Sunday, 28 February 2016


Somewhere between the godless universe of Ken Russell’s Altered States (1980), and the cosmic insanity of Stuart Gordon’s From Beyond (1986), we find the absurdist madness of Julian Doyle’s Chemical Wedding, a shamelessly bizarre Cambridge university farce about the return of legendary occultist Aleister Crowley, co-written by Bruce Dickinson. Here, we have the collision of defensive Masonic lodge acolytes, and Californian investigative physics wizard, but neither of these overly–ambitious parties survives unscathed, as eccentric professor Haddo (Simon Callow) volunteers for quantum exploration, only to become possessed by the beast of Crowley. Pissing on students, wanking in church, Callow’s unapologetic reprobate plays a laughably obscene hi-jacking role in the blundering skiffy horrors where ‘virtual reality’ is synonymous with ‘astral plane’, and consciousness is swappable – like computer memory.

Extolling the virtues of “England’s greatest living poet” and embarking on a needle-sharing scarlet ritual that’s intended to generate a virgin birth, are not the limits of cultural transgression, moral outrage, and superstitious nonsense down in leafy suburbia or around hallowed halls of academe. There’s as much sleaze as sauce poured into this eyebrow-raising concoction but it’s really quite bonkers, and rather more liable to be judged as remarkably silly than it is likely to offend unwary viewers. Robert Pratten has tapped into similarly esoteric obsessions with chiller London Voodoo (2004), and this year’s MindFlesh, exploring dark moods, wicked humour, and seedy violence with an appreciably greater skill.

John Shrapnel essays a dying Crowley in the 194os’ Hastings prologue, with almost perfectly realised period detail. But, incongruously, many of the drama’s present day (circa 2000, with Bush versus Gore as headline news) sets look time-ported from post-war storage, the scientist’s Z93 technical gear is housed in a bemusingly retro basement, and students’ appropriately beige office hardware occupies shabbily furnished rooms of indeterminate age or location. In light of a multi-verse twist ending, the film’s ridiculous faults and overbearingly absolute–cobblers rationale are quite immaterial, anyhow.

This review is from BLACK STATIC #7 (October 2008).
In the same issue, I also reviewed: 

Who Saw Her Die?
The Wizard Of Gore
Lost Boys 2: The Tribe
Day Of The Dead (remake)
Dante 01
Dead Space: Downfall
The Happening
Tin Man
The Flock
The Vanguard
Eraserhead + short films 

Saturday, 20 February 2016


On the run through Parisian riot hell after a right-wing election victory, a carload of youths decamp to the countryside, but are waylaid at a stopover motel by a psycho family of neo-Nazi cannibals, in gore-fest Frontiers (2007), the feature debut of writer-director Xavier Gens (maker of Hitman). Yasmine (Karina Testa) is three months pregnant, which is all that saves her from joining murdered friends in elitist Von Geisler’s larder of salted cadavers, as these reclusive holdouts for a ‘master race’ need to expand their (contaminated) gene pool. Following several rounds of hardcore sadism, there’s an operatic dinnertime ordeal in store for Yasmine, where the hosts welcome her as their new leader’s bride.
Familiar episodes from Texas Chainsaw Massacre scenarios collide with the brutal torture–porn of Hostel and much frenzied bloodshed ensues, with an intense and gritty style that only falls back to rather less convincing horror action for the heroine’s brief visit to local mine works (where unwanted offspring lurk), the climactic slaughterhouse fighting, and a crowd-pleasing shootout for the archetypal bad girls with guns. Harassed, beaten, nearly broken, Yasmine is the slasher genre’s newest ‘final girl’, repeatedly drenched in her attackers’ blood, arterial spray reaching the fountain heights and lawn-sprinkler breadths of Shogun Assassin’s legendary blanket coverage of ‘red rain’.

If intro montages of TV news reports and location footage recall the seriousness of apocalyptic SF, the spectacular ending’s blunt force vengeance is reminiscent of spaghetti westerns. Part evocative fairy tale, part cautionary myth, with layers of sinister and savage theatricality in a blatant attempt to moderate our grieving heroine’s pain and suffering with some reassuringly disreputable ‘Grand Guignol’ retribution. This film is no respecter of safety zones or boundaries, delivering a wild rush of moral outrage, unflinching shocks, chilling despair, and dark comedy. Prefer your tragic horror movies resolved by merciless ultra-violence? (‘Born into a world of chaos and hatred?’) This one’s for you. 

Blight & shadowy: also reviewed in Black Static #6 (August 2008) ...

Diary Of The Dead
The Sick House
Ghost Game
Hell’s Ground
Bloodbath At The House Of Death
The Orphanage

Sunday, 14 February 2016


Subtlety’s 4 sissies!

Here’s a review from the June 2008 issue of BLACK STATIC magazine.

Taking a different viewpoint on the why-are-we-watching theme, Gregory Hoblit’s UNTRACEABLE pits FBI cyber-crime detective Jennifer (Diane Lane, Hollywoodland), against a young ‘genius’ hacker that gets his online jollies offering Internet users a chance to ‘participate’ in snuff-video murders. Uploading a Saw database module to William Malone’s FeardotCom matrix, this is a competent, yet undistinguished, techno-chiller, eagerly focusing on attention to detail (jargon, hoaxes, security, and ideas) rather than just simplemindedly co-opting right-wing moral outrage at what unfettered freedoms and easy access to multimedia consumer-gadgets make permissible.

There are grating lapses in logic and good sense, as the usually cautious heroine wanders stupidly into danger, but palpable horrors abound when a spate of kidnappings leads to deadly game web-casts viewed by millions of Americans. Genre fans might expect superior material from the director of Fallen and Frequency, and Untraceable is not lacking in production values, and casting a mature leading lady amongst its relatively nondescript supporting players (Billy Burke, Colin Hanks, Peter Lewis), means this admittedly ‘sensationalist’ plotline appears well-grounded in a convincing reality, without pointlessly-eccentric characters or incongruous Hollywood glamour to distract us from confronting the cold brutality of the torments and the initial helplessness of even tech-savvy cops to stop the killings.  

It’s not half as entertaining as Jonathan Demme’s great Silence Of The Lambs, or as much twisted fun as Jon Amiel’s Copycat, but, as a meticulously unprejudiced social commentary upon the genuinely worrying rise of online transgressions, it certainly makes overblown fantasy-actioner Die Hard 4.0 look sillier than ever.

Also reviewed on Black Static #5:
Eyes Without A Face
The Sentinel
30 Days Of Night
Blade: The Series
Blood Ties
Needful Things
When Evil Calls
Buried Alive
The Graveyard
Mother Of Tears
The Cellar Door
Five Across The Eyes
Black Water
The Fly

Saturday, 6 February 2016

TV horrors


Here's my review of a genre TV series, first published in Black Static #4...   

TV anthology series Masters Of Horror boasts a hugely impressive line-up of directorial talent, including Dario Argento, Stuart Gordon, Tobe Hooper, Don Coscarelli, and Joe Dante, among top ranked auteurs. DVD packs of 50-minute stories are perhaps too generously appointed, with mere 13-episode seasons released in two parts, to accommodate copious, or all-too-frequently OTT and formulaic, disc extras. Tales range from hardcore gore-fests and deliriously atmospheric satire, to brooding campfire yarns and surreal weirdness.  

Season one’s highlights? John Carpenter’s superb chiller Cigarette Burns gets the series off to a fine start, examining the undiluted power of bizarre cult cinema, as collector and rare-print finder discover the appalling secrets of a legendary picture, ‘La Fin du Monde’.
Cigarette Burns
Angela Bettis, and Erin Brown (alias, Misty Mundae), are primed for a lesbian romance in Lucky McKee’s quirky black comedy Sick Girl, when the side effects of a mysteriously symbiotic bug produce unusual yet unfortunately tragic consequences. Larry Cohen’s entertaining thriller Pick Me Up stars Fairuza Balk, Laurene Landon, and improv genius Michael Moriarty, in a turf war between highway-roaming serial killers.
Imprint - Masters of Horror
Imprint by Takashi Miike (Ichi The Killer) is set in 19th century Japan where the plight of a peasant abortionist segues to gruelling tortured-geisha sequences, reportedly considered too extreme for regular US channels. John Landis’ witty folktale, Deer Woman, mixes road-kill crimes and Indian shape-shifter legends, with in-joke references to American Werewolf In London.

Deer Woman
Season two begins with lesser accomplishments, the contributions from Argento and Landis being mediocre, but Carpenter’s archly provocative Pro-Life tackles anti-abortion issues with deliberate savagery, and presents campy demon-baby delivery effects upping the gratuitous content. Right To Die, by newcomer Rod Schmidt (Wrong Turn), does not compare to Carpenter’s masterful balance of serious theme with schlock theatrics. Stuart Gordon’s revision of Poe’s The Black Cat lets Jeffrey Combs off the leash as the genre-defining poet, while Joe Dante turns in The Screwfly Solution, based on the short story by James Tiptree Jr (alias, Alice Sheldon), making this one of the very best episodes yet.

The weakest link here is undoubtedly series’ creator Mick Garris. His flawed scripts result in some of the least compelling horror dramas offered. Adapting a Clive Barker story for John McNaughton to direct Haeckel’s Tale proved a major disappointment in the first season. Garris directed Valerie On The Stairs and Chocolate, which are both instantly forgettable. Written by David J. Schow and directed by Tom Holland, We All Scream For Ice Cream is remarkably silly. Peter Medak’s campy feast of cannibals The Washingtonians (based on a story by Bentley Little), serves a banquet on the wrong side of ridiculous.
The Damned Thing
For Tobe Hooper’s The Damned Thing, Richard Christian Matheson has adapted Ambrose Bierce, resulting in a modern classic of seemingly-viral apocalypse, Texas style, which sees a melancholy sheriff (Sean Patrick Flanery) confronting townsfolk suddenly overtaken by homicidal/ suicidal madness following a slow-burning dramatic aftermath to shocking opening scenes.

Norio Tsuruta (maker of Premonition) turns a ghost story by Koji Suzuki into ocean-going murder mystery Dream Cruise, in which a Japanese businessman confronts his adulterous trophy wife, Yuri (Yoshino Kamura, Isola) and her lover, American lawyer Jack (Daniel Gillies, Captivity, Spider-Man2), but nothing’s what it seems aboard the pleasure boat as guilty secrets are revealed and there’s plenty of J-horror spectral effects, in and out of the deep water, with typically stunning use of creaky sound throughout.  

Season closer The V Word, directed by Ernest Dickerson (Demon Knight), has bored teenage boys attacked by a vampire (Michael Ironside), when they break into a funeral parlour. Yet another uninspired script by Garris means the episode never gets up to speed as thriller or revenge slasher, has no place very interesting to go and nothing new to say, anyhow. “Whatever happened to the piss and vinegar of youth, eh?” Jodelle Ferland (Tideland, Silent Hill, The Messengers) is largely wasted in a supporting role as the youngest victim. With a one-in-three average score for duds, this series maintains an entertainment standard few similarly anthological horror shows can equal.
Also reviewed in BS #4:

Planet Terror
Resident Evil: Extinction
Dead Mary
Automaton Transfusion
The Tripper
Saw IV
Dark Chamber
Blackwater Valley Exorcism
The Nun
KM 31
The Shining
The Ferryman
Swamp Thing
Mega Snake
The Abandoned
The Mist