Saturday, 30 April 2016


While fans waited for Dario Argento’s latest movie, Giallo (2009), TERROR AT THE OPERA (aka: Opera, 1988), THE STENDHAL SYNDROME (aka: La sindrome di Stendhal, 1996), and THE CARD PLAYER (aka: Il cartaio, 2004), were all re-released by Arrow, with new painted artwork for their DVD sleeves. Even for horror fans, Argento can be an acquired taste... What one viewer regards as fascinating surrealism, another might judge to be incoherence. Although it often seems that the core values of Argento’s oeuvre flip-flop, from his imitation of Hitchcockian intrigues, to pure aesthetic and techno cinematic merits, there can be no doubt his commitment to a dazzling inventiveness for murder has given us more than a handful of genuine horror classics.

In Terror At The Opera, understudy Betty (Cristina Marsillach) wins a coveted singing role, but the young diva soon becomes tortured witness to activity of that vicious killer who forces her to watch as helpless new victims die in agony. Some of the violence occurs off-screen, but our heroine’s terrified expression as unwilling observer sells a frightful impact, so we (probably) all prefer not having to look at every single gruesome thing that she sees, anyway. Despite creative misunderstandings of identity and some cunning narrative misdirects, Opera really stands or falls on its ingenious/ fascinating murder set-pieces, and Argento surpasses fans’ expectations with several brilliant and memorable kill-shots that are always worth seeing again.     
A shocker of challenging delirium, The Stendhal Syndrome pits detective Anna Manni (Asia Argento) against serial rapist Alfredo (Thomas Kretschmann), who kidnaps her for particularly sadistic emotional/ physical mistreatment. In Videodrome, Brian Oblivion opined “the television screen is the retina of mind’s the eye,” and Max Renn soon discovered how powerfully disturbing ‘pirate-TV’ signals could be. Classic paintings have a similar psycho-sensual overload effect, granting interactive hallucinations for Anna, after memory loss following her art-gallery ‘episode’ and subsequent blackout. Troubled by her fantasy world of ‘psychic’ delusions, Anna cuts her long hair into a short bob, and adopts a masculine appearance (more gender uncertainty/ imagery follows, later) after that first nasty ordeal, and she bluntly rejects (“I’m not your woman”) her somewhat charmless boyfriend, before - at a therapist’s suggestion, taking a break from work to revisit her hometown. Even while on-going police investigation starts closing in upon the killer’s lair, anxious Anna winds up back in Alfredo’s clutches, again.

For The Stendhal Syndrome, the director elicits a stunning performance from his daughter, but it must be said that this is a rather curious and outrageous partnership of Italian auteur and genre-favourite actress who are so closely related, adding a scandalous frisson to an already suspect plot. Digital visuals open a doorway to exploit mental confusions, and explore haunting obsession. There have often been artistic threads and themes in Argento’s movies but, here, the paintings become vital parts of the narrative affect, defining mood swings and expressing tensions in a strikingly imaginative manner. Categorically, a tour de force by anyone’s standards of horror/ terror cinema, The Stendhal Syndrome is quite unforgettable and yet it still rewards repeat viewings. 

The Card Player’s crime-thriller formula repeat of a lady cop hunting a serial killer, with Stefania Rocca playing Anna Mari (the close similarity of heroines’ names here suggests that ‘female detective’ is a 21st century stereotype now), for cyber-slasher dud plotline that artlessly jumbles CSI forensics with offbeat characters. When a British girl is killed, Anna teams up with wretched Irish detective Brennan (Liam Cunningham), and they find teenage luck-magnet and poker genius Remo, ‘conscripted’ for life-or-death online gaming in a desperate bid to beat the kidnapper’s murder stakes. After Remo saves police chief’s daughter, the killer’s hand is forced. The showdown deal against Anna aims for bemusing farce, with both killer and heroine cuffed to railway tracks as poker game on laptop ensues. Apart from grisly ‘appeal’ of its snuff-video contrivance, some quite unsettlingly realistic mortuary examinations, and a great performance from Ms Rocca, The Card Player counts - unfortunately - as one of Argento’s weaker offerings. Win some, lose some...         
Now seeming like a time-warp trailer for genre TV series Masters Of Horror, re-released double-bill movie TWO EVIL EYES was made in 1989, and it features stories adapted from works by Edgar Allan Poe. Directed by George Romero, The Facts In The Case Of Mr Valdemar is slow–burning intriguer about a treacherous/ adulterous wife, Jessica (Adrienne Barbeau), scheming against her wealthy/ dying husband to break terms of his will and steal his fortune. Jessica’s lover Dr Hoffman (Ramy Zada, After Midnight) uses hypnosis to manage deathbed pain, but the embezzlers’ plot goes wrong when the old man dies, most inconveniently, in a trance, and his frozen body soon becomes a conduit for malicious ‘others’ to crossover from beyond death.

Argento’s dazzling remix of themes from Poe in The Black Cat is far more extravagant in scope and demented in style than its companion piece. Harvey Keitel, perfectly cast here as the pretentiously arty photographer Rod Usher, excels in a role balancing pure spite with gallows humour. Taking as its cause or purpose the ‘creation’ of horrific imagery, this psychodrama of alcoholic delirium, murderous rages, and some well-timed black comedy, boasts lurid visions of pagan sacrifice with a poetic-justice finale, as homicidal brute Usher gets his comeuppance in satisfactorily grim fashion. While Romero’s work concentrates on strong characterisation and narrative beats, that build up towards a supernatural conclusion, Argento conjures up a complex of nightmarish visuals with, as usual for his knowingly illogical oeuvre, no regard for conventional drama, common sense, or even the pseudoscientific rationality which often drives Romero’s films.



Saturday, 23 April 2016


“We leave for the Isle of Wight first thing in the morning.” Yay! A new BBC adaptation of THE DAY OF THE TRIFFIDS (2009) seems markedly redundant after Steve Sekely’s deeply flawed but fondly recalled 1962 feature, and Douglas Livingstone’s memorable update for a 1981 TV series astutely directed by Ken Hannam. But John Wyndham’s novel is one of the cornerstones of popular British SF in ‘cosy catastrophe’ mode, so all fans of these near–mythical carnivorous plants with predatory intelligence against disabled humanity ought to welcome a fresh version (penned by Patrick Harbinson - Millennium, Dark Angel), highlighting 21st century concerns.

Dougray Scott (Perfect Creature) inherits the grim mantle of triffid farmer Bill Mason, bringing assertive melancholy to a benchmark scientist-turned-hero role. Joely Richardson (Event Horizon) is radio host Jo Playton – the heartening “voice of Britain” in wholly dystopian times. Eddie Izzard essays unstoppable opportunist dictator Torrence with the (do ya wanna be in my gang?) manners of a Bond villain. Vanessa Redgrave is great as traitor nun Durrant, while stalwart Brian Cox makes something worthwhile out of not much to go on as estranged–father stereotype Dennis, prepped for saving mankind from global apocalypse even if he cannot save himself.

Triffid mobility extends to climbing trees and they have slithering clutching vines that are strong enough to drag away even fiercely–reluctant victims. TV production values (black pall hanging over ruined London lacks impact) and family–audience–friendly plotting weaken possibilities for sci-fi drama. There’s some good acting but hardly any chemistry between the leads. It’s quite interesting to compare this restrained cautionary tale with the darkly compelling lack of subtly in Blindness (2008), where social breakdown is portrayed with far more nastiness, and an unsettling/ despairing abandonment of even the vaguest morality is much worse than anything that ratings–conscious telly bosses would ever dare foist upon home–screen material.

Over-familiarity is a big problem with this, but it’s still an intriguing disaster scenario for eminently watchable genre TV. Now, if only they’d make a transatlantic sequel out of SimonClark’s millennial novel Night Of The Triffids!

This review was published in BLACK STATIC #15 (February 2010). I also reviewed all this lot for the same issue: 

Blood Feast 2: All U Can Eat (1/10)
Street Trash (7/10)
Wrong Turn 3: Left For Dead (3/10)
Dungeons & Dragons: Wrath Of The Dragon God (4/10)
House [aka: Hausu] (7/10)
Train (4/10)
Halloween II (1/10)
The Haunted World Of El Superbeasto (1/10)
Surrogates (8/10)
Tony (3/10)
Dante's Inferno (2/10)
In The Electric Mist (6/10)
Long Weekend (6/10)
Pandorum (4/10)
Cabin Fever (6/10)
Cabin Fever 2: Spring Fever (4/10)
Wolfhound (7/10)
Triangle (7/10)

        Terror Triage: round-up
Sorority Row (2/10)
Growth (3/10)
Room 36 (5/10)
Whiteout (4/10)
Stan Helsing (1/10)
Malice In Wonderland (5/10)
Borderland (1/10)
Jennifer's Body (2/10)
Open Graves (2/10)
Paranormal Activity (1/10)

Saturday, 16 April 2016


A shocker about finding hell in Thai jungles, VINYAN: LOST SOULS (2008), casts an unlikely pair, French beauty Emmanuelle Beart and English actor Rufus Sewell, as parents Jeanne and Paul, searching for their young child lost in an Asian tsunami. While Paul is coping with grief, distraught Jeanne is unwilling to accept her son’s death, insisting they go into the Burmese wilds, paying dangerous triad smugglers a fortune every step of the way towards an increasingly bitter disappointment. Paul throws screaming ab-dabs in frustration over their quest failures and he worries, ironically, that poor Jeanne is losing her mind – but she really is... 

Feral kids, abandoned and isolated, turn homicidal and cannibalistic in a Lord Of The Flies way that is more chillingly nasty than believably tragic. Despite the occasional flashes of camera technique, and brilliant editing, or location–set designs; the smoky, foggy, rainy and grainy visuals are simply over-cooked and do not evoke the surreal intensity so obviously intended. Rumbling and screechy sound effects quickly become annoying with such blatant overuse.

Belgian director, Fabrice Du Welz – maker of similarly-weird plunge into madness, The Ordeal (aka: Calvaire, 2004), which meandered through boring details of its waylaid travelling-protagonist’s variously humiliating torments, only to greet a bleakly ambiguous final scene – is once again trying far too hard. Instead of sticking with a straightforward but possibly thrilling ‘rescue mission’, or perhaps a ‘misadventure’ story - like John Boorman’s underappreciated Beyond Rangoon (1995), Du Welz prefers blundering onwards to some pointless or endless dread, throwing around pretentious allusions to unlucky, unwary, unthinking people finding entry to suspiciously unearthly realms.

Rufus Sewell in VINYAN
Overall, so lame it was probably conceived and born without legs, Vinyan is lamentably and utterly nonsensical, yet it manages, infrequently and briefly, to at least look very good. If ‘le filmmaker’ could only bring himself to restrain all of his toxically ‘arty’ impulses he might produce something that’s genuinely scary.   

This review was published in Black Static #14 (December 2009).

In that issue, I also reviewed:

The Uninvited
Blood Rain
Blood: The Last Vampire
Silent Night, Deadly Night
The Hide
A Perfect Getaway
Dorian Gray

Man Bites Dog
H6: Diary Of A Serial Killer
Three... Extremes 1 & 2
JSA: Joint Security Area
I'm A Cyborg, But That’s Okay 

Dark Water
The Eye

Dawn Of The Dead
Night Of The Living Dead
A Tale Of Two Sisters

Saturday, 9 April 2016


From the maker of dystopian sci-fi/ fantasy Gene Generation (a comic–book actioner with DNA hackers hunted by Ling Bai’s assassin) - which made little sense plot–wise but looked amazingly like Brazil meets The Crow - here’s a quirky horror, titled NECROMENTIA (2009). Director Pearry Teo is the 'bizarro' Clive Barker, and this movie's images of suicidal delirium are clearly inspired (although, perhaps, too closely) by Hellraiser studies.

Hagen loved Elizabeth so much that he keeps her corpse clean for some fiddling, which occurs off–screen. Travis has acquired a map to gates of hell, but needs a ‘key’ to jump the sanity barrier. Demonic grotesques wait to ambush the unwary trespassers but, first, we get snippets of a labyrinthine back-story. A torture–slab panic–attack is actually the volunteer masochist paying for her pain. The ‘drug’ of some obscurity promises lunacy with benefits. Yes, there is a necromancy book, of course. Grungy set designs with corrosive lighting makes everything appear diseased - especially the Ouija board of tattooed flesh.

As in Teo’s earlier feature, screen narrative is essentially a slapdash affair here, and any clarifying dialogue is hardly significant beneath shockwaves of visual imagination. If the producers are still searching for the director to remake Hellraiser (or anything else, really!), a great stylist like Teo should be top of the shortlist.   

This review was published in Black Static #13 (October 2009).

I also reviewed all this lot for that issue:

Haunted Echoes
Alone In The Dark II
From Within
13: Game Of Death
It's Alive
Far Cry
Messengers 2: The Scarecrow
Sick Nurses
Dr Chopper
Mr Halloween
Wasting Away
Pig Hunt
Walled In
Horsemen Of The Apocalypse
Staunton Hill
Drag Me To Hell
I Sell The Dead

      Brain Damage: new label in UK -
Death Of A Ghost Hunter
Prey For The Beast
Secrets Of The Clown
Silent Bloodnight
Torture Me No More

      New blu-rays: round-up
Sleepy Hollow
Freddy vs Jason
The Deep
Ghosts Of Mars
Blood: The Last Vampire

Sunday, 3 April 2016

Sins for Sunday

Cult auteur Jose Mojica Marins was rightly acclaimed for creating the first Brazilian horror movie (a DVD boxset of his 1960s and 1970s work is available). Marins’ screen persona, undertaker Ze do Caixao - ‘Coffin Joe’, appeared in At Midnight I’ll Take Your Soul (aka: A Meia-Noite Levarei Sua Alma, 1964), and This Night I Will Possess Your Corpse (aka: Esta Noite Encarnarei no Teu Cadaver, 1967). 

Now, Encarnacao do Demonio (2008) is a belated trilogy closer, unleashed on DVD as EMBODIMENT OF EVIL, which sees Joe released from an asylum prison after 40 years. Fiercely confrontational, as a Nietzschean heretical atheist, Joe resumes his quest to find the perfect woman suitable for ensuring his ‘immortality’ by giving him a son. Aided by faithful servant Bruno and some recruited henchmen, Joe sets about kidnapping numerous wenches for dungeon atrocities that include branding and flaying (but one poor girl is sewn inside a pig carcass - for a scene that prompted a near-mutiny by Marins’ film crew).  

Anti-hero Joe is opposed by a corrupt police captain, and a vengeful priest. Haughty as ever, he taunts adversaries by sending them a box of severed hands. Coffin Joe enjoys debauched sex with a witch in a rain of blood. His head-trip, on some unknown ‘elixir’, to a brightly sunlit underworld, only results in Joe’s implicit defiance of ‘Death’ herself. This is a remarkable comeback for the elderly Marins, his performance as the madly eccentric gravedigger  is assured, and quite mesmerising, and a measure of his professional and personal commitment to such crazed role-playing here can be found in his absurdly overlong fingernails.   

This review was published in Black Static #12 (August 2009)
In that same issue, I also reviewed:

The Fox Family
The Killing Room
Dead Snow
Let The Right One In
Goth: Love Of Death
House By The Cemetery
Cradle Will Fall