Saturday, 26 March 2016

Cold Prey

Something like Friday The 13th meets The Shining, but quite entertaining, Norwegian slasher Fritt vilt (2006), makes its visceral impact on single (or double–billed with sequel) DVD as, COLD PREY, directed by Roar Uthaug (what a great name!) with plenty of intelligence for renewing or satirising (note: blonde virgin’s fate) familiar subgenre conventions. Snowboarders foolishly climb mountains in mobile–phone dead–zone. A broken leg ends their fun. Two couples plus injured loner take refuge in rundown ski lodge, abandoned since the 1970s. Less irritating or facile than usual stereotypes of comparative American films, these young people nevertheless follow all typical behaviours, with the cast emoting friendship sensitivities in conflict with hormonal thoughtlessness.

After the ‘lost & found’ store is recognised as serial–killer’s trophy room, resourceful Jannicke (Ingrid Bolso Berdal) is tagged for reaching ‘final girl’ status. Tension ratchets up steadily, and the survivors of early attacks portray shock and terror in a convincing fashion. The brutish villain of the piece remains hooded, masked, and eerily silent; a shadowy presence throughout, adding mystery to proceedings without a lot of creative effort, or too much theatrical menace or blatant forewarning of his seemingly random attacks/ chases/ slayings – which are particularly unsettling whenever observed, unwittingly, from the others’ hiding places. “All my friends are dead” goes Turbonegro’s theme song, over end credits, but Mats Stenberg continues the what-to-do-in-Norway-when-you’re-dead narrative in COLD PREY II: RESURRECTION, which sees heroine Jan rescued from exposure on frozen high roads and waking up, uncomfortably numb at first, in a skeleton–staffed hospital that’s due for closure.

Local sheriffs act on distressed Jan’s report, investigating the hotel, hauling five bodies from a crevasse to the mortuary, and struggling to make sense of lunacy. Power cut. Generators fail, and enfolding darkness accentuates dangers as the nameless killer begins another one–by–one slaughter, with a favourite pickaxe. Having discovered nasty truths about grisly history of a ‘lost’ boy, armed cops arrive, bringing perfectly timed comic–relief moments for the third act’s gunplay–thriller mode. Although never quite as imaginative, or rewarding, as the best slashers, this Norse variation on franchised chillers benefits greatly from excellent cinematography, astute direction of largely untried casts, and strong build–up to satisfyingly vengeful confrontations.
These reviews were first published in BLACK STATIC #11 (June 2009).

A prequel movie, set in the 1980s, Cold Prey III, was produced in 2010.
Also reviewed in that issue of the magazine...

Sunday, 20 March 2016

Sunday Feast

The second part of Robert Rodriquez’s unforgettable From Dusk Till Dawn saw the diverse patrons of an infamous Mexican strip–club under vicious attack by a horde of vampires. Starting with FEAST (2005), John Gulager’s trilogy of monster movies pays homage to that schlock classic, as it’s also set in a bar. The bartender is played by the director’s dad Clu (best known for Return Of The Living Dead), and Feast’s family team-up for neo-auteur John’s debut film (prompted by winning season three of TV series Project Greenlight) doesn’t end there, as the filmmaker casts wife Diane Goldner in a significant role as buxom ‘Harley Mom’.  

Viewed in hi-def (yes, I first watched this on HD-DVD!), this is a rare treat - so full of magnificently demented fun and grotesque furies that it’s consistently entertaining. The characters have cool or clunky monikers instead of proper names, helpfully explained by the thumbnail–biography freeze-frames, but rendered wittily, without reducing them all to cyphers:  

Bozo (Balthazar Getty), motivational–speaker Coach (Henry Rollins, Black Flag front-man), disabled Hot Wheels (Josh Zuckerman), blonde – though not necessarily a bimbo – Honey Pie (Jenny Wade), and nameless widow ‘Heroine’ (Navi Rawat, Thoughtcrimes) are among those registering most strongly. Clearly, this is a tavern frequented by rednecks, and yet there’s a genuine pathos that enhances the predicaments of characters when the quartet of slime–spewing beasts (which vaguely resemble the creature of British video hit, Split Second, 1992) arrive, wearing animal hides so they seem like cross–breeds from Critters and Aliens 

Navi Rawat in FEAST
A refreshingly subversive screenplay engages with pulp genre conventions, presenting master–class lessons in how best to sabotage or break the rules and principles, keeping viewers guessing with an unpredictable schedule of who/ how/ when ‘exit’ scenes. However, chaos and bedlam are tightly choreographed, edited for maximum visual and visceral impact, ensuring this slick and sicko entertainment has plenty of heart amidst its soulless triage of shocks, twists, and escalating levels of spectacularly gruesome action. You know it’s something different when throwaway lines such as “The monster’s cock is stuck in the door!” are both riotously funny and queasily unsettling in the self-same moment.  

Goldner returns as Harley Mom’s twin sister, vengeful Biker Queen, in FEAST II: SLOPPY SECONDS, leading her gang of lesbians into ‘Small Town’ rumbles, aided by surviving crusty Bartender, on the trail of a suspected killer, increasing the scale of its predecessor’s thrills into a more ambitious milieu, but with no loss of production values or innovative quality. Again, we have the sub-textual notion of walls being torn down leaving no safe place to hide from the monsters, whose origins remain unknown. With the whole town under attack, used–car salesmen, the boss’ adulterous wife, and (wait for it!) a tag–team of midget Mexican wrestlers (also handy locksmiths) join the first movie’s walking wounded, and even the most bizarre characters or weird cameo roles (including the walk-on-and-die batch of new heroes) have a well–rounded appeal.

Monsters attack in FEAST 2
Feast II becomes a recognisable fusion of Larry Cohen’s extraordinary character studies with Rob Zombie’s trademark gross: despite outrageous imagery, the stories are focused entirely upon the interactions and development of appealingly–flawed characters, enduring gratuitous and often misogynistic violence, with relentless sleaze and splatter in soiled settings. From puke–fest to ‘alien’ autopsy, where vomit–worthy biology is reminiscent of Peter Jackson’s Bad Taste (1987), this is indie horror at its finest, eschewing all the moral sensitivities of Hollywood’s feel–good sentimentality. A stray cat is abused and impregnated. The crying baby (third–generation Gulager, of course!) is bait for rescue heroics, but then discarded as a quick breakfast for hungry monsters. While a rooftop catapult–building montage plays out, the wrestlers’ granny rots away to a sack of slush left in the corner.

You’ll flinch, laugh, and weep at vicious black comedy, and astonishingly surreal pandemonium, which takes no prisoners. Blood pools across the screen to drown scurrying ants and blot out a blue–sky view, as the end credits roll. We are in hell. Closing act, FEAST III: THE HAPPY FINISH is anything but a safe–and–sound conclusion. The Bartender and Biker Queen are back on Armageddon’s chopping block with infamous baby–killer, ex–philanderer Greg (Tom Gulager), now joined by ‘psychic’ Prophet (warding off ‘demons’ with his squawky hearing–aid), and various superhero types rewarded for their bravery only by quick/ horrible, purely arbitrary displacements from allotted guest-spots, whether by ambush or accident.
Hybrid mutants arise and ferocious assault splits the city–bound survivors into seemingly random team–ups; one grouping stalked through storm drains by puke–infected sewer–zombies, while the others are even less fortunate. Biker Queen’s favourite hammer–girl is butchered in quite horrendous fashion. A strobe–lit frenzy of battle in a cavernous basement evokes the snapshot visual style of comic–book frames. Howling mad, we are stuck in hell and without a map. Any fans of Rodriquez’s Planet Terror will enjoy these delightfully absurd, fervently stomach–churning movies.

These 3 reviews first appeared in my 'Blood Spectrum' column for BLACK STATIC #10 (April 2009). That issue of the magazine also had coverage of other horrors:

Mutant Chronicles
Max Payne
Saw II
Saw V
The Children
Hansel & Gretel
Boogeyman 3
Watch Me When I Kill
Babysitter Wanted
They Wait
Red Sands
Vacancy 2: The First Cut
Undead Or Alive 

Friday, 18 March 2016


INTERZONE #263 has just been published, and the issue includes my latest 'Laser Fodder' column of DVD & blu-ray reviews, with coverage of genre movies and TV:

Air (4/10)
Lost Girl - season 5 (6/10)
A Touch Of Zen (7/10)
Falling Skies - season 5 (7/10)
Pan (4/10)
The Scopia Effect (1/10)
Frankenstein (4/10)
Last Stop (2/10)

The Last Witch Hunter (4/10)
The City Of Lost Children (8/10)
Game Of Thrones - season 5 (7/10)
Doomwatch (6/10)

      Throw-aways: also received

From Other Worlds
The Visit: An Alien Encounter

Saturday, 12 March 2016

Magic Miike

Highly praised for Audition, the Dead Or Alive trilogy, Ichi The Killer, and rightly acclaimed for the inventive novelty of his many low-budget projects (who else but this iconoclastic, always–busy Japanese director would follow brutal sci-fi thriller Full Metal Yakuza with haunting rural adventure Bird People In China?), Takashi Miike’s first English–language movie, Sukiyaki Western Django, is not a bad effort, but a certain failure to impress remains its most notable aspect. Despite some critical ramblings to the contrary, this definitely is both arch parody and stylised pastiche of various spaghetti westerns or ‘chambara’ samurai/ ronin epics.  

Yes, post-modern flourishes jump from the screen, but its objectives are clear-cut. Gunfighters routinely defy the laws of physics. Scrapbooks of clich├ęs and genre conventions make a virtue of narrative incoherence, assembling all manner of trite/ thoughtful affectation, and there’s a ‘sympathetic nature’ snowfall, quite in keeping with apparent victory for the ‘white’ clan, in the bitterly tragic climax. The big trouble with such harrumphing intentions to insolvably confuse, subvert expectations in general or specific terms, and present viewers with bulk order incongruities and startling anachronisms, is that the likes of Alex Cox’s formidably bizarre Straight To Hell (1987), Sam Raimi’s lesser triumph The Quick And The Dead (1995), and even Seijun Suzuki’s urban thriller Pistol Opera (2001), already did that.

Apart from its use of coupon CGI, there’s nothing much here that’s particularly original. ‘Bloody Benten’, a shooter–goddess on the vengeance warpath, makes a nifty comic–book contrast with other familiar, cited–in–dialogue references to Yojimbo (which, of course, inspired Sergio Leone’s famous Dollars trilogy), and Shakespeare’s historical works about the War of the Roses. Quentin Tarantino guest stars in retro expository flashbacks, but he’s pretentiously smug, ranting over authentic Japanese cuisine in a drama where the fakery of painted stage backdrops sees blood splatter on the ‘eastern’ sky. Perhaps the best thing about this is the reminder that we don’t need badly–dubbed foreign flicks when Kaori Momoi’s quirkily–accented English almost steals the show!
This review is from my 'Blood Spectrum' column in Black Static #9 (February 2009). Also covered in that issue: 
Brotherhood Of Blood
The Mummy
The Mummy Returns
The Mummy: Tomb Of The Dragon Emperor
Eden Lake
Resident Evil: Degeneration
Memories Of Matsuko
Kamikaze Girls
The Midnight Meat Train
Bad Biology
The Rage
The Guard Post
Tooth And Nail
Death Race (remake)
Road Kill 2: Dead Ahead
Hit And Run
Alien Raiders


Saturday, 5 March 2016

Hellboy 2

Although I was looking forward to seeing Hellboy II: The Golden Army, writer–director Guillermo del Toro’s sequel to the wondrous Hellboy (my choice as movie-of-the-year in 2004), it failed to fulfil high expectations as fantasy adventure by one of the genre’s brightest auteurs. There are many dazzling scenes in the picture, but they seem diffuse and scattershot, like proverbial diamonds in the rough.

As the comic-book superhero that looks monstrous but is a big softie at heart, Ron Perlman is a fine actor in a difficult role. Hellboy’s fire-starter girlfriend, Liz (Selma Blair), settles, perhaps too comfortably, into her mildly spiky role as sidekick/ romantic foil, while the other B.P.R.D. (Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defence) mainstay, amphibian dude Abe (Doug Jones), undergoes more significant changes in this picture than his team-mates on the special ops task force.  

Since tackling apparently–Lovecraftian creatures in the climax of the original movie, Hellboy and his BPRD comrades – now including new agent, Johann Krauss, literarily a gas-man, living in an airtight protective suit – are confronted by generally less formidable, certainly less impressive, antagonists.
An elf prince, determined to activate golem-like indestructible robots for conquest of the human world, is hardly a step up, in the super-villain stakes, from ‘cosmic gods’ that presented such a fearsome challenge in Hellboy. This follow–up movie only works in fleeting moments of ineffable charm or subtle levels detailing marvellous curiosities, and such incidental delights provide insufficient entertainment with positive value to offset the damning, often crippling faults.  

With his fiery red skin and devilish horns, it’s rather saddening to note that Liz, and the authoritarian human influence of work under the control of BPRD rules and regulations (now Hellboy kowtows to manager Tom, played by distinctly unimposing Jeffrey Tambor), have diminished the stature of the powerful thing from hell, who should not be given direct orders from ordinary mortals. Here, the protagonist seems practically domesticated, in comparison to the untamed creature of that first outing. A Barry Manilow sing-along, and restraints on violent conduct by the overseer assigned to Hellboy’s official missions, has made the demon cuddly.  
BPRD in Hellboy 2

It’s all very well designing wicked tooth fairies, a forestry apocalypse, a magical troll marketplace, and having Irish landmark Giant’s Causeway as home to actual giants, but an exciting superhero movie requires more than just CGI wallpaper and slapstick comedy. The big problem with Hellboy II is that it lacks any convincing menace. We just know Red can squish the baddies, easily. And now they’re relatively bloodless, so he doesn’t even get to crush them to gory pulp. Where’s the fun in that?
This review is from BLACK STATIC #8 (December 2008).
Here's a list of what I also reviewed in that issue:
The Zombie Diaries
Zombies! Zombies! Zombies!
Days Of Darkness
Tokyo Zombie
Death Note
Death Note 2: The Last Name
Strait Jacket
While She Was Out
One Way
Reeker 2: No Man’s Land
Creepshow III
Santa's Slay
The Tattooist