Archive

Horror

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

The Orphanage (2007) J. A. Bayona

The Orphanage Tomas

(Spoilers)

As an adult Laura (Belen Rueda) returns to the orphanage where she grew up. She brings along her husband Carlos (Fernando Cayo) who is a doctor and their adopted son Simon (Roger Princep) who has HIV, although he doesn’t know that yet. Early in the film though he discovers both secrets about himself and a little boy that was already lonely and withdrawn becomes even more detached from reality and content to hang out with his imaginary friends.

The Orphanage Carlos

Laura and Carlos meanwhile want to turn the Orphanage into a boarding school for disabled children but that plan seems unlikely when, at the grand opening party for the school, Simon disappears. The rest of the film is concerned with finding Simon, finding out what happened to him and the other children at the orphanage and what is going to happen to Laura and Carlos now.

The Orphanage is chock to the brim with creaky old horror clichés you’ve seen a million times. Creepy children, masked silent killers, mysterious old ladies, psychics and huge old empty houses. But these are all clichés for a reason. They scare us. And The Orphanage deploys these tired old tricks with a wit and sophistication that resurrects them and makes most of them work again.

It also brings some new cards to the table, mostly in that Bayona understands a key thing about good horror, it isn’t what’s there, or even what isn’t there that is scary, but what might be there. The Orphanage is very good at playing the suggestion game, hinting that something may be there without explicitly revealing it and letting the audience’s imagination fill in the rest.

In particular this film loves doors. The Orphanage, both the film and the titular building, is chock full of doors, opening slowly or closing suddenly, doors behind which could be anything but you’ll never know until you open them. The Orphanage is also filled with shots framed in such a way as to leave large parts of the screen visible but not clear. Characters are forced into the sides of the frame so the focus is on a door, a cave, some curtains or any object that could be concealing something unsettling. The effect is off putting as the audience assumes the focus of the shot to be the important part of the shot and so we’re constantly expecting something to happen.

The Orphanage Swing

Yet almost always, nothing does.

 

Almost always.

 

Bayona’s other good trick is turning the camera into a malevolent spirit. In a few key scenes Bayona moves the camera like a person moves their head, bobbing up and down slightly and turning to look at different objects in the room. Whereas normally the camera cuts or zooms to look at important objects in a setting here the camera gets up and walks towards it. The effect is to create the impression that the camera is watching Laura; that it is some kind of force with personality and consciousness. In particular the scene of Laura playing some Spanish version of “What’s the time Mr Wolf” with ghosts is terrifying not because of the ghosts but purely because of how the camera takes in the scene.

So The Orphanage does some old tricks well and in a genre as full of crap as horror can be that is enough for me to recommend giving this flick a watch.

The Orphanage Laura

But The Orphanage also got me thinking, how important to the effectiveness of the horror is the possibility that what we’re watching might be real?

That might sound like a stupid question. This film has ghosts in it, ghosts aren’t real and neither are monsters, vampires or serial killers that invade your dreams. Surely reality is unimportant for a horror film?

But The Orphanage is very cleverly constructed so that whilst it unequivocally has ghosts in it as far as what the audience sees, there may not be any ghosts within the reality of the film’s world. Laura is the only character who ever sees a ghost, she doesn’t see one until she suffers the traumatic loss of her son* and every time she sees a ghost their appearance is of someone whose facial features she was recently given in a more innocent context. Everything ghostly in this film could quite easily be in Laura’s head. This is a woman who just lost her son so the idea that she’s having some kind of breakdown and seeing hallucinations is not only likely but it makes considerably more sense than the supernatural explanation.

Crucially nothing in the plot of The Orphanage requires ghosts. Everything, even Simon’s disappearance, has a perfectly natural explanation.

And this got me thinking that many of my favourite Horror films, and certainly the ones that scare me the most effectively, also offer the possibility that nothing supernatural occurred. At least for the first half of the film anyway.

The Exorcist plays its hand pretty clearly towards the end but for most of the film the idea that Reagan’s suffering is purely mental illness is entirely logical and no less horrifying because of it. The Descent, one of the scariest films I’ve ever seen, has no supernatural elements for more than half its running time but the tension is built around a very real fear of being lost, being stuck and having nobody who can rescue you. The American version of The Ring is put together like a detective story with the main character following logical clues until at the end logic ceases to have any meaning in their world. The Haunting (the original), Nightmare on Elm Street (and especially a new nightmare), Don’t Look Now, Suspiria; some of the most unsettling and frightening films play with the barriers between reality and madness.

This blurring of reality and madness evokes the uncanny. The uncanny is a Fruedian concept inextricably tied up in any critical reading of fantasy and horror. At its simplest it can be said that it is an instance where something can be both familiar yet alien at the same time, resulting in a feeling of it being uncomfortably strange. The usual example given is that of a doll, the image of a human and yet at the same time not a human and so possessed of an uncanny quality. If you’ve heard the term the uncanny valley, referring to how CGI representations of humans seem unsettling whereas more stylised animated characters do not, then it is basically the same idea.

uncanny-valley

Analysis of the uncanny tends to focus on uncanny objects; dolls, doppelgangers, doubles and other things not beginning with d. However, I wonder if it might also apply to the fictional reality of the text.

If a text posits itself to be real or at least a reflection of the real world but somehow a reflection that is wrong then it becomes a double of reality as we experience it but possessed of an uncanny quality. And that is very unsettling.

Creating this sense of our world but with something wrong is harder than it sounds. You can’t simply say this is our world, but with ghosts, that’s what makes it ‘wrong’ because our world doesn’t have ghosts in it. The experience might be different for someone who believes in the supernatural but as a staunch sceptic and rationalist myself the moment a text goes, btw this is all ghosts, it marks itself out as another world, a fictional one. It emphasises the point that what it is depicting could never happen to me and that creates a barrier between me and the experience of the protagonist, a sort of fictional safety net protecting me from the horror.

No, the wrongness has to be implied more subtly and the film has to present it as an option that could still happen in our reality. The events of The Orphanage could happen in the real world, we could lose a child, we could be driven mad by the experience, etc. But they also have the shape of something much weirder. In fact that shape seems to work better than the rational explanations. Keeping the possibility of rationality alive means the fictional safety net never gets deployed, it means that the fictional world possess a sense of the uncanny and it means that everything I am watching probably won’t, but does have the potential to, happen to me.

man's fear

Sometimes I lay awake at night and imagine my bedroom door opening and something horrible being revealed standing in the doorway. It’s not something I lose much sleep over, it’s a fear I can rationalise away. I lock my doors, I’ve gone to sleep every night for 28 years and a murderer hasn’t been in my doorway, the odds are I’m safe.

 

But, still, there could be something there.

It is this fear that The Orphanage most acutely invokes for me.

 

*People who have seen the film at this point will be pointing out that no, she totally sees a ghost before Simon dies. Tomas, the film’s main spectre, shows up at the party and pushes Laura into the bath before Simon disappears. Except, it might not be Tomas. Tomas is distinguished by his sackcloth facemask but at the end of the film when she finally finds Simon he is also wearing Tomas’ facemask. The little boy who pushed her into the bath could easily be Simon wearing Tomas’ mask.

lifeforce_posterLifeforce 1985

Director: Tobe Hooper

In the not too distant future (next Sunday AD) the space ship Churchill (and as the name implies, it is a British spaceship, providing probably the most fantastical element of the entire screenplay) is on a joint British and American mission led by Col. Tom Carlsen (Steve Railsback) to investigate Hayley’s Comet for… reasons.

lifeforce00002

Their mission takes a turn for the bizarre though when they come across an enormous spaceship filled with giant dessicated bat creatures and what appears to be 3 young, attractive and naked humans, two men and one woman, in some kind of suspended animation pod. This strikes the crew as not entirely normal so they decide to take the pods back onto the Churchill.

 

Things can’t have gone very well after that because the next time we see the Churchill it’s a month later and another missions has been launched to try and discover what the hell happened to it. This second team finds one hell of a mystery, a burnt out space ship, a missing escape pod and the same three people in the same three pods.

 

Taking them back to the Space Research Centre in London various scientists begin to pontificate upon just what the bloody hell happened and what the hell they’ve brought back to Earth. Said pontificating quickly ends when the female body (played by Mathilda May of checks imdb something called Naked Tango) gets up and reveals herself to be some kind of energy vampire. This has gruesome results for the poor guy that was tasked with watching her because he soon resembles a tasty jerky snack far more than I’m sure he’d want to.

lifeforcemummyplead

 

Two missions are then launched, find the girl and find out what the hell happened to the security guard. Mission one becomes a lot more urgent when during his autopsy the guard gets up and repeats the energy vampire trick on the pathologist ending up naked and rather confused but decidedly not dead. It becomes even more urgent when more human jerky starts showing up in London parks and it becomes downright frantic (well as frantic as the British establishment could get in the 80’s meaning that our scientists have switched from earl grey to builder’s tea) when the two male vampires get loose as well.

 

You would think finding a naked woman wandering around mid 80’s London wouldn’t prove too tricky, and you’d be right. Unfortunately our target has a couple of sneaky abilities including the ability to possess bodies and all hope seems lost. That is until Col Carlsen turns up in Texas in the missing escape pod with a helpful new set of psychic powers that let him track our mysterious lady down. And they’d better hurry too because that spaceship is now in an ominous orbit over London that probably isn’t going to be a good thing. What’s more the two male vampires have been quite busy making friends all over London.

 

A brief summary of Lifeforce might not sound like an Oscar winning masterpiece but it certainly has a lot of elements that should add up to a fun schlocky time. Based on a novel with the somewhat on the nose title of “Vampires from SpaceLifeforce features about 30 minutes of completely nude attractive space vampire ladies, an apocalyptic London overrun with vampires, a gigantic space ship full of monstrous bats, Patrick Stewart possessed by a sexy space vampire lady that he physically transforms into at points and a climax that involves not one but two car chases, a swordfight and a sex scene in St Paul’s cathedral atop a mountain of corpses.

Lifeforce_DC_ArrowVideo_pic4

 

Surely all of those elements must guarantee at least some amusement right? Well maybe in another film but not even Mathilda May’s considerable artistic merits (both of them) can save Lifeforce from its main problem, it is terrifically boring.

 

 

Lifeforce clocks in at nearly two hours and a good hour and 15 minutes of that* consists of three men standing in a room and expositing. Not talking, not developing character or delighting us with well written dialogue just blandly explaining what is happening in the plot. Worse still they just seem to know what’s happening without investigating it. One of the characters is an “expert” (a death expert specifically which does raise the question of why the UK’s Space Agency feels the need to employ a death expert) and his catchphrase seems to be “As I feared” aka “I’m bullshitting that what has just happened is exactly what I thought would happen all along to maintain the illusion that I’m an expert in anything.” Another character is literally psychic and thus knows what is happening and what will happen next. Lifeforce is obsessed with telling where it should be showing with nearly every possible moment of interest and excitement replaced with more sodding exposition. The most egregious example being when the death expert phones his friends and tells them that he just had a sword fight with one of the male vampires. You know movie, a sword fight might have been a fun scene to watch, I’m so glad you decided to show our two main characters making a phone call in a helicopter instead.

 

Later on London gets overrun with vampiric hordes, would it have been more interesting to relay that information visually maybe instead of hearing about it from a military guard.

 

And it’s not like Lifeforce has a particularly complicated plot either, space vampire escapes, psychic dude pursues her across London. There I did 90% of the plot in one sentence. But the film insists on explaining stuff again and again and even explaining stuff that has no relevance whatsoever to the plot all at the expense of anything that could be fun to watch.

 

I know why of course. Lifeforce ran monstrously overtime and over budget and it is a hell of a lot quicker and cheaper to film three men in a room talking than a London overrun with vampire hordes but that doesn’t make the film any less terrible.

 

It isn’t all bad though. Tobe Hooper is not up to the task of bringing any life to the interminable talking scenes but when a set piece does happen he rises to the occasion and reminds you why we all liked Tobe Hopper to begin with. There is a scene where they tie one of the jerky corpses (which despite my mocking are actually a very well done special effect, especially in a film that is otherwise so cheap) to a table to see what happens when it wakes up. The scene is genuinely horrific, frightening in that way where you want to look away but can’t.

Lifeforce

 

Despite a few good scenes though it is definitely not a good film nor is it so bad its good. Lifeforce’s main claim to fame back in the day was the copious amount of nudity it provided for poor desperate perverts.** Now we’ve got the internet though? Lifeforce just doesn’t have anything to offer.

 

 

 

 

*The remaining running time consists of 15 minutes actually interesting stuff and 30 minutes bewbs.

**aka teenaged boys.

Hear the Voice of Mummyboon

I’m on a podcast!

It’s not my Podcast, it belongs to a friend of a friend named Boz and is called Little Pod of Horrors. As you might have guessed it’s a horror themed podcast that reviews and discusses horror in any medium including films, books, podcasts and video games. It’s got the feel of just two mates hanging out and is pretty fun.

Boz was also an attendee at Night of the Dead and he recorded some interviews with me and my friends. I’m the one making all the same jokes that eventually made it into my reviews, so yes people of the internet I am just that spontaneously witty.

Night of the Dead is an institution in Leeds. Part of the Leeds International Film Festival it’s a horror movie marathon that runs from 10 o’clock in the evening until 10 o’clock in the morning the next day. Well, sometimes 10, sometimes 11 or 12 or the next day or weeks later. They overrun a lot is what I’m hinting at.

As well as showing a whole bunch of horror films it also features tons of funny or twisted horror shorts, competitions, games and sometimes interviews with directors.*

The shorts are routinely amazing, showcasing some of the sharpest, funniest writing I’ve ever seen in the horror genre and some real originality and inventiveness. To that effect I’ve put as many of the shorts from this year’s festival as I can find on Youtube at the end of this post. Warning, most of them feature gruesome, violent and explicit content. NSFW.

And it’s a good thing the shorts are good because the films they show are usually awful. The hit to miss ratio of this event is just appalling. I’ve been going for three years now and have seen 14 films at Night of the Dead and I can honestly say 3 of them were good. A further 2 were so bad they’re good and 1 (Little Deaths) may be the most upsetting thing I have ever seen. Mostly though the films they show are distinctly average horror efforts showcasing maybe one or two flashes of invention against a backdrop of bland, predictable mediocrity.

But it’s a fun time so I thought I’d review this year’s crop of films for you.

* This is always a mistake because the crowd at Night of the Dead get fairly rowdy. As an example after I watched Little Deaths the 3 directors came up to talk to the audience and the first question asked of them was “why is yer film so shit?”

100 Bloody Acres (2012)

100-Bloody-Acres-watermarked

100 Bloody Acres tells the story of two brothers, Reg and Lindsay Morgan, fertiliser manufacturers in rural Australia who produce a speciality organic fertiliser that’s proving quite popular and effective with local farmers. What’s their secret? Why ground up human remains of course! Oh but don’t worry, they’re not murderers. For now they’re restricting themselves to stealing bodies from traffic accidents, as Reg does at the start of the film. But that means a spotty supply at best and the Morgan’s need to get enough bodies in to fulfill a big order they have coming up. They might have to resort to murder if their luck doesn’t change.

Unfortunately fate intervenes in the form of three young adults trying to get to a local music festival who hitch a lift with Reg. He isn’t intending to kill them but when they discover the dead body he has in the back of his van, well, he can’t very well let them go after that can he?

Horror Comedy might actually be my favourite genre of film. Good examples of the genre represent some of my all time favourite films; Evil Dead 2, Gremlins 2 and Shaun of the Dead for example. I’m not sure why I like it so much but I think it has something to do with the nature of both individual genres.

Horror and comedy are the only two genres that work to evoke a direct physical response in the viewer, laughter in the case of a comedy and fear (so screams, elevated heart rate, etc) in the case of horror. Oh and porn too of course. You don’t need to analyse the characters, the story structure or the mis-en-scene to determine if a comedy is effective. If it made you laugh it’s a good comedy and that’s all there is to it.

But I find myself struggling with both horror and comedies these days. I very rarely watch a modern comedy I like, or a modern horror film that scares me. Partly it’s an age thing. Both genres rely on novelty to some extent and once you get the beats and rhythms of a joke or a scare down it can be very hard for a film to have novelty for you.

And a horror comedy is even harder. Not only does it have to scare me and make me laugh but those are two very different things with very opposing tones. Making something funny can completely undercut any sense of menace it held and make the scares impossible.

So yeah, horror comedy is very hard to do but if you pull it off you’ve made something really special.

100 Bloody Acres does not pull it off, but it very nearly does.

100-bloody-acres-image-01

The failings are all on the horror side. This film never scared me, once. Worse I never really felt a sense of dread or tension, even slightly. It just isn’t a horror film.

What it is, really, is a farce with potentially horrific consequences. All farces are predicated on the protagonist trying to avoid something bad happening but usually that bad thing is embarrassment, or losing their job, or losing money. In 100 Bloody Acres the bad thing is being turned into ground fertiliser but other than that and some gore that’s played for laughs there isn’t much horror in this supposed horror comedy.

As a farce though it is great! A good farce is a hard thing to construct anyway but gut wrenchingly funny if you can manage it and 100 Bloody Acres does. The film is hysterical from start to end full of colourful funny characters and some great gags. I particularly enjoyed the only example in cinema I can remember of chekov’s cum rag and the line “he wants my potassium”.

It also avoids many of the sins of bad farces. None of the characters are idiots. Some characters are stupid but their actions make sense for what they know and what they want at the time, nobody does something for the sake of a cheap gag it all emerges naturally from the situation. Also all of the characters are likeable and well drawn with nobody coming across as a lazy comic stereotype.

Basically if you like a good farce and don’t mind gore then you will enjoy 100 Bloody Acres. It’s no classic but it’s a funny, smartly put together comedy.

Unfortunately it was all downhill from that point on.

Savaged (2013)

Savaged-teaser poster-thumb-300xauto-30444

I’m a big fan of bad films. I’m rarely happier than sitting around with a bunch of mates, drinking good beer and ruthlessly mocking something terrible. Troll 2, The Room, Birdemic, etc. I would much rather watch these again than masterpieces like Citizen Kane or The Godfather.

Films can be bad for lots of reasons. Some have bad ideas that no level of competency can save (Baby Geniuses comes to mind), others have grand visions whose reach exceeds the filmmakers grasp (like the low budget video cheese form the 80’s that produced any number of Blade Runner, Star Wars and Terminator rip offs), some more are just the product of lazy apathetic film makers who weren’t trying very hard and so produce a lackluster result (Catwoman) and best of all are the films where the ideas and execution all combine to forma perfect storm of “what were they thinking” (Manos, Troll 2, etc).

Savaged is a rare species of bad film indeed, the kind of film where almost everything clicks. Almost everything. The story has a good idea, the production values, editing, direction, cinematography special effects, they all work but one, thing is off and it overshadows and pulls down everything else in the film. It’s like painting the Mona Lisa but inexplicably giving her a clown wig. Sure the rest of the painting is a masterpiece of composition and technique but all you can see is the clown wig and it is hilarious.

Savaged tells the story of a deaf mute girl (Amanda Adrienne) who decides to travel across the southwest of America to move in with her boyfriend in California. Along the way she is captured by a gang of rednecks, raped, stabbed and left for dead in a shallow grave.* A Native American Shaman** attempts to bring her back to life but instead merely infests her with the angry ghost of an Apache warrior. Fueled by supernatural powers she sets about getting revenge on the people who killed her.

That’s kind of an awesome story idea right? I mean, dodgy sexual politics aside supernatural rape revenge thriller is pretty original and it’s a solid narrative concept. Native American imagery is kind of under-utilised in horror too so this has real potential.

And in many ways it fulfills that potential. The story hits all the obvious beats at the obvious times, it provides the gore and action you’d expect and you get to see horrible bastards meet their comeuppance.

Savaged-2013-Movie-Image

It’s directed by Michael S. Ojeda who has not directed a full length film before but has extensive experience on T.V. and has worked as a cinematographer and a second unit guy before. Based on the strength of this he’s got a bright future ahead of him as the film is shot and edited brilliantly. It avoids the usual issues with shaky cam and instead puts together coherent and exciting action sequences.

He does have one slightly dodgy directorial decision in that he at some point decided to shoot the entire film through an Instagram filter but overall he’s a fine director.***

However Michael S. Ojeda also wrote this film and that’s where the clown wig starts to come in. The script for Savaged is irredeemably atrocious, just jaw droppingly terrible. This is a film in which the following lines of dialogue are spoken by actual human beings who were (presumably) paid money to say them.

“When I kill something it stays dead!”

“Something dead’s been living here.”

And my personal favourite, said with utter sincerity.

“Will we be together forever?”

“Yes, forever and ever and ever.”

Everyone in this film talks like idiots. They sound like aliens that are trying out this strange human concept you call language. It’s just hilariously, appallingly wrong.

And whilst those examples are the highlights, trust me every line spoken is at best clunky and at worst hysterically bad.

Some of the actors gamely struggle with it. Tom Ardavany who plays West seems to know that his character is supposed to be a real badass but whilst he’s trying really, really hard to sound tough his lines are so poorly written it gives the impression of someone just trying to bullshit his friends that he’s all hardcore.

Other actors…do not fare as well. Brionne Davis, who plays our heroine’s boyfriend, singularly fails to give a believable read once. Every word that comes out of his mouth sounds like he’s some kind of robot speaking words as somebody else types them. There’s one scene where he’s supposed to be ominously threatening our villains about all the horrible things his girlfriend is going to do to them  which is intercut with scenes of her reaping carnage and destruction. It’s obviously supposed to be a “cool” moment but it’s just so annoying. When he’s finally silenced by a blow to the head from a fire extinguisher the audience I was with cheered and I must confess, I yelled “thank you!” out loud at that point.

And he’s not even the worst offender, that honour goes to the Apache Shaman. There’s a scene at the end of the film with him and the boyfriend that is so difficult to watch that it threatens to circle round from bad to Dadaist genius.

The effect is to undercut any attempt at mood the film tries, but of course it keeps trying. It’s trying to show you The Exorcist, or Alien, or The Shining but all you can see is that every character is wearing a clown wig and it never stops being funny!

Savaged is far from the worst film I’ve ever seen but it’s a are and special kind of bad that has its own charms and if you’re an aficionado of bad films I strongly urge you to watch it.

*The film was advertised as being like I Spit on your Grave so I knew there was going to be a rape. I did not expect the girl who was going to be raped to be a deaf/mute and I could feel the audience bristle with discomfort when this was revealed. It’s as if we all thought “I’m fairly sure this is offensive” all at the same time.

**He shows up and my friend Dave said “Oh dear I think something racist is going to happen.” Dave was right.

***Oh and one scene where our heroine is gifted with magical Apache weapons which has to be seen to be believed.

On Air (2012)

on-air-poster

How’s this for a Twilight Zone pitch.

Late Night Pirate Radio D.J. Doc Rock (Marcus Knufken) takes a call one evening from a mysterious killer called The Night Slasher who has been murdering women in the unnamed German city they both live in.

The Killer’s ultimatum; he has a woman at his mercy and he will kill her in one hour unless Doc Rock convinces him not to.

That is a simple and brilliant premise for a high concept Thriller in the style of Phone Booth or Buried. It’s full of potential for suspense and I was really looking forward to On Air at this year’s Night of the Dead.

Suffice it to say I was disappointed.

0f708bda87

On Air singularly fails to build up tension because the story is told incredibly ineptly. To put it bluntly I didn’t understand what was happening most of the time and if you don’t understand what’s happening there can be no tension. Tension is all about expectation. You know something bad is going to happen and you wait, breathlessly, hesitatingly with mounting horror for the bad thing to happen or be averted and the tension to be released. However if you don’t understand what is going on there can be no anticipation of what will happen next and thus no tension.

I’d be tempted to right this off as me being an idiot but after the film ended my friends and I argued for a good 10 – 15 minutes about what had actually happened and only then we did reach a  tentative agreement. Clearly we can’t all be idiots. I mean this is a German film so there may be some translation issues but the problems with comprehensibility run much deeper than that.

The main issue is that this is one of those thrillers that wants to provide you with a twist every 10 minutes to make you rethink your assumptions. That would be fine except some of those assumptions are baffling or contrary to what the twist implies. For example; one of the twists later in the film is the revelation that The Night Slasher has captured the police detective’s daughter. This is presented as a shocking twist but for whatever reason I was under the assumption that this was the case already. So rather than me going, gasp, how shocking, i’m instead thinking “wait, wait I thought he knew it was his daughter that had been captured, why is he shocked now?” Some parts of the set-up seem to be assumed and just aren’t explained. For example I didn’t realise that the film is set in the D.J.’s house until the last 15 minutes because I quite sensibly assumed that people don’t tend to have full radio studios in their basements so this was something of a shock to me but is presented NOT as a twist.

I spent most of the film being confused and then just growing increasingly irritated by the fact that I was confused and was struggling to follow what was happening.

Trying to figure out what’s going on in a film can be exciting and interesting. Something like 13 Monkeys, for example, requires you to pay close attention to follow the narrative and decode what is happening. But in 13 Monkeys I got the sense that Terry Gilliam knows what he is doing, whereas in On Air I just grew increasingly annoyed at what I decided was incompetent film making.

Annoying to watch, not scary, not particularly inventive and wasting a potentially clever premise. It’s not even so bad it’s good it’s just devoid of any cinematic pleasure whatsoever.

They Will Outlive Us All (2013)

theywilloutliveusall

I am going to horribly spoil the plot of this film. I am going to horribly spoil it because the only thing really worth talking about in this film involves a spoiler.

Ready.

The setting is 2016 New York in a future that has been wracked with hurricanes due to climate change. Life carries on mostly as normal but the repeated hammering by storms that New York receives has messed up the infrastructure massively. The emergency services are taxed to breaking point and basically won’t attend most problems. There is a curfew in effect, blackouts are common and water supplies are spotty. Supposedly you can drink the tapwater again but to roommates Margot (Jessi Gotta) and Daniel (Nat Cassidy) it smells kind of funny so they stick to bottled water.

And it’s a good thing they do because something in the water is causing the following things to happen 1. people who drink it get sick 2. after they get sick they appear to turn into slow moving, not particularly aggressive zombies 3. after a bit of wandering around as a zombie a giant cockroach crawls out of their mouth and they drop down dead.

Margot and Daniel discover points 1, 2 and 3 in very short order and then spend the rest of their day barricaded in their shit hole apartment fighting a pair of giant cockroaches. They kill one and trap the other one in their toilet.

From a mixture of celebration at having dispatched the monsters and wanting to forget this ever happened the two room mates start drinking heavily and pass out on their couch. Margot sleepily gets up in the middle of the night and goes to the toilet where she falls asleep on it.

Wherein a cockroach crawls up her ass and into her stomach and she then vomits it out of her mouth.

I’ll let that sink for a moment.

twoua2

This is a film in which a women quite graphically, and at length, vomits an enormous cockroach. One that had previously entered her from (one presumes) her anus.

I was all ready to go on a “horror films are misogynistic” rant but the actress that played the scene, the writer that wrote that scene and the director and cinematographer that shot it are all women. In fact they’re the same woman, Jessi Gotta. So I guess I just have to wonder what the hell is wrong with Ms Gotta and leave it at that.

Anyway after that…memorable, scene the two room mates kill the remaining cockroach and after getting washed up a bit the two friends head out into a New York overrun with zombies.

The End.

You may have noticed not a lot happens in that plot summary and that’s because there isn’t much plot to summarise in this film. There are maybe 4 or 5 scenes that actually contribute to the plot and they could comfortably be told in a half hour.

And yet this is a 73 minute film? What the hell takes up all the running time?

The answer is not a lot. Mostly it’s just the two main characters sitting on a couch and talking.

But those scenes of the two characters talking are the best parts of the film.

The closest comparison to They Will Outlive Us All that you’re likely to have seen is Kevin Smith’s Clerks but even that isn’t a perfect comparison. Like Clerks TWOUA is exceedingly low budget with a very small cast and only a few locations. Both aren’t hugely concerned with plot or narrative although both make token gestures towards it (TWOUA significantly moreso). Both use a very limited set of camera angles and focus on naturalism and naturalistic dialogue. The main difference is that where Clerks had jokes TWOUA has gross out horror moments but the main bulk of both films is just the feeling of hanging out with the main characters. Most of TWOUA is dialogue but it isn’t particularly witty or insightful it’s just kind of normal.

What keeps the film going is the chemistry between the two leads. These two seem like genuine friends and their dialogue sounds like the kind of pointless conversations friends have with each other when just hanging out. After a few minutes of this the two leads become really likeable and it becomes quite fun to just spend time in their company.

Even at 73 minutes it’s far too long though and as much as it’s nice to just spend time with the two leads they can’t sustain your interest for as long as they’re asked to.

So They Will outlive Us All. If you’d like to hang out with two fairly pleasant people for over an hour and then see one of them vomit up a cockroach this is the film for you.

Antisocial (2013)

antisocial-poster

There’s a reason lots of low budget film makers make zombie movies. Zombie movies are easy! They require a small speaking cast of usually no more than 5 or 6 characters, they’re set on at most 1 or 2 main locations and those locations can be as prosaic as somebody’s house and they have a really simple easy to copy story structure. A bunch of people hole up in a single location, argue, fight zombies and die off one by one until either all are dead or some survive.

The only real cost is cameras and make-up and even then you can cheat the make-up if you’re really poor. Honestly it’s so simple you and some mates could make a full length zombie film in your backyard in an afternoon without too much hassle.

That doesn’t mean it would be any good though.

Zombie movies are easy but good zombie movies, significantly harder. Good zombie movies require things like scripts, actors and directors that can create tension and those are all hard.

So maybe you cheat and you make a zombie movie, but with a twist! And again there are plenty of zombie movies that take that approach. Zombie Movies are basically a microcosm of genre as a whole. Genre is all about taking familiar elements and recombining them in novel ways, zombie movies are usually about taking the same stock elements but applying one novelty to them. For example it might be a traditional zombie film but take place in a different location like space (Dead Space), or a school (High School of the Dead); or maybe it’s a traditional zombie movie but it’s happening to a specific group of people like forensic pathologists (13 Eerie) or Yakuza (Versus) ; maybe you mash it up with another genre like romantic comedy (Shaun of the Dead) or a crime film.

This opens up the genre massively allowing for new ideas but also the potential for some biting* satire as in Romero’s “of the Dead” series and as such Zombie films have actually attracted some of the smartest horror film makers over the years who want to use the simple story structure to make a point.

Antisocial’s innovation is to change the way the zombies work so that rather than the plague being spread by biting or airborne virus it is instead spread by (spoilers) facebook.

Okay not facebook “The Social Red Room” because they don’t want to get sued but yeah, facebook.

Hey, what a neat satirical idea! The concept that our dependency upon things like smartphones and social networking has turned us all into zombies. It’s like updating Romero’s consumerist satire from Dawn of the Dead to the Millenial age. Okay movie you have my attention, what are you going to do with this idea?

…..

(crickets)

….

Oh, nothing, You’re going to do nothing with it. I see.

EYES_01

Antisocial has a very clever premise that is rife with potential for social commentary, satire or even paranoid horror but the filmmakers have wasted it entirely because having thought up this premise they clearly thought that that was enough and the film would just kind of happen around it. No effort whatsoever has been expended upon developing the script in any way shape or form to capitalise on this premise.

Instead the film is filled with endless tedious scenes of chaarcters having some variation of the followign argument.

“I’m not infected.”

“Yes, you are.”

“No I’m not.”

“Yes, you are. You went on facebook and we have already established at this point that everyone who has been on facebook will turn into a zombie.”

“Yes but I won’t.”

“But you will.”

….turns into zombie and attacks everyone

That’s it, that’s the whole film over and over again for you. Tension? Comedy? Satire? Forget it.

Dear makers of Antisocial, it is not enough to have just one good idea. You also need a decent script, actors and director. Go get those and then try and make this film again.

* pun intended

So that was this year’s Night of the Dead. Two absolute wastes of time  and worse, wastes of good premises(Antiscoial and On Air), one good film (100 Bloody Acres) one film so bad it’s good (Savaged) and one film that is alternately boring, pleasant and disgusting (They Will Outlive us All).

That’s better results than most years.

We also had a host of shorts which I’ve included at the end here for everyone to watch. I couldn’t find every short that was shown on Youtube but suffice it to say this gives a representative flavour.

Fist of Jesus is simply amazing. Gory, ridiculous fun. I’m not going to spoil any of it for you, just watch it now and thank me later.

Alastor is okay. It has a nice premise and some decent moody camera work but is a touch dull and long for the story it has.

Both Box films are more a showcase for some clever animation but they’re fun bits of fluff.

Cargo is so creative, and inventive and amazing it borders on genius. One of the smartest and most moving takes on the zombie genre I’ve ever seen

images (4)

In my review of Cabin in the Woods I mused that the film seems to be asking a question it provides no answer to. Namely why do human beings enjoy watching horror films? Why do we enjoy stories where people die?

Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard in Cabin in the Woods seem to have approached this from a cultural and symbolic level, arguing that there is an ingrained need for human beings to see violence and suffering. I don’t entirely disagree with this but I’m not quite as cynical as they are. Nor do I think it has anything to do with an ingrained cultural hatred of the young or the need to see them suffer.

For me it’s kind of basic. Humans are sacks of chemicals, one of those chemicals is adrenaline and we really like it when adrenaline gets fed to our brains. Adrenaline is a chemical associated with the fight or flight response so it is released whenever we are confronted by a scary or dangerous situation to help us deal with it.

The thing is our fight or flight response is an idiot and the rest of our brain is a genius by comparison and so we’ve been able to trick it into releasing adrenaline when we’re not really in danger. Like when we ride a roller coaster, or climb a cliff face, or watch a horror movie.

This is a physical chemical process in our brains, watching a horror film releases a chemical that makes us feel good. There’s no deeper investigations needed into the cultural reasons for this it’s basic science, being scared feels good. What is culturally determined is what makes us scared and why things that are scary in one culture are not in another. Japanese horror films, for example, are obsessed with children and water things not traditionally considered scary in the west.

But why do we need a horror film to do this? Roller coasters scare us without needing to invoke the imagery of death and suffering and on a purely cinematic level a jump cut will scare us even if the context around it isn’t scary at all. Even the laziest hack director can throw a spring loaded cat at the screen and scare the audience through surprise alone. So why not combine jump scares with something innocent like two guys driving a golf cart, won’t that scare us? Why do we need these images of girls suffering, isn’t that just a symptom of a sick society?

It’s because horror fans are like drug addicts addicted to that feeling of being scared. They keep coming back to seek it out again, but like any addict they become numb to the stuff with repeated use and so they have two choices, up the dose or change the drug. These can be thought of in film making terms as intensity and novelty.

Intensity accounts for most of the changes in horror as time has progressed. Just as a heroin addict needs to use more and more heroin to get a fix a horror fan needs more and more horrific images to trigger the same original thrill. You might watch Psycho and flinch when the knife hits the girl but after the 5th or 6th time you’ve seen this you’re numb to the image, de-sensitised. Worse you’ve worked out how it’s done and know the knife never stabbed her, instead the camera cut away. You can no longer trick your brain into producing the adrenaline because it knows it’s a trick now. But then some film maker comes along and shows the knife lingering a little longer and shows some blood! Oh wow! Suddenly this is terrifying again and it’s tricked your brain all over again. Until the 8th, 9th or 10th time you see this done and then, you’re used to it again. But now some guy comes along and shows the open wound! And on and on the cycle goes getting gorier and more explicit.

This operates on both an individual level and across the genre as film makers move to out do each other or push boundaries. That’s why the genre has gotten progressively gorier since the 1950’s.

Then there’s novelty which is much harder to do. A film shows you something you haven’t seen before, a combination of images or sounds that scares your brain in a new way. This doesn’t even have to be intense if it’s original or unexpected enough.

But novelty is hard to do whereas intensity is easy. It takes talent to come up with something new but anybody can just add more gore.

friday10

You can fake novelty though by rehashing the same bag of tricks that always works (discordant music, isolated areas, jump cuts, slow pans, etc) but with different stock elements. So it’s a cabin in the woods with a murderer, in space! Or a cabin in the woods with a murderer, that’s a leprechaun! There’s just enough novelty there to make the audience think they’ve seen something new when really it’s the same stock techniques again and again and again.

Indeed Cabin in the Woods makes fun of this lazy copy paste approach to film making with the signature scene in the room full of monsters.

That’s why you get so many films that work on the same basic premise. It’s not because humanity demands some kind of totemic sacrifice, it’s because lazy film makers know that they can use stock character archetypes so long as they come up with a unique monster or one novel scare. And we watch them, because we’re desperate for a fix and if it provides that fix we’re happy even if the characters, setting and story are incredibly familiar.

TheEvilDead532102

Indeed that familiarity can help. Genre cinema is pretty much defined by a conflict between familiarity and novelty. Audiences enjoy genre cinema because at heart we like to see our expectations confirmed. This is not a new nor a controversial statement, there is a wealth of media theory discussing how audiences essentially like to see the same things over and over again. But they can’t be exactly the same things. Give us exactly the same as we had before and we just get irritated by the repetition. So film makers need to give us the same with just enough new to disguise it.

Sometimes that takes the form of something like Evil Dead, taking the familiar spam in cabin set up and formula but investing it with novelty trough the tone, the way the camera is used, the way the music is used, etc. Sometimes it takes the form of Jason X, taking the familiar spam in a cabin set up…but in space!!! And having the familiar set up helps make the novel elements more distinct which helps from a marketing perspective too.

scream-04-g

But is there any deeper meaning to the particular elements that get re-used. To go back to Cabin in the Woods is there a particular reason that so many horror films use teenagers and use teenage archetypes like the jock, the slut, the fool, the virgin and the brain?

Possibly and many a fine essay has been written on just such a topic. But I can also offer much more prosaic and practical reasons why that might be.

Why are they teenagers? Because your audience is mainly teenagers and so it helps with audience identification. It also gives you a plausible reason for your characters to act rock stupid since teenagers are well known for making mistakes. Why have a brain? To spout expository dialogue. A fool? Comic relief. A slut? Some cheap exploitation (read boobs) that will bump up the potential audience.

Blair_Witch_Project

In fact let’s look at the new vogue in horror cinema, found footage films. Although found footage as a concept goes all the way back to Cannibal Holocaust it really first made an impact with the Blair Witch Project and with monster hits like Paranormal Activity and REC has become the new hotness in horror cinema.

Why is this?

Well you could look at it one way and construct an argument around the fact that modern society is increasingly recorded. We all carry a camcorder built into our phones everywhere we go and our own recorded image is now plastered all over social media. This is the society of the recorded image more so than any society that has existed before and horror films reflect the tensions and fears of the society that produces them.

Or you could make an argument that Blair Witch costs peanuts to make and made bonkers amounts of cash. That found footage is cheaper to film, doesn’t require a particularly talented DP or particularly nice cameras and yet the ticket price is just as much as for a big studio production. That they’re a relatively new trick in the tradition of horror cinema and they still have enough novelty to work on the audience for the moment so producers are squeezing as much profit out of the trick as they can before audiences vote with their wallets and reject them or someone creative comes up with a new trick.

And this ultimately comes back to Cabin in the Woods and two possible ways to read the film.

In one interpretation the film seems to be saying that you are a bad person for wanting to watch horror films. This is the interpretation that is focused on the cultural significance of the repeated use of archetypes. It asks you “why do you wan to see the youth of society slaughtered again and again, what does that say about you as a horror fan?”

In another interpretation though the film seems to be saying that you are a bad person for wanting to watch unoriginal horror films. This is the interpretation that is focused on the prosaic and monetary significance of the repeated use of archetypes. It asks you “why do you want to see these stock characters get slaughtered again and again, what does that say about you as a horror fan that you’re prepared to put up with the same recycled plots?”

%d bloggers like this: