Friday, July 3, 2009

Final Girl Film Club: Burial Ground [aka The Nights Of Terror] (1981) Review

My first taste of Italian horror from the early 80’s was Lucio Fulcio’s The Beyond. It was a load of bemusing nonsense, but compared to Burial Ground it was high art. Watching Burial Ground is like watching a child repetitively banging away on a toy drum. It’s cute for a minute or two but ultimately becomes a dull monotonous drone that you just wish would stop or change tune.

In Burial Ground, a professor, with an impossibly long beard, unearths some sort of stone tablet with a few markings on it that look remarkably like something you’d see on a Fisher Price toy for infants. He mutters to himself, “I’m the only one who knows the secret. It’s incredible. Incredible,” before he trots back to the site where he discovered the tablet only to be promptly eaten alive by hessian sack dressed zombies with paper mache heads.

In the wake of the professor's premature demise, seven previously invited guests (three adult couples and one child) show up at his luxurious mansion oblivious to the fact that their host is dead. They barely have time to speculate about the professor’s whereabouts and have a quick shag before the zombies descend upon them. What ensues is a seemingly endless series of scenes where the protagonists enter a set from one side, some zombies enter from the other, any/all female characters scream wildly, and the male characters try to find an object to hit the zombie’s piƱata head with. I lost count of the number of times this happens. It’s mind-numbingly repetitive.

Like Lucio Fulci, director Andrea Bianchi, makes the mistake of shooting his substandard effects in bright light, and extreme close up. If their appearances were brief and shadowy, they may very well have been scary. But the protracted, brightly lit, shots of the paper mache headed extras stiffly shuffling towards their dim-witted victims is about as suspenseful as watching dish water go down the drain.

Whilst it’s really difficult to know what Fulci’s intentions were with The Beyond, it’s pretty clear Bianchi really only has exploitation in mind. There’s sex, violence and even some incest thrown in for good measure. The incestuous scenes are bit off-putting, but not for the reasons you might expect. The young boy is played by a pint sized man, and his bizarre interactions with his mother play like the worst kind of David Lynch surrealism, rather than anything resembling a convincing portrayal of incestuous love.

Whilst I consider myself a fan of horror cinema I suspect italian zombie flicks from the 70’s and 80's just aren’t for me. With no story, no characters, and crappy effects shot in bright light I'm really hard pressed to find anything to like.

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Saturday, June 20, 2009

Excrement Of The Dead: Diary Of The Dead (2007) Review

In Diary Of The Dead, a bunch of college film students and their alcoholic professor, making a horror film in the woods, hear about some strange, violent, goings on in the city so they get in their campervan and drive places. Along the way they run into nasty living dead people who can only be made dead dead people by inflicting some sort of major head trauma. One of the students decides to film the adventure and, despite the fact that everyone else thinks it’s a stupid idea, they all help him anyway. Like The Blair Witch Project and Cloverfield the film is completely shot from the point of view of the protagonists.

George A. Romero is like a preacher who hasn’t got the faintest idea about what he wants to say. All the characters in Dairy Of The Dead are two dimensional mouth pieces that prattle on about new media, the internet, government cover-ups, and anything else George thinks might fool viewers into thinking he has something contemporary and relevant to say. But, considering this is his fifth film with the words “of the dead” in the title, I think it pays to be a little cynical.

The fundamental problem with Diary Of The Dead is that it talks a lot but never actually says anything. This is probably best epitomised by the two dumbest lines of dialogue in the film. Actually, they’re probably the two dumbest lines of dialogue ever uttered in any film, ever:

‘It used to be us against us. Now it’s us against them.’ – Jason.
‘He was right, “us against them”, except they are us.’ – Debra.

Hang on, if they are us then it’s us against us isn’t it? But he just said it was us again them, not us against us. It reads like the start of a Laurel & Hardy “who’s on first…” sketch, but the actors deliver these ridiculous lines with a level of seriousness usually only reserved for eulogies.

If the words “what”, “the” and “fuck” don’t involuntarily blurt out of your mouth when you hear or read those lines then maybe this pseudo-intellectual hokum will be to your taste. But if you, like me, realise that it makes absolutely no sense what so ever, then you’re well on the way to understanding why Diary Of The Dead is such a pretentious flop.

I could forgive the failed attempts at poignant social commentary if the film worked on some other level, but it doesn’t. Sure it’s bloody (CGI bloody, not corn syrup bloody BTW), but Romero’s slow moving ghouls ceased being frightening a long time ago, and because all the characters seem like emotionless video camera sales people there isn’t the slightest bit of suspense on the rare occasions their lives are in peril. I defy any viewer to care about any character in this film.

With Diary Of The Dead, Romero really only proves, like another famous George who has milked his initial success for all it’s worth, that the “…of the dead” well is now completely dry.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Final Girl Film Club: Amityville II: The Possession (1982) Review

My recollections of the original Amityville Horror aren’t great. The film database in my brain has an entry that simply says “boring movie about a house in which not a lot happens”. I have a clearer memory of the Amityville Horror 2005 remake, but it failed to light my torch for pretty much the same reason. The story of a bunch of uninteresting people who move into a house that makes them all a little cranky just doesn’t seem to work very well. Like Children Of The Corn, I never really understood how such a dull film became a franchise and I’ve not seen any of the sequels, until now...

Amityville II: The Possession starts out like the original. A family of uninteresting people, two parents and four kids, move into a house (which I think is supposed to be scary looking given the protracted shots of it and the overwrought music score that accompanies it), only to, again, very slowly become a bit cranky with one another. For a whole hour not a lot happens. Then, all of a sudden, as if the film makers had just seen The Exorcist on VHS and decided it would be way cooler to make a movie like that, there’s a bloodbath at the house and a priest gets involved trying to exorcise the protagonist who’s become the antagonist.

The performances can be evenly divided up into “solid” and “rubbish”. Dad (Burt Young), and the eldest daughter (Diane Franklin) are pretty good. Franklin’s right breast is particularly appealing, even if the circumstances in which it is revealed are completely unbelievable. On the other hand, Mum (Rutanya Alda) and the eldest son (Jack Magner) are laugh-out-loud hopeless. In fairness, Mum is too often asked to looked scared of absolutely nothing, so her overblown reactions to, well, nothing, seem completely ridiculous. Jack Magner, on the other hand, is tasked with being menacing, and it should come as no surprise to anyone who’s seen his short CV, that he categorically fails to do so. When he’s supposed to appear evil he just looks retarded.

The fact that Amityville II two starts like an Amityville movie but ends like an Exorcist rip-off actually makes it fifty percent better than a plain old Amityville movie. I actually kind of enjoyed the film after the one hour mark. Although I’m not sure whether the last act seemed more interesting than it really was due to the fact that the first hour is so dull.

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Friday, March 27, 2009

Final Girl Film Club: The Beyond (1981) Review

The Beyond commences with a prelude set in Louisiana, 1927. A mob of light brown skinned men, dressed in brown, rowing a brown boat up a brown river, descend on a brown hotel, and make their way to room number 36 (nicely decorated in brown). The room’s occupant is a painter, who the mob accuses of being a warlock before they lash him with chains, nail him to a wall in the basement and cover him in some sort of corrosive brown goo. Apparently art critics were absolutely merciless in the olden days.

The action then skips forward to 1981 (and by “action” I mean a series of poorly directed, disparate, scenes) where Liza (Katherine MacColl) and a bunch of motley characters are busy restoring the hotel we saw in the olden days prelude.

Before you can ask, “who are these people and why is their dialogue looped so badly”, a painter falls from some scaffolding and starts oozing red corn syrup from every known orifice. This is the first in a series equally dull and poorly executed death scenes loosely cobbled together because, according to some particularly clunky exposition, the hotel is built on one of the seven gates of hell. I can only assume the other six are the entrances to the cinemas that originally exhibited this schlockfest.

I’m not well versed in Italian horror from the 70’s and 80’s so I don’t know how well The Beyond compares. If it’s indicative, then I’d suggest the Italians should have stuck to making pesto sauce because, in its own right, The Beyond is pretty bad. Admittedly, on some occasions, it’s so bad it’s good. The corny dialogue and lame effects did have me laughing out loud on a few occasions, but mostly I was just bored or bemused by it.

The performances are all stilted and/or overblown, and are not helped by the poorly looped dialogue. In some scenes you could be forgiven for thinking the dialogue was originally in Italian and you’re watching the dubbed English version. The only real exception to the universally bad performances is Dicky the German Sheppard, who manages to provide the film with it’s one and only convincing portrayal. I genuinely believed Dicky was a dog who didn’t want to be caught up in this mess.

The deaths scenes are all gory, but the effects are so piss weak they’re unlikely to satisfy gore-hounds or frighten anyone else. To make matters worse director Lucio Fulci shoots these lame effects in bright light, and in extreme close up. There’s just nowhere for the latex, and red corn syrup to hide.

In one scene, for instance, a bloke who is helping the hotel’s owner with the restorations is knocked unconscious after falling from a ladder, and is soon descended upon by killer tarantulas (oddly, this all takes place in the town’s planning office, not the hotel, but anyway…). At first Fulci uses real spiders, threatening to stage the film’s first genuinely creepy scene. But once they actually start to attack the guy, the spiders are replaced with a pair of pliers covered in black pipe cleaners and the victim is replaced with one of those first aid resuscitation dummies. And, just in case there’s any chance this lame effect might frighten his audience, Fulci shines a bright light on it and shoots it from half an inch away so you can clearly see that it’s just pliers, pipe cleaners, and rubber. Nothin’ to be afraid of kids.

Once you add the mood shattering music, a few incidental characters that drop in and out for no readily apparent reason, Fulci’s weirdo cameo, and some of the slowest moving undead in the history of cinema, you’ll soon understand why this film is such an obscurity. This is not a lost gem waiting to be discovered (like 1974’s Black Christmas). It’s a film that should be lashed, buried and forgotten about. And should anyone ever dig it up again, may their head turn into latex and ooze goo.

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Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The Worstest Movie Ever: The Brown Bunny (2003) Review

The Brown Bunny, a movie about an unhappy bloke who drives from one place to another place, is 80% tedium, 20% exploitation, and 100% shit.

Imagine bolting a video camera to the inside of your car and aimlessly driving around for 45 minutes: this is how Vincent Gallo, the talentless hack responsible for this turgid piece of excrement, gets half his principle “photography” in the can. There’s no narration or dialogue, just badly shot, dull and pointless car cam. It feels like he made a bad short film and then decided to pad it out to an even worse feature length movie using this utterly inane footage.

The interminable boredom this invokes is only broken up by a handful of completely implausible scenes where the inexplicably catatonic Gallo gets out of his van to play tonsil hockey with complete strangers. These strangers appear to be, for reasons that are never explained or explored, similarly catatonic and unbelievably responsive to Gallo’s pathetic advances.

The final scene, that attempts to explain why we’ve been subjected to the previous, seemingly endless, montage of mind-numbing scenes, plays out like a bad 50’s who-dun-it. The exposition comes flooding out, and is handled with all the subtlety of a sledgehammer beating other sledgehammers with a sledgehammer.

Gallo stars in, wrote, shot, directed, edited and produced The Brown Bunny. He show’s so little care and/or competency in every single discipline, it’s hard to not think he made this crap simply so he could to have it off with a few desperate actresses.

And if Gallo is really a genius, who’s created a masterpiece that people like me simply don’t understand (as some fans of this film assert), how is it that the best response he could come up with to Roger Ebert’s criticisms of the film was to call Ebert a “fat pig”? Genius? Masterpiece? Pig's ass!

Friday, March 13, 2009

Video Piracy is Hardcore, Baby Killing, Evil

Here's my version of those hot and bothered anti-piracy ads they shove on legally purchased DVDs.