Tuesday, 16 August 2016

BIND aka AMERICAN CONJURING

Directed by Dan Walton and Dan Zachary, Starring: Darren Matheson, Lynn Csontos, Eliza Faria. Horror, Canada, 2015, 81mins, Cert 18.
Released in the UK on DVD on 8th August by Left Films.

A family move into an abandoned orphanage. (That’s all you really need to know isn’t it?) Especially when the youngest daughter looks up at the window and immediately asks: “Who was the lady that was upstairs?” Or that other tell-tale (or tail) sign when the family’s lovable fluffy sheepdog starts barking for No Apparent Reason, and its eyes are positively bulging with fear. A cursory glance on the internet would surely have provided some clues as to why this abandoned orphanage isn’t so much a ‘doer-upper’ but more of a ‘doer-you-in’. (Maybe the 2004 children’s birthday party atrocity at the Carrington Orphanage might have raised some doubts?)

But where would we be without creative ignorance? So the family move in to the house that: “looks like where vampires live” according to little Alyssa (Eliza Faria – think Danielle Harris in HALOWEEN 4). Originally titled AMERICAN CONJURING, (presumably James Wan wasn’t too thrilled by that), what we get served up are generous dollops of THE AMITYVILLE HORROR, seasoned with a smidgeon of torture porn and accompanied by a risible ghostly apparition that’s a cross between ‘Meg Muckelbones’ from LEGEND and ‘Zelda’ from Gerry Anderson’s ’TERRAHAWKS’. The two directing Dan’s (Walton and Zachary) really should have kept ‘Zelda’ – sorry, the ghost of Hesta Corbett, in the shadows (or preferably locked away in a cupboard). Less would, in this case, have been considerably more.

The opening haunting shenanigans zip along at a fair pace; yes they’re for the most part groan-inducingly clichéd: but the Double D’s are nothing if not business like in moving on to the next well-used trope. (Viewing tip: prepare a checklist in advance so you can tick each cliché off when they appear on screen). Rocking chair rocking on its own (tick!), child’s creepy laughter and a sudden bouncing ball (tick!), a self-moving pram (tick!), youngest child suddenly drawing horrific pictures (tick) etc, etc. Oh, and dad’s all of a sudden vigorously chopping wood in the backyard with a shiny axe...

Taking the opposite approach to the James Wan School of typically well-crafted jump-scare, BIND then resorts to upping the on screen gore. The film features several scenes of child violence which certainly took me by surprise, and whilst it’s obvious the dog stood about as much chance of surviving as a nubile counsellor at Camp Crystal Lake, I was still somewhat taken aback by the sheer brutality meted out to the poor mutt. (In comparison, Muffin got off lightly in FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 2). Mind you, most of the supporting grown-up’s end up being dispatched in equally brutal fashion – and one torturous scene involving the multiple threats of a blowtorch, a mallet and a drill should act as a cautionary warning to any unscrupulous estate agents!

And then, at around the 75 minute mark, the rug is well and truly pulled from under the viewer’s feet and we’re presented with a WTF moment. (At first I thought the screener had jumped back to an earlier chapter by mistake). But no, it’s intentional on the part of the filmmakers who just couldn’t resist conjuring (pun intended) up one final whopping cliché before delivering a head-scratching denouement which left me cold (not with fear – with incredulity).
       
Extras: Director’s commentary, behind the scenes, alternative scene, trailers.
**(out of 5*)


Paul Worts

Thursday, 28 July 2016

JONAH LIVES

Directed by Luis Carvalho, Starring: Brinke Stevens, Jocelyn Padilla, Ryan Boudreau. Horror, US, 2012, 91mins, cert 18.
Released in the UK on DVD on 25th July by Left Films.

“Maybe, just maybe, we can raise one dead man from his grave”.

HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY meets OUIJA in this low-budget tale from the crypt by first-time writer/director/editor Luis Carvalho. A group of bored teens holed up in a basement dabble with a Ouija board and accidentally summon up the 69 year-old corpse of Jonah Matthias from his grave. Poisoned by his wife, who just happens to be partying with a group of middle-aged swingers in the upstairs house, Jonah is out for revenge...

Poor inconsistent writing and leaden direction hinders this film from ever rising above its meagre offerings. It’s hard to get a handle on such waveringly written characters. Morally superior and holier-than-thou Tony for example doesn’t believe in pre-marital sex and refuses to partake in the devils work of the Ouija high-jinks – yet it is later suggested he’s overindulged in drugs. Francis advises his little sister that the Bible is the only book she’ll ever need – yet it’s his suggestion to dabble in the occultist Ouija in the first place (and far from practicing abstinence himself, he’s about to become a father). Unlike the boozy old-timers upstairs who appear to be having a whale of a time – the teens below deck appear a joyless bunch without a hint of chemistry between them.

Once Jonah has staggered out of his grave and found his way to the basement, (seemingly ignoring his murderous wife upstairs) the teens seem remarkably reluctant to actually attempt to escape from the unconvincing clutches of the Dr. Freudstein-like zombie Jonah. And it’s here among the flimsy cardboard walls and implausibly large cellar spaces that director Carvalho overstretches the ‘idiot plot’ to such an extent it renders the narrative logic positively threadbare.

80’s scream queen Brinke Stevens makes a couple of brief appearances as Jonah’s widow, partying it up with the swingers and toasting to the fortune her (supposedly) dead husband posthumously bestowed upon her. Needless to say she steals the film even in those fleeting few moments.

Eventually the shambling Jonah (who resembles ‘Tiny’ from HOUSE OF 1000 CORPSES)  indulges in some sub-par Fulci-lite gory antics such as chewing on a chunk of neck from a (seemingly) compliant victim before chopping off another’s arm, but by then it’s really too late to raise the interest level above resigned apathy, for JONAH LIVES has unfortunately long since died.

Extras: Behind the scenes (runs 52 seconds), brief coverage of a public screening, footage of Brinke Stevens on the set, and a couple of trailers.
**(out of 5*)
Paul Worts

This review was first published on the FRIGHTFEST website.

Friday, 8 July 2016

i-LIVED

Directed by Franck Khalfoun, Starring: Jeremiah Watkins. Horror, US, 2015, 92mins, Cert 15.
Available as download to own from 27th June, on-demand 4th July and on DVD 11th July by Second Sight. The i-Lived app is also available from iTunes and Google.

In 2012, director Franck Khalfoun turned Frodo Baggins into a MANIAC. Three years on he now turns a fictional phone app into a Faustian pact-maker for an unwitting online reviewer too witless to read the small print - and too clueless to have ever watched DRACULA A.D. 1972. 
   
Meet YouTube vlogger Josh: behind with the rent, recently dumped by (cheating) ex-girlfriend and a squanderer of his true potential (whatever that might be) according to his father. It’s a cut-throat online world and the lucrative hits are increasingly harder to come by. Then Josh comes across a life-changing app which claims to help the downloader achieve whatever life goals they might have. All you have to do is follow the apps’ instructions. What could possibly go wrong...?

Josh’s downwardly spiralling experiences with the app reflect my feelings about the film itself. At first the light-hearted instructions to perform for example random acts of kindness seem fun and I was engaging with the hokey premise. I thought Josh (Jeremiah Watkins) came across as an annoying younger composite of Owen Wilson and Tom Green and his moronic YouTube reviews instantly grated (sorry Josh, but I could totally see why your girlfriend dumped you dude). But I was willing to overlook this obvious flaw, hell, I even suspended disbelief as Josh naively tried to fulfil an instruction by offering sweets to random children in a playground.

But then director Khalfoun attempts to shift the tone into darker material, and I rapidly wished for an uninstall option on the film. Perhaps Netflix could ditch the later (unconvincing) nastiness and rework it into a vehicle for Adam Sandler to lend his non-existent charisma to?   
The revelatory moment where Josh finally works out the identity of his mysterious benefactor who has been granting his wishes of online success, sexual gratification and the seemingly miraculous recovery of terminally-ill mum is so laughably naff even M. Night Shyamalan would feel ashamed to use it.

Apparently there is an actual app available to download which supposedly enhances the viewing experience of watching i-Lived. Well, unless it completely re-writes the second half of the film and recasts the lead, i-Doubt it.

**(out of 5*)

Paul Worts

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

THE WICKED LADY (1983)

Directed by Michael Winner, Starring: Faye Dunaway, Denholm Elliot, Alan Bates. Period drama. UK, 1983, 95mins, cert 18.
Released in the UK on DVD on 4th July 2016 by Second Sight Films.

“To your duties, all of you! Sluts! To your duties!”

After delivering commercial success for Cannon Films with DEATH WISH II, director Michael Winner turned his attention to remaking one of his favourite films from his youth. Based on an eighteenth century legend about a noble lady who becomes a highwaywoman by night, the original 1945 version of THE WICKED LADY starred Margaret Lockwood in the title role. Winner cast wild-eyed Faye Dunnaway, as ‘Lady Barbara Skelton’. Dunaway attacks the role with as much camp gusto as she had in her previous Razzie award-winning turn in MOMMIE DEAREST, this time swapping wire coat-hangers for pistols and horse whips with deranged aplomb.

Directing from his own adaption of the 1945 screenplay, Winner stands and delivers copious amounts of heaving bosoms, full-frontal nudity and soft-core bonking campiness in a near breathless romp of ludicrously entertaining proportions. With the breakneck speed of the narrative, it appears as if veteran director of photography Jack Cardiff is pulling out all the stops and frantic zooms just to keep pace with Winner’s don’t-spare-the-horses direction.

In this endeavour he is helped in no small way by an extraordinary cast willing to climb aboard the bawdy kitsch-fest highway to hell and back. Stalwart Denholm Elliot plays the wealthy landowner Sir Ralph Skelton. Sir Ralph is (implausibly) engaged to the gorgeous doe-eyed doormat Caroline (Glynis Barber) who invites her best friend Barbara (Faye Dunaway) to be her maid of honour at her wedding despite the fact that: “She’s more than pretty. Barbara has the most beautiful green eyes - like emeralds.” If only she’d listened to snooty Aunt Agatha (Joan Hickson) who retorts: “Cats have green eyes. I don’t like cats...”

Within about 5 minutes Dunaway’s green eyes (of envy) seduce Sir Ralph and promptly steal him away right from under the (far prettier) nose of his former fiancée! At the wedding reception, the brand new Lady Skelton has already turned her lustful green eyes in the direction of the smoulderingly handsome Oliver Tobias, who will eventually seduce the dumped Caroline, who in turn, (utterly preposterously), remains in love with Denholm Elliot. (With me so far?) Anyway, Denholm Elliot will in eventually come to see the colossal error of casting aside the unconditional love of Glynis Barber for the maniacally manipulative Dunaway, who by that time has hooked up with another highwayman (Ralph Bates), who in turn makes the fatal mistake of cheating behind Dunaway’s back with a gypsy-like wench described in the credits as: ‘Jackson’s Girl’ (still with me?).

Let’s take a pause for breath here to note that that girl hastily jumping out of Ralph Bates’ bed stark-naked is none other than Marina Sirtis, best known as ‘Counselor Deanna Troi’ from STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION, making her feature-film debut in the buff. It’s a minor role, but certainly a memorable one for she then unwittingly goes on to cause censorship problems with the BBFC when her bare-breasts are horse-whipped to bloody effect by Dunaway (more of that in a moment). She also gets the last line in this memorable exchange as Dunaway’s highwaywoman bursts in on Sirtis and Bates:

(Bates) “Barbara! She, she means nothing to me.”
(Sirtis) “What?”
(Dunnaway) “This wench. Cheap though she looks, will cost you dear”.
(Sirtis): “Who the fuck was that?”

Marvellous stuff! As I said above, Sirtis and Dunaway later on get into a bodice-ripping whip fight at a hanging (as you do). The sight of Sirtis’ bristols being bloodily whipped caused censor James Ferman to positively foam (at the mouth). Not taking it lying down (unlike most of the actresses in the film) Winner screened the (allegedly uncut version) of the film to fifty of his fellow film makers and industry insiders, who rallied round in support of the film not being cut at all, and some even suggesting a lower rating than the proposed ’18’! Ferman caved in, but the subsequent home-video release did suffer the originally proposed cuts to this scene. Needless to say Michael Winner wasn’t the greatest fan of James Ferman, describing him in his 2004 autobiography as “a disaster”, and as someone who: “delighted in making ridiculous cuts all over the place that no other civilised country would have considered.” A judgement I for one fully share. But I’m very pleased to report that Marina Sertis’ whipped breasts are now fully restored to their perky original uncut state on DVD for the first time!

I haven’t even mentioned Sir John Gielgud’s pious old butler ‘Hogarth’ sporting a ridiculous wig and muttering pithy pronouncements about the easy virtues of the servants before he’s poisoned and then suffocated to death for good measure! And there’s still plenty more twists and turns before this wicked tale is told...

Miranda Richardson made a fine comedic stab at a similarly styled highwaywoman in the TV series ‘Blackadder’(most notably in her dislike of squirrels). Faye Dunnaway’s ‘Wicked Lady’ doesn’t display a similar aversion to the nutty tree rodents, but she does give a suitably nut-job performance as the bawdy bodice busting, booty looting, booby lashing ‘La Dama Perversa’ in Michael Winner’s pleasingly farcical lust-fest.   
No extras. 
***(out of 5*)

Paul Worts

This review was first published on the FRIGHTFEST website.

Saturday, 4 June 2016

ENEMY MINE



Directed by Wolfgang Petersen, Starring: Dennis Quaid, Louis Gosset Jr, Brion James. Sci-Fi, 1985, Cert 12.

On Blu-ray from 20th June 2016 from Eureka Entertainment.


“Earthman, your Mickey Mouse is one big stupid dope!”

Following on from his magical telling of Michael Ende’s THE NEVERENDING STORY (1984), German director Wolfgang Petersen was then brought on board to take over Twentieth Century Fox’s floundering adaptation of Barry B. Longyear’s sci-fi novella ENEMY MINE. Relocating the production to the Bavaria Studios in Munich, Petersen also swapped the previously problematic Icelandic location shoot for the more temperate climes of Lanzarote. The end result was a beautifully designed, touching sci-fi parable, which failed abysmally at the box-office, but is richly deserving of re-evaluation and invitingly possible thanks to this HD presentation.

The story is a well-trodden one. Two enemies are stranded together in a hostile environment, but in order for them to survive they eventually have to overcome their differences and work together. In ENEMY MINE, we have a 21st century intergalactic human space coloniser Willis Davidge (Dennis Quaid) crash-landing on an inhospitable planet called Fyrine IV after an unsuccessful space-ship dogfight with an alien enemy craft piloted by a ‘Drac’ warrior from the planet Dracon (Louis Gosset Jr.). 
Luckily, the atmosphere is breathable to both races (convenient otherwise it’d be a much shorter film), although there are some terribly inconvenient meteor-storms and some decidedly unfriendly fauna in the shape of Chris Walas’ creature effects. 

The combination of lunar-like location work in the volcanic Canary Island of Lanzarote together with the artwork and Bavaria studio sets are majestically rendered in a lush widescreen canvas. Thankfully these alien vistas can be fully appreciated on this rich HD transfer (I dread to think how anaemic they must’ve appeared back on 80’s pan and scan VHS).
But here also lies the film’s contradiction. Whilst we’ve given this spectacular sci-fi backdrop, and an opening space battle courtesy of Industrial Light and Magic, the tale which then unfolds is an intimate two-hander character piece, largely without grandiose special effects (apart from Louis Gosset Jr.’s intricately pulsing reptilian make-up), and I can see why it proved a hard-sell to the studio at the time of release, and a subsequent box-office flop.


Both Quaid and Gosset Jr. are terrific in their respective roles as their character arcs range from deathly hostility to grudging co-dependency and further... It seems ridiculous to tip-toe around a film made over 30 years ago for fear of dropping a spoiler bomb, but, just as I came to view this film for the first time via this disc, I’m conscious that perhaps at least one person reading this might have somehow managed to avoid a complete plot download prior to viewing, so I’ll just leave it there. I will say however that there’s an actual mining facility revealed in the film’s jarring final third, which seems overly literal and tacked on – rumours suggest studio insistence on adding this element otherwise the audience would’ve felt cheated by the film’s title (what?) If this is the case then director Petersen must surely feel fortunate that the US distributor of his German U-boat drama DAS BOOT didn’t insist on wedging in a sub-plot about a piece of military footwear! 


ENEMY MINE is a film you have to meet half-way in order to get the most out of it. It’s undeniably richly rewarding visually, but also humorous and surprisingly moving (if you give it a chance to be). Swimming against the Regan Era Cold-War current in the mid 80’s, its message ran counter to the overriding political rhetoric of the time, and perhaps that, combined with a botched publicity campaign, contributed to it sinking largely without a trace at the box-office. I missed out on ENEMY MINE when it came out both initially at the cinema and then subsequently on home-video, but thanks to this excellent HD presentation, it’s a lot easier to meet the film half-way, and I’m very glad I (finally) did. 
 
Extras: Deleted scene, Trailer, Collectors Booklet 


**** (out of 5*)

Paul Worts

Monday, 16 May 2016

BLOODSUCKING BOSSES



Directed by Brian James O’Connell, Starring: Fran Kanz, Pedro Pascal, Joey Kern, Emma Fitzpatrick. Horror Comedy, US, 2015, 80mins, Cert 15.

Released in the UK on DVD on 16th May 2016 by Entertainment One.


Given its European premiere at FrightFest 2015 (when it was known as BLOODSUCKING BASTARDS), this low-budget comedy horror now finds itself re-titled for its DVD release presumably to make it more palpable to sit on Tesco shelves. Described rather flatteringly as “The Office meets Shaun of the Dead” (it’s not a patch on either and actually features vampires rather than zombies – but let’s not split hairs too much), it does however serve up a few reasonable gags during its belated bloody finale.


Evan (Fran Kanz - the likeable stoner from THE CABIN IN THE WOODS) is trying to get his noncompliant sales team to actually do some work whilst his girlfriend and HR manager Amanda (Emma Fitzpatrick) is giving him the cold shoulder after his abject failure to reciprocate her declaration of love toward him. Seems Evan’s heart is instead focused on finally being able to remove that temporary ‘acting’ label over the ‘Sales Manager’ door sign. Unfortunately Evan is shit out of luck, as his boss has instead chosen to bring in ruthless outsider (and former college enemy) Max (Pedro Pascal) to increase productivity by fair means or foul. While the office lighting dims, and his colleagues gradually becoming paler and uncharacteristically work-focused, Evan comes to the realisation that Max is gradually turning the employees into vampires (or vampire fodder), and it’s left to him and slacker friend Tim to rescue Amanda and take the fight to Max’s vampy sales-force.


Co-written by Dr. God (a Los Angeles comedy group apparently), the first 50+ minutes largely rely on crudely drawn characters delivering a script straining every sinew for laughs which overstretches to the point where the dialogue merely snaps back in the characters faces rather than being snappily witty. 

Ironically, the comedy only really begins to bite (no pun intended) once the splatter and vampire stakings are eventually introduced. The exploding gory dispatchments are effectively milked for comedic effect, and the dry-humoured lift scene earns another tick. Not sure what Matthew Lillard’s grinning cameo was meant to achieve (my immediate reaction was: he played ‘Shaggy’ in the SCOOBY DOO movies, wouldn’t Fran Kanz also make a great ‘Shaggy’?) Granted he’s no Ricky Gervais or Simon Pegg, but Kanz does seem to have the knack of getting you to root for his underdog persona – especially when he’s drenched in vamps blood. 


Not an obvious contender for induction into the comedy/horror hall of fame by any stretch of the imagination then, but it doesn’t entirely suck either (unlike that lazy pun which clearly does).


Extras: Bloopers, Behind the Scenes, Commentary with Dr. God (no, really!).

***(OUT OF 5*)

Paul Worts