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Thursday, September 30, 2010

This Is War (Severe Clear- 2009)

Ever since Apocalypse Now shattered ever known fibre of the war genre in1979, war movies have tended to portray war in a negative light. Gone were the days of war heroes standing tall for their country and destroying the foreign enemy that were out to take all that was good with their homes. Granted, the sheer fuck-up that was the Vietnam War played the biggest part in this cinematic shift and its affects are still felt to this day. Films like The Longest Day, where huge actors played good-hearted solders, were soon replaced by the younger, more violent, and certainly more prone to rape, breed of solder as seen in films like Casualties of War and Platoon.

This Is War however, offers us a mixture of both the old and the new with the added twist of being a documentary... of sorts. Here we have real soldiers fighting in real situations. They are violent young men hyped-up on government spin believing they are fighting the good fight. They are simply doing what is ordered of them. It’s an attitude so rife in Hollywood war movies of old; they are fighting to protect family and friends from those evil foreigners who threaten their homes. Yet they enjoy the slaughter and destruction of their enemy with an uncomfortable, disturbing glee.

Mike Scotti joined the army after a classmate was killed during the 9/11 attacks on New York. He was called up for the invasion of Iraq and shot hours and hours of footage; from the mundane routine and boredom of the road leading to the invasion, on to the paranoia and fear that mounted as they began their mission and the inevitable bloodshed that ensued. It’s a disturbing experience being this close to war, but it’s what also gives the film its power. Some scenes will be too graphic for some viewers, one scene in particular is incredibly hard to watch, but for those with a strong stomach this will be required viewing.

Where is fits in with modern war films that followed in the wake of Apocalypse Now is in its honesty. We see what shitty equipment these people have to rely on to defend themselves and each other. We see the disorder of the missions; no one seems to understand what they have to do, except find weapons of mass destruction that simply do not turn up. It also comes across undoubtedly, and this is where it fits in with the Hollywood mythic, is that these men love their country, that’s why they are there and it’s why they fight. Yet as time goes on and they become numb to the destruction lays an addiction to the chaos and their bond as marines. It’s been said that war is the ultimate drug, and this certainly proves that a lot of these men do become addicted to combat, not just for the rush of risking their lives; but for the need to protect those around them: To be needed.

This Is War is an in your-face experience that ranks as one of the finest example of war cinema since Gunners Palace. It’s disturbing, troubling and oddly entertaining to see these men have so much fun in such a hellish environment, believing they’re doing the right thing, even though their belief slowly starts to fade away from them as time goes on. It’s this honesty and sincerity that makes it such compulsive viewing. Highly recommended.

This Is War is available to buy on DVD from October 4th from Momentum Pictures.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Modern Masterpieces #2: Gone Baby Gone (2007)

When you think of talented actors turned directors who do you think of? Clint Easwood? Definitely. Sean Penn? Sure. Dennis Hopper? Love him! Tim Robbins? Oh yes! Ben Affleck? Erm… Ben ‘you’re the bomb in Phantoms’ Affleck? Granted it may be too soon to bracket the lad as a great director, but if his debut Gone Baby Gone is a sign of his abilities then there is a talent here waiting to explode. Having already established himself as a Oscar-quality writer with Good Will Hunting, it took him a decade to write again. It was a frenzied decade with, critically panned, box office successes and the infamous ‘Beniffer’ period that gave us Gigli… there was also Surviving Christmas… ouch.

Now, I’m a fan of Affleck the actor, more so his 90’s output with Kevin Smith than his blockbuster movies that’s he’s better known for and who doesn’t love the magic of Good Will Hunting? But I didn’t know what to expect from him as a director, who would he have been influenced most by during his career? Would it be pal Kevin Smith, the reflectiveness of Gus Van Sant? or the more gun-ho aesthetics of Michael Bay? It seems to me neither, but more so his encounter with workmen directors such as Joe Chappelle and Allen Coulter, whose work on HBO’s The Wire and The Sopranos are sterling, that have influenced him most as a director. And for which, all should cheer.

Casey Affleck plays Patrick Mackenzie, a private investigator who works with his girlfriend and business partner, Angie (Michelle Monaghan). When they see a local news report regarding the disappearance of 8 year-old Amanda McCready their heart goes out to her mother, Helene (Amy Ryan). Soon after they are visited by Amanda’s aunt and uncle who ask them to help the police with the investigation; hesitant at first, they eventually agree to aide the police; much to the annoyance of the detectives assigned to the case. As the investigation progresses, secrets that should have been buried are revealed and Patrick and Angie find themselves way in over their heads as their relationship is stretched to breaking point and their lives are thrown into jeopardy as they descend into a hellish nightmare and humanities dark underbelly.

With Gone Baby Gone, Ben Affleck has delivered a brilliant mystery thriller and one of modern cinema’s finest noirs. It may not be trench coat, fedora and rain-soaked alleyway noir that people normally associate with the genre but the core staples of distrust, betrayal and abuse of power are rampant throughout the film. It’s this dark streak that binds the film that impresses most, Affleck isn’t afraid of alienating his audience by showing us the darkest side of human nature in all its morbid glory and having his characters carry out despicable acts all in the name of ‘doing the right thing’.

This selfishness that runs riff through the film could further alienate audiences, if it weren’t for the incredible cast Affleck has assembled. Little brother Casey really shows his worth here, shedding his younger image that saw him in cheese like Soul Survivors and American Pie and revealing a true acting talent in the making. Amy Ryan gives an Oscar nominated performance as Helene McCready, it’s a role that relies on an actress of exceptional talent and luckily Ryan is just that – exceptional. To single out a performance is impossible however, each character is as memorable as the next and the people playing them deliver their best; which shows that Ben Affleck is not just a great writer, but also a promising director to watch. The confidence he displays over every facet of the film here is impressive and makes you wonder how good he’ll be once he has a few more films under his belt?

Gone Baby Gone was unfortunate, due to the nature of the film the last thing distributors were going to do is release movie about child abduction while the United Kingdom is in disarray over the disappearance of Madeleine McCann. The film was in full PR swing when the news of the abduction hit, which resulted in all subsequent promotion of the film stopping immediately. The film was then delayed and quickly released months later with no hype or promotion to go with it, as such the film failed to make an impact at the box-office. It was also overlooked come Oscar season, but it remains one of the most powerful directorial debuts of the last decade.

Gone Baby Gone is available to buy on Blu-ray and DVD now!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Modern Masterpieces #1: Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance (2003)

Chan-Wook Park is one of the great directors working in film today, that’s not hyperbole or fan-boy hype, it’s a fact. With only a handful of films, he’s managed to launch a career that has raised the global profile of not just his work, but his actors and the South Korean industry as a whole. He’s one of three director’s working in South Korea today that continues to generate international buzz in film magazines and websites; the other two being Bong-Joon Ho (The Host) and Ji-Woon Kim (Bittersweet Life). I first became aware of Park in 2002 with JSA: Joint Security Area, I was still relatively new to Korean film and JSA was a great example of what the country was capable of producing, but then I watched Park’s follow-up, Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance early in 2003 and it truly changed the way I viewed movies.

The story is simple, or so it seems. Ryu (Shin Kyun-ha), a deaf mute is knocked-off by black market organ dealers when he attempts to buy a new kidney for his terminally ill sister. Needing cash quick in order to pay for a legitimate transplant, he devises a plan with his anarchist girlfriend (Bae Doo-na) to kidnap his ex-employers (Song Kang-ho) daughter and hold her for ransom. Naturally, the plan doesn’t go as planned. To divulge more would be criminal to those who have not seen the film, needless to say it gets bloody.

With the financial success of JSA, Park was given creative freedom for his next project, and it shows. JSA was a big production, a blockbuster movie that broke box-office records; many were expecting another such production with Mr. Vengeance. How wrong they were. Mr. Vengeance is so far removed from JSA that it’s remarkable they came from the same person; JSA was a visually striking movie, but in a glossy, MTV fashion that he would later take to his extreme with 2004’s Oldboy. Mr. Vengeance couldn’t have been more different, stripped down to film minimum; Park relies only on the story and actors to wow over his audience: there’s no music, no elaborate set-pieces and no clever twists here, only an oncoming car crash of a narrative that you can’t divert your stare from.

With this bold stylistic decision also comes alienation. The films purposeful cold metallic palette echoes the characters mental anguish which leads to the numerous bloody encounters within the film, but to the casual viewer it may be too much of an extreme; the film drips negativity and is filmed with a documentary-like realism that will disturb and punish more than thrill and excite. This came at a time when South Korean cinema was very much style over substance for the most part, with movies like Shiri and Tell Me Something wowing audiences with their looks rather than their story. This stripped-down, nihilist approach can also be responsible for the films poor performance at the box-office in its home country.

More akin with fellow Korean enfant terrible, Kim Ki-duk’s filmography than anything else Chan has produced, Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance remains one of South Korea’s greatest achievements. It may not have won as many awards as his later films or made as much bank, but in twenty years time this is the film that most will be looking back at and re-visiting to understand Park the film-maker. Here is where his dark heart emerged; this is his first cruel ode to cinema and remains arguably his finest achievement to date. A film that broke all the rules, not just onscreen but off, it’s the product of a man who truly defied, and smashed, every expectation laid upon him to produce something spectacular. Love it or hate it, Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance will leave a scar upon you that will never be removed.

You can buy Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance on Blu-ray of DVD now.

The Housemaid (2010)

Im Sang-soo is no stranger to controversy in his native South Korea. With films like Tears and The Presidents Last Bang landing the director in hot water for their depiction of teenage sexuality (Tears) and a blasting depiction of Politicians (Presidents Last Bang). So you can rely on the man for shock value, as well his strong visual style of story telling. With his latest release The Housemaid, he’s produced the most sexually explicit mainstream film to have come out of his homeland…

Eun Yi (Jeon Do-yeon), is hired as a nanny/maid for a disgustingly rich family who are expecting twins. The mother (Seo Woo) is due to deliver within weeks of Eun Yi’s employment so Eun Yi takes care of their first born, Nami (Ahn Seo-hyeon) while the mother worries about her figure. The husband (Lee Jeong-jae) is smitten by the new maid and it isn’t long before he’s moving in on her. An affair is sparked and when news that Eun Yi is pregnant breaks, it threatens to not just destroy their relationship, but will affect all of those within the household.

The first thing that grabs the viewers’ attention is Im Sang-soo’s glorious visual style. Each frame is a composition to be marvelled, a shot as simple as a man in a hallway has never, and should never look as beautiful – decadent in fact – as it does here. Each frame is a loving composition that leaves the viewer in awe. You could say that Sang-soo is using these exquisite visuals to hide the films flaws, which is a valid point as the film does have its issues with its rushed finale; but the visuals are essential to the film not just for aesthetics, but it helps us fall in love with the world that Eun-yi herself becomes infatuated with.

The Housemaid is a slow-burner, very little actually happens, its narrative progression is through dialogue and not set-pieces. Character actions are witnessed, but the consequences for these actions are escalated through dialogue driven confrontations which gradually builds and builds until the film literally explodes in the finale. This is the films biggest flaw, the pay-off is built-up throughout the film, yet the finale does come across as rushed. It’s the only flaw the film has, but if you’re caught up in the movies spell, which is hard not to be, it’s forgivable but others may be left disappointed.

The actors are all on form here, with Jeon Do-yeon giving a no-holds barred performance that has seen her rightly rewarded with various accolades on the festival circuit. Lee Jeong-jae also delivers a fantastic performance as a man who has it all and believes he’s entitled to everything within his household regardless of others feelings; he’s a detestable fella, yet his charisma is hard to deny; witness his Patrick Bateman-esque sexual prowess and try and hold a grudge against him.

The Housemaid may not be the masterpiece the original 1960’s version is, but as an erotic thriller the film ranks as one of the genre’s finest. A movie that is truly titillating and thrilling, the film excels with its visual-seduction as the characters sweat the screen up. It may be too slow for most, but for those with patience and appreciation for beautiful compositions and a sold story, there is plenty here to appreciate. It’s bold film and one of South Korea’s best of 2010.

You can buy the Korean DVD for The Housemaid here.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Cherry Tree Lane (2010)

Paul Andrew Williams has been a director to watch for British cinema fans since his powerful debut in 2006 with London to Brighton. Dealing with such pleasant acts as child prostitution and drug addiction, it was the perfect introduction for a no-holds barred director such as Williams. Two years later he returned with The Cottage, the complete opposite to his debut. The Cottage, by comparison, was a throwaway horror comedy about a couple of would be kidnappers whose choice of hideaway really couldn't have been worse. It was no-brain horror goodness that shocked fans of his debut, but now he's back with Cherry Tree Lane and he's giving audiences another horror film with the social realism that drove London to Brighton. Prepare to be depressed.

The story is a simple one. A middle-class couple are held captive by three, angry, young men who want to murder their son for reporting a crime in which a cousin of one of the youths was the perpetrator. Problem is, he's not home and the youth decide to kill time by terrorising his parents while waiting for him to return.

So, enjoyable premise it is not, but that's not to say the film isn't worth the discomfort the film will cause, and believe me when I say you'll be left destroyed by this film. The film has been labeled as a brutal, unflinching horror film – which it very much is – but the actual onscreen violence in minimal; all be a few slaps and some punches, every other act of violence is not shown. As with another British film that dealt with disillusioned youth menacing the rich, Thomas Clay's The Great Ecstasy of Robert Carmichael, Paul Andrew Williams has applied the ol' Hitchcock favourite of 'what you don't see is worse than what you do see' (and which was lacking in the horrific finale to Robert Carmichael) and has pushed it to the limit.

By using nothing but sound and characters facial expressions to get across the message, Williams masterful restraint has created one of the most uncomfortable viewing experiences in some time. With ever increasing graphic images finding their way into modern horror films, it's refreshing to see a film that is prepared to put it's effort into destroying it's audience by using the their own imagination rather than relying on the special effects team. It's nothing new by any means, but it's all to rarely seen in movies these days outside of Michael Haneke's filmography.

As an exercise in film-making, Cherry Tree Lane is a success but the film as a whole doesn't work as well as it could have. Williams knows he's using a tabloid hot-potatoe with lower-class youth victimising a middle-class couple, but he has no answers or input as to why such events actually happen. He seems more content with using it as an additional tool to mind fuck his audience with, which relegates the film to basic exploitation, as he certainly doesn't have a message or suitable reason for the films brutality. Some may take offense by it, some will not be able to appreciate his film-making abilities regarding violence and others may actually anticipate more brutality than what they'll have been given.

Cherry Tree Lane may not be as important as it might like to appear, but it's certainly an exercise in terror unlike most in the genre. Fans of the technical side of film will likely appreciate it more than a viewer just looking to push their limits of horror; but it's a worthwhile endurance test for anyone who enjoys being manipulated by a film-maker as there's no real substance to the film outside of it's creative inventiveness. It does show Paul Andrew Williams as a film-maker who continues to grow and with each passing movie shows us what he's capable of, needless to say I'm excited for his next movie.

Cherry Tree Lane is out buy now on DVD.

Heartless (2010)

It's a tight rope to walk when trying to create a fairytale for adults. Sure we've had some attempts that have managed to pull it off effortlessly, who can deny the power and beauty of Geillermo del Toro's  Pan's Labyrinth? But for every Pan's Labyrinth we also have Snow White: A Tale of Terror or Rumpelstiltskin to contend with. As fun and cheesy as Rumpelstiltskin is, it fails to have the desired effect of all fairy tales; that of caution and distrust. Philip Ridley however has made a welcome return to film-making with a triumphant new fairytale that hits it's marks perfectly and gives us yet another gripping adult fairytale that ranks as horrific and affecting as anything in Pan's Labyrinth.

Jamie (Jim Sturgess) is an east-end photographer haunted by his birthmark. A large, heart-shaped blemish covering most of the left side of his face, it is the cause of much ridicule that is the creator of the introverted, shy man he is today. With news reports of escalating incidents of random violence carried out by hooded youngsters wearing demon-like masks. One night, he and his mother are attacked by this gang and his mother is murdered, swearing revenge Jamie set out to find who is responsible for his mothers death. Once he meets the sinister Papa B (Joseph Mawle) however, Jamie is offered everything he longs for, all he has to do is re-pay Papa B back when he asks him to. Needless to say, he's in for more than he bargained for.

What makes Heartless such a rewarding film is it's layers. I've given a brief outline of the film, but to know more would likely ruin it's twisted charm and appeal. This is a movie that was designed for repeat viewings, it's secrets aren't going to be revealed to you on first viewing; you have to re-visit and re-evaluate the film with the knowledge acquired upon previous viewings. Everything shot in this film applied itself to the character of Jamie, from the films colour scheme to the actual locations, each symbolize an aspect of understanding Jamie; even the belongings in his home add characterisation. It's also here where the fairytale aspect creeps in as Jamie's room is contains paintings of such classics as Beauty and the Beast and Peter Pan.

As hard as director Ridley has been working behind the camera with his crew for the film unique look, none of that hard work would have been futile hadn't the cast been up to snuff. Luckily Ridley has been blessed with a fine supporting cast to help aide Sturgess, who himself has given his best performance to date her. Timothy Spall and Ruth Sheen both give heartfelt turns here as Jamie's parents, while Eddie Marsan and Joseph Mawle provide the necessary malice the film needs. Clémence Poésy and Noel Clarke round the cast as Jamie's friend and love interest; both give memorable performances and Poésy provides the film with a welcome glimpse of light and softness.

Heartless is a dark film, not just visually but the subject matters the film covers are equally as heavy on the senses. It's not a happy film, situations spiral from bad to worse and just like all good fairy tales, no one will make it out intact, and this goes for the audience too. This is also the films biggest flaw, it's a cold film and may distract viewers from coming back to it and giving it the essential second viewing; where you'll find yourself re-watching the film while discovering another. Philip Ridley has returned to film-making with a bang, this is tough-as-nails stuff that's excellently acted by its ensemble cast and a welcome return to one of British cinemas reclusive talents. Here's hoping we don't have to wait 15 years for the next one!

You can buy Heartless on Blu-ray or DVD now!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Glasgow Film Theatre: October 24th...

Calum Waddell has announced the awesome line-up for a one-off event in the Glasgow Film Theatre on October 24th 2010. Here's the line-up...

This event off with the UK premiere screening of Frank Henenlotter's freaking fantastic documentary HERSCHELL GORDON LEWIS: THE GODFATHER OF GORE:

A special, pre-DVD release screening of ISLAND OF DEATH with Greek exploitation legend Nico Mastorakis in attendance for an audience Q and A!

Next, the UK premiere of the EXPOSE remake (now re-titled STALKER) with star Jane March in person.

At 8pm we'll be rounding off the evening with a big screen showing of Lamberto Bava's DEMONS.

And you'll be geting two-for-one guests on this because before DEMONS we'll be continuing the video nasty vibe by showing a trailer reel from 1980's CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST followed by a Q and A session with the star Francesca Ciardi (AKA Faye Daniels) making her first UK public appearance.

Followed by a special appearance, and Q and A, with Mr. Sergio Stivaletti - the effects man behind DEMONS, DEMONS 2, PHENOMENA, OPERA, THE CHURCH, CEMETERY MAN, THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA, MOTHER OF TEARS.... you bloody name it! He also, of course, directed WAX MASK, taking over from the late Lucio Fulci.

So: one day, a quartet of guests, four films - all for £22 or £18 conc. No autograph fees or anything - come, drink, watch movies, shop at the Arrow stall, win some freebies, enjoy yourselves. As always we aim to make sure you get your money's worth!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Evil Dead UK Blu-ray!

Sony Pictures have announced the UK Blu-Ray debut of Sam Raimi's classic Video Nasty, The Evil Dead! It's one tasty looking package...

Director Sam Raimi’s Cult Horror Classic Available
For the First Time Ever on Blu-ray Disc!


Featuring Hours of Innovative New Bonus Features, Including All-New Cast & Crew Commentary & Interactive Picture-in-Picture Commentary

On October 11, cult horror classic THE EVIL DEAD rises to terrifying new life across the globe on Blu-ray Disc, courtesy of Sony Pictures Home Entertainment.

Featuring digitally remastered high definition picture and sound, plus hours of innovative new bonus features, this is the ultimate way for fans old and new; good and evil; alive and un-dead to experience this groundbreaking horror favourite!

Before conquering the global box office with his smash hit Spider-Man series, director Sam Raimi changed the face of horror with this spine-tingling tale of a group of college students facing off against forces of evil at an isolated cabin. At the time of its release, legendary horror author Stephen King called THE EVIL DEAD “the most ferociously original horror film of the year.”

Now, horror fans around the globe can experience the terror in the woods like never before with nightmarishly vivid 1080p HD picture and hauntingly crisp 5.1 Dolby TrueHD sound.

In addition, this stunning new high-def transfer comes loaded with thrilling new bonus features, including all new commentary with Director Sam Raimi, Producer Rob Tapert, and actor Bruce Campbell, plus the interactive Picture-in-Picture commentary “Join Us! The Undying Legacy of The Evil Dead.” Additional bonus features include the featurettes “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 Evil Dead,” “Make-Up Test,” “Ellen and Drama Teacher” and “On-Stage Interview.”

THE EVIL DEAD will be available on Blu-ray Disc for RRP £17.99.

Five Michigan State University students venture into the hills to spend a weekend at an isolated cabin. There they discover an ancient Sumerian text, known as the “Morturom Demonto”; roughly translated as “The Book of the Dead.” While searching the basement of the cabin, the students find and play a tape recording of demonic incantations from the book, unwittingly resurrecting slumbering demons that thirst for revenge. The characters are then possessed - one by one - by the spirits of the Book.

THE EVIL DEAD was written and directed by Sam Raimi (Spider-Man trilogy, Drag Me To Hell) and produced by Robert G. Tapert (Drag Me To Hell, The Grudge). Its cast features Bruce Campbell (Evil Dead 2, Army of Darkness), Ellen Sandweiss (My Name is Bruce), Hal Delrich (Crimewave), Betsy Baker (TV’s “Southland”, “E.R.”) and Sarah York (TV’s “Dangerous Women”).

It has a run time of approximately 85 minutes and is rated 18.

Blu-ray High Def Bonus Material

* All New Commentary with Director Sam Raimi, Producer Rob Tapert, and actor 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 Evil Dead
* Make-Up Test
* Ellen and Drama Teacher
* On-Stage Interview
* Make-up Test

The Blu-ray Disc version of THE EVIL DEAD is BD-Live enabled, allowing users to get connected and go beyond the disc via an Internet-connected Blu-ray player and download content.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Animal Sanctuary: Not Cute. Some Fluffy.

On Christmas Eve, 1896, Georges Méliès created the horror film with ‘Le Manoir du diable’. Everything about early genre films was born here, the gothic castle, witches, Christianity overcoming Satan etc etc. It also touched on an issue that would become a staple of the horror genre in its later period, with it’s depiction of an animal, in this case a bat, turned into an evil, threatening force.

Whereas in early horror films the animal itself was not the threat, as with ‘Le Manoir du diable’ the threat comes once the bat has transformed into the legendary Mephistopheles of the ‘Faust’ tale. But as time progressed and the 50’s brought with it a wave of science-based disaster-horror films featuring giant scientific experiments gone wrong, it became apparent that the creatures of yore were no longer frightening to the majority of moviegoers.

Then came Alfred Hitchcock’s ‘Psycho’ in 1960 and it all changed. No longer was the ‘unbelievable’ scary for audiences. The fear of ‘us’ became the ultimate fear for audiences as cemented by George A. Romero’s legendary ‘Night of the Living Dead’ in 1968, and remains so to this day. There was also another milestone during this period from Hitchcock, ‘The Birds’ in 1963. Not only did we have to be afraid of those around us, but of other creatures: creatures as seemingly unthreatening as seagulls became potential harbingers of doom … and they wouldn’t be the last.

Since those menacing seagulls et al attacked, filmmakers have upped the anti from movie to movie. Exploitation cinema was also there to fill the audience’s desire for more animals running amok with a staggering variation of animals loosing their marbles, from 1972’s ‘Frogs’ from George McCowan; which sees a household being terrorised by not just the titular amphibians but also lizards, birds and more surreally butterflies! And who could forget William F. Claxton’s 1972 carnivorous killer rabbits epic ‘Night of the Lepus’?

Hell, the modern Hollywood blockbuster was born from this pandemic with Steven Spielberg’s ‘Jaws’ in 1975; changing the movie industry forever and shaping it into what we know it as today, cheers Steve! Of course the film industry are always keen to cash-in on success and ‘Jaws’ was no different. All kinds of fish have lost their marbles in filmland, such as killer whales in 1977’s ‘Orca’, octopus in the same years ‘Tentacles’ and barracudas in err… ‘Barracuda’ from Harry Kerwin in1978!

Now, it’s all good and well to find ‘inspiration’ in another movie, but certain filmmakers, well… certain Italian filmmakers, felt that imitation was indeed the sincerest form of hackery and actually ripped ‘Jaws’ off entirely. The father of the ‘Inglorious Basterds’ himself, Enzo G. Castellari was the first inline with 1980’s ‘Great White’ which managed to reframe from ‘referencing’ whole lines of dialogue and even managed to top ‘Jaws 2’ highlight set-piece, involving the shark attacking a helicopter. It was later ‘referenced’ itself by trash cinema icon Bruno Mattei in…

1995’s ‘Cruel Jaws’. Truly a film that needs seeing to be believed! Not only does it rip lines of dialogue straight from Spielberg’s blockbuster, but it also lifts actual footage from fellow rip-offs ‘Great White’ and Joe D’Amato’s lazy 1989 effort ‘Deep Blood’! It’ll never see the light of day in the UK or US, but it can be had for those willing to risk their sanity.

Marine life, Birds, rabbits, butterflies and lizards were just the tip of the iceberg though as audiences have been terrified by electrically juiced up bloodworms in Jeff Lieberman’s grossly effective 1976 outing ‘Squirm’. The same year also saw cult legend Christopher George fending off an 18-foot man-eating bear in, equally cult-worthy, William Girdler’s ‘Grizzly’.

George and Girdler re-teamed in 1977 for ‘Day of the Animals’ which sees the depleted O-zone layer causing a chemical shift in animal life. Animals such as mountain lions, black bears, German shepherds, and birds of prey all lose the plot. Also that year, William Shatner had to defend a small Arizonan town from thousands of hungry tarantulas in John "Bud" Cardos’ epic ‘Kingdom of Spiders’.

1978 saw the last worthwhile forays into the Nature Amok subgenre, with Joe Dante’s horror-comedy ‘Piranha’, capturing the absurdity of the genre to perfection while Australian, Colin Eggleston created a genre masterpiece with ‘Long Weekend’. His tale of a reckless couple whose selfish treatment of their surroundings catches up with them in the most frightening of ways remains an under-looked genre film to this day.

From there the subgenre dwindled with only a few worthwhile titles finding their way to the screen. Roger Corman produced 1979 effort ‘Up From the Depths’ from Charles B. Griffith is a guilty pleasured cheese-fest featuring a killer shark-like critter that will cause many a laugh. As will James Cameron’s (yes, him) ‘Piranha II: The Spawning’ from 1981. An Itlaian-American co-production starring the incomparable Lance Henriksen is as entertaining as it is improbably – flying Piranha?!

1982 saw James Herbert’s novel, ‘The Rats’ transferred into ‘Deadly Eyes’ by ‘Enter the Dragon’ and ‘Black Belt Jones’ director Robert Clouse. Giant killer rats, the produce of contaminated grain (!) go on a rampage in Canada. This Golden Harvest production would be one of the last guilty pleasures of the Nature Amok subgenre, that seemingly died out… until recently.

As re-make fever continues to fester in the horror community, Nature Amok titles have suffered the same fate as some of the horror genre staples like ‘Texas Chainsaw Massacre’ and ‘Dawn of the Dead’, they’ve been… re-imagined, for a whole new generation. With the recent release of Alexandre Aja’s re-make of ‘Piranha’ scaring up big bucks at the box-office, maybe we’ll see more re-imaginings of these guilty pleasure?

But fret not hardened horror fans, original Nature Amok titles are still being produced, and just like the bygone era that birthed them; they remain as underappreciated now as they did then, Carter Smith’s 2008 shocker ‘The Ruins’ being one such title. There’s also Carlos Brooks 2010 feature ‘Burning Bright’ which is currently creating buzz within the horror community.

After nearly 50 years worth of cinematic animal madness, the genre is long overdue a fresh take and ‘Burning Bright’ is just that. Here we have an animal most people wouldn’t care to bump in to, a Bengal tiger, not only is it already known as a prestigious man-eater, but this tiger hasn’t been fed in days! Enter a caring sister and her autistic brother, locked in their waste-of-space step-fathers house which just happens to have been boarded up for an incoming hurricane, and unleash the tiger and watch the fun and games unfold.

Mashing the Nature Amok subgenre with the Home Invasion subgenre, made famous by the likes of Bob Clark’s 1974 seminal ‘Black Christmas’, Robert A Endelson’s 1977 grindhouse classic ‘Fight for your Life’ and Michele Heneke’s 1997 arthouse wonder ‘Funny Games’ is a bold and ingenious realisation. It’s also one that pays off and creates a truly original horror movie in a genre awash with re-imaginings and sequels.

Burning Bright’ has just been premiered at Filmfour’s celebrated Frightfest and makes its DVD debut courtesy of Momentum Pictures on September 6th.