Monday, 31 December 2012

Evil Dead 2: Dead Before Dawn

Title: Evil Dead 2: Dead Before Dawn
Director: Sam Raimi
Released: 1987
Staring: Bruce Campbell, Sarah Berry, Danny Hicks, Kassie Wesley, Ted Raimi, Denise Bixler, Richard Domeier, John Peaks, Lou Hancock

Plot: Ash Williams (Campbell) and his girlfriend Linda (Bixler) take a romantic vacation to an isolated cabin in the woods. It is there that Ash finds and plays a tape of an archaeology professor (Peaks), reciting passages from the Necronomicon Ex-Mortis or the Book of the Dead, which he has discovered during an archaeological dig. The recorded incantation proceeds to unleash an evil force from the woods pitting them in a battle to make to dawn.

Review: Considering the sheer amount of carnage unleashed on the screen in the first film, it is hard to think how Raimi could even set about trying to top it, especially when it got one of the dubious honour of being banned as part of the video nasty scandal. Raimi himself was also not keen to give his debut film a sequel, especially as he saw his next film “Crimewave” as a hit and it was only after it flopped due to a combination of poor distribution and critical mauling that he decided to take up the publicist Irvin Shaprio’s offer to make a sequel. However struggling to find the required funds to make the film, help would come via Stephen King who’d written a glowing review of the first film which had also been used heavily during promotion for the film and who was at the time working with legendry Italian producer Dino De Laurentiis on “Maximum Overdrive”. After reciving a call from King, De Laurentiis agreed to fund the film especially being further persuaded by the high grosses of the original film in his native Italy.

The original plot had been to have Ash thrown back in time via a time portal to the medieval ages, an idea which was soon scrapped after Raimi only managed to secure 3.6 of the desired 4 Million he needed to make the picture, leading to him to essentially remaking the first film while as we now know the original plotline would go on to become that of the third film “Army of Darkness”. This decision to remake his first film is essentially a smart move, especially considering the original film was at this point branded a video nasty and as such still banned, while also meaning that Raimi could correct the parts of the film which didn’t work aswell as they perhaps should have. At the same time this claim of the film being a remake has been disputed as being more down to the fact that rights to show scenes from the original could not be obtained to allow the film to recap and hence leading Raimi to recreate these scenes instead. It would be these kinds of rights issues which also mean that George Romero gets nothing from his debut “Night of the Living Dead” which at last check had become a public domain movie as a result of these issues with the rights to the film.

The real heart of the film (if not the series on the whole) though is Bruce Campbell, who once agin returns as the long suffering Ash to battle his way through another night of terror, while he also becomes over the course of the wisecracking deadite slayer we have come to see him as essentially always being and this reworking of his character would truly be one of the good things to come from the sequel, as he straps a chainsaw to his stump and saws the end off his shotgun to complete his trademark look. Campbell of course embodies this role, while essentially being tortured by Raimi (who needs enemies when you’ve got friends huh!) who ensures that that Ash is on the receiving end of more brutal knocks than any other character in the film. With perhaps only Raimi’s brother Ted, who appears as the professor’s possessed wife, challenging Campbell for filming hardship as his suit constantly filled with his sweat which constantly had to be drained from the suit, further reinforcing the idea as to who needs enemies when your friends with Sam Raimi.

While this might be essentially a remake, the tone is very different to the first film whose focus was on unrelenting terror as here the focus here being on giving the film more of a humorous edge rather than making it a straight horror film as the first had been, with the majority of these comedy touches coming from Scott Spiegel who Raimi brought in to help write the script, with the duo drawing influence from various slapstick films including Raimi favourite “The Three Stooges” and the influence can be seen clearly on the screen, as characters suffer pratfalls while we are also treated to Ash’s disembodied hand flipping him the bird, all things which could easily have taken away from the film, but instead provide the much needed respite from the horror which Raimi unleashes on the screen here, especially as he somehow manages to outdo the first film, especially as he takes it to new dizzying heights of gore and splatter, especially when geysers of blood pour from the walls and floor.

Which the focus may be more on giving this film a more comedic edge than the first film, this is not to say that Raimi still doesn’t wheel out a new box of demonic delights, as he creations are now bigger and more grotesque than before thanks to the increased budget and while he largely aims to bring new shocks to the screen, he seemingly can’t resist bringing back his more notorious creation “The Angry Molesting Tree” even though it is on less controversial terms than before, while even giving this particular and originally faceless horror an actual face during the final epic showdown, which sadly doesn’t feature the same delirious mix of pie filler and stop motion animation meltdown that the original did. Still on the plus side Raimi is not such a tease with the chainsaw antics, one of my bugbears of the original were we are setup for some chainsaw action only to never actually see it, something well and truly made up for here.  

One of the more interesting aspects of the film is really in how it plays out with the first half featuring Ash essentially being battered and tormented by the evil forces at work, which it would seem is the setup for the rest of the film, only for Raimi to around the halfway point throws in a fresh group of characters as the professors daughter Annie (Berry), her research partner Ed (Domeier) and locals Jake (Hicks) and Bobby Joe (Wesley) into the madness and while we have been introduced to them via the spattering of moments the film takes its attention away from Ash, they still feel like fresh and new characters and essentially more meat for he grinder the cabin quickly is becoming at this point. It is also interesting how well this sudden introduction of new characters works, especially considering the minimal amount of character development they have received at this point.

While Raimi might have been reluctant to make it, this film is the true calling card of his talent as he proved that you can amuse and terrify an audience at the same time, as like George Miller with “Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior” he successfully builds on what he established with the original while in many cases improving on his formula, in the process achieving that rarest of things a sequel that is actually better than the original. When it comes to turning splatter into an art form here Raimi excels in bloody spades!

Friday, 28 December 2012

Elwood's Essentials #5: Battle Royale

Seeing how  “The Hunger Games” is still currently one of the most talked about releases of this year, even more so with the forthcoming sequel which will pointlessly split the second book of the Hunger Games trilogy in two what better time could there be to revisit the film which it essentially ripped off, despite Suzanne Collins frequently going on record to state that she “had never heard of that book until [her] book was turned in,” and unsurprisingly in return the fans of this film have continued to savage her book as a ripoff, while early promotional material for the book marketed it as “Battle Royale for Kids” only further questioning such shaky claims. So this week I essentially choose to add fuel to the fire and look at the original movie, which is undoubtedly one of my all time favorites. I should also warn that the videos do contain some scenes of violence which might be shocking for some readers and are used purely in the context of illustrating points raised, so if easily shocked do not view.

Set at the dawn of the millennium, Japan as a nation has collapsed and with unemployment on the rise and the youth boycotting the school system, the government makes the radical decision of passing the Millennium Education Reform Act, AKA the “BR Act”, Each year a class is chosen by lottery to take part and having been placed on a deserted island, the class are given three days to battle amongst themselves until only one student remains, with the survivor being used as an example of the lengths the government are willing to go, to maintain order in the nation.


Released as what could be marked as the start of the new Asian invasion were the interest in Asian cinema literally exploded at the start of 2000, with films like “The Ring”, “Audition” and of course this film winning huge acclaim from not only established fans of Asian cinema, but many non fans of foreign cinema aswell, with these films paving the way for the slew of titles with followed in their wake, as they proved that there was more to Asian cinema than Kung fu and art house samurai movies.

Based on the Bestselling pulp novel by Koushun Takami, the film directed by Kinji Fukasaku manages to take a novel which would have made a perfectly good exploitation movie and turns it into what could almost be considered high art with exploitation undertones, let alone the fact he managed to find a way to mould the multi-stranded plotlines of the novel into a filmable script. At the heart of the film though we have Shuya Nanahara (Tatsuya Fujiwara) who has been finding his life growing increasingly difficult since the suicide of his father, a situation which only gets worse when his class find themselves unwittingly elected to participate in this year’s Battle Royale with each member of the class finding themselves fitted with an explosive collar and assigned a bag containing supplies and a randomly selected weapon (to help remove any natural advantages). Seeing the chaos erupting around him he takes it upon himself to try and save his friend and secret crush Noriko Nakagawa (Aki Maeda) while forming an uneasy alliance with transfer student and BR Veteran Shogo Kawada (Taro Yamamoto), who also hides his own secretive past.

What is most interesting about the film is how it manages to focus on so many characters at the same time, finding a way to explore their individual goals while even more skilfully managing to make them all unique and individual which is certainly no easy task especially when you consider that there are 42 students to account for. True some of these are mere cannon fodder or choose to leave the game early, opting for suicide over the choice to killing their classmates, but within these students are those with their own engaging agenda’s and while most of the class are busy just trying to survive or team up with others for safety, we have characters such the psychotic exchange student Kazuzo Kiriyama (Chiaki Kuriyama) and the beautiful and deadly Mitsuko Souma (Kou Shibaski) who happily kill friend and foe alike with Mitsuko especially using it as a chance for revenge against her former gang members and tormentors.

Meanwhile others pursue more legitimate goals, with Shinji Mimura (Takashi Tsukamoto) and his friends plotting to hack into the game’s military mainframe, while we also get a surprising love triangle on the battlefield between Hiroki Sugimura (Sosuke Takaoka), his best friend Takako Chigusa (Chiaki Kuriyama who is probably best known as “Kill Bill’s” Chain Whip / Meteor Hammer welding Gogo) and his love interest Kayako Kotohiki (Takayo Mimura) all adding surprising levels of depth to the film, which contains a lot more heart and emotion than you would usually expect from a film of it’s type, with director Fukasaku frequently managing to surprise the viewer with moments of real emotional intensity.

Although the film has characters who could be considered the villains, the real main bad guy here is Kitano, the former teacher turned government agent, played by the always amazing “Beat” Takashi Kitano who is once again on great form, as he provides a running commentary of the dead and acts as an unquestionable supporter of the government’s actions, no doubt due to his own fractured home life, which is highlighted through a phone call with his estranged daughter, who would later appears in a more pivotal role in the sequel “Battle Royale: Requiem”. Needless to say Kitano’s laid back and mysterious motives make him another fascinating character, especially when he chooses to involve himself in the game, while showing an especial fondness for Noriko.

Though incredibly violent, Fukasaku still manages to capture several moments of genuine humour from the day glow coloured training video complete with bubbly presenter, to the students which receive the more useless weapons from Pan lids to paper fans, which really puts them in a worse position considering that their fellow students could be armed with any one of the nasty weapons available from scythe’s and stun guns to shotguns and machine guns.

Needless to say with so much hardware available things do frequently get violent, with hosepipe arterial sprays, exploding heads and even a poisoning making up just some of the smorgus board of violence which Fukasaku has crafted, while at the same time carefully editing and reworking some of the more graphic sections of the book, so that while frequently shocking it is never prolonged so that the film descends into farce.

The soundtrack is comprised of popular classics and original music performed by the Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra and composed by Masamichi Amano, who previously has composed music for anime classic’s “Urotsukidoji” and “Giant Robo”, aswell as more recently “Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games”. Here though he turns Verdi’s Requiem into the official “Battle Royale” theme which never fails to get me amped up for this film whenever I sit down to watch it, while also effectively using Bach’s Air from orchestral Suite No.3 In D Major and Strauss’s Blue Danube Waltz, which will no doubt have a whole new set of imagery attached to it after seeing this movie, in much the same way that Oliver Stone did for Barber’s Adagio for Strings or what Quentin Tarantino has done to a number of pop obscurities.

A classic in every sense from the skilful direction, choice casting and superb soundtrack, it’s a brutal non stop ride, that only further highlights why film goers shouldn’t be narrowing their cinematic world view to just the English spoken productions, while no doubt opening a doorway for many into the exciting world of Asian cinema.

Sunday, 23 December 2012

Die Hard 2: Die Harder

Title: Die Hard 2: Die Harder
Director: Renny Harlin
Released: 1990
Staring: Bruce Willis, Bonnie Bedelia, William Sadler, Art Evans, William Atherton, Franco Nero, Dennis Franz, Fred Thompson, John Amos, Reginald VelJohnson, Tom Bower, Shelia McCarthy, Robert Costanzo, Robert Patrick

Plot: Set two years after the events of the first film, it is Christmas Eve and John McClane (Willis) is waiting to pick up his wife Holly (Bedelia) from the airport when terrorists lead by Colonel Stuart (Sadler) take over the air traffic control system as part of their goal to rescue drug lord and dictator General Ramon Esperanza (Nero) currently being extradited to the United States. Now McClane finds himself in a race against time to stop Colonel Stuart before the planes circling overhead including his wife’s plane run out of fuel.

Review: It was never going to be easy to follow up a classic like the original “Die Hard” but you have to commend Renny Harlin for trying in what would be the first in a chain of action movies he would go on to direct from here, as he picks up the directorial reins from John McTiernan while working from a screenplay based on the novel “58 Minutes” by Walter Wager, adapting the story to incorporate key characters from the first film into the story. Still the fact that it is adapted from a story by a completely different author than the original doesn’t change anything, especially as it seems that little has changed for McClane since the last time we saw him, having now returned to a sense of normality since the events of the first film, he is still the same foul mouthed LA, wise cracking cop he was before and it is really more down to bad luck that he once again finds himself caught up in another plot, especially when all he wants to do is pick his wife up from the airport rather than play the hero again. Still despite possibly being a credible source for reporting a terrorist plot going down, McClane still faces an almost impossible task of trying to convince any of the airport authorities, especially Airport police captain Lorenzo, who is played on top abusive form by “NYPD Blue” lead Dennis Franz and whose control over the airport resources essentially leaves McClane a lone hero once more.

While it is essentially more of the same Harlin still makes the most of this new setting, by mainly ensuring that he shoots up as much of it as possible, while throwing in a couple of exploding airplanes for good measure, but then what is the point in using the airport setting if you’re not going to make planes explode? Harlin while at this point in career still inexperienced as an action director still shows a lot of confidence here, crafting some original set pieces such as a shoot out on the baggage carousels aswell as an equally thrilling snowmobile chase, while keeping the plot as tight as possible as he slowly unveils the Colonels plan, which is none the less ballsy if not more so than the one used by Hans Gruber and his team in the first film. Still this is one of the many joys this film provides, especially when the Colonel has seemingly got every possible move planned out in advance, meaning that the films plot plays out like a well thought out thriller than an action movie, as Harlin proves that you can have clever plotting without sacrificing balls to the wall action.

It is nice to see that Harlin here also chooses to go with a more traditional badass villain than trying to pull off another cerebral villain like Hans, something essentially highlighted by the first time we see the Colonel who is practicing martial arts in the nude (Not sure if this make him more badass or not), something which bizarrely only gets used in the final showdown after this first introduction, while the rest of the time he is happy to just shoot people rather than pull off any more cool looking moves. Still this is not to say that he is some kind of knuckle dragger, as he like Hans processes a keen strategic mind only he’s more than happy to get things done himself rather than relying on his minions to do his dirty work and Sadler really embodies this character so that his constantly cool demeanour is easily believable thanks to Sadler’s performance, though sadly he only gets minimal screentime with McClane and none of the radio taunting that we got with Hans and something that was noticeably corrected with the next film. Equally noticeable is the fact that the second main badguy General Ramon is treated as though he is a key player, only to then be given little to actually do, other than shadow the Colonel and generally seem menacing. Infact his early reunion with the Colonel only seems to be so that Harlin can cram in what is almost a replay of McClane’s suicide jump from “Die Hard” as he has him using an ejector seat to escape an exploding plane in what is both a great and slightly gratuitous action sequence.

The action sequences on the whole are all about taking what worked in the first time and applying it to a larger canvas, so an exploding APC becomes an exploding plane while the claustrophobic vents and corridors of the plaza are now replaced with the vast expanse of the airport in which anything can happen anywhere within. As a result Harlin is clearly keen to make the most of the bigger scale he has to work with yet thankfully doesn’t lose focus on what worked in the first film and hence McClane still cracks one liners to help relieve the pressure he finds himself under, while we also get several returning characters such as Al (Veljohnson) who sadly given more of a cameo appearance here, especially after the key part he played in the first film it would have been nice to see more of the same here, but instead McClane gains a new sidekick in the form of Marvin the Janitor (Bower) who serves as McClane’s main info source thanks to him unlimited supply of airport blueprints. Even more bizarre is the reappearance of sleazy reporter Dick Thornburg (Atherton) who while not an unlikable appearance, it is still one which leaves you wondering why? Did anyone really like his character so much that they wanted to see more in the sequel?

Despite outgrossing the original upon its release, for some reason this film has never had the same cult appeal as the original, which is something of a shame considering that it gives you more of the same only on a bigger scale. Still it is hard to say that the lack of a memorable bad guy doesn’t affect the film, especially after the memorable bad guys of the first film right down to the lowliest grunt in their ranks, but this is a minor complaint especially when this film is just as much fun as the original and well worth a revisit or a double feature with the original.

Friday, 21 December 2012

Jack Frost


Title: Jack Frost
Director: Michael Cooney
Released: 1996
Staring: Scott McDonald, Chris Allport

Plot: Serial killer Jack Frost (Scott McDonald) is being transported to prison, when the prison bus collides with a truck transporting genetic acid which proceeds to melt and bond him with the surrounding snow, as he now takes on the form of a snowman to take revenge on the local townsfolk including Sam (Chris Allport) the town sheriff who was responsible for capturing him in the first place.

Review: Continuing my “Alternative Christmas” theme it's now time to look at a film which highlights the fact that just because you have the resources to do something it doesn’t necessarily mean that you should do it. “Jack Frost” is a key example of this theory in action while perhaps also being the only movie which thought that a killer snowman might be a good idea for a creature of terror! I mean yeti's, bears, sharks these are all suitable candidates for the creature of terror, but a snowman?

Still this film should not to be confused with the equally awful but a whole lot less fun Michael Keaton movie of the same name, which bizarrely was released a year later and which also featured a man being reincarnated as a snowman. Still “Jack Frost” has the usual horror setup for serial killers getting their souls trapped in random objects. So while snowmen might not be the most obvious object of terrors, being that they are clearly not scary in the slightest, you have to give Director (aswell as acclaimed playwright…well so IMDB tells me) Michael Cooney credit for giving it a shot. No doubt you thinking that at least the snowman on the front cover of the DVD looks like it has been designed to at least look scary….well it is when you watch the film that you soon realise that perhaps this creation cost the film it’s effects budget for the Jack Frost we get here instead looks like this.

Yes this cheap-ass foam snowman suit is what we get instead, which instead turns any possibility of horror into disbelief that any director would think that his audience would buy into this costume being the slightest bit scary, as it soon becomes more a question of how many surreal situations can we have jack appear in, be it driving a car or engaging in an even more questionable sex scene with Shannon Elizabeth’s character in what would also be her first film role. Hmm I wonder if she thought this would be her big breakout role as an actress or not? Still Director Cooney has assembled a fun cast who all seem game for a laugh by appearing in this film, or perhaps it was just so that they could say that they were in a movie which featured a killer snowman, which honestly would be all I would need to sign up for such a project, though perhaps it would have been finding out the quality of the snowman costume.

The death scenes are on the whole pretty creative with death by Christmas decorations, decapitation by a sled and an axe handle down the throat to name but a few, while Jack’s attempt to bite off one characters head is painfully terrible much like Jack’s throw away one liners, which usually land on the wrong side of awful thanks to McDonald’s sheer lack of comic timing, though he certainly brings a lot of energy to the character in much the same way that Brad Dourif did for Chucky in the “Childs Play” movies.

I suppose the biggest surprise about this film other than the fact that it was not released by either “Troma” or “Full Moon” whose own outlandish output this would not look out of place amongst, but that it actually spawned a less well known sequel “Jack Frost 2: Revenge of the Killer Mutant Snowman” which is even worse than this one, let alone the fact it features killer snowballs and looks like it was shot on cheaper film stock than most soap operas, but still is worth a look if this alone doesn’t satisfy your killer Snowman fix.

Since it’s release “Jack Frost” has built up quite a cult following, mainly via word of mouth and it is honestly for all it’s flaws one of the better cult movies of this kind, while certainly a fun alternative treat to dig out and enjoy with a couple of cold beers and some like minded friends.

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Silent Night, Deadly Night 5: The Toy Maker

Title: Silent Night, Deadly Night 5: The Toymaker
Director: Martin Kitrosser
Released: 1991
Staring: William Thorne, Jane Higginson, Tracy Fraim, Mickey Rooney, Brian Bremer, Van Quattro

Plot: When Derek (Thorne) sees his father (Quattro) killed by a toy that was anonymously delivered to his house, it leaves him too traumatized to speak. Meanwhile, a toy maker named Joe Peto (Rooney) is building some suspicious-looking toys, and a mysterious man (Fraim) creeps around both the toy store and the boy's house...but who is responsible for the killer toys?

Review: The last film in the “Silent Night Deadly Night” Series while continuing on the same alternative path established by the previous entry, with the first three films having been more focused on serial killer Santa antics, which had lead to the original film being protested by the PTA and eventually removed from theatres but not before it had outgrossed “A Nightmare On Elm Street” which opened on the same day. Bizarrely “Christmas Evil” which also featured a serial killer Santa and released four years before “Silent Night, Deadly Night” managed to somhow avoid any of controversy upon its release.

Now no doubt like myself you are looking at that poster and thinking that this looks like  pretty badass looking flick, especially with Derek being surrounded by those creepy looking creations. I mean this is a photo cover so this means they have to be in he film right, unlike the painted posters which usually greatly exaggerate events in the film. Well you as well prepare to be disappointed as none of them appear here making me wonder were they actually got them from, as clearly that is the movie I really want to see. Okay perhaps I am being alittle unfair as the film does manage to pull out a few interesting creations like the face burrowing Larry the Lavae and a pair of rocket skates, the only other real surprise was that it was a killer toy movie with no sign of Charles Band being attached. Still even with this late entry in the series it is nice to see Brian Yuzna still involved in the series after directing the previous entry and here he returns as producer while handing directing duties to Kitrosser who is probably better known as a script supervisor (including Tarantino’s first seven movies) than for being a director for which this film would be his debut.

Despite being his first time in the directing chair this is still a confident effort and actually one the better killer toy movies and something of a welcome relief especially after my recent ventures into the genre with “Demonic Toys” and the later entries in the seemingly never ending “Puppet Master” saga as Kitrosser pulls out some fun toy attacks which are on the whole pretty satisfying, even though the spacing between these moments is where the film does starts to come undone especially when time is given to the mysterious stranger Noah who ultimately turns out to not be worth the screentime, much less the random alfresco sex scene he engages in with Derek’s mother which seems beyond out of place and seems to only have been included to keep the audiences attention. Equally frustrating is the fact that Derek is a mute, thanks to Thorne not exactly being the most talented of child actors and instead switches between three faces of bored, shy or Prozac happy.

The toy effects are simple yet effective while a disembodied hand proves itself less convincing especially when in some shots it looks essentially like a hand in a rubber glove, especially when it is clenching a guy’s ass. Still long term Yuzna collaborator and underrated special effect guru Screaming Mad George still manages to give us some fun attacks including a mini army of toys attacking Derek’s babysitter and her boyfriend after they don’t even wait for him to go to sleep before they are having sex, which seemingly happens a lot seeing how unfazed Derek seems about this, much less when he walks in on his parents having sex at the start.

The real strength of the film comes from Mickey Rooney and Brian Bremer as the toymaker Joe Petto and his oddball son Pino, whose names give a cheeky nod Pinocchio, while also strangely hinting at the secret they are hiding. Rooney in particular is on great form and only makes me wonder why he hasn’t played more creepy roles and especially when he is so good here easily switching between being the kindly toymaker and his much darker self, especially when he beats on Pino for disappointing him as  a son. Still it is surprisingly to see Rooney agreeing to be in this at all, especially when he wrote a letter of protest against the first “Silent Night, Deadly Night” stating that the “scum” who made it should be “run out of Town” for having sullied the sacredness of Christmas, though it would seem he has dropped the grudge by the time this film came about, with his performance not exactly making it seem like an actor just taking on a film for the work. Bremer on the other hand is creepy from the start as he lurks around the toyshop and continually running off to hide in the basement, while later even breaking into Derek’s house to rummage around his mother underwear drawer, though what this has to do with his final plan is anyone guess, while his performance goes completely bonkers at the end with him even randomly trying to dry hump Derek’s mother!

Not a bad final entry for the series, but one certainly not helped by having such a flat script, yet at the same time awhole lot better than the majority of killer toy movies and the evil Mickey Rooney, almost makes up for many of the films issues, including a sagging middle section which was more than alittle testing especially when it seemed that Kitrosser had lost focus on the sort of film he was supposed to be making. Still while it veers close to batshit insane with its finale, it is stil another watchable addition to the series.

Thursday, 13 December 2012

Rare Exports

Title: Rare Exports
Director: Jalmari Helander
Staring: Onni Tommila

Plot:Set on Christmas Eve, were a group of reindeer farmers living near the Korvatunturi mountains find their herd mysteriously slaughtered. Blaming the lost of their herd of wolves they quickly to write the mysterious deaths off while now facing no source of income. Meanwhile a young boy named Pietari (Tommila) suspects that something that something else might be afoot, especially as an American drilling team working in the mountains have just discovered the mythical tomb of Santa Claus.

Review: This week marks a first for me, seeing how this is the first Finnish movie that I have reviewed ever, which is not too surprising as Finland isn’t exactly known for having a thriving film industry, yet it is from here this essential “Alternative Christmas” Selection hails from, as Director Jalmari Helander sets out to give us a very different take on the Santa Claus myth.

Starting life as a short film known as “Rare Exports Inc.” (2003) were director Jalmari Helander, shot a faux documentary following band of three hunters (marker, sniper and tracker) on the hunt for the wild Santa Claus. This he followed up in 2005 with the fake health and safety film “Rare Exports: The Official Safety Instructions” both of which were greeted highly positively and no doubt he could have been happy with this success alone, but it would seem that Helander wasn’t quite over his feral Santa obsessions, as with this film he finally expands his highly unique twist on the Santa legend into a full length feature. Here Helander’s vision of Santa is far from the jolly fat man who we all tend to think of when we here the name, but here is portrayed as a Nordic legend were Santa is a horned demon, who kidnaps naughty children and who was imprisoned in the mountains to stop his twisted ways. Still even working with such a unique twist on Santa Claus, Helander refuses to info dump the audience and instead plays things close to his chest thoughout, as he slowly adds layers to the myth, with the reindeer first turning up dead, followed soon after by all the village radiators and children apart from Pietari mysteriously vanishing over night, but the real mystery begins when a strange bearded and naked old man turns up in one of the wolf pits…could he be the same mythical Santa or is he something else?

While it might seem like yet another Christmas horror movie, the film is actually not as horror based as it would seem and largely plays like a warped fantasy film as Helander crafts out his own mythology for the Christmas legend, while his decision to play the events from a child’s prospective only help make the myth all the more believable, something seriously helped by Pietari who not being one of the usual Hollywood smart ass movie kids, but rather a more realistic character who not only has genuine fears about a killer Santa roaming the village, but also worries about his fragile bond with his father, who is largely emotionally cold to his son, spending most of his time as the unofficial head of the village and ensuring that they turn enough profit from their herds to enable them to survive, something which has clearly caused him to loose touch with his own son’s emotional needs, with this relationship in particular being one of the key plot lines as the film progresses, with Pietari clearly keen to show that he is more capable of looking after himself than his father would believe, while there is at the same time an undertone that the men in the village have to prove themselves to be men capable of contributing to the survival of the village, which Pietari has frequently failed to do with his shy and retiring nature, while all the other men are shown as tough and burly. Unsurprisingly for the location they live, these locals are often shown as being a really tough bunch of people, with even kids frequently shown carrying rifles, which is the lifestyle you’d expect looking at their remote living conditions, especially were their sole source of income come from their reindeer herds, which makes it easy to understand their plan to sell this strange old man to the American’s as a genuine Santa and Helander has done a great job of bringing to life a great cast of characters, who are genuinely interesting and believable to watch, while maintaining the same spirit of his original short films.

Santa and his naked elves (it makes sense when you watch it trust me) once again maintain strong ties to things largely associated with Christmas; hence we see them with a ravenous appetite for Gingerbread, as well as being able to smell children, while their lack of dialogue only adds a mysterious edge to them, as well as enforcing the fact that these are very primal creatures and as such perfectly suited to the barren landscape which they inhabit. Meanwhile the drilling crew are given out leaflets encouraging them to be good and think happy thoughts while working on the dig, by their mysterious American employer, while never fully being told what it is that they are looking for.

Once again despite being marketed as a horror film, there really isn’t much in the way of gore with most of the deaths outside of a surprise pick axe to the head happen off screen, with only brief scenes of a reindeer carcass being butchered being the closest the film gets to gore, though it is expected that to a Finnish audience these scenes wouldn’t be overly shocking, much like a Korean audience would view the squid eating scene in “Oldboy”. Still the film has nothing taken away from it, by keeping things gore free, while perhaps missing the chance to include the always effective shots of blood on fresh snow, which was kind of disappointing, much like Santa never getting a big final reveal.

On the whole “Rare Exports” is a very sweet natured yet twisted movie and best categorised as with the likes of “Pans Labyrinth” and “The City of Lost Children” as it took attempts to create a fantasy Christmas tale for adults, especially as the sight of rampaging naked old men, might be a little too much for most kinds, let alone adults to take, while Helander still manages to pull of a surprising twist at the end, which nicely ties into his earlier shorts. Still if you want something different to watch this Christmas aswell as an interesting take on the Santa myth, I would recommend giving this one a look.

Monday, 10 December 2012

Jingle All The Way

Title: Jingle All The Way
Director: Brian Levant
Released: 1996
Staring: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sinbad, Phil Hartman, Rita Wilson, Robert Conrad, Jake Lloyd, James Belushi

Plot: Howard (Schwarzenegger) is a workaholic mattress salesman who constantly disappoints his son Jamie (Lloyd), but after missing his karate graduation he sets out to make things up to him by getting him an action figure of his favourite TV superhero “Turbo Man”. Unfortunately it is also the must have toy that everyone is keen to get their hands on as he now finds himself in a mad dash across town to find one, while finding himself especially in competition with mail man Myron (Sinbad) who is also out to find himself a Turbo man doll.

Review: Well tis the season once again be merry or for those of us who work in retail, the season to try and survive as if anything is guaranteed to bring out the crazies it is Christmas and it is only fitting that someone would finally get around to making a film about the sheer consumerism of Christmas yet alone the rush to hunt down that must have toy and the random act of violence amongst shoppers which usually accompany this pursuit.

FMarking the start of Arnie’s bronze period of film making, which saw a sharp decline in the quality of films he was making, with the majority of these films being of such poor quality they would no doubt have going DTV had it not been for his still relatively strong star power still being able to bring in the box office dollars. Looking back at this film it now serves almost as a warning of what was to come before his retirement from acting to pursue his new career as the govenator and while it is certainly in no way as bad as the likes of “Batman and Robin” or “End of Days”, it is still a film best viewed as a piece of mindless holiday cheese rather than trying to compare it to any of the films from his golden period, especially when it features Arnie trying to tackle another comedic performance, especially when he is not exactly renown for his comedy timing.

Right from the start the film essentially sets its tone, especially as we get to see Arnie attempting to pull off with some limited degree of success a crane kick with his sons karate belt wrapped around his head. Still considering the spoilt little shit he has for a son played here by future Anakin Skywalker Jake Llyod, who lets not forget is renowned for pulling a strop and quit acting over being teased for his role in Star Wars, yet bizarrely not for this film?? Still with a moody kid like this you kind of realise why Howard spends so much time at the office. Still seeing how running out on your family is hardly the most festive of viewing we instead get this madcap rush around the city, as Howard continually gets foiled in his attempts to get hold of the doll, while being shadowed by the madcap mail man Myron, because it is never enough to have just once blundering attempt at comedic, especially when you can have two! However despite the questionable comedic talents of Arnie and Sinbad, the first hour of this movie is still pretty entertaining, especially as they go from one ludicrous situation to the next, ranging from an out of control lottery to a showdown with an army of shady Santa’s in their less than kosher workshop. Sadly this is essentially thrown away in the final half hour, as plausibility is completely thrown out of the window in order for Arnie to engage in various super powered mishaps when he is mistaken for the guy playing Turbo man in the wintertainment parade, while the film turns into stilton.

I guess for myself one of the big surprises here is the distinct lack of a big evil, for there is no corrupt toy executive or money grabbing TV executive to foil, but instead the closest we get is Howard’s superdad and generally smug next door neighbour Ted (Hartman) who essentially represents his mirror opposite, let alone committing the ultimate evil of daring to put the star on Howard’s tree!! As you can tell he’s a real twisted SOB and did I mention he also baked festive cookies!! Okay he does also creepily attempt to seduce Howard’s wife Liz (Wilson) aswell, but perhaps because of this lack of villainy on offer here, that it could explain why the character of Myron is so frenzied let alone the fact he hinders Howards attempts to get hold of a turbo man doll almost as much as he unwittingly assists him, with the idea of Myron as a badguy only further enforced by the ludicrous finale were he dresses up as Turbo Man’s arch enemy dementor. Perhaps if Joe Pesci the original casting choice for the role has taken on the part it would perhaps have been more recognisable as to which side he stands on. Infact some of the most villainous behaviour in the film is at the hands of Howard who not only attempts to steal the Turbo man ted has bought for his son, but also almost burns down his house and punches out his reindeer and this of course is the same guy we are supposed to be rooting for.

Had the film not randomly switched modes into full on slapstick with its last half hour, perhaps it would be a film remembered more fondly but as it stands this last half hour is just so over the top, it generally detracts from the more enjoyable first hour. Meanwhile it unwittingly manages to ride the message of the materialism of Christmas rather than a more traditionally wholesome message, which it kind of attempts with the ending, only for it to essentially make you wonder why Howard bothered in the first place. Still in many ways the film is now kind of twee throwback to the mad season rampages which seem to be happen less these days, especially in these times were todays most wanted gift is nothing but a mouse click away. If anything though this film proves that thanks to Arnie’s raw charm even the most flawed plotting and questionable direction choices can still make for enjoyable yet still highly disposable fun even if the message given by the film is more than a little questionable.

Monday, 3 December 2012



Title: Excision
Director: Richard Bates, Jr.
Released: 2012
Staring: Anna Lynne McCord, Traci Lords, Ariel Winter, Roger Bart, Jeremy Sumpter, Malcolm McDowell, Matthew Gray Gubler, Marlee Matlin, Ray Wise, John Waters

Plot: Pauline (McCord) a high school student with aspirations of a career as a surgeon, while she tries to earn the approval of her controlling and religious mother (Lords) whose focus is constantly with her younger sister Grace (Winter) who is slowly dying of cystic fibrosis. To escape these pressures, Pauline frequently finds herself slipping into increasingly into her own fantasy world of sex and violence, only to soon find these morbid obsessions soon leaking into her real life.

Review: Originally this film came to my attention while compiling my top picks for 2012 over at my blogging home away from home and while it was originally listed for a cinematic release it would seem if this film ever got one it was certainly a really limited one, as first news I had on this one finally being released was when I stumbled across it at my local blockbuster. Still in the lead up to the release of this film I had frequently spammed various friends with the trailer which is nothing short of attention grabbing it’s safe to say and unfortunately it now seems the wait to see this film ended up being a little disappointing.

An expansion on his original short film of the short film of the same name, which I have still yet to see and like the director seems to be frustratingly hard to find out anything about it, even his IMDB profile is pretty much devoid of any information outside of his filmography. Still this film stands well on its own with any prior knowledge of the original short, while the most fascinating aspect of the film is uglification of McCord which is possibly one of the most striking since Charlize Theron’s Oscar winning turn in “Monster”, while making a bold break from her usual vixen esq roles she has become so synonymous with playing, as with the character of Pauline she gives us here something awhole lot more darker.

Pauline is quite simply "a disturbed little girl" as best put by her priest / councillor which is really saying something considering that the priest is being played by John Waters, something which should also really serve as a warning for sign for what waits ahead, as  she nurtures her obsession with death and generally anything of a morbid nature, as especially seen during her dream sequences, which focus largely on mutilation, necrophilia and bucket loads of gore all tinted with a sexual edge, while the return to reality is nearly always met with the image of a post masturbation Pauline. Unsurprisingly it is only a matter of time before these fantasies start working their way into her real life, as her behaviour becomes increasingly bizarre as the film progresses towards its grizzly climax. Unsurprisingly for a film featuring such a unique creation, the film is extremely character driven with the only semblance to a plot coming towards the end of the film and then only to set up the climax, as the film moves from one grotesque incident to the next.

In many ways the style of the film could easily be compared to that of Todd Solondz via the way of John Waters, in particular Solondz’s “Welcome to the Dollhouse” with Bates demonstrating through her an equally warped world view only with an increased interest in sex and gore, most of which he explores with Paulines fantasy sequences were she plays a glamorous version of herself in a world were she can pursue any perverse desire she wants, with these fantasies often having close ties to the events happening to her in the real world and really only makes it all the more fitting that Pauline is dressed as Elizabeth Báthory on the DVD cover, especially when Pauline also homages Báthory’s legendry virgin blood baths during one of her dream sequences.

McCord here shows real commitment to the role as she is fully believable as both sides of Pauline, committing fully to even the most disgusting moments the film has to offer, which most actors would no doubt decline fearing the effect playing such a role would have on their career, while she shows a real charm for the more more black humoured parts of the film, such as her conversations with god in which she frequently seems to be confessing in advance for the sins she is planning on committing. She also receives strong support from an ironically cast Lords as her bible thumping mother, who has honestly never been better than she is here and frequently threatens to steal the attention away from McCord. Sadly Bates also underuses other members of his cast such as Malcom McDowell and Ray Wise who essentially appear here in what amounts to a glorified cameo, something which is only more of a shame when McDowell brings such a gleeful snarl to his role as one of Pauline’s teachers.

Ultimately the film suffers from pitfalls as “The Human Centipede” in that it allows itself to get to caught up in the spectacle and forgets that an audience cannot maintain their interest on just shock and awe alone, though given the choice between the two I would still return to this film again, rather than sit through Tom Six’s overhyped surgery shocker. Still while it might seem like a random series of increasingly disgusting and shocking events, it was a couple of days after seeing the film, that it dawned on me that what we are witnessing here is the birth of a psycho only shot from the psycho’s perspective, something only furthered by the slowly graduating between the levels of psycho behaviour, as Pauline moves from fantasies to dissecting dead animals to ultimately moving onto human dissection, all under the guise of her desire to be a surgeon. Further evidence of this theory for myself was seen in her ever growing desire to break social norms, as her world view twists to suit her personal outlook such as her blasé reaction to having her period while clumsily seducing her high school crush Adam (Sumpter) with the prospect of easy sex. Sadly Bates chooses for some reason to not give us a big insight into why Pauline does what she does and instead gives us an ending which seems more sudden than conclusive. Even now after several days to reflect on it, I can’t truly say if I loved or hated it and perhaps I will revisit at a later date as it’s often ham fisted handling of its shocks, puts me off revisiting it sooner, leaving it at best a curiosity and one which make me curious to see what Bates chooses to follow it up with.
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