Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Feature - Celluloid Screams 2012

It seems to take forever to come round but Celluloid Screams is back for its fourth year. The festival takes place at The Showroom cinema in Sheffield and this year even had some screenings in the larger Screen 4 (some planned, some not). It is going from strength to strength.

A festival can only be as good as its films, although saying that I enjoy the whole atmosphere, and secretly I even quite like having a good rant about really bad films. The best thing is that there are so many films there will be something for everyone. One person's worst film is another person's best, and all that malarkey.

At the midpoint in the festival I did start to feel a little bit too grumpy and started to think about what I want from a film: characters who I care for, a coherent theme where the ending relates back to what has gone before, some jumps and scares that don't rely on sound alone, well-written and well-acted dialogue and a stunning atmosphere. And gore. Obviously. So many of the initial films fell down on so many of these points. Luckily things got better.

So prepare yourself with a pasty and a pint and let's crack on with the first of the reviews...


Review - Sightseers (2012 - Dir. Ben Wheatley)

The success of sightseers, as with most comedies, depends entirely on whether you find it funny or not. There were quite a few laughs from the audience that showed that some people liked it, although a surprisingly large proportion of chuckles came from the front seats which had all been reserved - draw your own conclusions from that. Apart from two moments, I didn't find it funny. It's not that I didn't get the jokes, I knew exactly where I was supposed to laugh (just as I know when 'My Family' is trying to be humourous - and failing) but it didn't work and the overwhelming feeling was one of boredom. To be positive, the brown lipstick comment and the bit where a dog licks a bloke's bum hole both raised a smile and even a little laugh. Two laughs out of a whole comedy is not a good ratio though, considering that The Avengers had loads more and it wasn't even a comedy.

Tina and Chris are a couple going on their first holiday together in a caravan after the sad event of her mother's dog suffering a nasty accidental death. They visit lots of different locations - I'll come back to this later - and get into numerous murderous scrapes all filmed in a delightful not very gory way; there's nothing here that you wouldn't find in the average 'Songs of Praise'. They also find a replacement dog who obviously steals every scene he is in.

Back to the locations. They were obviously chosen for their sad/geeky potential. Old trams, caravan sites and pencil museums feature, all easy targets for some top quality mocking. There is a certain smugness to the humour that I wouldn't expect to see in a horror film. Being a horror fan I  know what it's like to be the butt of jokes and receive disapproving looks, so I don't gain pleasure from laughing at someone because they have a non-mainstream interest.

As a bit of a walker, most of the places were familiar to me but watching an episode of Wainwright's Walks would have been a lot more entertaining. This came second in the audience vote for the best film of the festival so other people obviously liked it, but for me it was a really disappointing start to the festival. Next.

If you like this you could also try:
Laughing at trainspotters.

Review - Nightbreed: The Cabal Cut (1990/2012 - Dir. Clive Barker / Restoration Director: Russell Cherrington)

It has been a long time since I originally watched Nightbreed and read the book on which it was based, 'Cabal'. In the intervening years the two things seem to have merged in my brain and the version of the film that I can remember is very similar to this new cut.

Obviously this is just my brain playing major tricks on me because it is very evident that this has been a labour of love to put The Cabal Cut together from a variety of sources, including VHS work copies. The differences are plain to see due to the grainy old footage. It is great to see a version that is closer to the director's original vision rather than a exercise in studio butchery. Is anyone really surprised that the studio execs couldn't understand how monsters could be the heroes of a film?

Aaron Boone (Craig Sheffer looking a bit like David Boreanaz with a huge mullet) keeps having nightmares about monsters who live in a mythical place called Midian. Whilst having psychiatric treatment, Dr Dekker (David Cronenberg) convinces him that he's really a serial killer. (Cronenberg is excellent as Dekker and is a more complex character in this version.) Boone decides to try to find his fellow monsters and meet his destiny.

Nightbreed is entertaining enough for the most part. I can remember being disappointed when I first watched it due to its lack of gore, especially after Hellraiser, so it improves dramatically with different expectations. There is a bit of face ripping but for a more extreme version of visage rippage, watch Dagon. This is more of a fantasy film than a horror, as with much of Clive Barker's work.

This cut feels overly long, especially in the final third, and the ending is a bit of a mess. But bearing in mind that this is still a work in progress, hopefully heading to a Blu-ray quality version, there are still improvements that can be made in the editing suite. Another niggle is that Boone, a white innocent all-American fellow, is the destined saviour of the monsters in a similar fashion to Avatar

The monster effects are great - Bob Keen is a top bloke, I wonder what he's up to now - but the designs look dated probably due to the fact that they have been homaged so many times by Xbox games. There are some great visuals, the sequences in Midian are especially memorable.

It took me quite a few Clive Barker books to realise that I'm not actually that keen on his work, but Barker lovers will lap up this new, improved version of Nightbreed. The one big question is why we haven't seen Buttonface make any other appearances.

If you like this you could also try:
Hellraiser, Dust Devil, Lord of Illusions.

Review - Manborg (2011 - Dir. Steven Kostanski)

Ah, things are staring to pick up a bit. Manborg has a limit on how great it can be due to its subject matter and tone. But it hits that limit.

A soldier is brought back to life as Manborg (Matthew Kennedy). He fights some messed-up baddies backed up by his mates. Surely that's all you need to know?

I was expecting this to either be good or absolutely terrible and most of that expectation hung on the humour. I was pleased to see that it is really funny. Everything that Number One Man says, in his extremely deep sensible voice, made me chuckle. There is also a cracking line delivered by Manborg's dead brother. One thing that I thought was going to wear thin was a villain's pathetic attempts at wooing one of the female characters. I would start thinking, 'Oh dear, I'm getting a bit tired of this,' and then the villain would pull it round by saying or doing something funny again.

Manborg contains a training scene (hurray) and there are enough memorable villains developed to ensure that everyone gets the chance to have a good scrap. The climactic fight between Manborg and Draculon isn't the greatest but it doesn't bring the film down greatly.

This was made on a very small budget and reminds me of the creativity on show in Evil Dead. They have used all manner of different technologies to bring the story to life including stop-motion. Add to that a running time of about an hour and you get a film that doesn't outstay its welcome. Steven Kostanski should be given the job of directing a new version of Mortal Kombat. But still only given a tiny budget. It would be great.

If you like this you could also try:
Father's Day, Cyborg Cop.

Review - Opera (1987 - Dir. Dario Argento)

I quite like a bit of Dario - although in recent years I seem to be veering more to the Fulci style of horror - but this is not one of my favourite Argento films. I saw it in a cut form a long time ago and thought about how great it must be uncut. And it is better. But it's still not one of Dario's best.

Betty (Christina Marsillach) is an opera singer who is forced to watch a murderer going about his deeds. Then she becomes the subject of his dastardly intent. It's a giallo then, with all of the trademark giallo action. In a minor twist on the sub-genre the killer wears protective latex gloves over the top of his black leather gloves. Obviously a killer who likes to keep his murdering gloves in a pristine fashion. Red herrings about the killer's identity are throw around with wild abandon and it all comes to a suitably preposterous end. 

So are the death's any good? That's what you really want to know. Well, they're not too bad. They are made better by the fact that Betty has to watch them with a row of pins sellotaped under her eyes. Dario always stages some good killings and these are no exception. One romantically inclined fellow tries to woo his lady friend by offering her some tea: Rose, Jasmine or Mint. What no Tetley's? He deserves to die the filthy little purveyor of comedy tea. And die he does in a very brutal fashion. Good. (Funnily enough a lot of this was cut out from the version I first saw.) Another death makes brilliant use of an ultra high speed camera, a peephole and a gun, and manages to kill two birds with one stone. Iconic stuff indeed.

Now we get to one of the problems with Dario - his childlike giddiness when it comes to new technology. At times, this is his strength and in the above scene it works for him very well, but in Opera it seems as though he has just got his hands on a brand new shiny steadicam and can't wait to use it. A lot. The endless POV shots get increasingly tiresome and wreck any tension that could have been created with a tad more restraint. Conversely, there is a stunning (for the time) shot of a Raven's POV as it comes circling down in an opera house. I suppose I've got to learn to take the rough with the smooth.

Giulia. Not quite in the same league as Mary's dad but her acting is so overly dramatic she could well pass as a professional dancer. This is exacerbated by the excessive dubbing. Italian film-goers are supposedly used to watching dubbed films but this veer into Eurotrash territory. The theatre manager is one of the prime culprits.

Throw in a baffling Peter Pan-esque killer, terrible non-Goblin soft rock ditties and some unpleasant scenes of ravens being ragged about or slashed at and you'd think that I didn't like Opera. (Admittedly, the raven scene is nothing compared to the cat and mouse scene in Inferno. Perversely, there's a film that was actually better in its cut form.) The problem is that I'm always comparing it to Suspiria, a way better film. Taken on its own merits it's a pretty fun film, and better than the later Argento films. Go with the Eurotrash voices, enjoy the killings, gloss over the bizarre motivations and you shouldn't go too far wrong.

(NB Opera contains strong scenes of opera. Viewers of a sensitive disposition beware.)


Review - Into the Abyss: The Savage Cinema of Dennison Rama (Various years - Dir. Dennison Rama)

This was a retrospective of shorts from Brazilian filmmaker Dennison Ramalho. My ratings will be based on comparisons with other short films.


This short comes across as more of a music video, with admittedly great music. I'm never that keen on vampires, never have been, and this one contains vampires, so maybe I'm not the best person to comment on this. It had an unsettling atmosphere especially when a nun enters the fray. Not really my cup of tea, luckily better things are to come...

Love From Mother Only

This one was based on a song, quite a pleasant song about motherly love, and Dennison has slightly twisted it by throwing some Brazilian black magic into the mix. He's a total hero. Two lovers are about to split up unless he leaves his sick mother and runs away with his partner. The stakes gets raised when it becomes, "Kill your mother and bring me her heart." Adding sex, violence and devil worship to well-loved songs is inspired and this short starts to show some real potential.


Now to my favourite. Think Elite Squad but with even more excessive violence and you're about there. A Brazilian cop accidentally (yeah right) kills a young boy and it gets covered up by his superior. Things all take a turn for the worst as he has to prove his worth by taking part in executing and brutalising a couple of criminals. It was funny to hear how the director gets his funding from the government... and then makes a film that is very critical of the police force. Great stuff.

Ninjas contains one of the harshest uses of nails that I've ever seen (I'll never be able to look at high heels in the same way again) and some twisted religious imagery, but I'd love to see the director go even further with violence. This is really well-made and acted, and makes me think that a feature by Dennison would be fantastic. 

Review - V/H/S (2012 - Dir. Ti West, Adam Wingard, Radio Silence, Joe Swanberg, Glenn McQuaid, David Bruckner)

In my recent review of Dying Breed I talked about it being a contender for a film that sums up everything that is bad about horror films. It may have been a contender but it's been brutally beaten into submission by V/H/S.

This is an anthology by up and coming horror directors (I expected more from Adam Wingard after the reasonable A Horrible Way to Die) all framed by a story of some dodgy characters breaking into a house to find an old video tape. Normally anthologies contain a mixed bunch of tales, some good, some bad. Not so in V/H/S. They are uniformly terrible.

Vast swathes of irritating characters assail your senses as the found footage cam charges through yet another forest as the Paranormal Activity drone kicks in again. At many points I thought about leaving and going and getting a pint, but I kept wondering whether the next little story would be better. Should have got a pint.

The best story is shot on iChat. What iChat footage is doing on an old video is anyone's guess, but even so it's the only one that can be described as vaguely watchable. Even this one starts to annoy with a character hacking away at their own arm and prodding around in it without even wincing. 

I'm not going to waste any more time on this. I'm already gutted that I spent two hours watching the thing in the first place. Save yourself the pain and watch Lake Mungo instead.

If you like this you could also try:
Paranormal Activity, Lake Mungo.

Review - Cell Count (2012 - Dir. Todd E. Freeman)

I was expecting something different from this, especially with the Hobo With a Shotgun style poster. But it is more inspired by John Carpenter and David Cronenberg.

Sadie Carpenter (see what I mean?) is dying of a terminal illness. Her husband Russell (okay, I don't need it ramming down my throat) is obviously distraught. He is offered a way out by Dr. Brandt who is running some trials on a new procedure to cure the illness. The only downside is that Russell will have to go through the same procedure if he wants to stay with her and support her. In the complex are some other characters also trying to be cured, including some prisoners... 

The slow-burning build up is all pretty engrossing and the characters are developed enough to really care about them. Then things all go a bit pear-shaped with the arrival of a character with a butt-face. This character seems as though he comes from another film (Hobo With a Shotgun perhaps?) and breaks the carefully crafted tension. 

The biggest homage to Carpenter is in a scene where bait is used to try and solve a problem. This feels very much like the blood test scene and has a similar amount of tension. As you would expect the final shock is nowhere near as great as the Carpenter scene. This is possibly down to the editing.

A huge problem in Cell Count is that the director seems to be setting up a sequel. So lots of questions are left unanswered and the ending feels very unsatisfying. It's all a mess really, with characters reappearing on a bus for no real reason. One character who's been gut shot even gets back up and gets on the bus with no real distress. Whether this is explained in the sequel is another matter. The sequel might never get made and you're left with a disappointing experience, especially after such a good start. Surely this film should work on its own and if a sequel is made, fine. It's still entertaining enough, with a tense atmosphere, but it could have been better.

If you like this you could also try:
The Thing, Videodrome, The Brood.