De Palma: two directors plonk a camera in front of legendary director Brian De Palma, and he discusses his turbulent career, warts ‘n’ all. This kicks off with a brief history of his journey into cinema; starting as an indie director through to his studio system break alongside Lucas, Spielberg, Scorsese, and Coppola. The rest of the documentary feels like De Palma defending his stinkers and bigging up the films that initially underperformed, but have been subsequently lauded. My main issue with this documentary is that I don’t know who it’s supposed to be aimed at: the 2-5 minute recap of every single film is too high-level for De Palma nerds like me – even with the odd anecdote – yet it pretty much spoils the best parts of every film that ‘De Palma n00bs’ won’t have seen yet. As it’s just De Palma talking, it feels a touch self-indulgent – massaging his own ego – and coming over as a tad weird, bitter, & unhinged by the end. This is capped off with a final few minutes that turn into the biggest self-congratulatory handjob; where De Palma states that he is the only director keeping Hitchcock’s notions of “pure cinema” alive! This is the only time I’ve ever though that what I was watching could have benefited from more talking heads lending different perspectives and additional context. Don’t get me wrong, De Palma is one of the most under-rated directors out there; and although he’s had some stinkers, he’s also made some of the greatest movies of their times… but this isn’t the tribute that I was expecting; or that a masterful director like Brian De Palma deserves.
If you really want to explore De Palma, scrap this and go watch Blow Out, Femme Fatale, Scarface, or The Untouchables to see the damage this guy can do with a camera.
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
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.
Maniac (Remake – 2012): the deranged and murderous owner of a mannequin shop crosses paths with an artist who understands his appreciation for the figures. Not for the faint hearted, this is packed with violence and gore; in all of the graphic scenes you keep thinking ‘they’ll cut away from it now… Now… NOW?!?!’. These gut-wrenching effects are paired with a deranged and explicit sound design, which makes this very unnerving and creepy to watch. Elijah Wood is sufficiently creepy-looking and charming – although he doesn’t get the same chance to push his range as this version is mostly shot from his point of view (POV). Because of the POV shooting, brutal sound effects and explicit gore you feel more like a participant than an observer, which works disturbingly well in the voyeuristic and chase sequences. The original Maniac is great, and still holds up today, but times have changed and this one ups the ante in every aspect, becoming more shocking by comparison, whilst retaining a certain retro ‘video nasty’ / ‘classic exploitation‘ vibe (aided by plenty homages and similarities to the original, and an exquisite post-Drive 1980s synth soundtrack.) On a scale of ‘one to creepy’ this is CREEPY AS FUCK and – like the original – although this is 100% unrecommendable, the Maniac remake is an exploitation and slasher masterpiece.
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.
Brick Mansions: a cop must team up with a convicted cop killer to take down Detroit’s most vicious drug dealer, who’s holding the city ransom with a nuclear bomb. The biggest thing that this has going for it is action; lots and lots of action. David Belle action is always a treat to watch, and his stunts are all to a high standard. David Belle’s dubbed face on the other hand isn’t as fun to watch, if anything, a little distracting, and it’s not just the syncing, but the ultra low gruff effects that make him sound like Vin Diesel. Paul Walker doesn’t lag too far behind Belle in the action stakes, which is surprising. With 90 minutes of sweet action, a ticking clock scenario, lame-ish acting and a basic, predictable story – it’s essentially a flashy B movie. Then there’s a massive elephant in the room though; the originals – which, if you’ve seen them, completely take the wind out of Brick Mansion’s sails as large sections are literally scene for scene, jump for jump, punch for punch re-shoots – with a bigger budget. Add to the fact thar this that 10 years on, Parkour is not as cool or fresh, and that the crucial social commentary (and plot in general) feels like more of an afterthought in this one – it lets the film down. If you have no interest in foreign films, this is as solid a B movie action film as they get, but if you’re feeling adventurous I’d absolutely recommend D13 and D13 Ultimatum over this.
Homeland: eight years after going MIA a U.S. marine is rescued and taken home, but a C.I.A. agent suspects he may be a terrorist. Overall the scope of the plot feels like it would be a side-story in 24, maybe spanning 6 episodes – Homeland is stretched over 12 full episodes ‘beefed up’ with small, pointless stories – some of which aren’t resolved, or even mentioned again (internal investigation / Saul’s potential involvement / Saul’s wife). My biggest problem was the very slow-moving is he / isn’t he story, it gets quite monotonous after several episodes, and once you know what side he’s on, it kills the show flat. Both central characters are extremely complex – Danes struggles to convince with some horrific eye-bulding and body/movement over acting. Lewis is good, but doesn’t quite have the full chops to convey the inner conflicts and troubles of the character. The daughter (Saylor) and Saul (Patinkin) were the two best actors. In the end, I cared just enough to watch the finalé, which was undoubtedly the best and most fresh / original part of the series, 60 minutes of killer, 30 more minutes of wrap-up ‘meh’. I can appreciate how this would go down more favourably in the USA (it’s current, it’s political, it hits a lot of nerves) but for me, Homeland feels like it’s just filling a ‘post-24 American domestic terrorist drama’ gap, and not much more.
The Expendables: A band of gruff mercenaries feel up to the task of overthrowing a corrupt Latin-American dictator. First thing’s first: this film has the action cast to end all casts – while it’s not 100% perfect, you just don’t see this many huge names in a film these days. It’s hard to describe but seeing star after star after star is spectacle in itself. Then there’s the action, which is awesome – and although CGI heavy, it’s great fun watching henchmen get mauled by fists, blades, bullets, fire and grenades; watching anything and everything get blown up; watching all the standout musclemen fight each other; and watching set piece after set piece. Little else is particularly noteworthy, but little else matters in a film like this; the script’s terrible laughable, the plot is contrived beyond belief, the acting’s utterly forgettable (everyone’s on auto-pilot) and even the ‘hot chick’ was a bit of a dog. Essentially a B-movie with an A-star cast and massive budget, this isn’t a homage to 1980s blockbuster action films, this is a 1980s blockbuster action film. It’s also an action film for action fans, and it does the big scenes way better than anything else I’ve seen recently. I laughed, I cringed, and I shouted ‘Holy Shit’ (usually while clutching a limb that’d just been snapped on screen) about 20 times. What can I say? I’m a sucker for big names, big guns, big explosions and big set pieces. Roll on the Expendables 2!