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Archive for the ‘horror’ Category

The Wolfman (2010)

Saturday, February 13th, 2010

Lycanthropy makes a welcome return to the silver screen with The Wolfman, Universal Pictures’s latest foray into the subgenre they basically created around 70 years ago. (All that stuff about the full moon? They’re the guys to thank!) Having just lost professional werewolf Paul Naschy, it seems even more important to keep the lupine flag flying – and the film certainly has a decent budget and boasts a bundle of A list actors, which is unusual in itself for a film of this kind.

However, it hasn’t always been plain sailing. The film was delayed by Universal for several months and the first trailers for this were seen as long ago as August 2009. For a while there, it looked as though the film was going to sink – but it has, finally, made it to the screens.

The film opens with Ben Talbot, member of the landed Talbot family, being killed by a ravenous creature he has pursued across his lands. His distraught fiancee, Gwen (Emily Blunt) writes to Ben’s estranged brother Lawrence (del Toro) and begs him to leave his acting troupe in order to help find Ben. By the time Lawrence – the remaining ‘prodigal son’ of Sir John Talbot (Anthony Hopkins) arrives, Ben’s body has been found. There is a killer on the loose – either an animal or a lunatic, and Lawrence vows to find it – and find it he does. In trying to defend a gypsy camp who are at first scapegoated, and then themselves attacked, Lawrence is bitten by the creature and incures the curse. He is still desperate to find out what happened to his brother, and must now do everything he can to solve the mystery – but evidence of long-buried family secrets is fast gathering around him…

The first thing to say is how much I enjoyed the film, for any of the faults I saw in it. Seeing an unashamed horror film on general release is still a pleasure. I would say that this is a decent entry into the canon: it has a sense of fun, as well as a sense of debt to earlier films (successfully interweaving several plot elements from previous films); I thought the visuals were stunning and the period detail was exquisite. As a Victoriana geek, I was in heaven (even the mourning clothes worn by Gwen were fairly accurate down to colour and fabric!) Speaking of Miss Blunt’s character, I thought she gave one of the best performances in the film. It was also a pleasure to see Art Malik making a return.

Of course, like any film, especially one open to so much film-geek scrutiny by its very nature, it has limitations. I think that, as much as I love Benicio del Toro, he was slightly miscast in this role – rather too cool for scenes which ought to render him wide-eyed with terror, although he’s great in the transformation scenes – something they really make you wait for in this film. Anthony Hopkins was certainly not miscast, but this isn’t one of his best performances. It may well have been deliberate, but the slightly nonchalant way he handled his scenes didn’t work so well for me. My other gripe would be with the pacing, particularly towards the end of the film: there was a sense that the film had to reach its conclusion, but the conclusion itself was slightly rushed.

And as to the wolf effects themselves? I have to be honest, I was half-dreading the transformations. I’m not rabidly anti-CGI, but it is overused, and hasn’t improved as quickly as it has taken over as a device in nearly all genres. Thankfully, it doesn’t look too bad here. The filmmakers knew to shroud the scenes in darkness rather than illuminate a huge array of computer effects, so the mood isn’t ruined. The transformations themselves (and some of the scenes) owe a great deal to An American Werewolf in London, which is no bad thing, and the appearance of the wolfman himself certainly was original, although I would have preferred a more lupine face shape (and that camp howl? Why? It sounds like a Casio keyboard!)

These are, though, minor gripes. Ultimately this is a worthwhile watch with a positively drinkable amount of atmosphere and the sorts of aesthetics which keep me awake at night. I only hope this does well enough for Universal to encourage them to keep making horror films.

Innocent Blood (1992)

Wednesday, February 3rd, 2010

Ah, John Landis. He’s created some great films – by no means all of them, and by all means not all horror – but he’s often had to see decent work like American Werewolf in London bomb at the box office, despite steadily gaining a reputation in the years that followed. Innocent Blood is a decent film which, essentially, sank. This is unfair. Whilst it’s not a world-beater of its kind, it’s a competent horror-comedy which has a good idea at its core. I can’t help but wonder what would have become of it had not Francis Ford Coppola’s Dracula come out in the same year.

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Vampire Marie (Anne Parillaud) is a bloodsucker with a conscience – something we’re now fairly well-immured to in more recent vamp cinema. She scouts for immoral and cruel people to feed upon, hence deciding against undercover cop Joe (Anthony LaPaglia) in favour of the mob boss he’s currently trying to rumble – Sallie (The Shark) Macelli. But Marie is unable to take Sal’s life when she feeds (leading to a hilarious waking-up-on-the-autopsy-table scene) so she desperately tries to track him down to finish the job. Once Sal works out what’s happened to him though, he wants all his henchmen to be ‘made men’ – the kind you can’t kill so easily! Meanwhile Joe has to overcome his fear and begrudgingly decides to help Marie; no one wants an undead mafia after all…

This is a decent idea for a plot, and one that never gets too heavy; it’s a light-touch piece of film, played mainly for laughs, but with the odd dose of grue and even a bit of nudity thrown in. The mob guys are somewhat caricatured (well, as I see it – I’m not really familiar with any real-life examples!) but equally, Sal is capable of enough nastiness to make him a threatening prospect. Fans of The Sopranos might also notice some elements and at least one actor (Tony ‘Paulie’ Sirico) from that later series.

I have to say, I was surprised to see when this film was made; although it’s from the early 1990s, to me it screams 1980s in its costumes and sets. It has dated pretty well though, and the humour holds together just fine. It’s a shame this film isn’t better-known: it is worth more attention than it has received.

Also, horror geeks will enjoy a multitude of cameo appearances: I spotted Dario Argento, Linnea Quigley and Forrest J. Ackerman!

Poltergay (2006)

Wednesday, January 27th, 2010

Ah, the French, the French. Somehow they’ve attracted a reputation over the years for being somewhat humourless but, having seen a couple of corking French horror-comedies recently, I now beg to differ. One of these examples, Les Dents de la Nuit (2008) is a vampire story with a genuine sense of self-awareness and fun; likewise Poltergay (tagline: ‘They’re Queer!’) manages to send itself up along similar lines.

This is on many levels a standard ‘haunted house’ film: a young couple moves into a dilapidated house; one member of the couple begins to see and hear things whilst the other sees and hears nothing; doubts about sanity are duly experienced. Thing is, for Marc (Clovis Cornillac) and Emma (Julie Depardieu) their house happens to have once been a gay discotheque. Ergo it is now haunted by a group of men who died in the ’70s in a tragic foam party accident, and it’s still time to party like it’s 1979! Marc awakes, night after night, to the ghostly strains of ‘Rasputin’. When he loses his cool and threatens the men, they just tell him to lighten up and dance. He chases them – they disappear through walls. He tries to attack them – he accidentally hits his just-arrived father-in-law in the head with a shovel…

Emma justifiably starts to worry about this behaviour – and her husband’s continual chatter about gay men in the basement leads everyone, Marc included, to have doubts about his sexuality (leading to some of the funniest ‘soul searching’ scenes ever!) However, when Emma packs up and leaves, the live straight man and the dead gay men call a truce; they never meant to ruin Marc’s life, and all they want is to move on – so, they agree to help each other.

This is a very lighthearted film and though it leans heavily on daft stereotypes it never does so in a vicious way. All the characters are lightly-drawn but likeable, and very enjoyable to watch. A slightly slow start leads to a zany, often physical comedy and, because of its easy pace and characterisation, it even manages a few moments of pathos in amongst all the madness too. Definitely worth a watch and just right for a group view, preferably with beer, in this writer’s humble opinion.