Wednesday, 14 September 2016

THE CHAMBER (2016)

Director: Ben Parker. Cast: Charlotte Salt, Johannes Kuhnke, Christian Hillborg, Elliot Levey, James McArdle. UK 2016. 88 mins.

Director: Ben Parker. Cast: Charlotte Salt, Johannes Kuhnke, Christian Hillborg, Elliot Levey, James McArdle. UK 2016. 88 mins.

A special ops unit commandeer a research vessel and an aging (two-man) submersible craft, The Aurora. The three-person unit, led by ‘Red’ (a very impressive Charlotte Salt),   instruct the Aurora’s reluctant pilot Mats (Johannes Kuhnke) to take them down to the bottom of the Yellow Sea off the shores of the Korean Peninsula to locate a top secret item. The already cramped conditions and tense atmosphere within The Aurora are about to turn  deadly when the impact of an underwater explosion causes the sub to overturn, trapping the four occupants in a potential death chamber as water begins to breach the craft and the emergency power begins to drain...

Director Ben Parker’s debut feature is a ruthless effective exercise in underwater claustrophobia. A lean pared down script efficiently dispatches the three US military personnel (all played by Brits) and the grumpily distrustful salty Swedish sea-dog Mats down into the watery depths in their rusting spam-tin with minimal set-up. Terse exchanges simmer away until their real mission objective is revealed, and a fatal decision is taken by ‘Red’ which unleashes a knife-edge of raw survival instincts and brutal self-preservation.

I admit this was not a film I was expecting too much from. On paper the synopsis sounded somewhat well-worn and predictable. However I was pleasantly surprised to find this deep sea pressure cooker tense and engrossing and director Parker’s tight grip hooked me in right from the start. The limited confines of the submersible are superbly conveyed through Benjamin Pritchard’s crisply enclosed cinematography and James (Manic Street Preachers) Dean Bradfield’s score heightens the edgy brooding undercurrents.  Johannes Kuhnke convinces as the protective seasoned pilot of the previously decommissioned Norwegian Navy submersible, and Charlotte Salt (delivering an unwaveringly good American accent) essays a refreshingly steely resolve as tough decisions have to be taken. As this pair are literally thrown together when conditions become critical down on the seabed, there’s a thaw in their previously frosty relationship which is well-handled by both players and makes for a coldly moving final act.

With a potentially clunky old premise, this could have sunk without a trace under its familiar cargo of clichés, but instead it delivered an ice-cold gripping underwater nightmare which instantly surfaced into my top 5 films from FrightFest 2016.   

****(out of 5*)        
Paul Worts

Tuesday, 13 September 2016

THE DEVIL'S WOODS

Directed by Anthony White, Starring: Stephen Cromwell, Danielle Keaney, Daniel Mahony, Caoimhe Cassidy. Horror, Ireland, 2015, 70mins, Cert 15.
Released in the UK on DVD on 12th September 2016 by Left Films.

A group of friends set off from Dublin on a road trip to a festival in the countryside. On route they stop off in the woods near a small town and set up camp for the first night. According to the news bulletin on the radio, there’s a serial killer on the loose, but by the end of the night that will be the least of their worries in these particular woods...

Clearly any horror film which opens quoting from the poetry of Emily Dickinson (“Witchcraft has not a pedigree...”) is not one short of ambition. Director Anthony White’s first feature is obviously a labour of love driven by the desire to encapsulate and emulate as many of his genre influences as his micro-budget will allow. A noble cause for sure, but one which seems to have taken precedent over storytelling basics, resulting in a magpie’s nest of borrowed references loosely bound by an unoriginal thread.

After a strong opening sequence involving that aforementioned serial killer (who has an extraordinarily bulbous thumb), director White cuts to a nodding bobble-head of Sid Haig’s ‘Captain Spaulding’ with a PULP FICTION poster in the background and a Leatherface figurine on the shelf signalling to the viewer we’re deep into fan-boy territory. It’s jarring yet fun as we get to meet the first of the friends, Keith (Stephen Cromwell) snorting coke. Then we’re introduced to Katie (Caoimhe Cassidy) via a black and white dream sequence which segues into red as blood trickles down her cut wrists. (A nod to William Castle’s striking blood red bath scene from THE TINGLER?) It’s an effective moment, which seems to be setting up a later character reveal that is never explored again in the film, and consequently feels like an empty jolting gimmick. Her boyfriend Jay (Daniel Mahony) doesn’t notice the guilty glance she gives her mobile phone though when she wakes (that however will come into play later). The fourth member of the group is Keith’s girlfriend Jennifer (Danielle Keaney) whose bottom seems to dominate the film frame more often than to be just mere coincidence.

Driving past a dead fox by the roadside (armadillos not being native to Ireland) they make for a pit stop at ‘The Hatchet’ pub (surprisingly not a reference to Adam Green’s swamp slasher but its actual real-life name). Unsurprisingly, this results in the kind of reception which awaited those two American tourists in ‘The Slaughtered Lamb’ (‘The Hatchet’ doesn’t serve food either by the way).

Some indiscriminate bloodied object later hits the windscreen whilst they’re driving along a remote country. Twitchy Katie asks if someone threw it at the car, to which Keith rather tellingly replies: “...No, You’ve seen too many horror films”. Yes, unfortunately we all have Keith, and so therefore this account of the tragedy which befell a group of (four) youths is far too predictable and lacking in any real suspense. The seemingly obligatory cheap jump scares fail to land any telling blows either. Considering its short running time of 70 minutes, it wastes almost 45 of them before anything sinister occurs. The characters and their partially improvised dialogue aren’t nearly that illuminating or likeable enough to devote so much time to, particularly at the expense of any genuine exposition regarding the nature of what they encounter in the woods. There’s a brief mumbled mention of the 18th century British nobleman society known as ‘The Hellfire Club’ by Keith over the camp fire but it’s a throwaway reference and never elaborated upon.

The brief snatches of gore are grittily effective (the local butchers shop seemingly the main supplier) but the methods of sacrifice appear random rather than ritualistic in nature.
On the plus side, at least director White didn’t go down the wobble-cam found footage country path, and as a result there are some nicely composed atmospheric wide shots of the County Meath woods and surroundings. Paul Scott’s score is evocative and there’s some very unsettling noises emanating from the nearby cattle that sound more like squealing pigs – are the cows fans of DELIVERANCE too? 

“Jesus, I’ve seen this film before” mutters Jay at ‘The Hatchet’ petrol station. Clearly so has director Anthony White. The challenge next for him is to encompass his influences and homage’s into material sufficiently original enough to divert our attention away from those same original classics he obviously knows and loves so well.

Extras: director’s commentary, trailers.
(This review was originally published on the FRIGHTFEST website.)
**(out of 5*)

Paul Worts

Wednesday, 7 September 2016

LET HER OUT

Director: Cody Calahan. Cast: Alanna LeVierge, Nina Kiri, Adam Christie, Kate Fenton, Michael Lipka. Canada  2016. 89 mins.

Bike courier Helen is repeatedly drawn back to the motel where her hooker mother tried to kill her in the womb (with a pair of scissors) twenty-three years ago. Following a serious accident Helen suffers a traumatic head injury and is diagnosed as having ‘vanishing twin syndrome’ It turns out that her mother was carrying twins at the time but as a result of her self-inflicted trauma, the twin died in the uterus and was reabsorbed back into Helen. Unfortunately for Helen, and her friends, the twin is taking over Helen’s psyche – and eventually will want out...  

Following on from his two ANTISOCIAL films, director Cody Calahan serves up a female Jekyll and Hyde wrapped in THE NEON DEMON visual aesthetic of Nicolas Winding Refn, and finishes it off with a garnish of flesh tearing body-horror.  

It was an odd choice for the FrightFest Thursday night late slot which has in recent years tended to feature relatively undemanding crowd-pleasing creature features such as killer wasps in STUNG in 2015 and killer beavers in ZOMBEAVERS the year before. Perhaps as a result I may have (partially at least) approached it in the wrong frame of mind, but I just couldn’t seem to engage with the overly ponderous, over baked nature of the film at all.

That’s not to take anything away from Alanna LeVierge’s central performance as Helen, who, in her feature debut, delivers both an emotional and physical powerhouse portrayal of the tortured courier with the worrying blackouts. 

I guess I was waiting for the twist, which never came. The story plays out exactly as I’d imagine it would – and I didn’t need the not-so-subtle over-egged attempts at symbolism such as naming the hotel Helen is drawn to ‘The Gemini’ (sigh). At one point I began speculating as to whether the shadowed figure who calmly enters her mother’s motel room and rapes her might have been of supernatural origin? There then seemed to be a hint that her mother’s ghost was still haunting the motel as implied by the quickly glimpsed silhouette at the motel  – but alas neither of these potentially diverting ideas materialised.

Still, kudos to a film that tries to stage a dramatic dash across neon soaked urban Canadian streets on a bicycle.

**(out of 5*)

Paul Worts

Friday, 2 September 2016

CELL (2016)


Director: Tod Williams. Cast: John Cusack, Samuel L. Jackson, Isabelle Fuhrman, Stacy Keach, Joshua Mikel. USA 2016. 98 mins.

Co-adapted from his own 2006 novel, author Stephen King’s apocalyptic techno nightmare finally lands in cinema screens after cresting some rough production seas. Graphic artist Clay Riddell (John Cusack) is on his mobile phone to his estranged family at the airport when (luckilyy for him) his battery dies. Switching to a payphone (remember them?) he is suddenly caught in the middle of a zombie-like massacre as a signal, The Pulse, is transmitted through the cellular network instantly transforming all users across the globe into savage drone-like killers (‘Phoners’). Escaping from the terminal onto a subway train (narrowly avoiding a poorly CG rendered crashing plane fuselage in the process), he eventually hooks up with train driver Tom McCourt (Samuel L. Jackson), and the Goth girl neighbour Alice (Isabelle  Fuhrman) who’s just had to dispatch her ‘Phoner’ mum. Together they embark on a perilous road trip to try and reach a safe haven where The Pulse signal hasn’t yet penetrated and for Clay to try and reconnect with his wife and son.

As with so many of Stephen King’s works (both on and off screen), what starts out as an interesting idea (you can almost picture King’s smirk when the notion hits him) is then squandered on an unsatisfactory resolution. That’s not to say it isn’t a reasonably entertaining popcorn ride in the process, but all that instant sugar rush doesn’t sustain and when you’ve scooped out the last kernel in the bucket, you’re still left with a hungry gap.

The opening airport massacre is surprisingly brutal and attention grabbing set-piece (a splendid cameo from Troma maestro Lloyd Kaufman does however momentarily dispel the dramatic impetus). In amongst the carnage is a blink and you’ll miss it axe assault that echoes Scatman Crothers shock demise in Kubrick’s THE SHINING (not that King would intentionally reference that adaptation in any shape or form).

The road trip that then ensues however meanders disappointingly and whilst there are momentary flashes of inspired carnage along the way such as the torching of a field of private schoolboys - instigated by the school’s headmaster (an underused Stacy Keach), the film never recovers its dramatic drive. And even in this scene, the ropey sub-Syfy Channel CGI undermines its potential impact, but a bonus point surely for the bizarre use of the “Trololo song”! 

I liked the way the zombie hoards seemed to move in coordinated flock-like migratory waves, and the death rattle-like sounds they transmitted through gaping INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS maws. However the film ultimately falls on its sword in the muddled finale. The source of the signal is never explained, there is a suggestion swirling in the air that graphic artist Clay drew the instigator into existence – but this isn’t resolved either way. I haven’t read the source novel but I’m reliably informed the screen ending is bleaker than the book’s. I actually liked this downbeat ending, as laughable as its depiction and lead up looks.

CELL is an entertaining but uneven flick which takes a concept that whilst fresh in 2006 seems outdated to us now (perhaps King could pen a sequel based on the Pokémon Go app?). Cusack and Jackson try their damnest to keep straight faces throughout but you’ll need to meet them more than half-way in order for them to succeed in selling you CELL.

***(out of 5*)
Paul Worts

Thursday, 1 September 2016

MY FATHER DIE


Director: Sean Brosnan. Cast: Joe Anderson, John Schneider, Kevin Gage, Candace Smith, Gary Stretch. USA 2016. 102 mins.

Inspired by J.M. Synge’s ‘The Playboy of the Western World’, Sean (son of Pierce) Brosnan’s directorial debut shifts the play’s setting from Ireland to the Mississippi for this Southern Gothic gory tale of revenge. 

In a monochrome flashback we are shown a father, Ivan (Gary Stretch) pummelling to death one of his sons whilst the other, 12 year old Asher (Joe Anderson) loses both his speech and hearing during the attack. Ivan is jailed for this monstrous assault, but when he is released two decades later Asher sets out to avenge his brother’s death and to kill the man who maimed him both physically and mentally.

A gripping, often brutal study in dysfunctional family dynamics, tattooed monster Ivan stomps across the swamp landscapes like an indestructible Terminator whilst his adrenaline fuelled son Asher alternates between pre-emptive strikes against his old papa and seat-of-the-pants retreats. An already heady bayou gumbo is further seasoned with flavoursome support characters such as a dodgy preacher and Nana (Candice Smith), her dead brother’s girlfriend (and object of Ivan’s lust), who Asher unwillingly ends up dragging back in to the fatal cat and mouse game he is playing with his (seemingly) unstoppable father from hell.

Whilst there are momentary lapses of reason, (one particular moment had me almost shout at the screen in pure frustration – I won’t elaborate further for spoiler reasons), this remains a powerful, haunting and visually ambitious first feature from Mr Brosnan. I just hope given both the title and subject matter, that it isn’t in the least autobiographical! 

****(out of 5*) 

Paul Worts 

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