Sunday, 26 January 2014

Review - Night of Bloody Horror (1969 - Dir. Joy N. Houck Jr.)

This is the first instalment in an infrequent season that could well take a few years to complete, in fact it may never be finished depending on the availability of the films. So what's it all about? F. Paul Wilson wrote three books in the eighties that were seemingly unconnected: The Keep (made into a disappointing film by Michael Mann), The Tomb and The Touch. He then wrote a further three novels that brought everything together: Reborn, Reprisal and finally Nightworld. These six books form The Adversary Cycle and they're probably the books that I have read the most. 

What's all this got to do with films then? In Nightworld the local television stations run horror/science fiction marathons that fit with the theme of the book. These films are listed at various points throughout. Being a list pervert I just couldn't resist trying to watch all of them, and that's what I'm going to try and do. I've included the full list of 56 films on Letterboxd for your delectation.

And that brings us to the first film on the list: Night of Bloody Horror. For the late sixties this probably was a night of bloody horror but now it's more of an evening of slight grazing. Okay, it's not that tame but the violence won't have the same impact as when it was originally released. There is a quality comedy killing near the start when a lovely lady goes to confession only to be told that her "penance is death!" Eye trauma follows. An axe is used at one point too - always a treat - so this can be seen as a precursor to the slasher films.

When I was watching The Ark of the Sun God recently I was cynically wondering when Raiders of the Lost Ark was released, and yep, it was a couple of years earlier. Here I was thinking that night of Bloody Horror must have been filmed in 1961 or 1962, just after Psycho. Mais non! This was released in 1969. Way too late for a cheap homage. Suffice to say that if you've seen Hitchcock's classic then you'd see the unexpected twist in Night of Bloody Horror coming, even if it set off from the other side of the world. 

Despite some fairly amateurish acting it's enjoyable enough. Wesley (Gerald McRaney - Simon and Simon) plays a troubled young lad who has witnessed something rather disturbing in his childhood. Flashbacks occur in a similar fashion to the ones in Deep Red (1975) accompanied by a tinkly creepy childish tune. Wesley is regularly afflicted by some serious headaches. So serious they are visualised by some some swirly patterns that are overlaid on to his grimacing visage. The police start to suspect Wesley of some minor misdemeanours due to the fact that his girlfriends keep turning up dead. He doesn't help his case by generally being violent and having some slightly worrying dreams. In one he is met by an attractive reporter who hops into bed with him for some slap and tickle. As they caress and rummage, Wesley looks down and the attractive brunette has changed... to his mum. Not good. Oedipus and Freud would stroke their chins in ponderment.

Just as Psycho is an example of a western giallo, so too is this, even down to the leather murdering gloves. It has some style: freeze frames are used to good effect and the camera goes completely bonkers in a nightclub scene, flicking between negative and positive versions of the film. Added to that is the way the camera operator constantly zooms in and out in time to the music. It all made me feel a little bit on the murdery side. 

Ultimately, it's not a Dario Argento giallo or a quality Hitchcock thriller. But what you do get is a slice of sixties murder and mayhem all filmed in Violent Vision that may or may not have influenced Mr Argento. Best for people who've never seen Psycho though.

If you like this you could also try:
Psycho, Peeping Tom.

Thursday, 23 January 2014

Review - The Ark of the Sun God (1984 - Dir. Antonio Margheriti)

The first match in our FA Cup of Actors kicks off with a cheeky back heel from David Warbeck in the form of The Ark of the Sun God. But will it be enough to quash Radha Mitchell's attempts at winning the trophy in its very first year?

It starts off pretty well with wise-cracking thief Rick Spear (Warbeck) walking in the footsteps of the Milk Tray man, lurking in shadows and sneaking into a building. He even gets to use a zip wire in his burgling antics. Action packed stuff with a little twist at the end of this first act. Quite cheap and cheerful but entertaining nonetheless. 

Then things take a turn for the worst. There's about forty or fifty minutes of characters getting abducted, then found again, then abducted, then found etc. It all gets a bit tiresome and the story goes absolutely nowhere. Finally it gets moving again with a quest to find a sceptre that belonged to the god Gilgamesh. Mmm, a quest for a religious artefact... you're probably thinking exactly the same as me: I wonder when Raiders of the Lost Ark came out. It was 1981, and yep, this is an Italian homage/cash-in directed by Antonio Margheriti of Cannibal Apocaplyse fame. 

Compared to Raiders, this comes off really badly. As mentioned previously, it takes an age for Rick to actually pack his bags and get going on his journey. And when he does it's a very short trip: nip in a helicopter, fly a bit, have a little walk and he's there. Seeing as though it's an adventure film there's precious little adventuring.

The villains are pretty low quality ineffectual buffoons too. Their leader is not much better. No subtlety here. Just plenty of ranting and shouting. I don't think Belloq has got anything to worry about.

But it's got David Warbeck in it so it can't be all bad. Funnily enough, he's the best thing about this lacklustre adventure fest. For starters, he tells his lady friend that he's off out to do "man's work". And when he returns from his mission at about 7 o'clock in the morning, he's just in time for a bit of nookie. What a guy. Adding to his manliness is his propensity to wear beautiful clothes along the lines of an eighties style jacket with sky blue trousers. And not content with that, his favourite drink is Bacardi with milk and lots of crushed ice. What kind of sick deviant would like that?!? (Doccortex, the milk pervert, probably would.)

And that's not the end of things that are actually quite good in this film. John Steiner (Tenebraeappears as a posh English wheelchair bound millionaire type who is willing to fund Rick's adventure. It's a treat to see him in action as usual. Plus he's got a camp butler called Rupert who's "rather good at tying people up". Yeah, I bet he is.

Although it's not a total own goal extravaganza, it's not the best of starts for David Warbeck and I can sense that Radha Mitchell isn't exactly quaking in her boots based on this performance. But it all depends on her randomly selected film, there may still be a late minute winner from Warbeck...

If you like this you could also try:
Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Treasure Hunter, Armour of God, Operation Condor.

Wednesday, 8 January 2014

Feature - The FA Cup of Actors - First Round Draw

Last year we had zombies, this year: actors. 

Here's how the FA Cup of Actors will work: sixteen actors (all of which must have appeared in at least one film already reviewed on this site to qualify) have been chosen by an independent panel (basically me and Doccortex). They will then have to face off against each other in an FA Cup style competition. For example, if Mollie Sugden was up against Nick Berry, I would randomly select two films from IMDb, one from Mollie Slocombes vast filmography and one for Nick Pat 'Wicksy' Wicks. These films will be reviewed and the film with the higher rating will give that actor a pass into the next round. (If both films get the same rating then there will be a replay with both actors getting another film each.)

As always there are complications: if I've already reviewed the film that comes up, Doccortex will get a crack at reviewing it, and vice versa. If we've both reviewed it (Uninhabited par example) then we randomly select another film for that actor. Finally, if the film is very mainstream, we'll still review it (it's not looking terribly good for Portman if any of the Star Wars prequels come up). The actors have got to have shown great insight in their choice of which film projects they have participated in, and as such, need to show quality across the full breadth of their filmography. 

All clear? Okay then, let's crack on with the draw for the First Round and - as so often happens in these things - it's thrown up a few tasty contests:

1. David Warbeck vs. Radha Mitchell
2. Natalie Portman vs. Ellen Page
3. Jennifer Connelly vs. Rutger Hauer
4. Jeffrey Combs vs. Marc Singer
5. Nathan Fillion vs. Émilie Dequenne
6. Joan Fontaine vs. Barbara Crampton
7. Jamel Debbouze vs. Jennifer Jason Leigh
8. Gael Garcia Bernal vs. James Stewart

I'm a bit gutted that either Portman or Page will be leaving the competition in the first round, but on the positive side it looks like Bernal will be out, seeing as though he's up against powerhouse Stewart. 

For our first match we'll be seeing David Warbeck squaring up to Radha Mitchell. I think this match could go either way. It will all depend on the films selected. Shame that one of these lovely actors has to go too, but I suppose that's the nature of the competition. Find out the film that has been randomly selected for David Warbeck very soon...


Monday, 6 January 2014

Review - Volver (2006 - Dir. Pedro Almodóvar)

(After the runaway success of the Motivational Growth review with its own chiptune soundtrack, Doccortex has decided to base a whole season on a song. So feel free to listen to this lovely song as you read - evlkeith)

In our Ladies' Night Season we examine a selection of films with strong female leads. Surely it can't be any worse than The Luc Besson Season (It'd have to be going some - evlkeith). We kick off with the highly enjoyable Volver...

Occasionally a film brings to life a location with such vividness and realism that you feel absorbed into the setting. Volver’s representation of the superstitious little village of Alcanfor de las Infantas and surrounding area is one of those moments. You want to return and live there long after the film has finished, such is the warmth, emotion and detail that is generated. And although not situated in the village, you want to share a meal at Raimunda’s restaurant and listen her sing.

It’s also one of those films when not much happens. Okay, there’s death, illness and people return from the dead, but ultimately the film is about the characters and how they celebrate all the intricacies of life. The line between the living and the dead is blurred in an intelligent way and although the themes are melancholy the film somehow manages to produce a joyous festival of what it means to be alive.

I’d never really noticed Penelope Cruz before apart from her supporting role in Vicky Christina Barcelona. In Volver however, she is incredible, and the best way to describe her performance has already been used in the IMDb review by Rene; she is ‘a force of nature.’ She’s strong, beautiful, passionate and believable, as the suddenly widowed Raimunda.

The rest of the all female leads are equally natural, with Carmen Maura’s ‘Irene’ and Lola Duenas’ ‘Sole’ both worthy of special note. Only Blanca Portillo breaks the illusion of real life with a slightly over the top performance as the spooky ‘returning’ mother, who looks crazed and disturbed in equal measure.

It’s great fun and a quality film, and it somehow manages to avoid classification in any of the tired old genre slots. If you fancy a trip to rural Spain, avoid all the heat and the hassle, just watch Volver instead.


If you like this you could also try:
All About my Mother, The Sea Inside, Open Your Eyes.

Sunday, 5 January 2014

Feature - Christmas Quiz 2013 - Answers

Finally we have the much anticipated answers to our Christmas Quiz 2013. Rumours abound that it was way too easy. I'll try harder next year...

Mystery film 1 - Mamma Mia

Mystery film 2 - Big Tits Zombie

Mystery film 3 - Burial Ground: The Nights of Terror

Mystery film 4 - Uninhabited

Mystery film 5 - Zombie Flesh Eaters 2

Doccortex didn't do too bad with 2/5 but I can't believe he didn't get the last one. Surely the Lassie dog in a jester collar gave it away...