Tone Death (2017) Review

rsz_tonedeathTone Death (2017)

Directors: Roger Armstrong, John Hickman
Star: John Hickman

Review from the World Premiere at the Triple Six Film Festival

Pulling off a successful mockumentary or “found footage” genre film is a more complex task than it initially appears. Too often the genre can be used as an excuse for wobbly camerawork, lazy directing and bad storytelling from people too idle to exert themselves. The likes of The Pyramid, The Paranormal Activity series and the recent Blair Witch sequel are perfunctory, lethargic snoozefests for the large part. Although they still pale in comparison to the Danny Dyer vehicle Pimp, a staggeringly rubbish film which unwittingly parodied itself by casting Dyer as some sort of cockney Don Corleone.

Thankfully, British indie flick, Tone Death falls on the positive side populated by the likes of Trollhunter and Borderlands. Directors and stars Roger Armstrong and John Hickman excellent borrow tools from the genre to deliver not so much a black comedy as a “black-hole” comedy.

rsz_tonedeath1_zpsyzjskn8oThe film centres on friends Roger – a DJ and ex-raver unbalanced by previous substance use – and his bumbling friend John (played by Armstrong and Hickman respectively). Roger believes he has found a sound frequency to elevate a person to a higher state of non-physical consciousness and constructs a ludicrous homemade machine to test his theory. It is a weird mix of religion and drug induced, new age techno-spiritualism that will be familiar to anyone involved in rave culture over the last 30 years.

Manchester’s Triple 6 Horror Festival was the first place to show Tone Death on the big screen but in many ways the film lies much closer to the outstanding Four Lions in its tone. Consistently drawing out laughs from bleak, mundane and grim scenarios that successfully walk the line of good taste.

Armstrong and Hickman provide a tremendous double act. Armstrong’s working-class, clubland Victor Frankenstein is hilarious. A never to be finished 20 year album and quest for spiritual perfection belying a total nihilism about the human race. Some of the support characters do suffer from a lack of dimension with the exception of Stephen Robertson’s bumbling local drunk, familiar to any town centre in Britain, who threatens to steal the show.

rsz_tonedeath2_zpsjr4epxysThere is plenty of splatter and gore on show but the film succeeds in avoiding being mean-spirited while successfully nailing its intended targets for humour. There is, to a large extent an affection for the characters, if in part because they are closely based on the actors portraying them.

Speaking to the team behind Tone Death there idea for a follow up is another black comedy following a band of inept slashers attempting to kill the final girl but continuously cocking it up. If the jokes and love of horror cinema are anything to go off here, we should all certainly hope it’s a film that we all get to see. A terrific debut.

Cruel Summer (2016) Triple Six Festival Review

rsz_cruel_summer_posterCruel Summer (2016)

Screened at The Triple Six Horror Film Festival , Manchester 28th May 2017

Directors/Writers: Phillip Escott, Craig Newman

Stars: Danny Miller, Reece Douglas, Richard Pawulski

Out Now on UK DVD & On Demand

Shot over what must have been ten of the most intense shooting days in cinema production history, Cruel Summer has proved to be an incredibly divisive film. In its screenings at Frightfest and Manchester’s recent Triple 6 Horror festival, audiences have been sharply divided and Q&A sessions with directors and writers Phillip Escott and Craig Newman have escalated from relaxed talking shops into heated debates.

Small wonder considering the tough subject matter on display. The story follows autistic teenager Danny (Richard Pawulski) who is camping on his own for the first time to gain his Duke of Edinburgh award. Meanwhile, bitter, violent local youth, Nicholas (Emmerdale’s Danny Miller) who egged on by a lie over an affair from jealous friend Julia (Natalie Martins), hunts down and tortures Danny along with a third friend Calvin (Waterloo Road’s Reece Douglas).

It is, without question, one of the toughest films I have ever had to watch and do not want to watch again anytime soon. This is not a knock against the film though. Escott and Newman have delivered one of the most important and brilliant pieces of British filmmaking in years. The subject matter can be, at best, described as thoroughly harrowing. My emotions were entirely drained by the end and I was left with a seething, boiling anger over the events I had just witnessed. So much so that I had to head outside and decompress afterwards.

rsz_cs1Comparisons I heard were to Cannibal Holocaust and Last House on the Left, those comparisons do this film a disservice as it has far more in common with the works of Shane Meadows, Mike Leigh and Ben Wheatley, presenting a gritty realism but is not cheap, gross or exploitative. Much of the brutality is actually unseen, down to superb directing and editing. It is the oppressive intensity. The hopelessness of the situation. The grim, pointless mess of it all that works you over.

Escott and Newman based the story on a number of different cases that have happened in Britain in recent years and the subject matter is treated with great care and sensitivity.

The performances from the four lead actors are incredible. Miller, not shy of getting to grips with meaty storylines is excellent as the psychotic, hateful slimeball Nicholas. Just thinking about the character is enough to raise my hackles again. Puwulski also pulls off an astonishing performance as Danny, avoiding using tropes that so often inadvertently mock those with mental disabilities. A word on Natalie Martins too, who produces a more restrained but equally outstanding performance as the jealous Julia. Clearly in love with Danny but jealous over his infatuation to the point of egging him into committing a heinous and besotted with him to the point where she goes along with it to the end.

rsz_cs2Cruel Summer will not entertain in any traditional sense but it educates, informs and elicits the necessary feelings of disgust, dismay and anger from the audience. In a time where hate crimes have spiked, tacitly encouraged by a vile and mean-spirited government keen to target the most vulnerable in society, Cruel Summer is an important film about hate crimes and the mindless violence of a lost generation of underclass youth.

Offensive (2016) Triple Six Festival Review

rsz_offensiveposterOffensive (2016)

Reviewed at the Triple Six Horror Festival Manchester Sunday May 28th 2017

Director: Jonathan Ford

Writer: Jonathan Ford

Stars: Russell Floyd, Lisa Eichhorn, Fred Adenis

Release TBC

Seeing Offensive at Manchester’s Triple 6 festival was an odd experience. We were being treated to the final viewing of the film in its full, uncut glory before director Jonathan Ford pulled it and cut out some of the gore for future release.

After sitting through all 100 minutes of it, you do wonder why the hell Ford has decided to cut some of the gore out? Without it, the film is a pretty poor, by-the-numbers revenge thriller.

The story follows an elderly American couple (Russell Floyd & Lisa Eichhorn) who move to the French countryside and are terrorised by a group of local youths who may caused the death of their uncle, and decide to exact brutal vigilante justice.

rsz_offensivefloydIts hard to gauge where Ford wants this film to sit in the long and bloody history of the revenge movie, ranging from the grindhouse of Last House on the Left and I Spit on Your Grave to the likes of Death Wish and the genre’s high point in Shane Meadows’ Dead Man’s Shoes.

Without the violence Offensive looks an awful lot like a made-for-tv film aired before 5pm on Hallmark. The setting of the French Countryside looks rather artificial, the characters are one-dimensional and the dialogue can be best described as “ropey.” At times it’s hard to tell whether the moments I laughed at were meant to be funny or things had just become so staggeringly silly it lapsed into self-parody.

The dialogue is made more bananas by the somewhat suspect acting. Eichhorn in particular is so incredibly wooden you could furnish an entire house with IKEA flat pack furnishings out of her acting. A scene with the couple discussing the morals of taking revenge against the youths is like an entire petrified forest in an American National Park.

Offensive really fell quite flat in comparison to several far more impressive films at the Triple 6 festival. However, against all five Pirates of the Caribbean films in a weekend festival of bad films, Offensive, particularly without the gore, still wouldn’t fare too well.

Hot Button Politics and Attack The Block!

atb1Hot button politics and ‘Attack the Block.’

I’m going to lay down a marker right now; Attack the Block is one of the most crudely underrated films of recent years. A brilliant film and for my mind the 21st Century’s Evil Dead. Gory, low budget (by today’s standards), funny, fast paced and a superb soundtrack by Basement Jaxx together with composer Steven Price. A soundtrack that combines electronica with classic overblown horror music. It is not straight horror in the manner of Evil Dead, but its not hard to see where comparisons can be drawn.

In terms of genre literacy, it leans heavily on Aliens – with it being an action sci-fi film following a ragtag group outnumbered by a hostile alien force – and the literature of J.G. Ballard and John Wyndham. Both of whom are explicitly referenced in the film (keep your eyes on the signs)

Moreover, though writer and director Joe Cornish put together a daring film about poverty, racism, police profiling and the brutal gentrification of London.

atb2Set on a fictional council estate high rise in Brixton, although shot across several areas of London, we are first presented with our hero, Moses (John Boyega in his breakout role), intimidating and threatening a woman (Jodie Whittaker’s Sam) and mugging her. It’s a shocking, fast paced start to a concise, punchy 84-minute runtime.

It doesn’t take long for Cornish and Boyega, who instantly presents a captivating presence and imposing charisma, to establish Moses as fighter. An anti-hero making the best of a bad break. An orphan striving for respect in a hostile environment. Moses is a survivor who does what simply does needs to be done. As the alien invasion wears on and closes in what we see is a leader. Resourceful, courageous and unflinching from danger.

Samantha, the trainee nurse, from a more middle class area but newly moved into “The Block” represents much of the audience. She demonstrates, in the beginning, how most of us would react but wouldn’t like to think we would. Instantly taking the events that have befallen her with hostility and suspicion of everyone. A sense that she looks down the nose at the area and the locals before coming to understand that this is a tight knit community bound by loyalty, a sense of quiet dignity and mistrust of outsiders, especially authority.

atb3At one point during the film, Moses and his gang, on the run from increasing numbers of hostile aliens, theorize that the government released the creatures into the area to get rid of the “problematic” locals. There is a lot to that, London was already in the midst of “gentrification.” With the middle classes being forced out of areas such as Camden due to rising property prices to residential areas slightly further out. Poor, predominantly black people living on the edge of areas of great wealth, areas such as Tower Hamlets, looking right across to Canary Wharf. Those aliens represent that social cleansing driven by property developers and, ugh, Boris.

There is plenty in here about police profiling and institutional racism too, specifically within the ending which was unsettlingly prescient.

**SPOILERS AHEAD**

The ending shows a community cheering their local hero Moses, as he’s arrested presumably for multiple murders that he didn’t commit, and tensions on the edge of boiling over with police. Just a few months after this film was first shown at “South By South West” riots erupted in London after the police shooting of Mark Duggan. One wonders whether Joe Cornish sensed those something of those simmering tensions during the eight weeks of night shoots

atb4At the time despite receiving a warm critical reception and having awards success on the indie film awards scene it was fairly low key on release. John Boyega stamped his mark as a star of the future. Still, it is a film overlooked and even not seen by many but I predict, as time goes on this will be seen as a bonafide cult classic.

Its better than New Kids on the Block that’s for damn sure…

A Walk Down Elm Street and Middle America’s Nightmare

anmoesA Walk Down Elm Street and Middle America’s Nightmare.

One night, in the suburbs of Cleveland, Ohio, a young boy, supposed to be asleep looks out of his bedroom window. He sees an old man walking down the street wearing a black and red striped jumper. The man pauses, turns and stares straight at the young boy. Terrified, the boy quickly shuts his curtains and scrambles under the covers. Sometime later. Seconds, maybe even minutes, the scared young boy gingerly peeks through the curtains and out into the street.

The old man is still there, staring intently, coldly at the window and the petrified little boy. Maybe that old man was planning terrible things or maybe he was just a creepy old bastard who got a kick out of scaring a child. Either way, for a callow young boy raised in a strict Baptist household, it is an event that would leave its mark for the rest of that boy’s life. Because that young boy was called Wesley Earl Craven and if that black and that old man (along with a school bully named Fred Krueger) would go on to inspire the creation of one of the most enduring villains in cinema history.

Its fitting that a childhood experience in the seemingly safe suburbs of middle America would inspire A Nightmare on Elm Street a twisted suburban vision. One with absent parents harbouring secrets and sins that would come back to haunt their children in the form of a sadistic predator.

ANOES10 4Because let’s remember what this film and Freddy Kruger was, truly horrifying. The franchising and commercialisation of Freddy into some wisecracking folk anti-hero. The original film made 23 years ago on a now tiny budget of $1.8 million was scary and frankly still stands as one of the greatest films ever made. A jarring, brutal disturbing attacking on the moral hypocrisy of Middle America in the era of Reagan and “family values.”

A reoccurring theme of Craven’s dark twisting of childhood fantasy was the uselessness of the adults. The parents of the children are all drunks, pill poppers or simply emotionally and even physically unavailable. As such, their children are left to deal with the perils and pitfalls of adolescence on their own.

anmoes1This is no more apparent than when it comes to sex. The streak of conservatism in suburbia means despite sexualising absolutely everything, in the real world, they have no idea with how to deal with sex. Without anyone looking for them, they end up facing what to be honest for any adolescent out there, no matter how much bravado they show, the scariest moment of their life.

I remember being 16 years old. Sex was all you wanted and all you thought about but when the prospect of it was presented in front of me, it still left me a clumsy, nervous wreck scared half to death of doing anything wrong. Those fears about sex run throughout this film. Tina’s death looking disturbingly like a rape, the tongue coming through the phone receiver – a genuinely strange moment – and Freddy’s glove appearing between the virginal Nancy’s legs in the bath. Its all Wes Craven’s way of saying that American culture tries to make young people absolutely scared to death of sex. Indeed, in the original draft screenplay, Freddy was a child molester not JUST a child murderer. Something picked up for the awful and absurdly pointless remake in 2010.

anmoes2It’s also worth noting this film’s appreciation of the horror and weird fiction genre. Direct and more subtle references to The Evil Dead, Stephen King and David Cronenberg crop up through the film. The major cinematic inspiration was undoubtedly though, John Carpenter’s Halloween. Craven developed many of genre tropes innovated in that film, with its young cast, suburban setting and themes around sexuality.

Unfortunately, the film’s impact lessened for a time with a money grabbing producer eager for sequels that made Freddy about as threatening as the terrible Michael Bay produced reboot. However, Craven brought the franchise back to its much darker roots with the television film Wes Craven’s New Nightmare, set in the real world with the original cast playing themselves. In that, Freddy was a far darker and more brutal character as Craven originally intended.

anmoes3Still anything truly great comes back into fashion again. So Michael Bay decided to give us (sorry to bring this up again) a reboot of the film back in 2010. A staggeringly awful shower of s**t. A film about as frightening as Ed Miliband attempting to mug you in a with the old disguising a banana as a gun under a trenchcoat trick. Although it did achieve something. I reminded us how great Wes Craven’s original film was.

Sleep well everyone…

‘Deep Red,’ Argento and the Giallo phenomenon

prof1‘Deep Red,’ Argento and the Giallo phenomenon

Screaming girls. Uncertain men, ultraviolent deaths with some Agatha Christie cosy crime thrown in. It must be Giallo cinema!

Italian director, writer, producer and all round blood-soaked, cult cinema legend Dario Argento did not invent the pulp sub-genre known as “Giallo” but he damn well made sure we all remembered it!

“Giallo” was derived from a type of pulp-fiction crime literature written during the iron rule of fascism. However due to fear that its hyperviolent and sexual nature would steer young minds away from the healthy pastimes of marching, racism and ethnic cleansing, the fascist government condemned it. Subsequently it never caught fire until after the war when Mario Bava burst onto the scene with the Hitchcockian, The Girl Who Knew Too Much, way back when in 1963. Giallo’s only black and white film. Light on gore but high on tension, corpses and with a sense of humour not so much black but a gaping black hole. A certain overweight balding English film director would have cracked a wry smile at it all.

Combining the classic whodunit of cosy crime literature and black comedy with stylized violence and the genuine sense of anyone’s head being on the chopping block, Giallo was highly influential on American horror, especially the slasher movies of the 80’s and 90’s. Think of an Agatha Christie novel dropped into the middle of a Sergio Leone spaghetti western.

prof3However, the genre really hit its straps under the creative endeavours of the mercurial Dario Argento. Its zenith reached in 1975 with Deep Red (Profundo Rosso). The film is essentially a re-work of Argento’s début feature The Girl with the Crystal Plumage (1970) but the benefit of an extra five years’ experience and the good graces of the studio allowing him to give free reign to his ideas. Shot in a sixteen-week period in the wonderful city of Turin in northern Italy – so chosen by Argento because of the abnormally high amount of practising Satanists in the city – the appreciation of location helped created a magical visual aesthetic which lead into his later more supernatural themed films.

Some of the shots in the film are audacious and ambitious. Including one incredible shot where a large statue stands in between character actor David Hemmings (as jazz pianist Marcus Daly) and his alcoholic friend Carlo played by Gabriele Lavia. The ever-moving camera and the utterly bonkers shock moments, such as a creepy doll randomly attacking someone or the film moving bewilderingly from a murder scene with unsettling children’s music to a jazz gig. Leaving in Easter Eggs for the audience which all build towards the climax and unveiling of the mystery. The first person camera points in various key moments were later mimicked in films such as Halloween.

prof2Deep Red is a fine summation of what separates Argento from the rest his rather inferior contemporaries such as Lucio Fulci and Umberto Lenzi. Argento created far more shock than disgust. In the ever escalating violent death scenes of Deep Red Argento doesn’t focus on the gore, he flinches from it with quick and clever cuts. Pre-empting the audience’s reaction to the gruesomeness of decapitation here or a skull crushing there. It is an art lost by many modern horror film makers who are only a step down from physically dropping buckets of pigs blood, lamb guts and horse testicles on live audiences. The shock is in the psychology, not the physicality.

Deep Red also brought horror cinema music into the modern age. A stellar soundtrack combining jazz, prog-rock, funk and metal. Composed largely by the Italian prog-rock band Goblin, Deep Red dispenses with the orchestral and replaces it with an electronic soundtrack that fits with the modern subversive themes Argento explores. Gender roles, urban alienation and the crisis in masculinity. Argento always sought to steer away from established conventions and made up his own. Foundations were laid for the likes of John Carpenter and Wes Craven’s work in the late 1970’s/early 1980’s.

prof4There is a pang of sadness to Deep Red in that while the film was Giallo’s zenith it was also where the genre peaked before dropping off quite dramatically. Shortly thereafter the wild popularity of Giallo dropped off sharply. A glorious last hurrah with Tenebrae in 1982 was a reminder of the genre’s glory days but Argento was already moving in during Deep Red. The innovative soundtrack and moves towards more horror with psychics and serial killers rather than straight whodunits was his transition into more supernatural films such as Suspiria (1977), Inferno (1980) and Phenomena (1985).

Argento has suffered a serious decline in the last two decades, his films becoming bad parodies of his earlier work with films such as Giallo (2009). It’s a sad creative slump for a cinematic great but Deep Red should remind us to remember Argento and Giallo for what they were rather than what they became.

Out and Proud – The Story of ‘The Lost Boys’

lb1Out and Proud – The Story of ‘The Lost Boys.’

Mention the name Joel Schumacher to anyone who knows anything about cinema today and they’ll instantly be reminded of the great horror film of the 1990’s, Batman & Robin. No it isn’t intentionally a horror film but it is horrifically bad. A piece of pure cheesy panto which almost torpedoed George Clooney’s silver screen career before it even got in gear. It wasn’t the only one either, Schumacher hasn’t produced much of anything worthy of watching since 2003’s Phone Booth. The bat killed his mojo.

However, it is worth instead remembering that Schumacher was one of the most interesting filmmakers out there. His pre-Batman work in the late 1980’s up to Flatliners in 1990 provided a series of cult classics, most famously, The Lost Boys. On the surface, The Lost Boys – the ‘Brat Pack’s’ foray into horror – is a blood sucking adaptation of J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan stories. The name of the film, the children’s choir singing the theme song and the mantra of never growing old. Re-enforced by Schumacher’s nerd homage with references to comic books and cult horror films such as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

However, it was the themes in Schumacher’s vampire flick spotted later that really made this film so memorable. The Lost Boys has, probably one of the strongest homoerotic and LGBT subtexts in mainstream cinema history. Part of a batch of entirely separate vampire films in the 1980’s -The Hunger, Near Dark and Fright Night – which brought a steamy, stylish sensuality, and vigour to the vampire genre and removed the silly, theatrical campiness that Hammer had spoiled things with. These films made vampires sexy again. In the way Bram Stoker did way back when with his gothic romance, Dracula. Enlarged canines were the new sexy

It was part of a trend throughout the 1980’s horror film. With the panic over “gay cancer” sweeping the world the 1980’s saw a burgeoning LGBT theme in horror. The aforementioned group of vampire films contain a very strong theme of homosexual awakening with The Hunger’s lesbian relationship and Fright Night’s employment of gay actors and a male vampire seducing young boys (Nightmare on Elm Street 2 is an article within itself) The Lost Boys is another vampire film being bold and brave in the era of dangerous homophobia and Regan/Thatcher social conservatism.

lb4With Jason Patric’s Michael (a deliberate dead ringer for Jim Morrison) introduction to vampirism representing some sexual awakening, with his secrecy and the ear piercing he sports as part of his induction to the gang. Their lifestyle terrifying an all-American town and of course the gang of vampires looking like a bunch of extras from an Adam and the Ants music video. Schumacher was offering us some commentary on middle-America’s gay panic. Oh and that poster on Corey Haim’s closet (so many closet references) door. Yes, that’s Rob Lowe in a provocative pose folks! A poster that provided much discussion on the sexuality of Haim’s character of Sam, and not just because he bared more than a passing resemblance to a Wham! backup dancer.

But what about the budding romance between Michael and beautiful and mysterious Star (Jami Gertz) you ask? Well that sex scene is shoehorned in between much heavy breathing, sexual tension and longing looks between and Patric and gang leader David (Kiefer Sutherland in scenery chewing form). It’s a wonder Star didn’t throw up her arms in exasperation and give up!

lb2None of this is an accident. Schumacher as openly gay man had been very clear about presenting LGBT themes in his films, although his fetish Batman outfits probably pushed things into the realm of pure silliness. Schumacher, was part of socially liberal Hollywood pushing back against the conservative establishment in any way they could. It was the McCarthy era and the 1950’s nuclear family of white America all over again. With the AIDs epidemic providing an excuse to conservative figures to demonise the LGBT community, The Lost Boys gained its cult status through being recognised as one of the great LGBT horror films ever made. Looking back on it now, it isn’t so much subtext and blindingly bloody obvious!

The Lost Boys was out, proud and brilliant.

“Braaaaaains!” A look back at ‘Return of the Living Dead.’

rotld1“Braaaaaains!” A look back at ‘Return of the Living Dead.’

Director: Dan O’Bannon

Stars: Clu Gulager, James Karen, Don Calfa , Linnea Quigley

When watching the visceral brilliance and stinging satire of his “Dead” trilogy, which years later spun out into inferior sequels, I think the casual film goer will have one thought stuck in there head. “Why don’t you just run?!” It’s not entirely a stupid question Romero’s zombies were slow shambling creatures – although the original ‘ghouls from Night of the Living Dead moved with some speed and smashed a car widow with a brick.

The auteur’s argument that to be slow, shambling creatures made perfect sense to scare the living s**t out of the audience in a deeper, longer lasting fashion. These things weren’t fast or strong and they were falling apart but they had the numbers game and they swept relentlessly all over as an insidious unstoppable force. Walking, horrific parables for viral pandemics, mental illness and ravenous consumerism. Nevertheless there is still the nagging thought of “just leg it pal.” Or “walk quite quickly and you’ll be fine.”

rotld31985’s Return of the Living Dead takes that idea, pulls its pants down, points and laughs. These zombies run, talk and coordinate their attacks on hapless police. Rather than following in the footsteps of the notions of social and disillusionment and serious satire of 60’s and 70’s horror, director and screenplay writer Dan O’ Bannon decided to be the mischief maker. Return of the Living Dead is very much a comedy horror rather than a serious splatterfest.

It certainly bears little resemblance to the horror novel of the same name penned by John Russo after his protracted falling out with George Romero after they worked together on Night of the Living Dead. Dan O’ Bannon took the director’s chair on condition he could re-write the script and fashion it into more of a comedy. Russo wasn’t happy but it was the best thing that happened in the production of this film. A straight faced horror would have fared poorly. Romero’s Day of the Dead has been released a month earlier and its predecessor Dawn of the Dead was a high watermark in zombie cinema.

rotld2Considering the sub-genre of zombie horror had been rinsed at this point and taken so far to the point of parody after things peaked with Lucio Fulci’s Zombi 2 – hugely overrated– back in 1979. Two serious zombie films in a month would have led to some serious undead fatigue. O’Bannon’s parody of the genre gave things a fresher feel and are likely what made the film more successful than it should have been and a cult classic.

The film kicks off with the military oil drums containing the experiment that set off the events of Romero’s Night of the Living and a very wooden conversation between Frank (James Karen) and his apprentice Freddy (played by Thom Matthews who also appeared in the first sequel). I mention that the acting seemed wooden and more overdone than squishy pasta because while its never been confirmed, you get the feeling this was deliberately so. “Okay everyone, when the Zombies attack if you could ham things up like a failed stage actor reciting Macbeth to a room full of pigs, that’s the tone we’re aiming for.”

rotld4But that’s part of the film’s creaky charm and the fact O’Bannon was making a pop culture fixed point and he absolutely succeeded. This was the first time the now famous concept of zombie’s consciously hankering after people’s juicy brains was coined. From the moment the gruesome and genuinely horrifying looking “Tarman” lurches after out of the dark a staple of comedy horror was nailed to the mast, with a soundtrack containing the likes of SSQ, The Damned and 45 Grave.

Nevertheless, there is still an edge to this film, some of the character deaths are quite gruesome and the zombie’s motives for craving sweet, juicy brains is quite disturbing. The zombies are aware they are dead and their death is painful and frightening. It adds a whole new dimension to those ghoulish moans. Indeed, zombie Frank decides commit suicide and turn themselves to ashes rather than be stuck in the state they are. A moment rendered less powerful by the fact it was a last minute change because the actor James Karen couldn’t be arsed doing any filming in the rain.

The film is not without flaws, the charm the film as is a creaky one, with some of the slapstick set-pieces looking more convoluted than a supposedly “unscripted” moment on a reality TV show and the ending is underwhelming. Mainly because they clearly reuse shots from earlier on the film for the ending in a very obvious; “We’ve run out of money! Put something together, quickly!”

rotld5Nevertheless, the legacy of this film is testament to how good it is. Three – vastly inferior – sequels, influencing more self-aware horror films of the late 1990’s and homages and references in South Park and The Simpsons. This isn’t simply a very good film, it’s a popular culture totem and that’s a hell of a legacy.

Return of The Living Dead plays in 35mm at AMC Manchester – August 27th at 9pm.

Evil Dead II: Dead Before Dawn

Evil_Dead_II_posterEvil Dead II: Dead Before Dawn

The legend of the Evil Dead series has only grown down the years. The trilogy was a modest box office success, although nothing spectacular.

Evil Dead II is the zenith of the franchise, a high watermark in horror cinema and is still to my grim, grizzled, northern horror fan eyes, unbeaten in the sub-genre of comedy-horror.

Essentially, the sequel to 1981’s The Evil Dead is its predecessor rebooted with a bigger budget. Even rebooting the origin story of the first film with the reading of the Book of the Dead and the magnificent mayhem that ensues.

Whereas the original was shot for less than half a million dollars by a bunch of novices in late teens and early twenties in backwoods of Tennessee. Raimi had around 9 times the budget to work with. 3 and half million may not seem much now but to Sam Raimi and Bob Tapert at the time it would have been a gold mine.

Raimi had struggled to build on the success of The Evil Dead from 5 years earlier. His next feature film Crimewave, a weird crime, neo-noir, comedy caper hybrid was a critical and commercial failure. Indeed, even Raimi and long-time collaborator, Bruce Campbell who starred in the film, as well as the Coen Brothers – who penned the screenplay, derided the film afterwards. In his autobiography, Campbell described the film not so much having been released but that “It escaped!” later describing the film in the book as a “disaster.”

evil_Dead_II_ashRaimi’s desperation persuaded him to make the sequel to his début film and once again it was Stephen King who was on hand to help. King, of course, wrote the glowing review of Raimi’s short film “Within The Woods,” that enabled Raimi and Tapert to acquire the funding to make The Evil Dead. King, called legendary Italian producer Dino Laurentiis and persuaded him to fund the sequel. At this point, it was last chance saloon for Raimi.

Sometimes there is something about having your proverbial gonads on the line. Being in that last chance saloon that can make a person produce something outstanding. Because Evil Dead 2 is truly outstanding, ironing out the flaws of its predecessor (especially the horrible tree scene) and adding the extra layer of some truly terrific comedy.

The bigger budget and experience of making films are clear in this film. The shoot was nowhere near as hellacious, the judgement on what to show in the scenes was far better and the structure of the film is far more focused and intelligent. Raimi clearly has fun satirising zombie films and campy supernatural theatrics of Hammer Horror.

Evil_Dead_II_sceneThe slapstick comedy of the film clearly draws heavily on the likes of Laurel and Hardy, Chaplin, Buster Keaton and The Three Stooges and when combined with all the best elements of Evil Dead makes for an astonishing adrenaline shot. Iconic scenes such as Ash losing his mind as he hallucinates (or does he?) inanimate objects cackling at him in the cabin or opening the film by dismembering his demonic girlfriend. The comedy does not detract from the visceral chaos of the original combined with the stellar over-the-top soundtrack by Joe DeLuca.

Evil Dead 2 may be a more polished and well-rounded piece of work but the insanity is still there. We jump straight into the action in the backwoods of Tennessee with no build up this time and for just over 80 minutes there is no let up on the blistering tempo. The frenzied tracking shots so startling in the first film are back to great effect. As is the over the top gore, which dovetails so easily with the comedy. Poor Bruce Campbell must have been doused with more ketchup, chilli sauce and porridge oats than medieval bread thief in the stocks in Gloucester.

It is also this film that sees the birth of Ash Williams as a truly iconic character and Bruce Campbell become the impossibly charismatic cult hero. Matinee good looks combined with a brilliantly comedic rubbery face which can contort expressions of psychosis and madness in a way that is both terrifying and hilarious. Campbell was just 20 during the first film and the five-year gap gave Campbell a greater assurance that turns Ash truly into a hero that would go on to become the dark fantasy hero in the second sequel Army of Darkness – the film Raimi actually wanted to make.

Evil_Dead_II_ash1Evil Dead II’s genius is delivering bad taste with good nature. A fantastically frenzied comedy-horror delivering guts, gore, terror and belly laughs. The centrepiece of the Evil Dead Trilogy proves not simply to be a high watermark in horror cinema but important fixed point in the timeline. A film that influenced the likes of Shaun of the Dead, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and The Cabin in the Woods. Sam Raimi and Bob Tapert showed us you can be self-aware but not smug and still scary.

“Evil Dead 2: Dead Before Dawn” and “Army of Darkness” are showing at Manchester’s AMC cinema on Saturday 20th August.

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