Maniac (Original – 1980): A psychopathic killer is on a spree in New York, terrorising and scalping the public. This one bursts out the gates with two pretty graphic murders, and is evenly punctuated with some full-on eye-opening, jaw-dropping gore throughout. Once scene in particular had me completely shocked – which is a total rarity. Joe Spinell puts in a top shift as the unhinged lead; switching from feral, deranged and demented through to normal, vulnerable, childlike, and charming. The audio helps emphasise the unsettling vibes the movie gives, with creepy internal dialogue and an off-kilter synth/electro track for tension building. It’s visually strange too, with creepy mannequins, seedy New York locations, and a bizarrely open ending. Put this all together and you have a film that’s way above the standard of the genre, and arguably beyond the taste of other slashers from this era. Dark, completely bonkers, and still genuinely shocking 35 years on; Maniac is a thoroughbred slasher film that’s difficult to enjoy, easy to appreciate – but ultimately hard to recommend to anyone that doesn’t like video nasties.
Sightseers: Chris and Tina are having a wild holiday: transport museum, pencil museum, stone circles… and the occasional murder. At the heart of this film are two great, stripped back, performances that really aid the shock and laugh factors – especially in that they’re both played so straight, normal and plain ‘anorak’ types. Alice Lowe in particular has the added slant of being exceptionally sheltered and not quite all there – both acted superbly. The humour and jokes are absolutely jet-black (dark matter/black hole black); most laughs are immediately followed “WTF did I just hear/see?!” thoughts, which is a refreshing reaction. Despite being dry, witty, black and comedic, it’s absolutely rooted in reality, with the down-to-earth characters, and boring settings and caravan lifestyle. This will do well overseas, but the British awkwardness and self-deprecation really helps you adds to the appreciate of this. A film as bold, intense and claustrophobic as Kill List would always be near-impossible to follow, but Wheatley has a right-good stab at this and produces one of the most memorable black comedies of recent times.
Taken 2: Bryan Mills and his ‘very particular set of skills’ are hunted down by the relatives of the bad guys from Paris (Taken). If Mr Megaton had stuck to the surefire winning formula of the first film, he’d have been OK, however, he strays way off topic. Action, drama and no-brain story: 66% – this is far to silly to have any sense of drama or threat. Hard-hitting fight-scenes: 33% – my beloved, worn-down, Taken DVD is 18-rated, this was a 12A, with all of the bloody bone-crunching edges are taken off. Liam Neeson acting well: – 15% – he totally looks like he can not be arsed here, as do most of the cast. A brief list of the memorable moments tell you more about the tone of the film that any sensible review could:
- Maggie Grace gratuitously running around in a Bikini
- Maggie Grace – having not passed her driving test – executing perfect evasive/offensive driving
- Maggie Grace throwing grenades on Istanbul roofs so Neeson can locate her.
- Neeson being left in a room, alone, for a long time
- Neeson having a mini-phone in his pocket
- Neeson walking through Istanbul navigating using only his ears.
Overall, it feels like far more like a “Shit, we accidentally got a worldwide hit from a B-movie – may as well cash-in with a rushed sequel” affair, over a well-thought out, original, nasty, well done action flick. All that being said, Taken 2 is nowhere near as bad as the critics have made it out to be, there’s more than enough mindless action scenes to keep audiences entertained.
Stitches: six years after being bullied to death at a party full of brats, Stitches the clown returns for some blood-splattering revenge. As a low-budget british comedy horror, Stitches looks way slicker than it should, and the physical old-skool horror FX are great as impressive as they are fun – very Carpenter, what with all the exploding/bursting limbs, impalement and generally gruesome and comedic deaths. The film’s other main weapon is the streak of black humour throughout; it definitely passes the Kermode 6-laugh test with ease, although it feels like there’s room for a lot much more gags. Ross Noble is the only really notable cast member (Other than Monster Munch Mary!) as the can’t-be-assed clown with a bucket full of so-bad-they’re-good puns and quips, and a taste of the ridiculous. The story’s pretty crap, bu that’s to be expected in this territory. Stitches is a passably funny slasher-at-a-party horror romp that makes up for its shortcomings by laying out some of the goriest, bloodiest and ridiculously entertaining death sequences.
Stake Land: when his mum, dad and baby sibling get their shit ruined, Martin is taken under the wing of a Vampire Hunter, and they make their way north to a vampire-free sanctuary. It’s easy to forget that this is a B-movie; no stars, no big sets, ton of gore, no-name production company… yet it’s well filmed, looks great an doesn’t just rely on schlock or clichés. in fact, it’s because this is a B-movie that this packs more of a punch; there’s not much character sentimentality, and several pretty rough scenes to watch. The story’s great, and keeps you intrigued, even with a distinct lack of dialogue, ridiculous cult, and almost no character backstory. The creatures are somewhat of a Zombie/Vampire mish-mash, that land somewhere between Romero, Rami and a manga adaptation. Breathing new life in to busy, but rapidly boring genre, Stake Land is a solid entry, proving that vampires don’t have to suck, and that the horror genre can step up it’s game now and again.
South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut: Stan, Kyle, Cartman and Kenny get their first feature-length musical where they must save the world, watch their language, and find the clitoris. Musically, this film’s got so many great and memorable songs: Uncle Fucka, Blame Canada, What would Brian Boitano Do?, I’m Super and my personal favourite, the La Resistance medley. And it’s not just the musical numbers – the entire score is top-notch. It wouldn’t be South Park without an endless string of satirical stabs at pop culture and celebrities – it even parodies the backlash against the TV show. BLU takes vulgarity to the next level, but it’s always tongue-in-cheek: reaction to lines like “I just don’t trust anything that bleeds for 5 days and doesn’t die” is a rarely experienced contrast of horror and laughter. This is one of the best things that Matt and Trey have written – with gag after quotable gag that puts the current, churned out, episodes to shame; and while the gags are rapid-firing there’s so much attention to detail in the background. They ran wild with it and it totally worked, I guess it was a build-up of ideas they wanted to put on TV but couldn’t. It’s a great film, and well over 10 years later it’s still hilarious
War: (Blu Ray) A gritty cop is out to avenge his partner’s death at the hand of the cockiest and most conspicuous hitman on the planet. Initially, this one doesn’t bat too high; with flashbacks referencing the start of the film after 20 minutes!! It’s also totally textbook, from the archetypal spy/metal music & story-progressing montage through to the constant ‘satellite’ shots and swooping cuts of cars driving over bridges. However, the last 30 minutes or so make this film more than worth persevering with – and in general the film was slicker and smarter than the uninspired synopsis and general image gives it credit for. There’s a lot of decent and original action/choreogrphy threading through the film – the best being an awesome footchase, and a jaw-dropping steakhouse punch up. You know what to expect from Statham and Li, and neither disappoint. The uncompressed audio mix bursts out of every speaker for the full duration creating one of the best soundscapes I’ve heard to date – every word, footstep, punch, gunshot and shatter is crystal clear and mixed in perfectly with the film’s fully orchestrated score – it’s truly an aural delight that should be a must-have for anyone with a home theater system, indisputable demo material. The picture’s generally good, but has a few bum scenes. Overall, if you like your cop-revenge-action films this is definitely one of the better ones out there – and while it’s not outstanding, there’s a lot of good touches that elevate it above expectations.
The Good, The Bad, The Weird: Set in the 1930s, a bounty hunter, most-wanted criminal and petty thief are all after the same ancient treasure map. This flick has it all: style, action, plot, rivalry, twists, adventure, suspense, guns, huge sets, humour and explosions. Most of all, it’s actually great fun to watch, with the exception of a few short ‘meh’ sections and one psychedelic scene – the rest is all killer. The whole story, but most notably the final scenes are brilliantly executed classic Western. The Bad and Weird characters are great to watch, and the director‘s on good form. Definitely a bit more of a bloodbath than you’d expect from an upbeat film like this with scarlet, limbs and fingers flying all over the place. The audio track really comes alive during the action scenes and there’s a nice nod to Tarrantino with an epic song choice for the huge chase scene. There’s also a nice bit of Korean history thrown in the mix. Overall, it’s an amazing film from a director with a great track record, and another brilliant example of why Korea is one of the best countries as far as movie exports go.
5ive Girls: Q: What do you get when you mix the following: a sadistic (borderline lesbian) head teacher, Alcoholic (touchy feely) priest, five hot-but-too-old-to-be-real school chicks, a dead ex-pupil and a creepy janitor? A: Yet another unnecessary horror movie. Poor script, terrible acting, and a generally pants story about witches. “Possessive nouns” did get a laugh, and why is the devil always so nasty in horror films? To top it off, the soundtrack was so upbeat it felt like it was lifted from an American Pie film. Even Hellboy couldn’t save this. Shockingly bad.
Machine Girl: (Blu Ray) the story’s just a vehicle for the onslaught of gore, so it’s not even worth dwelling on… ‘revenge’ should cover it. This action & blood fest includes… <spoilers> shot in the eye, face shot to bits, hand hacked off, exploding head (2), maid murder, extreme bullying, tempura arm, brains facial, intestine facial, blood facial showers (gave up counting – ?), cook brutality, forced cannibalism, ninja stars (?), fingers sliced, amputation (2), necrophilia, urban ninjas (3), decapitation(?), blood drinking, nails in the face, fountains of blood (?), chainsaw deaths (?), bucket of death (2), limb fighting, an unforgettable boob job and many an OTT gory death. To lighten he mood they also chucked in some… swordfights, cleavage, ghosts, questionable first aid, midriff, sexy lingerie, a drill bra, pant wetting, death by strobes, Japanese schoolgirls and a MILF. </spoilers> The picture quality drifts between barely acceptable and below upscaled DVD, the sound is also poor – definitely not worth paying more for the BD. Bad and camp acting throughout, but for being on a budget the gore’s pretty good and is more comical than serious. It’s pretty entertaining but definitely a required taste: think ‘Story of Ricky’, ‘Braindead’, ‘Versus’, ‘Bad Taste’…
Slither: A small hick town is invaded by mind-controlling aliens, sound familiar? That’s because it’s been done a thousand times. I thought the big budget and production would have saved this… I thought wrong. For the first 40 minutes the only highlight was seeing a 5 second clip from the ‘Toxic Avenger’ on a television. The gore and effects were fairly good and there’s a tiny sliver of nudity but the rest is bad news, bad news that even Michael Rooker couldn’t save. Cheap jumps, stock characters, inane animal brutality, oral-loving CGI slugs and generally showing off the SFX covers the rest of this flick. I’d rather watch a cheap B-movies with heart than another boring CGI orgy, any day. Gory twaddle.
Cloverfield: a digital tape retrieved in Manhattan after a monster attack, played back in it’s entirety; cue mish-mash of relevant footage and soppy backstory. Because it’s all in first-person it throws you right into the action. Only fault I had was that it’s pretty hard work on the eyes, given that the camera’s almost always shaking but the immense 5.1 audio track makes up for this, flexing all main speakers and giving the bass a good workout. The film’s also good at playing on all the big fears: darkness, silence, gore, unknown creatures, terrorism, viruses etc. The special effects – both NY in tatters and the monster itself – are also great, and believable enough in most parts. The performances are alright despite the unknown cast – shaky cam may have masked some of the guff! Overall, this exceeded my expectations, and it could easily compete for the title of ‘best monster movie’ ever. Solid creature feature!