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Thirst (2009)

Saturday, November 20th, 2010

Directed by Park Chan wook

I am a big fan of Park Chan wook’s ‘Vengeance Trilogy’ – with especial love for Old Boy (2003) – so I was avidly looking forward to seeing his take on the vampirism motif in last year’s film Thirst. I finally got round to seeing this yesterday and I adored it. It’s a very different animal to Old Boy in a lot of ways, though – gentler in places, more developed in others – and I think it’s his most accomplished film so far.

Catholic priest Sang-hyeon (Kang-ho Song, The Host, Sympathy for Mr Vengeance) is a man of faith who, seemingly disillusioned with his everyday duties, volunteers himself to travel abroad for a – most likely fatal – medical experiment to help develop a vaccine for a deadly virus. The medical team there question him closely about his motivations, but he is determined. After being infected with, and later succumbing to, the virus, it looks as though Sang-hyeon has expired.

And then – miraculously – Sang-hyeon beings to breathe again, after receiving a final blood transfusion. His recovery prompts wonder in those around him; when he returns to Korea, he is mobbed by people demanding his prayers for their sick and dying loved ones. One day, as he’s attending a children’s birthday party to offer support to a terminally-ill child, a middle-aged neighbour whom he has known all his life, a Mrs Ra (Hae-Sook Kim) comes and bangs on the windows there. She desperately begs for his help, explaining that her only son is suffering from cancer.

A gentle, perhaps lonely figure, the priest agrees to visit Kang-woo (Ha-kyun Shin) and renews his acquaintance with the family. He is particularly drawn to Kang-woo’s wife, Tae-ju (Ok-bin Kim) – a woman who was taken in by the family as a girl and seemingly moved from her foster mother’s bed into the son’s bed just in order to have somewhere to live and a means to survive. Tae-ju is an unusual girl, quiet, self-contained, but irredeemably discontent: Sang-hyeon sees her fleeing the house at night to run barefoot through the streets, purely to get away from it all. When he stops her one night – and gives her his shoes to protect her feet – it seems he’s beginning to struggle with the pleasures of the flesh…

…And it’s not only sexuality which is leading him astray. Since receiving the transfusion, Sang-hyeon has developed an aversion to sunlight. And, without consuming human blood – which he covertly enjoys at the hospital where he lives/works – the disfiguring symptoms of the virus which nearly killed him return. Sang-hyeon is now pinioned between his growing love for a vulnerable woman who seems to need him, and his desire not to harm others. Like all good tragedies though, the perils of the flesh will take precedence…

This is a long, intricate film with fully fleshed-out characters whose development throughout is believable and interesting. Sang-hyeon’s wish for martyrdom and his subsequent ‘rebirth’ show him moving through all the emotional states he’s thus far avoided as part of his religious faith. His love for Tae-ju feels earnest and warm, and his lust for her acts as a catalyst, pushing him from one way of life fully into another. Tae-ju herself makes an almost polar character shift, from submissive drudge to villainness, and watching her do so provided me with a gamut of responses – from pity, to distrust, to dislike, and back to pity again. There are certainly sympathetic characters in Park Chan-wook’s earlier films, but I don’t think his storylines had this accomplished level of layering, despite being great movies in themselves.

This is a very carnal film, with a great deal of tenderness in its sex scenes and a sense of two people in love. These intimate, erotic moments find themselves upstaged at times by the nasty and the darkly comic, and the film uses dream/hallucinatory sequences which promote that classic Park-Chan wook attractive strangeness. It is always hard to adequately ‘genre’ his films and this is no exception, bringing as it does such a variety of elements into the mix.

The cinematography of this director’s films forms the lion’s share of their appeal for me and Thirst has a similar aesthetic style; from the opening shot, the predominant colour scheme of this film is blue. Only blood-red really interrupts this, and an array of close shots and carefully-choreographed scenes promotes a tangible atmosphere which overarches the film. This is one of the most artistic ‘horror’ films I’ve seen, and it really does do something different with this theme – here, vampirism is the key which transforms people’s lives in a decidedly non-straightforward way. There are no straighforward responses to vampirism here, as it is a catalyst to changes which are as important in themselves.

This is a long, densely-packed film which never felt it was either, and the ambiguity of the ending (is Mrs Ra going to join them?) together with another conflation of tender and grisly really concluded this beautiful movie in just the right way.

Let Me In?

Saturday, November 6th, 2010

Hearing that quintissentially British horror studio Hammer were planning on resurrecting themselves after the supreme misfire that was From Beyond the Rave by releasing a remake of Let The Right One In struck me as rather wrongheaded. Everything about it set off warning bells; the re-titling, the American location and cast, and above all else ‘reimagining’ a very recent, and rather wonderful film so soon after its initial success.

However, I was undecided about going to see it. Part of me wanted to support it, and part of me was just nonplussed at the entire thing. The jury was out…

And now the jury is very much back in. I won’t be going to see this film. There are a few reasons for this…

  • The irritating viral marketing campaign. I dread to think how much money has been pumped into this, but every billboard and bus in my city seems to be bedecked with the poster. Many of the key horror websites are also being smothered with advertising which drops down to obscure every damn page I’m trying to read, and I’ve seen numerous television ads too. it’s complete and utter overkill, and – with my cynicism very much swinging into action here – I’m always slightly dubious about films which get given this full-on ad campaign treatment. A lot of the films which have been pushed very hard with adverts have turned out to be weak enough that they really need that push. It could be that this is a perfectly good film but the high-profile campaign has had the opposite effect to that intended on me.
  • Hammer itself (or whoever it is that runs their social networking sites) are furthering this approach with masses of posts and retweets from people smitten with the film. Of course, people who, like me, have their doubts, are being assured of a few facts which just come across as plain wrong.
  • Firstly, Hammer is getting tied up in knots about whether this is a remake, or a reimagining from the same source, or a bit of both. After all, says their spokesperson, all of their early successes were remakes. They basically remade Universal’s Dracula, for instance. Except this is absolute bunk! Hammer were terrified of being sued by Universal, and did what they could to make sure their Dracula differed from those existing films. Anyone who’s seen the Hammer artwork exhibition will have seen the early sketches of Hammer’s Frankenstein monster, and will also have seen that this design had to be changed because of its similarity to Karloff’s monster. Hammer were not remaking Universal.
  • Why is the remake issue relevant? Well, there have been a few quibbles about whether or not Let Me In is a remake of Let The Right One In. Ostensibly, the Hammer release is an interpretation of the original novel and not a simple remake of the Swedish film. However, from the scenes and spoilers I’ve seen, the shots are framed almost identically, although the title has been cropped, the pesky foreign language issue removed and the names Americanised. It sure seems like a remake to me – in the purest sense of the term – using the effective style of the first film version whilst rendering the film more palatable for an English-speaking audience. This issue has come up again and again and Hammer have tried to quell it again and again because other people think exactly the same thing – hence the backpeddaling, and trying to rebrand the studio’s entire remit as  ‘remakes’.
  • Hammer has proudly linked to a verdict from Stephen King which calls Let Me In ‘the best American horror of the year’. As I said above, I regard Hammer as quinissentially British, so it saddens me that this film is considered an American project. There are many fine US studios out there already; I do not think Hammer need to play away from home, and I would like to see them do what they always did best – making films with a palpable feeling of Britishness in their horror. I raised this on Twitter and the assurance I received was, ‘hey, it’s better than being the WORST American movie of the year!’ and more comforting still, ‘What, would you rather we made a fairly good British film than a really good American one?’ How about you make a bloody good British film!? Now that they are working on a ‘retelling’ of The Woman In Black, perhaps I’ll get my wish, although I was somewhat dismayed by this week’s BBC news feature on the studio – where new CEO Simon Oakes declared his intention to move away from things lurid and Gothic. Lurid and Gothic would actually make a pleasant change…

So, I won’t be going to see this one. I just don’t feel that I can support such a fundamental shift away from all the things I love most about the studio (as well as its move across the Atlantic): and no, I do not think Hammer should tread the exact same ground it did in the 60s and 70s, but I would like to see more of these types of elements in horror cinema.  Gothic still works brilliantly on screen and is now underrepresented – what better arena for a studio which originally made its mark with Gothic horror? I will just have to vote with my feet here.

Mark Gatiss’s ‘A History of Horror’

Sunday, October 31st, 2010

This is a very brief rundown of my thoughts on a largely excellent series…

Parts One and Two were, I thought, heartfelt and exhaustively-researched. I thoroughly enjoyed the material on Hammer (I’m not old enough to remember Hammer in its heyday, but I have a place in my heart for the best of the studio’s output) and agreed with the premise – that horror was hugely influenced by the studio during this era. The interviews, observations and exclusive footage were just wonderful.

I was delighted to see a mention for Blood On Satan’s Claw during this episode – and likewise  Witchfinder General – two period horrors which introduced a consummate nastiness missing in earlier British films.

Part Three was more problematic for me. I certainly agreed with a lot of its choices; certainly Night of the Living Dead has had a huge influence on modern horror, even spawning a new subgenre, and Rosemary’s Baby set the bar very high for occult/secret society paranoia flicks. My personal opinion on Psycho is that it’s a good film, but overrated, but regardless – lots of the films mentioned were credible and important.

I think my major problem is with the rushed (and frankly incorrect) conclusion of the series. The sense of Gatiss’s conclusion was thus: there were lots of good horror films in the 50s, 60s and 70s. Since then there have only been isolated examples of good horror. But surely all of the films Gatiss mentions as great horrors of the 50s-70s stood alone to a large extent, hence their ability to revolutionise the horror genre or otherwise go the distance? Films certainly don’t have to derive from large studios to have merit. Indie horror has created some absolute fucking gems in recent years! I can only assume that time and money forced this somewhat trite dismissal of later horror – a dismissal which ultimately doesn’t make sense, especially in omitting a decent mention of Argento, Fulci, Ossorio, Franco, and other contemporaries of the big-budget 70s films (love them or loathe them), whilst declaring that modern films tend to go in for lazy torture porn unfairly ignores those films which emphatically do not. To say ‘you get the odd good film’ is equally true of the earlier periods of film history, and it is a shame to allow nostalgia to warp your appreciation of/understanding of a still vibrant, creative and innovative genre. ‘Torture porn’ is something that I bitterly complain of in modern films (see last post), but there is a wealth of non-torture-based horror out there, and some of these films will be the classics of the future – though largely ignored now, just as some of Gatiss’s favourites were in their day.

A Modern Cliché

Sunday, October 31st, 2010

I recently attended the 2nd Bram Stoker International Film Festival in Whitby, North Yorkshire…if you want a full appraisal of the festival, please check out my report on the Brutal as Hell website (and seriously, if you aren’t already reading this site – get it together!)

One thing which struck me there – in terms of the presence of new horror clichés – is the phenomenon of people being tied to chairs. I’d estimate around two in every five films involved this already-hackneyed motif. And how? Where did this come from? Have you ever known anyone get tied to a chair? It’s possible you have, but I maintain that the whole thing’s pretty unlikely.

Having created the endurance horror genre (I am again deliberately shying away from the ‘torture porn’ tag as I have some issues with describing these films as ‘porn’) I think filmmakers needed a slow scene – a focus for the mental suffering of their main characters, and a moment of excrutiating pause. In terms of camera-work, it also makes sense to have a character suffering in one place – perhaps with a great deal of harm being inflicted on them, but happily static and easy to record. This is, however, a pretty lazy way to handle the same theme over and over.

If you doubt what I’m saying – come on, how many people do you know who own a length of rope? Perhaps that’s a bridge too far…okay, do you know where to buy rope in your town? If you bought some, could you co-ordinate an attack on your would-be enemy’s house and find an appropriate place to tie them up? Can you even tie knots?  Does it not seem strange to you that this plot device is now routinely rolled out in so many horror films, often with little explanation, and just as if there is no other way to communicate dread and power imbalance in cinema? My heart sinks when I see this happening in films, and they often lose me after this point…

There are variations on this theme – sometimes the bad guys use strips of fabric instead of rope, and sometimes victims are cunningly tied to pillars or similar instead of chairs – but all in all, if Bad People target Basically Good People then someone’s going to get their wrists chafed.  It’s become part of the horror lexicon in recent years, so just as there’s a Maniac at the Window and a Last Girl, there’s a Twat Who Has Been Tied Up, even if the mechanics of this procedure are beyond the logic of most of the films – realism or not!

Be aware, filmmakers – there are others like me. If we see a character tied to a chair in your films, we may just assume you’re a tad lazy and unimaginative. We may even start with the knowing giggling. Think of a different way to communicate the idea of powerlessness which doesn’t depend on the presence of decent hardware stores and planning capabilities. After all, this schtick is often in so-called realist horror films, but you’d as well depict a monster rampage in the Home Counties as depict a wave of villains who were once apparently Boy Scouts.


Why horror?

Monday, October 11th, 2010

As I suggested in a recent post here, horror movies have long had their detractors. Links have repeatedly been suggested between violence in film and violence in real life (anyone reading in the UK will remember the Bulger case, and how the phantom of the murderers’ viewing habits was raised yet again after their recent releases) and for many, the possibility of copycat crime is still very real. Hell, Blockbuster Video even disposed of the horror genre in their stores altogether in the not-too-distant past – replacing it with ‘thrillers’ or something similar, and even insisting on their own cuts to movies in order to agree to stock them. Horror became the genre that dare not speak its name.

Blockbuster’s prudishness aside, things seem vastly better in the present day. Horror is thriving. Enforcing outright bans on films is made tricky by the presence of torrent sites (rights and wrongs of not-paying-per-view aside) even in those far rarer instances when the BBFC get it wrong, for the BBFC of today is a far more tolerant animal than the BBFC of the 1980s. We also have a burgeoning DVD and Blu-Ray industry making releases, re-releases and remasters easily available, aided and abetted of course by the internet, with its wealth of sources and (ahem) a large online community of vocal fans.

All this said, the possibility of censorship and outright bans has never gone away. Horror movies still fill certain sections of the population with bemusement and sometimes outright disgust. The insinuation remains that there must be something wrong with people who want to watch this kind of thing…well, allowing for the fact that ‘horror’ is a huge genre which is growing increasingly broader, I’ve always been a passionate defender of horror films, and a believer in adults having access to any material they wish: we know the difference between fantasy and reality, after all, and as such horror should be just as permissible as any fantasy medium. And so on, ad infinitum.

What my defence of horror doesn’t do is to explain my own interest in and passion for horror movies. Okay, I want the genre to be accessible to all adults and I don’t believe for a second that the genre can be blamed for crimes, or similar. That’s all established, but it says nothing about my tastes, and it now strikes me as strange that I’ve never really took the time to consider something so integral to my personal life. My usual glib response – that I was born very close to Halloween  – doesn’t quite cut it, does it?

So why horror? Why do I, or you, or we, variously enjoy sitting through depictions of torture, murder, agony, fear, unequal threat, malevolent supernatural forces, unstoppable foes, psychological trauma or insanity?

There is a good deal of academic study which suggests reasons for the enduring appeal of horror, both in literature and in film: writers like Julia Kristeva and Judith Halberstam, to name but two, are theorists on the subject. However, this ain’t an academic essay, and although I may overlap with existing theory in some places, the following thoughts are things which make sense to me, as a horror viewer.

Firstly, I think horror is a safe arena, a place to play out dimensions of human experience which have been largely excised from everyday life, or which remain a real, unwanted danger if they haven’t. Death itself, for instance, has largely disappeared from the domestic sphere. We have industries and protocols for dealing with the dead where once the deceased would be laid out at home after being nursed at home, and would be washed and dressed by (usually female) members of the family. But even though death has been co-opted by officialdom, it’s there still – as are all the experiences and feelings surrounding the subject. There seems to be a part of the human psyche which needs to reacquaint itself with death and suffering – perhaps satisfying some manifestation of the ‘forewarned is forearmed’ idea, or at least playing with mankind’s morbid fascination for its own limitations. People will crane their necks to look at roadside accidents on account of this morbid streak; horror movies allow people to safely and harmlessly explore dangerous, tragic and unsettling events without actually gawking at real tragedy. It’s a vicarious means to explore human concerns which – especially for Westerners – we routinely repress or remove.

Death and suffering never leave our sides, but there are other pressing concerns played out via the medium of horror films which do change over time: Communist paranoia gave us the horror of soulless automata and the in-group/out-group anxiety of films like Invasion of the Body Snatchers; mindless consumerism gave us Dawn of the Dead and They Live; corporate corruption brought us Alien. As the mindless consumerism motif gave way to the AIDS panic, the contagion aspect of zombification was brought to the fore – now zombies were virus-carriers, and they could chase you. Again, horror films reflect and refract current social fears, ramping up the impact with allegorical monsters, fantastical situations and an emphasis on humans attempting to make sense of their situations – and to survive. By engaging with current concerns and fears through a responsive medium, people can try to make sense of the world they live in. That ‘torture porn’ has been so prevalent in recent years suggests that modern times are difficult times indeed, and that people feel significantly disempowered…

But that is only part of the puzzle. As much as horror fluctuates according to what’s going on in the world at large, it would never have its enduring appeal if it didn’t also entertain us! People like stories, have done since time immemorial, and for millennia stories have made no distinction between the gruesome and the uplifting. Think of the fate of Prometheus in Ancient Greek myth – punished for stealing fire from the gods by being bound to a rock, where an eagle pecked out and ate his liver every day – only for it to grow back in time for a similar fate the following day. To return to my first point, death and suffering were part of everyday life and this was amplified in traditional storytelling. Stories have always been ambiguous, and it’s only in relatively modern times that we’ve trimmed away all the disconcerting parts of tales. To illustrate this, let’s remember that Cinderella’s ugly sisters hacked off their toes in the original story, in their efforts to wear the slipper…

Perhaps, then, it is horror’s detractors who are aberrant, and, in promoting a sanitised version of the world, deliberately misunderstand human nature. Like all good storytelling, horror balances the gruesome with drama, humanity, catharsis and black comedy; there is pain and suffering, and there is also redemption and solidarity in abundance. Horror works because it works with human concerns, is responsive to change, and permits vicarious experiences in a safe, entertaining format where – if it’s a good movie – a good story is married to a willing suspension of disbelief. It’s not just children who need or like tales, and as a horror fan, I still like the imaginative world woven around the genre. So, for me, THAT’S ‘why horror’…

The Bram Stoker International Film Festival 2010

Tuesday, September 28th, 2010

The Bram Stoker International Film Festival, based in the historical town of Whitby in North Yorkshire, enters its second year with style boasting a line-up of twenty feature films (with a massive seventeen of these world or British premieres) as well as eighteen short films.

Amongst the films the Festival is proud to be showing are the much-discussed giallo-flavoured film Amer (2010), Tomo’o Haraguchi’s monster mayhem flick Death Kappa (2010) and, in the spirit of Whitby’s links to the most famous vampire story in the world, some bloodsucking fiends in Renfield: the Undead (2010), Charmante Mira (2009) and animated fun in Dracula: 4D (2010)!

The Festival is also showing director Robin Hardy’s cut of British horror classic The Wicker Man (1973), and the man himself will be on hand to discuss not just this, but to give a sneak preview of The Wicker Tree

This year, the Bram Stoker Festival pays a special homage to classic British horror – namely the inimitable Hammer Studios – with a presentation of five classic films (The Devil Rides Out, Dracula, Prince of Darkness, Dr Jekyll and Sister Hyde, Captain Cronos, Vampire Hunter & The Devil Rides Out) with special access to the Hammer art exhibition with its impressive selection of original posters, prints and photos!

Stars Ingrid Pitt, Martine Beswick, Vera Day and Caroline Munro will also be in attendance alongside Hammer historian Marcus Hearn, Robin Hardy, author Gavin Baddeley and Miss Emily Booth (who will be hosting the 2010 film awards ceremony), as well as numerous directors who will be introducing their films.

Shane Briant, star of cult Hammer films Demons of the Mind and Frankenstein & the Monster from Hell will be a guest of honour at this year’s Bram Stoker International Film Festival.

Briant, along with Sir Christopher Lee, is the last leading man from the golden age of Hammer Films and this will be his first appearance in the United Kingdom for 25 years. The festival, held annually in Whitby – where Count Dracula first landed in England – is the first horror/cult film convention Briant will have attended in this country.

“It will be so exciting to return to the UK after so many years away,” said Briant who has lived in Australia since 1983, “and I really look forward to visiting Whitby and meeting my original Hammer co-stars and loyal fans.  I am currently working on a short film about Bram Stoker and where better to shoot it than in the place where the Dracula legend began?  This is a very exciting festival and I can’t wait to get my fangs into some Yorkshire fish ‘n chips!”

The festival runs from October 14th-17th and for more information including a running schedule and a detailed programme, please visit the website:

http://www.bramstokerfilmfestival.com

Some thoughts on moral outrage…

Tuesday, September 14th, 2010

I continue to be amazed by some people’s responses to film, art, music and television which does not meet with their approval. Shades of disbelief; great anger; casting aspersions on the personality of anyone who participates; calls for banning orders; there are even some people who make the leap from simply disliking something – often just in concept – to considering it on a par with criminality.

Of course, people who watch horror cinema will be familiar with this. We’re aware that some people’s discomfort causes them to believe in a sort of cross-medium osmosis: watch something fictional which is violent, become guilty by proxy of awful things which occur in the real world – or even suspected of a propensity to commit them. In any ordered debate, this sort of ad hominem attack would not stand, but popular modern belief on the subject still holds sway. Horror films are immoral, and political axe-grinders are often keen to pick out controversial scenes from films in order to try and link them to real behaviours. This was at the core of the Video Nasties banned list in the early 1980s, and the same flawed reasoning exists today.

The desire to monitor, suspect and contain horror has a long pedigree. The Nazis were keen censors, and had a particular penchant for consigning horror reels to the flames. Totalitarian regimes of every kind are still doing it now; the Catholic Church, long-renowned for its attitude to anything subversive, is still enthusiastic about misrepresentation and repression. Funnily enough, none of the above have ever gone a bundle on the care, support or freedom of their people or followers. It doesn’t seem to be the case that a strict control on what can be seen/read necessarily makes the world a better place for people  – rather, repression of the arts goes hand-in-hand with the repression of people, in a way that has never been proven on the other side of the coin despite frequent protestations to the contrary.

I believe that as long as everyone participating in a medium either as performer or audience member is a consenting adult or if not a consenting adult then not exposed to harm, then whatever they opt to create or watch is justifiable. That doesn’t mean that everyone has to like it. Many won’t. But your personal outrage, especially if it is based on very little, is not grounds to extrapolate a whole feast of assumptions about those who choose to participate. That way lies a slippery path indeed. Everyone is free to elect not to watch a particular film, or to do so and express their opinion, but beyond that – think about with what stance you are allying yourself.

So why do people create shocking, cruel, thought-provoking or frightening cinema, paintings or television? Why do we have a fascination with horror? That is for an upcoming post…

The Last Exorcism (2010)

Monday, September 6th, 2010

I’m by and large a fan of Eli Roth – I thought that Cabin Fever was good fun and that Hostel, despite fairly having its detractors, had some interesting ideas at its core. So it baffles me that Roth has attached his name to The Last Exorcism – a disappointing and patchy film which seems to presuppose that its audience members will be unfamiliar with the horror genre, or amnesiac to the point that they fail to notice the level of rehash it contains.

Firstly, I was a little disappointed to see that this is yet another ‘mockumentary’ style film. I think this format does still have potential, and I’ve seen it used very successfully in the past – but it has been overused in recent years. Certainly where a film looks to have enough of a budget to circumvent the shakycam, you have to wonder why the filmmakers opt for it. What it does here is remove the potential for a well-developed acting performance from the male lead, Rev. Cotton Marcus (Patrick Fabian). This is a shame, as he does seem to have acting ability – but, rather than have his character and motivations unfold naturally, he just delivers a monologue to the camera explaining everything about himself. It would have been more stylish to let his religious doubts, his cynicism and his concerns manifest themselves in his behaviour, rather than have them spoon-fed to the audience. We get it – he’s an apostate.

Another point to make about the mockumentary format chosen here is that the majority of documentaries have higher production values than this. It’s not hard to get a decent boom mike and a tripod: why then would the entire thing be shot on a headache-inducing hand-held camera? The final product – The Last Exorcism itself – seems to have been edited, as straight-to-camera interviews are spliced with rolling footage, so why would any self-respecting editor leave in countless requests for the camera to be switched off? Again – we get it. It’s a documentary, and making this documentary is not universally popular.

An unfortunate side-effect of the camera flailing around like a dervish is that it’s hard to feel convinced by the plight of Nell (Ashley Bell), the girl at the centre of the story. We only see glimpses of her – as she moves from the stereotyped li’l Southern miss, saccharin and naive,  to glowering – and because of the fallible medium of ‘what the filmmaker decides to film’ it’s hard to get a real sense of the change in her. So, the film resorts to more jaded devices to demonstrate her terror: rapid unexpected (read: expected) dashes, and sudden screaming. To be fair, this is not the actress’s fault, but the fact that she is given basically two modes and limited means of expressing them does not engender suspense.

The above points are unfortunate but, had these issues still been combined with an intriguing take on its themes, the film might still have worked. Instead, The Last Exorcist gave me a severe case of déjà vu, being as it is one of the most derivative modern horror films I have seen. Of course, you can argue that there’s nothing new under the sun; most horror filmmakers will have seen a film at some point that at some level impacts upon their own work, whether they’re aware of it or not. You’re also bound to get films which are intended as homage, or even rather more straightforwardly recycle ideas. Whatever your feelings on The Blair Witch Project and the debt of honour it owed to Cannibal Holocaust, amongst other films, there’s no question that it was innovative, captured something of (and gave something to) the zeitgeist of its day, and spawned countless copies of its own. Through no fault of its own, The Blair Witch Project has bequeathed to us the genre of wobblevision and not only does The Last Exorcism add yet another film to that genre,  it borrows wholesale the entire premise of Blair Witch (right down to the closing shot), diluting it only with a dash of An American Haunting and taking its end message – that demons are real -  from The Exorcist (which resulted in a quick shot in the arm for Catholicism along the way).  If you want to see Satan on the silver screen, you’d get a more watchable version out of Race With The Devil!

The only explanation for these cynical, huge flaws has to be self-awareness. Is The Last Exorcism a knowing pastiche of the genre? I’m willing to believe it must be, but even if this is so, then this really isn’t a good enough use either of Roth’s abilities or those of the rest of the team.

What I learned about the world from ‘Dangerous Chucky Dolls’ (2008)

Friday, September 3rd, 2010

  • Charles Band is irrepressible. Nothing can stop the man. And I like it that way.
  • Female penitentiaries are sparsely populated and everyone sleeps in one huge room: it’s basically a sleepover.
  • Only two guards are needed – in an interesting spin on the ‘good cop, bad cop’ routine we have one ‘good cop’, and one ‘bad cop’ who runs a porno website in the basement, does coke off a workbench, and has an impressive array of dildos. Oh, and bad cop ‘Carl’ is actually a woman, and we know this as we see his abundant mammaries.
  • Guatemalan Worry Dolls, even if given to you by an innocent child, will literally crawl inside your head and make you do Bad Things.
  • When I say that they crawl inside your head, this is what I mean: you see the film’s protagonist, Eva, hope against hope for a better time in the prison. She asks the dolls for help. Ostensibly all of them clamber in through her ear, although the effects budget can only show one of them doing so. The one that we’ve seen then pilots her, by appearing via a zit on her forehead and shrieking with pleasure when she attacks her enemies.
  • It hardly needs saying, but this has nothing to do with Chucky. Presumably the hope was that people would mistakenly buy this thinking that it was a sequel of some kind. Either that, or people would buy this film after being encouraged by their happy memories of Child’s Play. Either way – no Good Guy dolls here. This film is the foundation stone of Worry Doll genre cinema.
  • To get the film up to feature length, the credits roll almost too slowly to be seen by the naked eye. I have a sneaking suspicion the running time also counts the trailer reel…
  • Surely, no variety of doll has now been omitted from the Full Moon oeuvre. Hang on – has he done sex dolls?

Piranha 3D: mini-review

Thursday, September 2nd, 2010

The plot of Piranha 3D was obviously never highest on the list of priorities for director Alexandre Aja and his writing team. Instead, they’ve gone for all-out bikinis, the emphatic overuse of the word ‘boobies’ and copious amounts of gore. Their premise is quite simple: an earthquake ruptures a lake bed and creates a tunnel which leads to a subterranean lake chocful of prehistoric (read: bigger and hungrier than normal) piranha. The piranha are then able to swim towards a huge Spring Break party, whilst local sheriff Forester (Elisabeth Shue) and Deputy Fallon (Ving Rhames) try and fail to get people out of the water. Meanwhile the sheriff’s children are unfortunately out on a boat themselves, after older brother Jake ditched babysitting and joined a once-in-a-lifetime excursion as a location scout for some hawt ladies (including Kelly Brook) and their coke-brained ‘director’ (the very funny Jerry O’Connell).

And that’s basically it. You can imagine what ensues and, as this remake was made with 3D in mind, the types of perspective-happy shots which the team uses. I will say that I thought a lot of the underwater photography was good and although the film is naturally heavy on the CGI, none of the effects were disastrous and most of them were well-executed. Nicotero and Berger did good work on the make-up effects. There was enough convincing gore to entertain and enough T&A to satisfy even the most ardent enthusiast. The film was definitely fun, then, and I was delighted to see cameos from Richard Dreyfuss and the brilliantly-earnest Christopher ‘Back to the Future’ Lloyd.

That said, I’d argue that even deliberately cartoonish exploitation cinema needs to pay attention to things like basic human physiology! During one (nude, lesbian, underwater) scene the girls are swimming below the surface for about four minutes. Nude and lesbian they may be, but how are they alive? (A similar thing occurs at the end of the film! Maybe the folk in this film are actually Innsmouth types). There are also incredibly ham-fisted issues with the pace, and there was a stop-start-stop-start feel to the film which had me scratching my head at times (for instance, it might take the piranha four minutes to gnaw on one guy, and then fifteen seconds to do eat through a woman’s legs, bone and all. Unless of course, men and women are made of drastically different material…)

So, Piranha 3D certainly delivers in terms of heaving bosoms and bloody remains, but at times was tripping over itself to provide such immensities of both that it forgot some important basics, both of filmmaking and biology ;)   It’s definitely a beer movie, and to tell the truth it wouldn’t really matter if you didn’t see it in 3D because – shh – you sort of stop noticing it after a while…