Thursday, January 30, 2014

In short: The Paranormal Diaries: Clophill (2013)

One of these inevitable teams of paranormal investigators is shooting a documentary at the ruins of St. Mary's Church in Clophill. One has to say they're a little more organized than usual in this sort of film, so there's even a couple of security people to keep away unwanted jokers, and they go into the whole affair with a little (though only a little) bit more of a plan of what they are actually trying to achieve. Of course, when it comes to making contact with something horrible, success isn't always what it's made out to be.

By now, even my Grandma knows all about the ways of POV horror, so let's just talk a little about the handful of things Clophill does slightly differently than most of its peers. It's not much, but it is something. First and foremost, Michael Bartlett's and Kevin Gates's film - both of whom are playing themselves in the movie - does try its best to actually look and feel like a cheaply down ghost hunting documentary, with all the scenes of people wandering around and reacting to noises only they can hear that implies, and - unfortunately - the degree of boredom these shows and films tend to contain. On one hand, I appreciate that the directors let the rather uninteresting parts of the film go on as long as they do, for the actual supernatural events do feel more authentic when packaged in mild boredom. On the other hand, boredom is boredom.

While I like how the film integrates its own horrors with the actual stories about the real church, these stories are very run-of-the-mill rural legends about light Satanism and spookery, and don't really make for an interesting mythology, or suggestion of a mythology. As far as cult activity and ghosts/demons go, it's all rather quotidian stuff, particularly in a film that starts with a Lovecraft quote ("The process of delving into the black abyss is to me the keenest form of fascination.").

Still, once the boring parts were over (and yes, I do count fake bird heads and earthworms - hello, Lucio Fulci! - among the boring parts), and in part because the boring parts were boring, the film did manage to creep me out a bit in its final reel (yeah, I know, there are no reels in that sense anymore in the digital filmmaking age, but so what), with two very simple yet effective shocks, as well as an ending that manages to suggest doom without needing to go all out and let the protagonists disappear forever, as would have been traditional in POV horror. For me, that certainly makes The Paranormal Diaries: Clophill worth watching at least once, though probably not a film anyone would feel the need to return to very often.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Return of the Fly (1959)

After the unhappy death of his mother, Philippe Delambre's (Brett Halsey) uncle Francois (Vincent Price) finally tells the young man the truth about the mysterious death of his father, fly head and all, as seen in The Fly. The whole fly head business would rather explain Philippe's phobia of flies, one assumes. Instead of following Francois's warnings to not follow in his dad's footsteps in Tampering in God's Domain™ - or words to that effect - Philippe now decides to go all out and finish the experiments his father started.

It makes sense, too, for Delambre senior did after all invent a fully functioning matter transmitter, not a thing to sneeze at even when it is not safe to use on organic matter. Amazon drones are nothing compared to it. Not that anyone involved with film would have noticed. Unfortunately, Philippe partners with the wrong guy. Alan Hinds (David Frankham) turns out not only to be that most horrible of things, British(!), but also a gangster out to steal the Delambre family invention.

Of course, when Philippe realizes all is not well with his supposed friend and partner, he soon ends up in his own matter transmitter, sharing the space with a fly the rather nasty Alan deposits there. A fly person rampage ensues, and it falls on the shoulders of Francois and a Inspector Beecham (John Sutton) to save the young man-fly.

Where other reviewers seem to see Return of the Fly as some kind of insult to the original movie (I can't help but ask myself if they've seen a different original movie than I have, for the first Fly isn’t exactly a deep work of art either), to me Edward Bernds's movie is a fine example of how to use a miniscule budget well, if not ambitiously.

The plot is of course very silly, but then, show me a SF/horror movie of this era – or really any era - where that's not a given. The screenplay does turn the silliness of the proceedings into a well-paced and tight little film of the kind that knows what you can do on a limited scope and how to do it well. From time to time, it even manages to suggest a bit more complexity to its characters than generally typical of its time and place, and adds some mildly macabre flourishes to spice things up, like making "Alan"'s criminal middle man a mortician (cue fun and games with a coffin and a sheeted body, because there’s nothing horror movies love to play around with than death). It's not much, but it does provide the film with character and suggests a degree of imagination beyond the obvious “oh hey, let’s make a Fly sequel”.

I'm also quite happy with every film from the 50s that does neither feature a square-jawed hero (here, we get Vincent Price and a rather sober cop instead), nor a monotonous off-screen narrator, nor the traditional icky romance. There is a bit of the latter here, though the romance isn't icky, and it's not used as filler to additionally frighten the audience with horrifying ideas about men and women.

As a further attraction, there's Vincent Price in one of his always appreciated good guy outings, a situation Price always seemed to relish quite a bit, with Return of the Fly no exception. Though really, Price made the impression of relishing whatever he did in most of his films, far from the bored kind of performances you’d get out of – say – Christopher Lee more often than not.

Here, Price is in fact the film's true hero, and Price admirer that I am, it would need a film to be much less competent and entertaining than Return of the Fly is to turn me off.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Three Films Make A Post: Don't scare to sit, Don't scream to see, Don't shock if it's.....fierce!

(The) Mark of Cain (1986): This Canadian good twin/batshit twin (Robin Ward) thriller is a pretty neat little low budget thing, directed roughly yet imaginatively by Bruce Pittman whose career mostly took place in the realm of undistinguished TV work. The script is pretty okay, the setting is tight and claustrophobic, and the film's very well worth a watch if you don't expect anything earth-shaking, or crazy, or surprising.

Trance (2013): How much one enjoys Danny Boyle's neo noir Trance will absolutely depend on one's willingness to suspend disbelief when confronted with a film of perfectly convincing style and an acting ensemble (particularly Rosario Dawson, Vincent Cassel and James McAvoy) much better than the over-constructed series of events in the script deserves or needs; really, not since the heights of the giallo have I seen a thriller with more dubious ideas about psychology, hypnotism, and plain logic. Which isn't to say that I hated the film, or even really disliked it. Boyle pastes over the film's problems with such verve I found myself even thinking it to be rather more clever than it actually is when the third act began, a thought I was cured of when what seemed a rather cute deconstruction of the femme fatale archetype in the final, final twist turned out to be just another manipulative movie woman who doesn't care over how many dead bodies she has to step to get what she wants (though what she wants is not money, for a change).

Opstandelsen (2010): Casper Haugegaard's Danish (fast) zombie short (about 49 minutes) movie is a particularly fine example of wonderfully effective horror filmmaking of the kind you can do on a budget if you know what you’re doing. Haugegaard clearly does, so we end up with a low budget zombie movie that hits a lot of expected beats yet does it so competently it seems to be absolutely beside the point to complain you've seen it all before; because you haven't seen it all before quite like this. The film's script is particularly fine, giving the actors exactly the amount of material to work with necessary, without trying to do too much itself, nor leaving the actors out in the rain. Haugegaard even handles the whole "zombies as metaphor" thing well, treating the zombie apocalypse as just another opportunity for members of a highly dysfunctional family to keep eating away at one another even after they are dead.

The result is a bleak, well-paced, effectively gory short film that doesn’t overstay its welcome for one second.


Sunday, January 26, 2014

Gorgo (1961)

Salvage divers and professional assholes Joe Ryan (Bill Travers) and Sam Slade (William Sylvester) stumble upon a very large and dangerous giant reptile probably woken up by a volcanic eruption off the coast of an Irish island.

Initially, the boys were going to grab themselves a treasure buried under the sea there but they decide that catching and stealing a member of a giant unknown species of reptiles is much better business; particularly since it always seem to be others who pay with their lives for the mistakes these two make. Despite a small Irish boy knowing better (Vincent Winter), Joe and Sam manage to catch the animal and rent it out to a circus in London. As it usually goes, nobody involved is actually prepared to secure the dangerous monster they are trying to sell to the public – and the Better Business Bureau is asleep at the wheel – so the animal, now dubbed Gorgo, manages various near breakouts.

Gorgo will be the least of London’s problems, though, for it turns out that it is only the junior version of Gorgo, and its quite a bit more gigantic Ma or Pa does go out of its way to get its baby back, however many famous landmarks may have to be crushed on her or his way.

Gorgo is the final film directed by Eugene Lourie, before he returned to exclusively working as art director and production designer. His handful of films showed Lourie to be a director who really knew his way around giant monsters, resulting in films with generally stronger scripts than most other American or British films of the genre had to offer, as well as with more of a visible personal handwriting.

Despite using the old “giant monster as a circus attraction” bit, Gorgo fits nicely into the cycle of Lourie monster movies. Where, after all, can you find a giant monster movie whose protagonists are quite as unpleasant as Joe and Sam are, with a supporting cast of arrogant military, ineffectual scientists, a greedy Irish harbour master and so on and so forth, with only the usual annoying stupid little boy as the voice of moral and reason (the latter when he’s not running towards giant monsters)? Why, it is as if the film were saying something about the ineffectual and shabby nature of humanity when confronted with things that are metaphorically and literally much larger than themselves; Gorgo is somewhat Lovecraftian in this regard. Of course, a slightly less cosmically horrific worldview tries to assert itself at the end, for there is some child-rescue-based redemption coming for Joe and Sam. One can’t help but ask oneself, though, if the inevitable mob of angry people they’re bound to meet after the end of the movie will care much about our protagonists’ personal redemption.

Other attractions here are Lourie’s decision (not for the first time in his small but valuable giant monster movie making career) to emphasize the human loss like hardly anyone else making these films after the first Godzilla and before Shusuke Kaneko’s Gamera trilogy did: people are crushed by crumbling buildings, trampled by Gorgo senior, jump desperately out of windows. Lourie was clearly interested in making Gorgo as threatening as possible, with the film’s final scenes of destruction, mostly bathed in red flames, effectively driving the monster home as a natural power humanity has no control of whatsoever, despite a monster suit quite below the Japanese standards as well as the need to use a lot of library and repeat footage during the final half hour of destruction.

Lourie again shows himself as a visual inventive and creative director here, unlike a lot of his low budget colleagues at the time putting visible thought into the staging of scenes, as well as into providing the things the audience was coming to see (giant monsters crushing things) with a degree of thematic resonance. I also applaud the absence of the usual horrible romance, even though I’m not at all happy with the fact that an absence of “romance” in Gorgo’s case also means the complete absence of women from the film outside of the (effective) mass panic scenes. Oh for times when films are allowed to do as much with women as they do with men!

As a whole, though, I find Gorgo nearly as satisfying, and just as interesting as Lourie’s few other directorial efforts, which makes it as fine as Western giant monster movies get.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

In short: The Cat Creature (1973)

A thief (Keye Luke) breaking into the sanctum sanctorum of a recently deceased collector of antiques and occult stuff steals a curious amulet carrying the head of Bast from the neck of a mummy. Little does he know that this awakens a rather grumpy priest with the ability to turn into a murderous little kitten who then proceeds to kill everyone who even comes near the amulet.

Curiously, the priest's activities concentrate around the occult shop of Hester Black (Gale Sondergaard), despite Hester not having bought the amulet off the thief when he offered it. At first the cat-shaped priest only kills Hester's shop assistant, but soon it - and various cat-shaped phenomena - seem to threaten Hester, her new shop assistant Rena Carter (Meredith Baxter), and everyone around them, too.

The police in form of Lt. Marco (Stuart Whitman) is on the ball, and even clever enough to call in Professor of archaeology Roger Edmonds (David Hedison) for academic help, but except for Rena and Roger falling for each other, there's really not much happening with these two until a lot more people have died.

The Cat Creature is one of the lesser movies Curtis Harrington directed during his creative TV movie making phase, with a script that is certainly one of Robert Bloch's weaker efforts too, even though Bloch returns to Egyptian pseudo-mythology of a type he used in some of his best pulp stories a few decades earlier (though, alas, there's no Cthulhu Mythos connection in this particular case).

The film's mythology and the nature of its supernatural threat are some of its strengths, actually, with some fun not-actually-Egyptian made up mythology and a pretty cool monster conception. The problem lies in the execution, particularly in the slowness of the film's middle part where Roger and Marco are "investigating", which is to say, do little beyond arriving too late when somebody has been killed off, and Roger and Rena have a romance that needs to be a core part of the film but never feels like it at all.

Harrington for his part rides some of his hobby horses, so there are the expected appearances of Old Hollywood actors (with Sondergaard's performance as the clear high point), and the children of Old Hollywood actors, as well as many an atmospheric scene that attempts (and often succeeds) to use techniques of Universal horror and Val Lewton productions in the context of 70s TV. The latter approach gives the film some quite effective scenes, but again mostly gets lost in the film's middle part where one can't help but get the impression nobody involved really knew what he actually wanted to do with the film.

Where the moody scenes of cat-shadows are sublime when they do happen, Harrington also delivers something ridiculous. The scenes of what science terms catnosis are incredibly ill-advised, pre-dating a particularly ridiculous scenes from Harrington's later Devil Dog in all the wrong ways. For most of the running time, it's also quite impossible to see the rather adorable black cat at the film's centre as threatening at all, all the loud yowling on the soundtrack notwithstanding. It's also an old truth that cat attack scenes aka cat wrestling never work, a rule that still holds true.

Given all these problems, The Cat Creature still provided me with enough fun for an unassuming TV movie, if not always the fun it was probably meant to provide me with.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

In short: Resolution (2012)

Warning: unbearable coyness ahead

Mike (Peter Cilella) has been emailed a video of the psychotic breakdown of his meth-addicted best friend Chris (Vinny Curran), who spends his life slowly, and very consciously, killing himself way out in the boons. Mike drives out there to make one last attempt to convince Chris to go into rehab.

When Chris declines, Mike tasers him and cuffs him as the starting point for a one-week cold turkey (because that sort of thing helps so well with drug addiction). But stranger and stranger things begin happening around the two.

Justin Benson's and Aaron Moorhead's Resolution is one of these movies putting a rather large problem in front of me, since really getting into its most interesting aspects will do more than just spoil a plot (and who cares about plot?), it will ruin the wonderful unpredictability of the story. While I’m not afraid of spoilers, that would be too much of a shame for me to take responsibility for concerning a film very much about stories. It's particularly irksome in this case because really everything that's great about the film (except perhaps the fine acting) is really bound up in the things I won't talk about.

So this is one of these place holder write-ups where I coyly tell you how great a film is, and that everyone interested in a film in the same vein as modern weird fiction (in the sense of say, the Vandermeers' The Weird anthology) should watch it, but won't ever come out with what exactly is so great about the film. On the other hand, I'm not writing about movies to ruin them, so this will have to do.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Here Comes the Devil (2012)

Original title: Ahi va el diablo

Adolfo (Alan Martinez) and Sara (Michele Garcia), the children of Sol (Laura Caro, whose performance will turn out to be the emotional heart of the film) and Felix (Francisco Barreiro), disappear on a notorious hill connected to a serial killing for half a day and a night when the parents become distracted by an opportunity to a bit of car seat sex.

At first, things seem well enough when the police find the children and bring them back unharmed, but it soon becomes clear to at least Sol (Felix is a bit slower in these things) that something must have happened while they were gone, something that results in both of the kids starting to act rather off. A psychologist and some physical evidence suggest some sort of traumatic sexual experience. Not surprisingly, Sol and Felix suspect a guy (David Arturo Cabezud) who had shown a rather unhealthy interest in Sara’s panties (freshly bloodied by the girl’s first period, which has no direct import on the plot, but does figure in a lot of thematic work concerning the loss of innocence and so on).

After the kids flip out when they see the man in an amateur detective version of a police line-up, their parents decide that’s all the evidence they need, and murder him in a brutal yet slightly improbable way. Which, the couple assumes, should put an end to things. Of course it doesn’t, not just because you can’t make trauma disappear by killing the person responsible for it, but because Sol and Felix might just have slaughtered an innocent man. In fact, what truly happened to Sara and Adolfo on the hill might have been something even worse than their parents suspected.

Sol relatively quickly realizes a part of the truth, yet suspecting an impossible truth doesn’t always mean one is able to do something about it.

As frequent readers might remember, I rather loved Adrián García Bogliano’s last film, Penumbra. Here Comes the Devil finds the director working in Mexico (with a wee bit of a US money injection, it seems) instead of Argentina, but most everything else I admired about Penumbra applies to the film at hand as well.

Particularly that Bogliano is one hell of a ultra low budget director, the type of director that knows how to make a film without fat, without scenes of feet-dragging and without detours into the realm of boredom. Unlike with a lot – though of course fortunately not all - indie horror directors, those of Bogliano’s films I’ve seen until now suggest someone with a highly focused approach to direction, where every scene is stringently composed to achieve a particular effect (be it emotional, mood-building, or otherwise), and the idea of just pointing and shooting seems like the demonstration of a lack of imagination or faith of a director in his own abilities it generally is.

Not that I believe keeping this focused is usually easy or even possible on the tight schedules and with the limited opportunities that come with miniscule budgets; yet it is also obvious that someone like Bogliano manages the feat in a way that makes it look easy.

Apart from this focus – or tightness, if you prefer - I particularly admire how Here Comes the Devil uses light and wide open spaces (Mexico really photographs well) to produce an increasingly oppressive mood. Sure, there’s also room for darkness and claustrophobia here – and particularly for the effect of stepping out of claustrophobic feeling open spaces into just as claustrophobic closed ones and vice versa – yet what I remember most about the film is how it manages to make beautiful open spaces feel wrong. And as if that weren’t enough for me to get excited about, Here Comes the Devil also features moments of well-placed sleaze, hand-made surrealism, and the sort of mythology that echoes Arthur Machen more than it does the exorcism horror the title suggests.

Additionally, Bogliano packs in as many hidden and obvious visual sexual metaphors as humanly possible without resulting in a film that feels overloaded (just look at that damn cave, for example). Surely, if I ever saw a horror movie that very consciously wants you to interpret it in various psychosexual ways, this is it.

What Here Comes the Devil also happens to be is as excellent a horror film as I’ve seen, which only goes to show that, despite all the bitching and moaning about contemporary horror – indie or mainstream – I do (just wait until I encounter You’re Next), a lot of great genre films are still made, and not just by Bogliano.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

In short: Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982)

When a patient of emergency room doctor Daniel Challis (Tom Atkins being Tom Atkins, which is to say, awesome) is murdered by a man in a suit in an improbable, head-crushing manner, and said man then proceeds to burn himself to death in his car, Challis can't help but ask himself questions about the murdered man. What horrible things was he raving about? Why was he grabbing a Halloween mask made by Silver Shamrock, whose hellish TV and radio jingles running up to the great day are enough to drive even the mild-mannered rude?

Soon enough, he teams up with the dead man's daughter, the excellently named Ellie Grimbridge (Stacey Nelkin) to investigate Silver Shamrock's very own company town. Does Silver Shamrock's boss Conal Cochran (Dan O'Herlihy) have some sort of horrible plan?

It must have seemed like a good idea at the time to follow up on the genre-building Halloween and the ultra-generic Halloween 2 with a movie that has nothing whatsoever to do with Michael Myers; too bad nobody not involved in the production seemed to agree with the decision. People, after all, do not want sequels to be any different from what came before. With the hindsight of a quintillion later Myers outings, I by now think Halloween III was absolutely the right idea, only calling it a sequel wasn’t all that commercially viable an idea.

However, as someone who really doesn't care about continuity and the rules of sequels, I can enjoy the film for what it is, namely, one of the most well-made examples of batshit insanity I have ever encountered coming from the US. Really, this is a film about a warlock who uses modern technology (particularly in form of androids in nice suits), the horrors of mass communication (oh, that jingle!), and magico-technical Halloween masks which make your head turn into an insect- and snake-ridden mess and shoots lasers, to create a mass sacrifice to the olden gods as represented by a Stonehenge menhir he has stolen! Spoilers, come to think of it. Even better, director Tommy Lee Wallace tells this tale about a plan that sounds better fit for a children's movie in a surprisingly gory manner, while never deigning to wink at its audience through all the ever increasing silliness.

In fact, if you can - and you should - get over the "oh no, no Michael Myers" blues, you might even find the film just as creepy as it is strange, with many a scene (as shot by the brilliant Dean Cundey) feeling as if it came directly out of the nightmares of somebody who has read too many (or is that just enough?) EC horror comics, or just hasn't forgotten some of his childhood nightmares.

That Cochran's plan doesn't really make logical sense (and its execution seems doubtful as well) is rather a feature than a bug in this regard, enhancing Halloween III's weird nightmare qualities because there's no way to anticipate what moment of ickiness or strangeness (or of icky strangeness) the film will come up with next.

Halloween III is glorious in its focus on the bizarre, and beautiful in all the right ways.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

SyFy vs. The Mynd: Phantom Force (2004)

Freshly introduced into Phantom Force (I’m sorry), the crap version of the BPRD, improbable special forces badass with post-cog abilities Mark Dupree (Richard Grieco, which makes me even more sorry, for myself) is to lead a bunch of idiots into his first assignment – yeah, let the paranormal rookie take command. I suspect Dupree’s boss (Nigel Bennett just wants to see if Dupree is a were-Rourke like his face suggests).

A US submarine has picked up an artifact called the Hades Stone™, and is now doing the whole ghost ship bit, destroying ships whenever it meets them while somehow hiding away in a different dimension. Or something. The Stone’s main power is to open a portal to hell for a bunch of – appropriately for our heroes – lame demon warriors who just happen to look like wrestlers, but we’ll only get to see them later on.

Before the demon warriors arrive for a scene or two, the script puts on a bunch of scenes of non-characters wandering through the ghost submarine they entered thanks to some dimensional portal technology, getting killed by budget conscious invisible powers, and getting at each others’ throats because that’s what you do in a movie, right, even when everyone involved is supposed to be a professional in this kind of situation?

Now, I have a lot of patience with SyFy movies but Phantom Force really sets out to test it quite heavily. It’s not so much that this is much dumber or even more implausible than the SyFy movies I’m willing to tolerate – because it isn’t – but the execution often seems unnecessarily shoddy, turning what should be a fun if silly pulp yarn into something I really had to try very hard to feel a little entertained by. It doesn’t help the film’s case how weak its first half hour is, with little of interest happening in particularly uninteresting ways, so that even the patient viewer will be quite willing to be annoyed once the film’s comparatively better parts finally start.

It’s also less than ideal how little effort director Christian McIntire (him of the quite a bit more watchable Lost Voyage) seems to be putting in. I’m usually willing and able to overlook things like small, badly lit sets, made even more cramped by dubious blocking decisions but McIntire’s whole directorial shtick seems to be to go out of its way to rub the audience’s nose into how bad and small the sets look. In the case of the submarine scenes, you could of course argue it’s meant to provide a feeling of claustrophobia, but then the rest of the film is blocked just as problematically. I suspect McIntire could even shoot a soccer field and make it look cramped, small, and utterly artificial in bad way.

And let’s not even talk about the disinterested staging of the action apart from one of the death scenes. How much of this is McIntire being incompetent, and how much of it has to do with supposed problems between the director and the (at the time still) SciFi Channel that resulted in the director “fighting to get his name removed from the film”, I don’t know. I do know that whoever was behind the camera in any given scene or edited this together afterwards does not give the impression to have given a crap about the resulting film.

On the acting side, we have competent and routine character actors Nigel Bennett and Jim Fyfe clashing painfully with whatever it is Richard Grieco, Tangi Miller and Jenna Gering are supposed to be doing on screen. Particular Grieco’s tendency to stick his bored mug into the camera as a stand-in for doing any acting whatsoever gets old very quickly.

Which, come to think of it, fits the film he is in quite well.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Things I Liked About Zack Snyder's Man of Steel (2013)

  • The film does a not unsuccessful job at working on the great problem with Superman as a hero, namely that actual heroism needs the hero to do heroic things despite of his flaws and fears and failings; being a hero is hard. Usually, Superman is just too perfect for that, and you need to invent a magical element to get him to even break a sweat. Snyder's way here is a bit more organic and human, while still keeping the demigod-like status of the character as much as possible without going the Miracleman route.
  • On the other hand, the film doesn't make the mistake of turning the character all grim and gritty. Despite a higher body count (not caused by our hero), this guy is not a killer at heart, nor is there anything cynical about him, which even a declared Superman-sceptic like me sees as important for getting the character right.
  • It's also pretty important to the way the film sees Superman's heroism that it spends time with non-superpowered people doing their parts in saving the world, or "just" saving each other. In fact, the film's most heroic deed in a human understanding of the word falls to Laurence Fishburne's Perry White, doing something that hasn't anything at all to do with saving the world but a lot with all the good parts of being human.
  • Despite giving her still way too little to do, Snyder does deliver one of the better Lois Lanes. Why, you can even believe she's a competent reporter and a human being beyond being a professional love interest. It does help that Amy Adams is pretty awesome.
  • When it comes to the carnage, Snyder is often very good at giving the impression of the sheer physical impact of the Kryptonians on Earth, taking his cues on how to show the destruction of the film's final half hour from giant monster movies more than other superhero films, it seems to me.
  • While the film's plotting is a bit hit and miss (Pa Kent and the dog come to mind with the misses, for example), it does hang well together philosophically with a connection between characters and theme that feels organic instead of forced or random. Of course, this lacks the sheer ambition, confusion and ambiguity of Christopher Nolan's final Batman film but these things would probably not be Superman-like anyhow.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Ninja: Shadow of a Tear (2013)

After the events of Ninja Casey (Scott “Best Western Martial Arts Actor” Adkins) and Namiko (Mika Hijii) have gotten married and are continuing Namiko’s father’s ninjitsu dojo. Now, Namiko is pregnant, and we all know what that spells for women in martial arts movies: death. Consequently, one night while Casey is out indulging Namiko’s pregnant wishes for chocolate and seaweed, someone murders her.

Casey assumes it was an act of vengeance for a little lesson he taught a couple of robbers, and does some murdering of his own. Vengeance leaves Casey with anger management problems and no proper direction to his life, so he takes the invitation of his senpai Nakabara (Kane Kosugi, not as horrible as usual) to visit his dojo in Thailand to get a grip on himself again.

However, it soon turns out that Namiko’s murder had rather more complicated reasons, and that Goro (Shun Sugata), the son of a former enemy of her father, is the man truly responsible, and still rather vengeful too. Casey decides perhaps a little more vengeance will make him feel better about himself, so he travels to Myanmar, where Goro has built quite a career as a jungle-based drug lord, to finish matters between them.

With Shadow of a Tear, director Isaac Florentine and actor/martial artist Scott Adkins continue their mission to make martial arts and action movies in a more classical style, which turn out to be as good as anything you will find in the genre. Unlike the first Ninja, this isn’t quite as much a love letter to even the cheesiest and silliest of Western made ninja films (though it shares the first film’s basic respect for Japanese culture as well as the highly excellent concept of casting actors from the correct parts of Asia to play the role of characters from said regions), but more interested in being a classic martial arts revenge movie. Which only is a bad thing to the degree the film can’t do anything better than kill Mika Hijii’s character – the only woman with an actual role in the film – off early on to motivate its male protagonist. Not exactly a plot device I love, though it would on the other hand have been quite difficult to find any other reason to get Casey back into the killing habit.

At least, and this is something Florentine always does well beside his obvious virtues as an action director, the handful of scenes between Adkins and Hijii do sell them very well as a loving couple, and Hijii as a person, which is a good way to keep Adkins sympathetic once he gets down to violent business. Florentine is one of the handful of directors in contemporary action cinema who actually seems to understand that the moments when people aren’t fighting are important too, and who is able to use these moments to build a modicum of emotional momentum. A modicum of emotional momentum of course being all a film needs that expresses most of its emotional content through violent action.

By now, it seems hardly necessary to talk about Florentine’s – damn correct – idea of how to film a martial arts fight in a way that shows off the performers and keeps an audience excited as well as oriented about what is going on, nor to praise his ability to go back to this older, non-shaky, style of action filmmaking without eschewing what modern technology can provide, namely giving the camera a physical presence during the fights which makes them all the more dynamic. Unlike some other Florentine admirers I’m not using the word “realistic” to describe the fight scenes, because of course, these fights are as beautifully (and brutally) choreographed as only screen fights can be. Realism, on the other hand, would be rather less attractive (and would probably not contain performers on the level of Adkins or Tim Man), and would look nothing at all like the glorious one-take fight in a dojo relatively early on in the movie, or like the explody ninja action in the film’s pre-finale.

All of Ninja: Shadow of a Tear’s beautiful carnage is presented with great flair for good location work (most of the film being shot in Thailand), actually intelligent use of colour filters (which is to say, a use that knows where and when not to use them too), and the enthusiasm of true believers in the martial arts film as an art form that can and does express a lot of things through its violence. I, for one, am certainly much too distracted by excitement to disagree with this enthusiasm.

Thursday, January 16, 2014


V/H/S/2 (2013): I was less than enthusiastic about the first part of this horror anthology but the second beats the first one easily and with style, forgoing the attempts to look as fugly as possible for more reasonable POV techniques, and doing much better work telling its very simple genre stories. Then there's the film's absolute highlight, Gareth Evans's (of The Raid fame) and Timo Tjahjanto's (of The Mo Brothers fame) segment "Safe Haven", which goes from mildly creepy, to heavily creepy, to insane what-the-fuckery during the course of half an hour or so, and left me actually slightly breathless. Saying it alone is worth the price of admission is putting it mildly.

Ambushed aka Hard Rush (2013): One thing to keep in mind when making a movie in a genre as rich as the gangster film is that you really need to bring something original or something of your own to the table when making one, because there will already be dozens of movies in existence who did the standards better than you did. Giorgio Serafini's Ambushed really doesn't, and instead tries its luck at squeezing as many worn out tropes into the movie as possible, without achieving any other effect than that of disjointedness and an inability to focus on any one theme or character. Instead, the film is a series of barely explored clichés that is made even less consistent by being the kind of Anchor Bay production that has to feature larger than a cameo but smaller than a substantial role parts for Dolph Lundgren, professional racist Vinnie Jones, and Randy Coutoure (another in a long line of acting ex-wrestlers who can't act for shit), instead of casting actors actually fit for their roles and available for enough shooting days to actually be effective as parts of a movie.

Needless to say, Ambushed is not a movie that stays in mind.

Kiss the Abyss (2010): I'm often rather down on "indie horror" as a genre but Ken Winkler's film avoids most of the pitfalls of what has become a style. So the narrative is rather concentrated without needless digressions, the acting - particularly by leads Nicole Moore and Scott Wilson - solid, and the film is clearly made with an idea of what can be achieved under the circumstances of its production and what can't. The story - boy loses girl to death, boy and rich father go to sorcerer for help, girl returns but develops socially unacceptable habits - isn't exactly original but told with conviction and an eye for the Weird, resulting in a film that makes much out of little in the best possible way.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

The Possession of Joel Delaney (1972)

Upper class divorcee Norah Benson's (Shirley MacLaine) well-protected life takes a turn for the difficult when her brother Joel Delaney (Perry King) is taken into custody for an attempted murder. Because he was clearly not himself when he did what he did, and because he's rich and white and has a connected sister, he soon gets released into Norah's care. However, Norah soon realizes that there's a lot she doesn't know about her brother's normal life in Spanish Harlem, and that something is very, very wrong with him.

In fact, he might be responsible for some murders; at the very least, he is friends with the man who most probably committed them. Or, he might even be possessed by the spirit of that man. Norah, who loves her brother deeply (perhaps quite a bit too much, even) does her best to help Joel with his troubles, even when that means having to let go of some of her class-based perceptions of life, and teaming up with the kind of poor brown people who usually clean her place. But even that might just not be enough.

Waris Hussein's film about possession or mental illness (depending on how you look at it and your ability to ignore the film’s ending) does quite a few things right: there's its slightly sarcastic view on American class and race politics, probably helped by the director being British and therefore having an outsider's view on the US specifics of the question; there is the film's often documentarian shooting style that doesn't feel the need to explain things it can just show, and knows how to show things so it doesn't have to explain them; there's Shirley MacLaine's nuanced performance of a character who would very easily have turned out atrociously unsympathetic in lesser hands but feels human in hers; and there's the film's low key and ambiguous concept of the supernatural, if it is even about anything supernatural at all.

The Possession of Joel Delaney's problem lies with the follow-through. While it is much better at (in this case) showing the poor Puerto Rican community of New York as people with actual lives and identities as human beings than films of its time and place usually are, it still does view them very much as The Other, sharing the view point of MacLaine's character who always seems to be standing on the verge of breaking through her own classist assumptions, but then never quite does - though a friendly interpretation could be that the film's ending turns out as it does because she doesn't quite manage the needed change, and not just because the script didn't have any better ideas.

Obviously, I found the film's ending particularly weak, with Perry King transforming into the absolute cliché of a Hispanic thug (and demonstrating that King's just not good enough an actor to pull that stunt off convincingly, though there’s probably only a handful actors in his age bracket and age who could have, so I can’t be too hard on him), and the film petering out without even attempting to resolve any of the thematic questions it has brought up. The very horror movie styled final kicker that's bound to destroy all ambiguity doesn't help in this regard at all. It's quite disappointing, really, for what came before contains so many interesting aspects (the near-incestuous relationship between MacLaine's and King's character, the question of how one can transcend one's class, not to speak of the question of how one should react to the mental - or spiritual - illness of a loved one) deserved more than the not very successful thriller ending they got.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

In short: Kiss of the Damned (2012)

Warning: this little piece is rather cranky

As much as I respect director Xan Cassavetes's obvious admiration for European horror cinema of the 70s (particular that of Jean Rollin), and approve of her decision to use elements of the style without going all out imitative retro with it, I can't help but notice, and be annoyed by how fucking bourgeois her film's conception of well, everything, is.

Her vampires are boring upper-class twats, even rebellious evil vampire Roxane Mesquida's type of rebellion is deeply bourgeois in its utter pointlessness, and really nothing you haven't seen from any rich daughter, just in this case with more dead bodies after the fucking, and blood instead of cocaine. Let me put it this way: why should I care about these people, their oh so poor broken vampire hearts, their unimaginative conception of evil or of happiness, their improbably conservative idea of hedonism and their sad staring out of their rich homes towards peaceful fucking lakes while classical piano plays?

The film surely has no answers to that question. In fact, I don't think it can even imagine anyone asking that question of it, seeing as it is the sort of film where the only lower class people are a faithful maid who gets rid of the evil vampire sister after a deus ex machina has already done most of the work, and various nameless victims. And no, the film unfortunately isn't doing some rude satire where he equates being rich with being monsters; it's just too concerned with posing its pretty people in pretty shots with a bit of decorative blood and a few tears to bother with any of that stuff.

I'd still be able to get something out of the film if Cassavetes style would result in a film as hypnotic or moody as it is pretty, but Kiss of the Damned never finds the point, that dream-like or nightmarish mood of many European horror films of the 70s that could help one ignore its politics, or its lack of dramatic heft, or its lack of plot, all things that I have seen become unimportant in other films.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Cult (2013)

Original title: Kurato

Idols Yu Abiru, Mayuko Iwasa and Mari Iriki (all three playing themselves as mostly sympathetic young women) are hired for a very special job - taking a plunge into the supernatural and entering a supposedly haunted house where a teenage girl and her mother are terrorized by something. Because this is going to be a responsible TV project, the lone director/camerawoman/who-knows-what-else also provides a friendly exorcist who will protect the idols and exorcise the house to the best of his abilities. Alas, things are much more dire than expected, and what looked like an easy job for the exorcist turns out to be rather more complex and problematic.

Fortunately, this isn't Paranormal Activity, and a failed exorcism doesn't result in the exorcist legging it out of the movie but calling his master for help. Yet even he might not be strong enough to get rid of the horrible force that now becomes rather possessive of everyone involved.

Director Koji Shiraishi has quite a bit of experience with POV horror movies; he even has quite a bit of experience with idol POV horror (yes, that's still a sub-genre of its own). Better and more importantly, Shiraishi also know how to take a been there done that set-up like that of Cult, and add copious amounts of the grotesque and the pretty fucking weird to it.

At first, Cult seems a very typical example of its genre, but things escalate quickly, so that about twenty minutes in, we already get a scene of a teenage girl eating her dog. Obviously, things only get more peculiar from there. In fact, right at the point where I thought I knew where this was going, the film made a sudden turn into the realm of the manga-esque when a very tsundere gentleman calling himself Neo (yes, after Matrix) appears to solve the situation after the two religious exorcists have been killed off. Suddenly, the film makes a detour into black humour, idol in-jokes, anime hair, weird posing, demon bombs, a teleporting idol ghost, various psychic powers and a cult trying to help a very Great Old One-like god cross over into our world, until the film just stops in an incredibly brazen non-ending. And all that on a shoe-string budget that can hardly afford more than two streets and two interior sets!

While it is obviously a bit of an insane mess, Shiraishi's film has the kind of energy that makes it impossible for me to not enjoy it, as well as the kind of all-pervading weirdness the director really seems to enjoy using whenever he can get away with it. After all, if you're hired to shoot a cheap horror film, and don't have the time or space to give it depth, you can still end up making something enjoyable to watch by the sheer power of strange flourishes you stole from various manga and anime shows and some of your own earlier films. This won't work for everyone, but Shiraishi had me convinced right quick.

I also admire the director for how little he seems to care that whoever is responsible for the effects has neither the time nor the ability to make them even the least bit convincing. Surely, having a dog's head walking around on a bunch of tentacles, tentacles possessing idols, and a giant face with tentacle-y eyes coming out of a ceiling are things worth so much as ideas that their technical execution isn't too important! I, at least, find it hard to criticize technical aspects of effects so clearly made to please me and all other right-thinking gentlepersons.

Compared with the often very interesting subtext or the actual creepiness of some of Shiraishi's better films, Cult's cartoon world isn't quite as interesting, but to me the spirit of just madly fucking around with strange stuff the film embodies so enthusiastically is something nearly as worthwhile.

Saturday, January 11, 2014


Frankenstein '80 (1972): Cinematographer Mario Mancini's only film as a director should be easy to love for an old hand in Italian genre movies like me. Its combination of awkward direction, awkward early 70s fashion, an awkwardly stupid plot full of awkward sleaze, and a surprisingly awesome soundtrack is the sort of thing love affairs are made of. Unfortunately, for some inexplicable reason the film's script decides to put its emphasis on the investigative aspect of the story, with a police investigation of the film's murders and that of a journalist with a personal interest in what's going on running parallel to one another and giving the film many possibilities to repeat exposition of the same boring facts twice with a different set of actors. The film doesn't improve on the problem by telling the audience most of what it needs to know early on, which results in a film full of dull scenes in which the characters have to catch up to the audience. Needless to say, this does not make for a very exciting experience.

Captain Sindbad (1963): Byron Haskin's US/German co-production is an excellent reminder of the excellence of the Schneer/Harryhausen mythological by virtue of not having any of those films' virtues. It's not just the markedly worse special effects - though they certainly don't help - but really that the film gets everything about the power of imagination wrong, being childish where it should be childlike, stupid where it should be simple, and lacking all the conviction and joy that should run through them. Turns out making a film of childlike wonder is harder than it looks.

The Fall (TV-Show, 2013): The other thing apart from costume drama and Doctor Who British TV is really good at are various more or less realist modes of crime shows that leave productions from most other countries in the world (except for Scandinavia, sometimes) in the dust with the care and intelligence put into them. This Gillian Anderson starring show is a case in point. It moves on the very dark and cold spectrum, the sort of thing that leaves house favourite Luther looking like a light comedy. I find the show's clinical, non-judgemental way to look at victim, perpetrator and cop alike particularly remarkable, with nary a scene that doesn't seem utterly concentrated on showing us characters’ mental states without ever feeling the need to explain them to us. The thinking - about ethic, morals, and everything else is the job of the audience here.

Friday, January 10, 2014

On ExB: The Ghoul (1975)

Many of the people working in front of or behind the camera of Hammer Studios did have rather a hard time arriving in the 70s, with the well-known dire consequences for Hammer, and possibly British horror of the time as a whole.

From time to time, though, Hammer alumni did some rather interesting things by letting their old-fashioned style collide with some new ideas. Case in point is The Ghoul, a film that unites Freddie Francis, Anthony Hinds and the great Peter Cushing in a much more worthwhile way than I expected. Read more about it in my newest column at Exploder Button!

Thursday, January 9, 2014

SyFy vs. The Mynd: Grave Halloween (2013)

Maiko (Kaitlyn Leeb, taking part in the long tradition in American casting direction not knowing the difference between Japan and China) has come to Japan to lay her Japanese birth mother she hasn't seen since she was four to rest. That's easier said than done, because Maiko's mother committed suicide somewhere in Aokigahara Forest aka Suicide Forest, with her body not found. Thoughtful mother has at least provided Maiko with personal items needed for a ceremony to be held at her dead body on October 31st to hinder her spirit from becoming a yurei. So all Maiko has to do is to find her mother's dead body. Because this is a thing you shouldn't do alone, and a horror film of this type without people to kill off would be quite difficult to pull off, Maiko is accompanied by her friends Amber (Cassi Thomson) and Terry (Dejan Loyola) who are of course shooting a documentary about the whole she-bang.

There's also a last minute cameraman replacement for Maiko to romance and a trio of jerks around, so there's a lot of meat for the ghosts to disperse of. Things do start off rather well for Maiko and the meat, with a helpful Japanese gentleman (the rather inevitable Hiro Kanagawa) suddenly turning up to assist. Alas, the situation deteriorates quickly, and soon, forest rules are broken and ghosts get grumpy.

Steven R. Monroe is another of the handful of regular SyFy Original directors who make films for the channel as well as for the home video market, and whose SyFy films are generally - and rather counter-intuitively - better than their theoretically more personal non-TV work.

Grave Halloween is a pretty entertaining example of the "people stumble through woods; terrible things happen" type of horror movie. To get entertainment out of it, one of course needs to give the film some leeway, for British Columbia where this was shot and Japan look nothing alike, and - as is par for the course for SyFy films good and bad - originality lives elsewhere. What does live in the movie are a bunch of well-placed shock effects, a competent SyFy interpretation of Japanese ghost lore, and mostly sympathetic characters – apart from the jerks – who often act rather rationally. At least I did find myself thinking "you know what, that's actually a sensible idea, poor doomed character" more than once, which is more than I can say about many other movies.

I also thought that the film's version of Japanese culture and myth was surprisingly well done. While it's surely not authentic, it seems at the very least born of actual interest and probably even a bit of research, and lacks the "gosh, look at the exotic orient and its strange customs" vibe I rather expected going in. I unfairly expected, now that I think about it, because many of the last few years' SyFy films were actually trying to put a bit of effort into their view of cultures beyond the US. Perhaps this could be the start of a new mini-trend, and soon, we'll see SyFy interpretations of yokai, too? I'd love to see a karakasa-kozō SyFy movie, and really who in possession of a soul wouldn't?

All in all, Grave Halloween is rather typical of the good but not great kind of SyFy movie, the sort of film that makes for a fun enough time while you're watching it but lacks that little something that would turn it from an entertaining time into the sort of thing I'd ramble on about for double the length I just did.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Curse of the Faceless Man (1958)

A worker discovers a man turned to stone in the ruins of Pompeii. Unlike most stone people, the man we will later learn once was called Quintillus Aurelius (Bob Bryant), is at least still half alive, and tends to get rather grabby with other people's necks only to fall into deep stone(d) sleep again afterwards, which is just the kind of behaviour that makes a murder look like a car accident to the police in this particular movie.

Though he really can't prove anything untoward about the stone man, the director of Naples' Pompeii museum, Dr. Carlo Fiorello (Luis Van Rooten), is discomfited enough by the whole affair to call in the former fiancée of his daughter - also a doctor, and that in a 50s film! - Maria (Adele Mara), snarly-voiced American Dr. Paul Mallon (Richard Anderson). Mallon doesn't believe in walking stone men, but he'll perhaps change his tune in the future, for his new fiancée, the artist Tina Enright (Elaine Edwards), has a peculiar connection to the stone man. Before she even knew he existed, Tina had a dream about, and painted a picture of, Quintillus. Once she has learned he does exist, she feels strangely compelled towards the stone man, and it is pretty clear that he feels drawn towards her as well. Why, one could think Tina is the reincarnated love of his life!

For the lesser movie in a two-fer feature together with It! The Terror Beyond Space, which was of course also shot by Curse's director Edward L. Cahn, who made more films between 1955 and 1959 alone than many directors do in their whole careers, this isn't half bad. At the very least, Jerome Bixby's script's attempt to transplant elements of The Mummy into modern Naples and the site of the former Pompeii (both of course played by the usual places in California) is rather interesting and at times unexpected.

50s monster movies usually don't show quite as much interest for the backstory of their monsters as Curse does. The film's emphasis on its monster as a nearly tragic figure repeating the tragedy that cost him his life two millennia ago is also rather uncommon for its time. Sure, there's the Creature from the Black Lagoon, but otherwise, 50s movie monsters seldom got a foot in the door beyond being monstrous, something that always seemed like a bit of a shame to me.

In its actual execution, Curse isn't all that different from your run of the mill monster movie, though, for while Cahn did hit on a good film or two between the disinterested crap he often did, he really wasn't the man to delve deep into the possibilities the script offers, or really, to delve even very shallowly. What we get from him is a pacy, straightforward film that looks and feels alright, which probably is the best we can hope for under the circumstances of the production.

The film's biggest weak points are the usual ones: heroine Elaine Edwards couldn't act her way out of a paper bag (which is particularly problematic since it's her job to sell us on the reincarnation biz), "hero" Richard Anderson is bland when he isn't rude, while all the much more interesting and much better acted minor characters (like Felix Locher's rather wonderful Dr. Emanuel) never get the moment in the spotlight they deserve. The film is further weakened by a particularly egregious piece of off-screen narration (perhaps done by Morris Ankrum, perhaps not) that won't ever stop telling us the things we are able to see just fine without its help, as if someone involved in the production had problems understanding the difference between a movie and a radio play.

Still, I'll take a competently done 50s horror movie with a handful of underdeveloped good ideas and some rather painful flaws over a boring one any day, so while Curse of the Faceless Man isn't a film I'd recommend whole-heartedly, it is a film with a certain amount of interest.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

In short: Ticks (1993)

aka Infested

To say that Tony Randel's Ticks is probably the best film about a group of Troubled Teens™ (among them a Seth Green actually moving his facial muscles) bonding via the ways of survival while fighting pretty large, hallucinogenic ticks mutated by steroids used by marihuana farmers is selling the film short a bit, though it certainly is that. For beyond the gloriously silly basic idea, Randel's film also does a lot of things rather well in practice.

There is the fact that Randel manages to start his characters off as absolute clichés but for the most part then goes on to provide them with enough personality to put them a little above your usual horror movie victims, and takes care to never let any one of them become so annoying for you to actually want them to die; which is always good to heighten the stakes in a movie. Then there's how low the film's body count actually is, without the film ever feeling too harmless (and don't you worry, the black character dies and births a monster tick, because the film isn't that clever). It is, Ticks demonstrates again, not necessarily the number of victims that makes the fun in this sort of monster movie but rather the way the monstrous threat is presented.

Said monstrous threat is obviously one of the strong points of the film, seeing as it comes in form of slimy, skittering practical effects inspired by Alien's face-hugger and the true horrors of mother nature, which in their turn produce all kind of icky things, bodily fluids and some wonderfully gruesome and silly body part explosions. Tonally, it's all in good fun, demonstrating a sardonic sense of humour and a love of the grotesque that adds giggles (how appropriate to the film's back story) to the mild shudders and the highly entertaining carnage.

Plus, if you ever wanted to see Seth Green fight off a bunch of rude, over-large ticks with a burning broom, this is your film.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Night Claws (2013)

aka Apex Predator

Welcome to beautiful Mobile, Alabama. Mobile’s sheriff, Joe Kelly (Reb Brown), is having a tough time, because for some reason, a ten foot sasquatch has decided to make the woods around town its home, ripping people apart whenever it meets them.

Kelly’s not the only one interested in the murdering hairball. Government backed cryptozoologist Sarah Evans (Leilani Sarelle) comes to town to bag herself a sasquatch and disturb the romance between Kelly and his deputy Roberta (Sherrie Rose), and a crazy hunter (David Campbell) and his pair of goons wander through the woods. Then there’s a small group of people (among them Ted Prior) wandering through these very same woods on a survival training trip. Things will get very complicated and wood-wander-y before they get better for Mobile.

The advent of fully digital filmmaking has invited some of the elder statesmen of cheaply shot local productions back into the business of making things most people would barely interpret as movies, and putting the local colour where their younger peers only want the colour yellow. Among these happy few is house favourite David A. Prior, him of Sledgehammer and Action International films. Looking at the cast of Night Claws, Prior still has a degree of clout, so instead of the usual young people who can’t act you generally find in this sort of film, it features a lot of low budget veterans who sort of can. Unusually, these middle-aged and older veterans don’t just pop up in cameo appearances (that’s left for - I kid you not - Frank Stallone), but as the film’s actual leads, giving the proceedings slightly more dignity. And while the Reb Browns and David Campbells of this world won’t be my choice for Shakespeare, they do know how to look grumpy, deliver awkward dialogue lines with a degree of verve (and perhaps a little wink from time to time), and get by on some basic charisma.

Speaking of awkwardness, this is very much a typical David A. Prior film in its approach, which is to say, always entertaining, sometimes clever, and often just ever so slightly off. Even though nothing at all of import for plot and characters happens in a film’s middle part, as it does/doesn’t for Night Claws, Prior’s detours are generally fun to watch in that classic parallel dimension cinema way I love so dearly, where middle-aged romances still work like the ones in kindergarten did, plot twists seem to have been made up on the spot without even the tiniest thought for their sense in context of anything that came before them, and so on, and so forth.

In fact, and obviously, the whole of Night Claws carries that parallel dimension feel, presented with a bit more charm and self-consciousness than usual in this sort of affair, perhaps. The film’s final third, when the twists and turns of what we may as well call a plot become particularly random and weird (you didn’t think you’d get a Prior movie without any kind of conspiracy thriller elements, right?), is particularly lovely in that regard, with never a dull second between Prior chewing scenery, Brown being Brown, things that must surely be meant as jokes (but one can’t be sure) and Prior seemingly just putting up any old nonsense that comes to mind at the moment, as long as it’s fun. Which just made me incredibly happy while watching Night Claws.

As an added bonus – as if this were needed! -  the delighted audience (what do you mean, a 2.2 user rating average on the IMDB?) gets a smidgen of dumb gore, and a bit of shameless dubious monster costume action from a film that is as generous with its particular brand of thrills as its budget allows. In exchange, I offer up my honest enthusiasm for whatever the thing I just watched is.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

In short: The Ripper (1985)

Mild-mannered college professor Richard Harwell (Tom Schreier) has just started his new, somewhat experimental (oh, 1985) class about "Famous Crimes in the Movies" when his pleasant life gets a bit more complicated. Richard discovers a mysterious (read: tacky) ring in an antiques store, and can't seem to be able to help himself but just has to buy and wear it, however much fun his dancing instructor girlfriend makes of it.

His new precious(sssss) has somewhat disturbing effects on Richard: he can't seem to sleep properly, when he sleeps he has nightmares in which he murders women and plays with their guts, and - probably most troubling - he has blackouts. I'm sure there's no connection at all to the series of Ripper-style (the movie says, though they aren't all that much) murders hitting the town, and the curious fact that Richard's new ring once belonged to Jack the Ripper himself?

Ah, the wonders of shot-on-video movies and the brains who can take watching them! Christopher Lewis's The Ripper is one of the entertaining examples of that particular style of filmmaking, with nary a minute going by that doesn't feature something to amuse or delight the patient viewer. Much of what delights about the film are of course what would be called flaws in the type of professional looking movie that attempts to tell a sensible story. But then, that's not at all what you should hope for when entering the wild and woolly world of SOV horror, where properly blocked scenes and even just mildly competent pacing are unexpected occurrences on the level of humane Objectivists or real-world sightings of the King in Yellow.

Instead you'll have to decide to accept The Ripper on its own terms, which is to say, find pleasure in the film's awkward, yet not horrible, acting that breathes a kind of honest naivety it would be like kicking a puppy to criticize, delight in decidedly fake looking gore (which is always the best kind), approve of some particularly stiff (sorry) sex scenes and fall in love with regular detours.

I found the relationship between Richard and one of his students particularly charming in the detour department, with the film buff student having somehow acquired his hero's phone number and now doing things like phoning him to remind him to tape horror movies, which obviously annoys Richard to no end, though he is much too nice to say so right out. This is, of course, the sort of business a film needs to get up to to get to feature length when it does only have plot for half an hour or so. Also, and just as of course, it's this sort of business that makes the better SOV horror films actually worth watching, the awkward charm of a film made by people just making movies instead of what is generally called professionals.

In The Rippers's case, I found myself quite taken with all those attempts at distracting me from the not very interesting main course, perhaps because there's a degree of self-consciousness visible here (what with all the horror movie love) that never gets in the way of the naivety, or perhaps because the film is able to turn its filler (which makes up about eighty percent of its running time) into a main course of its own.