Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Endgame - Bronx lotta finale (1983)

aka Endgame

The world as we know it has ended again, and what may or may not be the Bronx (actual connections to other Bronx-based Italian post-apocalyptic movies are strenuous at best) is ruled by a military dictatorship that counts among their members good old Gordon Mitchell and black clad goons wearing what looks a lot like SS signets on their helmets. To keep the populace distracted, the rulers hold a Running Man variation called "Endgame" that is even organized in some sort of league system, which seems rather useless given the lethality rate of the whole affair.

One of the best Endgame fighters is Ron Shannon (Al Cliver). While he's running through the dangerous parts of town attempting not to be killed, a woman named Lilith (a clothed Laura Gemser, for no discernible reason listed in the credits under the nom de plume of "Moira Chen") hires him to guide and protect her and a group of associates out of the city to a place in the wastelands. Lilith and her associates are telepathically gifted mutants on the run from the government but they are willing to pay in gold.

After winning the Endgame round by cheating his old friend/enemy/rival Kurt Karnak (George Eastman) with Lilith's help, Shannon assembles a team for the trek through the wastelands. It seems the city is full of people like the imaginatively named martial artist Ninja (Hal Yamanouchi), and mutant-hating strongman Kovack (Mario Pedone), so Shannon acquires his team easily enough.

More trouble starts in the wastelands, where our heroes have to defend themselves against an army of evil blind monks and a half-animal biker gang. I don't know why the animalistically mutated gang has as many fish people as they do, what with the near total absence of water in their surroundings, but hey: fish people!

And can it be a good thing for our heroes that Karnak is following them?

I am not exactly an admirer of Endgame's director Joe D'Amato. Sure, he always was a pretty great director of photography, but a large part of his directorial output tends to the needlessly and tediously boring. Endgame is among the exceptions, though, for while it's not up there with the best (read: most insane) Italian post-apocalypse epics it is rather good fun.

It is clear that D'Amato was not exactly swimming in money for the production, so most of the film takes place in a handful of brick-walled tunnels and in the outside area around a rundown agricultural building but to make up for it, there are also quite a few motorcycles on screen, and rather more stuntmen costumed as various goons and henchpeople around than you'd expect. D'Amato makes good use of what he has available, too, and while there isn't that much advanced silly stuff going on, Endgame is stuffed full of enough silly, cheap, and fast action sequences to fulfil the basic entertainment needs of any friend of Italian pieces of post-apocalyptic nonsense.

Plus, there are various favourites among European cult cinema actors showing off their facial hair. This particular post-apocalyptic future may still possess TV where - in one of the film's funnier ideas - the biggest sporting event known is sponsored by a brand of vitamin pills that's good for basically everything, but shaving utensils are quite a different thing, it seems. On the other hand, the film does treat the generally non-bearded, peaceful mutants as the future and hope of the world while the poor hairy men of the rest of the cast are standing in for the past, so I'm just going to pretend Joe D'Amato cared enough about the movie to put in this kind of (ridiculous) metaphorical stuff. Then I'm going to laugh till I cry.

Be the symbolic status of facial hair as it may, for a man wise in the ways of Italian post-apocalypses like me, what Endgame has to offer (basically: people in leather killing each other) is more than enough to keep me entertained (though I could have survived quite well without the fish man/Gemser rape scene), so I am quite satisfied with what I got here.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

SyFy vs. The Mynd: Iron Invader (2011)

aka Metal Shifters

"Paul Ziller, most dependable of my Knights of the Dependable Table", Mrs SyFy, the president of SyFy said one day while tending to her CGI roses, "I want to see a movie where that Iron Giant from the animated movie kills US small town people, but I can only give you enough of a budget to animate your core CGI monster for three or four scenes. Afterwards, you'll have to make do with a heap of moving scrap metal".

"Your wish is my command, Mrs President", Ziller replied, scrawled down a script on a CGI napkin during the course of about ten minutes spent on the toilet, and started shooting in the oasis of low cost filmmaking we know and love as British Columbia the very next day. Did he somehow hire actual actors? Even somebody who was on a Star Trek show? You bet he did.

What's even more curious than this quite obviously true story my imaginary five year old nephew told me in secret is that Iron Invader is a perfectly okay little movie, with a handful of somewhat exciting scenes in its first half (as long as the Iron Invader is still whole), culminating in many moments of precious idiocy once the core cast hunkers down in a bar surrounded by dangerous, animated pieces of small metal that want to play zombie apocalypse with them; Ziller still directs that part of the film as if it were serious SF horror, but, you know what, animated pieces of metal don't really look very threating, particularly once the cast learns their might can be conquered by spraying them with alcohol.

And yes, Iron Invader's climactic fight really does consist of actors trying very hard not to laugh killing the monster of the week with bottles of alcohol. It's quite the thing, really, unless you had hopes of, oh, I don't know, giant metal monster action.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Scream, Pretty Peggy (1973)

College student Peggy (Sian Barbara Allen), owner of a chipper personality and a low-level nosiness the film seems to find endearing but that worked like chalk on a blackboard on me, finds the ideal student job: taking care of housekeeping in the out of town mansion of sculptor Jeffrey Elliot (Ted Bessell) and his alcoholic - and seemingly first name-less - mother (Bette Davis giving exactly the performance you'd expect from her in this kind of role, with some moments that suggest more emotional depth to her character than typical). Despite Mrs. Elliott's curious reluctance towards having her help, Peggy's happy as a clam with her new job, for she has certain hopes of becoming a sculptor too, and she clearly fancies Jeff for some inexplicable reason. Jeff is rather more friendly to Peggy than you'd expect, too, so maybe her interest might even be reciprocated. When Mother breaks her leg, Peggy decides the family could really use a live-in help for a while, so she moves in.

Apart from Peggy's rather creepy behaviour - that I don't think is supposed to be creepy - there is something curious (or even, as the audience knows from the pre-credit sequence in which Peggy's predecessor is stabbed by a shadowy blonde woman, something dangerous) going on around the house. Jeff is quite adamant nobody is allowed to enter the rooms above the mansion's huge garage. When Peggy sees the same woman who we know killed her predecessor in front of the garage one night, Jeff explains to her the woman is his sister Jennifer (Christiane Schmidtmer). Jennifer is hidden away there because she's "incurably insane", whatever that means, and Jeff just can't bring himself to let her suffer through the psychiatric system of 1973.

Which is all well and good, but - something Jeff kind of forgets to mention - Jennifer has the unfortunate habit to kill people who annoy her, or get too close to her brother, like a certain student house keeper.

Scream, Pretty Peggy is a neat little movie from the height of US TV movie making. It is co-written by Hammer mainstay Jimmy Sangster, and directed by former AIP director Gordon Hessler, so the whole affair is in hands experienced in making the best out of low or low-ish budgets and working on a tight schedule. Apart from Gothic horror, Sangster did write quite a few, often very fine, post-Psycho thrillers for Hammer, so he's experienced in the genre he's working in here, too.

For Scream, Sangster mines this thriller vein again, if in minor form with a less complicated plot and minus some depth. As a matter of fact, Sangster plays off of (some people would say rips off) a certain rather well-known genre movie, adding a handful of elements of gothic romance to it, and going for an overall mood of California gothic. While the film's main twist is quite obvious early on (at least if you're somewhat used to the conventions of its genre, and not named Peggy), but thankfully this is one of the cases where a film is still worth watching even if you know where it is going, mainly because the Scream's suspense building and mood are still doing what they're supposed to do.

Hessler's direction, while as simple as usual in this sort of production, still manages to create the Californian version of the gothic quite well by making judicious use of stormy weather, dark nights and a mansion that has the same effect as an old dark house despite - or perhaps because - being new and bright and shiny in a way I read as very specifically Californian. I'm a bit disappointed that there's no scene of Peggy wearing a nightgown and carrying a torch running away from the house, but then Peggy isn't really the nightgown and torch type.

All in all, Scream, Pretty Peggy is another fine example of 70s US TV filmmaking that is exactly as ambitious as it can afford to be and never less than entertaining.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

SyFy vs The Mynd: Epysode 3

Dragon Wasps (2012): In theory, I should come down hard on a movie whose depiction of the Central American population is quite as ooga booga, whose female lead (Dominika Juillet playing a "scientist") seems to read all of her lines off a teleprompter, making Corin Nemec look like a charismatic actor in the process, and which knows even less about the science of insects than myself. But then, this is also a movie about giant, fire-breathing wasps, containing lines of eternal dialogue like "Many insects are repelled by the smell of their dead. This bug may be our best defence", repeatedly letting its heroine call something "nature's napalm", finding its protagonists going into the final battle hopped up on coca (to repel the wasps, obviously), and really being rather good fun in its stupidity for most of its running time. So I think I'll just let it slide and call Joe Knee's Dragon Wasps the kind of film that is bound to have an average user rating of 3 point something on the IMDB while actually being pretty darn entertaining.

Arachnoquake (2012): If you have dreamt about a movie whose every character is a prime example of odious comic relief, then you'll pretty much hit the jackpot with this one. As nearly all consciously humorous SyFy movies I've encountered, Arachnoquake (blind, tongued, fire-breathing, on-water-walking albino spiders attack New Orleans would have been a bit too long a title, I suppose) suffers from not being funny for a single second, and spending not a single thought on suspense or actually making a film that's entertaining beyond being the butt of a joke.

I still find films saying "look how dumb I am, isn't it funny!!!" while adding mean-spirited frat boy-style humour quite the opposite of funny. It doesn't help Arachnoquake film seems to giggle at each of its own jokes, which never works at all.

But hey, at least aging actors like Edward Furlong and Tracey Gold get some food and medication on their tables through Arachnoquake's existence, so there's something to be said for the film.

Mothman (2010): And then there are movies like this, a perfectly serviceable version of a neo-slasher movie with Jewel Staite being as much star power as it can afford (with a plot hook borrowed from I Know What You Did Last Summer, of all films) that replaces the usual killer with the Mothman, adds a bit of mythical mumbo-jumbo, and stirs. Yet still, despite two or three truly atmospheric scenes and a pretty entertaining ending that puts out all the stops a movie of this budget and production style can put out, Mothman's a bit of a disappointment to me, for it takes one of the weirdest pieces of modern myth and turns it into another serial-killing monster. It's not so much the lack of originality that irritates me (this is a SyFy Channel movie after all), but the lack of imagination Sheldon Wilson's film shows, even though it is entertaining enough.

Friday, July 26, 2013

On Exploder Button: Manchas de sangre en un coche nuevo (1975)

aka Blood Stains in a New Car

This psychological thriller by Antonio Mercero looks to me like an obvious fable about the morals (or lack of) the bourgeoisie in late Franco Spain. It's - not surprisingly - a film about a rich man who prefers to look away from certain unpleasant things but then has to realize that he's not quite the hardened manly bastard he likes to pretend to be.

Read more about Manchas de Sangre over in my column at Exploder Button.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

In short: Escalofrío diabólico (1971)

Sometimes, it makes little sense to summarize the plot of a movie here, because the narrative (such as it is) not only makes little sense but is presented in a way custom-built to let it make even less sense. This is of course something my beloved European genre cinema of the 60s and 70s was particularly good at, leading to a lot of films that have the quality of hallucinations and dreams.

Actor and only three-time director George Martin's Escalofrío diabólico belongs to a slightly different sub-type of these films, the sort where a hallucinatory script wildly throws Gothic tropes, needless distractions and pulp Satanism at the audience but loses a lot of its potential power of confusion and delight through a horribly bland direction style. There are moments when the script's sheer loopiness wins out over Martin's lack of visual imagination and money but at other times, it's a bit like watching a fever dream through the eyes of the most sober man alive.

When the film works, it delights with scenes like that of our main baddy Alex's (Mariano Vidal Molina) mute, crazy (everyone in the film is the latter) servant dancing with a manikin he has hidden away in a ruined castle, the wild rantings of Alex's mother (who keeps her dead husband in a rocking chair in the cellar; while Alex keeps his step brother drugged up in a different cellar), frequent Euro horror actress Patty Shepard making excellent panicked horror heroine bug-eye faces while wearing a collection of mildly disturbing 70s fashion, and weird shit happening with all the dramatic sense of a film made by people who have never seen a movie before. The awkwardness of the direction is rather inexplicable given that Martin had been in the acting business for ten years at this point, and certainly must have learned something about filmmaking.

When the film doesn't work, it becomes very boring, very fast though, with scenes that drag inordinately, never ending on a shout when they can end on people doing nothing of interest five minutes later. Because of this, Escalofrío diabólico is more of a film for the advanced fan of European horror of the era, the sort of thing that has enough scenes of delirious idiocy to recommend it to viewers of a certain experience but won't ever turn anyone into a fan of this sort of thing.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Keramat (2009)

aka Sacred

An small Indonesian film team from Jakarta travels to Yogyakarta to make last preparations and rehearsals leading up to the shoot of the debut film of Miea (Miea Kusuma) that's supposed to begin a week later.

Things don't begin too well: Miea seems to want to shape herself after all the great asshole directors, reacting to the most minute of setbacks with a full-grown shouting attack that'll guarantee nobody will ever want to work with her twice in the future. Worse, the crew is haunted by bad omens the minute they enter Java. Lead actress Migi (Migi Parahita) suddenly grows ill, a random crazy person that somehow knows the name of Migi's father screeches at them to go home, and even a minor night drive leads to an encounter with curious lights and what may or may not be a ghost.

After about a day or two of actual work, Migi becomes possessed by a ghost. Because this isn't a Western movie, the crew or their host at once call in an expert (I assume he's an abangan kyai, but I may very well misreading cultural cues here). After an interview in which the possessing spirit says she's trying to protect Migi, an exorcism seems to get rid of the unwanted guest. However, soon after the ghost is supposed to have been cast out, Migi just disappears - with the priest diagnosing she has been brought or gone over to "the Other Side".

He isn't outright saying it (and really should explain how dangerous what he's going to do is), but getting Migi back will mean to transport her friends to the Other Side too, to a place so full of spirits and curious dangers not everyone will make it out alive.

It turns out Japan isn't the only country in Asia that got bitten by the POV horror bug. Monty Tiwa's Indonesian Keramat supposedly consists of footage shot for a behind the scenes documentary for Miea's movie, and ends as is traditional with quite a few scenes of people shaking their cameras and crying while running through the woods at night.

So far, so every POV horror film ever made. However, what makes Keramat an interesting and effective film is that the supernatural forces our protagonists encounter are deeply rooted in Indonesian (and I think specifically Javanese, though really, I don't know enough to make this call definitely) culture, religion and myth, which more or less automatically provides the film with an amount of originality your basic Blair Witch Project rip-off can only dream of, at least for these tired pair of eyes from Germany.

Tiwa really knows how to run with this basic advantage of his film, too, using simple yet effective ways to stage what in the later phases becomes a literal journey of his characters into a place of myth. Once again, this is a film tailor-made for my old pet theory that films made outside of the Hollywood machine (and yes, I'm quite clear about the fact that Indonesia has its own commercial film machine that churns out cheap genre movies in dozens, and Keramat is a part of it) are generally more artistically successful when they infuse genre movies with the local, using genre structures as seen in western cinema but infusing them with an identity of their own; if only because you just can't compete with Hollywood on its own term anyway. This approach works quite wonderfully for Keramat, resulting in a film that uses the basic structures of Blair Witch-style POV cinema but fills it with a personality all its own.

It's not all the lure of the "exotic", either. As a European, I am again reminded of European fairy tales and myths by some of the things going on in the movie, specifically of tales about people stepping into the otherland of Fairy and generally suffering quite comparable fates to those our protagonists here suffer. While Keramat isn't  even the first Indonesian film in the 21st Century horror wave that left me with this feeling; it surely is one of the best.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

SyFy vs, The Mynd: Chupacabra vs. the Alamo (2013)

As it goes with films carrying titles this promising, Terry "Dependable" Ingram's Chupacabra isn't one of the best SyFy Channel movies I've seen, even though it is generally entertaining. Or it is entertaining, if you have patience with these films, and don't roll your eyes too hard when the whole monster action brings another family back together, as is any SyFy movie monster attack's true job.

The film's problem might be that the silly contortions its script has to go through to reach what it absolutely correctly deems the point of awesomeness (that is, bangers teaming up with our cop heroes, then all of them ending up in the Alamo, fighting the chupacabra menace) aren't all that fun too watch. Or it might be that the CGI chupacabras look particularly unconvincing even for a SyFy movie, though they are perfectly adorable when they are jumping all around the screen like idiot rabbits. Or it might be that all the film's best moments - like Erik Estrada's daughter microwaving a chupacabra to death, Erik Estrada being a horrible dad but looking awesome with a shotgun, Erik Estrada riding his motorcycle in green screen magic that is even less convincing than the monsters - all fall into its first half, with the climax in the Alamo just lacking in charm, if not in explosions.

More positively speaking, Chupacabra vs. the Alamo's first half is excellent fun to watch, with Estrada playing up his macho side, his new (of course) partner played by Julia Benson being the better cop even though neither film nor Estrada seeming to notice, and some really neat practical gore effects. Ironically, the Alamo is the part of the film I'll remember least.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

In short: Stranded (2013)

The near future. A small US mining base on the moon, crewed by only four people - Gerard (Christian Slater), Ava (Amy Matysio), Lance (Brendan Fehr), and Bruce (Michael Therriault) - is hit by a sudden meteor shower that knocks out pretty much everything, from solar panels, through communications, half of the base's escape pods (and yes, this is the sort of base that has exactly enough escape pods for everyone on board, too bad if one of the pods breaks), to oxygen filters. If they don't have a very lucky hand with repairs in the next tens of hours, work that isn't exactly made easier by the fact that the moon base is designed by somebody unacquainted with the concepts of "contingency" and "fail safes", there won't be anyone left alive for any hopeful rescue mission.

To make a bad situation worse, one of the meteors that struck the base contained some sort of alien spores that infect Ava, induce an ultra-quick pregnancy, and result in a lot of crawling through air vents; that is, after the characters finally decide their problem isn't carbon monoxide poisoning.

Yes, yes, I know, Roger Christian is the visionary art director of Alien, but as a director, he's not only the man who made Scientologist wet dream and bane of eyes everywhere Battlefield Earth, but also a director whose other films aren't much better. Now, Stranded isn't as bad as Battlefield, which has a lot to do with the fact that this is a scrappy little low budget movie instead of a waste of money so painful it has become immoral.

Good, on the other hand, Stranded ain't. I don't blame it for its lack of originality (imagine exactly the film you assume it to be, and you'll not be surprised - well, perhaps by the unfortunate lack of man-in-a-suit-action), but I do blame the film for its lame execution of old genre standards. The problem isn't that I've seen all this before, it's that I've seen all this realized in a much less boring and drab manner.

While Christian's bland direction sure isn't helping much, Stranded's main problem is a script that seems hell-bent on prolonging the boring bits as much as possible: all that faffing about with hallucinations as an explanation becomes rather boring when the audience learns very early on that the alien menace actually exists; it's never a good idea when the audience has to wait for a film's characters to finally catch up and realize what we've known all along. The whole paranoia and etc angle is further weakened by the script never having established a baseline of what rational behaviour means with these characters, or really, the script never establishing any character traits for its characters at all. Half of the film consists of characters we know nothing about acting off, with no way to discern if they're going insane or if the script just can't produce believable human beings. Of course, given how little sense the set-up of the moon base makes, one generally tends to the latter interpretation.

But even once the traditional "people running through corridors" part of the movie has finally begun, there's little of actual interest happening on screen; suspense, excitement, or even action are clearly living elsewhere, leaving Stranded quite alone..

Saturday, July 20, 2013

SyFy vs. The Mynd: Blood Monkey (2007)

A bunch of anthropology students (actor names withheld to protect the innocent, or because their characters are hardly interesting enough to deserve the word count) come to the dangerous jungles of Thailand (as embodied by actual Thailand and a soundstage who knows where) to…well, do student-y stuff for a Professor Hamilton (F. Murray "I won an Oscar. Once." Abraham).

Little do our little stereotypes expect Hamilton's sputtering mad welcome speech about the uncharted valley he found, where they will do sensational science together. Let's just not think about the little details, like the fact that the only other expedition member is a rather brutal Thai woman named Chenne (Prapimporn Karnchanda), even though there is clearly equipment around belonging to more people than just the two of them.

Half of the truth will come out a little later, once Hamilton has led the group into the area he's so interested in. He's after a highly intelligent, until now undiscovered species of hominid nobody in the movie ever calls a Blood Monkey. The other half of the truth is that Hamilton wants his student assistants not as help but as live bait to have a better chance at bagging himself one of said monkeys. There's nothing about this particular plan that could go wrong.

Sources are divided if Blood Monkey can actually be called a Sci-Fi Channel movie, and didn't have its actual premiere on DVD, but seeing as RHI's Maneater series which it starts was usually made to be shown on the Channel first, I'll at least treat it as an honourable SyFy movie.

The film was directed by veteran (and still working) Robert Young, whose best film is probably Hammer's wonderful Vampire Circus. Not surprisingly, Blood Monkey isn't on that level at all. Young does manage a few atmospheric shots, particularly whenever he works with consciously artificial looking lighting, but he's let down by a script that is always plodding and obvious, and which lacks even the kind of routine monster movie finesse I expect from my SyFy productions by now.

I suspect Young's just a bit too subtle a director for the style. Case in point is the film's insistence on barely showing its monsters. Sure, that's a good way to go about hiding that your core attraction isn't up to snuff when you have a screenplay that contains exciting things like characters, theme, or an actual plot, but when you're Blood Monkey, all your script has to offer are a handful of cute lines and a scene of very strong monster urine hitting a bunch of tents, so it would probably be better for the film to shove some cheap digital monster down the audience's throats. Alright, the film's final ten minutes are actually pretty entertaining, but at that point, I wasn't really too interested in what was happening on screen anymore.

At least F. Murray Abraham seems to have his fun, emphasizing curious words in his monologues, rolling his eyes and gazing madly in the direction of the camera like a champ. It's the sort of performance that makes a movie well worth watching if you have the time and inclination and aren't hit by existential doubts when watching boring and pointless movies.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Long Weekend (2013)

Original title: Thongsook 13

Nam (Cheeranat Yusanon) and her friends whom I'll dub Male Jerk One, Male Jerk Two, Female Lesbian Semi-Jerk One and Female Lesbian Semi-Jerk Two are off to a cursed island where a ceremony to appease a Devouring Ghost went very very badly a few decades ago for a nice summer weekend. One of the group's dads has bought a house there incredibly cheaply (though, one suspects, he still paid too much for it seeing what's going to happen soon). This calls for what goes as teen debauchery in Thai cinema.

The Jerks are also very happy they could get rid of Nam's regular follower, Thongsook (Chinnawut Intarakusin) for once. Even as a child, Thongsook never was quite right, able to see ghosts and only protected from possession by an amulet he has to wear all the time, but after a ghost-related incident when he and Nam were small where he hit his head, he turned from "slightly off" to actual developmental disability. Thongsook's been fixated on Nam ever since. Nam clearly isn't always quite happy with this state of affairs, but a mixture of guilt for Thongsook's accident and actual sympathy leads to her being seemingly the only person in Thailand who isn't his mother acting like an actual human being towards him. We can't say the same for the Jerks, whose behaviour can only be described using the word "total" and the word "shits". Really, I have no idea why a basically nice and kind-hearted young woman like Nam's hanging out with these people, except for the whole being in a horror movie thing.

One can imagine that the Jerks' reaction when Thongsook somehow manages to reach the island to surprise them isn't very positive. In fact, when Nam is knocked-out by a very convenient (the script is nothing if not lazy when it comes to the early set-up) painkiller pill, the male Jerks and female lesbian Jerk One play the kind of "prank" on Thongsook that people who aren't assholes would call torture. They drag him to the shrine where the ceremony once went awry and lock him into the Devouring Spirit's former cell; of course, Thongsook loses his amulet in the process. Consequently, all hell breaks lose very soon.

At first, Taweewat "SARS Wars" Wantha's Long Weekend didn't exactly endear itself to me despite a few atmospherically staged scenes, because it mostly appeared to be just another supernatural teenage slasher with a pretty lousy, generic script (and therefore the last thing I'd expected of Wantha). If you'd make a drinking game based on lazy plot ploys, you'd fall down dead of alcohol poisoning after the first twenty minutes. That impression was further exacerbated by the fact that everyone in the movie except for Nam is the kind of person who tortures and bullies the mentally disabled, which has never been the sort of thing that results in much investment in a character's fate on my side, while the whole "now these nasty people will get their comeuppance" angle always seemed like the cheapest way a horror film can go to me, the kind of thing people enjoy who take capital punishment to be a great idea.

However, once everything is set up, Long Weekend quite quickly becomes imaginative. There's no letting up between clever and pleasantly silly scare scenes at all, leaving the hopefully delighted viewer with little space to think (always a thing to be avoided in carnival ride style horror like this) or to complain. The supernatural in these scenes is decidedly weird, and quite obviously hates to repeat itself, so there's never a dull moment on screen with one crazy and energetic idea following the next before you can even think about breathing, particularly once the final thirty minutes begin racing by.

Running through everything following the set-up is a rather wicked sense of humour that for once isn't used to stop the film dead in its tracks in the typical horror comedy style but really rather goes for the short, sharp guffaw between scares in its audience. The humour is well-timed, funny, and never gets in the way of the actual fun. Why, I even laughed out loud repeatedly despite my general dislike for horror comedies, laughing, and public expressions of emotion. While it's at it, Long Weekend also squeezes in exactly the type of final twist I usually can't stand, but it does it so beautifully and - again - weirdly, I found myself rather charmed by it.

And here I thought actually watchable Thai horror cinema was dead.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

In short: Le Moine (1972)

aka The Monk

Ambrosio (Franco Nero) is the superstar preacher of his local abbey, full of fiery hatred against the things of the Flesh (even marriage is too icky a concept for him), and a fitting self-righteous attitude.

Things go well for Ambrosio until he learns that a young novice who clearly had him thinking unvirginal thoughts already is in fact Mathilde (Nathalie Delon), a woman; a woman, at that, who has smuggled herself into the order just to be with him. Realizing this and getting seduced into fornication are as obvious as my talent for similes. Once Ambrosio has started on the sinning, he's on a downwards path of sins from lies through more fornication through the lusting after teenage girls through murder. Mathilde is enabling Ambrosio's fall wherever she can, for she has been sent by the devil himself to tempt the monk, and really seems to have fun doing her job.

Things may or may not become difficult for the increasingly insane Ambrosio once the inquisition comes to town.

Adonis Kyrou's adaptation of Matthew Gregory Lewis's classic Gothic novel The Monk is a rather dispiriting case of a film taking a much too timid approach to its material to be successful; and that despite a script co-written by Luis Bunuel among whose failures timidity isn't usually counted.

The problem is that The Monk is a novel whose feverish and sensationalist tone cries out for an equally feverish and sensationalist movie. Kyrou, however, seems to think it an appropriate way to treat paedophilia, cannibalism, debauchery, black magic and murder with the sort of distance that doesn't love anything more than to stop short before showing or saying anything directly that might offend someone, where it would be rather more useful to try and offend everyone. Even the usual criticism of organized religion and particularly Catholicism in this sort of thing is reluctant and just not very convincing, as if the film were directed by someone too soft to ever step outside the boundaries of good taste. Which is of course the death knell for a film that should by all rights do nothing but step outside of these boundaries, and then throw faeces at them.

Visually, Kyrou isn't too interesting a director either. There's a certain blandness in his direction that doesn't even milk a (most probably Bunuel-derived) set-up like Nicol Williamson's paedophilic mock-Christian child procession for anything of what it's worth.

In other words, what The Monk needs are the slimy and fearless hands of an exploitation director. Consequently a lot of nunsploitation movies not based on The Monk are much closer to the spirit of the  original work than this nominal adaptation. They are also not nice, and not tepid, and surely not as polite as Kyrou's film is, never provoking the question this version of The Monk raises: what's the point?

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Quella carogna dell'ispettore Sterling (1969)

aka The Falling Man

aka Frame Up

Inspector Sterling (Henry Silva being intense and a bit disturbing, as he does best) of the San Francisco Police Department has had a bit of a rough time these last few months: first, he's framed for killing an informer by the two hoods who actually did it in front of his own eyes, then he loses his job, then he witnesses said hoods in a payroll hold-up while staking them out (for revenge, one assumes) and sees his former colleagues botching the easy catch, then his little son is killed in a drive-by shooting by you know who, and finally his wife leaves him. It's like the most depressing country song ever written, except for the lack of a dying dog.

Giving this series of events, it's not exactly a surprise that Sterling is now out for vengeance, nor that he is perfectly willing to torture the hoods, threaten a model (Beba Loncar) somehow connected to the mysterious mastermind of the whole affair, or provoke shoot-outs. Sterling's former boss Inspector Donald (Keenan Wynn) is none too happy with Sterling's new hobby, but then, he doesn't seem to be getting anywhere with his more lawful investigative methods.

Not that Sterling himself is all that successful, really. His best witnesses have the tendency to get killed by somebody before he can punch what he wants to know out of them. Worse, all the violence he commits and suffers through finds him in an increasingly deteriorating physical and mental state. The question is only if he'll be able to catch whoever his enemy might be before he breaks down completely.

Quella carogna dell'ispettore Sterling was directed by the rather wonderful Emilio Miraglia whose small filmography in all of everyone's favourite Italian movie genres is a thing to behold, though all of his few films but his two giallos, The Red Queen Kills Seven Times and The Night Evelyn Came Out Of The Grave, are increasingly difficult to find in complete versions with decent print quality. Going by the wonderful surreal spy movie Assassination and the film at hand, this state of affair is quite a loss. For my tastes, there's absolutely no reason why Miraglia shouldn't be up there with his better-known colleagues of Italian genre cinema, and I'm sure the two of his films I haven't been able to see until now won't change my mind about that.

Anyway, Quella carogna dell'ispettore Sterling is not quite as surreal and dream-like as Assassination (also starring Silva) was, but its narrative style isn't exactly straightforward. Unlike in my synopsis, Sterling's background and motivation are explained in a series of intense, feverish flashbacks throughout the film, mirroring the character's increasingly alienated sense of his surroundings, and increasing the feeling that Sterling is just a short step from a total mental breakdown; something his actions make quite clear already. Often, it even seems as if Sterling's actions have become divorced from his supposed motives for them, as if he had lost himself so much his actions have become automatic.

Driven by the flashbacks, the rest of the movie's action consists of scenes of Sterling attempting to make sense of the few clues he has by punching them, Sterling looking at 1969's pop culture with a disgusted and confused face (this sure isn't the world he grew up in, one can't help but assume), and Sterling in various violent altercations and chases. The further the film progresses, and the more obsessed Sterling becomes, the less Miraglia seems interested in action movie realism or the logic of his mystery, and the more Quella carogna dell'ispettore Sterling shares Sterling's own reduction to his simplest impulses, the world becoming a truly strange place to him and to his audience.

This state of affairs is foreshadowed by an early scene where Sterling witnesses a group of young, pretty people killing each other in a shoot-out that is then revealed to be the shooting of a jeans commercial, a revelation Sterling reacts to with a mixture of confusion, disgust yet also disinterest. I somehow doubt the Levi's logo used here is product placement, or you'd have to doubt to sanity of the PR people responsible.

All this does of course have clear parallels to the tales of alienation so often told in noir movies on more than just the most basic plot level, it's just that the world the film's hero is alienated from (possibly by) is quite a different one from that of the 1940s, and therefore his alienation needs to be expressed a little differently, pop art aspersions replacing German expressionism.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Three Films Make A Post: They Live the Sweet Life But They Play a Game of Sudden Death!

Antiviral (2012): Brandon Cronenberg's Weird SF horror piece surely is a very accomplished film, walking the line between strangeness, repulsion and attraction with great care. My problem with the film is how little there is to differentiate it from a mid-period piece of the director's father David; Antiviral may have a personality, but it seems to be the one of David, not Brandon Cronenberg. It's a rather confusing state of affairs when the son makes movies that are more like his father's films than those his father now makes, and I'm not completely sure what to think about that.

Mama (2013): I would have loved to love Andrés Muschietti's feature film enlargement of his own short film as produced by the always welcome and enthusiastic Guillermo del Toro. The film's basic plot idea is certainly intriguing, and the acting's certainly fine (particularly from Jessica Chastain and the child actors), however, the film doesn't really have any idea how to develop that basic idea into an interesting story. My, it's as if someone was trying to turn a short film into a feature without actually having enough substance to work with. Worse, Mama stumbles badly when a horror movie can least afford to stumble, in the horror set-pieces. Those scenes turn out entirely predictable, and even manage to be barely creepy at all, centring as they are on what never looks like anything but a bad special effect.

Dark Skies (2013): Speaking of horror films with fine performances by their female leads (in this case Keri Russell who seems to get a minor second career wind playing brittle yet capable women) that are completely let down by their supposedly horrifying scenes, Scott Stewart's Dark Skies comes to mind, though, given that Stewart directed Priest and Legion, an uninvolving piece of mediocrity like this is still a step up in quality for him. Dark Skies does Mama one better (or rather worse) in that its horror scenes aren't only not creepy, frightening, horrifying or exciting but more than once merrily jump over the line separating the creepy from the unintentionally hilarious.

The rest is an alien abduction movie by numbers, with a little (but only a little) added spice in form of the economically obvious "oh no! the working rich stop being rich when they lose their jobs" dance working class people may feel an impulse to sneer at, but demonstrating little imagination otherwise.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

SyFy vs. The Mynd: Mansquito (2005)

aka Mosquito Man

A viral epidemic carried by mosquitoes is plaguing the USA, but scientist Dr Jennifer Allen (Musetta Vander) has a beautiful plan built on releasing mosquitoes immunized through drugs and radiation against the virus into the wilds to save lives. Unfortunately, Allen's approach to science is just a bit too careful for her boss Dr Michaels (Jay Benedict), and he decides to haul in multiple murderer Ray Erikson (Matt Jordon) as human guinea pig.

Of course, Erikson uses this as an opportunity to escape. That attempt ends in a catastrophe: the killer becomes exposed to quite a bit of mosquito-immunizing goo and radiation, and quite quickly begins to turn into…a Mansquito.

His ensuing bloodsucking spree is investigated by Lt. Randall (Corin Nemec), who also just happens to be Allen's boyfriend. Apart from the increasingly aggressive Mansquito, other problems come up soon enough. Allen herself was exposed to some of the science goo too, but in her case, it was little enough to induce a very slow transformation rather reminiscent of Cronenberg's The Fly, if The Fly had been more like a classic creature feature, and quite a bit more silly.

Allen's slow transformation does of course incur Mansquito's romantic interest, so he begins hanging around Allen, popping away to suck somebody's blood now and again, until she will turn into a girlsquito. Once the transformation is finished, romance should ensue unobstructed. Hopefully, someone will blow the nasty bug up before that can happen.

I hate being the guy throwing around words like "perfect" when describing another SyFy monster movie, but it's impossible for me to watch a film as well put together and often downright exhilarating in its willingness to push all the right buttons of a creature feature crossed with The Fly as Tibor Takács' Mansquito and not get excited.

In fact, a lot of my experience of watching Mansquito (winner of the prize of best-titled movie of 2005) is coloured by me giggling like a loon. That's not because Mansquito is silly (which it sure is, if you still need to ask), or cheesy (which it just as sure is), or not exactly coming done on the side of believable science (which it absolutely does not), but because Takács knows all this about his movie and still directs it with total conviction. Even though everyone involved clearly knows about the silliness of the whole affair, there's no visible attempt to distance themselves from the film; even when irony and humour occur, they do so in an organic, not a distancing manner. It's a lovely thing to behold if you're tired of films unwilling to take themselves seriously (I'd argue films about silly nonsense like mansquitoes particularly need to take themselves seriously), or in love with undermining themselves for a cheap gag.

Of course, earnestness alone does not make a creature feature remarkable or even worth watching; a film needs other virtues to win my heart at least. Takács fortunately delivers the good stuff here: Mansquito is excellently paced with a real sense of escalation to it, and - like it should be - with nary a boring minute. I think the Allen-transformation angle helps a lot with the last one, because it makes what can become scenes of character-based boredom in films of this sub-genre interesting. The film goes through all the standard scenes of creature features about lovelorn monsters (unless you need a bathing scene - white bathing suits are just not a mosquito thing) without them ever feeling generic or bland.

Atypically for a Sci-Fi Original (we are after all very early in that particular cycle, and this may or may not be the first of these films where the channel actually involved itself in the production instead of just buying a finished film), Mansquito's monster is made via the magic of suitmation, with a few CGI enhancements, particularly once Manny has grown his wings, and while nobody will confuse it with a real living creature (don't pretend you don't know the Government has an army of mansquitoes waiting in the wings), there's a mass and a reality to it cheap CGI effects generally just can't achieve. Plus, the suit can more regularly be in the same shot as the actors, which enables more interesting camera work.

There's a sense of personality in every shot that is difficult to describe on a more analytical level than saying you'll either feel it and love the movie (and Takács) for it, or you won't and will bemoan it as generic. It's a part of the film's feel I find difficult to pin down, the kind of thing that turns a movie into something special for me yet that might not be there for anyone else, though I doubt people who enjoy creature features at all will be immune to Mansquito's charms.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

In short: Sightseers (2012)

When even a film as great as Ben Wheatley's last one, the brilliant Kill List, turns out to be somewhat divisive, I shudder to think what people will say about Sightseers, a black comedy of the most peculiar type.

Chris (Steve Oram) and Tina (Alice Lowe) go on a sightseeing trip through the English countryside (filmed in a subtly beautiful way). that trip also becomes a minor killing spree. Chris and Alice are a very British skewed mirror image of the serial killer couples haunting the imagination of the American mid-west, with all the sexiness (though not the sex) and the "youth in rebellion" replaced by the the hang-ups of beginning middle age, the quotidian grotesque, and the small-mindedness that so easily turns mean.

The film's humour is peculiar enough to take getting used to, seeing as it often works by just giving the slightly surreal parts of daily life (or the real world, if you want) a push towards the even more surreal, very much in the spirit that brought us other peculiar British things of the macabre yet (sometimes) funny disposition. It's also the same general spirit that brought us hauntology, the music of the Ghost Box label and Scarfolk, a spirit I think of whenever I - as a non-Brit - hear the word "British". I'm sorry, the Queen, but this is exactly what I want from your country. Just blame Rialto's Edgar Wallace movies and The Wicker Man.

Stylistically, this one's just as successful as Kill List was, with Wheatley effortlessly going from the petit bourgeois humour to hallucinatory dream sequences to sudden violence and back again as if it were no big thing, turning the film as dream-like as the best European horror movies, even though the plot is nothing like your typical European horror movie. Unfortunately, this description is the best I can come up with for Sightseers attraction, for it is one of these rather infuriating films I fall in love with during their first ten minutes, yet really can't ramble on about as much and as detailed as I would like to. Just treat this write-up as a placeholder for something better and a somewhat helpless attempt at a recommendation, while I insert a final, random shout-out for Sightseers' soundtrack.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

In short: Birds of Prey (1987)

aka Beaks: The Movie

Original title: El ataque de los pájaros

Welcome to the beautiful world of René Cardona Jr., groping belatedly for that sweet, sweet "nature strikes back" money and possibly a bit of Hitchcocksploitation (duMauriersploitation?) money! Thrill to the least believable pair of TV reporters known to mankind (Michelle Johnson and Christopher Atkins) jet around the world to hold very very long and very very boring interviews about the developing series of bird attacks happening all around the world! That is, if you're lucky, otherwise, thrill to said pair interviewing random people about birds instead of bird attacks! Be astonished by the apathetic way Cardona interrupts what may or may not be meant to be a main narrative (full disclosure: the word "narrative" generally implies things like plot and character development, dramatic escalation and so on, none of which applies to the movie at hand) with said bird attacks, a mix of library footage of birds, hot slow motion action (without the hot and the action), sudden bouts of gloopy gore and eye mutilation that are missing from a lot of versions of the movie because we can't keep the only entertaining bits in, now can we, and the director slaughtering real life birds for the audience's pleasure (or vomiting)!

Cry for mankind about the obvious, yet unexamined disconnect between making a movie with a plot (however dishonest) about nature striking back at humanity for our destructive influence, and slaughtering lots of animals for it! Feel somewhat grimy for having watched this thing and follow it with a helpful cup of tea and a slightly less unpleasant and sleazy movie like some piece of Japanese ninja soft porn!

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

SyFy vs. The Mynd: Killer Mountain (2011)

Aging millionaire Barton (Andrew Airlie) convinces retired mountaineer Ward Donovan (Aaron Douglas doing an excellent straightforward likeable no-nonsense hero, and saying "frak" once) to help him out with a little problem. About a month ago, Barton had started a highly illegal (so illegal, Barton disguises his project as humanitarian help effort like the obvious jerk he is) climbing expedition for jaded rich people on a forbidden and clearly very dangerous mountain in Bhutan. Now, all contact with the expedition has been lost, and Barton needs an expert climber like Ward to mount a rescue. Because he retired after a catastrophic climbing outing, Ward isn't wild at all about the whole business until Barton discloses that the lost expedition was led by Ward's ex-wife Kate (Emmanuelle Vaugier), for whom, this being SyFy standard operating procedure, he still carries more than just friendly feelings. Consequently, Ward can't say no to Barton any longer.

Once Ward and a handful of helpers (Paul Campbell, Crystal Lowe, Torrance Coombs and Mig Macario) are on the go, things turn out to be rather different from what Barton told them: the expedition must have been running for at least a month longer than the millionaire said, and they clearly were looking for something specific(as we will learn later, a certain lost city of myth), which doesn't fit the whole "jaded millionaires" story at all. Things also turn out to be even more dangerous than expected, for the mountain harbours, apart from its more usual dangers, rather unexpected and dangerous fauna, and most members of the old expedition seem to have died in rather disturbing ways. Ward and his team will need quite a bit of luck if they're planning on surviving their rescue mission, and - perhaps - pick up a survivor or two of the last one.

Sheldon Wilson's Killer Mountain is a bit different from your run-of-the-mill SyFy movie in that it is neither a creature feature - though there are creatures here - nor a disaster movie - though nature shows itself from its ruder side - but a fantastical adventure movie in the spirit of old pulp tales. Films of that particular genre aren't very common anymore, so I approach every occurrence of one of these rare beasts with a certain, if cautious, degree of enthusiasm.

In Killer Mountain's case, that enthusiasm is very much justified. Wilson juggles the plot's various elements - there's a whole minor parallel storyline about what happens around Barton when Wade's team is gone that I haven't gone into in the synopsis at all, as well as the continuing adventures of Kate, plus there are creatures, climbing movie mainstays, a lost city, and a cure for everything to handle - with verve and what seemed to me a certain joy. One might argue that Wilson is keeping a few balls too many in the air here, and so plot elements like the healing power of slug leech thingies or the whole mythical lost city are given comparatively short thrift, but to me, this only adds to the pulp charm of the whole affair. For pulp adventure (in print and in the movies) really isn't a genre about slowly pondering the complexities of situations and thinking ideas through, and rather one of racing through as many exciting elements quickly and energetically during the course of a novella or a ninety minute film.

And that, Killer Mountain does exceedingly well. Sure, from time to time the film can't quite hide its TV budget, can't quite sell a CGI-ed British Columbia as Bhutan (though it does give it such nice try with some very fine location shots I'm far from complaining here), can't find a CGI effects crew with the ability to create a believable helicopter (which is rather curious, seeing as how they're quite good when it comes to the landscape bits), and really doesn't work enough at changing up its favourite pulp clichés a bit (the racial politics here are problematic, for example) but Killer Mountain demonstrates so much of the right energy and spirit I can't bring myself to care much - if at all - about its flaws.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

In short: Upstream Color (2013)

I'm sure some people will want someone to explain Shane Carruth's second movie, following the (really not that difficult to parse) brilliant Primer, to them, possibly with a helpful power point presentation and all the exposition the movie doesn't give. Of course, that would be rather missing the point. Carruth's sometimes effusive, sideways approach to narrative - not completely changed from Primer's yet still different because it has a different goal and belongs to a different kind of narrative - really wants a viewer to explain the meaning(s) of what's going on in Upstream Color for and to themselves, to gain their own understanding of "what it's about".

Carruth's narrative style does everything but shout at its audience to press it into active engagement with the film, even while the film insists on us giving up on preconceived notions of narrative structure and falling into the rhythm(s) it suggests instead. If you're not willing to follow Carruth in this, there's probably little you'll get out of the film than boredom and confusion, but if you do try to engage Upstream Color on its own level, you'll probably be richly rewarded by a film that's concentrated while it pretends to be loose, emotionally moving while it pretends to be analytical, and really more structured like a poem (I'm rather tempted to say like a dream, but dreams in my experience seldom are this precise) than like most other movies.

This approach seems to be rather fitting for a film that circles questions of the blurring of identity, love, and mental illness, all things where a certain effusiveness and looseness of thought is needed to actually understand them.

I'd call Upstream Color the SF romance movie of the year but I may be simplifying things a tad here.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Universal Van Damme: Death Warrant (1990)

A series of mysterious murders hits a US prison, and the authorities in form of a higher up of the Department of Corrections and a governor soon up for re-election do the logical thing to solve the problem: they import tough guy Quebecois Mountie Louis Burke (Jean-Claude Van Damme in the phase where he added smiling to looking grim, or bored, or doing a shouty face to his thespian catalogue) to go undercover in the prison and find out what's going on. It's all very secret, of course, so only the officials and the governor's assistant - and full-grown lawyer - Amanda Beckett (Cynthia Gibb) know of Louis's true identity. Consequently, Amanda will work as a go-between between the outside and Louis, playing the role of his wife.

Once in prison, Burke first establishes himself as a guy tough enough it's better to ignore him, repeatedly overstepping the bounds of the place's racially segregationist policies during his investigation and making friends with an older African-American prisoner named Hawkins (Robert Guillaume) as well as "the Priest" (Abdul Salaam El Razzac), the leader and pimp of the prison's population of African-American gays, transsexuals and cross-dressers.

Burke quickly learns that the murders take place not just with knowledge of at least the prison's chief warden, Sergeant DeGraf (Art LaFleur), but Amanda and he are also able to puzzle out that there must be somebody quite influential on the outside at least lending protection to the operation. My, whoever could this be?

Things become more dangerous for Burke when an old enemy of his, a serial killer calling himself the Sandman (Patrick Kilpatrick), is brought to the prison, and blows his cover.

At its core, Deran Serafian's Death Warrant is your typical "cop undercover in prison" movie with added scenes of Jean-Claude Van Damme kicking people in the face, and while that's not really the most original thing for a film to be, Serafian's competent direction and David S. Goyer's well-paced (first) script do turn the material into something that's quite entertaining for two thirds of its running time, and seriously silly and awesome for the final third when any ideas of probability are thrown out the window and replaced by the sort of sheer action movie cheese you expect from most Van Damme movies.

There are quite a few excellent moments in the film's final act, like the one where our hero does his patented muscle-pump/shouty-face combination only to get a wrench thrown at his face for the effort, or - clearly one of the greatest moments in cinema history - the one where JCVD kicks the Sandman into a furnace, only to have the burning man jump back out again and continue the fight after a minute or so of our hero looking pretty smug. These moments, as well as some really rather great pyrotechnical special effects, make up for the fact that the action choreography is mostly a bit boring, with Van Damme doing the same kick - and not even THAT KICK - again and again and again, which doesn't come as a surprise in an action movie/mystery combo that doesn't even have a stunt or action choreographer listed in the credits.

Death Warrant - and we are entering mild spoiler territory here, so be warned, whiny people - gets additional bonus points for giving its female character actually something useful (though not spectacular) to do apart from being cute and therefore JCVD's love interest, for not including a scene where she needs to be rescued by our hero, and for featuring an African-American actually guilty of his charge who is still sympathetic, as well as an African-American transsexual, and an African-American of vague yet non-straight sexuality as our hero's allies among the prison population. The film's even letting one out of three black characters live at the end, which may not sound like much, but really is an improvement about the way things generally go in films like these.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

SyFy vs. The Mynd: Roadkill (2011)

This one's a bit different from most SyFy productions, seeing as it was shot in Ireland with a mostly British crew and cast, and directed by Johannes Roberts who usually works for the UK low budget market. It seems fair to assume that Roadkill wasn't produced primarily made with the Channel in mind, but rather found its way there somewhere for its premiere. Consequently, the film follows the formulas of direct to DVD horror rather than those of the SyFy Channel film.

A bunch of American young ones (which is to say, British actors attempting American accents because the British just hate casting Americans in their movies, though the actors are faring rather better with it than most Americans trying a British one, and slightly better than most of their peers going for American) are making a tour through scenic Ireland in an old RV. It's all a ploy of Ryan (Oliver James) to win back his former girlfriend Kate (Kacey Barnfield) who is living and working in Ireland now. Things actually would go well with Ryan's plan, if an encounter with some Travellers led by a particularly sleazy guy named Luca (Ned Dennehy) didn't pave the way to catastrophe.

During the course of said encounter, the kids steal/take (it's complicated) a cheap-looking amulet, Chuck the designated jerk of the crew (Diramuid Noyes) accidentally runs over an old Traveller woman, and everybody gets cursed by her to be one by one killed by that most Irish of monsters, a roc.

Going on the run, our dubious bunch of heroes soon find themselves lost in a peculiar fog, and soon enough - as promised - are picked off one by one by an actual (serviceable) CGI roc. If that's not enough trouble for American tourists to cope with, Luca and his bunch of backwoods folk really, really want their amulet back.

So yes, basically, Roadkill attempts to spice up the "kids on the run from a monster" movie by adding bits and pieces of backwoods horror to it. At first, this attempt didn't exactly win me over: it's always difficult to get interested in what happens to characters who are quite as bland (though pretty) and/or jerky as our heroes here are. The old gypsy curse bit is also rather problematic and pretty much played out since the 1940s or so (wait, does that make gypsy curses retro now?).

Once the film gets going, though, and the herd of characters is thinned, Roberts does at least do some rather effective things with them. Roadkill is surprisingly ruthless too, much more willing to inflict not just death but pain on its characters than you usually see in a SyFy movie. I'm not talking major writing revelations here, but at least a willingness to break some of the rules for character types and their deaths and actions in horror movies. The movie does not just reward heroism in characters because we like to see it rewarded.

On the acting side, there's a minor appearance by Stephen Rea, some choice scenery chewing by Ned Dennehy, and better than they need to be performances by Kacey Barnfield (whose character additionally has never explained powers of ass-kicking, which I always approve of in horror heroines) and Diarmuid Noyes. The rest of the cast is perfectly alright, unless you need The Method in your films about rocs chasing people through the Irish countryside.

So, all in all, this not-quite SyFy Original is quite a bit better than it initially looks like, and definitely more entertaining than the other films of Roberts I've seen.

Friday, July 5, 2013

I Watched Robo Vampire (1988!?), and this is what I learned

  • Snakes can fly (okay, are thrown from off-camera), so humanity's only hope are very large machine guns.
  • Those machine guns won't help against hopping vampires
  • Strangulation and a pleasant massage of the throat are very similar things.
  • The easiest way to get rid of "anti-drug agents", is to kidnap a bunch of hopping vampires and let them loose on said agents.
  • Don't smoke while handling vampires.
  • Hopping vampires don't need stairs.
  • The hopping gentlemen get miffed when coming into contact with fake drugs.
  • Nobody will ever notice if you dub your film with four actors "doing voices".
  • I really don't want to be reincarnated as an animal in an old Hong Kong or Taiwanese movie.
  • "Orientals are a stubborn race".
  • Drug dealers can still be big softies at heart, the kind of people saying "YES!" to ghost/hopping vampire marriages. ROMANCE!
  • Turning your former associate into an "android-like robot"/"robot-like android" is typical water cooler chat in anti-drug agency land (but keep it a secret!).
  • Water torture is cheap and easy.
  • It's not important to understand who these people are or what they are talking about, it's only important to wait for hopping vampires and RoboWarrior™.
  • RoboWarriors™ are not very good against the more acrobatic hopping vampires (Acropires?). Or bazookas, for that matter.
  • Vampire/ghost romance is so, so erotic. If you're really into dead people (one of whom wears what looks a lot like a mutant gorilla mask, while the other can't act even better than the rest of the cast) pressing their hands together, that is.
  • "You can kill us but wait 'til our love's consummated!"
  • RoboWarrior™ is a big old softie too.
  • I think smoke might be a visual metaphor for you-know-what in this film. It's quite Freudian, really, just without the cigars.
  • Go for the eyes, Boo!
  • In commando (or whatever these people are) training, an aspect that isn't taught is spatial awareness, or as laymen call it, "looking around".
  • Hopping vampires are, like Gamera, ass-rocket-driven flyers.
  • There is little in life more exciting than a climactic chase between a hopping vampire and a slooooooowly moving android-like robot.
  • I want a randomly and without transition appearing quartet of hopping vampire henchmen to do my household chores! I'd be okay if they stepped out of harmless explosions, too.
  • Only ever use your in-built flame thrower during the last minute of your movie.
  • Godfrey Ho and T(h)omas Tang know what you want, but will only give it to you if you are willing to wade through the boring parts with the drug agents.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

In short: Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters (2013)

Years after their well-known witch-related ordeal, Hansel and Gretel have grown up into two exceedingly attractive people with a thing for black leather (Gemma Arterton and Jeremy Renner, who both seem to have a lot of fun with their roles), and live out their hatred of witches by working as witch hunters for hire.

But don't worry, Gretel prefers a fact based hunting approach to the job, so innocents need not fear, as the film's first post-credit sequence proves by having our heroes save innocent (well, more or less) Mina (Pihla Viitala) from being burned at the stake, enraging the local Sheriff (Peter Stormare) in the process. Little do our heroes expect that beautiful Augsburg will have more than the usual amount of witch-napped children and a normal witch hunt for them, and will even reveal the secrets of their past to them.

Grand witch Muriel (Famke Janssen, eating scenery with the same relish you'd show eating a candy witch house before you realize there's a witch living in it) and a whole bunch of black metal band rejects have plans to brew some very special potions that will make them impervious to the witch's worst enemy, fire. They just need some very special ingredients. Let's hope our heroes and their arsenal of improbable weapons will be up to the task at hand.

Going into Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters, a lot of critics seem to have expected to find a deep and profound work reflecting on the nature of humanity, or bourgeois life in not-17th century not-Germany, and were consequently deeply disappointed when they found these highly logical expectations confounded when they were instead confronted with what basically amounts to Van Helsing or Brothers Grimm, but not shit and reasonably short.

For me on the other hand, Hansel & Gretel is pretty much exactly what I expected of Dead Snow's director Tommy Wirkola, a man clearly talented when it comes fun, fast-paced nonsense (and lighting actresses). It's the sort of film that revels in its own (slightly gory) comic book silliness, and attempts to have at least one silly-but-cool idea that spits on the the laws of physics (stuffy old bastards) per scene. This, Wirkola achieves with a high degree of charm and efficiency, throwing silly witches, silly witch hunting techniques, and silly physics at his audience with a palpable sense of fun. But be warned: this is a movie, where witch house eating induced diabetes can become a real problem, so if that sort of thing pulls you out of the whole fairy-tale-punk mood, this is not the film for you.

Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters is very good at being the carnival ride version of a movie, without feeling the need to apologize for it, nor ever forgetting the fact that the important thing about a carnival ride isn't just that it's loud and colourful, but that it's supposed to be fun.