Sunday, 28 June 2015

SACRAMENT

Directed by Shawn Ewert, Starring: Marilyn Burns, Troy Ford, Ed Guinn, Avery Pfeiffer
Horror, US, 2014, 93mins, cert 18.

Released in the UK on DVD on 29th June 2015 by Left Films.

“A man’s faith allows him to eat anything, but a man whose faith is weak eats only vegetables.”

Reportedly iconic scream queen Marilyn Burns’ last (and brief) film appearance before her untimely death last year, it’s perhaps somewhat fitting that her last cinematic outing is knee-deep in TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE territory. Playing alongside her as her husband is Ed Guinn (the cattle truck driver from the original TCM), whilst the film itself is set in the middle of the Texas bible belt and features teens being the main course on the barbecue. Unfortunately there are no chainsaws in evidence, but the crazed townsfolk of ‘Middlespring’ seem to be managing just fine without one!

Call it a homage to TCM, but SACRAMENT (not to be confused with Ti West’s 2013 THE SACRAMENT), does offer a few variations on its otherwise well-trodden tale of barbecued butchery. Firstly, there’s the central gay relationship between the two male leads which takes on a greater significance in a pivotal payoff later on. Then, there’s the religious slant driving the cannibalistic community to commit atrocities against all those unfortunate young ‘sinners’. And it does offer Marilyn Burns a chance (albeit briefly) to taste what it’s like to be the terroriser (and tenderiser) for once.

It’s rough round the edges, the acting is (to be charitable) variable in quality, and whilst it’s never dull it never manages to set the pulse racing or even begin to notch the terror dial above ‘1’. It originally started out as a short (included in the extras), which is recreated in its entirety during the film (with a different actor), and perhaps rather tellingly this remains the most effective sequence throughout. 

In some ways it’s a DTV equivalent of Herschell Gordon Lewis’ drive-in gore feast TWO THOUSAND MANIACS. But whilst it certainly offers Herschell-like portions of blood and entrails, it’s ultimately more of a gruesome snack than a gourmet blood feast. 

**(out of 5*) 


Paul Worts

Sunday, 21 June 2015

DIGGING UP THE MARROW

Directed by Adam Green, Starring: Adam Green, Ray Wise, Will Barratt. Horror, US, 2014, 88mins, cert 15.

Released in the UK on DVD on 22nd June, 2015 by Kaleidoscope Home Entertainment.

“It’s NOT found footage...it’s footage footage” mumbles an indignant Adam Green in response to an underwhelmed Kane Hodder at one point during this hugely enjoyable fake documentary. Filmmaker Adam Green (playing himself), receives a package in his fan mail from a retired private detective named ‘William Dekker’ (Ray Wise) claiming he can prove that monsters exist. Dekker informs Green that they live in vast subterranean dwellings beneath the soil, ‘The Marrow’, and that he can take Green to one of the monsters’ bolt-holes in the nearby woods...

Two events inspired the creation of the film. Firstly, Adam Green received a detailed package from a fan claiming that ‘Victor Crowley’ from his HATCHET franchise was real.  Then, during a FANGORIA convention, an artist (and fellow fan) named Alex Pardee handed Green a pamphlet entitled: ‘Digging up the Marrow’, based on the artist’s own monster creations. Those two fortuitous fan-inspired elements combined to produce an engaging blend of (for once welcome) found footage and (scripted) semi-autobiographical fly-on-the-wall scenes filmed by real-life cinematographer Will Barratt.

Putting to one side all the genre cameos Green enlists (numerous), the heart of the film belongs to the terrific performance of Ray Wise as ‘Marrow’ expert ‘Dekker’. Wise is the anchor, delivering a straight up intense portrayal of a man who has carried the burden of this knowledge with him since childhood. The film also packs a genuine gut-punch of real-life poignancy when Dave Brockie appears onscreen as ‘Oderus Urungus’, defiantly proclaiming: “I have been a monster, I always will be a monster, and after I’m dead I will be a dead monster!” before his untimely death in March 2014.

Stepping back from all the genre references and fan pleasing in-jokes, I doubt the film will appeal nearly as much to the uninitiated non-genre viewer who may be looking for another straight up found footage fright flick (I guess they’re must be an audience for that still somewhere right?). The actual ‘found footage’ segments are punchy but brief, and the glimpses of ‘The Marrow’s’ residents are sadly briefer still. (There’s also one subtly brilliant reveal which casual viewers may miss altogether on first viewing.) Whilst Green is obviously subscribing to the ‘less is more’ adage here (unlike his approach to the HATCHET trilogy), his core audience, just like Green himself, shares his love of - and sympathy for - the monster, and we’re as eager as he is in the film to uncover the creature.

DIGGING UP THE MARROW is an unapologetic heart-on-the-sleeve love letter to monsters - infused with more than a hint of NIGHTBREED – and it makes for a sweet treat. 
     
Extras: Behind the scenes, deleted scenes, trailers.

**** (out of 5*)


Paul Worts

(This review was first published on the FRIGHFEST website.)

Saturday, 20 June 2015

CHARLIE'S FARM

Directed by Chris Sun, Starring: Tara Reid, Nathan Jones, Bill Moseley, Kane Hodder. Horror, Australia, 2014, 88mins, cert 18.

Released in the UK on DVD & Blu-ray on 22th June 2015 by Monster Pictures.

Four friends embark on a camping trip into the Australian outback to find the urban legend site known as Charlie’s Farm. Reportedly the former homestead of the Wilsons, a cannibalistic serial killing couple, legend has it that the family were murdered back in the 1980’s by an enraged local mob when their heinous crimes came to light. However, the couple had a child named Charlie, and no one knows for sure what became of him...

CHARLIE’S FARM is an Aussie HATCHET-like retro-horror which re-hashes every 80’s slasher trope without even the faintest hint of a postmodern nod or wink. Yet, whilst it’s often undeniably groan-inducing corny, it’s also a lot of fun (eventually).

Introduced as if they are auditioning for a Foster’s lager commercial, best mates Mick (Sam Coward) and Jason (Dean Kirkright) sit by a pool, beers in hand, conspiring to lure Jason’s American wife Natasha (Tara Reid) and her nubile friend Melanie (Allira Jaques) on their horror camping trip. The pair act like Sid James and Bernard Bresslaw in CARRY ON CAMPING as they set off. Along the way their drive into outback hell is strewn with horror clichés piled high by the side of the road – close-ups of road kill (Kangaroo replacing Texan armadillo), ominous close-ups of moths caught in spider webs abound; and of course the obligatory encounter with the local who warns them that they’re heading for a “dark and evil place” (translation: “You’re all doooomed”).

Writer/director Chris Sun’s script is equally up to the task of gaining a Guinness World Record nomination for clichéd dialogue – so much so that I suggest trying the following drinking game whilst viewing: down a shot every time a character asks “What’s that smell?” or Tara Reid says she has a bad feeling about this. (You’ll be drunk as a skunk by the time the end credits roll). 

Into this Aussie special brew we find two fish-out-of-water American horror icons. Bill Moseley pops up to briefly rehash his ‘Otis’ character from HOUSE OF 1000 CORPSES and THE DEVIL’S REJECTS in flashback as backpacker rapist /murderer/cannibal Mr Wilson, a role Bill can by now play in his sleep. Then there’s Kane Hodder appearing (surreally) as a boxing coach who feels guilty for having given his friends phone directions to ‘Charlie’s Farm’ and sets off in hot pursuit to make sure they’re alright out there...

We have to wait a full 59 minutes before ‘Charlie’ himself, the gargantuan retired strongman/ power lifter/professional wrestler Nathan Jones (Rictus Erectus from MAD MAX: FURY ROAD) swings into action dispatching the unfortunate campers (and a couple of additional backpackers). 

Resembling some kind of genetic steroid experiment which fused together 70’s children’s TV wizard ‘Catweazle’ with ‘Harry’ from HARRY AND THE HENDERSONS, Nathan Jones’ ‘Charlie’ certainly cuts an imposing figure given his 6ft 11in frame (rounded up to a neat 7ft on the film’s artwork!). It’s rare that Kane Hodder is dwarfed on screen – but it sure happens here! (As student coordinator on the film as well, I briefly entertained hopes Kane might have been asked to re-stage the infamous boxing scene from JASON TAKES MANHATTAN – sadly no). Instead we have to make do with an unsatisfying set-to in a very dimly-lit barn. 

Thankfully though, the majority of Charlie’s exceptionally gory and creative slaughtering is easier to make out. Just as well as it boasts some impressively unrestrained (and practical) special make-up effects in a terrific 15 minutes of mayhem that would surely have earned it a place on the DPP’s list of ‘nasties’ back in the 80’s (where it feels the film kind of belongs).

If there is one deviation from the slasher blueprint in the film, it’s in the treatment of Tara Reid’s ‘final girl’. At one point I thought she might be about to attempt an Amy Steel-like ‘Ginny’ moment from FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 2 and try to impersonate Charlie’s dead mother – but instead Director Sun opts for a far blunter, and therefore unexpectedly  abrupt conclusion.

Whilst CHARLIE’S FARM is clearly intended as a showcase for introducing the horror community to a new potential iconic horror monster, ‘Charlie’ himself isn’t any competition for Jason, Michael, Leatherface, or Victor Crowley. But (and Tara Reid in particular might disagree with me on this) given the choice, I’d much rather watch ‘Charlie’ continuing converting his farm into a human abattoir in a sequel then watching yet more crappy CG sharks flying out of tornados ad nauseam.       

***(out of 5*)

Paul Worts 

Wednesday, 10 June 2015

THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES


R.I.P. Sir Christopher Lee.
Directed by Terence Fisher, Starring: Peter Cushing, André Morell, Christopher Lee. Horror/Mystery, UK, 1959, 87mins, cert PG.

Released in the UK on Blu-ray on 1st June by 2015 by Arrow Video

“There is more evil around us here than I have ever encountered before!”, exclaims Peter Cushing’s Sherlock Holmes. Hardly dear Peter, hardly; but nevertheless there is still much to enjoy in Hammer’s rather tame telling of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Scooby-Doo tale.

Not that it starts out tame. The legend of the hell hound of the moor opens with a surprisingly sadistic flashback (pure invention on Hammer’s part) where Sir Hugo Baskerville, cheered on by a drunken court of braying aristocrats, throws a servant girl’s father headfirst through a stain glass-window before implying nothing less than gang-rape for his daughter. Upon discovering that: “The bitch has got away!” Sir Hugo releases the hounds onto the moors in pursuit and eventually tracks her down amongst the abbey ruins where he proceeds to plunge a dagger into the poor girl. However, Sir Hugo is himself in for a nasty surprise as that blood-curdling howling which spooked his hounds is about to manifest itself into an ominously looming shadow, and the servant girl’s blood dripping onto the ruins is about to be supplemented by that of Sir Hugo’s...

Not bad for an “A” certificate! However the film never really lives up to this barnstorming opening – and instead settles down into an almost cosy restrained Sunday teatime affair. Peter Cushing is reliably mesmerising as the great detective – and his prop juggling is in fine fettle – lighting his pipe with a hot piece of coal plucked from the fire with tongs; stabbing his papers onto the mantelpiece and writing down details on his shirt cuff. Holmes’ faithful companion Doctor Watson is played with admirable restraint and dignity by André Morell, and Christopher Lee seems to be relishing a rare stab at a straight up romantic lead role as the last of the Baskerville line: Sir Henry. Indeed he certainly appears comfortable enough for the most part, albeit with one obvious exception involving an unwelcomed close encounter with a (real) tarantula which crawls up his arm before being replaced with a joke shop substitute just in time for Mr Holmes to dispatch with his trusty poker.


Hammer play around with the original novels plot (most significantly in their reapportioning of the real villain’s identity), which may well have rankled with audiences familiar with the original book – but I’m guessing the punters sitting in their picture houses back then would’ve been far more outraged by the final reveal of the beast itself. It was after all a Hammer film, and the original poster artwork which had enticed them into the stalls promised them a fearsome hellhound with drooling fangs and piercing eyes of pure evil. What they got back in 1959, and what we get now in 2015 (in gloriously unforgiving HD) is a scrawny looking young Great Dane (called Colonel) in an ill-fitting mask of rabbit skin – who had to be goaded into action by the onset prop man (who he hated). Unfortunately no amount of prop-wielding dexterity or verbal sparring from Mr Cushing can compensate for the ultimate letdown of a Barbara Woodhouse trained placid pooch being obviously forced into grappling with its supposed victims. (Mr Lee might disagree somewhat as he was indeed bitten for real by Colonel in a rare unguarded moment).

Ultimately it’s this letdown of a finale which doomed the chances of further Hammer excursions into the cunning mind of the great detective. But it leaves behind a charming one-off hodgepodge with many Hammer traits present and correct: the dry ice shrouded atmospherics, the day-for-night photography, James Bernard’s iconic bombastic scoring (including snatches from his own DRACULA score) and indeed the same castle set redressed from DRACULA itself.

So, whilst Cushing’s Holmes believes that the case of the Hound of the Baskervilles is: “...a two-pipe problem”, Hammer’s THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES is really a one-hound problem. But whilst it may lack real bite, it’s hard not to feel genuine affection for this mutt in Hammer’s canon.

Extras: As we have come to expect from Arrow, the extras are a vast treasure-trove of goodies. There’s a new audio commentary with Hammer experts Marcus Hearn and Jonathan Rigby; a brand new making of documentary entitled ‘Release the Hound!’, as well as many others including a featurette looking at the late André Morell and his work with Hammer; a 1986 documentary looking at the many incarnations of Sherlock Holmes, and an archive interview with Christopher Lee in which he talks of his unbridled affection for Peter Cushing which I’m not ashamed to say brought a tear to this reviewers eye.

***(out of 5*)



Paul Worts

(This review originally appeared on the FRIGHTFEST website)