from the start – will soon show that he’s not the kind of guy you want to have take care of a child with any deeper psychological problems. Andy quickly bonds with Joanne and even more so with the Simpson’s other foster kid, late teen Kyle (Christine Elise) but things take a rather dark turn once Chucky arrives and infiltrates the house as an undercover doll (damn you, mass marketed toys!). Chucky is still attempting to steal Andy’s body, but can’t help killing more people than can be good for his plans.

To enjoy John Lafia’s lesser sequel to that likeable (and sometimes cleverer than people – including myself – give it credit for) semi-classic Child’s Play, one really needs to keep in mind that it doesn’t take place in the real world, not even in the kind of real world where doll-possessing voodoo serial killers are to be found, but in Horror Movie Land.

It’s a place where kids who have gone through a deep trauma are quickly released from an institution to be given in laymen’s hands never to see a psychologist afterwards, where a possessed doll can just phone Foster Central, say it’s a little boy’s uncle, and get all the information about him it needs, where teachers lock unruly little boys up in their classroom (or is that an American thing, like voting insane crypto-fascist billionaires into the highest office?), where factories are built by M.C. Escher and contain absurd health hazards, and where protagonists only ever flee in the most idiotic direction. It is in fact a world where dolls possessed by serial killers are among the more probable things you’ll encounter.

If you’re like me, you can swallow this bizarre nonsense without even having to flinch, and may very well enjoy Child’s Play 2 for its virtues, like the way Don Mancini’s script may contain double the late 80s horror movie stupidity of its predecessor but also features many a clever little flourish to make the main characters a bit more believably human than you’d expect in their surroundings. There’s a sense of respect for the characters (well, most of them) many a horror film of the era lacks to its detriment which helps some of the kills become slightly more than just another murder on the check list. It’s also remarkable how Alex Vincent’s acting has improved in leaps and bounds in comparatively short time.

When that isn’t enough, it is generally a lot of fun to watch Mancini and Lafia (standing before a future of middling TV work) apply all the tricks of the thriller director’s trade to even the most ridiculous of set-ups.

To my own surprise, I even found myself rather pleased with the film’s sense of humour. Late 80s horror movie goofiness abounds, yet Child’s Play 2 never steps over the fine line between silly fun and annoying idiocy (unlike, say, the Nightmare on Elm Street films very quickly did), always realizing when to stop kidding around.

All this doesn’t come together to turn Child’s Play 2 into a masterpiece but it’s an unpretentious and well crafted bit of a good time (with people dying in horrible ways).

Saturday, January 7, 2017

In short: The Saint in New York (1938)

New York is held in the death grip of organized crime! The police can’t do anything, because – unlike today’s police in that very same city (and look how that’s working out) – they’re actually holding themselves to the laws, and consequently see guilty men go free in the seemingly eternal way of vigilante movies.

A group of concerned citizens – and the police commissioner – decide that the city would become peaceful again if only someone would murder, I mean bring to justice, six particular members of organized crime. They send out one among their number (Frederick Burton) to find gentleman criminal against criminals, inciter of revolutions, adventurer and part-time vigilante Simon Templar aka “The Saint” (Louis Hayward) and ask for his help.

Templar is all too happy to become involved, and soon the gangsters are dropping left and right. But Templar finds out something very interesting: the people he murders all work for a mysterious, shadowy figure only known under the less than sinister moniker “The Big Fella”. Looks as if his list of people to kill needs an addition.

Ben Holmes’s lone Simon Templar movie is also the only time Louis Hayward was playing the character, and I can’t say I’m all that surprised. It’s not that Hayward is a bad Templar – he certainly plays a memorable version of the character - but his Saint tends to read as creepily smug rather than suavely charming, keeping more to the tastes of the 2010s when it comes to the way heroic polite sociopaths are played than to those of 1938. I’d argue Hayward’s portrayal fits the vigilante version of the character as seen here well, perhaps better than a nicer, softer version would do, but I can’t see this guy getting into the more heroic or light-hearted troubles some of the coming Saint films demand.

Apart from its interpretation of the hero, The Saint in New York is your typically entertaining programmer of its era, filling out its slot in day at the movies nicely thanks to its zippy pacing, straightforwardly effective direction by Holmes – with some moments that become downright moody or clever in your patented late 30s style – and blunt yet competent acting by everyone involved. I suspect The Saint in New York’s audience at the time felt themselves pleasantly entertained, and I still found myself having a good time nearly eighty years later when sitting down to watch it.

Friday, January 6, 2017

Past Misdeeds: A Cold Night's Death (1973)

Through the transformation of the glorious WTF-Films into the even more glorious Exploder Button and the ensuing server changes, some of my old columns for the site have gone the way of all things internet. I’m going to repost them here in irregular intervals in addition to my usual ramblings.

Please keep in mind these are the old posts without any re-writes or improvements. Furthermore, many of these pieces were written years ago, so if you feel offended or need to violently disagree with me in the comments, you can be pretty sure I won’t know why I wrote what I wrote anymore anyhow.

Dr. Vogel, at the behest of "the space program" the lone scientist manning a behavioural science station on top of a mountain somewhere in the arctic parts of the US (I suppose), hasn't been heard from for four weeks. One would think his employers would be a little faster reacting to loss of contact with him, especially when one keeps in mind that his last radio messages were hinting at a psychological breakdown, but I digress. Anyway, said employers haven't seen the pre-credit sequence that makes it quite clear that something is absolutely not right up there.

Finally, two new scientists, Robert Jones (Robert Culp) and Frank Enari (Eli Wallach) are flown to the station to find out what happened to Vogel and to replace him in his exciting work torturing helpless monkeys for science. They find the station in a state of disorder (but not disrepair), and Vogel dead, sitting frozen before a tape recorder in front of an open window. Vogel's corpse gets loaded into the helicopter our protagonists arrived in, and they begin to settle in.

It's too bad they don't listen to the last tape Vogel recorded at once, or they would have a fine explanation for what happened to Vogel made by himself. But very conveniently, they don't, and so someone or something has the opportunity to erase the tapes, although our not very bright scientists will at first think Vogel just didn't record anything. Which doesn't make any sense, but hey.

The corpse and the empty tapes are just the first mysterious things that begin to disturb the (of course methodically and characterwise diametrically opposite) scientists. Windows are opened at night, someone turns off the station's generator - one might begin to think there's someone else in the station, or a supernatural agency at work.

It doesn't take long at all until Jones and Enari begin to distrust one another and the question arises who is experimenting on whom here, and to what end?

I'm not as enamoured of US TV movies of the 70s as most of my American peers seem to be. For my tastes as someone who hasn't seen a single one of these movies when he was a child, many of them - certainly among them 1973's much-lauded Don't Be Afraid of the Dark - suffer from Boring Competence Syndrome and so don't really manage to excite me to reactions more emotional than a shrug. Of course, I'm also not very interested in the rich white people problems those films often love to deal with, so take that with as many grains of salt as you think applicable.

There are of course exceptions like Gargoyles or Killdozer which do manage to excite me, and A Cold Night's Death can now stand proudly among them. I'm sure ABC will be proud.

It's not that the film's script is anything near flawless. As more moments than just those I joked about in the plot synopsis or the very silly explanation for the mysterious happenings at the station demonstrate, the film's basic plot doesn't withstand close scrutiny very well. These plot holes, however, just don't seem to be all that important while on is watching a movie that isn't as much about showing off its clever plot as it is about evoking a mood of isolation and growing tension and letting its actors do the rest.

And the actors are putting a lot of effort in. I'm not always a fan of Robert Culp's performances. Too often he doesn't seem to know how and where to apply his decided talent for scenery-chewing and (oh, the pun, it hurts!) bites off more than he can or should chew. In this particular case, possibly held in check by the controlled yet intense performance by his acting partner Eli Wallach of whom I don't expect anything less, Culp is doing very fine work indeed with his intuitive genius scientist.

Being as effective as A Cold Night's Death at evoking mood is not what I'd have expected from a film made by a TV workhorse like director Jerrold Freedman, but he effortlessly and often elegantly transforms some very basic sets into a very cold haunted house through lighting and the sometimes gliding, sometimes lingering, always inventive photography of Leonard J. South.

One can't talk about the film, or rather the oppressiveness and tension of its mood, without also mentioning the movie's sound design. You can give David Lynch's much later Twin Peaks the main credit for bringing a consciousness of the importance of proper sound design into the US TV landscape, Twin Peaks however wasn't the first TV production to put thought and emphasis into this surprisingly often ignored aspect of the art of filmmaking. Case in point are this film's simple, yet excellent sound effects, especially the eerie howling of the wind and the unnerving screaming of the monkeys. It doesn't sound like much when you just read about it; hearing it is quite a different thing, especially accompanied by Gil Melle's bizarre yet appropriate (and so avantgarde sounding it wouldn't be out of place as a product of the BBC's Radiophonic Workshop) synthesizer score that further emphasizes the irreality of the situation.

Add to all these things A Cold Night's Death does right that it pushes a lot of buttons belonging to my personal narrative kinks, as films and books taking place in cold, isolated places where people are plagued by mysterious forces usually do, even when they not hold the promise of the Blackwoodian supernatural in the end, and you will probably be able to imagine how much I liked this one.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

In short: Amsterdamned (1988)

A rather creative serial killer is terrorizing Amsterdam. Thanks to the city’s abundance of canals, he gets around town by diving through said canals wearing SCUBA gear, from time to time pulling people in and slaughtering them in various unpleasant ways. The head of the investigation, Eric Visser (Huub Stapel), doesn’t have much to go on, and since the only investigating he’s ever going to do is going through a list of citizens with diving licenses, he has ample time to romance museum guide Laura (Monique van de Ven).That subplot is going to be important for the finale because writer director Dick Maas clearly couldn’t be arsed to come up with a way of unmasking the killer that doesn’t result in a yawning viewer.

But then, the script to Amsterdamned really isn’t any great shakes anyway: the killer is exactly who you think it is once the character has been introduced thanks to the film not providing any alternatives, yet still Maas pretends the whole thing to be a big surprise; the characters have zero defining traits among them (Visser is hairy and drinks a lot, I guess?); and the first hour of the film’s too ample nearly two hours of running time is mostly spent on little of interest apart from the murders.

The murders are admittedly pretty great. There’s not just the silly yet fresh SCUBA killer angle, but Maas has also put some thought into keeping the murders diverse - which is one hundred percent more thought than went into the rest of the script. An additional feather in Amsterdamned’s cap is Maas’s lovingly scuzzy outlook on Amsterdam, turning the place into the only thing on screen whose characterization isn’t taken from everyone’s favourite film school course “cliché characters without personality 101”. Add to that the actually brilliant and insane motorboat chase late in the film, and you have a rather frustrating experience.

Amsterdamned is a film that could have been brilliant, and does in fact feature quite a few incredible scenes when it comes to murder and chases, but that also gets into its own way with deeply boring characters, and plodding plotting that often goes nowhere to follow red herrings and detours for way too long. For my tastes, all this overwhelms the delicious slasher/action movie hybrid Amsterdamned’s good bits try their best to deliver.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

In short: The Neighbor (2016)

Not to be confused with other films about problematic neighbourhoods; also, there will be spoilers.

John (Josh Stewart) and his wife Rosie (Alex Essoe) work for John’s uncle Neil (Skipp Sudduth) as drug trafficking middlemen. They’ve put enough money aside to retire from their life of crime and move somewhere nicer far, far, away, hoping Neil won’t hunt them down and murder them. They didn’t steal from the man, mind you.

Unfortunately, the couple will have rather more trouble at their hands than an easily ticked-off Midwestern country drug lord. While John is making his final delivery to Neil, Rosie witnesses their neighbour Troy (Bill Engvall) murdering a young man. When John returns, Rosie is gone, supposedly run off, as Troy suggests to him. Only, if Rosie had wanted to leave John the day when they were splitting anyway, she probably would have taken the bag full of money in their house too, or at least some of it. So John knows Troy is lying, particularly since their last encounter the night before had already suggested something to be very wrong with the guy. Yes, wrong even from the perspective of someone in the drug trade.

Consequently John stealthily breaks into the house of Troy and his two sons (Ronnie Gene Blevins and Luke Edwards) to find Rosie, learning quite a bit more about their family business than he wanted to in the process, starting a night from hell for everyone involved.

I didn’t quite expect director Marcus Dunstan to follow up his silly yet wonderful The Collection with a clever little thriller making some caustic subtextual remarks about the American Dream™ like The Neighbor but I’m certainly not complaining.

This is the sort of relatively small-scale production that does basically everything right: the acting is fine throughout, the script effective and the direction is tight and focused, quickly introducing us to what’s what with the characters and then never stopping escalating their situation from there. There’s a sharpness (plus a whole lot of Kurtzman-created blood) to the proceedings even though The Neighbor does have something of an happy end, however ironic the film presents it. But then, one of the main points of the film is to show America (or at least the part of America it concerns itself with) as a place where it’s impossible not have blood on one’s hands.

Which doesn’t mean we’re not supposed to like John and Rosie; they are, after all, the only characters on screen who actually do something for others beyond taking care of their own survival, while their guilt for other people’s suffering through drugs and what comes with them is twice removed, them being middlemen (middlepersons?), after all.

If you’re really looking for something to complain here, it’s probably the basic set-up that’ll make you (un)happy there. It is a bit difficult to swallow that these particular people should end up to be neighbours but starting off from an improbable place as The Neighbor does is certainly a typical thriller move – Hitchcock certainly did it more often than not. And if I can suspend my disbelief for ghosts and zombies, I certainly can do the same when it comes to difficult neighbours.

Otherwise, The Neighbor is as fine a contemporary low budget thriller as you’re likely to find.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Night Feeder (1988)

A series of murders hits one of the parts of San Francisco populated by New Wavers, prostitutes and the kind of people who’ll eventually find a reason to become a mob (torches not mandatory). These are very strange killings, too, for the killer sucks the victims’ brains out through one of their eyes. Investigating Inspector Alonzo Bernardo (Jonathan Zeichner) has no idea what’s going on, and I don’t believe his general range of attitudes between very grumpy and painfully rude when talking to witnesses is helping him very much with getting a clue, or clues.

But don’t worry, San Francisco, writer Jean (Kate Alexander) is on the case as part of her rebound attempts following the separation from her insufferable husband. Well, when she’s not distracted by her new boy toy Bryan (Caleb Dreneaux), member of gothy new wave band Disease (gothy new wave band The Nuns), she is.

Quickly, people close to Jean are dying. Might it all have something to do with Bryan’s band and their shady past feeding groupies experimental drugs? Or is Jean right in suspecting a horribly disfigured homeless man to be the killer because she thinks he’s ugly? Or is something much more screwy going on?

Night Feeder is a surprisingly neat little shot on video (and direct to video, of course) gem made by people involved in San Francisco’s punk and new wave scene of the time, directed by Jim Whiteaker. The film mostly features highly enthusiastic amateur actors whose general demeanour oozes the sort of off-beat fun that can result when members and hangers-on of a scene get the opportunity to basically play themselves while possessing enough self-consciousness to laugh about what they see in the fun house mirror of the camera. So, despite - and perhaps thanks to - the low budget, the dubious production values and a lack of professionalism before the camera, there’s a delightfully authentic air about the world surrounding our heroine.

The dialogue wavers between what sounds like people having fun improvising, and stiff and peculiar yet often rather funny lines – Alonzo is the particular gift that keeps on giving, calling everyone he’s talking to at least once by a really stupid name. And don’t get me started on the tear-jerker (of laughter) that is the “romance” between him and Jean, a thing one needs to see to believe, only to doubt it again when one remembers it later.

This doesn’t mean Night Feeder is a stupid film. Whiteaker does his best to get around the typically bland look of shot on video projects of this time with all kinds of imaginative set-ups of coloured lights and peculiar camera angles, and the characters – let’s ignore the romance - are much better written than is typical of SOV affairs. Even Bryan turns out to be a bit more complicated than you’d expect, and Jean is downright like a person!

While the film clearly can’t afford too much monster action and gore, what is there is rather wonderful. Particularly the final reveal of the monster and the ensuing handful of minutes of wondrous madness are as good as SOV horror gets, taking something not completely original and yet making it messed up in the best horror movie way. If you like that sort of thing, there’s also a really icky scene in a morgue with a medical examiner who clearly loves his job way too much.

And even though calling Night Feeder “suspenseful” would be a bit of a lie, all the film’s digressions lead into at times curious and always interesting places in a world that’s just as lost as Ancient Egypt (if Ancient Egyptians had made shot on video movies about themselves), and offering an experience as close to time travel as we’ll get.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

It’s that time of the year again

when a red-garbed version of Nyarlathotep visits the Earth, and all good little eldritch abominations spend time with their loved and not so loved ones, indulging in Doctor Who Christmas specials and other traditions. Which is exactly what I’m going to do for the rest of this year, leaving the blog closed until the 3rd January 2017.

To all frequent and infrequent readers: have a good holiday of your choice, don’t despair, and kiss a loved one (if applicable). See you on the other side.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

In short: Vampire Buster (1989)

aka Ninja Vampire Busters

Original tile: 捉鬼大師

Mainland China. A horde of enraged fans of one Chairman Moa (that’s what the subtitles call him) – coming rather late to the Cultural Revolution - storms the house of Buddhist magician Cheung Sap Yat (Kent Cheng Jak-Si) to smash superstition. In practice, that seems to mean the furniture. Things nearly go too far when the – alas torchless – mob attempts to destroy a very special vase that holds a centuries-old black magician turned demon imprisoned. Cheung manages to prevent the smashing, but only by throwing the vase into the sea. You really couldn’t get away with this sort of thing in Chinese Hong Kong cinema now.

Anyway, the cursed things soon enough washes up in Hong Kong, where it finds its way to an auction house, and then into the possession of rich guy and city councillor Stephen Kay (Stanley Fung Sui-Fan). Thanks to the stupidity of fake fortune teller and fake feng shui expert Chan (Nat Chan Pak-Cheung), the demon is set free, possessing Kay and other members of his household – that also includes his mother (Hung Mei), his son (Jacky Cheung Hok-Yau), his son’s girlfriend (Elsie Chan Yik-Si) and his own trophy girlfriend (Anglie Leung Wan-Yui) – on its way to doing Something Very Evil.

Fortunately, Cheung illegally immigrates to Hong Kong for some demon killing before the thing can get ideas like possessing Kay, becoming president of Hong Kong and building a wall on the border to Mexico.

On the scale of Hong Kong horror, or rather supernatural comedy, Stanley Siu Ga-Wing’s and Norman Law Man’s Vampire Buster (which doesn’t actually feature a vampire, be it Chinese or Western style), lands somewhere in the middle of the quality scale. It certainly isn’t a Mr Vampire, but it also isn’t one of those films that randomly stitch together supposedly funny scenes that aren’t, rape jokes and crap wire fu and pretends it’s all in good fun.

Rather, this is an actual movie with an actual plot, generally consistent characterisation (most characters are of course comedically cowardly, whereas comrade Cheung is of course an overweight badass surrounded by idiots), decently funny jokes – at least as far as I can make out through cultural distance and pretty bad subtitles – and perfectly okay filmmaking.

The last thirty minutes or so are even actually charming and fun, the film going through all the hallmarks of HK horror comedy and a bit of mild weird fu with genuine enthusiasm, providing lots and lots of blue light and dry ice fog while various people fly through the air, mystical glowing symbols are drawn on body parts, and various bodies are possessed by various spirits.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

In short: The Purge: Election Year (2016)

Welcome to the third round of misadventures in a near-future USA ruled by a cabal whose rhetoric sounds a bit too much as if they’d fit right in with the actual near-future president of that particular country. There’s still the yearly Purge Night going on, where said twelve hours see all crime legal, leaving a lot of (mostly poor) people dead. Senator Charlie Roan (Elizabeth Mitchell) wants to change that and abolish Purge Night if she becomes president – she even has a change to win the coming election.

In fact, the senator’s chances are so good, the Purge-loving establishment of the New Founding Fathers decides to make good use of the coming Purge Night and get rid of their enemy while acquiring a particularly pleasant human sacrifice for their not-so-secret ceremonies. Fortunately, Roan’s security chief is Leo Barnes (Frank Grillo). You might remember Leo as a rather lethal and effective kind of guy from The Purge: Anarchy, so the senator still has a good chance for survival even when members of her staff betray her.

Roan and Leo end up being chased through the streets by purgers and the mercs hired to kill her alike, but rather sooner than later they find allies in form of corner shop owner Joe (Mykelti Williamson), his employee and friend Marcos (Joseph Julian Soria), and Laney Rucker (Betty Gabriel) who drives an underground triage truck on Purge Nights to make up for the bad shit she once did when she herself went purging.

Clearly, after the somewhat misguided home invasion movie that began it all, the Purge series had found its sweet spot with the near-future action of Anarchy, and writer/director/producer James DeMonaco continues with Election Year in the tone he left off with. So, the third Purge movie again offers blunt politics that suddenly look uncomfortably close to the spirit of the times, street level action in the spirit of Escape from New York, and about half a dozen warmed-up action movie clichés done well enough I don’t particularly mind how often I’ve seen them already.

While the film has some moments of semi-surrealist weirdness – mainly through many a mood-building vignette by the wayside of our protagonists’ path and a finale featuring fascist cultists who aren’t hiding their love for human sacrifices – its action tends to the more earthbound type. While calling it realistic would be absurd, the violence here does not go in for flying people (or cars) or big slow motion fests. As in the last film, DeMonaco is rather effective using this approach, so there’s a pleasant flow of diverse violence committed by a cast whose ethnic make-up puts the film’s money where its mouth is.

As an old leftie, I can’t disagree with the film’s politics much, either, even if it’s the sledgehammer version of a part of leftist thought sold to us by Universal, an irony that should probably bother me more than it actually does.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Past Misdeeds: Don't Look Up (1996)

Through the transformation of the glorious WTF-Films into the even more glorious Exploder Button and the ensuing server changes, some of my old columns for the site have gone the way of all things internet. I’m going to repost them here in irregular intervals in addition to my usual ramblings.

Please keep in mind these are the old posts without any re-writes or improvements. Furthermore, many of these pieces were written years ago, so if you feel offended or need to violently disagree with me in the comments, you can be pretty sure I won’t know why I wrote what I wrote anymore anyhow.

Director Toshio Murai (Yurei Yanagi) is shooting what looks like a stylish, old-fashioned melodrama on a very tight schedule, but doesn't seem to have much of a problem coping with the latter.

Something about the dailies of the first day of shooting isn't right, though. At one point, the face of the movie's lead actress Hitomi (Yasuyo Shirashima) is suddenly superimposed with the face of another actress, then the whole film disappears and turns into an older movie, complete with a long-haired woman lurking in the background. Obviously, the film stock they are using are outtakes that were supposed to be thrown out, but somehow landed in the wrong place. Murai thinks he remembers the film from his childhood, but apart from asking someone working in the studio's archive to take a look at it, he just shrugs and continues his work.

Not completely surprisingly, the filming seems to be haunted now. It's mostly minor things, like people having the feeling of someone standing behind them, voices that might just be in someone's imagination, a shadowy long-haired woman standing in the distance or lurking at the ceiling of the studio, and some only vaguely defined past sometimes seem to take hold of the present. At least Murai and Hitomi are beginning to feel decidedly uncomfortable, but there's not much they can do.

Then Saori (Kei Ishibashi), the actress playing Hitomi's sister in the movie, falls to her death in what might have been an accident or might be down to supernatural interference.

Although there's enough footage of Saori to finish the film without major problems, the shooting has to stop for some re-writes. Murai - now more frightened than he'd care to admit - uses the time to do some more research, but what he finds out is neither reassuring nor helpful in the long run. The actress in the film snippets he saw fell to her death in the same studio lot he is making his own movie in and what's even more disquieting, her film was never finished, so there's no way he could have seen it as a boy.

Still, somehow, the dead actress and her last film touch the present like a malevolent echo.

This is the Hideo Nakata's first long-form film, and possibly his first one not made for television (the English-speaking Internet at least says so, my eyes suggest it to be a cable TV movie like Kiyoshi Kurosawa's Seance). Watching it after his later masterpiece Ringu, parts of Don't Look Up seem like sketches of ideas Nakata would realize more fully in his later, higher budgeted and more concentrated movie. There's the mix of very traditionally styled ghosts with a very contemporary world, the concept of haunted media, as well as the directionless malevolence of Nakata's ghosts, who are so enraged by the things that happened to them in life that they have become creatures of pure wrath.

Nakata doesn't explain his dead actress as precisely as he would later do with Sadako, though. The audience never learns what exactly the reasons for her death were, how it was connected with the film she was starring in and how and why she latched onto Murai when he was a child. Friends of exposition and explanations of the inexplicable will certainly be infuriated. Although I agree that a few more concrete explanations would actually help Don't Look Up become more effective as a horror film and would enrich it on a thematic level by virtue of making its themes just a little less vague, I don't think this is a big problem for this particular movie. After all, a central part of the philosophy of horror directors like Nakata and Shimizu have popularized is that the supernatural isn't completely explicable or understandable, and that the slow seeping of ghosts into our world is terrible not just for what the ghosts do, but for the entry of the truly unexplainable and alien (and therefore wrong in a sense that has in my eyes clear parallels to Lovecraft) into a logical and orderly world.

This early in his career, Nakata is already quite brilliant when it comes to characterization through incidental detail and small gestures and in creating a creepy mood through the slightest occurrences. The best moments here, be it in the characterization or the attack of the supernatural are small, a little blurred and insinuate much more than the economical director is ever willing to explicate. However - as in his later work - Nakata isn't a director who unwilling to show something terrifying when he thinks it is more appropriate and effective than just insinuating it.

The director is also already a master of planting hints about the larger picture of his movie in small details. There's some clever - and rather disquieting - stuff going on with dialogue about looking up and looking down, for example.

Although the connection is never explained, Nakata left me with a feeling that there was something beyond vague parallels and the location that connects Murai, the old film, the actress and the new film, something that (and it could just be my excitable imagination speaking here, but who cares?) might just be too terrible to actually explain.

Quite unlike in Nakata's later films (and I'm just pretending the US The Ring 2 has never happened), Don't Look Up's moments of outright horror are unfortunately the moments when the film is at its weakest. Frankly, when seen clearly, the ghost looks just too much like a girl in pale make-up to be as frightening and strange as she should be (I wouldn't be surprised when this is what gave birth to the by now clichéd jerky movements of Sadako in Ringu), so that the scenes that should be the pay-off to a long and creepy build-up are a bit disappointing.

Still, I didn't mind this on paper quite distracting problem much when watching Don't Look Up. Nakata has a way of getting at the (my?) imagination that isn't disturbed by some blunders when it comes to more concrete frights. The subtleties and small fears evoked aren't going away again just because ten minutes of the more shouty stuff aren't as good as they could be.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Three Films Make A Post: The emotions are real, everything else is questionable.

Wither aka Vittra (2012): Do you like Sam Raimi’s original Evil Dead? So do Swedish directors Sonny Laguna and Tommy Wiklund, so they made this near-remake. Alright, there are a few differences: the possessed aren’t as chatty as those in Raimi’s classic and sometimes act more like zombies, nobody is raped by a tree, all colour has been desaturated out of the picture, and there’s no Bruce Campbell to be found. Otherwise the film keeps rather to close to its big inspiration without ever reaching its energy level nor its air of unbridled creativity, which is what happens when one plays in other peoples’ sandbox instead of building one’s own.

The gore is nice to look at though, and the film certainly isn’t boring.

Black Rock (2012): Katie Aselton’s film, on the other hand, sets out to play the good old game of role and trope reversal with the survival horror genre. The film isn’t interested in being ironic, though, so it’s still very much a highly focused survivalist thriller, but one with added feminist subtext that doesn’t overwhelm the text, and a deft hand at slightly undercutting expectations in favour of better characterisation. The acting by Aselton herself, Lake Bell and Kate Bosworth is fine too, so there’s little here that doesn’t work rather wonderfully. Which is not a daily occurrence in a sub-genre whose tales about thin veneers of civilization breaking down again and again and again can become a bit tiresome.

Star Trek Beyond (2016): Reboot Star Trek the third, this time directed by Justin Lin (who actually manages to shoe-in a motorcycle sequence into the plot) is a very pleasant loud SF adventure movie, containing many a moment of great and loveable silliness, much loud and rather exciting adventuring, various explosions, generally rather stiff acting – basically all the charms I hope for in a contemporary blockbuster. It’s not up to Marvel standards in sudden bouts of humanity or half-hidden cleverness, but it’s far beyond (sorry) Michael Bay style blockbusting by virtue of having an actual flow, a story that makes some kind of sense, and by being actually fun instead of just being loud and obnoxious.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Hell House LLC (2015)

Some years ago, a commercial haunted house attraction in a small US town an hour’s drive away from New York ended with various unexplained deaths. The local authorities have done their utmost to cover up whatever actually happened, blaming the undisclosed number of deaths on some vague sort of technical problem. Hell House LLC – as is tradition – purports to be a documentary on the case. Rather untraditionally, it doesn’t exclusively consist of footage of a documentary crew traipsing through an old dark house and ending badly, though we’ll get to that eventually.

Between various talking heads and enticingly ambiguous footage made by visitors to the attraction, the documentary makers are contacted by Sara (Ryan Jennifer), apparently the sole survivor of the operators of the house. Sara doesn’t just give an interview, but also comes with a bag full of camera footage: security camera tapes from inside the attraction as well as much behind the scenes material shot by her and her friends. Much of the rest of the film does of course consist of Sara’s gift to documentary filmmaking and the story it tells.

A close-knit company of friends come to the not at all suspiciously named run-down old Abaddon Hotel to open their newest commercial Haunted House for the best month of the year. They don’t know about the building’s chequered past of mysterious deaths, nor do they come in expecting anything but a bit of hard work creating a spook show. Alas, there is something dwelling in the house that starts a series of strange and frightening events which will end with the wholesale slaughter of the opening night.

I’m always happy when a POV horror film takes its documentary conceit a bit more seriously, and while Stephen Cognetti’s Hell House LLC doesn’t quite parse as an actual documentary film – there are scenes in here nobody would ever use in an actual documentary for reasons of simple human decency and/or the fear of being sued penniless by various relatives – it certainly puts enough effort into this approach to buy into it. While he’s at it, Cognetti (who also wrote the film) does use the opportunities provided by the mock documentary format to tell his story a little differently than is POV standard.

Of course, we still witness the adventures of a bunch of doomed young people, but the slightly different narrative framing allows another kind of scares and a structure that can easier deviate from some POV horror standards. If you’re one of those people, you’ll probably still ask yourself why the characters keep filming even when the really horrible stuff starts happening; to me, that’s a bit like asking “who is filming this?” of a non-POV movie, but tastes and the ability to just go with things do vary. I found myself rather happy with the way Hell House LLC avoids some typical POV horror problems: there’s a pleasant lack of pointless scenes of the characters just farting around, shaky cam only happens in sequences where characters get rather excited, and the film’s general narrative structure clearly aims to use the fake authenticity and subjectivity POV horror has to offer without losing some of the opportunities a more standard style of film has to offer.

So this is not one of those POV horror films where actually interesting or creepy stuff is only happening during the last ten minutes or so. Scares and creepy things (clown manikins anyone?) are sprinkled throughout the running time, and the film makes effective use of the opportunities actual horrors happening in a place of fake horrors offer to make an audience nervous.

Hell House LLC does stay in the spirit of the haunted house attractions it is co-inspired by, though: this is a film built to provide ninety minutes of fun scares without terribly much subtext or deep thematic explorations of anything. In fact – and this is again something some viewers will loathe yet I appreciate when it is done as well as it is here – the film seems so focused on the scare show part of the business of being a horror film, it doesn’t explain anything it doesn’t need to explain for sake of the plot, not so much to be ambiguous but because it seems utterly disinterested in anything not having a direct effect on the audience’s horror glands.

That, mind you, doesn’t make the film any less fun to watch – it’s just a very specific kind of fun.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

In short: Train to Busan (2016)

aka Busan Bound

Original title: 부산행

Fund manager Seok-woo (Gong Yoo) has chosen a rather unfortunate day to finally fulfil the wish of his little daughter Soo-an (Kim Soo-an) to get on the titular train to Busan with her and go for a visit with his divorced wife. Turns out today is the (fast, loud, with a tendency to tumble into hilarious heaps) zombie apocalypse. Quickly, many a carriage of the train is filled with the undead. It’s a fine day for one-note characters to learn valuable lessons and get bitten by the rampaging hordes.

If you’re an eternal optimist like me, you might go into Yeon Sang-ho’s zombies on a train movie Train to Busan hoping for something, anything new in zombie cinema; like me, you’ll probably be a bit disappointed to realize that the only even vaguely original plot element here is the fact that the cellphone networks will stay up for the whole of the movie, probably because we’re in the homeland of Samsung.

Now, as I’m saying often enough, originality isn’t all in genre cinema, and a film which has nothing new to say can still be a great time, as long as it is done well. Train to Busan isn’t that film, alas. Too much of its running time is filled with standard zombie apocalypse scenes done slightly worse than in your typical middling zombie film. The characters are boring and their character arcs obvious and without even a single surprise, yet still the film treats every generic self-sacrifice and death with overblown seriousness, violins on the soundtrack, slow motion, and if we’re really lucky with what feels like five minutes of a little girl crying.

I’m not against a horror film laying the melodrama on thick, but I’m also of the opinion that a film needs to put actual work into making me care for the characters it is going to kill off, instead of working on the assumption that it is enough to go through the gestures of your generic “tragic death” scene to make me cry. Unfortunately, just going through the motions without actually putting the work in is the whole of Train to Busan’s modus operandi when it comes to human feelings, with so many badly realized attempts at emotionally manipulating the audience, I at times wasn’t sure anymore if this is supposed to be a satire (it isn’t).

Add to that a running time that’s bloated up to nearly two hours where ninety minutes would suffice well enough, zombies that feel cartoonish instead of threatening, and action and suspense scenes which are mostly just okay, and you’re left with a whole lot of nothing.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Feardotcom (2002)

Still haunted by his inability to shave properly catch a serial killer named The Doctor (strangely enough not Colin Baker, but Stephen Rea doing a silly voice and a silly accent, probably because he wanted something to do), despite the guy streaming his murders live on the internet, police detective Mike (Stephen Dorff or the piece of wood they painted to look like him) stumbles upon a series of very curious deaths. The victims seem to die in accidents or by somewhat natural causes, but all of them see terrible things before their deaths and bleed from the eyes. The last bit puts health inspector – or something – Terry (Natascha McElhone or a different piece of painted wood) on the case too, and she won’t stop helping Mike even though it’s clear after five minutes of investigation that there’s no illness involved in these deaths. The script will also very randomly drop a romance between Mike and Terry on us, even though none of the scenes between them suggest any emotional connection at all, let’s not even speak of chemistry. In fact, it looks as if the actors were just as surprised by the development as the audience is.

Anyway, some disconnected dialogue scenes that stand in for an investigation later, our heroes learn that the victims are killed by a haunted website with the rather awkward URL of “”, an address that perfectly encapsulates the quality of the writing here. Apparently, the site is haunted (and designed?) by a ghost named Jeannine (sometimes Gesine Cukrowski in low level bondage gear, sometimes Jana Güttgemans, a little girl wearing a particularly obvious wig). Jeannine is a victim of the Doctor and uses her powers of net haunting to curse random people coming to her site. The curse will kill a victim after 48 hours of exposure via their greatest fear, unless, apparently, they catch the Doctor. Why Jeannine  thinks people like two German-speaking punks who have nothing whatsoever to do with law enforcement will be much help there, particularly since she doesn’t bother to actually tell her victims what she wants from them, is anybody’s guess. I’m not particularly hopeful the writers or director William Malone knew.

In fact, I have to hold myself back not to make a “you know nothing, Jon Snow” joke here, for the writing as a whole is so inconsistent, implausible and random in all the wrong ways, only utmost politeness can hold one back from heaping personal abuse on the people responsible. Consequently, the plot outline above is a best guess effort.

At the time it came out, Feardotcom was positioned as an attempt of getting at some of that sweet money reserved for bad US remakes of markedly superior Japanese horror films without actually having to buy any rights (or, one might add, perhaps with a degree of unkindness, without actually having a script). In practice, there certainly are some plot parallels to Nakata’s Ringu or Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s Kairo but there’s exactly zero of the complexity or aesthetic achievement of these films visible on screen. In fact, the film seems more in the spirit of Italian rip-off cinema of the 70s – with the little difference that where Italian rip-offs of successful movies were often highly entertaining, Feardotcom is mostly boring.

Much of that boredom is what happens when a cast of characters consisting of non-entities mostly lacking the single character trait even a slasher movie victim gets wander through thematically indifferent set-pieces which in turn meander between vapid and unexciting horror sequences shot in very dark rooms, third-rate would-be Seven-style serial killer non-thriller scenes shot in very dark rooms, and flash cuts too embarrassing even for a White Zombie or Marilyn Manson video clip.

I could probably live with the total lack of thematic coherence, the film’s disinterest in its own narrative, and the non-characters if the visual aspects of the film suggested anything beyond Malone having seen some music videos, and a David Fincher film and probably once having heard of Japan and Italy and now crapping it all back on screen without rhyme, reason, a concept, or even an idea of mood. The courageous handful of defenders of Feardotcom (and all power to defenders of hopeless causes like this) tend to argue the film is actually a rather stylish affair but to my eyes and ears, there’s no coherence to its style, and therefore no style at all.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

In short: The Windmill Massacre (2016)

aka The Windmill

A handful of tourists go on a bus tour around the windmills of Holland. As it goes with groups like these, everybody on board the bus has a dark secret – each and every one of them concerning MURDER. The group soon finds itself stranded in the Dutch wilderness (insert sarcasm tag here) and seek shelter in an abandoned windmill.

As it happens, this windmill stands right next to a gate to hell, and an undead miller goes about punishing everyone for their sins while pretty lame hallucinations run around.

Sometimes, slasher films just can’t do right by me: if they’re traditional, I complain they’re lacking in ambition and originality, if they are like Nicke Jongerius’s Windmill Massacre and try to freshen things up by mixing the more traditional bits and pieces (of human meat) with elements from a different horror genre that’s just as tired as the slasher, I complain about that, too. Of course, seeing as this approach drags the film from a genre that is subtextually – and very often not on purpose – moralizing into one that’s explicitly moralizing, providing the audience with the valuable insight that murder is bad (unless an undead miller commits it, I suppose?) in the process, I don’t see a reason to apologize.

Apart from its moralizing streak, The Windmill Massacre also suffers from characters whose travails are painfully clichéd and just not very interesting or fun to watch. Adding insult to injury are some abhorrent fake accents, some dubious ideas about Shintoism (though I have to give the film points there for originality, or just for a nod towards Jigoku, a moralizing horror film that’s actually good), and a generally lackluster script.

On the positive side, the gore’s not too bad, and Jongerius’s direction is generally competent. But then, these things don’t exactly add up to much.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Past Misdeeds: Centurion (2010)

Through the transformation of the glorious WTF-Films into the even more glorious Exploder Button and the ensuing server changes, some of my old columns for the site have gone the way of all things internet. I’m going to repost them here in irregular intervals in addition to my usual ramblings.

Please keep in mind these are the old posts without any re-writes or improvements. Furthermore, many of these pieces were written years ago, so if you feel offended or need to violently disagree with me in the comments, you can be pretty sure I won’t know why I wrote what I wrote anymore anyhow.

It's the year 117. The Roman conquest of Britain is going rather badly. Rome has been forced to a standstill by the Pictish tribes under their king Gorlacon (Ulrich Thomsen), because her military isn't able to adapt to the guerrilla fighting techniques of her enemy. In a desperate last attempt at winning the war and saving his position, governor Agricola (Paul Freeman) decides to send the 9th legion under general Virilus (Dominic West) north to find and kill the Pictish king.

The only additional help Agricola gives Virilus is the female, tongue-less tracker Etain (Olga Kurylenko). This turns out to be a costly mistake. Etain leads the legion into a trap, and so its first contact with the enemy remains its last. Most of the men are slaughtered, Virilus captured and only a handful of Romans (like Liam Cunningham and Micky from Doctor Who - yes, we are in the usual "all Romans spoke with various UK accents" territory here) escape with their lives. Quintus Dias (Michael Fassbender), who had just escaped Pictish captivity, decides to lead the survivors into the Pictish camp to free their general.

That plan doesn't work out too well. Virilus stays in Pictish hands and one of Quintus' men - without any of the other Romans realizing it - murders Gorlacon's little son. The soldiers manage to flee and begin a long and difficult trek back into their territory, having to survive the wilderness as well as repeated attacks by Etain and a small band of Picts who are following them to avenge the king's son.

People who disliked Neil Marshall's Doomsday (and really, what's wrong with you?) will probably not like the director's new movie much better. Sure, Centurion is a bit more thoughtful and intellectually ambitious than Marshall's last movie (which doesn't say too much if you keep in mind that Doomsday seemed mostly interested in being awesome dumb fun, more Italian than any Italian post-apocalypse movie ever made), but it is still more interested in action and testosterone poisoning than in being subtle.

Centurion has a few things to say about how the systematic violence of warfare in the name of empire produces said empire's worst enemies, who in turn perpetrate their own acts of violence which in turn lead to new retribution and so on and so forth, with everyone's deeds of slaughter done for very good reasons. Gorlacon for example had begun his fight against the Romans after they had killed his first child, and Etain was driven into insane violence by being the victim of Roman rape and torture. Unfortunately, the film doesn't put as much emphasis on these elements as it probably could. Although Marshall makes sure his audience understands that violence and empire are Very Bad Things that will only lead to more dying and suffering, he still won't stop himself from revelling in at least the violence. So his film is full of scenes of intense, blunt, bloody violence, staged in scenes as exhilarating as they are brutal, subtly choreographed not to look too much like it, not evoking the dance of a martial arts movie but something less pretty and more visceral.

And the violence here is so well done that it's hard to blame Marshall for losing himself in it. There is something to be said for the handful of films that try to put something like the historical adventure stories of the pulps on screen and it's the preference for the cutting and the slashing before the thinking is very much a part of that genre you can't escape.

The actors are doing fine jobs throughout, even though they are hampered by sometimes less than satisfying dialogue (note to scriptwriters: never use the word "she-wolf" unironically) and understandably basic (it's just this sort of film), yet sufficient, characterization. Poor Michael Fassbender also has to do some overblown and completely unnecessary voice-over that is only there to add bathos the film doesn't need and tell us things we are seeing on screen anyway, in the great tradition of useless voice-overs throughout film history. It's not the only time its script lets Centurion down a little. Especially the ending seems a like it was done in short-hand and - for once in this film - more out to prove a point about the despicableness of the concept and practice of empire while still giving at least one of the characters a happy end than to make for a truly satisfying (or depressing) and logical conclusion. This is one of the rare cases where I would have preferred a film to be ten or even twenty minutes longer just to let its ending feel less hasty.

One the more positive side, Centurion's script also does a few relatively clever things that demonstrate that Marshall's not going through the motions of action movie scripting like a machine. Those are never big things the film is pointing out at us, but I still found it nice that (for example) the character who is set up (after a frighteningly racist introduction as a professional runner) to be the "black guy who only looks out for himself and will get killed by trying to pull one over his friends" isn't actually going in that direction at all and instead cynically killed off when he is going against that particular annoying archetype. It's the sort of thing that doesn't sound like much, but put half a dozen moments like this into your historical action movie script like Marshall does here, and you suddenly have something that feels specific and sometimes even a little human instead of automatic and generic.

Friends of bleak nature photography will also have a field day with the film's beautifully photographed outdoor locations in Hampshire and Scotland. The desolation of the locations gives the film a mood befitting the grimness of what's happening in them, sometimes pulling the brutal fighting into the direction of the dream-like, more often lending it a feeling of particularity, of everything we are seeing happening in a real place instead of the imagination. After this, I'd walk miles to see a nature documentary shot by Marshall and his cinematographer Sam McCurdy.

All criticism aside, I had a lot of fun with Centurion. Despite its flaws, the film is as physically exhilarating as movies come, beautiful, and less dumb than it could get away with. That it's also not always as successful at being clever as it could be is a problem, but not one big enough to ruin the movie, or the fun.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

In short: Devil’s Prey (2001)

A bunch of young arseholes whose character and actor names are totally irrelevant (though masochists may want to know about the presence of Charlie O’Connell, so there you go, masochists) drive to a rave out in the boons.

Because one of them is dealing drugs, and the others are abhorrent, it’s not much of a surprise they’re thrown out of the rave after a handful of misadventures – or is it all part of a sinister plan? Yes, it is. Anyway, before you know what they did last summer, they run over a girl we’ll later come to know under the most excellent name of Fawn (and that’s the sort of name worth mentioning, isn’t it?), though she survives the collision. Apparently, Fawn is being hunted by The Shadows (no relation to the band, one assumes), the local group of Satanist cultists – whose leader we will later learn does like all good satanists abhor greed – who want to sacrifice her. Soon follows some running through woods while our heroes are hunted by people in robes with stupid masks, the-black-guy-dies-first-ing, and a few pretty boring action sequences – all accompanied by the permanent bitching and screeching of our horrible characters.

The cultists will turn out to be rather on the incompetent side, so our protagonists sans black guy end up in a peaceful little town with a minister played by Patrick Bergin and a sheriff role providing the great Tim Thomerson with a well deserved pay check for very little work. Would you be surprised when I tell you a lot of the friendly townsfolk are cultists too?

Despite a set-up that sounds like the perfect basis for a silly chase-based thriller or a silly cultist-based horror film, Bradford May’s Devil’s Prey is for most of its running time only a silly piece of boredom, full of annoying characters acted badly the film takes way too much time to kill off, based on a script that uses its constituting clichés in the least interesting ways possible, and has no clue how to create suspense, or horror, or for most of the time even just inadvertent humour. Well, alright, the sex scene later on is pretty damn funny, but that’s thanks to the film’s tepidness when it comes to digging into its possibilities as an exploitation movie, which leads to decadent satanist sex that utilizes a feather, Patrick Bergin, doggy style, a tiny bit of gagging, and some of the worst moaning you’ll ever hear on a soundtrack. That’s the film’s single scene to make any kind of impression on me. The rest of Devil’s Prey is just sitting there, boring, without ideas, directed by a guy who has both feet in that era of TV direction when having any sort of style was anathema – and this thing isn’t even a TV movie.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Quiet Cool (1986)

When she loses all contact with her brother, his wife and their late teenage son Joshua (Adam Coleman Howard), Katy Greer (Daphne Ashbrook) fears the worst. The little Pacific Northwest town in the the middle of nowhere where she is making her home, and the neighbouring woods her brother lives in are the area of operation of some very evil marihuana growers. These people aren’t your pleasant hippies growing some grass where nobody will look – as a matter of fact, their leadership under a certain Valence (Nick Cassavetes) looks like an 80s New Romantics band, they have all three law enforcement officers of the pop. 183  town in their pocket, keep a little army hidden away in the woods and they kill everyone who gets in their way. The last – as the audience knows – is exactly what happened to Katy’s relations, all, that is, apart from Joshua, who has been left for dead.

Fortunately, Katy has a former ex-boyfriend to call on for help. Joe Dylanne (James Remar) is your typical 80s action movie cop hero. Well, to be frank, he’s only about 5 out of 10 on the 80s action movie cop hero scale where Stallone’s Cobra would be a 10, which means he is probably not a fascist, only murderous when provoked, not an asshole and sometimes even outright nice.

Neither the locals nor the bad guys themselves are doing much of anything to hide what’s going on in town, apart from keeping the identity of Valence’s secret boss, only known as The Man, mysterious, so Joe doesn’t have to do much of that thing 80s action movie cop heroes can’t do anyway – investigate. Quickly enough, he’s out in the woods getting shot at right at the point where and when Joshua re-emerges to start his own little guerrilla war. At first, there is some vague mumbling about that “law” stuff some police have heard about, but Joe and Joshua quickly team up to enthusiastically slaughter a lot of people, particularly after the obvious motivation for 80s action movie cop heroes happens to Joe.

After it started with a desperately annoying motorbike chase through New York, I was already ready to write off Quiet Cool as another 80s low budget action film of dubious interest and without a sense of fun, particularly given its director Clay Borris’s future in pretty uninteresting TV shows. But soon enough, the film began to charm me with a no nonsense approach to its plot that clearly wanted to get to the meat of the matter – a guy and a boy slaughtering people – quickly, setting up the situation and then letting things rip.

And letting rip it truly does: there’s not just the surprisingly huge body count (at least half of which is caused by a teenager who just has no time to be annoying, or to mean anything but business) to make the action movie friend happy, the film also knows about the importance of variety. So people not just get shot and exploded, they are also speared, crushed by trees and so on and so forth, all in the spirit of merry diversity. Borris shoots the carnage in straightforward but usually excellently timed manner, often even bothering to build up some suspense, an approach that is rather atypical for most action movies but does work wonders when it comes to stretching a budget in a manner still pleasing to an audience. The very picturesque woods all of the violence takes place in do help in making Quiet Cool look much better than you’d expect, too, providing mood and a sense of place in a genre that often prefers your generic big city.

There’s a fine streak of perfectly straight-faced silliness running through the film: where else would you get to see a fluffy bunny-based suspense scene? Not to speak of the awesome true identity of The Man and its somewhat cliché-subverting effect. On the other hand, Borris never takes this element of the film too far into camp territory, never quite hinting if he actually realizes how silly some parts of the film truly are.

Apart from the very beginning, there’s very little about Quiet Cool I’m not willing to call pretty fantastic, or even pretty damn fantastic. Well, there’s Nick Cassavetes’s completely expressionless Valence, who is way too bland for the time he spends on screen as the main threat, but the film doesn’t seem to be very interested in him anyway, so this is still the little wood-set 80s action movies that could.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

In short: The Gift (2000)

As a widow with three kids somewhere in the rural South of the USA, Annie Wilson (Cate Blanchett) doesn’t have a particularly easy life. She’s earning a living as a clairvoyant, though in her particular case, this means she is a combination of amateur social worker and amateur psychologist, helping people in her community who’d never seek or find professional help with kindness and empathy as best as she can. There’s for example Valerie Barksdale (Hilary Swank) who is regularly abused by her prick of a husband Donnie (Keanu Reeves), despite Annie telling her again and again she should pack up and leave; or the local car mechanic Buddy (Giovanni Ribisi), whom she is trying to help confront some deeply buried trauma that is breaking him apart inside.

Annie does have actual psychic powers, mind you. Dreams and visions do tend to tell her things, and right now, those visions are telling her there’s trouble on the horizon, though it’s unclear what kind of trouble it is. The only thing that’s sure is that it’s going to be bad.

Say what you will against Sam Raimi (we all have suffered through that thing with Kevin Costner, and various odious comic relief outings by his brother Ted, after all), but the man has always been more than just a one-trick pony, by now showing a filmography that manages to be diverse in tone and style yet still showing a consistent world view and a personal touch.

So, it shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise that his Southern - mildly gothic and supernatural - thriller The Gift shows a filmmaker who is just as accomplished at making a character-focused film without any big set-pieces or much blood as he is when concerning himself with Bruce Campbell’s blood-spattering adventures or Spider-Man.

While its plot about guilt, murder, and ghosts isn’t terribly original – these things are what we expect in the South to happen right? - The Gift thrives on two things. Firstly, it carries a deep sense of place, turning what could be cliché South into something that lives and breathes like an actual place (from my chair in Germany I wouldn’t dare suggest an authentic depiction of the South, mind you), built up by Raimi through often surprisingly subtle framing choices and a direction style that always emphasises the bits of scenery that tell us about the place they belong to without the film ever actually pointing it out.

Secondly, there’s the acting ensemble. It’ll come as no surprise that Blanchett is pretty damn great, turning a character that could be your usual caricature medium right out of a mediocre TV show into a believable woman - in turns fragile, strong, sad, and nearly painfully compassionate without ever feeling like a sugary saint. On the other hand, it’s difficult not to be a little bit shocked by seeing Keanu Reeves do that thing I never thought he could do: act, and quite convincingly thanks to the magic casting someone against type can produce.

All of which leaves us with a calmly accomplished film that is unspectacular only in theory but in practice can knock off a pair of socks or two.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Evil of Dracula (1974)

Original title: Chi o suu bara

aka The Bloodthirsty Roses

Shiraki (Toshio Kurosawa) comes to what the film calls “the bleak north” of Japan as the new psychology teacher of a boarding school for young women, shortly before the term break. It’s not an ideal time for such an arrival: the principal’s (Shin Kishida) wife (Mika Katsuragi) has died in a car accident, her body laid out in the cellar of the creepy western style mansion next to the school where she and her husband lived. The Principal explains this rather un-Japanese treatment of the body with a local custom that sees the bereft praying for a dead person’s revival for a week before cremation.

The Principal has other news for Shiraki too. He has decided the young teacher is to be his successor at the school in a few months or so. Shiraki’s understandably confused by this, as much as he is by his new boss’s insistence on him spending a night at the mansion before he moves into his own room in the school building. That night, Shiraki has a dream in which he is accosted by blue-faced women in nightgowns – one of whom looks a lot like the portrait of the Principal’s wife hanging in the mansion – who clearly (and perhaps disappointingly) have nothing good for him in mind.

If this experience has indeed been a dream is a question Shiraki will increasingly ask himself, for it seems connected to all kinds of strangeness going on at the boarding school. That one of the other teachers is a creep who likes to creepily stare at the students while dramatically – as well as creepily - quoting Baudelaire might be explained by this being a Japanese movie. But what is Shiraki to make of the tales the local doctor Shimomura (Kunie Tanaka) tells him about the place? Apparently, every year, one or two students of the school just disappear without a trace, and nobody seems to care all that much. And that’s just the beginning of it – this year’s disappeared girl looks exactly like one of the women from Shiraki’s dream. Shimomura also has some curious ideas about vampire legends of the area to share, as well as tales of the curious fact that the principals change rather regularly here but every new principal changes his behaviour radically once he is in the new job and starts acting a lot like his predecessor. Well, except for that one guy who just went crazy and is spending the rest of his life institutionalized. It’s all rather confounding and disconcerting to Shiraki, and becomes even more so when some of the students are getting stalked and attacked by someone who looks a lot like the Principal.

Evil of Dracula is the final film of Toho’s and director Michio Yamamoto’s western vampire aka “Bloodthirsty” trilogy. Where the first two seem to be closely related to Italian gothic horror, this one’s trying to split the difference between the Italian approach and Hammer’s style of the gothic. Particularly Kishida as the main vampire is heavily indebted to the Christopher Lee version of Dracula, ticking off all the check marks on the Christopher Lee Dracula scale: not a seducer but a rapist, likes to snarl and look pissed off at the slightest provocation, and is generally a physical threat as much as a spiritual one.

Evil’s vampirism is more sexualized again than it was in its successor, with the victims in general, once bitten, clearly having a rather pleasant time of it, while Mrs Principal prefers to suck the blood of young women from a point slightly above their breasts (providing the film also with a decent opportunity for some rather more artsy than sleazy looking breast shots). Getting bitten by a vampire still means instant Renfieldisation, too, so the film also keeps his predecessor's paranoia motives to a degree. It is, however, a less personal kind of paranoia here because nobody is quite as close as a sister to anyone else here, and the film doesn’t put its emphasis there.

Rather, this one returns to the mystery influences of the first film, concerning itself mainly with Shiraki, Shimomura and the - alas weakly drawn and rather uninteresting - female main character Kumi (Mariko Mochizuki) trying to puzzle out what exactly the vampires are planning, and how.

And the how turns out to be really rather interesting and creepy, involving a technique to take over someone else’s life I’ve certainly never seen in any other vampire movie, Japanese or western. It’s also a method not to be spoiled for the first time viewer.

Otherwise, Yamamoto still follows the method that worked out so well for him in the first two films and shoots contemporary surroundings in the style of gothic horror, doubling down when it comes to the obligatory creepy mansion. So shadows and the air of a dream abound, people act irrationally, and the irrational acts upon them. It’s all rather fitting to a series of films among whose recurring motives is their characters’ difficulty to discern dream from reality.

Most of this is atmospheric and effective, particularly the film’s final third providing one great moment after the other, Yamamoto regularly adding little flourishes like the Principal’s habit of sending his victims white roses that turn red once he’s killed them. It’s not a film for anyone who needs to have a plot or characters which work logically but I’d argue all three of Yamamoto’s vampire movies would be poorer for the addition of workaday logic, for they’d stopped being dreams.