Sunday, 24 April 2011

The Tripper

Title: The Tripper
Director: David Arquette
Released: 2006
Staring: Jaime King, Thomas Jane, Lukas Haas, Jason Mewes, Balthazar Getty, Marsha Thomason, Paul Reubens, Richmond Arquette, David Arquette, Courtney Cox Arquette, Christopher Allen Nelson

Plot: Samantha (King) is on the run from her abusive ex boyfriend Jimmy (Getty), heading off with her pothead friends and hoping to enjoy a carefree weekend at the Woodstock esq “American Free Love Festival” deep in the woods, unaware that these woods are home to deranged and Ronald Regan obsessed psychopath (Nelson).

Review: I do wonder what it is that makes the most awful horror film successful, as can be seen with the fact that we are now up to the sixth instalment of the “Saw” franchise, long after the limited plot potential was highlighted with first sequel, meanwhile true homage’s to the gory classics of the 70’s & 80’s like this one, which bother to try and bring some fun and excitment back into the horror genre, for some reason or another seem to fall by the wayside. Still if anyone was going to give it to us, I’m glad that it was the Actor & One Time WCW Champion turned Director David Arquette, for he has for myself atleast always had a sense of fun to his work and I knew from the interviews he gave during the promotional tour for this film, that he had made something special, for here wasn’t just some director reeling of a list of popular and establish classics for his influences, but a true horror fan clear setting out, with the clear intention of having a blast with the genre and perhaps attempting make the genere as awhole feel alittle less safe, than it had become back then with the popularity certainly at the time leaning towards more subtle horror than graphic violence, despite the occastional rogue film such as “Cabin Fever” attempting to buck the trend, with this intention pretty much being screamed from the majority of promotional shots in particular the real selling point of this movie, which is the chainsaw to the throat which appears within the first ten minutes, with Arquette only building on things from that moment onwards.

The two clear influences for the film seem to have been “The Burning” and more obviously the “Friday The 13th” series, with both getting subtle homage’s throughout, without Arquette feeling the need to billboard these references, by going “Hey look I’ve got the killer silloutted in direct sunlight, same as in “The Burning”!!!” while at the same time attempting to create something the audience hasn’t seen before, with the gore for the most part getting creative, as he chooses to hide nothing and also use old school effects over CGI making the end result only the more affective, especially when watching things like the aforementioned chainsaw to the throat. The majority of the kills are pretty straightforward, with this Regan alike proving himself more than alittle handy with an axe as heads start to roll with Arquette working towards his chop happy finale which helps push the film easily into the double figures.

The other main trademark of old school horror on show here is the gratuitous nudity, which covers both sexes (so something for everyone to enjoy), both shown in unflinching full frontal which probably wasn’t the best choice for the naked guy hippy, who clearly enjoyed working with the naked hippy chick alittle too much, which for some reason slipped past the censors, who tend to frown pretty heavily on anything resembling male arousal usually, with the general rule being that you can show a penis but god help you if your planning on showing an aroused one!

The cast are pretty much underground with the only a couple notable stars with the most noticeable for most folks being Jason Mews, who would also be another unknown on the cast list, had it not been for Kevin Smith, making him so memorable as Jay in his Askew View saga and here he’s not really exactly branching out as the Hippy stoner Joey, which essentially is just Jay in another guise. The same can also be said for Director Arquette, who once again puts in another oddball performance as one of a group of tormenting rednecks, while fulfilling the need for rednecks in any horror which has a woodland setting, a trend which he chooses not to buck here. Still Thomas Jane spends a lot of time chewing the scenery as Buzz, the local cop determined to get to the bottom of things, while holding a certain distain for the city folks flooding in for the festival and is certainly one of the main highlights here.

The main problem I had with “The Tripper” is with the pacing as after strong opening which features one of the best kills of the film, it takes quite awhile till we get the next one. Meanwhile the psycho ex-boyfriend plotline feels too much like filler and serves no purpose beside providing a questionable at best red herring. I know already that there will be the more jaded viewer who will question the lack of real scares on offer here, but essentially this is slasher and scares have never truly been a top priority for this sub genre of Horror, with the priority usually with finding new and ever more graphic ways of killing off members of the cast and it’s clear throughout that Arquette knows the horror genre well and I would love to see him try and make somthing alittle more scarier for his next effort, especially as Arquette's plan for a sequel set at "The Burning Man Festival", were scrapped after this film under performed, leaving Arquette's plan's for "The Tripper 2: Burning Bush" as nothing but a fun prospect of what could have been. Still his knowlege and clear love for the Horror genre does help make it all the more of treat when viewed as the popcorn horror flick that it is and as such best enjoyed with a group of liked minded friends and a bucket of ice cold corona!

Wednesday, 20 April 2011


Title: Bloodsport
Director: Newt Arnold
Released: 1988
Staring: Jean-Claude Van Damme, Donald Glibb, Bolo Yeung, Norman Burton, Forest Whitaker, Leah Ayres

Plot: Frank Dux (Van Damme) has spent his life being training by his adopted father figure Tanaka, to compete in the Kumite, the ultimate and highly illegal underground martial arts competition were serious and injury are common place, while the current champion Chong Li (Yeung) is equally keen to retain his title at any cost.

Review: “Bloodsport” is a true nostalgic relic from the golden age of action movies which was the 80’s, with the film also providing the much needed showcase for the Kickboxing talents of Van Damme, which in turn launched him to superstar status and while his more recent efforts might be more forgettable like so many of the era’s action stars, it still remains one of his most talked about movies. So after being frequently reminded of it, while checking out “The Jaded Viewer” who has replaced the more traditional stars / thumbs up rating for one of the more iconic screenshots from this film, which honestly is a lot cooler, I thought I'd finally sit down and watch it.

Opening with the various fighters going through their assorted training regimes, Director Arnold wastes little time in setting the mood for what sort of movie your gonna be watching, with the true highlight of this sequence including the weird Zulu warrior punching coconuts while generally leaping around like a frenzied chimp, which does have me questioning how some of these fighters like this joker in particular even know about the tournament. Still the most badass fighter of all of them Chong Li, gets the best of these first introductions, as we are treated to the sight of him breaking blocks of ice with only the utmost ease. Essentially this is what the film is about. Fighters showing off their skills and beating the hell out of each other, with the plot only being something to string these assorted showcase pieces together.

Supposedly based on the real life of Martial Artist Frank Dux, who also wrote the original story which the film is based on, but seeing how the validity of many of his personal claims have frequently been disputed by both “Soldier of Fortune” and the “Los Angeles Times” feel free to believe what you want when it comes to credibility, as personally I seriously doubted the "based on real events" tagline and just thought it was just fun, rather than any kind of biopic. Still What struck me first about this film was just how young Van Damme looks here, as the fresh faced Frank, which was also his first leading role and despite not being the most convincing actor (well I guess something just never change) he allow his skills instead to do most of the talking, finding time to include his now trademark moves while relying on raw charisma for the rest to help carry him through. This film also established the trend with his early films for the training montages to usually involve torturing him as part of the part to being the ultimate fighter with the rack making the first of its memorable appearances, during a stupidly long flashback sequence, which frequently cuts to a close up of Franks eyes whenever the scene changes.

The fight scenes are all pretty fantastic even when none of the named fighters are competing, with the tournament attracting a wide range of fighting styles which only helps keep things interesting, from the kickboxing style of Frank to the more powerhouse style of Chong Li, who is perfectly written for Yeung who here, despite being 50 at the time of filming, looks absolutely monstrous and more bulked up then usual, though the script writers clearly doubted him being able to pull of the English dialogue, which might go a way to explaining why Chong Li only rarely speaks and when he does it’s usually to say something badass like

“You break my record, now I break you, like I break your friend”

Still like Van Damme, Yeung also lets his actions do a lot of the talking, as he demolishes all those who challenge him, frequently (and graphically) breaking bones and generally providing the deaths which the tournaments’ reputation promises, which judging by the unfazed reaction of the crowd, would seem usually happens a lot more frequently than it does with this tournament, with most of the fighters preferring bizarrely enough an honourable defeat over a more permanent one.

Outside of the fighting which honestly is most of the movie, we get the aforementioned attempts at plotting which pretty much boil down to the half assed attempts of the Military Police Officers Helmer (Burton) and Rawlins (Whitaker), who basically spend a lot of time running around and failing Frank to turn himself in having gone AWOL to compete in the tournament. The other unnecessary plot thread involves undercover journalist Janice (Ayres), who despite wanting to expose the Kumite, seems to forget about this as soon as she gets involved with Frank, with her sole obsession from that point being constantly telling Frank that he’s crazy for competiting, when perhaps she should be more worried about the Hole in the Ozone she’s creating with the sheer amount of hairspray she must be using to keep her huge hair in place, with her role as a romantic interest unneeded here, as it’s basically another excuse for Van Damme not to put on his shirt. Finally we have Ray (Gibb) the loud mouthed and brash American fighter, who is also competing in the Kumite and becomes a kind of Big Brother to Frank and is one of the few supporting characters who doesn’t feel like they are being included to fill screen time, even though Frank earns his respect by beating him on an arcade game rather than anything resembling fighting ability, which makes him a pretty easy person to impress it would seem.

“Bloodsport” is a fun piece of nostalgia of a more exciting time for action cinema and despite being a film which relies solely on it’s action sequences, it works surprisingly well, if meaning as a result that it is anything but high art, but then weren’t the best of Bruce Lee’s movies like this? Still it’s a fun movie and worth watching to see an action hero in his prime, especially as it was pretty much a downward spiral from this point onwards and the less said about “Street Fighter” the better really.

Sunday, 17 April 2011

Mortal Kombat: Legacy

Several months ago I stumbled across the promo trailer for “Mortal Kombat: Legacy” or “Mortal Komabt: Rebirth” as it was known then, which took the Mortal Kombat series and gave it a “Dark Knight” shot of realism, which created a result which honestly broke my jaw the first time I saw it, quickly leading me to spam the hell out of my like minded friends insisting that they watch it, despite the fact that no one seemed to know what exactly it was a promo for.

So time passed on and though it frequently came up in conversations with my friends who I’d shown it to, it had generally fallen off the radar. That was until last night when “Geeks Are Sexy” posted the first episode of the new web series which that promo has since evolved into and suddenly everything was put to one side as I sat down to watch the first episode of this latest attempt at adapting the popular games, which so far has spawned two films, an animated series and the guilty pleasure which is “Mortal Kombat: Conquest” which remains one of the best spin off’s which the games have inspired to date.
So here is the first episode of this latest incarnation which is to be released as a weekly web series by via youtube.

Spearheading the series is director Kevin Tancharoen who is probably best known for directing the “Fame” Remake and is certainly a surprising choice for rebooting / reimaging the franchise, but so far he has proven to be exactly what the series has needed as this latest addition to the franchise has proven with it’s first episode to be more than a glossy promo, for although this pilot episode only shows Sonya Blade, Jax and Kano rather than any of the more fantastical characters, it still moves at a breakneck pace and devotes a good chunk of the episode run time to some great action sequences including a great showdown between Jax and Kano.

The series has some great writing talent behind it, with Tancharoen being joined on writing duties by Ed Boon the creator of the Mortal Kombat series aswell as the memorable voice of Scorpion. Also on writing for the show are Todd and Aaron Helbing who more recently could be found writing for another great adaptation of an established classic with “Spartacus: Blood and Sand”. Although it is early days for the series the writing is still fresh and with a strong focus on action, rather than allowing the action to get too bogged down, with all the characters so far still proving as memorable as their video game versions.

The cast are largely unknowns with a couple of cult actors such as Michael Jai White finally giving us a decent version of Jax, while his martial arts skills are put to great effect here. The only other recognisable face here is Jeri Ryan who made a whole lot more people tune in for Star Trek Voyager and no doubt will have the same effect here as she takes on the role of the feisty Sonya Blade. However when it comes to their casting of Kano, whom for myself was truly nailed by Trevor Goddard who brought a cocky thug like quality to the character, rather than the more Triad esq gangster that Darren Shahlavi has chosen to play him like, but I’m interested to still to see how Kano is used in the latest adaptation, especially with another nine episodes to go in this brief initial run, though a strong foundation has been laid with the first episode especially when combined with the teaser, so hopefully Tancharoen has enough ideas to keep our interest, which if the cast list on IMDB is anything to go off it’s safe to say he has me curious as to how other characters will be introduced and how they will come across in his vision, but will he get close to the gory highlights of the source material? For the moment it is hard to say and while the other adaptations have generally skipped around it, so already I’m keen to see if Tancharoen will choose this safer path aswell or instead surprise us all further by reminding us all what exactly what the selling point of Mortal Kombat was in the first place.

Thursday, 14 April 2011


Title: Catfish
Director: Henry Joost & Ariel Schulman Released: 2010
Staring: Nev Schulman, Ariel Schulman, Henry Joost, Abby Pierce, Angela Pierce

Plot: A documentary charting the quickly developing friendship through “Facebook” and continuous e-mails between photographer Nev Schulman and the child painting prodigy Abby. Soon this friendship expands to include her mother Angela and her older half sister Megan, who Nev soon begins building a romantic relationship with. However it’s not long before Nev begins to suspect that everything is not what it seems and sets out to find the truth.

Review: “Catfish” should really come with a “Google Earth and Facebook proudly sponsor” tagline on it’s poster as essentially as this feels almost like a glossy advert for both, especially seeing how extensively they are both used throughout, which is pretty much right from the start. Still “Catfish” or the other “Facebook” movie as I like to call it, is kind of a curiosity seeing how it’s limited cinema release saw it in the cinema and pretty much straight to DVD within a couple of months, were it now joins a pretty exclusive list of films, which have never been made available to rent through Blockbuster, which when you consider that they stock nearly pretty much every new release made it only all the more surprising that this one was never picked up. It’s safe to say that this lack of distribution, has only really proved detrimental to the film and meant that it’s been left for the audiences to hunt it out themselves, leaving the film relying heavily on word of mouth promotion, especially when it comes to the authenticity of the footage, which most notably had “Super Size Me” (2004) director Morgan Spurlock branding the film “The best fake documentary he had ever seen”, despite the constant protest from Directors Joost & Schulman who still maintain that everything shown in the film is real.

This documentary really comes with great timing, especially with so many people now using social networking sites like “Facebook” and generally using the internet as their connection to the rest of the world, as the film explores the frequently asked question, since the internet became such more than a nerdy obsession, of how you can really be sure that people who they say they are, after all the Internet is essentially a platform for you to become anyone you wish to be, with the minimum amount of hassle and this is at the core of what the film is about and I will attempt to keep any spoilers until the end of this review, as this is another film which works best when entered blind of with the minimum amount of information, so my advice would be to stop reading now and go see this film, unless you’d rather risk spoiling any potential surprises.

Nev’s photography mainly revolves around dance and theatre and it’s when one of his recently published photographs gets sent to him as a painting that the story begins, as he begins first of all communicating through e-mail and later “Facebook” with the child painting prodigy Abby, as they slowly build a friendship as she sends him more and more of her paintings. Soon it’s not long before he has also started speaking with her mother Angela on the phone, who soon becomes the spokeswoman for her daughter, frequently making excuses for Abby whenever Nev asks to speak to her, which for some reason he never seems to question, until later in the film when cracks start to appear in the story. In the meantime Nev also begins talking with the equally talented half sister Megan, with their friendship soon turning to romance which again Nev seems to never question until later in the film, happily reading off dirty texts sent back and forth between himself and Megan, while also making up photo-shopped pictures of them together, which did have me asking myself who essentially is the more creepy here. Still It’s only after Nev receives a song supposedly being sung by Megan that he starts questioning the whole situation further and sets out to find out the real truth behind the family and this is were the real meat of the film comes into play.

Part social commentary and part thriller the film rolls along at a steady pace, making the viewer feel that they are part of the group as each piece of the mystery is slowly revealed, the further the film pulls you into the mystery behind this supposedly talented family. However the further the film goes the easier it becomes to understand why accusations have been made to the authenticity of the footage, especially when the film crew descend on a horse farm supposedly owned by Megan only to find it eerily empty, with the choice to shoot it in a Blair Witch style certainly being questionable, meanwhile at the opposite end of things we have shots like Nev scratching his crotch in full view of the camera, while on the phone and more worryingly a prolonged open legged shot of one of one of Abby’s friends also go a way toward justifying authenticity, after all why would you choose to include scenes like that otherwise? What is clear though is that having stumbled across a more interesting story, almost by accident Directors Joost and Schulman are keen to film it through to it’s conclusion while trying to clearly playing dumb to prolong the mystery which the viewer has no doubt figured out before they choose to play thier big reveal, with this choice questionably make the film all the better as a result, especially as we discover the reasons behind this ruse are more to do with escaping a difficult and emotionally draining existence, with the true depth and plotting behind these created character proving only the more astounding especially when you consider how it was pulled off, by one person as revealed in a fantastic scene in which the real artist behind the paintings and also creator of this ruse explains it all as they sketch Nev’s portrait, an moment which almost feels like a final wish being granted aswell as a way of bringing a satisfying closure to the whole strange journey.

In all it is a strange movie to describe as what starts off as a strightforward documentary and what could have made an intresting short film, soon changes it’s focus towards internet fakery and how we choose to represent ourselves, before finally making us question if it is a good thing that we have people like this in the world, as the true meaning behind the title is finally revealed and that it’s a question which like the film I will end this with, while urging you all to hunt down this film, for what will no doubt be one of those films which sadly slips from the general conscious of the public only to be passed around the film junkie ranks were no doubt it will truly be appreciated for the intriguing documentary it is.

Friday, 1 April 2011

RaimiFest: The Evil Dead

Continuing the fun of “Raimifest” currently being held over at “Things That Don’t Suck”, the fantastic blog run by my critiquing hombre Bryce, so why not check out it out the fun currently happening over there and soak up some of the Raimi goodness!

Title: The Evil Dead
Director: Sam Raimi
Released: 1981
Staring: Bruce Campbell, Ellen Sandweiss, Richard DeManincor, Betsy Baker, Theresa Tilly

Plot: Five friends head to a cabin in the woods, were they find a copy of an ancient book detailing demonic possession and ceremonies. As well as the book they also find a tape recording translation of the book, which unknown to them releases a dark evil in the woods.

Review: Okay let me start by saying that I was never a fan of this film, having only really watched it once before and since then hadn’t really felt any kind of urge to revisit it since that original viewing, but seeing how we are in the midst of “Raimifest” I could think of no better excuse to revisit this film, after all my childhood memory is still imprinted with the original VHS artwork, which taunted me from the shelves of the local video rental and even though I never felt any urge to watch it, it still held a strange power over me, which could have been down to the lack of any kind of screenshot on the back or just the eerie green colouring of the zombie like creature on the front cover, whatever it was there was something about it which stuck with me.

Originally titled “The Book of the Dead” only for producer Irvan Shapiro to oppose the title, believing that audiences would expect to have to read, Raimi instead changed the name to “The Evil Dead” or “The Evil Dead, The Ultimate Experience In Gruelling Horror” to give the film it’s full title and it is certainly a film with a chequered past being one of the first films to make the notorious “Video Nasties” list and being frequently used by media moralist Mary Whitehouse, as an example of a video nasty in court, though ironically the version she used was not the uncut version but instead the cut version of the film, which had been passed for certification by the BBFC, were it had recived an X rating. The film would be frequently added and removed from the list before finally receiving its full uncut release in 2001 ironically on the same year that Whitehouse passed away.

Biding it’s time the film starts off quite typically with our fresh faced teens heading to their rented cabin in the woods and despite a few warning signs that something is nice quite right, be it the strange unseen presence moving quickly though the woods or the porch bench banging against the side of the cabin suddenly stopping, the group certainly have no idea of the night they have ahead of them, much like the viewer, for so far this is all a pretty traditional horror setup. Still Raimi clearly knows this seeing how he goes from this handful of setup moments, to his first big scare of the film aswell as the most controversial as Ash’s sister Cheryl is raped by the surrounding trees, which would also be the one scene which Raimi would later admit to regretting it’s inclusion in the final cut of the film and while it provides a shocking wake up call for the audience, it still is one of the few moments were the film perhaps takes things a little too far. Still from this moment onwards the film becomes a non stop ride into madness and sheer terror, which never lets up until the closing credits, which are equally haunting as the jolly and slightly out of place jazz music slowly grinds to a crawl before fading out completly, providing the viewer with no reprive while it still has command of the screen.

When it comes to the gore Raimi makes good on the advice he received from his friend Andy Grainger who had told him…

“Fellas, no matter what you do, keep the blood running down the screen”

Well it’s safe to say that Raimi manages to follow this advice almost religiously as not only is this possibly the most bloody film ever made, with possibly only Peter Jackson’s “Brain Dead” (1992) coming close to beating it, but nearly any possible bodily fluid is thrown at the screen, along with the various amputations, stabbings and beatings which happen throughout, as he builds to his epic finale in which bodies explode in epic meltdowns of stop motion animation, old school effects and something which strangely resembles pie filler, with Campbell being on the receiving end of the majority of the punishment being handed out, which could be down largely to the fact that Campbell was the only actor to stay with the production throughout, with the rest of the cast having scenes completed using stand in’s or “Fake Shemps” as they were branded, though Raimi seems to be personally setting out to torture him throughout the film, something which he would continue through to the sequels in which he seemed to constantly be finding new tortures for his long term friend and actor of choice. The use of “Fake Shemps” could also be seen as Raimi’s ongoing obsession with “The Three Stooges”, one of several reoccurring themes and icons which have appeared in nearly all his films, with these icons including Chainsaws and the now famous Oldsmobile, all of which made their debut here. With this feature length debut Raimi clearly is building on the foundations he lay with “Within The Woods” (1978), which he also used to raise the funds for this film, which in turn could now be seen as the testing ground for “Evil Dead 2” (1987) which is essentially a big budget remake, taking what worked here and fine tuning it for a bigger kick, which would explain the evolution of Ash to his more recognisable Wise cracking deadite slaying persona, aswell as the Chainsaw actually being used, rather than just playing the tease as he does here. Still there would still remain one aspect of this film, which Raimi would never be able replicate in the sequels and this is the sheer creepiness of Betsy Baker, thanks to a combination of milky white contacts and a Cheshire cat grin, which still haunts me like the turtle scene in “Cannibal Holocaust” (1980). Baker apparently still likes to dig out the contacts on Halloween and scare the hell out of the local kids, which I have to admit is pretty cool, though here when that smile and those wide eyes are combined with her insane ramblings it’s chilling.

While “The Evil Dead” might not be my favourite film in Raimi’s back catalogue, there is no denying it’s influence, especially seeing how it would go on to spawn not only it’s two sequels, but computer games, a musical as well as a popular comic spin off, while finding a whole new host of rabid fans, with every new generation of horror fans who discover it for the first time and while I would have preferred to have just ended the film with Ash walking away, rather than going for the final scare, but despite my qualms with the film it still remains almost a textbook example of how effective DIY horror can be when done well. Now if I could only just figure out why Raimi choose to have them drinking Moonshine of all things.
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