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Archive for September, 2010

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

Survival of the Dead?

Saturday, September 25th, 2010

I never thought it would happen, but I have reached an impasse. I no longer wish to watch zombie movies. Oh, sure, there’s still the odd example of a decent, well-worked movie (such as Pontypool) but by and large, zombies have become the preserve of lazy filmmakers. It’s perceived as an easy ride; all you need are some shambling ghouls and you’ve got it made. Film students with no interest whatsoever in horror are asked to put together a horror short – guess what they’re going to do…people with no budget and little to spend on SFX, guess what they’re going to do…zombie movies have lost their edge, no longer impress upon me any sense of threat or urgency, and – running, shambling, crawling on ceilings, learning how to communicate – I do not care.

The zombie cause is not being helped by the fact that the man who birthed the genre continues to make films. George, we love you – but enough. Yes, last night I got around to watching Romero’s latest effort, Survival of the Dead. Not only do I wish I hadn’t, but I wish he hadn’t. Every time Romero churns out another bad movie – and make no mistake, Land, Diary and Survival are bad movies – the impression grows that he isn’t some cool auteur, the man whose apocalyptic vision changed horror forever. It starts to feel like he just got lucky. Were NOTLD, Dawn and Day just flukes? Say it ain’t so, but how the same filmmaker can follow up these films at any point in the future with something like Survival is hard to explain away.

Survival is a few ideas for grisly CGI zombie slayings pegged together with a story of sorts: a group of soldiers (one of whom is a random publically masturbating lesbian soldier, but of course) are trying to survive the zombie apocalypse by milling around in middle America, contemporary with the documentary-making fucknuts from Diary of the Dead – we even bump into them, just to hammer home the fact that this is early on in the zombie apocalypse, which you mightn’t else glean from the plot. Elsewhere, on an island, two warring Irish families eject one of the patriarchs for a misdemeanour, sending him off by boat with some of his cronies. He meets up with the soldiers, and they return to the island. Zombies are an impediment. And that’s pretty much it.

There is no sense of pace here whatsoever: the story-of-sorts limps along, devoid of impetus or tension. The zombies themselves are sort of incidental; occasionally, the cast stop to dispatch some, and through immense stupidity a couple of folk get bitten. One is even to be seen riding around on horseback. It seems to me like some novel ideas for zombie killings predated the plot by some time, and were made to fit, at the cost of (again!) a decent script or performances. The immense vendetta between the O’Flynns and the Muldoons is unbelievable, their characters barely there as they mouth ham-fisted Irish phrases which could have come straight out of Father Ted. And their big idea here – to encourage zombies to eat other things by shutting some of them in a horse pen – doesn’t go anywhere. How would this work? Why would this work now? What comes of it – zombies turning into nuisance poachers? Is this going to form the bedrock of another sequel?

That’s just one example of where the plot falls apart, though. Romero fails to create workable action here, but finds the time to do what he did so embarrassingly in Diary: he shows that he’s down with the kids by drafting in a frankly awful teen character and spending time passing comment on new-fangled technology, with the teen character mocking a guy for using an old-fashioned laptop when he could be using a smartphone. Tuh, get with the times, man! The end of the world is happening all around you, and you’re spending time with obsolete gadgetry. Does any of this need a mention in the script, and did any of the self-conscious mentions of Myspace and Youtube in Diary feel anything but cringeworthy? George, we don’t need you to try to appeal to the youth demographic; we want you to make good movies, or to stop making bad ones, so that your reputation as a great director remains intact. That would appeal to all age groups – as it always has.

So Survival of the Dead has hammered another nail into my enjoyment of zombie movies, and I’m sad to say so. I now dread further sequels as much as I’d dread the walking dead themselves…if the originator of the genre is setting the bar this low, what hope do we have?

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…