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“Sharknado 3” announced – Fin-al Destination?

A terrifying tale, ripped from the headlines!

A terrifying tale, ripped from the headlines!

Over at Shock Til’ You Drop, Ryan Turek has the not-entirely-unexpected news that SyFy are shopping around the third in their series of cheap-as-chips monster mash-ups, “Sharknado”.

At this point viewers will be only too aware of what they’re letting themselves in for and, if nothing else, the franchise keeps Tara Reid in gainful employment and allows a steady stream of cameoing celebs to poke fun at themselves before being chomped on by badly rendered CG fish the best special effects known to film kind.

It’s due out in 2015 – form an orderly queue on your sofa now.

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Horror Hysteria: “Piranha 3D”

"I'm sorry,  IMDB are still listing this on your filmography..."

“I’m sorry, IMDB are still listing this on your filmography…”

Alexandre Aja’s 2010 remake of the Joe Dante fishspoitation classic, “Piranha” is a wretched piece of crap.

“Piranha 3D” has but one concern –  the dismemberment of young, topless girls.  To say that this is crass and sickening  is almost too obvious, but the sheer, weapons-grade misogyny on display in Aja’s movie beggars belief.  I don’t know if I was more surprised by the film’s craven delight in finding ways to kill the female supporting cast or by the presence in it of actors like Elizabeth Shue and Christopher Lloyd.   I know times are tough, but you would like to think that Academy Award nominees could find a better use of their time than this rancid horror flick.

The film’s underlying ideas are as ugly as the technical side of it.  There’s scarcely a female role in the film which doesn’t call for the actress to go topless or to be bloodily devoured whilst topless – If you’re not a mother or pre-teen girl in the film, then you’re a drunk, bikini-clad spring break slut or potential slut who deserves to be killed because that’s just so edgy.  As a recruitment advert for feminist activism, “Piranha 3D” has few equals.

The previously alluded-to technical issues with the movie make it mostly unwatchable – as a 2D presentation, the film looks shoddy and absurdly cheap, with the 3D effects having no impact and the computer generated images looking like late 90s video game cut scenes.  The killer fish themselves are dreadful, utterly unconvincing things and the major shoreline massacre sequence only works  because the practical make-up work is  half-decent.

There’s no point in belabouring the point – this is an appalling, witless, pointless film.  Avoid it as you would do with a particularly virulent infection.

 

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Horror Hysteria: “Rec 3: Genesis”

With a poster this awesome, do you actually need a movie?

With a poster this awesome, do you actually need a movie?

The Spanish “REC” series of zombie movies is one which I clutch dearly to my (mostly) undead heart.  The first two entries in the franchise related the frantically-paced tale of a mysterious viral outbreak in a Barcelona apartment building.  Shot in an immediate, first-person style which plunges the viewer directly into the nightmarishly unfolding action, the films tapped into the storytelling techniques familiar to a generation raised on reality TV and “Call of Duty“-style shooters whilst weaving a background tapestry of governmental collusion, demonic possession and societal mistrust.

The third movie doesn’t quite follow this template, which some fans may count as an unforgivable betrayal.  In “REC 3: Genesis”, we find ourselves watching highlights of Koldo and Clara’s wedding day as it unfolds, meeting the bride (who has a secret…), the groom and their respective families and friends as they gather at the church and the reception afterwards.   The first heads-up that things are going “REC” comes when a guest appears to have suffered a dog bite…

 

Ruh Roh

 

Before you can say “Colega, ¿dónde está mi motosierra?”, the recently undead are running amok, chowing down on second cousins and forcing apart Clare and Koldo on the happiest day of their lives.  It’s at this point that the film jettisons any pretence at found footage with a meta-joke about people who keep recording in the midst of a disaster instead of just running for their lives.  The film swaps to a traditional 2:35:1 aspect ratio at this point, giving long-suffering Horror aesthetes like your humble blogger the chance to enjoy the zombie-riffic carnage in a more cinematic style than hand-held video permits.

And this may be the problem for a lot of fans of the series.  In acknowledging the tenets of traditional narrative cinema, the immediacy is lost and you’re watching just a.n. other horror movie, rather than going into the grisly heart of the action as in previous franchise entries. That would be fine if the film was a nerve-shredding exercise in suspense and white-knuckle terror, but this third entry in the series is closer to “Zombieland” than “Zombie Flesh Eaters”.  Personally, I don’t have a problem with that, but your mileage may vary if you fear the dread spectre of mainstream norms gatecrashing our undead party.

The focus is on situational chuckles rather than survival horror, save for the last ten minutes of the film which take a sojourn into more serious territory.  The performances scale upwards accordingly and if you went into the third movie expecting the vivid terrors of the first two entries, this film’s exaggerated caricatures and more sentimental overtures might well stick in the craw like so much undigested flesh.

 

The Spanish Chainsaw Massacre

 

I really enjoyed this film and was punching the air by the time that Clara (Leticia Dolera) was slashing her wedding dress up with a chainsaw to make easier work of dispatching ghouls.   That it doesn’t have the relentless drive and manic shocks of the first film proved to me that “REC 3” was happy to take a different path and not just repeat the riffs of its predecessors.  Isn’t that a good thing?  Finding some narrative hook to justify a team of survivors documenting their path through an undead uprising rather suggests that the established filming conventions are more important than the story – surely not the right message to send when, as audiences, we complain about studios and film-makers being content to fall back on the same old tropes?

At a scant 80 minutes, it doesn’t wear out it’s welcome and is at least trying to do something different – I’ve can’t recall the last time I saw a ravenous horde of flesh-munchers stopped in their shuffling tracks by a priest reciting Bible verse over the hotel P.A. system…

 

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31 Days of Halloween Hysteria: “Waxwork”

It's a hell of a show...

It’s a hell of a show…

 

There’s nothing like a film studio logo to give any self-respecting nerd an attack of nostalgia.  Witness the 1988 monster movie mash-up, “Waxwork”.   I had only to see the Vestron Pictures logo at the beginning of the movie to be transported to a more innocent age of plastic clamshell VHS  boxes, video recorder tracking wheels and low-budget scare-fests with artwork that promised more epic terror than a poverty row budget could ever deliver.  Yes, streaming is convenient, but there’s no sense of occasion in scrolling through fuzzy cover art on your smartphone screen and then watching a film.

It’s not the movies that got small – it’s the screens.  But, I digress..

Yep, those are some 80's teens alright...

Yep, those are some 80’s teens alright…

 

The film sees a gaggle of upscale, freshly scrubbed college kids taking an ill-advised midnight tour of a new waxwork attraction which has just popped up in suburbia, as if by (spooky laugh) evil magic.  Pausing only to be spooked by in-no-way nefarious proprietor David Warner on the way in, the likes of Zach Galligan, Deborah Foreman and Dana Ashbrook find their perfectly maintained 80’s hairdos well and truly messed up when they stray too far into the wax exhibits and zip through a portal into their own, personal horror movies.

If you came of age with the Eli Roth and Alexandre Aja era of horror cinema, there’s a very good chance that “Waxwork” will seem like so much fine fromage:   it boasts practical effects and matte paintings, goofy synthesised scoring and many scenes apparently shot in somebody’s very swish mansion, not to mention a climax which sees Steed himself, the glorious Patrick Macnee, having at the bad guys whilst strapped into what can only be described as a battle chariot-come-wheelchair.

Visceral, transgressive, hackles-raising terror this isn’t.  Cheery B-movie fun it definitely is.

David Warner is a splendidly hissable bad guy but he’s not really a dominant menace as he only pops up periodically to put his diabolical plan into action – the majority of the scaring and teen menacing is done by a right old cornucopia of thesps including John Rhys Davies, Miles O’ Keefe and J. Kenneth Campbell (essaying well-known fictional horror movie staple, the Marquis De Sade).  It’s this film within the film structure which really hit the spot for me – I was particularly taken by the black-and-white segment which pits hero Zach Galligan against a graveyard full of recently arisen zombies as it demonstrates amply that Hickox’s film is a love letter to classic horror.  Indeed, the director gives props to the likes of Argento, Romero, Carpenter and Hammer in the closing credits.

What better way to round out this month of cinematic terrors than to take in a film which celebrates the genre in such a fun fashion?  I can’t imagine anybody but the most woolly of wusses being scared by “Waxwork”, but it’s sheer joy in genre is infectious – it’s the sort of film which makes you want to watch more fright flicks after seeing it.  And what better film to watch on the night that the dead walk and spectres…spectate?

Have a Happy Halloween, Boils and Ghouls!

 

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31 Days of Halloween Hysteria: “Hatchet”

 

 

Hack/Slash or Slap/Dash?

Hack/Slash or Slap/Dash?

Sometimes, watching horror movies, you feel quite at odds with your peers.  The UK poster for writer/director Adam Green’s “Hatchet” features rapturous pull quotes which would have you believe that this unashamedly retro slasher flick is quite the big man on campus.

Arriving at a time when Jigsaw ruled supreme and every other fright-flick was feverishly grasping for a slice of the torture and humiliation pie, “Hatchet” must have seemed like a breath of (Gator) fresh air.  Full of old-school stalk-and-slash kills, yet boasting a certain genre self-awareness, this grisly tale of Louisiana mutant maniac Victor Crowley was practically made for the horror festival circuit and to inspire enthusiastic debate amongst forum posters.  Hell, Kane Hodder’s front and centre as the movie’s anti-heroic slasher – how much more cred with the grue ‘n’ gore crowd do you need?

The film sees a mismatched band of New Orleans tourists heading out to the bayou on a haunted swamp tour boat and expecting to see nothing more than swamp gas, the odd reptilian river dweller and hear a spectral yarn or two from shyster tour guide Shawn (Parry Shen).  Chief amongst these tourists are nerdy college kid Ben (Joel David Moore), his utterly sceptical best friend Marcus (Deion Richmond) and mysterious local gal MaryBeth (Tamara Feldman).  When their boat breaks down and begins to sink, the tourists soon come under attack from both the swamp’s many-toothed gators and Mr Crowley himself, whose tolerance for visitors is non-existent.

Where this movie succeeds is in building a convincing back story for Crowley and in ensuring that we know just enough about the tourists before Victor’s blade begins to bite.  As well as our core trio, the film sees cameos from horror icons like Tony Todd (the charmingly disreputable Reverend Zombie) and Robert Englund (who doesn’t make it past the opening credits) and even finds room for Mercedes McNab, otherwise known as Harmony in “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”, who forms a winning comic partnership with Joleigh Fioravanti.  as bickering actress wannabes doffing their tops for a sleazy videographer promising fame in a regionally-themed “Girls Gone Wild” rip-off.

The major issue that I do have with “Hatchet” is that whilst it certainly passes the time quite agreeably and shows a pleasing commitment to delivering old-school horror with delightfully gross practical gore effects, it never exactly lives up to the advance billing of being a game-changing fright fest.

Rather, Adam Green’s film is, at heart, an unapologetic slasher homage and doesn’t seem to be too hung up about providing meta commentary of the “Scream”/”Cabin in the Woods” variety.  Judging it on it’s own merits, it’s a slightly rough-around-the-edges, speedy horror movie which delivers on the kill front, has the seemingly prerequisite number of topless young women, has a decent Final Girl in the form of MaryBeth and even delivers my favourite staple of the 70’s/80’s horror film, the cyclical nightmare ending.

That said, it really doesn’t offer anything new and the advance claims of Green doing something different are hard to reconcile with the enjoyable but scarcely revolutionary film he’s directed.  In comparison to the torture-driven fare on offer at the time, “Hatchet” is preferable experience in that you don’t want to have your memory scrubbed of what you’ve just watched.

More fun than an axe in the head, but not the best horror movie that I’ve watched this October.

 

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31 Days of Halloween Hysteria: “(Rec)”

Nightmarishly gruelling terror, Spanish-style...

Nightmarishly gruelling terror, Spanish-style…

 

If I’ve learned one thing from participating in this 31 Days of Horror blog challenge, it’s that non-Hollywood film offers the best chill for your buck.

The studios have the cash, but the indie and international films have mastered the fine art of using their limitations creatively to scare the living pants off you – witness Spain’s (Rec) from 2007.

 

 

As directed by Jaume Balaguero & Paco Plaza, “(Rec)” relates the story of Angela (Manuela Velasco), a local TV presenter in Barcelona fronting the show “While You’re Asleep”.  Angela’s beat is to follow people who work whilst the wider world slumbers and on this night, she’s shadowing guys from the local fire station.  She’s convinced that she’s in for a dull show until a call comes in from an apartment building.

It's all smiles until a viral zombie outbreak ruins your day...

It’s all smiles until a viral zombie outbreak ruins your day…

 

The crew are called to rescue a confused elderly woman locked in her apartment.  On closer inspection she’s covered in blood and a wee bit bitey.  Angela and her long-suffering cameraman Pablo capture everything as the elderly woman attacks the firemen, mortally wounding their supervisor.  From that point, the fit really hits the shan as the local police and military seal off the building, trapping the remaining tenants inside with an increasing complement of feral, meat-crazed, virally-created predators.  The survivors numbers drop by the minute until only Angela and Pablo are left to document the horror, culminating in a visit to the mysteriously locked and sealed-off apartment at the top of the building.

It is here in the last twenty minutes of the film that Balaguero and Plaza really get their hooks into you, with the found footage conceit working at its peak effectiveness and Velasco’s embodiment of abject terror being totally convincing. The combination of performance, staging, cinematography and direction conspire to utterly grip and even scare the viewer – the first time in this 31 Days of Halloween Hysteria that I’ve actually been on the edge of my seat and frightened by the film.

That “(Rec)” is a scant 75 minutes in length is also of note –  it makes you wonder why more directors don’t just get in, scare the bejesus out of their audiences and then drop the mic in triumph.

Two follow-ups have been released to date, with a fourth due imminently – the parallel sequel “(Rec 2)”, hybrid prequel/sequel “(Rec 3: Genesis)” and final instalment “(Rec 4: Apocalypse)”.  Two American films remade the franchise for subtitle-averse audiences in the form of “Quarantine” and “Quarantine 2: Terminal”.  Whilst it would be foolish to judge a film without seeing it, the fact that the cover art for the US remake appears to give away the very last moments of the movie doesn’t exactly inspire me with confidence.

Still, “(Rec)” is a cracking horror movie on it’s own and I’m going to continue to watch the rest of the series with great interest to see how this refreshingly scary take on the zombie genre develops.

 

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“Avengers: Age of Ultron” trailer

The Great Lord Feige has found us worthy. And for that, may we be thankful.

Responding with lightning speed to an online leak, Marvel Studios posted the first teaser trailer for “Avengers: Age of Ultron” a week ahead of schedule.

It had been due to debut with next week’s episode of “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D”, but the Internet had other ideas. Marvel, of course, had a sense of humour about that (via Twitter):



 

I’d call the two minutes and 17 seconds above a resounding success, but then I am a wholly biased Whedon fanboy (I even think that “Dollhouse” has it’s moments).  James Spader does creepy superbly, even with his voice run through lots of filters…

“Avengers: Age of Ultron” opens in the UK on 24 April 2015 and in the US on 1 May 2015.

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31 Days of Halloween Hysteria: “Dream Home”

The body count isn't an exaggeration...

The body count isn’t an exaggeration…

Buying a house can be murder.

We’ve all been there, even before the global financial meltdown made the idea of owning your home something akin to science fiction for many people.  In Pang Ho-Cheung’s satirical horror movie, “Dream Home”, Cheng Lai-Sheung (Josie Ho) endures hardships and horrors which would dissuade most people from pursuing their dream of owning an upscale apartment with a view of Hong Kong’s harbour.

Cheng works two jobs and cares for an ailing father, having saved relentlessly since her youth to afford a flat which would give her family a better standard of living.   She has a loveless affair with a wealthy married guy and has friends who are so resigned to renting rather than buying in one of the world’s most populous and expensive cities that they’d sooner blow their cash on lavish trips to Tokyo than save for a deposit.

Our anti-heroine’s tale of property-induced madness is told in a non-linear style, with the present of 2007 juxtaposed with episodes from Cheng’s youth which show us roughly how she came to be the hammer-wielding, single-minded one-woman harbinger of death we see on screen.

And here we get to one of the issues with the movie – and it’s a biggie.  Whilst the privations and suffering which Cheng undergoes are numerous, they still seem out of proportion to the level of bludgeoning violence she metes out to the inhabitants of the apartment building she visits.  One killing – of a pregnant woman – is so particularly vile that it unbalances the film and could be a deal-breaker for some viewers.  You might say that it was for me, as it became impossible to sympathise with Cheng after this point.

Nonetheless, I watched the whole film and found “Dream Home” a confused movie.  The tone ramps between syrupy, sepia-coloured memoir, acid-tongued economic satire and bloody slasher black comedy without ever sticking the landing.  We get one particularly gruesome bloodbath in a hipster flat where a character has their intestines abruptly removed and sits enjoying a calming cigarette as friends and a pair of hookers are messily dispatched.

I get the sense that this film was swinging for the kind of horrific intensity and jet-black humour of “American Psycho”, blending commentary on the banal cruelties of climbing the career and social ladder with the over the top carnage of a prime 1980’s slasher flick (albeit with a Final Girl who’s also the murderous villain).  That’s all very well, but the literal blood & guts on display seem to override everything, becoming the focus.  And our leading character Cheng feels like a sketch, rather than a fully-realised protagonist.

I can’t say that I enjoyed “Dream Home” at all.  Gore in place of plot, a cast of mostly detestable knife fodder and satirical underpinnings which seem like an afterthought – none of these factors add up to a compelling film for me. The final moments of the movie, which seem to offer a comeuppance for our anti-heroine, come rather too late and seem like an attempt to provide a rap across the knuckles for somebody who deserves somewhat more punishment for her crimes.

 

 

 

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31 Days of Halloween Hysteria:”Cold Prey: Resurrection”

She's back and she's brought a friend...

She’s back and she’s brought a friend…

Life has a funny way of messing with your plans, and this weekend was no exception.

My steady progress of watching a horror flick a day during October went awry on Friday when my Mum was taken ill. What with one thing and another,  it took me until Monday the 20th to get back on the scary wagon, unless you count watching the “Strictly Come Dancing” results with Mrs Rolling Eyeballs as suitable horror fodder.

With a semblance of normality restored, I sat down to watch the sequel to “Cold Prey” – “Cold Prey – Resurrection”.  Following a model established by “Halloween 2”, this follow-up to the 2006 fright-fest is set almost entirely in a due-to-close hospital.  Jannicke (Ingrid Bolso Berdal) is brought there after being found wandering in the snow, having killed the backwoods mountain man who murdered her friends in the first movie.  Traumatised by her experiences, she’s horrified to learn that police have recovered the bodies of her friends and the killer, who awakes in the hospital determined to finish what he started.

“Cold Prey” wasn’t a horror film which reinvented the genre, but it showed a commendable commitment to establishing character and location, a trait which this sequel also displays.  It’s at least half-an-hour before the mayhem truly begins, with the stories of the hospital staff, patients and local police force all having moments of character development before the Mountain Man rises from his slumber and stalks the corridors anew.

The second movie in the series – a prequel, “Fritt Vilt 3”, came out in 2010 – builds on the strong points of the first film and concentrates on delivering a series of tense set-pieces.  There’s a particularly effective police breach sequence in which the characters actually behave like sensible rational people (before getting diced six ways to Sunday).  If you’ve ever shouted at the screen whilst watching a horror flick, wondering why people going into the big scary house don’t wait for back-up, then this film will satisfy your desire for protagonists with two brain cells to rub together.

That said, there are certain inescapable tenets which the slasher sub-genre has to adhere to and the climactic showdown in “Cold Prey 2” is no exception.  Having spent the majority of the running time in civilisation, the end of the film sees the villain and our heroines – we get two Final Girls this time, Jannicke and hospital doctor Camilla (Marthe Snorresdottir Rovik) – hopping on a snowmobile and tracking the Mountain Man back to his remote hotel lair to finally vanquish their warmly-clad foe.

As a sequel, “Cold Prey 2” does a decent job of providing a briskly delivered cocktail of scares and thrills, also finding time to pencil in some of the back story hinted at by the first instalment.  Fans of Nordic Noir might even enjoy the sequence where the local chief of police pieces together how come so many skiers and snowboarders seem to disappear in the mountains – I thought that I was watching a cop procedural drama for a couple of minutes.

Overall, this is a satisfying horror movie, albeit one which seemed to ramp up the violence and gore in a way that the original movie didn’t seem to feel was necessary.  If that’s a turn-off, please feel forewarned, but don’t miss out on a decent example of the modern European horror thriller.

 

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31 Days of Halloween Hysteria: “Amer”

What did I just watch?

After yesterday’s display of brutalist horror action, today’s pick was a completely different black-gloved, split-screened, bee-stung lipped beast entirely.

2009’s Giallo-homaging head trip, “Amer”, is the first feature film from French film-makers Helene Cattet and Bruno Forzani.  It’s an impossibly hip, wonderfully shot tone poem which vividly relates key episodes in the life of Ana, played variously by Cassandra Forêt, Charlotte Eugène Guibeaud and Marie Bos.

Being that this is an achingly stylish, cine-literate and very French film, those key episodes relate almost entirely to sex, death or some commingling of the two.

The first tale sees Ana in early childhood, enduring a distant father, a mother who actively despises her and the proverbial weird grandma in the room next door, whose grabby hands and black lace shroud are not likely to endear her to the young tyke.  Into this strange picture we should also consider the slowly decaying grandfather in the basement, some business with an antique pocketwatch, bedroom lighting from the firm of Argento and Fulci and Ana walking in on her parents as they reach sweaty mutual climax.

Yes, quite.

Part two sees Ana in puberty and having a sensual awakening as her still hostile mother gets her hair done in town.  Biker gangs are involved.  There’s lots of breathy sound effects, floaty summer dresses, wistful French pop and an air of elegant doom and punishment despite the picture-perfect surroundings.

Our final episode sees Ana in adulthood, back in her childhood home, indulging in more self-pleasure than a 13-year-old boy and now subject to the attentions of an initially unseen stalker with black gloves and a sharp blade.  Sex and death, man – it’s the cornerstone of cinema as we know it.

If “Amer” sounds like your particular cup of  Javanese espresso, that’s probably as much of a recommendation as you’re going to need.  This is cinema as art and I don’t know if we need to judge this film in the same way as we would a prosaic slasher or identikit found-footage thriller.   It has exceptionally pretty images, wonderful sound design, skillful use of editing, split-screen, excellent set-design and not a hint of a story beyond what you might be able to project onto it.

You could regard “Amer” as lazy film-making or refreshingly oblique, depending on what you go to the cinema for.  If you’ve ever enjoyed a Dario Argento movie from his 1970s period, you’ll probably find something to enjoy in “Amer”, although it lacks the narrative propulsion of one of his lurid, grisly horror masterworks.  If your particular scary movie jam is jump scares and inventive murdery set-pieces, you might want to give this a wide berth.