The Control Group (2014) Review

rsz_tcgThe Control Group (2014)

Directed by: Peter Hurd.
Written by: Logan Gion.
Starring: Brad Dourif, Ross Destiche, Jenna Enemy.

Trapped in an abandoned insane asylum, five college students and the rogue scientists who abducted them must band together when a supernatural threat appears.”

Trust is an unusual motif for a horror movie, but it is a predominant theme within The Control Group, which seems apposite given the current climate of political and societal unrest. Do we trust our governments or their agencies? Do we trust our friends and family? Can we even trust ourselves?
If these questions are all sounding a little Kafkaesque, that’s probably because The Control Group has a very Kafkaesque feel. There are few explanations given and, when questions are asked, there is always the strong suspicion that better questions should have been raised.

We start the film being introduced to Jack (Ross Destiche: Keepsake, Domina, Death to Prom). He’s just woken up but he doesn’t know where, how or why. Save for a few fleeting flashbacks, one prompted by the mention of a tragedy, another prompted by the sight of the scars on his wrists, Jack is unable to remember much. Even when he can, he knows he can’t trust his judgement. That’s the sort of world Jack lives in.

rsz_tcg1Jack meets a group of ‘friends’ who seem very shouty and animated as they exposition their way through the film’s first main conversation. We meet Vanessa (Jenna Enemy: Keepsake, American Beast, Watch Over Me), Jaime (Kodi Saint Angelo: Juiced, Echoes, The Kettleman), Grant (Justen Jones: The Sand Box, Fall Into Me, Flourtown) and Corey (Shane Philip making his debut appearance). And no one knows if their very vocal confusion comes from a chemical indulgence, a supernatural element, or if some other preternatural explanation is responsible. Grant is one of those overachieving bullies who deserves the unpleasantness that we hope is headed his way. Jaime is a hippy airhead, in tune with the ‘ghosts’ surrounding the group. Corey is spineless and Vanessa is a bitch being abused by Grant. The whole group are the sort who would make Amnesty International write letters to their captors saying, “They deserve more torture.”

There are some great points to this film that are marred by poor-quality effects. When characters get electrocuted, and several of them do encounter electricity, the effects prove to be shocking: but not in the good way. If anything, the effects are reminiscent of the low budget overlays that were used on the likes of Birdemic or the later Christopher Reeve Superman outings. It’s a small but (I think) valid criticism, that an audience’s suspension of disbelief can be easily shattered by a poor effect. And, since director Peter Hurd had already made the sensible decision to have a lot of the movie’s deaths and violence occur just off screen, adding to the tension by exploiting the audience’s imagination, it’s puzzling as to why this decision wasn’t extended to obviate the distraction that comes from those not-that-special effects.

rsz_tcg2That said, the whole idea is worth checking out because it does have a neatly original feel. Admittedly, there were parts that felt like a homage to Cabin in the Woods (or even i-Zombie) with the suggestion of covert government agencies that share a secret relationship with supernatural entities. But this felt less like a reimagining of a modern classic and more like an attempt to forge new ground in a developing genre. It should also be said that these scenes with covert government agencies are wonderfully exploited by Dr Broward (Brad Dourif: Child’s Play, Deadwood, Halloween and The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers) who steals every scene in which he appears.

And, I have to admit that I was very impressed by the use of shutter-speed adjusting as a cinematic device. It was a technique that produced stilted results, with some events seeming to begin after they’d happened, all of which added to the suggestion of chemically altered interpretation and faltering cognition skills.

Overall, this film is about an abandoned insane asylum with a group of difficult-to-like college kids being subjected to violent extremes whilst the paranoia of drug abuse being manifested as a reality. And, when you put it like that, is there a better way to spend Saturday night than watching The Control Group?

7/10

Ginger Clown (2013) DVD Review

GINGER 001GINGER CLOWN (2013) DVD

Review by: Dave Wain

Stars: Ashley Lloyd, Erin Hayes, Tim Curry, Lance Henriksen, Michael Winslow

Written by: Balazs Hatvani

UK Certification: 15

UK RRP: £12.99

UK DVD Region: 2

Runtime: 79 minutes

Directed by: Balazs Hatvani

UK Release Date: 13th January 2014

Well this is a curio. A Hungarian production with a 30 year old director making his debut feature alongside a cast filled with cult legends – Tim Curry, Lance Henriksen, Sean Young, Michael Winslow and Brad Dourif. One might think it has potential, but a cursory glance of IMDb yields no critic reviews and just the sole user review who states “this is the worst movie I’ve ever seen” – then again that same user bemoans the use of the usual “clishes” (sic) so perhaps he’s not the most authoritative source.

GINGER 002Pre-meditated judgements aside, let me tell you more about this genuine oddity. We begin in Los Angeles in 1983, a radio announcer in the background details President Reagan’s plans for nuclear arms. A group of teenagers sit in their cars behind the Hollywood sign where the ringleader Biff (Michael Cannell-Griffiths) is bullying high school nerd Sam (Ashley Lloyd), much to the disdain of his girlfriend Jenny (Erin Hayes). Biff dares him to pay a nocturnal visit to the old abandoned amusement park to prove he “has some balls”. Sam reluctantly agrees to take Biff up on his dare, if only to impress Jenny to whom he has a notable crush on. Jenny though can’t stand by and let Sam enter the place alone so she decides to go in with him.

The amusement park is actually really well designed and comes across as a well created replica of a bygone era. Needless to say, the further our kooky kids progress into this surreal environment they notice lights that appear to flash, shadows that creep through the night and other unsettling occurrences that lead them to suspect they might not be alone. It’s not long before they encounter the first of many strange creations – the first of which is a foul-mouthed talking tea-kettle (I appreciate many people will stop reading at this point!). As they venture round the park, more weird beings make themselves known such as Braineater (Henriksen), Stomachcrumble (Winslow), Worm Creature (Dourif) and of course the Ginger Clown (Tim Curry).

The narrative of Ginger Clown could pretty much be written on a napkin, as after the initial set up there’s sadly little exposition as we just get to observe Jenny and Sam wandering around this abandoned location and running across bizarre creations. Granted, the creatures that they stumble across are eyebrow-raisingly innovative, and at times it reaches the dizzying heights of a bastardised child of Charles Band. More often than not though the overwhelming impression is one of a Budapest lensed production, with reasonably talented British actors doing barely passable American accents with notable cameos from genre stars recorded in the comfort of their LA home.

GINGER 003Not that any criticism will dent the popularity of Ginger Clown, I’ve no doubt that a movie with this title that boasts the talents of Tim Curry will be lapped up by many horror fiends. Caveat emptor though as the awesome Mr.Curry is represented by his vocal talents only – and it really doesn’t sound like him, more like someone doing an impression of him – but maybe that’s just me, and he’s limited to a relatively short amount of screen time considering his character carries the title of the movie. Anyway judge for yourselves, but if I were you I’d dust off my copy of Stephen King’s IT and give that another look and leave Ginger Clown to be caught in the wee hours of a weekday night premièring on the Horror Channel.

4 out of 10

Tobe Hooper and Spontaneous Combustion by Matty Budrewicz

Spontaneous Combustion video advertTOBE HOOPER AND SPONTANEOUS COMBUSTION
BY MATTY BUDREWICZ

 
Tobe Hooper.
I’ll say it again: Tobe. Hooper.

 

 
It’s a name that demands your respect, yet all too often results in cries of unimaginable agony as people attempt to recall a single worthwhile film he’s made in the last thirty years. Whilst his peers Craven, Carpenter, Romero and Cronenberg all enjoy a legendary status both in and out of the horror genre, ol’ Tobe remains adrift in a near obscure wilderness, the general consensus being the stogie smokin’, Dr Pepper swillin’ Texas Chain Saw Massacre helmer has been on one long downward slide since his sweaty 1974 classic. Indeed, for the casual terror fan Hooper’s latter career is the stuff that brain aneurysms are made of if one were to think about it too hard.

To call the man a one hit wonder, however, would be completely unfair; he is after all responsible for two more recognised masterworks, Salem’s Lot (1979) and Poltergeist (1982), even if his contribution to the latter is too often overlooked in favour of the films co-writer and producer Steven Spielberg who was famously, erm, “hands on”. Then , of course,there’s The Funhouse (1981), Lifeforce (1985) and Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (1986), three once polarising offerings that are currently under re-evaluation thanks to shiny bells and whistles blu-ray editions from Scream Factory and Arrow (the two companies who’re the reason I never seem to have any bastard money lately…).

 

It’s just a bloody shame that the rest of Hooper’s ouvere remains either disgustingly underseen or consigned wrongly into bad movie oblivion. And yes- I’m being deadly fucking serious!

Spontaneous Combustion 1From his Robert Englund starring one-two punch Night Terrors (1993) and The Mangler (1995), to his millenial creature feature Crocodile and 2003 reinvention of the grubby exploiter Toolbox Murders- well, look, I’ll admit they aren’t good conventionally. They’re wildly uneven (to put it mildly) and guilty of what is arguably the cardinal sin of Hooper’s entire career: his almost self destructive attraction to truly outré material. De Sade worshipping cults? A killer laundry press?! A vengeance seeking croc?! A remake of the fucking Toolbox Murders?!! Good lord!

 

However, in putting this ten year strip of truly deranged output in context with the rest of the genre at the time they suddenly emerge as a bold and distinctive body of fantastic schlock: whilst mainstream frights were either all too happy trying to pass themselves off as classy ‘thrillers’ (Silence of the Lambs, Se7en, The Sixth Sense) or piling on the self referencial post Scream arsery, Hooper’s lively hokum was a throwback to the heady days of glorious grindhouse excess. I firmly believe that had these films have been made in the eighties, they’d have been applauded or at least cult’d a la Basket Case and From Beyond.
Which brings us, albeit tenuously I’ll admit, to Spontaneous Combustion…

 
Now, to say Spontaneous Combustion, Hooper’s 1989 effort, has a cult following would be generous at best and an outright lie at worst- it’s more of a handful of people on internet message boards who saw it and don’t seem to hate it as much as everyone else does. In it, genre stalwart Brad Dourif plays Sam, a college professor who learns his real parents were part of an atomic weapons testing plan in the fifties. Because of this, Sam has the power of pyrokinesis and can cause others to violently burst into flames when he’s pissed off, sort of like a fiery Incredible Hulk. The only problem is, it causes great damage to his body in the process and some shady types now want to use him as a new super weapon (“The cleanest kill on Earth”, apparently. I can only assume they don’t regard leftover piles of human ash as a mess…).
Spontaneous Combustion 2Playing like a cross between Firestarter and Ken Russell’s Altered States, with a dash of abstract surrealism thrown in for the hell of it, Spontaneous Combustion is complete unashamed lunacy and, frankly, a huge terrible fuck up of a feature. It’s badly written (by Hooper and Howard Goldberg) and confusing beyond words, weirdly depressing in tone and amazingly cheap to look at… Yet I can’t quite shake off the feeling that it’s a work of some minor kind of brilliance. And yes, I’m being deadly fucking serious. Again!

 
A sensory blitz of all kinds of batshit, Spontaneous Combustion is chock full of enough of Hooper’s trademark bollock splitting gusto to allow it to fly by on energy alone. The performances are pleasingly histrionic and the effects are (for the period and budget anyway) admittedly quite impressive, with Dourif’s last third burn make up looking wonderfully nasty. Greatest of all, however, are the moments of true potential genius. The first ten minutes, for example, are exquisite and rival, in my honest to God opinion, the intense opening strokes of Suspiria and The Exorcist (albeit with a more science fiction slant).

 
It’s just a crying shame then that this potential wasn’t fully realised, not by Hooper’s choice anyway. Supposedly the film, which was designed as a low-budget return to Hooper’s independent roots after his tenure at Cannon Films proved unsuccessful, thanks to the disastrous box office of Lifeforce, Chainsaw 2 and his Invaders From Mars (1986) redux, was taken out of Hooper’s hands in post production. This editorial tinkering resulted in the directors carefully constructed balance of body horror, conspiracy thriller and human drama being ripped apart and reassembled into the films resulting mess, as frequent Hooper collaborator Eric Lasher can attest:
“…[it] Would have been as big as Poltergeist had they [the producers] not ruined it. It’s a shame… It makes Brad [Dourif] look like a bad actor, and he’s not, he’s a brilliant actor- they cut the wrong takes, if take two was the best, they’d use take one. And Tobe lost control again…”
(taken from Stefan Jaworzyn’s excellent book The Texas Chain Saw Massacre Companion, 2003, Titan Books).

 
Spontaneous Combustion 3Sadly, producer interference is something that has effectively hammered poor Tobe’s career since year dot. As far back as 1976’s Eaten Alive, Hooper was butting heads with the money men and its continued to get worse and worse with each successive film: fired from The Dark (1979) and Venom (1981), the aforementioned overbearing Spielberg influence on Poltergeist… Hell, even Hooper’s most recent project- the United Arab Emirates set Djinn- remains in some kind of release limbo thanks to the higher ups getting cold feet. But I digress…

 
Make no mistake: Spontaneous Combustion is a clanker, a clanker the kind of which used to haunt late night television. You know- the mindless guff padding out the programming just before the channel would shut down for the evening. In that respect, and when watched in the right mindset, it’s the sort of crack pot film type that almost becomes a transcendental experience. A guilty pleasure? Maybe, but not for me- I assure you I feel no shame in my love for it, or anything else Hooper has made for that matter. I’d say seek it out- you just might like it…