Wednesday, 22 January 2014

THE COLONY - A review by Paul Worts

Directed by Jeff Renfroe, Starring: Laurence Fishburne, Bill Paxton, Kevin Zegers, Sci-Fi /Horror, Canada, 2013, 91mins, cert 18.


Released on DVD on the 20th January 2014 by Entertainment One


In the (presumably not too distant) future, humans build huge weather machines to help combat the devastating effect of global warning by attempting to control the weather. The machines eventually fail, and the earth is plunged into the next ice age. Underground bunkers become the only refuge. Colony 7 is one such bunker, led by Briggs (Laurence Fishburne) and Mason (Bill Paxton). The common cold is now the deadliest threat. Sneeze and you’re instantly thrown into quarantine for an unspecified period, after which if you test positive you are then given a rather unappealing choice: either be released above ground to take your chances (a colder version of the Judge Dredd ‘Long Walk’ into the Cursed Earth) or, if you don’t fancy that, you can be shot in the back by Bill Paxton.
Food supplies are understandably a precious commodity and despite harvesting crops and breeding animals in their well-equipped bunker, rationing in Colony 7’s bunker is having to become increasingly stricter – particularly with regards to rabbit stew: “You know you’re screwed when even the rabbits won’t f*uck”.


After receiving a distress signal from a neighbouring bunker, Briggs (Fishburne) decides to lead a hazardous rescue mission across the frozen wastelands – whilst an increasingly militant Mason (Paxton) opts to stay behind and look after number one. Upon arriving at Colony 5, all is not well. The underground corridors are plastered with pools of blood, and distant howls and screams echo through the cavernous tunnelled labyrinth...
This is a film which can be filed under the category of ‘wasted opportunity’. The opening frozen ice age landscapes are well mounted and convey a genuine sense of bleakness. Underground, the interiors of Colony 7 are impressively rendered (thanks in no small measure to the fact they were filmed at the decommissioned NORAD -North American Aerospace Defence Command -base in North Bay, Ontario.) The expository-laden dialogue is suitably terse and it’s clear from the off that Briggs and Mason (despite serving together in rescue missions before the big freeze), are poles apart (no pun intended) in how they treat their fellow colonists. Mason doesn’t believe in even giving the cold-sufferers ‘the choice’ and his increasing instability will inevitably lead Colony 7 into mortal danger. Both these reliable veterans make the best of the functional script, with Fishburne’s more level-headed and reasonable Briggs winning out over his ‘bad-cop’ sparring partner Paxton. In between them is Kevin Zegers’ Sam, who manages to hold his own against the two leads and proves to be adept when called upon to spill blood.

The problem is, having competently and effectively set up the frozen landscape / underground bunker concept, the film fails to deliver a suitably impressive ‘pay-off’ and the somewhat rushed final third is completely underwhelming. It feels to me as if the script was originally two completely separate concepts, one a purely DAY AFTER TOMORROW post-apocalyptic icy peril sci-fi jaunt, the other a more WALKING DEAD-like scenario, and in merging the two the film doesn’t add up to the sum of its parts.
Plot holes which the ice had frosted over begin to melt as the secret of Colony 5 is thawed out (all these puns are intended red-herrings and bear no relation to the actual denouement). A set-piece showdown on a perilously depilated frozen bridge unveils a gaping plot hole wider than the missing chunk in the centre of the structure. Footprints that surely would’ve been covered over with the continuous snowfall somehow appear perfectly preserved – allowing an implausible pursuit by (largely) implausible pursuers.


The actual narrative running time of the film is only eighty-two minutes – with a whopping supplementary eight minutes of end credits - displaying more padding than the protagonists wear to combat the sub-zero temperatures onscreen. The overall imprint it made in the snow for me was one of: ‘is that it?’


Special Features: Behind the scenes.

** (out of 5*)

This review was originally published on the FRIGHTFEST website.

Friday, 17 January 2014

MARVIN KREN - An interview with the director of BLOOD GLACIER by Paul Worts



Young Austrian writer director Marvin Kren first burst onto the international horror scene with his award-winning 2010 zombie flick RAMMBOCK (aka SIEGE OF THE DEAD). His follow up film, BLOOD GLACIER (aka The Station), played to great receptions last year at the FrightFest 2013 All-Nighter events across the country. With the imminent DVD release of BLOOD GLACIER, Marvin very kindly took the time to talk about his experiences both in making this remarkable eco horror creature-feature and the reception the film has since gone onto receive. He also reveals which letter of the upcoming ABC’S OF DEATH 2 he has directed, along with a tantalising description of the segment and a preview of forthcoming projects...   
(This interview contains some SPOILERS).

Originally known as ‘The Station’ when it first appeared on the festival circuit, the film has since been renamed BLOOD GLACIER (a translation of the original Austrian title: “Blutgletscher"). Does this title change represent a victory for its director?
MK: Yes it does. It’s a funny situation because I was on the stage after the Toronto International Film Festival’s ‘Midnight Madness’ world premiere screening and during the Q&A someone asked me: why did you pick this title, “The Station”? Well I said, as a director you can’t decide everything but as the film agents’ and the producer are here now we have a chance to ask the audience! Everyone cheered for BLOOD GLACIER! I’m very happy with this title, it’s catchier.

Now clearly the film has similarities with John Carpenter’s THE THING (1982).  But would I be right in saying it’s not just a homage to this 80’s classic but more perhaps a homage to creature features in general?


MK: Yes, definitely that’s absolutely true. We wanted to do a creature-feature in Austria and what better place to do it in than the great mountains we have there. We took elements from THE THING like the scientists of course, but we also tried to do a unique film.


So what are your some of your favourite creature-feature films (apart from THE THING)?

MK: I love TREMORS, ALIEN, AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON and I also very much like the Irish film ISOLATION.


Now we’ve talked about elements from THE THING in BLOOD GLACIER, both of which feature dogs as key protagonists. In your film, I’m of the opinion that Tinnitus (real name: Santos) deserves an Oscar for his canine performance!

MK: Thank you, that dog is amazing. And the lady who owned/trained the dog she was like ‘engaged’ to this dog! Really, really close relationship to the dog. In the middle of the film the dog has to just lay there and look very sad... The command from the trainer was the German word for ‘be dead’. After constantly hearing the trainer shouting out: ‘be dead!’, ‘be dead!’ it became very disturbing for the crew! 
Now I notice in the end credits, Santos’ name appears third, ahead of your own mother (who incidentally delivers a show-stopping performance). Was she involved in the development of the film prior to shooting and what was she like filming the intensely gory scenes?
MK: She is like that! The writer, Benjamin Hessler, knows her very well and he wrote it for her. I talked a lot with her about the dialogue, and of course the line: “Stop eating that banana while you’re crying!” is actually from her private life...
I think you should make a t-shirt for the film with the logo on the front, and that line emblazoned across the back: I’d buy one!
MK: (Laughs) That’s a good idea! Man you should be a marketing guy – we should have used that for our marketing services in Austria!
So she was OK with the blood and gore scenes..?
MK: Yes, she’s very anxious (in a good way) before shooting such scenes; she’s really on a high adrenaline. She says: “Marvin, I just do it once OK - so you better get it!”
No pressure then!
MK: (Laughs) You know she pushed me and I push her, but it’s worth it as she delivers greatness.
Agreed. Now as well as having the exacting demands of getting your mother’s extraordinary moments in one take, you also had challenge of filming 3000 meters up in the mountains in the South Tyrol, Italy...
MK: It was very, very exhausting both for the actors and the crew. It was very cold at night and the mountains actually they are very frightening. They are always above you looking at you...
Sounds like a film idea right there... 
MK: And another film crew was shooting in the area the same time and they got caught in lightning storms.
And I understand the actual location features a glacier which really has receded?
MK: The glacier at the beginning of the century went down to the village, something like 1,000 metres and it has melted away to 3,000meters...so it was a hot topic doing this kind of environment film there.  
Let’s talk a little bit about the creature effects. Mostly practical rather than CGI... (and very welcomed this approach is too). Was that always your intention?
MK: Yes. My creatures are combinations of mammals and insects and I had this very gross image and feeling about them. I wanted the audience to have that same feeling. As good as CGI creatures can be, I always have this feeling of today there was a guy behind a computer doing these creatures and he is very happy about his ideas. That’s what I love about the old monsters and creatures in the films. They couldn’t show them for too long because the audience would see they are puppets. But at the same time you have to create with your own imagination automatically the rest of the creature, and this for me is very horrifying.
And presumably it’s easier for the actors to work with physical creatures rather than just blue-screens and tennis balls on sticks?


MK: Absolutely. Actually I had an acting coach from England, a great guy called Giles Foreman, and I invited him to work with the actors before the shooting to get them to have the right feeling to show fear – because Austrian actors never play in such films. They don’t have the chance to play that.
So the Austrian horror scene isn’t exactly prolific then?


MK: No, but I hope more will come...
How did it compare to filming the shorter and smaller budget RAMMBOCK? Did you feel more pressure?


MK: I put a lot of pressure on myself on both films. Yes, money is a pressure. During shooting I forgot it, but then in the editing you feel the pressure. Shit, have I done the right movie; will the people like the movie; will it sell? You have to go through test screenings, which are awful for creature-features because you show the audience a film which is not ready; maybe the sound design and some elements of the creatures that are done in the post-production. That’s a hard thing. But I’m still at the beginning!
But after all that you must be pleased with the reaction from audiences around the world to the finished product?


MK: Absolutely. I’m very, very happy and very proud - especially the reaction of the audiences in England, it’s such a big honour for me because I love the taste of the English people and it makes me especially proud.
What was the budget for BLOOD GLACIER?

MK: 2 million Euros.


Compared to some bigger-budgeted releases it looks a lot more expensive.
MK: Yeah, but actually I promise the next film will look even better.


Does that mean there’s going to be a sequel...?
MK: (Pause)....ah, we will see...


Well there’s certainly scope for it, particularly with the final shots...
MK: Actually I want to ask you a question...what do you think about the ending?


I really liked it. It was daring, barmy and audacious, yet crazily it makes perfect sense when you consider the character arcs of Janek and Tanja...
MK: Thank you so much you’re my friend! But it’s so strange that most of the people who are appreciating the film and who go with it, a lot of people don’t go with the ending. It’s too weird for them.


Well it’s certainly a shift in tone compared to what has come before it. Personally I’m just glad Tinnitus’s lineage continues on! Ok, so there may or may not be a BLOOD GLACIER sequel, but one sequel you are involved in is ABC’S OF DEATH 2.
MK: Yes, I just finished editing yesterday and today I was colour grading...


I don’t suppose you’re allowed to reveal what letter you’re working on...?
MK: Actually my letter is ‘R’. There is one gun involved, and three people and one bullet.


Now there’s a scoop!
MK: I’m very curious to see if you like it. I’m proud of it; it’s a very nice and very lean little story.


From a 63 minute project (RAMMBOCK) to a full-length feature (BLOOD GLACIER) and then to a couple of minutes segment (ABC’S OF DEATH 2)...
MK: Yes, but it’s such a big honour to be invited to contribute to such a project.


So you’ve paid homage to George A. Romero and John Carpenter; what (or who) is next for you?
MK: There are two projects, one is on pause, but the other one is like a kind of ANGEL HEART story. There’s a character involved who is very much inspired by Aleister Crowley. Hopefully I’m shooting that in the summer, and then another project which hopefully I’ll be shooting next year is going to be my first American film. It will be a ghost story in Detroit.


Well I sincerely hope to be able to see both of those at future FrightFest events.

MK: Actually I’d love to come along; I’ve heard such great things about the FrightFest audience and the whole festival.
Marvin, thank you so much for taking the time to talk to me, it’s been an absolute pleasure. I wish you every success with BLOOD GLACIER; it deserves to be a big hit.

MK: Thank you so much I really appreciate it. Hope to meet you at FrightFest one day!


BLOOD GLACIER is released on DVD on the 27th January 2014 by Studiocanal.

This interview was originally published on the FRIGHTFEST website.


Saturday, 11 January 2014

BLOOD GLACIER aka THE STATION - A review by Paul Worts

Directed by Marvin Kren, Starring: Gerhard Liebmann, Edita Malovcic, Brigitte Kren, Horror, Austria, 2013, 96mins, cert 15.
Released on DVD on the 27th January 2014 by Studiocanal.


The hills are alive - with the sound of mutated Ibex...
At a climate research base located 3500meters up in the Alps, a group of scientists monitoring glacial erosion stumble upon a blood-red slab of melting glacial ice. The ‘blood glacier’ water contains micro-organisms which when drunk by the local wildlife, incubates within the hosts DNA and combines with whatever else the critter has digested to form random hybrids. This discovery couldn’t have come at a worse time for the 3 scientists, the grouchy technician Janek and his hound-dog Tinnitus. A high-ranking government minister and her entourage (including Janek’s ex, Tanja) are scheduled to visit the facility and having been helicoptered in as near as possible are currently on route across the mountain terrain... 

Originally shown at the FrightFest Halloween all-nighter, Austrian director Marvin Kren’s follow up to his well-received hour-long 2010 zombie essay RAMMBOCK is an enjoyable mutant creature-feature. Its own DNA appears to have been created from combining John Carpenter’s THE THING (1982) with environmentally conscious nature nightmares such as John Frankenheimer’s PROPHECY (1979).
The creature effects are (refreshingly) largely practical and infinitely preferable to low-budget CGI. These hybrid creations are intriguing but clearly of basic puppeteering origin and director Kren wisely plays coy with the audience by only giving partial glimpses and quick cuts of the monstrous mutations.


As for the cast, Gerhard Liebmann’s grumpy technician Janek and his ex-girlfriend Tanja (Edita Malovcic) have the only genuine story arc (which culminates in an audaciously bizarre, yet strangely logical dénouement). If there was an Academy Award category for best animal performance, then Janek’s mournful Pointer pooch Tinnitus (real-name: Santos), would surely be a cast-iron certainty for a statuette. But stealing the show right from under Santos’s wet-nose is Minister Bodicek, played by the director’s mother Brigitte Kren. When the mutant sh*t really begins to hit the fan, she rolls up her sleeves and takes extreme crowd-pleasing measures to combat the mutating menace; and finding time in amongst the frenetic gory mayhem to deliver arguably the most memorably obscure line in cinema to date: “Stop eating that banana while you’re crying!”
Combining a largely 80’s approach to effects with a contemporary ecological inspiration, BLOOD GLACIER is one cool creative hybrid creature. 


Special Features: Stills Gallery, Trailer


**** (out of 5*)

This review was originally published on the FRIGHTFEST website.

Friday, 3 January 2014

BATTLE OF THE DAMNED - A review by Paul Worts

Directed by Christopher Hatton, Starring: Dolph Lundgren, Matt Doran, David Field, Horror / Science-fiction, USA / Singapore 2013, 88mins, cert 15.


Released in the UK on DVD and Blu-ray by Entertainment One on 26th December 2013.

Lundgren and robots and zombies, oh my!

In Southeast Asia (where unscrupulous biotech research is apparently allowed without question), a contagious pathogen is inadvertently unleashed from a research facility. The effect of which is to turn (seemingly) the entire population of Southeast Asia into zombie-like infected extras. The area is quarantined by the military with no one allowed in or out. Enter stage left Major Max Gatling (Lundgren), who is hired to break in to the contaminated zone and rescue Jude, the daughter of the president of the biotech corporation. Before you can say ‘Snake Plissken’, Dolph and his small band of elite soldiers are up to their necks in suitably clunky B movie dialogue and shaky-cam zombie-slaughter.


I have a confession to make. Before I watched BATTLE OF THE DAMNED I had never seen a single film that Dolph Lundgren had appeared in. (I know, unforgivable). Well, as far as introductions go, this is serviceably entertaining with Mr Lundgren providing good value as the artery slicing, bone-crunching dispatcher of the bio-infected hoards. I particularly liked the fact he dons a pair of spectacles for map-reading (a nice nod to this action-man’s vintage). He does lumber somewhat in the running scenes, but outdoes himself when fending off a bunch of gut-munchers whilst being handcuffed to a lamppost. He also delivers a nice selection of deadpan one-liners such as: “Zombies everywhere you look and you’re scared of dirty diapers” being one of my favourites.

Having found the daughter Jude (Melanie Zanetti) and her ragtag group of survivors led by the untrustworthy Duke (David Field) – not forgetting the implausibly named martial arts ‘warrior’ Elvis – their chances of escape seem slim until a bunch of leaderless robots turn up. Huzzah! Instantly recognising the alpha-male, they happily comply with Gatling’s orders (clearly responding to Lundgren’s equally robotic-like acting) and after a few acetylene torch modifications (spikes and machine-guns), it’s human and robot marching as one against the damned.

The inclusion of robots (who don’t actually take centre-stage until 50 minutes into the films running time) injects a shot of welcome (if random) adrenaline into the narrative which at that point appears to be in danger of running out of steam much like Dolph’s jogging.  But apart from the monotonous and seemingly endless waves of infected citizens which our intrepid band of human and mecha continue to face, the film certainly doesn’t outstay its welcome and overall provides an entertainingly cheesy 80+ minutes.


*** (out of 5*)