Thursday 28 August 2008

Horror That Made Me #1

Well, it’s finally here: the final and most significant entry in my countdown of the films that’ve had the most influence on me as a lifelong fan of the horror genre. It’s the big cheese, the main event, the... er, high chaparral. It’s the movie that not only shaped the way I think about horror but how I think about film. It’s...

Jaws (1975)

Show me someone who’s afraid to go in the water and I’ll show you someone who’s scared of Jaws. Whether or not they’ve even seen the film. That’s how powerful it is. Jaws represents every unknown terror swimming in the depths of the human psyche. It’s there whenever you experience that sudden slip from fun to fear; it’s the unexpected touch of something you can’t see; that horrible feeling that you could be next; the unstoppable force of destruction waiting to pull you under forever.

It’s also the best bloody blockbuster ever to come out of Hollywood. Seriously, can you imagine something of Jaws’s quality on any level – be it acting, direction, editing or whatever – being the summer’s main event movie ever again? I think not! Will we ever see an American monster movie built around such compelling characters? Or allowed to build so carefully and deliberately? One that’s so adult? So primal? So terrifying?

My obsession with Spielberg’s seafaring masterpiece goes back almost further than I can remember – to nights spent huddled on the sofa watching the surfacing of a mechanical shark with the kind of awe most four-year-olds reserved for Disney cartoons. I’ve seen the film on TV, video, DVD, at the cinema, and will carry on watching it until I’m in my seventies and viewing it in cyber-surround holographic 3D (fuckin’ A!). Then, when it’s over, I’ll watch the sequels because I love them too... even Jaws: The Revenge. (In fact, I like that sequel best, so screw you!)

Some other childhood memories of Jaws:

– Being too scared to go to sleep in case my bed turned into a boat, floated away and was sunk by Jaws, subsequently leading to my watery, much chewed-upon death.

– Pestering my mum to find a copy of the video (yes, we lived in a video shop when I was aged between 4 and 6 – how lucky was I?). When it turned out we didn’t stock it, I was given Orca: Killer Whale to keep me quiet, and another love affair was born.

– Buying the 25th anniversary edition video back when “special edition” just meant new video box art. Then, when the opening credits started, the words “old friend” just popped into my head.

– My friends and I always trying to spot “the worm” when the shark explodes at the end of Jaws III:

– Buying a blank video tape especially for the purposes of recording Jaws 2 when it came on TV as Saturday night’s big movie. Except the tape was faulty and I couldn’t watch it again the next day. Gutted.

– Reading Peter Benchley’s novel for the first time and being shocked – shocked! – by the phrase “vagina yawning open” (and no, I can’t remember the context).

Anyway, that’s the end of “Horror That Made Me”, although I look forward to plenty more memorable and influential horror movies coming along in future to shape my ever-evolving understanding of the genre. Or is that too much to hope?

The list in full:

1. Jaws
2. Halloween
3. Bug/The Giant Spider Invasion
4. In the Mouth of Madness
5. The Devil Rides Out
6. Fright Night
7. The Spiral Staircase
8. Phenomena
9. The Private Eyes
10. Hammer House of Mystery and Suspense: Child’s Play


I’ve steered clear of Nick Palumbo’s Murder-Set-Pieces for most of this year (which isn’t actually difficult due to the fact that the film is banned in Britain). One reason for my lack of enthusiasm was the amount of explicit sexual violence I’d heard it contained, as well as graphically depicted child-murder and, worst of all, bad acting. But I finally decided to give it a try recently. I figured that horror sometimes takes you to places you don’t want to go. In fact, that’s kind of the whole point.

Inescapably then, M-S-P (pronounced “musp”) does contain some pretty horrific stuff along the abovementioned lines, ranging from mid-sex throat-slashing to the onscreen knifing of a little girl in a public toilet. There’s also an anti-Semitic quote from Jack the Ripper to kick things off, and a dream sequence consisting of amateur film of the World Trade Center attacks. At one point, the bottom of the glass I was drinking from actually fell out, presumably in shock, unexpectedly drenching me in margherita mix. (Yes, this really did happen. I’ll show you the sofa stains if you don’t believe me, whilst vociferously denying they’re anything else.)

Although M-S-P is nasty, however, I’m surprised to report that I didn’t think it went too far. Perhaps I’m jaded, or perhaps it has just enough plot to keep everything within the boundaries of a decent horror/thriller – because that’s how I came away thinking about it. Murder-Set-Pieces isn’t exactly restrained, and neither is it what you’d call high art, but it does have something to say and – I can’t believe I’m writing this – it made me think.

M-S-P is a low-budget look at the life of a Las Vegas serial killer – a seriously sick and prolific serial killer. So prolific, in fact, it’s a good job that the film largely ignores the law angle because the police investigation alone would take up a whole series of CSI. As well as his various exploits, we follow his relationship with a young hairdresser and her even younger sister (we’re talking eleven years old here, and if you thought the terrorization of preteens in the Friday the 13th franchise was tasteless, you really ain’t seen nuthin’ yet).

Now I’m not going to claim that it’s a particularly cerebral affair (it does show some brains – mainly in the scene where a woman’s head is chainsawed in half) but it’s provocative in a reasonably intelligent way. The “sex industry treats women as meat” argument may be nothing new, but the way it’s addressed here is pretty powerful. In any case, never before has it seemed such a small step from leering over naked flesh in a sleazy strip joint to carving said flesh in a maggoty basement. Similarly challenging is M-S-P’s matter-of-fact representation of dead kiddies; somehow it’s fine to see children painted up as corpses for Halloween (as they’re shown in M-S-P at one point) but to have them made up as corpses for a horror film – that’s still a bit taboo. Albeit not one that’s observed here.

Beyond the shock value, the sadism, the blatant attempts to disgust, does Murder-Set-Pieces work as a horror film? I think it does, and nowhere more so than during its deliberately self-conscious climax – a set piece to rival any traditional slasher movie finale, involving a final girl who really is a girl, buckets of blood, and some construction tools being used in ways you won’t see in a home makeover show. If you’ll cast your mind back to that other over-the-top Vegas “exposé”, Showgirls, you might see a comparison between that outrageous film’s relationship to the more responsible melodramas that inspired it and what M-S-P represents to the currently fashionable torture-porn genre: namely, a very bloody nail hammered haphazardly – but effectively – into a coffin.

Rating: 4/5

Saturday 23 August 2008

Unconvincing shark attack of the day

Hurrah! It’s my favourite scene from the 2003 TV movie Red Water, involving a sweaty-backed but still perky tour guide, a rickety rope bridge, and some rather dated CGI...

“OK folks, here we are at what the locals call Deadly Bridge.”

“I’ll show you how to cross it without being eaten.”

“Oops! Ow, that hurts!”

“And stretch!”


The girl on the right thinks it’s waaaay cool!

Thursday 21 August 2008

Trilogy of WTF?

Damn you, DVD bargain bin! You appeal to my basest instincts on the way out of the supermarket, forcing me to paw through every last wretched title until my frozen peas have defrosted and my Ben & Jerry’s melted! Yes, I know you’re reading this, evil sales bin... A pox upon thee!

If I had a penny for every time I’ve been hijacked thusly by my local supermarket’s £1 DVD bargain bin, well... I’d have at least 98 pence. Unfortunately, that’s not quite enough to buy any of the bargain DVDs in it (two more visits to go!) but, then, nobody ever said life was fair. If it were, I’d find more actual bargains in that bin, rather than 20,000 copies of a badly animated version of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.

Yesterday, however, I found something worth a whole trolley-full of sloppy ice cream. I found a mystery... A mystery called Trilogy of Murder! Here it is on my cappuccino shag pile:

Remember Trilogy of Terror, the 1975 TV movie starring Karen Black as three different heroines of three different stories, culminating in an unforgettable battle with a deadly Zuni fetish doll? Of course you do! Well, Trilogy of Murder features ole Karen in three more tales, this time centred on murder, rather than terror... I mean, I don’t know which is worse – murder or terror – but a trilogy of either is bound to be pretty shocking.

Even more shocking is the fact that I can’t find Trilogy of Murder on the IMDb. What is this, people? 1996?! That just doesn’t happen anymore. Anyway, thanks to some sterling Nancy Drew detective work on the part of Amanda By Night, AiP can point you in the direction of a full trailer for this apparently extremely obscure Russian-American co-production. Go Amanda!

Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like Karen Black appears in all three segments à la Trilogy of Terror, but this disappointment is counterbalanced by the fact that story #2 is a genuine Anchorwoman In Peril mini-movie! Just read this:

“When an alluring television news anchor is pursued by a relentless, resourceful stalker, she has no alternative but to turn to Somov, Sommer and McMillan to restore her life to normal...”

Um... Somov, Sommer and Whatsit...? Yeah, I’m just tuning out all the stuff I don’t understand to concentrate on the key phrases “alluring television news anchor” and “relentless, resourceful stalker”.

Thank you, DVD bargain bin!

Thursday 14 August 2008

Happy birthday Hysteria Lives!

It may seem like just yesterday that it was running around in a nappy and puking up its orange juice, but my favourite slasher movie site is now very nearly old enough to actually watch some of those nasty films it reviews. This month marks ten years of Hysteria Lives! So let's raise a glass to many more, as well as the thrilling news that Justin's mesmerizing musings may soon be being turned into a book. Yes, just like the Bible... only better! And with more naked sorority girls. Happy bloody birthday Hysteria!

While we're spreading the love, I've made another discovery recently - no, not personal hygiene but Amanda By Night's Made for TV Mayhem, a blog with a title so good I instantly blogrolled it and vowed to one day even visit the site. Luckily, it turns out to be every bit as fabulous as it sounds, and Amanda's even reviewed some of the same obscure TV movies as me, so she must be good. Or I must be. Or maybe we're both good, except one of us always lies, while the other always tells the truth. Anyway, the point is it's a great website... Or perhaps I'm lying... Bwa-hahaHaaHAAA!!! *COUGH!* *Splutter!* Oh, I really must give up those damn menthols.

Wednesday 13 August 2008


Hola mi chicos! Yes, Anchorwoman In Peril! is on vacation again, and this time it’s not even an enforced “vacation” – like when I moved home and lost my internet connection, or that other time when I was forced to leave the country until those pesky charges were dropped. This time it really is a holiday. I really am sitting here in sunny Spain in a not-so-sunny internet café, marvelling at the hellish temperatures and the fact that they actually have the internet in Spain. Yes, really... it’s in colour and everything!

Anyway, between all the sangria and bullfighting (oh, the scrapes I get into when I’ve had a couple of pitchers-full!) I have of course had time to watch a few movies – because, as we all know, cheesy horror never has a holiday. And what DVD was so exciting that I just had to take a break from the beach to view it? Was it perhaps the copy of hot new Spanish shocker [Rec] I picked up in Barcelona?

Or the DVD of Tentacles – with irremovable Spanish subtitles, natch – that I just couldn’t leave sitting on the shelf in Salou?

No! It was one of the latest “mockbusters” from rip-off specialists The Asylum, called simply Monster and clearly somewhat reminiscent of a certain cinema release entitled Cloverfield.

How did this unlikely mishmash end up in my portable DVD player, you ask? Well, firstly, it qualifies as a genuine Anchorwoman In Peril movie... or, to be exact, an Anchorwomen In Peril movie, because plotwise it’s all about two spunky American filmmakers shooting a documentary about global warming in Tokyo who find themselves at the epicentre of a fully-fledged monster attack – just like in Destroy All Monsters! Yes, it’s been ages since I’ve reviewed a proper AIP movie and I need to get back to my roots.

Secondly, I thought it best to watch this one while my critical faculties were down... and, with this heat, boy, are they down! It was kinda lucky, too, because I’m not sure I would’ve made it right the way through Monster without hitting fast-forward had it not been for the fact that I’d collapsed from heat exhaustion on one side of the hotel room and the portable DVD player’s little portable remote was on the other.

So, anyway, the best way of describing Monster is by comparing it to its obvious inspiration:

● Cloverfield is a mock-home video purporting to show the experiences of a small band of friends trapped amongst the rubble when a giant monster attacks New York. The film utilizes clever special effects and neat pacing to tell a riveting story.

● Monster is an actual home video showing the experiences of two young actresses handed a camcorder and told to run about in the car park of a Chinese restaurant. The film utilizes limited special effects and much padding to create a long section in the middle where nothing happens.

...Oh, forgive me; I’m actually being a bit harsh here. I blame the unforgiving climate. I’ve actually seen three Asylum movies recently (the others being Invasion: The Beginning and I Am Omega) and this one definitely had the best acting and production values... although actually being intentionally shot on cheap video must’ve worked in its favour because, during the first half at least, I found myself somewhat sucked into the drama of witnessing the fall of Tokyo from the perspective of two amateur filmmakers (and by this I mean the film’s camera-wielding main characters, not directors Eric Forsberg and Erik Estenberg). After all, who hasn’t seen Tokyo brought down by a rubber Godzilla at some point in their movie-watching life? But it’s a fun novelty seeing it presented as amateur handycam footage. Well, unless you’ve seen Cloverfield already.

If a new take on the Godzilla genre is what you’re after, may I point you in the general direction of South Korea’s The Host, a startling, witty and far more innovative film. But if you should find yourself in Spain with only a DVD of Monster accidentally left in your player, you’re not in for a total washout. As I mentioned previously, lead actresses Sarah Lynch and Erin Sullivan really aren’t bad in their “switch off the camera!”-screaming roles, and I also liked the movie’s one original idea: namely the suggestion that the monster is some form of mythical retribution against American interference. (In fact, I had hoped the screenwriters might’ve run with this element and given us some marauding Japanese citizens out for the blood of our American tourists, but the angle unfortunately goes mostly unexplored.)

Anyway, time for me to go and locate that stray remote and, seeing as I’m supposed to be on holiday, go and do something unequivocally and authentically Spanish – like learn to flamenco dance. Or watch [Rec].

Rating: 2/5