Chopping Mall (1986) Review

rsz_cm1CHOPPING MALL (1986) – AKA Kilbots / R.O.B.O.T

Dir: Jim Wynorski

Stars: Kelli Maroney, Tony O’Dell, Russell Todd, Barbara Crampton

Jim Wynorski (AKA Sam Pepperman, AKA Rip Masters, AKA Jay Andrews, AKA Harold Blueberry, etc, etc) has been writing, directing and producing (mainly B) movies since the early 80s. His varied career has seen him involved with projects like family films (A Doggone Christmas), mainstream comedies (Screwballs), bizarre creature features (Cobragator, Piranhaconda, The Return of Swamp Thing), softcore titilation (Busty Cops, The Hills Have Thighs, The Bare Wench Project), out-and-out porn (The Breastford Wives) and some more conventional horror (976 Evil 2, Ghoulies 4, Cheerleader Massacre, Sorrority House Massacre 2).

His second movie as a director is an example of Wynorski’s forays into straight horror; 1986’s Chopping Mall. The premise is straightforward – a group of teenage shopping mall workers decide to stay in the mall after closing one night, in order to have a party. The only problem is the mall’s new security system – an armour-plated lockdown, making escape impossible, and three heavily armed security droids which have turned rogue killers……

rsz_1cm2Although perhaps not Wynorski’s best known (or well budgeted) film, Chopping Mall is arguably his most successful in terms of what it sets out to do. The basic set-up and the clever use of venue create a thrilling environment which immediately involves the viewer and captures their imagination. In terms of efficient simplicity, it is not unreasonable to compare Chopping Mall with Halloween or Dawn of the Dead, although it is perhaps not quite in that league in terms of overall quality.

There are some familiar faces in the cast, Barbara Crampton and Friday 13th Part 2’s Russell Todd are amongst the “teenage” party goers and there are amusing cameos from Paul Bartel, Mary Woronov and Dick Miller. The script and the performances aren’t brilliant, but they don’t need to be and the cast enter into the swing of things with silly gusto as they are chased about the three levels of the mall by the killer robots.

There is an overriding sense of fun to the whole movie; every time the caterpillar-tracked driods despatch a victim, they say, in clipped, robotic tones , “thank you, have a nice day!” During the final credits, each cast member’s face is shown next to their name, except Suzee Slater, whose portrait is that of an exploding head – watch the movie to find out why.

rsz_cm3Even in 1986, Chopping Mall didn’t exactly break any new ground; there were already enough “teens in peril” slasher movies that every character in the movie was already a stereotype and we get the usual jump scares and gratuitous topless scenes. However, the setting and execution make Chopping Mall an effective and fun horror movie and the killer robots are a welcome change from the ubiquitous masked psycho. If you ever had the run of a large empty building as a kid, then you will understand the feeling of adventure and excitement that Chopping Mall conveys. A minor footnote in 80s horror and definitely worthy of your attention.

8/10

House Of The Witchdoctor (2013) Review

hotwd1HOUSE OF THE WITCHDOCTOR (2013)

Writer/Director Devon Mikolas

Starring – Bill Moseley, Leslie Easterbrook, Allan Kayser

UK DVD release 29th August 2016 from High Fliers Films

House of the Witchdoctor is a bit……….erm, rapey. Indeed, before there’s a sign of any witchdoctor, three people have been brutally raped. But prior to an examination of the use of sexual violence in the movie, a brief synopsis –

Callie Stephens plays Leslie Van Hooten, a college student, who, along with some friends, makes her way to her parents’ snowbound and isolated mansion to mourn the anniversary of the mysterious death of her boyfriend. Unfortunately for Leslie and the gang, this is the same weekend that Cliff, a vicious psychopath, is released from prison. Cliff meets up with his equally deranged friend, Buzz and, when they encounter Leslie et al, things take a very bad turn for the worse. Toward the end of the film, the entrance of some third parties spells comeuppance for Cliff and Buzz.

The first two acts of House of the Witchdoctor are, one imagines, supposed to be powerful and uncomfortable to watch. Writer/director Devon Mikolas manages only uncomfortable. Not because the movie is well executed, it is not; some of the acting is so poor that the delivery of some key lines is actually laugh out loud funny. But the relish with which the rape and humiliation scenes are shot and the way in which they linger just gives the inescapable feeling that you are watching something extremely dubious.

hotwd2So gratuitously are these scenes presented, it brings to mind Friday 13th Part V cast members’ stories of ex-porn director Danny Steinmann screaming during sex scenes in that movie “Fuck her! Fuck her!” A brief IMDB investigation into Mikolas’ career uncovers no previous forays into pornography, however. Indeed, House of the Witchdoctor is one of only two movies he has written and directed, the first being the 2010 short, Salvation by Blood.

As the House of the Witchdoctor starts to build toward the third act, it is hard not to get the impression that Mikolas is trying to add a bit of comedy to the characters of Cliff and Buzz, but this is too late after the way in which they have been built up into monsters and comes across as clumsy and incongruous.

It is the third act and the introduction of genre heavyweights, Bill Moseley, Leslie Easterbrook, Dyanne Thorne and (Thorne’s real life husband) Howard Maurer that save House of the Witchdoctor any credibility. The mood does lighten here and the film seems to move with more flair and competence in this direction. Thorne and Maurer are genuinely creepy, in a fun way, and there is a decent reveal as to the true reason why everyone is in attendance at the Van Hooten residence in the first place. The audience also gets to enjoy Moseley’s “voodoo dad” dancing. The very finale, with Leslie and her parents discussing events in a jovial, family way also injects a subtle, pitch black humour that is sadly missing from the rest of the film.

hotwd3In summary, House of the Witchdoctor is too amateurishly made to deal with the themes it presents in the first two acts and this gives the film an overwhelming air of grubbiness and salaciousness. The ending does rescue it somewhat, but it’s a shame the audience has to sit through the first hour or so to get there. If the final act could be stuck on the end of another movie, it might be half decent.

3/10

Night Duty – A True Story by Luke Green

NIGHT DUTY – A TRUE STORY

PC Rory Brown stood under the bright glare of the BP garage shop strip lighting, semi-interestedly browsing the rack of magazines. His operator, Phil, was chatting to the attendant behind the counter, as seemed to have become usual for a night shift. He could hear them now; talking about the power output of their police area car; Phil was blahing it up, but the truth of the matter was that it was simply a Skoda Octavia VRS estate with blue and yellow squares painted on the side.
Rory’s free cappuccino that BP graciously provided every night was long gone and he could think of no good reason to remain here, but Phil and his mate could be chuntering on for ages, Rory knew from painful past experience. Like something out of bloody Alan Partridge. He studied the magazines more intently. Ceebeebies magazine, hmm. Rory wondered how much a children’s TV presenter earned. A quick Google search revealed a number of wildly varying figures, the minimum of which appeared to be £70,000 per year and it also seemed to be a good way of gaining an OBE. At any rate, it had to be better than spending hours hanging around a petrol station on the outskirts of a small home counties town.

Rory was just about to make a protestation to Phil when his personal radio made its first static gurglings in over an hour, “I grade call, 72 Manor Gardens, woman reports her son is making threats to kill. Suspect still on premises. Anyone free to deal?” Rory wasted no time in responding, “November Tango One Two Two.” The controller replied equally as quickly, “Thanks, I’m sending it down to you now.” The car was on run lock, so the details would be on their monitor when they returned to the vehicle. Rory and Phil met at the door on their way out. “Did I really just hear you put us up for that pile of shit?” Phil was incredulous. “72 Manor Gardens, you do know who lives there?” Rory was only too aware that this was the home address of the slightly unkindly nicknamed “Mad” Mary Tucker, a middle aged woman with severe mental health issues who was very well known to every local copper. Mary was arrested at least once a month and Rory had himself remanded her to hospital under section 136 of the Mental Health Act about seven or eight weeks ago.

He also knew that everyone else on the shift would have had the same response as Phil and that if he hadn’t taken the job so keenly the radio would have just been tumble weed. “Yes, I know. But what if he actually does kill her?” Before Phil had the chance to say something along the lines of “good riddance”, Rory continued “you know there’d be a huge inquest and they’d want to know the whereabouts of every unit when that call came out and I don’t think being in the middle of telling a petrol station attendant about the fastest you’ve gone on the A41 would’ve been a good enough excuse not to have taken it.”
It was approaching midnight and the roads were dead. So Rory, being mindful of the sleeping local population, eschewed the sirens, but put the blue lights on. They reached 72 Manor Gardens in less than ten minutes. Phil radioed to the control room, “November Tango One Two Two TOA.”

72 Manor Gardens was a handsome 1930s semi-detached house, identical in design and build to every other house on its street. Manor Gardens itself was part of a larger estate, built when it was in order to home commuters, drawn to this part of the world by the extension of the Metropolitan tube line. Of course, it was a good fifteen miles into London before the trains actually went underground, passengers at this end of the line enjoying a vista of fields, village greens and woodland from their office-bound windows. Rory regarded the street as he got out of the car; tree-lined, leafy – shadowy. The orange glow of a nearby street lamp fought its way bravely out of the boughs of an overhanging lime tree and cast just enough light on number 72 to reveal that, although it was an identical build to its neighbours, it was rather the worse for wear in comparison. It had the integral garage on the left hand side, what looked like the original, solid wood front door in a brick arched porch and two windows on the first floor; a four paned example on the right and a smaller, two paned one, which Rory knew would be a box room, on the left.

However, on closer inspection, it became obvious that the downstairs bay window was made up of dirt-blackened, single glazed glass, framed by splintering wood, from which the dirty, white paint was peeling. None of the sparkling, new PVC of number 74 or its other snooty brethren. The front garden also failed to bear scrutiny in the company of number 74’s pristine rose beds; it was an overgrown tangle of weeds and brambles, just about contained by the presence of a low, brick wall. In the garden’s defence, though, it did lack the sea of beer cans and McDonalds wrappers which it might have accrued in a less salubrious area.

How Mary Tucker lived in such a place was a subject of much conjecture in policing circles. Rory had heard a rumour that her father had been a banker – nothing like today’s multi-millionaires, but perfectly respectable, nonetheless; the manager of a branch of a high street bank, somewhere in central London. Anyhow, Rory wondered what the other residents of Manor Gardens thought of Mary. The mind boggled.

No light was visible emanating from any of the windows of number 72 as Rory and Phil approached the front door and nothing about the facade of the house suggested that anybody – or anything – was awake, or at best alive, inside. Upon finding no doorbell, Phil knocked on the hard wood of the front door. They waited. No answer, no sign of life. Rory rapped on the half moon of glass which occupied the top panel of the door. Still nothing stirred. Phil moved to the bay window to try and shine his torch through, but was thwarted by the presence of heavy curtains and the veil of filth which clung to the glass. Rory took out his baton and banged hard on the door with the hardened rubber handle. Just as the two officers were considering putting the door in, Rory whispered “Shhsh, I think I can hear someone moving in the hallway.” They both held their breath and, suddenly, the sound of bolts being drawn, chains rattling and keys turning came from within.

After what seemed like an age, the front door finally opened inward on a dark, dingy hallway. Standing on the threshold in an old fashioned nightgown, which had once been white but was now greying and rather shapeless, was Mary Tucker, slightly rotund, hunched at the shoulders and with lank, salt and pepper hair hanging across her face. Wordlessly, Mary stepped backward into the hallway, implying consent for the police to enter. Phil went first and Rory followed, closing the door carefully behind him. As he turned back to the hallway from shutting the door, Rory briefly assessed the surroundings. The downstairs of the house was in semi-darkness, lit dimly by a weak glow coming somewhere from the back of house, most likely the kitchen. Leading off the right hand side of the hall were two doorways. Taking up the left hand side of the hall was a set of stairs, leading directly to the first floor landing. There was a faint, yet pervasive odour in the air, something like a mix of ammonia and spices. Rory looked at Mary Tucker. Mary’s eyes were set unwaveringly on Phil. Rory looked at Phil. Phil was staring back at Mary. “Ahem,” Rory cleared his throat deliberately. The spell was seemingly broken and Mary turned her attention toward Rory. “Hello, Mary,” Rory said, “are you OK? Are you hurt at all?”

“No, no, I’m fine” said Mary in an even voice. Rory was relieved that Mary seemed to be a lot calmer and more self-controlled than when he usually dealt with her. Just as well, really, because the current state of mental health care in Britain meant that her home would have been regarded by the authorities as a place of safety for her, so if she had have been distressed or wound up, Rory and Phil would have been facing a bun fight for the rest of their shift (at least) to get her taken elsewhere for care.
Rory continued, “Would you be able to explain to us exact….”

“Hold on, I’ve got to let the cat in.” With that, Mary wandered abruptly off down the hallway, toward the faint source of light. Rory watched her go. As he did, Phil nudged him and gestured toward a scrap of paper resting on top of a small book case at the bottom of the stairs. Rory squinted through the half light at it. Across the paper, in pencil, a spidery, sprawling hand had written “Lord, please deliver us from the creeping evil.” Rory turned to look at Phil, his face creased in a questioning frown. Phil returned his look with a knowing raise of the eyebrows. Rory knew that Phil thought this call was a load of bollocks and he knew that Phil blamed him for being here. He also knew that Phil was probably right and that, if there wasn’t the overhanging likelihood of this turning into a bureaucratic mental health nightmare, then that “prayer” would have been a source of much hilarity.

Both officers straightened their faces and turned their attention down the hallway as Mary returned.
“Right, Mary, what’s been going on tonight?” Phil’s matter-of-fact tone belied his feelings on the whole matter, but Mary did not seem to notice; if she did, she showed no sign of being put out. “Well, he’s saying that I’m driving him mad, depriving him of sleep and sending him to an early grave. He’s saying the only way he’ll get a good night’s sleep is if I was dead.”

“We’re talking about your son here, right?”
“Of course, who else would it be?”
Rory saw Phil’s face tighten and quickly interjected, “And what’s your son’s name, Mary?”
“Christopher.”
“Tucker?”
“No, Wilkins.”
“OK. And has Christopher actually directly threatened to kill you?”
“I’ve just told you that, haven’t I?” Mary was becoming agitated. Rory knew that this could happen when she felt she was being questioned. He kept his voice calm and soft. “Can you remember what words he actually used, because, from what you’ve told us so far, we haven’t got any evidence that he’s threatening you.”

Before Mary had a chance to answer, Phil said “Where is Christopher now?” This was a very good question. “Is he still here?” “Yes, he’s in there,” Mary said, gesturing with a nod of her head at the doorway immediately to Phil’s right. Phil looked a little shocked, as the door was open and the room in complete darkness. He stepped away into the hallway slightly.

There had been no movement and no sound from that room throughout the entire exchange. Rory stepped across Phil and reached into the room with his left hand, feeling along the wall inside for a light switch. When he found it and pressed it, nothing happened. The room remained in darkness. Rory entered the room. He squinted to try and get his eyes to adjust. “Hello, is there anybody in here?” The room remained still and silent. Rory reached for his torch. “It’s the police, if you’re in here, make yourself known immediately.” As he spoke, there was a squeaking of furniture springs and a huge black shape, darker than the rest of the shadows, rose up in the corner of the room. Rory switched his torch on and shone it toward the shape. Christopher Wilkins was approximately six foot five and verging on obese. Rory estimated him to be, what, 25 stone? Age probably about 40. Christopher was dressed in grey jogging bottoms, covered in what looked like gravy stains and a heavy, dark coloured jumper. He must have been boiling, Rory thought – the sheen of sweat across Christopher’s bald head confirmed this.

“Hello, mate.” Christopher’s tone was weary, resigned, but gentle and friendly.
“Hello, Christopher,” Rory replied, “would you mind coming out into the hall where there’s some light, so we can see you and I can stop blinding you with my torch.”

Christopher Wilkins stooped through the doorway after Rory and squeezed himself between Phil and the wall. It was now very cosy in the passage. Mary struck up, “See what you’ve done? I’ve had to call the police.” Her voice was rising and becoming shrill, her tone accusatory. “All this because you threaten your own mother!” Christopher put a hand to his forehead and drew it down slowly over his face. “Mum, I haven’t threatened you, I just need to get some sleep. For God’s sake!” His exasperation was obvious.
Before the exchange could continue, Phil said “Rory, why don’t you take Mary upstairs and I’ll stay down here and have a chat with Christopher.”
“Good idea. Come on, Mary, let’s you and me go upstairs and you can tell me a bit more about what’s happened. Is there somewhere comfortable we can go?”
Mary did not look convinced, but she acquiesced, nonetheless, “We can go to my bedroom.”

As Rory moved to follow Mary up the stairs, he noticed Phil smirking.
The last few steps curved round to the right and a narrow landing led from left to right. Immediately on the left, at the back of the house, was the bathroom. At the right hand end of the landing was the box room and leading off the landing directly opposite were the two larger bedrooms. Mary entered the righthand door of these two, which was the master bedroom, facing out over the street. The streetlight outside cast a vague yellow glow over the room, but it was not until Mary turned on the bedside lamp that Rory was able to get a good idea of the space. Having expected Mary’s bedroom to be somewhat of a fleapit, Rory was relieved to find that it was the cleanest, neatest part of the house he had been in so far. There was a double bed in the centre of the room, with its headboard against the landing wall. On the lefthand side, against the other interior wall, was an ornate, wooden dressing table, with a large swing mirror as its centre piece – this was probably an antique, Rory guessed. The wall opposite the bed was taken up entirely by fitted wardrobes and a small bedside table sat on either side of the bed. The sweet, delicate fragrance of rosewater filled the air.

Mary sat down on the bed and looked up at Rory, expectantly. “Well, aren’t you going to sit down?”
“I’ll stay standing, Mary, if you don’t mind; I find it easier to write,” Rory lied. He really did not want to relinquish his advantage over Mary; she was too unpredictable.
Rory could hear the deep, even hum of muffled voices downstairs, as Phil spoke with Christopher.

“Right, Mary,” Rory said, taking out his pocket book and pen, “I need you to think really hard and try to remember exactly what Christopher said to you, because we need to work out if any offences have been committed.” As he said this, Rory felt the soft, gentle pressure of something brushing against his left calf. He looked down, expecting to see the cat that Mary had let in earlier. There was nothing there.
“You OK?” Mary was looking at him suspiciously, her eyes narrowed and scrutinising.
“Yeah, I’m fine. I just thought I felt your cat brush past me.”
“Oh, no, you won’t see him. He won’t come out of the kitchen these days.”
“Oh, why’s that?” Rory did not really care, but if he could establish some kind of rapport with Mary, he might be able to get her to talk more and she would be more likely to remain on an even keel.

“He just won’t come further into the house since Christopher’s been like he is.”
“And how has Christopher been?”
“You know, tetchy, irritable. Shouting and that.”
“Well animals can be quite sensitive to people’s moods,” Rory said casually.
“Oh yes, they’re sensitive, animals. They KNOW things.” Mary’s tone was knowing and deliberate, as though she was talking to Rory about a great secret which they shared, as though no elaboration was necessary. Well, that suited Rory, he did not want to hear any elaboration; he was beginning to regret having taken this crappy call and was hoping to all hell that Mary’s story remained as it was, so he could note no offences, bosh the job and get on with his life.

At that moment, there was a great pounding on the stairs, shaking the whole house. Someone or something big was coming up. Thinking Christopher had flipped, Rory rushed out onto the landing, drawing his baton. Nothing. The landing was empty and still. Rory peered over the bannister; nobody on the stairs, the gentle murmur of Phil and Christopher’s voices drifting up from the direction of the kitchen.
Rory turned back toward the bedroom and jumped; Mary was directly behind him. Her face bore the same, narrow eyed, scrutinising look, “What are you doing?”

Rory paused, a little shaken. “I, erm….I thought somebody was coming up the stairs.”
Mary’s expression turned blank and passive, her eyes emotionless, but fixed on Rory’s. “Oh, you hear it, too.” She turned and went back into her bedroom.
“What? Hear what?” Rory followed, wanting an answer from Mary. Mary had gotten into bed and pulled the duvet over herself, laying on her side with her back to Rory and the door. “Forget it. I’m tired. You can go now.”
“You don’t want to pursue the allegation against Christopher?”
“Go.”

Rory lingered in the doorway for a moment. “Well, you know where we are if you need us.”
As he made his way downstairs, Rory knew that his sense of relief was not entirely down to getting rid of this griefy job. He could not explain what had just happened and it troubled him.
As he reached the bottom of the stairs, there was Phil, waiting in the hallway for him.

“Where’s the son?”
Phil pointed at the darkened room. “He’s back in there, the poor bastard. Trying to get some sleep. He seems like a nice reasonable bloke, stinks a bit, though. He’s fine, he’s just not getting any sleep; he says his mum spends all night charging up and down the stairs, making a right old racket.”
Rory looked hard at Phil. “It’s not his mum. Let’s go.”

Phil followed Rory, demanding no further explanation; he was just happy to be leaving this crap behind. So was Rory, but for different reasons. Phil pulled the front door closed behind him. “Fancy McDonalds?”

Grand Guignol, Southwark Playhouse – Review

Grand-Guignol-web-circle2Grand Guignol

Writer: Carl Grose

Director: Simon Stokes

Venue: Southwark Playhouse, 77-85 Newington Causeway, London SE1 6BD

So, to set the scene………what fun. What fun!! Grand Guignol is a play based around the exploits of the real and infamous Theatre du Grand Guignol (literally the Theatre of the Big Puppet), which existed in Paris from 1897 to 1962. The Theatre du Grand Guignol would stage productions which dealt with subjects considered too taboo for mainstream theatre and the most popular of these productions were the ones which flaunted gory scenes of horror.

Writer Carl Grose cleverly populates his cast of characters with real personalities from the history of The Theatre du Grand Guignol, director Max Maurey, actress Paula Maxa (known as “the most assassinated woman in the world” for suffering thousands of staged murders and rapes during her career), principle playwright Andre de Lorde and his psychologist collaborator Alfred Binet. The story even uses some of de Lorde’s real plays as a backdrop to events, such as Le Laboratoire du Hallucinations and Une Crime dans une Maison de Fous.

As for the plot (no spoilers….), the year is 1903 and Paris is gripped by fear over the ongoing brutal exploits of a serial killer known as The Monster of Montmatre. As the horrific murders occur ever closer to the Theatre du Grand Guignol, our oddball cast of characters are not immune to this fear. Blamed by a prominent theatre critic for fuelling the sick mind of the Monster with their gruesome plays, could it be that someone at the Grand Guignol is hiding a deadly secret? After all, what is inspiring the disgusting imagination of playwright Andre de Lorde?

splogoThe production is one big knowing wink, carried off in an air of general hilarity. Grose’s script, coupled with the fun direction of Simon Stokes, results in witty asides to the audience, outrageous and over the top gore sequences and the repetition of the line “it’s only a play, it’s only a play.”
The cast set about their work with camp relish and impressively keep the audience involved throughout the running time (two hours, including intermission).

The Southwark Playhouse itself is a low-key and relaxed venue. There is a well stocked bar/restaurant area, which the audience have to pass through in order to reach the auditorium. Before you come in sight of the stage, though, it is necessary to walk down a dark corridor, lined with lurid posters advertising the delights of the original Grand Guignol. This sets a suitably creepy atmosphere for what is to come.

If you’re in London with a spare evening, you could do a lot worse than pop down. Tickets are £18 or £16 for concessions. But you’ll have to do it before November 22nd, because that, unfortunately is when this current run ends. However, it is a Theatre Royal Plymouth production, so keep and eye on their website for any future news.

Highly recommended – but if you don’t trust my opinion, Grand Guignol has been publicly bigged up by Reece Shearsmith, who knows a thing or two about combining horror and comedy.

9/10

Grand Guignol
by Carl Grose
23 OCTOBER – 22 NOVEMBER 2014
Show Starts 7.30pm Matinee Starts 3pm
Running Time 120 minutes including interval
Price £18 | £16 concessions | All previews £10

BUY TICKETS

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 40th Anniversary Restoration – Review

texas_STEELBOOK_3DhighresThe Texas Chainsaw Massacre 40th Anniversary Restoration

Dir: Tobe Hooper

Starring – Marilyn Burns, Edwin Neal, Gunnar Hansen.

Release date: 17/11/2014 from Second Sight Films – HERE

It is 40 years ago this year since Tobe Hooper’s seminal Texas Chainsaw Massacre first traumatised audiences across the world, and to mark the occasion Second Sight are releasing a special restoration edition of the film on Blu-ray later this month.

What can be said about The Texas Chainsaw Massacre that hasn’t already been said in the four decades since its original release? It’s extremely hard to pay justice to the importance of the film, not just in the horror genre, but as a footnote in cinema. “Masterpiece” is a term that gets slung about far too easily in horror these days, but The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is undoubtedly a masterpiece. Initially banned in several countries, stories abounded of its legendary brutality, urban legends sprang up, telling tales of tramps paid thousands of dollars by the film’s producers to have their limbs amputated live on camera. All nonsense, of course; the film is virtually bloodless. But it is a brutal viewing experience, relentless in its delivery of discomfort.

It is not just the violent scenes which are uncomfortable, it was a famously hot shoot and the heat seems to radiate from the screen as you watch. And the film offers no sanctuary, there is no comic relief, no abatement. There is nowhere for the characters or audience to hide under the constant glare of the merciless Texas sun, no dark corners, no shade to shelter in and certainly no light to escape to, because you’re already in it, obvious and vulnerable. Hooper doesn’t even let us have the luxury of incidental music, an absence which suddenly becomes obvious when the audience are allowed one solitary, doom laden note as Leatherface slams the gliding metal door after dispatching Kirk with a hammer. Despite the lack of gore, Daniel Pearl’s camera never flinches from the grim realities of murder; the agony and the spastic death twitches are all there in their unedifying glory.

tcmss1With 40 years of reviews, revisits and nostalgia to delve into, there seems little point in writing any further about the content the movie. So let’s turn our attention to Second Sight’s 40th anniversary restoration. The film has received a 4K restoration and a 7.1 audio mix. If that means anything to you, then congratulations. But in all seriousness, the movie does look and sound fantastic. Essentially, the restoration has kept the sun-bleached, washed out ambience that adds so much to the film and which would have been a huge loss. The restoration was supervised by Tobe Hooper, so obviously was never going to jeopardise the essence of the film.

However, it is with the bonus features that Second Sight have really excelled themselves. DVD extras are so often lazy, throw away scraps (what’s the attraction with watching an entire movie with the guy who played “second body on the left” doing a crap voice over?), but the second disc of this 40th anniversary restoration is loaded with gems. There are features which have been available before, coupled with those which are brand new for this release.

Notable inclusions are the “Shocking Truth” film, documenting the making of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, a new audio commentary with Tobe Hooper, “Grandpa’s Tales”, in which actor John Duggan recalls his experience of playing the murderous clan’s patriarch, “Off the Hook”, an interview with Terri McMinn, who played Pam, interviews with Tobe Hooper, writer Kim Henkel and Gunnar Hansen (Leatherface), a tour of the TCM House with Hansen and “Flesh Wounds – Seven Stories of the Saw”, a documentary focusing on seven facets of the film, most notably the recollections of Ed Neal (The Hitchhiker) and Gunnar Hansen.

There is also a collection of previously unseen outtakes, deleted scenes and bloopers. These serve as testament to the power of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre; it is so incongruous and so strangely reassuring to see the occupants of that green van laughing and joking out of character, it’s as though a spell’s been broken. Similarly, seeing Gunnar Hansen stacking it when chasing Burns (or failing to get his chainsaw to start up at critical moments) elicits a feeling which can only be described as some kind of relief that it’s all actually only make believe.

tcmss2Some of the bonus features do overlap in content (we get three separate visits to the site of the house, for instance), but this is a minor complaint.

The 40th anniversary restoration will be released in two Blu-ray formats, a limited edition two disc steel book with new art work and a standard two disc Blu-ray with a reversible sleeve. If you’re a die hard Texas Chainsaw Massacre fan, you really need to own a copy. If you’re a horror fan and you don’t own a copy of TCM, you should probably buy one. If, like me, you’re a person who fails to see the point in bonus features, you should also probably get a copy of this restoration, just to help you see the light.

TCM – 10/10

Restoration / bonus features – 09/10

The Devil’s Music (2008) Director’s Cut Edition DVD Review

devil'smusic1The Devil’s Music (2008) Director’s Cut Edition 

Dir: Pat Higgins

Starring – Debbie Attwell, Chandrika Chevli, Richard Collins

Run Time – 97 Minutes

UK DVD release from Cornerstone Media on Pre-Order NOW – CLICK HERE

The Devil’s Music is a mockumentary (or rather a mock-rock-umentary) which strays into found footage territory. The film ends up suggesting that (MASSIVE SPOILER ALERT WHICH NEGATES YOU WATCHING THE ENTIRE MOVIE, BUT WHICH CAN’T REALLY BE AVOIDED NOW I’VE DRAFTED AN ENTIRE ARTICLE LIKE THIS) Satan is an ex-member of a boy band. Shock! Horror! Could it really be true? I think anyone who’s ever been exposed to Robbie Williams knows the answer to that…..

If you’re after a rip-roaring, gore-soaked thrill ride, then I’m afraid The Devil’s Music is not for you. Featuring a lot of talking heads, it’s not really a horror movie per se, but more a dark drama. Having said that, fans of independent British horror will recognise a few familiar faces, perhaps most notably James Fisher from The Zombie Diaries (2006) and numerous other genre projects.

devil'smusic2The Devil’s Music is made up of two main components; video footage from the last tour of now missing shock-popper, Erika Spawn and the previously mentioned talking head sequences of Erika’s associates pontificating on the past and, in particular, her feud with holier than thou ex-boyband member, Robin Harris. The film is ultimately based around the big reveal of Harris’ real identity, which is a playfully humorous premise, although sometimes slow moving.

A suspension of disbelief on the part of the audience is required in parts, not least in scenes of Harris (supposedly the biggest pop star in the country) “singing”. The dialogue often appears to be improvised, which sometimes leads to awkward exchanges and difficult viewing, but at other times results in some natural and impressive monologues to camera from the “interviewees”.

Numerous story strands involving Erika Spawn’s entourage and their relationships and interactions with each other, as well as the bizarre behaviour of Spawn herself, will keep you guessing as to where the plot is heading, but the movie is not woven tightly enough to fully enfranchise the audience as mystery solvers, so when the final denouement is presented from straight out of left-field, you may find yourself feeling cheated (except you won’t, because I’ve already ruined it for you in the second sentence of this review. As Grandpa says in The Lost Boys, “If you’ve got the TV guide, you don’t need a TV”).

devil'smusic3A humorous premise, an interesting concept for presentation and enough familiar character types to make any indie / metal kid cringe, mean that The Devil’s Music is worth a watch. But it does have the pace of a tortoise pulling a steamroller and has an amateurish feel at times. In a battle of movies with “The Devil’s….” titles, I’d place it ahead of The Devil’s Rejects, but that might be damning with faint praise.

5/10

The Gentlemen of Horror at The Phoenix Artist Club – A Review !

gentlemanofhorrorThe Gentlemen of Horror at The Phoenix Artist Club , London.

Part of the Camden Fringe 2014

Before you read any further, it should be made abundantly clear to you that it is the aim of this review to try to persuade as many people as possible (for their own benefit) to go and see The Gentlemen of Horror. Which might be a bit difficult, as its current run at the Phoenix Artist Club (just off Charing Cross Road in London) comes to an end on 07th August.

The Camden Fringe production chronicles, via a series of five conversations, the friendship between Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, from its inception, through to its latter stages, around the time Cushing was diagnosed with the prostate cancer which would eventually kill him.
Cleverly, each of the conversations takes place on the set of a different film, giving a nice extra dimension to the chronology of the piece. Scene one takes place during filming of The Curse of Frankenstein (Cushing and Lee’s first real collaboration), with Cushing one of the most famous people in Britain and Lee a complete unknown. Cushing is accommodating and magnanimous, despite his fame, whilst Lee is an awkward and stiff ex-spy, who shows glimpses of a sharp sense of humour as he becomes more at ease with Cushing’s company.

As the play moves on, the characters and their friendship develop with age, Cushing eventually becoming a nervous old man, mourning the death of his beloved wife, Helene (“I’m no longer a romantic lead”), whilst Lee grows ever more disillusioned with the limitations of a horror genre which he finds distasteful and never really wanted to be a part of.

James Goss’ thoughtful script brings to life the nuances of the evolving friendship and has plenty of humorous touches along the way, including a topical Jimmy Saville joke, which takes the edge off a particularly sad exchange. Together with Kate Webster’s light handed and empathetic direction, this gives the actors something to really work with and, as a cast of two in a series of five dialogues, work they do. And herein lies the strength of the current production.

pccl

The *real* Mr Cushing & Lee !!

Although the two leads, Matthew Woodcock (Cushing) and William McGeough (Lee) bear little physical resemblance to their characters, they bring them to life in a fun and engaging manner. Woodcock stumbles over his words on a couple of occasions during this performance, but such is the strength of his (and McGeough’s) performance, that there is no detrimental effect to the whole.

At around an hour-long, The Gentlemen of Horror doesn’t outstay its welcome and, rather than spending the final minutes wishing for some respite for their backsides, the audience are left yearning for more. The use of audio from lurid Hammer trailers in between scenes serves not only as a playful addition to the atmosphere, but also provides an interesting juxtaposition against the polite and mild personalities of the two men who possibly did the most to make those movies so popular. As the world of horror changes in the 70s and 80s, those personalities start to be alienated even further from their genre; to paraphrase one of Lee’s lines, “Have you seen what they’re doing in America? Horror’s no place for gentlemen anymore.”

If you can get down this week, please do; the Phoenix Artists’ Club is an amazing space, intimate and cosy, in the depths of the basement under the Phoenix Theatre. The gents’ is under one of those thick glass squares in the pavement and, as the world passes overhead, it gives you a real sense of being hidden away.

But it doesn’t matter where you see it, because I suspect The Gentlemen of Horror will be brilliant in any venue.

9/10

Show taking place at The Phoenix Artist Club
1 Phoenix Street
off Charing Cross Road
London WC2H 8BU
Sat 2 August 2014 1:00pm
Sun 3 August 2014 3:00pm
Mon 4 August 2014 9:00pm
Tue 5 August 2014 9:00pm
Wed 6 August 2014 9:00pm
Thu 7 August 2014 9:00pm
Book tickets via www.camdenfringe.com

UKHS Does the Nasty! The End… For Now.

DailymailvideonastyheadlineUKHS Does the Nasty!
The End… For Now.

It’s been a fun week but sadly our Video Nasty series has come to an end… Well, for now anyway. With such a huge wealth of titles (a massive ONE HUNDRED AND FIFTY-FOUR in total, thanks to the original seventy-two and the newly discovered, eighty-two flick strong Section 3 list), we’ve barely even scratched the surface with our little run of detail-packed profiles. Over time, you can be sure that we’re going to be adding to this terrific stretch of features – it’s going to be one hell of huge, ongoing UK Horror Scene project. Right now though, we’re going to be taking a breather from such sordid shocks, probably with something lighter and easier going like the Guinea Pig series instead. Until then though, you can chow down on the personal musings from a few of the UKHS team members as they discuss just what, exactly, the Nasties mean to them…

CF1Dave Wain
Someone rented a film from my joint the other day. It was a fairly uneventful transaction: the guy paid cash, he was fairly middle-class, he was walking his dog and there was certainly no stigma surrounding his choice of evening’s entertainment. One thing WAS notable though, and that’s the fact that if the rental purchase took place thirty years ago I’d be liable for arrest.

If I had held that film in my catalogue the store would face a raid by the police and a portion of my library would be seized and destroyed. You see, thirty years ago in the democratic, civilised and enlightened confines of our fair isle, those in power decided that us – the pitiful proletariat – needed protecting from things like middle-aged Italian film directors and Wes Craven. They banned Milton in the seventeenth century, Thomas Paine in the eighteenth century and they banned D.H Lawrence eighty-five years ago. It will keep happening, and it’s vital that instead of viewing the nasties era as a comedic Mary Whitehouse led debacle, we view this period as a severe infringement on our right to view art the way it was intended, and fight to prevent any future Daily Mail led fascist restriction of our culture.

That man’s rental, by the way, was Zombie Flesh Eaters. Three days have since passed and his dog shows no visible signs of trauma.

Read Dave’s CANNIBAL FEROX analysis HERE
Read Dave’s Section 3 title analysis, NIGHTBEAST, HERE

nightmare_1981_poster_01Matty Budrewicz
I’m second generational: I missed the Nasties themselves (I wasn’t even a twinkle in my dear ol’ Dad’s eye when the schlocky shit hit the fan), but I was brought up in the aftermath. All the Van Damme movies with the nunchuks and double ear-claps cut… All the key moments of gore snipped from re-issued slasher movies… Thanks to the discovery of pocket money friendly DVD labels like Vipco though, I was able to dive head first into Nasty-dom in my early teens; the once contraband likes of Cannibal Holocaust, Toolbox Murders and a brain-frying medley of Fulci joints suitably exposing me to a realm of gratuitous horror that Freddy and Pinhead only hinted at. Even if they were still bloody cut (it took a few more years to discover the joys of importing), they were an important part of my horror education, and they’re still just as relevant today; a gateway to a whole new world of extreme horror and a sobering reminder that, given half the chance, those in power can and will try and control us…

Read Matty’s NIGHTMARES IN A DAMAGED BRAIN analysis (part one) HERE
Read Matty’s Section 3 title analysis, THE BLACK ROOM, HERE

KN1Mark Pidgeon
They were a gateway into a world of horror for many fans growing up, myself included. I was always more interested in offerings from the far east, mainly Anime, but the association of films like Vampire Hunter D and Wicked City with splatter movies like The Evil Dead allowed me to devour a whole new slew of movies which, if I am honest, I could’ve overlooked in the grand scheme of things.
Working in a video store I would also come across lots of titles emblazoned with ‘Previously Banned’ and ‘Video Nasty’ stamped all over the cases like a badge of honour. These took me on a glorious discovery of Italian cinema which I still hold very close to me to this day and without that Video Nasty list my experiences as a horror film fan would be very different than they are now.

Read Mark’s KILLER NUN analysis HERE

DT 1Joey Keogh
As someone who was too young to appreciate what Video Nasties were, and who then grew up obsessing over slashers as opposed to films that were banned by the BBFC because of some nosey old lady who’d never even watched one, my experience of the infamous flicks has been fairly limited. My most vivid memory – aside from being forced to watch Cannibal Holocaust, I Spit On Your Grave and The Last House On The Left in some sort of bizarre, triple-bill at a “party” – was catching The Evil Dead for the very first time, on a battered VHS tape in someone’s attic.

It was the perfect setting in which to appreciate the seminal flick – rain battering against the windows, winds howling, three of us snuggled under a blanket, and an ancient TV transmitting more static than anything else. My love affair with Sam Raimi’s cult classic began that night, and it’s grown significantly in the intervening years. I never found the film as scary as some of my friends did (and indeed still do), but I was fascinated by it and of course, Bruce Campbell instantly became my hero. The Evil Dead still holds a proud place in my DVD collection, and it’s a film that gets better on each viewing – the VHS tape, on the other hand, is, sadly, long since passed after being completely worn out.

Read Joey’s DEATH TRAP analysis HERE

House 1Luke Green
As a kid, getting into horror in the eighties/nineties, it was all about tasting forbidden fruit, watching things you shouldn’t and seeing if it was really all that nasty and scary. Of course, the darkest, most elusive movies of all, indeed, the collective holy grail for an eighties schoolboy, were the Video Nasties – and man, were they tough to get hold of. So, somewhat ironically, the DPP list probably corrupted the mind of many a British innocent more than any film ever could, simply by forcing them to imagine the content of these movies, resulting in them conjuring up scenes far grosser than the reality.

I vividly remember playground encounters, where random kids would pluck a title from the list out of thin air and describe a (often fabricated) bit where a girl got her tits chopped off. It was always a bit with tits getting chopped off; don’t ask me why. I went to an all boys school, maybe that explains it… As an adult, it seems so ridiculous now – sure, once seen, Cannibal Holocaust can never be forgotten, but the list also included stuff as innocuous as Tobe Hooper’s Funhouse and as silly as Mardi Gras Massacre, testimony to the stupidity of the whole saga.

Layout 1 (Page 1)Dean Sills
They had a huge impact on the world of horror with their excessive gore and pure violence, each one exposing adult themes to a young audience. Back in the eighties, my parents got me a Betamax video recorder as a present one Christmas and trips to our local video library got me more excited than a kid in a sweet shop. My Dad introduced me to some great horror classics, and I remember that all the video nasties were hidden under the counter; sitting there waiting for people to view in all their glory.

The campaigning against the worst video nasties just increased their popularity and helped make horror what it is today. The press even campaigned, blaming the exposure of nasties for the increase in violent amongst the youths. I watched a dozen of these gory flicks and never had a desire to strip naked and run around the woods, chasing women with a hard-on and a chainsaw, ready to rape and decapitate them in true bloody style. Instead it just got me hooked and curious to watch more!

NB 1James Simpson
Being a young lad at school in the early nineties I missed the Video Nasties scandal, but I was aware of it. In the playground myself and some friends would often talk about trying to see horror movies and one boy, Carl, claimed his older brother had ALL the Video Nasties. Just hearing about some of the titles and artwork, Carl never sneaked any tapes in like he had been asked to do, stayed with me from that age.

Now, as an adult and knowing more of the context and history of the Nasties, these memories come to mind whenever I watch one of the titles on the banned list. Most of them are available on home video uncut, if these films are deemed suitable for release now then it only highlights how frivolous it was that they were banned to begin with. But as I watch Zombie Flesh Eaters or The Beyond for the twentieth time I recall all the fuss surrounding them, the Video Nasties legacy will stay with horror fans (new and old) forever.

TBR 1Oli Ryder
It seems hard and nigh on impossible to comprehend today how the simple ownership (with intent to supply) of one of the infamous ‘Big 72’ could result in a prison sentence. We can be guilty of forgetting how spoilt we are now, with horror being one of the most prolific and lucrative of genres, that we can’t imagine what it must have been like to see our beloved genre run out of town by the lynch mob of the moral masses.

Of course from my own perspective, the bête-noir of the Nasties campaign in Sam Raimi’s masterpiece, The Evil Dead is my all time favourite horror film. Without the notoriety surrounding the film, it could have just slipped away into the void and much like the superb and still troubling Last House on the Left, the horror world is a better place now that the ban has been lifted. I feel it is unlikely such a hysteria-driven nationwide witch hunt will ever happen again and whilst the quality of the films that came under the ban varies to say the least, the Video Nasties should be remembered as a dark period in horror history and one we should be eternally thankful for being long dead.

DK 1James Pemberton
I was too young then to really know about the Nasty period, but I certainly felt the after effects of it: the time when the BBFC was under the rule of James Ferman, and the only way for me to get banned films in 1992 was to order them through Dark Side magazine classifieds and get third or fourth generation VHS copies from a guy in Northumberland.

Nasties for me represent a time similar to the grindhouse tradition, where people were selling films that had lurid titles and built on shock and gore – as humans, we’re always fascinated by the grotesque and disturbing. It both amuses and shocks thinking about it; amuses me as people were outraged by these films, and shocks me due to some of the abhorrent and misguided nature of people who seemed fit to campaign against them.

MP Graham Bright’s amusing comment that nasties affect not just children but dogs, is both hilarious and a stunning indictment of the stupidity of politicians; it sounds like something you would hear on Brass Eye. In the end it’s ironic that one time nasties such as Driller Killer can now be viewed fully uncut on YouTube. Technology has advanced so fast, we can now see these once forbidden films easily on our own smart phones…

anthropophagousLauren Harrison
Original. Extreme. Outrageous. Visceral. Misunderstood. The Video Nasties showcase an era of cinema that exposed the true, gruesome brilliance of the horror genre. A genre that will always be condemned and will always face controversy.: but never quite so harshly as it did during the early 1980’s.

I wasn’t conceived until the late eighties, so wasn’t around to witness this fiasco as it was happening. My parents were though, obviously. And as I grew, I learnt of the bannings and of the gross shame that surrounded the genre. Naturally, my interest peaked and I began to watch, re-watch and own many of the titles within the list of nasties.
What I love most about these films is the fact they push buttons.

Be it to a condemning Tory journalist, an unsuspecting movie renter or even a horror fanatic. Bloodshed and exploitation aside, stripped back, there is something that really hits a nerve with a viewer within these titles. Some see this as negative. I choose to see this as a positive trait. And I know I’m not alone in thinking this.
Long live the nasties!

Cannibal-Holocaust-a-draw-001Andy Deen

In 1982 I was 11 years old. I was walking into my local video rental store and walking out with a per-cert copy of Cannibal Ferox. We were one of the first families on our street to own a video player. When I say own , it was rented from Radio Rentals and the remote control wasn’t even infrared , you plugged it into the machine and the wire stretched an impressive 2 metres. Halycon Days indeed.

With my Mum’s video card I was quite the popular kid at school, and probably twice-weekly would make the trip and peruse the horror section for the best (or worst) cover art. With this began my life-long adoration of horror cinema.

But then it changed, there were laws passed and I was unable to rent films. Also the films I wanted to watch were now unavailable ? I remember it vaguely (as I had discovered girls and cider) but gone were the horror films and my friends were back watching Lemon Popsicle, Animal House and Porky’s.

I did trade tapes in the late Eighties and early Nineties, and did often worry about a knock on the door after posting a copy of Nekromantik or receiving Henry Portrait of a Serial Killer, but it never happened. Those days now seem like a lifetime ago , especially with the internet age but for me there will never such a huge thrill again as when I would sit and watch a grainy 5th gen copy of Cannibal Holocaust !!

 

blwitStuart Anderson
I have three overriding memories of the era in which the video nasty furore erupted. Firstly, the rank hypocrisy of the press and establishment lecturing us yet again in what they believe was in our best interests – poor us, we need our hands holding, you know. I say hypocrisy, because if the latest revelations about an establishment cover-up of sexual abuse, by many in the same era within that very same echelon of British Society, is anything to go by – well, you know, throwing stones in glass houses and all that.

The second thing that comes to mind about the whole controversy was that it actually hid the fact that many (though not all) of the films that were seized and banned were in fact pretty rubbish in terms of cinematic quality. They were often cheaply made, badly acted, flimsily plotted pieces of horror with an over reliance on gore and blood over style and chills. What the furore actually did was to provide many films, that actually should have died a quiet death on the video rental shelves, eternal fame and notoriety.

The third factor that came as a consequence of banning orders was the knock on effect it had to other works as the BFFC went into panic mode in an effort to placate the feverish press and preaching politicians. Not only did it foresee the introduction of Video censorship, no movie it seemed was safe from seizure, examination and potential banning. Perhaps the most bizarre example that typifies the feverish mentality if the time was the seizure of copies of The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, starring Dolly Parton. It was mistakenly assumed by the title to be some extreme sex film. Actually, on reflection, I did see it once (not by choice) and it’s two hours of my life I’ll never get back. That’s one movie that actually should have been banned…

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#UKHSNasty

 

Maniac (2012) DVD Review

MANIAC-001Maniac (2012)
Dir: Frank Khalfoun

Starring – Elijah Wood, Nora Arnezeder, America Olivo.

Remakes are an emotive subject. It is difficult for anyone to limit their emotional response when somebody suddenly imposes their “re-imagining” of a perfectly good or personally treasured movie. But, as remakes are obviously here to stay, it is important to try and stifle that response in order to gain a true and clear impression of the new film. Remember, for every Halloween (2007) there is a Dawn of the Dead (2004), for every Prom Night (2008) there is a The Thing (2011).

And so we come to Maniac (2012), director Frank Khalhoun’s version of one of the 80s’ most revered – and reviled – horror movies. On first viewing, one initially wonders why they bothered calling it “Maniac”; films of this ilk are generally fairly similar anyway (how different can they really be – not a criticism, more a stating of fact) and the “new approach” here could just as easily be a remake of New York Ripper. Certainly in striving for the filth and sleaze of William Lustig’s original, it only manages the cruelty and sadism of Fulci’s notoriously misogynistic “classic”. Of course, we know the reason, really; money, the root of all evil.

Writers Alexandre Aja (he of the excellent Haute Tension, but sadly sidetracked seemingly to remake hell since his move to Hollywood) and Gregory Levasseur try to bring Joe Spinell’s screenplay into the 21st century by introducing internet dating as a fertile hunting ground for the titular Frank Zito, which makes sense. What makes less sense is the apparent move to Los Angeles, which seems to have no point except to distance this movie from the original, which again just begs the question from the previous paragraph (crikey, this is in danger of becoming a particularly vicious circle).

maniacluke3Aja and Levasseur have also given a lot more attention to Frank’s past and his mother fixation, which Khalfoun enthusiastically brings to the screen in the form of lots of salacious sex scenes and shots of boobs. Again we are brought face to face with the delusion which a lot of people who make films seem to suffer from; that single mother crack whores who live in bedsits all look like super models. If they really wanted to capture the essence of what made Maniac, Frank’s mum should have been a toothless old crone with a beer belly and a flick knife hidden up her fanny.

One issue which the film continually struggles with is the central casting. Whilst you can imagine that getting Elijah Wood might seem like a bit of a coup for a horror remake, the reality is that it just becomes a monstrous elephant in the room; it is not possible to accept the diminutive Wood as somebody capable of overpowering and brutally murdering a lot of women (some of whom here are a foot taller than him). Also, the character now is a pretty boy, well turned out “artiste” and owner of a shop where he now displays his mannequins. This makes the appearance of his hands (which get numerous close ups) seem completely incongruous; they are dirty, rough, calloused and surprisingly big. It’s as though this little guy has had a double hand transplant and ended up with the real Frank Zito’s hands – now THAT would be a good movie, he inherits the hands of a maniac and they compel him to kill, kill!

maniacluke2Big and glitzy compared with its source material, Maniac (2012) misses the point of Spinell and Lustig’s collaboration, which is a genuinely effective portrait of madness (in no small part to Spinell’s performance of a lifetime). In 1982, we feel sorry for Zito, not because he has any redeeming features, but because of what he is, what life has made him, in the same way in which you might feel pity for a toad under a rock. In 2012, we are being coerced (unsuccessfully) into having sympathy for him, by the introduction of a palatable appearance and such hackneyed and unsubtle plot tools like the little boy mannequin, which represents Frank as a child and which the adult Frank cherishes and protects.

Bearing that in mind, the only way to watch Maniac (2012) is to embrace its flaws and view it as a straightforward slasher movie. As such, does it pass muster? Well, it’s watchable, which is a compliment these days. It suffers from the same problem as many big budget remakes, in that the star turns, money and glamour just make it seem all the more cynical when compared with its honestly exploitative inspiration.

maniacluke1Since I wrote the original draft of this article, I have since read Mark Kermode’s new book, Hatchet Job, in which he cites a review of this movie which read simply “by dummies, for dummies, about dummies.” So before you dismiss this review as a simple remake bashing, bear that in mind and cut me some slack.

4/10

As an interesting aside, my little brother once bumped into Elijah Wood in a nightclub in Prague and the little hobbit was wasted on absinthe. He left a personalised answerphone message on my brother’s mobile, pronouncing (in a terrible cockney accent) “hello, my name is Elijah fucking cunt Wood”, which I thought was a bit harsh. A bit.

Actors Wanted aka Opus (2011) DVD Review

 

actorswantedACTORS WANTED aka OPUS (2011) 

DIR: Micah Levin

Starring – Lola Blanc, Demarkes Dogan, Carolyn Jania, Dylan Moore, Brian R Norris, Arielle Ramos.

Out May 12th in the UK on DVD from Warwick Films !

Although everyone from Agatha Christie to Mario Bava might lay claim to a share of the royalties, a group of young people, all unknown to each other, being brought together in a remote location by an anonymous host sounds like it could be a pretty solid set-up for a generic, murder by numbers slasher, right? Not in the hands of writer / director, Micah Levin, who manages to ruin his and co-writer, Andrew Bird’s own good idea.

The young people are auditionees who have answered an anonymous Craigslist advert looking for actors for a horror movie. The advert has been posted by someone only ever referred to as “The Director”. As we meet these characters, it becomes almost immediately apparent that Opus is going to drag; introducing them via their audition tapes should have been a clever, convenient and concise way of introducing everyone.

actorswanted2However, it soon transpires that the enigmatic “Director” has cast only the people who sent him interminable tapes of themselves harping on about their whole life stories. But wait; this is serendipitous, as the film relies on flashing back to these tapes; the characters have rambled on so much that each audition tape contains the relevant information to explain each individual’s actions in any given situation. That’s a bit of luck. We are particularly exposed to the thoughts, dreams, memories, shopping lists, etc, etc of couple, Kelly and Caesar, whose personalities and relationship oddly change beyond recognition between the start and ending of their audition films.

The clips of these auditions are intertwined with footage of the group being dropped off at a remote house in the middle of a desert, which looks exactly like it should be in Tatooine. Whether this is intentional is not clear. Our heroes are concerned that there is no-one else around. So they start doing shots of tequila and go walking in the desert heat. Of course. There is A LOT of disparate dialogue, much of which would appear to be improvised. Now, these sequences might be an attempt to build tension, but the improvised dialogue undermines this by contradicting itself and we are now about an hour in and NOTHING HAS HAPPENED!!!

Eventually some people do die and there are some attempts to drop in clues that a certain protagonist might be letting on more than they know, but these are heavy-handed and too little far too late. At one point it seems that the movie might redeem itself and take an April Fools’ Day type turn, but this never happens. A “post-story” sequence, explaining the fate of one character is incongruously stuck to the end of the film and seems like an afterthought. The big twist is that “The Director” is Levin himself.

actorswanted3Ultimately, credit to Levin and Bird for trying to come up with something original. But the execution is not good enough. The fact is that watching Opus is a boring experience and that is the worst thing that can be said about any form of entertainment. The performances are not strong enough to deliver the improvised lines with any weight and Levin does not keep enough of a rein on his actors to stop their improvisation interfering with the story. Cinematographer Elie Smolkin deserves an honourable mention for making the most of some breathtaking desert vistas.

3/10