Friday, 29 November 2013

Review - Children Shouldn't Play with Dead Things (1973 - Dir. Bob Clark)

When this kicked off I thought that I was watching a live action Scooby Doo film from the seventies. It's down to the lovely costumes you see. Plus it's set on a creepy island shrouded in fog. Scooby Doo all over. If Scooby Doo contained a gay necrophile wedding scene.

Alan is an irritating control freak theatre director who takes his happy little band of thespians to a dark island containing a graveyard. Alan also likes playing pranks, a bit like Beadle but with stripy trousers and a neckerchief. The oh-so-amusing prank he plays involves digging up a dead body and getting one of his buddies to rise from the now empty grave. How everyone laughs. For an encore he tries to raise the dead. Nice one mate.

The good thing is that Alan, played by Alan Ormsby (brother of Doncaster Rovers legend Brendan Ormsby... possibly), is supposed to be irritating and he is entertainingly irritating. I can see how his performance would split people, but I quite enjoyed him hamming about, laughing like a pantomime villain and having a good old rant at his chums. In fact, the whole film probably depends on whether you warm to his performance or not. I did. But there's more to the film than just Alan.

Evil-beardy Alan

Boot-swinging Brendan

The zombies are more Zombie Flesh Eaters than World War Z. Ormsby did the effects himself using a combination of latex and toilet paper. Quality. On the whole, they look great, really crusty and dead. It's just that it takes a while for the proper zombies to appear.

Yeah, about fifty minutes pass and there's not a whiff of a dirty shambler. Maybe if they appeared ten minutes earlier my rating would have been bumped up by a point to a very respectable level. When they finally appear though, it has to be one of my favourite moments of any of the zombie films I've seen this year. They claw their way out of their graves (hooray) all to the accompaniment of the strangest film music I've had the pleasure to come across. It's all very atmospheric and strangely disturbing. At times they attack in stunning low def slow motion (probably filmed at 24fps and then slowed down to give that snail pace flip book feel) and again it's worryingly powerful given the tone of the rest of the film.

I've managed to avoid the marriage scene until the final paragraph. It sounds great on paper but it didn't really register with me that much at the time. It's a natural continuation of the degradation that the corpse has suffered before. Lovers of The League of Gentlemen probably won't bat an eyelid. If you're shocked by this type of thing (that's what the film-makers were going for) and find men marrying dead men distasteful then maybe avoid this and watch something entirely more pleasant instead; I'd recommend something along the lines of Antichrist, or the zombie film I'll be reviewing next week...


If you like this you could also try:
Deathdream, Dead and Buried.

Sunday, 24 November 2013

Review - Siege of the Dead (2010 - Dir. Marvin Kren)

It's getting close to the end of our Year of the Dead and Doccortex couldn't resist getting in on the action. So here we go with his review of Siege of the Dead (aka Rammbock) - evlkeith. 

Never has a DVD cover been less representative of its film than the sprawling, epic image of end of the world carnage on Siege of the Dead. This is not a widescreen or panoramic story at all. It's a claustrophobic, microscopic and insular view of the Zombocalypse set almost completely in a single block of flats. That's not to say it's a bad film, but if you're expecting something akin to the Dawn of the Dead remake you've got another thing coming.

The second surprise is that it's a German take on the genre. If you're interested in what it would be like to be trapped in a grotty Berlin housing block with zombies running amok then that's basically what Siege of the Dead provides for you. Apart from the fact that the characters speak in German (which is a bit of a dead give away) you'd never know this was a German production; no beer festivals, lederhosen, sausage or hardcore techno. But don't this lack of German goodness put you off, this is a quirky, funny and original film, which was probably made on a shoestring budget.

It's ultimately a love story as our hero Michael visits his former girlfriend in an attempt to woo her back into his arms. He's just a tad obsessed with her, to the point where he almost doesn't notice the homicidal zombie horde lurking in the courtyard below. To be honest you can see why she dumped him and it's difficult to see how he's survived in more mundane times. At the end of the world he sleeps in her furry bear suit, worries about broken forks and weeing in the sink.

It all progresses in predictable fashion and ticks all the zombie checklist buttons, but never quite has you on the edge of your seat. The ending is funny, preposterous and satisfying. It's another lukewarm review for a film that probably deserves better considering the budgetary restrictions, but at the end of the day it's standard issue rather than anything particularly out of the ordinary. Promising performance but ultimately it's mid-table obscurity.


If you like this you could also try:
The Horde, The Dead.

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Review - Alien vs. Ninja (2010 - Dir. Seiji Chiba)

You may be intensely sceptical when I tell you that this is quite a good film despite being very low of budget and mainly set in a forest. I would be too, especially since it suffers from the same syndrome as the recently reviewed Almost Human. As soon as the first few seconds were over I knew that it could only get 7/10 tops due to its low quality camerawork and acting. Whereas Almost Human took itself far too seriously and was far too dull, Alien vs. Ninja is creative and fun.

Yamata, Jinnai and Nezumi are a merry band of ninjas. When a strange meteor crashes into the ground they decide to investigate. They team up with some more ninjas led by the lovely Rin (who possesses - at least according to her ninja armour - extremely well separated lady lumps). The meteor contains an alien that causes havok and scatters body parts left, right and centre. It's a tad more brutal than the aliens that we know and love. And a tad more stupid.

Aliens had the Queen alien. Alien 3 had the dog alien. And Alien vs. Ninjas has the demented dolphin alien. If you need any proof that this film is having a laugh, have a look at the creature design below:

I almost immediately warmed to this film. It took me a few minutes to put my finger on what it was about it that I liked. Then it came to me: it feels like anime. If you imagine all the characters being hand drawn then everything falls into place. It's like Naruto with a Flipper inspired alien ripping everyone to shreds. The humour is very similar to Naruto but again with a darker edge. 

In some films I moan about low quality effects (both practical and CGI) but here they are a positive. The alien bounces around like it's had a cocktail of smarties, speed and moonshine. Whereas Ridley Scott tried to disguise the 'bloke in a suit' aspect of his alien, here the rubber suit is often seen in all its glory and they couldn't care less. Power Rangers has better costumes. But it all adds to the charm. At one point a character has their eye pecked out by a crow. The crow is brought to life by the complicated method of someone holding an inanimate model crow and repeatedly pecking around the actor's eye area. It made me laugh rather a lot.

There are a few scenes of exposition where things slow slightly, but in general, it rattles along at a fair pace. For a 15 rated film it is surprisingly graphic. Probably because of the stupid tone it gets away with it easily. The gore flies around readily and the sword fights are surprisingly good too. With a running time of 80 minutes it doesn't outstay its welcome. Plus it finishes with a suitable action film climax, involving a battle, a TJ Hooker moment where the lead characters walk away arm in arm laughing, and the obligatory final twist that sets up a sequel.

This only cost me £1.33. Given the title, I didn't have high hopes. I really enjoyed it though - apart from the back stories in the middle - and would recommend it to anyone who can bear to watch a film with that stupid a title. 

If you like this you could also try:
Naruto, Split Second, Ninja Scroll.

Sunday, 17 November 2013

Review - Zombie Creeping Flesh (1980 - Dir. Vincent Dawn (aka Bruno Mattei))

I've sat through some entertainingly bad stuff during the course of The Year of the Dead, Nightmare City, Zombie Flesh Eaters 2 and Zombie Flesh Eaters 3 to name a few, but Zombie Creeping Flesh has pushed me over the edge. It is virtually identical to the Zombie Flesh Eaters sequels. Throw together some civilians, some military types and some zombies and watch as hilarity ensues. It's no surprise to find that Bruno Mattei and Claudio Fragasso crop up in the credits for all three.

After an amusing incident in a research facility, where the scientists wear some brilliant helmets that obviously keep out 100% of any contamination (see above), a reporter and her cameraman join forces with a commando unit when everything goes slightly unpleasant due to a zombie horde appearing, who rather than having the appearance of the recently deceased, look more like they've got severely burnt from misuse of fake tan. The plucky chums have lots of adventures including lots of great things that I can't remember because they were so brilliant. They do meet up with some stereotypical natives, which is as offensive as you'd imagine. Basically, they wander around until they get picked off one by one by the zombies.

I like zombie films. I like animals, even when they're shot in slow motion. But a random conglomeration of the two is not good. On occasions the film inexplicably stops for a bit of slow motion animal footage, then carries on with some more zombie action. These speed impeded creatures pop up throughout the whole sorry show. It's as if they wanted to prolong the agony so they thought they'd slap in some stock footage. The worst one is when some mad fox type thing chases a small mammal and kills it. Fair enough if it's a natural history documentary but here it's completely unnecessary.

Not from the film, but you get the idea.

The acting is terrible as usual for these Mattei/Fragasso affairs. Couple that with some quality dialogue and highly accurate dubbing and the whole thing becomes mildly entertaining. It provides a fair few laughs anyway. The noise of someone chucking up after seeing a rather unpleasant sight is one of the highlights. There's yet more dubbing fun to be had when one of the commandos decides to become a transvestite and sing a little ditty. Another thing to look for is the commando who always charges about shooting or lamping zombies and generally getting giddy. Things always liven up when he's on screen. I'll see if I can find a screenshot of him so you know who I'm on about when you watch this.

A transvestite.

A maniac.

Is there anything that's good in this shambles? The music. By Goblin. Need I say more? If you shut your eyes you can almost imagine that you're watching a quality Argento product rather than this pile of steamy poopy. Not Goblin's best but easily the most accomplished element of this film. There's also one nice bit of gore towards the very end involving some eye poppage. Fulci would be proud. Actually he wouldn't. It's not a patch on any of his eye torture scenes but compared to the rest of the lacklustre effects, it's most welcome when it comes.

Given how rubbish it is it's amazing that it's got a couple of iconic shots. And here they are:

Apart from that it's terrible. I have to admit to falling asleep during the middle of it. When I woke the same characters were still alive so either I hadn't slept for long or nothing had actually happened (way more likely). It's not really worth giving the time of day unless you're a zombie completist. Out of the bad Italian zombie films of this period I would have to plump for Nightmare City. At least the zombies get to fire guns and punch people in the face.

If you like this you could also try:
Any of the Zombie Flesh Eaters series, Nightmare City.

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Review - Loups=Garous (2010 - Dir. Junichi Fujisaku)

Ever since Fermat's Last Theorem got solved I've been waiting for another tricky equation to have a crack at. And now I've got one: Loups=Garous. Mmm, I'm not sure that the majority of mathematicians are quite prepared for that one yet. But I'm going to spend the next eight years of my life proving it and star in my own documentary on BBC2.

I'm going to zoom off on a tangent now before I actually get on with the review. It's possibly not a secret that I'm not a big mobile phone user (for some evidence check out one of our vintage intermissions - Retro Phones, and yes, I still own and use that phone). Because I rarely use my phone, I am in the privileged position of being able to observe others using their mobile devices. I'm not going to give any judgements, I'll just detail some things I've noticed:

  • Walking along with one other person chatting away when suddenly they start to use their phone. (I believe that this is called phubbing.)
  • Two people in the same room communicating on Facebook.
  • A man and a woman - possibly partners - sat in a cafe for twenty minutes having a nice cup of tea. They didn't talk to each other the whole time due to phone usage.
  • A family of four sat in a service station having a nice cup of tea. Again no interaction between any of them.
  • A mother walking along with a baby in a pushchair and/or a toddler, not engaging in any attempt at communication, yet again due to phone bothering. (I've seen this numerous times.)
  • Going to a popular music concert only to be severely disappointed because virtually no-one danced. They were too busy holding up their phones to record it.
  • A young woman with a new iPhone out in town gets it nicked and her mum gets saddled with a rather long contract.
  • The same young woman with another new iPhone on the toilet, drops it down it. Her mum gets saddled with a rather long contract at the same time as the previous one. Cheers.
  • A young woman (a different one this time) with a new iPhone out in town gets some dubious substance put in her beverage and wakes up to find her phone missing (and saddled with a rather long contract - but at least she paid for it herself).
  • I was on a course recently and everyone was engaged in the thrilling subject of lone working. It got to dinner time and the bloke said that we could get some snap (translation - dinner, or alternative translation for people who are wrong - lunch). As soon as he'd said this, I sat back and had a little stretch. Everyone else, and that's nine people, immediately got out their phones and started fiddling, their eyes glued to their screens. It was silent. I looked around amazed and slightly concerned that I'd slipped back in time to a fifties black and white science-fiction fable in the style of Children of the Damned.
"Wait a minute. Just on Facebook. Want to see our Rachel's having for her dinner."

In all of the above cases no-one actually used their phone to ring someone up and talk to them. I went to Italy relatively recently and the culture was very different there. People still used mobiles, but they used them as literal mobile phones, to chat to others using their vocal cords. 

Right, I'm supposed to be reviewing Loups=Garous, something possibly about a werewolf, and yet I'm wittering on about mobiles. (It's not really a werewolf film in the traditional sense, but we'll come to that later.) The point is that Loups=Garous is the first film that I've seen that has picked up on these behaviours. It's not subtle about it either. The basic message is: stop living your life through a tiny screen, throw it away and experience life for yourself. It also delves into the use of the word monitor. It used to be something that we looked at and now it is something that can look at us. Pretty relevant stuff.

Set in the future, Makino is a young lady with a communication disorder. She never has real conversations with anyone, only through her monitor (for 'monitor' read 'mobile'). You can possibly see where the communication disorder has come from. She gets put in a group of children to develop her language skills. But murder is afoot, as always. The plucky chums try to discover the secret behind all of this bloodshed.

Makino has to be the wettest lead character I've ever seen. Other characters in the film have some top battling skills, like knife wielding or the fancy use of kenpo. Makino's top talent is to shut her eyes. (Hey, don't knock it. It worked in City of the Living Dead.) Towards the end of the film she has to rescue her friends. And she does so in fine style. By falling down the stairs and whimpering a bit. Despite all that I couldn't help but like her, especially in her final scenes.

My favourite character has to be Tsuzuki. She's one of Makino's gang and is a tad giddy. She has a love of life that is infectious plus an ability to render monitors useless (I did say that it wasn't that subtle). The other main character is Kono who is a tad confusing in the trouser department. At one point Kono is referred to as 'he', but he seems to have lady lumps and a preference for wearing one stocking. But that's all part of the puzzle.

And a puzzle it is. Well, for me anyway. It took me two watches - and a few rewinds - to work out what was going on. I was expecting a full on werewolf film, and it's not in the slightest. It takes a while to work out what it is. It's not that I didn't enjoy it. My comment on numerous occasions was, I'm not sure what's going on, but I like it. Everything is there for working out the story, it just took me some time. The only thing that still bothers me is in one scene where the moon is waning and I'm not sure why (you'd have to watch it to understand).

One of the best things about Loups=Garous is the use of music by Scandal, who contribute a few of their ditties along with appearing in the film in Klonoa: Lunatea's Veil style. I've since downloaded the tracks for my listening pleasure. Because they're good.

So if you hate mobile phones, love wet lead characters, Japanese pop rock girl bands and plenty of shots of gibbous moons (let's face facts - who doesn't love a gibbous moon?) then this could well be for you.

I spoil you.

If you like this you could also try:
Purchasing a phone like mine that even struggles with texting.

Saturday, 9 November 2013

Review - Rec 2 (2009 - Dir. Jaume Balagueró, Paco Plaza)

Continuing straight on from the end of Rec, a medical officer (who wears a high-vis vest - surely not a good move) accompanied by a SWAT team enter the house where all of the action occurred in the original. Armed with big guns, head cams and camcorder - for documenting the evidence obviously - they head into the murky zombie infested dwelling. Except they may not be zombies...

Yep, Rec 2 takes a bit of a turn in a different direction. I won't go into details but more is happening than just your usual everyday zombie outbreak. In reality, it doesn't change much. There are still the fast paced zombies from Rec charging about ripping people's throats out and changing them into new zombies. The twist to the original formula doesn't add much but it doesn't detract either.

The directors also make a change in the way the story is told. Gone is the linear story, replaced by a fractured story that jumps about in time. Not massively, but enough to be interesting. As time passes, familiar events are seen from different angles. The best use of this device is probably the ending, which is a bit gippy. It raises the rating by a notch as it explains some slightly niggling questions.

The last quarter of the film is similar in style to games such as Soul Reaver and The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past where two worlds are present in the same space. In Rec 2 the swappage is done through the use of normal lighting, or the night vision mode on the camera. It's actually quite effective as the characters change between the two modes to uncover a room's secrets. And its inhabitant. It's pretty tense stuff.

Something that doesn't work quite so well for me is the use of long takes. Well, supposedly long takes. As in The Silent House and Rope, I couldn't help spotting where the hidden cuts were, bringing me out of the film on every occasion. This may only be a problem for a technical sicko like me. I did get more used to it as time went on and the story managed to draw me in enough so that I didn't notice.

Rec 2 isn't earth-shattering but it is an okay little film. It's got at least one good jump and a few moments of creepy horror. I've been told that Rec 3: Genesis isn't that good but I may have to investigate (if I can get it cheap).

If you like this you could also try:

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Review - Der Fan (1982 - Dir. Eckhart Schmidt)

Here we go then with the final part in our coverage of Celluloid Screams 2013:

Simone (Désirée Nosbusch) is a teenager obsessed with a top German popstar called R (a bit like a mixture between Gary Numan and Kraftwerk). She's completely insane. She writes to him regularly, declaring her love for him and how happy they will be together when they finally meet. And finally meet they do, and things don't quite turn out as she'd wanted.

This is a tale of obsession and neurosis that is particularly uncomfortable to watch due to the young age of the main character. She spends roughly half the film naked. Désirée Nosbusch wasn't too happy with the scenes either and tried to stop its release, but she failed and the full director's cut was available for all. This is a film that wouldn't get made now in its current form. 

Saying that, it's not a bad film. Admittedly any kind of horror content doesn't kick in for a long while but it's worth waiting for. It is quite slow moving and that's okay with me if there is enough of interest along the way and the ending delivers. Which it does. I didn't even mind the almost non-acting. It all adds to the feeling that both of them have got completely empty lives.

It's interesting watching this in the current climate of Operation Yewtree and a culture obsessed with celebrities and their lifestyles. I doubt that much has really changed since 1982, except now the self-obsessed R would have an iPhone to take selfies.

This is one of those films that I'm glad that I've seen, the ending will stay with me for a long time, but I can't say that I'm that keen on watching it again.

If you like this you could also try:
Vertigo, He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not.