Wednesday, September 30, 2009

27 Days of Fright (The Reprint) - Day Twenty Seven

Originally Published Saturday 1st November 2008

30 Days of Night

The final film in this series is the one that kinda gave its name to the whole project, and I kept the best for last.

30 Days of Night is based on the comic of the same name that tells of the town of Barrow in Alaska, the northernmost town in the United States. Barrow is so far north that during the winter the sun doesn’t rise for a month, a whole 30 Days of Night. This makes Barrow the ideal holiday destination for the discerning vampire seeing as how they will be free to roam without the pesky sun ruining their feeding. A bunch of vampires have travelled to Barrow and are ready to attack the unsuspecting townsfolk just as the sun sets.

Barrow’s sheriff, Eben (Josh Hartnett) and his estranged wife Stella along with some of the inhabitants of the town hide and try to survive in hidden attics and other concealed places waiting for the sun to come up. The vampires are organised and especially cruel, using family members to try to lure people out of hiding, and when they figure that there are survivors holding out on them they break open a nearby oil pipeline in an effort to burn the town and cover their tracks. It’s up to Eben to stop the vampires but he has to pay an incredibly high price to do so.

The Barrow Tourist Board's new spokesman has a tough first day!

The 30 Days story is a simple one just like the comic which you’d read cover to cover in minutes. The film remains loyal to the core story but removes the vampire hunters from New Orleans that feature in the comic – though those characters are in the mini-series prequel. The townsfolk being left to fend for themselves makes 30 Days more like a traditional horror as opposed to a vampire hunter story with the town in the middle. The loyalty to the comic works so well considering how it ends which is the same in the film as the book and so tragic it elevates the film well above the run of the mill vampire tales.

The performances in 30 Days are solid and Hartnett is surprisingly good as the sheriff. Melissa George as Stella is pretty decent too, but I wonder how she’d fare out if they were to make any of the sequels, where she’s the hero. The star of the show however is the town itself. Barrow and the surrounding barren wastes of Alaska are shown in amazing different shades of grey but look enticing, Barrow looks like somewhere you could really live, despite the cold and vampires.

Two Thumbs Firmly Up for 30 Days of Night.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

27 Days of Fright (The Reprint) - Day Twenty Six

Originally Published Friday 31st October 2008

Interview with the Vampire

Anyone who produces any creative piece of work like a film, or a book, or a song, or a comic, or whatever, needs to be careful with their subject matter whenever they stray from the considered norms of society. When Neil Gaiman wrote Neverwhere he said one of his concerns was about making homelessness seem cool, anyone who makes an action film or gangster film has to be careful that they don’t make that lifestyle appealing. When Ridley Scott made Black Hawk Down he set out to make an anti-war film but ended up making one of the greatest recruitment films of all time.

The vampire lifestyle has its obvious appeals, immortality, eternal youth, beauty, sensuality, strength and power, can be all too enticing for the victims in the stories and in Interview with the Vampire, we get an insight into those characteristics as well as the terrible downsides to vampirism.

As the title suggests, the film details an interview a writer is conducting with a vampire, Louis (Brad Pitt) who is telling his life story (or rather his death story as it only gets interesting once he’s a vampire). Louis was made a vampire by Lestat (Tom Cruise) a vampire hedonist in need of a companion. Louis struggles with what he has become and refuses to kill, despite the terrible bloodthirst that comes with the territory. Louis is overcome with his new state and burns down his house out of sorrow and anger.

Louis and Lestat flee to New Orleans and there Lestat kills all round him while Louis sticks to feeding off animals. One night, Louis is overcome by hunger and ends up feeding on a young girl whose mother had died of plague. Lestat seizes the opportunity this presents and makes the girl a vampire too, to provide Louis with more suitable company and to stop Louis from ever splitting on him (kinda like when some skank gets herself knocked up so as to stop the boyfriend from leaving). This plan works and Louis begins to feed on humans as he provides for his new “daughter” Claudia.

30 years pass, with none of the gang getting older. This is particularly hard on Claudia who is trapped in the body of a little girl. Things come to a head when she tricks Lestat into feeding off two dead boys, the blood of the dead being a poison of sorts to vampires. She and Louis flee and go on the search of others of their kind, always fearful that Lestat will return. Finally arriving in Paris they encounter a group of vampires pretending to be human pretending to be vampires lead by Armand (Antonio Banderas). He wants Louis to be his companion in the same way Lestat did and so turns a blind eye when the other vampires kill Claudia to get her off the scene. Disgusted, Louis murders the vampires and abandons Armand.

Louis travels the world but never encounters another vampire until his eventual return to America where he finds a decrepit Lestat hiding in a rundown house feeding off rats. Here, Louis concludes his tale leaving the reporter (Christian Slater) wanting more, desiring to be a vampire and fearful of them too… until Lestat shows up.

Despite the scene having ended, for some reason Tom was reluctant to let Brad up, not that Tom Cruise is gay or anything...

Interview is an amazing film, delighting in all that’s bad and attractive about Vampires at the same time. The little touches, like Claudia’s coffin, are what make you take notice of how horrific their life is but all the while you are assaulted with images of beauty and glamour and glimpses of a hidden world that make you wonder if it’s all that bad being a creature of the night. The only complaint I have is that while Interview talks about the loneliness of a vampires existence, it never manages to convince you that it’s all that bad, I suppose it would have made for a far more boring movie if it had.

Two Thumbs Firmly Up for Interview with the Vampire!

Monday, September 28, 2009

27 Days of Fright (The Reprint) - Day Twenty Five

Originally Published Thursday 30th October 2008

Bram Stoker’s Dracula

Dracula is the foundation upon which many of the modern vampire stories are based. Written in the final years of the nineteenth century by Bram Stoker, a drunken Irishman (I don’t know if he was really a drunk but considering the material in his novel and the rumours of his membership of occult organisations he’d better have a bloody good excuse for his behaviour and being a piss-head is a decent excuse for anything), Dracula has laid down what are now considered to be the common rules for vampires – drinking blood, coffins, bats, stakes, and the like, so it’s impact on horror cannot be underestimated. Due to it’s important place in the annuls of horror there are of course multiple film adaptations and spin offs, and like Frankenstein and Werewolves, Dracula got an updated “official” remake during the 1990’s.

Following the plot of the novel, Dracula tells of the fall of the Transylvanian warlord during the fifteenth century after his wife kills herself and is eternally damned. Dracula (or Dracul, or Vlad, or whatever) turn his back on the Church and promises to rise from the grave in order to get a little revenge. The story moves forward to 1897 (the year the book was first published) where we meet Jonathon Harker and his bride to be Mina. Harker is sent to Transylvania to sort out a real estate deal for Count Dracula (who as far as anyone is concerned at this point is just wacky eastern Eurotrash ) who is buying up property in London. Harker goes and gets the job done but the Count refuses to let him leave after seeing a picture of Harker’s missus-to-be, Mina who Dracula believes to be his long dead wife. Harker slowly grows wise to Dracula and tries to escape the castle.

Meanwhile, Dracula travels to London to hook up with Mina and while working on that he has a go on her friend Lucy, alternating between engaging in depraved acts of sexual theatre and drinking her blood. Lucy’s worried suitors call for help from noted quack Abraham Van Helsing who diagnoses a case of vampire attack. Dracula takes his interest in Lucy to the next level and bumps her off, making her a vampire. The lads decide to take drastic action and kill her with a trusty stake and a quick decapitation. Mina, who has travelled to Transylvania to collect her boyfriend after he escaped the castle, returns with him, freshly married, to London. Dracula makes another move on Mina and despite her marriage she’s up for it – but just as she’s about to put out, the boys burst in, ready to kill Dracula.

Drac splits for home and the lads give chase, divided into two groups, they follow Dracula to his castle for the big showdown.

Many stores beef up security when Wynona's around, but there's no need to get this angry about it!

Bram Stoker’s Dracula is a well made, artistic, sensual film that is mostly loyal to the core story of the original novel. The film, like the book, uses readings from diaries, letters, case notes, ships logs, and other media to progress the story and this gives the impression of a true story being presented. The cinematography is fantastic, giving a moody, surreal impression of late Victorian London. Costume, music, and most of the special effects are great, though the rings of blue fire outside the castle near the beginning are a little off.

What lets down Dracula in a very bad way is the choice of actors. Keanu Reeves as Harker was a woeful mistake, and his performance is barely watchable, not to mention his British accent. At that stage in his career he was best known for Point Break and the Bill & Ted movies – what possessed them to cast him as Harker? Almost as bad is Wynona Ryder as Mina, here’s a girl that Vlad has pursued past the walls of death and time and she’s played by a shoplifting skank? Finally, Cary Elwes as one of the (British) suitors is pretty bad. It’s a safe bet that the casting decisions were based on financial appeal in the US as opposed to getting the best performances. Gary Oldman as the Count and Anthony Hopkins as Van Helsing were the highlights and perfectly cast, shame about the rest.

One Thumb Up and One Thumb Down for Bram Stoker’s Dracula.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

27 Days of Fright (The Reprint) - Day Twenty Four

Originally Published Wednesday 29th October 2008

From Dusk till Dawn

Whichever way you cut it, Quentin Tarantino is a tosser. He’s made one or two decent movies but for the most part he’s a self-obsessed twat who drags up obscure material from the 1970’s and rams it down your throat in a desperate attempt to feel relevant and cool. Then, he wrote “From Dusk till Dawn” and all his sins were forgiven, including his performance in the movie!

Dusk till Dawn follows the Gekko brothers, Seth and Richie, two bad ass bank robbers on the run from the law and heading to Mexico to a safe haven they have lined up. Along the way they encounter the Fuller family, a preacher who has lost his faith as a result of his wife’s tragic death, and his son and daughter, Scott and Kate. The Gekko’s take these three hostage as part of a ploy to get safely across the Mexican border.

Once in Mexico the group hold up in a wild bar with a great name – The Titty Twister. Seth and Richie, though now safe from the law, are constantly on edge and are unable to avoid trouble, getting into a row in the bar that sparks off the shock revelation that the place is crawling with vampires! With their secret out, the creatures of the night kill all round them, leaving an ever decreasing number of survivors to make funny remarks about their situation until we are left with Kate and Seth to face the hoards of the undead alone.

One for the ladies, but fellas, listen close!

Dusk till Dawn is a simple vampire tale where everyone (nearly) gets murdered. What makes it such a joy is the level of humour involved, not so much as to push it into out and out comedy territory but enough to make it nicely quotable. The vampires characters are exaggerated caricatures of the person they are based on and the humans are pretty much the same only without the make up, Fred Williamson as the troubled Vietnam veteran is a prime example as is the biker, Sex Machine with his amazing weaponry.

On the acting side there are some let downs. Juliette Lewis is a skank and should not be allowed to be in films, academy award nomination or not, she’s just rotten. Tarantino is such a pleb of an actor it’s easy to see how he only ever gets screen time in films he’s either written, produced, or directed himself. George Clooney on the other hand is brilliant as Seth, the ultimate bad ass, or as he says himself, a bastard, but not a fucking bastard!

Two Thumbs Up for From Dusk till Dawn.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

27 Days of Fright (The Reprint) - Day Twenty Three

Originally Published Tuesday 28th October 2008

Van Helsing

Horror has so many classic characters, mostly from nineteenth century literature based on old folk stories and legends. Characters like Dracula and Frankenstein and the Wolfman are part of our collective culture, they have been with us all since childhood despite their horror credentials. When a film comes along that uses these characters it has to tread carefully so as not to stamp all over characters we know so well. When they made Van Helsing, they did not tread carefully. In fact, they wore size twelve Docs to make sure that when they stomped down on those favourite characters, they really kicked the shit out of them!

Van Helsing follows the adventures of Gabriel Van Helsing, a fixer for the church who hunts down monsters and ghouls on their behalf. He and his faithful comic-relief sidekick are despatched to Transylvania to stop Dracula from killing off the last in a line of a noble family and thereby prevent any of them from entering Heaven. Van Helsing makes his way to Transylvania just in time to save the last of that family, Anna Velarius from vampire attack. Anna and Van Helsing head off to tackle Dracula and learn of his dastardly plan to procreate using the same technology that Dr. Frankenstein used to bring his monster to life – a project that was financed by Dracula. Turns out that the secret to getting the process to work for vampire children is to pass electricity through a werewolf, which is handy as Anna’s brother has just become one. After a lot of to-ing and fro-ing Van Helsing predictably saves the day after learning that he’s the left hand of God though Anna does get bumped off at the end.

Fang-tastic! (or "Hello Boys!")

It’s a little unfair to be overly critical of Van Helsing as it’s not a horror film in the truest sense, it’s really a kids movie that uses characters from horror stories. But as a kids film the film-makers didn’t really play to their audience very well as the film is overly long at over two hours and far too confusing. There is a lot going on in the film as nearly every horror character gets a look in as well as the top brass at the Vatican and in an attempt to give everyone enough screen time the film jumps around like white rappers in a St. Paddy’s day piss up. Van Helsing could have been a lot better if it was half an hour shorter and cut maybe two or three un-necessary monsters.

To be fair, there are a couple of things in Van Helsing that’re alright. And they both belonged to the red haired bride of Dracula!

Two Thumbs Down for Van Helsing.

Friday, September 25, 2009

27 Days of Fright (The Reprint) - Day Twenty Two

Originally Published Monday 27th October 2008

The Omen

In many ways The Omen took all of the best ideas of horror and crammed them into the one film. This approach could have ended in disaster but rather than a mishmash of ideas slapped together the makers of The Omen managed to put together a great, cohesive movie.

In early June 1976 the wife of a high ranking American diplomat (Robert Thorn, played by Gregory Peck) in Rome gives birth to a stillborn baby. One of the Priests running the hospital suggests to Robert that they can take the child of a mother who died at the same time as their own baby passed. Deciding to save his missus the pain of losing their baby, Bob takes the child and says nothing to his wife. They go on to raise the baby as their own and name him Damien.

Robert gets a promotion and is made the US ambassador to Great Britain, so he moves the family to London. At Damien’s fifth birthday party his nanny tops herself by dramatically pegging herself off a window ledge with a rope around her neck. This is the first in line of horrific incidents that surround the Thorn’s. Damien gets a creepy new nanny who tries to run things her way and brings large dogs into the house against Robert’s will.

Robert is approached by a Priest who seems to know about Damien’s past. He confronts Robert and tries to warn him, saying that the child is evil and must die. Robert wants none of this so he ignores the warning. Until the Priest dies. Robert gets shaken up by this especially when a photographer he kinda knows shows him a series of pictures he’s taken that seem to foretell how people are dying. Disaster strikes a little closer to home when Robert’s wife suffers a severe fall caused by Damien and Robert remembers that the Priest warned him that something like this would happen. Now believing that Damien is evil he decides to find out more about his natural parents.

Travelling to Italy with the photographer (who has a picture of himself that outlines how he will die) he finds out that the hospital where Damien was born has burned to the ground, that all the records were destroyed and that the only Priest who may be able to help him is living in a remote monastery suffering from injuries from the fire sustained as an apparent penance for his involvement with Damien. Thorn discovers that his own child wasn’t a stillborn but was in fact murdered and that Damien’s mother may have been a jackal. While in Italy, news reaches Thorn that his wife has been killed.

Thorn seeks help from a dude with a cool name, Bugenhagen, who provides Thorn with some knives and the method to kill Damien. Rejecting this idea, Thorn discards the knives, just in time for his journo friend to die just as was predicted in the pictures. Finally accepting his fate Thorn returns home to kill Damien.

You wouldn't recognise a young Keanu Reeves, would you?

The Omen is a pretty flawless movie. Good actors, a great story, and the films positioning as more of a supernatural thriller than a horror make for a package that’s hard to find a problem with. But I tried and came up with the following nitpicky bits.

Like all the other horror movies that have a big religious element, The Omen deals with Catholicism and only picks out the interesting bits like Revelations. While that particular book reads like a horror story it’s the bit of the Bible that most teenage boys have read either to help them become better smartarses or to give themselves a bit of a fright, and a really original movie would do well to focus on another book of the Bible altogether (as long as they don’t ask Dan Brown for help). Also, The Omen is entirely dependent on the character of the Priest who knows everything without really explaining how and tells Thorn all he needs to know. Without the Priest to conveniently fill in the details and tell Thorn what to do, Thorn would have to figure things out for himself.

Still, these are nitpicky faults. The Omen is brilliant.

Two Thumbs Firmly Up for The Omen.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

27 Days of Fright (The Reprint) - Day Twenty One

Originally Published Sunday 26th October 2008

The Exorcist

For some reason Catholicism lends itself to horror very well. The religion has a lot of references to the devil and demons and angels and all sorts of supernatural goings on. The last book of the Bible, Revelations, is practically a handbook on how to write horror. There are loads of horror films that use religion as a core theme but the granddaddy of them all is The Exorcist.

In the early 1970’s the film introduces four different people on different paths in life. Father Merrin is an older Priest on an archaeological dig in northern Iraq, he is not in the best of health and seems to be surrounded by a dark presence. Father Karras is a younger Priest working in Washington DC as a psychiatrist, helping Priests with their problems, despite developing a crisis of faith himself due to his mother’s poor health and eventual death.

Also living in Washington are Chris MacNeil and her daughter Regan. Chris is an actress in town to make a film that she doesn’t seem to think much of. She’s separated from her husband who’s off living the good life in Europe so her daughter lives with her. Life is pretty good in the MacNeil household but things turn a little sour as Regan become ill, suffering from severe nightmares, convulsions, and altered behaviour. Chris gets medical help for Regan but nothing seems to work. Despite a raft of often painful medical tests none of the doctors are able to help and suggest psychiatric treatment. This seems to be a blind alley as well and Regan gets worse, her behaviour and physical appearance deteriorate to the point where Chris will do anything to help her, even extreme treatments. The doctors suggest playing to Regan’s delusions by having an exorcism performed.

Chris seeks out Fr. Karras, suggested to her through a mutual Priest friend. He is sceptical but investigates Regan’s case an after witnessing some phenomena first hand. Deciding that an exorcism is warranted he is assigned Fr. Merrin, back from Iraq, to help due to his past experiences with exorcisms. The two Priests perform the exorcism and are confronted with their own weaknesses and guilt as they battle the demons possessing Regan.

Look what she did...

The Exorcist is one of the accepted benchmarks for making good horror. The use of religious themes is the cornerstone of the film and if I were to suggest an overarching theme it’s probably the clash of religion and science. For all their expertise and technology the medical guys are powerless to help. Karras is a Priest and a Psychiatrist, but his advanced medical training at some of the country’s best medical schools still left him without the means to help his dying mother. It’s only when the church take the case seriously is anything done to aid Regan and only the Priests involved are prepared to do what’s necessary, despite the high personal cost to themselves.

The Exorcist is by no means perfect. The first half of the film is used to set the scene and build tension which in retrospect it does, but as you’re watching it feels slow. The cop investigating the death of the director working with Chris seems like a buffoon of a character and has a little too much screen time for someone who doesn’t push the story along. Merrin’s character is underdeveloped compared to the others and it’s really Karras we relate to. It would have been nice to know more about Merrin, especially as he seemed to have a greater understanding of the whole situation.

The Exorcist is a good scarefest of a film and one of the most quotable flicks around. 35 years since it’s release it remains controversial, the scenes with the crucifix are extreme and the filth that comes out of Regan’s mouth makes this a film you wouldn’t watch with your mum.

Two Thumbs Up for The Exorcist.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

27 Days of Fright (The Reprint) - Day Twenty

Originally Published Saturday 25th October 2008

The Wicker Man

The original Wicker Man from 1973 is a work of art. It really is that simple.

Edward Woodward plays Sgt Howie, a Scottish policeman who travels to the island of Summerisle to investigate the disappearance of a young girl after he receives an anonymous letter requesting help. Howie is a devout Christian and he is shocked by the antics of the islanders who practice a pagan-like nature based religion, including lots of nakedity and public fornication!

The islanders are secretive in the extreme and hamper Howie’s investigation by claiming no knowledge of the girl. They change their collective story when he uncovers evidence of her existence and try to convince him that the missing girl is in fact dead. This proves to be bunkum when Howie has her grave dug up and the coffin contains nothing but the corpse of a hare. Howie does some more policework and comes to the conclusion that she is still alive but is to be used as a human sacrifice to the gods of the fields in order to guarantee a good crop for next harvest. Howie tries to leave the island to get help but his plane won’t start, so he tackles the islanders himself and goes door to door looking for the girl.

After his search proves fruitless (like the islands orchards!) he goes back to his guest house to rest. He is advised by the innkeeper that this is the best thing to do as a man of his beliefs would only be shocked by the festivities planned for that afternoon as it’s May Day, one of their religions most sacred days. Howie pretends to be asleep but is only biding his time. When the right moment comes along he over powers the innkeeper and steals his May Day costume. Dressed as Punch he joins the May Day procession and discovers the missing girl tied up, ready to be sacrificed. He tries to rescue her but finds that he’s been tricked by everyone, including the girl who was playing the victim, and that he is the one who’s going to be sacrificed!

Count Dooku? Hippies? No wonder he turned to the Dark Side!

The Wicker Man is pure art, a tale of terror that is dressed up in all the pretty colours of the last days of flower power and the hippie movement that makes the viewer wonder for a short while if there’s something to what they’re saying. It’s like the first time you see Fight Club and you think that maybe modern life is rubbish and should be torn down. However, like in Fight Club, as you watch The Wicker Man you are dragged along to the point where you realise that the islanders are in fact mad and you feel a pang of guilt for being suckered in.

Woodward gives such a performance as Howie that you really associate with him and his frustration at the islands inhabitants. When the horrific ending comes you are saddened as well as shocked by what happens. The final scene where Howie is praying for himself as he accepts his fate is properly upsetting.

For the most part Wicker Man is a musical. There are several set musical pieces through the first two thirds of the film but their folksy make up actually add to the film as opposed to taking from it. The bit where Howie is tempted by the landlord’s daughter is particularly intriguing.

Two Thumbs Firmly Up for The Wicker Man!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

27 Days of Fright (The Reprint) - Day Nineteen

Originally Published Friday 24th October 2008

The Shining

Watching The Shining has become a bittersweet experience for me in recent years. It was one of those films I remember being really scared of when I was younger, classic scenes of the creepy twins in the hallways, or the blood flowing from the elevators, or the naked chick with the rotting flesh in the bathroom, all had the power to really put the shits up me! As you may have guessed, this is no longer the case. Now, when I watch the film I get wrapped up in how Stanley Kubrick made movies and how much yer man from NCIS really does look and sound like a young Jack Nicholson, and unfortunately, how piss-poor a writer Stephen King is.

The Shining follows Jack Torrance (Nicholson) as he takes up the job of caretaker for an isolated hotel over the winter months. Each year the hotel gets snowbound so a caretaker is needed to keep an eye on the place and make sure that the rigours of the winter don’t cause excessive damage to the buildings. Jack moves in to the hotel with his wife and young son. On the first day, the day the hotel closes for the winter, the Torrance’s are given a tour. During the tour, which is given by the cook, we are told that the young Torrance has telepathic abilities and that there may be more to his imaginary friend Tony then a simple child’s game. The cook has similar powers that in his family are referred to as shining. Also, the hotel was built on an Indian burial ground. And the previous year the caretaker killed his family.

Over the course of the winter odd things start happening. Jack, who should be working on writing a book, is instead seeing ghosts and nipping off for a swift half in the haunted ballroom. The young lad flips his lid and slides into a neat psychosis complete with mirror-writing capabilities (redrum = murder backwards). After an encounter with the previous caretaker Jack decides to whack the family and goes about the task with an axe, rightly giving his missus the screaming heebie jeebies.

After some madness with an axe, Jack's mind wasn't the only thing that had splintered!

The Shining has some amazing scenes that are proper scary and Jack’s decent into madness is a case study in how someone comes apart and goes psycho, but for all that’s right there’s a fair bit wrong too. The story has so many elements that it’s hard to pick them apart into a cohesive set of causes and effects. Firstly, the young Torrance has telepathic abilities. Fair enough. But who’s Tony? Where did he come from and why? Also, the cook had this ability in his family. Was Jack therefore predisposed to seeing things?

Next up, the Indian burial ground. Why build the hotel there? It was off in the middle of fucking nowhere, why not build half a mile up the road? No one would have known the difference. And was that the reason why there were odd goings on in the hotel, and if so why did the phenomenon get fixed on the 1920’s? And how did the time travel element come into it, that is, how did Jack get into the 1920’s picture? I’m sure there are explanations, but I watched the film last night and I didn’t see them. That maybe because I wasn’t paying attention for them as I got so hung up on looking for Kubrick traits.

Stanley Kubrick had a giant reputation considering the shite films he made. Shining starts off with the synthesized music that was over used in Clockwork Orange and from that point on the film feels more like another film in the Kubrick series than a standalone film in its own right. That said, it is a classic of the genre, and the “here’s Johnny” bit is amazing.

One Thumb Up and One Thumb Down for The Shining.

Monday, September 21, 2009

27 Days of Fright (The Reprint) - Day Eighteen

Originally Published Thursday 23rd October 2008

The Amityville Horror

Many times when you hear that the truth is stranger than fiction it turns out to be anything but. Film-makers, like any other creative people, like to embellish the truth for the purposes of drama, or tension, or just to be cool. Over the past eighteen nights I there have been a couple of films that have been based on true stories. The Mothman Prophecies and The Serpent & the Rainbow both developed on their original stories in order to make more entertaining films, both leaving their inspirations in the shade in terms of dramatic effect. In the case of “The Amityville Horror” the reverse is the case – the truth really is stranger than fiction. And better too!

The Amityville Horror (the original 1979 version) is based on a book about the events that occurred in a house in Amityville. One night, one of the original residents of the house goes on a killing spree and murders his sleeping brothers and sisters along with their parents. A year later and the house is up for sale at a knockdown price because of the murders. The Lutz family buy the house and move in. Over the course of 28 days they are subjected to all manner of horrors that finally drive them out.

Clark Kent's beardy disguise went a little too far...

As horror films go the story is a bog standard tale of a haunted house that drives out the family living there, Amityville and Poltergeist are roughly the same basic story. What makes Amityville remarkable is that it is based on the very real events that took place in New York state. Ronald DeFeo murdered his family in 1974 and the real life Lutz family moved into the house a little over a year later, and after 28 days, fled the gaff saying that paranormal events drove them out.

Now, there is a lot of debate over the validity of the Lutzes claims and at this point it’s generally accepted that the events they say happened didn’t really and that the whole thing was really a cover for the fact that poor old George Lutz was broke and couldn’t afford the place, despite the bargain basement price tag. The media storm around the case in the 1970’s continued on into the early years of this century as Lutz trademarked the phrase “The Amityville Horror” as part of his ongoing attempts to cash in. He even went to court at one point, suing people for slander when they said he was full of shit. He lost out there too as the judge in the case ruled that he was actually full of shit.

As a movie Amityville is a little too bog standard. Poltergeist came along only three years later but showed how haunted house movies should be made, i.e. not on the cheap. For all the hype the 1979 flick seems cheap. The way the movie moves along and the devices used are brutal – the scene near the end with the pig with the glowing eyes is unforgivable! The way they try to drag religion into the story also stinks and was just an attempt to build on the success of other movies from the time that had big religious elements.

In watching Amityville though the hardest thing for me was trying not to laugh every time Margot Kidder was on screen – you may remember her as Lois Lane from the old Superman films. She flipped her lid in real life in the mid-nineties and I can’t help but wonder if it was brought on by her watching this film and realising what had happened to her career!

Two thumbs down for The Amityville Horror.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

27 Days of Fright (The Reprint) - Day Seventeen

Originally Published Wednesday 22nd October 2008

Day of the Dead

George A. Romero is revered in horror circles for his work in making classic zombie films in the seventies. As you can expect those films have been since remade, most notably Dawn of the Dead, which is a decent remake of a classic. I say classic but to many people The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is a classic while I think it’s shite, and from that you can guess what I think of the original Romero films, which is why the remake of Dawn of the Dead is so surprisingly good. Day of the Dead, on the other hand, is more like the originals.

Day of the Dead sets the scene with a couple trying to get their son to a hospital in Colorado. They, like many other townsfolk, are stuck at a military blockade that is sealing off the roads around their town. The army lads are under the command of Ving Rhames and are mostly young soldiers. One of the soldiers with a little seniority is Corporal Sarah Cross (played by Mena Suvari, who took me a little while to place, it’s yer one from American Pie and American Beauty, and to think she had such a promising career once upon a time…) is actually from the town being contained. As you may have figured out at this point, the military are there to quarantine the town after an outbreak of some virus that turns people into zombies.

Young soldier Sarah heads into the town to gather up her family and along the way is waylaid by zombies and survivors looking for a way out of the town to escape the terrible virus, blah, blah, heard it all before…

Singing Bye Bye Miss American Pie, I spent the whole movie wishing that you would die...

Day of the Dead is a surprising little movie. It’s no surprise that it’s woeful rubbish or that, even for a sort of remake, it’s brutally unoriginal. What is surprising is just how bad it really is. I mean really. This is a zombie movie (that I hasten to add only mentions the word zombie once) that doesn’t really feature any blood or gore. The film-makers tried to get gory but lost the run of themselves when they decided to make the gore computer generated. With the exception of the make-up effects (which aren’t bad, just not that shocking) the blood and guts are done on a computer. This, coupled with the lacklustre storyline and piss-poor performances from the lead actors, gives you the feeling that it’s not an actual film you’re watching at all, it’s more like sitting down to watch someone play a video game.

I wish I knew what makes film producers go down the road of viruses causing all these zombie-like incidents. Out of the zombie movies on the list of 27 films there are none that use the old idea of zombies rising from the grave as reanimated corpses, though The Serpent and the Rainbow comes close. Maybe next time I’ll rustle up an old fashioned zombie flick, or maybe the remake of Dawn of the Dead.

Two thumbs down for Day of the Dead.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

27 Days of Fright (The Reprint) - Day Sixteen

Originally Published Tuesday 21st October 2008


Every now and then someone comes up with a good idea. It may take some time for people to realise that it is a good idea and it can take years for even a small group to take notice. When this happens you often get to allocate “cult status” to that idea. After a few more years in cult status, many good ideas are dusted down and given a second look and more often than not in these dark, unoriginal times, they are massacred and re-worked and raped and thrown into the mainstream like so much other crap, and the faithful few who were there in the early days are left robbed and disappointed and forgotten.

An example of that mainstream GBH to an idea is the satellite TV show “Most Haunted”. The premise of the show – televised paranormal investigations – is a good one, and the fact that there is something like nine series of the programme shows that it is a popular one. Unfortunately, the idea wasn’t theirs. Neither was the fakery involved.

Ghostwatch, though made for television, is a 1992 film made by the BBC that was originally shown on Hallowe’en of that year. Even though the film is entirely fictitious, viewers will recognise the format as being like one of Most Haunted’s live shows, which are also broadcast about the time of Hallowe’en (though it’s important to point out at this point that Ghostwatch predates Most Haunted by ten years). The action in the film is split between the studio and a regular suburban house in London. In the studio Michael Parkinson (playing himself) hosts the programme, Mike Smith (playing himself) is in charge of the phone banks which the public can call in with their ghost stories, and they are joined by a parapsychologist (dunno who played her) who provides a professional opinion on the goings on in the house.

The house itself is lived in by a mother and her two daughters and the action there is reported on by Sarah Greene (playing herself) and Craig Charles (yes, that Craig Charles, from Red Dwarf, played by himself). As the evening progresses we are filled in on the story of the haunting occurring in the house and are brought up to speed on the background of previous tenants and other colourful local characters. Slowly but surely the tension mounts and some ghostly events unfold in front of a live television audience.

Only one career survived that terrible Halloween night!

Or so it’s meant to seem. Ghostwatch is a fine example of a mockumentary and it cleverly presents itself as a live TV programme fitting with the BBC of the time down to the personalities involved and even the telephone number the public were supposed to call. Because of the way it fits the time so well it is horribly dated and no longer stands up to scrutiny. In fairness it was never meant to be watched any other way than on that Hallowe’en night and it’s easy to imagine how it went down with the audiences that year – in fact, it went down a little too well. There was a huge backlash from the public against the film as so many thought it was real and felt manipulated by the BBC. The realistic way the haunting was presented indirectly lead to at least one suicide and the complaints to the BBC were followed with a self-inflicted ban on the film that lasted for ten years.

Ghostwatch is let down by some of the performances. The big name presenters do fine up to the point where they have to start acting out a storyline and stop just playing themselves. The unknown actresses playing the mother and daughters are pretty bad from the beginning, but you can forgive that as it’s meant to be members of the public on TV which is always hard to watch. The biggest complaint though is the pacing, the film is just a little too slow with too much flicking from studio to house to fill in the time before the haunting kicks off. It was a great idea though!

One thumb up and one thumb down for Ghostwatch.

Friday, September 18, 2009

27 Days of Fright (The Reprint) - Day Fifteen

Originally Published Monday 20th October 2008

Shaun of the Dead

When I put the list of films together for the 27 Days I decided early on how some themes were going to be loosely addressed at certain points, like in the last week the movies will all be about vampires as Hallowe’en this year is vampyre themed and the second last week will deal with the big name classic horror films. I decided that around about the midpoint, before things got serious I’d lighten the mood with a comedy, hence last night’s flick, the Rom Zom Com, “Shaun of the Dead”.

Shaun of the title (Simon Pegg) is a regular bloke in his late twenties who is having difficulty growing up. He still lives with two of his mates from college, he spends every night in the same pub, his girlfriend Liz leaves him and he’s getting abuse at work from his teenage colleagues. His less than perfect life is then shattered when people around him start turning into zombies.

With his mate Ed (Nick Frost) Shaun sets out to rescue his loved ones, namely his ex-girlfriend and his mum, and take them to safety in the best place possible – the pub! Along the way they pick up some extras, like Liz’s flatmates and his step-dad. Of course this wouldn’t be a zombie movie without loads of zombies to battle and in the vein of all good disaster horror films some of the group get killed off.

You've got red on you!

The storyline for Shaun of the Dead is pretty basic but the humour is anything but and the comedy of Pegg & Frost in this situation works incredibly well. There are some proper funny moments like the scene in the pub where Ed is trying to cheer Shaun up after Liz dumps him, and the bit where they put their rescue plan together is laugh out loud stuff.

Shaun gets onto the 27 Days list as it is a horror film and there are plenty of gory scenes and lots of blood flows. The horror also has some very mature moments like Shaun dealing with his relationship with his step-dad who turns zombie, as well as facing up to having to kill his mum who is also turned - the bit with his mum is particularly hard to watch and is definitely a pure horror moment. Unfortunately this scene marks the beginning of the end for the film as it becomes too hard to laugh at anything from that point on and I’m not sure the film-makers even tried to make much of a comedy out of the final act at all.

The film is full of subtleties like the full coke and diet coke dilemma (Shaun rejects diet coke before trying to get his life in order) and the hints on the radio and TV about the origin of the zombies. There is a clever dig at how modern takes on horror themes don’t call the monsters what they are, in Shaun when they say that they’re not using the “Z” word (zombie) it’s like the TV series Ultraviolet never using the term vampire, but the most subtle joke though is the TV news reporter getting cut off at the end as they say that the idea of the zombies being caused by rage infected monkeys is bullshit (a joke about 28 Days Later – a film where the word Zombie is never used).

There are loads of familiar faces from modern Channel 4 style British comedy with people you’ll recognise from Black Books, Spaced, and even yer man Matt Lucas from Shooting Stars (I don’t like Little Britain, so he’ll always be the man with the scores George Dawes to me!) making an appearance. It is unfortunate however that Jessica Stevenson (Pegg’s flatmate from Spaced) doesn’t have a bigger role, but I guess that would just make Shaun of the Dead “Spaced: The Movie” then.

Shaun of the Dead is the first in the “Three Flavours Cornetto” series (also known as the “Blood and Ice Cream Trilogy”), with “Hot Fuzz” the unlikely sequel and “The World Ends” being penned at the moment. I for one can’t wait to see what these guys will do next.

Two thumbs up for Shaun of the Dead!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

27 Days of Fright (The Reprint) - Day Fourteen

Originally Published Sunday 19th October 2008


Into the end credits for the film Reeker, the film-makers inserted the following note: “If you’re a film reviewer and you’re uninspired enough to use the phrase “this movie stinks” or any other lame pun/riff on the title – ha ha ha.” I noticed this as I like to let the credits roll until the very end so I can be sure that there’s no after credit scenes. How confident in your material would you have to be to insert a comment like this? Would you perhaps be concerned that the reviews may not be stellar so you try to get a dig in advance? And what would lead to such a monumental lack of confidence in your own film that you would be so concerned? In my opinion the only thing that could have caused such a crisis of confidence is if they’d actually watched the movie!

Reeker sti- no, wait, we’ve been warned! Reeker is a really bad film! The kindest thing I can think to say is that it’s child’s horror, a scary movie for the little uns.

Five college types are on a road trip to God only cares where and along the way see a car crash. At this point if you’re thinking “I can guess what happens” then you know how I felt. They press on when they hear sirens approach but have to stop to kick one of the group out for carrying drugs. Deciding that they can’t leave him out in the dessert they return to a diner they had stopped at earlier. They get there just as the car runs out of petrol. The diner and attached motel are abandoned and there’s no petrol either.

Stuck there for the night, the five split up with one couple availing of one of the motel rooms, the other couple pitching tents and the remaining guy heading up the road to the next stop to look for help. One by one they are killed off by a strange creature that for the most part is really just a bad smell. Honestly, a bad smell. They get a whiff of something rotten and then they’re killed. Along the way we meet some other victims, like a guy driving a mobile home looking for his wife and a trucker who’d been sliced in half and left in a dumpster but was strangely still alive.Guess what? They were all dead, killed in the crash near the start. The two who manage to escape the smelly killer are in the process of being saved by emergency services in the real world.

Breathe through your mouth!

Reeker has borrowed heavily from other films, which is a nice way of saying it stole a bunch of ideas and threw them together for the purposes of making money. The five kids on a road trip (Texas Chainsaw Massacre) are made up of two girls and three guys, one of whom is disabled (Chainsaw Massacre again - though this time the guy is blind not in a wheelchair). There’s no petrol at the rest stop (Chainsaw, again). The kids at the motel are killed off one at a time while there are parallel events in the real world (Identity). This goes on and on.

Reeker does have one or two decent moments, like the cute girl getting killed in the outdoor privy and the horrible injuries some of the victims suffer are good effects, but the whole thing is woefully predictable and not scary at all, though I’d imagine younger viewers would jump at the right moments. The biggest complaint though has to be how boring the film is. There are long sections where nothing happens at all – I’m not kidding when I say I fell asleep watching Reeker I was that bored.

Two thumbs down for Reeker.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

27 Days of Fright (The Reprint) - Day Thirteen

Originally Published Saturday 18th October 2008

28 Weeks Later

Last night’s movie has the dubious honour of being the first sequel out of the 27 that make up this little project. Sequels can sometimes surprise, if you look at Empire Strikes Back or Aliens you will find movies that are better than the original. Look at films like Blade or Robocop or The Matrix and you will be disappointed with the follow ups. Unlike most sequels 28 Weeks Later does not pick up the story where we left off and none of the original characters are in this film.

Instead we return to a devastated Britain, as the title suggests, 28 Weeks Later, to find the country quarantined from the rest of the world. A NATO force, led by the US, is securing the country and leading the repopulation effort. British refugees are slowly being returned home to a safe zone called “District One” in the London Docklands. Two children Tammy and her brother Andy are among a group moving to District 1 where they are reunited with their father Don, played by Robert Carlyle, who is working as a sort of caretaker in District 1.

The kids soon break out of District 1 in order to visit their old house where they discover that their mother is still alive, though in a bit of a rough state. At the start of the film we see Don abandoning his wife to a group of infected in order to save himself and with her return he is forced to face up to his guilt, especially as he had lied to his kids about what had happened to their poor old mum. Don’s trouble and strife is not a normal survivor, she is infected with the Rage virus but as a carrier as opposed to a full on zombie type. She infects Don who develops the full symptoms and promptly goes around infecting and killing all round him.

The soldiers try to contain the outbreak but are quickly overwhelmed and are forced to begin killing indiscriminately, infected and healthy civilians alike. The kids escape this horror with the aid of a sniper who couldn’t bring himself to kill Andy when ordered and the lead medical officer. Trying to escape district 1 is made all the harder and more urgent when the big cheese orders that the place be totally destroyed to contain the infection. Some infected get out and give chase to the small group of survivors who are trying to rendezvous with a helicopter that can get them to safety.


28 Weeks Later is a great sequel because of how it left the original behind and because of the overall concept of the movie - that is dealing with the repopulation effort. Here we see how other countries would react to a situation like mass plague that kills an entire population, especially in the absence of anything like a government or anyone else in a position of authority. The second outbreak is predictable but necessary; it’s a zombie movie (kinda) after all! This time out we see even more of London as an abandoned ghost town and those scenes are incredibly well presented.

The inclusion of American actors gives the movie a fresh angle, but there are no significant big names – Robert Carlyle is probably the most recognisable face. The two kids make for believable victims of an awful situation but the inclusion of children in no way leads to the action or gore being toned down, this film like its predecessor doesn’t pull any punches.

Two thumbs up for 28 Weeks Later!

28 Weeks Later is one of the films I've had a chance to view again. All in all my opinion hasn't changed though I did notice that, like the original, there are moments of varying quality in terms of cinematography. I'm guessing that the director copied the original movies style very very closely as 28 Weeks seems to have mixed HD video with analogue film stock. At one point (when the civilians are getting exposed to the virus in the basement) you can see a flaw in the film run down the right hand side of the screen, a flaw so obvious it may have been put in deliberately to give the scene a documentary feel, like you're watching actual footage. The varying types of photography really only become apparent if you're watching on HD but, unlike 28 Days Later, don't distract from the action.

My two thumbs remain up!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

27 Days of Fright (The Reprint) - Day Twelve

Originally Published Friday 17th October 2008

The Mothman Prophecies

Nearly two weeks into the 27 Days project I found myself wondering the other day if I was becoming desensitised to the horror movie genre. Then last night I sat and watched The Mothman Prophecies and, despite my having seen it several times before, it scared the piss out of me.

Richard Gere stars as John Klein, a reporter with the Washington Post. He has a successful career and a beautiful wife but his world comes apart one night after a car crash lands his missus in hospital. Though not critically injured she is diagnosed with a brain tumour and dies shortly after.

Two years pass and Klein is on his way to see the Governor of Virginia one night when his car breaks down and he has an odd encounter with a householder who accuses him of having visited his house for the past two nights. This, and the fact that he has travelled much farther than he should have in the time he was on the road, lead Klein to investigate the strange happenings in Point Pleasant.

He works with the local sheriff and meets a range of townsfolk who have all had strange visions or mysterious phone calls from a large creature resembling a moth crossed with a man. The visions become more precise and begin to marry with disastrous world events like earthquakes. Klein seeks the aid of an expert in the subject who warns him away from Point Pleasant as he is sure something terrible is going to happen there.

The visions and happenings grow in intensity and Klein and the sheriff see his dead wife in the town. When the governor announces a visit to the local chemical plant Klein believes that the impending disaster will occur there, but like the expert warned, the mothman warnings are often misinterpreted. He returns to Washington but is lured back to Point Pleasant at the worst possible time.

"Big Red Eyes and Wings" - what not to order at your local KFC

Mothman is not the only movie on the list that is “based on a true story” but it is the only one that is verifiably true – there really was an incident in Point Pleasant during the sixties or seventies and several of the inhabitants reported sightings of a mothman creature that foretold of the disaster. One of the books written about Point Pleasant became the basis for this movie.

The Mothman Prophecies is genuinely, properly, outright scary, but there isn’t a single frightening moment in the entire film. Instead the atmosphere of the film is so oppressive from the opening moments that you are on edge from start to finish. The scary components are there but are so subtle they are nearly subliminal and this adds to the fear well as you’re not sure why you’re so bothered. In fact, nearly everything is subtle and understated about the movie, including Gere’s performance which is really good to be fair to the guy.

Mothman is a really good example of how less can be more, a great scary movie that doesn’t really on cheap tricks to frighten – a sophisticated, creepy piece of cinema – the thinking mans horror!

Two thumbs up for The Mothman Prophecies.

Monday, September 14, 2009

27 Days of Fright (The Reprint) - Day Eleven

Here's one of the movies that I took a second look at recently...

Originally Published Thursday 16th October 2008

The Devils Advocate

Big name actors, really big name actors, aren’t the sort of people you expect to see in horror but we’ve already had Robert De Nero as the monster in Frankenstein, Johnny Depp in Nightmare on Elm Street, Nicholas Cage, Bill Pullman, and now Al Pacino and Keanu Reeves in The Devils Advocate. I’m not sure what attracts these guys to this sort of film but they’ve all had a go, some more than once (Craig T. Nelson, I’m looking at you!)

The Devils Advocate tells the tale of Kevin Lomax (Reeves), a successful lawyer from Bumsville Florida, who has never lost a case. His track record attracts the attention of a large New York law firm who want him to help them pick a jury. Kevin and his wife Mary Ann travel to the city where they live the high life while Kev picks his jury. The case is won thanks to that jury and the head man of the law firm, John Milton (Pacino), offers Lomax a job and all the perks that go with it, becoming a sort of mentor to Lomax.

Kevin settles into city life with apparent ease but Mary Ann struggles. Kevin’s unbroken record continues and he wins a couple of high profile cases but as Kevin’s star rises Mary Ann slips into a form of depression and she begins to see visions of monsters. Her condition spirals to the point of her being hospitalised. Meanwhile Kevin allows his desire to win cloud his sense of right and wrong and he makes some ethically unsound moves. When the Lomax’s situation comes to a head Kevin realises that Milton is more than just a mentor to him and much more than just a lawyer – he’s the Devil incarnate!

Al wanna cookie! Now!!!

The Devil’s Advocate is a slick piece of cinema. New York looks every bit the rich mans playground and the way the life Milton offers to Lomax is portrayed as incredibly seductive. Reeves gives his standard interpretation of what acting is but Pacino steals the show, totally dominating every scene he’s in and absolutely running away with the final scenes. Charlize Theron as Mary Ann puts in a great performance, making her characters disintegration believable and tragically obviously avoidable – obvious to everyone but her and her husband. The supporting cast all do a bang up job too, with everyone just a little over the top and larger than life to make Pacino’s antics fit right. The pacing of the film works well too and the picture never feels long despite running over two hours.

What makes Advocate unique though is the deft way humour is used throughout the film. The Devil, even at his most crass and base is charming and downright funny – his comments about God will make you laugh out loud! The humour works because there’s nothing really scary going on so it doesn’t feel like you’re being made to smile in order to offer some relief but so that you can play along instead, in Advocates case the greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was getting you to like him and play his game.

Two thumbs up for The Devils Advocate.

I took a second look at Advocate recently and couldn't help but notice a couple of problems with the film that escaped me last time out.

There are a couple of odd continuity issues. For example, the scene where Lomax meets Eddie Barzoom, the Managing Director of the firm who's out jogging, doesn't seem to fit right in terms of time of day. Lomax is in casual clothes, Barzoom has the time to go jogging, and Milton is in a dressing gown when we see him. Lomax has also just come out from a shop where he seemed to be picking up a few essentials. Looking at this scene it appears to be a Saturday or Sunday morning, but it's in the middle of the trial and we hear in the next scene that Barzoom was killed "last night". Last night! How is that possible? There's snow on the ground! If all the boys had finished work for the day, in the winter time, in New York, surely it should have been dark! What the hell were they all doing? The principle partner in the firm, the managing director, and the head of the criminal department all appear to be skiving off work in the middle of a major trial! If Cullen had gotten sent down (or worse, the death penalty) a public defender could get him off at the retrial by pointing to lawyer negligence!

Secondly, during the scene where Lomax leaves the apartment when his mother is visiting we see him in a perfect crisp white shirt and bright tie. In the next scene (that same day) he's in a different suit and has a button-down shirt on, then he switches back to the original outfit in the following scene. These continuity problems all seem to be related to a bigger issue in the film. It appears that the film-makers had the final scene in mind all the time that they were making the rest of the flick. The dodgy scenes are there to make sense of something in the big climax where Pacino gets his rocks off - the bit with the changes of clothes seems to happen only so Pacino can say "after seeing those pictures" to Lomax in the last scene. These problems serve a strange second purpose though, and that's to sow a seed of discomfort in the viewers mind. Things don't add up so you tend to relate to Mary Ann more then you might have, and to be fair, you'd have to have seen the movie about ten times before they really make an impact.

During the recent viewing the big issue that stuck in my mind was with the bitter end of the film. After Lomax uses his free will to wriggle out of his Dad's plans for him, we jump back in time to the first trial of the child abuser. Lomax throws in the towel and he and Mary Ann go off to live their lives in Florida. Their journalist friend plays on their egos to get an exclusive interview and after they agree we see that the journalist was the Devil in disguise all along. Hang on. The Devil can manipulate time? He can go back and take another swipe at things? Why the hell does he keep fucking it up so? How come he had "so many children, so many dissappointments" as he said himself? If he can time travel, why not go back to the very beginning and not get cast from Heaven in the first place? It does leave a nice opening at the end of the movie to have Pacino get the last word, but it does make you wonder.

I'm sure these issues will continue to trouble me for a long time as I still really enjoy The Devil's Advocate, my two thumbs remain up for this one!

27 Days of Fright (The Reprint) - Day Ten

Originally Published Wednesday 15th October 2008

The Serpent & The Rainbow

It may seem simplistic but what makes most of us scared is the unknown. We get a fright when something we weren’t expecting jumps out at us and we don’t have time to process the information triggering the animal instinct of fight or flight that gets the adrenaline pumping. Roller coasters and horror films play on this system in us all. More subtle scares come from unknown aspects of our lives, possibilities of what may lurk in the dark corners of our cities and our souls, things that we are unable or unwilling to face up to about ourselves. When setting out to make a horror film it’s easy to play up on that fear of the unknown as so many people are ignorant about so many different things.

The Serpent & The Rainbow is loosely based on a book that chronicles the experiences of an anthropologist in Haiti during the 1970’s and his work on the subject of zombification. In Haiti there’s a strong tradition of voodoo and in the film Bill Pullman plays Dennis Allen, sent to Haiti by a large pharmaceutical company to discover the science behind the zombies. In Haiti, Allen meets a doctor who has been treating survivors of the zombification process. She explains the workings of the country and of the mix between Catholicism and Voodoo. Through her contacts Allen gets to meet Voodoo priests and gets to work with a Voodoo practitioner in preparing the powder used to make zombies.

Along the way Allen has a brush with the law who are led by a Voodoo priest who’s working the dark side of the force. Haiti is in the throes of a revolution and chaos rules in every aspect of island life. Allen gets the secret of zombies but pays a terrible price for the knowledge.

The Voodoo who do what you don't dare do people!

The Serpent & The Rainbow works as a concept on so many levels. It deals with a religion that I for one know bugger all about really, the science of anaesthesia, and the culture of Haiti. As a film however it has to be said that there are some serious problems. The ending is taken from the Hollywood teen horror handbook, complete with moving furniture and visions of spirits, and is so totally unlike the first two acts of the film that it’s like it was grafted on from some other picture. All the hard work that went into developing atmosphere and creating a real sense of dread was totally wasted, which is an utter shame. Of course, Serpent was directed by Wes Craven and he did write that handbook, so it’s no real surprise that the ending is such a mess.

Bill Pullman gives a great performance, intelligent but wide-eyed and out of his depth at the same time, and his voice-over helps the film instead of robbing from it. The other actors, who you may recognise but will never be able to name, all put in decent efforts too, but it's the setting and ways of the people that are the real stars. As I watched Serpent & the Rainbow I was intrigued by the subtle way in which the fear of a different race and their traditions can be played up to create an atmosphere of terror without blundering over the subject matter or belittling the people.

So, despite the crap ending, two thumbs up for The Serpent & The Rainbow.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

27 Days of Fright (The Reprint) - Day Nine

Originally Published Tuesday 14th October 2008

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre

Despite what anyone may tell you, there is no such thing as good torture porn. Films like “Hostel” and “Saw” may have popularised the format but they can never make it good. These films are lazy efforts, trying to shock with special effects. Hoping for controversy, they put people you don’t care about into situations you dare care to watch, as is the case with The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

Chainsaw kicks off on the road in the Lone Star state following five youngsters on a trip to the ancestral home of two of the group. The gang is made up of two couples and the brother of one of the girls, Franklin, who is in a wheelchair. Along the way they pick up a hitchhiker who causes all sorts of trouble in the van when he pulls a blade and starts cutting on himself and Franklin, which causes the others to boot him out.

With oil prices at an all time high, the use of chainsaws by deranged killers is experiencing a serious decline

Stopping for fuel they discuss their plans with the bloke at the petrol station who kinda tries to warn them away as at the same time he tells them he’s out of motion lotion. The kids press on, stopping at the old home of Franklin and his sisters grandparents. At this point they begin to split up for various stupid reasons and are killed, except for Franklin’s sister. The End.

No really, that’s it. Oh yeah, the killer is part of a family of cannibals including the hitchhiker and the geezer at the petrol station.

Like I said, there’s no such thing as good torture porn, but there is bad torture porn and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is really bad! As TP (Torture Porn) goes there is a surprising lack of gore in Chainsaw and four of the films killings are very quick, which is nice for the victims I suppose. Throughout the film there is no attempt made to relate the main characters to the audience at all and you drift from killing to killing really not giving a shit what happens.

Even with movies like Hostel there’s an attempt at humour or moralising or at least a B-Plot but even these simple devices are missing from Chainsaw or don’t work, for example, was it supposed to be funny to call the guy in the wheelchair Franklin? Like FDR, the US president who was in a wheelchair? Not really all that funny now is it? What is funny (peculiar that is, not ha ha!) is that the director of this pile went on to direct Poltergeist, though he did need Spielberg’s help to get that one right.

Two thumbs down for The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

Friday, September 11, 2009

27 Days of Fright (The Reprint) - Day Eight

Originally Published Monday 13th October 2008

Mary Shelly's Frankenstein

Obsession can make for a great story. The X-Files is really all about the obsessive search for the truth by Fox Mulder, The West Wing is really about Josh Lyman’s obsession with leadership, and Ghost Rider is about Nicolas Cage’s obsession with making crap films. Obsession is a symptom of madness and in madness lies some great tales and some far out ideas. One of those far out ideas that a lot of writers and film-makers often deal with is the notion of defeating death.

Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein, as the name suggests, follows the story of Victor Frankenstein, an earnest young medical student searching for a way to defeat death having never fully recovered from the passing of his mother. In medical school he hooks up with a professor who has been ostracised from the main faculty because of his extreme views and the nature of the experiments he once conducted.

When his professor is murdered, Victor is tipped over the edge and resumes the experiments trying to create life. The results of this work are mixed and a terrible creature made up of deformed remains of criminals and other undesirables is unleashed on the world. Society rejects this monster almost immediately and when it comes to terms with what it is and how it came to be it seeks revenge on its creator and his family.


This adaptation follows the story from the original book pretty well and because of this strong fundamental it is a good film. The production is of an extremely high value, the settings are moody and atmospheric, Frankenstein’s lab is an amazing space that makes me want a lab like that, the historical setting seems authentically dirty and the people historically ignorant. The science that features in the story has to be taken with a pinch of salt but the film captures the essence of that point in history when science really began to make its mark on the world and in this is very faithful to one of the core tenants of the book

Not everything is perfect, the first half hour or so is quite slow, taking it’s time setting the scene and establishing the Frankenstein family. Helena Bonham Carter is in it, which is barely excusable as there are many fine British actresses who could have played the role of Elizabeth well and a lot less skankily. But the thing that detracts from Frankenstein the most for me was Victor’s madness itself. His obsession with stopping death is obvious and immature, especially as his father is a doctor and he himself trains to be a doctor, an understanding of death would have been part of his education. If Victor had taken the doctor’s God complex to an illogical extreme it might have seemed less laboured.

Having watched Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein I’m struck by how many films take the idea and run with it as a motivation for action or as the main idea – Star Wars Episode 2 explains Anakin’s slide to the dark side as a result of his mother’s death and Robocop is practically Frankenstein told from the monster/victims perspective, proof that Mary was on to something when she penned the novel. So, as Mark Steele asked in one of his brilliant TV lectures, what would Mary Shelly say if she were alive today?


Two thumbs up for Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

27 Days of Fright (The Reprint) - Day Seven

Originally Published Sunday 12th October 2008

The Wicker Man (2006)

When I first entered into the 27 Days I suspected that there would be two demons that I would have to slay. The state of horror movies coupled with the state of Hollywood today has fostered the twin demons of sequels and remakes. As I was drawing up the list of movies I was to watch, I feared that I’d end up with rakes of sequels, especially the Nightmare on Elm Streets as I have the box set. Remakes are in many ways more worrying than sequels as nearly every time Hollywood has another go at a film they make a mess of it.

There are exceptions to this rule but the remake of The Wicker Man is not one of them.The retelling of The Wicker Man starts in modern day California where Nicholas Cage is working as a bike cop. He is involved in an incident where a mother and daughter are killed and as a result of the emotional trauma takes some time off work. While he’s off an old flame writes to him seeking his help to find her missing daughter. Nick obliges for the want of something better to do and heads off to the little island where she lives. There he discovers a strange agricultural commune that has developed into a matriarchal society and the women who run the place deny that the missing girl ever existed.

The children opening their books to page 54 had the surprising result of conjuring up Nicholas Cage

After a little digging by our Nicky the islanders change their tune and claim that the girl is in fact dead and her mother delusional with grief. Nick doesn’t believe this, especially when the girl’s mother reveals that Nick is the father. He develops the notion that his daughter is still alive and that she is to be sacrificed by the islanders as part of their weird religion in order to prevent another failure of the crops like the previous year. Trying to save his little girl Nick finds himself at the mercy of the islanders and their pagan ways.

The basic story of the Wicker Man is unchanged from the original in that a cop goes to an island looking for a little girl and things end badly but the heart of the film has been well and truly removed. In this version the battle isn’t between people of different religions but instead a battle of the sexes, Nick’s character isn’t a pious policeman devout in his beliefs up against a group he considers to be heathens but just a whingy twat who likes so shout at and punch women and this lack of depth and tendency towards domestic violence mean that you don’t care what happens to him. As for the rest of the characters in the film, they’re so one dimensional that they barely register.

The remade Wicker Man suffers cruelly on the internet as several of its scenes have been made into YouTube comedy bits and most of them are better than the film itself. It’s hard to believe that the film-makers didn’t realise how ridiculous the script was and how poorly the movie was going to turn out, for example there are several scenes where Nick hallucinates about the accident that killed the mother and daughter in the opening of the film while on a boat. He has visions about a truck hitting a car, on a boat. How could anyone be startled by those visions or believe that they were actually happening? It really is hard not to laugh at what are meant to be deeply serious, dramatic moments. Also, Nick is a junkie addicted to Prozac.

Two thumbs down for the remade Wicker Man.

27 Days of Fright (The Reprint) - Day Six

Originally Published Saturday 11th october 2008

28 Days Later
Myself and a mate of mine were chatting the other day about what it takes for a film to be classified as a horror. I didn’t have a straight answer then and I still don’t but I do have some thoughts on the subject. I think that the main factor has to be that the lead characters find themselves in a horrific situation. The type of horrific situation then falls into two categories, the scientifically explainable and the supernatural, but this leads me to the odd conclusion that many of the films we consider to be standard horror movies are in fact of another genre altogether, and technically that’s the case with last night’s film.
28 Days Later is a reimagining of the zombie movie, from the director of “Trainspotting”, which paved the way for the recent explosion of zombie films. Set in present day London, 28 Days follows Jim (Cillian Murphy) from when he wakes up on a hospital bed bollock naked. He discovers that the hospital is deserted and soon realises that the rest of London is deserted too. As he roams the city looking for people he encounters a few hiding in a church who appear to be the living dead. He escapes the zombies with the help of two strangers who turn up in the nick of time. They hide out in a shop and explain that a virus was unleashed that quickly spread through the population turning people into zombies (though as far as I remember that word is never used – they’re referred to as the “infected”). An evacuation was ordered and peopled tried to flee Britain to escape infection. Over the 28 days since the virus showed up the country has turned into a zombie ridden post-apocalyptic deserted little island.

Vodafone's poor customer service is enough to make anyone see red!

Jim wants to find his parents despite the fact that his new friends Selena and Mark assure him that they are already dead. The trio set off the next day to Jim’s parents place, walking through an abandoned city. Jim’s parents are indeed dead having taken their own lives to avoid infection. The gang stay in the house and are attacked by a bunch of infected. Selena kills Mark when she realises that he’s been infected and warns Jim that she’d do the same to him if it becomes necessary. Jim and Selena escape and come across two other survivors, a father and his daughter, Frank and Hannah, in a tower block.

Frank has a clockwork powered radio and has picked up a transmission from some soldiers near Manchester who claim to have the answer to infection and a safe place to stay. The four survivors from London head off in Frank’s taxi cab to find the soldiers and bond as a group along the way, dodging the infected as they go. When they get to the soldiers all is not what they expected and things take a turn for the worse.

28 Days Later is really a science fiction film that puts the characters into a horrific situation because the whole thing is caused by a virus getting loose from a lab that’s raided by animal rights activists. The infected aren’t really zombies as they’re not dead, they’re living people with a terrible disease and they can and do die from trauma like a gunshot or from starvation.

I have always had problems with films that use the “post-apocalyptic” world as a setting, I find it lazy as it means the film-makers wanted to do something in their world that they couldn’t easily explain, but in 28 Days the apocalypse becomes the point of the film which in some regards is unfortunate as you tend not to care as much about the characters as you should. There are some genuinely touching moments in the film, like when Jim finds his parents, but these are few and far between. The dynamic between Jim and Selena is well handled, she starts out a hard bitch and he starts out soft as warm butter and during the course of the film they switch roles as they affect each other and are affected by their situation.

The production values for 28 Days seem to swing about too, sometimes the film seems like a slick big budget production and at other times it’s more like a student’s film – there’s nothing wrong with either approach but the changing quality can be distracting as you look for how a scene is filmed as opposed to what’s happening in it, but that’s a minor enough gripe.

One thumb up and one thumb down for 28 Days Later.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

27 Days of Fright (The Reprint) - Day Five

Originally Published Friday 10th October 2008

An American Werewolf in London

There are some things that shouldn’t go together but do. Orange and chocolate for example, or cheese and onion, or McDonald’s fries and caramel topped ice cream, or bananas and crisps in a sandwich. Like those things you wouldn’t expect comedy and horror to go together and work but there are many good examples of just that. But for every great horror comedy mash up there are about five that don’t work and unfortunately An American Werewolf in London falls into that category.

American Werewolf tells the tale of two young American tourists backpacking around the north of England where they encounter a village full of odd folk who give them strange warnings, like "stick to the road" and "beware the moon". The two lads wonder off the road of course and are attacked by a creature out on the moors. One of the boys, Jack, is killed by the creature and the other, David, badly wounded before being rescued by tooled up villagers. Dave is moved to a hospital in London to recover and there he falls for one of his nurses who he shacks up with once he’s discharged.

It becomes apparent, through a series of nightmares and an encounter with Jack’s rotting ghost, that David has been bitten by a werewolf and that he is destined to transform into the wolf at the next full moon. On top of that, seeing as how the original wolf was killed during the attack on the moors, David’s victims will become members of the un-dead, like Jack, as David is now the last of the Werewolves. The only way for anyone to move onto the afterlife and get some peace would be for David to kill himself. The full moon rolls around and David transforms and goes on a little killing spree around old London town.

Travelling abroad without proper insurance can have surprising consequences

Once he changes back into human form, Dave tries to get himself arrested to prevent any more deaths but to no avail. His new girlfriend and one of the doctors from the hospital try to help him but are unable to prevent his transformation the next night and another round of killings before he’s finally stopped by the fine men of the Metropolitan Police.

American Werewolf fails on both fronts as it’s not scary at all and not that funny except for a couple of little moments like when David (naked as the day he was born) confronts a young lad near the zoo the morning after his first go as a werewolf, or like the end credits featuring Kermit the Frog as himself and Miss Piggy as herself as the Muppet Show was on the TV in one scene. The Yorkshire countryside setting and the age of the film (1981) creates an air more like “Withnail and I” than a horror film but the script is nowhere near as funny or as quote-able as that movie, nor does it have the excuse of being an unintentional comedy like “Gremlins”.

The premise of the film, tourists falling prey to something like a werewolf, is decent enough but poorly executed and the film is bogged down by its in-jokes (the soundtrack is made up of songs about the moon for example, and it was made by Lycanthrope Productions) as opposed to being made funnier by them. The ending (which I won’t spoil) is pretty good to be fair and the performances aren’t that bad either, though I can’t help but feel that they should have been hammed up a little to go for comedy effect.

One thumb up and one thumb down for An American Werewolf in London.

Monday, September 7, 2009

27 Days of Fright (The Reprint) - Day Four

Originally Published Thursday 9th October 2008

Poltergeist was one of the first horror movies I remember seeing as a child and it still has the same power to give me the creeps today as it did back then. As horror films go it’s not particularly frightening but it is, well, creepy. What makes it so is hard to pin down, maybe it’s because of the little girl and her “they’re heeeeerrrrreeee” line or maybe it’s the stories of a curse that’s associated with the production that kinda brings the horror of the film into the real world.

Poltergeist tells the tale of a young family just living their lives in sunny California. Steven Freeling (Craig T. Nelson) is a sales rep for the company that built his house and the rest of the development they live in. His missus Diane looks after the home and is busy raising their three children. Strange things begin occurring in the house, furniture moving by itself and the like, and at first it’s quite fun. Things take a turn for the worse when one of the children, Robbie, is attacked. The attack is a diversion to cover the youngest child, Carol Anne, being taken by something in the house.

Carol Anne’s frightened parents search the house and half-built swimming pool until she is heard in the master bedroom. Oddly though, her voice is heard coming from the television. Finally accepting that something supernatural is going on the Freelings seek out the help of some scientists from the university parapsychology department. These ghostbusters are well out of their depth and have to get help themselves from a diminutive medium with a funky southern accent in order to save Carol Anne.

In many American homes the TV acts as a substitute parent

Steven Speilberg movies are easy to spot, especially any made in the early eighties. He liked to use Californian suburban tract housing developments in his movies and he loves families with problems especially things like divorce (a core feature of E.T. for example). Poltergeist is set in a Californian housing development and sure enough there is tension in the Freeling family though this is caused by the events happening to them and the different ways they handle the pressure.
Poltergeist is one of the most well known horror films and has secured for itself a place in pop culture with parodies turning up on Family Guy and The Simpsons, mostly due to young Carol Anne’s performance. It also has some of the best stories associated with it, including the use of real skeletons in some scenes leading to a curse on the film. The curse apparently manifested itself in the untimely death of Heather O’Rourke, the actress who played Carol Anne, at the age of 12.

One thing really stuck in my mind from last night’s viewing. When Steven Freeling goes to the university he tells the scientists that Diane’s age is 32 and that their eldest daughter is 15, making Diane 17 when she had her. If horror films like A Nightmare on Elm Street teach us anything it’s that those who play around with booze, drugs, or sex get what they deserve, horror movies acting as modern day morality plays. In fact during the film we see Diane do soft drugs and drink spirits while Steven hits the sauce as soon as Carol Anne vanishes. While the disturbances in the house may have been caused by the location of the place, there is definitely a subtext about the adult Freelings behaviour.

Poltergeist is a slick movie but doesn’t lose sight of what it’s about – giving you the creeps. Two thumbs up for Poltergeist.