Sunday, 15 December 2013

TENEBRAE - A review by Paul Worts

Directed by Dario Argento, Starring: Anthony Franciosa, Christian Borromeo, Mirella D'Angelo, Giuliano Gemma, Veronica Lario, Ania Pieroni, Eva Robins, Carola Stagnaro, John Steiner, Lara Wendel, John Saxon, Daria Nicolodi. Horror/thriller/mystery, Italy, 1982, 101mins, cert 18.


Released on Blu-ray (Steelbook) on the 16th December 2013 by Arrow Films. 
I first saw Dario Argento’s TENEBRAE in London at the ABC Edgware Road cinema on a Saturday afternoon in the mid 80’s. It was double-billed with Nico Mastorakis’ BLIND DATE (1984), and although I have no recollection whatsoever of Mastorakis’ offering, I vividly remember the impression Argento’s ultra slick urban giallo made on me (I was 15). Having previously gorged myself up to that point on early 80’s slasher-fare such as the likes of the first few FRIDAY THE 13th instalments, my first experience of an Argento film was a revelatory culture shock.
But that was then and this is now. Does TENEBRAE stand the test of time? The answer is an unequivocal yes. In fact, if I’m pushed, I would go so far as to say it’s my favourite Argento.


Back then in screen 4 at Edgware Road, I was blissfully ignorant to the fact that TENEBRAE was not the anticipated third instalment of the Three Mothers trilogy – but instead a return to the non-supernatural giallo (albeit in a semi-futuristic Rome). A bestselling American novelist, Peter Neal (Anthony Franciosa) flies to Rome to promote his new mystery novel ‘Tenebrae’. It’s fair to say the promotional visit doesn’t go according to plan. First the contents of his hand-luggage are found to have been vandalised and then he is given an uncomfortable reception from a (previously friendly) female book critic who charges him with misogyny. Escaping to his rented apartment he finds Detective Germani (Giuliano Gemma) and his partner waiting to inform him that a woman has been found murdered with a slit throat and pages from his latest novel stuffed into her mouth...
The first thing that impressed me back then was how brightly lit the murder set-pieces were. The blood splattered unapologetically and operatically across white surfaces rather than being frustratingly enshrouded coyly in shadows. (This also scored the film bonus points when I finally came to view it on low-def VHS cassette at home).

But that was then...and so we now come to Arrow Films’ new steelbook Blu-ray release with a newly remastered High Definition digital transfer of the film which is as clinically pin sharp and vibrant as the cut-throat razor and the profundo rosso gore it unleashes. The legendary Louma crane one-shot where the camera transverses up, over and down the other side of a building before resting on the killer breaking in has never looked better or more impressive (even if completely pointless in a narrative sense). 
Being able to view TENEBRAE in High Definition offers an unparalleled opportunity to properly analyse and appreciate the visual construct of Argento’s superlative film.

As with the previous Arrow release, there is the same accompanying veritable smorgasbord of extras to gorge on once you’ve consumed the film in either its original Italian Mono soundtrack or the English Language dub (featuring Theresa Russell no less). For first time viewers such as myself, I found each extra fascinating and well worth investing time in. Daria Nicolodi gives a refreshingly honest perspective on the making of the film in ‘Screaming Queen!” and author Maitland McDonagh gives an insightful new interview. The commentary by Argento chronicler Alan Jones and Kim Newman is crammed full of nuggets of trivia, gossip and affectionately pithy comments and is arguably worth the price of admission on its own. There’s also a more structured and scholarly commentary by Argento expert Thomas Rostock and a fabulous slice of a live Goblin performance from Glasgow. (There is also an exclusive collector’s booklet which I wasn’t privy to). In short, this is an essential purchase. 

  

***** (out of 5*) 

Review first published on the FRIGHTFEST website.



Saturday, 30 November 2013

DEVIL'S ADVOCATES - THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS - A review by Paul Worts

Barry Forshaw - Out now – published in paperback by Auteur Publishing. 102 pages, RRP £9.99.


To coincide with the 25th anniversary of the publication of Thomas Harris’s novel ‘The Silence of the Lambs’, Auteur Publishing have released a new addition to their Devil’s Advocates series. Author Barry Forshaw begins with a look into the origins and inspirations for writer Thomas Harris’s first foray into the twisted mindset of Dr. Hannibal Lecter, (‘Red Dragon’ 1981) and the subsequent film adaptation by Michael Mann. He then dissects the world-famous follow-up novel and Oscar winning screen interpretation directed by Jonathan Demme and continues on his dissection of the Lector legacy with the resulting ‘Hannibal’ and ‘Hannibal Rising’ novel and films (not forgetting the almost entirely forgettable 2002 film RED DRAGON), and ending up with the current television series: ‘Hannibal’.
Little is known about the less than prolific (5 novels in 38 years) author Thomas Harris. Refusing to give interviews or even do book signings, the most significant detail we do know is that as an editor and reporter he covered crime-related events and he spent time at the F.B.I. researching serial killers for his second novel: ‘Red Dragon’(1981). Whilst there he (naturally) came across the case of our old friend, the famous farmer fiend from Wisconsin, Ed Gein. Forshaw wastes little time in wheeling out the well-known and well-worn influences Gein had on both Robert Bloch’s novel ‘Psycho’ and Hitchcock’s cinematic masterpiece. However, to his credit, Forshaw also includes lesser known works such as Jack Smight’s NO WAY TO TREAT A LADY (1968), and suitably tips his hat to the giallo works of Bava and Argento in particular in filmic influences.


From ‘Red Dragon’ we got the (first) film version: MANHUNTER (1986), directed by Michael Mann, and the first onscreen incarnation of Lecter (Lecktor) in Brian Cox. Arguments rage to this day when comparing Cox’s understated (and non-American accented) reading of the now (in) famous character with Anthony Hopkins’ Oscar-winning performance. Personally, I prefer Cox and Mann’s MANHUNTER to Hopkins and Demme’s SILENCE OF THE LAMBS (heck, I even prefer Ridley Scott’s HANNIBAL to SILENCE as a film) and, unlike author Forshaw’s belief – this is based on having seen the films in the cinema on their initial releases rather than just on retrospective ‘in-hindsight’ home viewings. In fact after coming out of the Odeon Leicester Square having attended the opening night of SILENCE OF THE LAMBS I can still recall the overwhelmingly deflated sense of disappointment.
Despite this opinion, I found Foreshaw’s analysis of the film intriguing - albeit a tad over-complementary - and I will now revisit the film with renewed vigour.


Overall, it’s a quick punchy and intelligent read, even if the author does over-employ the term ‘de-rigueur’, and it offers some fascinating interpretations and theories into the phenomena of ‘Hannibal the cannibal’ and how Thomas Harris’s literary creation has seeped into the mainstream consciousness. 

(This review was originally published on the FRIGHTFEST website.) 

*** (out of 5 *)     



   

Monday, 11 November 2013

PIN - A review by Paul Worts

Directed by Sandor Stern, Starring: David Hewlett, Cynthia Preston, Terry O'Quinn. Horror, Canada, 1988, 98mins, cert 15.


Released in the UK on DVD by Arrow Video on 28th October 2013.


Dummies and ventriloquists have a history of terrible and terrifying collaborations: Michael Redgrave (DEAD OF NIGHT); Anthony Hopkins (MAGIC); Keith Harris and Orville.
In this lesser-known Canadian example of the dodgy dummy sub-genre, Terry (THE STEPFATHER) O’Quinn is a ventriloquist paediatrician who employs an anatomically accurate medical dummy - resplendent with muscles and organs - to explain the wonders of the human body to his little patients. Nicknamed Pin (after Pinocchio), the dummy exerts a fascination and an increasingly unhealthy hold over Dr. Linden’s son, Leon. His sister Ursula, although younger, is under no illusions that Pin only talks when her father is in the room – but Leon has no other friends and uses Pin as his confidant. Back at the old Linden homestead, whilst their doctor father is testing them with maths questions before bedtime, mum is following after them with a Hoover and covering all the chairs with plastic sheets. It’s not a healthy environment. Then again, back at the medical centre, one of Dr. Linden’s nurses is utilising Pin’s anatomical accuracy for self gratification (presumably Pin’s ‘stiffness’ isn’t confined to his overall build). Meanwhile, prepubescent Leon and Ursula are perusing a porn magazine and speculating on “the need”. Ursula informs her brother that she: “Can’t wait till I’m old enough. I think I’m REALLY gonna like it”. Sure enough, at 15, Ursula (Cynthia Preston) has developed just such a reputation judging by the graffiti on Leon’s High-school locker. She is then caught by Leon in a parked car at the school prom indulging “the need” with a fellow student. Leon (David Hewlett) unceremoniously pulls the unfortunate chap from the car and proceeds to kick him in the “need” area.


Then their parents are killed in a car crash and brother Leon decides that ‘Pin’ should come and live with them: and to give Pin a make-over and one of father’s old suits...
This is a film that had always been on the periphery of my vision and yet somehow I’d never previously got around to watching it. It’s a modestly effective psychological thriller which manages to generate some skin-crawling suggestive inappropriateness. Terry O’Quinn reprises his creepy STEPFATHER (1987) performance as ventriloquist Dr. Linden, culminating in a supremely disturbing scene where he casually invites his son to watch as he performs an abortion on his daughter Ursula. Both Cynthia Preston and David Hewlett give convincing portraits in challenging roles as the grown-up siblings Ursula and David. Director Sandor Stern (who wrote the screenplay for the 1979 AMITYVILLE HORROR) adapted the story from a novel by Andrew (THE DEVIL’S ADVOCATE) Neiderman. As is so often the case with screen adaptations, events unfurl at a rapid-fire pace in order to tell the story (particularly the character-forming early years of Ursula and David), but once these vignettes (essential to the plot) are dealt with, the narrative settles down and Stern displays a steady hand with the potentially risible source material. PIN is an unsettling, measured piece (nothing like the misleading shock-fest the trailer promises), but one which provides some memorable images, decent acting and a haunting final image which lingers well past the end-credits.              


Extras: Trailer.

*** (out of 5*)

This review was originally published on the FRIGHTFEST website.

Sunday, 27 October 2013

ZOMBIE HUNTER - A review by Paul Worts

Directed by K. King, Starring: Danny Trejo, Martin Copping, Clare Niederpruem, Horror USA, 2013, 88mins, cert 18

Released in the UK on DVD, Blu-ray by Signature on 21st October 2013.

Whilst Danny Trejo tears up the screen in Robert Rodriguez’s MACHETE KILLS, this low-budget CGI zombie fest slinks ashamedly straight-to-DVD/Blu-ray in its shadow. And whilst it’s understandable that Danny’s name and image is writ large across the cover art, I feel compelled to warn all who enter here that Mr Trejo’s screen time is considerably less than you’d be led to expect.
Set in a post-apocalyptic wasteland, a mysterious street drug called ‘Natas’ (yep, spell it backwards in a Johnny ‘Alucard’ stlyee kiddies) has turned the population into purple-blooded zombies. The film opens with three ‘Natas’ users crashed out in a dilapidated sitting room whilst on the TV two newsreaders outline the devastating effects of ‘Natas’. As the female newsreader reads the teleprompter her male co-presenter turns sideways and hurls a hose-like amount of vomit before we’re told one of the side-effects of ‘Natas’ is vomiting (and the manufacturer label on the TV is: ‘Zombisha’ – these are the jokes folks!).

One year later and the world has gone to pot, or rather ‘Natas’, as MAD-MAX-wannabe ‘Hunter’ (Martin Copping – now there’s a CARRY ON surname if ever I saw one) drives through the wasteland wasting ‘eaters’ and constantly splattering purple CGI blood onto the camera in the process. He comes upon a small merry band of survivors led by Danny Trejo’s zombie-slaughtering priest ‘Father Jesús’ (subtlety thy name is not K. King – who co-wrote this with Kurt Knight, presumably because they shared the same initials). No sooner has ‘Hunter’ regained consciousness from a car crash than pole-dancer ‘Fast Lane Debbie’ (pneumatic blonde Jade Regier) is offering him a free horizontal dance; much to the disgust and disappointment of good-girl virgin ‘Alison’ (Clare Niederpruem) whose singled ‘Hunter’ out as the ‘one’.
Our group of survivors (who also include two Hicksville chaps and a veteran ex-pilot) have a plan to escape by plane to an off-shore island to start again. There’s just one problem, they have to cross through the town of Dahmer (wink, wink) which, as it turns out, boasts a chainsaw wielding laughing zombie named ‘Funny Man’. And then there’s some kind of hybrid ‘House of the Dead’ monsters to contend with.

I’m sure none of this nonsense is meant to be taken remotely seriously (at least I hope not) but it really isn’t that funny either. The zombie make-up is uninspiring and the purple CGI gore laughable. The performances are exactly what you’d expect from a script which contains such ‘gems’ as; “He was like a damned Ninja Turtle” and my personal favourite: “I’ve heard stories – you wouldn’t want to hear them - but I’ve heard stories” (a perceptive observation as it turns out).
I’m all for undemanding low-budget gore-fests, but come on guys – if you’re going to include scenes with genre film posters on the wall couldn’t you have come up with something better than OSOMBIE and ORCS? 

This review was originally published on the FRIGHTFEST website.

** (out of 5*)

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

SHE - A SHORT FILM - An interview with Chelsey Burdon and Mark Vessey

One minute these two were watching CURSE OF CHUCKY at FrightFest this year, the next they’re embarking on making a short film with the star: Fiona Dourif! In the middle of their Kickstarter campaign to raise the funds (a modest £3.5k) to make SHE: A SHORT FILM, I caught up with both Chelsey Burdon and Mark Vessey who kindly found the time to submit to my interrogations. Here then, in a She said, He Said about SHE (get it?) format are their separate responses. So, without further ado, here’s your respective ‘starter for 10’...

What previous filmmaking experience have you both had?

Chelsey: I started working on films about 4 years ago. I've been first assistant director, production manager and production assistant on all kinds of projects; features, shorts, music videos. Luckily for me they were almost all horror.  I'd actually focused my degree on stage directing and for a long time was more interested in becoming a theatre director, but as I was offered more and more film roles I guess I got the bug and film has always been a great passion of mine. My first bit of film directing came with my entry to the Shortcuts to Hell competition earlier this year, I was lucky enough to have my entry selected for the anthology which is available on iTunes. 

Mark: I'm a lot more experienced as a writer than I am anything else. I've been writing for as long as I can remember; reviews, short stories, etc. But it's only been this year that I've started writing scripts. I was talking a lot to two friends - who also serve as my biggest inspirations - and one day I just had a ‘eureka’ moment. In a second I realised this is what I wanted to do, this is my true calling. About a week later I'd more-or-less knocked 20 scripts out, in various stages of completion, and I'm not showing any signs of slowing down. I've had a fair bit of experience in actually making movies too. I've been working, on-and-off, on my first short film ENGLISH MARY 3D since January. We've got some incredible stuff shot already. Some big names are involved too. It's going to blow people away.

Saturday, 19 October 2013

ALL SUPERHEROES MUST DIE - A review by Paul Worts

Directed by Jason Trost, Starring: James Remar, Jason Trost, Lucas Till, Sophie Merkley, Lee Valmassy. Science-fiction, USA, 2011, 78mins, cert 15.


Released in the UK on DVD, Blu-ray and iTunes by Monster Pictures on 14th October 2013.
Four members of a now-defunct superhero team awake to find they’ve been kidnapped by their arch-nemesis Rickshaw and dumped in an unknown town. All have injection scars on their wrists and all but one of them, Charge (Jason Trost), have been stripped of their powers. Rickshaw precedes with his dastardly plan to force the now less-than-fantastic- four into playing deadly games with the stakes being the lives of the town’s inhabitants: and ultimately each other’s...


Never judge a book by its cover; or in this case by its Blu-ray/DVD and poster art. Despite clear evidence to the contrary, there are absolutely no helicopters and no skyscrapers in this film. Hardly surprising, given that the (micro) budget granted to writer, director, co-producer, star and editor Jason Trost was a mere $20,000. This was conditionally offered to Trost on the basis that he would have to write a script – go into pre-production – and finish shooting all within 2 months. The actual shoot itself consisted of 15 days (in the middle of summer with the shortest nights) giving him only 9-10 hours a day.
And the end result? A rather nifty and down-right crafty low-budget gem which is far more enjoyable (given its limited resources) than it has any right to be.


Trost’s screenplay is a paragon of necessity. How do you make a superhero film with no money for elaborate CG effects sequences? Simple: strip them of their powers from page one. It’s a ridiculous conceit and inevitably risks alienating your target audience and incurring the wrath of paying punters.
Pulling the foursome’s strings, ringmaster Rickshaw (James Remar, DEXTER, THE WARRIORS) broadcasts his instructions via portable TV’s strategically placed across town. Tapping into the local CTV network he sits back and gloats as the group are forced into seemingly unwinnable scenarios with the town’s ‘innocents’ strapped to incendiary devices rigged to blow at the touch of Rickshaw’s remote. Tensions and old resentments soon rise to the surface as Cutthroat (Lucas Till), Shadow (Sophie Merkley) and The Wall (Lee Valmassy) find themselves impotent to defeat their enemy and increasingly reliant on Charge (Trost) – who appears to have retained his strength.  


James Remar’s turn as the ‘Jigsaw’-like Rickshaw is infused with gleeful relish as he finally gets to turn the tables on his adversaries. There’s a memorable cameo from Sean Whalen (THE PEOPLE UNDER THE STAIRS, HATCHET III) as a flame-throwing cannibal Uncle Sam and Nick Principe (CHROMESKULL 1&2) gets to flex his muscles as henchman Sledgesaw in a charmingly ludicrous confrontation on a domestic trampoline.
Jason Trost (HATCHET III, THE FP) acquits himself well delivering his square-jawed dialogue. His comrades do the best they can with underwritten characterisations – although it’s a stretch to imagine them as superheroes when we’re only given a brief monochrome flashback evidencing Shadow’s gift to work with. The script does slyly introduce the heroes’ powers and their origins through almost throwaway dialogue. (Trost is not a big fan of superhero origin movies it seems.)


Our band of avengers troop from one location to the next with a distinct lack of urgency given the stakes they’re playing for, but the pulsing electronic soundtrack by George Holdcroft combined with Amanda Treyz’s ‘scope cinematography panning across deserted night-time streets conjures up an early Carpenter-like vibe.
Of course, necessity is the mother of invention and when the budget won’t stretch to explosions and their potentially gruesome aftermath we get shaky-blurred-cam as a substitute. The camera is less shaky however when it comes to the brief but effective small-scale gore on screen.


So where does that leave us. Well, if you’re looking for a film that’s the complete antithesis of Hollywood’s current obsession with mega-budget superhero flicks then ALL SUPERHEROES MUST DIE definitely ticks the box. You have to view it within the context of its budget and production limitations, but for all its obvious flaws it cuts its cloth accordingly - and any superhero film that relies on a microwave oven’s timer for its climatic countdown gets a thumbs up from me.

Extras (DVD & Blu-ray) Exclusive Jason Trost Introduction, Cultastrophe pre-show (trailers for: ‘Fantastic Argoman’, ‘Infra-Man’ and Ricos Nachos!), Toronto After Dark Q&A, Trailer and ‘Blood Beasts’ Episodes 1-4 (Jason Trost shorts).

**** (out of 5)




Wednesday, 16 October 2013

MORE THAN HONEY - A review by Isabel Hernandez

Directed by Markus Imhoof, Narrated by John Hurt. Documentary, 2012, Released on DVD and Blu-ray on 21st October 2013 by Eureka!


“My grandfather would probably walk from this property disturbed if he saw the way we keep bees today. He’d think: “My God! You’ve lost your soul...”  ~ John Miller (commercial beekeeper)


Picture if you will, a group of bees methodically and carefully tending to a small structure inside a hive with what appears to be gentle precision. They loom large on the screen and we watch and wonder at their activity. There is no narrative at this point to tell me what they are doing, but I’m mesmerised all the same.  The beautiful music score (Peter Scherer) is soothing and reassuring and I feel like I am privy to some sort of momentous bee event. The result is the birth of a new princess – a future Queen bee - the central focus of a healthy bee colony. Thus we are introduced to Markus Imhoof’s documentary MORE THAN HONEY.
Cont'd...

Thursday, 10 October 2013

SMILEY - A review by Paul Worts

Directed by Michael J Gallagher, Starring: Caitlin Gerard, Roger Bart, Keith David, Horror US, 2012, approx. 91mins, cert 15.


Released in UK on DVD by Signature Entertainment on the 14th October 2013.
CANDYMAN meets SCREAM in this cyber-urban legend. Updating the call-his-name-five-times-in-a-mirror tale for the YouTube generation, anonymous users on an internet chat room can call up ‘Smiley’ by typing the phrase: “I did it for the lulz” (plural variant of ‘lol’ apparently) 3 times whilst ‘chatting’. Unlike Candyman however, ‘Smiley’ doesn’t appear behind the typing summoner, but rather behind the chatter at the other end of the webcam. Never mind friend ‘deletion’ on Facebook, this is online execution (for real).


When Ashley (Caitlin Gerard) the new girl on campus, attends a house party and views the result of a ‘Smiley’ internet-chat, it sets in motion a chain of events that will challenge her already fragile state of mind and ultimately force her into confronting ‘Smiley’ face to face.
Speaking of Smiley’s face, he’s so-called due to his sewn up eye sockets and mouth resembling a smiley symbol. Unfortunately, I somehow doubt this tale will leave horror fans smiling by the time the credits roll (and the post-credit tag for those who stick with them).


Director Gallagher throws up a whole heap of jump-scares right from the off which soon become tiresome and numbs the effectiveness of later moments. To be fair there is a potentially interesting premise at the heart of the film, and Smiley’s scarred face is nicely designed (albeit in a sub-Cenobite kind of way). Unfortunately he’s rarely glimpsed for long, and his carnage is half-hearted and uninspiring. Roger Bart (so memorable in HOSTEL 2) plays a professor who delivers ominously sounding but largely meaningless pronouncements on the nature of mankind to destroy itself. Keith David (looking ridiculously good for his 57 years) is wasted as a sceptic cop who refutes Ashley’s accounts of net-slaughter. When the true nature of Smiley is revealed (and it’s none too original at that) it doesn’t really add up. Perhaps even the filmmakers share this view as they don’t stick to this explanation and instead offer a lame add-on which opens a door for a sequel which in all honesty I hope is blocked by firewall software. 
** (out of 5*)

(Originally published on the FrightFest website)

Friday, 4 October 2013

JASON TROST - An interview by Paul Worts

With his latest film ALL SUPERHEROES MUST DIE finally being released here in the UK on 7th October, I caught up with writer / director / star Jason Trost to get the lowdown on this low-budget gem. (I also just had to ask him about his experience acting in HATCHET III). But before that I asked him to cast his mind back several years to when ALL SUPERHEROES MUST DIE (ASMD) was but a glimmer on the horizon...

Going back to that time, you were offered $20,000 to make the film and given a ridiculously tight timescale in which to get the film made. Did you even think for one second - this is madness, it's impossible?

Yeah of course I did. But just for a second. I didn't have any more time to think about it if this was going to work. I was in a tough spot. I'd just made The FP and another small test movie. It seemed like neither were going to be released and I was desperate. Film financing is really hard to come by so you really can't turn it down when it falls in your lap.
Did you already have the basic elements of the script in mind - or was it literally a case of starting with a blank sheet of paper?
I had an idea for THE RUNNING MAN with superheroes but that was it. The next week was a mad dash to see how to make that work and flesh it out so we could get into pre production.

One of the aspects I really admired about ASMD was the way you 'cut your cloth accordingly' in terms of your budget. Rather than try to pull off impossibly elaborate CG and special effects sequences you 'tailored' the script to your means, i.e. stripping your heroes of their powers right from the beginning. That must've taken some discipline?

Yeah it was definitely a challenge. And that seems to be the thing most people hate about the movie. Which I don't understand. People always complain about wanting something different and then you give that to them and they hate that too. I don't think low budget movies are conceptualized right from the get go a lot. You can have the best camera in the world but if you have a crappy set with a crappy actor it's still going to look like crap. And I always think you should write for what you know you have, not what you hope you'll have. I can't tell you how many low budget movies I've seen fail because they wrote a 5 million dollar script and tried to make it for 20 bucks. Production value doesn't just show up on the day. Know what you're up against. Know what you have and exploit it smartly.
For ASMD you listed as the writer, director, co-producer, star and editor. Obviously this saves you money but doesn't this place an enormous burden on you personally - or do you actually prefer it that way?

It can be a real pain in the ass but in order to make something like this work you need to have everyone be on the same page. And with a movie like this I couldn't afford to hire people who were on the same page. So long story short, I knew I was free. And in the end I did prefer it. It saved time and money. And if anything failed I could blame myself instead of someone else. Which I'd much rather do.

Thursday, 3 October 2013

DEADLY VIRTUES: LOVE.HONOUR.OBEY (2013) - A review by Paul Worts

“When the pupil is ready to learn, a teacher will appear.”
(Zen proverb).


This psychological thriller for the art-house crowd film opens with our home-‘invader’ calmly letting himself in with a key and removing his shoes. As he softly climbs the stairs he is accompanied by a hint of ominous music and the increasingly vigorous grunting sounds of fornication coming from the upstairs bedroom. Straight away we are presented with contrasting visual cues. On the one hand we have the tropes of a generic horror film; the prowling steadicam following the intruder up the stairs; the unsuspecting victims making love, oblivious to the impending danger. But on the other hand, this is offset by the fact our intruder has a key; and he removes his shoes before ascending the stairs – neither of which are traits psycho-slashers are known for. Nor is their common weapon of choice a finely crafted rope ball fashioned into an instrument for bludgeoning: and an effective one at that.
Director Ate de Jong’s psychological thriller twists the staple genre conventions as finely as the intricate Japanese inspired bondage knots used to bind our married couple. Having been walloped on the head, Tom (Matt Barber) finds himself bound and gagged in the bathtub. His wife, Alison (Megan Maczko) finds herself strung-up in the kitchen. It’s a striking image – as is the intruder played by Edward Akrout, handsome, cultured, and charming - but at the same time unflinching when employing a pair of pliers to remove a finger (or two).


Over the course of a weekend, our grand-inquisitor / marriage-guidance counsellor from hell will explore and exploit Alison and Tom’s relationship, uncover uncomfortable truths and ultimately act as a catalyst for extreme liberation.  
Edward Akrout plays the tightrope role of the hypnotic seducer / torturer beautifully. In a genre film the character would have been a fixed, deluded domestic bogeyman ala Terry O’Quinn’s ‘Jerry Blake’ in Joseph Ruben’s 1987 thriller THE STEPFATHER.


But the combination of Mark Roger’s clever multi-layered screenplay - coupled with director Ate de Jong’s willingness to let the actors performances breath - gives Akrout the chance to bring a more complex reading to the surface. The dynamic between him and Megan Maczko’s ‘Alison’ reminded me at times of the charming (Big Bad Wolf) huntsman’s seduction of Sarah Patterson’s (Little Red Riding Hood) ‘Rosaleen’ in Neil Jordan’s magical 1984 film THE COMPANY OF WOLVES.
Also benefitting from her director’s open approach, US actress Megan Maczko delivers a stunning performance (not to mention a faultless English accent) as ‘Alison’. In some ways her character arc is related (albeit in a far darker context) with that of Phoebe Cates ‘Elizabeth’ in Ate de Jong’s cult comedy DROP DEAD FRED. Both female protagonists are victims of abuse and trapped in dysfunctional situations. Both undergo a journey of enlightenment; Elizabeth through the guidance of imaginary friend ‘Fred’, and Alison through her persuasive intruder. Maczko brings a gamut of facets to the table from naked vulnerability through to her character’s chrysalis into empowerment.


As husband ‘Tom’, Matt Barber spends a considerable length of the film’s running time bound in the bathtub and assaulted in varying ways - both physical and psychological - by the intruder. However, as with so much about this film, ‘Tom’ is far from just a victim and he too emerges as a catalyst as the film’s powder-keg denouement’s ignite to create emotional and psychical carnage.
Zoran Veljkovic ‘scope cinematography enriches the intense contained drama, infusing it with arresting images and a varied visual palette. Almost abstract-like close-ups of a dripping tap, and a pivotal wine-drinking scene played out largely in shadow complement and enhance the narrative. The score whispers menace without resorting to bombastic cues, and melodic phrases hint at redemptive possibilities.


DEADLY HONOURS: LOVE.HONOUR.OBEY is the first film produced by Raindance Raw Talent, the film production arm of the Raindance Film Festival. Financed in part via indigo crowd-funding and made for an incredibly modest budget, the film is a testament to the true spirit of independent filmmaking. Everyone involved in the film; from Director Ate de Jong; writer Mark Rogers; the actors; producer Elliot Grove, and all the team involved in its making should feel justifiably proud.
**** (out of 5)

Friday, 27 September 2013

ATE DE JONG - An interview by Paul Worts

DEADLY VIRTUES: LOVE.HONOUR.OBEY,  a contemporary thriller directed by cult director Ate de Jong, will have its world premiere at the 2013 Raindance Film Festival in London.  Ahead of the premiere, Ate kindly agreed to meet with me to discuss his new film, and the two films for which he is widely regarded as a ‘cult’ director: HIGHWAY TO HELL, and a personal favourite of mine: DROP DEAD FRED. But before I indulged my love of all things FRED, I asked Ate how his path into films began...


When I was 17 I went from a very remote area in Holland to Amsterdam to go to the Film Academy. And during the Film Academy I really didn’t know anything – I had literally seen only one film at that point – which I didn’t understand! But everyone was older than me and everybody knew so much so I thought the only way to know things is to write, so I started writing for film magazines. It’s that simple, I needed to catch up, so I went to see every film I could. So the whole print thing was to get to know people and to sharpen myself in film. It was always with the intention of making films.
Was it always your ambition to be a film-maker then?


To be honest: no. I had an enormous desire to express myself for a variety of reasons, but that it became film is an absolute coincidence. It could have been theatre; it could have been journalism, writing (novels or whatever). It could have been a variety of things. The fact it became film is a very lucky circumstance because I can’t imagine anything else anymore. But no, I did not want to make films when I was 5 or 6; I didn’t know what film was. I’d seen one film in the cinema.
And that was...?


It was a sex education film - the only film my parents allowed me to see (so that they didn’t have to tell me) – and I didn’t understand it! There was a scene – actually I still remember it very vividly. A boy of 15-16 was lying in bed and then you saw the sheets moving a little bit, and his father came in and started to hit him! I thought: why’s he doing that? I didn’t know what masturbation was – I had no idea.
(Cont'd...

Sunday, 22 September 2013

R.I.P.D. - 3D - A review by Paul Worts

Director: Robert Schwentke. Cast: Ryan Reynolds, Kevin Bacon, Jeff Bridges, Mary-Louise Parker,
Stephanie Szostak. USA 2013, 96 mins.

This film was well and truly R.I.P.P.E.D. to pieces when it was (eventually) released in the US. Completed back at the end of January 2012, it's release date was pushed back until June 2013 - and then there were no advanced critic screenings. Was the ripping unfair? Yes and no. To put my review in context, I viewed R.I.P.D.(3D) on the August Bank Holiday Saturday at 9pm on the massive Empire One screen as part of FrightFest 2013. The audience put on their 3D glasses and with popcorn buckets in hand, prepared to meet the film at least half-way.


Based on the inevitably darker 'Rest In Peace Department’ comic book by Peter M. Lenkov (Dark Horse Entertainment), R.I.P.D. shamelessly rips off M.I.B. Such is the extent of this 'wholesale borrowing' you wonder whether the creators have had their own memories of MEN IN BLACK  wiped by either Tommy Lee Jones' / Will Smith's neutralizing pens - or perhaps they think the audience has...? Instead of hunting down aliens, the R.I.P.D. (consisting of deceased law enforcement officers) track down "Deados", spirits that have failed to cross over and are trapped on Earth as ghost monsters. Grumpy old grizzled Agent K - oops - I mean grumpy old Sheriff Roy Pulsipher, (Jeff Bridges), a former US Marshal from the old Wild West, is partnered with newly recruited and newly deceased Boston Detective Nick Walker (Ryan Reynolds).



Bridges delivers his dialogue as if chewing a gob-full of tobacco whilst sucking on a Willy Wonka everlasting gob-stopper. It must have been tempting to add subtitles in post-production - but it's worth pulling your ears back as he delivers some real gems. I can't recall many other mainstream 12A's which include a character relaying how he watched a coyote pleasuring himself with his dead skull, to which his partner replies: "I hope he got both eyes Roy". 


Another nice touch is that the two deceased cops are assigned avatars back on Earth. Ryan Reynolds appears as an elderly Chinese man (played by James Hong) and Bridges is perceived as a stunning blonde (Marisa Miller) - who keeps getting wolf-whistled by workmen. Mary-Louise Parker (in the Rip Torn role) pulls off a deadpan interview with newly arrived Detective Walker, nicely juxtaposing the spectacular preceding sequence when he is sucked up into the clouds and plonked in the stark white interview room. 

But, apart from this set-piece, the CG ghost monsters are somewhat ropey, surprisingly ropey given the film's alleged budget - and the majority of the effects work on screen looks very run-on-the-mill and clichéd.


The post-conversion 3D is intermittently effective - the aforementioned 'heavenly-calling' sequence being particularly striking - and there's a few in-your-face: duck! moments thrown in for good measure.



Ultimately however, R.I.P.D. doesn't amount to a great deal, with the seriously unimpressive finale almost single-handedly deflating any goodwill the film has previously built up. The underlying feeling is that there are promising elements jumbling around within the vortex of this film - but rather than them fusing together into a cohesive whole, they shoot off at tangents - sometimes hitting the target - and sometimes flying well wide of the mark.
But on that Saturday night at FrightFest it provided an undemanding and largely entertaining 96mins - not enough to justify the zero's in the budget - but certainly worth a carton of popcorn.

*** (out of 5*)

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

THE ASSASSINS - A review by Paul Worts

Directed by Linshan Zhao, Starring: Chow Yun Fat, Liu Yi Fei, Tamaki Hiroshi, Historical Drama, China, 2012, 103mins approx, cert 15.
Released in the UK on Blu-ray and DVD by Universal Pictures (UK) on the 9th September 2013


First-time director Zhao’s historic tale opens underground with an ant scrabbling towards the surface to investigate a disturbance in the earth above. The cause is a young boy and girl running to escape the clutches of horse-back riders. Both are swiftly captured and find themselves herded into a vast cavernous ‘place with no sunlight’ together with scores of other children. There they will spend years being mercilessly trained to be assassins. As time passes, our two ant-disturbers Mu Shun (Tamaki Hiroshi) and Ling Ju (Liu Yi Fei) grow up to become lovers. But the course of true love most certainly does not run smooth. Ling Ju is (somewhat unwillingly) castrated and Mu Shun is dispatched to the Bronze Sparrow Tower to become the concubine of Chancellor Cao Cao (Chow Yun Fat) – “the most powerful man in the world” – the man they have unknowingly been training all those years to assassinate...
I cannot lie, my knowledge of this period in Chinese history - known as the ‘Three Kingdoms’ - was (and still largely is) non-existent. It’s by no means a prerequisite in order to enjoy the film, but you will need to pause and rewind the end title cards of historical facts which flash up so quickly that they’re impossible to read on first sight.

What isn’t possible to miss is the superb Chow Yun Fat. The film sets out to portray the infamous warlord Cao Cao in a more sympathetic light than in previous incarnations, and Chow Yun Fat’s performance is subtle, majestic and mesmerising. In fact he is so good in the role, that the scenes in which he doesn’t feature seem relatively flat in comparison.

Thursday, 5 September 2013

HATCHET III - A review by Paul Worts

Director: B J McDonnell. Cast: Danielle Harris, Kane Hodder, Zach Galligan, Caroline Williams, Derek Mears. USA 2013, 81 mins.

After watching HATCHET III it is my sincere hope that the ghost of Victor Crowley is now finally at peace because I cannot imagine a better send-off for the deformed swamp monster than HATCHET III.
Picking up right where HATCHET II left us, Danielle Harris’ Marybeth is caked in Victor Crowley’s blood having shot-gun blasted his deformed head to pulped jelly. Kicking his trusty hatchet away into the swamp grass she staggers exhausted toward the camera, collapsing onto her knees, bloodied fists still clenched. After a moment’s pause she rises and moves off at the exact same moment Victor (Kane Hodder) sits bolt upright in the background ala Michael Myers in Carpenter’s original HALLOWEEN.

Yes we’re back in those swamps, but this time we’ve got a new swamp-tour guide at the helm, Steadicam / camera operator extraordinaire BJ McDonnell, making his directorial debut after being given the directing reins by HATCHET creator / gatekeeper Adam Green. Having been involved on both previous instalments and boasting an awesome resume of previous film credits, the choice of giving McDonnell his first directing gig was a shrewd – as well as incredibly generous – decision. McDonnell rewards Green’s faith in him with a thrilling juggernaut of a film. Lensing duties rest with another HATCHET veteran, Will Barratt, who together with McDonnell present Victor’s swamps in glorious widescreen ‘scope.

Green’s script is a splatter cake sprinkled with crowd-pleasing in-jokes and cameos. His own cameo follows on from the previous two instalments to form a (drunken) character arc – and there’s a fine gag involving his own writing abilities. The director doesn’t miss out either as he’s briefly glimpsed holding a roll of toilet paper alongside Green during a quick camera pan across a prison cell. I won’t spoil any of the other goodies, but given that the two previous outings have included cameos from the likes of Robert Englund, John Carl Buechler, and legendary Lloyd (Troma) Kaufman, you can be sure the writer has a few bunny rabbits up his sleeve.

But with all these fan-spoiling nods and winks going on in the background, there’s still a story to tell here, and in Danielle Harris’ portrayal of Marybeth with have yet another outstanding performance from the genre’s most consistent and reliable actress. Harris is a gift for directors and McDonnell is smart enough to invest generous screen time in her. He is also given strong support from genre favourites Zach Galligan as Sheriff Fowler and Caroline Williams as Crowley expert Amanda who both throw themselves into their roles with unabashed gusto.
And then we have Derek Mears’ no-nonsense SWAT officer Hawes, nonchalantly flicking a pair of severed testicles dangling from a tree, who of course is in those swamps to provide us with the much anticipated (albeit brief) Jason vs. Jason showdown with Hodder.

The Crowley make-up is more defined this time thanks to a switch from traditional foam latex to silicone – allowing more expression in Hodder’s performance. The total weight of Kane’s make-up appliances added up to a staggering 50 pounds, which when coupled with the sweltering Louisiana swamp conditions meant Hodder suffered for his art like never before on this shoot.
But despite all those layers of silicone, Victor’s gory un-rated hands-on mayhem is still all present and correct – complete with arterial geezers – although the actual kills are snappier and less lingering than in the previous outings.(The one exception being the protracted punishment suffered by Crowley himself both at the hands of Marybeth and by an unfortunate misplaced and fully-operational chainsaw).

The finale where the remaining participants attempt to lay the spirit of Victor’s ghost to rest for good brought, I must admit, a touch of moisture to my eye. Not so much out of sentiment, (although there is a startling moment of pathos amidst the gory-soaked resolution) but more so out of shear relief that Green and McDonnell hadn’t f*cked up at the end but had instead given the legend of Victor Crowley a truly worthy and satisfying send-off.

Having been in the 2006 FrightFest audience when Adam Green first came to London with HATCHET (which had the rather daunting task of playing immediately after the UK premiere of Guillermo del Toro’s PAN'S LABYRINTH), I’ve always felt an affectionate affinity for the HATCHET films. Clearly created by someone with a genuine love of the genre - and by a genuine fan of the genre – and I’m very pleased to report that HATCHET III is no different.


***** (Out of 5)



Tuesday, 3 September 2013

FOR ELISA ( PARA ELISA) - A review by Paul Worts

Director: Juanra Fernandez. Cast: Ana Turpin, Ona Casamiquela, Luisa Gavasa, Jesus Caba, Sheila Ponce. Spain, 2013. 80 mins. Spanish with English subtitles.

MISERY meets THE BABY (1973) in this creepily effective Spanish shocker.

In order to raise the 1,000 Euros needed to pay for her post-graduation trip, student Ana (Ona Casamiquela) answers a job advert pinned to a post outside her university for a temporary nanny position.  Arriving at the apartment, Ana is offered a cup of tea by Elisa’s mother Diamantina (Luida Gavasa), a former professional pianist who reminisces about playing at the Royal Albert Hall and is fiercely protective of her collection of antique dolls. Unbeknown to Ana, this is merely the prelude to a nursery-rhyme nightmare in which she will soon find herself trapped as a living doll for Diamantina’s daughter, and Elisa (Ana Turpin), has a tendency to play rough...

Writer/director Juanra Fernández’s debut feature is a strikingly assured piece of work. Richly photographed in ‘scope, from the mesmerising opening credits sequence through to Ana’s ascent into the forboding shadows of Diamantina’s apartment, it’s a visual delight.

The lead female trinity are all superb, bringing subtle detail to their respective and equally challenging roles, adding a layer of conviction which helps to accentuate the madness which eventually surfaces in Diamantina’s demented dolls house.

Fernández orchestrates the increasingly bloody playtime within apartment 3B with such panache that the interwoven scenes involving Ana’s drug-dealing boyfriend Alex’s increasingly desperate attempts to locate her become almost unwelcome distractions.

FOR ELISA (PARA ELISA) boasts a relatively short running time (80mins), but it’s a deliciously disquieting and ultimately disturbing tale which lingers long in the memory.

**** (out of 5)

Saturday, 31 August 2013

YOU'RE NEXT - A review by Paul Worts

Director: Adam Wingard. Cast: Sharni Vinson, AJ Bowen, Joe Swanberg, Amy Seimetz, Ti West. USA 2013, 95 mins.

Director Adam Wingard's much-heralded home-invasion mash-up isn't quite the genre game-changer it's been built up to be. (That accolade still resides with Drew Goddard and Joss Whedon for THE CABIN IN THE WOODS). But it certainly delivers a barrel load of visceral viciousness, wicked black humour, and in Sharni Vinson's Erin we have the finest final-girl to have fought her corner in years.

The Davison’s gather for a (rare) full family reunion to celebrate a wedding anniversary. It soon becomes painfully clear why they don’t hold reunions more often as the palpable tension and barbed comments overspill and seething resentments are laid bare across the dinner table. But just as the insults and recriminations really begin to fly, a crossbow bolt crashes through the dining room window and rather inconveniently embeds itself in one of the attendees. Understandably, panic ensues as it soon becomes obvious that the house is under attack and the only dish now on this dinner party menu is death.  

Wearing (instantly iconic) animal masks – the faceless assailants proceed to infiltrate the house and embark on a programme of slaughter. Unfortunately for them, one of the guests is harbouring remarkable fighting qualities and embarks on her own campaign of violent resistance.  

Director Wingard certainly has his finger on the pulse regarding audience expectations. Like a seemingly demented chess-master he manoeuvres the characters around the chessboard of clichés with unabashed glee – occasionally moving his ‘pawns’ into groan-inducing situations leading to clearly-telegraphed deaths – and then with his next move ‘check-mating’ the audience with an unsuspected  sucker-punch plot-twist or revelation. For spoiler reasons I must keep my comments intentionally vague on these, but I will say that I found the first third of the film to be the most effective – before the screenplay’s trickiness really comes into play.

But then we have the outstanding Erin (Sharni Vinson) facing her would-be executioners with such lethal resourcefulness that a camp counsellor posting at Crystal Lake would surely hold no fear for this killer chick. From Aussie soap HOME AND AWAY to home invasion horror, whatever’s next for Ms.Vinson; I’d suggest a Fangoria Chainsaw Award for best actress is a cast-iron certainty just for starters...

With a minor but telling tongue-in-cheek role for fellow genre director Ti West, and the perfect treat of iconic genre favourite Barbara Crampton, Adam Wingard’s credit rating with fear fans must surely be riding high right now. (It was already assured in my eyes following his excellent 2010 offering A HORRIBLE WAY TO DIE and his effective segment in V/H/S 2).  

So in summary, trick or treaters have a new costume option available to them this Halloween – and film goers now have a perfectly credible option should they fancy a spot of crafty cinematic body-count mayhem. 


***(out of 5*)
 
 



Friday, 30 August 2013

CURSE OF CHUCKY - A review by Paul Worts

Director: Don Mancini. Cast: Fiona Dourif, Brad Dourif, Danielle Bisutti, Brennan Elliott, A Martinez. USA, 2013. 90 mins.

Chucky's back in this darker sixth instalment in the CHILD'S PLAY franchise. As someone who could never take Chucky remotely seriously I really enjoyed the tongue-in-cheek approaches of both BRIDE and SEED OF CHUCKY. But this time creator/writer and director Don Mancini has instead chosen to appease those fans who wished for Chucky to be 'scary' again.

Picking up after the events of CHILD'S PLAY 3, a package is delivered to the unsuspecting Nica - wheelchair-bound since birth - and her mother, who live in a gothic old house in the woods. A house which features one of those antique lifts, with metallic sliding shutters, which operates excruciatingly slowly and is guaranteed to fail just when the heroine needs it most...

Mancini builds a nice atmosphere of dread and expectation in the early sequences when Chucky first arrives.  He holds back from revealing Chucky's true-nature as long as he possibly can - initially offering us little more than a widening glimmer in the doll's eyes. The arrival of Nica's family following a funeral provides everyone's favourite mannequin-from-hell with a sprinkling of potential victims and there's much fun to be had guessing whose going to be on the receiving end of Chucky's wrath first. (There's also an outrageous crowd-pleasing character revelation which is inspired).

The anticipation builds until finally Chucky can hold back the torrent of venomous profanities bubbling up behind those deceptively inanimate plastic lips no longer. The mayhem that ensues is fairly lack-lustre (with the exception of an early spectacular gore set-piece), but Fiona Dourif (daughter of Brad) throws herself into her role as Nica and her tussles with Chucky are carried off with a reasonably convincing menace. A special mention is in order for the show-stealing turn from Danielle Bisutti as Nica's pantomime-villain sister Barb. And it almost goes without saying that Brad Dourif's voice-work is reliably on the money as always.

The denouement is surprisingly dark and the extended post-credit coda throws fans two delicious cameos and a lip-smacking pay-off which is arguably worth the price of admission alone.      

Friday, 23 August 2013

THE DEAD 2: INDIA - A review by Paul Worts

Directors: Howard & Jon Ford. Cast: Joseph Millson, Meenu, Anand Goyal, Sandip Datta Gupta, Poonam Mathur. UK 2013, 90 mins.

In 2010, the Ford Brothers gave us the award-winning and critically acclaimed African-based zombie apocalypse road movie: THE DEAD. For the sequel they've swapped continents and plonked our new hero, British wind-turbine engineer (now that's a phrase you don't regularly see in print) Nicholas Burton in India. In fact we are firstly introduced to him as he's suspended half-way up a wind turbine fiddling with some wires trying to phone his pregnant girlfriend Ishani several hundred miles away. The dead begin to rise, unsuspecting bystander’s arms begin to get bitten, and soon the hospital is swamped with incoming 'bite' victims. As if that wasn't enough, Ishani's father has forbidden her from continuing the relationship with the Westerner whilst her mother lies in the next room feeling decidedly under the weather as a result of a random bite attack on the street...
The Ford Brothers are not covering new ground with this film, although it has to be said the ground they do cover is strikingly photographed. The wind farm sequence when Nicholas (Joseph Millson, the convincingly compassionate action-hero) looks down on a slow-motion zombie attack, a nightmarish motorbike ride through the dark wilderness and a field of freshly dug graves being notable visual highlights.
The slow shuffling white eyed zombies are eerily effective and the actual attacks are grim and hard-hitting. This isn't a film to cheer on the gut-munchers - or indeed our hero - particularly when he's faced with a dilemma involving a mother and child trapped in a crashed car with the undead surrounding them.
There is an emotional core to the film which threatens at times to lapse into over-sentimentality. However, the performances of the key players are genuine and raw and this authenticity adds credibility to their plight.
The Ford Brothers DEAD films are not easy shoots - conditions are challenging at best, and potentially life-threatening at worst - but the results are impressive. THE DEAD 2: INDIA is an assured and confident piece of film-making from a double-act which on this evidence provide much promise for the future.


*** (out of 5*)