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King Kong (1976)
An Under-appreciated Gem
6 May 2009
John Guillermin's interpretation of "King Kong" was unnecessarily written off by most critics as a monumental misstep upon its 1976 release and has been pretty much ignored ever since. This is the Jan Brady of Kong films. Nestled between the iconic 1933 original and Peter Jackson's hugely acclaimed recent remake Guillermin's version somehow got lost in the mix, which is unfortunate because this is my favourite of the three. King Kong circa 1976 has an edge the others are lacking. It's bloodier, gorier and sexier than the other two versions put together.

One of the main criticisms levelled at the film is that it takes unnecessary liberties with the original plot. This is an entire re-imagining. Unlike Peter Jackson's faithful remake, Guillermin's Kong is set in the then modern day 1970s and features a plot about a greedy oil company rather than a film crew. The male star is now a stowaway Science Professor, while the female lead is a wannabe starlet found adrift in a life raft. Personally, I think the changes make the film. The hunger for oil regardless of the cost is thematically more relevant than ever and the film's surprisingly strong environmental message is refreshing.

As the leads, Jeff Bridges and Jessica Lange make a strikingly attractive pair. Jeff was at the height of his career and delivers a typically solid performance. This was Jessica's big break and I think she does a good job with a difficult role. Jessica looks every inch the movie star and brings her own unique sense of frailty to the role but her character is somewhat undermined by the writing. I'm sure Fay Wray and Naomi Watts would have struggled just as much with the seedier elements of the film.

The undisputed star of the film, however, is Kong. The thing I love most about this film is its reliance on animatronics (and a couple of monkey suits) instead of CGI. Carlo Rambaldi's life sized mechanical Kong is the thing of legend. The detail in Kong's giant hand alone is magnificent. The computer generated special effects, on the other hand, haven't aged well at all. The best thing about this version is the producers' willingness to make Kong a killer. I love the bloody battle with the giant rubber snake and Kong's memorable tantrum involving a giant log. My favourite part is when Kong tramples innocent bystanders in New York. It's 70s exploitation at its best – as are the decidedly disturbing scenes where Kong washes and dried Dwan (Jessica Lange) and the infamous moment when he exposes her breasts. It's wonderfully tasteless and so of its time. Just like Dwan's story of being rescued by "Deep Throat"! Another interesting aspect of the film is using the World Trade Center instead of the Empire State Building for the finale. It is a bit disturbing to see the Twin Towers feature so prominently but it's also touching to see them in all their former majestic glory. Their use makes the film a true historical document. The finale itself is utterly brilliant. In fact, the entire New York sequence is tense and spectacular. Guillermin's "King Kong" has its flaws but it has the balls to be different and offers a whole new spin on the Kong legend. The film is definitely undervalued and under-appreciated. Watch it for Kong's horny eyes alone!
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Silent Hill (2006)
Excellent Mainstream Horror
14 December 2006
"Silent Hill" is an excellent example of a computer game that has been adapted with great attention to detail by an obvious fan. The tone, the plot and even the musical score remain faithful to the game, which results in a visual world that instantly feels familiar. However, the same could be said for Uwe Boll's glorious computer game adaptations. The difference between "Silent Hill" and "House Of The Dead", for example, is this film's ability to stand alone without prior knowledge of the game.

Christophe Gans begins his film with an ominous sequence that shows Rose frantically chase her sleepwalking daughter, Sharon, to the side of a cliff. Sharon wakes up and says "Silent Hill", the name of an abandoned town. Such is the simplicity of the film's premise - a mother decides to take her daughter to a town that she has mentioned in her sleep. This seemingly innocuous set-up belies the twists and turns that occur when Rose and Sharon finally arrive in Silent Hill. In fact, the film begins much like an Asian horror movie, deriving suspense from random creepy events and an ominous tone. "Silent Hill" works very well on this level, due to the stylish cinematography and creative art design.

The first half of the film moves slowly enough for the audience to learn more about the characters and appreciate the depth of Rose's maternal instinct for Sharon. Australian actress, Radha Mitchell delivers her best performance since moving to Hollywood as Rose. There is something wonderfully ordinary about Radha, which in turn makes Rose sympathetic and credible, despite the incredible scenarios in which she finds herself. This part of the film also introduces Officer Cybil, played with flair by Laurie Holden. Cybil is initially suspicious of Rose but turns out to be her only ally in the world's least friendly town. The supporting cast is bursting with gifted character actors like Sean Bean, Alice Krige and Deborah Kara Unger but their roles are too small to make a significant impact on the film.

"Silent Hill" transforms from an eerie thriller into a fast-paced, supernatural horror movie when Rose loses Sharon to the Silent Hill locals. The second half of the film plays like a demented cross between "Aliens" and "The Village", only with more violence and gore. The segments, when the alarm sounds and the world literally turns to hell, contain some excellent special effects and editing. There are a couple of examples of poorly realised computer graphics but as a whole the visuals are stunning. The scene where Rose crawls past light sensitive drones in the basement is brilliant. The gore is surprisingly plentiful with victims being ripped apart and a mattress enacting a particularly painful revenge on one of the faithful.

There is much for gore hounds and gamers to enjoy in "Silent Hill". The majority of the film holds up very well for casual viewers; however the ending is destined to leave some people scratching their heads in confusion. Christophe Gans has displayed enough originality and flair to announce himself as a talent to watch. Bring on the sequel!
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The Mirror (1975)
Hauntingly Beautiful
13 September 2006
Mirror is a disconcerting film. There is no plot, at least in the traditional sense of the word, and much of what happens is steeped in heavy symbolism. And yet, Andrei Tarkovsky weaves the hard truths and brutal realities of everyday life into Mirror's surrealist tapestry with an effortlessness that makes the film utterly compelling. Not only do the real and surreal collide; time shifts randomly and the natural world becomes a character in its own right. I hate to think how unbearably pretentious this film could have been in the wrong hands. Tarkovsky, however, walks the fine line between art and facade with supreme skill. Mirror is an experience to be savoured.

Few films are as open to interpretation as this one. The beauty of Mirror is that allows the viewer to come to their own conclusions without being intentionally baffling or obtuse. The film is told in a non-linear fashion with events occurring in the present, past and quite possibly the future - depending on your interpretation. Pieces of a central narrative slowly begin to emerge and take shape. Mirror casts light upon the various stages of Alexei's life. However, this film is about more than one man. Alexei is a representation of humanity itself - at least, that is how I interpret the film. Tarkovsky uses Alexei's story as a vehicle for exploring the transcendent nature of human relationships. This may sound heavy going but it's not. Mirror has a dreamlike quality that washes over, rather than overwhelms, the viewer.

Tarkovsky was one of cinema's true originals. Many directors have played around with colour changes and time shifts but very few of them did it with Tarkovsky's sense of purpose. Small details in Mirror take on symbolic meanings, which further the story - this is not an exercise in empty symbolism. For example, Tarkovsky uses the natural world to link scenes and depict the passing of time. The startling use of rain and wind also contributes to the film's surreal tone. One of the most impressive aspects of the film is the director's ability to marry the real with the surreal. For every fire burning in the rain, there is the bleak image of a child sleeping in a box. Tarkovsky takes excerpts from one person's life and builds a commentary on humanity itself.

Volumes could be and possibly have been written about Mirror's multitude of layers and meanings. This film is so incredibly rich in ideas and artistry that it is almost impossible to process everything in one viewing. However, after the first viewing, you will know if Mirror is for you. The film, if nothing else, is a polarising experience. I expected to hate it given my general aversion to "arthouse" movies but was overcome by the film's humility. Unlike the majority of his colleagues, I never get the feeling that Tarkovsky is grandstanding or trying to show off his mastery. He films Alexei's story in a straightforward manner with simple angles and long shots. For a film that incorporates documentary footage of atomic explosions, bullfighting and Chinese demonstrations, Mirror remains masterfully subtle.

Tarkovsky's striking eye for composition and his ability to combine eclectic elements is without comparison. However, the film offers more than a series of captivating and confounding images. Mirror's greatest achievement is to capture a sense of what it is to be human, in a manner that is neither pompous nor pretentious. This is a hauntingly beautiful film.
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Nekromantik 2 (1991)
An Idiosyncratic Sequel
10 September 2006
Joerg Buttgereit's films have their own unique place in horror movie history. Few directors have even come close to producing anything as beautifully depraved as "Schramm", "Der Todeskoenig" or his signature film "Nekromantik". The latter film is a superbly original romantic comedy about an unusual love triangle between a woman, her lover and a rotting corpse. It comes as something of a surprise that the sequel is content to re-hash the original - only without the sardonic humour or the perverted sense of romance. Nekromantik 2 is a strangely dour affair; the film is slow, affected and a little bit too clever for its own good. Thankfully, Buttgereit plucks enough grim and gross ideas from his wonderfully sick mind to make the film a worthy, if somewhat disappointing, sequel to a true genre classic.

Nekromantik 2 picks up where the original film finished - with Robert pleasuring himself while violently committing suicide with a kitchen knife. The brutal imagery of Robert ejaculating blood while stabbing himself has lost none of its bite. After such an eye opening beginning, the film quickly takes on a more solemn tone. Monika, a nurse with a taste for necrophilia, rescues Robert from his grave and takes him home. The painstakingly detailed depiction of erotic corpse cleaning is textbook Buttgereit. From this point on, the film loses momentum - mostly due to the fact that nothing really happens apart from Monika meeting Mark at the movies and beginning a relationship with him. The courtship between Mark and Monika is painfully boring to watch and incredibly drawn out. There are tedious close-ups of them on a ferris wheel, an unnecessary dating montage and an uncharacteristically dull sex scene.

The film only begins to show signs of life when Monika starts asking Mark to play dead during sex and shows him a family photo album full of dead relatives. It soon becomes clear that Monika is finding it difficult to choose between the decomposing object of her desire and her living boyfriend. In an excruciating scene Monika appears to choose Mark and cuts Robert into pieces with a handsaw. This sequence is wonderfully grotesque but incredibly long. Buttgereit appears intent on testing not only the viewer's ability to hold down their dinner, but also their patience. Despite chopping him into small pieces, Monika can't seem to part with Robert completely, so she keeps his head and his penis in the fridge. Strangely, Mark doesn't take finding a decomposing penis in his girlfriend's icebox as an indication that he should look for a new woman. The film falls into another slump until the gory conclusion, with the exception of a particularly unsavoury and lengthy clip of a baby seal being dissected. Thankfully, the conclusion is premium Buttgereit as Monika finds a way to enjoy the company of both Mark and Robert simultaneously.

Buttgereit's excruciatingly long and detailed depictions of corpse cutting, animal dissection and dating rituals do not make for great viewing but the parallels that these sequences draw and the clinical detachment with which Buttgereit draws them, are intellectually stimulating - if clumsy and pretentious. That is not to say that the film is entirely without humour. The film within a film about ornithology is very amusing and a clear swipe at "art-house" filmmakers. The irony is that Nekromantik 2 is 10 minutes of necrophiliac sex and extreme gore away from being art-house fodder itself. Those 10 minutes make up for a lot of the film's posing. The make-up and gore effects are typically gross despite the extremely plastic looking corpses. The seal dissection looks like it has been stolen from the Greenpeace archives as it appears to be authentic.

The acting and general production values are still rather amateur in nature. This is easy to disregard when you are being swept along with Buttgereit's gory magic as with the original "Nekromantik". However, these flaws are far more obvious at the snail's pace with which this film proceeds. Monika M puts in the best performance and makes an appealing lead with her clear blue eyes and Germanic disinterest. Buttgereit's direction and script remain as idiosyncratic as ever. I'm convinced that Buttgereit is a genius but this film only shows rare glimpses of what he is capable of. Nevertheless, Nekromantik 2 does give us something to think about while we wait patiently for his next dose of cinematic perversion.
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Nico's Masterpiece
9 September 2006
Nico Mastorakis has unleashed some pretty terrible films over the years and would probably give the hugely misunderstood Uwe Boll a run for his money as IMDb's most maligned director. Unlike Uwe, much of the criticism aimed at Nico has been deserved. However, it would be a mistake to let Mastorakis' reputation as the king of Euro-trash deter you from watching Island Of Death. Island Of Death is a true horror classic and one of the defining moments of 1970s horror excess. Many films have aimed to offend; few have succeeded as well as this wonderful piece of filth.

In the DVD audio commentary, Mastorakis unashamedly admits that Island Of Death was a calculated attempt to cash in on the success of Tobe Hooper's "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre". Island Of Death is not as scary as Hooper's masterpiece and certainly not as well made, but Mastorakis arguably succeeds in making a more shocking film. The film's plot is simple, yet impressively constructed. A seemingly normal young couple arrive on the Greek island of Mikinos for a holiday. The facade of normality begins to crumble when Chris and Celia have noisy sex in a phone booth - with Chris' mother on the line. It soon becomes apparent that the couple have more sinister hobbies than kinky sex, namely they have taken it upon themselves to rid the island of its sinners. In a storyline that pre-dates the likes of "Natural Born Killers" by several decades, Chris and Celia have well and truly developed a taste for blood.

From the very first murder - which involves Celia exposing an artist as a sinner by having sex with him and Chris exacting punishment by choking the man with a rope, nailing him to the ground and pouring paint down his throat - it is immediately obvious that Mastorakis is not holding back as far as sex and violence is concerned. In fact, the director does everything in his power to up the shock value. Nico seems to revel in smashing taboo after taboo. The list includes bestiality, incest, male anal rape, water sports (the kind involving urine) and the slaying of gays and lesbians. There is also some heroin use, graphic lesbian sex, another rape attempt, a dose of racism and a handful of other gruesome murders and detailed sex scenes. In short, Island Of Death is very much a product of the "anything goes" approach to horror in the 1970s, and all the better for it.

The violence and gore is exceptionally well handled. It is hard to believe that the man who coordinated the brutality in this film went on to make movies involving rubber puppets doubling as sea demons ("Blood Tide") and an internet chat room thriller (".com For Murder"). The goat rape is suitably repulsive, the brain splatter aftermath of one of the shootings is magnificently vile and the extended face burning of the lesbian character with a lit aerosol can is truly repugnant. Mastorakis also throws in one of the iconic action sequences of 1970s horror with Foster's death by aeroplane vignette. The gore effects are well done and impressively realistic. The film's sexual content is almost as graphic as the violence. I imagine that it was the juxtaposition of graphic sex and extreme violence that resulted in the film being banned in so many countries, rather than any one act of violence or depiction of sex.

Mastorakis' films have almost always been tainted by spectacularly bad acting. Island Of Death does not contain any Oscar worthy performances but the cast is uniformly respectable. Jane Lyle plays Celia with a wide-eyed innocence that is genuinely disturbing, while Robert Behling injects Chris with a demented sense of self-righteousness that makes the character all the more chilling. The acting highlight for me was, without a doubt, horror legend Jessica Dublin as Patricia. I can't think of many actresses who would take a role that involves them being urinated on, let alone perform it with as much enthusiasm as Jessica.

For what was little more than a shameless exercise in putting together a film that would appeal to weary horror fans, Island Of Death is an extremely effective and original film. More surprisingly, Island Of Death is lyrical in a way that horror movies seldom are. The film exhibits an ethereal quality that sometimes borders on the surreal. The shocking conclusion is as poetic as it is brutal and Mastorakis makes full use of the beautiful Greek countryside throughout. Island Of Death won't appeal to everyone but for fans of nasty horror, this film is simply unmissable.
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Ultraviolet (2006)
An Entertaining Disappointment
4 September 2006
Kurt Wimmer virtually created a new genre with "Equilibrium". Following up that cult classic was always going to be difficult but when Ultraviolet was announced, expectations were understandably high. As it turns out, Ultraviolet falls considerably short of the high standard set by "Equilibrium". However, this film is by no means the train wreck that it has been portrayed to be. Ultraviolet may be a mess but it still offers more dizzying imagery and computer magic than most blockbusters with three times its budget.

The single biggest problem with Ultraviolet is the story, or lack thereof. A longwinded preamble talks about plagues and diseases, which have resulted in a large portion of the population becoming hemophages - a kind of inoffensive vampire. The government's response to the crisis was initially to treat, then simply to eradicate the hemophages. This was the fate that befell Violet, who escaped a vampire concentration camp to become a vigilante. Despite the fact that Violet never looks or behaves like a vampire and the film forgets to explain Violet's inexplicable fighting prowess - so far so good. In fact the film begins in spectacular style as Violet breaks into a laboratory and steals a case, overcoming a virtual army of guards and scientists. The film begins to fall apart at the seams when Violet finds a human child inside the case and decides to protect it at all costs. Her actions are at odds with everything the character stands for and Violet appears to think nothing of betraying her colleagues.

The rest of the film is basically one long chase scene as Violet struggles to protect the child, known as "Six" from the humans and her fellow mutants. Ultraviolet is never boring, fight after unrealistic fight takes place, characters come and go, flashbacks show glimpses into Violet's old life but nothing really makes any sense or is even vaguely plausible. "Equilibrium" managed to create a sense of gravity through its own convincing mythology. Ultraviolet, on the other hand, is about as deep as Paris Hilton.

If you can get past the fact that the film is basically an excuse to show off Wimmer's computer trickery, Ultraviolet is an enjoyable experience. The action sequences are disappointingly soft as far as violence is concerned but the martial arts and shootings are innovatively staged. There is a tendency to give every fight scene a "Matrix" makeover, with balletic martial arts moves and the requisite bullet dodging, but there are enough new ideas on display to give the film its own identity. The human ball bearings that open the film is one example of Kurt Wimmer's wonderful imagination, Violet's climactic fight against an entire army is another.

In the midst of all this action are a couple of nice scenes between Violet and Six. Milla Jovovich is surprisingly effective as the title character and has to be the best supermodel turned action hero in the history of cinema. Violet is more than a rehash of Milla's character in the far superior "Resident Evil" films. Violet's actions might not make much sense but Milla somehow manages to stop her from coming across as a complete lunatic. The only other actor worth mentioning is Nick Chinlund as Vicecardinum Daxus. Chinlund gives an enjoyably extravagant performance and he makes a good foil for Milla's subtle take on Violet.

Ultraviolet, like "Equilibrium", is distinguished by its innovative use of computer graphics and stylish set and costume design. Kurt Wimmer does not simply utilise computer graphics for special effects sequences, he uses them to create the film's tone, style and landscape. As such, Wimmer's films occupy a weird and wonderful place between live action and computer animation. The jarring factor for the uninitiated is that this director is not aiming for science fiction realism but a highly stylised fantasy world. It must be said that this approach was far better suited to the darker "Equilibrium". The candy coloured world that serves as the backdrop for Ultraviolet often robs the film of its edge and contributes to the film's lack of gravity.

The theatrical version of the film appears to be a studio hatchet job. Apparently, there is at least half an hour of additional footage floating around. I hope that Kurt Wimmer one day gets the opportunity to release a revised version of the film. I suspect that the released product differs substantially from his original vision.
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A Great Sequel
3 September 2006
It appears that most people decided they were going to hate Basic Instinct 2 before it even hit the theatres, which is a shame because the film is great. Basic Instinct 2 might not scale the same heights as the original but it is a well directed thriller that offers a great cast and the funniest opening sequence in years. The general view that Sharon Stone was too old to reprise her career-making role is a prime example of the prevailing view in Hollywood that an actress over 40 should put a bag over her head and stick to playing mothers. Don't fall for it - Sharon still has enough sizzle to put most leading ladies to shame.

The original "Basic Instinct" was dark and sleazy in a way that only Paul Verhoeven could get away with in a mainstream movie. The tone for the sequel is decidedly different and will initially be quite jarring for fans of the original. This is immediately apparent from the spectacular opening sequence in which Catherine becomes distracted while being digitally pleasured and crashes her car into a river. Catherine's unfortunate companion dies and she is once again the prime suspect in a murder investigation. This scene really has to be seen to be believed and I can only hope that it was intended to be darkly comedic because I think it's one of the funniest movie moments in years. The scene also heralds the overt film-noir stylings of director, Michael Caton-Jones. The image of Catherine floating to the water's surface like a corpse is memorable and beautifully shot.

After the film's stylish yet hilarious beginning, it comes as a relief that the remainder of the film is a more traditional thriller, which offers liberal servings of sex but more importantly, an intriguing (if incredibly unlikely) storyline. Catherine is interviewed by Michael, a psychiatrist who declares her to be a calculating sociopath. Instead of being offended, Catherine is impressed and visits Michael for therapy after being acquitted! This begins a long game of cat and mouse, as the sexual tension between the couple mounts and people close to Michael begin suffering violent deaths. The film's credibility hangs on the assumption that Michael would be willing to risk his career and safety for Catherine and that she would be amused enough by Michael to bother trying to ruin his life. The talented cast somehow make the scenario seem vaguely plausible and from that moment on, the film is an escapist treat.

Sharon Stone annoys me when she tries to act. When Sharon is content to rely on her charisma and sex appeal, as in this film, she's a joy to watch. Catherine Tramell is just as enticing a character now as she was all those years ago. The diva attitude is intact, as are her crazy-eyed dramatics and habit of frequently disrobing. The major difference is the quality of the writing. Sharon manages to get away with the kind of truly awful dialogue that would leave most actresses red-faced and appalled. It's ridiculous that the state of Sharon's looks has been such a talking point with this film. Strangely, the nastiest remarks have come from women - so much for all the whining about the lack of roles for women of a certain age. An actress over 45 actually lands the lead role in a major production and all the proponents of acting equality fall over themselves to cut her down. Sharon certainly still has what it takes to turn heads and this reincarnation of Catherine Tramell is sensational.

In fact, the biggest problem with the film is the question of why Catherine would bother to give someone as insipid as Michael 5 minutes of her time, let alone stalk him like a crazy woman. It is a credit to David Morrissey's skill as an actor that Michael transforms from a dull bore into something far more edgy. David Morrissey might seem a bit lost in the sex scenes but he excels in close-up and displays an impressive range. The supporting cast is equally good, with stellar performances from Charlotte Rampling and David Thewlis. The performances are better than the tawdry script deserved and Michael Caton-Jones exhausts every camera angle imaginable trying to keep the direction interesting. If anything, he tries a little too hard. The film noir approach occasionally seems rather forced, particularly during the action sequences.

As for the film's sexual content? There is enough flesh on display to please the casual pervert but not enough to make the more genteel viewer too uncomfortable. I particularly liked the group orgy scene, stylishly filmed from a glass roof. The violence has been toned down in the sequel but the action and gore content is well handled. I found the film's conclusion as perplexing as the original, which I'm not sure is a good or bad thing. Forget about the bad press and enjoy this film for what it is - an entertaining thriller, spiced with liberal doses of sex and nudity.
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Zombi 3 (1988)
An Embarrassment
2 September 2006
Zombi 3 was doomed from the moment Lucio Fulci suffered a stroke during filming and was forced to stand aside as director. Fulci was replaced by Bruno Mattei and Claudio Fragasso, who - while not in the same league as Fulci - certainly know their way around a horror film. Given the circumstances, it's not surprising that the film does not meet Fulci's usual high standards but it is shock that the finished product turned out to be such an awful and embarrassing mess.

Fulci's "Zombi 2" was a brazen attempt to cash in on the Italian success of George A. Romero's "Dawn of The Dead" (released as "Zombi" in Italy). "Zombi 2" exceeded all expectations and became a horror classic in its own right, largely due to Fulci's sublime direction, sense of humour and more-is-more approach to gore. Sadly all of these qualities are sorely missing from Zombi 3. In fact, Zombi 3 has very little going for it at all. There are odd moments of competence and one moment of Fulci brilliance but as a whole, this film is a dog's breakfast. Even the most ardent fan of Italian horror will find this stinker painful to sit through.

It is hard to convey just how bad this movie is. Zombi 3 is abysmal in just about every regard. Perhaps the most grating aspect of the film is its complete and utter disregard for so called "zombie-lore". Fulci took an original approach to zombie behaviour in "Zombi 2" (the underwater zombies being one of the many highlights of that great movie) but still remained within the basic zombie framework. The zombies in this turkey not only run around with great agility, they also talk and remember who they were. These creatures are not the living dead - just living mutants. The misunderstanding of the zombie concept is just one of the script's many flaws. The film's basic premise of a zombie virus being released into the atmosphere is pretty lame but the fact that Zombi 3 requires announcements from an ecologically friendly, zombie DJ to pull the disjointed and confusing storyline together is simply unforgivable. The same could be said for the hilariously inept special effects. The scene in which an actor is attacked by obviously dead, stuffed birds would embarrass Ed Wood, while I hope the person who forgot to apply zombie make-up to the actors' hands and legs is hanging their head in shame somewhere.

Amongst all the incompetence there are a few moments that make the viewing experience bearable. One of them is the zombie in the fridge, which Fulci considered to be one the only respectable scare in the film. Another highlight is the zombie birth scene which was "borrowed" for the recent remake of "Dawn Of The Dead" and the clever twist of having the characters pursued not only by the undead but also by crazed army officials. It must be said that these few bright moments are probably reason enough for horror buffs and zombie aficionados to hunt the film down. Everyone else will be left scratching their heads in wonderment at the epic scale of the Zombi 3's incompetence.
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Reeker (2005)
Give Me A Break
31 August 2006
The premise of Reeker is so stupid that it makes my head hurt. I spend most of my spare time watching horror films of wildly varying quality and find myself pretty immune to nonsense but a slasher film about an odorous grim reaper type creature that hides under beds and in toilets with an electric hand saw is just stretching credibility one step too far. This is unfortunate because, aside from the laughable story and some unimpressive special effects, Reeker is a competently made and appealing horror movie.

David Payne begins the film with a fantastic sequence that will have animal lovers squirming. A car collides with a dear, coating the car in blood. The car swerves along a deserted highway as the driver attempts to clear the windscreen and control the vehicle at high speed. Despite the promising start, the remainder of the film never lives up to its potential. The basic story involves a group of college students driving to a party in the desert. Unfortunately, their car breaks down and they find themselves stranded at a creepy diner. This situation gives the characters a chance to develop while simultaneously building some tension with a series of weird happenings. The group is comprised of the usual horror movie stereotypes, perhaps with the exception of Jack, who is blind. None of the characters are particularly appealing and when mutilated people begin appearing and the students start getting picked off, I can't say I was particularly upset.

Despite the frenzy of horror movie clichés, this part of the film works well. The effects are gory and visually effective. The director milks the suspense by separating the characters and having blind Jack stumble around over cadavers. The events have an eerie quality and the isolated desert location is atmospheric. The film begins to crumble into the ridiculous when the students start getting hacked up - by the above mentioned grim reaper with poor personal hygiene. Apart from the inherent lunacy of the concept that death hides under beds and in lavatories waiting to slice people up with his vast array of saws, the story is illogical even within the film's own mythology. How does an apparition stink and why would a demon be frightened of a gun and physical violence? Furthermore, what's with all the lurking? For an embodiment of death, this reaper or "reeker" is pretty damn timid and useless. The depiction of blind jack as some kind of demon sniffer dog is also one of the most moronic things I have seen in mainstream horror.

In the midst of all of this idiocy, the film does manage to sustain a sense of momentum and suspense. David Payne knows how to direct an action sequence and the actors are all reasonably impressive, particularly Devon Gummersall as Jack. The special effects vary in quality from the excellent gore of the opening ten minutes to the appalling "reeker" effects, which sum up everything wrong with using computer effects in horror movies. The finale involves some nice stunt work but the daft twist ending just makes the entire movie all the more obscenely and unbearably stupid.

Reeker is not a bad film, just an oppressively illogical one. I love a good (or even a bad) horror franchise - but I really hope the Reeker has jumped out of his last toilet. This idiotic villain needs to be laid to rest.
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Ranpo jigoku (2005)
A Mixed Bag
27 August 2006
Rampo Noir is a collection of 4 short films based on stories by Edogawa Rampo, the so-called "Japanese Edgar Allen Poe". Rampo Noir is widely uneven, painfully pretentious and at least half an hour too long. Despite these shortcomings, the film does offer its fair share of pleasures - stunning visuals, black comedy and a large dose of Japanese weirdness. Rampo Noir is not a great film but it is an interesting addition to the very small genre of "arthouse horror".

The first of the four films sums up everything that is wrong with the project. A naked man running towards a lake is inter-cut with a naked couple wrestling. The film is silent and partly shown in slow motion. I'm sure there was a deep philosophical reason behind this but I was basically too bored to bother considering what it might be. Even the French would be embarrassed by this exercise in pretension. The next segment, Mirror Hell, is an improvement. For starters, it has sound and a narrative. Mirror Hell is a mystery about a mirror that has the nasty habit of burning off faces. The film is not particularly riveting and some of the special effects are clumsy and not very convincing. The segment is saved by some arresting photography and a wonderfully kinky sex scene between Azusa and Toru, which involves a lot of rope and candle wax.

Caterpillar is the third and, in many ways, most successful of the films at pushing the envelope. This film has an edge that the first two segments are sorely missing. The basic premise of the film is a wife who appears to have amputated her husband's arms and legs in order to save him from going to war. This film explores domestic violence and domination from the unusual angle of a female perpetrator. Caterpillar is an interesting thesis about love in one of its most warped incarnations but instead of shedding light on the issues it puts forward, the film is happy to be a kind of Japanese "Boxing Helena", with its focus firmly directed at shock value and titillation. And it is exceedingly successful at meeting these goals. The scenes where the wife makes her limbless husband eat from a dog bowl and then beats him with a riding crop certainly leave an impression, as does a gruesome scene where she cuts off his nipple. The film also offers a large dose of kinky, limbless sex which is portrayed as vilely erotic. Caterpillar is a nasty little film and Rampo Noir is all the better for it.

Crawling Bugs is the fourth and final segment of Rampo Noir. This film once again explores the idea of how the illusion of love can be the catalyst for the most abhorrent situations. Crawling Bugs tells the story of Masaki, a man who can not bear to be touched by other human beings. This obviously affects his chances with Fuyo, so he kills her and takes her home to be his bride. Despite the multitude of possibilities that this scenario offers, Crawling Bugs avoids the explicitness of "Nekromantik" or even "Kissed", and is happy to be blackly comedic. This is ultimately a smart move as Masaki's vain attempts to keep Fuyo from rotting inject Rampo Noir with some much needed humour and offer some pleasant respite from the sometimes overwhelming level of pretension. Crawling Bugs is visually stunning and very well directed. The gore effects are convincing and the film walks the fine line between the surreal and the plain disgusting with great skill.

Rampo Noir desperately tries to push the boundaries of mainstream cinema but never quite succeeds. In comparison to many of the films emerging from Asia, Rampo Noir is actually rather quaint - with the exception of the large quantity of kinky sex. However, the concept is an interesting one and it offers the opportunity to explore the work of four promising Japanese directors. Rampo Noir is no "Three Extremes" but is worth watching, particularly for the crazy woman with a riding crop.
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Highly Effective
27 August 2006
Herk Harvey's Carnival Of Souls is one of the most unusual and influential horror films of the 1960s. The film has lost some of its spark with the passing of time but still holds up as an excellent early example of a supernatural horror movie that takes itself seriously. There is no sense of whimsy about Carnival Of Souls. From the spectacular opening to the legendary conclusion, the film never wavers in its grim tone. It is Harvey's ability to present supernatural occurrences in a realistic manner that makes Carnival Of Souls a stepping stone to the horror classics of the 1970s.

The first indication that this is no ordinary horror film is the opening car chase sequence. Carnival Of Souls literally begins with a bang as a car full of young women race against a group of teenage delinquents and crash spectacularly over a bridge. The race is filmed with a precision and grace that is almost poetic. The close-ups of Mary's terrified face set the haunting tone which only gets stronger as Mary emerges from the water as the sole survivor of the crash. The crash appears to have broken something in Mary; she vacantly announces that she is leaving town to take up a new job and vows never to return.

The film hits its stride when Mary begins to see things which blur the line between reality and insanity. Herk Harvey exploits the fear of madness better than most directors. While some of the ghost effects look dated, Mary's self doubt, confusion and desperation remain compelling. Life goes from bad to worse for Mary as she becomes increasingly disturbed by her hallucinatory experiences and becomes increasingly self-destructive. Carnival Of Souls keeps an ace up its sleeve, as the film moves from psychological to physical horror in its classic conclusion.

Few films have conveyed a character's internal torment as lyrically as Carnival Of Souls. The scene where Mary wanders the streets in a trance, unable to communicate with the world around her, is hypnotic and beautifully filmed. Mary's visit with Dr. Samuels is equally revealing. This character is basically an empty vessel, which makes her desperate attachment to her sleazy neighbour believable and her increasingly bizarre behaviour understandable. Harvey, who had a career making industrial "how to" films before turning to features, directs the movie with a crispness and style that is simply beautiful. The years he spent making documentaries has obviously influenced his approach to film-making. For what is essentially a ghost movie, Carnival Of Souls is steeped in reality - from Mary's psychological unravelling, to the desperate characters she meets along the way.

Harvey's lasting legacy is the film's conclusion. This sequence has been cited by a plethora of horror directors as being influential and George A. Romero readily admits to borrowing heavily from this portion of the film in his own masterpiece, "Night Of The Living Dead". The zombies in that film not only resemble the ghouls in Carnival Of Souls, but Barbra's initial flight from the zombies is clearly inspired by Mary's fate. The lasting impact of this sequence can be seen by the constant plundering of the film's final twist in everything from "The Others" to "The Sixth Sense".

Carnival Of Souls has aged in a way that "Night Of The Living Dead", for example, has not. The film has taken on a camp quality due to the poor nature of some of the special effects and Mary's behaviour, which is very much in tune with the mores of the 1960s. However, age has not wearied the film's hypnotic, dreamlike tone or Harvey's steadfastly serious approach to the most unrealistic of subject matters. And then there is the film's rousing finale, which has lost none of its considerable bite. This classic deserves your attention.
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Romero's Masterpiece
24 August 2006
Few films can claim to be as influential and genre-defining as George A. Romero's 1968 horror classic Night Of The Living Dead. This is a superb film in every respect - it's beautifully filmed, expertly constructed and well acted. However, the film's most impressive achievement is that it still packs one hell of a punch almost 40 years later. Night Of The Living Dead remains essential viewing for any student of the horror genre.

Romero's premise could not be simpler. Barbra is attacked by a man who appears to be in some kind of catatonic state and flees to an abandoned house. She soon finds herself surrounded by a group of similarly affected people and starts to question her sanity until help arrives in the form of Ben, surely one of cinema's first black action heroes. Ben boards up the house, only to discover that two couples and a child have been hiding in the cellar. The group learn that a murder epidemic has spread across the country and try to hatch an escape plan that will enable them to reach one of the camps that have been set up to protect survivors. The reason why Night Of The Living Dead endures as a "scary" movie, while many of its contemporaries have become quaint or camp with the passing of time, is its remarkable ability to tap into commonly held fears and phobias.

For a film that was initially renowned for its blood and gore, Night Of The Living Dead's legacy is its psychological impact. Night Of The Living Dead was not the first film to use zombie-like creatures by any stretch of the imagination. However, it was the first film to present zombies in the form and with the mythology that modern audiences have come to associate with the term. The power of the "zombie" concept derives from the relentlessness and inevitably of attack that they represent. Coupling this idea with prospect of being pursued by mutilated, former friends and loved ones, is particularly cruel - and psychologically, very effective. The idea of betrayal permeates the entire film, from the "zombie" concept, to the actions of Harry and the fate awaiting Ben. There is also an aspect of paranoia, unintentional (as Romero has stated) or otherwise, which expertly reflects the social climate of the late 1960s and, indeed, of today. Romero expertly manipulates the viewer through a landscape of fear and uncertainty, constantly feeding the tension until the blood begins to flow.

George A. Romero and John A. Russo's script is truly a thing of beauty. It is taunt, tight and terrifying. Unlike most horror films of the day, Night Of The Living Dead is grounded in reality. There is no supernatural aspect to the events, indeed, the in-fighting among the group repeatedly emphasises human weakness and moral decay. A ploy which, at the time, must have seemed ground breaking. Their decision not to explain the zombie epidemic is a great one. In fact, my only real complaint about the script is the minor subplot about the Venus probe. It is the only example of the film losing its grounding and falling foul of its bulletproof mythology. Romero and Russo keep their biggest shock for the conclusion and closing credits, which remain an unparalleled reality check for the viewer. Night Of The Living Dead broke the mold and then re-constructed it. The film's sense of realism is further heightened by the wonderful gore effects, Romero's no non-sense approach to direction, the eerie black and white photography and the riveting acting performances.

The film's gore and make-up effects still hold up well. Back in the day they must have been absolutely breathtaking. Romero places great emphasis on realism and the scenes of zombies chewing on entrails and flesh are expertly handled. The black and white photography helps to mask the most dated effects and contributes to the film's documentary feel. Romero's direction is incredibly self-assured for a debut. His camera is like a fly on the wall, observing the action. The stillness of the scenes inside the house expertly balances the manic action that takes place outside it. Romero is aided by a fine cast, particularly Duane Jones, Judith O'Dea and Karl Hardman. Judith O'Dea's Barbara is somewhat useless as far as modern heroines are concerned but the sense of shock and hysteria conveyed is convincing, while Karl Hardman's Harry is superbly slimy. The acting standout is Duane Jones as Ben. Duane is simply exemplary. Today, this performance would have shot the actor into superstar territory.

Night Of The Living Dead is one of the earliest examples of the modern horror film. It is a link between the more theatrical approach of early horror and the intensity of modern genre films. Night Of The Living Dead's influence can not be overstated - it has been used a blueprint for countless movies. However, very few of them come close to matching this masterpiece.
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An Acting Showcase
20 August 2006
If Tomorrow Comes is an unusual film, distinguished by surprisingly strong performances from an excellent cast. The film is low-budget and some of the technical aspects are quite poor. I often got the feeling that the film had not been completely finished or had faced problems in post-production. Nevertheless, If Tomorrow Comes is worth watching as a showcase for the many fine actors involved.

The film begins with a jumble of poorly filmed flashback sequences. Adam (Dave Buzzotta) appears to have suffered some kind of sexual abuse as a child. The exact situation remains unclear but the lasting effects of Adam's childhood trauma could not be any more apparent. Adam is lost soul, who consoles himself by listening to answering machine messages from his estranged father. Adam's best friend since childhood, Devin (James Franco) is equally damaged. His life revolves around caring for his disabled brother, pulling needles out of his junkie step-mother and avoiding his abusive father. The film works exceedingly well when it is content to examine Adam and Devin's unusual friendship. If Tomorrow Comes shows male relationships in a new light. The handling of their love for the same girl, Kobe, is free from all the usual clichés and alpha male stereotypes. Unfortunately, the film is far less successful when it pursues a ridiculous gangster subplot.

It's a shame that the writer/director, Gerrit Steenhagen, decided to spice up what could have been an intriguing character study with ludicrous action elements and an even more bizarre porn subplot. Apparently, Adam has been coerced into making pornos by Devin's father in the past. Devin's dad demands that Adam partake in another skin flick or repay him $37,000 in one week. The penalty of not complying is death. This subplot opens up a Pandora's Box of loose ends and unbelievable events. There is the highly coincidental choice of Serena as Adam's proposed porn partner, Adam's completely illogical behaviour, the misplaced comedic relief from the heavies sent to threaten Adam, Devin's duel role as Adam's bodyguard/proposed executioner and Devin's father's completely unexplained obsession with getting Adam in front of the camera. Basically, this entire subplot is on the nose. Apart from not making any sense, this detour into "Boogie Nights"/Quentin Tarantino territory is marred by poorly filmed action sequences, confused plotting and terrible dialogue. It's hard to believe this section of the film was written by the same man responsible for Devin's genuinely touching scenes with his brother. Their incredibly depressing Easter egg hunt packs far more punch than all the gangster scenes put together.

The glue that holds this disjointed film together is the consistently excellent quality of the acting. Dave Buzzotta is perfectly world weary as Adam. His apathy is as palpable as his affection for Devin and Kobe. However, the real revelation is James Franco. I had basically written him off as the poor man's Freddie Prinze Jr (harsh, I know) after watching his awful performances in the likes of "Spiderman" and "Sonny". This is by far his best role since "Freaks and Geeks". If Tomorrow Comes would have been filmed at around the same time. Hopefully, he can regain some of this form because his performance as Devin is fantastic. The same can be said of James Madio, who plays Devin's brother, and Helene Udy, who makes Serena so much more than the typical "hooker with a heart of gold".

You could drive a semi-trailer through some of the holes in "If Tomorrow Comes". The direction is basic and the movie sometimes looks like it was filmed on a cheap mobile phone. Despite these faults, If Tomorrow Comes manages to be an insightful and memorable character study. This is definitely worth searching out.
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Tamara (2005)
"It's Wet"
17 August 2006
Warning: Spoilers
Tamara is the very poor man's "Carrie". The film treads very similar territory to De Palma's horror classic but shares none of that great movie's insight or relentless rage. Both films have high school bullying and revenge as their central themes but that is where the similarities end. "Carrie" expertly placed the viewer in the protagonist's shoes and made you squirm along with her through every sordid humiliation. Tamara, on the other hand, transforms its titular heroine into a serial-killing bimbo, complete with some admittedly rather amusing one-liners. While Tamara completely misses the mark as the hard hitting revenge horror movie it so obviously aims to be, it does succeed as one of the most irreverent, tasteless and funny American teen horror films of the past few years.

The tone of the film is set from the very first scene in which Tamara daydreams about having sex with her teacher during English class. This is a film that is unashamedly low brow. Tamara is depicted as the typical high school outcast. She's a mousy nerd who does incredibly stupid things like writing articles about the football team's drug use. Tamara is so clueless that you almost hope someone will knock some sense into her. This feeling only grows stronger when Tamara tries to kiss her English teacher, Mr Natolly. His rejection results in Tamara using her powers of witchcraft to cast a love spell - conveniently, Tamara has a book of spells and pagan altar in her loft. The spell only works after Tamara is accidentally killed by some of her classmates when a surprisingly nasty practical joke goes wrong. Just when the film appears to have taken on a more serious, gritty tone, Tamara turns up to school as mini-skirt wearing hottie and begins to wreak her revenge.

From the moment Tamara returns from grave as a satanic Barbie doll, the film stops trying to scare and basically becomes a gory comedy. This is the section of the film that appealed to me the most. The murders are bloody and innovative, while Tamara's new super-bitch persona makes her a memorable horror villain. The best murders include Tamara giving new meaning to the old "hear, say, see no evil" adage and a death by beer bottle moment. As well as inflicting violence, Tamara uses her evil powers of persuasion to full advantage. In one of the funniest and most unusual scenes in mainstream horror, Tamara gets her revenge on two date-raping jocks by making them have sex with each other. Tamara's campy "pitcher/catcher" commentary is destined to become a thing of cult adoration. Clearly at the top of her game, Tamara also memorably makes a bulimic girl vomit her internal organs up and then makes her insatiably hungry - to the point where she starts chewing off her fingers. That's what I call entertainment.

As the film moves to its irrational finale, it begins to lose some momentum. When the focus of the film moves from Tamara to Mr Natolly, it automatically reverts to the standard teen horror formula. Nevertheless, the finale does at least include another great one-liner. In fact, the film is distinguished by its unusually strong, if uneven, script. The dialogue is surprisingly funny and sections of the film are very innovative. Tamara is only let down by its inconsistency and lack of cohesion. The film works very well intermittently but there are just as many flat spots. Another disappointment is the poor quality of the special effects. The digital effects look cheap and unconvincing. The gore effects are slightly better but still sub-standard. Jeremy Haft's direction is competent but often uninspired. This description could also apply to the actors. The exception is the lead, Jenna Dewan. Jenna makes the transition from mouse to sexy super-bitch with the utmost ease. I would like to see this woman in a straight comedy. She makes Tamara a very amusing psycho indeed.

It's no surprise that Tamara died a miserable death at the box office. The film is a messy mix of horror sub-genres. Tamara is too quirky for fans of lite-horror and nowhere near dark enough for gore lovers. Hopefully, the film will find an audience on DVD. Tamara might be a mess, but it has enormous camp appeal and is well and truly a cut above the usual teen horror movie. This film is a trashy delight.
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Pure Bliss
13 August 2006
Ed Wood is rightly regarded as the holy godfather of bad cinema and Plan 9 from Outer Space is his enduring legacy to generations of crap addicts. While some fans maintain that "Glen Or Glenda" is Ed Wood's crowning achievement, I find Plan 9 from Outer Space to be more spectacularly incompetent and a more enjoyable viewing experience. This film transcends the "so bad, it's good" genre like few films before or after it. Plan 9 from Outer Space is so bad, it's utterly brilliant.

Plan 9 from Outer Space, like most of Ed Wood's magical output, is either pilloried or praised for its technical incompetence. The film is indeed a cinematic car crash when it comes to matters such as attention to detail, continuity and special effects. However, the exuberance, joy and unrelenting sense of fun that permeate Ed Wood's film-making is often overlooked and undervalued. This man was clearly too much of a visionary to be fussed about anything as trivial as a character holding a gun upside down or an actor reading directly from the script. Plan 9 from Outer Space is a lot of things but boring isn't one of them.

The plot is pure sci-fi fluff. Shortly after flying saucers begin appearing in the sky, bodies start to disappear from the local cemetery. It seems that the aliens are re-animating corpses to use as tools against the human race when they invade Earth - not out of spite, mind you, but due to their overwhelming concern that humans could blow up the sun. This is unfortunate for Jeff and Paula, who happen to live next door to the zombie infested graveyard. Ludicrous as it is, this plot is no more outlandish than any number of B-grade movies. What makes Plan 9 from Outer Space stand out from the crowd is the execution - take a bow, Mr Wood!

It would be exhausting to sift through the plethora of goofs, gaffs and mind-boggling mistakes that litter this film. However, some are so outstanding that they demand individual recognition. The first blindingly obvious faux pas is the fishing line which clearly suspends the flying saucers. This is only the beginning of an avalanche of blissful incompetence. There is the infamous Bela Lugosi cameo, which was filmed before the script was even written. After Bela's death, Ed Wood had no qualms about using his wife's chiropractor to take over the role - despite the man being a head taller and considerably slimmer than the great Lugosi. In addition to these sublime blunders, there is the detective who mistakenly points a gun at himself, John Breckinridge's shameless script reading - which results in The Ruler not being able to look at the camera or his fellow actors and the blatantly obvious use of a sound stage for a cemetery, not to mention the cardboard set that doubles as an aeroplane cockpit. This is only scratching the surface.

The most amazing thing about Plan 9 from Outer Space is not Ed Wood's ambivalence to detail but the fact that this ambivalence never detracts from the film's overall enjoyment. Plan 9 from Outer Space works spectacularly well as science fiction entertainment. The mix of action, unintentional comedy, spectacular ineptitude and camp special effects is intoxicating. The film is well paced and, in its own unique way, strangely logical. There is also the joy of watching Bela Lugosi's final film role (well, until the chiropractor takes over!) and a rare glimpse of the magnificent Vampira at the height of her Gothic loveliness. Plan 9 from Outer Space is an unmitigated pleasure from beginning to end.

This film belongs in IMDb's top 250, and I'm sure if people rated films based on the enjoyment factor as opposed to any pretentious conception of artistic quality, it would be. In any case, I'm sure Ed Wood would be pleased to discover that almost 10,000 viewers have taken the time to vote for Plan 9 from Outer Space, which greatly exceeds the impact of many 1950s "classics", ranging from Bergman's "Wild Straeberries" to Truffaut's "The 400 Blows".
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The Donor (2001)
Spectacularly Incompetent
12 August 2006
The Donor is the worst film I have ever seen. As a devotee of Troma, Roger Corman and the great Uwe Boll, I am comfortable with cinematic incompetence. However, this film is not only poorly made but implausible, ridiculous, contradictory and most offensively - completely and utterly boring. The Donor is a rambling mess that should be avoided at all costs.

The most incompetent aspect of The Donor is its incredibly inept script. The dialogue is appalling, the characters are one-dimensional caricatures and the plot is completely illogical. The film revolves around Matt, an incredibly unsympathetic businessman, who is being threatened by his in-laws to produce an heir or be disinherited. The catch is that Matt's inane wife, Francoise, turns out to be infertile. So naturally the couple visit a doctor running an illegal, international surrogacy ring. The Donor really descends into the realm of soap opera when Matt is overcome with the urge to meet the surrogate, Sylvia, and promptly falls in love with her.

The overwhelming flaw of this set up is the complete lack of explanation for the character's actions. We never learn why Matt's in-laws are so bombastic or why Matt bows to their every whim. There also appears to be no reason for Matt to stay married to Francoise; he clearly can not stand the woman and even mocks her inability to conceive. Strangely, Francoise warns Matt that she would never allow him to leave her, which makes her an idiotic masochist. Matt's relationship with Sylvia is even more confusing. Matt's yearning to meet Sylvia is as inexplicable as his instant love for her. For someone desperate enough to buy a child to protect his inheritance, Matt suddenly finds the simple life very appealing.

The poor quality of the script is matched by the terrible acting and appalling direction. The most shocking thing about the film is that a number of great actors agreed to appear in it. David Carradine sleep walks through his role as Matt's brother, while Karen Black and James Handy experience career nadirs as Matt's in-laws. They can be grateful that they only had supporting roles and somehow manage to escape from this debacle without entirely ruining their reputations. The same can not be said for the three leads. Pierre Dulat turns in one of the worst performances in film history as Matt. Pierre stumbles through the dialogue with his heavy French accent and only appears to possess one facial expression. Florence Guerin gives new meaning to the word "wooden" as Sylvia, while Coco d'Este makes Pia Zadora look like Meryl Streep as Francoise.

The actors are not helped by Jean-Marie Pallardy's directorial ability (or lack there of). I did not expect too much from the director of "Emmanuelle Goes To Cannes" and "Naked And Lustful" but I was definitely not counting on drawn out tracking shots of a woman walking through an office, extended detours of the countryside and most bizarrely, Matt's long voice-over monologues, which I assume were tacked on when it became apparent that Matt's behaviour is completely nonsensical. Conversely, these monologues are so clichéd and corny that they are occasionally (unintentionally) funny. My favourite is Matt watching Sylvia miming on stage and the voice-over saying "she's so natural!" The biggest disappointment is that one of soft porn's most infamous directors would make something so tame. A larger dose of smut would have at least made this turkey bearable. All The Donor has to offer is quickie on the beach, which is about as erotic as an autopsy.

The Donor is not so bad, it's good. The Donor is so bad, it's criminal. Most bad movies have some redeeming feature, be it unintentional humour, tongue-in-cheek awareness of their own incompetence or at least generous lashings of sex and/or violence. The Donor has none of the above, just a bunch of unpleasant, irrational characters who have way too much time on their hands.
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The Eye 2 (2004)
Joey Sees Dead People
10 August 2006
The Pang Brothers return with a very bizarre sequel to "The Eye". Bizarre, not only due to The Eye 2 not following on from the original film in any way, but also due to the fact that this film almost represents a change of genre. The Eye 2 is more of a supernatural thriller than a typical horror film; the tension arises from mysterious events rather than carnage or bloodshed. The result is an unusual and disturbing entry into one of the best Asian horror franchises.

The Eye 2 introduces us to a new heroine, Joey, who indulges in a shopping spree before swallowing a bottle of pills in a very weak suicide attempt (she asks hotel staff to check in on her before doing the deed). Joey is revived in hospital but her near death experience gives her the ability to see spirits. This new gift only becomes stronger when Joey discovers that she is unexpectedly pregnant. There should be something exploitative about a horror movie that chooses a suicidal, pregnant woman as its subject matter. And to a certain extent, there is a mean spirited edge to The Eye 2. However, this scenario also allows the Pang Brothers to create an intensely disturbing atmosphere and display much of the visual virtuosity that has found them an international following.

The film's sense of tension builds rapidly after a slow first half. Joey begins to see more dead people and after consulting with Buddhists, comes to believe that a spirit is intent on possessing her unborn child. The Pang Brothers explore this set up with a number of memorably set pieces. The image of the falling corpses in the bus-stop scene lingers, the ghost under the table at the restaurant is unnerving and the creepy, womb raiding ghosts would turn anyone off having children.

The Pang Brothers are such masters at creating tension and suspense through their eerie visuals and excellent use of sound that you almost forget that this is all window dressing for a paper thin plot. For example, one of the film's major failings is that Joey's suicidal behaviour is never explained. This makes Joey's incredibly self-destructive behaviour difficult to gage. It's hard to tell if Joey is suicidal or completely psychotic. The reasoning behind this may well have been that Joey's ambiguous mental state increases the sense of hysteria. And to a certain extent it does, but it also makes it difficult to connect with Joey and her plight. The re-incarnation sub-plot is also barely explained and Joey's relationship with her ex-boyfriend remains a mystery.

The film's flaws are more than compensated for by the impressive visual effects, creepy atmosphere and brutality. The Pang Brothers' unique sense of visual style, which could best be described as film noir on hallucinogenic drugs, remains intact. In many ways, this is the only real connection with the first film. The Eye 2 is more derivative than its predecessor. For example, imagery such as the floating ghosts, owe a debt to Japanese horror. However, there is more than enough originality on display here to demonstrate the huge potential of these filmmakers. The visual effects are polished and the Pang Brothers' direction is as hyper as ever.

The film also displays a mean streak that differentiates it from many other movies of its genre. Joey, played with great skill by Taiwanese star Qi Shu, is not your typical scream queen; she's not represented as a fighter or survivor but the victim of circumstance. Joey attempts to commit suicide, is rejected by her boyfriend, finds out she's unexpectedly pregnant, almost raped, asks for an abortion, tries to kill herself at home and then twice more for good measure, in an extended and admirably tasteless scene, in hospital. The imagery may be surreal but the canvas on which it is placed is relentlessly grim and gritty.

The Eye 2 is suspenseful and wonderfully atmospheric but there is little depth to the proceedings. However, this is unlikely to turn off too many genre fans. My only reservation is that the Pang Brothers are clearly capable of more.
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An Excellent Film
6 August 2006
It frustrates me when people refer to The Wasp Woman as a good B-movie or, even more condescendingly, as a good Roger Corman movie. The Wasp Woman is simply an excellent film - no caveat required. This film is well acted, logical within its premise and most impressively, still disturbing. The special effects may have dated but the psychological horror which underpins the action remains as brutal as ever.

The beauty of The Wasp Woman is its simplicity. Dr Zinthrop discovers an anti-ageing antidote in wasp jelly and brings it to the attention of Janice, the owner of a cosmetics company. Janice, faced with the prospect of falling sales and her own fading beauty, agrees to fund the scientist's work on the condition that Dr Zinthrop use her as a guinea pig. Unfortunately, this has the unwanted side effect of turning her into a homicidal wasp/woman hybrid. As with all good genre films, The Wasp Woman defines its premise early and the narrative never strays from these clearly defined plot constraints. The developments in the film might be outrageous but taken within their context, they make perfect sense.

The Wasp Woman is without a doubt one of Roger Corman's best films. I am a big fan of the wonderful crap that he has produced since retiring as a director but this film is a poignant reminder of what Roger Corman is capable of when he takes his subject matter seriously. The Wasp Woman also underlines Corman's considerable skill as a director. The film is taut, cohesive and brilliantly paced. From the moment the film begins, there is a sense of tension and desperation about these characters that is almost palpable. This is due to both the excellent script and some impressive acting.

Susan Cabot has never struck me as the most gifted actress but her turn as Janice is extraordinary. Janice could have easily come across as a vain, ruthless woman. However, Susan's performance is so well calibrated that it is hard not to feel sympathetic to her plight. The scene where Janice realises that the company is failing due to her no longer being a "glamour girl" is devastating. The supporting cast is equally good. Michael Mark is particularly impressive as Dr Zinthrop. Dr Zinthrop's dedication to his research is creepy from the very outset. Anthony Eisley and Barboura Morris are solid as Lane and Mary, the voices of reason in the face of Janice's increasingly demented mindset.

The Wasp Woman would basically be nothing more than a well executed museum piece if it no longer had the capacity to be taken seriously as a thriller. The first glance of Janice, elegantly dressed and wearing a wasp mask, is jolting. My first reaction was to laugh but that quickly subsided. There is something psychologically unsettling about Janice's fate. Here is a woman used to being in charge, slowly but surely being taken over by something evil that is well and truly out of her control. The campy wasp effects are all the most disturbing because Janice is still so recognisable. Furthermore, there is something plain creepy about a killer wearing pearls and a twin set - even if the killer is half wasp.

The Wasp Woman steadily builds momentum until the impressive and satisfying conclusion. The film is psychologically violent and brutal, yet beautiful in a way that only these low budget black and white movies can be. The Wasp Woman is a fine achievement. Modern horror directors could learn a thing or two by watching this.
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Hybrid (1997 Video)
Fred Olen Ray - At His Best!
6 August 2006
Hybrid is another sublime slice of Fred Olen Ray madness. I love just about every film that Fred has ever made but Hybrid is especially memorable. Few directors can claim to have as unique a vision as Fred Olen Ray and this film is a perfect example of that twisted outlook. Hybrid plays like a cross between "Alien" and "Emmanuelle", only without the special effects of the former or the arty pretensions of the latter. This film is wonderfully trashy and a must see for fans of this brilliant director.

The action begins with a preposterous looking creature chewing up a couple of scientists. Right from the opening scene it is apparent that Fred has not lost his sense of humour. The creature looks like a bad Halloween costume and the gore effects are as unconvincing as ever. The film switches focus to the crew of a very unrealistic looking spacecraft, who crash land on a desolate planet. The crew seek shelter from bad weather and stumble across a soldier, who directs them to an abandoned laboratory. This is when Hybrid begins to rip off "Alien" in earnest and Fred Olen Ray really hits his stride.

The crew find the laboratory abandoned and quickly discover through a series of hilarious revelations that the scientists were experimenting on humans and succeeded in creating a homicidal cockroach/human hybrid. Instead of leaving as quickly as possible, this crew of dunces decides to spend the night at the facility - only to learn that the hybrid is not only alive but also hungry and horny. The remainder of the film basically involves crew members being killed and having raunchy sex. In other words, Fred Olen Ray serves up a large serving of quality entertainment.

The sex scenes in Hybrid are particularly amusing. A perfect example of Fred's unique approach to plot and character occurs when Dr Leslie, played by horror icon Brinke Stevens, and Nurse Carla, JJ North of "Hellblock 13" fame, decide to freshen up - by showering together. Before too long the women begin to massage each other to "relieve tension" and before you know it they are partaking in some soft-core lesbian action. Nurse Carla really gets around. She also finds time to seduce soldier McQueen, played by Tim Abell, in the midst of all the carnage. This scene would look cheesy in a 1980s porno but somehow nurse Carla's very thorough check-up routine works here. The cutting between Carla and McQueen's sexual acrobatics and the creature's killing spree makes for particularly classy viewing. Just when I thought Fred had reached a dizzying new height, Dr Leslie takes a sleeping pill and is molested by the creature in a scene that puts Sigourney's cross-species flirt in "Alien Resurrection" well and truly into perspective.

The technical aspects of Hybrid are pretty terrible. The action sequences are cheap and poorly staged, while the make-up and gore effects leave a lot to be desired. And that is fine with me. I don't watch Fred Olen Ray movies for technical virtuosity but for his outrageous imagination and unswerving dedication to bad taste. Fred's directing is as haphazard as ever and the actors vary wildly in skill. Tim Abell has gone on to bigger and better things and somehow makes it through Hybrid with his dignity intact. Poor Brinke Stevens is not as lucky. However, she can take solace in the fact that people are still paying her to take her clothes off well past the age of 40. JJ North is hilariously inept as Carla. I'm disappointed that she has dropped off the acting radar after a promising string of wonderful Z-grade movies.

Fred Olen Ray's hypnotic brand of crap is an acquired taste but once you get it, there is no going back. Hybrid has everything a B-movie should have in spades - poor effects, gore, gratuitous nudity and a rapist alien. This is highly recommended.
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High School Musical (2006 TV Movie)
So Wrong... Yet So Right
5 August 2006
High School Musical is basically an updated version of "Grease", only with terrible music and bad actors. However, for something so derivative in concept, High School Musical seems positively groundbreaking in comparison to the flood of generic teen movies being churned out by studios. High School Musical might be corny and overly sanitised but it is also dumb fun and I can't get enough of it.

The film begins with a pretty obvious rehashing of the "Grease" storyline. A mismatched couple meet on holiday and are unexpectedly reunited when the good girl transfers to cool guy's school. The only difference is that the leads in "Grease" were hugely appealing and at least one of them had a great voice. The opening scene where Gabriella and Troy meet while singing karaoke is pretty much indicative of how annoying their characters are. Gabriella is odiously sweet and sounds like she has just inhaled helium. Troy looks and sounds like one of the Hanson brothers - before they hit puberty.

The movie improves vastly when Troy and Gabriella are reunited at school, mostly due to their presence being tempered by the much less grating supporting cast. Basically, Troy and Gabriella had so much fun singing karaoke that they decide to try out for the school musical. The catch and moral of the story (it is a Disney movie), is that they have been pigeonholed and are scared to try something new. Troy is worried what his basketball team mates will say, while Gabriella is concerned that her new nerd friends might disown her. The talent free couple also have to overcome the interference of twins Sharpay and Ryan. Sharpay and Ryan consider the school musical to be their domain and are not amused when Troy and Gabriella audition for "their" roles.

Sharpay and Ryan are the main reason to watch High School Musical. Sharpay is like a tragically watered down version of one of the bitches from "Mean Girls". The character is meant to be a villain but Sharpay's insults and evil ploys are so innocuous that I just found her amusing and basically the only character with some semblance of a personality. Her brother is even better. Ryan is the campest character in a Disney movie since Cruella De Ville. When he's not workin' his matching pink cap and shirt combination, he's cleansing his pre-performance aura. Their audition and call-back routines are two of the funniest scenes things I have seen recently. The film's director, Kenny Ortega, has recently been working on the "Boy From Oz" musical and I'm convinced that Ryan's flamboyant audition dance routine is a homage to Peter Allen. All that's missing are the maracas. Ryan and Sharpay's amazing Latin inspired call-back performance even involves a gold tinsel covered ladder and a disco ball. Now, that's class.

The film's other highlights for me include the hypnotically cringe worthy singing basketball players, the fact that the film's heroine is a "mathlete" and Troy's girlie dance moves in the big finale. It is pretty fair to say that High School Musical makes very little effort to be cool. I think that's what I like about the film the most; It is almost entirely lacking in pretension. The songs are terrible to the extent that even Hilary Duff would reject them but the film does offer some impressive choreography and dancing. Kenny Ortega has a long history working on musicals and it shows. His direction comes to life in the musical numbers, giving the action a distinct sense of rhythm and movement. The acting is mostly pretty dreadful but no one is unbearably annoying.

High School Musical is very easy to ridicule and pick apart. It is much harder to appreciate the skill and good judgement that went into making such enjoyable fluff. I just hope that Ryan and Sharpay take their rightful position as the stars of the sequel.
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Gorilla Suit Madness
3 August 2006
King Of Kong Island is a confusing piece of B-grade garbage that is saved from being completely unwatchable by the hilarious gorilla effects and a couple of unintentionally hilarious plot twists. The strangest thing about this movie is its absolute incoherence; subplots arise from nowhere and characters behave with all the logic of intoxicated Lemmings. King Of Kong Island is definitely an acquired taste.

Roberto Mauri's film could possess one of the most ridiculous plots in movie history. This crap makes "Santa Claus Conquers The Martians" seem entirely plausible by comparison. Basically, our hero Burt is shot and returns to Africa to find the man responsible. In addition to finding the time for some dubious psychedelic dancing, Burt also manages to fall in love with Diana. Unfortunately, Diana is kidnapped by a group deranged mountain gorillas and Burt is called on to rescue her. If the concept of brainwashed gorillas is not far fetched enough, Mauri throws in a completely random subplot about a wild woman called Eva, who lives in the jungle and converses with animals. Eva is a brazen attempt to throw in some eye candy and inject some much needed sleaze into the fairly tame proceedings. Eva leads Burt to Diana, who is being held captive in a secret lair by a mad scientist.

King Of Kong Island is really not a film that is overly concerned with the smaller details. The gorilla effects literally consist of people wearing poorly made gorilla suits. Diana's kidnapping is hilarious due to the painfully obvious gorilla masks and gloves. Mauri's inattention to detail is further noticeable in the fact that for a "wild" woman, Eva has rather lovely hair and make-up. I pretty much expect (and hope for) poor special effects and ridiculous plot developments in a Roberto Mauri crap epic. However, King Of Kong Island is sloppy to an extent that makes it basically impossible to follow. The film has also dated in the worst possible way. The treatment of the local population as "slaves" is distasteful and Burt's pseudo-comedic groping of Eva is jarring. Thankfully, there are enough stupid gorillas and crazy pieces of 1960s "technology" in the scientist's lair to overlook the general incompetence.

The film does have some impressive qualities. The jungle disco score is excellent, the film provides B-grade icon Brad Harris with a rare starring vehicle and Esmeralda Barros makes an alluring wild woman. King Of Kong Island is a complete mess, but it is a mess worth wading through for fans of this genre. If nothing else, see it for the spectacularly unconvincing gorillas.
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A Masterpiece!
2 August 2006
Words can barely describe the genius of Horrors Of Spider Island. Fritz Boettger's crap classic embodies everything I love about Z-grade movies: ingenuity, innovation, ridiculous special effects and a complete disregard for anything as boring as logic or reason. Horrors Of Spider Island will resonate in your mind long after the final credits have rolled.

I think I'm going to start using IMDb's bottom 100 as my official viewing guide. There seems to be more quality product clogging up that list than the overwhelmingly insipid top 250. Horrors Of Spider Island basically owes its place in the bottom 100 to MST3K and their followers who automatically assume that a film is atrocious if MST3K have deigned to make a mockery of it. Forget about those failed comedians and out of work actors. If you want to fully enjoy the brilliance of this movie, watch it without MST3K's incredibly unamusing voice-over.

Horrors Of Spider Island begins like a raunchier version of "King Kong". Sleazy Gary is auditioning ladies to join his "dance" troupe, which is about to embark upon a tour of Singapore. The audition scene is a delight. These girls are a bunch of hardcore skanks. Linda doesn't even bother with the pretence of dancing; she simply walks into the audition and whips off her dress. Unfortunately for the men of Singapore, Linda and her colleagues never arrive. Instead, a plane crash leaves Gary and his ladies stranded on a remote Pacific island.

The film really comes into its own on the titular "Spider Island". We are treated to the hilarious arrival scene in which the women walk along the sand in high heels and then drench themselves under a pretty dubious looking waterfall. Our stranded friends soon find an abandoned house and do not appear to be overly concerned about finding a corpse hanging in a giant spider web. These women have more important things to worry about, like fighting over Gary and determining who looks the best in rags. Unfortunately, this idyll is ruined when Gary is attacked by a giant spider and transforms into a murderous spider hybrid.

The spider effects are adorable. I'm convinced that Gary is attacked by a fluffy toy and the mechanical giant spiders are a sight to behold. The inherent ridiculousness of these effects is kept under control but some wonderfully evocative black and white photography. Once Gary has transformed, the focus of the film returns to the lovely ladies. The scene where Babs, the buxom super-bitch, attacks Nelly with a belt surely belongs to the cinematic highlights of the 1960s. The film becomes increasingly lewd as help arrives in the form of two scientists. Before you can blink, these girls are falling over themselves to grab a man. Barbara Valentin deserved an Oscar for the scene where Babs tries to steal Gladys' lover.

Horrors Of Spider Island is a great 81 minutes of entertainment. The film has an inherent camp appeal but there is more to this film than its technical failings and ludicrous plot. Boettger's film is taunt, tight and terrific. The photography is great and the actors are charming. I can not recommend Horrors Of Spider Island highly enough. A fully restored, uncut version of the film is long overdue.
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A Roller-coaster Accident?
1 August 2006
The third Final Destination outing is by far the weakest entry in this otherwise excellent horror franchise. Final Destination 3 begs, borrows and steals from the two earlier films while never quite matching their originality or credibility. It's not surprising for a sequel to offer more of the same but there is usually some consolation for such shameless recycling in the form of bigger, if not better, action. Unfortunately, everything about Final Destination 3 is smaller and less impressive than its predecessors - from the special effects to the crucial scare factor.

The highlight of the Final Destination franchise is the trademark disaster sequence that opens the film. The plane crash in "Final Destination" is memorably terrifying, while the car crash that triggers events in "Final Destination 2" surely counts as one of the most spectacular sequences to grace a mainstream horror film. Given the high standard of these disaster sequences, the absolutely pathetic nature of the roller-coaster crash in Final Destination 3 is even more disappointing. I mean, a roller-coaster? I wonder what they have in mind for Final Destination 4, a collision on the dance floor of a roller-disco? Not only is this premise far less probable than a plane or car crash, it is filmed with such desperate reliance on CGI that the entire sequence is rendered unrealistic to the point where it might as well have been animated. At least that would have saved us from the cringe worthy, green-screen debacle of the jock dangling from the ride.

The good news is that the film somehow manages to overcome its ridiculous start and is ultimately entertaining in a rather generic, teen horror kind of fashion. Final Destination 3 is aided immeasurably by the basic premise that underlies the franchise - that death has a hit list and does not react kindly when someone manages to escape their intended destiny. There is an inevitability about this concept that works excellently within the framework of a horror movie. After predicting the lame roller-coaster accident, Wendy and the other survivors soon realise that they are literally living on borrowed time. This triggers a series of deaths, which vary considerably in shock value and originality.

The gore content in the Final Destination series has always been reasonably high for mainstream horror and this outing is no exception. The sunbed death sequence has been well and truly done before, but the tacky breast nudity gives this scene a refreshing sense of 1980s tastelessness. The death by motor scene is fantastic, while the nail gun death contains some of the best work I have seen with a fake dummy head for some time. The CGI "eye" is one of the few examples of credible computer effects in the film. There are also several memorable head crushing accidents and one unfortunate impaling. These scenes are technically well handled and very skillfully edited. The problem is that by returning to the stupid "death breeze" from the first film (deaths are pre-empted by a wind), all sense of shock, tension and surprise is eliminated.

This film is almost painfully reminiscent of the first Final Destination - which is not surprising given the return of James Wong, the original director. Unfortunately, this is massive step backwards. David R. Ellis injected the far superior second outing with a large dose of suspense, realism and excitement. These characteristics are sorely missing in this film. The supernatural touches that Wong has resorted to, such as that damned breeze and the bending trees, appear ridiculous in contrast. If the direction has taken a step back, so has the acting. I don't know who the nerd playing Kevin is - and to be honest, I really don't care. I do know that he has all the appeal of week old bread. Mary Elizabeth Winstead shows some potential as Wendy, particularly during the dramatic moments but she currently lacks the charisma to carry a movie on her own. The only decent supporting performance comes from Alexz Johnson as the goth girl.

For all its faults, Final Destination 3 is not a bad film. It is, however, a very disappointing entry in one of the very few decent modern horror franchises. I'm not sure if there is enough gas left in the tank for a 4th film but I'm guessing New Line will find a way to squeeze out a few more. I really hope they don't involve amusement park malfunctions, which really aren't scary for anyone over the age of 10.
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Boll's Zombie Opus
30 July 2006
House of the Dead is the first of German auteur Uwe Boll's computer game adaptations. The film made money for its investors, pleased Gamers and triggered an inexplicable landslide of contempt from just about everyone else. The level of criticism directed at this film is utterly ridiculous. House of the Dead is not only a good zombie movie but also the most faithful adaptation of a computer game committed to film.

The film's storyline is paper thin. A group of annoying college students sail to a remote island for a "rave" dance party. Unfortunately, the island is inhabited by zombies and lots of people get munched. That's it. Personally, I have no problem with this bare bones approach to storytelling. Unlike Romero's zombie trilogy, there is no social commentary and the film is definitely not a parable for current societal woes. Uwe Boll has no hidden agenda; Boll's only aim is to entertain and he succeeds with a roller-coaster ride of non-stop action, gratuitous breast nudity and corny one-liners. There is nothing high brow about this film and for that I am thankful.

The most surprising aspect of "House of the Dead" is how close it stays to its source material: Computer graphics blend into the action scenes, several characters spin to signify death - a trademark of the game, at one stage animated blood drips down the screen, the selection of weapons is almost identical and the techno soundtrack could have been lifted directly from the game. The end result is a film that plays more like a computer game. The pacing is relentless and the live action violence is stylised to the point where it resembles animation. I found the film's mixed media approach highly innovative and distinctive. Obviously, I am in the minority.

In addition to its highly unusual visual style, the film's other memorable attribute is the zombie action. I'm not sure how zombie fans could fail to be impressed by the non-stop zombie violence. The make-up and special effects are excellent and the set piece outside the "house of the dead" is fantastic. Boll intersperses slow motion with editing that would make John Woo nauseous in order to create a highly original spectacle. The scene where the zombies chase Simon underwater is fun and a nice little nod to Fulci's brilliant "Zombi 2". Uwe Boll's direction can be described with a lot of different adjectives but "boring" is not one of them. The film has an interesting cast, who admittedly have very little to do apart from run and scream. However, it is always nice to see Juergen Prochnow and Will Sanderson makes another notable appearance in an Uwe Boll production.

House of the Dead is one of the better zombie films of the past two decades. I couldn't care less if the film plays like a computer game on steroids. At least House of the Dead has the decency not to bother with the pretence that is has something to say. Some may call it low brow trash - I call it entertainment.
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More Boll Brilliance
27 July 2006
Heart of America, released in Australia as "Home Room", is a well acted and finely crafted film. Uwe Boll tackles a most difficult subject matter with a grace and subtlety that you would not expect from the director of "Alone In The Dark" and "House Of The Dead". Somewhat predictably, Uwe's armchair critics have been sharpening their knives over this film as well. Do these people have anything better to do than rant about a relatively obscure film director's shortcomings? Don't be put off by Uwe's undeserved reputation as the king of crap; Heart of America is a great film.

Heart of America is one of several films to be inspired by recent high school shooting tragedies. This may sound like a perverse topic for Uwe Boll to examine given his subsequent devotion to making gory horror movies. However, Boll has crafted a surprisingly intelligent and thought provoking film. More impressively, Uwe succeeds where the likes of Gus Van Sant have failed - unlike "Elephant", Heart of America actually makes for interesting viewing. By treating this theme within the context of what appears to be a straight forward teen drama, Boll allows viewers to get to know the characters before plunging into tragedy. This makes the eventual outcome all the more affecting.

One of the few complaints about Uwe Boll that carries some validity is his tendency to overlook any kind of character development. This makes the in depth character study in Heart of America all the more satisfying. The lives of both the shooters and the victims are explored, which provides a balanced insight into the circumstances that can lead to such inexplicable events and puts a human face to the perpetrators of such acts. The film is interestingly constructed, revealing a group of very different but equally unhappy and disillusioned teens. One reviewer described these characters as stereotypes and I could not disagree more. The characters are almost hyper-real. The drug dealer might look like an extra from "The O.C." but the bullied teenagers, the frustrated teacher and the perplexed principal are all wonderfully realised.

The acting in the film is mostly outstanding. Once again, Boll has collected a fantastic cast - Juergen Prochnow and Michael Pare are at their very best. It's nice to see a cameo from Maria Conchita Alonso as a school counsellor and Boll regular Will Sanderson is great as the town loser. The younger actors are mostly fine, with the exception of the pregnant girl and the wooden Barbie doll playing the principal's daughter.

The film works best when exploring the lives of its teen characters. The scenes of bullying and the flashback to the rape of a disabled girl are bleak, gritty and powerful. The look on the brother's face as he hears his idolised sibling recount the rape is devastating. The film loses its way occasionally (what was with the secretary and her bizarre hand gesture to celebrate the last day of school?) but everything is held together by slick editing and a very clever script. I have always enjoyed Uwe's unique directorial skills and he outdoes himself here. I can't wait for more computer game adaptations but after seeing this I hope he squeezes another hard hitting drama into his schedule.

Heart of America is a riveting film that deserves a bigger audience. This film is eloquent and thought provoking, while still managing to be interesting and entertaining. This movie should be judged on its merits, not the subsequent films of its director.
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