Eurovision is back.

As a connoisseur of unironic shitness Eurovision is of course one of the highlights of my calendar. Never in the field of human endeavour has so much passion, talent and money come together to produce something so unbelievably atrocious, camp and delightful.

I live for stuff like this.

Unfortunately in recent years Eurovision has begun to ditch its reputation as the world’s stupidest party and reinvented itself as an honest to god song writing contest. The result being that it’s generally won these years by acts that not only sound like the normal dance and pop hits that are popular Europe wide but generally are the same acts that are already popular Europe wide.

There are a few stalwarts flying the flag for bizarre camp (the U.K., Ireland, France) but more and more it’s starting to resemble the top 40.

This year’s crop was particularly dour. For some reason every other song was about the anguish of the singer as they lamented their broken heart.  Norway, Romania and Albania were all basically the same boring song but with the added bonus that Albania’s was badly sung.

In the dour Olympics France had an early contender with Lisa Angell – N’oubliez Pas. There is a rule in Eurovision that you can’t sing overtly political songs. A rule that is skirted and subverted fairly frequently but never so blatantly as France. Lisa Angell stands in front of a backdrop of a bombed out city and sings the following.

All that remains to me are ashes

Of my village plunged into silence

I am but a wound

A heart without an armour

How do I survive after this

 

But I am here, I don’t forget

In my village swept away by history

And I live here, don’t you forget

Erased from maps and memories

 

I remember the laughter of children

The voices of men when they left for the field

The harvest festivals

The smell in the houses

The bursts of love and joy

 

But I am here, I don’t forget

In my village swept away by history

 

When they arrived

Hidden behind their weapons

They were thousands

They laughed at our tears

 

They wished to destroy

Our beliefs and our souls

With words of hatred

That we did not know

 

I am here tonight

In the middle of these ruins

To talk to you about hope

And to sing life

And I swear

When the blood will dry

That I will rebuild my city

More beautiful than before

 

But don’t forget

In Austria.

I know we Brits bang on about the war a lot but this is just tacky. Bringing up WW2 in a silly singing contest just seems petty and vindictive.

France was a strong front runner for dreariest song of the night before Hungary’s Boggie showed up with possibly the dreariest song ever written.

Just drink in these lyrics.

Do you know our Earth is a mess?

No, keep reading. I know that opener is shockingly poe-faced and wet but it gets worse.

All the wars for nothing, it never ends

Everybody deserves a chance

All the souls, all the souls

Can you hear them cry?

 

That you live in peace does not mean

It’s okay to ignore all the pain

I see children joining the stars

Soldiers walk towards the dark

Let me ask

 

Can you justify all the eyes

That will never see daylight?

Give me one good reason to hurt

A helpless soul, break a heart

Kill a mind

 

Do you know how many innocents

Are hiding from punishment

For crimes they’d never commit?

All alone, all alone

Do they deserve

 

To die for believing something else?

For having a face someone can’t stand

Do you know our Earth is a mess?

All the wars for nothing

It never ends

 

All the souls, all alone

Hold them tight

All the souls deserve a chance

At life

Fuck me sideways. When I was 13 I was a goth (sort of, I was a kind of proto-emo really) and you best believe I wrote self indulgent mopey poetry. But even 13 year old emo me would have been embarassed if I’d written something this dreadful. I’m a pretty liberal guy but listening to this makes me realise how people who watch Fox News think liberals act. This might just be so sincerely wet that it’s made me a conservative just to spite Boggie.

What I’m saying is this song is actually worse than war. This song is a war crime in an of itself. It’s…it’s very, very bad guys.

In the best scheduling decision of all time Hungary was followed by terrifying goth Nina Sublatti from Georgia singing about how she’s a fighter, a warrior and how violence will set her free. She basically sounded like she was going to beat the crap out of and possibly eat the hippies from Hungary and I would have cheered her on all the way.

I do have to question the lyric;

“I’m a warrior, oximated”

What does oximated mean?

Oximation

Noun

(organic chemistry) Reaction with, or conversion into an oxime

Okay and oxime?

Oxime

Noun

(organic chemistry) Any of a class of organic compounds, of general formula RR’C=NOH, derived from the condensation of an aldehyde (R’ = H) or ketone with hydroxylamine.

Well, that clears that up then.

Estonia won this year’s award for most unintentionally creepy metaphors. Although the song is probably about the man leaving in the morning after sex without waking his lady friend both his lyrics and her reaction leave open an altogether more disturbing possibility.

Him: I didn’t wanna wake you up

my love was never gonna be enough

so I took my things and got out of your way now girl

Her: why didn’t you wake me up

I’m pretty sure i would have told you to stop

loosens tie

Also bonus points for the following effort.

as I got outside I smiled to the dog

Lithuania’s entry doesn’t just sound a lot like Mumford and Sons it sounds almost exactly like I Will Wait, or at least the main melody does.

Germany has cloned Amy Winehouse and spliced her with J-Lo’s bum, but forgot to give her an interesting song to sing.

Armenia’s entry appeared to be the opening number in a musical about vampires. It’s very Lloyd-Webber-esque and I can just picture them moping about being immortal in a forest in their capes.

Azerbaijan is also clearly part of the same musical with another big stage musical style song but this time about werewolves. I’m guessing the musical is a bit like Underworld with a Romeo and Juliet style romance between a vampire and a werewolf.

Poland’s entry was sung by Monika Kuszyńska an existing singer who was paralysed in a traffic accident a few years ago. Midway through the song they play footage of her walking around and performing from before the accident and the audience cheers. This was really weird. What exactly are the audience cheering here? “Yay, this lady used to have working legs! Yay, …tragic accidents!”

I suspect they’re cheering her carrying on in her career in the face of adversity which, is fine I guess but the whole thing just skeeved me out. It felt very exploitative and demeaning to me.

Anyway, the song is dull and her backdrop reminds me of some bedsheets I have.

The only thing notable in Austria’s incredibly dull entry happens at 1:45 when Austria reveals itself to have wizards and one of them sets his piano on fire. This is also possibly part of the vampire/werewolf musical sweeping Europe.

Israel kept the camp alive with a boy band effort that had a distinctly Middle Eastern flavour. It also featured one of my favourite things in the Eurovision Song contest, lyrics bragging about how good your country is.

Although on that front nothing touches I love Belarus.

Yes, I am going to post that video every year. Why?

The U.K. had an entry that kind of straddled the line between taking the piss and properly trying to compete. It’s a jazz revival thing with electro mixed in that sounds like exactly the sort of weird Euro-trash nonsense we’d do if we were taking the piss but actually is kind of a fairly popular genre at the moment. Caro Emerald, Adele, Meghan Traynor, George Ezra they’re all retro-jazz influenced even if they don’t take it this far.

The staging is also a mash up between The Great Gatsby and Tron and looks ace. Songs a bit naff in the end though.

Belgium’s entry is fucking terrifying. It’s stark and minimalist to the point of seeming like something out of a dystopian fascist future sci-fi movie. And lyrically it’s all about how we have to obey the rhythm that drives us because tomorrow we’re going to die.

It’s kind of awesome but damn is it a tonal shift from the rest of the night.

The four best songs of the night were Italy, Australia, Russia and Serbia for me.

Australia’s entry had a very Bruno Mars feel with a very catchy new-soul number that did retro revivalism much better than the U.K. entry. This felt very much like something I’d listen to in the real world and it even has clever lyrics.

If you’re wondering when Australia became part of Europe? Well it’s because they were added as wildcards to celebrate the 60th anniversary. Eurovision is massive down under so it gave the Aussies a chance to compete for a change instead of just spectating. And being Aussies they promptly showed up and did everything better than the British despite us doing this for longer.

Then they didn’t give us any points. I think we need to send the Queen over there to give them all a stern talking to about solidarity within the Commonwealth. Ireland always gives us points and we spent several centuries committing genocide over there, we’re much nicer to you lot.

Italy’s Grand Amore is a bit of pop-opera (popera?) that’s fairly generic but really, really well sung. Il Volo were hands down the best singers of the evening and would have been a fair win in my book.

Russia’s “A million voices” is actually really good. It’s classic Eurovision, in that it’s a power ballad with lyrics about peace being properly belted out, but it also sounds contemporary. It’s got a lovely melody, and is really well sung but, it was Russia’s entry and understandably the rest of Europe is a bit miffed at them at the moment. Didn’t stop it coming 2nd though.

Serbia was my hands down favourite. Basically this is a Lady Gaga song sung by a fat lass about how she’s beautiful regardless of being fat. It starts far too slow, which is probably why it lost, but it does gradually build until at the end Bojana Stamenov starts properly belting it out and looks like she’s going to start knocking over members of the audience with sheer vocal force.

Sweden won with a song that sounds like any David Guetta song you’ve ever heard. They also did the same thing in 2013 proving that the best strategy for winning is to put in an entry that sounds like EDM. Because EDM is indisputably the most popular musical genre in Europe right now if not the world. This is not great EDM but neither is it terrible. It’s mostly dull with lyrics that are painfully generic (we are the heroes of our time, but we’re dancing with the demons in our mind). The performance was clever though. It’s just done with front projection but it means singer Måns Zelmerlöw had to hit his marks exactly to get the effects to work.

Devil Story (1985)

il-etait-une-fois-le-diable-devil-story

Directed by Bernard Launois

A little known French horror film that the only extant English version of is a badly scanned copy on youtube with subtitles in Greek. Why am I watching this?

Well for starters because Braineater drew my attention to it but mostly because, well, look at that poster.

Zombies in SS uniforms, ghost ships, a Mummy (!) a man on fire…what on earth is this thing about?

Having seen it, I am still asking myself that question.

So Devil Story starts with some kind of mutant in an SS uniform (unexplained element number 1) running around the French countryside killing people and very quickly a few things about Devil Story become obvious.

il-etait-une-fois-le-diable-devil-story-002

  1. This film was shot for no money whatsoever. The biggest clue to this being the blood ‘effects’ achieved by squeezing a hand pump full of red water onto an actor.
  2. Boring things like motivations, narrative, dialogue and sense will not be troubling the audience today.
  3. The cinematographer doesn’t actually know how to use a camera. One of the great things about bad movies is the way they, by making mistakes, reveal all the talent in good movies you’d never notice. Devil Story features such joys as a guy picking the camera up, stand and all, and walking backwards away from the subject of the shot complete with shaking and the noise of the camera operator grunting. Plus one of the most bafflingly terrible cinematography decisions ever, but I’ll get to that later.
  4. At some point somebody who did know what they were doing adjusted the exposure of the cameras. This allowed the cameras to film at night pretty effectively for such a low budget film. However, they neglected to adjust the exposure again for the scenes shot during the day. As such every scene shot during the day is painfully washed out to the point of being nearly invisible. It’s a white screen with coloured blurs moving on it.
  5. This film was scored by somebody who bought a Casio 2 days ago and now thinks they’re Goblin.

Like, 2 minutes into this stinker you know you have stumbled upon bad movie gold.

So our mutant murders some campers for oooh, a good 15 minutes at least. We have no idea who these people are, their names, why the mutant is killing them, etc. It’s just murder, cut to blood, murder, cut to blood in an endless repetition. Then the mutant pounces upon a couple with a flat tire. Then we cut to an entirely different couple with car troubles whom our mutant does not trouble. Instead, as the man (no name is given as far as I could tell) tries to fix the car our heroine (Veronique Renaud)* wanders off into a quarry to be menaced by a cat (unexplained element number 2).

Just, an ordinary cat, whose evilness is generated by shooting it from a low angle, playing scary music and having our heroine stare at it with a frightened expression.

Then it jumps on her, or rather, is thrown on her from off screen by a grip. Poor kitty.

So after ooh, approximately 4 days of looking at the adorable  evil cat our couple drives to a nearby inn run by exposition woman and some old French guy who keeps an enormous hunting knife in his sock and loads and unloads a shotgun for fun.  And by nearby inn I mean the Palais Bénédictine in Normandy a structure so gothic and intimidating it is accompanied by Tocata in Fugue in D Minor when we first see it. Don’t know the music? Here, let me jog your memory.

Yup, it’s that music. Aka the most stereotypically ‘scary’ noise imaginable.

Anyway, exposition couple start to regale boring couple with the story of the local legend.

Some time in the past lived a family of wreckers. Wreckers are people who would light fires to lure ships onto rocks to shipwreck them, then loot whatever washed ashore. One night the family lured the wrong ship ashore though as they’ve targeted a clipper coming from Cairo carrying all sorts of Egyptian artefacts.

The ship does wreck, but then the cliffs themselves come alive, eating the family and the ship. The only one spared was the youngest sister who grew up to become a powerful witch and now lives alone with her son nearby, and that son is the mutant we saw earlier. Oh and a daughter whom nobody has ever seen.

Having been told this tale, boring couple decides to go to sleep. The husband promptly disappears from the film entirely but the wife is awoken by the sound of an evil horse (unexplained element number 3). How do we know its evil? It’s black and runs up and down in front of the inn repeatedly. And boy, do I mean repeatedly. Shots of that horse running or rearing comprise, what must be 50% of this film’s running time?

Having been startled by this horse our heroine decides, for some reason, to drive away from the creepy inn whilst wearing her nightie. I’m not sure what her thought process was here since the horse seems fairly incapable or getting past the gates, through the doors, up the stairs and to her bedroom. I guess bitches be crazy? (unexplained element 4?)

Of course, this being a horror film, her car won’t start so she takes the eminently sensible option of running off into the woods!

il-etait-une-fois-le-diable-devil-story-001

French survivalist dude also decides he’s had just about enough of this evil horse and goes out to kill it. The horse runs away into a field where the Frenchman chases him and begins shooting at him. This effect achieved by watching the man spin round firing wildly intercut with shots of the horse rearing. This footage of the guy spinning and shooting makes up the other 50% of this film’s running time.  Yes I know that adds up to 100% and yet I’m describing other scenes. It doesn’t make sense does it!

Welcome to my nightmare!

So whilst the epic battle of man versus horse continues the scene shifts to the mutant and the witch burying the young girl. Said young girl is also played by Veronique Renaud so when she shows up in their graveyard the old woman and the mutant are somewhat surprised and, I think, assume that she’s the daughter come back to life and that they need to bury her again. The mutant gets distracted from his burying duties by the evil horse then suddenly the evil horse is at a cliff and, in a scene I think is stolen from another film entirely, the cliff splits apart and the ghostly clipper from Cairo emerges from the cliff in the form of a toy boat. (unexplained…ah fuck it.)

We scarcely have a chance to process this development when we cut to a massive sarcophagus standing on the beach. The lid swings open to reveal, yes a mummy. Ancient Egypt, when will you leave us alone!!

It also reveals that the sarcophagus isn’t, it’s just a lid, without a back. So it was less the mummy emerging from his sarcophagus than it was the mummy standing behind a door waiting for the camera to look at him so he can make a dramatic entrance.

Back to the mutant, the girl and the devil horse. The mutant is prevented from burying the girl by the horse and so begins a fight between SS Nazi Mutant and Demonic Horse (not quite up to the standards of zombie vs shark but what is). This fight goes about as well for the mutant as can be expected and after a headache inducing fight scene the girl suddenly has a chance to escape.

Then the mummy shows up.

Fortunately he seems more interested in raising the daughter from her grave than the living Veronique. So she hides behind a gravestone whilst the mummy commands the dead to live. However, when she sees her lookalike she lets out a startled cry that alerts the mummy to her presence.

Now, I don’t know why the mummy  decides to try and kill her at this point, let’s just chalk it up to the inscrutable evil of Ancient Egypt. But he does and our heroine (*snort , snicker*) fights him off by clawing his face off. This reveals a rotten face that vomits a clear white liquid for oooh 4 hours? What’s that, this film’s only 72 minutes long? Well I can’t explain it folks but suffice to say this badly realised gore effect lasts way, way, waaaay too long.

The girl runs away, the mutant gets up and chases her and the mummy decides to wander away with his new zombie girlfriend into a sequel with infinitely more promise than this pile of rubbish.

Then comes what may be the worst shot I’ve ever seen.

We’re back to daytime by this point so everything has been turned back into a white featureless void with shapes that might conceivably be trees. The camera is pointed at these trees and it begins to pan left,

And keeps panning

And keeps panning

And keeps panning as the road comes into view

Suddenly mummy!

il-etait-une-fois-le-diable-devil-story-003

Then it keeps panning

And keeps panning

And keeps panning

And keeps panning

And cut.

…what!

What!!!?

If for nothing else watch Devil Story for this shot. In fact, helpfully, the whole thing is available on youtube so you have no excuse.  This shot is the most baffling choice in a film consisting entirely of baffling choices. I can kind of see why the first part of the shot works. Panning across the landscape to suddenly reveal something is a time honoured trick and a good way to pair the shock of the jump scare with the tension created by anticipation. Basically if you pan across a featureless landscape in a horror film the audience knows something bad is going to happen but they don’t know when, and that is a great way to scare them.

But there is absolutely no goddamn reason in the entire world why you would keep panning after the reveal. It achieves precisely fuck all effectiveness. It’s so inherently wrong that it’s straight up comedy gold.

So, morning now and our heroine still has to get away. She makes it back to her car pursued by the mutant and this time it starts. He does the standard splay himself on the windscreen and roar menacingly thing and she, in what is to give this film some credit quite a well shot sequence, smashes him into a lamp post. The mutant begins coughing blood over her windscreen and she does something I have never seen a final girl do before, she turns the windscreen wipers on!

Then she reverses away leaving the pretty badly mauled mutant lying collapsed on the ground.

Now, most final girls at this point would just drive away but Veronique Renaud has had one terrible fucking night and is having none of that shit. She gets a canister of petrol from her car and douses the mutant in it whilst he lies bloody and bleeding, then, retreats to a safe distance and lights him on fire!

It’s a strategy with pros and cons. Pro, that mutant is definitely dead now. Con, as she drives away (completely ignoring her disappearing husband) her car runs out of petrol. Oh irony, thy name is Devil Story.  This wouldn’t be so bad except as Veronique scans the horizon she sees, lurching towards her the mummy again.

Cut to.

Veronique waking up the next morning after her nightmare and driving off with her husband as the mutant looks on.

Oh hell no.

An it was all a dream ending? Yup, they went there. The most hackneyed, cliché and downright terrible way you could possibly think of to end a horror film  and Devil Story does it. They even have the goddamn cheek to add a ‘but was it?’ coda. If nothing else you have to admire the sheer ballsiness of the filmmakers here. Actually scratch that if, you should admire nothing else.

Not the real poster but the best summary of this film imaginable.

Not the real poster but the best summary of this film imaginable.

This summary makes Devil Story sound 1000x more coherent than the experience of watching it is. Basically most of this film is shots of a horse rearing and a Frenchman spinning in circles with a shotgun intercut with insanity. Nobody has any names, characters do things for no adequately explained reason and characters move from location to location without any sense of transition. And yet, it gives itself an out with the stupid “it was all a dream” ending. Of course it’s incoherent and weird. Of course people do things for no reason. Of course a Frenchman can have an infinite supply of shotgun shells it’s all a dream!

That doesn’t make it good though. You can do dreamlike horror but it is, if anything, harder to do than horror where the subject matter is explicitly real in the text. The makers of Devil Story are not up to the task nor are they up to the task of, really anything to do with making a film.  Rarely have I seen anything quite so incompetent and if it weren’t for one fairly major problem I’d be recommending this as a forgotten bad movie classic.

That problem? It’s kind of boring. Despite the insanity too much of the running time is repetitious and tedious. It’s short enough and weird enough that I would recommend it but only for the dedicated bad movie buff.

*Imdb doesn’t have the character’s name and damned if I picked it up whilst watching this turd. That’s a sign of a quality movie right there folks.

Big Hero 6 (2015)

big-hero-6-poster

Direct by Don Hall and Chris Williams

So after a couple of articles all about Big Hero 6, the comic, and my thoughts on the possible ways Disney could adapt it I finally got a chance to watch the finished product.

And it’s pretty fantastic.

But what did I think about it as an adaptation?

Big-Hero-6-Characters-

Well, despite that being the topic of all my previous posts on Big Hero 6 when I got to see the finished film it quickly became apparent that this is one of the loosest adaptations of any property ever. I kind of suspected as much once we started to get some character and plot details, and also from the total lack of any acknowledgement that this is a Marvel property but the main things the film and comic share are some names, some powers (loosely), a few design elements (even looser) and a sort of Japanese feel.

And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. None of the original characters are particular winners (well, maybe Sunfire but he’s originally an X-Men supporting character/anti-hero) and nobody’s powers had an amazing unique concept (although I do like Fred and his Kaiju monster aura). There isn’t a great definitive Big Hero 6 story that everyone loves so, yeah, as long as you keep the high concept of super-heroes but vaguely Japanese, change whatever you want.

So how is the film itself as its own beast?

(Spoilers, sort of, most of this is set-up)

big-hero-6-tadashii

Well, the film tells the story of Hiro (Ryan Potter who is Japanese/American, which is fantastic), young orphaned genius and his older brother Tadashii (Daniel Henney and FYI Tadashii is not a name. Is it so hard to ask a Japanese person if the word you’re using for a character name is a real first name of total gibberish? Well, not gibberish since it does mean right or correct but it isn’t a first name) who is similarly a genius. Hiro spends his days hustling illegal street bot fights for cash, Tadashii spends his days at University in a specialised programme for geniuses where they get to work on whatever interests them. Tadashii is dismayed at his brother’s lack of ambition and brings him to his school to see his latest project, Baymax (Scott Adsit), an inflatable medical robot that will live in people’s homes and help them with psychiatric and physical medical assistance. There Hiro also meets Tadashii’s friends who are all idiosyncratic geniuses with their own interests and personality quirks. And Fred (T. J. Miller), who is the school’s mascot.

Hiro is inspired and desperately wants to join the school but to do so he needs to demonstrate something impressive. So he starts working on some micro-bots, think a cross between nano-bots and lego. They’re finger sized magnetic robots that can be mentally controlled to re-shape and build larger structures. He shows them off at an expo and everyone is suitably impressed leading to Hiro getting his school placement. He doesn’t get to enjoy it though because a fire starts at the expo, destroying his work and killing Tadashii.

Hiro, understandably, falls into a depression after this as his brother and best friend is dead and the only thing that snaps him out of his funk is the accidental discovery of a mysterious masked figure using his micro-bots to commit crimes. Well, that and Baymax who is programmed to try and treat his depression. With the help of a modified Baymax and Tadashii’s friends Hiro sets out to catch the thief.

big-hero-6-villain

The main strengths of Big hero 6 are the writing and the characters. This is a Disney film that, despite all the fantastic elements, feels very real and honest emotionally. Hiro’s personal arc is both engaging and really feels like something a teenaged boy would go through, and it’s paced marvellously too. And at the heart of that arc is the relationship between Hiro and Baymax.

I said in the build up that there’s a lot of potential in “ a boy and his….” Narratives. From Old Yeller to Iron Giant to How to Train your Dragon there is something about the relationship between teenaged boys and non-human friends that is really effecting and Hiro and Baymax are another highlight in this tradition. Baymax in particular is wonderful. Equal parts hilarious, caring, warm and adorable with a smidgen of badass. He’s the big brother everyone wishes they could have. He’s also just a great comic creation and Scott Adsit’s measured delivery of every line delivers some really great deadpan humour (if you’ve seen this film, you did a fist bump and went fa la la la la la la la, do not deny it).

greetings-from-san-fransokyo

The animation is, of course, spectacular. The flying and chase scenes have a sense of thrill and danger to them that puts most live action films to shame and the big action sequences with the team showing off their powers and fighting the villain are everything I want in super hero movies. Bright, colourful characters using their powers in creative ways and teaming up to look cool and kick ass. Much like Incredibles before it Big Hero 6 is so confident and creative in showing off super powers that it just highlights how limited and boring the action scenes in the Marvel movies, Man of Steel or the X-Men franchise have been. There’ so much invention in the fights and they’re choreographed so clearly and fluidly that my main complaint with the action is that there isn’t nearly enough of it.

The animation really soars in the details though. San Fransokyo is a masterful creation, it feels really lived in and is full of details that make it both aesthetically interesting and are really fun for a nerdy otaku like me to spot. Fred’s room in particular is one for the super nerds. He has a statue of sleepwalker in there! He has a statue of Black Talon. Black Talon, the guy who dresses like a chicken and fought the avengers once in the 70’s. Black Talon made it into a film before Wonder Woman!

big-hero-6-black-talon

San Fransokyo was one of the elements I was most worried about mostly because in the trailer it came off as more Chinese than Japanese. However, the creators have explained that the concept is that in this reality Chinatown has expanded to encompass the whole of San Francisco, so this is an American city with very obvious Chinese and Japanese elements. That makes a lot more sense and really comes across in the design. Stuff like Hiro’s robot anime posters, the cat named mochi or Honey Lemon pronouncing “photo-photo” with a really good Japanese accent make it feel Asian in a subtle and all-encompassing way that’s more effective and markedly less offensive than the original comics. Plus it just feels cool. It’s all the really iconic and awesome parts of modern Japanese culture nicked and combined in one sleek package.

BH6_Team_Transparent

My main complaint is that the other 4 team members get very little screen time or development. This is a story of 4 characters, Hiro, Tadashii (who dies), Baymax and the antagonist (whose identity is a secret). And that’s fine, there isn’t anything wrong with telling a focused narrative with a few side characters. Indeed, the narrative is stronger for its tight focus and excellent pacing.  But the film is called Big Hero 6 not Hiro and Baymax and we have 4 other guys who get very little to do. And that wouldn’t be so bad except that I really like these other characters and want to see more of them. Wasabi no Ginger becomes Wasabi (Damon Wayans Jr), nerdy black guy (I bring it up because I’m super happy he isn’t a horrible Asian stereotype like the comics character) with OCD and laser knives. Go Go (Jamie Chung) keeps her rebellious snarky personality but trades in bouncing like an egg for skating on frictionless magnetic bike wheels. Honey Lemon (Genesis Rodriguez) is the complete opposite of the sexually dominating flirty comics character and is a shy, slightly clumsy but very sweet and caring typical girly girl with a purse that’s also a chemical factory. Then there’s Fred, who is pure unbridled fanboy excitement in a rubber monster suit that lets him jump high and breathe fire.

Fred could so easily have been annoying but I love him. He reminds me of me.

I like these characters, a lot. They’re fun, they have clear well defined personalities and they have wonderful chemistry together. And they have cool and varied powers. My favourite moments in the film (aside from just, everything Baymax does) are their training montage and the fights where they get to show off their skills. I just wish we had more time with them in costume fighting guys. I understand that in the original concept there was more of this but it got cut to tighten the focus. Hopefully we can get a sequel or a TV series to flesh these guys out more.

So in summary Big Hero 6 is a classic family film narrative enlivened by an imaginative setting. great characters and some clever jokes. It’s not ground breaking in any way but it’s hard to find fault in it really.

It isn’t better than The Lego Movie though.

Poltergeist 1982

poltergeist-movie-poster

Directed by Tobe Hooper

Poltergeist is an enjoyable watch filled with likeable, well drawn characters acting sensibly in pursuit of clear motivations. The story is well paced, compelling and full of interesting twists and turns that make it an unpredictable watch. It’s shot well, acted well and written well. It has a sort of baseline of quality in every aspect of production. Which is probably to be expected of a Stephen Speilberg film, even when he is bad he is mostly good.

It’s undeniably a good film, but is it a good horror film?

Basically, is it scary?

poltergeist zelda rubenstein

Nope.

But then I don’t think it is trying to be.

Don’t get me wrong, Poltergeist is clearly set in the horror genre and it deals explicitly with the supernatural . It even has some genuinely horrific imagery and some creepy moments, all of which have become iconic such as the guy tearing off his face, the static filling the TV screen, the tree crashing through the window. But outside of these moments it just doesn’t feel much like a horror film.

For example, there is very little tension at any point in the film. Outside of the climax and the first tree attack nobody is ever in any danger in Poltergeist nor is any looming or approaching danger implied. We get all kinds of supernatural shenanigans happening but they aren’t presented as frightening or dangerous just inexplicable. They’re just there.

poltergeist_faceoff

Stylistically it doesn’t feel like a horror film either. The stuff with the static TV screen filling the frame is creepy, the way the guy tearing off his face is framed is fantastically macabre but outside of that it is all filmed in a very flat style. Contrast this film with The Orphanage (which has almost the exact same plot). In The Orphanage, similarly, there were few explicit threats to our protagonist but there was a pervading sense of tension created purely through the way the camera moved, constantly reinforcing that there was an unknowable presence watching the protagonist. In the costuming, in the set design, in the sound design The Orphanage was ramping up the tension and the sense of unease even when what was happening onscreen wasn’t particularly dangerous of scary.

Poltergeist is almost the exact opposite. The subject matter should be terrifying but the style isn’t there to make it so.

Speilberg though has always had a very unobtrusive style. He rarely moves the camera except to follow the action of a scene and when he does move it he frames the shot to try and disguise this. His aim is to hide the camera, to remove his style from the film as much as possible and let the story do the talking.

This is, of course, a perfectly valid way of shooting a film and it’s great for Drama but genre requires a different approach. And it’s not like Stephen Spielberg doesn’t know this either.  In Duel, in Jaws and to a lesser extent in Jurassic Park Spielberg has demonstrated his ability to scare the audience.

And I say Speilberg by the way, despite the fact that he is credited as the producer and horror auteur Tobe Hooper is the official director on this film. That’s because this could not feel more like an 80’s Spielberg film if it had E.T. in it. If you gave this film to somebody without telling them the creators and they were any kind of film fan they would recognise Speilberg’s fingerprints all over it. Various reports have discussed how much creative control Speilberg had on the project but by all accounts Hooper hated working with him and felt limited by the restrictions his boss imposed. There are some moments in the film that feel like a Tobe Hooper movie i.e. anything scary in this but they feel like they’ve escaped from a different film entirely.

Another issue with the lack of scares is how explicit the supernatural threat is. As I said in my review of The Orphanage, horror lives in the gap between the possible and the impossible, the normal and the paranormal. The world has to feel real with just one or two things off, otherwise you aren’t dealing with a horror, you’re dealing with fantasy. By making the supernatural elements so obvious and so obviously impossible as early as he does in the film Spielberg puts up a big flashing sign saying, “this isn’t real” that lets the audience relax and watch the film rather than being caught up in the tension.

Is it a good horror film? Absolutely not. No, this is a drama. In terms of tone it most closely resembles Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Ostensibly a Sci-Fi film Close Encounters is really a drama about the effect of obsession on a family. How one man’s need to do something  can drive his wife and kids away from him and how he can recognise that he’s ruining his life but still feel the need to pursue his dreams.

Poltergeist is a drama about parents, about the fear of losing a child and how the loss of a child can impact the individual parents, their relationship with each other and their relationship with the outside world. It’s about how an evil force that was present in the home all along can steal a parent from a loving father that only wanted to give his kid’s the best.

Huh….I guess we don’t have to wonder how Spielberg felt about his ex-wife do we? Between Poltergeist and Close Encounters I think we have the full story of his divorce from his side.

Unlike Close Encounters though, Poltergeist just doesn’t delve deep into enough its themes to make up for the bait and switch. For an audience expecting a good horror story it is tame and not scary. For an audience interested in working through the themes symbolically it just isn’t meaty enough.

So yeah, baseline competent with some iconic moments but overall a disposable piece of fluff that you can happily skip.

So, this is a thing that I was recently made aware of.

Most people my age have fond memories of Fox’s X-Men cartoon from the early 90’s and one of those fond memories is likely to be the excellent opening theme. For those that don’t remember it,  prepare for a treat.

From the ominous driving church bell to the squealing guitars and the building sense of tension it is a  classic. It also helpfully shows off every member of the team, their name and their powers so it serves as a useful piece of exposition for anyone coming late to the party.

The show was a big hit and, even more importantly, the accompanying toy line was a massive success. And where money can be made off toys the Japanese aren’t far behind. So the show made the rare move from America to Japan with a Japanese dub.

And the Japanese team promptly took one look at the American intro and decided, nah, not nearly Japanese enough.

Thus was born, this.

It’s impressive that only 3 minutes of screen time could produce quite so much baffling insanity:

    • Yes those aliens are brood who do show up in the cartoon (looking nothing like this) but why does Magneto have the ability to summon them from the ground?
    • Brutal violence and decapitation!
    • SHOCK!
    • Beast can punch the ground hard enough to create earthquakes.
    • This shot of Professor Xavier being an absolute pimp.
    • Mummyboon X-Men Japanese Intro Rogue, Storm Pimp Xavier
    • Rogue’s super-power appears to be flirting.
    • Mummyboon Japanese X-men Intro Rogue
    • Jubillee and Professor X seem to need to do Katas in order to use their powers.
    • Oh and telepathy can repel magnetism, apparently.
    • Cable gets his own intro and his super-power appears to be “owns big guns.” (this is not wholly inaccurate). Cable is not a member of the X-Men in this cartoon, he does feature but only as an occasional guest star. I can only imagine that Japanese fans were baffled at why the gun toting guy in the intro didn’t feature in the show.
    • Are those phalanx? On motorcycles?
    • Mummyboon Japanese X-men Intro Phalanx on bikes
    • This amazingly emo bit of Drama with a capital D
    • Mummyboon Japanese X-men Intro Emo Cyclops, wolverine & Jean Grey
    • Iceman makes it into the intro? He’s in this show less than cable. Hell, he;s in this show less than Maverick!
    • Krakoa!
    • Mummyboon Japanese X-men Intro Krakoa

And of course

  • CRY FOR THE MOON! – which is now officially my favourite Engrish sentence in a Japanese song EVER!

Night of the Dead 2014

Night of the Dead XIV

A Leeds institution; Night of the Dead is a horror movie marathon that runs through the night, ending in the middle of the next morning and featuring a mix of horror films, shorts, games and banter. It is one of the highlights of my year and like previous years I’m going to talk a little about the movies that were screened there.

Before that though, a brief word about the event itself. This year had a lot of changes for Night of the Dead, some good, some not so good. The event started almost 2 hours earlier than normal (and still overran! The event organisers summed it up neatly right at the start. “We won’t be on time because we thought ABC’s of Death 2 was 90 minutes long and when we got the film it was 2 hours and 5 minutes so that’s thrown the schedule right out.”) and was held on a Friday, both of which I felt were good ideas.

Less good was that it was held later in the festival causing it to clash with Thought Bubble, Leeds’ massive comic book convention which I also normally attend. Also in the loss column was the lack of Gip, one of the two regular presenters and a charismatic shouty Irish man beloved by all. He also attends Thought Bubble and chose it over NOTD this year. He was replaced, for some of the night, by Dom Brunt better known by most as Paddy from Emmerdale. A Leeds resident and massive horror film fan (he’s even directed and starred in a former Day of the Dead entry, Before Dawn) Dom was a fine choice but lacks the easy charm of Gip. Also he had to leave at 3 in the morning. In fairness to the man he was going on holiday the next day and had already delayed joining his wife on holiday for 3 days because he got the dates for the event wrong but still, less banter and fun than previous years.

This was the first year sponsored by Shameless Cinema, a small press distributor specialising in rare exploitation and B-movie films. They supplied a ton of prizes for the presenters to give away. So many in fact that by the end of the night they just resorted to giving everybody who was left a prize. I walked away with about £50 worth of DVD’s so I probably made a £25 profit on the event.

The biggest change though was in the style and content of the films chosen. Leeds International Film Festival asks audiences to rate the films shown and the offerings at Night of the Dead routinely end up in the bottom 10. In fairness this is because the offerings at NOTD are usually fucking terrible but then that is something I love about it. As a massive fan of shit schlock NOTD provides me with a chance to see some really obscure shit schlock. In previous years the hosts have pleaded with us to be nicer to the films but asking for sympathy from the NOTD crowd is guaranteed to backfire. However, I think they’ve started to worry about their bad reputation since attendance has been down and so this year they’ve decided to butter us up. There is usually one horror comedy and it is usually the best film of the night so this year they decided, fuck it, all horror comedies. And so 4 out of the 5 films we saw were horror comedies.

As a fan of horror comedies I did enjoy the films more this year but I kind of miss the shitiness of previous years. NOTD is a really unique experience, equal parts great and awful, like all good bad things it is hard to do intentionally and I would hate for NOTD to lose their special qualities by chasing the audience.

 

ABCs of Death 2

the-abcs-of-death-21-watch-best-deaths-in-film-supercut-by-abc-s-of-death-2

I haven’t seen the first ABC’s of Death yet but since this isn’t a film in the conventional sense that doesn’t matter. Boz from The Little Pod of Horrors has seen both and assures me that the sequel is better than the original by a country mile.

For those who don’t know the high concept here is that this is a series of 26 shorts, one for each letter of the alphabet, each directed by a different director and with each director given full creative freedom to do whatever they want except that they must include their letter and they must feature a death.

As you can imagine this is an extremely difficult film to talk about. Almost all the shorts rely on some kind of twist and they’re all less than 5 minutes long so talking about the plot even briefly tends to spoil the short. Even worse, the titles come at the end of the short and they’re usually some kind of last twist or final gag revealing a new layer on the short you just watched so you can’t even use the titles most of the time.

abcs-of-death-2-1-abc-s-of-death-2-first-stills-released

Nonetheless I will do my best.

Despite being nominally a horror film almost none of the shorts try for tension or scares. There is lots of gore and traditional horror subject matter but most of the films are blackly comic. Of the shorts that did try for horror I would say K is the most successful with a genuinely creepy moment in the middle that I haven’t seen before. S also works as a tense piece with a really nice twist.

Of the more humorous shorts though it becomes really hard to pick a favourite, almost all of them are funny and in different ways to each other. A, B, E, O, P, T and Y all made me laugh. Special mention though has to go to G, M and W. G is just, amazingly bonkers. The kind of thing where you watch it, have no idea what you saw but are glad you saw it. It represents possibly the most surreal 5 minutes of cinema I have ever seen. W is a parody of He-Man that doesn’t go where you are expecting it to but is full of great little observations. M, M is just gleeful. M was this year’s wildcard so it was open to any film maker to try and come up with a short and I can confirm that they made the right choice.

 

On the bad side, a couple of shorts are just kind of there, not overtly creative, not funny and not scary. N, V and Q in particular. F is probably the worst short in the film, it thinks it is profound and clever despite being mostly dull and uninteresting. Finally special mention has to go to L a short in which I have only the vaguest of ideas as to what actually happened.

Housebound

Housebound2014horrormovieposter

The best film I saw this year. A clever little horror comedy from New Zealand,  Housebound tells the tale of Kylie (Morgana O’Reilly). Kylie is a young tearaway with drug and alcohol problems. We’re introduced to her trying and failing to crack open an ATM with dynamite and a sledgehammer. After being arrested she is sentenced to house arrest at her Mum’s house, something neither she nor her Mum are entirely happy about.

Kylie is a horrible little shit. Rude, lazy and openly hostile to everyone and everything she has pretty much no redeeming qualities but her Mum still loves her and wants to help her turn her life around. Kylie, however, seems more interested in figuring out some of the mysteries in her Mum’s old house, especially once she finds out it used to be an insane asylum and becomes convinced that it is haunted.

Housebound-0-800-0-450-crop

Talking much more about the plot would do Housebound a disservice because one of the strengths of this film is that it continually surprises you. At several points the film totally upends both the kind of film it is and the story you thought it was telling. And not only are the twists unexpected and surprising but they all make perfect sense and play fair with the audience. Also some of the turns the plot takes are really funny, particularly when one character suddenly reveals that they know a hell of a lot more about ghosts then they’re letting on.  You need to see Housebound, it is just that good.

Every other aspect of the film just works. The acting is uniformly superb, the jokes are funny and the scares are effective. And that in particular is rare. Most horror comedies are really just black comedies, or comedies with gore. It is rare that a film tries for scares and gags and rarer still that it succeeds but Housebound unequivocally does. This is even more surprising when you consider that its director Gerard Johnstone’s first film. Based on this he has a successful career ahead of him. He has an unobtrusive style but as a storyteller he gets every single thing that needs to work, working.

And its even more of a success when you consider that Housebound has an unlikeable protagonist. Unlikeable protagonists are somewhat in fashion and whilst they can be done well they are really hard to pull off. But Kylie is in enough danger and has enough charisma to work as a protagonist even as she acts like a shit to everyone she knows.

Housebound is simply a must see, the best horror comedy I’ve seen since Evil Dead 2 and probably the best horror film I’ve seen all year.

Dead Short Competition

In another change to previous years, rather than the shorts being spread out throughout the night this time they were all shown as a chunk. The reasoning behind this decision was that that for the first time we were invited to vote on our favourite short.

Normally the shorts are easily the best part of NOTD but this year they felt a little lacklustre. It might be because we watched ABC’s of Death earlier but nothing in the shorts measured up to the insane fun of G or M from that movie nor was there anything a tenth as good as Fist of Jesus.

And yes I have brought that short up just to have an excuse to link to it again. I love it that much.

That said none of these shorts were bad either and most had something to recommend them.

waterborne

Waterborne gives us what I think is a cinema first, zombie kangaroos, and not much else.

How To Make A Nightmare was the only truly terrible short. It was pretentious, dull, over long and confused.

Slut, a 1970’s period retelling of little red riding hood, was well shot and acted and evoked the period beautifully. It ends wonderfully too.

Invasion from Moustache on Vimeo.

Invasion told a very slight story and was mostly just an excuse to show off the rotoscoped animation of Hugo Ramirez and Olivier Patté. It does look very cool though.

EXTREME PINOCCHIO Trailer (English ST.) from Alcibal Productions on Vimeo.

Extreme Pinnocchio basically transports the entire Pinnochio myth to an inner city in France complete with midgets, transvestites, paedophiles, drugs and a garbage truck/whale. It has a wonderfully lived in grimy feel, some good gags and some memorable visuals but it is faaaaaar too long at 23 minutes and drags in places.

MIsForMobileWeb

M is for Mobile was a failed entry in the ABC’s of death open slot. I suspect it was rejected for being too short but it is very funny with a great twist.

BonAppetitWeb

Bon Appetit doesn’t have any new ideas but it does have style.

SequenceOfDeathWeb

Sequence of Death was “mind blowing” – that’s a pun.

LiquidWeb

Liquid is a Takashi Miike style Japanese psycho-sexual body horror that basically exists because the word liquid, when said in a Japanese accent, sounds a lot like re-kid. It has a nice central idea but isn’t scary or particularly stylish and its amazing how quickly a short can wear out its welcome.

This was the sole film for which we had the director present this year who came all the way from Tokyo to see his movie premiere at 3 in the morning. Fair play to him for dedication but it’s a shame for him to come so far and not win. I did get a chance to talk to him and learned that interestingly one of the actresses in his film is a famous porn star, but not the one who is naked for almost the entire running time.

The three really good shorts were Mouse X, Cannibals and Carpet fitters and Safari Heat.

Mouse X was one of the only shorts to try for overt scares rather than black comedy. It is inexplicable. A man wakes up in a chair with a bible, he sees a mouse on the floor, sees  a hole that lets him escape to another room and quickly realises he is in some kind of time recursion interacting with himself at different points in time. The film is amazing at creating a sense of almost existential dread by refusing to answer any of the many questions it poses. It’s also stylish and has a great soundtrack which very subtly and effectively ramps up the tension to a spine chilling climax.

In contrast Cannibals and Carpet Fitters isn’t especially clever but it is charming. The tale of a battle between some cannibals and two ordinary carpet fitters in the west country of England has a sly deadpan sense of humour and stacks of likeability. It won the contest and I’m not surprised. In fact I kind of want it to be turned into a TV series where every week two ordinary blokes in the West Country battle supernatural horror.

Safari Heat

What should have won though is Safari Heat, which defies explanation. Telling you anything about it will spoil the experience except to say it is a parody of Miami Heat, done in Claymation and set in Cape Town. However it quickly transforms into easily one of the most bizarre and amazing things I have ever seen. Sadly, I couldn’t find any version of it online to show it to you.

 

Wolf Cop

Wolf-Cop-Official-movie-poster

It was a testament to how good the offerings were this year that Wolf Cop wasn’t the best movie. In year’s past it would have easily been the best thing they screened but this year both Housebound, ABC’s of Death and, in a weird way Street Trash, delivered better results. Still, Wolf Cop wasn’t a bad film so much as a painfully average one.

With a title like Wolf Cop guess what this is about? Yes, it is about a werewolf cop. Specifically it is about a werewolf deputy who has to clean up his small rural town from the twin threats of organised crime and satanic shape shifters. Oh and he’s like Popeye but with booze instead of spinach.

That sounds fun doesn’t it? It sounds like Teen Wolf but with gore and dirty jokes. It sounds like it’ll be over the top silly, campy fun in the style of Troma, Sam Raimi or even Family Guy.

WolfCop-Actually-WolfCop-this-time-620x

And to be fair to the movie there is a stretch lasting about 20 minutes in the middle where it delivers exactly on that promise. Our titular lupine cop (Lou Garou, because this movie thinks it is far cleverer than it is) starts tooling around town in a modified wolf mobile, ripping the faces off crooks, stealing liquor and making puns (“who are you?” “The fuzz!”) and it is glorious.

Unfortunately it takes a long time to get to that point and the build up to the payoff is just, not very interesting. I understand you need to have highs and lows, you can’t just do balls to the wall gore and gags from start to finish (although counterpoint, Evil Dead 2) but that doesn’t excuse the build up being boring. Wolf Cop lacks likeable or funny characters so all the character establishing stuff in the beginning is just a chore to sit through. Then it delivers what it promised us, and then far too quickly that part is over and we get a predictable and tension free climax or various people running around the woods.

I will give it credit for this though. I cannot remember seeing a penis metamorphosis in a live action film before, so kudos to wolf cop for that.

Street Trash

220px-Streettrash

Street Trash defies a conventional critical approach because it is singularly unconcerned with mundane things like plot, characters or motivations, not when it can be shocking you instead. This isn’t a film, it’s an assault. Street Trash hates you, the viewer, and does everything in its power to provoke you to either getting up and walking out or giving in and laughing at it. If it were a sound it would be a child saying every swear word it knows until you either slapped it or couldn’t help it and giggled.

You certainly can’t call it a good film but a bad film? Bad by what standards? It isn’t telling a story, it isn’t trying to scare you, it isn’t trying to move you or connect on an emotional level. Street Trash has one ambition, to make you go, “what the fuck am I watching?” And it achieves this. It really successfully achieves this.

Describing the plot is a little bit like describing a particularly grimy fever dream you once had. Street Trash doesn’t really tell a story from beginning to end so much as it presents a series of vignettes of what life was like in New York in the 1980’s if you were scum. Among the various vignettes we have: 2 brothers living on the streets to escape their abusive ‘nam vet dad and their arguments with each other, a black guy stealing from a supermarket, another ’nam vet who has flashbacks and rules a junkyard like a kingdom, the gang rape of a mob boss’ girlfriend, a sweet junkyard employee who seems to care for one of the 2 brothers and is sexually harassed by her boss and a cop with anger management issues trying to sort out all the mess. Some of these plots will intertwine and resolve but mostly what happens in this film is pointless meandering that (the filmmaker) thinks is either gross or funny or both.

streettrash5

The main plot in terms of memorability, if not running time, has to do with viper. Viper is a drink that causes anyone who drinks it to melt.

Yup, melt.

street_trash2

A liquor store owner finds it behind a loose board in his basement and deduces it must have been there since prohibition. Well, bums will drink it at a dollar a bottle and he’ll have made a profit so why not? He has no idea it will make people melt of course, and neither does anyone else until Mike Lackey, who is sort of our protagonist, has a lucky escape from drinking a bottle himself. He then uses it to get revenge on anyone who did anything bad to him for the preceding 80 minutes.

Viper is set up early in the film and for the first 15 minutes reoccurs periodically to remind us it exists and to get some of the “plots” (biggest fucking scare quotes you can imagine around plots there people) moving. Then it disappears from the film entirely until Street Trash decides it needs an ending and sets about melting all the bad guys. Nearly every plot thread is unresolved , no ultimate point was made and no sense of closure is given.

Street Trash is a fucking terrible film and yet, I can’t say I’m sorry I watched it. And not because it’s so bad its good either, it’s too slow and in all of its technical respects, weirdly, too good to qualify as a bad movie. You get the sense that if James M Muro wanted to tell a decent story, he could. He just has absolutely no interest in doing so.

No, the reason I liked Street Trash is because I got to see some things I have genuinely never seen before. I haven’t seen a bum melt into a toilet and I’ve got to say here, the melting effects were really well done. No realistic but certainly evocative. I’ve never seen a gang rape played for laughs. I’ve never seen a game of penis keepaway.

Street Trash Meltdown Edition 10

My favourite part of the whole film was a minor character who worked for the Mob Boss. He was some punk kid that clearly hated the menial job he was doing and hated the Mob Boss, so he let’s bums gang rape the Mob Boss’ girlfriend. There’s an amazing scene where the Mob Boss and the Kid are sitting in the police station arguing. The Boss is threatening to kill the kid and the kid is insulting the boss. The angry cop sees this and pulls the kid to one side asking why he is insulting a man who can have him killed. The kid says it’ll be okay because the cop can put him witness protection and as the cop slowly shakes his head the dawning look of realisation the kid’s face as he puts together just quite how badly he fucked up is priceless.

I think, ultimately, I have to recommend Street Trash. You won’t like it, buy you won’t forget it either.

Oh and as an aside, we got to see this movie on film! A rare treat and the scratches and grime on the print really added to the atmosphere of early 1980’s urban decay. If you are going to watch this then watching a print version at 6 in the morning in a theatre full of horrible people is definitely the way to do it.

Septic Man

septicdvdjpg-0d1a15

So let’s get the obvious joke out of the way. What a load of shit!

Here’s how Septic Man was sold to us. This was the mystery film at this year’s screening and it was described thus. A guy falls into a massive septic tank and starts to slowly mutate. Sounds like Toxic Avenger right, only with pooh? You think that that’s the first act and then this shit monster is going to go out and get revenge against the people who put him in the septic tank?

Here is what actually happens in Septic Man.

There is a city, it has a disease, a plumber is asked by a shady cabal to fix the sewer system (by himself for some bizarre reason!) whilst the city is evacuated. He does so but then gets trapped in a septic tank with some dead bodies. As he is stuck there he slowly starts to mutate. Lou Ferigno and his insane brother live at the water treatment site and won’t rescue him. Then Septic Man’s wife shows up and mercy kills him.

After Act 1 when he eventually gets stuck NOTHING FUCKING HAPPENS!

NOTHING!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Septic Man.2013.rmvb_003065061

You can do films where the protagonist is trapped in one location. 127 Hours, Buried, Phone Booth hell Saw is basically this. It’s an idea that’s more appealing in the abstract (writers love high concept writing challenges like this because writers find restrictions to actually be freeing) than it is normally well executed. Phone Booth sounds like a great idea for a drama but getting 90 minutes out of it is tricky.

That said you can do it. The trick is to find something to fill up the time with. Flashbacks to how the hero got here, cutaways to the outside world as they try and track down our hero, watching our hero as he tries every clever and desperate method to escape his situation. You can even have a person there for them to talk to and write dialogue that reveals their character. If you’re particularly lazy you can throw in some dream sequences to fake out the audience.

But you have to do something.

Septic Man vaguely flirts with the idea of doing all of these things  but it quickly decides it can’t actually manage to pull them off, gives up and defaults back to what it likes to do best; shadowy shots of an ugly man, in an ugly room, sitting.

Fully 50% of this film’s running time consists of looking at a dude being sad.

If that sounds like something you’d enjoy then Septic Man should be right up your alley but I despised this film. It ranks amongst the worst films I have ever seen. Not because it is technically bad but because there is nothing there. It’s a blank space where a film should be. It’s the cinematic equivalent of staring at a toilet wall. It’s like a bowel movement that lasts 83 minutes where you don’t have anything to read, boring and excruciating.

I literally have nothing nice to say about this utter turd of a film.

So that was NOTD 2014. 2 good films, 1 meh film, 1 film that was certainly memorable and 1 of the worst cinematic experiences of my entire life. That’s a marked improvement on last year which, as I said earlier, is kind of a mixed bag. I strongly recommend Housebound though, you will not regret it.

Night of the Lepus (1972) Directed by William F. Claxton

download

Bad movies are bad for all sorts of reasons but mostly they are bad for technical reasons. Bad acting, bad direction, cheap sets, lousy dialogue, laughable effects, plot holes, etc. Rarely is a film bad because of a bad concept. Oh bad ideas are common, but they’re usually part of a concept that would have broadly worked. Plan 9 from Outer Space is predicated on a secret alien invasion using our own dead against us, that’s kind of neat. It’s just every single thing that follows on from that premise that Ed wood and company get wrong.

No, the collaborative nature of film and the high cost of production means that most truly bad concepts die before they manage to jump through the many hoops needed to get a film financed, produced and distributed.

Which is what makes Night of the Lepus such a rare treat. This is a film, ladies and gentleman, predicated upon the high concept of giant mutant killer bunny rabbits.

Giant, mutant, killer bunny rabbits.

Let that sink in for a bit.

Multiple people heard that idea and thought, yup, that’ll work. There are 57 people credited with working on this film and at least 4 of those (the director, producer and two screenwriters, yes two of them!) are personally responsible for the thought process.

“Giant, mutant, killer, bunny rabbits. Why not?”

The mind, it boggles.

Now some of you bad movie aficionados are probably squirming uncomfortably now thinking, hang on Adam, this must be a piss take right? This is like 8 Legged Freaks or Slugs or something else patently ridiculous where it really is a satire or at least a parody of monster movies?

I don’t blame you for thinking that. In my experience when you come across a truly bad idea usually the creators know it and have done it on purpose. Also bolstering this argument is the fact that the novel it is based on is a satire with an anti-war message.

But if this is a joke then it is a work of deadpan genius to rival Andy Kauffman. Every single thing in this movie is played 100% down the line straight. Even better it is portrayed with a seriousness and gravitas unique to 70’s “message” films. This isn’t just a film about giant mutant killer bunny rabbits that takes itself seriously, this is a film about giant mutant killer bunny rabbits that thinks it is important!

Our film starts with Rory Calhoun (yes, that guy who is always walking and talking) murdering a horse.

Okay, in fairness it actually starts with Rory Calhoun riding a horse, the horse tripping on a rabbit hole and Calhoun euthanizing him with a rifle. I suspect this is intended to make us hate the rabbits because they caused the death of a horse but it doesn’t. It makes me think Rory Calhoun is some kind of emotionless human robot who kills horses without being even slightly broken up about having to do it.

And actually in further fairness I skipped the prologue which features news footage of people exterminating rabbits, mostly in Australia. The footage of hundreds of rabbits running panicked against rabbit proof fences being chased by men with sticks and guns is accompanied by frightening music and a voice over intoning how devastating ecologically rabbits have been in parts of the world.

Now intellectually I know this to be true and I have no moral opposition to the culling of rabbits to protect farmland. Hell I eat rabbits. But watching adorable little bunnies running for their fucking lives while giant, half-glimpsed human forms lunge at them with sticks menacingly does not make me scared of the rabbits.

night of the lepus mummyboon

Which is a problem the film never solves. They try, they try really hard. Over the course of this movie we get every horror trick in the book. We shoot rabbits from low angles, in the dark, with menacing strings. They even shoot close ups of the rabbits impressive front teeth that they’ve smeared with tomato ketchup. And all I can think is.

night-of-the-lepus-mummyboon-1

D’awwww, look at his widdle nose twitch.

So, human robot Rory Calhoun (sporting the full denim tuxedo) is upset that his farm is full of rabbits, as well he should be. He decides to exterminate them but not for human robot Rory Calhoun the ways of his father, just drop loads of cyanide down all over the place. No, human robot Rory Calhoun is going to try and do this in a more sensitive ecologically friendly manner. He calls in De Forrest Kelly (alright folks, everyone get your dammit I’m a doctor not a [blank] jokes ready) who hooks him up with Stuart Whitman, another old western star playing a scientist.

Night-of-the-Lepus-deforrest kelly

When we meet Whitman he continues this film’s trend of all of its heroes being bastards to animals by shaking a box full of bats. Why is he shaking a box full of bats? Well apparently he has isolated the noise bats make when distressed and he hopes to be able to use it to corral them away from crops and livestock using sound. Now the canny among you might be thinking; “A ha! This is clearly exposition for the thingy that will stop the giant mutant killer bunnys in the film’s climax.”

Nope, no this scene serves no purpose except to set up that Whitman is a man who will casually just shake a box of bats for the express purpose of pissing them off.

night of the lepus mummyboon 3

Our heroes ladies and gentlemen.

So Whitman sets about trying to come up with a solution to the rabbit problem. His idea is to breed a rabbit that is singularly uninterested in sex then introduce them to the native rabbit population where they will breed with the natives and pass on the gene for not wanting to breed.

You don’t have to be an expert in biology to spot the somewhat massive flaw in Whitman’s plan there.

However Whitman’s plan swiftly becomes irrelevant. Having not much luck with his asexual rabbits he decides to inject one of the rabbits with a mysterious vial of liquid. How mysterious is it? Well apparently even Whitman has no idea what it will do.

picard facepalm mummyboon

So the mechanics of how our mutant bunny escapes into the wild are thus (somewhat paraphrased)

night of the lepus mummyboon 4

Little girl who is not adorable: Daddy don’t inject that bunny with the mysterious liquid. He’s my favourite.

Bat torturer: Uh huh. (ignores his annoying daughter)

Little girl who is not adorable: *pouts*

Little girl who is not adorable: Mommy, can I have a rabbit?

Janet Leigh (yes, Janet Leigh who regrets being in this turd and boy can you tell from her performance. In the fine tradition of Famke Jannsen Leigh only agreed to star in this because it was near her house.

Anyway)

Janet Leigh: Bat torturer, can our annoying little girl have a rabbit?

Bat Torturer: Sure, just don’t take the one I injected with a mysterious liquid.

Little girl who is not adorable: Okay.

Little girl who is not adorable: *proceeds to take the injected rabbit, then take a random rabbit from elsewhere and put it in the cage marked, mysterious liquid rabbit*

THE VERY NEXT SCENE

Little girl who is not adorable: Whoops! (drops rabbit)

So then boring shit happens so we can build tension (giggle snort) until the giant mutant killer bunny reveal. Boring shit is interspersed with our first rabbit attack which is amazing in its lack of subtlety.

Here is my recreation. (again, somewhat paraphrased)

Truck driver: (stops truck, gets out) Boy I need to stop this truck right here in the middle of the desert. Yesiree bob, its time to stretch my legs. Whoooo. That feels nice. Well, I guess I better check that my cargo of carrots and cabbages is still all there (opens door of truck) Yup, all the carrots and cabbages are still in place. That’s right, boy I’d be in trouble if anything ever happened to my carrots and cabaaaaaaaaagh.

(man is eaten by rabbits)

End scene.

night of the lepus mummyboon 2

So more boring shit happens and the next brilliant scene is where Bat torturer for some reason is attending the autopsy of the truck driver. (Or it might be a prospector, frankly I couldn’t give a shit). Said medical examiner is, refreshingly, black. Thus making him the only black person in the movie as well as the only person aged between 10 and 50. He is also the only actor who clearly realises this is a terrible idea and has decided to ham it up and have some fun. A particular highlight is his delivery of the line that he can’t rule out the possibility of a vampire attack!

More boring shit and then Bat torturer, human robot Rory Calhoun and Deforrest Kelly (dammit Jim, he’s a doctor not a rodent exterminator) set out to end the rabbit menace. Their plan is to find the cave they’ve been living in, collapse the cave entrance with dynamite and then go get some beers.

The plan is jeapordised a bit when Bat torturer decides he wants to have a look at the monsters before they go extinct and nearly gets himself eaten for his trouble. This gives us our first good luck at the rabbits and along with the special effects achieved by just shooting real rabbits that have been smothered in tomato sauce from a low angle we also learn that this film will feature men in bunny suits!

night of the lepus mummyboon 5

Sometimes the bad movie gods see fit to reward me.

So other than Bat torturer being kind of an idiot (although, yeah I’d be curious too) the plan goes off without a hitch.

The problem with the plan is that it didn’t really account for the fact that rabbits can burrow

nightofthelepus5

Dun dun dunnnnn!

And at this point, about an hour into the film just turn it off. You have seen everything this movie has to offer both from an ironic “oh my god how dumb is this” aspect and from the perspective of the story itself. For the next half hour all we are treated to is endless slow motion footage of bunnies running around miniature sets interspersed with boring human robots reciting bland dialogue at each other. There is zero tension, zero movement in the plot, zero character development just rabbits, rabbits and more rabbits.

This footage is hilarious at first, the combination of old skool cheapo special effects with the just terrible idea to make cute rabbits scary is absurd. But the joke dies a swift death and yet the rabbits cavorting just keeps…on…happening.

Mercifully the film finally ends when the heroes concoct a plan to chase all the rabbits towards an electrified train track and shock them all to death. This happens in glorious close up for a loooong time during which every viewer is made supremely uncomfortable about how unhappy those bunnies appear and start wondering if a “no animals were harmed disclaimer” is going to appear.

It does not, which is the only scary thing about this abomination.

night of the lepus mummyboon 6

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 351 other followers

%d bloggers like this: