Saturday, 15 October 2016


Uncut on DVD, Alfred Sole’s cult slasher flick ALICE, SWEET ALICE (aka: Communion, 1976) marked the very first cinema appearance of Brooke Shields, here playing the doomed younger sister of troublesome schoolgirl Alice (Paula Sheppard, also seen in bizarre sci-fi comedy, Liquid Sky, 1982). While causing no end of problems for her mother, Alice taunts the obese paedophile landlord in his downstairs lair, and she has a “knack for making things look like accidents”. 

Later, Alice viciously stabs her aunt and, during the police investigation, the little bitch beats a lie detector test. But there is a clever twist in this plot-line of escalating psychotic violence.

Like Don’t Look Now, the mysterious killer wears a brightly coloured raincoat, but here it’s yellow not red. As director, Sole clearly parallels De Palma’s Hitchcock tributes but with an acute grotesquery that unbalances the perversities of this movie’s thematic reach. As indicated by its original title, Communion, this still quite shocking tragedy is about madness from familial shame with a religious source, and its urban gothic atmosphere is apparent beyond the closely observed catholic rituals and its bloody finale in the neighbourhood church.        

Saturday, 8 October 2016

Percy 2

Like an American cousin of Harry Potter, the half-blood prince of PERCY JACKSON: SEA OF MONSTERS (2013) is studying a kindle-pedia at summer Camp Hogwerks when he’s called away for a Bermuda triangle quest with a satyr guide, on a mission of mercy in search of a Golden Fleece macguffin. 

Leader of the pack Clarisse has deemed Percy an unlikely hero, so this becomes a tale about winning friendships and loyalty in a mawkish fantasy soap-opera that revolves around typical absentee father/ problem child issues, easily solved by typically conformist platitudes. 

Spells “make the mystical look normal”: an undercover/ fitting-in trick that translates as looking mediocre or just plain boring. At times, this sequel plays like some imaginary episode of ‘Olympus Hills, 90210’. 

PJ: SOM flips between hysterically overwrought, and tediously sentimental, for a team adventure with strap-on mythology. While visiting Washington, D.C., Percy and his chums find that Hermes operates a packing/ shipping warehouse to rival the average Amazon wish-fulfilment centre (oh, a droll Greek reference offered freely). 

After the supposedly-cool surfing without boards, on a magical wave-crest, zombies form the crew of a warship lost in the belly of a mega-whale (um, isn’t Jonah a Hebrew myth, not a Greek one?). Never mind, the vacuous lesson preached by this CGI exhibitionism is that “parents... make mistakes.” This is a US fantasy that fearlessly boasts a ‘harpy barista’ as one bemusing screen credit.

Saturday, 1 October 2016

No One Lives

NO ONE LIVES (2012) is about what happens after a gang of highway robbers pick the wrong victim. They waylay a nameless driver (Luke Evans), and their callous mercenary attitudes collide with an evil beyond their understanding. Ryuhei Kitamura is a director with an eclectic genre CV that includes samurai noir Versus, prison horror Alive, enjoyable hokum about ninja-girl Azumi, 50th anniversary kaiju Godzilla: Final Wars, and the Clive Barker-sourced urban shocker Midnight Meat Train.

NOL weaves together an unsolved-crime mystery with lawless action scenes that build up high tension slowly, towards a killing-spree bloodbath by an archetypal sadistic antagonist who acts like the proverbial one-man-army. A kidnapped heiress adds to a dilemma of confusion, although she’s the only one with any idea what is really going on.

Crossing the borders of imaginative grotesquery, violating subgenre treaties and slasher exclusion zones, and revising familiar elements from the Saw and Halloween series, this engaging thriller explores a viciously sick sense of humour, and charts much specific weirdness - very much to the delight of gore-movie fandom. Finding time for siege mentality, sophomoric/ Tarantinoesque musings, an inevitable cat-fight and various sensational/ splattery fatalities, Kitamura’s latest trick offers grisly fun-time on a tremendously entertaining scale. 

Saturday, 24 September 2016

Dark Skies

“Just because I can’t explain something doesn’t mean aliens are responsible.” Scott Stewart’s DARK SKIES (2013) charts life in the troubled household of Daniel and Lacey, and their sons - just as one of their boys is having puberty issues. The director of quite entertaining Paul Bettany vehicles, Legion (of angels and apocalypse), and Priest (an alternative-world dystopia based on a Korean comic-book), remixes bits from Poltergeist and Shyamalan’s Signs, but without much quirky inventiveness. Dark Skies prefers to keep its cake whole while also scoffing it down, well before teatime.

There’s a Sandman visitor in the dead of night (“Maybe if I just gave him my eyes, he would leave us alone,” says little Sammy). Walkie-talkies and webcam security offer no protection against swarming bird strikes in suburbia. Creepy intruder alerts prompt domestic meltdown into UFOlogy beliefs about missing-time episodes, sleepwalking disturbances, and implants for seemingly arbitrary mind-control. 

Are you ready for some claustrophobically close encounters? Yes, here is another 'X-File' about irresponsibly meddlesome aliens, similar to ‘stranger’ entities in Philippe Mora’s floppy/ pseudo-comical movie Communion, based upon Whitley Strieber’s book.  

J.K. Simmons (TV crime series The Closer) is the consultant ‘expert’ on Greys and whatnot. Predictable scares punctuate routine development of a hackneyed plot. Dark Skies, like its 1990s TV series namesake, is all played commendably straight but, sadly, despite a few effective chills, it’s never interesting enough to maintain adequate levels of suspense and/ or dramatic tension for longer than a few minutes at a time, before it lapses into longer stretches of acute boredom, enlivened only by clich├ęd twists.

Keri Russell in DARK SKIES

Sunday, 18 September 2016

Beautiful Creatures

BEAUTIFUL CREATURES (2013) is a fantasy romance with a modern styling of southern gothic. Lonely among the god-fearing folks of Gatlin, South Carolina, small town mortal Ethan falls for his ‘dream girl’ Lena, a novice witch whose magic is maturing too rapidly for easy control. Her wealthy family’s waning patriarch, Uncle Macon (camp Jeremy Irons), struggles to maintain a positive influence over present day events, never mind local expectations of a gloomy future, if his worried niece is claimed by the dark side. 

Of course, Lena and Ethan’s fate is linked to a curse that has lingered/ festered since the Civil War. Predictably, the solution to this moral predicament requires a sacrifice (read that as a kind of exorcism) to finally bury its corruptive power. 

Directed with patchy competence by Richard LaGravenese (writer of Terry Gilliam’s The Fisher King), the movie’s humour is just as awkwardly false and strained as the comedy sideshow routines in Tim Burton’s quirky Dark Shadows remake. The principal cast are merely adequate, but Emmy Rossum (Day After Tomorrow), shines, and is good fun, as vampish cousin Ridley. The ghost of TV series Charmed, and not True Blood, haunts every twist/ downturn of this Twilight inspired scenario’s drooling sentimentality. This is fantasy with the crusts cut off, so all that’s left is the cotton-woolly insides.