Wednesday, 27 February 2013

The Furred Man - Short Film

Thought I'd share this with you all - This is a short film made by the tiny film studio Evil Hypnotist. It won a lot of awards (including Best Horror at Dragon*Con 2011) and has been shown at a bunch of film festivals.

It's also darkly funny and has a killer ending. Enjoy!

Friday, 22 February 2013

Mama - Movie Review

For the first time in a long time I went to see a film on the day it opened. I can't actually remember the last time I did this - the closest I've come recently is seeing The Dark Knight Rises about three days after it came out way back in July last year. But two things drew me to this film today; firstly it is from Guillermo Del Toro, who is always worth paying attention to, and secondly it's half term, so my awesome girlfriend/movie partner was around for us to go to an earlier showing.

Before I get on with the review, I just want to say I went into this knowing virtually nothing about the plot, the characters or even the cast, and as such if you finish this review you will inevitably go in knowing more than I did. While everyone likes to experience movies in their own way, if you prefer a near-blank slate approach and want to know if it's any good or not, all I will say is that while it is not the most groundbreaking of horror movies, it retreads many standard horror tropes with a sure footing and is overall a very well made film. It may not scare you (it scared me) as I think the 'scariness' of a film is a fairly subjective experience, but you won't leave the cinema feeling short changed. 

Blank slate people, stop reading.

Are they gone? Good. Now I can go into more detail. The story concerns two little girls aged 3 and 1 who end up lost in the woods after their rather tragic father does something a bit stupid. The path to the girls eventual abandonment in a cabin (straight out of the horror genre's Scenic Retreats Catalogue - as I said up top, it doesn't exactly break many a mould) is too good to spoil, but suffice to say it sets up what follows rather nicely, mixing a strange real-world pathos with creepy supernaturalism. Roll titles.

It's worth saying a few words about the credits sequence here, in that implies what happens over the next five years through the children's drawings on the walls - a slow descent into barbarism, as their unseen benefactor presumably keeps them alive. It's the subtle things here that I really liked - the slow reversion to a four-legged existence, the implied fate of various woodland creatures - even if the rest of the film was going to be awful, it has a hell of a credits sequence.

So, five years roll by and it turns out Uncle Lucas (Game of Thrones' Nicholaj Coster-Waldau, who also plays Dad) has never given up looking for his brother's two little girls, despite his girlfriend's (Jessica Chastain) obvious disinterest. He's at the end of his bank account when two guys stumble across the cabin and discover two very alive, very feral girls (this scene is what is technically known as 'creepy as fuck'). After what seems to be a relatively short rehabilitation (there's not really much sense of time passing) the girls, cleaned up and partially re-humanized  are released into their Uncle's care, under the watchful eye of a local psychiatrist and much to his girlfriend's initial dismay. But did they bring something back from the cabin with them? And who is the 'Mama' they keep talking to?

The two girls are played very impressively by Megan Charpentier and Isabelle Nelise, are probably the most interesting characters I've seen in a horror film for a while. The elder, Victoria, has a fascinating metaphor for civilization in her glasses - broken when she was young, her receiving a new pair from her well-meaning Uncle can be seen as a first step back into the 'real' world. Lilly, however, was that much younger when she disappeared and is much more stunted emotionally, verbally and socially (insert joke about my similarly named girlfriend here). She is also far more attached to 'Mama' than her older sister. It is a considerable failing of all the characters in this film that they see no difference between the two girls in these terms - they are largely treated the same. It is slightly odd however, that I often felt that the human drama and psychology of the two girls was far more interesting than all the supernatural stuff going on.

Because of course 'Mama' is real, and pissed that her two surrogate children have gone to live with Uncle Lucas and Aunt... the name escapes me. She is a very 'modern' ghost, somewhere between The Woman In Black, the girl from The Ring and an Alien. It is intriguingly suggested at one point that the revenant (awesome word I get to use) is a projection of one or other of the girls, but this idea doesn't go anywhere sadly - she is a real ghost and she is really pissed off. Her motivations are easily guessed by anyone who's seen anything with a ghost in the last 50 or so years but she's very creepy in her half appearances and pulls off the neat trick of still being incredibly sinister even when she's been fully revealed. She is of course responsible for all the excellently executed creepy-jumpy-scary moments (some of them very well telegraphed, as is the norm, but others a lot less so, which is awesome). There's also an excellent motif of moths and cocoons going on with her, which pays off in the otherwise predictable climax. Other than that though, she's fairly standard - not particularly interesting as a figure of tragedy, she never progresses beyond her sinister appearance and BOO factor to turn into something genuinely disturbing. Don't get me wrong, she's terrifying, but anybody who's seen The Woman In Black or even The Orphanage is likely to get deja vu.

Like I said waaay back it's a film that doesn't do anything new. There's a subplot with an aunt who wants custody of the kids that adds precisely nothing, the psychological subplot is much more interesting than the ghost and her back story, and the set design is excellent but again, very similar to what's been done before (I swear, I have seen that exact cabin). The leads are likable, if a tad bland and there are some ideas that are potentially fascinating but ignored in favour of a fairly standard ghost story.

This sounds like I didn't like it, but what it did do right far outweighed these criticisms. The cabin in the woods trope has been around for so long because dark cabins in the middle of the woods are scary. The film is shot very nicely (there's one shot that lasts for about 4 minutes which is very, very clever and very, very creepy), the tone is one of a kind of bleak naturalism, nature shown being a very poor substitute parent. It's an excellent advert for civilization. The script doesn't sparkle, but also doesn't have anything brutally jarring (this can kill an atmospheric film like this one) and the two child actors are very good, especially Isabelle Nelise. Despite it's occasional missed opportunities, it's better than most things out there.

Should you see it? Sure, why not. If you are looking for something truly original, you may be disappointed, as you may well be if you prefer psychological horror over supernatural. But if you like being creeped out, like Guillermo Del Toro's other work (who doesn't?) or want to see something that takes itself seriously and isn't a sequel or a remake, you'll like this.

Sleep tight!  

Monday, 18 February 2013

Hammer Horror - Part 5

Well, having reviewed all of those lovely films in the Hammer Horror Collection, I thought I'd do a round-up article with my general thoughts on the box. But that could possibly be a bit boring, so I thought I'd do this instead:


10 Things Andy learnt from watching Hammer Horror

1) Blondes are good, innocent and usually survive. Brunettes are duplicitous, sometimes evil and expendable.

2) Endless sequels and remakes are not a new phenomenon.

3) Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee and Andrew Keir form a British acting triumvirate that should be celebrated more than it is.

4) Transylvania, Russia and Bavaria all look like rural Berkshire and if I ever went back in time "Akita" would cover most language problems.

5) Ancient Britain was apparently populated by Vikings who rode around in chariots.

6) Low budget doesn't necessarily mean low quality, except sometimes it does.

7) Cases in point: Vengeance of She is a horrible movie...

8) ...but The Plague of The Zombies is an awesome one

9) My Hammer Glamour section may have been was a bit sexist.

10) My girlfriend has weirder film tastes than I do.


So there you go. The box cost me £20 on Amazon and I certainly got my money's worth out of it. The films are certainly of a different era and need to be judged as such - the set design, the way they are staged and the way they are filmed are light years away from what we see now and as such I wouldn't recommend it to anyone who wasn't 'that' into films - especially older ones. 

In fact the people I know who would probably most appreciate this are people who watch classic Doctor Who. A lot of these films have the same sort of vibe as the series, and there is certainly a huge overlap in actors (as can be seen from the Bonus Cameos). If you do get it, you'll probably like different ones from me, think I've been too forgiving on some or too harsh on others but hopefully you'll appreciate a very weird, very fun period of British film-making. 

My personal favourites from the box were Horror of Frankenstein, Quatermass and the Pit and The Plague of The Zombies. The ones I would most definitely suggest skipping if you do get the box are Prehistoric Women, The Viking Queen (unless you want a laugh) and the wretched Vengeance Of She.


Sunday, 17 February 2013

Hammer Horror - Part 4

So this is the end of the trek through Optimum Classic's Hammer Collection Box Set. It's had its highs and lows, but it's not the end of my series. Following this I'm going to write a short round-up of the box overall and then look at three films that have come out recently under the Hammer banner, after a hiatus of 35 years.

A few words about this set of six however, before I get too ahead of myself. Firstly, everything from She to Prehistoric Woman came out in three years: 1965-1968. The seven films from Scars Of Dracula to To The Devil A Daughter represent a much longer time - 1970-1976. They also represent what is considered by some to be the decline of Hammer Horror into exploitation, cheap titillation and senseless violence, before the studio finally all but bankrupted itself.

I may say more in the round-up, but for the purposes of these films, two things are worth remarking on; the slightly cosy, fun atmosphere of the earlier films was gone and all of the films rated 18 in this box are represented below. 


The Ultimate Guide to The Ultimate Hammer Collection!

Film #16: The Horror Of Frankenstein

Summary and Review: Ralph Bates takes over from Peter Cushing this time around in what is essentially a reboot of the franchise - and one with a pretty massive tongue in its cheek. Bates' Doc is less a driven scientist with a skewed moral compass and more of a complete bastard - cruel to women, sneering at his friends, dismissive of his (disposable) helpers. The monster looks good as well, when it eventually appears, and there's also a huge acid bath in which you know some people are going to end up. Very funny in a very understated way and highly recommended.  

Best Moment: Frankenstein sells an old school chum up the river with an amazingly display of feigned innocence. "He's babbling about a monster? Clearly he is hiding something!" Also the moment when Frankenstein 'finds' the brain he is going to use.

Hammer Glamour: The cleavages in this movie are taken to such ridiculous extremes I suspect it's another intentional poke at the genre. Also, how the hell did Veronica Carlson get her hair like this? (It also satirizes this part of my Hammer round-up, which was always intended to be partially satirical in itself anyw-*HEAD EXPLODES*)

Unintentionally Funny Moment: "He was actually a pretty nice monster" Apart from all of the murderin'.

Bonus cameo: The housekeeper is Kate O'Mara, who played The Rani in Doctor Who.

Film #17: Blood From The Mummy's Tomb

Summary and Review: An evil sorceress is discovered in an Egyptian tomb by an intrepid group of explorers perfectly preserved. One of the group's daughter grows up looking exactly like the dead princess, each of the expedition has a relic from the tomb and as she approaches her eighteenth birthday the rest of the movie writes itself.

I thought I'd enjoy this one more than I did (the opposite of the last one, in fact). The plot's fun, but it buries itself under loads and loads of characters, at least initially and should have just focused on the daughter, the father (Andrew Keir again!) and the creepy man across the street who Knows More Than He's Telling. Characters like the fortune teller and the boyfriend didn't add a lot. The ending is also pretty funny

Best Moment: Some poor bastard gets menaced by a cobra statue, of which we only see the shadow. 

Hammer Glamour: Valerie Leon is the daughter/priestess. There's a reason she didn't get many other lead roles, but she was a Bond Girl twice apparently.

Unintentionally Funny Moment: The perfectly preserved sorceress is clearly breathing at a couple of points.

Bonus cameo: Aubrey Morris, who in the same year played the youth worker in A Clockwork Orange

Film #18: Straight On Till Morning

Summary and Review: A very odd tale about a young innocent  (Rita Tushinghamwho gets into an intense relationship with a murderous psychopath named Peter (Shane Briant) who names her 'Wendy'. As it's apparent from early on that 'Wendy's a few sandwiches short of a picnic basket this turns less into a stalky psycho-thriller and more into a weird romance between two damaged people. Yeah, not really my cup of tea either, but my girlfriend loved it. It also screams THIS IS THE SEVENTIES.

Best Moment: All of the costume designs are fantastic, as is most of the facial hair.

Hammer Glamour: Not as such, because that's part of the point of the film, but I have been reliably informed that Shane Briant is quite nice to look at.

Unintentionally Funny Moment: Not so much funny, but I did wonder how Peter can commit extremely loud murders and then dispose of the bodies in a terraced house in the middle of London.  

Bonus cameo: James Bolam, who looks like modern James Bolam in a wig. 


Film #19: Fear In The Night

Summary and Review: After the weirdness of the last entry, this one comes as something of a relief. Peter Cushing stars as a very strange headmaster at a boy's boarding school. A teacher brings his young wife (recovering from a breakdown, naturally) to the school grounds to live after she is attacked by a one-armed man in her apartment. But where are the rest of the staff? Where are the boys? Why does only she seem to converse with the headmaster? A very nicely plotted thriller that sets up some odd occurrences and miraculously doesn't cheat in explaining them. 

Best Moment: The moment when a shotgun is fired - and the twenty seconds afterwards when you desperately try to work out what just happened. 

Hammer Glamour: Judy Geeson or Joan Collins. Take your pick.

Unintentionally Funny Moment: Peter Cushing is immaculately polite, even when being shot at.

Bonus cameo: There's only really four main characters in this one, so two from the end is the first one where I didn't see anyone extra of note

Film #20: Demons Of The Mind

Summary and Review: This a mess. A brother and sister (twins?) who are way more into each other than they should be are kept locked up by their father in an effort to 'cure' their madness, which is apparently hereditary. A quack doctor is also on hand with an array of gadgets and a mad priest is living in the woods yelling about demons. Also the local girls keep disappearing. I patiently waited for what was going on to be explained but sadly that moment never came. The result is that this is plays like a cross between Witchfinder General and The Fall of The House of Usher but is much more of an incoherent mess than either.    

Best Moment: "The world will be a better place without me, and it won't even know that you died."

Hammer Glamour: Virginia Wetherall gets naked for such a flimsy reason, it actually becomes offensive. So it's going to have to be Shane Briant again.

Unintentionally Funny Moment: The moment when a young doctor's efforts to 'save' the girl backfires on him badly.

Bonus cameo: Sir Michael Hordern plays the nutty priest.

Film #21: To The Devil A Daughter

Summary and Review: The last film in the box! And the last film Hammer made for 35 years. Do they go out on a high, after the bizarre experimentation? Fortunately yes. Christopher Lee (yay!) plays the head of a satanic cult aiming to turn a sweet, innocent young thing into an Avatar for Astaroth. Against him Richard Widmark plays a researcher bent on stopping the cult and saving the innocent young girl. This film is exploitative and nasty, but it also has the most convincing satanists in anything I've seen (much better than the suicidal nutters in The Omen) mainly because Lee's obviously trying so hard. Other than that though, I can also see where the huge amount of criticism this film gets comes from, so this is probably for hardcore fans only.

Best Moment: Too many to count - the apparition in the church is a personal favourite.

Hammer Glamour: Honor Blackman, aka The Best Bond Girl Ever.

Unintentionally Funny Moment: Christopher Lee shows his butt for a good few seconds. Was not expecting that.

Bonus cameo: Honor Blackman. And Christopher Lee's ass.

Thursday, 7 February 2013

Hammer Horror - Part 3

It's been a while. After a month in which my internet was down, and a month where I moved house, not to mention a detour into short fiction, I thought it was time to resurrect this. Especially as this contains my favourite one so far - and the worst one. Enjoy! And whatever you do, do NOT watch Vengeance Of She without a buddy and a safe-word.


The Ultimate Guide to The Ultimate Hammer Collection!

Film #11: Quatermass and The Pit

Summary and Review: While extending an underground station, workers discover a skeleton of a prehistoric human. They also uncover what at first appears to be an unexploded bomb. Except surely the skeleton should have been crushed by the bomb when it landed...

Words cannot describe how much I love this one. Andrew Keir plays Quatermass here, a kindly scientist who nevertheless Doesn't Suffer Fools Gladly. This film combines some of my favourite tropes - the military who remain obstinate and ignorant until, it's too late, Quatermass yelling at them that they are fools, fools I tell you!, workmen getting knocked off like redshirts in Star Trek. It's all good. Out of all the films in the box, this was the only one I had seen before I started this and the only one I would recommend completely without caveats or a tongue in my cheek. Amazing.    

Best Moment: An exceptionally creepy moment when a man goes back to collect his equipment. At this point, it's almost impossible to guess what happens next.

Hammer Glamour: Barbara Shelley, playing Quatermass' assistant. Fairly low key, compared to say, Dracula: Prince of Darkness. Plus she actually gets to do stuff!

Unintentionally Funny Moment: Some of the model work is somewhat less than convincing.

Bonus cameo: Duncan Lamont, who played the doomed astronaut in the BBC's original Quatermass  Experiment way back in 1953 - pretty much the first sci-fi shown on TV.

Film #12: Vengeance Of She


Summary and Review: From the sublime to the ridiculous. Actually, screw ridiculous, this film sucks. A remake/sequel (can't tell which) of She, minus Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Bernard Cribbens, Ursula Andress, most of the budget, the sense of fun and the awesome costumes. Possibly one of the worst films I have ever seen.

Best Moment: The credits.

Hammer Glamour: Replacing Ursula Andress with Olga Shoberova is not a good trade. Especially when poor Olga looks kind of confused throughout most of this mess.

Unintentionally Funny Moment: Kilikrates has adjusted well to being an immortal ruler, considering how bitter he was about it.

Bonus cameo: Pink Panther Strikes Again fans might remember Colin Blakely as the British detective who has to deal with Clouseau.

Film #13: The Devil Rides Out

Summary and Review: Great fun, this one. Two friends discover a third friend is getting in too deep with an Evil Cult (tm) and endeavour to rescue him from their nefarious grasp. It all culminates in a siege where Christopher Lee (in a good guy role for once) pitches his wits against Charles Gray, who smirks throughout. Amazing effects, fun plot, well paced. An extremely enjoyable hour and a half - despite some bizarre plot holes. This is also one of Christopher Lee's favourites and one he'd like to see remade with modern effects. I'd be on board.

Best Moment: The entire siege sequence, which is basically the latter third of the film, is inventive and relentless. Also this - "The Angel of Death has been summoned. He cannot return empty-handed..."

Hammer Glamour: Nike Arrighi. Nope, I haven't heard of her either

Unintentionally Funny Moment: The couple who make sure they are perfectly safe and protected from the evil goings-on completely forget they have a daughter upstairs. The moment they realise is priceless.

Bonus cameo: Paul Eddington, playing Neglectful Parent #1. Now I just need to spot Nigel Hawthorne to have the full Yes, Minister set.


Film #14: Prehistoric Woman

Summary and Review: After the success of One Million Years BC, Hammer quickly re-used the sets and Martine Beswick. In this, one blond haired tribe is oppressed by a dark haired tribe (this is all sounding suspiciously familiar) and there's also something, something legend of the White Rhino. It was around this point I remembered that OMY BC had no dialogue, and I was grateful. It also had the benefit of not being like anything I'd ever seen before and Ray Harryhausen creature effects. This doesn't. No ball.

Best Moment: The appearance of the actual white rhino.

Hammer Glamour: Martine Beswick is no Raquel Welch.

Unintentionally Funny Moment: This was originally called Slave Girls in the UK, because 1967 was a very different time.

Bonus cameo: Steven Berkoff. As in the cantankerous playwright. OK...

Film #15: Scars of Dracula

Summary and Review: Awesome. Drac's back (again), terrorising the locals, sucking blood and generally being awesome. Two things are different. Firstly Christopher Lee actually talks this time round, which is always nice, with him hypnotising people to do his bidding, bidding them welcome to his castle (mwa ha ha) and all the stuff you really want to see him do. The second is that this film is gory as anything.  People have their faces bitten off, they are impaled, stabbed, set on fire and thrown off cliffs, and burned with hot metal. This film is nasty. Would I have it any other way? Nope. 

Best Moment: My real favourite is a bit of a spoiler, so I'll just the fate of one poor git's wife.

Hammer Glamour: Jenny Hanley, who went on to present Magpie.

Unintentionally Funny Moment: The angry peasants make violent speeches about taking down the evil in their midst, light torches, march on the castle shouting and praying, and then knock on the door. Scars of Dracula may be the most English film I've ever seen.

Bonus cameo: Is, is that Dennis Waterman?


So that was that. This box had some crushing lows and exceptional highs, seemingly alternating. Now all I need to do is watch the last box.