Sunday, December 19, 2010

Quick BIQ Review: The Ring Two (2005)

Compared to it's predecessor, The Ring Two is less scary, makes less sense, and contains more Australians.

The most intriguing thing about The Ring Two is why Naomi Watts' hairstyle inexplicably changes so dramatically shortly after the film begins.

The performances are good and the direction is solid, but the story is so silly and arbitrary this muddled sequel really fails to impress.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

True Horror: Keli Lane found guilty of murder

Have you ever had one of those conversations that go something like this:

"Did you hear about that guy who they think killed his daughter in Dubbo?"
"Oh, you mean the little girl they found in the oil drum?"
"Oil drum? No, she was drowned in the bath tub. Wasn't the oil drum murder in Adelaide?"
"Hmm, I'm not sure, I thought it was Dubbo, but I could be wrong. I heard about a bathtub drowning in Sydney."
"That was the little boy who drowned at his Aunt's place wasn't it?"
"Was it an Aunt? I thought it was the father's girlfriend."
"Oh, yeah. No, this one was a little girl in Dubbo."

These conversations are the result of the fact that real life criminal stories have such a disjointed narrative. It can be literally years between the first media reports of a crime taking place and any kind of resolution. And whilst one case "goes quiet" for an extended time there are many other cases that get reported in between. Cases with similar details seem to blend together, particularly if you are only taking a casual interest.

I rarely take more than a casual interest in real life criminal cases, and am always confusing facts from one case with another, but the recent trial of Keli Lane for the murder of her newborn infant, Tegan, in 1996 really piqued my interest. It's just such a bizarre case. If it had been a fictitious film I would almost certainly be scoffing at how implausible it all was.

It seems truth really is stranger than fiction.

If you're not familiar with the case I'll do my best to sum it up in 50 words or less...

Between 1995 and 1999 a young elite water polo player, Keli Lane, had 3 unwanted full-term pregnancies. She gave the first and third babies up for adoption, but the second baby, born in 1996, is still unaccounted for to this day.

Lane kept all three pregnancies and births secret from her parents (with whom she was living), her boyfriend (who she was shagging), the biological fathers (confirmed not to be the boyfriend for babies no. 1 and 3), her friends and her water polo team mates. How? Don't ask. No one, including Lane, has provided a convincing explanation of how she did it.

Because Lane had kept all pregnancies secret no one seemed to know that Tegan even existed, let alone that she was missing. It wasn’t until Keli was organising the adoption of her third baby that social workers realised Tegan was unaccounted for. At first, Lane tried to deny ever having given birth to Tegan. When presented with evidence that she'd given birth to Tegan in Auburn Hospital in 1996 she changed her story and said she'd given Tegan away to a couple in Perth. When social workers referred the matter to police as a "missing person" case, Lane again changed her story saying that she gave Tegan to the biological father, a man she first identified as Andrew Morris, but then later identified as Andrew Norris.

In the 10 years since, there's been a coronial inquiry (which recommended Tegan's disappearance be investigated as a homicide) and an extensive police search for Andrew Morris/Norris and Tegan. The police ultimately concluded that Andrew Morris/Norris did not exist and Tegan must have been killed by Keli sometime between leaving Auburn Hospital at approx 11am, on 14th Sept. 1996, and arriving at her parent’s house, without Tegan, at approximately 3pm on the same day.

Keli Lane was tried for Tegan's murder this year and after a 4 month trial, the jury spent a week deliberating before telling the judge that they couldn't reach a unanimous verdict. The judge then gave the jury the option of returning a majority verdict (IE 11 votes to 1). Before you could say "Keli Lane is fast running out of friends" the jury returned with a majority "guilty" verdict.

...OK, that's a lot more than 50 words, but I did my best.

Keli Lane outside court - before the verdict, obviously.

I think most observers were shocked by the verdict. Whilst it's pretty obvious Lane is a pathological liar and her story is bollocks, the prosecution case was highly circumstantial. With no physical evidence and a less than compelling motive (Tegan was a "problem" that Keli wanted to get rid of) in light of the fact that she'd adopted out the other babies, "reasonable doubt" seemed to be built in. Apparently eleven out of the twelve Jurors didn't see it that way.

After the trial concluded, the Judge released police interview footage from 2003. In it police confront Keli about the fact that none of her stories are checking out, and if she doesn’t come clean about what happened to Tegan it will be referred to the coroner. The really weird thing about Lane, in that video, is the way she reacts to various things the police say to her. When she’s confronted with the suggestion that Tegan is untraceable and possibly dead, Lane doesn’t seem too perturbed. But when the police indicate that they’ll have to start interviewing family and friends to try to get to the truth of the matter, Lane gets really upset at the prospect of them finding out she ever had Tegan. Dead kid = no problem. Embarrassing pregnancy = "No! Please don’t tell anyone!" And if Lane really is innocent, then it’s truly bizarre that she doesn’t protest her innocence in the police interview more. She denies killing Tegan, but doesn’t seem that interested in explaining what became of Tegan, in order to clear her name.

That police interview is the only real incite we get into Keli and her strange behaviour. She didn’t give evidence at the coronial inquest, she didn’t give evidence at the trial, and she’s never been interviewed by the media. According to freelance journalist Rachel Jane Chin, who twittered updates throughout the trial and is publishing a book about the case in the new year, Keli always appeared calm and confident in court. Chin observed that Lane’s parents had “aged 10 years” during the trial, but Keli always looked “fresh”. Whilst a person’s physical appearance is really not an accurate barometer of their psychology, it’s still unsettling that such a normal, dare I say attractive, looking woman led such a bizarre life.

Of course the story will probably go quiet again, in the media, until Keli’s sentencing hearing in February next year. I guess it’s possible her lawyers will mount some sort of an appeal after that time too. It’ll be very interesting to see if Keli’s story changes again in a bid to get out of jail.

Even though Keli Lane is now behind bars, officially guilty of killing her daughter Tegan, I suspect this story still has some way to run.

And I’ll be very surprised if someone doesn’t make a movie about it.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Quick BIQ Review: Cube 2: Hypercube (2002)

I don't know whether to praise the film makers for injecting some new ideas into the Cube universe, or to slap them for even attempting to make a sequel to a film which simply didn't need one.

I'm leaning towards the later.

On the plus side, the performances are better and the rules of the new Hypercube make the familiar narrative (of a bunch of people stuck in a bunch of cubes) seem fresher than it probably is. But the attempt, this time around, to explain who and/or what is outside the cube feels all wrong. I have to admit that I wasn't particularly enamoured with the ambiguity of the original's ending, but the ending to Cube 2 is even less satisfying.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Rant O'Clock: 3D Blu-ray

Earlier this year I decided it was about time I replaced my 13 year old RPTV, that resembles 2001's big black monolith, with a nice new LCD or Plasma HD flat screen TV.

I've got the cash and I'm ready to buy, but nine months later I haven't made a purchase. Why? The very people that stand to profit from my purchase are the very people who seem to be going out of their way to discourage me from buying.

My conundrum is simple. I don't want to buy a 2D TV only for it to become a white elephant in 12 months time, if 3D takes off. But I don't want to go to the extra expense of buying a 3D TV right now because you simply can't get any content for them.

The ridiculous thing about the lack of content is not that 3D movies haven't been published on 3D Blu-ray. They have. The ridiculous thing is these films are being exclusively released bundled with the TVs or some other "starter" pack. If you buy a Samsumg you'll get Monsters Vs Aliens for "free", but you can't go and buy Avatar. If you buy a Panasonic you'll get Avatar for "free" but you can't buy Alice in Wonderland.

Virtually all the major titles released on 3D Blu-ray are not available for purchase separately. In other words, after you spend thousands of dollars on your new 3D TV, 3D Blu-ray player, and (proprietary) 3D glasses you're stuck watching the one lousy movie that came bundled with your TV.

What the flying fuck are these corporations thinking? Do they honestly think that I'll spend thousands of dollars without thinking about what else I might be able to do with the equipment, apart from watch Monsters Vs Aliens?

The vague promise from retail sales people that more 3D Blu-ray titles are coming seems pretty hollow in light of the fact that some of these exclusivity deals (like Panasonic's Avatar deal) allegedly last for 12 months, and "big" upcoming releases (like the Shrek 1 to 4 3D Blu-ray set) are still being stitched up in exclusive bundles.

So, I'm going to keep my cash and continuing to holding off purchasing any TV, until the likes of Panasonic, Samsung, and Sony quit with this ridiculous "exclusive bundling" nonsense.

So there!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Misnomer Monday

I'd like to take this opportunity to thank Sean Cunningham and all the good folk responsible for the Friday The 13th series of films. Without your fine work Misnomer Monday simply wouldn't be possible. So, I thank you from the bottom of my pile of thank yous.

As we all know Jason takes a boat ride to Manhattan in the eighth Friday The 13th installment, but never really "takes Manhattan". Apologies to anyone who hasn't seen this fine film for that sock knocking spoiler.

So, to that question: what should it have been called?

Friday The 13th Part VIII: All Aboard The S.S. Voorhees?
Jason Vs The Boat People?

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Final Girl Film Club: The Funhouse (1981) Review

The idea of going to the carnival is always way more appealing than the reality of actually going. Carnivals look like big clown mouths full of fun, but they invariably turn out to be an expensive way of mingling with people who don't shower enough and experiencing attractions that are sadly lacking a decent preventative maintenance schedule. So it shouldn't have come as a surprise that a horror movie set at a carnival, whilst sounding like a really cool idea, like most carnivals, turns out to be a bit of a let down.

The Funhouse begins with Amy (Elizabeth Berridge, looking spookily like Alyson Hannigan) getting ready to go out on a double date to the carnival that's in town. Her loving father strongly urges Amy not to go to the carnival because, according to the clunky expository script from which he is reading, two girls were murdered in the last town that this particular carnival visited.

Ominous, no?

In what is the first indication that this movie is 30 years old, Amy actually respects her parents and decides to try to convince her date, Buzz (Cooper Huckabee), to go to the movies instead of the carnival (seriously, when was the last time a young character in a horror movie showed their parents any respect?). Of course, Buzz is a douche (that's more like it) and insists on going to the carnival. After picking up the other fast and free couple, Ritchie (Miles Chapin) and Liz (Largo Woodruff), our four thrill seekers arrive at the carnival and do stuff that you do at a carnival. Tobe Hooper films all of it, seemingly in real time. It's not until well into the film that, for reasons that don't make a lot of sense, our party of four decide to spend the night in the Funhouse and things, predictably, start to go horribly wrong.

You can well image the genesis of The Funhouse. Some bright spark thought it would cool to make a horror movie set in a carnival because, let's face it, they can be creepy places, and decided Tope Hooper would be the man to direct it because The Texas Chainsaw Massacre was ace, man. Beyond that they had nothing, so the result is a well directed film of a seriously underdeveloped script.

For far too long, nothing really happens in The Funhouse. I'm a patient man and I appreciate films that take time to establish character and mood, but that's not what happens the first hour of The Funhouse. What we get are nicely shot scenes of four kids we hardly know visiting a carnival, and a pointless sub-plot involving Amy's brother following her to the carnival.

When The Funhouse does finally get going in the final act there are some suspenseful moments and the film always looks good. Hooper really does the best he can with the underdeveloped narrative. So I guess if you have a nostalgic penchant for carnivals, these elements, combined with your nostalgia, might be enough to make The Funhouse appealing to you. Sadly, for me, this film just served as an unnecessary reminder of how crap carnivals are.

Related Links:
Final Girl Film Club
Final Girl

Friday, November 5, 2010

Quick BIQ Review: Apocalypto (2006)

If you were to cross Ten Canoes with any one of the many revenge-fantasy flicks that Mel Gibson has been involved with over the years (I’m thinking Ransom, Payback, Mad Max, Paparazzi, and even the original Lethal Weapon) you would end up with something approximating Apocalypto.

The marketing, and even the title, of this film hint that it is about the downfall of the Mayan civilisation. It's not. I knew nothing about Mayan society before watching Apocalypto and I now know next to nothing about it after watching Apocalypto. That’s not a criticism of the film, it's merely an observation.

Apocalypto is principally about one man's struggle to protect his family and save his own skin from a brutal regime. It is an engrossing, violent, adventure. However, the 500 year old setting and use of subtitles don't really disguise what amounts to yet another film where Gibson explores his favourite theme of violent retribution as a solution to injustice.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Quick BIQ Review: Cabin Fever (2002)

Cabin Fever was obviously an attempt to emulate the early 80's horror cult classic Evil Dead. The problem is that Evil Dead was a genuinely scary movie for it's time and has only become a cheesy cult classic since. Cabin Fever feels like it's setting out to be a cheesy cult classic from day one, and doesn't really work.

Five teenagers head out into the middle of the woods to stay in an isolated cabin. Sound familiar? It sure looks familiar. Everything from the woods to the tool shed and, of course, the cabin itself, look like they've been dusted off from the old Evil Dead set. Once there, a nasty virus/disease is let loose amongst the happy campers by a strange man that stumbles across their cabin.

The biggest problem with Cabin Fever is that it is never really scary and never terribly funny. Contrivances are stacked on top of contrivances to keep the campers stuck at the cabin while the virus threatens to kill them all, but it’s all to no avail. Incidental characters drop in and out undermining any tension that may have been created by the campers isolation, and the virus itself is a fairly innocuous threat in horror movie terms. To make this ineffective horror movie even less effective it’s ending is positively up-beat and really lacks that final punch that is the staple of so many successful horror movies.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Misnomer Monday

Apparently Debbie doesn't actually do Dallas... or, uhm, so I've heard.

Any suggestions for what it should have been called?

Friday, October 1, 2010

I've Seeeen The Light!: The Descent: Part 2 (2009) Review

The Descent was easily one of the best horror movies of the past decade. It did a lot of things right, not the least of which was the lighting. As I mentioned in my ramblings about The Descent, too often in horror movies, a scene is illuminated when there is no logical source of light. It's particularly frustrating when characters are fumbling around, as if it is pitch black, but we (the audience) can clearly see everything. “What, are you frickin’ blind?! The knife’s right there! I can see it, why can’t you?!” It requires a suspension of disbelief that I'm just not capable of, and has ruined many a horror movie for me. In The Descent, instead of falling into the trap of lighting scenes that shouldn't be lit, so we can see the action, Neil Marshall actually uses the lack of light to make the film more immersive and really ratchet up the tension. I'm convinced it's a large part of the reason why the film works so well.

So, now that I’m the record (twice) about how stupefyingly good the lighting was in the original Descent, you're probably not going to be surprised when I say that the biggest problem with the sequel is... you guessed it, kids: the lighting. But I'll get to that in a moment.

The Descent: Part 2 picks up two days after the events depicted in The Descent, with a search party out looking for the six women that disappeared, caverning in the Appalachian Mountains. Before you can say "I wonder when the first jump scare will happen", a local hillbilly, some way away from where the search party is looking, stumbles across a bloodied, battered, and borderline catatonic Sarah (Shauna Macdonald), one of the six women who made the original hellish descent.

Sarah is quickly escorted to hospital, and is given a clean bill of (physical) health by doctors, but is unresponsive to questioning from the local cops about what happened to her and her five friends. Good cop, Ellen (Krysten Cummings), just thinks Sarah’s in shock. But bad cop, Vaines (Gavan O’Herlihy), thinks she’s hiding something.

For reasons that aren't well explained, bad cop Vaines subsequently decides to form a small sub-search-party on the quiet and go search the area were Sarah was found, dragging the dazed and confused Sarah along for the ride. Conveniently, or coincidently, this means we now have a new party of six - Ellen, Vaines, Sarah and three rescue workers (including the too-cute-for-words, Australian actress, Anna Skeller) - making another descent into the "unchartered" caverns.

To be completely fair, The Descent: Part 2 is pretty good by horror movie sequel standards. But to be completely complete, horror movie sequel standards are pretty low. The film starts well, and the early cavern scenes are effective, but as the film moves into its third act director, Jon Harris, strays from what made the original film so effective and it hurts his sequel, big time.

Harris lays on the blood & gore, which is all fine and dandy, but in case there's any chance his audience might not see all the money he spent on the blood & gore effects he lights the "pitch black" caverns like a Victorian ballroom. We get a much better view of everything, to be sure, but it completely shatters the illusion of these poor sods being stuck in a dark, claustrophobic, cavern. It also means we see more of the cave dwellers and, as is so often the case with movie monsters, the more we see of them the less scary they become.

If the inexplicable bright lights illuminating the pitch black caverns don't ruin the final act for you then the film's conclusion surely will. The final scene feels like a desperate afterthought. Actually, an afterthought infers some sort of "thought", and that’s probably misleading. Clearly, no thought went into the film's finale which makes virtually no sense, and is completely irreconcilable with the events that transpire at the beginning of the film. It's not bad enough to take the award for most idiotic ending away from the recent Last House On The Left remake, but it's not far off.

The Descent: Part 2 works well for a good portion of its running time and is probably better than a sequel to The Descent deserves to be. It's just a shame Harris mishandles the film's last act, because it had the potential to be a genuinely worthy sequel.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Creepy Crawling: The Descent (2005) Review

Sarah (Shauna Macdonald), Juno (Natalie Mendoza), and Beth (Alex Reid) are a trio of care free adventurers until their world is turned upside down by the sudden death of Sarah's husband and daughter in a tragic accident. A year after the accident Juno decides to get the band back together and organises a caverning expedition in the Appalachian Mountains for the trio and another three friends. Seeds of doubt about Juno's true intentions are sown early and it's not long before the expedition turns pear shaped. The six women find themselves lost in an uncharted cave system, and the seemingly neurotic Sarah believes they are not alone.

I've seen so many horror movies, and am so accustomed to all the techniques used to shock audiences it's pretty rare for jump scares to catch me off guard these days. Such is the talent of Neil Marshall, however, that I damn near leapt through the back of my seat on more than one occasion whilst watching The Descent.

But there's more than just well orchestrated "boo" moments on offer here. The claustrophobic nature of crawling through caves is so well captured you almost feel like you’re stuck in these ridiculously confined spaces right along with the women. With the way Marsall shoots this film, merely being stuck in these caves is creepy enough, but when the real threat to the women’s life emerges The Descent really ratchets up the tension.

Some might complain about the weak characterisations (particularly of the three additional friends) but we get enough of an insight into the principle characters of Sarah and Juno to care about what happens to them.

Another thing that impressed me about this film was the lighting. Too often in horror movies when there is no logical no source of light, film-makers light the scene anyway (check out the little known New Zealand horror film The Locals for the absolute worst example of what I'm talking about). In a pitch black cavern the only light that should exist is the light from the girls' torches, flares and glow sticks. Marshall mostly adheres to this, which is commendable given the number of horror films that don't.

After the cooler than cool Dog Soldiers it was great to see such a promising director follow up with what is arguably an even better film.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Misnomer Monday

You just know when film-makers shove the word "final" in the title it most probably won't be. This film's misnomer title is kinda cool because it's actually a double barrelled misnomer. As New Nightmare and Freddy Vs Jason proved, this 1991 outing did not signal Freddy's death, nor was it the final nightmare.

So, to the inevitable question: what should it have been called?

Freddy Doesn't Die: Ever?
A Nightmare On Elm Street 6: The Dream Anaglyph Glasses?
A Nightmare On Elm Street 6: Freddy Walks Into a Bar...?

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Quick BIQ Review: The Last House On The Left (1972)

There are a number of cinematic heuristics that hold true for most movie goers. Things like: sequels are generally not as good as the originals, and: all Uwe Boll movies suck. After seeing The Last House On The Left, there’s another I’d like to suggest, and that is: notorious 70’s horror movies are never as shocking as they are reputed to be.

I imagine The Last House On The Left may have been shocking in 1972, but today it’s just, well, a patchy old horror movie. I say “patchy” because everything from the direction, to the performances, to the cinematography, to the story itself, are all over the shop. The performances of the three main “bad guys” are solid and the scenes where they torment their victims are effective. However, the performances of the victim’s parents are woefully unconvincing and when combined with the exploitative plotting in the later stages of the film the whole thing just becomes laughably inept.

After finally seeing this notorious film I just kept wondering what all the fuss was about.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Turdsday Movie Review: Rampage: The Hillside Strangler Murders (2006)

I wasn't very impressed with the unscary, unfunny horror/comedy Club Dread. But shinning like a diamond in that pile of poo was the stunning Brittany Daniel. Naturally, after seeing Club Dread, I was keen to see more of Ms Daniel, so when I read that she had the lead role and appeared naked in the direct-to-video release Rampage: The Hillside Strangler Murders… well, let’s just say I rented this movie for all the wrong reasons.

Rampage: The Hillside Strangler Murders starts rather ominously: with an opening credit sequence that has no opening credits. The camera swirls around capturing glimpses of red light district neons before fading to black. The screen remains black for a while, before we get more swirling neons, and another fade to black, more swirling neons, more black, and so it goes on, like we’re supposed to be watching the opening credits… but there are none. Apparently Chris Fisher, the director of this train wreck, decided to move the credits to the end of the film, but it never occurred to him to get rid of the opening sequence designed to house them. Good grief.

From this bewildering opening onwards, the camera never stops moving in Rampage. It constantly, incessantly, swirls around and around and around and around the subjects it's filming. Watching this wretched film is like riding the Gravitron for an hour and a half. It took quite a great deal of self control for me to hold down my dinner while watching this spectacularly ill-conceived film.

For those interested in a plot synopsis, I think it was basically some derivative nonsense about a shrink (Brittany Daniel) and a serial killer (Clifton Collins Jr.), but I was just too distracted by my motion sickness to really take any of it in. According to people who know more about the real hillside strangler murder cases than I do, this film is wildly inaccurate.

Not even a naked Brittany Daniel could save this truly dreadful film.

Rampage: The Hillside Strangler Murders is exclusively available on DVD, but you could experience pretty much the same thing for less money if you simply held a picture of Brittany Daniel at arm’s length and gave yourself a wizzy dizz.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Top 20 Horror Movies

The seminal high preistess of horror blogging, Ms Stacie Ponder (aka Final Girl), has put the call out for everyone's top 20 horror movies (Linkety-Link). Why? It matters not. It's not our job to question, it's our job to create lists.

So, putting together a list of one's favourite 20 horror movies should be pretty simple, right? Wrong, douchebag! It's a god-forsaken nightmare, more frightening than any movie that might actually make it onto any resultant list.

What should be included? What should be excluded? Is Pretty Women really a "horror" movie? These are the inevitable questions one must grapple with if one is to produce a Top 20 Horror Movies list of any credence. We have until the 26th of this month to finalise our lists so I'm taking my time and thinkin' out loud, here's what I have so far...

01. Psycho (1960)
02. Scream (1996)
03. A Nightmare On Elm Street (1984)
04. Ring, The (2002)
05. Alien (1979)
06. Orphanage, The (2007)
07. Rec (2007)
08. April Fool's Day (1986)
09. Evil Dead, The (1981)
10. An American Werewolf In London (1981)
11. Funny Games (2007)
12. Descent, The (2005)
13. Rosemary's Baby (1968)
14. Identity (2003)
15. Skeleton Key, The (2005)
16. Saw (2004)
17. Eden Lake (2008)
18. Psycho II (1983)
19. New Nightmare (1994)
20. Donkey Punch (2008)

Reserves - Movies I'd like to have in the list that I can't quite squeeze in
Child's Play (1988)
Dog Soldiers (2002)
Exorcist, The (1973)
High Tension (2003)
Open Water (2003)
Pathology (2008)
Serpent and the Rainbow (1988)
Sixth Sense, The (1999)
Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Toga Party Massacre: 300 (2006) Review

One of the most disappointing things about the DVD release of 300 is that it doesn’t come with a coupon to order the Wenham Workout video. If I can briefly steal from the vernacular of Friday Night Football commentators, David Wenham is HUGE!, in 300. He’s so pumped up that I suspect if you were to stick a pressure gauge up his butt it would register well over 200 PSI.

But I well and truly digress.

When King Leonidas (Gerard Butler) learns that a Persian invasion of Sparta is imminent, as a matter of Spartan law, he seeks permission from the religious elders to deploy the Spartan army to fight the Persians and defend Sparta. The elder’s make the suicidal decision of declining his request (notch that up as another win for religion), so he instead hand picks 300 Spartan warriors and goes for a stroll to the Hot Gates, a narrow pass the Persians must traverse in order to concur Sparta. Here, the King and his brave, buff, toga party fend off wave after wave of Persian attacks, in between yelling quite a bit about glory and death.

Visually, 300 is simply stunning. I can’t honestly recall a film this visually striking. But it seems that so much effort has gone into making the film look good no one seemed terribly concerned about whether the story could sustain proceedings for 2 hours, and it really doesn’t.

The first battle is entertaining, but each subsequent attack by the Persians becomes less and less interesting. Seeing a man being impaled with a large spear in a shower of computer generated blood is fun once or twice but after the 57th slow-mo impaling it all becomes a bit monotonous. I guess I was expecting excitement and tension, the likes of which I experienced when I first saw the mother of all battle-against-the-odds movies Zulu. But 300 doesn’t really deliver in this regard. It’s more akin to watching someone else play a video game… with cool graphics!

Gerard Butler does a tremendous job delivering his lines with conviction and gusto. He plays a very straight bat, and you can almost believe that someone, at some point, may have actually acted and spoken this way, but the same can’t be said for David Wenham. The silly voice he puts on is at complete odds with his newly acquired physique, and an affirmation that he was completely the wrong actor for the role of the King’s messenger man Dilios.

For me 300 is a classic example of a 2.5 star film, it’s not a failure, but it’s not one I’d readily recommend.

Friday, September 17, 2010

WTF Friday

He is Sir Robert, and he's come to play for you...

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Quick BIQ Review: The Devil’s Rejects (2005)

One could be forgiven for thinking that the title of this puerile schlock was a reference to Rob Zombie’s screenplays. It, instead, refers to the merry band of mass murderers that Mr Zombie introduced us to in 2002’s House of 1000 Corpses and what theses unwashed, potty-mouthed, lunatics have been up to since the events of that film. In case anyone cares.

I give credit to alleged musician turned film-maker, Rob Zombie, for not calling his sequel House of 2000 Corpses, and the fact that it’s one of the few contemporary movies to revisit the 70’s in a way that actually feels like you’re watching a 70’s flick. But it’s there that my faint praise for this film has to stop and make way for the inevitable observation that The Devil’s Rejects is a completely juvenile piece of work that’s even less effective than it’s fairly ineffective predecessor.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Misnomer Monday

I'm not the first person to point out the fact that the events of I Still Know What You Did Last Summer actually take place two summers after "What You Did", making this sequel's title a misnomer.

So, what should it have been called?

I Know What You Did Two Summers Ago?

Watch Us Crap On The Memory Of What Kevin Williamson Did Last Summer?

I Now Know That You Knew Last Summer That I Then Knew What You Did The Summer Before That?

Quick BIQ Review: House of 1000 Corpses (2002)

It's probably pointless mentioning how ridiculous it is that a group of conspicuous side-show freaks that live in a house covered in all manner of bizarre Halloween paraphernalia could possibly get away with killing 1000 people and not somehow, at some time, raise the suspicion of at least one, of the many, law enforcement agencies operating in the US.

Yep, a complete waste of time.

So, I’ll just say that House of 1000 Corpses is silly, juvenile, and not the least bit scary. Alleged musician, turned film director, Rob Zombie (ooh, scary name) is so obviously trying to shock, it fails to do so for pretty much that reason. Sid Haig’s inspired performance, is the only real highlight in this grisly piece of schlock.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Misnomer Monday

OK, so what should it have been called?

Friday The 13th Part IV: Back To The 2nd Dimension?
Friday The 13th Part IV: Jason Versus Edgar Frog?
Friday The 13th Part IV: We're Not Even Halfway Yet?

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Quick BIQ Review: When A Stranger Calls (2006)

If ever there was a film ripe for remaking it would have to be the original When A Stranger Calls. It’s opening act is probably the best horror/thriller movie sequence ever filmed, but the rest of it was a plodding, dull detective story that seemed completely incompatible with the tone of the opening act. When I first heard that When A Stranger Calls was being remade with the first act from the original being the main focus of the new film I thought “what a bloody great idea.” Now I’m not so sure.

Director Simon West does the best he can but he has several things working against him: Firstly, it turns out that the basic premise is just too thin to stretch to feature length. Secondly, the killer moment that so shocked audiences in the original is no longer a surprise and therefore lacks the impact of the original. And lastly, it appears as though he was confined by the studio to deliver a film that could pass with a PG-13 rating in the US. The end result, whilst not great, is still not as bad as it’s reputed to be and not nearly as bad as it could have been. It’s reasonably suspenseful in some parts and wisely short.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Quick BIQ Review: Tamara (2005)

A dowdy high school girl with a penchant for witchcraft is accidentally killed in a school prank gone wrong, only to return as a super vixen to avenge her death. Tamara is one of those films that, by all objective measures, has to be classified as a turkey, but despite this I still enjoyed it. The film lacks suspense, it’s confused about who we’re supposed to empathise with, some of the performances are awful, and a lot of the dialogue is dire. Nonetheless, I still derived some sort of perverse enjoyment watching Tamara strut around in her short skirts and was generally amused by the whole thing.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Turdsday Movie Review: Exorcist: The Beginning (2004)

The problem I have, ever since seeing Fear Dot Com, is that I can no longer label any other horror movie "the worst ever made". It doesn't matter how bad a film is, and Exorcist: The Beginning is pretty bad, I just don't believe anyone will ever reach the spectacular ineptitude displayed by Fear Dot Com.

The problem with Exorcist: The Beginning is that it's just not meant to be a horror movie. The script is actually pretty good, but it's good in a Raiders Of The Lost Ark Saturday afternoon matinee, kind of a way. There's lot's of interesting plot elements that give the story weight, but none of it amounts to anything that will actually frighten anyone.

Stuck with a Saturday matinee adventure script, and orders from the bridge (ie Warner Bros. studios) to make it scary, director Renny Harlin fills Raiders Of The Lost Exorcist with as much blood, gore, and nasty subplots as his relatively limited budget will allow.

The end result is a mess.

At one point, CG hyenas tear apart a little boy. This scene epitomises almost everything that's wrong with this film: it's not scary, the effects are woefully unconvincing, and it's conceptually (if not visually) sick for no real reason.

It's a constant source of frustration that film-makers seem so intent on crapping all over the memory of classic horror films. Add Exorcist: The Beginning to the metaphorical crap heap of crappy sequel crap.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Redneck Vs Alien: Altered (2006) Review

In 1999 a couple of blokes by the name of Daniel Myrick, and Eduardo Sanchez grabbed three untrained actors, a video camera, a permanently out of focus 16mm movie camera and created the ultra-low budget horror film The Blair Witch Project.

You may have heard of it. It did reasonably well at the time.

Of course the problem for film-makers who create such ridiculously successful films with their first swing of the bat is that there’s really only one way to go from there, and that’s down. So, what have Daniel and Eduardo been up to since Blair Witch? Well, Daniel established the production company Raw Feed whose debut production was the direct-to-video stinker Rest Stop. Eduardo Sanchez fares a little better as the director and co-writer of his first film since Blair Witch, Altered.

Altered starts with three rednecks poking around the woods at night looking for some sort of, possibly extra-terrestrial, creature. Much to their surprise they actually capture their prey and subsequently seem quite uncertain about what to do with it. After wrapping, taping, and chaining the clearly dangerous creature they decide to take it to Wyatt (Adam Kaufman), a young man who clearly has a history with it, or its of its kind.

The thing I really like about Altered was the fact that I was never really sure where it was headed or what was going to happen next. It’s comparatively unpredictable in a genre renowned for being formulaic. Sanchez resists giving us too much exposition up front which keeps you guessing about the nature of the beast and its history with the protagonists.

The pacing is a bit uneven, and it does tend to spend too much time lingering on the repetitive squabbles the protagonists have with one another about what to do with the creature. But once it gets past these flat spots Altered is a very solid genre pic.

I suspect Sanchez had little time, money, or both to shoot the film because it pretty much takes place all at one location, with a number of contrivances clearly designed to confine the action to one spot. Having said that, this actually tends to work in the film’s favour, giving it a tense claustrophobic feel.

Altered is not high art but at a time when so many modern horror movies are sub-standard regurgitations of other horror movies, it stands out as a refreshingly original example of the genre.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Turdsday Movie Review: House Of The Dead (2003)

House Of the Dead has the dubious distinction of being in the top 100 worst movies on and has been universally panned by critics and dubbed by many as the worst horror movie ever made. Is it really that bad? Well, frankly, yes. But I still think Fear Dot Com is worse.

Director Uwe Boll has absolutely no clue how to create tension or suspense. House Of The Dead is never scary or thrilling, it’s just plain inept.

The delusional German has pleaded in numerous online interviews that the photography, editing and sound are all very good in House Of The Dead. I wouldn’t argue with him. Technically, the film looks and sounds fine. But, of course, in making those observations Uwe has completely missed the point of what makes a good film.

Take for instance, a scene where the main protagonists emerge from the woods and have to cross a clearing full of zombies to reach the house of the film’s title. They have to get from point a to point b, probably thirty yards or so, and they have to get past the zombies to do so. It’s a simple set up that’s similar to hundreds of set pieces in other horror and action pictures. A competent director would concentrate on the adversity and struggle to get from point a to point b, never losing sight of what the protagonists are trying to accomplish. Uwe Boll, however, whips out "bullet time" camera tricks, introduces a plethora of continuity errors (which are screamingly obvious if I manage to notice them), and has his protagonists aimlessly running around in circles fighting the zombies. The scene descends into complete and utter whatthefuckery, as Uwe totally looses sight of what the scene is about. There is no tension. There is no suspense. You’re just left wondering "what the hell is going on here?!"

The film continually suffers from Uwe’s inappropriate use of everything from helicopter stedicam shots to the bizarre mix of techno and rap music. Uwe has obviously learnt the technical aspects of film making but hasn’t got the faintest idea on how to use them to tell a story.

With all that said I think I need to stick up for the poor actors in this sorry film. Much of the criticism of House Of The Dead has included the panning of the performances. I truly feel sorry for these actors. Given the material, and the incompetent director, their performances aren’t that bad. Most make the best of a very bad situation and can rightfully plead ignorance when explaining why they got involved in a Uwe Boll picture given this was his first big English language film. This, of course, can’t be said for the more established actors who have signed on for subsequent Uwe Boll projects.

Epilogue – How Does Uwe Boll keep getting work?

Given that House Of The Dead is so bad and Uwe Boll’s follow ups (including Alone In The Dark and Bloodrayne) are reportedly not much better many people are asking how does Uwe Boll keep getting work? It’s an interesting question that I’ve wondered myself. Like many mysteries, there has to be a logical explanation.

Firstly, I think one has to concede that, whilst Uwe Boll is a hopeless director, he’s not a complete idiot. He understands brand recognition and has tapped into an arguably undervalued pool of brands: video games. Uwe picks up the film rights to various video games relatively cheaply. This guarantees Uwe brand recognition for his movies and subsequently guarantees him an audience. Typically, the sorts of people that pay to see film versions of video games won’t bother to investigate who’s responsible for making it and will enter the cinema (or video library) blissfully unaware of the fact that they’re about to be Bolled.

Secondly, Uwe is effectively self-employed. House Of The Dead was produced by his own company using money from small (presumably German) investors. The major studios are not lining up to have Uwe make their movies. He is, for all intents and purposes, an independent film maker. I think that’s something people loose sight of given the kind of movies he makes. House Of The Dead was distributed by Artisan who are not a major distributor. In fact, last time I checked I think they may have gone out of business.

Thirdly, there are supposedly favourable tax laws in Germany for film production. I’ve not been able to find any information in English that adequately explains them but there are alledgedly some tax breaks for German film makers and investors.

Lastly, because Uwe is technically competent, and fairly resourceful, his films do look OK. This means a good looking trailer can be pieced together from the mess that ultimately becomes the Uwe Boll feature film. The trailer for House Of The Dead looked like it could have been a OK movie. This helps him market his artistically bereft movies to an unsuspecting public.

I watched House Of The Dead out of sheer curiosity. I had been warned by numerous reviewers just how bad it was, but I just had to see for myself. Now that I have, I won’t be watching any more Uwe Boll movies. It’ll be interesting to see how many more turkeys Uwe manages to produce before everyone else vows the same.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

One Trick Pony: Twentynine Palms (2003) Review

In Twentynine Palms, David (David Wissak), a location scout of some description, heads out into the Californian desert to, uhm, well, scout locations. His neurotic, French speaking girlfriend, Katia (Kaita Golubeva), tags along giving him someone to argue with, eat with, and have sex with, in between looking at rocks, sand and trees.

Eating, arguing, shagging and scouting fill the first hour and a half (or so) of this plotless film before, as they say in the location scouting business, things go terribly wrong.

Twentynine Palms is a bit like a Jack-in-the-box toy. It makes no real attempt to entertain you while you wait patiently for the thing to pop. It’s all about the anticipation. And it doesn’t matter how prepared you think you are for it’s final pop, unless you’ve seen it before, it still manages to catch you off guard.

I had the lowest of low expectations when sitting down to watch Twentynine Palms so I can say quite sincerely it was better than I expected. But it’s still not a great film. Firstly, it really needed to be shorter. If you make people wait too long for the Jack to pop they become less impressed when it does, or worse they walk away before it does. Also, for this movie to rise above being the one trick pony that it is, it needed more character development and less protracted shots of cars disappearing into the distance (yes Mr Bruno Dumont, I get it, they’re isolated).

The conclusion was startling, to be sure, but it would have had even more impact had I actually given a toss about David and Katia.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Friday The 13th

About five years ago, I set myself the task of watching all the Friday The 13th movies back-to-back. Up until that point Jason Goes To Hell was the only installment I’d ever seen, so I felt like a bit of a fraud calling myself a horror movie fan without having seen any of the others (particularly the original).

After watching the first three I realized you can have too much of bad thing so I broke this odyssey up into three lots of three. I watched parts I to III, took a break, watched parts IV to VI, took a bigger break, and finally finished with parts VII to IX.

While going on this enlightening journey of self discovery I posted my thoughts on a, now defunct, movie forum. In honour of today’s date, and the fact that recycling my old crap is easier than writing something new I've dusted off those comments and now present you with the most comprehensive assessment of the Friday The 13th saga ever written.*

Friday The 13th (1980)
Bad performances and even worse dialog are strangely entertaining in this hallmark slasher.

Friday The 13th Part II (1981)
Different killer, same formula.

Friday The 13th Part III (1982)
Just when you think the acting and dialogue can't get any worse, it does. Part III is the worst Friday The 13th sequel, not helped by the fact that it was originally shot for 3D exhibition and, like most 3D movies from the 80’s, looks particularly stupid when viewed in 2D.

Friday The 13th: The Final Chapter (1984)
Saddled with probably the most erroneous title in film history (it’s actually part 4 of, what was at last count, a 10 part series (11 if you count Freddy Vesus Jason)), The Final Chapter doesn’t even attempt to conclude the Friday legacy. In fact, it’s really the seed for the plethora of sequels that followed, as it was the 1st sequel to establish Jason’s ability to rise from the dead. A very young Corey Feldmen out acts the adults he’s surrounded by, but apart from that The Final Chapter is just another Friday slasher.

Friday The 13th: A New Beginning (1985)
More Jason slashing action ensues in this 5th Friday The 13th instalment, but with a twist ending that seems to annoy a lot of Friday purists. Kudos to the makers for trying something a little different, but it’s so arbitrary, and makes so little sense (even by Friday standards) they probably shouldn’t have bothered.

Friday The 13th Part VI: Jason Lives (1986)
Of all the Friday sequels up to this point, Part VI is definitely the pick of the bunch. The story is truer to the original than most of the others and it has an amusing self-awareness that the others lack. Sadly, the hallmark nudity and gore has been cleaned up, but it’s still more fun than any of the other sequels.

Friday The 13th Part VII: The New Blood (1988)
The seventh Friday instalment starts with a back story that doesn’t really seem to fit the chronology of the previous films. That probably doesn’t really matter, as continuity has not been a strong point of the Friday movies, but this one has so little else going for it would have been nice to get the story right. Once again scripting and performances are second rate, and the amusing self-awareness of Part 6 has been ditched in preference for the unintentionally funny straight faced approach of Parts 1 to 5. Unfortunately, the nudity and gore from Parts 1 to 5 (cleaned up in Part 6) failed to return, and the film concludes with probably the dumbest Friday finale to date. It’s probably not bad enough to take the award for worst Friday sequel away from Part 3, but its pretty close.

Friday The 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan (1989)
It’s funny how many of the Friday The 13th movies have misnomer titles. In Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan, Jason does not actually take Manhattan. He takes a boat cruise from Crystal Lake to Manhattan in what I can only assume was an attempt to free future sequel screenwriters from the confines of Crystal Lake. If further proof was needed that Paramount should have stopped at Part VI then Part VIII is it. It is without doubt the dullest and most sanitised, of all the Friday sequels to this point. Performances and production quality take a small step up from poor to fractionally better than poor, but the movie plods along as if all those responsible for making it are just there for the pay cheque. It’s completely perfunctory and lacks the sense of fun, deliberate or otherwise, of the other films.

Jason Goes To Hell: The Final Friday (1993)
Another Friday sequel: another misnomer title. This, the ninth Friday film is a lot more inventive than any of the other sequels, and avoids taking itself too seriously but the attempt to explain why Jason can not be killed is pretty stupid and, like part 5, seems to annoy the Friday (or should I say Jason) purists. The notion that Jason has to be killed by a Voorhees is fine but one can’t help wondering where was, the newly introduced character of, Jason’s sister during the first 8 instalments. Probably the most interesting thing about this film is the very last scene. SPOILER ALERT (like it maters) – we see Freddy Kruger’s knife fingers emerge from the ground and pull Jason’s mask down (to hell presumably). I never realised that the seed for New Line’s cross over movie Freddy Vs Jason, had been sown so early. OK, so it’s not that interesting.

*by me.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Turdsday Movie Review: Fear Dot Com (2002)

Partly a rip-off of The Ring and partly a rip-off of What Lies Beneath, this steaming turd of a film doesn’t even reach the basic level of competency that even the worst horror movies manage to reach. It’s not just implausible, it’s completely nonsensical.

If you lock your disbelief in a box and buy into the supernatural-transference-via-the-internet notion, you’re then insulted by a screenplay that suggests a dead woman’s spirit, who just wants to avenge her death, kills everyone who tries to help. It could not make any less sense even if the writer had intended for it to make no sense at all.

But, is it scary? Hardly. The scariest death in this film is that of Stephen Rae’s career.

Possibly the most frightening thing after that is watching Jeffrey Combs (of Re-Animator fame) trying to be a “serious” actor, as Stephen Dorf’s police detective partner. In fairness, his character is limited by a screenplay that simply asks him to repeat the line “leave it for the feds” fifty times, but he is still atrocious.

I’d heard bad things about Fear Dot Com, and assumed it was the usual horror genre bashing that accompanies most modern horror films. I was wrong. Fear Dot Com is pure, unadulterated, stupidity, and sets a new low for horror films. Actually it sets a new low for films of all genres. No suspense. No horror. No sense… No stars.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Girls On Film: Barbarella (1968) Review

Barbarella is pure camp. Actually, to describe Barbarella as "camp" is a bit like describing that bloke, who over-eats and explodes, in Monty Python's The Meaning of Life as "chubby". Barberella is really very camp.

Barbarella the film opens with Barbarella the character (Jane Fonda) weightlessly floating around her small fur lined space craft, seductively removing her cumbersome space suit as she does. This opening scene is a bit of a tease for two reasons. One, Jane Fonda bares her breasts in the scene, promising a film that is going to be more salacious than it actually is. Two, it contains the only visual effect in the whole film that’s even moderately convincing. Nude women, cool special effects: this movie is going to be awesome. Bzzz… wrong answer.

Shortly after Barbarella's weightless strip-tease she receives a video communication from the president of Earth instructing her of her latest mission: to seek out the evil Dr Durand-Durand who has in his possession a destructive weapon that the president fears could be used against the peace loving inhabitants of Earth.

Like colourful kids' party ware, the plot is completely disposable. It's basically an excuse to string together a series of innuendo riddled encounters Barbarella has with various bizarre characters, in various bizarre costumes, on various bizarre sets thrown together in, what I can only assume was, drug induced enthusiasm, at Paramount studios in 1968. At no point does the film look like its taking place anywhere other than a film studio.

Barbarella is a lot of fun, in its own bizarre kind of way. Some of the laughs are intentional. Some of the laughs are unintentional. And with many of the laughs it’s difficult to know what the intent was. It's the sort of film that makes me wish I had a time-machine. Not to go forward to the future depicted in Barbarella, but to go back to a time when films like this got made. It's as inventive as it is tacky.

I'm not sure whether this film would register as such a loud blip on the popular culture radar if it weren't for those 1980’s pop stars, and purveyors of hair gel, Duran Duran. But it is a very curious piece of film-making that is good for a laugh and at a modest ninety minute run time doesn't out stay its welcome.