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Mainstream Miike?, 21 September 2014

After a history of feudal violence, peace finally reigns over Japan, but the calm is threatened by the growing power of the Shogun's sadistic half-brother Lord Naritsugu (Gorô Inagaki), who rapes and murders at will, his evil deeds hushed up by the authorities. Shogunate adviser Sir Doi (Mikijirô Hira) recognises the danger that Naritsugu poses and hires samurai Shinzaemon (Kôji Yakusho) to assemble a team of assassins to take care of the problem.

Prolific director Takashi Miike is best known for his bizarre and gory cult movies, including shocking horror Audition, ultra-violent live-action manga Ichi the Killer, and taboo-busting familial drama Visitor Q; for 13 Assassins, he turns his hand to the classical samurai genre, delivering a two-hour-plus epic of two very distinct halves.

The first half establishes the plot and introduces its characters; the pacing is slow and deliberate with lots of dialogue. Fans of the director's more uninhibited movies might find the going a little tough at times, although Miike does at least see fit to include a couple of typically warped scenes amidst the chit-chat (Naritsugu using a defenceless family for target practise, and a limbless woman with her tongue removed—another victim of Naritsugu's perverted ways—writhing helplessly on the floor).

The latter half of the film picks up the pace, as the seriously outnumbered samurai prepare booby traps for the enemy in a village, using the element of surprise to help them cut a swathe through countless soldiers in order to complete their mission. The violence is well choreographed and energetic, but with the final battle consisting of 40 minutes or more of non-stop sword-slashing, and the graphic gore kept to a minimum, I found it to be a little on the repetitive side. As unrealistic as it might be, I would have preferred to have seen Miike employ some old-school Lone Wolf and Cub-style arterial spray and a variety of severed appendages to prevent monotony from setting in.

6.5 out of 10, rounded up to 7 for IMDb. Not at all bad, but a little too conventional to be amongst my favourite Miike movies.

The Relic (1997)
Good old-fashioned head-ripping monster fun., 19 September 2014

A massive, mutated, hybrid monster with a taste for human brains is on the rampage in Chicago's Museum of Natural History, and with the guests at a fancy gala evening trapped inside the building, there's no shortage of juicy grey matter for the creature to feast upon. Tough cop Lt. Vincent D'Agosta (Tom Sizemore) and beautiful evolutionary biologist Dr. Margo Green (Penelope Ann Miller) risk their thalami and hypothalami to do battle with the beast.

The Relic is a formulaic monster-on-the-loose movie full of stereotypical characters, predictable plot developments, and scientific gobbledygook (the exposition might have made sense in the novel, but it is rather sketchy here), but despite the over familiarity of the material, the film still has enough going for it to make it a blast for avid creature feature fans. Peter Hyams handles the direction in his usual technically proficient manner, making good use of his creepy setting (some reviewers complain that the film is poorly lit, but I had no problem with that), delivering plenty of atmosphere, tension, excitement, and well staged scares along the way. Top notch effects also add immensely to the overall enjoyment factor: designed by Stan Winston, the creature is an impressive creation brought to life with practical models and limited use of CGI (which still holds up pretty well), and, once the film kicks into top gear, the gore is graphic and frequent, not a lot of time going by without someone having their head ripped from their body. It might not be all that sophisticated, but it sure is fun.

Five get drunk in Newton Haven., 18 September 2014

The third film in Simon Pegg, Nick Frost and Edgar Wright's so-called 'Cornetto trilogy' (following Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz), The World's End sees a group of middle-aged friends, led by irresponsible screw-up Gary King (Pegg), revisiting their home town of Newton Haven to tackle The Golden Mile, the twelve pint pub crawl that they failed to complete when they were young. While staggering from pub to pub, the lads discover the reason for the soul-less atmosphere in the town's once cosy drinking establishments: the place has been been over-run by aliens who have replaced the inhabitants with replicants!

Part sentimental character-driven drama, part daft comedy, and part excessive sci-fi blockbuster, The World's End is an enjoyable enough piece of nonsense with no shortage of ideas and energy—ideal for a Saturday night accompanied by a few (12?) beers. And yet, as much fun as I had with the craziness, I still can't help but feel a tad disappointed, the film falling short of the genius I know the team is capable of. For each solid gag, there are several that don't work quite as well, and as brilliantly executed as the special effects-driven action sequences are, they exist at the expense of the film's greatest virtue: it's heart—so evident in early scenes, but sadly lacking once the blue goop starts flying.

6.5 out of 10, rounded up to 7 for for the excellent soundtrack, which features The Soup Dragons, The Sisters of Mercy, Suede, Primal Scream, and the brilliant Inspiral Carpets.

The Descent, 80s B-movie style., 17 September 2014

In terms of plot, mid '80s subterranean horror/adventure What Waits Below is a lot like Neil Marshall's The Descent (2005), both films revolving around a group of speleologists running into trouble when the cavern that they are exploring turns out to be home to a race of savage underground humanoids. In execution, however, the two films couldn't be more different...

Where The Descent is an expertly crafted white-knuckle thrill ride that delivers cool cannibalistic creatures guaranteed to scare the bejeezuz out of the viewer, What Waits Below is a plodding cheeze-fest that offers up slimy hand-puppet snake monsters and laughable albinos with silly haircuts.

Robert Powell, who is most renowned for his titular role in Jesus of Nazareth, makes for an extremely lacklustre hero (could this guy really find work as a mercenary? He looks more like a hairdresser to me) and Lisa Blount is bland as the token babe with a brain. The real stars of the film are the stunning underground locations, but as awe inspiring as the spectacular caverns and colourful rock formations undoubtedly are, they cannot possibly adequately compensate for the stodgy direction, weak acting, cruddy props and terrible dialogue ("In a cave, the only predictable element is the unpredictable").

3.5/10, generously rounded up to 4 for the surprisingly gory shot of a dead soldier with his face all messed up.

Unbelievable., 16 September 2014

Silence of the Lambs meets Saw in this contrived hi-tech serial killer thriller starring Diane Lane as Jennifer Marsh, an F.B.I. Cyber Crimes agent investigating a website called, which streams live video of people being tortured and killed by a psycho in his basement. The more people who log on to the site, the quicker the victim dies!

Morbid curiosity and internet access has led me to see some pretty disturbing stuff in the past, but I would definitely draw the line at watching a murder, and I trust that most people would do likewise. The makers of Untraceable, on the other hand, assume that the masses would have no such qualms about watching live footage of people being killed, even if doing so made them complicit in the crime. It doesn't say much about their faith in humanity.

Thank heavens, then, that our every click on the world-wide-web is being monitored — or so the authorities would dearly like us to believe: Untraceable is thinly veiled propaganda for the F.B.I. designed to scare the public into behaving themselves online. It kinda backfires, though, by unintentionally portraying the organisation as being full of incompetents: while millions log on to see innocent victims being bled to death, burnt to a crisp, and melted in acid, the F.B.I. fail to make any headway in blocking the site, but do manage to get two of their own people trapped by the killer (F.B.I. agents are clearly not trained to look in the back seat of their car). Doh!

Despite a reasonable central performance from Diane Lane and a few effectively disgusting death scenes, Untraceable fails thanks to its dubious message—that most people are morally bankrupt and need to be policed—and a silly script full of iffy technological nonsense that only gets more and more preposterous as it progresses (the finalé is absolutely hilarious!).

The Bay (2012/II)
From the Oscar-winning director of Rain Man., 15 September 2014

Cymothoa exigua is an ugly parasitic isopod that enters a fish through the gills to devour its tongue, which, let's face it, is totally disgusting (there are plenty of photos of this hideous critter on the internet if you want to see the stuff of real nightmares). A mutated version of this nasty creature, one that feeds on the internal organs of humans, should make for one hell of a fun horror film—unless the treatment is all wrong... and with The Bay, the treatment is all wrong.

Two words: found footage.

Seasoned director Barry Levinson uses this extremely tired format—a style predominantly favoured by aspiring young film-makers working on a limited budget—to try and lend his movie a sense of realism, but all he manages to do is rob the intriguing idea of its potential, giving the whole project a dry documentary feel that is completely devoid of atmosphere and lacking in scares. Matters are not helped by a dull central performance from Kristen Connolly whose monotonous narration only serves to make the whole affair even more uninvolving.

When even an Oscar-winning director with a wealth of experience behind the camera fails to bring anything new to the table, isn't it time the 'found footage' genre was given a very long rest?

Unpretentious fun aimed at horror fans looking to give their brains a night off., 14 September 2014

Despite shooting Victor Crowley point-blank in the head with a shotgun, ramming her fist into what remains of his face, and pushing him onto a chainsaw, Marybeth (Danielle Harris) doesn't stop the cursed maniac from returning to kill again the very next night. To end the horror once and for all, she must break the curse by returning to the swamp and giving Crowley what he wants: the remains of his long-dead father.

If you enjoyed the comedy-tinged, splatter-drenched silliness of the previous two Hatchet movies, then there's no reason at all for you not to be entertained by this third chapter: let's be honest, they don't exactly try to reinvent the wheel. Director BJ McDonnell (taking over the reins from Adam Green) knows exactly what his audience demands—more over-the-top splatter, more cheesy dialogue, and a cast featuring even more familiar genre faces (Zach Galligan, Caroline Williams, Sid Haig, Derek Mears)—and he delivers it in spades, Crowley's rampage resulting in countless creative and very gruesome deaths.

6.5 out of 10, rounded up to 7 for IMDb.

Painful., 14 September 2014

Five teenagers hooked on Hellworld, an internet game based on the horrific world of the Cenobites, are invited to an exclusive rave party for avid fans of all things Pinhead, where their host, played by Lance Henriksen, has 'such sights to show them', pitching them into a nightmare world where they come face-to-face with their darkest fears.

Doug Bradley continues to pay the bills as Pinhead in yet another lousy Hellraiser sequel. Hellworld proves to be even worse than the previous films by cheating the audience with a ridiculous plot that reveals the appearance of the Cenobites to be the result of a hallucinogenic drug slipped to the teenage victims by the host, who is seeking revenge for the death of his son. With the exception of the final scene, every time Pinhead and his pals appear, it's in someone's imagination.

The insulting script is a complete mess, the direction is uninspired, the acting is poor (even Lance Henriksen is bad), and virtually all of the characters are unlikeable. The film's few pathetic gore effects fail to impress, and although there is some gratuitous sex and nudity in an attempt to prevent total boredom, gorgeous star Katheryn Winnick fails to join in, which only serves to make the film even more of a disappointment.

The Saw series goes 3D for extra yuck appeal., 13 September 2014

Saw 3D AKA The Final Chapter (at least until the slated Part VIII gets filmed) hops on the 3D bandwagon and, as a result, proves even more outrageous than its predecessors, chucking its mangled body parts right into the viewers' laps. Admittedly, the result does look a less classy than the previous movies—not quite as stylish or as smartly edited—but the end result is just as fun, the film's trashier nature quite befitting of a series that has only got more demented and OTT as it has progressed.

After a gloriously silly opening scene in which Jigsaw goes public, putting his victims in front of a horrified audience for the first time, the film proceeds to introduce the focus of the killer's final game: leader of a Jigsaw survivors self-help group, Bobby Dagen (Sean Patrick Flanery), who hasn't been entirely truthful about his past. To teach Bobby that it's not nice to lie, Jigsaw (AKA Agent Hoffman, played by Costas Mandylor) subjects him to a series of gruesome challenges, the prize at stake being the life of his wife.

Gory highlights this time include a gang of skin-head racists (whose leader is played by Chester Bennington from Linkin Park) being torn apart and crushed in a junkyard, a dream sequence that sees Jill Tuck being reduced to several bloody pieces by a huge blade mounted on a rail, someone having their eyes and mouth pierced by spikes, a trap that requires a woman to keep silent as a fish hook in her stomach is pulled up and out of her mouth, and a splattery 'Jigsaw classic'—the reverse bear-trap—for a major character at the end. At times, the violence is so extreme that it's almost comical, but it sure is entertaining.

Saw VI (2009)
The best Saw since the first Saw., 13 September 2014

I found Parts II, III and IV of the Saw series increasingly tedious, so much so that I left it six years before watching Part V. I was pleasantly surprised, then, to (eventually) find that the fifth instalment marked a turning point, the plot-line becoming a bit more interesting with Agent Hoffman (Costas Mandylor) taking on the mantle of Jigsaw, the gore being even more graphic, and the makers clearly taking matters with a welcome pinch of salt (the extreme nature of some of the gruesome traps bordering on self-parody). I was having fun at last.

The series continues to improve with Part VI, which develops the Hoffman character further, ladles on even more revolting splatter, and steadfastly refuses to get bogged down with trifling matters such as the cash, time, and skill required to build such amazing methods of torture. Part VI simply gets on with entertaining the fans, with a twisty-turny narrative and bucket-loads of the red stuff.

This time around, Jigsaw has assembled a group of despicable life-insurance business-people, and proceeds to teach them that choosing between life and death should not be an easy decision to make. As a result, bodies are blasted, crushed, hung, and, in the film's most revolting scene, melted from the inside with a highly corrosive acid. Meanwhile, the F.B.I. are closing in on Hoffman, although Kramer's wife Jill Tuck (Betsy Russell) also has a surprise in store for the deviant agent. Rather surprisingly, this satisfyingly sick chapter has left me looking forward to more Saw.

7.5/10, rounded up to 8 for IMDb.

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