Friday, 31 May 2013

Review - The Living Dead Girl (1982 - Dir. Jean Rollin)

Jean Rollin films are an acquired taste and this one is no exception. This is supposedly one of his most commercially successful films. This could be down to the above average gore quota for a Rollin film and a smattering of public thatch shots.

Three dubious fellows are dumping some similarly dodgy chemicals in the basement of a castle. While they're there they notice a couple of coffins, so decide to do a bit of grave robbing. I did say they were dubious. Surprise, surprise the chemical spills everywhere when there is a badly-timed earthquake and the titular girl, Catherine (Françoise Blanchard), comes back to life. She uses her exceedingly sharp nails to do a bit of damage to the unlucky chaps and then wanders back into the castle where she used to live.

She eventually meets up with her sister (Marina Pierro) who is quite willing to fetch fresh meat for Catherine. Meat for a zombie that is. Not half a pound of chipolatas. By the end of the film the sister becomes less human than the zombified Catherine. In a similar vein to Return of the Living Dead Part 3, Catherine is quite aware of her situation and wants it to end. She tries to overcome her general zombieness and you'll have to watch it to see whether she succeeds.

As with most Jean Rollin films, it is very slow paced. During gore sequences, Fulci used a slow pace to force you to watch some fairly unpleasant scenes. In this, even though there is some gore, it's not enough to linger over. The slow pace doesn't really do the film any favours, apart from giving it a dreamlike quality. Saying that, Rollin does do a fine line in gorgeous shots of castles but the atmosphere is not up there with Fascination.

One of the standout features of this film are the cries/screams/gurgles of the cast when they are killed. Barbara Simon's death is particularly great. Another audio treat is getting to hear what a French party was like in the eighties. They were pretty wild by the look of this.

All in all, this is a great film for a Friday night when you've just come back from the pub and you don't mind too much if you fall asleep watching it. Is that a recommendation or not?


If you like this you could also try:
Fascination, Requiem For A Vampire, Vampyres, Return of the Living Dead Part 3.

Monday, 27 May 2013

Review - Sideways (2004 - Dir. Alexander Payne)

Sideways is a quirky, unpretentious alt-romantic comedy that sits comfortably alongside Garden State, Waitress and Lars and the Real Girl. It tells the story of two dysfunctional forty something fellows as they tear across Santa Barbara County for a week of riotous excitement including golf, fine food and wine tasting. Admittedly it’s not sounding that high on the hell raising Richter Scale, but it's both geeky and entertaining at the same time.

The success of the film relies on an excellent and often funny piece of scriptwriting. The story takes the form of a journey into the hopes, fears and inadequacies of our middle aged heroes as they tour vineyards as a last act of freedom before Jack’s impending wedding. It won’t change the world, but as a portrait of male midlife crisis, it hits the nail firmly on the head. There’s also some cracking pieces of humour involving motorcycle helmets, ostriches and breaking and entering.

The two lead characters manage to be obnoxious and loveable simultaneously, with Paul Giamatti suitably introverted and repressed as the wine loving divorcee Miles Raymond, and the legendary Thomas Haden Church (George of the Jungle!) resplendent as the rampant womanising actor Jack Cole. Virginia Madsen (Candyman) also deserves special mentions for her subtle and understated portrayal of upwardly mobile waitress Maya.

It’s not the standard Hollywood rom-com by any means. It’s darker, scuzzier and truer to life, but that only makes for a more engaging experience. Definitely worth ninety minutes of anyone’s time.

If you like this you could also try:
Any of the films mentioned in the review. Except Candyman. And George of the Jungle.

Friday, 24 May 2013

Review - Zombie Flesh Eaters 2 (1988 - Dir. Lucio Fulci)

You may well have been wondering when I was going to get round to the zombie maestro Lucio Fulci in my year long festival of all things shambling. Well, wait no longer. Here's the long awaited review of Zombie Flesh Eaters 2. What the hell? What's that 2 doing at the end of the title? Yep, sadly I've plumped for this celluloid travesty as my first foray into Fulci realms. Things can only get better after this.

You may have gathered that this film is pretty dire. In fact, it's a complete mess. There are many stories regarding the production. Probably the most common is that Fulci became ill during the making of it and Bruno Mattei was brought on board. It all sounds a bit suss because Claudio Fragasso, the writer had previously worked on Zombie Creeping Flesh with Mr Mattei and they were top buddies. A large proportion of Fulci's footage was deemed unusable and Mattei fleshed out the remaining running time. It's hard to believe that Fulci's work was actually worse than the shambles that Mattei has knocked out.

One shot that Fulci admits too is the only hint of the supernatural in the whole film. A flying zombie head zooms out of a fridge to bite an unwary victim. It sticks out like a sore thumb in a film that is more akin to Nightmare City. The zombies here charge around brawling with the protagonists rather than shuffling politely up to them. But don't get your hopes up expecting that the a bit that Fulci definitely directed is any good. It's still rubbish. Just different rubbish. 

It also bears virtually no resemblance to its namesake. This escapade actually bears more similarities to a Romero film, The Crazies. Although the original Zombie Flesh Eaters cashed in on the success of Dawn of the Dead, Fulci managed to make a pretty great film. Despite The Crazies not being the best film ever, this farce doesn't even get any where near its quality.

Admittedly, I was marginally tipsy when I watched this (you need to be, believe me) but about half way through I couldn't quite work out who the main characters were or where they'd come from. They are so lacking in personality that I'm not even sure that they're in the first half of the film. I'd worked out that there were some soldier types involved, possibly. Although, I only noticed them due to their shockingly bad dialogue. But I'd got no idea where the leading lady had come from. In fact, I wasn't even sure if she was the leading lady. She could have been a dinner lady, who'd mistakenly wandered on to the set. I'm convinced that if you freeze frame the film at 67 mins and 34 secs you can see her serving a young gentleman some flapjack.

Lots of reasons come to mind for why Fulci didn't succeed with this project: he was ill, budgets were becoming smaller and he didn't have his dream team of actress Catriona MacColl, writer Dardano Sacchetti, effects genius Gianetto De Rossi and cinematographer Sergio Salvati with him. I get the feeling that his four classic zombie films are the product of team work, and a perfect mix of creative talent, rather than the work of an auteur. 

There is one moment, where a zombie barges about as if he's migrated from Resident Evil 4. Put a sack on his head and give him a chainsaw and he's a dead ringer. It's also got a great poster. And Hitler makes an appearance. But apart from all of that, this is a total waste of time. Unless you like watching random encounters with badly made up zombies and a surprising lack of gore. Let's all just pretend that Fulci had nothing to do with this and look forward to his greater works.

NB I lied about the flapjack sighting, so don't waste your time buying the film and searching for it.

If you like this you could also try:
Zombie Creeping Flesh, Nightmare City.

Monday, 20 May 2013

Review - Phenomena (1985 - Dir. Dario Argento)

The Luc Besson Season was a bit of a disaster with an average rating of only two. Low quality. Let's see how Mr Argento fares. In our first instalment, Dario tries his hand at fusing giallo and fantasy elements with Phenomena. With mixed results. Does anyone actually care who the killer is in gialli? All I'm bothered about are the quality of the murdering gloves they wear and the death scenes. 

So how do the murders stand up? Stylish but pretty tame. Only two deaths stick in the mind: one involving two of Dario's trademarks, head through glass and extreme slow-motion, the other while brief, comes as a shock on first viewing. It's a disappointment after the delights of Tenebrae and Suspiria.

But it has got more to offer in the fantasy department, despite being completely stupid. A young Jennifer Connelly plays Jennifer, a girl with the supernatural ability to make insects frisky. While insects can be used to solve crimes and determine the time of death it seems a bit of a stretch that an insect could lead you to the killer. Just let it fly in front of you, follow it, and there you go. Episodes of CSI would become suspiciously similar if this technique worked. As for there being a link between insects and the human soul...

The characters are all in stupid horror film mode. People wander blindly into murdering situations. The killer barely has to break into a sweat. Word of warning: if there's a murderer on the loose, and someone you know starts behaving psychotically, don't swallow a tablet that they've given you. Regardless of how much they shout at you. Just in case you were tempted.

Like the majority of Dario's early efforts, Phenomena looks great. Architecture is beautifully lit and shot, as you'd expect and there's a gorgeous shot of Connelly (Jennifer, not Brian) rising out of the water at night, a fire burning in the background.  It also does disgusting pretty well too. A 'swimming pool' scene is particularly full of grue, when the film takes a satisfying dark turn towards the end.

I sincerely hope that Phenomena isn't used as a training aid for professionals dealing with mental illness. Here are some things I learnt: sleepwalking = psychophrenia. Doccortex had a sleepwalk. Once. Lock him up. Something else that I found out is that mental asylums should have a number of levels. And as the levels are descended, the inmates should get increasingly monstrous. A bit like hell. So let me get this straight: posh middle class children should go to huge ornate private schools, whilst children with mental health issues should be locked in the fiery depths of Satan's buttcheeks. Sounds like part of the Tory manifesto.

Despite its numerous failings (a blatant piece of thieving from Don't Look Now, Donald Pleasance's comedy Scottish accent and some jarring rock tunes on the soundtrack) I cant help quite liking this film. It has an atmosphere that Opera lacked. Connelly's sleepwalking episodes add to the fairy tale quality. Not Connelly's best. Not Dario's best. But worth a watch for a razor wielding monkey alone. (The rental copy I watched on Blu-ray had an extra bonus feature: it kept randomly swapping languages. One minute it was in English, then Italian. The most surreal was when it went into German.)

If you like this you could also try:
Monkey Shines, Dark City, Suspiria, Tenebrae.

Friday, 17 May 2013

Review - Dellamorte Dellamore/Cemetery Man (1994 - Michele Soavi)

I'd been desperate to see this ever since I first heard about it. I was aware of Michele Soavi's work through his collaborations with Dario Argento. Stagefright was great. The Church was great. Surely this will be too. Soavi and zombies - brilliant. I finally got it from Italy on Blu-ray. (A few days after it was released here, I later found out. Cheers for that.)

But it's terrible. I absolutely hate it. It's more akin to a French comedy, and an unfunny one at that. 

Right. Calm down. Maybe my expectations are prejudicing me against this film. I'll give it a break and then watch it again at a later date. See you in a bit...

So, I've given it a good few months and watched it again. Has many opinion changed in the slightest? Well, maybe slightly...

I don't mind it when films don't exactly make total sense, and it some cases it actually adds to the film, but this really doesn't make any sense in the slightest. Francesco Dellamorte (Rupert Everett - never very convinced by him) runs a cemetery with his chum Gnaghi who only ever talks in grunts. The dead are coming back to life and Francesco deals with them as an everyday part of his job. And then a pretty lady (Anna Falchi) enters his life, the wife of one of the corpses he has to bury. I don't want to spoil the story, (I'm not sure why, it doesn't really matter in this case) so I'll leave it by saying that Falchi plays a few important roles that left me completely baffled.

I still think that it feels more like a French comedy, something along the lines of Delicatessen. One of the characters has a relationship with a severed zombie head, not in an explicit way, but that's the general tone. Braindead played for laughs and got them. In this the laughs are non-existent as is any tension or horror.

Someone, somewhere will probably love this film though. It is visually gorgeous at times, looking like a precursor to some of Lars Von Trier's recent work. There is atmosphere in abundance but it is a dreamlike atmosphere of extreme quirkiness. I hope that someone does love it, because it feels like a film that should be loved. That person is sadly not me.

(Average rating for the season so far = 5.6)

If you like this you could also try:
Delicatessen, Braindead, Return of the Living Dead.

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Intermission - evlkeith's Fashion Emporium

The other day an old lady came up to me, while I was frequenting a local knocking shop, and asked me, "evlkeith, considering that you're such a fashion icon, why don't you start your own clothes shop?" It's a good question. I'm so busy doing other stuff, like writing film reviews, that I'll probably never get round to creating a multi-million pound fashion behemoth. But if I did, this is what it would be like...

It would be cheap. Not quite 'as chips', but close. And the clothes would be of high quality. They'd last for ages and there would be a complete lack of shrinkage when washed at higher temperatures. Premium products made by a well paid workforce. 

They would also be intensely fashionable. I would spend many millions of pounds on getting the top models and popular music stars to wear my clothes and say how great they are before I open my stores. Everyone would want clothes designed by me.

But here's the catch: I would only allow certain people to buy them. It would be a very exclusive club. All of my stores would screen potential customers before they were allowed to buy. All employees would also have to get through the screening. Here are the tests:

  • Muscle mass - as soon as a customer walks in, they pass over a hidden sensor that calculates muscle mass. Anyone with over a certain percentage of muscle, let's say 10%, gets thrown out, by a big burly ex-miner.
  • iPhone - owning an iPhone is an instant red flag. As is having owned an iPhone that has since been nicked.
  • Attractiveness - anyone deemed to be very attractive immediately gets the boot.
  • Social skills - prospective customers would be met by one of my employees of the opposite sex. The employee would try to strike up a conversation with them. If they shuffle around uncomfortably, mumbling quietly, they're in.

  • Comics test - customers who have got past the previous rounds would then face a written exam based on their knowledge of comics. Anyone scoring less than 80% is out. 
  • Posh house - evidence of a postcode and house number will be required. Anyone who lives in a nice area is shown the door.
  • Musical knowledge - a series of pop tunes will be played. Failure to recognise the groups or artists will mean elimination. Possible groups could include The Mars Volta, The Hepburns or The Bodines.
  • Fitness - A 10 minute sprint on a running machine with no stop button. If the customer falls through lack of fitness, a crane arm grabber thing picks them up before they hit the deck and places them on a lovely bed of cushions. If the customer/show off manages the full 10 minutes, the crane arm smashes their face into the moving treadmill, which happens to be made out of industrial grade sandpaper. 

You may have realised that all of these tests are designed to weed out the rich, attractive, popular, fit, cool kids. My high quality, high fashion, low price clothes will be for everyone else who can't shop in certain other clothes shops due to their lack of the above qualities.

And when my fashion empire reaches its peak, I would buy out the certain other clothes shops and shut them down. Then I would laugh.