Archive

Monthly Archives: April 2015

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.

Advertisements

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.

%d bloggers like this: