Thursday, 17 November 2011

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

It's a twin thing

There’s something about 1982’s The Thing (rating 4/5) that affects me now in ways that failed to grab me back when I first encountered it as a teenager. It’s a cold, draughty and dragging film. It’s sludgy, unforgiving and a bit of an effort. It’s, well... brilliant, really. If you never thought a monster movie could feel in any way realistic, this one’ll leave you sprawled face-down in the ice. I’ve heard that winter crews at Antarctic outposts watch it when all the home flights have left for civilization. That’s pretty brave! We’re talking about a film where the only comic relief is the borderline hysteria brought on by its ever more extreme and disgusting developments. Kurt Russell is incredible in it, delivering a performance that’s 87% beard and cowboy hat, but which somehow holds the whole thing together. Not that it’s in danger of falling apart: the idea’s neat, the script solid, and John Carpenter’s direction note-perfect in its mixture of chilly observation and steaming relish. You’ll probably have questions afterwards, but that’s one of its strengths. It’s a film that encourages debate; that wants you to work at it and pick it apart. And then it wants you to puke.

The new The Thing (3/5) slavishly fills in the backstory of Carpenter’s original, attempting to explain how each snowmobile came to be standing in which particular snow-covered parking spot of that abandoned Norwegian base; how each individual icicle formed on each particular overhang; and many other thrilling enigmas barely worth wasting another semicolon on. One thing it doesn’t explain is why the Thing itself – formerly an unutterably squelchy dollop of melted face and hyperactive spaghetti – is now a smooth, shiny digital effect that never stands still long enough to let you get a decent look at it. Neither does it explain why the Thing doesn’t just give all that mutating a rest for, like, five minutes and pass itself off as a dog long enough to escape triumphantly into the wilderness like a more evil Littlest Hobo... Hey, Miss Thing, I found myself thinking in a sassy voice, just rent Invasion of the Body Snatchers if you want to see how a self-replicating pod-person really gets shit done!

All of which got me wondering why this Thing had to be called “The Thing” again, when even “The Thing Again” would’ve been a better title. This is, after all, a proper prequel rather than a remake – a touch of mild novelty surely worth pointing out by way of a more imaginative title. I suggest The New Thing... Oh no, that’s wrong. Technically, it’s The Old Thing... although that makes it sound like the original film again. How about Before the Thing? First Things First? The Thing-ummy? Baby Thing? That Thing You Do? (Hmm, maybe The Thing wasn’t such a bad title, after all...) 

It’s not a bad film, either, being enjoyable in the manner of a Resident Evil movie, and challenging us to accept Mary Elizabeth Winstead as a leading 1980s palaeontologist in a way that’s so serenely audacious it’s actually entertaining in itself. As a monster movie, it’ll likely be as much of a relic as The Relic in ten years’ time, having had as much deep impact on the sci-fi genre as, er Deep Impact. But, if the worst it does is drive you back into the squiggly arms of the original Thing, then that’s no bad thing. (Hmm... The Bad Thing? No... stop that now!)

Let’s turn our attention instead to Seconds Apart (2/5), a sort of telekinetic torture-porn slasher movie that weds Carrie and Willard in ways that make less sense than this sentence. The film features Edmund and Gary Entin as twins – both evil, both psychic, and both able to command other people to kill themselves against their will – and Orlando Jones as a detective who’s scarred both physically and mentally after leaving his wife to frazzle in a house fire. Said detective is investigating said twins following a spate of suspicious suicides, while said backstory allows flashbacks that pad out the running time.

Yes, Seconds Apart has interesting ideas but fails to do anything very appealing with them. Its idea of style could be described as “tones of decay and some stuff with a snowglobe” – which is probably a direct quote from the script. What it really could’ve done with is the colourful, black-humoured histrionics of a Tim Burton rip-off like the aforementioned Willard (and I believe that may be the first time Willard has ever been aforementioned) or May. Or an actual Tim Burton film like Edward Scissorhands. Or perhaps any film that takes its title from the name of its main character, with the possible exception of Rocky

Ooh! And The Thing!

Thursday, 25 March 2010

Dean Koontz's Intensity

Boy, it’s just amazing what you’ll get up to in your efforts to put off doing something you don’t want to do, isn’t it? Namely, avoiding working on the book you’re writing, which is the reason you haven’t updated your blog for 64 million years, give or take a century. So here I am with a little look at Dean Koontz’s Intensity. Yup, not only have I sought out a three-hour TV movie to watch, but now I’m actually writing about it... Can you say “procrastination”? Of course you can! But can you spell it? Ha!

Things got so bad on the putting-off-work front today that, besides shampooing my carpets with Head & Shoulders – surprisingly tough on rug dandruff – I also managed to watch a Mary Higgins Clark TV movie... you know, the kind where a woman’s kidnapped, her fretful friend falls in love with the detective, something explodes (probably a yacht) and you wish you’d watched a proper thriller instead. The one I picked was For Better or for Worse, aka Terror Stalks the Class Reunion (now you see why I gave it a go) and you can read my review over at Retro Slashers... But hold your horses there, pardner! I haven’t even started this review yet!

Funnily enough, Intensity is also about a kidnap but, believe me, it’s a whole lot better than the Mary Higgins Clark outing. The clues are in the titles. Where For Better or for Worse has little of the former but lots of the latter, Intensity lives up to its name with a smattering of prolonged suspense sequences and a running time that, far from dragging everything out, actually gives it the feel of a decent novel. (This is probably the part where Dean Koontz fans point out that that’s because it’s based on one.)

And – oh – Intensity... there’s another reason you’re interesting, and that’s down to the fact that you’re basically a blueprint for the 2003 French horror film Haute Tension/Switchblade Romance. (This sent the blogging world into a frenzy seven years ago, so I’ll let you do your own Google search.) Haute Tension is basically the jacked-up, hyper-gory, streamlined version, and a safer bet for horror fans, I guess, but taking the trip with Intensity is well worth the ride too.

What are you in for if you do? Well, Molly Parker stars as an emotionally damaged waitress called Chyna, who can’t flip an egg without having a disturbing flashback of her awful childhood, in which she was apparently raised by Mickey and Mallory Knox whilst being pursued by a camera mounted on the back of a bee with balance problems. Chyna is visiting the family of her friend, Laura, at Thanksgiving when a serial killer played by Scrubs’ John C. McGinley (slightly distracting) breaks in and kills everyone... Everyone, that is, except for Laura, whom he decides to tie up and kidnap, and Chyna, who sneaks undetected into the back of the killer’s getaway vehicle (a mobile home) and tries to think of a way of freeing Laura without getting captured and killed herself.

The whole home-invasion is a great piece of sustained tension, as is almost every ensuing scrape Chyna manages to get herself into, from dodging the killer during a blood-splattered stopover at a gas station, to mounting an escape from the his home past a pack of hungry guard dogs. Piper Laurie pops up as a motorist dragged into the chase, and there’s also the small matter of a kidnapped child who needs rescuing from the monster’s lair. If it’s woman-in-peril thrills you’re after, you can’t go wrong with this one, really. It’s twice as suspenseful as most similar offerings, not to mention twice as long.

Intense procrastination material, then.

Rating: 4/5

Sunday, 18 October 2009

Bloodbath at the House of Death

If you’ve ever wanted to see Vincent Price bang his hand on an axe-head and shout “Oh shit!” then this British horror spoof is the movie for you. Price appears as “The Sinister Man”, parodying his roles in various Roger Corman films, and is for a while the best thing about Bloodbath at the House of Death (1984), until his unceremonious exit about halfway through. Amongst the rest of the cast – most of whom play scientists and other experts investigating the titular mansion – Pamela Stephenson (Not the Nine O’Clock News) probably comes off best, despite enduring copious fart gags, Kenny Everett’s dubious attempts at physical comedy, and being stripped naked by an invisible force à la The Entity.

Yes, the standard of jokes in Bloodbath is about on a par with The Kenny Everett Television Show, meaning that you’ll likely either love it or hate it depending on your taste for innuendo-strewn, frequently incoherent grossness. If anything, however, the freedom to push the gore and nudity to the limit results in a lazier approach, meaning that the writers are too often content to rely on the aforementioned fart gags, while anything approaching a clever spoof of horror clichés falls by the wayside.

Bloodbath works best through a haze of nostalgia, recalling a time in British history when increasing permissiveness on TV collided head-on with escalating concerns over violent “video nasties” – and this feels like the bloody aftermath. Call an ambulance... Or, better still, a coroner.

Rating: 1/5

Saturday, 17 October 2009

Wet Gold

Does DVD picture quality reflect the quality of a film? I’ve often wondered, but no more so than when I got about halfway through Wet Gold, a 1984 TV movie that tries to do for underwater adventure stories what The Deep did for underwater adventure stories. And fails. (I’d like to say “spectacularly” but putting that word anywhere near a review of this film would be misleading.)

So, anyway, the DVD’s picture quality – if you can call it that – is not good, but that’s not always a problem. A bigger one for Wet Gold is the fact that it very quickly descends into a quagmire of dull double-crossing between people you care very little about. There’s Brooke Shields as a Florida waitress who dreams of bigger things (shame she turns out to be so lazy and self-centred, then); Burgess Meredith as a drunken seadog who knows the location of a fortune in sunken gold; and Thomas Byrd and Brian Kerwin as the deckhand and diver competing for Shields’ affections.

The four of them head out to sea, they find the treasure, they see a SHARK! (at this point, I thought things were going to get interesting... alas not) and they have a run-in with some pirates. But mostly they go skin-diving and argue about their shares in the loot. It’s all quite dreary, really, although there is a nice moment involving the underside of a boat and the topside of a character’s skull that redefines the term “propellerhead”.

I’m easy to please when it comes to underwater action movies. There simply aren’t enough of them (unless you count submarine flicks, which to me are as interesting as films set in warehouses) but Wet Gold isn’t a good example of one, despite some decent scenes inside a sunken shipwreck. If you’re looking for a schlocky oceanic crime story along the lines of The Deep and Into the Blue, try Shark or Night of the Sharks instead. This one sunk without trace for a reason.

Rating: 2/5

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

AiP’s annual post

Don’t joke! If not quite my only post this year, this is certainly my first in over a month. And I feel bad about that, I really do. I could write a list of excuses, I could tell you how busy I am with my other blog, My First Dictionary, I could ’splain it all to you over croissants and a mint julep, but I sense none of those would do any good anyhow. And pastry with cocktails is never a good idea.

A bunker like that from which I emerged today

Perhaps the main reason I’ve not been updating recently is that I simply haven’t watched anything in an AiP vein to write about. I’ve hardly watched any films at all, in fact, since I last reviewed the new Last House on the Left a few weeks back, although the ones I have seen (Gran Torino, Bolt, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince) – mainstream as they are – have all been quite good. There’s also been Abbott and Costello Meet the Killer, Boris Karloff, which I hope to write about here shortly (because it’s really quite interesting, y’know) and something called Red Mist.

Oh, Red Mist... While we’re on the subject of that new supernatural slasher, I can tell you I reviewed it over at Retro Slashers, so that’s one piece I’ve managed recently, and the movie’s worth a look if you want to see what happens when the “prank gone wrong” and “hospital slasher” subgenres collide (clue: it’s messy!). I also put together a gallery of Really Retro Slasher Villains, which I think looks pretty spiffy in all its monochrome menace.

Bunker fish. I saw lots of these in my bunker.

What about the stuff I haven’t done? Well, I’m mad, mad, mad, MAD with myself for missing the submission deadline for Vince Liaguno’s mouth-watering upcoming slasher book, Butcher Knives & Body Counts. Not that I expect to have had anything accepted but – damn – it would’ve been worth it to get the chance to have something included in the kind of good company that’s been announced so far.

And, speaking of good company, I happen to know that super-scribe Amanda By Night is working on something pretty special at the moment, which she asked me to be a part of but which I’ve unforgivably neglected of late. Let’s see if I can get back on track a bit and enable her to get it finished before AiP’s next annual post.

In the meantime, I highly recommend becoming a follower of Tower Farm Reviews, in my opinion the natural successor to Anchorwoman In Peril, where Billy and JM have an uncanny knack of picking the movies I keep meaning to be review... Seriously, can you think of any other site that could segue effortlessly from Ticks to Roller Boogie in the space of a few reviews? I rest my case (and hopefully not on your foot).

See you intermittently!*

*No guarantee of intermittent reader-writer reunion is implied or should be inferred.

Sunday, 14 June 2009

Next house on the left

Because I generally like films about rape and murder – and because, as we all know, remakes are always just great – I decided to rush out and give the new Last House on the Left a try on its UK opening day. So I sat there in the dark with about eight strangers – some of whom gasped at the graphic stabbings, sexual assaults and miscellaneous mutilations – and thought: Why am I doing this? Am I sick? But you know what? This film is just great. And I’m not sick, I assure you... Although I guess I would say that.

I’m a fan of Wes Craven’s original. What horror fan isn’t? It’s not perfect (I’m sure you’ll have your own reasons – possibly several – as to why) and Craven would come on leaps and bounds as a filmmaker throughout the rest of the 70s, but it works by succeeding at everything it’s trying to do and, crucially, horrifying the hell out of you three decades on.

The new Last House actually smoothes out a lot of these imperfections both plot-wise and stylistically. Which isn’t to say it’s a superior film; I think the original holds its own just because it got there first. But it certainly doesn’t insult the original, unlike many a recent remake, and it stands alone in a way the Friday the 13th and Halloween remakes don’t.

Quality films about rape and murder are usually foreign, and sometimes quite boring and pretentious. The Last House on the Left is certainly quality – it’s got a lush, orchestral score, beautiful cinematography and a capable cast – and it drags you in on the weight of your own gloomy expectations that its initial idyll can’t last. Of course bad things are going to happen to its teenage protagonists, although I can’t say whether or not you’ll find them more disturbing that those in the original (I found them less so – just slightly – thanks to the high production values and reduced sense of humiliation).

Pretentious it definitely isn’t, however. While it’s sensible enough to make you believe it, it’s also plenty pulpy when you just want that revenge-kick. It doesn’t pussy-foot, but it’s not tactless either. By dishing out dollops of nasty mayhem in its final third it does what Funny Games (the original and remake) denies – that is, allows you to wallow in the horror. After all, it’s a horror movie. It’s supposed to be chock-full of horrible, and it’s supposed to be a cathartic experience... In fact, now that I’ve seen the new Last House, I think I’ll be able to get through the next three weeks without kicking a single kitten.

It’s that good.

Rating: 4/5

Monday, 1 June 2009

Bad day at the office?

Some recent gallivanting around Europe has put me in possession of a couple of obscure horror films with a workplace theme. But without visiting the IMDb and spoiling all the fun, I know next to nothing about either, other than what’s written (in Dutch) on the DVD covers...

First up, there’s Office Party, a “psychologische thriller” starring Michael Ironside and David Warner, one of whom appears to be wearing a scary mask in the stills on the box. While Ironside is touted on the front cover, however, it’s Warner who’s mentioned in the plot description on the back, so I can’t really tell which is the hero. I’m guessing it’s Warner because his character appears to be called Eugene, and I can’t imagine a masked killer going by that name (oh, how quickly we forget Eric’s Revenge). From the looks of things, I’m thinking Eugene and his co-workers are trapped inside an office building by a deranged murderer and must fight to survive the night!

Then there’s Office Killer, which – joy of joys – stars Carol Kane. Judging by the cover (a dubious practice, I hear) she’s in mousy mode, but don’t be fooled, as “she will kill her way to the top!” apparently... Just like Michael Caine in A Shock to the System, perhaps? Quite frankly, I’ll be happy enough if this is simply better than the disappointing The Temp, which it also appears to resemble. But I can’t get enough of stationery-item-related violence at the moment (Drag Me to Hell’s stapler and ruler antics had me in fits) so, if Carol gets handy with a letter opener – or even just a few paperclips – I’ll be pleased as (a hole) punch.

I’ll be scheduling Office Party and Office Killer for their performance appraisals just as soon as I find a free slot in my Filofax.