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Bless the Child (2000)
A dumb and derivative Hollywood horror movie
I'm trying. Trying really hard. Still trying. Yet no matter what, I can't think of a single positive thing to say about this movie. I know it hasn't been a particularly good time for movies as of late (as opposed to 1999, which was sheer bliss for a movie lover), but Bless the Child is lacking and scraping the barrel even more modern blockbusters. Rehashing the same tired clichés that popped up in the likes of STIGMATA and END OF DAYS to exploit the pre-millenial tension, BLESS THE CHILD is yet another film that offers nothing new to the genre with a weak plot that is predictable at every twist and turn, pointless scenes of action which add nothing to the story, and a dragging pace that makes the hour-and-a-half seem boring even when the film is pretty short for a modern cinema flick.
It's hard to even call this a horror film as there are about three scenes of real horror and a couple of dodgy moments of special effects, otherwise it's more of a thriller story onto which the supernatural elements have been clumsily grafted. Sure, there are a few unexpected moments, but 99% of this film is run-of-the-mill fare. One such moment comes when the ever-weird Christina Ricci gets decapitated on a subway station by a gang of crazed Satanic thugs. There's something you don't see every day, which may be worth the value of seeing the movie alone. The film also seems bizarrely obsessed with showing people getting hit by cars and thrown into the air - not once does this happen, but twice, both done in exactly the same way. The first time was shocking, the second time just a pathetic repeat and expected.
It's hard to believe that Kim Basinger was receiving an Oscar only a few years before this movie. What happened? Here she's wooden, unconvincing as the would-be mother, an inactive and frankly dumb heroine who causes more trouble than she's worth. I hate the recent influx of films centred around child characters and this is no exception. Holliston Coleman is irritating and far from cute as the central autistic kid, her sole acting talent being to scrunch up her face to display some emotion or other.
Rufus Sewell (with his exceptionally creepy eyes) is well-cast as the smooth-talking villain, but he seems nonthreatening and his character underdeveloped. He doesn't get much chance to shine or show anger or hatred. Aside from Christina Ricci's cameo, Ian Holm pops up as a wheelchair-bound purveyor of good in one of his numerous instant "take the paycheque and run" cameo appearances, and Jimmy Smits - by far the most convincing and likable character in the movie - is wasted in support as an investigating cop whose character bears more than a nod to Fox Mulder.
All of the clichéd supernatural effects are present and correct, from candles mysteriously lighting themselves to a swarm of rats and weird demon bats circling in the skies, to black-clad Satanists running around on a mission of destruction. A shot of an undeveloped character getting knitting needles shoved into his eye sockets just seems gratuitous and unnecessary. The CGI effects are cheap-looking and very poor, whether it be the rubbishy demon bats (already used up in BLADE) or the swarm of rats (STUART LITTLE this ain't!), or the horned demons which briefly make their unwelcome appearances. The movie just plods on to an expected fiery climax. Boring, clichéd trash, not worthwhile even for the genre fan; and there's not even much to make fun of here.
Bloody New Year (1987)
Gory, plot less, madcap and a true one-of-a-kind viewing experience
An utterly crazed, no holds barred final outing for British director Norman J. Warren, the purveyor of such schlockers as TERROR and INSEMINOID. This no-budget, virtually plot less affair is a failure as a film, but contains such individual scenes of imagination and bizarreness that it almost becomes worthwhile. Filmed in Wales, the film meanders from incident to incident as the group of badly-acting British teenagers are picked off one by one by the various evil and invisible inhabitants of the island. Also thrown into the brew is a gang of wicked thugs who cause havoc at a funfair, an American girl to make the film appeal to overseas audiences, and lots of references to '50s culture. We even see FIEND WITHOUT A FACE playing in a cinema at one point! The fashions have dated badly along with the hairstyles and pop music which turns up, and the acting of the unknowns is as wooden as you can get. Even the dialogue sounds like it is cheesy and dubbed, even though it isn't. The special effects, done on the cheap, are also very cheesy and unrealistic in the extreme. These are probably the reasons that the movie is a flop which basically scuppered Warren's interesting career, and he hasn't recovered since. I'm sure you can all feel a "but" coming...
I find it impossible to totally dislike a film which has so much madness going on in it. There's a battle at a ghost train ride. Disappearing '50s singers. A ghostly old maid who appears and disappears at will. Snooker balls which move back to the original position after a game has been played. A girl gets sucked into a mirror and is trapped there for the duration of the film. A possessed vacuum cleaner and jukebox. A sheikh jumping out of a cinema screen to electrocute someone. A flying net which attempts to strangle a girl. A slimy monster emerging from a table. Bushes which laugh. Footprints which appears and disappear in the sand from nowhere. A burnt pilot lurking in the bushes who explodes. A plane wreck on the island. A snowstorm inside a building. A thug who punches through a girl.
You want more? Railings which attack people. A scene of a man dismembering a zombie which is seemingly a tribute to The Evil Dead. A possessed boy whose arm is sliced off in a lift. A wall which grows hands and kidnaps a girl. A man thrown in a deep fat frier. Kitchen appliances which get a life of their own and kill. A severed arm which reattaches itself. A boy's head sliced apart by a boat propeller. A girl who is sucked through the bottom of a boat. Christ, the hotel in this movie makes The Overlook look like an ideal family vacation spot! Although undoubtedly a bad film, BLOODY NEW YEAR is worth watching for the incident alone and frequently made my jaw drop at the sheer badness/cheesiness/extremity of it all. I love the throwaway line at the end of the film to try and make sense of it all (a pilot was carrying a time-warping device which trapped the inhabitants of the island forever). Incredible stuff.
Huo shao shao lin si (1976)
Gory adventure narrative with lots of kung fu and big battles
It was only after watching that I had any idea that THE BLAZING TEMPLE is actually the third part of a film trilogy by director Joseph Kuo, following on from 18 BRONZEMEN and 18 BRONZEMEN PART II. I've seen those two predecessors and I didn't like them very much. Despite an interesting theme, they're pretty boring movies. Carter Wong is the linking actor in all three films, a serviceable action star who holds his own in the fight stakes, but the twist is that he plays a different character in each film.
The plot is also loosely linked, and THE BLAZING TEMPLE in particular stands out as an individual movie unlinked to the others. It actually turns out to be a bloody good little film, packed to the brim with strong characters, well choreographed scenes of battle and action and plenty of special effects along the way as well. Basically, once the film starts it never lets up. We're briefly introduced to the shaven-headed monks of the Shaolin Temple and their abbot leaders, along with a merciless emperor and his entourage. The title refers to an extended set-piece that takes place around the halfway mark, in which the temple is attacked, burned and razed to the ground, with many of the peaceful monks burning alive inside. Of course, there are a few hardened survivors who go on to make it their business to seek vengeance, and that's where the climatic, large-scale battle comes in. The action is top notch throughout, very well choreographed and all with lots of different fighters with their own special abilities and skills.
The main reason I loved this film so much is that it seems influenced by a '30s serial, in which story is told via action and the scenes are always shifting. Take the bit in the underground passage, for instance, where the chief abbot holds up a massive boulder for an inordinate time and ends up killing himself in the process. Other fun elements include a female fighter who swoops through the air to behead her enemies; she comes out of nowhere at the climax and adds to the fun. There are other gory interludes such as torture, impalement and characters dying heroic deaths as they're slashed to death by multiple opponents. With the ensemble cast on show here, star Carter Wong doesn't seem to be on screen much, but he does have some fun with his '18 lessons' technique right at the climax. In any case this is a jolly good show.
Hard-hitting action, Italian style
Lamberto Bava does it again with this Italian action movie that manages to be almost as entertaining as his cult classic, DEMONS! In many ways the film follows the same action-orientated template with hostile rednecks replacing supernatural monsters and the heroes gradually picked off one by one by the bad guys. However, the realism of the film adds to the suspenseful aspect. Beginning fairly low key, we watch as events gradually build out of hand (Bava takes time to develop the situation instead of rushing it and making it unbelievable) until the rip-roaring climax that will please action fans everywhere. Before then, the film is packed with incident and genuinely manages to stay exciting all the while. The plot is not very complex and takes influence from a number of other films. FIRST BLOOD is the obvious choice, but there are also some surprising references to THE EVIL DEAD and even a western homage!
This is a film packed with burning vehicles, gunfire and lots of heroic staples. Michael Sopkiw (MASSACRE IN DINOSAUR VALLEY) is great as the lead and gets to cross waterfalls, abseil down sheer cliffs and take part in some great stunt action. Stuntman Massimo Vanni even shows his face in a cameo as a dying cop and supplies some great death scenes. Sopkiw, who bears an uncanny resemblance to Bruce Campbell, breathes life into the character of Jake Sharp, who could easily have been unlikable and stiff. The character is solemn, introspective and rather rude to those around him, but nonetheless you find yourself rooting for Sopkiw as the film progresses.
Bava fills a few roles with familiar faces to the exploitation fan. Playing Sopkiw's main adversary is the always imposing George Eastman (ANTHROPOPHAGUS THE BEAST) as hulking, crippled redneck, Tom. Eastman actually has a developed character (the only villain that has) and does well with his performance. The action sequences are well staged and make good use of the wooded locations for the chases. They're also bolstered by a stirring synthesiser score. The movie is pretty grim and kills off loads of "good" characters, plus a lot of animals get shot etc. Yet Bava still manages to retain the entertainment despite this overwhelming nihilism and rewards the viewer with the climatic destruction of about three dozen bad guys, all gun-toting rednecks without an ounce of wit or intelligence about them. When Sopkiw's amusingly kick-ass gun comes into play, the film explodes with gruesome gore effects (sadly excised, as usual, in the UK cut) and more explosions that you can believe possible. My only complaint is with the very end of the film which makes absolutely no thematic sense to this viewer. Otherwise BLASTFIGHTER is a must for fans of cheesy Italian action.
Lame, derivative, bloodless Die Hard rip-off
After using all of the 'transport' settings to rip off DIE HARD (a bus for SPEED, a plane for PASSENGER 57, a boat for UNDER SIEGE), the makers of this film were forced to resort to a generic building with lots of gloomy twisting passages and a labyrinthine basement as the setting for this lame, wannabe thriller. Not that it matters, as they obviously didn't have the budget to use any effective scenery anyway. What we're left with is a series of pale blue corridors, all exactly the same in appearance, with nothing to characterise them - no plants, no posters, nothing, just endless identical rooms.
With nothing in the way of scenery, we're left to concentrate on the actors on screen. Unfortunately, there is little in the way of acting in this film, especially from leaden 'star' Linden Ashby, who hobbles around and occasionally kills people in bloodless ways. Let's face it, Ashby is no Bruce Willis and his attempts to act are frankly pathetic. He's just another guy brought up from television who can't make it in the real world of films. The only character to really emphasise with is Andrew Divoff (WISHMASTER) as the lead terrorist, who at least brings a little character to his role as the charismatic bad guy. Along with these two are Rutger Hauer (THE HITCHER) in a new career low in a wheelchair with braided hair, and dependable Tim Thomerson (DOLLMAN) as a lawman.
The situations are nothing new in this film, and were done a hundred times better in the DIE HARD trilogy. The pacing is non-existent, with one action scene lasting for ten seconds, while the surrounding elements like people walking around last for at least ten minutes. The action scenes themselves are nothing to get worked up about, and are over far too quickly with not enough violence, with only a single leg breaking scene, which in itself is worthy of a Seagal movie. The only thing I liked was the way in which Ashby got gradually more and more injured as the film went on, a bit like good old Brucie.
Slow moving Italian Gothic, heavily influenced by the Corman/Poe cycle
Italian cinema has a long history of ripping off successful movies and this Italian/Spanish co-production is no exception. Cashing in on the success of Roger Corman's Edgar Allan Poe movies with Vincent Price, this movie purporting to be from Poe himself relies heavily on the plot ingredients and atmosphere found in the Corman flicks. The setting is an old dark castle, the plot involves genetic madness and disfiguration, and everything that goes on is steeped in mystery and suspense. There's even a supporting character, the doctor, who's been made up to look a lot like Vincent price! Sadly, as with most rip-offs, THE BLANCHEVILLE MONSTER is an inferior product and it lacks the genuine originality found in other Italian Gothic movies from the same period: CASTLE OF BLOOD, TERROR OF DR HICHCOCK, BLACK Sunday are just a few I could name. That's why you'll almost never hear this film mentioned in the same breath as the others. The main problem is that BLANCHEVILLE tries too hard, and the stodgy script doesn't help. When it tries to be scary, it ends up being boring, and there just isn't enough of the slim storyline to pad out a whole movie, even with the crew's best efforts.
The film does boast some fine moments, and these are mainly down to director Albert De Martino, a mainstay of the genre for a good 20/30 years. Scenes of the heroine being pursued through a dead wood by a deformed killer are superbly creepy, and the whole buried alive aspect of the plot is handled effectively it's just a shame it takes an hour and ten minutes to get there! The cast can't be faulted, either, with a very good turn from Gerard Tichy in the Vincent Price role the sinister older brother who has dark secrets of his own. Okay, so Ombretta Colli isn't much of an actress, but she's pretty and in a visual film like this that counts for something. I have to say that I preferred Helga Line (HORROR EXPRESS), here appearing in an early role as a scheming villainess. With good black-and-white visuals and some great scare scenes, THE BLANCHEVILLE MONSTER could have been up there with the other films of this period. Instead, it's a merely adequate flick that might well be just too damned slow for modern tastes.
Mature, thought-provoking ghost story from Spain
Part of a six-part series of Spanish made-for-TV movies entitled SIX FILMS TO KEEP YOU AWAKE, BLAME is a hard-hitting ghost story about an abortionist. It's a film that's light years ahead of current Hollywood competition and has more in line with the creepy, slow-moving perils of modern Asian horror cinema. That's right: despite the disturbing subject matter, this is an old-fashioned film through-and-through in which the scares come from noises in empty rooms and inexplicable occurrences rather than any shocking killer babies a la the IT'S ALIVE films and their B-movie ilk.
Blame benefits from a uniformly excellent cast that includes a young child actress whose fragile yet sinister performance recalls Heather O'Rourke of POLTERGEIST fame. The direction is assured and confident, leading to a beautiful looking movie that makes the best out of its rather mundane, otherwise nondescript locations: the run-down house, for instance, in which much of the film takes place, is almost a character in its own right. In the end, this is a film about the difficult topic of abortion and all the complexities that go with it: it's utterly moving, sometimes heartbreaking and very upsetting. By the end, it's become a far more intelligent and mature reflection on the topic than we, as viewer, had any right to expect, and I can't recommend it enough.
Blade Runner (1982)
An old-fashioned detective story with a sci-fi twist
This atypical science fiction flick engages the brain instead of the senses, resulting in a film which feels more like an art-house experience than your typical Hollywood money maker. Seeing it as a kid, I hated it, expecting another STAR WARS. Instead what I got was a dark, gritty and downbeat film noir with little action to recommend it and a rather slow storyline. Now, as an adult, having seen the director's cut, I can confirm that this is truly a great movie with plenty of subtexts, strong themes and surprising plot twists to keep you watching through the slow spots. Visually the film is a treat, with Ridley Scott continuing his dank vision of the future from ALIEN and transporting it from space to Earth. The special effects are great, but the best thing of all is that the film isn't trashy. Scott doesn't let technology distract us from the strong detective storyline, doesn't stage any flashy laser gun battles or flying chases.
The (short) action sequences are dark and dirty with an emphasis on realism. Fighters bleed here, and copiously. The chase through the house at the end of the film is great stuff and the film doesn't skimp on violence either. Harrison Ford, our hero, shoots fleeing women in the back and is nearly killed on numerous instances until chance saves him. This isn't a thrill-a-minute shoot-em-up at all. In fact it's quite different and difficult to describe, feeling strangely old-fashioned despite the futuristic setting and premise. The script is fantastic and there are moments of true poetry to enjoy especially Rutger Hauer's death scene at the end of the film which is one of the landmarks of cinema. Ford is grungy and miserable as the investigating "blade runner" and somehow his world-weary performance fits the bill nicely. The supporting cast of androids is fantastic Hauer is at his prime, Sean Young is heartbreaking, Daryl Hannah mischievously evil, Brion James is a brutal thug, Joanna Cassidy just plain weird.
There are plenty of other nicely subtle performances here too. William Sanderson (FIGHT FOR YOUR LIFE) as weird toy maker and geneticist J.F. Sebastien is memorably odd and Edward James Olmos is a mysterious cop who seems to know everything. Add in plenty of supporting regulars, tons of atmosphere and suspense and the unpredictable, original narrative, plus the original storyline from sci-fi writer Philip K. Dick, and you have a great slice of celluloid drama.
Blade: Trinity (2004)
The least of the Blade trilogy, but still worth a look for fans
The third in the Blade series is the least of the three (lacking the originality of the first and the atmosphere of the second), but it does set out to deliver on what it promises, which is non-stop ass-kicking action. Filled with fluid flash-cuts, tons of martial arts choreography, camera tricks and slow motion, all set to a pumping soundtrack, this is an adrenaline-fuelled thrill-ride which offers plenty of entertainment if you're happy to disengage the brain whilst watching. The plot is as shallow as ever, but offers plenty of excellent chases and fights to keep you watching. Highlights include the opening vampire massacre, the police station escape and my favourite moment, the Blade/Dracula chase sequence which is unbelievable in places in the best tradition. My only problem with the movie is that the finale is very clichéd and contrived, just a series of hand-to-hand battles in the vampire headquarters which are just like what closed the last two movies in the series.
Snipes returns to the fore and is far more likable here than before for some reason. Newcomers Ryan Reynolds and Jessica Biel are less than welcome as his new associates, the former's attempts to be a funnyman failing every time. Dracula's heavy shoes are filled by Dominic Purcell, who looks like that guy who you play in DOOM on steroids, and he's absolutely wicked. The only real miscasting is in Parker Posey's vampire queen; I don't know who this Posey girl is, but she's completely lame here and a real misjudgement. Wrestler Triple H is imposing as a bad guy, whilst Asian beauty Francoise Yip and usual heavy James Remar are fun in more minor parts.
Being a 15 certificate, this film is noticeably less bloody and violent than before, which is sometimes annoying. You soon realise that you never get to see anyone clearly drive home the kill, instead everything is rushed in with loads of cool special effects to make you think you saw it. There's one good scene where Snipes snaps an arm but that's about all there is. CGI is perhaps kept to a minimum here unlike before, but still, the effects are great (especially Dracula in his true form) and there's plenty of black comedy to keep things moving along loved the gag with the dog(s). The soundtrack is one of the finest things this film has to offer. Although less violent than we've seen before, this outing is just as dark as the rest and a fine combination of martial arts action with bloodsucking horror.
Blade II (2002)
Top-notch combination of action and horror
Finally, a great popcorn flick that's an improvement over the original movie and offers up an often stunning combination of the action and horror genres to great effect. BLADE II, like its predecessor but more so, skilfully combines full-blooded gory horror with some excellent martial arts choreography, here done by Donnie Yen who also appears in a minor role. Although the plot is fairly predictable stuff, sometimes rehashing scenes in the original movie except with different places and characters, and the various plot twists are a little contrived at times, this is never anything less than very entertaining. Sometimes it may be silly but that's part of the charm. Never has there been such a combination of the ultra-cool (the action) with the ultra-cheesy (Snipes posturing wildly, e.g. the hilarious "sunglasses throw"), a combination which makes BLADE II a more satisfying film than the original -which is no mean feat in itself.
The director is the acclaimed Mexican Guillermo del Toro, who brings his usual visual artistry (the world in which the film takes place is a dark, Gothic, decaying netherworld of ugliness and filth), plot elements (scary transforming monsters, mechanical devices which attach themselves to people and don't come off) and actors - yep, Ron Perlman is back from CRONOS and used to good effect once more. Starting with a wild action sequence in which Snipes takes on a pack of motorbike-riding vampires, the film rarely slows down, offering up some great set-pieces like the vampire's rave, the sewer hunt and the over-the-top finale. Influences from the likes of ALIENS and PREDATOR are evident but staged differently enough to avoid being too similar or noticeable to ruin the flow of the film.
My love of the martial arts is quickly growing and BLADE II offers some fantastically-choreographed fights and swordplay. Incredibly fast moves and hits are seamlessly blended with CGI characters (to do those moves which truly are impossible for human actors to perform) and the result is adrenaline-pumping action highlighted by an appropriately pumping score. I really was on the edge of my seat for the vampire-busting antics and kept on looking forward to the next scene, and the next. The final one-on-one, in particular, is spellbinding stuff. Nice to see that they threw a few wrestling moves in there too to keep things fresh and entertaining (!). Wesley Snipes effortlessly slides back into the character of Blade and it's nice to see he doesn't take things quite so seriously this time around; however, his screen presence and talented handling of the action makes him a hero to be proud of.
As for the horror-side of the film, well this is where things start getting really nasty. Forget the vampires from the first film (who now become normal, everyday kind of menaces), the newly-designed Reapers are a horrific bunch of subhuman-looking creatures who have a really disgusting surprise hidden up their sleeves which I don't want to spoil too much (other than to say there are some great shocks in store for the first-time viewer). The gore and violence is played to the hilt and this is a film packed with people being sliced in half, having half of their heads cut off (really sickening bit there), throats torn out and blood spraying all over the shop. Plus plenty of the usual arm-snapping, neck-breaking and bullet-busting everyday kind of film violence. The vampire destruction sequences, showing the creatures burning into skeletons and exploding into ashes, are truly spectacular and a delight to watch. Here's a film where I can 100% recommend the excellent CGI effects used - and I never thought I'd get a chance to say that (not a big fan of computer effects at all, but they work really well here - congrats to all involved).
Cast-wise, it's nice to see Kris Kristofferson back in shape (although the movie doesn't do a very good job of explaining his back-from-the-dead presence), although there's another unnecessary and frankly unwanted love interest in Leonor Varela. Norman Reedus makes for a likable accomplice, Scud, despite being a bit of a geek, but the most surprising thing is that the chief nasty vampire (a really evil-looking screen villain) is played well by Luke Goss, also known as one of the members of '80s boy band Bros! A nice mixture of talent is evident in the vampire cast members, with actors ranging from the aforementioned Ron Perlman (as impassive as ever), to Donnie Yen, to Danny John-Jules (another British celebrity turned Hollywood star) to THE STENDHAL SYNDROME's Thomas Kretschmann. Although it never goes any deeper than being a purely visual display of effects and action, BLADE II is a solid and above-average entry in the action/horror genre and even something of a minor classic. Definitely a film that can be enjoyed more than once so a full recommendation to this one.