The Autopsy of Jane Doe: two small-town coroners investigate a fresh “Jane Doe”, whose cause of death becomes increasingly difficult to pin down as they learn about the body. This film is the embodiment of tight and efficient: a brief 15-minute setup; 30 mins of live/real-time autopsy, and the last half the film shifts gears into a full-on supernatural horror / thriller. Not for the faint-hearted, parts of this are horrifying to watch; the autopsy is shown in all of it’s snapping, sawing, scalping glory, and is coloured with buckets of crimson – this will definitely root out the weak and the woozy. Although there are a couple of big (and cheap) ‘modern’ jump-scares the majority of the film’s tension comes through the satisfyingly old-school method of very slowly building a sustained and overbearing sense of dread; the film lets your imagination run wild, and shows some incredible restraint – a couple of moments even stray into ‘pure terror’. As mentioned above, it’s a very tight movie: tight script (tons of subtle clues that tie in together nicely); tight setting (claustrophobic, well-established, and inherently creepy morgue); tight cast (Hirsch and Cox are a great/safe pair of hands, with fantastic chemistry). In fact, the only thing that minorly lets the film down is the ending, which is good, but doesn’t do justice to the slow-cooker setup. A completely unrelated follow-up to the fantastic TrollHunter, Norwegian director André Øvredal is proving himself as a very strong and competent film-maker – once again his direction is meticulous, without being the slightest bit ‘auteurial’ or flashy. Few things excite me less than ‘modern horror’, yet because of its throwback sensibilities ‘Autopsy’ feels more a John Carpenter picture than the ‘Paranormal Conjuring 27’ films modern audiences are being served up.
Yakuza Apocalypse: a virus that turns everyone into a yakuza mobster is sweeping through a sleepy Japanese town; along with some vampires, goths, and a ninja frogman. There are two fairly major signs that you’ll either love or hate this film: firstly, the ‘Manga’ logo guarantees some mental Japanese stuff; secondly, Takashi Miike directing is another indicator of mental Japanese stuff. Suffice to say that there’s so much silly, random, and mental Japanese stuff (like a bird goblin man, kung fu frogman in a frog suit – mostly for no obvious reason) that it becomes a chore to keep up with. You get the feeling that Miike was going for a ‘Happiness of the Katakuris’ vibe, but got bogged down in the randomness and forgot about the plot. It opens with an ultra-violent bloodbath, but stalls immediately after and never really hits the top gear again: even the anti-fight at the end is a disappointing reductive idiom gag (massive build up / deliberately rubbish fight). A disappointing non-film from one of the most hit-or-miss directors on the planet. One for the Manga / Japanese / Miike fanboys only.
The Mutilator [AKA Fall Break]: years after accidentally killing his mum (which drove his father insane), a teenager brings some friends to the estranged dads beach condo for an autumnal break. Despite being firmly in B-Movie territory, it’s quickly apparent that this is a completely amateur production. The big faults of the film fall at the feet of one-time director/writer/producer Buddy Cooper: there’s no tension, lots of awkward silence, bad original music, stale acting, and every scene feels dragged out for longer than it needs to be – to hit the coveted 90-minute mark. In fact, everything about this picture is so corny and cheap, it gives The Mutilator a certain charm that all the money in the world couldn’t buy: things like the second-long pause between lines in conversations, the stilled delivery of dialogue, the seemingly straight sentences like “I got a baaad feeling about this”, the awkwardness of every extra, and the campy death screams… The saving grace are the substantial gore effects of Mark Shostrom (Videodrome, Evil Dead II, X-Files, Buffy) as each character gets picked off with boat motors, battle-axes, pitchforks and fishing gaffs – the latter being the films single ‘ho-leeee sheeeet’ moment. A solid poster, catchy tagline, sensible re-naming, and handful of gory moments will ensure that this routine slasher flies off the shelves for years to come. Despite the professional level blood ‘n’ guts, everything else about The Mutilator has an Alan Smithee quality which will be enjoyed, but only by hardened genre fans and drunk friends.
B-Movie Score: 5/10
As always, Arrow Films have given this relatively unknown film the definitive release: it’s completely uncut and director-approved for the first time in the UK, boasts a 2K scan from the original copyright print, original mono soundtrack, and more commentaries / features / stills than you can shake a bloody axe at!
Blood Rage (AKA: Slasher. AKA Nightmare at Shadow Woods. AKA Complex): an evil child frames his twin brother for murder – 10 years on, when the sane brother escapes from an asylum, he finally has an excuse to kill again. The clunky dialogue and bog-standard horror scenarios really emphasise the wooden performances – championed by the mum, who is drunk in one scene, then normal, then catatonic, then madly cleaning, then scoffing food off the floor… she’s laughably terrible. Strangely, the direction itself isn’t bad; conjuring up some striking and iconic images, and the ‘twins’ aspect (both played by the same actor) is well done; arguably the most impressive thing about the film. Despite the catalogue of unintentional missteps it’s a fun enough film to watch – namely due to the comically extreme and over the top slashtastic gore: entire sets are painted red, and limbs & bodies end up everywhere. Mash this all together and it kind of works in a weird, HDTGM type of way (nothing about the story makes sense). While Blood Rage isn’t a great film in anyone’s book; it’s the best type of bad film, for having a high body count, and being knowingly bad (like the Cranberry sauce zinger!). it can still be enjoyed, and is prime for cult viewings and drinking games.
B-Movie Score: 7/10
The Arrow Blu Ray 2K restoration is great: the film looks cleaner and brighter than it has any right to be, and – as always – there are shedloads of behind the scenes, extras and interviews with the cast. Making this a must-have for B-Movie aficionados.
Tenebrae (Unsane): the author of a string of successful-but-violent novels goes to promote his latest book in Rome, but someone is stalking and killing his fans & entourage. From the opening scene this is like watching the essence of the 1980s – it’s all very stylish, with flashy direction, bold wardrobes, striking locations, and modelesque actors. Most impressively, there’s a lot of impeccable camerawork – like a completely unnecessary, but nonetheless beautiful, elongated single-take crane shot (with Bonus double-kill!!) that circles a building for minutes. It’s also one of the most bright and colourful slashers you’ll ever see, with phenomenal lighting and particularly eye-popping greens and reds. The soundtrack is dominated by a catchy synth rock earworm, which may sound familiar as it was more recently sampled by Justice (original by Goblin.) It’ feels smarter and better planned than most other slashers as it sets everyone up as a potential suspect, then slowly kills them off one by one, ending on a stunning finale with around 10 minutes of sustained blood, gore, and multiple plot twists – which plays out like a precursor to later and more aware horror films like Scream. Other than being almost exclusively suspiciously sexualised nudey babes that are being butchered right left and center there isn’t much to complain about here. Tenebre sees a visionary Italian (and Horror) auteur crafting one of his most mainstream movies – a dual language whodunnit – at the height of his notoriety. A truly classic and top-drawer horror / giallo film that’s a crimson blueprint for subsequent slashers; it’s still great fun to watch, and easy to admire.
The Purge: In the near future crime and unemployment are at an all-time low, thanks to the purge – 12 hours every year where all crime is legal. I loves me a good old B-Movie, and this film has it all: a strong single-concept, near-future dystopia, home invasion / terror flick. It’s 80 minutes long, and could have even cut a bit more out of the setup. There’s’ action. There’s some gore. The baddies are sufficiently scary, whilst remaining authentically ‘Kids next door’. Best of all, there’s a serious social commentary that runs through the entire movie; that makes you think about what you’d be doing in this family’s shoes. In fact, the only thing that bugged me about this was that the son was such a complete idiot-hole moron assface – who continually did the most stupid things for no reason (although it did conveniently push the plot along). The Purge is the kind of film that if you don’t buy into the conceit, you’ll completely hate it. I bought into it, and loved every minute of it.
The only two rules of Purge Club
- No government official holding Rank 10 or higher is to be murdered, harmed, have harm caused to them, or in any event brought to harm in any case.
- Weapons above Class 4 are forbidden, meaning that destructive devices (rocket launchers, grenades, bombs or missiles) and explosive materials are excluded from The Purge.
Evil Dead: five friends go for a remote, relaxing break at a cabin in the woods… where they accidentally unleash an angry daemon. So I’ve seen this film about ten times, yet it still gives me the willies: from the outset there’s a lot of weird, floaty camera movement as it sweeps through the woods; something spooky or shifty happens about every 2 minutes; and you couldn’t have picked a more eerie set of locations: rickety house, basement, woods. The film’s packed with masterful moments of suspense, and the old school horror soundtrack gives it a timeless quality – screeching strings. There’s a few funny bits (and black humour thread throughout), but it’s definitely more horror than comedy. Whilst Bruce Campbell isn’t the best actor in the world, his presence is something else. The film builds towards a gore filed gory gore-fest of an ending – that will satisfy the hardest of horror fans. Essentially a B-movie, made on a shoestring budget; it has more than enough going on to totally distract you from the fact that it’s so cheap and brimming with continuity errors. The Evil Dead has more atmosphere, tension and impact than 20 empty, modern, derivative horror knockoffs. Proper horror cult classic.
Dead Man’s Shoes: an on-edge soldier returns home to find that local thugs have been taking advantage of his disabled brother; revenge is definitely on the cards. The story’s powerful, harrowing, chilling and hard to watch in parts (mostly the flashbacks). First time round I thought Paddy stole the show but on re-watching, his brother (Kebbell) is equally fantastic; most of the antagonists are on top form too. The soundtrack fits perfectly, making the overall ambiance more effective, disturbing you as much as the brief bursts of violence. There are some beautiful moments of black comedy in the spraypaint and comedy car – but they’re only momentary distractions. The only downside is that it feels padded out in parts, with a very long opening and plenty of scenic shots – although it could be argued that it adds to the film’s character. As a thriller, Dead Man’s Shoe is top-notch, and punches way above its low-budget social micro-thriller status.
State of Emergency: Accident at a chemical plant. Lone survivour. Mutant zombies. Barricaded in. Headshots and axes… You know the drill. What sets this apart from the tons of zombie movies out there is that it has an indie sensibility about it. It’s heavily character based, spending the entire time with Jim and his backstory – the only drawback is that it’s fairly familiar. There’s a few action scenes, but more impressively, several very well crafted moments of crazy tension and all-round creepiness. The film tips it’s hat towards Romero through countless references, and while that’s no bad thing, it does miss out the very important ‘social’ slant that elevate the Romero films from good to fantastic. The zombies are pretty cool, standing ominously still – relying on hearing – then hulking out and fighting! One even talks, which is a bit weird. It also looks very slick, being filmed on Red Ones. State of Emergency feels quite simplistic held up against its contemporaries, like a throwback zombie film – and while it may not be the most original or action-packed film in the genre, it’s a solid watch, and shows some great potential from Director Turner Clay / The Clay Brothers.
Changeling: Angelina Jolie gets re-united with her missing son, but all is not what it seems. Jolie’s great, and the cast in general are quite strong, however, I wasn’t entirely convinced with Malkovick. There’s a LOT of terrible accents through the film. It makes all men and police of the time look and sound like assholes, and by the hour mark I was screaming out “OK, the police are corrupt, we get it”. It’s all trundling along in a fairly textbook manner for around 90 minutes but in typical Eastwood style massive, depressing, twisting plot points start firing in until the final scenes. I would re-watch it, but only to play the “my son” drinking game. Overall, the story’s good but it’s dragged out for much longer than it can sustain, and turns into a boring courtroom drama for last 20 mins…
Titanic: What can you say about this that hasn’t already been said? The continual use of establishing shots and long swoops over the ship confirm that James Cameron was all about the spectacle, size, scale and cutting-edge GCI at the time (sounds familiar…) Although nobody’s looking at her face for the last half hour Winslett’s acting is sketchy at best, DiCaprio out-classes her like you wouldn’t believe but looks sooooo young. It all gets a bit too epic and stupid near the end: gun-fight, child rescue and too many scenes of real-time sinking and survival – although the limp bodies smashing off the railings / propellers are pretty cool! For me, the musician’s sacrifice is the saddest part of the film by a long shot. Overall Titanic is too long, and the present day story’s adds nothing, just serves to deliver some corny / cheesy comedy. Some retrospective tongue-in-cheek comments about Picasso and Freud were a neat touch. It’s a decent story, big spectacle but just too over the top.