Alien: Covenant 2017

Look, if you are one of the seemingly endless amounts of people who didn´t like Prometheus then I can tell you now you are probably not going to Alien: Covenant either. This is because no matter what the title or poster suggests, this is very much the film set after Prometheus rather than the film set before Alien. The main reason given for people´s hatred of Prometheus is that the characters all do stupid things, and if that was your reason then,  like I said, Alien: Covenant is going to annoy you all over again because it is populated by more people doing more stupid things.

That whole stupid characters thing always bugged me. Partly because when you are are in times of great stress then you often DO do stupid things: for example I have frequently not ran out of the way of a falling spaceship, but my excuse was I was in a state of panic because a spaceship was falling on my head. What did you expect? I´m never going to be able to defend the guys who did the mapping of the Space Jockey´s ship and then couldn´t find their way out but to be honest I don´t care. I am a died in the wool, hard core horror fan and characters being idiots is my bread and butter. If they didn´t act like fools then Jason would never kill anyone. Brett in the orignal Alien was a bloody idiot for looking for Jones the cat but no one has a fanny fit about that do they? Alien: Covenant certainly has its fair share of dumbness (two people slip over on the same pool of blood for God´s sake) and there is a moment late in the film which seems more like a rip off from an Alien rip-off than something directed by Sir Ridley Scott but I´ll get to that in a bit.

Maybe the worst problem isn’t that they are stupid but that most of the characters aren´t characters at all, or at least aren´t developed in any way of note. No matter what you thought of Idris Elba and Charlize Theron´s characters in Prometheus at least you knew quite a lot about them. Here there are a number of characters who you can barely recognise as crew members before they´ve been eaten or dribbled on. I suspect that the 18 minutes of deleted scenes coming to the Blu Ray will sketch these people out a little better and you can at least work out who they are if you watch The Last Supper which was a five minute short released before the film which should really have been at the beginning of it.

However, these problems are by the by though. Yeah i know I have said before about the importance of character in order to care for the story but we do have some interesting individuals here and most importantly there is an awful lot of good. Like Prometheus what we are left with is, once again, an ambitious, haunting, beautiful but flawed horror science fiction movie that weighs more heavily on the horror this time than the sci fi of the last prequel.

This emphasis on horror is important. Apparently last time Ridley Scott felt that after all the sequels and verseses the concept of the Alien had run its course, so tried to do something different. Instead of the old dark house in space he went for a more cerebral action sci fi that mused on the origins of humanity and what it means to be a creator. Various last minute rewrites may have muddled those ideas somewhat but it didn’t stop the film from being an interesting discussion on birth, life and death. The look and feel was very much what the future and space could look like. Between the bright, beautiful people, their clothes, the ship and even, initially, the planet they land on , Scott was creating a science fiction universe where technology could be used to explore the origins of humanity and the posibilities of its existance going forward. Alien: Covenant is the flip-side to this. Everything is dirty and dark. The planet the crew land on might seem like it could be paradise but it becomes very quickly apparent that it is in fact hell.

Beyond the usual pods and eggs you’d expect to find on an Alien planet there is also Michael Fassbender’s crazy android David who clearly has far too much time by himself and, if he wasn’t already one circuit short of a ZX Spectrum before he certainly is now. Despite the welcome return of the H. R. Giger designed xenomorph the real monster here is David who has done some unspeakable things since the last film, some of which are only hinted at here (we are never fully sure what he did to Noomi Rapace’s Elizabeth Shaw) and what he has in store for the crew of the Covenant isn’t any better. The home David has made for himself is truly hellish, from the literal with charred bodies reaching out from the ground towards the heavens like some kind of renaissance landscape to the weird little lab/bedroom he lives in.

David is the main fully realised character on display, along with perhaps his replacement Walter. David is confused that he thinks he is playing god, trying to create life like Doctor Frankenstein (he even quotes what he thinks is Byron when what it is is Shelly, the husband of the author of Frankenstein) but really he is just the monster. The opening of the film shows David discussing creation with his maker and the main themes of the movie are set up here, as well as following on from Prometheus. Alien: Covenant might have the sheen of a blockbuster but what it really is a meditation on life and who has the right to create it.

It really is a pity that the rest of the characters are so underdeveloped as we are left to either root for David or against him, rather than for the final girl. That’s not to say that Katherine Waterston doesn’t do her best because she does, but we don’t know much about her other than her husband dies very early on.  This at least is one area where the characters do come alive, even if it is a bit unclear as to who they all are at various points: the spaceship Covenant is carrying colonists to new worlds and the crew themselves are mostly couples. The upshot of this is when one member dies there is serious grief from at least one other crew member, it would have been nice to establish which person was with who at the start of the film though. For example it wasn’t til after the film was over that I realised there was a gay couple on the ship.

The one truly ridiculous part of Alien: Covenant has to be the sex in the shower scene that you probably saw in the trailers. If it happened near the beginning it might have been bad enough but it happens right before the oh-its-not-really-dead extra climax. I’m as big a fan of sex in the shower as the next man who saw An American Werewolf in London as a youth, but if 90% of my crew mates had just been killed on a weird alien planet there’s no way I would be in the mood for some wet and wild times orbiting said planet about ten minutes later. Add into that that the scene feels lifted from Galaxy of Terror, itself a rip-off of Alien in the first place and you have to wonder what anyone was thinking when they wrote, shot and edited that scene.

Oh I don’t care that much really. Alien: Covenant is still head and shoulders above the Alien Vs Predator movies and is way more engaging than Alien: Resurrection (not hard admittedly) so its alright in my books. I’m not saying it isn’t flawed, and I’m certainly not saying it isn’t deeply stupid at points, because it definitely is, but I still really enjoyed it all the same. It was brimming with interesting ideas and beautifully dark imagery. it won’t go down as a classic like Alien or Aliens but it will certainly exist on my shelves next to other expensive and messy follies that I still love like Event Horizon, The Keep or Lifeforce and that, my friends, is okay by me.

God I love Lifeforce. Must watch that again sometime. Hey its my birthday, maybe I’ll watch it tonight…

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Don’t Hang Up 2016

Pranksters are a staple of the horror genre. As most monsters and/or serial killer will need a bunch of teens to butcher then those teens better have some kind of character trait. You can have the jock, the nerd, the slutty girl and of course someone who likes nothing more than pulling hilarious pranks on the rest of the gang. And when I say hilarious I mean not funny in the slightest. The good thing about these fool makers is that they are often the first to be garrotted, beheaded or disemboweled by Jason Voorhees or whoever. The audience are happy to see these imbeciles die because they are annoying and their pranks are annoying too.

So making a film purely about pranksters is both a good idea and a terrible one. On the one hand no one else has made a horror movie like this, but on the other we have endure more and seemingly endless “jokes” at other people’s expense. Of course that is the point: we’re not meant to like these guys, but a whole movie with them front and centre? It might be too much.

Brady and Sam are the jesters in question. Despite both looking like male models who could be out getting laid relentlessly, they spend their sad spare time making prank calls to unsuspecting good folk and tell them that their home is being invaded or that their wives have been killed in a car crash. Laugh out loud stuff like that. Problems arise when they get a return phone call and the creepily voiced person (who sounds just like the killer in Scream) calls up and starts to turn the tables on them.

Damien Mace and Alexis Wajsbrot (how come all directors seem to work in twos nowadays?) do a damn fine job of shooting what is essentially a film entirely set in one location. We get some interesting camera moves rolling around Sam’s house like a budget version of David Fincher’s Panic Room. It helps set up the geography of the location which is important because there is a lot of going in and out of doors later on in the film and I really wouldn’t know what was going on without it.

Or maybe I wouldn’t have cared. Obviously Don’t Hang Up wants these characters to get their just desserts (or does it?) however I wouldn’t have minded at least one person to root for. Brady and Sam are the very embodiment of the word “pratts” and having to tolerate their winy existence for an hour and a half was more than most audiences deserve. There is a girlfriend who shows up but even she is pretty unsympathetic. Maybe this is harking back to the bad old days of the Saw movies where everyone was awful and they all got what they deserved but I’m not in any rush to return to that scenario.

Or maybe it’s just me. The film is very well made, the lads who play the two main characters are good actors (which could not always be said about the pranksters in the Friday the 13th movies) and the ending is at least satisfying.

More so than the ending of this review certainly…

 

Videodrome 1983

I saw Videodrome fairly early on in my teenage years, being a fan of David Cronenberg’s oeuvre before even the wild popularity of The Fly sent him into the film director stratosphere. A couple of years later I owned a copy of the VHS as part of my ludicrously large horror collection and watched it numerous times. Since that tape disappeared into the ether though I don’t think I’ve watched it since, although I’ve always had fond memories of it and thought it was one of Cronenberg’s best early movies.

Finally watching it again now it struck me with one question: how on earth did I watch this film when I was thirteen or so and understand a jot of it? All the scenes that I remember we’re still there, plus the great central performances from James Woods and the alluring and mysterious Debbie Harry and the weird graphic imagery. But it was like watching the film with fresh eyes. I’d always found the main plot a bit murky and people’s actions confusing. Now, I understood it as clear as day. And of course this makes perfect sense: it’s great that the teenage me got some pleasure from Cronenberg’s films but he is an adult director making adult pictures with adult themes.

Videodrome concerns James Woods as a cable television programmer who works for some sleazy station way down on the TV Guide options (Channel 83! That’s better than ITV2 nowadays) who is always looking for more, er, interesting shows to draw in an audience. Finding little more than soft core porn to titillate or bore his viewers*, his bespectacled boffin assistant comes across a grim, fuzzy show called Videodrome which by all accounts seems to only concern itself with showing naked women being tied up to a wet, electric wall and beaten to death. Somehow this show is hypnotic to anyone who views it and Woods feels he needs this to boost his ratings. However it starts to have some weird ass side effects on him.

Essentially Videodrome is a whacked out Conspiracy thriller but even then there is so much more going on. There have been endless articles on Cronenberg’s study of body horror so I won’t go on about them much here (although how I never knew that the wound in Woods’s stomach was vaginal just shows how naive my young self was). Okay the familiar theme of the body taking over the man is here but also,as the film progresses, what grabs me the most is how Woods as a human being was no longer in control of his his own life but used as a puppet for various fractions own ends. The broadcasters of Videodrome want to make him a weapon against any number of real or potential enemies in order to gain power. Those who fight against them want to use Woods for their own ends. The so called “new flesh”, the rebellion against Videodrome, is no better than the alleged corporate villains. Woods becomes dispensable in their existential game of chess: a pawn for one side, stolen to be used on the other.

Then there how Videodrome appeals to some very deep dark desires and needs of the sexually active adult. When Debbie Harry’s Nikki sees the programme for the first time she is not horrified by it but turned on. Granted we later find out that there is some form of transmission to the brain underneath the main video signal which would make any viewer become addicted to it, but for Nikki this is tapping into the sexual dispensations she already has. I do wish Nikki had been in the film for more screen time. It’s not long before she’s setting off to audition for Videodrome (surely a bad career choice) and outside of the hallucinations we never see her again. It’s not just that Harry gives a terrifically multi layered performance but that whilst Woods quickly catches on that Videodrome is something not to be messed with, Nikki, fascinatingly, embraces it, even at the cost of her own destruction. Of course it would be a different story but it could have been interesting to see if Nikki realised the error of her ways or if her apparent demise was something she welcomed as part of some kind of psychological destiny. Perhaps if Videodrome had been made now we would have found out more as the movie would have been several hours long rather than the amazingly tight ninety minutes we have here.

There is no denying that all the videotape horror does feel positively antiquated upon viewing it now. I mean, I work with people who have never even experienced VHSs and they think DVDs are a thing of the past. However, whilst the medium for transmitting imagery into our brains may have changed over the past 34 years, the themes that Cronenberg is talking about here sure as hell haven’t. There is the Videodrome itself, stimulating and intoxicating the viewer into a state of addiction the same way watching porn at home can and does to people now. Whilst it’s programme mostly deals with torture and murder, Woods is naive enough to think they are just really good actors. Nowadays it is taken as a given that someone having sex on the internet is really having sex, when someone is beheaded they are really beheaded. There is also the character of Doctor Brian Oblivion, the creator of the Videodrome, waxing lyrical about how a personality is more real on television than they are in real life. This may have been a stretch in 1983 but in this world of YouTube sensations and internet celebrities maybe Oblivion was right – Donald Trump entire public persona was created on TV and in Tweets, and now he’s the most powerful person in the world.

Not only did Cronenberg seem to be writing about social attitudes towards media in the future, he was also showing how his film making would change in the future too.Production wise Videodrome is a big step up from his previous films. The movie he made immediately before this was Scanners and, as successful as it was, it still had an aura of B-movie about it. Not so Videodrome. Now, despite the sleazy apartments and sound stages, the art direction and general look of the film is exemplary. Make up effects are super realistic – well, as realistic as a stomach virgina or TV spilling intestines can be – and this is all headed by a disturbing soundtrack and that starry A-list turn by James Woods.

Videodrome may be set in the world of videotapes and cable TV, neither of which exist any more, but it’s also a timeless classic.

*There’s a hilarious Japanese softcore porno involving a geisha and her dildo doll that is less sexy than primeminister’s question time.

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.