Tuesday 29 April 2008

Back on track

Hey you! Remember me? Yes, me... That guy who wrote that stuff a while back... You know...? Er, anyway, apologies for the lack of quality product to get your teeth into recently. Truth is, I’ve been working on a project close to my heart: the resurrection of SLASHERBASE, the internet’s most comprehensive list of slasher movies (somewhat defunct since 2005). I’m currently about halfway there, so bear with me and I’ll keep you posted.

No, I’m not abandoning AiP, and I intend to get back to watching some classy horror trash to review soon. In the meantime, why don’t you track down some classy horror trash yourself over at Flick By Flick, which, if you didn’t know, is quite honestly the – no, make that THE – place for watching copyright-lapsed movie gems online. Seriously, there’s some great stuff to stream, including the Anthony Perkins chiller-diller How Awful About Allan, the slashers Funeral Home, Memorial Valley Massacre and Don’t Open Till Christmas and – unbelievably – the movie I recently highlighted as going for £45 on DVD at Amazon Marketplace, Night Train to Terror! Now you’ve no excuse not to watch it...

Wednesday 23 April 2008

Perfect Blue

Here’s one that slipped off my radar for a while. After seeing Perfect Blue during its original cinema release back in 1999 – and being thoroughly confused by its twisty plot – I decided to give it another go on DVD, seeing as how (a) there aren’t many other animated slasher movies out there (in fact, are there any?) and (b) the whole “Japanese pop star turns actress/gets stalked” theme has a nice whiff of Anchorwoman In Peril about it. So, has the intervening decade brought new resonance to Perfect Blue? Have I matured enough in the meantime to fully understand its psychological intricacies? And where did all my hair go?

First off, I will say that Perfect Blue has a pretty perfect sense of what the internet is and how it actually works... which is no mean feat for a film made in 1998, when movies tended to portray surfing the net as if it were something out of The Matrix. The Web isn’t a huge part of Perfect Blue, but it has an important role to play and comes across refreshingly realistically. In fact, the entire world of the movie is one of inescapable pop culture, with a backdrop of bubblegum pop music, cheesy detective dramas and voyeuristic websites that seems, if anything, even more spookily relevant ten years down the line. How does our main character, Mima, fit in?

Mima is a singing starlet with the three-girl pop group, CHAM. Or, at least, she was. Now, she’s branching out into a hopefully more lasting career, playing an emotionally disturbed character on a TV soap opera (this is what it’s referred to in the film, anyway; it actually seems more like a cop drama – perhaps a Japanese genre without a western equivalent). But the more Mima immerses herself in her new career, the more she finds herself haunted by what seems to be a ghost of her former self. For real! An actual entity that looks like her, talks to her but can’t be real... can it? Not only that, but she’s also being followed by a very creepy-looking obsessed fan, who sends her scrawled faxes calling her a traitor. Plus, her managers are pushing her into ever-more-explicit storylines at work, involving gang rape and increasing emotional trauma. Pretty soon, she’s starting to crack up herself – and not with laughter.

This is where you’ll either go with Perfect Blue, or just get left behind. Because, as Mima loses her grip on reality, so does the film, and it’s not long before the fractured narrative would give even Brian De Palma a headache. Having said that, thanks to TV shows like Lost and Damages, we’ve become increasingly familiar with non-linear storylines, so this might even be another case of Perfect Blue predicting future trends. Yet, for a large chunk of the second half, you’ll likely have no idea what’s going on, as the plot offers several conflicting explanations (at least one of which is quite appealing) before snatching them away, twisting them around, and throwing them back at you in a series of dreams, hallucinations and fake endings.

Thing is, if you manage to stick with it – without throwing your remote at the screen after your latest perplexed rewind – Perfect Blue eventually comes together quite cleverly. Or, at least, it comes up with an ending that slots the preceding shards of chaos into a reasonably attractive mirrorball effect. The final double-climax is an absolute treat for slasher fans, as Mima battles several adversaries across a striking range of landscapes.

Which leads me to a question: Would I have enjoyed Perfect Blue more as a live-action thriller, rather than an animated one? You’ll notice in the previous paragraph I referred to “battles”, “adversaries” and “landscapes” – all computer game terms I used almost before I realised, perhaps because the film, in its animated artifice, has an unreality, a videogame like quality to it that, for me, chipped away a little at its style. I’m not saying it spoils it; the characters are as strong as any you’d find outside Manga and the animation is often beautiful, capturing a sense of urban loneliness (and danger) that’ll stick with you long afterwards. But it also left me with a feeling of potential – like it would make a great live-action movie, something truly classic. Most tellingly of all, however, I was planning to sell the DVD of Perfect Blue (at Computer Exchange, perhaps aptly) but I didn’t in the end. I kept it. Because I suspect that someday I’ll want to revisit its frustrating, fractured but often beautiful and unsettling world.

Rating: 3/5

Friday 18 April 2008


Finally, someone’s devoted a whole website to comparisons between all these rated and unrated/extended/fully loaded/stuffed crust versions of films released on DVD. And what a great job they’ve done of it too, with screen caps and everything. I’m talking about Movie-Censorship.com, where you can see for yourself how, in some cases, a bit of digital blood can completely alter the MPAA’s rulings – as in the new super-unrated edition of Alien vs. Predator: Requiem...

Now cover your eyes... That’s just nasty!

Sunday 13 April 2008

Psycho prices

Funny things, DVDs. One minute you’re being told they’re quickly becoming obsolete, already well on the way to being replaced by Blu-Ray discs; the next, you see Fright Night Part II on sale at Amazon Marketplace for £118. And that’s not even a widescreen print, never mind digitally remastered. You’d be as well off watching your old videotape.

Grinding my teeth at the memory of once passing over Fright Night Part II for £7.99 in a second-hand shop, I give you a list of valuable horror DVDs (some of which I actually do own – yay!). Bear in mind, too, that these aren’t just silly prices for out-of-print collector’s editions, but they represent the only legitimate ways of seeing the films in question on DVD.

First up, it’s slasher movie sequel Slumber Party Massacre II – a snip at a mere £60, but rising to a potential £193 if that first copy sells anytime soon. Admittedly, the film itself is genius (and thank God I own it because, when you get that itch for a slasher-musical, there’s little else to scratch it with) but it’s a high price for a film that’s shown fairly regularly on UK digital channel Zone Horror. If you want to complete your Slumber Party trilogy, you’re looking at between £30 and £90 for Slumber Party Massacre III... No wonder that guy went mad with a drill! Incidentally, if you’re a fan of the tie-in sequel Sorority House Massacre II – and I’m most definitely not – you can grab that for £25-£33.

How about the truly dire Night Train to Terror in which God and Satan (the latter played by an actor called Lu Sifer) play chess for human souls? And not just any old souls, but the souls of spandex-clad dancers shaking their stuff onboard a late-night train. The fun can be yours for £34-£45, but I wouldn’t recommend it.

The yeti-themed Night of the Demon is just as tacky but far more entertaining. At £20-£80 for a DVD released by the notoriously shoddy Vipco, it’s still no bargain, however. Especially when you factor in the fact that the standout moment (in which a biker has his penis yanked off by the abominable snowman) has been unfortunately, er, snipped.

Giallo The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh is a strange case itself, considering I bought it online not so long ago for around £7. Now it’s asking £23 to £30, a little on the steep side for a film that’s a solid but unremarkable example of its kind. Another Italian thriller, Welcome to Spring Break – this time a little more on the slasher side but, in my opinion, considerably more fun – is going for £24.

If you want to watch Amityville 3-D in 3-D and with those all-important 3-D specs, you’ll pay £33-£60 for the privilege of feeling like those pesky flies are actually crawling all over you. (It’s even £40-£50 for the UK special edition of Amityville II: The Possession, and that one’s not even got any gimmicks to recommend it. Unless you consider rape and domestic abuse gimmicks – and let’s hope you don’t. Sicko.)

But the most expensive horror DVD I could spot was 1987’s Night Screams, with a price tag starting at £42 and going up to an almost unthinkable £187. Not bad for a fairly standard, though entertaining, slasher – not to mention one that’s barely known by most horror fans. And how did I get to see this rarer-than-rare delight? On Zone Horror, naturally. I think I still have it on tape, in fact...

Wednesday 9 April 2008

Tarantulas: The Deadly Cargo

That’s right – not the “friendly” cargo. Nor the “lovely” cargo. Any aeroplane pilot worth their salt knows that tarantulas are the deadly cargo!

Fred (Howard Hesseman) and his buddy Buddy (Tom Atkins) probably know this but, unfortunately, they don’t know that some tarantulas are on board their aircraft when they take off from Ecuador, bound for the US. They think they’ve simply got a load of coffee beans, plus three illegal stowaways brought onboard to offset the export tax costs on the coffee. But the spiders are hiding in the beans, you see. Remember that next time you pop open a jar of NescafĂ©. Coffee beans = a fun playground for giant spiders.

Anyway, the tarantulas do what tarantulas do, which is to say they start biting everyone, forcing the plane to make an emergency landing in Finleyville, California, home of a large orange-packing plant and not much else. Before you can say, “Oh my god, the fire brigade have accidentally set the crashed plane on fire!”, the fire brigade have accidentally set the crashed plane on fire, killing the remaining human passengers not yet dead from spider venom (sometimes life can be so cruel) and sending the tarantulas scurrying towards town. And that can only mean one thing... terror like you’ve never imagined! Terror like THIS:

Yes, a flying spider chewing off your ear! (Isn’t that advert fantastic, by the way? God, I wish I lived in the seventies when things like that turned up in the TV magazines.) There are basically two kinds of tarantula in Tarantulas:

Ja, on ze left ve have ze “fuzzy oranges”, the slightly more aggressive and unfortunately predominant strain, prone to crawling onto people’s legs and generally employing all kinds of spidery scare tactics. Then there’s the “scrawny blacks” shown on the right, which don’t seem to bite as often but, sheesh, are they creepy-looking...

Soon enough, the killer spiders start popping up all over town – in drain pipes, fruit crates and, most tastefully of all, a school for autistic children. But the one place the tarantulas really make a bee-line (or a spider-line) for is the orange warehouse. Because spiders love fruit. Yes, coffee and fruit. ’Cuz they’re just nutty about breakfast (and if that’s not a slogan for cereal, I don’t know why not)... OK, to be exact, what they actually like are the flies attracted by fruit – or, in this case, the crickets attracted by fruit, since that’s what the prop managers come up with.

Now comes the biggest dilemma of all: not only are townsfolk dropping like, well, flies, but the orange harvest can’t be shipped. And if the oranges are left to spoil, then there’ll be no money and no jobs left for the people not killed by the tarantulas. So what are the good citizens of Finleyville to do?

Well, this is a spoiler, really, so skip the rest if you don’t want to know what their solution is because, believe me, you’re not going to guess it yourself. The townsfolk decide to terrify the tarantulas using amplified killer-wasp noises, causing them to go into a catatonic (or spidertonic) state. The crisis meeting goes like this:

Man (cottoning on fast): If we can convince the spiders that there are wasps around...
Hero: That’s right! Then we can pick them up in an immobilized state.
Naysayer: Hold it... The spiders are in the oranges, and the oranges are in the boxes. You can’t get to ’em.
Hero: But they’re hungry... They’re hungry!

Yes, this really works! Next time you find a spider in your house, simply imitate the sound of a predatory wasp and you’ll see. It also leads to my absolutely favouritest bit of this already gob-smackingly entertaining film, in which the townsfolk experiment with different tones and pitches of wasp-hums in order to work out the exact frequency that stuns the spiders. One man holds a tarantula (in a jar) next to a crate of bees, leading to this priceless exchange:

Man (disappointed): That spider’s not immobile.
Girl: It looks scared, though!

Once the correct level of spider-paralysing terror has been achieved, the townsfolk scoop up the petrified tarantulas with spades and drop them into buckets of alcohol – which both poisons and drowns the creatures at the same time, while also making an attractive cocktail. For some reason, they do this really slowly, while loads of people just stand and watch the entertainment.

Unfortunately, the horror doesn’t end there. A sudden power cut brings a halt to the electro-wasp pop and the spiders start to wake up... Not only that, but the whole building has gone into lockdown... In total darkness! Yes, the orange warehouse has become a tarantula-infested scarehouse, with our heroic spider-scoopers trapped inside!

Phew! And you thought Aliens was scary... Although, I must admit, Tarantulas: The Deadly Cargo holds up quite well on the fear front, especially for a TV movie made in 1977. Director Stuart Hagmann (who hasn’t worked since, for some reason) extracts maximum suspense from every scenario – including a particularly nightmarish sequence where the three Ecuadorian stowaways are trapped in the hold of a storm-battered plane with hoards of spiders.

The ending strikes a strange note, however: I can’t decide whether it’s offbeat or just plain anticlimactic but, either way, it’s set to some really funky music so I’m not complaining. Tarantulas, you’re half creepy, half crawly, and all crazy fun!

Rating: 4/5

Saturday 5 April 2008

April Fool's Day

Well, I did it. I saw the so-called remake of April Fool’s Day – “so-called” because it bares almost no resemblance to the 1986 slasher. Is it as bad as you may have heard? No. Should you bother watching it? No.

Over at Final Girl, Stacie Ponder marvels at “the studio reasoning that dictates ‘changing the content completely but keeping the title and calling it a ‘remake’ is way better than creating something entirely new’, because that makes absolutely no sense to me”.

I have to admit, however, that it’s starting to make sense to me... After all, would I have watched April Fool’s Day 2008 if it had simply been called something like April Fool and professed no link with one of my most fondly remembered 80s slashers? Would we even be talking about it right now? I doubt it. This tacky, low-budget April Fool would just have been one more DTV slasher to add to the bargain bin, and barely caused a ripple throughout the horror community.

Instead, I found myself waiting for April Fool’s Day with – if not quite bated breath – then breath that was certainly minty-freshened and ready in anticipation. So how did the date go?

Well, some reviewers have claimed that April Fool’s Day 2008 is more like a remake of I Know What You Did Last Summer than the 1986 original. They’re wrong. It’s more like a remake of one of those bad, straight-to-video sequels to Cruel Intentions that came out a few years back. Privileged debutantes spend the first 25 minutes bitching behind each others’ backs, before a prank eventually goes wrong and someone gets killed. From there, it’s a cheap-looking (and again overlong) TV news report describing in detail everything we’ve just sat through before the story even gets off the ground.

When it does get going, the pace is surprisingly relentless – which is doubly amazing when you consider the whole thing’s masterminded by the Butcher Brothers, whose previous outing, The Hamiltons, was an interesting idea all but killed by leaden plotting. Even so, it still looks shoddy, completely lacks the original’s sense of macabre fun, and collapses in a heap at the end, exhausted yet unfulfilled, and daring you to reassess its pre-twist plot-points in a way that might make any sort of sense.

Ultimately, my favourite assessment has to come from John at Retro Slashers, who remarks: “I started trying to write a level-headed look at the April Fool’s Day b-movie remake and realized I just couldn’t. What’s there to review? Crap, it’s crap crap crap”.

Gotta agree with you, John.

Rating: 2/5

Thursday 3 April 2008

Eye for an Eye

Ah, the early 1990s... We were happy in our grey jeans and Nirvana T-shirts, drinking Tab Clear and watching Eerie, Indiana. But then, we weren’t the children of Sally Field. If we were, it would’ve been a different story, believe me. Because the early 1990s were NOT a good time to have Sally Field as your mommy. The evidence:
  • Not Without My Daughter (1991) – Sally’s daughter held captive in Islamic Iran.

  • Mrs. Doubtfire (1993) – Sally’s son and daughters held captive by a hairy man-nanny.

  • Forrest Gump (1994) – Sally’s son, a simpleton, wears leg braces, is annoying.

None of those come close to the horrors of 1996’s Eye for an Eye, however. Here, the opening credits are barely over before Sally’s 17-year-old daughter, Julie, is savagely raped and murdered in her own home by Kiefer Sutherland. And not even cool, Lost Boys- or 24-era Kiefer Sutherland, either. This is wilderness-years Kiefer with a stinky-looking vest and nasty mullet. Even worse, Sally actually hears the whole ordeal over her mobile phone – possibly on a peak-rate tariff. Yes, Eye for an Eye is one of those films that sets out to remind you that bad shit can happen to you even if you live in a house like this:

Other than accidentally eavesdropping in on her daughter’s violent death, Sally (character name: Karen McCann) has a perfect life. She’s wealthy, married to Ed Harris, and works at a “media museum”, a large room full of public video booths – a bit like the porn shop at the start of The Howling, but with less privacy (and porn). Although this doesn’t quite qualify her as an Anchorwoman In Peril, it’s interesting that, like so many lead female characters in stalker-thrillers, she has a media-related job, especially since it’s of no actual relevance to the plot.

Anyway, where were we? Oh yes: 1990s, Sally Field, dead daughter, Tab Clear... When a legal technicality means that Julie’s killer is released without charge, Sally knows she has to do something. So she leaves the safety of her home in the Palisades:

...and follows Kiefer into his terrifying ethnic neighbourhood, where people have arguments on street corners and there’s always loud foreign-sounding music playing. There, she witnesses him pour hot coffee on a dog and kick a bin. (He really is a nasty man.) Worse still – if you can possibly imagine things getting any worse – his job as a delivery man means that he’s always gaining entrance into the homes of young women. How long will it be before he kills again? And what can Sally do about it?

Well, for starters, she can buy a gun off Philip Baker Hall in a restaurant – the typical local arms dealer if you live here:

Soon Sally’s sneaking off work to take self-defence classes and practise her target shooting at the firing range. Unlike Jodie Foster in The Brave One, however, she doesn’t start taking pot-shots at random criminals; it’s Kiefer she has her eye on, and she won’t rest until she’s brought him to justice...

I have a love-hate relationship with vigilante revenge moves. On the one hand, I’m easily drawn in by the manipulative writing necessary to make them really work, and just LOVE it when someone gets their nuts blown off for daring to escape Death Row on a technicality. On the other hand, however, I hate the... Hang on a minute, I don’t hate anything... What am I saying? It’s a love-LOVE relationship! I love vigilante revenge moves, despite the fact they go completely against my morals.

Perhaps that’s why I prefer them to be on the outlandish side, like The Punisher and Death Sentence. But, while Eye for an Eye goes for a veneer of respectability, there’s just something inherently silly about a 50-year-old Sally Field wearing a baseball cap and waving a gun around. And, if Sally is silly, then Kiefer Sutherland’s grease-ball baddie is a complete cartoon – but I don’t mean that as a criticism. If he were a complex, fully-rounded individual with real psychological problems, I’m not sure I would’ve wanted him as downright dead. And what fun would that be?

Eye for an Eye was directed by John Schlesinger, who knew how to make a powerful thriller (see Marathon Man if you don’t believe me, and Pacific Heights if you still don’t). And Eye for an Eye is a powerful film... Supremely silly, but powerful and gripping too.

For all his smarts behind the camera, however, Schlesinger leaves in a couple of fairly hilarious goofs involving people reflected in mirrors that, shall we say, shouldn’t be reflected in mirrors. I’ll let you click, zoom and spot them for yourself...

Ever get the feeling you’re being watched, Sally?

Rating: 3/5