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Archive for June, 2010

Valhalla Rising (2009)

Monday, June 21st, 2010

I was most impressed with Valhalla Rising last night, a rare excursion away from horror viewing for me, but one which definitely merits a mention. But be aware – this is not the action film I was expecting from its trailer. Instead it veers between styles, coming at some point between Bergman-style arthouse and dialogue-light ‘spaghetti westerns’, balancing moments of intensely-gruelling violence with incredible scenery and beauty.

The ‘plot’ is this, although plot comes secondary to mood: Norse warrior ‘One-Eye’ (played brilliantly by Madds Mikkelsen) is a slave, being held by the chieftain of a Northern Scottish clan and treated as sport by his men, fighting – and winning – for their entertainment. When One-Eye finds an arrow head in the river where he is permitted to wash, he is able to cut the ties around his wrists and exacts a bloody revenge on his captors before escaping. A young boy belonging to the clan follows him, and gradually One-Eye accepts the boy, taking on the role of his protector.

They then encounter a clan of Christian Vikings who, after thinking better of fighting him, insist on One-Eye joining them on crusade to Jerusalem. But their voyage seems to be cursed; a dense mist dogs their journey, they cannot navigate, and in true Ancient Mariner style they begin to hurl blame at one another. When in desperation one day One-Eye moves to drink the saltwater, the men discover the water is fresh. They have arrived at a new land, but it is not Jerusalem. Where are they?

The remaining men are now alone in an alien landscape, being attacked by a heathen adversary they cannot see. One-Eye – still silent, and still an unknown quantity – is increasingly visited by supernatural visions and seems to acquiesce to the fact that this is his final journey. Those around him cling to their adopted faith. One-Eye (Odin?) however, is a symbol of the pagan roots they have rejected, reacting viscerally and spiritually to the hostile environment in which they find themselves. The Christians refer to the new land as ‘Hell’; the boy (who begins to speak for his protector) asserts that One-Eye himself was ‘brought up from hell’.

As I suggested, the film does not move along traditional linear plot lines, relying instead on the powerful impressions it bestows with vast segments of silence, minimal dialogue (with the anti-hero of the piece being a mute) and the quite startling effects of long landscape shots. The overall effect is solemn and Sublime in true Edmund Burke-style, with the characters (excepting One-Eye) inferior to the nature around them and by the ‘heathens’ who stalk them.

This is definitely a film which, for me, would merit a second watch. There are lots of layers of symbolism here that I perhaps didn’t appreciate fully, or, maybe that’s all part of the effect of this slow-paced, highly artistic piece of filmmaking. Not what I was expecting, Valhalla Rising, with its five-pages-at-most script, striking visuals and subtle nods towards the spiritual was a very different type of film indeed.

Lesbian Vampire Killers

Friday, June 18th, 2010

Ah, the genre that is horror comedy. In recent years there have been some great horror comedies, with Shaun of the Dead as a sound example. Shaun of the Dead worked – where countless lame parodies of horror films failed – because writers Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright have both knowledge of and affection for the horror genre. It’s apparent at every step of the way; the tongue-in-cheek in-gags, their playfulness with established conventions of zombie films, and above all a genuine pleasure in what they’re doing.

If zombies have become part of the cultural landscape in horror, familiar enough to most viewers – genre fans or not – that they can understand the references and jokes, then vampires should surely be a safe target for humour, particularly in a world where the renewed popularity of the vamp (via Twilight, True Blood etc) has spawned an interest in older representations of the bloodsucker, all the way from Nosferatu to the heaving bosoms and suave demeanours of UK horror mainstays Hammer Films. Magazines across the world have run features on the ‘Top 50′ vampires, old films have been re-released, and even academia has seen some renewed sniffing-around the theme (when a genre finally reaches the professors, it has reached a notable level of saturation).

The thing is though, that as much as the elder vampires seem eminently familiar, for many people they aren’t, not really. Many people know the stills; a lot of people recall seeing an old film or two; essentially many people are vaguely aware of the films and their motifs, but those vaguely-aware people are just not well-equipped to churn out comedies on the topic. If you want to satirise or parody something – ooh, let’s say Hammer horror – then you need to know your subject, or the jokes will fall flat.

And so we come to Lesbian Vampire Killers. Don’t be fooled by the poster – that’s as near as you’re getting to nudity. Oh, and the vampirism is impossibly anaemic, and the killing? Pretty absent.

Director Phil Claydon thought, as is evident from the extras on the DVD release, that he had made a completely different film to the one I watched. He waxes lyrical on the gory visuals (huh?) the hot lesbianism (buh?) and the creepy setting, with evidently not a clue how tame and derivative it all is. He’s incredibly proud of the appearance of comedians Matthew Horne and James Corden – of course, as the film would not have been made without the appearance of two actors currently enjoying huge popularity thanks to their TV work – although their roles in such a poorly-scripted film can do little, ultimately, to carry the film along.

The film does not work either as a comedy or a pastiche on horror, because it is evident from every element in the film that there is no love whatsoever for the horror genre from which many of the comedy elements are expected to derive. And ultimately, this has been done well already by Steve Coogan’s series Doctor Terrible’s House of Horrible – funny, and warm, both to horror fans and non-horror fans, because Coogan is comfortable with his subject matter and can crack jokes which work.  There’s no affection for the Hammer horrors which Lesbian Vampire Killers rather aimlessly seems to look to, so we get no in-jokes, no sense of familiarity. This is a film which rather lazily tries to cash in on the vampire craze by half-remembering saucy elements from horrors of days gone by, thinking how easy it would to make something hilarious and lucrative along those lines, but falling at the first hurdle.

It is possible to combine laddish humour with horror – Jake West’s film Doghouse would be a lesson to the makers of Lesbian Vampire Killers, and criminally, it hasn’t received half the exposure that the latter has – so ultimately, the joke’s on us! Avoid this film like the stereotypical village in the woods. Nothing of merit lies therein.