Saturday, December 31, 2011

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

VHS Cover Of The Day: Fright Night (1985)

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Sunday, December 25, 2011

VHS Cover Of The Day: The Ref (1994)

Click on the image for enlargificationisation

From everyone here at BIQ (ie me), we (ie I) wish you a very Happy Christmas
and a Merry New Year.


Friday, December 23, 2011

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Monday, December 19, 2011

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Very Horrible System

I’m not a pathological hoarder, but I do have trouble chucking out stuff, that’s in good order, even if I have absolutely no use for it. My collection of old VHS tapes is a prime example. They are just the sort of thing I have trouble ditching even though they are pretty much useless.

I mean, I don’t think I’ve watched a movie on VHS for over 10 years. Even if I wanted to watch a VHS tape (which I don’t) there is no VHS recorder currently set up anywhere in my house, so a big box of VHS tapes is truly a waste of space.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I have really fond memories of watching movies on VHS in the 80’s and 90’s (and of the old video libraries). But, it’s important to separate one’s fondness of the movies from any misplaced nostalgic fondness of that crappy old format.

The fact is, VHS kinda sucked: low resolution, panned & scanned, images that deteriorated with each subsequent view. You could pretty much be guaranteed that when you hired an old horror movie from the cheap section of the video library it would have some sort of picture quality problem. (BTW - Did the “tracking” button on VHS recorders ever really do anything?)

So… where was I? Oh yeah… I had a heap of old VHS tapes that really needed to go but I couldn’t bring myself to chuck ‘em, until… I had the brilliant idea (actually, I think I read about someone else doing it) of chucking the tapes and hard plastic cases but keeping all the cover artwork. Somehow, the part of my brain that makes me save stuff was OK with jettisoning the tapes and plastic cases as long I kept cover art. So that’s exactly what I did.

That was a few months ago.

More recently, I discovered the too-cool-for-school website VHS Wasteland; a blog dedicated to preserving VHS cover art. This inspired me to scan and submit my covers. But after reading the fine print, it turns out that they’re a bit picky when it comes to the submission format. Combine that with the fact that I'm a lazy ass and it was all a bit too hard. So I've decided to scan ‘em and post ‘em here at BIQ instead.

After all, everyone loves pretty pictures and it’ll be a cool way to keep the blog “alive” over the next few weeks when I’ll invariably be too busy over-eating and over-drinking to sit down and articulate, in any detail, what a moral minefield Deadgirl is, for example.

Here's a taste of things to come:

Click on the image for enlargification

Sunday, December 11, 2011

About Bloody Time: The House Of The Devil (2009) Review

Finally. The House Of The Devil has made its way down under. Sure, it went direct to DVD. Sure, it’s been out in other territories for 33 years, but it’s finally here and I finally got to see it. Finally.

Shot, edited and directed in a style almost identical to a late 70’s or early 80’s horror movie, The House Of The Devil is more than just a pastiche of, or homage to, films of that era. It’s a genuinely suspenseful horror that’s much creepier than many of its modern contemporaries. Whilst I was being facetious when describing the lateness of the film’s release here, it could actually pass for a 33 year old film.

Like most films of this ilk the plot is pretty light on. Samantha (Jocelin Donahue) is a college student sharing a dorm room with a young woman who seems to have only two modes of operation; shagging and sleeping. Neither of which she is capable of doing quietly. So Sam decides to move out and rent a house of her own. Oddly, she makes this decision before figuring out how she is going to make the rent payments, so subsequently snookers herself into taking a suspect babysitting job in order to raise the cash.

The baby sitting job is “suspect” because the creepy client, Mr Ulman (Tom Noonan), lives in a house in the middle of nowhere, and is initially deceitful about the true nature of the babysitting gig. After offering Sam more money than she can refuse, Ulman and his equally creepy wife (Mary Woronov) leave Sam alone in their house to look after their aging mother who, Sam is assured, will probably not even emerge from her upstairs bedroom.

What ensues is a series of increasingly tense moments as Sam explores the house and uncovers the truth behind what the Ulman’s really get up to when they’re not eating out.

She doesn't know it yet, but Sam's gonna need a bigger knife.

Anything I have to say about this film is going to read like really old news to many readers. The House Of the Devil came, saw and conquered North America several years ago, but on the off chance there’s any uninitiated readers out there here’s the deal…

If you like your horror slow and suspenseful The House Of The Devil will have you gnawing your fingernails off, or curling your toes until they cramp, or whatever it is you do when a suspenseful horror film totally creeps you out. If, however, you like your horror frantic and bloody then there’s every chance this film will put you to sleep.

Me? I felt very tense for a good proportion of the film’s running time. I love films like this that use fairly innocuous elements to wind you up with anticipation. Of course, writer/director Ti West does such a brilliant job of building the suspense almost any conclusion was going to be an anti-climax, and… well… the film’s final act is a little bit of a letdown. When the evil inside the house is revealed I could literally feel the tension easing. It just wasn’t as horrifying as I was anticipating, but I don’t think anything could have been.

The House Of The Devil is a thoroughbred old school horror movie that is arguably more effective than most of its modern contemporaries. My only hope is that if Ti West makes a sequel it won’t be delivered down under via the same drunken, disabled, carrier pigeon that delivered the original.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Crazy Canadian College Kid Killers: Tucker And Dale Vs Evil (2010) Review

Anyone who has studied Horror 101 knows exactly what happens when a bunch of college kids head out into the woods and run into some seedy looking rednecks. Right? But, what if the rednecks were just good, honest, caring individuals who didn't want to hurt anyone? Well, let me just check the Horror 101 syllabus here… OK, if the rednecks are nice people then you ain't got no antagonists and therefore you ain't got no horror movie. Hang on… has Eli Craig read this?

Tucker (Alan Tudyk) and Dale (Tyler Labine) are a couple of simple men (rednecks, if you like (bogans, to my fellow Aussies)) who've just bought themselves a "fixer upper" cabin in the middle of the woods. Their newly acquired piece of real-estate is a bit of a dump but Tucker & Dale think they've hit the jackpot with such a prestigious property.

On the first trip to their exclusive new abode they have one of those "horror movie" encounters with a group of "horror movie" college kids at one of those impossibly dingy "horror movie" gas stations. It's text book stuff until writer/director Eli Craig shows us the encounter from both perspectives. From the kids' point of view Tucker & Dale are a couple of creepy threatening looking rednecks straight out of the Horror 101 syllabus. But, from Tucker & Dale's perspective they're just a couple of regular guys out for a spot of fishin' and cabin renovating, while the college kids are aloof snobs.

After this initial encounter, the college kids and Tucker & Dale go their separate ways but, of course, their paths cross again in the deep dark woods. This triggers a series of misunderstandings and miscommunications that escalate into a full on blood bath.

The ever helpful Tucker & Dale search for legless college kid.

I'm very close to proclaiming Tucker And Dale Vs Evil as the second best horror-comedy I've ever seen. Writer/director Eli Craig's role reversal idea is so simple (yet so brilliant), you wonder why no one has thought of it before.

The horror-comedy subgenre is littered with duds, like Club Dread and The Tripper, that failed to make me laugh or give me a scare. Even the stupendously overrated Shaun of the Dead really didn’t do much for me (uh oh… was that the sound of BIQs very few regular readers storming out?). Horror-comedy is a tough thing to get right. Too often film-makers don't have a clear idea about whether a particular scene is supposed to be funny or scary and it ends up being neither. Eli Craig’s writing and direction virtually never misfires this way.

Admittedly, Tucker And Dale Vs Evil is mostly played for laughs and isn't particularly scary or suspenseful. There's plenty of gore, but it's principally a comedy movie made for (and by, I expect) horror fans. Craig subverts all the usual horror movie tropes mining for laughs and most of the gags are right on target. He's also very ably serviced by Tudyk and Labine who have perfect comic timing and delivery (particulalry Labine who virtually steals the show).

Given that Tucker And Dale Vs Evil went direct to DVD here with absolutely no fanfare, my expectations were low. I'd heard some positive buzz about it but I've heard good buzz about other horror-comedies in the past (yes, I’m looking you again Shaun) that have ultimately been disappointing, so I had no reason to think it would necessarily be any good. But, it was good. Very good.

If you’re a fan of horror and have a proper sense of humour you really shouldn’t miss Tucker And Dale Vs Evil.

Friday, November 11, 2011

How To Traumatise A 7 Year Old: The Haunted House (2003) Review

In my home country of Straylia, Halloween is not observed with the same level of enthusiasm or acceptance as it appears to be in the US. So, I don’t really feel comfortable letting my kids (2 girls; 7 and 9 years old) go trick-or-treating in case they encounter a stranger who makes their displeasure at being trick-or-treated a bit too well known to my kids.

This, of course, doesn’t stop my kids asking to go trick-or-treating every year so I’m usually prepared with a consolation prize for when I inevitably disappointment them with my “no trick-or-treating” ruling. This year, I offered then a “Halloween Movie Night”. The suggestion was a big hit, and had the desired effect of adequately distracting them from the fact that they weren't going trick-or-treating. I'd boast about what an awesome parent I am if it wasn't for the fact that I'm not. A fact that will become plainly evident if you continue reading.

So, my kids set about making decorations for our home theatre lounge room while I tried to figure out what movie we were going to watch. Bearing in mind that my kids have consumed a steady diet of G rated Pixar and Dreamworks animation since birth, I didn't want to traumatise them with something too frightening. So, after extensive research (OK, I googled “kids Halloween movies”) I presented them with following short list from which to choose their first "scary" movie: Casper, The Corpse Bride, Ghostbusters, The Haunted Mansion, and The Nightmare Before Christmas (all rated PG or G).

“What’s a mansion?” my 7 year old daughter asked.

“It’s like a really, really big house,” I explained.

“Wow,” she said, “so a haunted mansion would be even scarier than a haunted house?”

“Well, it’s bigger. I’m not sure about scarier,” I clarified.

“I want to watch The Haunted Mansion!” she blurted.

“Yeah, me too,” declared my 9 year old daughter.

So The Haunted Mansion it was.

The Haunted Mansion starts with an ominous olden day prelude set in the titular mansion. A large aristocratic party is going swimmingly until someone dies from a poisoned chalice and then someone else hangs themselves.

Sure, it's a Disney movie, but it's not a "Disney" movie.

The movie then skips to the present day and introduces us to husband and wife real estate agents Jim Evers (Eddie Murphy) and Sara Evers (Marsha Thomason) of “Evers & Evers” estate agency. Things are a little rocky between Jim and Sara because Jim spends more time flogging real estate than - uhm... it's a PG  rated movie so let's just say - attending to Sara's needs. So, as recompense for his inattentiveness he offers to take Sara and their kids, Michael (Marc John Jefferies) and Megan (Aree Davis) away for the weekend.

Before the family sets off for some quality time together Sara gets a call from a potential client requesting her services to sell an expansive family mansion. Surprise, surprise, it's the mansion from the ominous olden days prelude. The client is also oddly insistent that Sara be the agent and not Jim. Sara just wants to blow the client off and go on their weekend getaway as planned, but Jim insists on “stopping by” the mansion on the way.

When the whole family “stops by” the mansion they are greeted by the creepy butler, Ramsley (Terence Stamp), who introduces them to mansion’s owner Master Gracey (Nathaniel Parker). Sara is made to feel welcome, but the rest of the family are given the cold shoulder. Jim is so enthusiastic about securing such a prestigious property, however; he barely notices he’s not really welcome.

Before too long a storm rolls in, flooding the road into the mansion, and forces the Evers family to stay the night. What ensues is a series of increasingly spooky events that put the Evers family in peril and reveal the mansion’s dark secrets.

"Here, give this psychiatrist a call. He specialises in paediatric care and post-traumatic stress syndrome."

The Haunted Mansion is a pretty stock standard haunted house movie pitched at a younger (but not too young (I'll elaborate on that in a moment)) audience. Eddie Murphy is at his charmingly amusing best as Jim Evers, and Terence Stamp is customarily pitch perfect as the creepy butler. Overall, the movie has a pretty good balance of humour and scares. The rest of the cast is solid in their fairly perfunctory roles, and the production design is probably the best I’ve seen for a haunted house movie.

OK, let's be clear about this, The Haunted Mansion is not a movie for hard-core horror fans nor, as it turns out, is it really for very young viewers either. This movie is really pitched at the pre-teen audience and, in my frequently ignored opinion, it is pitched perfectly. It’s not so frightening that it will traumatise pre-teens, nor is it so soft and cuddly that they’ll easily dismiss it as "lame" or “unscary”.

Unfortunately, my 7 year old daughter was a bit too young for it. I didn’t pick up on the fact it was really frightening her during the movie, but when the credits rolled she bolted out of our home theatre room in tears. I’m expecting social services to stop by and remove her from my care any day now. (Please, no comments about what a crap Dad I am, I already feel terrible).

On the brighter side, my 9 year old daughter put on a brave face and said she didn’t find it scary. Although she did chatter nervously during some sequences, so I think, for her at least, it was the perfect introduction to "scary" movies.

Friday, November 4, 2011

BIQ Guide To Horror Clichés: Dead mobile phone battery.

In the 10 to 15 years I’ve been using a mobile phone I reckon I’ve been caught out with a flat battery maybe once or twice. But in the world of horror cinema nobody ever recharges their mobile phone battery, ever.

I know the "dead battery" cliché is BS because, in the real world, I regularly see teenagers in a trance like state staring and pocking at their mobile phone like they are giving a small rodent a shiatsu massage. I steadfastly refuse to believe it’s not charged and they are just staring at and caressing a blank screen.

Cliché Annoyance Factor: Low / Moderate / High

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Rant O’Clock: LG - Life’s Glitchy

After much deliberation and procrastination I finally got around to buying a new TV for my living room recently. I purchased an LG 55” LED LCD “Cinema 3D” TV (55LW6500).

I’d never bought an LG product before, but seeing as they were the only manufacturer offering passive 3D TVs I decided go with LG.

In order to minimise any compatibility issues between the TV and the Blu-ray 3D player I choose an LG Blu-ray 3D player (BD660) too.

You know how it is when you have two pieces of electronic equipment that don’t get along: the manufacturer of the component A blames the manufacturer of component B, and vice versa. So, when buying equipment that needs to get along, I try to buy from the same manufacturer in order to avoid such heartache.

A fat lot of good it did me in this instance…

LG’s Glorious Two Dimensional Blurry “3D”.

At first I was reasonably happy with the 3D imagery the LG produced from the handful of Blu-ray 3D titles I purchased along with the TV. Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs and Despicable Me, in particular, looked great.

A few weeks after buying the TV, Rio was released on Blu-ray 3D. Given the dearth of decent Blu-ray 3D titles I raced out and purchased this title, sight unseen. But when I came to watch it on my expensive new telly something was wrong…

When the image was slow moving it looked OK, but as soon as the image moved fast the perception of depth was lost and the image became blurry. If you paused the image it became obvious that the problem was the result of the left and right images being slightly out of sync. That is, instead of getting a different perspective of the same frame in each eye, you get a different perspective of different frames in each eye.

After googling “Rio 3D Blu-ray problem” I found a couple of forum discussions about the issue. There appeared to be one common denominator to the problem: LG Blu-ray players (Urgh).

I called LG and was pleasantly surprised that I got to talk to a real person whose first language was actually English. But my enthusiasm quickly wanned when it became obvious that this polite, well-spoken, man was not aware of the issue and seemed more interested in getting rid of me than actually solving the problem. In the end he told me that the issue would be logged and a firmware update would be released to solve the problem, if necessary.

It felt like a generic fob off, but I gave him the benefit of the doubt and waited patiently for a firmware update to be released.

Three weeks later, with no firmware update in sight, I decided to write to LG requesting an update on the status of this issue. Here’s what Paul from LG Australia had to say:

The issue is that there is one off productions that use a particular codec when creating the discs that are incompatible with certain DVD players. In this case Rio appears to be an example of how the codec of a disc clashes with the reader of a DVD player.

If and when LG release an update to rectify this issue, it will be available on this link >

Please regularly check this for any new additions to the update list.

I hope this has been of some assistance.

If LG rectify this issue? WTF! Paul, I paid good money for a “Blu-ray 3D” player, I damn well expect it to play “Blu-ray 3D” discs. It’s not optional! And, no, you’ve been of no bloody assistance at all!

I can only assume “Paul” is some lame AI program that automatically responds to emails LG receives. How else does one explain his constant references to “DVD player” when I explicitly explained the problem was with an LG BD660 Blu-ray 3D player? And the inference that it’s acceptable that some discs just “clash” with some players is, with all due respect to Paulbot, totally unacceptable.

LG’s Really Dumb Smart TV

Whilst my big gripe with LG is that the Blu-ray 3D player they sold me doesn’t work properly and that they don’t seem to care now that they have my money, I have also been mightily underwhelmed by their “Smart TV”

The ads for LG Smart TV imply that the platform has bazillions of LG apps (akin to what’s available on all those slick Apple gadgets) that will transform your TV into the most comprehensive home entertainment device ever conceived.

The truth is there’s a handful of crappy games that’ll you’ll play once before wondering why you bothered, a very glitchy media streaming app, and a YouTube app that is basically broken.

The YouTube app is by far the biggest disappointment. It starts up playing a “randomly” selected video, but I actually think a disgruntled LG app developer has coded it to find the most offensive clip possible rather than a truly random selection. I’ve only used the YouTube app four times (because it sucks as badly as it does), and on three occasions the randomly selected clip featured some talentless moron squealing “fuck”, or “fucking”, or “mother fucker”, or some other witless derivative of the f-word within the first few seconds. The one time it didn’t feature an f-word riddled rant from some YouTube halfwit, it featured a song about masturbation. Nice… Here kids, gather round and check out this awesome fucking fucked mother fucker masturbation app on the LG Smart TV.

This opening random selection “feature” of the LG Smart TV YouTube app begs two blindingly obvious questions: 1) Why does the app have to play a video at start up? 2) If you are going to do this, why not make the starting video one from an LG Channel, or some other vetted channel that isn’t going to start swearing at you as soon as you launch the app? It defies belief that LG allowed this app to be released and it farcical that they call it “Smart”.

All that said, the auto-swearing feature is not the worst of the YouTube app’s problems. Finding the videos you want to watch is basically an impossible chore. The app only gives you a clunky text search facility for finding videos. It’s really unintuitive to use, often doesn’t return the video you’re after, and often responds very sluggishly to remote control button presses. You can’t sign into a YouTube account and get access to your favourites, your subscriptions, or recommendations. You don’t even get the default recommendations for “guest” users of YouTube.

Frankly, the Smart TV YouTube app is unusable and LG should be embarrassed for including it.

I can think of another word starting with "Fu" that describes LG's Smart TV.

The Smart TV media streaming app is another disappointment. In order to get it to work you need to install Plex Media Server on your PC. It works OK if you have a wired Ethernet connection from your TV to your computer, but if you have a wireless connection (as I believe most people would) it’s hopelessly unreliable. Sometimes the app will connect to the server and work flawlessly, other times it just can’t “see” the server and fails to make a connection. There's no recognisable pattern to when it will or won't work. The Plex developers says it’s a bug in Windows 7, but oddly, this bug doesn’t affect any other apps on the LG Smart TV platform that require network connectivity… go figure.

The whole Smart TV thing feels like a rushed product. Nothing works well, and some things don’t work at all. The best app is probably the vTuner internet radio app, but even it lacks basic features like current track information.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

BIQ Guide To Horror Clichés: Antagonist in the cabinet mirror.

Has opening and closing your mirrored bathroom medicine cabinet ever summonsed a madman to suddenly appear behind you? No, me neither. But it happens with startling regularity in the world of horror cinema, does it not?

Because this cliché has been so overused we now just expect someone evil to suddenly appear every time a mirrored medicine cabinet is closed in a horror movie. With this in mind, film-makers have resorted to subverting the cliché by using the same setup, but when the mirrored cabinet is closed nothing appears (ooh, how subversive). It’s often used as a softener before some other jump scare is trotted out shortly afterwards.

The only problem is, sadly, it’s now got to the point where even the subversion of the cliché is now cliché.

Cliché Annoyance Factor: Low / Moderate / High

Monday, October 31, 2011

BIQ Is Back

Sorry for the lack of updates this month, fan, but during October excrement became genuine. Or, as the kids say, shit got real. I won't bore you with the gory personal details, other than to say bloggering had to take a back seat this month.

But, now, it's time to get back into the bloggering saddle and rabbit on about horror movies some more.

I should probably point out that I normally take it easy (bloggering wise) during October anyway. All my stateside contemporaries go a little nuts this time of year thanks to Halloween (aka The Festival of Gutless Pumpkins), so when they are churing out daily updates of excessive horror goodness I figure if you can't beat 'em... give up (at least until November).

Besides, Halloween isn't the only party that happens this month. The beauty of living in a country with virtually zero cultural significance is that you can pinch everyone else's traditions. Need a break from Halloween celebrations? No problem. Grab an unpractically large glass mug, fill it with German beer, guzzle away and... voila, you're celebrating Oktoberfest!

Mmmmm... Oktoberfest.

Frankly, I don't need an excuse to celebrate horror or drink rediculously large glasses of German beer, but if this month had a saving grace it was that we had one (excuse) for each of those activities this month.

Friday, September 30, 2011

BIQ Guide To Horror Clichés: No mobile phone signal.

Are telecommunications in the United States really as bad as horror movies would have us believe? According to the world of horror cinema the only place to get a reliable mobile phone signal is in a box buried under ground in the middle of the Iraqi desert.

In Australia, I’ve only ever been one place where I couldn’t get a mobile phone signal: Ellalong, NSW. As the name suggests it’s an “‘ell of a long” way away. So far away, in fact, I seriously doubt any madman would actually bother heading out there to kill anyone.

Cliché Annoyance Factor: Low / Moderate / High

Monday, September 26, 2011

BIQ Guide To Horror Clichés: Everyone drinking the same beer.

What kind of inbred nonsense is a social gathering where everyone drinks the same beer?

It's the curse of product placement deals that has allowed the cliché, of everyone drinking the same lager, to germinate. Of course, this cliché isn't exclusively limited horror movies, but the horror genre is the proud domain of the very worst example of this cliché; My Bloody Valentine

In My Bloody Valentine everyone, everywhere, drinks Moosehead. It's like some sort of alternate universe where Moosehead is the only beer that exists. Holy crap, now that I think about it in those terms, it's just occurred to me how horrific that movie really is.

Cliche Annoyance Factor: Low / Moderate / High

Friday, September 23, 2011

BIQ Guide To Horror Clichés: Fleeing a car in a straight line.

If you’re on foot and a madman, who wants to kill you, is perusing you in a car, what is the most effective way to evade certain death?

I’m going to go out on a limb and say that running in a straight line in the path of the car is probably the 2nd most ineffective strategy possible (standing stationary in front of the car being the most ineffective).

Yet, in the world of horror cinema, protagonists inexplicably employ this strategy all the time. It’s not usually until they trip over and fall flat on their face that they finally see the flaw in this strategy and craw out of the path of the car on hands and knees, often (conveniently) just in the nick of time.

Now, not only is running in a straight line an idiotic strategy for evading a car, but the best way to get out of the path of a car (once you finally wake up to the fact that that is indeed what you need to do) is not on hands and knees either. I’m reminded of what numerous football coaches have preached to me over the years; “keep your feet”. It is basic human biomechanics: you can move faster when you are upright on two legs, rather than down on all fours.

Cliché Annoyance Factor: Low / Moderate / High

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Chicks Who Love Guns: Sucker Punch (2011) Review

Seeing hot young scantily-clad girls fighting in frantic action sequences all strung together in a brooding esoteric plot, would have totally popped my cork when I was a teenager. Now, however, copping an eyeful of Emily Browning brandishing big weapons and strutting around in a micro skirt, heels and thigh-high tights, with no legitimate context, just makes me feel like a dirty old man.

After the death of her mother, Baby Doll (Emily Browning) and her sister are left in the care of their abusive stepdad. When Stepdad tries to assault Sister, Baby Doll grabs a gun and attempts to put a bullet in him, but accidently kills her sister instead. Doh!

At least, I think that's what happened in the Sucker Punch prelude. It's shot entirely in slow-mo with an overwrought cover version of the Eurhythmics' classic Sweet Dreams playing over the whole thing, so what transpires during the shooting scene isn't 100% clear. In fact, this prelude had me quickly double checking the DVD cover to make sure I had hired Sucker Punch and not the latest MTV compilation.

Whatever happened in the music video prelude, Baby Doll is promptly carted off to an insane asylum (presumably convicted of her sister's death) where, on arrival, Stepdad bribes an attending physician to have her lobotomised before the end of the week (presumably to stop her revealing his abuses). Shortly after Baby Doll's admission, the asylum somehow turns into a sleazy cabaret night club. The transition is jarring and writer/director Zack Snyder gives no clue, visual or otherwise, as to why it happens. Ultimately, we have to assume that what we are seeing is Baby Doll's fantasy version of her bleak reality, but Snyder just forges ahead unconcerned whether his audience has any idea what the hell he is doing.

Within this fantasy, one of the hospitals' psychiatrists (Carla Gugino) is now a dance instructor who urges Baby Doll to join the ensemble of other "dancers" (in reality they are the other asylum patients). When forced by the dance instructor to shake her groove thing, Baby Doll is somehow transported to yet another fantasy world. Here, she is given a quick mission briefing by some mysterious "wise" old stranger (Scott Glen) before being set upon on by all manner of weird and wonderful monsters. It's at this point that Sucker Punch starts to feel more like a video game than MTV (sorry, I mean, movie), as Baby Doll kicks ass, Scott Pilgrim style, in this fantasy world within a fantasy world.

Once her battle concludes she emerges back at the night club, where everyone present is rapturously applauding her dance routine. We never get to see her dance, because this has happened in the level 1 fantasy world, while we were witnessing the level 2 fantasy world kick-assery. You follow? It's a bit like Inception, without the coherence or purpose.

After her first dance she hatches a plan to escape the asylum, before she is lobotomised, that involves performing three more dances and dragging her fellow patient/dancer friends along for three more fantasy-world-within-a-fantasy-world kick-ass missions. Oddly, none of the missions seem even remotely related to one another, with all the locations and antagonists being completely different each time. The other girls reluctantly agree to help Baby Doll, but once they enter the fantasy world they too dress and fight like they have just escaped a teenage boy's wet dream.

"Do you two have this problem? Everytime I roundhouse, this stupid outfit rides up my ass and pinches my tits!"

Like Snyder’s previous movies (300 and Watchmen) Sucker Punch is visually sumptuous. There probably isn't a frame that isn't somehow computer generated or manipulated, but Snyder uses technology as a means to end, creating truly gorgeous visual imagery. Say whatever else you want about Snyder (and I will very shortly), but you have to acknowledge he's an impressive visual artist.

That’s the good news.

The bad news is that Snyder is a pretty lousy story teller. In fact, he doesn't even really have a story here to tell. He uses a depressingly awful predicament (Baby Doll's abuse and incarceration) as a framework to indulge in pure male fantasy. If you don't think about what you are watching and why it's happening I guess you can get lost in the visuals on offer. But, as soon as you start to think about the fact that Snyder is trying to exhilarate us with a fantasy supposedly conceived by a tortured young woman as escapism from a truly horrific reality; it just feels like all kinds of wrong.

I mean, it's really a double edged sword. If you care about the characters you can't genuinely be enthralled by their escapist adventures, knowing what's happening to them in the real world. If you forget the real world, the escapist adventures all seem a bit hollow because the characters no longer have any grounding in reality, and no real purpose in their missions.

Each time the ensemble of barely dressed hot young women started brandishing powerful firearms in their latest arbitrary videogame-esque fantasy mission, I was reminded of that Chicks Who Love Guns video Ordell (Samuel L Jackson) watches in Jackie Brown. Ultimately, such misogynistic fantasy just doesn't fit with the tale of an abused young woman left to rot in an asylum, which makes Sucker Punch a strangely unsatisfying experience despite is undeniably impressive visual flair.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Green Amber Read: Spiral (2007) Reveiw

Spiral begins with our main man, Mason (Joel David Moore), in a disorienting scene of psychosis. It’s late at night and Mason is having some sort of panic attack. He’s hyperventilating and generally acting like his world is about to end (kinda like when I run out of beer). The light spilling from the bathroom door jamb seems to be the source of his disquiet, but there’s obviously more to it than simply being shocked by the cost of energy-saving light bulbs.

Mason telephones his friend Berkeley (Zachary Levi) who calmly talks him into taking a hit of Ventolin and dragging his neurotic ass back to bed. Berkeley’s weary demeanour gives you the impression that this isn’t the first time he’s had to deal with one of Mason’s intense late night anxiety attacks.

In the calm light of the following day Mason goes to work at an insurance company where he disinterestingly sells insurance over the phone. He goes to every effort to avoid any and all human contact on the way to his neat sterile office cubicle. He can’t, however, avoid Berkeley who, it turns out, is also his boss. Berkely berates him for being late, but it seems like the dressing down is more for the benefit of other employees. He needs to be seen to be disciplining Mason. You get the distinct impression, from these early encounters, that Berkeley has assumed the role of a pseudo guardian for the barely functional Mason.

Before too long, Mason is befriended by a new hire at the insurance company, Amber (Amber Tamblyn). Over lunch one day, she notices the sketches of a beautiful woman that Mason has in his spiral sketch book and starts inquiring about his art and the woman featured in it. Mason is not forthcoming with details, which seems to pique Amber’s interest even further. Through sheer persistence Amber forges a friendship, of sorts, with Mason and eventually starts modelling for him in a new series of sketches and paintings.

"Perhaps if I act like a complete weirdo no one will notice me."

Spiral is a slow burn psychological thriller that rewards the patient viewer. I guess it’s not difficult to guess how the movie might end, as there’s really only two or three ways it can play out, but I was never really certain about which way it was going to go. Even if you are certain you have the movie’s conclusion pegged, I’d suggest that the journey there is still pretty intriguing, and often suspenseful. It plays like a more thrilling version of He Was A Quiet Man.

Unlike Hatchet and Frozen, Adam Green is working from someone else’s script here. It’s less talky and humorous than his own screenplays but Green, the director, shows he is perfectly capable of turning the leaner script into an involving movie. He has no trouble making the dialogue-free scenes compelling viewing.

The performances are all pretty good, but the movie really rests on Joel David Moore’s shoulders. He co-wrote the script, co-produced the movie and plays the lead of Mason. He’s reasonably solid most of the time but occasionally I thought he overplayed Mason’s sullen but nervous routine. Maybe it was just because he was on screen so much, but at times it felt like I was watching an actor playing an anxious basket case rather than an actual anxious basket case.

The other minor niggle I had was with a really jarring exchange between Mason and Amber where I felt like I was suddenly listening to the screenwriter talking, not the characters. In a conversation where Amber is telling Mason about her dislike of the insurance company job, she rather oddly says she’d rather be a “feminist or a ninja”. It’s a truly bizarre line and Tamblyn, not surprisingly, struggles to deliver it with conviction. Mason then asks Amber what it is that feminists do (an equally odd response, that’s clearly a contrived set up for Amber’s punch line). Amber responds by saying that feminists just bitch and complain about stuff. Good grief. It’s not funny, it’s completely out of character, and you can’t help but think you’re listening to the film-maker’s “voice” instead of that of the character. Granted, it’s a fairly minor misdemeanour in an otherwise accomplished movie, but Green and Moore need to get out of the habit of using their characters as personal mouth pieces.

With Sprial, Adam Green continues to demonstrate his ability to create interesting genre pictures with limited resources, and also shows that he’s no one trick pony. Hatchet, Spiral and Frozen are all quite different movies, but the one thing that they have in common is that they’re all quite good.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Turdsday Movie Review: The Tripper (2006)

Sometimes you reach a point when viewing filmed entertainment made by, or featuring, a particular individual that you find yourself wondering why it is exactly that this individual is gainfully employed in the industry. I rented The Tripper because it was written and directed by David Arquette. It wasn't until afterwards that I thought, "hang on, why did I do that?"

The Tripper feels like it's the product of jotting down a whole bunch of ideas, sticking them in a blender and filming what comes out. I'm speaking metaphorically, of course, because if you did that literally you'd just end up with grey sludge which, in fairness, would be less interesting than The Tripper. But only just.

The Tripper starts with a contrived prelude, set sometime during Ronald Regan's presidency, featuring a stand-off between a hardworking, struggling logger just trying to do his job (of chopping down trees) and a belligerent arrogant hippy standing in the way of the logging trucks. The poor old logger pleads with the hippy that his wife is dying of cancer and desperately needs medical attention that he can only afford if he's allowed to get his logging done. The heartless hippy doesn't give a shit and soon finds himself on the wrong end of a chainsaw when the logger's young son snaps and attacks him.

The film then skips ahead to the present day... and... well... I'm not sure where to start in terms of giving you a concise plot synopsis that adequately describes all the random crap that transpires during The Tripper.

I guess the basic story is this: a music festival, held in the forest, is terrorised by a madman with an axe wearing a Ronald Regan mask.

The Tripper crew quietly ponder who put the clown in the red hat in charge.

That, of course, only scratches the surface of what transpires. There are the potty-mouthed escapades of a principle group of stoner protagonists at the festival. There's a group of local rednecks (including Arquette in a minor role) who terrorise the festival goers. There's the clichéd Mayor who insists the festival must go ahead even when things start to turn pear shaped. There's the under-resourced local law enforcement trying to keep a lid on things. There's the desperate promoter, trying to smooth things over. There's full-on musical numbers. There are nudists strolling here and there. There's a complicated romance between two of the main stoner kids. There's a pathological ex-boyfriend sent to complicate the already, aforementioned, complicated romance. And then... there's the logger's son... all grown up, sporting a Ronald Regan mask, and randomly wielding an axe amongst it all. And I do mean randomly.

Add to all this madness and mayhem some seriously confused political sub-text and The Tripper is a complete mess. It doesn't work as a horror movie because it's never scary or suspenseful, and if Arquette was hoping to make some sort of political point his message comes across as being incredibly muddled (think Sarah Palin at her I-don't-know-the-difference-between-North-and-South-Korea worst). The basic idea sounds like it should be a hoot, but it's such an undisciplined scatter-brained effort, full of clichés and half-baked ideas, it's actually a bit of a bore.

I'm now at a bit of a loss to explain why I ever thought that a film "written and directed by David Arquette" would necessarily be a good thing. Notwithstanding Arquette's outstanding, academy award worthy, performance as Deputy Dewey in the Scream films (ahem), I'm just not sure exactly why Arquette has the profile he has, or how he got finance to write and direct The Tripper.

Despite a few promising elements in The Tripper, Arquette fails to convert them into a cohesive horror and/or comedy movie, and his performance as one of the rednecks is a pretty awful cherry on top of his grey sludge cake.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Seul à la Maison: Inside (2007) Review

In most modern French horror cinema you can count on two things:
1) nut-tearingly extreme violence.
2) a genre-bending narrative u-turn somewhere throughout the movie.

Bucking this trend is Inside, which delivers the requisite everyone's-wearing-their-guts-on-the-outside violence but rather subversively doesn't suddenly become a completely different movie halfway through proceedings. It starts as a home invasion movie and, rather refreshingly (for a French horror film), finishes as one.

A pregnant Sarah (Alysson Paradis) and her unborn baby survive a car accident that claims the life of her husband. Not surprisingly, this puts her in a pretty depressed state of mind. During the last four months of her pregnancy she distances herself physically and emotionally from the family and friends who try to support her through the difficult time. So much so that, with her pregnancy just about full term, she finds herself home alone on Christmas Eve.

But this ain’t no Home Alone...

The peace and quiet Sarah is "enjoying" is rudely interrupted by a stranger at her door. Sarah wisely doesn't open the door to the stranger who claims to have broken down and needs access to her phone. She is polite but refuses the stranger entry into her house. The stranger is polite but ominously insistent that she come in and use the phone. The stand-off becomes increasing tense before the stranger reveals knowledge of Sarah that suggests she is no stranger at all.

What ensues is a gripping, intense, home invasion movie with all the disturbingly violent trimmings we've come to expect from French horror.

"Santa?... Santa, is that you?"

As an aside, if Inside ever gets remade in the US (actually scratch that... when Inside gets remade in the US) I'd love to see Macaulay Culkin in a protagonist role getting brutally slain.

With the possible exception of one brief moment shortly before the film's conclusion that I had trouble making sense of, everything else is played pretty straight. It's a good old fashioned horror narrative told with plenty of good new fashioned violence. It's suspenseful and gruesome in equal measure. The ending is unsurprising, but still quite disturbing, which is exactly how this sort of thing should conclude.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Quick BIQ Review: Hard Candy (2005)

Exploiting themes that probably shouldn't be exploited, I expect Hard Candy would have been offensive if it wasn't so ridiculous.

It's a shame because the opening 15 minutes could have been the start of a much better film. Ellen Page's performance is sensational and David Slade's direction is impressive but, the screenplay is so contrived and exploitative, it's difficult to appreciate their fine work.

I honestly think writer, Brian Nelson, must have had the infinite improbability drive blowing smoke when he concocted the ludicrous ending.

This sort of thing can, and has, be done better: look no further than Death And The Maiden (ironically, a Roman Polanski film) for evidence of this.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Nooooo! Minister: Tower Of Evil (1972) Review

Have you ever watched an Agatha Christie movie and thought to yourself "this is good and all, but it could really use some more blood and gore and tits and ass"? No, I don't watch Agatha Christie movies either. But I imagine the creators of Tower Of Evil did and they were probably thinking along these lines when they created... well, you know... Tower Of Evil.

The titular tower is actually a decommissioned light house that sits upon a rock called Snape Island. We first see it when a couple of caretakers arrive on the island only to discover three brutally slain bodies. For reasons that aren't immediately obvious, the caretakers don't seem surprised by the carnage, but they are caught off guard when a crazy young woman emerges from a cupboard in the disused lighthouse (sorry, in the Tower... Of... Evilllll!) and stabs one of them to death.

The authorities quickly deduce that the crazy young woman, now hospitalised in a catatonic state, was a friend of the three dead people, and that she must have flipped out and murdered them, along with the caretaker who we know she stabbed. But the girl's family doesn't buy it, so they hire a private investigator to find out what really happened.

In order to get to Snape Island, the PI hitches a ride with a group of archaeologists who had planned to visit the island and search for ancient artefacts before all the murder and mayhem had broken out. Not surprisingly, for a movie of this genre, when the ensemble gets to the island the murder and mayhem resumes.

"I'm just saying... if you want to be taken seriously as an archaeologist, you might want to reconsider that outfit."

Tower of Evil is a strange mix of sex & violence exploitation, fine British character acting, and salacious innuendo riddled dialogue. All the archaeologists seem to have some sort of sexual history with one another and are either constantly flirting or denigrating each other, with ribald language, in between getting murdered. And when they're not getting murdered or having saucy conversations they are delivering plot-driving expository dialogue with more conviction than an actor in this kind of film has any right to.

Consistent with the uneven tone is the uneven pacing. There are moments when the film is effective and suspenseful, but there are other times when there's not much of anything really happening. The characters constantly separate, for no logical reason, making portions of the film feel repetitive; "Oh, no, someone died, let's split up and look for clues... Oh look, someone else died, let's split up again and look for clues again."

Beyond the film's strangely uneven tone and pace, the most distracting element for me was actually seeing a young Derek Fowlds playing one of the archaeologists. To me Fowlds is, and always will be, Bernard from TV's Yes Minister. How did this mild mannered public service secretary get caught up in this rambunctious affair? I know it's unfair to criticise a film for casting an actor because he will be typecast 10 years in the future, but I still found it distracting.

At the risk of sounding like a perennial fence sitter, Tower Of Evil was just another horror pic, in a long list of horror pics, that left me feeling ambivalent. It's not good, but it's not bad either. It just is. I'm sure Agatha would not be happy with such an ambiguous conclusion.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Quick BIQ Review: Beerfest (2006)

Beerfest is a complex, multi layered film that defies easy analysis.

At its heart is the simple tale of two American restaurant proprietors, of German ancestry, who are asked by their aging grandmother to return the ashes of their recently deceased grandfather to Germany. When they get to Germany the seemingly simple task becomes unexpectedly complicated due to a number of complex cultural and family issues.

Beerfest is a beautiful movie going experience that delves deeply into cultural cross-pollination, with a loving emphasis on the ubiquitous, age old, amber fluid. The American makers of this impressive feature film even respect German Purity Law that stipulates Jurgen Prochnow must star.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Top 5 Nightmare Inducing Movies

It's becoming increasing rare for horror movies to genuinely frighten or unsettle me, and I can't remember the last time a movie actually gave me nightmares. But, I have to admit, I haven't always been such an unflinching hard-core bad-ass.


In fact, I remember, as a youngster, several movies gave me terrible nightmares. I've seen some of these movies again as an adult and am amazed by how innocuous they are.

So just for your amusement I thought I'd share with you the top 5 movies (in no particularly order) that emotionally scarred me as a child. Enjoy...

Phobia (1980)

I don't remember being overly frightened by Phobia whilst actually watching it (on TV), but I do remember it giving me some of my most vivid nightmares when I went to bed straight after it.

The story is pretty simple; a bunch of different people with different phobias are attending group therapy, when they suddenly start dying one by one in circumstances related to their phobia. It's possible I didn't even watch this movie all the way to the end but I distinctly remember being awoken, more than once, by a nightmare where I met the same fate as the claustrophobic character in the movie.

I haven't revisited Phobia since seeing on TV in the early 80's, but I'd be willing to bet that it would have no way near the impact today as it did 30 years ago.

Alien (1979)

Alien is probably the only movie that gave me nightmares as a kid that is actually still pretty effective today.

Again, it was the early 80's, when I watched Alien on TV immediately before going to bed. I don't remember the specifics of the nightmare(s) but I remember waking several times that night from "bad thoughts" sown from the seeds of having watched Alien.

I can watch Alien now, impervious to its scares, but I can at least see why it scared the begezus out of me as a kid.

Trilogy Of Terror (1975)

If you ask anyone, who saw this anthology movie in the 70's, what they remember of it, there's every chance they will recall the "Voodoo Doll" segment but nothing else. That's certainly the case for me. For all I knew the "Voodoo Doll" segment was the whole movie.

The thing about the "Voodoo Doll" segment that literally sent chills through my pre-pubescent body, sometime in the late 70’s, was its shocking conclusion. Few things have creeped me out as much as that finale.

I happened to catch Trilogy Of Terror again on TV sometime during the early 90's and... well... I can't think of a euphemism that adequately disguises how laughably bad it was and how much of a wuss I must have been as a kid. Again, I can't remember the other two segments (it seems that they just refuse to stick in my memory), but the "Voodoo Doll" segment again stood out, this time around, for its pure ridiculousness. It's just so weird to think that something so silly gave me nightmares as a kid.

The Last of Sheila (1973)

Of all the movies that gave me nightmares The Last Of Sheila is the one I really want to revisit the most.

I don't remember what it was about. I don't think I watched all of it. And I don't remember what happened in my nightmares. But, I do remember watching part of it on TV at my Grandmother's (probably in the late 70's) then going to bed and having multiple nightmares.

The IMDB score is surprisingly high so I’d really like to see it again. Unfortunately, no Australian distributor has released it on DVD. One day, maybe.

A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)

OK, I'm cheating a little here because A Nightmare On Elm Street didn't actually give me nightmares. Phobia, Alien, Trilogy Of Terror and The Last Of Sheila are the big 4. But "Top 4" sounds kind of lame so I've picked A Nightmare On Elm Street as filler for my "Top 5" nightmare inducing movies.

Whilst A Nightmare On Elm Street didn't give me nightmares I did nearly poop my shorts when watching it on VHS at home alone one day in the mid 80's. I figured watching it in daylight might make the experience less scary, but I soon realised that being alone in daylight is actually scarier than night time when you have company.

So, anyway... about half way through the movie, during one of the film's many quiet suspenseful scenes, the creaky concertina doors in the front hall of my parent's house blow open. Now, I've not had it medically diagnosed, but I'm pretty sure I had a mild stroke when this happened. It scared every fibre of excrement out of me. Now, you might well say, "but BIQ, the doors scared you not the movie". Not true. Those doors had a habit of blowing open and it had never bothered me previously. But when it happened at that time during that movie... it was a like a real live waking nightmare.