Welcome to the Jungle 2007

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I thought this one was a direct remake of the seminal non-classic, and shame of all horror fans, Cannibal Holocaust, and the description said it was, but there’s no reference to that film in the credits or anything, and while the plot is essentially the same it beats it on several points. Plus it loses on several points as well. So if it was a competition neither film would be a winner. And neither would we.

Welcome to the Jungle is, in a nutshell, a found footage film about four friends who venture to Papa New Ginuea in search of Michael Rockefeller, of the American Rockefeller dynasty, who really did disappear in 1961, possibly eaten by cannibals. They hear from a friend of a friend that an old man fitting his description was seen with a lost tribe in the jungle, so set off to find him, interview him and claim the riches and rewards that would follow: hot tubs in every room, dwarves with trays of cocaine strapped to their heads, that kind of thing. Of course the important line these kids over look is possibly eaten by cannibals. I don’t know about you but the thought of being spit roasted, in any scenario, ain’t that appealing. I know people who feel different mind, so what do I know.

A lot of people hate the found footage genre, and that’s something I can understand, but I don’t have a problem with it myself. I find that as long as the characters can find a good enough reason to be filming all the horrors that unfold and then not go on about it, it can be an immersive way of telling a story. Of course, most of these films end with the final heroes being dragged away while the camera falls over and that’s not so good, but if they can be inventive enough along the way then that’s fine by me.

Welcome to the Jungle does pretty well on this count. The locations are spectacular, the Fiji landscapes, standing in for Papa New Ginea, totally draw you into a hostile environment. The characters come across a friendly village which looks like it was genuinely just shot in a friendly village, with kids running about excitedly and chickens clucking everywhere. The acting too is very natural, to start with anyway. The characters are fairly likeable while they’re planning their trip and getting drunk with each other. However once they get deep into their heart of darkness, presumably because it gives them something to do before the cannibals show up, they start hating each other, bitching and whining and fighting and taking the piss and oh God! Would someone just eat them already! I’m starving.

Also the camera work is woeful at some points. I know this is meant to be found footage so running along, shakey-cam is de rigueur, but there are some daylight shots that are so heavily backlit you can’t see a thing that’s going on. There is a difference between found footage movies and actual found footage, and that difference is that this is all fake and done by supposed professionals. So if a shot is really that awful could they not just do another take? Does it have to be so authentic that the audience is just looking at a white blob in the corner of a black screen? At least that isn’t too often, and in fact, nothing lasts too long because it is pacely edited with everything moving along at a decent lick.

It still takes forever to get to the cannibals though, which is really what we’re all here for isn’t it? And here is where the crux of the problems lie. Cannibal Holocaust did have a huge about of extremely unpleasant violence, but when you watch a film about cannibals you want to see some of the red stuff. Welcome to the Jungle has a girl with a bit of wood through her mouth and a pair of feet. It’s not enough. I think this kind of film really needs to push the limits of violence and horror otherwise what is the point? These charachters are meant to be foolish westerners who blindly wander into a natural world they have no control over, you can shoot all the natives you like with your Wallmart bought pistol but  sooner or later they will surround you, stick you on a spike and have you for supper. Saying that, Cannibal Holocaust was a truly revolting film; I could live with all the human depravation, it was the animal murder I hated. Not done using effects but real life animals, they butchered and mutilated innocent creatures for the sake of “entertainment”. I don’t think that film should ever be accepted as a classic, and at least Welcome to the Jungle is a step up from that.

So maybe less gore all over is the price we have to pay if this is indeed essentially a remake of Cannibal holocaust in all but name. And it has some merit in it’s incresingly dark tone, with the characters floating down the river on rafts as the natives, painted half black, half white close in on their prey. Plus girl on a spike isn’t half as offensive in this version.

However (MASSIVE SPOILER AHEAD), at the end of the day this found footage movie still follows the modern, traditional, deeply unsatisfying ending of it’s genre: as the last survivor is dragged away, the camera falls over. Oh well…

 

Slumber Party Massacre 1982

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I’m putting up a photo of teenage girls sharing a shower (and when I say “teenage” I mean women in the their late twenties pretending to be girls) rather than the usual gory mayhem because quite frankly sex sells. And the makers of Slumber Party Massacre know this. There are a lot of naked woman in this movie. In the early part of this horror film before any of the, you know, horror, most of the female actresses are presented naked for the audience’s pleasure. In the above shower scene a girl has to pass a towel to her neighbour, rather than just reaching over to the next cubicle, she does a full 360 so we see her breasts before handing it over. Then the camera moves down to look at her arse for a bit.

I say all this because the director is a woman, rare in Hollywood, even rarer in the horror genre. Being in the exploitation field, Amy Holden Jones get stuck right into the sex side of things, with T&A everywhere, shame she doesn’t carry the gore off quite so well. Also she knows her audience, the closest we get to seeing a naked man is when the heroine’s little sister finds a copy of Playgirl with Sylvester Stallone on the front cover. That might be the scariest bit of the movie.

The title says all you need to know about the film, a bunch of girls hold a slumber party, a killer is on the loose, a massacre ensues. Apparently the film was written as a spoof of the slasher genre (in it’s prime in 1982), however it is filmed so straight a lot of the humour gets lost in amongst all the drillings and choppings. Our killer’s main weapon of choice is a large power drill, which he frequently hold down between his legs. A subtle bit of symbolism this is not. The girls are always talking about sex, getting naked with each other and flirting with the boys, but a “real” man with his big tool is a terrifying proposition. It gets worse when he starts proclaiming his love for them and how he wants to drill them because he loves them so much.

Most slasher movies like the killer to have a look: Freddy with his knifey finger glove, Jason with his hockey mask, Cropsy with his melty face and garden shears. The killer in Slumber Party Massacre goes for one of the most terrifying looks ever committed to film – double denim. His matching jeans and jacket combo are very clean and fairly tight around the groin area, and are disturbing in ways I can’t even begin to describe. In fact that might be the main problem with the film. We meet the killer pretty early on and he looks so normal (apart from his wild bugging eyes and even wilder over-acting) that he is not scary in the slightest. In fact this whole production struggles with a distinct lack of suspense and thrills. Despite some lovely tracking shots and interesting camera angles it never builds up momentum like Halloween does. Mind you, hardly any of the slasher films from this era can even begin to hold a candle to Halloween. Most of them don’t even try.

I think the makers definitely made a go of it with this one though. There’s some nice humour, for example the pizza delivery guy falls through the doorway, eyeballs drilled out. One of the girls asks if he’s dead. “He’s definitly dead alright, he’s so cold.” “How about the pizza?”. The final girl,  Robin Stille, looks like a vogue model but is pretty charming (unlike her Sylvester Stallone obsessed younger sister who is an awful brat as is the law in horror movies) even if her character is terribly under written. And following on from last week’s Zoltan review, there’s more unnecessary dog death, in case anyone is interested in such things.

But overall I think the film is a bit of it’s time. It’s funny but not funny enough, and a spoof of a specifitc sub-genre and a specific time. Gorehounds will be disappointed in the mostly off screen kills. Only sex pests will get much of a thrill out of it with all it’s luring, pervy camera shots. Possibly not the result Jones was after, but like I say, at least she tried.

 

Zoltan, Hound of Dracula 1978

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My fine friend Chris suggested I should review Frankenweenie on this blog, and it got me thinking about what other horror movies involve dogs. Well there’s Cujo with the killer St Bernard which is absolute nonsense, The Rats which while technically about James Herbert’s Rats, actually has Daschund’s in rat costumes, and then there’s this – Zoltan , Hound of Dracula. Now you may think with a title like that it can only be rubbish, but watch it and you might be pleasantly surprised…

Okay, you won’t. Zoltan is about a big ugly dog and his creepy (in a paedo kind of way rather than scary) owner who are bitten by a Dracula, not THE Dracula,  A Dracula, don’t ask. They are discovered in a tomb in modern day Bulgaria (that looks just like California) and after eating a Soviet soldier, high tail it to Los Angeles to track down the last surviving relative of Dracula, so he can become their new master. At least I think that was the plot, it was hard to concentrate because the first half an hour of the film is so mind-bogingly tedious my brain kept on seizing up.

Things finally pick up when we meet Michael Drake, the last of the Draculas, his wife, and their two kids – so, like, not the last of the Draculas then! Oh they also have two German Shepherds and a cute puppy. Foolishly they choose this time of great peril to go off on a camping trip into the middle of nowhere. Now, I figure as they trundled along in their RV that it was going to turn into a Hills Have Eyes style show down with the dogs fighting off the Vampires. Unfortunately, it’s not that exciting. The dogs are soon bitten and turned into vampires themselves, along with some hunters’ dog, Buster, who maybe the happiest dog ever commited to film.

You see a big problem with getting dogs to act as vampires is that no matter how many false teeth and fake blood you throw at them, if you are able to get them to do what you want, then a dog pleasing it’s owner is a very happy dog. Then tails will start wagging. And Buster the vampire dog is a very happy dog indeed. So he may be blacked up to make him look more evil (is that racist?), but whether he’s attacking a shed or assaulting a small child, he is clearly having the time of his life, wagging away and, quite frankly, just mucking about. Not exactly RADA trained. The dog who plays Zoltan fairs better (none of the dogs get credits so I don’t know who played him), although often when baring his fake fangs his mouth is clearly being pulled back with fishing wire. More importantly, why the hell am I critiquing dog performances in a film called Zoltan, Hound of Dracula?

There is one aspect to the film which must be addressed though, Zoltan is an absolute bastard. His first victim, when he arrives in the States, is the poor little puppy (known in the film as “Puppy”). It’s minding it’s own business down by a lake, having a lovely time sniffing a boat, when Zoltan creeps up on it and kills him to death with his horrible false teeth. Blood and fur flop about everywhere. It’s a bit depressing really. But you don’t need to worry, because in probably the stupidist scene in a film full of stupid scenes, the puppy rises from it’s grave a short while later to wreak it’s reign of very small terror upon any victim it can reach, in this case a bunny and an owl.

Anyway, I’m giving this film more words than it deserves. Vampire dogs aren’t scary, old creepy  pervert men aren’t scary and Buster certainly isn’t scary.

Dogshit.

The Gorgon 1964

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I’ve seen a lot of Hammer horror movies in my time. In fact you could say that my love of horror movies stems from watching so many of them in my childhood. On a Saturday night the young me would be sent to bed, where I would pretend to be asleep until my parents were downstairs partying with their friends, at which point I’d sneak into their room where the black and white tv was and watch the horror double bill on BBC2. Every week you’d find me hid behind their double bed so if they came in they’d just think they’d left the tv on. How I got away with it I will never know, maybe they knew all along.

Throughout all those great evenings I never saw The Gorgon. Sure,  I’d seen pictures, but the monster just looked like one of mum’s drunk friends in a bath gown and it didn’t really appeal.

Well now I’ve seen The Gorgon, and in many ways I don’t know what held me back. It’s handsomely staged, eerie and captivating. On the flip side, the Gorgon looks like one of my mum’s drunk friends in a bath gown.
What Hammer have done here is take an ancient Greek legend and splice it with Dracula and Frankenstein. So we have the old, dark Transylvanian castle above the village,  fearful peasants up in arms (its never explained what they’re annoyed about), big thugs working for mad doctors and a wholly unnecessary brain removal scene, all mixed up with people turning to stone and looking at the reflections of snake haired women in mirrors. And for the most part, it works.
With the great Terrence Fisher at the helm, The Gorgon has that classic Hammer look. It has lots of pretty moonlit matte paintings and odd day-for-night footage which look great and give the whole film a dreamlike quality. Plus all the (probably cheap) sets are lit fantastically, almost as well as the actors, especially Barbara Shelly as the innocent victim in all the horrific goings on who looks like a Hollywood superstar of old. I mean, the camera cannot get enough of her cheekbones, red hair and bright eyes, it is in love with her.
I am in love, or course, with Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee. Cushing is the morally grey doctor who may, or may not, be involved in all this Gorgon based fun and is his usual fantastic self, and gets to pop the brain in a jar for no good reason. Lee, meanwhile, gives us one of his rare heroic roles, playing a Van Helsing like character with a big fluffy moustache. It’s a shame Lee never got to play more roles like this (though The Devil Rides Out a few years later showed one of his very best performances, and again, as a good guy),  his physical size adds a sense of strength to the part so that you’d think if you were going to go up against the undead or Greek monsters, you’d want him on your side. And he plays it seriously, but with a light touch so that whenever he’s on screen the whole production seems to get that much more fun. And a sense of fun is always important in serious and seriously good horror movies.
However this is not a seriously good movie. It’s still pretty good, the story is solid, is well acted (Patrick Troughton pops up as the local Police chief as well and is brilliant at playing an corrupt but incompetent figure of authority) and like I said, it looks beautiful. However it does slow down for a large chunk of the movie, the gothic doomed romance is a drag, characters go back and forth unable to decide what to do about their lives and the Gorgon herself makes too few appearances.
But then maybe this is a good thing.
Because the biggest trouble with The Gorgon is the Gorgon herself. As I said she looks like a late middle aged woman from Croydon whose partied too hard, for too long, with a baggy face and bloodshot eyes. In fact the horror of waking up next her might be enough in itself to turn most men to stone, but then she is completely undermined by her hair of snakes. They jerk back and forth as if being pulled around by particularly stiff ropes and look like overweight iguanas rather than snakes. Honestly, you’re more likely to laugh to death than anything else. I felt kind of sorry for the poor thing.
So if by chance you want to watch a really good film about the Gorgon then watch the 1981 version of Clash of the Titans. If, however, its Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing and Hammer at the height of their creative powers (though not firing on all cylinders) you are after, then you could do a lot worse than spend eighty minutes or so with this forgotten gem. Well, semi-gem. Okay, pretty Greek stone.

Alyce 2011

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When you watch Alyce, and you really should, what hits you after about 15 minutes is that you have no idea where this film is going. This can be seen as a good thing or a bad thing. In this case it’s bloody brilliant, although I imagine some people will hate it because of how unpredictable it is.

I can’t really give too much away without ruining it but let’s just say it starts off about the slightly needy and off balance Alyce and her rekindled relationship with her best friend Carroll. After a row with her boyfriend,  Carroll decides the two girls need to have a night out with lot’s of booze, drugs and rooftops. Things get very strange from there on in.

Not disimilair to May (2002), it is a character study about a young, disconnected woman’s descent into madness. But while Lucky McKee’s film is very singular in it’s focus and tone, Alyce lurches from being a drama to a thriller to a black comedy on such a regular basis you are left unsure what’s going to happen next,  whether you will be laughing or throwing up in a bucket. Let’s just say this now: keep the bucket handy.

Look, just see it okay, it’s readily available on iTunes, you’ve no excuse. Jane Dornfield who plays Alyce is an absolute peach, worryingly I think I know a couple of people like her character, plus there’s a freakishly realistic performance by Eddie Rouse as the sleezy drug dealer Rex. I thought they’d just found some hideous pimp on the streets and cast him, but apparentlly not.

Finally, it has such a good ending, up there with Some Like It Hot, not that this is anything like Some Like It Hot, it’s not, I just like the ending. Oh and this is this ending…

Evil Dead – 2013

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(A FEW MINOR SPOILERS AHEAD)

I have no problems with horror remakes. Sure it’s annoying about the lack of originality, and yeah they’ve been really mining it over the last few years, from the terrible The Omen remake to the forgettable Friday the 13th (I mean literally forgettable, I’ve seen it but I can’t remember a thing about it. Maybe something about Jason Vorhees being a dope dealer. Really? That doesn’t make any sense, I must be thinking of something else). But there’s been a few good ones too, The Hills Have Eyes was arguably better than the original, and we’ve got the Suspiria remake to look forward too. I am kiddding! A remake of Suspiria by the maker of Your Highness? Just don’t.

So here we are with the Evil Dead in 2013. I love the 1981 version as much as the next man but it’s really rough and ready, and other than Ash, the characters are pretty flat. However it has a hell of a lot of energy with an attitude and ambition that defies it’s meagre budget. It’s not the comedy horror the later films became, it has a really nasty, hard edge and it’s this mood that the remake captures.

Keeping CG gore to a minimum we chug through the characters as they rip, cut and tear themselves and each other into possessed pieces. There is a huge amount of gore on show here, a friend who I saw it with pretty much watched the cinema floor after about half an hour in, I think I heard her weeping occasionally. It is incredibly violent, and by the time we get the heroine tearing off her own hand while blood rain pours down on her, you have to admit that the film makers really went for it, capturing that grim excitement that made the original so much fun.

Also like the original however, the characters are mostly a bit dull. The main man, the kind of but not really new Ash, is pretty bland, and his best mate has such an unconvincing beard that every time he’s on screen i found myself looking for the hair glue. The one saving grace from this lot though is Jane Levy as Mia, who gives the kind of ballsy, I’ll-do-anything-to-humiliate-myself-for-the-sake-of-the-character performance I can get behind. She has the most, well maybe not character development, but the most to do and she totally pulls it off. And her hand…

Evid Dead in the twenty tens ultimately has a lovely old school, gore soaked feel. Like the orignal it’s not perfect, but also like the original it has a sense of fun in amoungst all the severings and beheadings, something missing in a lot of the remakes recently. Like the Nightmare on Elm Street remake. Have you seen that? Flippin’ heck, let’s not even go there.