Sunday 30 November 2008

It’s a theme month!

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ll know that tomorrow is the first of December. And, even if you have been living under a rock, the wide availability of wireless communication technologies these days means you’re probably perfectly able to keep up with current events from your subterranean boulder-based dwelling. So who am I to question your lifestyle choices? I’m sure it’s very pleasant under there.

In any case, starting tomorrow, Anchorwoman In Peril! is marking the countdown to Christmas in the shape of its very own virtual Madvent Calendar! ’Tis true... Join in with me every day (and, yes, I’ll require a doctor’s note if you miss one) as we open up the little doors to find out who or what’s lurking behind. But remember: they’re not actual doors – they’re just digital ones – so don’t go prising open any holes in your computer screen because that’s potentially dangerous. And rather unsightly.

It’ll also be a countdown to another kind of holiday for me... in America! Yessiree bobtail, I’ll be spending Christmas in “fabulous” Las Vegas this year. I sure hope I don’t run afoul of the Night Stalker. Or the Switch Killer. Or end up getting hacked up into little (murder-set) pieces! But, don’t worry, I’ll ensure there’s enough pre-scheduled posts to take us right up to Christmas Eve, Madvent-style, whether I’m here in Leeds or flying across the Atlantic in a big ol’ plane.

Tell all your under-rock friends!

Wednesday 26 November 2008

Lessons in terror: Horror 101 & 102

You may have noticed I went AWOL for a little longer than usual last week. Well, blame the teachers – ’cuz I was in school... Horror school! I planned to watch Horror 101 and send a review your way shortly afterwards but, on completing the course, I realised that the film was just so nothingy, I didn’t have enough to say about it. The solution? Sign up for the sequel, Horror 102, of course! Surely seeing both films would give me enough ammo to fire off a spectacular double-whammy review! Ka-blammy, mofos!

Hmm... well, not quite. Horror 102 turned out to be nearly as nothingy as Horror 101. It’s not scary enough to scare, not thrilling enough to thrill, and not funny enough to, er, fun. But I’ll let you into a little secret: I liked it... and I liked Horror 101 too!

Now you’re giving me that blank stare again. I know what you’re thinking: Horrors 101 and 102 sound like a double-helping of horror dog-doo, right? Who wants to watch a pair of nothingy movies? Has Ross gone quite, quite mad? And is “nothingy” even a proper word? Well, to answer these questions, we’ll have to look at each movie’s individual report card in a little more detail...

STUDENT: Horror 101 (2000)
DESCRIPTION: A group of students attend an evening class on the “nature of fear” or something (honestly, they give degrees out for anything these days) but find themselves trapped inside the school and picked off one by one. Bo Derek, who’s quite watchable but disappears after the first 15 minutes, plays their teacher.
BEHAVIOUR: Horror 101 is a non-slasher movie. That is, it follows the structure and conventions of a slasher movie except for the fact that, instead of getting slashed, its characters simply vanish. And there aren’t any bloody bodies popping up à la April Fool’s Day, either. They just disappear. C
Something about Horror 101 works, however. It’s reasonably well made, suspenseful in a slow-burning way, and kept me entirely entertained from start to finish. Director James Glenn Dudelson apparently does nothingy quite lovingly. B+
Killer Rottweilers, snakes, spooky shadows in the hallways, and a twist ending. I'm happy. B+
ORIGINALITY: None... until the very end, which I have to admit got me. Otherwise, Horror 101 is total TV-movie territory, perfectly suitable for a Sunday afternoon screening. B-

STUDENT: Horror 102: Endgame (2004)
DESCRIPTION: No relation to 101, other than the fact that this new bunch of students appear to attend the same vaguely-referenced college, VDBU. This time, they’re trapped inside a disused mental asylum while taking part in some hazily-explained fieldwork assignment and, when the killings start, the bodies do actually pile up.
BEHAVIOUR: There’s more gore in the opening minute of Horror 102 than there is in the entirety of its predecessor. And that’s just because they write the title in red. The gory stuff here is mild but, conversely, quite strong for a PG-13. B+
APTITUDE: Horror 102 is a better film than 101, I thought, although perhaps not quite as professionally made. Building to another clever ending, you could almost make a case for this series being a Saw forerunner. (Or “Sawrunner”, if you will.) A-
Again, Horror 102 has a bland feel and mainly consists of a lot of running around searching for whoever the currently unaccounted-for character is. But scratch the surface and there’s an interesting investigation into just about every explanation for the supernatural you can think of, ranging from drugs, hallucinogens and poisons, to mental illness, paranoia and fear. A-
Is it supernatural? Is it madness? Is there an actual killer at work? You won’t find out until the end when, if you’re anything like me, you’ll be quite surprised. But, then again, I’m a sucker. A-

So, there you go. Please sign and date the above report cards and return them to me at your earliest convenience. And don’t be afraid to give these two movies a go if you like horror films but don’t want anything that might put a strain on your heart medicine. Also please note that the first film is called “Horror 101” and not “Horror LOL”, which is what I originally saw when I read the title, and am now going to rename my blog.

Tuesday 25 November 2008

Stranger and stranger

In case you’re in any doubt about the pointlessness of most “unrated” versions of horror films released on DVD, check out this description of the two whole differences between the Theatrical and Unrated versions of The Strangers (but only if you’ve seen the movie already, ’kay? Otherwise, it’s mondo spoilo).

Now, I’m not against including alternative endings on discs – in fact, this one’s even quite interesting. What I am against is labelling them as “UNRATED!” and “Too terrifying for theatres” just because they haven’t been formally submitted to the MPAA and hence don’t have a rating. There’s nothing included in the unrated version of The Strangers that’s any more disturbing than that in the original cut – so, DVD people, give it up and get a new gimmick. We’re not fooled!

While we’re on the subject, oh, how I pine for the days when a horror movie had a coherent directorial vision behind it, rather than a toned-down theatrical release, followed by either a juiced-up DVD version or a selection of redundant deleted scenes edited back in to justify the unrated tag. The Strangers’ DVD release only underscores for me how negotiated the entire affair seemed when I saw it at the cinema. However much I love a little extra unrated nastiness in a film, I respect a little passion and personality a whole lot more.

Wednesday 19 November 2008

Unconvincing shark attack of the day: The revenge!

Last time on USAOTD we saw what happened when an overconfident tour guide found herself up shark creek in Red Water... Today’s unpersuasive date with toothy destiny comes from Shark in Venice – not a film I particularly liked, but I have to admit it has its moments, including the following... And check out those plastic urns!

It’s an intimate moment on one of Venice’s less impressive bridges.

“Oh Johnny, where’s your class?”

“Go and stand pointlessly close to the water’s edge.”

“OMG! Watch out for that Unconvincing Shark Attack!”

“You’re flying!”

“And I’ve completely vanished in the next shot too!”

Saturday 15 November 2008

Too Scared to Scream

Too Scared to Scream is one of those 80s movies that’s too nasty to be a mainstream thriller, yet too mired in the conventions of mainstream thrillers to be a proper slasher (other examples might be The Fan, 10 to Midnight and The Majorettes). None of this would probably have mattered if Brian De Palma had directed it – but he didn’t, so the end result here is pretty uneven and uninspired, albeit worth a go if you like slashers.

I like slashers. You know that. And I particularly like slashers set in big cities. In theory, if you’re being chased by a killer, it should be scarier to find yourself stuck in the middle of nowhere (like a summer camp in the woods or a remote, abandoned house) but what if you were actually completely surrounded by people, only no one could – or would – help? Now that’s a scary thought. Some flicks that explore this idea cleverly include:

  • Scream 2 – That opening in the crowded cinema is probably the cruellest and most disturbing of all the trilogy’s kill sequences. Wes Craven contrasts the collective excitement of the audience with the isolation of the victims in a way that I actually find quite upsetting... What is wrong with me?!

  • Terror and Black Lace – The first half of this “Mexican giallo” concentrates on the increasing loneliness felt by its bored housewife Maribel Guardia. After that, it’s terror (and black lace!) all the way in the second half when a scantily-clad Guardia finds herself chased by a killer in, around and over the apartment building as a noisy party takes place just out of reach...

  • Slumber Party Massacre III – This slasher sequel (which I’m actually a big fan of) is interesting because it plays out on a normal suburban street, with the “remoteness” of the location coming from the fact that the killer does a really good job of trapping his victims in the house.

There’s probably dozens of other examples of this freaky film phenomenon; in fact, Joe D’Augustine does a great job of describing it in relation to Argento’s Four Flies on Grey Velvet at his blog, Film Forno. The reason I mention the notion here is that I’d been hoping beforehand that Too Scared to Scream would also tap into it, being set as it is in a New York high-rise – the kind of place where people live piled on top of one another and, if my understanding of Seinfeld is correct, frequently burst in on each other without knocking, not to mention find themselves embroiled in all kinds of humorous scrapes.

As it turns out, Too Scared to Scream does have some nice urban-living scare sequences, employing such things as empty laundry rooms and painfully slow elevators to suspenseful effect. It also has more than its share of crazy shit going down – crazy shit that causes all kinds of pacing problems and, well, just general weirdness that ultimately distracts and subtracts from it as a whole.

Plot-wise, tenants of the aforementioned apartment building are falling prey to an in-house killer at an alarming rate. The cops suspect creepy doorman Vincent Hardwick (Ian McShane)... After all, he’s smarmy, British, and lives with his mother, a paralyzed car-crash victim who, in an instance of that crazy shit I was telling you about, has no scripted lines but is played by Maureen O’Sullivan (in a far cry from her Tarzan days).

Further investigation of the murders leads Lieutenant Alex Dinardo (Mannix’s Mike Connors) in the direction of a chauffer with some sort of S&M fetish that’s thankfully not explored in too much detail (oh, except for a shot of his naked behind covered with cigarette burns), as well as a drunkard played so heartbreakingly by Murray Hamilton that his one scene is actually distressing. There’s also a shoot-out outside a porno theatre, and a scene-stealing cameo from John Heard as – if I’m remembering this correctly – a coroner. Quite frankly, after all that, I’m too scarred to scream. Mentally, that is.

Had your fill of crazy shit yet? No? Well, next there’s our junior detective – and final girl – Kate Bridges, played by Anne Archer (who had also starred in an episode of Mannix ten years previously!). Archer is easily one of the best things about this film, whether she’s cunningly disguised as a bag lady with a fake nose, or jiggling herself crazy in woolly legwarmers as part of some aerobic nightmare set to a pumpin’ 80s beat. Kate also attempts to seduce the blatantly gay doorman by jogging up to him in the park and stopping to stretch her spandex-clad thighs on a bench, just inches away from his face. (I was honestly waiting for his wheelchair-bound mother to slowly roll into the pond in the background.) It’s detective work at its finest... Sorry, no, I meant camp comedy at its finest.

Too Scared to Scream is a slasher with a large dose of mystery and, while the identity of the killer didn’t come as a shock to me, his/her motivation was something I really hadn’t seen coming – even though the clues are certainly there. Another thing I hadn’t anticipated was our heroine’s choice of weapon as she prepares to face the killer at the climax – namely, a telephone receiver. (Well, phones can be deadly, remember!)

With all the 80s horror remakes doing the rounds at the moment, I almost wouldn’t be surprised to see this one plucked from obscurity, even if it’s just to cash in on the caché of the title... 2 Scared 2 Scream, anyone?


Rating: 3/5

Wednesday 12 November 2008

LIFF screening: Sexykiller

Sexykiller marks the first time I’ve bought a ticket for a movie without knowing anything about it beforehand. And by that I really mean nothing. Nada. Not even the title, making it officially 97.5 times more mysterious than that time I watched Intersection and didn’t know what it was going to be about. Or how dull it was going to be. You see, Sexykiller was this year’s surprise horror screening at the Leeds International Film Festival... I pays my money, I takes my chances, and I hopes Sharon Stone isn’t in it again.

And I’m mostly glad I did. The film was certainly more enjoyable than the evening’s second offering, the French film Martyrs, which felt like a movie based on the opening chapter of a novel. (As for the 20 straight minutes of watching a woman being force-fed and punched in the face... That’s horror these days? By all means try to shock me, but don’t just repel and bore me at the same time.) Anyway, you won’t find anything so gruelling in Sexykiller. It has its nasty scenes (in fact, one involving a hook on a chain was a bit too mean-spirited to sit with the overall comic tone, I thought) but it’s a film that, above all, is trying to please. Scratch that... desperate to please.

Director Miguel Martí and star Macarena Gómez, who both attended the screening, have created a memorable character in the sexy killer herself. Bárbara, as she’s called, basically IS the film – a perkily psychotic college student who isn’t afraid to murder anyone (and almost everyone) who gets in her way. She’s the daughter of Serial Mom, in other words, and if you’re the one who runs over her dog or buys the dress she had her eye on, then... unlucky you.

There’s so much pandering in Sexykiller, however, I could almost taste the bamboo. It opens with locker-room nudity, a Scream parody, and an extended “Barbie Girl” fantasy sequence. Then there’s the autopsy-room grue, frat humour and, eventually, a sharp left turn into Night of the Creeps-style zombie comedy. I won’t say I didn’t laugh a few times, but I couldn’t have felt more like a target audience if there’d been big black circles drawn around me and arrows flying into my face. Which is about how subtle the film is.

Macarena Gómez herself was a big hit with the audience in the subsequent Q&A session, translating her director pal’s answers humorously and alternating between kissing audience members on the cheek and threatening them with a plastic gun. Asked about the film’s comedy element (or “elephant” if you want to describe its subtlety-level more accurately) she revealed that she’d tried to play Bárbara straight, which is probably why the character herself works within the film. It’s a little bit of a shame that the director didn’t show some similar restraint but, with a film so lively, colourful and eager to please, you can’t really criticize him for trying.

Rating: 3/5

Monday 10 November 2008

Leeds International Film Festival: Quarantine & LV-16

I’ve been busily attending the 22nd Leeds International Film Festival this week – always a reason for getting out of bed in November, thanks to the number of quality horror films shown (although if they do want to start coming round to my house and showing them in my bedroom, I won’t object... just bring your own popcorn, ’kay?). Top of the shocks for me so far this year has been Quarantine, the American remake of the year’s earlier Spanish film [REC], which as I’m sure you’re aware was a handycam mockumentary with a viral-outbreak theme. I liked [REC] well enough and, while I wasn’t craaaazy about it, I did think it was a solid piece of Blair Witchery that unfortunately lost me a bit around the hour-mark, when everything seemed to degenerate into people running around screaming and biting each other with the lights off.

Quarantine, which was rushed into production before [REC] was even released, involves a similar amount of partially-glimpsed nocturnal nibbling, but you know what? It’s all spelled out a little more clearly – which is no bad thing when your film juggles around 30 characters and takes place mostly in the dark. Quarantine also gives us more memorable moments – gimmick-shots, really, I suppose, like a scene where the camera smashes repeatedly into the face of a zombie-woman – but these all keep things interesting. Otherwise, 90 minutes of hand-held camerawork can get a tad exhausting.

Showing before Quarantine was a short film (okay, very short film) called LV-16, made as part of Zone Horror’s “Cut” competition by Ryan Haysom, but definitely able to stand on its own as a neat little video-nasty that got everyone in the mood for some grainy gut-munching. In it, a man finds himself in a CCTV-monitored holding cell with a plastic bag over his head and something very nasty happening in the corner. If I said any more, I’d run the risk of spoiling things, so I’ll just say that LV-16 is like the (non-funny) horror equivalent of a comedy sketch: instantly gripping, snappy and topped with a nice pay-off. Makes me wish there was such thing as a horror sketch show... Watch it HERE.

Thursday 6 November 2008

Shark in Venice

I want to tell you that Shark in Venice is good. That it lives up to the promise of its title. That – I don’t know – it’s better than Shark Attack 2 or something.

I can’t.

It sucks.

Take a look at this scene from around halfway through, when Stephen Baldwin’s character is shark-attacked while diving in the canal:

I’m sure you noticed that Le Shark seemed to be having a good old chew on Stephen. There’s lots of blood in the water and, oh yeah, HIS LEG CAME OFF. Well, unfortunately, none of the producers seemed to notice this small detail because, in the very next scene, The Littlest Baldwin is happily walking around on two legs again.* Now, I’ve never lost a leg, thankfully, but I’m fairly certain they don’t grow back. At least, not by the next day.

[* There’s a possible suggestion that Baldwin dreamed this whole attack, but he was in the water and he does end up in hospital, so that doesn’t make any real sense either.]

It’s this kind of annoying detail – whether it’s bad editing or filmmaking-by-committee or whatever – that sums up Shark in Venice’s lack of effort in general. Interviewed in the DVD’s making-of featurette, the cast go on about how the movie’s just meant to be undemanding fun for the viewer. But, really... sloppy shark attacks consisting of nature footage, red filters, lots of splashing and incoherent clips from Shark Attack 2? Where’s the fun in that?

Anyway, on to the plot. Stephen Baldwin is – don’t laugh – Doctor David Franks, an oceanography professor with a permanently glazed expression and really bad dress sense. Seriously, it looks like the wardrobe department put in even less effort than the editor:

David is called to Venice, where his scuba diving father has apparently been killed in a “suspicious boating accident”. You know, the kind with teeth-marks. David correctly identifies the mangled mannequin as his dad and goes on to the bonus round vows to find out what really happened, with the help of girlfriend Laura, played by Scarlett Johansson’s sister Vanessa. What has all this got to do with (a) Mafia henchmen, (b) rogue sharks and (c) the Medici Treasure? Well, it turns out that (a) Mafia henchmen have released (b) rogue sharks to guard (c) the Medici Treasure. There you go. Someone saved your life tonight.... Well, 90 minutes of it, anyway. So don’t say I never do anything for you.

The problem with Shark in Venice – or, rather, the overriding problem – is that it just doesn’t care. Some digital compositors came up with this:

and this: that the makers would have something to show to the investors and hopefully raise enough money to get a film made, and that’s where the interest in filmmaking stopped. As far as Venetian shark mayhem goes, the above scenes are literally everything you get. The budget didn’t even cover the costs of flying the principal cast members to Italy, so all you see is a shot of Stephen Baldwin pointing:

followed by a shaky camcorder shot of this:

Yes, Shark in Venice hates you. Do not watch it!

Rating: 1/5

Tuesday 4 November 2008

You know you’re a slasher fan when...

  1. You think TCM stands for Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

  2. You know what NOES, MBV and SPM stand for.

  3. You write a post entitled “Happy Birthday to Me” whenever your horror blog has an anniversary.

  4. You have a horror blog.

  5. You wish other bloggers a “bloody birthday”.

  6. You know which state Haddonfield is in.

  7. You know what they did last summer.

  8. You’ve seen Terror at Tenkiller.

  9. You’ve heard of Terror at Tenkiller.

  10. You enjoyed Terror at Tenkiller.

  11. You can get from Holly Hunter to Jason Alexander in only one degree of separation.

  12. You still know what they did last summer.

  13. You got mad when Happy Birthday to Me was released on DVD with a new musical score.

  14. You recently petitioned Lionsgate to reinstate My Bloody Valentine’s missing gore.

  15. You know (and live by) Randy’s three rules.

  16. You’ve seen Tom Hanks’ movie debut.

  17. You know which films contain the raft massacre, the fishhook penetration and the subway stalking.

  18. You don’t consider Scream to be the first ironic slasher.

  19. You’ve seen more javelin-related murders than you have javelin-related sports events.

  20. You’ll always know what they did last summer.

Monday 3 November 2008

Switch Killer

You have to worry about the sort of mind that watches a film like Transamerica and thinks, “What this needs is tits and gore”. It makes you wonder if there’s someone in the audience of every film thinking that. I mean, I love horror as much as the next horror-lover, but I can also make it through Mamma Mia! without expecting to hear the roar of a chainsaw any moment. (Wait a minute... what’s that buzzing?)

Nevertheless, someone was impressed enough by Transamerica, yet sufficiently unsatisfied with its gore quotient, to want to remake it horror-style. In its heart-warming tale of a transgendered father seeking his son’s acceptance, they saw bloody revenge and lots of naked pole-dancing. In short, they had a vision... A vision called Transamerican Killer! (Later retitled to Switch Killer, presumably because the buzz surrounding Transamerica had died down.)

That someone was writer-director Mack Hail, whom you might recognize as the man who played the killer in Nutbag, Nick Palumbo’s heavily-censored (in Britain) film about a serial murderer stalking Las Vegas. The adage “write what you know” proves true here because Hail’s script for Switch Killer again concerns a killer in Vegas, only this time the twist (and I think it’s actually meant to be a twist in the plot, though I’m not sure) is that this killer is a man in a dress. Look, you can see him/her hovering ominously in the background here:

Let’s back up a bit. Why is he in a dress? Simple. Obviously, he’s been rejected by his girlfriend, who left him for another woman, so naturally he sticks on a wig (because wigs can do anything, remember?), twins it with an evening gown, and sets off on a stripper-murdering frenzy on the streets of Sin City. And to think: Felicity Huffman got an Oscar nomination just for wearing a plastic cock.

All of this may make it sound as if Switch Killer spends most of its time in the company of gender-bending Bobby (for that is his name – the Bobby part, at least). This isn’t really true, however, as the main character is actually his former girlfriend, Jamie, played by Cara Jo Basso. As well as lesbian tendencies, Jamie also sports extensive eye shadow:

Focusing on a female victim thus nudges Switch Killer away from being another Nutbag-like piece of pure nastiness and further into slasher movie territory, as Jamie goes about her life unaware that her friends and colleagues are being stabbed to pieces all around her (and, in one instance, stabbed then hit by a train – unlucky!). Of course, Jamie and Bobby eventually cross paths again in time for the climax, when the bodycount triples in the space of a few minutes thanks to a clutch of unfortunate partygoers getting in the way, and Jamie discovers she’s quite handy with a chainsaw. (Now, if only there’d been one of those in Mamma Mia!)

You’re probably starting to sense that subtlety isn’t one of Switch Killer’s strong points. In fact, I suspect the makers would’ve called it Sex-Change Killer if they thought they could get away with it. But is the movie as offensive as it sounds? And, more importantly, is it any good?

Surprisingly... yes! This one’s single-handedly restored my faith in the modern low-budget slasher. Sure it’s cheap (some of the sets are terrible) but director Hail manages not to take it too seriously whilst also, crucially, not letting it descend into a complete joke. As a result, it’s sometimes damn funny. (I particularly liked the Casablanca remake that plays on TV and includes the line: “Get your ass on that plane!”) The gore is simple but reasonable, and made more effective by the fact that the kills themselves are well staged, again including some amusing dialogue. But, best of all, Switch Killer doesn’t feel like most of the despicably drossy shot-on-video efforts that have been kicking around since 1999. Instead, something about its bad fashions, largely adult cast, and lack of modern technology actually makes it seem a little more timeless, in the way of an 80s slasher.

The movie’s main flaw – albeit one that doesn’t spoil enjoyment – is that it’s not clear how obvious it’s supposed to be that Jamie’s stalker is actually her ex-boyfriend. Towards the end, it’s treated almost like a plot twist, despite having already been evident throughout, even to the extent that it was referenced in the title. But this is just one bum-note in an otherwise confident – and competent – black comedy/horror.

Rating: 3/5