Sunday, 25 September 2016

Under Siege 2



Title: Under Siege 2: Dark Territory
Director: Geoff Murphy
Released: 1995
Starring: Steven Segal, Eric Bogosian, Katherine Heigl, Morris Chestnut, Everett McGill, Brenda Bakke

Plot: Having retired from the Navy Casey Ryback (Segal) is now working as a chef in his own restaurant, while following death of his brother he plans to take his niece Sarah (Heigl) on vacation in an attempt to reconnect with her. Things however don’t quite go to plan when the train they are on gets hijacked by ex-CIA programmer Travis Dane (Bogosian) along with his hired mercenaries with plans to blow up the Eastern seaboard by targeting a nuclear reactor hidden beneath the Pentagon.



Review: While rewatching this film for the umpteenth time I was suddenly hit with the realisation that this might actually be my go to action movie, a position unsurprisingly held previously by “Die Hard” whose legacy has been in many ways tainted by its oversaturation in pop culture, let alone hipsters citing it as their favourite Christmas movie.

Following on from the equally great original, here the sequel trades up the Naval Warship for a cross country train which also has the great touch of being in an area of zero radio coverage known as “Dark Territory” and despite the initial reservations when I saw this about how exciting a train could be as a setting especially one which wasn’t out of control, it somehow really works with director Geoff Murphy truly utilising the setting while film also marked his last mainstream release after “Young Guns 2” and “Freejack” before moving onto doing 2nd unit work for the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy.

Casey Ryback is really the closest that Segal has come to getting a trademark character and compared to the interchangeable hero roles he plays in his other films, it only makes it all the more sad that this would be the final outing for the character, despite Segal maintaining that they are working on a third film which I can only assume would take place on a plane seeing how between this film and the original they already covered boats and trains. That being said we kind of already had that movie with “Executive Decision” a film which crushed many fanboys at the time as Segal didn’t get quite the leading role the poster promised. Still despite having put on weight since his previous outing leading to Segal wearing a girdle the character of Ryback here really hasn’t lost a step as we re-join him to find he’s still the same killer combination of badass and chef!

While Ryback has to once more deal with a group of trained mercenaries, this time lead by a bleached  Everett McGill; what really makes this film stand out is just how great a villain Eric Bogosian makes as Travis Dane a role which was also offered but turned down by both Laurence Fishburne and Jeff Goldblum the later of which I would have also have liked to have seen. At one point Gary Busey was set to return despite being blown up in the first film and was rumoured to have fallen out with Segal after he defended Erika Eleniak from his persistent advances. However thanks to Busey’s “Pay or Play” deal he was paid his full $750,000 salary which Segal as producer had to ironically pay without Busey working one day on the film.

Bogosian here essentially steals every scene he’s in as he embodies the role of Travis, a former CIA hacker / programmer who after feeling he was wrong by his former employers plans to use the Earthquake generating Satellite to wipe out Washington D.C and much of the Eastern seaboard. At the same time he’s a focused maniac constantly working it seems two moves ahead of everyone else as he foils with ease any attempt made to regain control of the satellite. Interestingly he also has no kind of combat skills and never even picks up a gun as he prefers to hide behind his henchmen lead by Penn (McGill) who he lets get on with dealing with Ryback while he plays mind games with the government.

While it might in many ways just relocate the plot of the first film, there is still a lot of fun action throughout the film with Murphy really managing to make the most of what would on first appearances appear to be a very limited setting but somehow Murphy really manages to make the most of the training setting as the action not only takes place inside the train, but also on top and underneath as well as a brief spot of “Cliffhanger” inspired action off the train aswell. Despite Segal being known for his Aikido skills here the action is instead more based around heroic gunplay and honing his inner MacGyver and in many ways foreshadowed the path. We do however get a tasty looking knife fight between Ryback and Penn to fill the required big showdown requirement while it was nice to see that they didn’t have Travis suddenly turn into a secret badass in the finale.

An incredibly fun action film and one certainly helped by its quick pacing and colourful villains which help to cover for the shortcomings the film has such as Segal limited acting range and Katherine Heigl’s equally bland performance as his niece which seems to only have been included to add some kind of emotional connection to the story. Still despite this there is much to enjoy here as in many way it surpasses the original while providing a rare highlight for this period of Segal’s career and one which he has long since fallen from.

Sunday, 18 September 2016

The Thing (2011)



Title:  The Thing
Director: Matthijs van Heijningen Jr.
Released: 2011
Starring: Ulrich Thomsen, Eric Christian Olsen, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Joel Edgerton, Trond Espen Seim, Kim Bubbs

Plot: A prequel to the events of the original film, as a Norwegian research team based in Antarctica accidently stumble across a buried alien space craft aswell as the frozen body of it’s alien pilot, which they decide to bring back to their base to study further. Unsure as to what they have found head scientist Dr Sander Halvorson (Thomsen) and his assistant Adam Finch (Olsen), bring in paleontologist Kate Lloyd (Winstead) only to find out to late that the body in the ice is still alive, as it escapes and being taking on the appearance of the research team, as mistrust begins to run rampant as they struggle to identify which of them is human and which of them is the thing.



Review: John Carpenter’s “The Thing” in my own humble opinion, is without a doubt one of the scariest movies ever made, while released when Carpenter was working at the peak of his directing talent and a loving remake of the equally classic “The Thing From Another World” with Carpenter taking full advantage of the skills of Special effects wizardry of Rob Bottin to bring to life some truly hellish visions, which obviously wasn’t possibly for the original to pull off with it’s B-movie budget, even if it’s gasoline throwing sequence still looks equally amazing today. So perhaps it was with some hesitation that I approached this latest big budget remake of a horror classic.

It’s unsurprisingly that this release has been greeted with the usual hostility from some members of the Horror community, who view any remake of an established classic as nothing short of being sacrilegious, which is a shame really as this latest remake plays more like a big budget fan fiction than anything resembling a remake and in that sense makes it more comparable to Zack Snyder’s equally fun remake of “Dawn of the Dawn” the producers of which Marc Abraham and Eric Newman are also behind this film aswell, which plays well for the film especially as they were ultimately responsible for this film being a prequel rather than yet another remake, rightly defining Carpenter’s original as “Perfect” and any attempt to remake it would be similar to “Paint(ing) eyebrows on the Mona Lisa”. So here we are introduced to another group of potential alien chowder, who despite this time being largely comprised of educated scientists are still in many ways are the same kind of blue collar workers that we saw in the original, while their mix of Norwegian’s and American’s makes for another interesting angle with Director Matthijs van Heijningen Jr. insisting quite rightfully that the Norwegian scientists frequently speak in their native tongue, which adds a delightfully inventive new level to the continually rising sense of paranoia.

Still what is clear throughout is how much of a fan of the original that Heijningen is, as he not only treats the source material with great respect, but also manages to capture the same claustrophobic atmosphere while making it equally hard to spot the real scientists from their alien clone, while he also ensures that the links to the original or plentiful many of which will raise a smile from the fans of the original, while also finding time to cleverly reference classic moments by given them a slight twist as the blood test is now replaced with Kate suspensefully checking each of the team members teeth for spaces were fillings are supposed to be, after discovering that the thing is unable to replicate metal, while the first time we meet Kate she is shown examing a cadaver which bares a striking resemblance to the thing dog hybrid from the original.

Sadly we are not given any form of new insights into what the thing exactly is, while it’s personal motives proves frustratingly less clear, as it is first setup as trying to escape the frozen landscape by imitating members of the team, so that it might potentially infect a larger population, a theory which is soon dashed when it attacks the crew of the escape chopper hence removing it’s easiest route of escape. Next it’s that the thing just wants to kill everyone at the research station, before then seemingly decided it would rather just escape in it’s spaceship, though seeing how the craft has been buried for the last 10,000 years makes even less sense outside of providing a unique location for the final showdown, yet still leaves the nagging question as to if it still is as fully functional as it seems, why not escape this way long before now?

Still if you find the motives of the thing baffling you may find the distinct lack of character development even more frustrating with most of the scientists interchangeable to each other, seeing how the team is largely comprised of burley bearded Norwegians, with Heijningen doing little to help them standout from each other, to the point were it seems only the Americans and a handful of key characters are easy to identify.

The cast who get parts bigger than Norwegian scientist #2 are all likable enough with Thomsen good fun as the Dr. Halvorson whose own personal research clearly takes presidence over the lives of his team, while Winstead embodies the tough Dr. Lloyd who shares more than a few traits with Ripley from the “Alien” saga as she brings another female alien ass-kicker to life, with Winstead looking equally comfortable in her lab coat as she does welding a flame thrower.

Thanks to CGI being sadly the preference over practical effects these days, it is unsurprising that the thing is largely a CGI creation this time around, which also allows for a whole new set of hellish forms for it to take, which feature heavy use of whip cracking tentacles and teethed appendages, while also demonstrating a whole new set of tricks rather than just recycling the fan favorites. Still it would seem that Heijningen is not a director to hold back, especially as he equally rivals the gore quota of the original with bodies being melded into each other and torn appendages taking on a life of their own, there is plenty to enjoy while the scientists are not slow to break out the flamethrowers once the thing makes it’s first appearance, which did have me asking as to why for a non military lab that they processed so many? I’m not sure if this column has any arctic based scientists who read it, but if anyone wants to shed any light on these, then please feel free to do so.

While it may not be on the same level as the original, it still provides a fun companion piece which helps further the mythology of the thing, perhaps as this film further proves one of Sci-horrors greatest unsung heroes and while it would be nice to see a whole heap of monster movies follow in it’s wake or further additions to the series, this film provides enough gooey fun to tie you over in the meantime…. just make sure you eat before you watch it.

Wednesday, 14 September 2016

Elwood's Essentials #15 - Wayne's World



Title:  Wayne’s World
Director: Penelope Spheeris
Released: 1992
Starring: Mike Myers, Dana Carvey, Tia Carrere, Rob Lowe, Lara Flynn Boyle, Kurt Fuller, Brian Doyle-Murray, Ed O’Neil, Meat Loaf, Chris Farley, Robert Patrick, Alice Cooper

Plot: Eternal slackers and rock fans Wayne and Garth run their public access TV show out of Wayne’s parent’s basement. Things however look up for the pair when television producer Benjamin Oliver buys the rights to the show launching them into the mainstream unaware that Benjamin wants to exploit the show’s popularity for himself.


Review: One of the more important films of my early film watching years and one which in retrospect I can now see just how much of an impact it had on me especially in terms of my musical tastes and even though I might not have grown my hair long or start a crappy cover band it did spark a love of Alice Cooper, while at the same time giving us a rock out to Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” so iconic that Queen fans (and pretty much everyone else) has been imitating it since to the point where I can no longer listen to that darn song.

Adapted from the “Saturday Night Live” sketch this film also marked Mike Myer’s feature film debut and to date it remains the highest grossing of the films adapted from sketches on the show. At the same time this remains one of the best known films by director Penelope Spheeris who’s trilogy of documentaries looking at the alt. music scene through three key eras, the second of which covering the late 80’s heavy metal scene almost making her too perfect a director for the film and perhaps in some ways giving her a chance to make up for passing up on “This Is Spinal Tap”.

The plotting of the film is incredibly straightforward ensuring that it never gets in the way of the humour, with the sleazy suit trying to rip off our good natured rock fans being an easy story to identify with. At the same time the world which the film is set in is completely believable with time being given to establish memorable locations such as the “Gasworks” rock club and “Stan Mikita’s Donuts” run by the fantastically dark Glen (Ed O’Neil) whose obsession with murder and death is never fully explained, yet O’Neil unquestionably steals every scene he’s in with his unflinchingly flat tone.

While the film is largely carried by both Myers and Carvey, despite Myers originally creating it as a vehicle for himself, the pair unquestionably share a strong onscreen chemistry, further helped by their characters despite their shared interests are the complete opposite personality wise to each other enabling them to pull off fun scenes on their own aswell as together. At the same time Tia Carrere is thankfully given more to do as Cassandra than just being the feisty rock chick love interest for Wayne and while her role would be further developed in the sequel, here she is always fun when she is around without taking the focus away from our hapless duo. It’s equally worth noting that in the film she does all her own singing, much like Carvey actually doing the drum solo we see in the film which is impressive to say the least.

Rob Lowe is equally on great form here, reviving his career with this performance which had stalled thanks to his sex tape scandal. Here though he brings the right combination of sleaze and charm to roll to make it work, so that even though we know he’s trying to screw them over we can’t help like them to be charmed by his personality and while perhaps he might not get the comeuppance he ultimately deserves thanks to being lost in the multiple ending mix, he still provides the right kind of foe to oppose Wayne and Garth.

Switching constantly in style between straightforward comedy to “Airplane” style surreal-ness such as Garth’s Mad scientist scene, with both Wayne and Garth frequently breaking the forth wall to address the audience and share their thoughts on what’s happening around them. It’s kind of a bold move to try and blend these styles and yet somehow Spheeris manages to make Myer’s script (co-written with former Saturday Night Live staff writers Bonnie and Terry Turner) which seemingly was written to maximise the humour in every scene regardless of it requires changing the comedic style. The smoothness of these comedic transitions being only the more noticeable when compared to the sequel whose production Spheeris belived she was blocked from directing due to the clashes with Myer’s she had over the final cut of this film.

Watching the film now is almost like looking at a snapshot of the 90’s which it fully embraces and wears proudly on its sleve much like its unashamed love of the rock music scene it represents with not only cameos by both Meat Loaf and Alice Cooper but also features a memorable soundtrack packed with classic tracks from the likes of Soundgarden, Eric Clapton, Black Sabbath and the Jimi Hendrix Experience. Some might see the film being so set in its period as something of a negative but really its no different than the likes of overrated trash like “The Breakfast Club” which somehow always avoid such detractions.  Most important though is the genuine love for this scene that everyone involved especially both Mike Myers and Dana Carvey clearly has so that it doesn’t come off as some kind of sneering satire. Yes some of the characters are dumb or slackers but it’s never seen as being due to the fact that they are rock fans.

While some of the catchphrases might have been long since burnt out the quick plotting and rapid fire humour makes this still an incredibly fresh comedy aswell as providing a fun snapshot of early 90’s pop culture.

Party On!!

Wednesday, 7 September 2016

Ozploitation - An Introduction



It’s hard to imagine it now but at one point Australia was one of a small group of countries alongside Ethiopia and Iceland which didn’t have a film industry. Infact the only films being made were via studios outside of the country who came over to make classy pictures such as “Walkabout” or “Age of Consent”. Still thanks to the success of these films the Australian government’s eyes to the potential of Australia setting up its own film industry.

Australian cinema itself can be seen as falling into two categories with the mainstream cinema often coming across like a hybrid of both European and Hollywood cinema. Ozploitation meanwhile is a much more wilder and bawdy beast born out of the relaxing of censorship laws which had previously been some of the strictest by Don Chipp the minister for customs and excise who also brought in the “R” rating. With this simple change he unwittingly also opened the gate for a host of directors looking to make money off the drive in / grindhouse market both in Australia and more keyly in the states.

These early examples of the genre were largely bawdy sex comedies and skin flicks such as the hard drinking “Barry Mckenzie” films which not only featured rivers of vomit (a cinematic first for Australia) but also came with their own “NPA” Rating standing for “No Poofters Allowed”. Amusingly rather than being seen for their intended satire they were instead embraced by the same people whose lifestyles were being mocked and who instead saw it bizarrely as some kind of endorsement. By 1980 however interest in these films had severely declined though at the same the genre was still going strong thanks to the large number of genre films being produced, which embraced not only their exotic locale but also brought a distinctive style of splatter and vehicular carnage to the screen. The demand for these genre films soon providing a place for the likes of Brian Trenchard Smith who favouring a “laughs and gasps” style over traditional storytelling soon became a firm favourite amongst genre fans. At the same time other directors such as George Miller and Russell Mulcahy also made their debuts through the genre with Miller arguably crafting with “Mad Max” the definitive car smash movie and one which suprisingly didn’t usher in a host of imitators in his native Australia but Italy instead who churned out a host of post-apocalyptic car smash fantasies.

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As the popularity of the films quickly increased productions started importing American actors such as Jamie Lee Curtis and Dennis Hopper to help boost their productions, though more often the so called stars being recruited had often fallen from fame due to age or personal issues making it always surprising who you find turning up in these films such as one time Bond George Lazenby who found a way out of his blacklist status through these genre films most noteworthy by appearing as the villainous gangster Jack Wilton in Australia’s only Kung fu movie “The Man From Hong Kong” staring Hong Kong Legend Jimmy Wang Yu.

These productions were often fraught with as many issues caused by these imported stars as they were the lack of general health and safety with Wang Yu seeing the production of “The Man From Hong Kong” as perhaps being beneath his legendary status, even beating up director Brian Trenchard Smith for real in the film where he appears as a thug during the elevator fight sequence, leading Roger Ward offering to give him “a slap”. Smith declined the offer stating that his “revenge would come in the box office” which it unquestionably did when the film out grossed all of Wang Yu’s own directed movies. Dennis Hopper meanwhile during the shooting of “Mad Dog Morgan” was at this point still every bit the Wildman as he proceeded to consume copious amounts of drugs and alcohol during the shoot, while rubbing many of the production the wrong way with his method acting. Unsurprisingly by the end of the production thanks to a series of offset incidents Hopper had added a ban from Australia to his list of felonies acuminated during the shoot. At the same time the influx of American actors caused tensions with “Actors Equity” who felt that jobs were being taken away from Australian actors.

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By 1985 the genre was running on fumes as the quality of films being churned out severely lessened in quality with the occasional title such as “The Return of Captain Invincible”, “Turkey Shoot” and “Blood Moon” with its “fright break” appearing as standouts with “Dead In Drive In” being often touted as the last great movie of the genre, especially with stunt man Guy Norris setting a world record truck jump of 160 feet challenging the already impressive record set by "Survivor" for most gasoline exploded in one scene during its memorable plane crash sequence. Still while it might have seemed that the genre ended here, it was infact merly dormant as the spirit of these film lingered on within the next generation of film makers who'd been inspired to direct their own features having grown up with these movies.

Kicking off this new era of Ozploitation movies was the grimy and downright brutal “Wolf Creek” the debut feature by Greg McLean in which a trio of backpackers are hunted by the serial killer Mick Taylor played by Ozploitation regular John Jarratt, while not only essentially sold on it’s “Head on a Stick” scene but also marked a brutal and darker direction for horror, as it brought in elements which would be later embraced by the “New French Extremity” movement. It could be argued that this new era started earlier with the hit and miss zombie movie “Undead” but it was “Wolf Creek” which had us suddenly paying a lot more attention to what Australia was producing once more, even though it wouldn’t be until 2007 when these films really began to gain moment as McLean gave us his giant croc follow up “Rouge”, while the following year saw it being accompanied by the likes of Revenge thriller “The Horseman” which gave us a penis on the wrong end of a bicycle pump aswell as “The Loved Ones” which gave us a dark tale of high school obsession.

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While these films all seemed to homage in one way or another back to the glory days of the genre while showcasing a love for shock and splatter while the popularity of these early films also inspired misguided remakes of genre favourites such “Long Weekend”, “Turkey Shoot” and “Patrick”, it would the 2015 release of “Mad Max: Fury Road” which truly made the world sit up and take notice as after 30 years of development hell and time away making delightful family fare about talking pigs and dancing penguins George Miller finally brought back his wasteland folk hero aswell as his fetishtic lens for shooting vehicular carnage as he reminded everyone how you truly make a car smash movie let alone proving he’d not lost his edge in the intervening years.

As of the time of writing Australia’s film production especially for horror films has only continued to grow marking a promising future for its genre cinema and ensuring that the Ozploitation spirit continues to live on, as it continually proves as it did during its golden years as a valuable source of inventive cinema for genre cinema fans.

Starting Point – Five Ozploitation Essentials
 
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Long Weekend - Peter and Marcia decide to go camping for the weekend, at a remote beach in an attempt to save their marriage, only to find that nature isn’t in an accommodating mood. This is an eco-horror where nature itself runs amok or is it? The movie won’t confirm it either way, but to those outside of its native Australia the woods surrounding the couple have never seemed so menacing, while director Colin Eggleson teases us with what is happening to them and what is actually responsible which is a hard trick to pull off but one perfectly achieved here.

The Return of Captain Invincible – Released during the dying days of the Ozploitation boom, this random mishmash of Musical and superhero movie, sees the titular superhero who is essentially superman with the power of magnatism forced into retirement after being accused of being a communist. Now thirty years later he is hiding out in Australia and a raging alcoholic while called back into action by the US government to battle his nemesis “Mr. Midnight” played by a game Christopher Lee who is threatening the world with his hypno-ray.

A random film to say the least and one which while it might not work all the way through, still has enough randomness to make it worth a curious watch alongside some fun songs. Plus how many superheroes can cite Alcoholism as their weakness?

Roadgames – Playing like a road movie version of “Rear Window” as Patrick a truck driver traveling across the Australian outback finds himself tracking a serial killer praying on women along the highway. Director Richard Franklin is a self confessed Hitchcock obsessive and here it really shows in this unique road movie which had originally been penned for Sean Connery to play the lead role which eventually went to Stacy Keach instead after he couldn’t afford Connery’s salary. Still the film is noteworthy for featuring Jamie Lee Curtis on the end of her Horror starlet period which ended with her next role in “Halloween 2”.
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Celia - Celia is a nine year old with an active imagination growing up in 1950s suburban Melbourne, who constantly escapes into a fantasy world to escape the ongoing troubles around her, while society deals with both the fear of communism and the rabbit plague. An obscure film which sits amongst the likes of “Lord of the Flies” and “War of the Buttons” with a playful dark side which at the same time left me wanting to compare this film to arguably Peter Jackson’s best film “Heavenly Creatures” plus how many films can boast of their child cast carrying out a mock hanging?

The Loved Ones - When Brent turns down Lola’s invitation to the school prom, she concocts a plan for her own prom instead. One of the most exciting entries in the Ozploitation revival this tale of the scorned wallflower with a dark side is grimly gripping viewing which plays better than being just another torture porn movie, especially as this one is packed with some truly jaw dropping surprises throughout.

Tuesday, 30 August 2016

Razorback



Title:  Razorback
Director: Russell Mulcahy
Released: 1984
Starring: Gregory Harrison, Arkie Whiteley, Bill Kerr, Chris Haywood, David Argue, Judy Morris, John Howard, John Ewart, Don Smith, Mervyn Drake

Plot: Two years after his grandson was killed by a massive razorback boar Jake (Kerr) has dedicated his life to hunting the creature in the Australian outback and soon finds himself teaming up with Carl (Harrison) the husband of a wildlife reporter also killed by the same boar.


Review: A film which has certainly been on my radar for some time but for one reason of another its taken me until now to actually watch it. This of course is quite surprising seeing how it’s a movie about a giant killer pig, which of all the eco-horrors is probably one of the rarer creatures of terror with only the much overlooked “Pig Hunt” coming to mind when I tried to think of another of these movies.

Opening to a pretty haunting attack on Jake’s home in which the razorback essentially charges through his house and dragging away his grandson, the film then proceeds to skip forward two years after he is wrong accused of murdering the child and acquitted due to lack of evidence the years which have passed having left him a bitter shell of his former self as like Quint in “Jaws” he seemingly lives only for revenge, while happy to contend himself in the meantime hunting the smaller boar in the area as he snarls to Beth

“There’s something about blasting the shit out of a razorback that brightens up my whole day.”

I love the fact here that Beth is setup like she will be the female lead of the film only to soon find herself turned into Razorback chow, following a failed rape attempt by local brothers and general thugs Benny (Haywood) and Dicko (Argue) who don’t take to kindly to her filming their illegal pet food operation.  Her death of course soon leading to her husband Carl turning up in town to look for her as the film plays things surprisingly like some kind of mystery thriller which would have been great had we not seen her clearly being attacked by the giant razorback.

Surprisingly though this is far from your traditional eco-horror seeing how the titular Razorback is for the most part very much a background character who appears infrequently to stir things up when the film starts to slow down.  Still despite hardly appearing in the film the fully animatronic model which cost $250,000 is still impressive to look at, especially when it comes to the snarling face unlike when its required to move anywhere where it looks like the model is being pushed around on castors than being given any kind of realistic movement.

Instead of the expected rampaging Razorback we instead spend way too much time following what almost feels like the plot for a revenge movie, especially with such a focus on Benny and Dicko trying to cover for their part in Beth’s death with Carl in the final quarter dedicating all his focus to hunting down the two brothers, before finally having a slaughterhouse showdown with the Razorback who essentially just shows up rather than because of any attempt to attract the creature. It almost feels like director Russell Mulcahy set out with the intention of making something intentionally different than your run of the mill eco-horror, more so when he brings such interesting imagery to what is a very straightforward story aswell as focusing more his human cast than his monster pig.

Equally disappointing are the few attacks we get with Beth’s death being as graphic (while strangely akward) as things get as this remains a surprisingly dry film in terms of gore.  The film still however manages to produce several surprisingly tense moments such as Carl spending the night in the outback being chased and tormented by the Razorback which while being intresting shot help to keep your interest and even without the gore it never feels like we are somehow being cheated out of something the film promised.

An interesting feature film debut for Mulcahy whose only film before this one was the concert documentary “Derek and Clive Get the Horn” aswell as some of the most memorable music videos of the 80’s especially for “Duran Duran” and “Elton John” for who he was seemingly the music video director of choice. That being said though as a movie director Mulcahy’s resume is equally impressive as he followed this film with the first two film in the “Highlander” series before drifting into directing TV and DTV features.  Teaming up here though with Dean Semler  who takes on director of photography while at the same time bringing his same eye for the Australian outback that he brought to “Mad Max 2” as its shown here once more as beautiful hostile environment where if the wildlife doesn’t kill you then one of the grizzled backward locals might. We even get a pair of trucks which look like leftover stock from “Mad Max 2” while covering the requirement that any Ozploitation movie most feature a healthy dose of car porn and here it certainly delivers not only with the trucks aswell as a posse of hunters heading out on a half-assed attempt to hunt the creature, whose enthusiasm only seemingly stretches to dashing off in a convoy of trucks only to find they’ve been mislead by the tracker and at which point give up the hunt without a second thought of looking in the nearby area, especially when they can be boozing it up in the local bar instead.

A strange film to say the least and one which managed to enthral and disappointment me to with equal measure which I couldn’t place if it was down to my own high expectations of getting to see “Jaws on Trotters” or Mulcahy’s general directing style. As such it makes it a hard film to recommend especially when it fails in the sense of being a traditional eco-horror yet at the same time its characters and interesting visuals help to hold your attention for the questionably large amount of times you’re not getting to see the pig.

Friday, 12 August 2016

Natural Horror - An Introduction



Eco-Horror, Natural Horror, Animals Gone Rogue, Animals Invading the Human Sphere (thanks Jenn), unquestionably it’s a genre which goes by almost as many names as it has found inventive ways to turn pretty much any animal into nightmare fuel.

While you might be mistaken for assuming that this sub-genre came out of the hysteria of the 1950’s where cinema from the time can be seen reflecting the fear of communist invasion or nuclear testing aswell as its share of movies such as “The Giant Gilia Monster”, “They” or “Tarantula” as radiation turned everyday animals into monster sized versions of themselves giving an already paranoid public something else to worry about. However the roots of the sub-genre run suprisingly deep as back in 1905 H.G Wells gave us the first animal lead offensive with “Empire of the Ants” in which the more organised society of insects would replace man as the true rulers of earth, a vision later accompanied by Arthur Machen’s “The Terror: A Fantasy” in 1917 as everything from cows to Butterfly joined in the offensive against mankind.

While the early entries into the genre where largely b-movie fare the Alfred Hitchcock classic “The Birds” hinted that the genre could be capable of classier fare aswell as moments of genuine horror and suspense such as the classic scene of Tippi Hedren sitting out the school while an ever increasing flock (or perhaps more fittingly a murder) of crows gather on the childrens climbing frame behind her as she unwittingly enjoys a smoke. Hitchcock teasing out the impending chaos he soon intends to unleash. Hitchcock himself terrified of Birds perhaps tapping into his own fears to really nail the tone of the film which while perhaps light on actual gore and violence still remains one of his most effective films. However despite its success it didn’t as you would have expected spawn a host of imitators outside of the abysmal 1994 direct to TV sequel “The Birds 2: Land’s End” which had nothing to do with the original film with director Rick Rosenthal opting to be listed under Alan Smithee than be associated with it.

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With the arrival of the 70’s the natural horror movies really gained a foothold while at the same time largely following the theme of someone being responsible for the animals striking back with “Willard” kicking the decade off as Bruce Davidson trained a pack of rats to attack his bullish boss played by Ernest Borgnine. This theme of bad people finding ever more inventive ways of pissing off the local wildlife population would continue throughout the decade as “Squirm” saw a town of scuzzy rednecks found their comeuppance via a mass of worms driven into a feeding frenzy via a downed powerline while the would be rapist Roger gets a face full of worms, returning later to holla the memorable line “Now you get to be the worm face!”.

While most of these titles would restrain themselves to one member of the animal kingdom there are of course a handful of titles which really ran with the idea of nature revolting such as “Frogs” which despite the title saw polluting industrialist Jason Crockett (Ray Milland) and his family finding their home under siege by the local frog population who somehow manage to not only recruit a variety of snakes, turtles, spiders, Alligators leeches and birds to their cause but also show a strange ability to recognise those not responsible for endangering their homeland. On a similar tact is the Ozploitation entry “Long Weekend” in which a hideous couple find themselves being targeted by nature itself which is shown as a constantly lurking presence looking to claim back the land stolen by man with director Colin Eggleston throwing in a number of nice touches such as the scream of ants being killed or a seemingly abandoned neighbouring camp shown being reclaimed by the surrounding forests. Equally noteworthy for throwing the proverbial kitchen sink at the screen but much later is the 1984 Italian production “Wild Beasts” which sees a zoo’s worth of animals being driven into an insane frenzy when PCP finds its way into the water supply. Far from subtle it does however contain numerous standout moments for its animal attacks including a woman having her head squashed by an Elephant while another takes out a jumbo jet and this isn’t even taking in an ending which seemingly belongs to another film entirely.

Unquestionably though the most inspirational title in the sub-genre is Steven Spielberg’s masterpiece “Jaws” which for those who have actually read Peter Benchley’s novel will be able to confirm is nothing like the books which focused more on the town’s residents than the killer shark which for the most part is more of a background threat. Spielberg instead turned the novel into perfect summer popcorn fare as the residents of Amity Island suddenly find themselves on the menu of a gigantic great white shark. Here the savagery of nature is boiled down to the fact that all the shark wants to do is “Eat, keep moving and make little sharks” the simplicity of the situation ensuring that the plot can move quickly while Spielberg through test screenings tweaked the film’s jump scares to perfection with the sight of a severed head popping out from a hole in a hull still making audiences jump after numerous viewings. Peter Benchley meanwhile would following the shark hunting frenzy which followed the release of the film dedicate his life to shark conservation while still finding time to in the novels which followed to find new horrors in the depth to scare us with as he followed up “Jaws” with the giant squid “Beast” and man-shark hybrid “Creature” both which would later show up as Made for TV movies.

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With “Jaws” being such a monster hit, it was of little surprise that a wave of imitators would soon start flooding cinemas such as “Mako: Jaws of Death”, “Up From The Depths” and “Barracuda” many not coming close to Spielberg’s film which itself would be followed up three years by the arguably superior “Jaws 2” which also included a scene of a mauled Orca in what could be assumed was a nod to “Orca: The Killer Whale” which saw the titular whale taking out a shark with the dead orca of “Jaws 2” being seen perhaps as a way to re-establish exactly who was the number one predator. Equally of note is the Joe Dante directorial debut and Roger Corman backed “Piranha” which despite having a budget which only stretched to a few plastic fish and bubbling red water still proved to be strangely effective, while its sequel “Piranha 2: The Spawning” featuring flying Piranha is probably more noteworthy for providing the launch pad for James Cameron’s career even if Corman would fire him before the production completed.

By the late 70’s studios began to look to the woods for their next big thrill picking up the path paved by a spate of Bigfoot movies in the early 70’s with “Grizzly” promising “Fourteen feet of gut crunching terror” and while later ripped off by the less than stellar “Claws” and perhaps to an extent “The Prophecy” which gave us its mutant cousin. At the same time its sequel “Grizzly 2: The Predator” shot in 1983 was never completed with its unfinished working print often being rediscovered by cult film fans intrigued by what could have been. Director William Girdler’s keen to follow up the success of “Grizzly” would take a second crack at natural horror with “Day of the Animals” a film often cited as its sequel though would fail to find the same success.

The 80’s saw the the sub-genre enter into a decline in popularity with the few noteworthy titles such as “White Dog” and “Cujo” taking great lengths to disassociate themselves from the idea of nature in revolt almost as if their directors saw it as being a negative thing to even risk being included with the films which had come before no doubt due to the saturation of films the previous decade had produced. That being said the “Jaws” franchise saw a further two entries being added with the forgettable “Jaws 3D” and the truly nonsensical “Jaws: The Revenge” despite the series very clearly going quickly belly up. In the years which followed this final entry numerous rumoured came and went about a reboot aswell as a prequel focusing on the character of “Quint” all which never got out of the planning stage. However in 1995 cult favourite Bruno Mattei, the Italian director who’d previously given us his own version of “Terminator 2” with “Bruno Matei’s Terminator 2” which suprisingly ripped off “Aliens” than its name shake franchise. His fifth unofficial entry “Jaws 5: Cruel Jaws” not only inserting itself into a franchise but also more brazenly used footage from the franchise aswell as “Deep Blood” and “Great White”.

Outside of a handful of b-grade direct to DVD features the 90’s were still a barren landscape for natural horror until 1999, which not only proved to be the best movie year ever but also gave us two heavy hitters released almost back to back as we got the Giant croc romp “Lake Placid” aswell as giving us Samuel L. Jackson’s most memorable film moment in “Deep Blue Sea” as he joined a group of scientists attempting to escape from the genetically modified sharks they’d created. Sadly despite making shark movies scary again, the much mooted sequel which would see the sharks being placed into a flooded town never got past the pre-production stage. What these films did however would be to breathe new life into the seemingly forgotten genre as they embraced their b-movie hookiness and aimed to be nothing deeper than popcorn fodder for the summer release schedule.

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By 00’s and with the shame of the direct to DVD market suddenly vanishing as studios rushed offdirect to DVD sequels or the likes of “American Pie” and “Van Wilder”, this new market would be fully embraced by companies such as “The Asylum” who saw the natural horror movie as the perfect template to rush out films whose audience could easily be brought in on the strength of the animals being featured, outlandish titles such as “Snakes On A Train” or “Shark Swarm” and who could easily be created via bargain basement CGI for minimal costs while providing the “SyFy Channel” with plenty of filler for their schedule.

Despite the questionable quality of many of these productions they have unquestionably gained their following as can be seen by the fact that we now have four “Sharknado” movies. At the same time these studios finding constantly more outlandish premises to nail their films on such as “Sharktopus” and “ Mega Shark Versus Crocosaurus” ensuring that the genre for the moment atleast is set to remain firmly in z-grade territory.

Starting Point – Five Natural Horror Essentials

 
Phase IV – Cosmic rays mysteriously cause ants to evolve and develop a hive mind, leading a pair of scientists to set up a lab to study the ants in the Arizona desert who threaten to take over the local area.

The sole film to be directed by Saul Bass the acclaimed designer of countless film posters and title sequences and a curiosity to say the least, as here he teams up with wildlife photographer Ken Middleham who previously handled the insect sequence for the documentary “The Hellstrom Chronicles” to create a truly unique film and not only because he was using real ants!

Pig Hunt – A group of friends on the hunt for a mythical three thousand pound boar known as “The Ripper” find more trouble than they could imagine and not only from the giant pig! True this might start of as a giant pig movie in the same spirit as “Razorback” but here we also get crazed rednecks, a pig worshiping cult and naked hippy chicks in what is a truly crazy ride of genre mashing goodness.

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Orca: The Killer Whale – Sharing a plot almost as random as “Jaws: The Revenge” as Richard Harris’s sea captain finds himself being stalked by the angry mate of the Orca he accidently kills.
While perhaps another film in a long line of “Jaws” knock offs this is still an enjoyable effort and one which has more than a few memorable moments including Bo Derek having her leg torn off by the titular Orca, which proves as intimidating a foe as any shark, especially with all the attacks being largely true to nature than any kind of “Free Willy” style attacks.

Deep Rising –A film which Roger Ebert proclaimed should have been titled “Eat The Titanic” as a luxury cruise ship is targeted by a group of thieves only to soon find themselves on the dinner menu for a monstrous squid like creature who is represented for the most part by creeping tentacles before giving us it’s big reveal at the finale. This is a fun ride from start to finish while teasing out a sequel which sadly was never to be. However packed with colourful characters and more than few surprises even for the hardened horror fan this is well worth giving a look.

Alligator – A truly bonkers movie which sees a tiny pet alligator flushed down the toilet turning into a monstrous sewer dweller that soon makes its way to the surface to feast on the local population.
Taking numerous ques from “Jaws” including a scene in a pool scene which is essentially a reworking of a scene from the “Jaws” climax. This film is a blast once it gets going including a wedding massacre which is worth checking it out for alone.

Saturday, 30 July 2016

Prehistoric Women



Title:  Prehistoric Women
Director: Michael Carreras
Released: 1967
Starring: Michael Latimer, Robert Raglan, Edina Ronay, Martine Beswick

Plot: When jungle guide David (Latimer) is captured by a tribe of natives who plan to sacrifice him to their white rhino god, only to soon find himself sent back in time a prehistoric age and caught between two warring tribes.


Review: One of the more overlooked films which made up Hammer Horror’s brief jaunt into caveman movies with this film originally intended to be the A-picture on a double bill with “The Old Dark House” only for studio head (and the director’s father) James Carreras to view it as being below Hammer’s standards and instead used the film as the support feature for a double with “The Devil Rides Out”. This of course should hardly have surprised any involved in the production seeing how it reused a lot of the sets and costumes from “One Million Years B.C.” while being shot quickly over four weeks.

A disposable bit of titillating fluff at best, this film lacks from the start any of the charms of Hammer’s other “cave girl” movies such as “One Million Years B.C.” or “When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth” which the release of this film was sandwiched between. At the same time Michael Latimer bland lead lacks any of the Doug McClure charm whose own caveman battling antics in “At The Earth’s Core” or “Land That Time Forgot” this film could be mistaken for attempting to imitate only fall largely flat for the most part.

The plot once we get into the prehistoric world despite a strong setup however soon descends into a blondes versus brunettes storyline as our warring tribes of fur bikini clad ladies face off in this timeline were the brunettes have enslaved the blondes while being led by their beautiful Queen Kari (Beswick) who has enlisted the help of a rival tribe known as “The Devils” who favour wearing papier-mâché animal skull masks and what appears to be half a gorilla costume. Kari offering her slaves to “The Devils” as brides / sacrifices in return for their continued protection.  This ceremony in particular is fantastic to watch as outside of yet more obvious titillation the selected girl is then forced to sit on top of the stuffed rhino which is being worshiped by the tribe in a perhaps unintentionally funny sequence.

Unsurprisingly David is soon picked for mating by Queen Kari only to eventually spurn her efforts when he discovers how cruel her regime is. The other men in the film meanwhile are kept confirmed to the mines and its unclear if Kari’s tribe actually have any male members seeing how like their blonde counterparts they are made up entirely of attractive model types with director Carreras clearly looking to tap into that same market that had been so thrilled by Raquel Welch’s definitive fur bikini antics in “One Million Years B.C.”.

Martine Beswick is probably one of the more memorable aspects of the film as we makes up for her less than believable whip skills with a smouldering shark like beauty, making it more of a shame she doesn’t have a better leading man to play off against. Edina Ronay meanwhile is a likeable enough love interest who performance rests more on how good she looks than her performance which is only just alittle more animated than Latimer while also having the advantage of playing a cave girl so she doesn’t have to emote much.

It should be noted that anyone expecting some papier-mâché / stop motion dinosaur fun will find themselves sadly disappointed as the budget here clearly only stretched to one leopard and a stuffed rhino on casters which is essentially wheeled in the general direction of the cast.  The real action coming at the finale as the recently liberated male slaves uprise and battle the devils in the very obvious soundstage jungle in a fight which it’s hard to actually tell if they are winning or not. Still we get a few creative kills including a girl fight which ends with one of them being pushed into a spit aswell as a fun goring by a rhino.

While this might not be the most painful of viewings it’s disposable at best and all the more surprising that it came from Hammer, even if they were essentially just cashing in on an accidental trend here this is no doubt the sort of film that the teenage me would have loved. Yes there are moments of fun randomness throughout its just you can find the same things elsewhere and no doubt done better.
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