Monday, 30 May 2011

Review - A Bay of Blood aka Twitch of the Death Nerve (1971 - Dir. Mario Bava)

This starts really well. Beautiful opening music and then into nearly ten minutes of no dialogue. The initial scene plays on the staples of the giallo. An unknown killer wearing his/her murdering gloves and, of course, you don't get to see their face. Er, sorry... you do get to see their face. But I won't spoil it any more than that.

This opening sets up a string of murders that obviously inspired Friday the 13th; one scene was homaged/blatantly half-inched for Friday the 13th Part 2. Some effective gore, crazy sixties dancing, quality hair cuts (yes, you Roberto!), best film title ever and a naked lady running along a jetty all adds up to an enjoyable grindhouse classic. Thrown into the mix is the gorgeous Bond girl, Claudine Auger and a great ending that I doubt you'll see coming, so I'm not sure why I haven't rated it higher. Maybe the slasher films that have come later have weakened its impact. 

I think that I need to give this one repeat viewings because it has stuck in my head since I saw it, in no small part thanks to the music by Stelvio Cipriani. Don't be surprised if the rating goes up over time. A film where virtually everyone dies can't be that bad, can it? Oh, and it's got a cool trailer.

If you like this you could try:
Blood and Black Lace, Lizard in a Woman's Skin, Cat o' Nine Tails.

Review - Letter From An Unknown Woman (1948 - Dir. Max Ophuls)

Told from the perspective of Lisa (Joan Fontaine) this is a story of unrequited love. It is also a bit of a masterpiece. I can't say that I was really looking forward to it when I first watched it but it draws you in and sticks in your memory for a long time afterwards.

Stefan Brand (Louis Jourdan) is a concert pianist and a right one for the ladies. He comes into contact with Lisa throughout the film but he is so self-obsessed that he never actually sees her. We see the story through Lisa's memories of events, so her face is often bathed in light, as if she is his saviour. He sees her as just another notch on his Steinway. Because we are seeing her memories, Fontaine plays Lisa at every stage of her life, even down to the age of twelve. It is her perception of events and not reality we are watching.

Watching this makes you wish that black and white films were made more often now. The lighting and compositions are gorgeous with a great use of shadow. Echoes of past events are often used. Lisa watches Stefan enter his room, with yet another lady, from the top of a staircase. Later, we see her enter Stefan's room from the same viewpoint, telling us she is no different from his other lady friends.

I hadn't heard of this before and only came across it because I'd seen Rebecca, again with Joan Fontaine, and wondered what else she was in. I'm glad I did because this is a beautiful, poignant film that still holds up to this day.

If you like this you could try:
Le Plaisir, Rebecca, Gaslight, A Place in the Sun.

Review - Fata Morgana (1971 - Dir. Werner Herzog)

Well, where do you start on this one? The title means 'mirage' and the whole film is very dreamlike with no narrative structure. It sets out its stall in the opening four minutes. Four minutes of watching a plane land. And then land again. And again. All from the same viewpoint. 

Filmed in Africa, you get plenty of desert shots for your money. Stick a camera to the top of your van, point it at the desert and drive. That seems to have been the general thinking behind most of the shots. There are some trademark Herzog documentary style parts to add a little bit of spice to the mix. The director has envisaged it as an alien film crew coming to a desolate planning and filming deserts. Before you watch it, there is no alien film crew. Not even alien film crew voices. What you do get is some narration from the Mayan creation myth, Popol Vuh.

I can see this being half decent if you were in a dark cinema at two o'clock in the morning and you'd had a few Tizers. You could fall asleep and dream of desiccated cow corpses. That being said, there are some gorgeous shots within the film. Mainly of deserts, granted, but still beautiful. Also there is a brilliant club singer who has the dodgiest sound system going.

Werner Herzog should be the Patron Saint of obscurendure. Yet again he has come up with an obscurity that is truly a test of endurance. Clocking in at under eighty minutes you'd think you would have no problems. See how you get on watching just ten minutes on the clip below. Strangely, I vaguely enjoyed it. It's very hard to recommend to anyone though. If you enjoy the clip bump up the review score to five.

If you like this you could also try:
Anything by David Lynch, Even Dwarfs Started Small, Gummo.

Be honest, how long did you last?

Saturday, 28 May 2011

Review - Silent Hill (2006 - Dir. Christophe Gans)

Now, I know this is not the most popular of films, even amongst horror aficionados and fans of the original game, but it is a film I keep coming back to again and again. 

I played the original Silent Hill game on the Playstation some years ago and can't remember it exactly; however the film does give me similar feelings to my recollections of the game. 

Radha Mitchell plays the mother of a young, sleepwalking girl who constantly witters on about a place called Silent Hill. She takes her there and promptly loses her in an atmospheric and confusing place filled with a mist made of ash. A great deal of disturbing monster filled mist action ensues, the highlight being Pyramid Head; you wish there was more of him. The original ending was going to include loads of Pyramid Heads but due to budgetary reasons was changed to the current ending.

One of the most maligned parts of the film is the role that Sean Bean plays as the husband. Yes, he is Basil Exposition. Yes, the director didn't really want to include the character. But he does add to the sense of poignancy in the final scene so I don't mind him too much. And he's from Yorkshire. 

I have one question about the film. How is it rated as a 15 when there is a intimate scene including razor wire and a lady's privities? The Evil Dead was banned for far less and is still rated an 18 now.

Easily my favourite video game film (admittedly, there's not much competition) but also one of my all time favourite films. Writing this review makes me want to watch it again...

If you like this you could try:
The Mist, The Fog (1980), Brotherhood of the Wolf, Crying Freeman.

Review - The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957 - Dir. Jack Arnold)

A science fiction classic from the 1950's but well worth revisiting in the 21st Century. Jack Arnold's interpretation of the Richard Matheson novel is as compelling a drama as anything I've seen in the last decade.

You could argue the plot is a little 'B movie' with a strange radioactive sea-fog incident leading to a bad case of the shrinks for our hero Grant Williams, but it's done with a passion and attention to detail that means you rarely question the realism of the situation. The special effects are really impressive considering the fledgling nature of techniques at the time and the scenes in the basement are especially gripping and realistic although the cheese does have an uncanny resemblance to a large block of polystyrene.

Williams portrays the emotion and turmoil of the situation perfectly; contemplating suicide, seeking a relationship with a woman of similar height and ultimately culminating in the uber-philosophical 'I still exist' ending.

Apparently a Hollywood remake is in the pipeline, which fills me with a sense of terror at the prospect of CGI spiders in an all action, fast paced romp, similar in style to another Matheson adaptation 'I am Legend.' Ignore the fact that this film is in black and white, uses early special effects and a questionable plot, and enjoy the literal descent into another world.


If you like this you could also try:
The Thing From Another World, Day of the Triffids, The Day the Earth Caught Fire, The Omega Man, Village of the Damned.

Sunday, 22 May 2011

Review - Laputa: Castle in the Sky (1986 - Dir. Hayao Miyazaki)

Possibly not Miyazaki's best, but it's still a great  film (especially on Blu-ray). The opening credits set the scene beautifully with shots of strange steampunk type machines drawn in ye olde Victorian style. This is accompanied by some of the most gorgeous music to grace the beginning of a film (not quite as good as Bay of Blood though).

The story is fairly standard issue. A princess, Sheeta, needs to return to her kingdom to reclaim her throne. Other naughty people including pirates and the military try to stop her. To help her in her quest is Pazu, a little fella who normally works in a mine. Together they try to find Laputa, a city in the sky.

So, if the stories not up to much, why have I given it a good rating. It's all in the atmosphere and the world building. The details, normally accompanied by great sounding effects,in the film are stunning. Simple things like frying an egg or a bubbling pot of stew all ground the film in an anime reality. Yes, the sky is the usual  anime blue, but who wouldn't want to walk into that world. When they finally reach Laputa - no spoilers there, really - you are greeted by an ancient crumbling city that reeks of history. Gorgeous.

There are some great action scenes: a train/car chase with pirates, Pazu flying over a landscape to rescue Sheeta from the top of a  burning building and the final scenes in Laputa. Although these scenes inject pace, one problem with the film is a slow middle third. It is basically a build up for the big reveal of Laputa.

All in all then, not as good as Nausicaa, but then, what is? Look out for some nods to Nausicaa: the little evil Pikachu creatures that Nausicaa befriends make an appearance and the design of the robots looks suspiciously like the Giant Warriors. For some reason, if watched at Christmas with a cup of tea and a pack of biscuits you can add another point to the review score.

If you like this you could try:
Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, The Castle of Cagliostro, Howl's Moving Castle.

Review - Frontiers (2007 - Dir. Xavier Gens)

A high octane bloodbath which attempts to combine both the gritty and horror genres in a single bite-size morsel. One minute a group of gritty urban French protestors are taking part in a Parisian riot, and the next thing you know they're fighting for their lives in a motel complex run by a bizarre family of  nazi cannibal maniacs. All manner of hi-jinx follows and needless to say none of it is all that pleasant. Let's just say it's not one to show your grandma.

Not being a fan of 'nasty real' horror like Switchblade Romance for instance, I was quite surprised to quite enjoy this film. It's violent and gore-filled but not 'nasty'. In fact, but for the urban grittiness factor, it's a relatively standard horror film in plot and format. The family at the centre of events are so over the top grotesque that they take on pantomime villain roles in a kind of Adams Family meets The Hills have Eyes style and this detracts from any notion that the situation could be anything but a dark fantasy.

Having said that, there's some clever and genuinely scary bits on show. The hair cutting scene is really disturbing, the tunnel scene is uber-claustrophobic and the rain scene at the end is cleansing and provides some sense of hope. The acting is anything but subtle, but Karina Testa is entertaining as our heroine and leaves you feeling she has been genuinely mentally unbalanced by the events. It's hard not to smile at her shambling, zombie-esque retreat though.

It's difficult to say what the message is here, other than 'watch out for Nazis!' They may have excellent family values, look after their elderly relatives and sit round the table together for their tea every night, but they're still baddies.

Not for everyone and not for the faint-hearted, but for fright fans with a sense of humour this is an enjoyable but ultimately throwaway addition to the horror genre.

If you like this you could try:
Martyrs, Switchblade Romance, The Machine Girl, The Hills Have Eyes.

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Review - Garden State (2004 - Dir. Zach Braff)

I don't normally like romantic comedies. Truth be told, I'd rather have intimate fun with a cheese grater than watch a romantic comedy. But this looked a bit different and had some good reviews. May as well give it a go...

Written, starring and directed by Zach Braff (Scrubs) - again, this didn't bode well - I was pleasantly surprised by it. His direction is of the non-flashy variety. He uses a lot of locked off camera shots. Always a treat. When he does use other techniques, such as varying the speed on the camera, it works in the context of the film; the well-chosen soundtrack, although not to my taste, helps to tie everything together.

Not exactly a big belly laugh comedy, mostly smile humour, but there are a few chuckles to be had. I didn't expect it to be this subtle. Natalie Portman is the love interest - mmm, Natalie Portman, and she's great in this. In fact, she's probably the best thing about the film. She plays a compulsive liar with epilepsy who verges on the quirky side of things. Way better than other romantic comedy leading ladies. Not that I watch any. I just know.

There is a fair bit of cheese involved in the ending but let's face facts, it is Natalie Portman. I'd run back to her if it was me. Cheese or no cheese.

All in all a surprisingly likeable film. At least now I've done my rom-com duties I can get back to horror.

If you like this you can try:
Waitress, Ghost World, Little Miss Sunshine, Juno, Antichrist (okay, maybe not Antichrist).

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Feature - Gritty Checklist.

Doccortex loves grit. Anything gritty, he's definitely going to like it. But what exactly constitutes a grit festival? Do you ever watch a film and wonder just how gritty it is? Just use this handy checklist to give it a rating, strangely out of 13.

  • Documentary style, entirely shot with a handheld camera.
  • Subtitled.
  • Drug use.
  • Sex scene, probably involving prostitutes, pole dancers or some other slightly more specialist acts.
  • Grey, bleak urban setting incorporating flats. Or corrugated steel shacks.
  • A scene is edited so that it goes on for a bit longer than it should, maybe giving a character a chance to have a stare at some flats or something.

  • Someone gets brutally shot in an executioner style.
  • Organised crime of some description.
  • Children with guns, preferably uzis.
  • Dirty, grubby environment, dirty clothes; generally dirty.
  • A dysfunctional family is at the centre of the film.
  • Bonus points for being in black and white.
  • Major bonus points if it contains all of the above plus Julie Andrews.

There you have it. If all those features were in a film it would be an instant 10/10 from doccortex. I wonder what the grittiest film ever is? 

Saturday, 14 May 2011

Review - Amores Perros (2000 - Dir. Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu)

The film can be summarised as gritty, hostile, Mexican drama in three bite size chunks. Amores Perros (Love's a Bitch) tells three individual stories each connected by a city centre car crash in a world of grime, inequality and violence.

There's a lot to like about the film. The themes of class, cruelty and man's relationship with animals are all explored and developed, with the use and abuse of dogs a key ingredient in each of the stories. The acting is of a high standard with the excellent Gael Garcia Bernal struggling manfully through a tale of dog fighting and sibling rivalry, and Emilio Echevarria utterly convincing as a lonely vagrant, dog loving hitman with issues. Mexico City also provides the perfect setting for this hot, urban and passionate drama.

With all the ingredients present for a Mexican 'gritfest', why am I not convinced? The three stories don't quite gel together, the middle story is weaker and too long, but even so I can still see this is a quality piece of cinema that I should be raving about. For me, I was just left feeling 'So what?' at the end of the film. A great film in many ways but missing the magic dust that would turn it into something special.

If you like this you could also try:
City of God, Open Your Eyes, Gomorrah.


Review - Castle Freak (1995 - Dir. Stuart Gordon)

A low budget shocker from the director of Re-animator, Stuart Gordon, this loses the comedy of Re-animator and plays it straight. Well fairly, Jeffrey Combs has a couple of theatrical moments which raise a smile. You have to let him off though; he makes any film/tv programme at least watchable and he is 'genrely' ubiquitous. 

He plays John Reilly who, with his wife and blind daughter, inherits a castle in Italy. The film starts with the death of his son, a fairly standard beginning then, that brings on all kinds of emotional problems. Add a Kaspar Hauser like Castle Freak into the mix - kept in a cellar by his mother who repeatedly whips him with a chain adorned with nails - and bring on the fun and games.

The titular Castle Freak is a brilliant creation not shown in his entirety until the end of the film. In the early stages he is shown in the dark or as a shadow. Then he dons a natty bedsheet for a costume that has a hole ripped for one eye to peek through, possibly his best look. Finally, you get to see him in his naked scarred glory and you also find out that he hasn't got any middles. Or tongue. Poor fella. When he's charging around the castle at the end he is genuinely scary.

There is one scene that leaves a nasty taste in the mouth and I'm not entirely sure how I feel about it. The scene involves Mr Freak biting a prostitute in areas that are generally covered up in polite society. You can possibly justify it by saying that he is only copying what he has seen before, which is backed up by him later whipping the housekeeper. Plus he is an equal opportunites freak. He kills as many men as he does women. I still can't say it was comfortable watching a very harsh cumulo nimbus scene though.

Saying all that makes it sound like a veritable festival of gore. It's not. Virtually none. Strangely it doesn't need it. It's disturbing enough without it. Considering the low budget this film is actually better than it has any right to be. And it contains two fantastic moustaches on two police guards just for a treat.

If you like this you could try:
Re-Animator, Dagon, Necronomicon.