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Sunday, December 5, 2010

Red Hill (2010)

Ever wondered what happened to Greg McLean? You know, the man who made Wolf Creek and Rogue? He's been quiet for a few years now, but not as quiet ad first though, as he's been busy living-it up as a producer on this little gem, Red Hill. For that Greg, I thank you. Patrick Hughes directorial debut is a beast of beauty and is one of the very best films to see a release in 2010. That's not something I say lightly either, as this has been a very good year for us film fans.

Shane Cooper has just been relocated from the big city to the small town of Red Hill in hopes to reduce his wife's blood pressure and aide their pregnancy. His first day starts smoothly enough, attending a farmer whose horse has been attacked by a wild animal... run-of-the-mill country stuff. When news breaks of a jail-break and that ex-local, Jimmy Conway, has escaped; the day is about to take a drastic turn for the worse. The town's police department are scared shitless and it soon becomes clear why, Conway is a killing  machine and he's coming back home to finish something that was started years previous.

What is so enjoyable about Red Hill is it's not trying to wow you or impress you with mind-bending story structure or even good old spectacle. No, Red Hill is a good ol' fashioned Western that's a pleasure to watch play out. The story is a simple one, timeless even, a fish-out-of-water caper that's a little darker than most, but still undeniably fun. Ryan Kwanten proves a highly likeable lead and gives a great performance; and he's backed-up brilliantly by Tommy Lewis and the murderous Conway. He's a frightening figure to be sure, but there's something in his eyes, beyond his disfigured face that leaves you siding with him at times. Especially when Shane's workmates are as dickish as some here!

Director Hughes takes full advantage of the Australian outback and it's gorgeous surroundings, giving us a beautifully photographed film as well as some fine set-pieces to match anything in a Hollywood blockbuster; with mid-street shoot-outs, car chases and 'slasher-esque' chase downs littered throughout the films duration. Placing these events in a modern frontier-like town is a brilliant touch, making what has been scene thousands of times previously fresh and exciting. This is where Red Hill truly impresses. Nothing is original about this film, but that doesn't stop it from being entertaining. This is unmissable stuff to be sure, and marks Ryan Kwanten as a future Hollywood lead, as well as a promising new director. On top of that it shows us that Greg McLean as a great eye for a worthwhile script and has a great sense for talent from his producers chair!

Australia has had a cracking year, producing some of the finest films of 2010. Let's hope they continue this incline and explode in 2011, for fans of balls-to-the-wall goodness, Red Hill is a must see. It's not big, it's not even clever, but it is thoroughly entertaining from start to finish – which is something rare indeed with modern action films.  Do yourselves a favor and see this as soon as you can, then tell your friends about it. Recommended viewing to be sure!

Red Hill is due out on DVD and Blu-ray on the 25th January 2011 from Sony Pictures US.
There is no UK release date as of yet.

Psycho Shark (2009)

Okay, how do you set about talking about Psycho Shark? It's a film so bizarre, and I don't mean in a David Lynch or Takashi Miike deliberately bizarre sorta way, no; this film is just baffling. The closest I can come to describe it would be a Jess Franco movie channeled via The Blair Witch Project, made for a market that doesn't appreciate nudity, yet likes sexploitation... and possibly sharks. That's pretty much what this film is, a sexploitation shark movie with neither sex nor a shark... well there is a shark, but that's about 10 seconds of screen time from the 69 minutes of Franco-esque shots of inanimate objects... and the bikini-clad actresses enjoying the salty ocean waters.

Two young girls, Miki and Mai, travel to a seaside resort for a relaxing getaway. Mai hooks up with one of the locals and leaved Miki to her own devises. Mai stumbles upon a tape in their room, the tape is of three young girls who had come to the same resort for a good time. Turns out the handsome stranger Miki has hooked up with also hooked up with the previous batch of girls... and their home-movie documents a pretty bad ending for them. It's up to Miki to rescue her friend before she ends up like the previous guests.

As you can tell from the synopsis, there's no mention of a shark! There's a psycho, yes, but shark? Nuh-uh. What Psycho Shark actually is would best be described as a 15 minute short film stretched out to un-imaginable lengths with the same goddamn filler played over and over. Miki seems hell-bent on watching the videotape over and over again, watching a scene only to rewind and start again! It's infuriating to the point of hilarity.

Some viewers will be enamored with the leading ladies chest-sizes and non-stop jiggling, others will be wondering just why they do everything in their swimsuits. Others will be annoyed by the fact they don't actually take their bikini's off – not even when their in the shower! But most will be wondering 'where is the shark?”.  It's there alright, and only the most patient of viewer will be able to sit through this mind-numbingly goofy tale to bask in that long awaited sharks-ploitation! Having said that, it's so ridiculous in execution that it actually feels worth the wait!

Amidst all of the bouncing tits and ominous shots of the ocean, there's some very fetching cinematography here for those who like a beautiful composition to go with their over-spilling breasts. It's obviously a very low-budget feature, yet some shots are captured beautifully and give the film a professional sheen from time to time. It's all little too late however, had this been a 15 minute short-film it would have been a little treat, at nearly 70 minutes however, it's an endurance test, with the temptation to hit the fast-forward button growing with every replay of that damn found tape! Psycho Shark is one heck of a curio, and something of an experience that cult-fans will likely get a little kick from it, in that 'I survived Psycho Shark' sort of way. The creators of this film really deserve credit for somehow managing to find distribution outside of Japan! Sane people, avoid this like the plague!

Psycho Shark is available to buy now!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Herschell Gordon Lewis: The Godfather of Gore (2010)

Herschell Gordon Lewis is a man driven by a burning desire to make money. He’s not worried about artistic integrity, moral opinion or even a decent camera angle; all he wants is to make viewers part with their hard-earned and by any means necessary. The fact that the man is very open about that makes it all okay; in an odd way, he’s giving us what we want by way of getting what he wants: everyone’s a winner. Frank Henenlotter is a filmmaker I respect greatly, he’s a man who can make a film about anything and make it work; dead hooker brought back to life? Check! Deranged Siamese twin-thing? Big Check! Giant killer penis vs multiple clitted sex kitten? Piece of cake! So what better man is there to chart the lows of one of American Grindhouse’s greatest players? Simply put: no one.

Charting Herschell’s entire career, starting with his early foray into film-making with titles like Living Venus (1961), The Adventures of Lucky Pierre (1961) and B-O-I-N-G (1963), it sets the tone perfectly. Lewis openly states he wanted cash and had little in the way of it himself, so collaborating with another Grindhouse legend, David Friedman, they produced numerous screwball comedies and nudie cutie movies to cash in on the boom created by Russ Meyer’s The Immoral Mr. Tees. As the market started to saturate and loose public interested the duo decided that something new was needed to part cash from their punters, hardcore porn wasn’t an option at this point; so what else could they offer a market that seemingly has it all? Hardcore violence the likes of which had never been seen!

It’s hard to believe that before 1963’s Blood Feast, gore didn’t exist in the horror genre. It’s so engrained in modern horror that its still hard to believe it has traceable roots! The duo decided that if they couldn’t show peoples no-no regions, then they’d show what guts and brains look like instead! Making the move from nudist camps to sleazy motels was clearly the greatest achievement in Lewis’ career and a move that has granted him immortality amongst the horror community. The documentary and the makers don’t shy away from the fact that during the filming no one had a clue what they were doing or how it would all turn out. Real entrails were used for the ‘money shots’ and naïve actresses were expected to play their 'character' while trying not to spew from the terrible smells emitting from the animal guts!

This could explain why the actresses are seemingly omitted from the documentary, plenty of the actors are on hand for questioning but as to where the leading ladies are is a mystery; though it’s made clear that Herschell was less than impressed by some of his actresses! The actors however have nothing but good things to say about their experiences, all had a rollicking good time making a small piece of trash history in their own right and aren’t afraid to critic their own, admittedly abysmal, work. The documentary also offers up all the goriest, sleaziest and most outrageous moments from each of Lewis’ gore sagas, so those unfamiliar with the levels of depravity found in his works may be in for a surprise! Others will relish the nostalgic trip of the gore effects of yesteryear!

Frank Henenlotter has created one of 2010’s must see documentaries for horror fans. It’s a passionate love note to one of genre cinemas true mavericks and a testament to the skills of low-budget filmmakers who have nothing but a desire to make their pockets a little fatter by capitalising on avenues that wouldn’t be explored by the mainstream, who can begrudge David for robbing Goliath? A must-see film indeed.

Herschell Gordon Lewis: The Godfather of Gore was given its UK premier at Sinister Sunday of Shock in the Glasgow Film Theater. A BIG thank you to Calum Waddell, Noami Holwill and Nick Frame for putting that together and to everyone who turned up for a great day of movies and Q&A's with the likes of Sergio Stivaletti and Francesca Ciardi!

The Loner (2008)

The Korean horror genre is a love-it or hate-it affair for most, their reliance on black-haired ghosties got old 10 years ago; but they seem intent on further including them in their genre films. Few horror films stray from the formula set-up by break-out Korean horror Whispering Corridors in 1998; schoolgirls being haunted by a dead friend. Those that have strayed from the path have been greatly rewarded (Tales of Two Sisters, Acacia and Save the Green Planet spring to mind) but there are others that remain under-appreciated, such as Black House, Epitaph and Possessed (A.k.a Living Death) three such films deserving of more attention from Horror fans. The Loner however, tries it’s hardest to be different and manages to succeed… for the most part.

Life is tough for Su-na, her best friend kills herself after a humiliating public beat-down and her Uncle, Se-jin, is in love with Yoon-mi, a psychiatrist she can’t stand. The pressure drives Su-na into reclusion, or as her Uncle's missus calls it ‘Hikikomori’ – a Japanese term for shut-ins. As Su-na’s condition worsens, an imaginary friend and totally disregard for her own hygiene; it appears that Su-na is destined for the same fate as her friend unless Yoon-mi can help get to the bottom of her condition before her condition takes a violent turn not just for Su-na, but the whole household.

Where The Loner succeeds is where other genre entries have failed; is in its characterisation. The film is smartly paced and allows character development to mature naturally, Su-na’s condition doesn’t kick-in until the half-hour mark, that’s not to say its slow paced, as it’s far from it and there’s plenty going on within the narrative to keep viewers entertained as well as a few nasty shocks up its sleeve along the way. There’s obviously a big secret being kept from us, but it’s not hard to guess what it is, but thanks to the story revolving around three protagonists instead of one; the emotional level of the reveal hits harder than it would have if Su-na had been the story’s sole protagonist.

This is where the film eventually falls down. After the big reveal the films gets lost in itself and the final sprint to the ending feels exactly that; rushed. It’s not bad enough to ruin what happens before it, but with a little more thought on the finale maybe The Loner could have been a special little shocker, as is though it’s a worthwhile entry in an already uneven canon. Korean horror certainly has potential and maybe sometime soon we’ll see more classics in the vein of Tale of Two Sisters and Black House. Director Park Jae-sik shows a flare for some lush visuals and has a talent for creating a distressing atmosphere which points to a talent that may well go on to make something far superior to what’s seen here.

It’s disappointing that such a strong film manages to fumble the ball in the final third, but for fans of Korean horror this is well worth checking out. If you enjoyed other middle-tier genre entries like The Wig, A.P.T and Death Bell then you’ll find yourself entertained for the films duration, though the likelihood of frequent re-visits is unlikely; which is a shame as the first half of the film really is gripping stuff. Maybe next time Mr. Park; I for one will be interested in this directors future projects.

Sadly, The Loner is now out of print and has not been acquired for UK or US distribution as yet.

Frozen (2010)

Adam Green is something of an oddity in today’s genre climate. On one hand he’s a horror geek who produced the fun, yet shallow, Hatchet movies; on the other he’s given us top-quality character based horror like Spiral. As disposable horror go, the Hatchet movies are very much top quality entries, but they aren’t going to be remembered for originality or stand as a testament to his creativity skills. Green’s career took an interesting turn with Grace, which he produced. Grace is a highly original and equally disturbing horror film that proved that the man has an eye for a good script. Now comes Frozen, a small little movie about a group of friends stuck on a ski-lift… doesn’t send chills down the spine does it? But you’re in for a damn unpleasant surprise.

Three friends, Dan, Joe and Dan’s girlfriend Parker, are enjoying a day on the slopes. After cutting a deal with the ski lift operator for a reduced fare they further push their luck and demand one last run down the slopes as the park is closing. Reluctantly, the operator agrees and they go on their way. As they get further up the mountain, down below a serious of blunders result in the park getting shut down, while they’re stuck up in the mountain, 100 feet from the ground. Panic immediately sets in, but as time passes the horrifying realisation that they are stuck up there for five days kicks in and they have to figure out how to get back down to safety.

The simplest stories are often the most effective, and in the case of Frozen it certainly holds true. Three characters attached to a chair 100 foot above ground, hardly a complex scenario for a labyrinth-like narrative, but that’s where Frozen excels, it’s this stripped down approach that holds our attention for the films runtime. Due to the stories self-imposed limitations director Green has time to develop his characters and our affections for them before piling on the risk and danger. With its cold visuals playing off the icy landscapes perfectly, tension and danger are constantly assaulting the audience subconsciously. It’s this menace that truly haunts us as the film plays out.

Green’s appreciation for the films limitations truly pay-off. As the scenario grows increasingly worse, we share the characters despair because like them, we have no idea of what to expect. We know what they know, we have no insider knowledge of how things will play out and we suffer the ordeal every bit as much as the protagonists. It’s this cold, even heartless, approach that may alienate some viewers – this is by no means a enjoyable film in the traditional sense – but as an exercise in fear, tension and desperation the film is a triumph.

Those looking for a truly frightening film will find more than they bargained for here, those looking for the thrill-seeking jollies of Green’s previous effort, Hatchet, will sorely be disappointed; here he displays a true maturity as a filmmaker and as a great talent worth watching in future. That is, if he can stay away from the goofy elements of his debut that made him an overnight success: fun as that may be, there’s no merit to them and are forgotten within minutes, Frozen however, will stay with you long after watching and hold up to repeat viewing. Frozen is without a doubt one of the finest horror films to see the light of release in 2010 and comes highly recommended.

Frozen is out now to buy on Blu-ray or DVD.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

The Loved Ones (2010)

Australian cinema really has come into its own again as of late. No longer the exploitation industry it used to be in the 70’s and 80’s it’s now a country producing some of the most exciting, thrilling and challenging films in the world. From films like The Book of Revelation to Coffin Rock and The Horseman to Van Diemen’s Land, it’s a country that continues to release impressive and daring material that remains underappreciated in Australia as much as it is outside of the continent.  Horror films like Wolf Creek have really brought attention to the dangers of the outback, but that’s a fear older than Australia itself. Director Sean Byrne however, has something far more delicious in store for us here with his feature debut, The Loved Ones.

Brent (Xavier Samuel), a depressed teen who enjoys a spot of self harming after the death of his father could never have imagined the trouble he finds himself in once he turns down a prom request from the school loner, Lola (Robin Mcleavy). On the night of the prom he is kidnapped by a man and held hostage. Turns out that what Lola wants, Lola gets and Daddy doesn’t take too kindly to anyone who doesn’t give in to her. It’s going to be one hell of a night for poor Brent.

There’s simply no describing how lusciously delirious this movie is. Lola and Daddy are destined for cinematic legend, they’re a duo so warped and deranged it’s hard not to get sucked up into their world. The film captures their mentality perfectly through the visuals; imagine a David Lynch film crossed with the teen-angst of Heathers and you’ll have a taste of what the film’s aiming for.  It also remains as unpredictable as a Lynch film, pending you haven’t seen the spoiler heavy UK trailer – avoid it if you can! – and it’s within this unpredictable craziness that the film thrills.

Equally as thrilling and unpredictable is new-comer Robin McLeavy. She embodies insanity here, but there’s a sultry side to Lola that attracts us to her. It’s this image of a blood-drenched girlie-girl that lingers in the memory, viciously screaming like a spoilt brat if she can’t get what she wants one minute and violently attacking the next: it’s this sassy psychotic that will bring Lola into horror legend. Then we have Daddy, a sickening paternal figure that will stop at nothing to please his daughter, even if it means ruining his happiness in the process.

The film is also surprisingly brutal. Brent is tortured and tormented in pretty explicit fashion, but it never crosses the line into straight exploitation. It’s graphic, it’s bloody but it’s never too excessive or discomforting that it alienates us. It’s thanks to this control from Sean Bryne that The Loved Ones ranks as not just the freshest horror film of the year, but also the most enjoyable. It’s a film that’s as sexy as it is shocking and as funny as it is violent; it’s everything horror should be. None surprising then that the film has been completely shafted by distributors, on a global level it would seem, getting the straight to DVD treatment here in the UK, the US still has no release date and the film is only just hitting cinemas in its native Australia! The Loved Ones is contender for horror film of the year; hopefully its audience will find it and cherish it on the home entertainment scene. Still, it would have been a treat to see this on the big screen! Highly recommended!

The Loved Ones is out to buy on Blu-ray or DVD now!

Accident (2009)

Hong Kong cinema has always been blessed with master craftsmen when it come to action, yet the pool started to run dry towards the millennium as the industry moved towards more audience friendly material and teen action films. However, there has been resurgence in violent Hong Kong films in the wake of Infernal Affairs and director Soi Cheang is the man responsible for one of modern Hong Kongs finest pieces of CAT III mayhem; Dog Bite Dog. It’s the no-holds barred shot of nihilism that hadn’t been seen since the late 80’s / early 90’s efforts but with the maturity and intelligence of modern Hong Kong films inspired by the success of Infernal Affairs. Needless to say it made him a man worth keeping an eye on.

His latest effort, Accident, couldn’t be more removed from the explosive violence seen in his career launcher but it’s an interesting change of direction for the talented director.  A group of professional assassins, lead by The Brain (Lois Koo), specialise in making their hits appear as accidents. When a job goes awry, he starts to question those around him and believing his identity has been compromised he sets out to find who set him up.
Accident is a pleasant surprise, a refreshing and excellently execute thriller that relies more on its overall story than just providing us with some thrilling set-pieces. Under Johnnie To’s production Soi Cheang has created a lean, tense and surprisingly powerful slice of Hong Kong cinema. The ‘accidents’ are elaborate and effective; imagine if you can Final Destination directed by Dante Lam and you’re on the right track. The first half of the film contains two thrilling set-pieces that really impress and leave you gripped as to where the film will take you, and that’s the films biggest plus-point; it’s unpredictable.

The second half resolves around The Brain’s obsession with finding out who set him up, it’s an all engulfing desire that eats him up and we see the once methodical assassin become sloppy as he descends deeper into his obsession. This half is slower than the first, but the tension is built beautifully and leads to a powerful and shattering finale. The film does require some suspension of belief during the finale, but I bought right into it and it proved to be a fantastic addition to an already overly impressive feature.

Louis Koo also left a positive impression on me, he shows a great deal of maturity as an actor here and as he’s in almost every frame of the film it’s integral that he got it right; and he does. The Brain is damaged goods, but Koo shows us the sensitive side to this cold-hearted man that gains our sympathy. We care for him, and we get caught up in his hunt for the truth, and this is the films greatest trick; making us believe what he believes and having us side with him and sweeping us up in his obsession.

Soi Cheang and Johnnie To have crafted a wickedly fresh little thriller here that shows the Hong Kong cinema has more tricks up its sleeve and continues to produce gems like this on a yearly basis; oddly enough Johnnie To tends to be involved in most of these titles! He’s like a one-man hit factory that continuous to impress at a staggering rate. For those disenfranchised by some of Hong Kong’s recent output, you owe it to yourself to check this out.

There’s no UK release as yet, but you can buy the Hong Kong DVD here.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

The Evil Dead (1981)

There are few films with a reputation as notorious as Sam Raimi’s debut, The Evil Dead. One of 80’s cinemas’ most cherished horror movies to have survived and flourished the slanderous allegations of corruption and obscenity launched at it by the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) who granted the film immortality by making it an official Video Nasty during the video age in the mid-80’s. Thirty years later and it’s now considered a bona fide classic by not just genre fans but by mainstream critics alike. It’s also been given a swank Blu-ray release courtesy of Sony Pictures. Oh how times change. To think that the distributors of films of this ilk once got sent to prison…

The story is a familiar one nowadays, but just in case. Five friends head off into a cabin in the woods for a fun-filled weekend but are attacked by demonic forces that live within them!


The one aspect that seems to have been lost on most audiences these days is the fact that the original Evil Dead is actually a horror film. Due to the comedic influence that found its way into the sequels, the franchise now has a comedy-horror tag that isn’t deserved for the original. Granted, there are shades of intentional humour within the original, but it’s superseded by the unintentional laughs those will find when faced with the evident budget limitations in the effects department – The monsters seem to turn into mash potatoes! Granted, there’s a ‘eww’ factor to the proceedings, but most will just chuckle at the over the top grossness of the situations now.

Where the film does drive home its horror origins, is in its balls to the wall aggression. This was made in a period where no-name actors filled up the screen and the clichés didn’t yet dictate who would be left standing come the finale, if any. It’s also made from a period where directors liked to punish their cast, and director Raimi certainly pushed the envelope in that regard here. Tree’s attack and even rape their victims, Achilles tendons are annihilated by pencils in agonising close-up and axes are used to dismember loved ones but to name a few of the classic moments.

How does a film of this vintage, not to mention the budget restraint, hold up with the transfer to hi-definition? Luckily for us, marvellously! Of course this film was never going to look like the latest Hollywood flop-buster, and why would we want it to? This is a down and dirty picture and always has been, but it’s never looked this strong. Grain is evident but not to distracting levels, like certain releases of cult films have been on Blu-ray (I’m looking at you Stendhal Syndrome), and it gives the movie a pleasing filmic look and the sounds are cracking; some slight crackle remains but it’s nice that the films hasn’t been destroyed by the falseness of computers seeing as it was created by old school visual and sound equipment – on a shoe string – and has never sounded, or looked, polished. Those wary of the 1:85 aspect ratio need not to worry as the film has been re-framed under approval from Sam Raimi himself, and it looks great.

And now we get to the extras. There are plenty of extra’s here that have popped up on the numerous DVD incarnations of the film, but the big inclusion here for the new Blu-ray is a spanking new commentary by Rami, Bruce Campbell and Robert Tapert. The real joy though is the picture-in-picture feature that sports recollections from various horror icons from the likes of Brain Yuzna and Stuart Gordon to the likes of Alexandre Aja! It’s a brilliant addition to a must-have Blu-ray for cult fans and Evil Dead fans alike. Good work Sony! Let’s hope we see this loving treatment given to more cult gems shall we?

Full list of extras on this release are as follows:

  • All New Commentary with Sam Raimi, Rob Tapert and Bruce Campbell
  • Picture-in-Picture: Join us! The Undying Legacy of The Evil Dead
  • One By One We Will Take You The Untold Saga of The Evil Dead
  • Treasures from the Cutting Room Floor
  • At the Drive-In
  • Discovering The Evil Dead
  • Ellen and Drama Teacher
  • On-Stage Interview
  • Make-Up Test

Treat yourself to The Evil Dead on Blu-ray as of the 11/10/2010!