Thursday 29 January 2009

Let’s all stare at a random pic!

I know what you’re thinking: Who’s that? Why him? And what’s with that stupid fucking frame? Well, said picture stands for two bits of exciting news I have for you today. Firstly, I’ve started blogging for Retro Slashers, a website I’ve long adored and which, along with Hysteria Lives, should be part of your staple diet for slasher reviews and information – yes, even if you don’t normally eat staples (admittedly, they can be a bit sharp going down). Anyway, the above image comes from my first blog post, entitled The 10 Best Slasher Movie In-Jokes. Enjoy!

The second part of that oh-so-exciting news is that I finally – finally! – got round to watching one of the movies I mentioned back in Sham Shocktober, the month when I took it upon myself to preview 30 horror films I’d never seen. And that movie, if you don’t recognize the above screencap, was Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon. When I originally included the flick in Sham Shocktober, I never expected the strength of the positive comments it would draw, such as:

“I have not only seen Leslie Vernon but went on to own it. For me, it was 2nd only to Grindhouse for best 2007 horror. Nathan Baesel strikes that perfect chord of a horror leading man. One minute charismatic, the next psychotic.” (Reel Whore)

“I envy your Leslie Vernon virginity. I love this movie so much... and soon (hopefully), so will you.” (Corey, Evil on Two Legs)

Well, I did love it and, in retrospect, it probably was one of 2007’s best horror films. If you like slashers (as you probably do if you’re hanging out here) and haven’t yet seen this movie, what are you waiting for?! Behind the Mask is extremely clever and a whole lot of fun. If you’re worried (as I was) that it’ll be more about slashers than a slasher itself, then worry not – you get 2 for the price of 1 here, and neither element disappoints.

If there’s one minor quibble I had with it, it’s that Nathan Baesel, while definitely charismatic and psychotic, isn’t the most physically imposing of killers – i.e. he’s no Kane Hodder (the man in the pic above, incidentally). With his slender build and that strange mask on, he looked a little more like he should’ve been ass-raping Christopher Walken in Communion than stalking teenagers. But, hey, either mental image is disturbing enough.

And, as for that “stupid fucking frame” on the picture, as you so rudely put it, I was playing about in PhotoShop, okay? Happy now? Sheesh... some people!

Wednesday 28 January 2009

Knock Knock

I read an opinion on some message board that the upcoming DVD release of Slaughter High might be Lionsgate’s way of testing the water before greenlighting a remake of the toilet swirly-revenge slasher. That I can’t see, I’m afraid; the name just doesn’t have the cultural stock of Friday the 13th or even My Bloody Valentine. On the other hand, I never thought anyone would want to remake Offerings, Night Screams or any of those goofy late-eighties slashers, either. But that’s pretty much what Joe Ariola has achieved with Knock Knock (2007)... Joe, I think I love you.

I can’t get enough of the low-budget likes of Offerings, Night Screams, Hell High and Psycho Cop. Although they lack the initial excitement and glimmers of originality that surround the slashers from the earlier half of the decade, they have an ambience all of their own – one soaked in pastel d├ęcor, cheesy rock, boring sleepovers, late nights at the mall, and deserted football fields. In fact, just thinking about it is making me want to watch The Last Slumber Party.

Knock Knock stirs in some MTV flash-editing and a touch of techno music but, really, it’s one of these late-80s efforts through and through, from its suspicious, slobbish janitor character to a masked killer that looks as though someone stuck Leatherface’s head on Michael Myers’ body. All that’s missing is a fat sheriff... I mean, there is a sheriff (with the unlikely name of Cutter) but he’s a weedy, scraggly-haired Johnny Depp type, so perhaps the makers were referencing Depp’s early role in A Nightmare on Elm Street. Or perhaps I’m reading too much into it.

The movie begins, aptly enough, with a knock-knock at the door of a nameless cheerleader. Actually, I don’t think it’s stated whether she’s a cheerleader or not, but she’s doing that whole T-shirt off-the-shoulder thing and, hell, this is a slasher movie so she probably is a cheerleader. Anyway, the point is: there’s a knock at the door and, when Nameless Cheerleader goes to answer it, there’s no one there. Creepy! Personally, I’d lock the door, go upstairs and listen to some Enya if that happened to me, but NC is made of sturdier stuff and answers several more mysterious knocks, with much the same result. On the last occasion, however, a pair of scary hands burst through the door and grab her by the throat! Either she’s late paying the Avon lady this month or there’s a killer on the loose who doesn’t mind the odd splinter.

I dare say the small town of Glass County is rocked to the core by this vicious crime but the next night’s school football game goes ahead as planned, although there don’t seem to be many extras in attendance. Afterwards, one of the players is ambushed and killed whilst walking home, and ends up skewered to his own front door with a set of ice picks. And, when I say “ambushed”, I really mean it! There’s no heavy-breathing stalker nonsense for this poor guy – just a killer who leaps out and gets stabby with the stabbing, no questions asked. Either he’s gone and got on the wrong side of a travelling ice pick salesman or there’s a killer on the loose who doesn’t mind the odd splinter and has no patience whatsoever!

What this case needs is a crack team of serial killer profiling experts all the way from the FBI... Or a busty blonde detective babe called Billie Vega and her sleuthing grandpa sidekick. Glass County goes with the latter and, with local teenagers dropping like gruesomely mutilated flies, it’s up to this mismatched duo to stop the killer before he knocks – and indeed kills – again.

I can’t knock Knock Knock. Throughout its running time, I feared it might be on the verge of copping out by taking the supernatural route (a bugbear of mine) but, no – it thankfully stays within the boundaries of a straight slasher movie, albeit one with a fetish for ghostly chanting on the soundtrack. In its final third, the action shifts slightly away from the teenage stalkees and towards the detectives, but this is something that happens in many an authentic 80s effort, too, like the entertaining Night School for one.

The points it loses for epileptic editing, Knock Knock gains back by liberally dishing out the gore. This is a killer who doesn’t just kill, but chops, lops and generally slops out the slasher mince – all seemingly without the aid of CGI. In fact there’s an impressive locker-room impalement I simply couldn’t get my head around, so it looks like I’ll be checking out the DVD’s make-up FX featurette to find out how they did it.

It’s not a model of suspense, then – or even sense – but, in terms of that all-important slasher atmosphere, Knock Knock is one that really delivers. Right to your door!

Rating: 3/5

Saturday 24 January 2009

Going batty: Nightwing & The Bat

Holy flying mammals! I was going through my TV’s hard drive recently, deleting most of the 4,368 movies I’ve recorded from The Paranormal Channel, when I realized I had the perfect combo for a bat-themed double bill:

Why a bat-themed double bill, you ask? Well, simply because I could. And the two movies – 1979’s eco-thriller Nightwing and 1959’s Old Dark House mystery The Bat – couldn’t have been more different. Yet together they make the title of a fabadoo-sounding 70s cop show, Nightwing and the Bat!

Oops, no, what I meant to say was that, together, they made a most satisfying double feature. You know, like Carrie and Grease (and, if you’ve never boogied back-to-back with those two, you’ve never lived... Just make sure you watch Carrie first or the come-down will kill you). Anyway, I went with Nightwing first, mainly because I’ve wanted to see it for years. There aren’t many big studio horror films I’ve left to see and I’m especially fond of the “nature bites back” cycle that followed Jaws, of which this and the same year’s Prophecy are two of the more generously budgeted.

I’ve actually got an old ex-rental video of Nightwing I never got round to watching (and now I’ve seen it in pristine widescreen on ITV4, I’m glad I waited). The cover looks like this:

...and explains the gist of the film thusly:

The world’s newspapers actually carried stories of hoards of bubonic-plague carrying bats who were possibly making their way north from South America. Nightwing projects this sensational threat to Man’s continued presence on this planet into one of the most exciting thrillers of all time. With incredible special effects and enough blood-curdling horror to satisfy any video viewer, Nightwing should be your first choice for a ‘chilly’ night.

No, I’m not really sure what that “chilly night” bit’s getting at, either. If anything, Nightwing is a really hot, parched-feeling film set mostly in the desert, where dehydration and death, not to mention unsightly sweat patches, are a constant danger for the characters. All in all, I think the video cover sums it up better with its tagline, “The Bats of Hell Let Loose Upon the Earth”... I mean, wow! The bats of hell are loose? Tell me that and I’ll watch anything!

Specifically, said bats (of hell) pose a threat to the community living in and around an Indian reservation in New Mexico, where Chief Duran (Nick Mancuso) divides his time between protecting local land from unscrupulous developers and frolicking naked in a hot spring with his girlfriend, Anne (Kathryn Harrold). His elderly uncle (George Clutesi) seems to be going a bit loopy in his old age, drawing scary-looking paintings on the floor of his sacred Indian hut and ranting about the end of the world, “opening the circle” and blah blah blah... Sorry, all I could think by this point was “BATS!” and I may have missed some of the fine details.

It’s a bit of a long wait before we really see anything resembling a bat, as it happens. Much like Jaws, it’s about halfway through before one pops out, I think (not that Jaws had any bats in it). But I was happily caught up in the various reservation dramas, ranging from Duran’s despair at his girlfriend moving away to collage, to tension between the Maskai Indians and a neighbouring tribe. Meanwhile, in the middle of the night, something’s sucking the blood from local cattle and – gasp! – people, leaving behind only a stink of ammonia and some very stiff-looking corpses.

Dr David Warner, who’s arrived on the scene in a mobile bat-lab, is convinced that bubonic bats are behind it all – a threat to humanity he’s devoted his life to eradicating. All they do is “drink blood and piss it out as ammonia,” he spits (along with a few monologues about the essence of evil that mark him out as this film’s Dr Loomis type) and so he never leaves home without lots of wire mesh and a ton of explosives. But first he has to find the bat cave...

As I said, it’s a while before we actually see any of the nocturnal nasties, but what an entrance they make! As soon as the campfire scene begins, prepare for Final Destination-style shocks galore. This is Nightwing’s standout scene and rivals anything in Hitchcock’s The Birds for squealing, twittering, hair-tangling horror, and nothing else in the film really comes close to matching it, unfortunately (although there’s a wild, fiery climax).

Kathryn Harrold = WHITE HOT in my book, and I loved the scenes following the campsite attack that find her stranded in the desert, getting all MacGyver with wires, tyres and fires (and some unconventional “fishing”). Why Duran doesn’t want her to follow him into the bats’ eeeevil lair at the end of the film, I’ve no idea, as it’s plainly obvious she could whip up a flame-throwing TNT bat-apult in five minutes flat, using only some string and a yogurt pot.

Nightwing needs a DVD release; it’s almost as good as Prophecy, which has had at least two, but then that one does have a mutant bear-monster. Nightwing’s bats are a little less elaborate but still effective, and studios just don’t make this kind of silly “serious” horror anymore. Still, I’m not sure about the environmental message: Save the world; kill the bats? Squeeee! Rating: 3/5

The bat in, um, The Bat is another kind of monster altogether: the human sort, here to be found prowling around a spooky mansion decked out in black, sporting a fedora and razor-blade talons, in search of blood and hidden money. The first we see of him – black-gloved claws crawling around a door jamb – is pretty hokey, but our second glimpse of a faceless form in the shadows outside a window gave me a genuine jolt. How the innocent, pre-Psycho audiences of 1959 reacted to it back in the day, I can only imagine, but the shock holds up really well today.

That’s one of the best things about The Bat: it’s a scare-comedy in the vein of The Cat and the Canary but, unlike most of its ilk, its emphasis is on the scares. The laughs, mostly comic asides buried in the dialogue, are just the icing on an otherwise icy murder mystery. They could’ve gone either way with the villain – keeping him in the shadows would’ve no doubt made him scarier, but director Crane Wilbur ensures we see plenty of him skulking about, which lessens his impact but doesn’t hurt the film plot-wise. Incidentally, his method of killing – tearing out the throats of his victims – is surprisingly brutal.

Agnes Moorehead plays mystery author Cornelia van Gorder, who’s rented out a country mansion called The Oaks over the summer while its owner, bank manager Mr Fleming, is on an extended hunting trip. Unbeknownst to her and comedy sidekick Lizzie (Lenita Lane), Fleming has been embezzling bank bonds to the tune of a million dollars, which is now hidden in the manor. The only other person who knows about the stash is Dr Wells (Vincent Price in a subtle turn) who obviously has more then the health of its residents on his mind when he makes his frequent trips to the mansion...

Oh, The Bat, I adore you! And the plethora of debates and nitpicks over at the IMDb concerning its plot twists suggest there are plenty of people out there who just live this film. Certainly, it’s enormous fun, has a great creepy-house atmosphere and enough going on to sustain multiple viewings. I can’t understand the reviews that call it boring; there’s not a single line of dialogue that doesn’t enhance the mystery or propel the plot along in some way.

Best of all is the movie’s structure. It’s essentially a three-act play, with each of the first two acts culminating in a night of terror at The Oaks (the second of which features a real cocoa-spiller of a murder). Day #3 builds to a fine suspense scene involving a secret room, and I honestly didn’t find the outcome predictable at all. Considering you can get hold of the DVD of this one for less than a pound, I know I’ll be adding it to my collection. Oh, and in case you’re wondering, The Bat does contain some bats of the furry, flying kind as well: big ones, small ones, real ones, rubber ones... Don’t let the film slip off your radar. Or sonar. Or whatever bats have. Really, you’d think I’d know by now. Rating: 4/5

Last night’s double-header, then, marks my contribution to supporting the bat-movie industry and, if that means I never have to watch the Lou Diamond Phillips movie Bats, well, that’s fine by me. I never thought I’d have such a fearful funfest with a bunch of creatures I basically find more cute than frightening, so maybe next time I’ll try Night of the Lepus... How about those killer bunnies, huh?

Friday 23 January 2009


Saw this meme at Kirkkitsch’s blog and couldn’t resist trying it myself... Judging by the results, I’m a really melancholy person. With waaaay too much frickin’ Beautiful South stuff on my iPod.

What does your music library say about you?

1. Put Your iPod on Shuffle.
2. For each question, press the Next button to get your answer.
3. You must write down the name of the song.

What do your friends think of you?
Emerge by Fischerspooner (Perhaps they want me to “come out of my shell”. Bastards.)

If someone says, “Is this okay?” you say?
Sadness by Enigma (Yes, I’m always going along with things when, secretly, I don’t want to.)

How would you describe yourself?
Tears by The Beautiful South (Gosh, for realz? *sob*)

What do you like in a guy/girl?
Blackbird on the Wire by The Beautiful South

How do you feel today?
The Old Fat Robin by Lambchop (LOL!)

What is your life’s purpose?
Get Here by The Beautiful South

What is your motto?
I Am a Man of Constant Sorrow by John Hartford (Put me on suicide watch!)

What do you think about very often?
Don’t Smoke in Bed by Nina Simone

What is 2 + 2?
Bruise Pristine by Placebo

What do you think of your best friend?
Guest List by Eels

What do you think of the person you like?
Craw Song by Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks

What is your life story?
The One by Elton John (Always knew I was a legend.)

What do you want to be when you grow up?
Narrow Your Eyes by They Might Be Giants

What do you think of when you see the person you like?
Just Go Away by Blondie (Ha!)

What will you dance to at your wedding?
Words Fell by Lucinda Williams

What will they play at your funeral?
Prairie Fire That Wanders About by Sufjan Stevens (Actually, I’d love this at my funeral.)

What is your hobby/interest?
Don’t Stop Movin’ by The Beautiful South (Jesus! What is it with all these Beautiful South songs? Yes I have most of their albums, but FIVE songs from the 4,430 on my iPod manage to make it onto this list?!)

What is your biggest fear?
If You Tolerate This Your Children Will Be Next by Manic Street Preachers

What is your biggest secret?
Cherry Chapstick by Yo La Tengo (It’s Cherry Coke Chapstick, actually.)

What will you post this as?
America by Simon & Garfunkel (Topical, no?)

Tuesday 20 January 2009

My Bloody Valentine

I’ll admit it: My Bloody Valentine has never been one of my favourite slashers. I first saw the 1981 Canadian film a few years back and found it atmospheric but dull, with the obvious MPAA edits detracting from what little fun there was to be had. But then the dawn of 2009 promised not only an uncut special edition but also a gore-filled 3D remake, and my interest was positively piqued.

January 16th finally rolled around and, after a ticket-booking misjudgement that meant I missed the movie on opening night, I finally got to catch up with it last night. And, when I say “catch up”, I’m not exaggerating: it’s not often you see a slasher movie with three separate massacres in the first ten minutes and, to be quite honest, if your head’s not already spinning as you acclimatize to the 3D, it will be by the time the “10 YEARS LATER” card signals the end of the prologue. Mine shafts collapse, killers escape, guts are splattered, entire universes form and collapse... It’s actually all a bit garbled and I wouldn’t have objected if screenwriters Zane Smith and Todd Farmer had spent a little more time setting up the story at the outset, since these early events set up the dynamics played out across the rest of the film. But you do get your 3D gore delivered in spades (and, at one point, using a spade) and the blood and body parts fly impressively throughout.

To anyone whose 3D experience is limited mainly to kiddie movies, MBV’s bombardment of sharp implements and sticky viscera will come as something of a shock. I’ll even admit that I actually ducked once – not at a lopped-off limb or swinging pickaxe but, rather embarrassingly, as a cardboard candy box flew towards me. (In retrospect, it’s entirely possible I was making an unconscious lunge for the potential chocolate contained therein.) In any case, there’s no doubt that the 3D aspect of My Bloody Valentine is in-your-face fun all round.

But is the film any good? Well, it’s fun and it’s colourful and it certainly entertains, but it’s not and probably never will be a classic slasher. Nothing about its setting or cast (especially the dreadful Jensen Ackles) feels in any way “real”. I know that sounds stupid; after all, who demands realism in their slasher movies? But I find I need something to invest in, like the feeling that someone along the way is in real danger or doesn’t deserve to die. Here, the mining town of Harmony simply looks deserted. Hell, there aren’t even any extras. (Would too much background detail have made the 3D blurry or something?)

There’s no sense of a township in terror, either. Remember Scream and its seemingly omniscient killer just waiting to get you on your own? MBV’s maniac miner certainly looks the part in gasmask and heavy-duty work duds, but never feels like anything other than a cipher (which is interesting, admittedly, when you consider the “surprise” ending). I did enjoy the film but it wasn’t the essential experience I was hoping for and, shorn of its 3D element, wouldn’t be something I’d recommend to non-slasher fiends.

At the very least, it’s secured a long-awaited uncut rerelease of the 1981 film on DVD, which I’m really looking forward to revisiting just as soon as my Amazon order comes through. Something tells me that, of the two Bloody Valentines, the 80s original may be the one with the extra dimension.

Rating: 3/5

Sunday 18 January 2009

My bloody idiocy

Thanks to my own stupid stupidity (i.e. not booking tickets), I managed to miss out on catching My Bloody Valentine 3D on opening night this weekend, but the seats are now booked for Sunday and nothing short of a pickaxe in each eye socket will prevent me from watching it. After the glowing reviews from Final Girl and Vince A. Liaguno, it’s safe to say my expectations are pretty goshdarn high so, if I do come out of the cinema disappointed tomorrow, well, I’ll be very disappointed indeed.

The one upside of staying in was that I discovered The Paranormal Channel on Sky Digital. Being owned by Yvette Fielding of Most Haunted fame, I thought it was just a load of fake ghost documentaries and... okay, it is really, but they’ve also started showing some pretty decent films around midnight each night. Recently there’s been How Awful About Allan, The Bat and The House of Seven Corpses (the latter of which I included in Sham Shocktober last year). And coming up this week are Demons, Night of the Living Dead, The Corpse Grinders and – wait for it – Night Train to Terror! Maybe I’ll stay in tomorrow night after all.*

*As IF!

Thursday 15 January 2009

Crooked House

“The only way to improve that property, sir, is to raze it to the ground and sow the land with salt!”

Here’s something that probably would’ve made my Top Horror of 2008 list if I’d watched it in time; but the made-for-TV Crooked House was only screened during Christmas week, by which time I was stranded at Chicago airport sipping margaritas in Las Vegas... Dammit, BBC, you’re never going to make it onto end-of-year lists if you carry on like that!

Remember those bloody brilliant horror anthologies that Amicus churned out in the 70s, like Vault of Horror and Tales from the Crypt? Well, Crooked House is a modern take on the subgenre, written by Mark Gatiss of the creepy/funny TV series The League of Gentlemen. There’s two ways of enjoying Crooked’s spookiness: either in three 30-minute instalments (as it was originally screened over three nights on BBC Four) or as an omnibus TV-movie edition. And we all know that TV movies rule, so that’s how I decided to catch up with it.

Now, when I say “modern take”, I genuinely mean it’s something a bit new and original in style, as opposed to a straightforward pastiche of the Amicus approach (which the League of Gentlemen had already done – superbly – in their 2000 Christmas special). Without giving too much away, Crooked House actually ties its tales together in its third part in rather a neat way, sorta like Pulp Fiction but without all the coke and cameos. Anyway, Crooked House is much more than the sum of its parts. And, without sounding too crass, let’s take a look at its parts.

As with all anthology movies, you get your wraparound story – that’s the bread of the anthology sandwich or, to put it literally, the “wrap” that goes “around” the tasty filling. Here, it’s the story of high school History teacher Ben (Lee Ingleby), who’s popped into his local museum with a mysterious artefact dug up in his back garden. The curator (Mark Gatiss himself, sporting a convincing Scottish accent) believes it to be a doorknocker from the now demolished Geap Manor, an old house that “drew evil to it like a sponge draws in water” – or, to stick with our analogy, like a sandwich draws in water if you, say, drop it in the bath. Anyway, Ben wants to hear more – about the house’s history, that is, not the porous properties of sponge – which is lucky for us or it’d be a pretty boring film. Cue flashback!

Part One: The Wainscoting

Wainscoting, in case you’ve never lived in an English country manor, is wood panelling on an interior wall, and it’s at the centre of the horrors for Geap’s owner in 1786, Joseph Bloxham (Phillip Jackson). He’s having the place refurbished, after making his fortune on the back of some dubious business deals that haven’t gone down too well with the local townsfolk. Still, the place looks simply marvellous with its fancy new paintwork... If only those strange blotches would stop appearing on the walls, accompanied as they are by strange noises from behind the panelling. As it turns out, it’s all down to a nasty secret and some very poorly sourced building materials...

Part Two: Something Old

Another nasty secret lurks in the background of the second story, set in 1927, when heir to Geap Manor, Felix (Ian Hallard), is busy romancing the lovely Ruth. She’s a little lower on the social ladder than his family might be used to, but Felix thinks she scrubs up simply spiffingly. At a costume party held at the house, the couple announce their engagement – which doesn’t go down too well with some of the guests. But the only one Ruth’s really worried about is the mysterious, veiled bride she keeps glimpsing in the shadows. Everyone else is in high spirits, however, and it’s all fun and games. At least until the lights go out...

Part Three: The Knocker

Welcome back to the present, where Ben (remember him?) isn’t quite the heir to Geap Manor exactly, but it seems that his townhouse is built on the land where it once stood. This would explain how the old doorknocker turned up in his garden, although not the tortured expression on its twisted face. Perhaps it’s not the best idea to hang it on his front door, but that’s what Ben does. And soon comes a loud knocking in the middle of the night...

Following the pattern of the best anthologies, Crooked House uses its first story as a nice warm-up for the chills that follow, then gradually ramps up the fear towards a deliciously nasty pay-off. Thus, The Wainscoting is the least disturbing of the three tales but Gatiss fills it with period dialogue I just couldn’t get enough of, and the revelation when it comes unsettles like a comfortably creepy M.R. James tale.

Something Old is, simply put, a great ghost story. Economically written (there’s almost enough plot here for a full-length feature but it flits by), it relies on character to draw you in and, like the first part, is terrifically acted. It’s almost a disappointment when we segue into part three and leave its charmingly spooky world – or, at least, it would be if The Knocker didn’t immediately grip with its present-day mystery, leading to a chilling resolution that’s all the more effective because Gatiss allows you to work some of it out for yourself.

I won’t claim that Crooked House is the scariest ghost story of all time or anything but I spent most of it enjoying the all-too-rare feeling of tingles running up (and down!) my spine. And I didn’t even have my Prestigio Massage Chair switched on. The idea of period horror on a BBC Four budget may conjure up a few chills before you even get to the proper thrills, but everything about this worked for me, and I think it’s probably entirely down to Mark Gatiss’s devilishly intelligent writing and enviable understanding of the genre. I can only imagine what kind of amazing sandwiches he’d make if he opened up a deli.

Rating: 4/5

Sunday 11 January 2009

The House Sitter

As promised last month, here’s a little look at one of Tori Spelling’s more recent TV movie outings...

And I tell you: I only have to look at this poster for The House Sitter to know that everything is right with the world. Tori is centre stage, dressed in cast-offs from Paris Hilton’s wardrobe (but we won’t hold that against her), obviously starring as a Nancy Drew-like figure who’s no doubt investigating the spooky mansion behind her, over which brooding, good-looking men glare in moody monochrome. It’s thrilling, it’s chilling, it’s riddled with typos (Jonhatan? House Sitter instead of The House Sitter?)... In short, it’s TV movie heaven. Scratch that. It’s heaven. Period!

Should you require any further evidence that The House Sitter was Meant To Be, just check out the casting of Tori Spelling and Dean McDermott – husband and wife in real life. Because, of course, Tori is now Tori Spelling-McDermott, and referred to as such in the credits. And I hear she won’t answer to anything else!

Mrs Spelling, then, is an artist with painter’s block who answers an advert on for a housesitter required to look after the home of eccentric coin collector Frank (Jonathan Higgins) while he’s away on business. Also staying in the house is Frank’s cross-gendered female cat, Fred, who’s “desperate for female company” (this is never explained, and nor do I think ever could be). Tori takes one look at the wine cellar beautiful manor and signs up. After all, it’ll provide the perfect opportunity for her to change into dungarees and scribble giant pictures of the garden – not to mention fall in love with hunky plumber Phil (Dean McDermott) after a mysterious burst water pipe bursts mysteriously all over the kitchen floor.

But, ah, sweet TV-movie plot-twists... because no sooner have Mr and Mrs Spelling-McDermott shacked up in mansion-house bliss than Frank calls to let her know that he’s finished up his business early and is on the way home right this very fucking minute! So Tori has to kick Phil the Plumber out of bed and pack him off in his van... Just in time, too, because Frank is back with some valuable rare coins. Oh, and the scary notion that he’s going to marry her.

Tori’s less keen on the idea and does a runner to the address on Phil’s business card. But that turns out to be a motel... Gross! Can she trust someone who’s been lying to her all along about his skanky abode? If only she’d managed to actually sell some paintings – then she wouldn’t be in this mess!

As a TV movie thriller, The House Sitter teeters deliriously on the edge of brilliance, with an accumulation of plot twists that eventually converge to put Tori (plus two innocent friends who turn up on the doorstep!) at the mercy of an insane killer. You’ve probably worked out by now that either Frank or Phil is a bit of a madman, but you’ll have fun figuring out the hows, whos and whys – and, really, it’s a fairly suspenseful affair all round.

What doesn’t quite work is the pacing, which involves some highly unnecessary fade-outs to “the next morning” – never the best technique, especially during chase scenes. Thankfully, there’s loads to make up for that, beginning with the great guilty-pleasure casting of Tori and Dean as torrid lovers. Not to mention Fred the cat. Meow!

Rating: 3/5

Wednesday 7 January 2009


Hurrah! I’ve seen my first great movie of 2009!

Well, it’s not a film of 2009, exactly. It’s a film of 1966, but I saw it for the first time in 2009. Oh, and I’ve actually already seen two other pretty great movies this year (Rogue and Sydney White*) but this one’s on another level entirely. So, okay then, I guess you could say I’ve seen my first truly great movie of 2009... Jeez, just get off my back, will you? I’m trying to tell you about a great movie here!

[*What can I say? I love Amanda Bynes.]

So, onto Michelangelo Antonioni’s Blowup. It’s a masterpiece. It’s a mystery about a murder that might not be a murder. In fact, it might not even be a death. It’s a movie about mysteries, and a mystery about movies. It’s about what you see, what you think you see, and whether anything can really be seen at all. You see?

You could talk in circles about Blowup like this all day and, at the end of that day, all you’d be left with is smoke, mirrors and possibly a headache. But it’d be a good headache: the kind that means you’ve been thinking really hard about something meaningful.

I’ve never seen another film quite like Blowup and, in the 42 years since it was made, I’m not even sure there’s been one. Interestingly, two of my favourite directors have made their own reimaginings (to coin a phrase). Dario Argento was purportedly so exasperated by Blowup’s distinct refusal to solve its own mystery that he signed up its star (David Hemmings), cast him in another elaborate enigma (Deep Red), and this time ensured that everything was properly explained by the last scene. Brian De Palma, ever eager to get his homage on, swapped Blowup’s themes of things seen for things heard and came up with Blow Out, which incidentally turned out to be one of his best efforts.

Both of these films are reminiscent of Blowup, but neither is like it. Neither says so much with seemingly so little, nor burrows so deep into your consciousness that you know you’ll never watch movies in quite the same way again. Sometimes, while watching a film, I become aware that it’s not going to be my only viewing of said title, and that I’ll undoubtedly be revisiting it again at some point in the future. With Blowup, I was anticipating that second viewing every step along the way, wandering further into its labyrinth and falling deeper under its hypnotic spell, my only reassurance being that, next time, I’d be that little bit better prepared to understand it that little bit more.

What of that plot then? Blowup sounds stupidly simple. It spends a day and a half or so in the company of a playboy photographer played by David Hemmings. And, by that, I mean he’s a photographer who’s a bit of a playboy, not a photographer for Playboy. This is London, after all. Hemmings, whose character is never named, spends his time chasing skirt (although it often chases him) and taking pictures. He’s buying property in an up-and-coming area full of “queers with poodles” and makes ostentatious impulse purchases, like the giant wooden propeller he picks up at an antique shop while flirting with the sales assistant. Somehow this seems significant.

What’s definitely significant is the strange meeting he has in a windswept public park with a woman (Vanessa Redgrave) who demands that he surrenders to her the film he’s just used to take snaps of her cavorting with her lover. She won’t say why, and he won’t find out why until he gets back to the darkroom and thinks he notices something funny in the background.

I could reveal more but it really wouldn’t tell you anything because this is a film that has to be experienced before it means anything to you. You already know that Blowup’s mysteries aren’t resolved in the usual way – and I’m in two minds about having told you that – but it’s a fairly famous aspect of the film, which you may already be aware of. It’s also the kind of thing that might ordinarily put me off a film, so I mention it both to warn you beforehand and reassure you that, thanks to a few twists, Blowup’s incredibly evocative openness to interpretation will actually enhance your viewing of it. It’s that clever.

Don’t pass up Blowup because you like your mysteries to come with solutions. You’ll never find a more intriguing one.

Rating: 5/5

Sunday 4 January 2009

DVDs I bought in Vegas!

* Can you believe the only one of these films currently available on DVD in the UK is Mommie Dearest? And our edition lacks the John Waters commentary found on the US disk! Is it any wonder I double-dipped?

** The ones I’ve never seen: Let’s Scare Jessica to Death, Sweet Sixteen, Return to Sleepaway Camp, Demonia, Death to the Supermodels, Doom Asylum, Knock Knock, C.H.U.D., Wet Gold, Valley Girl, Death Wish 4, Half Moon Street, Mausoleum and Blood Song... See you in February sometime!

In other recent DVD acquisition-related news of mine, how fucking fantastic is the Australian killer-crocodile flick Rogue?! Seriously. Being one of four croco-shockers to come out in 2007 (the others being Blackwater, Croc and Primeval, the latter of which was renamed Primeval Kill in the UK... y’know, to distinguish it from Primeval Cuddle), Rogue sorta sank to the bottom of the swamp. But now I’ve fished it out and witnessed its brilliance, I just want to grab its scaly hand and dance with it until... well, sometime tomorrow morning at least, assuming it lets go for toilet and snack breaks.

Of 2007’s other croc-flicks, I’ve managed to catch the more modestly budgeted Blackwater and thought it pretty good – but, really, it can’t hold a candle to Rogue. And if it tried, that bad-ass reptile would probably leap up and bite its motherfucking hand right OFF! Yes, Rogue is surely the ultimate crocodile movie: suspenseful, creepy and darkly funny, with a surprisingly convincing monster. I loved it. Now, how about four decent shark movies for 2009, please?