Sunday, October 31, 2010

30 Days of Fright - 30: 30 Days of Night: Dark Days

*********************** Spoiler Warning ***********************
This movie is a sequel and discussion of it requires references to the ending of the original movie

If you haven’t seen 30 Days of Night, then you’re a gobshite, but you can read the review here so that might help a little. Gobshite!


Cinema, like professional sport, is cursed by the commercial forces at play in the industry. Films have investors who front the large sums needed to produce and distribute the movies and these investors don’t care about the material, they care about making money. In mainstream Hollywood, everyone is in it for the money. So if cinema is cursed, certain parts of it are more cursed then others. Horror probably comes off the worse (don’t bother to even think about pornography – that sector is a pure cash cow and no-one wants stories, characters, or any other artistic merit in those movies anyway). When a good horror film is released and goes on to be successful the pressures for a sequel are huge, but the expected return on a sequel is higher than the original because, as far as the investors are concerned, with a sequel you’re investing in an established brand, there’s less risk as the fans of the first are almost guaranteed to see the follow-up. For smaller production companies this puts a ton of pressure on everyone concerned to generate a big return in cash terms, so the easiest thing to do is cut the cost of the production down to the bone so that even if the film doesn’t do well at the box office there’ll still be a profit for the nice folks who paid for it.

Cutting costs on a movie production is a savage business. High paid, big star actors are definitely out, then goes the effects budget, next locations are trimmed down and filming only occurs in tax efficient places (shit-loads of films and TV programmes are made in Vancouver, Canada for this very reason – it looks like any American city and costs fuck all to film there), then the production crew suffers from the cuts, and finally the writing and directing team are selected from the bottom of the barrel. The ultimate tragedy of the movie business is that it’s a business at all. However, the lowest budget films out there can be surprisingly good, some go on to be legendary successes. El Mariachi (Robert Rodriguez’s first film) was made for less than $10,000 as were Pi, and Primer, both brilliant sci-fi pieces. There have been many low budget horrors, some great and some shite, so the genre is always prepared to suffer at the hands of the accountants, remembering that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Like Vampires.

30 Days of Night: Dark Days picks up the story of Stella and Eben Oleson (Olemaun in the comics) right where the first movie left them – sitting in the snow watching the sun rise after the vampire attack on Barrow, Alaska. The rising sun kills Eben as he’d become a vampire in order to save Stella and the few other survivors leaving Stella to face the world alone, a world she knows is inhabited by vampires.

Several months after the attack on Barrow, Stella has taken to travelling around the country in an effort to educate people about the existence of vampires. Her efforts have been less than successful despite the assistance she’s been getting from an unknown source that sends her information and seems to know accurate details about the Barrow attack. Arriving in Los Angeles, Stella gives a lecture to a disbelieving audience about vampires. Sick of the mocking response she keeps getting she’s decided to out some vampires and does so by switching on lights that mimic sunlight, causing several members of the crowd to reveal themselves as vamps by burning up in front of everyone.

This stunt attracts the attention of a small band of vampire hunters who’ve been working the area and have heard of Stella and the things that had happened in Alaska. They convince Stella to join them when they explain that they have a half-turned vampire working with them to provide inside data on the vampires activities and, more importantly, how the vampires are organised. The half-vamp turns out to be the source of the information Stella has been receiving.

The vampires are organised into a simple structure with a queen ruling them and the group of vampire hunters plan to kill her in order to throw the remaining vampires into chaos. Each of the vampire hunters have personal experience with the vampire menace and have all lost loved ones to the creatures, but their hatred and passion doesn’t mean that they are capable of successfully fighting vampires, especially not their Queen, the enigmatic and powerful Lilith, who has laid her plans carefully and positioned her spies well.

So that's what happened to Sinead O'Connor!

The original 30 Days of Night is the best example of a modern vampire film I can think of. The vampires are terrifyingly monstrous and the predicament of the town of Barrow is a well executed horror in every sense. Any sequel would have a hard job keeping up the standard the original set and sadly Dark Days doesn’t come close.

All of the budget problems that can damage a film seem to have been thrown at Dark Days and the resulting movie was released straight to video this year. None of the original cast return for Dark Days (so I guess I was right to question whether Melissa George would be right for a sequel when I reviewed 30 Days back in 2008) which immediately puts the film onto a poor footing, especially as the opening scene of the film is a re-shot version of the final scene of the original with two new actors for Stella and Eben.

The actors who do feature in the film are from the bargain basement of jobbing TV actors and they’ve all turned up in one episode of every US TV show going; I imagine they all knew each other from when they met on the set of Law and Order, or Criminal Minds, or Castle, or whatever. The actual production was obviously done on the cheap, with the visuals and editing suffering the most. Music was scrimped on so badly that the score is noticeable more by its absence in scenes then its content, the lack of music to build tension in certain scenes is so bad that you can’t feel fear for the characters and bits of the movie that were meant to be creepy are just dull.

The one thing they did right in making Dark Days was to bring in Steve Niles to co-write the screenplay as he’s the writer of the original comics upon which 30 Days is based. However, for some reason never explained, the story in Dark Days is wildly different from the comic, with only the very beginning and the gist of the ending getting into the movie. Dark Days the comic is not as good as the original but it would still have made a better film then the one that made it onto DVD. Dark Days is, unfortunately, a fairly stock vampire hunting story but not a really bad one just not as good as it should have been. The twists and turns are reasonable and the character of Lilith is intriguing as is the FBI agent who wants to be a vampire in order to avoid dying from the terminal illness he has.

I wish Dark Days was better, but I understand why it isn’t, and I am glad it wasn’t worse.

One Thumb Up and One Thumb Down for 30 Days of Night: Dark Days

30 Days of Links:

Saturday, October 30, 2010

30 Days of Fright - 29: Friday the 13th (2009)

The wonderful world of computing gave us the term "reboot" which has become a part of regular language even if you're not a big computer geek. It's a term increasingly used in cinema and TV production, where someone wants to tell an established story but give it a different slant or style. Famous examples of successful reboots include Batman, Superman, and Battlestar Galactica. I've noticed recently that reboots are different from pure remakes. When something is remade the original story remains largely intact and the fact that it's a remake is never acknowledged. In reboots, the past often gets a look in - just think of the old Cylons (the "by your command" type) featuring in the new Battlestar series and the references to Superman's past with Lois Lane in Superman Returns.

The latest Friday the 13th (2009) is definitely more of a reboot than a remake, but to be completely accurate it’s really a sequel. Set roughly twenty nine years after the 1980 original, Friday the 13th begins with a slightly different version of events that occurred at the end of the ’80 movie, where the last of the councillors still alive at Camp Crystal Lake is fighting for her life.

The action then spins all the way forward to the summer of 2009 where a group of teens are hiking in the area around Crystal Lake. The five kids are made up of two couples and a singleton who’d heard a rumour of a large crop of Cannabis growing near the lake which they intend to harvest and sell. The kids make camp for the night and tell a few stories around the fire – including the story of the camp and the murders. Later that night, predictably, the group splits up. One couple, Mike and Whitney, go exploring and find the remains of long abandoned Camp Crystal Lake. The other couple get down to business in their tent (i.e. riding), and their remaining friend goes for a bit of a walk and discovers the cannabis plants. Suddenly, out of the darkness emerges a monster of a bloke with a machete which he uses to carve up the hapless young lad.

The monster is Jason Vorhees, and he makes short work of the rest of the kids, some swiftly with his machete, though he tortures one girl quite badly by tying her upside down in her sleeping bag over the camp fire. The last one still alive, Whitney, makes a run for it but trips in the woods and the last we see of her is Jason looming with the machete ready to drop.

Six weeks later, another group of kids are travelling up to a holiday home overlooking Crystal Lake. They stop for supplies and gas (i.e. petrol) and meet a man called Clay who is looking for his sister Whitney who had disappeared with her friends six weeks prior. He’s travelling the area on his motorbike handing out leaflets and sticking up posters about his missing sister. Clay runs into the group again later on when he inadvertently calls to their house with his posters. He and one of the girls, Jenna, go to the far side of the lake to search that area for clues relating to Whitney’s disappearance. There they discover an abandoned summer camp and encounter it’s only resident, the man called Jason.

With Jason relieving himself from the shore for nearly 30 years the lake isn't quite so crystal anymore

The 2009 version of Friday the 13th is a film with one or two interesting ideas. I liked how it embraced the possibilities inherent in a reboot so whole heartedly but remained not only loyal to the original but dependant on it by continuing the story in the way it did. The first group of kids get killed off with quite a bit of haste, in a move reminiscent of the pre-credits sequence in Scream. This works to get the audience into the action straight away, no dicking around with character, plot, or tension development here, this is a slasher flick for those with attention deficit disorder – it should come as no surprise that the lowest sack of shit in Hollywood (Michael Bay) was an executive producer.

Getting into the killing early on also allowed the film makers to capitalise on the number thirteen in the same way as the original did by having thirteen victims. The problem with so many deaths though is that you’re so desensitised so early on that only the most spectacular violence could hold your attention, and seeing people getting stabbed and split open with a big knife so many times actually gets boring. The irony of Friday the 13th ’09 is that in trying to make a film for ADD sufferers they actually made quite a boring movie.

Most of the names and “characters” (I use that term loosely) blend into each other and are purely there as machete fodder, which is fine as this is a slasher flick after all, but it’s all so dull. The victims are in place, killer turns up, chop, chop, chop, bit of screaming, chop, done. With all the writers out there begging for work it’s a shame that unoriginal movies like this get trotted out with such abundance. This is all commercially motivated of course, but it’s giving horror a bad name!

 Dude, where's my car?

The character of Jason Vorhees (the big bad baddie) should have been the shining light in this film as he is at the heart of the Friday the 13th franchise, but in this outing he doesn’t come across as a potentially supernatural unstoppable monster, he seems more like a weird hermit who’s territory keeps getting invaded by groups of pesky kids. He’s a lunatic to be sure, but not so much as unstoppable as just lucky none of the kids thought to fight back in any meaningful way.

Friday the 13th ’09 isn’t bad, it’s just really, really, not great. But for all its failings it’s still a lot better than the film that inspired it.

One Thumb Up and One Thumb Down for Friday the 13th (2009)

Click these links for more info - Chop, Chop!

Friday, October 29, 2010

30 Days of Fright - 28: Twilight

Horror comes in many guises. Some horror films are scary for all the right reasons, and some for all the wrong reasons. Some make you hide behind the couch, some make you throw-up behind the couch. Some horror films make you piss and/or shit yourself, and some just piss you off.

Twilight (2008) centres around Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart), a seventeen year old girl who moves from her home in Phoenix Arizona to the small town of Forks in the state of Washington as a result of her mother remarrying after divorcing Bella's father. Bella arrives in Forks in the middle of the school year, but as traumatic as that would be she manages to settle in quite quickly and makes friends with ease.

In school, she becomes interested in a boy in her class, Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson). Edward is one of the adopted children of a local doctor, Carlisle Cullen, and like the other kids in his family Edward keeps very much to himself. The whole Cullen clan are considered unusual and are extreme outsiders in school and in town. This just fascinates Bella even more especially as Edward is her lab partner for Biology class.

As Forks is on the Pacific Northwest coast of the U.S. the weather there is nearly always bad and is mostly overcast, raining, or freezing, and on one cold day Bella is involved in a near-miss of an accident when a friend's van skids out of control on some ice in the school parking lot and nearly hits her. The van is only stopped by the intervention of Edward who jumps in the way of the van in the last moment and is able to stop it from hitting Bella, revealing Ed to be incredibly fast and strong.

Now Bella's imagination goes wild as she tries to figure out who and what Edward is, and her search for answers leads her into the myths and legends that surround the region. She soon finds out the terrible truth about Edward and the whole Cullen family after she realises that only certain creatures are deathly cold to the touch and avoid sunlight like their lives depended on it.

Bella confronts Edward about her discoveries but is surprised to learn that not only did she not figure out every aspect of the Cullen's nature but that she has fallen in love with him despite the truth. Edward and Bella's relationship develops, just as danger approaches Forks.

Bella suddenly realises what spending the night with a man who's deathly cold ALL over would actually mean

Where to start with this one? There are problems with Twilight on many levels so I might as well get the obvious stuff out of the way.

Vampires do not fucking sparkle in daylight, they fucking die!

In Twilight, the vampire myth has been largely ignored and the stuff that made it in has been twisted quite severely to fit with the neat idea that the film wants to peddle - that ugly girls can shack-up with girly looking pseudo-vampires and everything will be great.

Strangely though, I can see what they were trying to do with the character of Edward Cullen. Eddie was actually a feeble attempt at a Byronic Hero – the type developed by Lord Byron in his fruity poetry and defined by the phrase “mad, bad, and dangerous to know”. Building a love story about a soppy girl and a Byronic hero is actually a good idea but what went wrong was they made him a vampire and wilfully ignored all the inconveniences of being a creature of the night.

The thing is, in Twilight despite all the vampire lore that was removed the one truly horrific component of the whole business was left in but glossed over. In order to explain this, first a little history: the vampire myth has roots in religion, coming from the idea that those who died after being excommunicated rose from the grave to feast on human blood until the end of the world. Then they go to Hell. In Twilight, the “vampires” are immortal, so somewhere along the line someone had been kicked out of the Church and then kicked the bucket and came back all bitey and sucky. So, some vampire had been punished for dicking around the Church. So, the Cullen’s are vampire descendants of some poor bastard who knows for a fact that there’s a God. The point of the immortality in the vampire story is not that you get to stay young and attractive for ever, it’s a terrible punishment – the vampire knows God exists and they will never meet Him. The only reason the vampire avoids the release of death at the point of a stake (or carbon-tipped bullet if you’re new school) is that they’re trying to put off going to Hell.

The Cullen’s are all going to go to Hell, especially Edward, and Bella falls in love with the guy. Of course, this type of problem doesn’t get a mention in Twilight as, to be fair, the real goal of the film was to make a ton of cash out of teenage girls not promote the further development of a cultural archetype like the vampire. The reason purists get so pissed off with Twilight is that it pisses on the vampire myth and therefore contributes to a new generation of people who don’t understand it or even recognise it. Of course this has been going on as long as films have been made and trashy books written. There were probably a good number of purists annoyed when Bram Stoker got himself a publisher.

Once Edward reveals his nature to Bella by letting some sunlight make his skin all sparkly it’s best to try to ignore the vampire stuff altogether and judge the film on its other merits, of which there are very fucking few.

There isn’t much positive to say about the two leads, Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson, and so many negative things have been said that I don’t really have anything to add. Except, that Kristen Stewart is a long-faced misery of a girl who should have been in a werewolf movie not a vampire one (and without any make-up either, the dog) and Robert Pattinson is a weird looking girly boy who was completely unbelievable in a role where he played a man who’s attracted to women.

Bella and Edward exchange make-up tips. In the middle of the day. Vampire my arse!

The production quality for a film of this scale, i.e. guaranteed blockbuster, is surprisingly low. Watching Twilight in HD shows up all the terrible flaws in the special effects, make-up, and lighting that are present. The fucking lighting used in Twilight is awful! There are scenes, especially in the school, where characters move their hands in front of their faces and huge shadows are cast, caused by using powerful lights to create a washed out, pale look for the kids. Why not light the scene properly and put a filter on the fucking camera? Or change the colour in post production? Maybe that wasn’t an option as the computer was being used for the shitty effects – the bit where Edward runs up the tree with Bella on his back is cringe worthy. The quality of the production varies and I think that’s a result of the film being made by two units, one with a director of photography who had a clue, and the other with a director of photography who was a dipshit.

The surprising highlight of the movie was the music, surprising as the soundtrack mostly featured songs designed for young women to feel sad to, but also included some gems from bands like Muse. The incidental music was the best part of the soundtrack though and the musical cues, like the tinkling piano indicating "falling" in love, were excellent and well used.

I didn’t like Twilight all that much, but I can’t bring myself to hate it as vehemently as some commentators claim to. It was made in order to cash in on some trashy books that are more popular then they likely deserve (I haven’t read them – I base my opinion of them on the “slavish” film adaptation) just like the work of Dan Brown (the prick). Twilight is a crappy film whose sin is in the way it treats vampires not the audience, as far as I can make out the target audience for Twilight got exactly what they deserved.

One Thumb Up and One Thumb Down for Twilight.

If you have a reflection, don't sleep in a coffin, quite like garlic, don't need to be invited in, aren't bothered by Crucifixes or Holy Water, you might be a vampire! Check out these links for more info:

Thursday, October 28, 2010

30 Days of Fright - 27: The Evil Dead

There have been several times when I have seen the sequel to a film before I’ve seen the original. Most notably, I saw Return of the Jedi at the cinema (three times) before I’d seen The Empire Strikes Back (and don’t give me any shit about the first Star Wars movie, Empire and Jedi travel as a pair). In that case I was fortunate when I did get to see Empire as it’s a great movie, and quickly became my favourite of the Star Wars flicks. I saw Exorcist 3 before I saw the original too, but again that was OK as The Exorcist is a masterpiece. It’s proper disappointing when you end up watching a sequel first and then the original turns out to be dung, but the fact that most follow-ups are weaker than their predecessor normally saves you from this happening.

Directed by Sam Raimi, The Evil Dead (1981) tells of a group of five college kids, Cheryl, Shelly, Linda, Scotty, and Ash (Bruce Campbell – there’s a reason I’m not naming the other actors, but we’ll get to that) heading off to a remote cabin for a quiet weekend. The cabin is way off out in the woods and is a bit of a dump, having been closed up for some time. Once in the cabin, the kids settle down to dinner but are disturbed by the cellar door flying open of its own accord.

Scotty and Ash go to investigate and discover some of the belongings of the previous occupants, notably a tape recorder and a creepy book. Taking them back upstairs the gang listen to the tape in the recorder and discover that it contains the notes of a researcher who was working on the contents of the book. The book, bound with human skin and written in blood, is filled with incantations and spells and as the recorded voice on the tape reads them out, demons are summoned to woods around the cabin.

One by one, the kids are possessed by demons and terrible, violent things happen to them. But even when the terrible things kill them that isn’t the end as they rise as "deadites" who try to ensure that everyone in the group suffers the same fate.

"Americas Next Top Model" just gets weirder and weirder

Evil Dead is a film that’s hard to categorise. To most it’s an obvious horror, to others a cult comedy. I can’t help but think that it was meant to be a serious horror film but audiences find Sam Raimi’s directing style unintentionally funny. Raimi’s films are easy to spot in the way certain effects are always used and certain characters styled; they often feel like film adaptations of comics, even the ones that aren’t (unlike Spider-Man, obviously), just think of his TV work including Xena: Warrior Princess and Hercules: The Legendary Journeys.

I didn’t find Evil Dead to be all that funny, but then I’m not a huge fan of Raimi’s other big horror film, so I wasn’t going to be especially kind to this effort, but while watching it I couldn’t find anything to be kind about anyway, so no harm done. Evil Dead, despite its cult following, is a crap-fest. The story is reasonable though borderline silly but the script is woeful dirt and the performances are appalling, though not without good reason.

For such a small movie, Evil Dead took a good long while to make, with a production schedule that went on for over a year. This had an unusual effect on the film in that all of the actors were at some point missing from the production, so there’s a high use of stand-ins and body doubles, some of which are really obvious. There was one actor, however, who managed to appear in all their scenes without the use of an understudy, so it’s no wonder that only one actor from Evil Dead made something of a career for themselves – Bruce Campbell! But let’s not get carried away with praise for Bruce, his best work was very much ahead of him when he was making Evil Dead and his acting in this film was really just the best of a bad bunch (for anyone who’s interested, Campbell’s best work is Evil Dead 3: Army of Darkness)

The effects, which became a bit of a trademark for Raimi, are probably the best thing in Evil Dead and when it was first released the film suffered at the hands of censors due to the gory violence portrayed. Scenes of bodies getting hacked up or trees coming to life in the woods were well done for the time, but the make-up effects of the deadites were shamefully bad, looking like something children would do for Halloween as opposed to something from a movie.

Evil Dead did become a cult success and thankfully spawned a better sequel and propelled Bruce Campbell to mediocre success (though he should have been a bigger star as his acting did improve greatly). Evil Dead is a bad film that’s worth seeing as it serves as a warning to us all – just because something gets “cult status” doesn’t mean it’s any good.

Two Thumbs Down for The Evil Dead.

Dirty Deadites:
"Official" Fan Site:

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

30 Days of Fright - 26: Lesbian Vampire Killers

In 1993 Clint Eastwood and Kevin Costner got together for the sole purpose of pissing away a great name for a movie. The film they made, A Perfect World is actually all right, for a drama of that sort, but what a waste of a great name for a film! A Perfect World – I often wonder what amazing Sci-Fi film was never made because some writer somewhere didn’t bother to develop a script because the best name was already taken by Clint Eastwood (all due respect to the man) and that fucking gobshite Kevin Costner?! If that prick ever came around here I’d kick his arse! (Actually, I’d probably just shout obscenities at him out the window of a moving car, but you get the gist of how annoyed I am about the whole thing!).

Lesbian Vampire Killers (2009) begins with a quick summary of the tale of the Vampire Queen Carmilla who had killed the men of a remote English village and seduced the women to her nasty lesbo ways. The lord of the manor, returning from the Crusades, discovers Carmilla having a go on his missus, so he forges a sacred sword and kills Carmilla, but not before she promises to return.

Skipping forward to the present day we find a regular bloke, Jimmy (Matthew Horne), getting dumped (again) by his bitchy girlfriend. Meanwhile, Jimmy’s mate Fletch (James Corden) is in the process of getting fired from his job as a clown for punching a child at a party he was working.

Fletch is utterly broke but plans on having a holiday at Jimmy’s expense, however Jimmy spent all his cash buying a car for his ex right before she chucked him. Jimmy and Fletch decide to go on a hiking holiday somewhere in the U.K., and select their destination by throwing a dart into a map, which lands right on the village of Cragwich, where Carmilla had once ruled.

Arriving in the village, the lads find it’s every bit of the backwards rural dump Fletch thought it would be, but their opinion is quickly changed when they spot a group of attractive young women emerging from the village pub. Heading in to see if there’s more where that came from, the lads are bitterly disappointed, but do manage to secure free lodgings for the night at a nearby cottage, where the group of girls are also staying.

That night, as the boys are partying pretty hard with the girls, the cottage is attacked by vampires, all of whom are women, and lesbians to boot! As they fight to survive the night, Jimmy discovers that it was an ancestor of his that managed to defeat the Vampire Queen once before, and that it may be his turn now.

All new "Lynx Transylvania" has some odd effects on certain women

I never saw Gavin & Stacey, which made stars of the two lads who take the lead in Lesbian Vampire Killers, so I went into this film not knowing what to expect, though I realised there would be similarities with all the other British horror comedies that have been doing the rounds lately. After watching Lesbian Vampire Killers it occurred to me that, after finishing with Gavin & Stacey and then featuring in one episode of Dr. Who, James Corden went off to make game shows for Sky 1, so that really should have been a hint as to the quality of the film.

I’m not going to beat around the bush here (if you’ll pardon the pun) Lesbian Vampire Killers is utterly utterly really really fucking shit!

And it could have been brilliant!

The basic story for Lesbian Vampire Killers is actually alright, for a comedy. The Vampire Queen idea gets the movie off to a good start and the first joke plays very well. The notion of the lesbian vampire could actually have been worth a film as it twists the notion of the sensual vampire nicely and is pretty funny. Then, when Jimmy is introduced and you discover he has “girl trouble”(and the scene is loaded with silly sound effects every time his ex moves) the wheels get a little loose on the wagon, but manage to stay on thanks to James Corden in a clown suit explaining why he punched a little girl. Then you put two and two together and the wheels fucking fly off the wagon and you’re left flat on your arse.

The problem with Lesbian Vampire Killers is not that it’s a lad’s movie; it’s that it’s deliberately not a girl’s movie.

Jimmy’s girlfriend dumps him, and she’s a cheating, using, bitch who took his money. Fletch’s boss is a stuck up bitch who’s cut from the same cloth as Jimmy’s ex, who fires Fletch. Fletch, as a clown at a kids party, was so enraged by something that he punched a little girl. Even Carmilla, the Vampire Queen, murdered a village of men, but not before she stole their women from them. All this before the opening credits.

Now, I may have missed the point with Lesbian Vampire Killers, maybe it was just meant to be harmless entertainment, and maybe it just came out wrong, but the film seemed to be saying a lot of things half in jest but whole in earnest. It’s like a bunch of lads just got dumped so they made a revenge movie to get back at all the women who scorned them, which might actually have been OK if only they could have made it funny enough that you didn’t notice.

 You'd expect this kind of thing to be more entertaining...

The best joke in the whole flick is at the very start and you don’t laugh again during the whole thing. Even Corden’s constant swearing wore thin after a while as he’s just not that good at it, especially as the phrases he uses are just so bland (except one – “Clam Lappers” – I’ve never heard that one before but, by God, by the end of the week everyone around me will be sick hearing it!).

Lesbian Vampire Killers seemed to desperately want to be a Carry On film but was about forty years too late and nowhere near as funny, which goes some way to telling you how bad it is!

Two Thumbs Firmly Down for Lesbian Vampire Killers – what a waste of a great film title!

Carry On Lesbians? (and before you ask, yes, I do like writing the word "Lesbian"!)


Tuesday, October 26, 2010

30 Days of Fright - 25: The Last House On The Left (2009)

The question of censorship in cinema is a tricky one. For years, authorities in Ireland and the U.K. have made a living out of watching films and then banning them, especially horror and adult movies. I’m not keen on censorship; it concerns me when one adult is given the authority to be able to say that another adult may not view a film because of the nature of the content. Censorship of that nature is different from the age ratings that are applied to films in order to ensure that the audiences are of a level of maturity that they can understand what’s going on and draw the distinction between reality and fantasy, though there’s always one or two gobshites who watch the likes of The Da Vinci Code and then swear it’s all real.

The original Last House on the Left made it onto the 30 Days of Fright in 2009 as it presented a very real challenge to the notion of censorship and therefore the concept of free speech. If you make a movie that contains graphic, quasi-pornographic, scenes of sexual violence against women, merely in order to justify a series of on-screen killings, is there any artistic merit to the exercise? Is there anything that could be argued that would justify keeping that material in the public domain? No, would be my answer. But you couldn’t ban it. No crime was actually committed in the making of the film, nobody was really killed and nobody was the victim of a rape. There’s little to defend in a film like that, except its intrinsic value as a test of freedom of speech.

When I discovered that there was a remake of Last House it concerned me deeply. I was worried about the nature of someone who saw the original and felt the time was right to take another swipe at it, maybe update some of the effects, make it more gory, more graphic. Why would you want to make that movie? As much as I hate the original, my curiosity got the better of me and I had to watch the remake.

The Last House on the Left (2009) starts with a criminal, who is being transported to prison, being freed from custody by members of his gang. The prisoner, Krug (Garret Dilahunt) is a notorious bad-ass and generally naughty bastard.

Meanwhile, a family are going to their vacation home for the summer. Dad John (Tony Goldwin) , Mother Emma (Monica Potter) and daughter Mari (Sara Paxton) are the all American well to do family who are mourning the death of their son and brother Ben. After arriving at the house and unpacking a little, Mari borrows the car to head into town to meet her friend Paige (Martha Maclsaac), leaving Mom and Dad to have a romantic evening alone. Paige works in the grocery store in the nearby small town and while the two are hanging out there they encounter a young man named Justin (Spencer Treat Clark) who tries to buy some cigarettes, but is obviously underage. He bribes Paige into making the sale with the promise of some pot that he has back in his motel room.

The two girls go with Justin to the motel and chill there for a while. Until Krug, who turns out to be Justin’s dad, arrives with the other two gang members, Sadie (Riki Lindhorne) and Francis (Aaron Paul). Things turn sour quickly as Krug is afraid of being recognised and is quite obviously a fucking nutcase. The gang takes Mari’s car and force the girls to come with them. Mari tries to escape, but fails, resulting in a car crash that triggers the gang into a series of violent assaults against Mari and Paige.

When the gang are finished with the girls they seek refuge for the night in a nearby house which, by shocking coincidence, turns out to be Mari’s parents’ place (you guessed it, The Last House on the Left).

John and Emma are good people and they are quick to help the poor folk who came knocking on the door after being in a car crash, that is until they figure out what those people did to their beloved daughter…

The Jehovah's Witnesses try a new tactic - one free young lad for every 15 minutes you manage to keep listening

Watching the remade Last House was quite an experience as I kept thinking of the original and kept trying to guess what was coming next. The remake is remarkably different from the original and, I’m surprised to say, is quite a good film.

The story has been manipulated nicely so that the way the girls get into trouble at the start is believably stupid, going off with some strange boy like that. The way Krug and the gang enter the scene is also believable as are their motivations. I found that as I watched the scene in the motel unfold I was afraid for the two girls and what would happen to them. Even though their fates seemed like a foregone conclusion I kept hoping that there was a way out for them. At that point I realised how different and better the remake could be.

Then, of course, came the violence. The 2009 Last House pulls no punches in the pivotal scene where Mari is violently raped and once again the producers of a Last House movie went too far. In analysing what is probably the most important scene in the entire film I have to acknowledge that I am completely biased against the very nature of the scene and that the best a film-maker can hope to achieve with a rape in a movie is that the correct emotional response is evoked. I guess the producers of Last House ’09 were trying to horrify the audience so that you’d cheer when the parents got their own back but the scene was un-necessarily graphic for that purpose, watching it didn’t make me want to see the parents get their revenge, it made me wish I’d never seen it.

However, with that scene over, Last House ’09 gets back on track, and the second half of the film is a triumph. The feeling of dread that builds from the moment the gang walk into the house is exquisite and the fear you feel for John and Emma as they do battle is on a par with how you feel for Paige and Mari at the start. The final scenes are text-book examples of great horror film-making. Thankfully, it turns out that whoever saw the original and felt it needed a remake were actually able to make a better movie and find something worth telling in the story. It’s such a crying shame that they handled the rape scene the way they did, as it merely elevated a trashy piece of cinema to the level of “better, not great”.

Horror films can, from time to time, offer serious value to a society; the original Last House on the Left is valuable as it makes us consider how important certain freedoms really are to us. The remake is doubly important as it shows that there is some small hope for cinema.

One Thumb Up and One Thumb Down for The Last House on the Left (2009)

The Last Links on the Left:

Monday, October 25, 2010

30 Days of Fright - 24: The Wolfman

I am painfully aware that there are really only two types of film out there. There’s the type that carries a serious message, or tells a story that needs to be told, or is a visual essay on some subject important to the film-makers. The other type of film is the mindless entertainment piece, simply made in order to help audiences pass a couple of hours either laughing or crying or throwing up or whatever. I enjoy entertainment films but I love films that make more of themselves; those drama’s that make you care deeply for fictional characters, or sci-fi that pushes the boundaries of what mankind is capable of, or horror that analyses human behaviour and its consequences. A tragedy that occurs sometimes in cinema is where a film comes along that isn’t sure what it was meant to be, entertaining or thought provoking. When a film ends up caught between the two extremes like that you end up with a terrible mess on your hands, like when you go for a curry after a day spent on the lash, it’s never pretty.

The Wolfman (2010) is set in the final decade of the nineteenth century and starts off with the strange death of a man in the forest near Blackmoor in England. The man in question is Ben Talbot and his fiancé Gwen (Emily Blunt) heads to London to find his brother Lawrence (Benicio Del Toro) who is prancing about like a big whoopsy making a living as an actor. Gwen convinces Lawrence to return home to Blackmoor to help in the search for Ben. When Lawrance gets home he is reunited with his estranged (and fucking strange) father Sir John (Anthony Hopkins). Sir John reveals that Ben’s mutilated body had been discovered the day before and asks Lawrence to stay for the funeral.

Lawrence heads into the village to take a gander at his brother’s corpse and he finds that Ben had been mauled nearly beyond recognition by something that definitely wasn’t human. He collects some of Ben’s personal effects and then does what anyone would do in that situation and nips into the pub to get shitfaced. While in the bar he overhears the locals discussing what must have happened to Ben, with some of them leaning towards the idea that it was a bear that belongs to some gypsies who are camped nearby, while at least one other old lush has already made the cognitive leap to blaming a werewolf for the death.

Lawrence finds that Ben had a gypsy medallion in his possession when he died so he pays a visit to their halting site to have a chat. There meets with an old pavee woman who tells him that Ben had suffered from a brush with evil, hence the need for the medallion. The villagers then pick that moment to call out to the knackers to get them to hand over the dancing bear they believed was behind the killing. Just as things are about to pop off, a strange creature attacks the pikey camp and indiscriminately kills settled and traveller alike. A young boy flees the carnage and Lawrence runs after him to try to keep him safe but is himself attacked and bitten.

Lawrence recovers from the bite quite well and even feels stronger after he gets better than he did before he was injured. About this time Inspector Aberline (Hugo Weaving) arrives to start a serious investigation to what’s been going on. The villagers fill his head with stories of werewolves and Aberline suspects Lawrence is involved. Lawrence, himself getting a little worried about the turn of events, develops an interest in silver and firearms… just as the full moon rises.

The infamous "Exploding Kebab" tends only to be ordered by drunkards, with good reason.

The Wolfman is sadly one of those films that hasn’t a fucking notion what it’s meant to be about. I would have thought that the name of the film would have given the film-makers some clue as to what to make a movie about, but this apparently managed to sneak by them. The Wolfman kinda tries to be entertaining, but misses on that front, and there’s no hint at any deeper meaning in the material so there’s nothing to make you think after the end credits have rolled, except some of the nutty decisions that were made in the making of the film.

The most unusual decision has to be casting Benicio Del Toro as Lawrence. I liked Del Toro in The Usual Suspects, and I fucking loved him in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, but I don’t consider him to be a particularly good actor. He’s not all that strong in a role that requires restraint or the appearance of normality, which is why he’s great in character roles but was a shite choice for Wolfman. His casting has all sorts of knock-on effects too, in that his skin tone had to be explained by giving him an exotic mother. But there’s no need for this. It has nothing to do with the story that his mother was from somewhere other than England, all it does is shoehorn Del Toro into a role he was woefully unsuitable for. The character of Sir John has loads of paraphernalia from his globetrotting in the house to explain how he liked to travel, without the need to have brought a bride home with him.

The next weird choice was the music, as once again the film makers went with a score that was far better suited to a vampire film than a werewolf movie. In fact, I’d go as far as to name the film it was better suited to as it mostly seemed like it was ripped off the soundtrack to Bram Stoker’s Dracula, like one of those dodgy movie trailers that are found on You Tube where some kid has picked his favourite scenes from a film and set them to some instrumental piece that they love to death and then published the whole bastard effort for the world to see. Danny Elfman got the call for Wolfman and there seemed to have been some confusion as to what the film was about as the delivered soundtrack is just utterly wrong for the film.

The final thing that really had me wondering was why the wolfman himself was so badly done. There are a wealth of films that show how to do a half-decent werewolf (even if it has to be CGI) but for some reason the producers of Wolfman ignored all that material and chose to do a homage to The Incredible Hulk. The Wolfman is a remake and expansion on the 1941 version and it’s likely that the people behind the 2010 outing wanted to keep something from the original (seeing as how they threw out the story and everything else seemingly that made the original so popular) but why they settled on keeping the look of the wolfman is beyond me. When the guys who made the 1941 movie made it they had very little choice in how their werewolf would look, the 2010 guys had a computer and unlimited digital resources, and they still went out of their way to make the werewolf look like a bloke in a wolf suit. Why not just put a bloke in a wolf suit?

Two Thumbs Down for The Wolfman

Fear & Loathing in Link Vegas:

Sunday, October 24, 2010

30 Days of Fright - 23: Ginger Snaps

My like of all things Marilyn Manson is well known. The band was one of the first who produce heavier, darker music that I really got into in recent years. Since then my musical tastes have become decidedly heavier and considerably darker, but I still enjoy all the different art that originates from Manson, the band and the man. I can understand how art in whatever form, music, literature, painting, photography, and so on can influence people to do drastic things with their life. I find music and cinema to be particularly inspirational (bad movies inspire me to rip the piss out of them), sadly some people are inspired to do awful things and Manson’s music has been associated with teenage suicide on more than one occasion.

Over the ages people have used storytelling to teach, inspire, and share fears of things in their lives. These stories, like fairytales, and morality plays, and the like, sometimes become part of our cultural heritage and we end up knowing them very well, often without knowing the meaning behind them. Vampires started out as characters used to instil fear about straying from organised religion, Frankenstein’s monster is about fears relating to science, and werewolves are a way of dealing with man’s dual nature (civilised versus animal) as well as teaching about transformation, which we all go through at some stage in our lives.

It’s surprising that it took so long for the subjects of teenage angst and werewolves to meet in movie form, but finally Ginger Snaps (2000) tackled it. Living in suburban Canada two sisters Ginger (Katharine Isabelle) and Brigitte Fitzgerald (Emily Perkins) are outsiders by choice, detesting the antics of the popular kids in high school. Ginger is 16 and Brigitte is a year younger but they are both late entering puberty and have yet to have their first period. Both are intelligent with Brigitte smart enough to have skipped a grade enabling her to be in the same class as Ginger where the pair are working on an art project in which they stage photographs of each other in gruesome death poses that reflect their interest in death and their planned suicides.

The neighbourhood where the girls live is suffering a spate of animal attacks and no pet dog is safe. One night, Ginger and Brigitte are out to get revenge on one of their classmates who overheard them talking about her and got some revenge of her own on the hockey field. The Fitzgerald girls plan to fake the death of the girl’s dog but when they get to the house they find the dog has actually been killed by whatever’s been eating the local canine population. Ginger picks that exact moment to enter womanhood and the blood from her period attracts the creature that killed the dog. Ginger is bitten and badly wounded by the creature, which is hit and killed by the van of a drug dealer who works the area.

Ginger doesn’t want to go to the hospital but it turns out she doesn’t need to as her injuries heal quite quickly. In the days following the attack Ginger goes through a series of changes, some related to her suddenly going through puberty, and some not...

Ow, cramps!

Ginger Snaps makes the metaphor about lycanthropy being about puberty, particularly periods and the cycles of the moon, glaringly obvious, but it’s a metaphor that works very well and it makes for a great story. The teen angst (amongst other things) is dripping from this film but that makes it easy to relate to, especially if you weren’t one of the "popular" kids in your school.

The werewolf storyline takes a backseat to the metaphor the film is promoting so there isn’t really much in the line of action, except for the closing act of the movie, which is excellent. The rest of the film deals with the characters of Ginger and Brigitte and how they cope with the changes going on in their lives, regardless of the causes. The transformation Ginger endures is well handled, though slightly clichéd as she goes from black hoodie wearing outsider to entry-level slut overnight. Brigitte’s situation is explored the best, as she tries to save her sister from the lycanthropy but in reality is trying to reverse the changes in her so as to avoid having to go through those changes herself.

The casting and performances in Ginger Snaps are excellent all round and there’s little to complain about on that front. The direction and effects are spot on too, going for mechanical effects instead of the over-used CGI option is always preferable in my view. On the production side the only problem I noticed was the sound quality which needed a little work so as to be able to hear the dialogue better. In terms of the script, seeing as how every major character is in their teens, it was nice that there was an actual script as opposed to the series of grunts you’d get in real-life. The soundtrack is spot on too, and I was very happy to see Cradle of Filth feature alongside plenty of Fear Factory.

The ideas behind Ginger Snaps are great and the film is a well put together package, however it’s never easy for a bloke to watch a film that while about werewolves spends most of its time discussing menstruation.

Two Thumbs Up for Ginger Snaps

Links, for all the girls out there who have fallen to the communists, while Aunt Irma was visiting, during a certain time of the month:
Official Movie Site:

Saturday, October 23, 2010

30 Days of Fright - 22: The Company Of Wolves

Sometimes I get a little carried away with these little reviews and they end up not so little. This is going to be one of those occasions, so as this is a heinously long review full of big words (like "heinously") there'll be no preamble. Except this bit, of course.

Starting off in the real world, The Company of Wolves (1984) is about a young girl called Rosaleen (Sarah “first movie” Patterson) who is a little sleepy head. Her parents have arrived home to find her older sister Alice (Georgia “Emmerdale” Slowe) giving out about how Rosaleen is sulking in her room. Alice heads upstairs to give Rosaleen a piece of her mind by banging on her bedroom door. However, Rosaleen is passed out asleep and is well off into dreamy dreamland.

In the dream world, Alice is chased through a forest by life-sized teddy bears and other toys who drive her towards a waiting pack of wolves that make short work of devouring her. At Alice’s funeral we see that Rosaleen and her parents (David The Omen" Warner and Tusse “Never heard tell of her” Silberg) live in a village in the forest, in a kind of fairytale version of peasant life in the eighteenth century. Rosaleen’s mother is distraught by the death of her eldest daughter so Rosaleen goes to spend the night with her granny (Angela “Murder, She Wrote” Lansbury), who is making a bright red shawl with a hood for her.

Granny is of the old school when it comes to child care, so she feels her role is to tell the brutal truth about how Alice was so brilliant and then scare the piss out of Rosaleen with some sinister stories of love, moderate eroticism, and werewolves. The action then moves into the stories Granny tells, with the first one about a young newlywed couple where the monobrowed groom has a dirty secret about his true nature. Granny’s next story is about a young man walking through the woods alone who has an encounter with the Devil who gives him a potion that causes a terrible transformation.

The next day, Rosaleen heads home to the village and there she has to deal with a neighbour of hers that fancies her and wants to court her. After Mass the next Sunday, Rosaleen and the boy go for their walk where they encounter some wolves. The men from the village go hunting for the wolves and manage to kill one in a trap they’ve set, but when they chop it up a bit, the pieces transform into human body parts.

Rosaleen tells a story of her own to her mother about a wedding that is disrupted by the pregnant ex of the groom who happens to be a witch, a story that disturbs her mother quite a bit. With the werewolf killed, Rosaleen is sent to her granny’s house with some food and drink in a basket. Along the way she meets a charming hunter, a hunter whose eyebrows meet in the middle...

Jessica Fletcher liked to hang out at the Cabot Cove cemetery - it was how she kept track of her victims!

The Company of Wolves is a slightly confusing but incredibly entertaining trip into the dark parts of the enchanted forests where so many children’s fairytales are set. At its core, The Company of Wolves is a simple collection of werewolf stories told against a backdrop of a village where these stories are a part of the inhabitant’s daily lives, but there is so much more going on that it would be wrong to dismiss the film as merely a grown-up retelling of Red Riding Hood.

The Company of Wolves took the original idea of those fairytales, each of which in their original forms had a powerful moral explicitly stated at the end, and made that moral the central focus of the film. Granny’s character is introduced so that she can pass along the wisdom of her years to young Rosaleen, and she does this in the form of her stories that start off with the familiar “Once Upon a Time”, but that quickly veer off into the adult grade warnings that they were meant to be. The creature of the werewolf provides an easy mechanism for Granny to explain concepts like a person being deceitful or hiding their true nature from those around them, or more mature themes like how puberty changes a person as they go through adolescence or even how sexuality plays its role in relationships. Granny is, like any older member of a family, concerned for her young female relative, facing a world filled with dangers and delights that are all too often hard to tell apart.

For her part, Rosaleen is the wide-eyed teenager who hears the warnings in the stories and is enamoured by them as opposed to being afraid. Her courage, which she displays a few times in the film, could be born from inexperience of the wider world but is more likely down to her being excited by the danger and attracted to things her elders warned her about. The loss of her sister is a terribly traumatic event for her parents, but for her it delivers freedom and attention that she obviously longed for in her “perfect” sister’s shadow. The fact that the wolves delivered this life altering event makes her all too open to a similar fate, if she doesn’t heed the warnings in the stories.

These elements make The Company of Wolves a nearly perfect horror film. The central character is presented with everything she needs to deal with the monsters lurking around her, all she has to do is choose to deal with them in a positive way, as long as she isn’t seduced by those dark forces, both literally and metaphorically.

The Company of Wolves is a metaphor-centric movie, with more symbolism than a Dan Brown novel (though infinitely more subtle), but some are probably a little too subtle and will leave a viewer scratching their heads trying to figure what was meant. In a way this is a good thing as it’s nice when a movie makes you think, but during the viewing there were times when I was screaming “What the fuck?!” at the screen.

The strong roles of metaphor and the associated symbolism makes The Company of Wolves a deeply atmospheric film, and it’s one of only a handful of films that create that dark and sinister fairy tale atmosphere that audiences like me long for but rarely see. I feel that if this film had been made more recently it would not work as well. If you look at a film like Van Helsing that seriously missed a trick in the way it did the gothic setting, with scenes that were made to look too realistic, where every village is muddy and wet, all the colours are drab and washed out, you’ll see the exact opposite approach to the 1980’s fantasy type film-making. While the setting is quite dark in The Company of Wolves, there are colourful characters and and the forest the village is in the middle of is magical. Tim Burton is the only other director you’d expect to be able to do an “enchanted forest” type movie, though I don’t think any offering presented now could capture the qualities presented by those types of films from the 80’s – movies like Legend, and Excalibur.

On the acting side some of the performances were a little stiff, but Sarah Patterson as Rosaleen was good and David Warner as the dad was fucking excellent! I’m not sure if I liked Angela Lansbury as the Granny. Sometimes she was perfect and sometimes she was shite. Some of her facial expressions just weren’t quite right for some of the scenes, but on the whole she passed as the nice little old lady with the best scary stories for the grandkids.

As it’s a Neill Jordan film you can already see the development of the style that would feature so heavily and so well in Interview with the Vampire coming through in The Company of Wolves. Gothic horror is something he is rather good at and his approach will hopefully lead others to emulate his style.

There were a couple of highlights that need mentioning. The transformation scene where Stephen Rea goes Lycanthropic was amazing, the process looked like it was beyond painful and was more like the Hell on Earth type experience I imagine it would have to be. The scene where he meets his ultimate fate in the movie is a work of art!

The second scene I thoroughly enjoyed was the bit where Rosaleen’s father hits the young lad a few slaps, as it’s fucking priceless – her Dad employs a “no messing” policy when he sees the boy has come back without her as he goes straight in and hits him a punch to the gut as he’s asking what happened – no waiting for an explanation or any of that shite; that boy was getting a hiding just for living. It’s as if the father character had been waiting for years to hit that boy and he really wasn’t going to miss the opportunity once it presented itself. First rate cinema violence – a grown man knocking the snot out of a kid half his size!

Two Thumbs Up for The Company of Wolves

My, what big links you have:

Friday, October 22, 2010

30 Days of Fright - 21: Brotherhood Of The Wolf

Cryptozoology is one of those fields of study that sounds both far cooler and far more plausible then it actually is. Traveling around the world investigating weird and wonderful animals sounds brilliant, but I bet it boils down to looking at lots of previously undiscovered insects, undiscovered because no-one else could be arsed, and maybe the occasional duck with odd colours on it. I bet that cryptozoologists don't come face to face with quasi-supernatural wolf-like monsters all that often really.

Set in rural France (France again!) Brotherhood of the Wolf (2001) is a fictionalised retelling of the true story of the Beast of Gévaudan that terrorised that part of the country during the 1760’s. After the strange wolf-like beast has killed a large enough number of the local peasants’, word of the creature reaches the royal court and the king sends help to the region in the form of Grégoire de Fronsac (Samuel Le Bihan), a globetrotting zoologist and his Native American companion and blood-brother Mani (Marc Dacascos). The pair has been tasked with finding out what’s going on and assisting in bringing the beasts reign of terror to an end.

Upon arriving in the area Fronsac and Mani are greeted with a group of locals who are kicking the shit out of an old man and a younger woman, who they claim is a witch or some such and thus displaying the regional taste for superstition. Out two heroes reveal that they don’t take that kind of thing lying down and Mani in gives a demonstration of his martial arts abilities by knocking the jaysus out of the mob.

Fronsac meets up with the nobility who rule the province and explains to them not only his experiences around the world but also his disbelief in anything supernatural going on with the beast. As he settles into life with the aristocracy he makes friends with the Marquis d’Apcher (Jérémie Renier), who shares many of his views, and falls for Marianne de Morangias (Émilie Dequenne) the daughter of a local Count. Marianne has a brother, Jean-François (Vincent Cassel), who is an avid hunter and had lost an arm to a lion while in Africa and is still quite bitter about the whole thing, which he reveals whenever he gets a few drinks down his throat.

The beast continues attacking and a large and unruly hunt is organised by the commander of the soldiers stationed nearby who had promised to kill the beast. During the preparations for the hunt some of the hunters have a go at Mani, who holds his own until the fight is broken up by Jean-François shooting one of the attackers with a gun he’d had specially made that allowed him to use it one-armed. Jean-François is partial to loading that gun with silver bullets though he claims it has nothing to do with werewolves but instead is out of vanity, in that he likes to sign his kills.

The hunt is a disaster for the wolves living in the Gévaudan forests, but Fronsac is not convinced that they killed the beast and he is quickly proven right. The King, embarrassed by the whole situation and taking flak for not getting it sorted (like Obama and that business with BP) sends a new military man to get things done. This proves to be purely a PR exercise and Fronsac is the one left to deal with the beast, but first he has to discover its true nature and, shockingly, determine who is controlling the beast.

Shhh, be vewy vewy quiet, I'm huntin' a wascally wabbit!

As the opening credits of this movie rolled last night I knew that someone, somewhere, will object to its inclusion in the 30 Days of Fright due to its apparent lack of horror credentials, and that same person or persons will definitely complain about the absence of werewolves. Personally I feel that a large, possibly supernatural, beast conducting wholesale slaughter of humans in the countryside is pretty much the definition of horror, and that, as a country dweller myself, if that were happening near me I’d be pretty fucking horrified! As for there werewolves bit, there are plenty of wolf references in the film, including the name of the film, the word “werewolves” is used at least once, and one of the characters is riding around town with a gun loaded with silver bullets, so if you don’t like that you can fucking lump it!

Brotherhood of the Wolf is really more of a subtle creature-feature type film than straightforward werewolf movie, and the creature plays second fiddle to the setting, with everyone involved in the production seeming to revel in the mid-eighteenth century costumes, mannerisms, and props. But like kids in a school play, they couldn’t maintain any semblance of historical authenticity, as right from the start Brotherhood has scenes of martial arts that are far more modern then the setting. In some respects, Brotherhood of the Wolf is a lot like Plunkett & Macleane in that it deliberately applied modern cinema techniques (like stop and go slow motion in the middle of a piece of action) to prevent the audience from being too removed from the material and to avoid the stuffiness that can creep into a period film, while all the while allowing for cool costumes.

The copy of Brotherhood I watched is unfortunately dubbed into English from the original French, as opposed to the subtitled version which is always preferable to dubbing, so it’s hard to judge the actors on screen as one of the principle components of their performances was removed. The dubbing actors did an alright job with the exception of whoever did Marianne’s voice, though I don’t blame her, it’s just that her voice sounded far too old for the girl on the screen so the blame rests with the dubbing casting director, who should be shot or hanged or subjected to whatever appropriate punishment the Casting Directors union allows.

Brotherhood of the Wolf tells a good tale, with intriguing and exotic characters put into mad situations that are entertaining to watch – the scenes in the brothel are just plain trippy and definitely add to the sense of horror as you’re put off balance by them. If there’s a failing in Brotherhood though it’s in the length of the movie, in the second hour things drag on a bit, but that’s not much of a problem really.

Two Thumbs Up for Brotherhood of the Wolf

Check out these links if you don't believe me:
Beast of Gévaudan:

Thursday, October 21, 2010

30 Days of Fright - 20: An American Werewolf in Paris

I visited France when I was about 13 on a school tour which lasted for a week. Then, I forgot it ever happened. Really, I completely forgot about that week. It was only recently that the fact I’d been to a foreign country popped back into my memory after I saw a picture of Le Mont St. Michel on TV, as it was one of the places we’d visited. Le Mont St. Michel is bad-ass! How could I forget that for so long? We saw the Bayeux Tapestry for fuck’s sake! Why would I allow myself not to remember? What terrible trauma occurred on that trip to France would I not want to recall?

An American Werewolf in Paris (1997), the sequel to An American Werewolf in London, follows three young American tourists travelling around Europe on what they call “The Daredevil Tour” scoring points for various crazy exploits, kind of like a Red Bull sponsored Jackass tour. Upon reaching Paris one of the boys, Andy (Tom Everett Scott), leads the others to the top of the Eiffel Tower one night with the intention of doing a fairly bad-ass bungee jump. As he’s preparing for the stunt, Andy notices a girl, Serafine (Julie Delpy) who has climbed the tower with the intention of throwing herself off the top, but without the bungee part.

The attempt to stop her jumping ends up resulting in both Andy and Serafine taking a header, though Andy has the bungee attached so he’s able to grab her and save her life, though he does get himself a nasty bump on the head for his troubles. Waking up in hospital, Andy finds himself totally enamoured by the attractively suicidal girl and he despatches his friends to find her suicide note so that they can track her down.

Once out of the hospital Andy goes to visit Serafine and finds that her home life is more than a little odd, as she answers the door with blood on her hands. She agrees to go on a date with Andy just to get him away from the house and so they meet and go for a coffee, with pretty funny consequences, both in the “ha, ha” and “peculiar” senses of the word, as Serafine reveals an inhuman level of physical strength for a girl of her size. Deciding that she doesn’t want Andy involved with whatever’s going on in her life; she splits and tells Andy that she shouldn’t see him again. Andy’s friends, Brad and Chris, convince him that she’s merely playing hard to get, so they head round to her place again so that Andy can take another crack at things.

Serafine isn’t home, but a mysterious bloke called Claude is, and he informs them that She’ll be attending a charity gig later that evening and that they should meet her there. The lads go to the dingy little club where they discover that not only does Serafine have a terrible secret, but so does half of Paris, as the place is crawling alive with werewolves!

Andy discovers that Innocent Smoothies aren't that fucking innocent after all!

An American Werewolf in Paris is in some ways better than the original and in some ways, bizarrely, not as good. I have to say that I find that bizarre as I didn’t enjoy the original all that much as it didn’t make me laugh nor was it all that good a horror.

The story of Werewolf in Paris is a little more straightforward than Werewolf in London; the American boys visiting Paris is an easy idea to grasp, as is the small side story of the stunts they pull, the way they encounter Serafine is a little contrived, but you could forgive a young lad for becoming interested in a good looking girl who’s as obviously troubled as she is. From there, it’s only a hop, skip, and jump to being in a crappy niteclub surrounded by werewolves.

Where things get a little more complicated is in trying to honour some of the concepts that were presented in the original, most notably how the undead victims of the werewolf haunt the one who killed them. The fact that Serafine is the daughter of the original characters isn’t as clear as it could be, nor is the big about some anti-werewolf serum that didn’t work out as planned. Werewolf in Paris also tried out some ideas of its own; having a werewolf eat the heart of the one who made it a wolf in order to permanently return to human form is not a bad idea in the context of the film. One other idea, though, is unforgivable.

An American Werewolf in London, while not a spectacular movie in my opinion, did have some brilliant special effects, with the scene of the original transformation becoming an iconic piece of cinema in its own right. The sequel, however, took its inspiration for effects more from The Howling than from its own predecessor, with a heavy dose of animation (albeit the kind done on a computer (a cheap computer, if you ask me)) in the place of mechanical or costume effects. The transformations and the action pieces with the wolves are fucking atrocious, with the werewolves floating above the filmed backgrounds in the way only bad CGI can. There are parts where no consideration was given to lighting the CGI beasts so they appear far brighter then everything else, and there are parts where no consideration was given to making werewolves look like wolves at all, with some of them looking more like grotesque vampires that you sometimes see.

The make-up used for the undead characters is worth a mention as it was quite good, it’s just a pity they didn’t get the make-up department to knock up some werewolf effects as it would have saved Werewolf in Paris a lot of embarrassment.

The performances in the film are alright, with the three boys who get the most screen time actually pretty good. Tom Everett Scott (you may remember him from a Tom Hanks flick called That Thing You Do, or as one of the voices in an old Call of Duty game) as Andy does well in the lead, but Julie Delpy (you may remember her as Zoe from Killing Zoe (but you probably don’t – I had to look it up)) as Serafine, was fucking brutal, and strangely for a girl who is actually French, her accent kept slipping, like she was American and was putting it on!

The comedy in An American Werewolf in Paris works, and it works well, but when it tried to shift gear into an attempt at horror it failed and couldn’t bring the scare, just like the movie it had followed.

One Thumb Up and One Thumb Down for An American Werewolf in Paris.

Oh yeah, I remembered why I tried to forget that school tour and it wasn't French werewolves that were the problem - this kid called Ben threw up on himself and, on a separate occasion, another kid pissed in a sink; it was just one of those trips best forgotten.

Here are some links (about the film, not about children too tall for a urinal):
Bayeux Tapestry:
Le Mont St. Michel:

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

30 Days of Fright - 19: The Howling

I've never met a hippie that I've liked. I don't like their positions on several issues, most notably social welfare reform and washing. Dirty hippies! I always thought that my dislike of the hippie movement was ideological, that there was such a gulf between our respective philosophies that could never be crossed, what with me and my love of capitalism and them and their love of beads and flairs, that we could never reach common ground on anything. Last nights film hasn't really improved matters between me and the hippies as I now realise that our differences are more primal - hippies live in communes and so do werewolves, and I really distrust werewolves!

Set in LA, The Howling (1981) tells of Karen White (Dee Wallace) a TV news reporter who is working a story about a serial killer who’s been plying his trade in the area. One night, for the sake of a good story, she agrees to meet him and he lures her to an adult book and video store where he plans to reveal himself to her. Just as she’s about to get an eyeful, some cops who have been out looking for Karen burst in and shoot the bad man before she got to see anything. Or so she thinks as immediately after the incident Karen develops a dose of amnesia and can’t remember what she saw when she turned around.

Karen doesn’t handle the stress of the incident very well and she’s unable to work. The TV station she works for also has a therapist on the payroll and he suggests that Karen and her husband pay a visit to a sort of health spa commune that he runs as a sideline out in the country. Karen and her hubbie Bill take the good doctor up on his offer and head on out to the place, called The Colony.

When they get there, they discover that the place is full of crackpots and weirdo’s, and that Karen’s little amnesia problem is downright minor compared to some of the wackiness the other visitors suffer from. Bill finds himself attracted to one of the other guests, a fairly decent looking nympho called Marsha, and one night he runs into her and she makes him an offer. However, Bill’s an alright bloke behind it all and he tells her to shove it as he’s married and decides to go home to his missus. Along the way he is attacked and bitten by a wolf-like creature. After the attack, Bill is unable to stay home and instead he goes back out, runs into Marsha again, and takes her up on her previous offer.

As they are making the beast with two backs down by the campfire, their passions overtake them and they transform into werewolves. Turns out the place is full of the dirty creatures and that Bill and Karen ending up there might actually be part of a bigger plan.

Get out ya dirty dog! And bring that werewolf with ya!

The Howling is as cursed as the lycanthropes who feature in the film, cursed with poor acting, odd casting choices, a woeful script, shockingly bad production values, and a bizarre lack of werewolves for far too long considering it's a werewolf movie. All in all, it's shite.

To start, the majority of the performances are brutal. Dee Wallace as Karen seems not to know what she's supposed to be doing at any given moment and there are times when she's face to face with a scary monster but she's completely unfazed, then there are other times where she's spazing out for no good reason. This is a severe case of poor direction meeting a bad performance head on, but it must have been contagious, spreading to the other members of the cast as well. Patrick Macnee is just weird as the doctor, and Christopher Stone as Bill the husband is plain brutal. The outstanding (bad) performance of the lot though has to be Robert Picardo as the serial killer Eddie. Yes, Robert Picardo, the same Robert Picardo who played the holographic doctor in Star Trek: Voyager. How the hell he was cast as the serial killer of all roles is a mystery but just another strange choice in a litany of strange choices that make up The Howling.

The script of The Howling is utter scutter, with the characters forcing out stilted lines that make little sense, and not reacting to the situations they're facing in the way you'd expect. The story is just as poor as the script: there's very very little action with the wolves not showing up until quite late in the film so for nearly an hour sod all happens.

The special effects in The Howling are crap. The first time you see a werewolf transformation it's animated, and by that I mean it's an actual cartoon that's been imposed over the live action footage, even for a film from the early 80's that's unforgivable.It only gets worse, with poor costumes for the close-ups of the wolves - one of the female werewolves is so bad she ends up looking more like a wookie than a wolf.

Chewbacca's sister, after she's eaten an Ewok

However, the main failing of The Howling, as strange as it may seem, is the music.The music that is used in the film would be more appropriate for a vampire movie, with lots of heavy organ and sinister overtones that are totally inappropriate for a werewolf flick, where something more tribal or feral would have suited better.

There was one thing I really liked and that was how The Howling stuck to the traditional method of dispatching a werewolf - silver bullets - but alas that little touch wasn't anywhere near enough to redeem this poor effort.

Two Thumbs Down for The Howling.

Please state the nature of the medical emergency, then click on these links:

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

30 Days of Fright - 18: Wolf

When you spend a lot of time in a car and live in a rural area, like I do, then it’s perfectly natural to see the occasional animal on the road that has come a cropper on the receiving end of two tonnes of Jap import to the face. In fact, I’ve played a significant part myself in the wholesale slaughter of Irish wildlife on the highways and byways, but I’ve never hit a wolf with a car and if I did, I wouldn’t get out of the car to see if I’d killed it. I’d reverse.

Wolf (1994) starts off innocently enough, when old and busted publisher Will Randall (Jack Nicholson) accidentally hits a wolf with his car one night. As he attempts to move the poor creature out of the road, the wolf springs to life, turns, and bites the hand that tried to kill it. Concerned about rabies and the like, Will visits his doctor who points out that the whole thing is a bit far-fetched as there are no wolves in New England, and that is was probably just a big dog of the more domestic variety that he splattered all over the tarmac with his car.

Will returns to work, where he is having a tough time of things. He’s a well liked and respected editor-in-chief of a publishing house that is in the final stages of being taken over by a company owned by billionaire businessman Raymond Alden (Christopher Plummer). Will is very much on the downward slope of his career and has tied his remaining prospects to the future of his one-time protégé, Stewart Swinton (James Spader), a young buck on the up and up who has promised Will that he’ll resign if Randall is forced out.

Alden hosts a big party out in his country mansion to which he invites his new employees for the purposes of letting them know their status after the buyout is complete. Randall is taken aside by his new boss and offered a demotion to the Eastern European part of the business in order to allow Swinton to ascend to the editor-in-chief job. Randall takes this badly and has a bit of a panic attack, terrifying some horses in the process, and making a bit of an eejit of himself in front of Laura Alden (Michelle Pfeiffer), his bosses “free spirit” of a spoilt brat daughter. Will and his missus Charlotte (no-one cares who played her), return home, with Charlotte far more pissed off about Swinton getting Will’s job than he is, which serves to show just how beaten Randall has become.

Randall then suffers a bit of a turn and sleeps for the best part of twenty-four hours. When he awakens he’s a changed man – he feels great, is full of energy, is fiercely competitive, and more interestingly his hearing, senses of smell and taste, and his eyesight have improved considerably. Deciding he’s not going to take the loss of his job lying down, he hatches a plot to screw over Swinton just as he discovers that Swinton has been screwing his bird, Charlotte. Now with the attitude of a man half his age, he bids his cheating bitch wife goodbye and, in a roundabout way, pursues Laura Alden. As the full moon approaches though, Will finds himself transforming more than just his attitude towards life.

Jack hits the bathroom after a particularly tough vindaloo

Wolf is a film that’s very much split into two parts, much like the main character of Will Randall. For the first half it’s a subtle movie filled with the twisting intrigue and dirty tricks of the modern workplace, where people lie and, sadly, betray those dearest to them. In the second half, after Randall’s obvious fate as a werewolf is revealed, the film focuses more on what being a lycanthrope is like and the inevitable battle between those after Will and those interested in protecting him. The first part, where things are hinted at and a high value is placed on quality dialogue and character development, is excellent with sprinklings of film noir thrown in for good measure. The second part, where Will gets hairy, is kinda shit really.

From the opening credits you know that Jack Nicholson turns into a werewolf, it then takes all of about three minutes before you see him get bitten by the wolf and from then on any doubt about Jack’s fate is removed, and that makes the first two thirds or so of Wolf absolute genius. The way his personality changes as well as the physical effects that he experiences, like the improved senses, make for entertaining viewing, especially as you see him go after James Spader’s character with such venom but without any outward sign of the wolf within him having anything to do with it. Spader is quite the evil, twisting little bollocks in Wolf so you’re delighted to see Nicholson deal with him with style and panache. The dialogue is excellent and the story moves with the right pace and, despite all the corporate messing about, is never confusing.

However, once Jack sprouts hair out of his ears and starts running about the place like a droopy hunchback, the best parts of Wolf are over and all that remains is to see a bit of a fight and call it a night. The last act of the film is not a patch on the first two despite the continuing quality performances and ending that really isn’t all that bad. It’s just that Wolf could only end one way, with Nicholson howling at the moon for a bit, that there’s no big surprise nor is there much of a resolution, all that can happen is a foregone conclusion. In fact, it’s a bit of a shame that they had the werewolf bit at all as the story about the business at the publishers is great on its own and would have been a good movie if all that occurred was that Jack snapped and decided to deal with the shit in his life, as opposed to turning into a wolf.

The performances from the main men in Wolf are excellent with Nicholson and Spader kicking ass in every scene they’re in. Pfeiffer was nothing special, just like her character really, and it could have been anyone in the part of Laura Alden. Christopher Plummer as her Dad was excellent though, giving a master class in thinly veiled contempt.

There are some good lines in Wolf, and some magnificent scenes of banter and sometimes vicious but polite back and forth between adversaries, it’s such a shame that the script was crippled with an ending as predictable as the coming of the next full moon…

…but I still can’t bring myself to rate Wolf badly, as the first two thirds are so brilliant it’s still really worth seeing.

So, Two Thumbs Up for Wolf.