Category Archives: Film Reviews

Prom Night 1980 Vs Prom Night 2008

When it comes to remakes probably the best approach is to take a movie that was kind of shit in the first place and remake that. Then the only way is up: there weren’t that many fans in the first place* so the hate will be limited, and if the orignal was garbage but there was an inkling of a good story there you can use that as a starting point and make a better film.

Well that’s the theory. Or you could do as the producers of the Prom Night remake did: just take the title and setting and make a different film all together, albeit one that is equally as bad as the original.

Let’s face facts though, when you think of the best of the slashers from the early eighties, even when you limit it to the slashers with dates/holidays in their titles, Prom Night is not the first film that springs to mind. The reasons for this are multiple but the main ones are that it takes way too long for any slashing to begin and it is deeply dull leading up to said slashing. Actually its not exactly heart racing when the killing finally does happen but at least Jamie Lee Curtis is in it.

Why, exactly, is Jamie Lee Curtis in Prom Night? Obviously Curtis had yet to break away from the Scream Queen label she had helped to create two years earlier in Halloween, so you could see why she was popping up in the likes of The Fog and Terror Train but at least they were decent films with good scripts and directors. Prom Night is dull as watching the British Parliament TV channel on a Friday morning when the chambers are empty because everyone’s still at the commons bar drinking cheap booze and having fisticuffs.Before anything interesting happens we have to spend a lot of time with Curtis and her friends stumbling around high school being boring. There is an opening of the I Know What You Did Last Summer variety when a bunch of children accidentally kill a girl in an abandoned house. This will obviously will lead to the revenge killing spree but it’s not hugely exciting or original stuff. And Curtis has to wade through all this acting like a teenager whilst looking far to old to be in school. She dresses like she has a job in New York City so sticks out from the rest of the cast even more. Its like she said, I’ll do this film but only if I can stress my mature side by wearing modern office fashion.

What Prom Night does ask of its audience is to guess who-done-it, even before anyone starts doing it.  There are multiple potential murderers from disgruntled parents to escaped lunatics and, to give Prom Night it’s due, I did not guess who the killer would be. This killer had a certain style – if you can call an all in black number with a black sparkly sequinned balaclava stylish. The sparkles are a particularly odd choice as I’ve never found the shimmering mermaid look particularly scary or threatening. It must be something to do with discotheque because there is a lot of disco here. The prom night itself is basically one big homage to Saturday Night Fever, from the light up floor tiles to Curtis spinning around the dance floor whilst staring at the camera. In fact Curtis does get to show of some pretty decent dance moves. Maybe she took the role with promises of horror themed choreography, if so then it was a job well done… Unlike the killings themselves which again like so many of the other Friday the 13th rip-offs, fails to deliver on what made that film so successful in the first place.

What we have got, and the disco is just one part of this, is a lot of padding. There are numerous scenes of characters preparing for the prom, we spend far too much time with various red herrings which are a total waste of time and there is a Carrie-style sub plot that literally gets cut off halfway through and goes nowhere. Oh, and Leslie Nielsen is in here (as the head liner no less) but is only in it for about five minutes. This was pre- Airplane and Naked Gun times where he was actually a dramatic actor, but such is his presence that we expect him to say something funny or do something stupid. In fact I laughed several times at him when I wasn’t meant to. Even staring at his dead child was somehow a comedy moment. Poor Nielsen: his early career has forever been retrospectively turned into a farce.

There’s also plenty of time for dubious chat. Curtis is struggling with a prom dress in her bedroom when she turns to see her brother standing at the doorway. “Are you going to get over here and help me, or are you just going to leer?” She asks. “Well I am your brother so I think I’ll just leer,” he replies. Say what now? What is going on here? Why is he perving over his sister or have I just mistaken what leer means. Or maybe the script writers have mistaken it’s definition?  Later, a horny male character is trying to get laid. He says to the girl he is basically forcing himself on when she tries to pull away “if you don’t, I know plenty who will!” This seems to seal the deal for her, not to run away screaming but to say oh okay and relent to some almost certainly bad sex.

All this padding is clearly necessitated by film makers who don’t have enough faith in the slasher story. Admittedly this is because it is slim stuff: masked killer turns up and kills a bunch of youths is essentially your lot for all these films, but by filling the rest of your plot with unnecessary guff makes you slasher less interesting not more. Halloween understood this: it kept the story to the bare minimum – there was character development (to an extent) but it was all either in service to the main plot or happened whilst Michael was watching his victims. Prom Night mostly ignores that it is even a slasher for an hour before we even get to the Prom Night of the title, let alone any of the slashing.

So obviously ripe for a remake. However if anything the 2008 version of Prom Night is loathed even more than the original. This is a shame as it does the opposite of the 1981: after a brief and tense prologue the film starts on the night of the prom with the heroine, Brittany Snow, being picked up to get to the event where all her friends will, and do, die. There´s no hanging up decorations or choosing outfits, its straight to the main event of death.

Proms have clearly changed in the 27 years between the two films. Back in the old days all the proms seemed to be held in the sports hall with some tacky decoration to make the room into some sort of Doctor Who-set version of an underwater palace. By the noughties, and I guess prior to the bank crash, all these kids were having their prom in the fancy ballroom of some upmarket hotel in the heart of down town Los Angeles.

What has not changed is using the same escaped killer trope from one of the sub-plots of the previous film and, indeed, Halloween. This forfeits the who-done-it plotting of the original but unlike Michael Myers this killer is just some ex-model looking chap who´s weak attempt to follow his serial killing forefathers is to disguise himself with a baseball cap. He also manages to get himself a room in the hotel where the prom is going on and much of the film involves the victims mistakenly going into his room so he can kill them with his big knife. He´s a pretty lazy murderer really, he only chases one girl besides Snow, most of the time he just kicks back and, presumably, work his way through the mini bar until the next idiot victim shows up.

At lease having the killer there and killing from the start of the film solves the originals main problem – pace. Prom Night ´08 races along at a breakneck speed and is entertaining enough whilst its going on, even if it doesn´t have anything new to add to the genre. Also without the who-done-it story there’s no room for a Leslie Nelson cameo, which would have livened up things no end.

The remake does, however, break the one cardinal rule of slasher movies – the final girl has to learn to have some grit. Brittany Snow, who has proven herself an able actor in more challenging stuff than this, only gets to play the victim. She is in fear of the guy who killed her family in the prologue the whole way through the film. She barely gets to do any running away, she mostly cowers under beds or in cupboards and screams a lot. This is no way for the final girl to act. Well it is for most of the movie, but at some point she is meant to dig in deep, find her survivor’s instinct and fight back with an axe, shotgun or booby-trapped floor lamp. Instead Snow kicks the killer once whilst scrambling along the floor and that seems like an accident.

It’s left for the investing detective to work out what is going on and rescue the girl, which is not right I tell you! On the positive side said detective is played by Idris Elba, clearly looking for something to fill his time what with The Wire coming to an end. He probably did it before the final season in the hiatus to kill sometime. He certainly didn’t do it because of the great dialogue or interesting character development because there isn’t anyway. Maybe they paid him well.

Actually I would have thought everyone got paid well, because they spend $20 million dollars on this thing. Twenty. Million. On a slasher, with no stars, big set pieces or visual effects. Someone was having a laugh, all the way to the bank I reckon. Especially as this is about as generic a slasher movie as you could get but without the who-done-it of the original to keep you guessing or a final girl you can root for. Yeah I know I just said earlier that Halloween‘s genius was how simple and stripped down its plot was, and essentially this remake does the same but it doesn’t have an embodiment of evil in a William Shatner mask scaring you to death, it has the embodiment of Elite modelling agency look silly in a cap.

In the battle of original verses remake I’m afraid the losers are both versions, and me for sitting through them. Both had their pluses; the original had disco and the remake was short. Maybe if you combined the two you might have a good yet brief disco slasher. Sadly twenty eight years stand between them,so unless they’re going to make a third version  combining those elements and a Leslie Nielsen cameo before he dies** then please: no more Prom Nights thank you.

 

*Even the worst things in the world have fans. There are a lot of people who like the slasher Madman even though it has no redeeming features at all. And I had an (adult) friend who used to be really into Rolf Harris. I say used to be…

** Apparently he died seven years ago. I missed that. Thanks Leslie for making us laugh, even if it wasn´t intentional.

A clear winner on the poster front though. The original is strong and well designed with the shard of mirror (the killers weapon of choice – let´s hope his gloves are thick enough) showing one of the victims, the killers eyes staring into your soul. Its certainly better than the film, or indeed the 2008 poster which is one of the least interesting and laziest horror posters ever created.

Attack on Titan: Part 1 2015

 

Fandom is a funny old thing. When some part of culture is taken into people’s hearts, they become obsessive about the minutiae, and for its creators it can become a rock: how it is originally presented is how it should always be, never changing. Woe betide anyone who tries to mess with that formula, even if it is the original creator. This is what happened to George Lucia when he tried to do something different with the Star Wars prequels: the fans hated and rejected them.* Fandom demanded more of the same, not something else. It’s why The Force Awakens was so widely embraced even when Lucas wasn’t involved in it anymore.

Attack on Titan is a more recent example of the rigidity of fandom. The original Manga comic was successful enough to speed into production a wildly adored 22 part anime. Fully of crazy ass imagery (literally, you see a lot of monsters’ asses in this), interesting characters and a strong, original story you could see why people loved it so much. Then along came the live action movie and they had taken a long, sprawling sci-fi horror epic and mashed it down into two brief, expensive and shallow features.

And the fans turned their wrath upon these titans. They fucking hated these films. And I don’t mean just a little bit. Reviews across the board were rabid with foaming spittle of hatred. The liberties taken with the story, how characters had been merged into one, other characters had changed completely and big chunks of the plot had disappeared all together. Apparently Attack on Titan Part 1 was the the worst steaming pile of monster shit ever created.

Or, in fact,  not.

So I watched, or sat through depending on how you look at it, the seemingly never ending anime and what grabbed me at the time was how much of it there was. There was too much talk, too many flashbacks, too many characters. What there wasn’t was enough action. The first episode opened strongly with the titans’ spectacular initial massacre but after that there were long, long, long episodes of training, chat, infighting and more training. Also there were way too many characters that served no purpose. I could see what people liked about it, but I was not a fan. So it seems the movie version was made for me, because it cut out all the waffle and just left the good stuff. And I loved this.

As anime often is, Attack on Titan is set some time in a post apocalyptic future. The last of humanity lives inside within several massive walls, protected from giants who previously all but decimated humankind a hundred years before. Now a bunch of teens travel to the wall for a laugh, they barely even believe the titans exist. By a massive coincidence the beasts choose this exact moment to break though the outer wall and attack the good folk on the outer part of the city, basically where all the farmers and poor people live. Two years later the teens have joined the army in an effort to fight back against the titans and restore the outer wall.

The best part of Attack on Titan is the design of the titans themselves. They are essentially a bunch of very large naked people, but they have such weird, simple faces with wide apart eyes and big toothy smiles that are almost like giant, happy toddlers who just want to put things in their mouths, like all toddlers do. Unfortunately they want to put a lot of humans in their mouths. There is one scene where a bunch of titans tear open the roof of a church and munch down on the awaiting congregation like a box of chocolates. Its sounds silly, and in many ways it is, but these monsters with their grinning faces and gurgling noises are so creepy that when they appear, often silently despite their size, they are genuinely chilling. Also they are really well realised from the comic/cartoon to the screen. Being Japanese they have gone for the classic Godzilla route by having human actors stomping over miniature cities rather than cgi. The naked human form is not easy to digitally recreate with all the money in the world and as Japanese film makers have pretty much perfected this technique nowadays, the monster effects are pretty effective. It is especially exciting when the tiny human characters are fighting them by flying around their giant forms on cool gas powered grabbling hooks.

Okay, the characters are certainly a bit on the light side, and being a little over an hour and a half long you think they could have had time for a bit more development. However the action is so exciting that when there is a slow bit in the middle whilst characters ARE developed it feels like the momentum of the film is grinding to a halt. Also despite all my complaints about too much training in the anime, maybe a little but here would have at least introducedus to the characters properly or shown us how the weapons the humans have to fight back with work. Instead, for example, we get an explination of the grabbling hoof from a flashback to training IN THE MIDDLE OF A FIGHT SCENE. This just seems like sloppy story telling or studio interference.

However, these are probably just problems for real fans of the originals. If you’ve watch the TV show with adoration, or delved into the original manga then you might too be foaming at the bit with the movie version. And that’s fair enough, lord knows I’ve got annoyed at updates of my own favourites over the years. (I’m looking at you A Nightmare On Elm Street remake – or at least I would be if I could remember ANYTHING about you). However, if you want an action packed horror movie with some of the freakiest monsters this side of a Clive Barker novel, or just have a general fear of small children, then check out Attack on Titan Part 1.

And probably part 2 I guess… although I’ve not watched that yet. Maybe it will just infuriate me for not being the same as part 1, which, as you can tell, I am a fan oF.

 

*they also hated them because they were badly plotted with poor dialogue, stilted acting and an over reliance on digital effects but lets not go down that rabbit hole eh?

The Belko Experiment 2016

An old friend of mine was saying how horror was going through a pretty mean-spirited phase during the mid noughties. Not only with the Saw and Hostel movies, it infected all the genre films around, as if it was a reaction to the jokey times of the Scream movies and their like a few years before. You could say we’ve moved on, with hauntings and possessions being back in vogue along with John Carpenter homages and other eighties throwbacks its like horror has become fun again. Don’t you worry though, The Belko Experiment has come to take that fun away.

The Belko Experiment claims to be a cross between Office Space and Battle Royale and in that it is set in an office and involves people thrown into a kill-or-be-killed situation it is just that. But really the underlying tone is the grim downbeat nihilism of the Saw movies. Does anyone care about that kind of stuff any more? Isn’t there enough of it in the real world?

Hey, lets not totally knock The Belko Experiment. Director Greg McLean handles everything very well, it all looks good and is suitably tense. What really helps is the excellent and experienced cast. Tony Goldwyn is used to playing dicks ever since he was Patrick Swayze’s best friend in Ghost, but recently he’s been playing suaver characters like POTUS in Scandal. Here he combines the two – he’s both the superior CEO of this branch of the mysterious Belko company and pretend friend to his co workers. When a voice over tells them they have to kill 30 people in the building or 60 will die Goldwyn puts his business head on and goes about working out who should die – this is, after all, only business. That’s one of the best aspects of the script, dealing with how the cost of human life and business can be seen as separate so cold calculations can be made.

On the other side of the moral debate, pointing out death can never be taken lightly is likable John Gallagher Jnr as l, I guess, the Tim from The Office. He is the one who always states the bleedin’ obvious. When told they have to kill thirty of them he points out that once that is done then the would still face another round of deaths. The film mostly centres around Gallagher and Goldwyn as the two opposing forces, basically two views on how to run the business. This aspect of the film is the most interesting but it can’t last: sooner or later it has to become a bloodbath, it’s just inevitable.

Other good characters played by other good actors abound. Adrian Arjona as Gallaghers girlfriend has a great start of an arc as she is clearly torn between her loyalty to him and what her business head is telling her to do, i.e. join Goldwyn’s side. Unfortunately his side contains hard toothed and square headed John C. McGinley as a demented office manager and stalker of Arjona. For a while it seems she will join Goldwyn and co even though she told McGinley to fuck off five minutes beforehand. Unfortunately this story idea evaporates as the film progresses. And this seems to be the main problem with The Belko Experiment – lots of good ideas, none of them fulfilled

A perfect example of this would be Melonie Diaz as an office worker who has pretty much a completely different story to everyone else. She spends a lot of time crawling down tunnels and finding herself witnessing or being dragged into other people’s dramas and deaths. Eventually she takes control of things and manipulates the situation to her advantage. We follow her for long stretches having her own adventures and it’s a really interesting idea, having a second story running concurrently to the main one. But then, right at the end (SPOILERS) she opens a lift door onto the final survivors and is immediately shot in the noggin, dead. What a waste of a plotline and character.

Ultimately I don’t think that The Belko Experiment is all that good. It feels like the script was either overworked with chunks missing from it, or not worked on enough, with ideas severely underdeveloped. The cast do their best as does McLean, but ultimately it’s a pretty cold film with not enough of The Office and too much of Battle Royal. It gets too caught up in its violence to properly entertain. There’s some humour to be had here but mostly it all feels a tad too familiar.  It’s not really that far away from Blum House’s own The Purge series – normal people being allowed to kill their fellow citizens – but lacks those films’s comic strip sensibilities. So if you really want to see a horror version of Office Space then please watch Severance instead. That’s a film that is able to be both funny and nasty in just the right way.

 

Ms .45 1981

In some respects it is really weird that the rape/revenge subgenre nearly always gets lumped in with horror movies rather than, say,  thrillers or even action depending how much revenge is met out. But when you think of these type of films they are indeed on the horror lists: I Spit On Your Grave and its miserable remake and sequels, Last House On The Left and others I try not to think about. You can see why they are here though. From the horrific act of rape itself to the invariably grisly revenge which will at the very least involve castration and might even go so far as chainsaw decapitation or, in the case of the Last House On the Left remake, death-by-microwave. Also a lot of these films don’t feel like they are taking the subject matter as seriously as they could: the act of rape often feel like an excuse to make something exploitative and sleazy rather than trying to make a point.

Ms .45 tries to have it both ways. On the one hand it DOES have a feminist message about not letting men take control of women’s lives through sexual violence, but on the other the main character looks like a fashion model and by the end is dressed up like a nun with stockings and suspenders. Maybe it’s because the film is directed by New York sleaze king and all round madman Abel Ferrara. He is clearly an intelligent man but also, well, a man. And one who engages in his base instincts and wants to show them to us up on the silver screen.

Ms .45 begins with a young, quiet woman called Thana (Zoe Lund) who works as a seamstress for some wildly camp clothes designer. On her way home she is pulled down a back alley and (mercifully brief and hardly seen) raped by a masked mugger. Traumatised, Thana stumbles back to her apartment only to be raped again by a burglar. Throughout all this she doesn’t say a word. This is because she can’t. She is a mute and so no one can hear her cries for help because she has none. So she has to take matters into her own hands. After beating the burglar to death with a clothes iron and chopping him up and storing him in the fridge, Thana takes his weapon, the Colt .45 and sets out for revenge on the streets of New York.

Thana transforming herself from a meek mouse of a girl into a stunning supermodel isn’t just about trying to kill her rapists though. Its about getting revenge on mankind, firstly potential rapists, but by the end any man at all! As she blows them was away her fear of them also disappears. The first man she kills only dies when he has chased her down a dead end and she is cornered in fright. However soon after Dana walks into the middle of Central Park at night (at the time surely one of the most dangerous places in America) in order to bait as many violent men as she can so she can execute them with her pistol. She handles the gun itself like it is her penis, pulling it out on men to destroy them in the same way they used their tool to destroy her innocence.

New York is a big part of Ms .45’s atmosphere and energy, but it is a New York that doesn’t exist any more. In 1981 a woman could not walk outside at night alone and some parts were so rough that even in daylight it was a no go zone. Ferrara captures the time and place perfectly, filming in Central Park at night probably was as dangerous as what they were trying to film. Then there are the back streets that seem like a post apocalyptic wasteland, deserted apart from the garbage, the collapsing houses and characters you wouldn’t dare look in the eye.

The movie is full of slimeball male New Yorkers all trying to take advantage of Thana. Many of them are street hustlers but there are also poor drunks, rich Arabs and even her flamboyant boss who foolishly makes a move on her, all of which meet their end at the wrong end of Thana’s .45. Things reach a head at the climax as Thana, dressed in the nun outfit with sexy underwear and her gun in her garter, murders every man at a Halloween party,  all in glorious slow motion. It’s a mixed message certainly as Thana displays innocence and slutiness, drawing foolish men in an all-in-one Madonna/whore package. Its also Ferrara having his cake and eating it: he’s showing off a hot woman in an exciting and tense action scene whilst also making a feminist statement. Ferrara has always been a provocateur and this is a great early example. The symbolism does get fairly crass by the very end with (SPOILER) a female co worker stabbing Thana in the back whilst holding a knife at her groin like a penis. Thana is so shocked by this that she is finally able to break her silence with just a one world whisper of betrayal – “Sister!” And Ferrara hits you over the head with his sledgehammer. Its still a really good ending though. (END OF SPOILERS)

I’m not a fan of rape revenge movies, never have been and never will. If I really feel I have to see one for completions sake, for example Last House on the Left, then I can’t imagine ever watching it again. I’ll probably never see Ms .45 a second time either but at least Ferrara keeps the actual rape scenes down to a minimum and least exploitative. Its still pretty repellant but Ferrara uses this set up more to get what he’s really interested in: having a mute model/nun blow men away in a weirdly stylish fashion whilst making a positive (ish) if simplistic feminist statement. I guess that makes Ms .45 better than most.

Emelie 2015

Let’s get this straight from the get go: if you are a parent don’t bother watching Emelie. It will ruin what little social life you have as you will never hire a baby sitter again.

For everyone else then there’s a lot of fun to be had here. Oh no, well no that’s not true, there’s very little entertainment to be had from watching children in peril. Personally I spent the entire film with my hands pressed to the sides of my head, mostly to hold the distress in.

Sarah Bolger plays the less than trustworthy baby sitter who looks after three siblings whilst their parents go out for an anniversary meal (their 13th no less, surely they should have realised that was a bad idea). What helps set up Emelie‘s tension so well is that we know from the opening shot that Bolger is not the new babysitter Anna that she says she is: we’ve just seen her getting bundled into the back of a car. So while the parents obliviously go off to try and rekindle some romance in their relationship, we know that their children are basically fucked.

Fortunately, although Emelie the fake babysitter is clearly insane Bolger downplays everything in such a way that at first she seems kind of liberating to the children. She lets them draw on walls, eat all the cookies and dress up in their parents clothes. However even from early on its clear she is not a good person: she constantly picks on the middle child (and only girl) Sally and asks the oldest boy to fetch her a tampon when he discovers her sitting on the loo. Having been an eleven year old boy I can tell you this would be way beyond an awkward moment. By the time she’s fed Sally’s hamster to the pet snake and then made the kids watch their parents’ home made pornography even the children know something is up.

So far the tension has been slowly building up nicely. Unfortunately we’re then suddenly hit with an incredibly clunky moment where she reads a story to the youngest which explains exactly who she is, why she went mad and what her intensions are. It’s fine you know, but really unnecessary. What’s wrong with a little mystery. Besides, its pretty obvious what her plan is shortly after this moment because of her actions and what she says. And we don’t need to be told that she has lost her mind, that’s pretty obvious when she, and I cannot over emphasise this enough, asked an eleven year old boy to get her one of his mum’s tampons (the green one in case you needed to know).

Its only one scene though and we’re soon back on track. Other than that one hiccup of exposition the script is really excellent, not only in its portrayal of children but also in its structure – there are lots of little moments which set up what will happen in the back end of the movie.

In fact Emelie is a well made film all round. Everything is meticulously crafted from slow tracking shots to the subtle but unnerving music. The child actors are particularly good. Tiny Thomas Blair as Christopher is hilarious and so natural as the youngest of the children that you get the feeling that he’s not so much acting as having a whale of a time on a film set. Actually, I’m not sure how they even made this film with child actors having the restrictions on working hours that they have, but they pulled it off. The oldest Jacob (Joshua Rush) has to tackle the bulk of the action as he is the one who has to grow up and take responsibility for his siblings and Rush is a great adversary for the much older and more experienced Bolger.

But it is Bolger herself who really makes Emelie work, mostly due to her subtle and understated performance. Even when things are clearly going wrong for her she underplays things beautifully. Having such an open and kind face (something children are always drawn towards) just makes her contrary character work even better. It would have been easy (and okay) to have Emelie as a raving nut job but by doing things differently Bolger elevates the film into something much more grounded in reality, and so something genuinely frightening.*

This is why parents should not be allowed to watch this film – because Bolger, with the rest of the cast and crew backing her up -make you believe this could really happen. And there’s nothing more horrifying than that.

* Not SO frightening for me, not having children. I have a small French Bulldog called Mylo, and whilst I am always convinced someone is about to snatch him away from me, I can’t see anyone making a horror movie about it. Unless you include this.

House of Wax 2005

Mainstream horror was in the doldrums come the mid noughties. Between the so called torture porn movies (which had about one idea) between them and the endless remakes the studios put out it seemed like our favourite genre had reached a point of creative bankruptcy. By the time it came to digging back far enough in the libraries to remake the Vincent Price classic House of Wax expectations were pretty much at rock bottom. So much so that the fact that it was a remake didn’t seem to be a selling point at all. Surely the whole idea of a remake was that its familiar name would bring a new audience into the cinemas? Instead Warner Brothers had so little faith in their own brand that the main selling point for the 2005 film was “come and see Paris Hilton die horribly”.

Yes, in a desperate piece of stunt casting, socialite and gossip rag-haunting stick insect Paris Hilton is cast as a sex crazed party goer. It shouldn’t be a big stretch for Hilton but sadly she fails to be convincing in the slightest. I’m not sure why she was such a selling point, people who liked her wouldn’t see a horror movie and those that didn’t like her would do anything to avoid even more Hilton (she was everywhere in 2005) so wouldn’t go and see House of Wax either. Not that she is in it that much, which is a relief, but she’s arguably the worst part of the film.

The other main problem is that House of Wax 2005 has abandoned pretty much everything from the original film bar the title and the wax museum setting and instead gone for, and please stop me if you’ve heard this before, the five friends break down in the middle of nowhere plot. This story is so familiar and done with such little variation from the basic formula that it really brings the whole first third of the film down. There’s even a local hick who could be on vacation with Tucker and Dale. It’s a turgid affair that even the decent cast (other than Hilton) can’t bring to life. Its weird to think that Warner Brothers coughed up $30 million dollars for this nonsense.

Fortunately there is some hope. The prologue is a dazzlingly detailed montage of close ups of some horrific childhood involving good and bad (or more likely mad) twin toddlers at the breakfast table and some poor parenting decisions. It suggests that director Jaume Collet-Serra knows what he’s doing even if he is nobbled by the by-the-numbers set up. That promise pays off in the second and third acts of the movie when we finally reach the House of Wax and the town that it is located in. Wax models have always been creepy and ones which encase real life bodies are more so. Collet-Serra exploits this well, putting across the horror of being encased in hot wax as well as the nightmare of having your flesh torn off as your friends try to rescue you from your candle based entombment.

The twin villains of the film are also pretty good too and its nice that they have a counter part in having a brother and sister who are twins on the victims’ side – although this is never explored as well as it could be. Actually a lot of the more interesting aspects of the characters and back story are garbled through as things rush onto the next wax-based imagery. But even if the script is a little undercooked at least the film does what it says on the tin: literally there is a whole house made of nothing but wax.

Its this house which provides the show stopping moment of the film, as the climatic battle involves the main characters running around the house as it melts into a blubbery mess around them. This scene is a fantastic mix of excellent practical effects and mostly good digital ones as people sink through floors and tear their way through melting walls. Two characters even climb out of through the museum’s front wall with its name on it; so they actually climb through the title of the film. Add into that that as all the wax melts all the previous victims of the evil twins are revealed, and you have some fantastic horror imagery that is as impressive as anything you’ll see in genre cinema. Its a shame that all the good stuff only really happens at the very end but at least it leaves an impression.

Unlike Paris Hilton who leaves no discernible impression at all, although lets give credit where credit is due – the marketing people where right: she does die horribly.

She doesn’t, however, get turned into a wax model like in the poster below and then melted in the big bonfire at the end. This is unlike her acting career which disappeared like that cheap wax that doesn’t drip, it just evaporates into the air as if it had never existed in the first place.

Kong: Skull Island 2017

The giant monster movie is a tricky dilemma for Hollywood. On the one hand there is a sizeable audience who really want to see large creatures beating the crap out of each other, smack down flying machines like they are flies and swallow humans like tiny, salty snacks. On the other it seems like there is a limit to how many people will turn up for this kind of entertainment. Godzilla, King Kong, Pacific Rim and now Kong: Skull Island all seem to reach around the half a billion dollar mark and then peter out at the box office. Considering how expensive it is to make a movie about a big ape, lizard or robot this is a problem for Hollywood execs. Clearly they want to make these big spectacles (as they have since the original King Kong) but too much money spent will not make a profit for them. These are, after all, just fun b-movies, albeit very expensive ones.

So Legendary Pictures and Warner Brothers clearly have a plan in mind with 2014’s Godzilla and now Kong: Skull Island. Its a shared universe plan (obviously in this day and age) and I guess the thinking is if we can make so much money with Godzilla and then so much more with Kong, then put the two together and we’ll have an Avengers-style hit on our hands.

Well that may be. I’m not sure if they’ll be able to capture the public’s imagination the way the Marvel characters have but I am really glad they are trying. Any horror fan worth their salt should ALWAYS welcome the sight of a beast the size of a tower block trying to snap the jaw bone of another monster, and Kong: Skull Island certainly delivers those mega thrills.

It’s not all about the money though. First and foremost a giant monster movie has to engage and entertain us. This can’t be done with the monsters alone. You will always have to have human characters you can relate to. Godzilla tried really, really hard with that and failed, maybe because there was TOO MUCH character work (on some pretty bland characters as well). Kong goes the opposite way – there are loads of really interesting characters who we hardly get to know at all.

Maybe its because the characters are played by such charismatic actors – Tom Hiddleston, Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson, John C. Riley, Tobey Kebbell, John Goodman, John Ortiz… and many more – but despite the fact you really don’t know much more than their jobs (not even that in some cases: I have no idea what Tian Jing was doing there) you are still rooting for them. Personally I would have had less characters with a little bit more time for them to breath and develop, but then, hey, I didn’t make this film. Also things race on at such a cracking pace there is little time for anyone to become anything more than “my dad gave me this lighter before he got killed in World War 2”.

I wonder if Peter Jackson’s King Kong had anything to do with the pacing of Kong: Skull Island. As beautiful and occasionally magical that film was, the one thing everyone will say about it (and I mean EVERYONE, apart from I guess Peter Jackson) is that it is way, way too long. The plot of the original King Kong was told in a solid 100 minutes and that felt about right. The 1976 remake is well over two hours and felt like it was stretching things. Jackson’s 2005 version is over three hours (200 minutes in the Director’s Cut) and there just isn’t enough story to fill it up, so it goes on and on with minor characters getting whole arcs (and aren’t even in the final act of the film) and scenes lasting for what seem like a week. Perhaps Kong: Skull Island listened to the complaints and kept things as brisk as possible, maybe at the expense of the human interest if not at the expense of the action.

Because what action it is. Kong this time round is a big old bruiser of a monkey. He’s rough-haired and scarred, reminding me more of Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler than some love sick ape of old. Okay so he has a little bit of a moment with Brie Larson (though it is more mutual admiration than anything cross breedingly weird like other versions) but most of the time he is just being old, and moody, but kind at heart, and really ready for a fight. He doesn’t have any moments of soppiness, just the odd inquisitive look at these puny humans, before getting back the job at hand, which is mostly beating seventeen types of shit out of these really ugly (and well designed) lizards called the skullcrawlers.

Jordan Vogt-Roberts, director of the lovely but how-the-hell-did-he-go-from-that-to-this Kings of Summer, kicks everything up to a mad cacophony of colours and imagery, taking liberally from Apocalypse Now with slow motion shots of helicopters swooping over the jungle and Kong silhouetted against the sinking sun, but also keeping the action clear and understandable (even as the edits fly by).

Really things race by so fast that it shouldn’t really work at all, but Kong is a loveable fella and between him, the great cast and fantastic monster fighting action its hard not to be engaged and swept up with it all. It make monster movie making look easy, even when it clearly isn’t. Its only afterwards that you realise this is all as shallow as biscuits, but what the hell – you’ve had a good time.

So let’s get the monkey and the lizard together as soon as possible please, and quick, before the money men realise what they’re doing.