El topo: a surreal wild-west-type cowboy tale that’s heavy on the religious symbolism and appeared to have been conceived (& filmed) whilst on all of the drugs. The biggest thing this film has going for it is reel after reel of top-shelf insanity and phenomenal imagery: attempting to put some of the scenes into words wouldn’t do them justice – but suffice to say that the locations, landscapes, characters, and overall visuals are absolutely remarkable. Beyond the aesthetics, the rest of the film feels like a hodgepodge of themes, styles, and ideas. The tone continually bounces around from jarring “Texas Chainsaw” style, straight into to a Russ Meyers type shoe-sniffer: from po-faced religious moments through to Blazing Saddles levels of stupidity. It’s also – unfortunately – a film of two halves, that gets tangled up after the initial “mission” and really loses the head of steam (and patience) that the first have had built up. The foley work is particularly terrible – the film is shot outdoors, but most of the speech and effects appear to have been recorded in a boxy echo chamber. There’s also a lot of violent (although reddest blood ever) and exploitative stuff in here too, like the misuse of religion, lesbians, and midgets & disabled people for no real reason. Bizarre and easily one of the strangest & most overlooked cult movies ever made, El Topo is the most peculiar of beasts, that’s only worth watching for it’s sublime and visionary aesthetic.
LOGAN [Spoilers]: as Professor X’s health deteriorates Logan has to keep him – and the first new mutant in years – safe from all the bad guys. This is unlike any other big superhero film you’ve seen: grisly, balls-out, 15-rated (borderline 18!). There’s lots of “Fucks”, gratuitous boobs, and exploitation-level gore; with claws hacking up limbs & digging in to skulls etc. It’s also a film where the titular hero spends the majority of the runtime hobbling, coughing, and lumbering around like a broken man. Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart give an absolute masterclass in character and acting, supplemented by a star-making performance from Dafne Keen. I wouldn’t want to be the actor that has to follow Jackman when the inevitable X-men reboot goes ahead – after 17 years in the role, he is Logan. The action scenes are sparse, but next-level-superb throughout – the highlight being the first time were introduced to Laura (a 10 minute fight-chase). As for flaws, there are only a few minor ones: Stephen Merchant’s horrific accent brings you right out of the film; and it spends a bit too much time introducing and building some minor characters. One of the main criticisms leveled against this is that it’s too “depressing” or “downbeat”, which I assume came from the same people who would prefer to see robots leveling cities. Logan is a character-driven road-trip western film (that happens to contain superheros) rammed with pathos and peril – what’s not to love?! It’s brutal, dark, raw, emotional, and – for me – this is the new standard for ALL future Marvel / Superhero / Comic Book movies.
The Card Player (aka Il Cartaio): women in Rome are being kidnapped used as the prize in police Vs ‘serial killer’ online poker matches. For a film made in 2004 about ‘cutting edge technology’ it looks more like something from the early 1990s, especially going by the terminology used. The film boasts such a bizarre portrayal of cyber and counter-culture, with a Luddite’s view of technology, and fumbling awkward police IT techies (who are genuinely credited as “Anti Hackers” WTF R-Gent0!?). It also boasts the standard Euro-pudding bilingual issues: gaps between reactions, re-dubbed lines; back of head shots when people are talking… Every character is also over-worked to the point of becoming surreal: like a drunk Irishman who falls asleep singing Danny Boy (classic) and an inappropriate & unprofessionally touchy-feely flirty cop. It feels like Argento plays this far too broad, as the film awkwardly cuts from wacky things like a tapdancing coroner to a dead body with playing cards stuffed up their innards, and extremely detailed close-ups of rancid corpses. The Card Player offers up a few glimpses of classic Argento but overall, it’s a hammy, pedestrian, and tedious Giallo outing.
Hatchet: a boatful of tourists go on a haunted swamp tour and end up coming face to face with a local superstition… the murderous Victor Crowley. There’s some strong horror ancestry in here; Kane Hodder (Jason/Leatherface) is the main baddie, with Tony Todd (Candyman/Final Destination) and Robert Englund (among others) popping up in cameo roles. Even though this is the kind of sloppy horror premise you’ve seen a thousand times before Hatchet is different in that it’s very well made: it’s brilliantly lit, boasts supreme gore FX & inventive deaths, and has a cast full of good performances. It takes everything that people love and expect from a slasher film and turns it up to eleven: e.g. you don’t just get to see one pair of boobs, but are treated to entire line-ups of Mardi Gras waps. It’s also got a cool comedy/horror vibe in that if it wasn’t for the brutal ultra-graphic moments of cartoonishly over-the-top deaths, the film would probably be a 12A, as it’s overall quite playful and funny; the wannabe actresses in particular provide more than their fair share of the LOLz. There’s also a beautiful ‘classic’ orchestrated soundtrack that wouldn’t be out-of-place in something like Indiana Jones. Everything comes together nicely to create a movie that’s surprisingly hard to describe or define, but is undeniably fun… it’s not quite a parody, and it’s definitely not a kids film, but it’s a rip-and-roaring “Old School American Horror” – and for once, a slasher that lives up to its tagline.
B-Movie Score: 9/10
The Final Girls: when a freak cinema fire leaves Max and her friends stuck inside a slasher movie she finally has a chance to re-connect with her dead ‘scream queen’ mum. The premise of the film is fantastic, allowing the movie to play with every trope from the classic slasher pictures: stock characters, language/dialogue, sounds, flashbacks, on-screen text and so on. It even gets the tiny details right, like how the ‘teenagers’ from the old film are older than teenagers. Like the original slasher films, every character is stock and all of the actors slot in to their roles perfectly; the sexed up girl’s Adderall-fueled Cherry Pie striptease was the highlight of the film for me. Director Todd Strauss Schulson handles both sides of the story with care (70s/80s era slasher nostalgia + modern cult/horror fandom) and the film looks absolutely fantastic with crazy-vibrant colours, tons of very striking visuals, and great camerawork – it sounds like a low blow, but it’s too well-made when compared to the films it’s homaging. The Final Girls is fantastic love letter to the great slashers of the 1980s; it’s great fun to watch, looks brilliant, and it can stand tall alongside recent postmodern horrors like of Tucker & Dale and Cabin in the Woods.
The Green Inferno: when she joins a deforestation activism group, a naïve student comes face to face with the cannibal savages she’s trying to protect. I’ll put it straight out there; I’m not a big fan of Eli Roth… that being said, I had a blast with this film. The naive protagonist / final girl is surrounded by thin and/or unlikable characters (angsty alternative goths, far out hippy protesters, etc) so you’re not all that fussed about their fates, and watching them get dispatched is rather entertaining. There’s some outrageous practical effects, showcasing bloody and disgusting gore, but it’s all tongue cut out in cheek – think ultra black horror / borderline stoner comedy – with several laugh out loud moments. There’s a fun Final Destination style plane crash, followed by an intense tribe meeting (the scariest part of the film) – and after that it’s all killer. The only two downsides are that the film takes around halve the running time to get going; it also feels less urgent / more detached than the ‘found footage’ ‘real life’ cannibal exploitation films of the 70s & 80s. It would have been foolish to try to pull off a ‘Mountain of the Cannibal Holocaust Ferox God’ movie in 2015, as it just wouldn’t have the same impact, so Roth has taken the ‘cannibal movie’ template and given it a nice postmodern spin. The Green Inferno got an unfair rep by people mostly focusing solely on the gore; but tonally, it feels more like an out-and-out send up of student, or ‘leftie’ activism to me. Over time I hope it’ll become a cult hit along the likes of Cannibal the Musical and Delicatessen. Disgustingly enjoyable.
B-Movie Score: 9/10
Demons (Dèmoni): after being lured into a free movie screening a diverse cross-section of society are trapped and attacked by a demon curse. Essentially a zombie film but with demons, everything about Demons is an excuse to get more gore on the screen, and the crimson effects are unbelievable – puss, bile, blood, guts, and even whole demons bursting out of people – all done with physical FX. Not unlike some of Argento’s films of the era the production feels surprisingly high quality, which has made the modern blu ray release look way more impressive than similar movies from this era. The soundtrack is also interesting; packed with heavy metal royalty (and Rick Springfield) – Saxon, Billy Idol, Motley Crue, Pretty Maids, Accept – which give the film an authentic and nostalgic edge. To pad out the runtime we’re treated to longer-than-necessary sections of a film-within-a-film, and a completely ridiculous (and unrelated) street punk side-story – but it’s forgivable stuff. There’s also lots of ‘bad’ / ‘hammy’ aspects to the film which make it ripe for B-movie / cult status: it’s very 80s, and things like the dialogue, characters (like a black guy who just happens to be a switchblade proficient pimp), and performances carry a ‘midnight movie’ feel. Demons is not for everyone, but gore fiends and metal aficionados are the target for this badly dubbed pan-European cheesy horror.
B-Movie Score: 9/10