Saturday, 3 November 2018

LONG WEEKEND (1978)



Directed by: Colin Eggleston, Starring: John Hargreaves, Briony Behets. Horror. Australia 1978, 95mins, Cert 15.

Released on Blu-ray in the UK on 5th November 2018 by Second Sight Films.

Released in 1978 (a year after THE DAY OF THE ANIMALS), Director Colin Eggleston’s eco-horror is now considered a cult classic. Written by Everett De Roche, who in addition to penning a glossier remake in 2008, also wrote the animal centric 80’s horrors of RAZORBACK(giant wild boar), LINK (super-intelligent murderous orangutan), and other notable Ozploitation offerings such as PATRICK (1978), HARLEQUIN (1980) and ROAD GAMES (1981), it unquestionably has genre pedigree. 

Unhappily married couple Peter (John Hargreaves) and Marcia (Briony Behets) abandon the urban city jungle for a make or break long weekend away in the wilderness at a remote beach location. Far from being one with nature, Marcia is not the outdoor type and makes it crystal clear she’d rather spend the weekend at a luxury hotel. Peter is oblivious to the impact he has on the environment, staggeringly blasé and ignorant to the flora and fauna he encounters. Eventually, their respective transgressions against Mother Nature provoke a violent karma and she begins to fight back...

Peter and Marcia are an intensely unlikeable couple and their constant sniping and bickering signposts to an unsalvageable marriage. Their blatant disregard and deep-seated resentment towards each other is fuelled by an extra-marital affair and a resultant abortion which festers away poisoning their relationship. This mutual vitriol manifests not only in how they treat each other but also in how they react to their natural surroundings, often destructively lashing out in unwarranted acts of aggression and cruelty. The film is loaded with (over)ripe symbolism to this effect. Marcia discovers an eagle’s egg (“We can make an omelette!” suggests Peter) before eventually hurling it against a tree extinguishing the life growing inside in a fit of anger. This results in Peter being attacked by the understandably distraught mother eagle. Peter’s drunken haphazard firing of his rifle (born out of pent up frustration as Marcia doesn’t wish to resume sexual relations with him) brings about the death of a mother duck as we zoom in on her confused chicks. (Marcia, for her part, prefers instead to masturbate to a Harold Robbins novel). Peter also shoots a harmless Dugong which in turn also appears to have a grieving calf judging by the haunting cries echoing across the beach at night. It’s also no coincidence their coastal retreat is located near an abattoir – a detail which takes on greater significance in the films denouement. 

Peter especially is a one-man catalyst of natural destruction. Before he has even arrived at the intended campsite destination he has already managed to start a roadside fire with a discarded cigarette butt and callously run over a kangaroo which acts as a foreshadowing moment. Upon arrival he immediately proceeds to start axing away at a nearby tree, when asked by Marcia as to why he replies: “Why not?” Marcia for her part happily sprays insecticide on ants which are only attracted to the food which she’s left out to rot in the sun.

There’s a potentially disturbing plot strand involving another apparent family of visitors further down the beach which isn’t fully explored, and a suggestion that the locals aren’t the most welcoming towards tourists, to the point where they deny the existence of the beach when Peter mentions it in the roadside bar. But it’s Mother Nature that Peter and Marcia really need to be concerned about.

It’s significant that the majority of creatures which Peter and Marcia encounter (with the exception of a reasonably scary looking large spider and a potentially harmful snake), are benign and non-predatory. A Tasmanian devil, koala, and a possum – not to mention a Dugong (sea-cow) are hardly deadly which implies that if even these gentle beings can get riled up by Peter and Marcia then they really are out of sync with the natural order and invite judgement upon themselves. The actual attack scenes are brief and not overly convincing (although I’ve never seen a possum look quite so baleful). Instead director Eggleston wisely racks up the implied sense of threat by employing a soundscape littered with jarring and effectively unsettling foley work with animal screeches and cries, and judicious foliage rustling.

Cinematographer Vincent Monton’s POV shots crawling through the grass coupled with high angled omnipotent shots look down as if the camera were a predatory vulture hovering in judgement further enhances the ominous mood.
Shot in anamorphic widescreen on location in Bournda Nature Reserve, the wide-open compositions reiterate the displacement and isolation of the characters and emphasises how small and insignificant they are beyond their poisonous domestic bubble.

It’s a measured downbeat film which lacks the crowd-pleasing attack sequences of more exploitatative B-movie treatments of the natural horror genre. It’s therefore not much of a stretch to see why domestic audiences didn’t initially embrace a film which has a subtext about white colonialism at its heart and runs over a kangaroo. 

Extras: audio commentary, panel discussion with film historians including Lee Gambin, author of ‘Massacred by Mother Nature’, cast and crew interviews, trailer and stills gallery. 

***(out of 5*)
Paul Worts
This review was originally published by FRIGHTFEST

Friday, 26 October 2018

HALLOWEEN (2018)



Directed by: David Gordon Green, Starring: Jamie Lee Curtis, Judie Greer, Andi Matichak. Horror.  US 2018, 106mins, Cert 18.

On general release in cinemas now.

This review contains spoilers.

Following the opening credits, a couple of true-crime podcasters drive out to Laurie Strode’s fortified farmhouse on the outskirts of Haddonfield. Via intercom they try to persuade Laurie (Jamie Lee Curtis) to grant them an interview without success until they offer her money, at which point the barbed wire entry fence slides open. If ever there was a metaphor for this clunky cash-grab retcon then this scene is surely it.

Director David Gordon Green and fellow writers Danny McBride and Jeff Fradley (who between them have absolutely no previous genre experience) eschew everything from the last minute of Carpenter’s original right through to all the insipid sequels that followed in its wake. By doing so this allows them to ignore HALLOWEEN II’s soap-opera reveal that Laurie was Michael’s sister. It also gives them a free pass to drop HALLOWEEN 4’s lame take that Laurie died in an off-screen car crash, and consign to fandom history Laurie’s (on-screen) death at the hands of brother Mikey at the beginning of HALLOWEEN:RESURRECTION. Not to mention HALLOWEEN 6’s cult of Thorn druid nonsense – so let’s not.

Instead, the revisionist premise is that Michael Myers, aka ‘The Shape’ (James Jude Courtney), was taken into custody that night forty years ago and has been incarcerated at Smith's Grove Sanitarium ever since. Michael’s psychiatrist Dr Sartain (“the new Loomis” as Laurie dubs him) grants two podcasters access to try (unsuccessfully) to interview Myers - not even producing his original aged mask gets a rise from him – so they set off instead to interview Laurie Strode. Still suffering from the trauma of the events of that fateful Halloween night, Laurie is now an agoraphobic recluse, hiding behind surveillance cameras, barbed-wire fences and a secret basement beneath her kitchen housing an arsenal of guns and rifles Sarah Connor would be impressed by. Two failed marriages have come and gone in the intervening years, along with a visit from social services who removed her daughter Karen (Judy Greer). Karen now has a husband, Ray (Toby Huss), and a teenage daughter Allyson (Andi Matichak). Allyson’s grandmother has spent the last forty years waiting for Michael Myers return. Of course no one buys into her obsession until the bus transporting Myers to another institution crashes and the night Laurie has been preparing for is about to arrive...   

Of course it would be unreasonable to expect director Green and his writers to be able to recapture the lightning in the bottle of John Carpenter’s seminal slasher classic. But, if you have the temerity to call your film: HALLOWEEN, not Halloween 2, not Halloween H40 etc, if you replicate the title card and opening credits and you enlist Carpenter himself to not only re-score his original themes but to also wheel him out at press junkets to supposedly bestow upon your project his papal-like seal of approval, you should at least make a decent stab (pun-intended) at honouring the original work you’re riding on the coat tails of.



The film criminally fails to generate a modicum of suspense until the final showdown in Laurie’s fortress before granny, daughter and granddaughter form a three-generational female musketeer tag-team to shoot, stab and burn up Haddonfield’s bogeyman. Key scenes and potential moments are squandered and fluffed by Green’s sloppy choreography and over-eagerness to rush to the next damp squib of a set-piece. The credit sequence arrives inexplicably out of beat after an underwhelming opening scene in the sanitarium recreational yard which looked promising in the trailer but dissipates into an anti-climax.

A key-scene happens off-screen, Myer’s escape from the crashed asylum bus, cheating us out of a pivotal narrative moment. I read somewhere test audiences didn’t care for the original cut which had Laurie causing the crash herself. Whilst I can’t substantiate this, it would make more sense psychologically that Laurie’s untreated PTSD ultimately results in a self-fulfilling prophecy rather than the laughable left-field twist later on with Dr Sartain. Three writers and that’s the best deus ex machina they can come up with in order to set Myers free on his slaughterthon? Anyhow, the bus crashes, and a clumsily blurred re-staging of Michael’s forcible acquisition of a vehicle unfolds, featuring the logically unnecessary onscreen dispatching of a pre-teen child. (Side note, the US right-wing media have cried hypocrisy for Curtis’ onscreen utilisation of guns, but far from glorifying the weaponry or suggesting it’s a legitimate method of self-defence, the NRA would do well to take note that guns can’t kill The Shape and further that the randomly written rifle toting boy only manages to accidentally shoot Dr. Sartain before being brutally dispatched by Myers in his father’s truck. It’s undoubtedly an initial jolt to the system (major studio film folks!) – albeit hardly groundbreaking to true Carpenter aficionados – but it’s clear Green is setting out his stall here and now. Given the green light for a hard ‘R’ rating, an over-reliance on violence and gore will take precedence over even one well-crafted scare. Even then some of the cartoonish over-the-top splatstick make-up effects feel uncharacteristically off-kilter with The Shapes’ previous modus operandi.

Green and his writers then commit the cardinal sin of failing to write sympathetic characterisations for any of Michael’s victims in this film. Allyson’s boyfriend’s brief character arc takes an abrupt shift into full-on dickhead mode at a party; solely it seems to service the plot by rendering her mobile phone unusable and Allyson temporarily oblivious to Myers exploits down town. Her ‘supportive’ friend Oscar walks her home and once again abruptly switches to complete jerk-mode by making a move on her. This is also necessary in order to isolate him from Allyson so Michael can impale him on a fence. And then there’s Allyson’s dad - also a completely ignorant jerk: “I’ve got peanut butter on my penis!” (these are the jokes folks by the way). His implausible actions unsurprisingly result in his death; unfortunately, strangulation by cow-bells wasn’t as karmically satisfying as I’d hoped for. And as for the cops discussing the contents of their respective sandwich boxes – well words just fail me.

But what of Michael himself? Apart from a brief cameo from Nick Castle, James Jude Courtney dons the Captain Kirk mask for the majority of the running time. The mask’s aged and weathered rendering is a visual reflection that Laurie is facing an older nemesis. Courtney isn’t done any favours by director Green who rather than keeping him in the shadows and corners of the ‘scope screen - which was Carpenter’s masterstroke - instead stalks him by steadicam, at one point in a continuous tracking shot which results in two random kills across two households which are staged in such a matter of fact way it feels like we are participating in a Halloween walk-through at Universal Studios. The closet scene is ruined by virtue of the trailer, although it too looks like a haunted house gag at first.

Jamie Lee Curtis admitted in an interview with Variety that H20 “...ended up being a money gig...It talked about alcoholism and trauma, but I just did it for the money”. I’d argue that H20 tackled the subject of PTSD in greater depth than HALLOWEEN (2018). There’s little actual meat on the bone for her character Laurie besides recreating key moments from the original by inverting those scenes whereby she’s now in Myer’s place, e.g. watching her granddaughter in class from across the street, or disappearing from the lawn after a fall when Michael peers over the balcony. (Admittedly these are nice touches, although they do remind one of how vastly superior the original was.) There’s only one actual glimpse of footage from Carpenter’s 1978 film, the murder of Judith Myers by the young Michael. Bizarrely, the writers have decided to big up the ‘facts’ by adding further grisly details as to what Judith’s younger sibling supposedly did to her. Narrated by podcaster Aaron, the footage (naturally) doesn’t bear any resemblance to what he is actual describing. Now that’s retcon, with the emphasis very much on ‘con’.

Carpenter’s revised and remixed score, in collaboration with son Cody Carpenter and Daniel Daviesscore is a fantastic pulsating celebration of electronic menace which rocks even if the accompanying visuals sadly so often do not.

As the final end credits roll and just before the Universal logo returns, the sound of Michael’s breathing is introduced just in case anyone is in any doubt that a sequel is on the cards. Given the remarkable box-office haul already, I’d say it’s almost certain we’ll get another round with Michael and Laurie. Will John Carpenter be involved again? To quote from a recent Den of Geek interview when asked about sequels to any of his other films: “I don’t know, but I’m up for almost anything that involves money.” 

** (out of 5*)
Paul Worts

Saturday, 6 October 2018

RIPPER TOUR (2018)



Directed by: Jason Read, Starring: Lynn Lowry, Dudley Sutton, Charlotte Mounter, Christopher Walker. Horror, UK 2018, 9mins.

A Robo Films & Misty Moon Production. Currently touring horror and film festivals.

“I guess horror was my destiny...”

Writer/director/cinematographer/editor/composer (phew!) Jason Read’s crowdfunded short is a cleverly conceived and executed take on the notorious Jack the Ripper murders which plagued the Whitechapel district of London in 1888. Setting his short, sharp and spooky story in the present day, Read gifts us with the character of Jackie (Jacqueline) Butcher, an American horror scream queen. Sitting in a East End cafe, Jackie (Lynn Lowry, THE CRAZIES, SHIVERS, MODEL HUNGER) explains to cafe owner Sam (Christopher Walker) that having attended a horror convention in London, she’s now planning on indulging in a little “real-world horror” by visiting the sites of the Ripper’s murders and sharing her tour live with her ‘Butcherooneys’ (fans) on Facebook. This isn’t just some random sight-seeing whim however, for Jackie’s great-grandfather used to have a butcher shop in Whitechapel before emigrating to America in 1889...

It’s not too hard to guess where Jackie Butcher’s misguided tour will take her, but it is undoubtedly great fun following Lynn Lowry’s character as she blithely re-traces a bloody past that’s ultimately a little too close to home for this particular ‘Butcher’.

Genre legend Lynn Lowry is simply fabulous as scream queen Jackie Butcher, reciting every gruesome detail with unbridled relish as she narrates her tour live into her selfie stick- mounted iPhone. Lowry serves up some juicy and witty dialogue e.g. “Keep an eye out for my new film, ‘Slitty Woman’ coming soon!” (an entirely plausible title given the smorgasbord of ripe genre titles on Lynn’s actual IMDb page). The ‘live’ Facebook interaction with fans, whose comments mount up on the screen along with the floating ‘likes’ is brilliantly realised, and Lowry totally sells the set-up with an irresistible twinkle in the eye.

The surprisingly effective shivers (“Behind you”) are provided by Lela Bergeron, Jen Morriss, Samantha Oci, Savannah Raye Jones and Charlotte Mounter - supplemented with some evocative make-up work from Maisie Palmer adding a layer of gravitas to their respective characters. Multi-talented Read layers the incrementally spooky narrative with an atmospherically haunting electronic soundtrack, channelling John Carpenter’s PRINCE OF DARKNESS which lends the proceedings heightened menace as twilight encroaches.

And then of course we have the glorious appearance from the one and only Dudley Sutton, sadly recently departed in real life, a genuine national treasure. Seeing him peer into the phone camera before maniacally laughing at the gradual realisation that his character will live on down the ages for all eternity is in a melancholic way a fitting tribute to a great artist who will be remembered with love and affection.

I particularly liked the fact that the cafe Jackie Butcher sets out from has a poster on the wall quoting Joseph (The ‘Elephant Man’) Merrick - fellow East End resident at the London Hospital around the time of the Ripper murders – a nice incidental detail. I also loved the cafe’s patrons being portrayed by the likes of the location photographer John Gaffen, Jen Morriss (enjoying a quick cuppa before playing Ripper victim Anni Chapman), and the producer and curator of Misty Moon, Stuart Morriss himself. It illustrates perfectly how this (very) modestly budgeted production was clearly a labour of love from a dedicated and close-knit team and I look forward to seeing Robo Films & Misty Moon future projects.  
****     
Paul Worts
P.S. to Jason Read, I just want to say to you: “dum dum diddy, dum dum do.” (Every time I watched RIPPER TOUR this got stuck in my head for hours!).

Monday, 24 September 2018

THE PREDATOR (2018)



Directed by: Shane Black, Starring: Boyd Holbrook, Olivia Munn, Keegan-Michael Kay. Sci-Fi/Horror. US 2018, 107mins, Cert 15.
In cinemas now.

“Get to the choppers!” 

Perhaps too much was expected from Messrs Black and Dekker. THE PREDATOR, I’m sad to report, is a mess, a tonally-careening, all over the place mess. From toe-curlingly misjudged attempts at humour which crash and burn, to momentum zapping scenes of empty filler which add nothing, and on to randomly dispersed set-pieces of gory mayhem which prove mildly entertaining but are never allowed to build up any head of steam. Expectations were low going in to the 3D screening at the BFI IMAX, but it’s nothing short of criminal that significant portions of a Predator film are just plain boring.

Proceedings start promisingly enough with a swift opening sequence involving a dog-fight in outer space resulting in a Predator ship opening a wormhole to escape pursuit from a larger craft. Gate crashing a hostage rescue in a forest in Mexico, the Predator immediately engages with a covert ops team led by sniper Quinn McKenna (Boyd Holbrook – bland but serviceable). Blood is spilt and a skinned soldier hangs skinned from a tree whilst his blood drips down onto the cloaked Predator making him visible. Quinn purloins his mask and gauntlet as a government team arrive to take the Predator to a science lab. Quinn posts the Predator kit to his son and ex-wife’s home (don’t ask), before being taken in for psyche evaluation.

Quinn’s autistic son Rory opens the package just in time to go trick or treating on Halloween with the Predator’s mask on – complete with fully operational laser canon! Nope, even a scene where the neighbourhood bullies witness Rory blowing up a house with his costume fails to register more than a tokenistic titter. Was this really written by the director and co-writers of THE MONSTER SQUAD?

Meanwhile the Predator is “heavily” sedated and strapped down with conspicuously flimsy restraints in the laboratory waiting for biologist Casey Bracket (Olivia Munn – excellent) to get up close and purr with pleasure: “You are one beautiful motherfucker” (groan) and to question in a half-decent repeating gag why it’s called a predator. Does the Predator wake up and break free? Check! Killing most of the white coats in the process? Check! That beautiful motherfucker bursts out of his restraints and immediately embarks on mass slaughter in a full-on Jason Voorhees mode. 

Unfortunately, the activation of the Predator mask alerts the bigger more-upgraded pursuer, (shimmering in sub-grade CG ‘enhancement’) to the location of its prey and it comes a calling with (wait for it) Predator dogs in tow! Why isn’t this a 5-star film? Because it’s all assembled so clumsily. Disparate scenes barely hang together by a gossamer thread and the characterisation of Quinn’s rag-tag band of fellow military psych evals plumbs the depths of desperation - tourettes as a gag generator and ‘your mom’ type of jokes: How do you circumcise a homeless man? Kick your mom on the chin” 'The hunt has evolved’ promises the poster tagline, well the humour sure as hell hasn’t.

There is one genuinely funny sequence when Olivia Munn regains consciousness after accidentally shooting herself in the foot with a tranquiliser dart (how’s that for an unintentional metaphor for this film?). As she wakes she’s greeted by the sight of the entire psych eval band staring back at her sheepishly like the seven dwarfs. A tantalisingly brief glimpse of what these writers can produce. Perhaps the carte blanche gifted to Black and Dekker in terms of being allowed to shoot for an ‘R’ rating resulted in them feeling obligated into upping the gore and crude dialogue to the determent and expense of any real heart in the material? 

The final insult however is the ends reveal of the secret weapon that the Predator has bestowed on humanity to fight back against the other bigger badder Predators. The way it’s built up you inevitably think...well, let’s just say it isn’t what you think and as a result the film ends with a deflated shrug.

Re-shoots and a cut scene which featured a convicted sex-offender. End result? Well, it’s better than ALIENS VS. PREDATOR: REQUIEM by virtue of the fact you can actually make out what is going on most of the time. But considering the talent involved, and how low the bar was previously set with AVPR, that hardly represents any kind of achievement.    

*** (out of 5*)


Paul Worts