Friday, 23 December 2016

Alternative Christmas Countdown 2016

For those of you who follow the Facebook / Twitter feed will know already that this year I ran another Alt Christmas countdown with each day bringing something Alt. Christmas related be it a piece of music, a review or a short film as we countdown to Christmas!

You can also check out the original 2013 countdown here

Krampus In The Corner
The alt Christmas alternative for those kids too hip for "Elf on a Shelf" created by Silent Orchid Studios based on the character from Germanic folklaw who punished naughy children at Christmastime.

Patton Oswalt - Christmas Shoes
Patton delves into possibly one of the worst Christmas songs ever.

Wes Anderson Christmas

Inititally mistaken for a new Wes Anderson feature. Here though he crams in a brief runtime his distinctive style and characters to create a charming little short which sadly has already been butchered for its TV release, but here it is in its original form.

DRYVRS Ep.1 - Just Me In The House By Myself starring Macaulay Culkin
Ever wondered what happened to Kevin after the first two "Home Alone" movies?

Christmas Carolling with Rowdy Roddy Piper
The legendry Rowdy Roddy Piper takes us through his alternative take on the 12 days of Christmas with a voice like melted gold.
Santa Vs. Jesus Wrestling
The battle for Christmas is waged in the ring thanks to Freakshow Wrestling
Bonus: Knockouts Santa's Workshop Streetfight - From TNA wrestling this match from the glory days of their Knockout Division is not only festive themed but features Christy Hemme going nuts with a doll, before getting full on kicked in the chest.
John Water's Why I Love Christmas
The maestro of bad taste cinema shares his thoughts on the holiday season. 

Weird Al Yankovic - Christmas at Ground Zero
Santa With Muscles
The Franchise Killer Hulk Hogan kills his own acting career, but is it really as bad as IMDB would have you belive it is?
Nick Helm - (Hey Johnny) There Ain't No MotherFuckin' Santa Claus

Surely the song we should all be pushing for the Christmas number 1!


Hunter S. Thompson Sets Christmas Tree On Fire, Nearly Burns His House Down
Not even Christmas is free from Thompson's trademark brand of chaos as seen here by the raging inferno he unleashes.


Short horror film by Jason Eisener (Hobo With A Shotgun) as the Christmas trees decide to revolt and take revenge on the humans. A fun little short outside of the ending which arguable goes too far, but the lead up is packed with his usual neo-grindhouse charms.

The Spirit of Christmas Shorts

Before South Park Trey Parker and Matt Stone gave us these two short films, which would lay the template for South Park, while becoming cult favourites on the tape trading scene.

Jesus Vs. Frosty (1992)

Jesus Vs. Santa (1995)

Psycho Santa Pranks

I love a bad Santa so needless to say this series of pranks really tap into what I love about the Alt. Christmas season.

Kaiju Christmas

Thanks to August Ragone for this fun track
Bobcat GoldWait on the True Meaning of Christmas
Boy competitions where a lot better back in the late 80's. I just love the fact that MTV essentially missed the message of "Scrooged" by letting you be your very own Tyrant

Liam Nesson Auditions as a Shopping Mall Santa

So wonderfully creepy it makes me hope that they sign him up for an Alt Christmas movie soon!

Jimmy Kimmel - I Gave My Kids A Terrible Present
What's the point of having kids if you can't torment the hell out them right? Needless to say these kids were less than thrilled with this one.

Full Metal Rudolph

Hmm the opening of Full Metal Jacket and the children's classic "Rudolph" because those two things go together

Bonus: Apocalypse Pooh - Because who doesm't want to see the Hundred Acre Wood spliced with Francis Ford Coppola's Vietnam classic

Star Trek Christmas Decorations

Yours for a mere $199
A list of my favourite Christmas episodes from "Black Mirror" and "South Park" through to the one episode of "How I Met Your Mother" that's actually still worth watching.  

Pee Wee's Playhouse Christmas Special

While this never made it over to the UK, watching it now its hard not to get caught up in just how wholesome and fun it is. Also how long is that guest list!

Happy Christmas to all my readers and friends. Thanks for your continued support and here's to a kickass 2017!!

Thursday, 15 December 2016

Santa With Muscles

Title: Santa With Muscles
Director: John Murlowski
Released: 1996
Starring: Hulk Hogan, Ed Begley Jr. , Don Stark, Robin Curtis, Kevin West, Garrett Morris, Diane Robin, Kai Ephron, Steve Valentine

Plot: When arogant millionaire Blake Thorn (Hogan) recives a blow to the head, he is convinced by shopping mall elf Lenny (Stark) that he is Santa Claus. Meanwhile evil scientist and germaphobe Ebner Frost (Begley Jr.) is plotting to take over a local orphanage to steal the magical crystals uless Blake can stop him.

Review: Constantly referred to as one of the worst movies ever made as further reinforced with its position as one of IMDB’s bottom 100 movies but as someone whose seen more than my share of bad movies I had to wonder if it could possibly be that bad, let alone worse than the likes of “The Wrecking Crew” or "Deaden”.

Coming towards the end of Hogan’s acting career though the quality of said acting greatly varied as he went from mainstream productions and cameos before drifting into more DTV fare with this film really marking the start of this period ironically released the same year as his last theatrical production “The Secret Agent Club” both directed by John Murlowski and really on polar opposites of the terrible movie spectrum to each other making me wonder how the same director / actor combo could produce two films so wildly different in quality to each other.

Opening to Blake stalking and beating up his own staff as part of some bizarre training regime, it pretty clear that he is kind of a jackass while at the same time I couldn’t help but feel as Hogan goes through a juvenile routine not only with the staff but also while playing paintball that in some way he was trying to emulate Adam Sandler in “Billy Madison” which was released the previous year. Needless to say its pretty random to see Hogan trying to convingly pull off such a performance, let alone the fact that he’s suddenly gained an equally random hair piece. At the same time no explanation is given for this man-child behavior as while Billy Madison was a spoilt rich kid born into money, Blake is a self made millionaire thanks to his line of protein shakes and bodybuilding equipment but from the way he acts during these opening scenes it makes you wonder how exactly this was even possible.

Still once he gets a blow to the head he’s found by the opportunistic Shopping Mall elf Lenny (Stark) who for some reason convinces Blake that he is Santa. From their first meeting its pretty clear what Lenny is planning as he plots to rip Blake off though for some reason in this world which the film is set cash points need your fingerprint and even then the machine is picky over which hand you use. You have to admire his dedication to his half baked scheme as the pair soon find themselves at the orphanage and he’s forced to don an adult sheep onesie which magically appears from somewhere, unless he’s been carrying it around with him all this time.

Its when we are introduced to Ed Begley Jr’s villainous Ebner Frost that things really start to get weird here as he seems to have hired a bunch of failed wrestler idea to act as henchmen despite starting positively with the electro gloved Dr. Watt (Robin) though it goes drastically downhill from here as we get the evil chemist Dr. Vial (Ephron) whose about spraying farts in people faces which made me wonder who the hell wrote this, especially when their duo is joined by the evil geologist (but of course) Dr. Flint (West). The bumbling henchmen lead by evil doctor Blight (Steve Valentine) while crusing around in an Ice Cream truck for some random reason which is never explained much like why everyone that Blake fights uses a weapon relating to to their profession as seen with Dr. Blight using his stethoscope as a makeshift whip.

Its a real toss up between which is more ropey here the acting or the attempts at pulling off anything resembling an action scene. Upgrading his Santa suit with cut off sleeves and leather gloves Blake soon decides to punish the naughty boys and girls by beating the hell out of them which of course is such a great example to set in front of a bunch of orphans. At the same time no one really knows how to put together a fight scene so we get a lot of slop-fu here as Hogan throws snail paced punches and throws generic bad guys around while they fail around wildly around him. This of course is not even mentioning the fight between Blake and a white guy who clearly thinks he’s a samurai and only seems to be there so Hogan can give us his best Bruce Lee impression before kicking a bench into his face. It should equally be noted that for such a good brawler Blake is also knocked off a roof by a Christmas decoration!

The main issue here and there are certainly more than a few is that the film never seems to know who its audience is, as even when viewed as family fare it still feels that its playing things way too dumb and this is putting the already nonsensical plotting aside. While we might occasionally get the odd laugh or two its far too often a grind to sit through.

Monday, 12 December 2016


Title: Saint
Director: Dick Maas
Released: 2010
Starring: Huub Stapel, Egbert Jan Weeber, Caro Lenssen, Bert Luppes

Plot: On Dec 5 1492 the evil former bishop Niklas and his gang where killed by an angry mob of villagers who refused to be be intimidated by the bishop and his gangs reign of terror. Now they return to seek murderous revenge whenever the anniversary of their death coincides with a full moon.

Review: One of the great aspects of the alt. Christmas season is occastionally getting to see how different countries choose to celebrate the festive season with the standout example of this being “Rare Exports” aswell as the more recent interest in Krampus but here its the turn of the Dutch in particular the festival of Sinterklaas which takes place on the 5th Decemeber the night before Saint Nicolas Day which Christmas Day was derived from. It of course only makes it all the more fitting when you consider the amount of Santa slashers out there that the Sinterklass mythos get a twisted re imagining as well.

Directed by Dick Maas who outside of directing music videos soley for classic rockers “Gold Earring” is no doubt best known for directing “Amsterdamned” and the killer elevator movie “De Lift” aswell as its English language remake “Down” and here he wastes little time setting the scene for the film as we open to slaughter of the a village by Niklas and his Zwarte Piet before they inturn are slaughtered and burned alive on their ship which is used to explain the black face appearance of the Zwarte Piet who at the same time are said to have black faces due to soot though to those not familiar with the mythos it can be kind of jarring to see characters being so enthusiastic about blacking up. From this opening we are quickly thrown into a second slaughter in which a young boy Goert (Luppes) is left the sole survivor who grows up to be a bitter police detective obsessed with getting his revenge.

Our main protagonist here though is teenager Frank (Weeber) who we see being dumped by his girlfriend during the exchanging of gifts being held by his class, which it seems is largely an excuse for the boys to give girls dildo as secret Santa gifts. Frank’s ex meanwhile gives him the gift of giving his stuff back not that he really cares of course seeing how he has secretly been seeing her best friend on the side. Things however take a turn for the worst when he escapes the massacre of his friends by Sinterklaas and his Zwarte Piet though the police not believing that Sinterklaas is anything than a myth are quick to label him the primes suspect in the murders happening around the city.

Shot at a brisk pace there really is very little fat to this movie as it feels like there is always something happening especially with the kill scenes being regularly peppered throughout the film including a jaw dropping chase scene which see’s Sinterklaas riding his horse along the city roof tops while being pursued by the cops.

Despite the largely fun tone of the film, there are actually a few surprisingly shocking moments of gore and splatter as limbs are regularly lopped of blood sprays in hosepipe spurts ensuring that it never gets too heavy. At the same time the make up effects are all fantastic and really add to these scenes especially the design of the zombie Sinterklass which really has a presence on the screen especially when accompanied by his horde of loyal foot soldiers.

The downside of the film comes with its weak ending which lacks any form of conclusion apart from giving us a nice big explosion, which somehow drives Sinterklass away rather than give us any proper kind of showdown which is only made the more disappointing when Goert is seemingly being built up for this climatic showdown which ultimately never comes. Still if you can get past this what we get here though is another fun international horror and one to file alongside the likes of “Rare Exports” and “Troll Hunter”

Saturday, 10 December 2016


Title: Krampus
Director: Michael Dougherty
Released: 2015
Starring: Adam Scott, Toni Collette, David Koechner, Allison Tolman, Conchata Ferrell, Emjay Anthony, Stefania LaVie Owen, Krista Stadler

Plot: Max (Anthony) is losing faith in Christmas and while his dysfunctional family clash over Christmas plans he decides to not bother with the holiday at all while unwittingly summoning Krampus who plans to punish all the non-believers in town.

Review: Riding in on a surprise wave of popularity for the Krampus mythos that unsuprisingly saw a huge number of these films being released, the majority straight to DVD with this one unquestionably being the standout film, no doubt thanks to director Michael Dougherty being attached to the film whose best known for directing the cult holiday horror “Trick ‘r Treat”.

Now switching holiday’s to Christmas as he opens to slow motion crowds battling for holiday deals while introducing Max as he brawls with a portly bully during a nativity play which really sets the playfully chaotic tone of the film. Of course the tension between the family is only added to when Sarah’s (Collette) sister Linda (Tolman) and her redneck family roll into town for Christmas while also bringing aunt Dorothy (Ferrell) in tow.

Linda’s family are an amusing counter to Sarah’s who on the surface seem to be living this suburban dream in their perfect house. Linda’s family meanwhile are crass and slovenly which makes the casting of David Koechner as Linda’s husband Howard all the more perfect especially when he’s spent the best part of his career playing these kinds of characters. Thier kids meanwhile are no better as their daughters are a pair of tom boyish bully’s who when not wrestling in the lounge are tormenting Max making you wonder if they are playing the role of the sons that Howard wished he has, especially as his only son Howie Jr. (Flack) is an almost permanently mute lump.

This mixed bag of characters are of course forced to put their differences aside as a mysterious snow storm blows into town bringing with it Krampus. Now for those not familiar with the mythos of Krampus he is a character of Germanic folklaw who takes the form of a half-goat half-demon who like Santa rewards good children with presents while punishing those who have been bad. Needless to say its the punishing of the bad which takes the main focus here with Dougherty bringing a truly monstrous vision of the character to the screen and whose legacy is explained by Tom’s (Scott) German mother Omi (Stadler) with the flashback to her childhood encounter with Krampus being delightfully told via old school stop motion animation so that it resembles a twisted Rankin / Bass Production but its a great way to sell the mythos of this fantastical character.

In something of a switch-a-roo here Krampus is largely kept to the background as he plays the prankster taunting the family inside the house while unleashing various demonic toys aswell as his troupe of creepy masked elves. This might prove something of a disappointment for some especially with Krampus being shown as this hulk of a creation you’d expect him to be laying siege to the family home rather than tormenting them from afar. What makes up for it though are the demonic toys he unleashes on the family including a man-eating Jack in the Box aswell as a fantastic were-bear! The real standout here though are the killer gingerbread men who as soon as I saw them welding a nail-gun capturing that same anarchic sense of fun that made “Gremlins” such a blast.

The character design of these various demonic beasts are incredible as well as highly original in their contruction with Krampus for the most part seen in the distance of cut off by the screen, though by the time we do get to see his face at the end he still can be seen wearing a Santa mask, playing up the idea here that Krampus is Santa’s shadow / dark side. The elves keeping with the theme are also wearing creepy masks which really keeps with the dark theme and I appreciated the fact that they where kept to the final quarter making their sudden appearance all the more surprising and ultimately effective when they did appear.

While the film might not be heavy on splatter and gore it is none the less still an effective piece, with Dougherty building the tension for the first half before unleashing all kinds of chaos in the second half. While there might not be much in terms of gore, here is still manages more than a few surprising moments thanks largely to the demonic Jack-in the box while at the same time the order he chooses to despatch characters is far from as predictable as it might seem and certainly caught me by surprise when a character I expected to be there till the end was suddenly dispatched and its only the more credit to Dougherty that he will happily remove one of the children as willingly as any of the adult characters slowly whittling the group down to its key players as he builds to his biblical finale.

If I had one nagging point it would the ending which while it could certainly be perceived in a number of ways, my main issue came with the fact that it felt so tacked on and almost as if it has been added further to a note from an unhappy studio exec unwilling to let the film end on a potentially downbeat ending. Thankfully the ride up to this point that it makes it easier to get past especially when it ultimately isn’t taking anything away from the film as whole.

Dougherty really has created something special with Krampus and while part of me would love to see him follow it up with a part 2, the other side of me doesn’t want to do anything to risk ruining or watering down the experience he gives us here, let alone take away any of the mistique of his take on the creature. Needless to say this is one film I’d happily add into my year alt. Christmas rotation of films.

Monday, 5 December 2016

3615 code Père Noël aka: Deadly Games

Title: 3615 code Père Noël aka: Deadly Games
Director: Rene Manzor
Released: 1989
Starring: Brigitte Fossey, Louis Ducreux, Patrick Floersheim, Alain Lalanne, Francois-Eric Gendron, Stephane Legros

Plot: When Thomas is left alone with his frail Grandfather on Christmas Eve it is down to him to save them both from the psycho Santa who breaks into their mansion.

Review: Since hearing about this film on the “Cinema Sewer” podcast it has become something of an obsession to track it down as every copy I found was without subtitles or for some reason if it did have subs they where in Spanish, but finally the internet came though and I was able to get hold of a copy of this film which honestly was worth every bit of hassle in getting to see it.

Playing in many ways like a precursor to “Home Alone” we are introduced to the action movie and technology savy Thomas while a song which sounds strangely like “Eye of the Tiger” yet at the same time appears to be Christmas themed blasts away in the background. Thomas right from the start is quickly established especially when his introduced sporting a Patrick Swayze mullet and dressed up like his action heroes as he runs around his family mansion which we also find out he has wired up with all kinds of security devices and traps as demonstrated in the opening by him capturing his pet dog using a secret trapdoor.

Bizarrely his single mother Julie (Fossey) doesn’t seem to have any qualms about her son’s action movie obsessions or even more the fact that he is cutting holes in the floor for trapdoors which she happily jokes about over breakfast which I can pretty much tell you wouldn’t have happened with my own parents. Perhaps its because he looks after his frail and almost blind grandfather (Ducreux) that she gives him more leeway, but its an adorably close relationship that Thomas has with his Papy who is equally supportive of his Grandson’s hobbies while no doubt for adding a couple of questionable activities to his list of hobbies as he is in one scene shown having Thomas drive him around.

After his best friend Roland (Gendron) tells Thomas that Santa Claus doesn’t exists he puts together a plan to catch the jolly fat man on video using a surveillance system he’s wired up in the mansion which also means getting to see some wonderfully retro computer screen of his supposedly hi-tech system. Unfortunately the creepy and as it also turns out psychotic Santa (Floersheim) who Thomas’s mother just fired from her store after he got a little too handsy let alone violent with a young girl and now finding out that Thomas is home alone makes his way there to get his revenge.

Floersheim is unquestionably one of the creepiest killer Santa’s that I have seen as he spray paints his hair white with manic delight to his arrival in the mansion where he straight away kills in front of Thomas his pet dog while showing zero hesitation about such actions. From this point on we enter into that same territory which proved such a selling point for “Home Alone” as Thomas sets out to engage in Guerilla warfare with this killer while at the same time trying to ensure the safety of his grandfather. Unlike “Home Alone” or any of his 80’s cinema kid counterparts Thomas doesn’t turn into a wise cracking and fearless smart ass but instead remains a believable in his actions as he is frequently shown as being scared for both himself and his grandfather, to the point where he is shown during one low point calling out for his mum. Thanks also to the opening 30 mins it is believable that he would be able to construct the traps and gadgets he uses to battle the unnamed psycho

It should also be noted that unlike “Home Alone” the violence here isn’t slapstick nor is the intruding Santa some bumbling / near invincible buffoon but instead a dangerous and genuinely scary psychopath and to that end there is a real sense of realism I wasn’t expecting with this film. Still we do get some fun traps and gadgets being put together by Thomas such as a home-made crossbow which fires darts and a tracker he attaches via slingshot to the psycho’s back so that he is able to track his movements throughout the mansion while also providing a fun nod to “Alien” as the killer is constantly shown on the home-made scanner getting closer. The real standout moment though involves a booby trapped toy train which fails to go off when rolled towards the psycho who unwittingly rolls it back towards Thomas giving us this incredibly tense moment where we don’t know if he’s going to forced to abandon his hiding spot or not.

There is however one random moment where when cornered by the psycho, Thomas is randomly invited to partake in a game of hide and seek with the psycho going off to hide. I’m not sure if he thought this was the game they’d been playing all this time, or if its another of his attempts to play with children like we see at the start of the film when he attempts to join in a snowball fight with a group of kids on the street.

While the film being grounded in realism might seem that it might take away from the film, but instead it really brings a sense of tension to the film much like the sprawling mansion which the film is set in. It also means that by the end of the film we can see that Thomas much like his psycho tormentor have really been changed both mentally and physically by the events which have taken place over the course of the night and there was something in those final scenes of Thomas being reunited with his mother only to be shown on the inside that he has been deeply haunted by what he has to be endured and like his action heroes now forced to deal with the mental aftermath of surviving a situation like this compared to the Hollywood version where a hug from your mom makes things all better.

Unquestionably a film worth the hassle of hunting down as this breezy yet surprisingly tense thriller is an alt. Christmas classic sorely in need of an audience.

Saturday, 3 December 2016

The Night Before

Title: The Night Before
Director: Jonathan Levine
Released: 2015
Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Seth Rogen, Anthony Mackie, Lizzy Caplan, Jillian Bell, Michael Shannon, Mindy Kaling, Lorraine Toussaint, Jason Mantzoukas, Jason Jones, Ilana Glazer, Nathan Fielder, Tracy Morgan, James Franco, Miley Cyrus

Plot: Ethan (Gordon-Levitt), Isaac (Rogen) and Chris (Mackie) have been friends since they where kids and for a decade they have reunited every Christmas Eve to try and find the mythical Christmas Party “The Nutcracka Ball”. Now realising its time to move on they reunite one final time to try once and for all to find the mythical party which has continued to elude them.

Review: Jonathan Levine is something of a frustrating oddity as he’s given us indie curiosities like “All the Boys Love Mandy Lane” and “50/50” but at the same time he’s also the director responsible for giving us the Twilight for Zombies “Warm Bodies”.

For some reason I went into this film expecting another round of “50/50” style indie humour, but instead here Levine sways off into frat pack territory as he trades in the smart quips for pot humour and chaos which really only more of a shame when he’s heading up the film with such an incredible trio of actors as he builds on the pairing of Gordon-Levitt and Rogen he gave us in “50/50” by adding current favourite Anthony Mackie into the mix. The fact that the trio share such a natural chemistry with each other only making it all the easier to buy them as lifelong friends despite clearly being on opposite ends of the social spectrum from each other as Chris is making a name for himself as a pro football player despite using steroids to improve his performance. Isaac is happily married with his first child on the way though he is racked with worries about his parenting abilities. Ethan meanwhile is struggling musician who pays the bills working as a waiter while still trying to get over his girlfriend Diana (Caplan).

From this setup this could easily have been a decent indie comedy in the making, but as I mentioned already this film soon veers off into frat pack territory around the same time that Isaac’s wife (Bell) gives him alittle box of drugs to take on this final Christmas eve the trio are planning to spend together while the hunt for the mythical Nutcracker Ball turns out to be less of the frantic dash across New York expected al-la Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist but more a case of waiting for the location to be confirmed thanks to Ethan stealing tickets to the ball from the coat of some rich douchebag attending the party he’s working at.

Once we get into the reunion night for the guys the film soon turns into an ever escalating list of problems for the trio as Chris has to deal with a Hans Gruber obsessed thief (Glazer) while Isaac has a drugged fuelled meltdown during a midnight mass and while they might manage to get past their issues to reunite at the Nutcracker Ball the journey we follow them on just feels like it is missing something. Perhaps its because we aren’t having to embark on this epic quest to find the Nutcracker Ball and instead killing time waiting for a phone call that stops the film flowing aswell as it should have. At the same time this idle time does not work well for the film, especially as we have each of the trio going off on their own paths rather than staying together as a group which may have been the better move, especially as the film is always at its strongest when the three of them are together.

This is of course not to say that the film is lacking in fun moments as the Chopsticks scene from “Big” gets reworked into the fun rendition of Kanye West’s “Runaway” while keeping with the “Die Hard” references we also get a spirited rendition of Run DMC’s “Christmas in Hollis” complete with some questionable dance moves. There is also some fun exchanges between the various characters with the best of these being their former High school teacher turned Pot dealer “Mr Green” who turns up frequently throughout the film to council each of the trio as he acts like a mythical guide of sorts and its a role which Michael Shannon really turns into something special than just a throwaway character which Mr Green so easily could have been.

Once we get into the Nutcracker ball its thankfully everything the film promises, while also an excuse for Levine to work in a couple of gratuitous cameo appearances from James Franco which itself felt more like an excuse to work in his ongoing homoerotic skits with Seth Rogen which here is boiled down to a phone mix up and some rather enthusiastic discussion about the size of Franco’s penis. Also on the cameo list is Miley Cyrus who is on hand to give a reworked rendition of “Wrecking Ball” to try and help Ethan win back his ex. While both are fun, neither add much to the film other than furthering the exclusiveness of the ball but when put against Michael Shannon whose own brief appearance effortless blows everything else out of the water. Mindy Kaling meanwhile continues to baffle how she keeps getting work, as once more its another flat performance, while her one big scene involving Isaac accidently dripping cocaine blood into her drink just falls flat leaving you wishing they’d just cut her out completely.

Its something of a shame to see a director like Levine aiming for the easy laughs, rather than trying to give us a more mature effort, but the crude humour aside this film still feels that its lacking the journey / quest that you’d expect from this kind of plot so that it just feels overly too easy. While there are still some fun moments to be had here, its just a lot more disposable a film than I was expecting let alone awhole less sharp. But if you want some throwaway festive viewing to accompany your food coma you can do worse.

Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Hellraiser 4: Bloodline

Title: Hellraiser 4: Bloodline
Director: Kevin Yagher (credited as Alan Smithee) / Joe Chappelle (Uncredited)
Released: 1996
Starring: Bruce Ramsay, Valentina Vargas, Doug Bradley, Charlotte Chatton, Adam Scott, Kim Myers, Mickey Cottrell, Louis Turenne, Courtland Mead, Louis Mustillo, Paul Perri, Pat Skipper, Christine Harnos, Michael Polish, Mark Polish

Plot: Engineer Dr. Paul Merchant (Ramsey) has sealed himself aboard “The Minos” a space station he designed as part of a final showdown he’s orchestrated with Pinhead (Bradley) as he reveals his families legacy and their part in the creation of the Lament Configuration to security officer Rimmer (Harnos)

Review: There’s a real sense of finality to this volume of the long running series and perhaps had the franchise not been questionably revived in 2000 with the Direct to DVD “Hellraiser: Inferno” perhaps this would have been the film to bring the series to a fitting close. Still during the pre-production series creator Clive Barker envisioned a three part film spanning three different time periods in an attempt to freshen up the series.

Despite Miramax giving the project the green light the project was compressed down into a single film which throughout its production remained a troubled one as both the cinematographer and Assistant director where replaced, while both the art department and camera crew were dismissed a week into the production. Somehow Yagher managed to still deliver the film not only only time but on budget yet Miramax executives where unhappy with the finished film and demanded rewrites to make Pinhead a prominent role determined it would seem still to make the character the poster boy for the series like Jason and Freddy had been for theirs, regardless of the fact that the “Hellraiser” films operated on more levels than a slasher. Yagher wasn’t overly opposed to these changes but instead was more concerned about the film drifting too far from the film he had turned in leaving the studio to bring in Joe Chappelle to implement the changes required to complete the film along the way cutting the film down from its original 110 min runtime down to 85, much to the dismay of Yagher who requested his name be removed from the film using instead the DGA pseudonym Alan Smithee.

Opening in the year 2127 which is always kind of a worrying sign that your franchise has gone into space seeing how its long served as where you put the franchise when your fresh out of ideas (see Jason X, Critters 4 and Leprechaun 4) but visualy its actually pretty intresting as here Yagher seems to be taking his set designs from “Alien” as Dr. Merchant remotely controls a robot to solve the puzzle box though why everyone seems to be sitting cross legged when they solve the box (robot included) remains a baffling oddity. From here though we flashback to the creation of the box in 1796 France by Dr. Merchant’s ancestor the French toymaker Phillip LeMarchand who makes the box for aristocrat and illusionist Duc de L’lsle (Cottrell) who gives the box its now all familiar power of opening a gateway to hell and which more interestingly he also uses to summon the demon Angelique (Vargas).

Angelique adds a new dimension to the series seeing how she is a demon in a human skin, in this case a former peasant girl and a far cry from the S&M favouring cenobites we have come to associate with the series. The relationship she shares with Pinhead is equally fascinating when he shows up in the modern day timeline to claim the soul of another of Dr. Merchant’s descendants this time the architect John Merchant whose skyscraper we saw at the end of “Hellraiser 3: Hell On Earth”. I just loved the idea that these two demons could approach their duties in such different ways with Pinhead being very much all business and likes to get straight into causing pain and suffering, while Angelique being an older demon prefers to corrupt her victims using temptation. Seeing such conflict makes a change of pace from just having Pinhead as the unquestioned leader even if this pairing is greatly toned down from the more violent relationship they shared in the original script. Sadly by the time we get into the future timeline and she has returned in Cenobite form she is a much more muted character and essentially just another member of Pinhead’s latest collective.

Pinhead gets a lot more depth added to his character in this entry, rather than just showing up and playing intimidation games with his intended victims, in this entry he is shown as actually having more of a goal than we have previously seen from him. Doug Bradley clearly realises the opportunity to flex his acting chops and really makes the most of his scenes, while selling this idea of the ongoing rivalry between the forces of hell and the bloodline of these characters who essentially take the role we’d no doubt expect to be represent by the forces of heaven in another production. True we might not get any great insights into his background or what drives him but the final confrontation between him and Dr. Merchant is another high point for the series and would have provided the perfect end note for the character had the allure of milking the franchise legacy for easy bucks not screwed things up.

As with the previous film the Cenobites here once more fail to live up to the legacy of the original group we got in the first two films even if they are certainly an improvement over the hodgepodge of ideas we got in the previous film. Cenobite Angelique is a forgettable design, while the Chatterer gets reworked into Pinhead’s pet dog known here as the Chatterer beast which is a fantastic design and practical effect. We also get a pair of twin security guards who are turned into the Twins cenobite which is another fantastic design and one which played a lot different than I expected. There is a scene around the halfway point of a chubby man being dragged into hell which I thought for a moment would be the creation of the Butterball cenobite which even though it might not have made sense in the time line would have still been nice to see, but sadly doesn’t happen here.

While the first past and present timelines have their interesting moments throughout, by the time we finally get back to the future timeline the events start to feel much more rushed leaving me to wonder if this segment had been where the most cuts had been made. More so when this segment really only serves to have the security team meet their demise in a number of gruesome and gory ways which have become such a cornerstone for the series though with the exception of a couple of deaths fall largely flat, while Rimmer killing the Chatterer beast screws up its pay off with the timing of its one liner which comes way too early to be effective.

This is by no means a perfect film, especially when it lingers for the most part around the ass end of okay, but at the same time the scope and ideas here make it such a fascinating mess and only more of a shame that like the entries which followed it has been largely forgotten it would seem as boxsets of the franchise always comprise of the first 3 films ignoring this film which truly can be seen as the end of that first saga. Yes it is a far cry from what the first two films established but at the same time for fans of the series its still an entry worth your time.

Monday, 28 November 2016

Elwood's Essentials #16 - Princess Mononoke

Title: Princess Mononoke
Director: Hayao Miyazaki
Released: 1997
Starring: Billy Crudup, Billy Bob Thornton, Minnie Driver, John DiMaggio, Claire Danes, John DeMita, Jada Pinkett Smith, Gillian Anderson, Keith David

Plot: After being cursed defending his villiage from a rampaging boar-god turned demon, Ashitaka (Crudup). Now he must venture to the western lands to true and find a cure, only to soon find himself caught in the battle between the residents of Irontown lead by Lady Eboshi and the forest gods.

Review: When we look at key Anime titles its often far too easy to go straight to the likes of “Akira” and “Ghost In The Shell” and overlook the titles of Studio Ghibli which unquestionably played a key part in bringing Anime to western audiences with this film in particular being of the key titles in their extensive back catalogue while this film would also be the highest grossing film of all time in its native Japan until the release of Titanic which came out the same year.

Returning from his four year break from directing after “Porco Rosso” here legendary director Hayao Miyazaki brings a much darker vision to this film than had been previously produced by “Studio Ghibli” aswell as a more revolutionary animation style for the time as elements of the film used computer animation to blend and support the traditional cel animation with a prime example being the writhing worm like demon flesh which appears throughout when one of the gods is corrupted. At the same time Miyazaki ever the perfectionist personally corrected / redrew more than 80,000 of the 144,000 animation cels which make up the film.

A sweeping and epic production, the film really hits the ground running with the opening attack on Ashitaka’s village this is another film which really shows the potential for animation as Miyazaki once more refuses to believe that the medium should be limited to childish fare as here he crafts a very grown up fantasy tale as limbs are torn off and battlefields are shown covered in mass casualties. This of course is nothing new for Studio Ghibli as the previous films have featured some surprising moments of violence such as a villain being crushed between then hands of a clock and a small army being dropped out of the bottom of a flying airship its just before they’ve been covered more by the general charm of the film, though I don’t think Disney where expecting what they got here when they agreed to distribute the film which also under their agreement couldn’t even edit the film to fit in more with their catalogue, though they did release it into fewer theatres than originally planned seemingly in response to their editing request being refused.

The environment, a long time favourite theme of Miyazaki and here he once more get to make it the central theme as the meat of the story is based around the ongoing battle been man and nature in this case the residents of Irontown whose expanding town and need for resources puts them in constant conflict with the forest gods in particular the wolf goddess Moro (Anderson) and her adopted human child San the self-dubbed Princess Mononoke. The ongoing rivalry between San and Lady Eboshi is one of the highlights of the film with Eboshi having command of explosives and advanced weaponry, while San rides into battle on her giant wolves while demonstrating lightening sharp reflexes which makes their confrontations such a thrill to watch. It's intresting though that Miyazaki never brands either of those characters as being the villian, even though it can be assumed that San is the heroine of the pair, while Eboshi on the other hand is hardly the villian as she does only what she think is best for Irontown than actively seeking to destroy the surround forests.

Also thrown into the mix is the wandering monk Jiko-bo (Thornton) who despite his friendly nature might be the most devious character of them all, as he plans to use Ashitaka to locate the Great Forest Spirit whose head he plans to capture for the Emperor believing it grants the powers of immortality.

For Miyazaki the forests which surround Irontown are home to giant animal gods and playful spirits presided over by the forest spirit which has the power over life and death, Miyazaki here managing to combine his sense of fantastical wonder and delight with much darker moments than we have come to expect from his work and yet somehow it all complements each other so that we can have scenes of Joko-bo’s men infiltrating the forest wearing the skins of the slain boar army along the adorable head rattling kodama.

As to be expected from a Studio Ghibli film the animation is sumptuous throughout while complemented by the orchestral soundtrack composed by Joe Hisaishi. At the same time the dub track while not perfect does feature a fantastic cast who all embrace their roles while including a subtle turn for Gillian Anderson as the giant wolf god Moro.

While perhaps not having the same surface charms of the other Studio Ghibli films this one has real depth especially with its characters and storytelling which never feels the need to dumb things down for its audience, while also knowing just how dark to go before pulling back. Here Miyazaki is clearly working at the heights of his powers crafting something truly special which truly lives up to its reputation of being an essential anime classic.

Tuesday, 22 November 2016


Title: High-Rise
Director: Ben Wheatley
Released: 2015
Starring: Tom Hiddleston, Jeremy Irons, Sienna Miller, Luke Evans, Elisabeth Moss, James Purefoy, Keely Hawes, Augustus Prew, Peter Ferdinando

Plot: A high-rise tower block on the outskirts of London is the setting for a self-contained collaspse of society as the social classes go to war with each other.

Review: Another novel deemed unfilmable it remained a passion project for producer Jeremy Thomas since he bought the rights to JG Ballard’s novel when it was released in 1975. Since then it has seen both Nicolas Roeg and Vincenzo Natali attached to the project before it finally came to Director Ben Wheatley who for myself is another director much like Steve Mcqueen whose hardly set my world on fire with his films to date, despite being seemingly universally acclaimed by everyone else.

Despite my reservations about Wheatly directing this adaptation here he really delivers something quite different to what we have seen from him previously as here he takes cues from the sterile cityscapes of Cronenberg’s “Shivers” and Kubrick’s “A Clockwork Orange” while maintaing the period setting from the novel’s release even though its not explicitly stated that the film is set in the 70’s from the lack of modern tech, fashions and the fact that everyone is constantly smoking its clear when the film is supposed to be set. This is also a film which opens with Tom Hiddleston’s Physiologist Dr. Robert Laing barbecuing a dog while the world around him in the High-rise has clearly gone straight to hell as the one stylish and modern surroundings have turned into a world of chaos and filth.

From his surprising opening the film flashes back three months previous as following the death of his sister Laing moves into the apartment on the 25th floor fitting of his current social status as the building has been designed to house people based on their status meaning that those higher up in the society live on the top floors, while the common folks live on the lower floors with the building also containing everything the residents might need from a supermarket and swimming pool through to a school so that the majority of the residents never leave the building apart from the daily mass migration of people going to and returning from work all at the same time with an almost industry feeling to such synchronised movement. Even Laing isn’t free from the allure of this lifestyle especially when he is invited to attend a party in the building’s penthouse occupied by the buildings fittingly named architect Royal (Irons).

While the decline in the social infrastructure starts small with blackouts and blocked trash shoots its safe to say things quickly get out of hand fast, with Wheatly seemingly feeling that those few slight annoyances are enough for him to put the pedal down and lurge the events forward in the tower block so that life inside the High-rise is suddenly thrown into total chaos being spearheaded by lower floor resident Wilder (Evans) who while introduced as perticularly sleazy social climber soon become a full blown revolutionary leader to the point where the higher up residents who’ve descended into Caligula style debauchery attempt to convince Laing to have him lobotomised seemingly for fear that his actions will ruin their partying while seemingly oblivious for the most part about the chaos erupting on the lower floors.

An extremely visual film the beauty here is really in the small details scattered throughout the chaos from aspects of the characters costumes to things happening in the background such as the documentary film crew covering the supermarket riot, meaning there is always something to see of witness here especially with the cast of characters being so numerous, which equally proves to be one of the downfalls here, as many of these characters get lost in the mix, while when they start to get increasingly grotty and disheveled its hard to tell what role they played originally. Others such as Sienna Miller’s Charlotte are just forgettable because of her perfomance...seriously who is still giving her work?

Outside of Miller giving yet another tepid performance the rest of the cast are likeable in their roles even though the performances throughout differ as Tom Hiddleston is engaging throughout as the lead, while his opening and closing narration made me wish that it had been carried throughout. Jeremy Irons meanwhile gives an equally interesting performance as Royal even if his character is hampered by some questionable plot holes, such as why he’s happy to let the building decend in chaos, let alone why he sends away the only two inquiring coppers we see. My personal favourite though was seeing Reece Shearsmith as the orthodontist Nathan whose ultimate fate we actually get to see in the opening and who arguable become more interesting the more the building descends into chaos.

While I might have preferred this film over Wheatley’s other work its still a diversive piece that won’t be for everyone, but for Ballard fan’s or those who can appreciate the vein of pitch black humour which runs through the film especially when this is a truly unique vision and one which justifies the years in development hell, while at the same time leaving me wondering where Wheatly goes from here.

Monday, 21 November 2016

Samaritan Girl

Title: Samaritan Girl
Director: Kim Ki-duk
Released: 2004
Starring: Yeo-reum Han, Ji-min Kwak, Eol Lee, Hyun-min Kwon, Yong Oh, Gyun-Ho Im, Lee Jong-Gil, Shin Taek-Ki

Plot: Jae-Young (Yeo-reum Han) is an high school student who also moonlights as a prostitute while her best friend Yeo-Jin ( Ji-min Kwak) manages her dates and acts as a lookout as the pair plan to use the money to escape to Europe. However when Jae-Young killed trying to escape from the police Yeo-Jin trying to deal with the loss of her friend decides to track down every man Jae-Young slept with.

Review: Despite being viewed as the enfant terrible of Korean cinema, Kim Ki-duk for one reason or another has never managed to gain the same kind of name recognition that the likes of Takashi Miike or Sion Sono or even Park Chan Wook. Perhaps its due to his ability to move between making arthouse movies like “Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter...and Spring” and “3-Iron” aswell as more shocking fare like “Bad Guy” and “The Isle”. Here though he gives us a film which sits on the boundary line between his two styles.

To say this is a film about teen prostitution its a surprisingly upbeat movie with Jae-Young seeing no shame in what she is doing to raise the money the pair need for their tickets to Europe, though the reasons why are never clarified. Still Jae-Young who comes across like some otherworldly presence constantly reassures her friend that she enjoys these dates that the pair arrange for her, even citing the connection she feels with some of them in particular a musician (Yong Oh) who acts as the catalyst for the main meat of the film as following Jae-Young’s baffling escape attempt of jumping out of a forth story window and landing on her head, which somehow she survives only to later die in hospital asking to see the musician who she claims to be in love with.

This relationship that Jae-Young has with the relationship is one of the only times that we see any kind of tension between Jae-Young and Yeo-Jin and who are not only clearly best friends but at the same there is the hint of somthing else between them, more so when Kim Ki-duk seems so keen to include so many bathhouse scenes between the play

Its worth noting that this isn’t a film that you can watch questioning the logic of anything happening, because here Kim Ki-duk is flying in the face of logic and instead just telling the story he wants to tell. This of course is the only way I can explain why Yeo-Jin sees the best way of honouring her friend is by sleeping with all the men that Jae-Young did before returning their money. Perhaps its to try and find the same connection that Jae-Young had with these men who she previously is shown dismissing as being losers or perhaps its an attempt to live in her skin for awhile, the answer is unclear and certainly not clarified by the film.

The real twist here comes when Yeo-Jin’s police officer father Yeong-ki (Lee Eol) discovers what his daughter is doing though not understanding why nor choosing to investigate the reasons he instead embarks on personal mission to intimidate the clients. This imitation quickly escalates with Lee Eol seemingly channelling Beat Takashi’s performance in “Violent Cop” during these scenes as he shows up to the family dinner of one of the clients, unflinchingly slapping him around in front of his family before leaving as calmly as he entered, the fact that the man is shown throwing himself out of the dinning room window only serves as a grim encore to the scene. Yeong-ki’s mission against these men climax’s in a brutal toilet beatdown.

The final act of the film comes as something of a gentle let down with Yeo-Jin and her father head out to the countryside, both of them unable to tell the other about what they have been doing while the finale plays out with an air of unease as your not sure if her father plans to kill her off or not which going off his actions leading up to this spontanious visit to her mother’s grave it really could really go either way.

A strangely watchable film even though at times its unclear what is supposed to actually happening let alone the direction which Kim Ki-duk is choosing to take the film, something only made the more unpredictable considering his aforementioned love of playing with the audiences expectations of his work. At the same time while not as angry as his earlier films, it lacks the artistic whims of his later work as it falls between the two worlds and perhaps to this extent makes it the best starting place for his back catalogue.

Friday, 18 November 2016

The Purge: Anarchy

Title: The Purge: Anarchy
Director: James DeMonaco
Released: 2014
Starring: Frank Grillo, Carmen Ejogo, Zach Gilford, Kiele Sanchez, Zoe Soul, Michael K. Williams, Judith McConnell, Jack Conley

Plot: When a couple attempting to get home before the start of the annual Purge find themselves stranded in the city when their car breaks down, they soon find themselves rescued by a mysterious stranger (Grillo) who is on his own quest for revenge on the night when all crime is legal.

Review: The original Purge movie was something of a flawed creature as it took an intreging premise of a twelve-hour period every year where all crime is legal. At the same time it was a visually very arresting movie, but one which thanks to one annoying kid audiences struggled to get on board with. Here though director James DeMonaco returns to take another crack at the format as the action this time is transferred from the suburbs to the streets of Los Angeles.

This time round DeMonaco aims for something a little deeper than the siege movie the original descended into, as one year on from the events of the first film the divide between the rich and poor has never felt so obvious. More so when the wealthy view the impoverished as being disposable at best as seen at the start of this year’s purge when Eva (Ejogo) and Cali’s (Soul) father / grandfather is shown selling himself to be purged by a wealthy family. This is only further driven home by the death squad who appear to be targeting the poor under the command of the mysterious Big Daddy (Conley).

Rather than rest on his laruels and settle for rehashing the events of the first film in a different location, here DeMonaco actively attempts to develop this near future vision of Los Angeles with more disillusionment being shown towards the purpose of the Purge, especially when it is so weighted against the poor who are unable to afford the expensive security systems that the wealthy can. At the same time an anti-Purge resistance group lead by the revolutionary Carmelo Johns (Williams) hack the government propaganda feeds to denounce the ideas of the New Founding Fathers.

Once the film establishes its central group comprised of our stranded married couple Shane (Gilford) and Liz (Sanchez) aswell as Eva and Cali with Frank Grillo’s punisher esq Sergeant leading the group across the city to Eva’s sisters apartment with the film taking on a similar plot to that of “The Warriors” especially as this group have to constantly battle or escape various groups of frenzied Purge participants. This in itself changes things up from the siege setting of the first film, while also opening up the world to show how various groups choose to celebrate their right to purge. Much like the first film though this is a film strongly driven by its visual style from the colourful Purge participants though to the neon lit cityscape or the flame thrower lit tunnels of the subway system all making it all the more fascinating a world to explore.

As I mentioned already this entry in the series is keen to explore the deeper reasons behind the Purge itself , moving past the concept of what happens when all crime is legal and instead asking why the founding fathers would put in place such an idea to begin with? As to be expected the answer can be found in the division between the rich and poor, with the rich throughout this film being shown as seeing the poor as disposable and going off the black tie finale they also view them as being suitable sport as groups of rich hunters bid for the opportunity to hunt our group within the confines of an area they have constructed and which certainly brought back memories of “Hard Target”. In something of a missed opportunity we are introduced to a pair of machete welding twin sisters as one of the group bidding which sadly was not a role filled by the Soska Sisters who after seeing them playing a pair of twisted twins in their own “American Mary” meant that I was left feeling that DeMonaco had missed a trick by not casting them in this role.

Casting wise everyone is competent and likeable enough in their roles though this really is Frank Grillo’s film as he gives us essentially his version of the “The Punisher” with the right amount of gruff darkness to keep his character and his own mission interesting throughout. Jack Connelly is equally interesting as the big bad for the film though his role as Big Daddy only seems to get the recognition of being the big villain during the final few minutes when before then he just appeared to be just another government grunt.

A big step up from the first film as it avoids many of the issues which plagued the first film such as that darn annoying kid, this film really showed that this franchise has legs and scope to work outside of the confined original while making me keen to see where the franchise goes next.
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