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.

Sunday, 13 November 2016

Return of the One-Armed Swordsman

Title: Return of the One-Armed Swordsman
Director: Chang Cheh
Released: 1969
Starring: Jimmy Wang Yu, Lisa Chiao Chiao, Chung Wa, Cheng Lui, Hoh Ban, Tien Feng, Ku Feng, Tung Li, Tong Gai, Lau Kar-wing, Lau Kar-leung, Yuen Cheung-Yan, Ti Lung, Wang Kuang-yu, Wu Ma, Fong Yau

Plot: Following on from the events of the first film Fang Gang (Wang Yu) the One Armed Swordsman has been living in peace with his wife, happily carving out a life for himself as a farmer. However its a short lived peace when the Eight Sword Kings a band of tyrannical sword masters arrive with plans to dominate the rival schools. Now recruited by the students of the local schools whose teachers have all been captured by the Eight Sword Kings, he must come out of retirement to stop them.

Review: Reuniting the original director and star of the Shaw Bros classic for this direct sequel to the original film which manages the rare accolade of being better than the original which spent most of its run time having Fang Gang trying to deal with losing his sword hand before mastering his left handed fighting style and ultimately defeating the long-armed devil.

With the setup handled by the first film director Chang Cheh wastes little time in throwing the audience into the action as we are quickly introduced to the members of the Eight Sword Kings who all come with their own unique weapon reflective of their name such as “Mighty Blade” who welds a giant to handed sword and “Thousand Blade” who is not only the only female member of the group but also welds numerous throwing knifes which she hides in the sleeves of her robe. The real strength of the villains of this film though is just how cunning they are with their planning, as they start by holding a tournament to capture and kill off the top fighters of the surrounding schools and essentially leaving them exposed. To further rub salt in the wounds of their enemies they demand that the students cut off their sword arms or risk their teachers being killed.

Of course despite all this happening Fang Gang is initially reluctant to pick up his sword again as he is content living a life of peace, only for the students to eventually convince him to take on the Sword Kings who soon come looking for him regardless as they dispatch the black and white swordsmen to take him out. From here though it seems that Sword Kings unleash a constant wave of henchmen at Fang Gang and the students as they make their way to the fort which the Sword Kings have captured for their base of operations as here Chang Cheh ramps up the energy of the film so that it feels that a fight scene is never far from happening at any given point in the film.

This increase in action and pacing really helps the film, especially when one of my main criticisms of the original film was just how plodding it felt throughout, which certainly isn’t an issue here, more so when the villains all have their own unique fight style making you wonder how Fang Gang will beat each one. At the same time many of these battles with the Sword Kings are mass brawls with numerous combatants fighting at the same time which somehow manages to still look clean without key characters being lost in the fray. For those who like their Kung fu bloody this film certainly has plenty to offer with the violence quota being cranked up from the first film and the heroes all dressing for some reason in white robes the violence is only accentuated where possible throughout the film and while you might think that you’d hot a point where seeing countless combatants being reduced to bloody heaps it surprisingly never comes.

While perhaps this might be far from the most subtle entry in the Shaw Bros. Catalogue its so much fun and packed with Chang Cheh’s usual style and energy that your hardly going to complain especially when it’s this much fun.

Saturday, 12 November 2016

Slasher Movies - An Introduction

Of all the film genres the “Slasher Movie” is often viewed (especially by mainstream critics) as one of the most disposable sub-genres of Horror, their critics viewing them often as nothing but fuel for the next would be serial killer while despising the genre’s focus and general embracement of gratuitous death scenes often served with a side dish equally gratuitous nudity. However those able to look past the often disposable nature of these films with their often shoestring budgets and ropey plotting but then this is after all the genre which gave us the strong female heroine or as is better known here “The Final Girl”.

While many would view Slasher movies as being a product of the late 70’s and 80’s horror scene following the release of John Carpenter’s now legendary “Halloween” which inturn gave us the now iconic masked madman Michael Myers whose serial killer club would soon be joined by the likes of Jason from “Friday the 13th” and the killer doll Chucky from “Child’s Play” aswell as a mixed bag of one shot creations being churned out to cash in on the success of Carpenter’s film but the blood soaked roots of the genre can really be traced back further still to Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho” which with Norman Bates who when broken down into his basic character components can be easily compared to one of his more modern counterparts as sex and his own sexual frustrations seemingly provide the trigger for his own murders, while he also dons a disguise to carry out his murder and his is devoted love for his mother really any different than Jason and his own love for his mother’s severed head?

Go further back still into the history of horror still and you will only continue to find examples of the genre such as Maurice Tourneur’s “The Lunatics” from 1912, itself a silent film adaptation of the Grand Guignol play which in the United States lead to the public outcry over films of this nature which paved the way for the introduction of the Hays code in 1930. In the lead up to the release of “Psycho” further examples of the genres tropes such as jump scares, the black gloved killer so synonymous with the Italian Giallo films and shots from the Killer’s POV can be found in films such as the 1953 version of “House of Wax”, “The Bad Seed” and “Cover Girl Killer”. Alongside the release of Hitchcock’s “Psycho” 1960 also saw the release of Michael Powell’s “Peeping Tom” which shot from the killer’s POV making the audience questioning their role in the violence unfolding on the screen, while later providing the inspiration for the likes of “Man Bites Dog” and “Maniac” (2012).

In the wake of these two films the slasher genre would slowly begin to take form as later films all added elements to the mixing pot starting with William Castle’s “Psycho” cash in “Homicidal” which in typical Castle fashion he sold with the gimmick of a “Fright break” which allowed movie goers to get a refund if they were too scared to stay for the climax though it would come at the cost of being made to stand in “Cowards Corner” until everyone had left before being given their refund. The intrest in serial killers though would roll on with the likes of Dementia 13, Berserk and Night Must Fall which also drew inspiration from the violent Itallian thrillers of the giallo genre. The craze soon also being picked up by the legendary Hammer Studios who contributed their own twist on the burgeoning genre with the likes of Hysteria, Nightmare and Maniac.

With the Giallo films proving such a massive draw for the European market, both Britian and the United States especially began to look at ways they could also cash in with their own versions, throwing out the old well worn plot devices as they made way for the crazed maniac which required only the most basic of motives to justify their bloody rampages with Robert Fuest’s low budget shocker “And Soon The Darkness” (1970) bringing the horror out of the darkness and into the daylight though it would be a year later that the template for the slasher movie in particular the babysitter in peril was established with “Fright” which saw Susan George’s babysitter being terrorised by the child’s father who in true campfire tradition has just escaped from a mental institution.

This new breed of thriller shared the love of sex and violence that was so synonymous with the Giallo movies while removing the police procedural element as these films soon entered into competition with each other to provide bigger and better shocks and kills. One of the key figures of these early films was the English director Pete Walker who advertised his film “Frightmare” with its own negative reviews to sell more tickets as his film making philosophy revolved making headlines with the controversy of his films which he saw translating into larger box office revenues. Meanwhile in the states controversy also followed their own productions though perhaps with a dash more hysteria to them as “Blood and Lace” was dubbed the “sickest PG-rated movie ever made! By the “Psychotronic Encyclopedia of Film” while Marc B. Ray’s “Scream Bloody Murder” proudly advertised its label of “Gore-nography”.

By 1974 despite the release of both the notorious “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” and “Black Christmas” these early slasher movies had overall become too familiar with their themes and ideas to audiences and attendance numbers began to severely dip until 1978 and the release of John Carpenter’s “Halloween” ushering in with it a period cited by many as being the Golden Age of Slasher films which was only further fuelled by the huge success of Sean S. Cunningham’s “Friday the 13th” which in their wake saw a slew of imitators and general rip-off’s being produced so that by 1984 over 100 slasher films had been released. The appeal of these films for the studio being that they where cheap to make and only needed an semi attractive cast to play fodder for your movie’s slasher especially as these films started to become more about the kill and its build up than the actual plot. Surprisingly it was a model which worked leading film makers to exploit the formula further and further as they churned out films featuring higher body counts, more nudity and most key ever more inventive ways in which to kill off their disposable cast members.

As we enter the 80’s in an attempt to freshen up the genre we saw the first of the Supernatural slashers as Ulli Lommel who’d previously directed the acclaimed “The Tenderness of Wolves” unleashed “The Boogeyman” which four years after its release like so many slasher films from this era found itself on the Non-prosecuted list of the Video Nasties act until it was finally released missing 44 seconds in 1992 before finally being re-released uncut in 2000. Now these slashers wern’t just crazed lunatics but potentially of another realm altogether paving the way for the first film in Wes Craven’s now legendary “Nightmare On Elm Street” franchise and also arguably meaning that despite dying in “Friday the 13th Part 4” Jason could still come back as a Zombie from parts 6 onwards.

The Bubble would finally burst in 1984 as the slashers moved to VHS as the audiences showed little interest in watching these movies in the theatre, meaning that films would often be given brief theatrical runs if at all. VHS provided these films with their audience still as they where hunted out by those still eager to get their gore soaked kicks, while some film makers such as David A. Prior even shot their films on tape with Prior’s “Sledgehammer” being the first of these questionable experiements, the poor quality of the film stock often matching the quality of the film being produced.

The final nail in coffin of this golden era of slashers would come via “Silent Night, Deadly Night” which see the mentally unstable Billy suffering a mental break and going on a bloody rampage dressed in a Santa suit. The film was heavily protested by many who saw its iconic poster of an axe welding Santa going down a chimney and assumed it was a movie about a killer Santa and led to the film being pulled out of cinemas a week into its release. A year earlier though the genre had suffered its most devastating attack as moral panic lead by campaigning politicians, and religious groups while the tabloids where only more than happy to add further fuel to the fire by posting scandalous headlines as they called to “Ban this sick filth”. In total 39 films would be banned under the Obscene Publications Act which meant that many of these films wouldn’t be released until after 2001 while many would have to wait until much later to finally be released uncut while a few select titles such as “Forest of Fear” and “Gestapo’s Last Orgy” still remain banned in the UK.

By the late 80’s the slasher movie had all but become an international affair as Italian and Mexican studios attempted to replicate the films which the films which had been so popular in the first half of the 80’s many replicating themes or ideas such as the Mexican “Hell’s Trap” which felt like a throw back to “The Prowler” or the Swedish “Blood Tracks” which played like “The Hills Have Eyes”. The established franchises meanwhile began to collapse under their creaking foundations with “Jason Takes Manhattan” the 8th film in the series proving such a flop that the rights to the series where sold to New Line Cinema, whose saw its own long running franchise “A Nightmare On Elm Street” failing to make half with it’s fifth film than the previous two films had made, while the genre’s grandfather Michael Myers came out worst still with the dire “Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers”. All three franchises would attempt a final stab at reviving their franchises only to all fail thanks to lack of intrest from the audiences who’d once hankered to see the next instalment.

While the end of the 80’s might have seemed to have also marked the end of the genre it was instead merely dormant as Bernard Rose unleashed “Candyman” in 1992 based on the short story by Clive Barker and more keyly gave the world its first black slasher icon. While it may have gone on to spawn two lesser sequels it wouldn’t be until the release of “Scream” in 1996. Prior to directing “Scream” Wes Craven had played around with the idea of a Meta horror with his unintentional reboot of the “Nightmare on Elm Street” franchise with “New Nightmare”. Scream though arrived feeling like a much needed breath of fresh air for the genre as it not only introduced the now iconic Ghostface killer but also self acknowledged with a knowing wink the tropes of the genres with its horror movie loving killers. While the sequel managed to recapture some of the magic of the original, it was clear the series was running on fumes by “Scream 3” especially when Jamie Kennedy’s Randy (posthumously) is laying out the rules for a part 3 which you have to wonder if there are actually any rules for a horror film past its first sequel other than perhaps find a way to set the film in Space or Hawaii. Unsurprisingly “Scream” would prove to be the film which launched numerous imitators such as Urban Legend, I Know What You Did Last Summer and Valentine many of these films landing with mixed results as none seemed to be able to recreate whatever it was that made Scream seem so fiercely original despite its origins coming from the pen of self-confessed Slasher obsessive Kevin Williamson who much like his creation also failed to reach the same heights again.

At the same time that the studios where rushing to put out their own slasher creations, this sudden revived intrest in the genre also saw the studios wanting to roll the dice once more on their established franchises as Michael Myers came back for “Halloween H20: 20 Years Later” in a sequel which ignored everything after the first film in a half baked attempt to reboot the series which even brought Jamie Lee Curtis back to reprise her role as Laurie Strode now stuggling to deal with the events of that eventful night. Michael of course would not be the only boogyman to return as Chucky also made a return with a new bride in tow in “Bride of Chucky” which following “Child’s Play 3” being cited as the influence for the murder of Jamie Bulger it had not only seen the film being unofficially banned but also served to kill the series despite continuing to maintain a cult following who were unsurprisingly over joyed to see the return of their favourite killer doll. Most exciting of these comebacks of course was Jason as “Friday the 13th” rolled out a staggering 10th entry which saw Jason finally being sent to space and shortly afterwards facing off against Freddy Kruger in “Freddy Vs. Jason” giving the fans finally the grudge match they’d long hampered for, even if the version they got was slightly hampered by Kane Hodder (the fans Jason) not being brought back to play Jason.

The most surprising entry of this period though is the “Final Destination” in which Death himself is the killer and while it might shun the usual rules of what qualifies someone to be a victim, it soon established an easy to replicate template in which a group survive a horrible accident (plane crash, motorway pile up, Roller coaster crash etc) only to find themselves being stalked by death who seems to have a fixation with killing in only the most elaborate ways possible, often delightfully teasing out the kill for maximum effect, let alone posing the question of how you beat the slasher when its death itself?

By the 2002 interest in slasher films had faded once again and with studios not wanting to take a risk it would seem on original horror films especially as a loose remake of Tobe Hooper’s “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” turned into the surprise hit of the year as it grossed over $100 million while opening the floodgates to a host of remakes which would follow in its wake as House of Wax, My Bloody Valentine and Black Christmas all got the remake treatment but for decent one we got like Alexandre Aja’s brutal “The Hills have Eyes” we usually got another three duff ones such as Gus Van Sant’s baffling shot for shot remake of “Psycho” while as the key titles titles began to dry up the more grotesque and shocking titles such as “Last House On The Left” and “I Spit On Your Grave” also getting the remake treatment they really didn’t need.

While it might seem that the genre ends in a slurry pit of half baked remakes, there are still directors out there attempting to capture the magic of the slasher’s golden age as can be seen with the likes of Adam Green’s “Hatchet” trilogy while the shame being removed off the DTV market meant that it has become a new home for numerous indie and low budget slashers, while ensuring that the “Wrong Turn” series has managed to somehow churn out five sequels. So while the films might not once receive the kind of grand release they might have seen in the golden age, they are still there for those willing to venture into the darker recesses of their streaming services.

Starting Point – Five Slasher Movie Essentials

For this selection I’ve opted to avoid the obvious and well known additions to the genre such as Halloween, Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday the 13th and Scream and instead opted to highlight five lesser known but still equally essentially additions to the genre worth hunting down.

The Burning – One of the few slasher movies to be banned as video nasty it wouldn’t get released until 1992 and even then it wasn’t until 2001 it was finally released uncut. This film also not only marked the first movie to be produced by the Weinstein’s but also one of the most graphic and brutal kill scenes which has yet to be beaten by any other film in the genre as our burned and mentally unhinged killer Cropsy gets very creative with his weapon of choice….a pair of garden shears.

Slumber Party Massacre - Despite the setup of a slumber party being invaded by a power drill welding murderer, the film has the distinction of being the only feminist slasher movie, despite the film being originally written by Rita Mae Brown as a parody of the slasher genre though thanks to the script being reworked into a serious film, it ends up creating a wonderfully unique experience which would go on to spawn two further sequels

Terror Train – featuring another killer seeking revenge for having a prank played on his years earlier, here the killer is revealed almost straight away as the tormented nerd Kenny boards the train where a fraternity are throwing a costume party. The perfect setup of course for Kenny to don a number of ever more random costumes to commit his murder, making it less about who the killer is but what costume he’s going to wear next.

Stage Fright – A slasher is usually best known by the outfit they don to commit their killing, be it a hockey mask or just a plain old sack which only makes the killers costume here possibly one of the most random as he dons a giant owl head to do his killing which makes this film no doubt standout more from the numerous slashers off this era, but the giant own head really adds something to watching the killer weld a chainsaw or stick someone with a pick-ax.

Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon – Embracing the same mockumentary style of “Man Bites Dog” as a documentary film crew follow an aspiring slasher / serial killer as he prepares for his next big night of murder and mayhem. Interesting for being set in a world where the likes of Freddy and Jason actually exist, the film takes great fun poking fun at the genre tropes with a wonderfully dark sense of humour which makes it so easy to see why this has become such a cult favourite.

Thursday, 3 November 2016

My Scientology Movie

Title: My Scientology Movie
Director: John Dower
Released: 2015
Plot: Documentary following Louis Theroux in his attempts to make a film about the Church of Scientology only to find his attempts being blocked at every turn. Now teaming up with former senior church official Mark Rathbun he attempts to create reconstructions of incidents within the church.

Review: Starting his career working as part of Michael Moore’s “TV Nation” team Louis Theroux would soon go on to forge a name for himself as he immersed himself in America’s sub-cultures via his “Weird Weekends” series which saw him hanging with seemingly everyone from pornstars and wrestlers through to survivalists. Theroux also in his native England produced a series of intimate portraits of celebrity figures such as the former TV Magician Paul Daniels and most memorably Jimmy Savile many having fallen out of the limelight. However it was after these films that Theroux decided to drop his humorous and mischievous antics from his documentaries and instead make more serious films and its this tact that we still find Theroux in for his big screen debut.

While it might seem a fairly straightforward topic to make a documentary about, especially with the wealth of footage out there relating to the church and their often less than orthodox practises. Instead Theroux makes the unusual choice of imitating “The Act of Killing” which featured Indonesian Genocidaires re-enacting their crimes and here large portions of the film are dedicated to the casting of actors to play parts such as the church’s leader David Miscavige aswell as possibly the most recognised church member Tom Cruise. Its actually quite shocking how much of the film is dedicated to these sections and it makes for a jarring experience to see Theroux breaking away from his established formula especially when there is never any proper explanation of why these scenes are being included.

Opening to Theroux explaining that he had originally intended to make a film exploring the beliefs and its various practises, he finds himself unsurprisingly denied all access by the church and in doing so instantly damming themselves from the opening onwards with such fierce secrecy surrounding their practises that no other organised religion so fiercely fights to protect. Even the highly controversial Westboro Baptist Church welcomed Louis into the church on two occastions for “The Most Hated Family in America” and its follow up “America’s Most Hated Family in Crisis” but alas this was not to be perhaps unsurprisingly with “The Church of Scientology” who much like Seaworld in “Blackfish” only condemn themselves from the start by not wishing to participate leaving us to form our opinions from the former members involved and the tactics used by the church to block the films production.

Mark Rathbun once more seems to be the go to guy for former Scientologists as here he once more provides the entry point into the world of Scientology as he chalks up another documentary appearance after previously being seen in the arguably more superior “Scientologists At War” and the thorough “Goung Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief” the latter of which the Church threatened to block the film from being shown in the UK. As a former high level member of the Church Rathbun was perfectly placed to give some of the most indepth accounts of the church’s practises many of which he shares throughout the film, especially being hounded by the church’s “Squirrel Squad” whose methods revolve around filming and harassing their targets at all times, techniques which again they attempt to use here to block filming only to find themselves equally matched by Theroux who has seemingly zero qualms about facing off against any of the members he encounters filming them as they film him in celuloid stand off’s while giving the audience the kind of interactions we where hoping for especially those familiar with Theroux’s previous films.

Despite the seemingly fearless nature which Theroux has shown when it comes to tackling his various subjects and I was expecting to see more of the same here, but ultimately outside of the a few inevitable stand off’s with members of the church sent to harass the production we don’t get to see anything that we haven't seen in other documentaries on the subject, though Theroux might be the first to actually annoy these camera crews enough that they’d rather walk away than deal with him. Ultimately the church largely resort to threatening the production with legal threats which Theroux attempts to address in person, only to find himself blocked by the church’s security once more and making the viewer only wonder more what exactly the church is so fiercely scared of being exposed by the film while there is an air of paranoia from the start as actress Paz de La Huerta stumbles burbling about her acting career during an early conversation between Theroux and Rathbun in a wonderfully surreal moment, which sadly might also be the highlight of the film, especially as Theroux wonders if she had been sent by David Miscavige as a “honeytrap”.

One of the most frustrating aspects outside of the general lack of direction here comes with the sound which constantly seems to dip during the re-enactment sections leaving me to constantly fiddle around the volume controls as I was either struggling to hear what was being said or being blasted by the sound returning to normal.

Ultimately this is a film which enters with big ambitions only to remain small in scope as the reinactments and numerous casting sessions feel like nothing more than filler to cover for the lack of progress that Theroux made in cracking the church and while he might cite that the intention of the documentary was to try and provoke a reaction from the church we learn nothing new here that we haven't seen in other documentaries on the subject. True it might be amusing to see Theroux face off against various members, but this one is really for the die hard fans of his work than those seeking to know more about Scientology.

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