Friday, 28 June 2013

Review - Zombie Holocaust (1980 - Dir. Marino Girolami)

It is relatively easy to imagine the thought processes of Mr Girolami as he pondered his next film project: 'Mmm, what shall I knock up next. Erm... ooh, Zombie Flesh Eaters has just come out and has been really successful. Why don't I re-use the general idea of that. And the locations. And the lead actor. And a supporting actor (sadly not Al Cliver, it's Dakar). Hey, let's be crafty though. I don't want to be accused of being a dirty little homager. Er... I know. Cannibals. Let's throw some of them in too. Cannibals + Zombies = Can't fail. And to be on the safe side let's get the leading lady to display her prize winning begonias at every opportunity. Perfect.'

And that's exactly what you get with Zombie Holocaust. It's the Nisa version of Zombie Flesh Eaters. That's not to say that it's without its merits. There are some half decent gore moments, the highlight is a zombie being given a nice, close shave with an outboard motor. And due to the cannibal contingent, there has to be a bamboo type trap spike incident followed by disembowelment and a spot of light lunch. Although, I was very grateful that there was no animal cruelty, unlike other cannibal films of the time.

Ian McCulloch isn't given much to do, but is still a joy to watch. But the top performance has to be by Donald O'Brien as the mad doctor. He delivers some absolute pearlers, all with a straight face. A straight face that is hamming it up like no-one's business, but a straight face nonetheless. Watch the trailer for some of his words of wisdom. As for Alexandra Delli Colli, she gets subjects to some severe Barbie-ism of the privities. (As did Linnea Quiggley in The Return of the Living Dead.)

In fact the American trailer, where the film's title was Dr. Butcher M.D., is an absolute cracker. It bears little relation to the film but if I hadn't already seen the film, this trailer would convince me. One of my favourite trailers ever.

The zombies are of a similar ilk to the early Fulci zombies, crusty and no doubt stinky too. They manage to reach iconic status in parts. At one point the appearance of the zombies scare away all of the cannibals. And you'd be forgiven for thinking that these zombies were going to be pretty nasty if cannibals leg it from them. Sadly, they are used more as low quality henchmen rather than proper zombies, their flesh eating powers reduced to a spine-tingling ability to link arms with our hero and restrain him. It's as if they've been on a manual handling course. Great.

Nowhere near as good as Zombie Flesh Eaters then, and nowhere near as well made. But it's enjoyable enough. It just falls a bit short of the initial promise of cannibals vs zombies. Mid-table zombie fodder. But great trailer.

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

Monday, 24 June 2013

Review - Polisse (2011 - Dir. Maïwenn)

Certain films can be summed up in a single word. That word in Polisse’s case is ‘harrowing’. This is an undeniably gritty, fly on the wall style drama that is realistic, but at the same time disturbing and difficult viewing. For grit fans it may fall under the select few films that are just too real for their own good. On the other hand, if you enjoy a couple of hours of harrowing drama, then you’ll love this.

The whole film looks and feels like a documentary. It’s based around the work of the Child Protection Unit in Paris and follows the lives of the officers both on duty and in their private lives as they struggle to cope with the various horrific situations they meet on a daily basis. Maïwenn spent time with the actual unit and used the specific cases she encountered throughout the film. Needless to say it’s pretty harrowing stuff.

Sadly there are numerous reasons why I didn’t engage with the film rather than just the harrowing nature of the subject matter. The acting is not convincing from any of the unit’s officers with Joeystarr and Karin Viard the worst offenders at looking out of place, awkward and generally trying too hard. Secondly, the humour that the officers no doubt use as a coping mechanism in real life comes over as crass and distinctly unfunny in the context as the film. And finally, as I’ve stated before on several occasions (Biutiful, Gomarrah, etc.), a great gritty film needs hope. Polisse does not leave you with a grain of hope for humanity and leaves you feeling drained and depressed.

The ending also has the ‘bolt on’ feel of a sixth form goth’s poetic screenplay. And the sub plot about the seconded photographer woman is neither necessary nor coherent.  Do I need to go on?

When all a film has got in its favour is its ability to harrow, then it’s probably best avoided.



If you like this you could also try:
JACKPOT, False Trail, The Hunt.

Friday, 21 June 2013

Review - Return of the Living Dead 3 (1993 - Dir. Brian Yuzna)

It was with some trepidation that I watched Return of the Living Dead 3 again. I first saw it when it originally came out and have seen it a few times since, but it has been a while since I last sampled its delights. Would it be as good as I remembered it? Let's take off the rose-coloured glasses and have a look...

Curt Reynolds (J. Trevor Edmond) lives with his dad, Colonel John Reynolds (Farscape's Kent McCord) who is working on dubious experiments designed to use zombies as military super-soldiers. A bit like Captain America but more flaky. Curt and his girlfriend Julie (the ubiquitous Mindy Clarke) witness one of his dad's experiments where he uses Trioxin - supposedly the chemical that caused the zombie uprising in the original Night of the Living Dead - to bring a deady back to life. What Curt doesn't see is the resulting zombie going bonkers and smashing a poor lab technician's head against a window until there is a severe case of brain leak.

After an argument with his dad, Curt takes off with Julie on his motorbike. Whilst he is distracted by Julie rearranging his trousers, ahem, they crash and Julie is killed by coming into contact with a telegraph pole a bit too quickly. You can see where this is going...

I can remember thinking that the special effects were stunning. They're still okay. Not brilliant, but okay. I was disappointed by the first zombie that came lurching out of a vat of Trioxin. Its face looked a bit gormless more than scary. Then the left side of his stupid looking visage sloughs away and the design is properly revealed. Ah, that's better. There is plenty of gore for the entrance fee and self-mutilation galore.

Like The Living Dead Girl, this film deals with a zombie who knows she is dead and is not too happy about the whole affair. She resents Curt for bringing her back in this condition. Maybe this film is one big advert for euthanasia, rather than using modern medicine to prolong a poor quality of life, or maybe, I'm reading too much into it.

Julie finds that pain helps to stave off her hunger cravings. She stabs herself with pins, springs and a shard of glass. (This isn't a comedy like the first film.) Eventually she goes the whole hog and we are treated to the iconic image of her as displayed on the DVD cover. Her reveal is as great today as when I first saw it.

One of my favourite things about this film is the false ending. It all seems to be nicely tied up with a satisfying conclusion. Then all hell breaks loose again. Admittedly the emotional ending borrows heavily from the original Return of the Living Dead but we'll let it off seeing as though it's from the same series. 

So, it's not quite as good as I remember it but it is still very enjoyable. Just don't expect it to be a laugh-a-minute like Return of the Living Dead.

If you like this you could also try:
Return of the Living Dead, Demons, Day of the Dead.

Monday, 17 June 2013

Review - Portrait of Jennie (1948 - Dir. William Dieterle)

I was chatting to someone today about a film that I'd watched last night. When the subject of it being a black and white film came up, the person in question said, "I don't watch black and white films." I knew he liked horror stuff so I enquired as to whether he'd seen Psycho. Nope. 

Black and white photography is fine and often seen in wedding albums. It is even referred to as contemporary. 

But black and white films are rarely made, probably due to the fact that they won't make any money. I've seen eyes glaze over and brains switch off as soon as a black and white film appears on the telly. 

There is a huge barrier that could all be down to the perception of black and white films as being dull. Granted, the pace is slower, but the stories are arguably better than anything that's being knocked out today. How many films have you seen that have a great start, then peter out towards the end as the writer discovers they haven't got a clue what the film is about. They just had a great initial idea.

Crikey, I better get round to the film: Portrait of Jennie. This could be a perfect entry point for black-and-white-o-phobes because the end scenes have been colour tinted. In green. And some are even in red. There's even one shot that's in full technicolour. Ooooh. (An even easier entry point could be Pleasantville. It was made relatively recently and it's got some colour scenes too. I spoil you.)

Eben Adams (Joseph Cotten) is a struggling artist trying to bring home the Pek. One day he meets a girl, Jennie (Jennifer Jones) in a park and is inspired by her. Now, I'm not entirely sure how old she's supposed to be, but let's be generous: she's 16. He looks about 45. If not 50. Eben becomes obsessed with Jennie. You can see where this is going. Let's not forget the time that this was made in. Couples were supposed to wait until marriage before they started doing rudes. So the occurrence of an older man falling in love with a younger girl and then waiting for her was fine at the time. A similar relationship appears in Random Harvest. So everything's fine... Oh, okay. He's a paedo.

But there's a fantasy element to this seedy tale. What starts out as a dubious love story evolves into a mystery and then an adventure as Eben tries to discover just what the hell is going on with Jennie. By the end we are treated to some miniature work which results in the emotional climax of the film. Pretty affecting stuff. The impact of the final colour shot is fairly huge too. If it had all been in colour, it would hardly be noticed. The contrast is attention grabbing. (The Hindenburg pulls a similar trick with even greater aplomb.)

Watched with eyes in 1940s mode, ignoring the slightly dodgy perversions of the main character, Portrait of Jennie would make an interesting double bill with Vertigo. All of the actors perform admirably too (Ethel Barrymore is a treat as always as the owner of an art studio). It turned into something that I wasn't expecting, which pumps up the rating, especially when the something else is better than what came before. So if you're like the fellow at the start of this review, dive into the world of black and white and see what you think. It's like olives. The more you eat, the nicer they get.

If you like this you could also try:
The Mist (black and white version), Psycho, Vertigo, Anatomy of a Murder, The Whisperer in Darkness

Sunday, 16 June 2013

Review - Evil Dead 2 (1987 - Dir. Sam Raimi)

So many films are billed as 'Rollercoaster Rides' and end up being about as thrilling as a trip on the little steam train at Mablethorpe. In fact, that's too exciting. The train is broken and the bloke in the crazy golf kiosk has let you have a sit on it for a quid. And you're doped up on barbiturates. The only thing stopping you falling into a coma is the pensioner who's talking to you about crown green bowling techniques. But Evil Dead 2 is one of a very small number of films that can legitimately lay claim to this label.

The Evil Dead started with scenes of getting to know the prospective deadites. Evil Dead 2 doesn't bother with any of that malarkey and wastes no time getting started. Then it doesn't let up right until the end. 

It is so evident in this film that Sam Raimi loves torturing Bruce Campbell. He's dragged through trees, performs some minor surgery on himself and gets repeatedly beaten about the face and body. If you've never seen this, it's great seeing how many different ways that Raimi can cause Brucey pain, both physically and mentally.

Evil Dead 2 must surely be one of the most quotable films ever (not maybe quite on a par with Weird Science but close). Two of the best are one word quotes too: 'Toolshed' and the classic line, 'Groovy'. 

Part of the brilliance of this film is the level of creativity that has been poured into every frame. There's no CGI so everything is done using traditional techniques. As in the first, stop motion animation makes an appearance. When Bruce is drenched in torrents of gushing blood it is real blood and not particle physics applies to red pixels. (And yes it is real blood. Over one thousand chinchillas were slaughtered and squeezed for the fountain that hits him from the wall.) It all gives it a hand-made feel that is really rough around the edges, something that is severely lacking in the overly polished offerings currently doing the rounds. (I still haven't seen the Evil Dead remake, I'll get round to it at some point...)

Mark Dacascos, Nathan Fillion, Radha Mitchell, Natalie Portman and Bruce Campbell - every single one of them makes a film instantly watchable (crikey, even Thor was bearable). If you put all of them in one film it would probably be the most watchable film in the whole history of time since before the dinosaurs first crawled out of their little shells and started slaughtering everything in their paths. Mr Campbell is a legend. There is the distinct impression that he doesn't have to act, he just turns up and is Bruce Campbell. Which is fine by me. He's not the best actor ever but he's top fun. Given a choice of any Bruce Campbell film or any Anthony Hopkins film, I'd plump for Bruce every time.

I don't want to give away any details, because if you haven't seen it you are in for a major treat. To whet your appetite even more it contains a couple of hillbillies. And a chainsaw. That makes it sound like a horror film, but it is much more of a comedy. Even mother of evlkeith say the funny side and enjoyed it.

If you like this you could also try:
The Evil Dead, Bubba Ho-Tep, Maniac Cop.

Monday, 10 June 2013

Review - Deep Red (1975 - Dir. Dario Argento)

Well, I waited and waited. And at no point during the whole running time did a pig flying a plane appear. I was severely disappointed and aggrieved. How I laughed when I realised that I'd been watching Profondo Rosso and not Porco Rosso. (Another similar, but true, story is that I thought Billy Elliott was a football film. I don't know where I got that from but I spent the whole film waiting for him to hang up his ballet shoes and put on some boots and shin pads. Stupid useless film.)

Enough of this larking around, let's get on to the film proper. I saw Deep Red about eighteen years ago in a freezing cold, grimy little house in Hull. It didn't really compare to my other Argento favourites at the time. So I haven't watched it since. Until now, for this special Dario Argento season. I must say that it's way better than I'd originally thought. 

Marcus Daly (David Hemmings - looking suspiciously like Rik Mayall) is a pianist who witnesses a murder. He teams up with ace reporter Gianna Brezzi (Daria Nicolodi) to discover the identity of the mysterious killer who funnily enough has a liking for black leather murdering gloves and keeping his/her face hidden.

Yep, we're in giallo territory and all of the usual giallo trappings are present and correct: logic that makes less sense than the answers on 3-2-1, the aforementioned murdering gloves, a preposterous central conceit that leads to the final reveal of the killer, great music (by Goblin - their first collaboration with Dario), heightened sound effects and, of course, stylishly shot murders.

It's not the goriest of offerings but it contains the Dario staple of slamming a lady's head through a plate glass window, a woman getting her head par-boiled in a bath and an incident where a mantlepiece meets a poor fellow's teeth at great velocity. The effects are all quite pleasant but the blisters on the face of the scald victim are particularly realistic.

But strangely I don't enjoy it for the killings - although they do help - I like it for two other reasons. The first is the creepy tension filled atmosphere when Marcus enters an old house at night and starts chipping away at a wall to reveal a painting. This scene lasts ages but the score and the slow reveal of the image keep it thoroughly engaging. My other reason is the relationship between the two leads, who are both supremely watchable throughout. At many times Deep Red plays more like a romantic comedy than a thriller. For evidence, look at any of the scenes that contain the tiny Lupin style car. This light-hearted feel adds a different flavour to a film that is very dark on occasions.

Deep Red falls a little foul of Argento's technical giddyness. Just as Opera was marred by steadicam overuse, Deep Red suffers from macro abuse. A few shots are okay but he does tend to overdo it a tad. But this film also shows Dario taking in wider influences (possibly introduced to him by Daria Nicolodi). One scene includes a virtual recreation of Edward Hopper's 'Nighthawks', even down to the way that the characters all sit perfectly still.

One last reason to watch this film: if you've seen Don't Look Now, one scene will be permanently engraved on your brain due to its ability to make the viewer squirm and back away from the screen. Deep Red has a similar moment with a deeply disturbing clockwork child-sized doll.

Deep Red has definitely gone up in the Dario rankings. It will be interesting to see how Suspiria and Tenebrae fare against it. (Inferno was one of my previous favourites but in a bizarre twist of events the uncut version has spoilt it for me. I really don't want to see a cat eating a live mouse. I prefer the cut version for once.)

If you like this you could also try:
Lizard in a Woman's Skin, Four Flies on Grey Velvet.