Sunday, 29 November 2015

IT!...Came From the 50s #5: The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms (1953)

The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms is a 1953 giant monster film. Directed by Eugene Lourie (Gorgo) the film stars Paul Hubschmid, Cecil Kellaway (Harvey) and Lee van Cleef (The Good, The Bad and the Ugly). The film features the pioneering work of special effects legend Ray Harryhausen (Mighty Joe Young, Clash of the Titans) in his first credited project.

Starting off in the Arctic circle, we are let in on a top secret project called "Operation Experiment" (rubbish secret name) in which Dr Nesbitt (Hubschmid) and his colleagues are studying the effects of atomic weaponry. As is often the case, the foolish experiments end up awaking a giant prehistoric lizard who decimates the science team and begins to work his way down the east coast of North America. After successfully convincing his superior commander (Van Cleef) and the world's leading paleontologist (Kellaway) of his discovery, a team is soon put together to stop the beast from destroying New York. However, aside from being gigantic and, let's face it, a double hard bastard, the lizard is also carrying lethal radioactive blood. This leads to a climax set on Coney island which not only requires the use of a roller coaster, but also a radioactive isotope to be shot into the throat of the creature and save humanity.

If this plot sounds familiar, it's because it's near identical to the very first Godzilla film which was released a little over a year after this film. In fact, The Beast not only helped to directly inspire Gojira (1954) but also the giant/atomic monster movies of the 50s and beyond, making it a very important film indeed. However, where Gojira would go on to spawn an iconic franchise consisting of no less than 27 sequels, The Beast came and went with little fanfare and it perplexes me why a sequel was never produced.

The plot is solid and the pacing is classical in it's "less is more" approach, favouring a strong mystery vibe rather than a "dinosaur smashing buildings up" approach. But when the smashing starts, it is a glorious sight...even to 2015 eyes! The combination of Harryhausen's inimitable stop motion work with front projection and an awful lots of extras running for their lives is surprisingly convincing and a lot of fun to watch. The clever twist of the creature's blood being radioactive, therefore necessitating a slightly smarter approach, is genius and I wished they'd perhaps spent a bit more time on this.

The Beast From 20,000 fathoms might be the more overlooked giant monster film when it comes to classics like Gojira and Them! (also 1954) and the "Rhedosaurus" may seem like the more bland creation to modern eyes but this is a truly iconic film with substance to back it up. Recommended viewing for any Godzilla/Kaiju fans, or indeed any fans of the legendary Ray Harryhausen, The Beast is representative of both of those things and I was certainly left wanting more.

***** 5 Stars

Have you seen the movie? What's your favourite giant monster movie?

Friday, 20 November 2015

Insidious: Chapter 3 (2015): Review

Insidious: Chapter 3 is a 2015 supernatural horror prequel. Written and directed by Leigh Whannell, (Saw, Insidious) the film stars Stefanie Scott, Dermot Mulroney (Stoker) and Lin Shaye (Insidious, Dead End). Although Whannell has written many of James Wan's films, this is his directorial debut.

 Occurring before the events of the first film, Chapter 3 follows the entire new family of Quinn (Scott), her father (Mulroney) and younger brother. Grieving after the death of her mother Quinn reaches out to Elise (Shaye), currently a retired psychic, to help her contact the spirit of her dead mother who she has been seeing. However, it soon becomes clear that the spirit haunting Quinn is not her mother and Elise must enlist the services of Specs (Whannell) and Tucker and journey into the further to exercise Quinn's demons as well as a few of her own.

What do you do when you run out of ideas for a horror sequel?...You make a prequel of course! This has happened with so many other horror franchises so it's only fitting that it would happen to Insidious, a series which borrows so heavily from other movies. The fact that I didn't even realise this was a prequel until the penultimate scene just goes to show what a dull and unimaginative film this is and, much like the Paranormal Activity series, is driven forward by it's profitability rather than it's narrative.

In all fairness to Whannell, he does a good job of stepping into Wan's shoes and is able to continue the distinctive visual style of the series. There's also some good writing hidden amongst the nonsense, particularly the sub plot involving Quinn's difficulty in coming to terms with her mother's death. "The further" is still an interesting concept to explore visually and the "oxygen mask demon" is a worthy successor to the iconic antagonists of the first film but it's very clear that Whanell got all his exposition into the first film and there's no plot left to weave.

Not nearly as ludicrous as Chapter 2 but twice as dull, the Insidious franchise has most certainly run out of steam. Whanell is better than this and Patrick Wilson has already been transplanted over to the Conjuring franchise, which has a sequel on the way and seems like the more logical option for a franchise. A few scares, some cool visuals but a wholly unnecessary prequel (as many are) that won't leave much of an impression.

*** 3 Stars

What did you think of Insidious? Do you think this was an unnecessary installment?

Sunday, 15 November 2015

Movie B Badd #6: Vibrations (1996)

I saw the film at a Bristol Bad Film Club screening. Check them out at their website and on Facebook.

Vibrations is a 1996 musical teen drama. Written and directed by Michael Paseornek, the film stars James Marshall (Twin Peaks) and Christina Applegate (Married with Children, Anchorman). Although this would be Paseorneks only foray into directing, he would go on to become a successful producer responsible for horror films like American Psycho (2000) and The Devil's Rejects (2005).

The film follows T.J (Marshall), a talented young musician on the road to stardom. Unfortunately, his hands (and dreams) become crushed after a run in with some local thugs and a drill-equipped JCB, leaving him to wander the city as a rubber handed drunken hobo. Luckily for TJ he wanders into a local rave and meets Annamika (Applegate), who takes pity on him and helps him to clean up his act. Recognising a musical talent within TJ, Annamika and her friends (including a welding landlady) manage to craft him a new cybernetic pair of hands which help to propel him to superstardom as "techno" DJ Cyberstorm!

First off, this is the most 80s 90s film I've ever seen. From most of the fashion on display to the "cutting edge" electronic music being played, I was really very shocked to learn this film was made in 1996. The dialogue is similarly hilarious and out of touch, particularly when the characters are trying to describe the music and the cosmic grooves etc. More often than not the music sounds like it's one of the preset demos on a Yamaha keyboard and it couldn't be farther from the type of dance music we were all enjoying in 1996 (okay maybe not enjoying).

In all fairness to Marshall he does seem to be doing his best with what he's been given and I suppose you could call some of the early homeless scenes "gritty". Some of the funniest moments of the film come from the physical comedy involving TJs rubber hands. This includes stopping a knife attack with his palm and using his hand to stop a kitchen fire, surely the makers of the film could not have expected this to be taken seriously? There's also a lot of fun to be had when the gang get going on their "rave concert tour" and watching TJ "perform" as Cyberstorm is something I can only liken to C-3PO having some sort of fit.

Vibrations had the right idea, no doubt trying to capitalise on the cyberpunk sub-culture made popular by "Hackers" the previous year, but ends up a film quite obviously written by a middle aged man who has no idea how teenagers would have talked in 1996 or what kind of music they would listen to. However, the film is unintentionally hilarious when enjoyed as the unlikely story of a handless wino who becomes a gyrating, robotic superstar.

**** 4 Stars

Have you seen Vibrations? What did you think?

Wednesday, 4 November 2015

The Visit (2015): Review (spoiler free)

The Visit is a 2015 found footage horror film. Directed by M Night Shyamalan (The sixth Sense, The Village) and starring newcomers Olivia Dejonge and Ed Oxenbould. This is Shyamalan's first straight horror film since 2004's The Village.

The found footage in question is a documentary being made by Becca (Dejonge) and her younger brother Tyler (Oxenbould) and is based around them meeting their Grandparents for the first time. This belated meeting is due to their mother having fallen out with her parents many years previous and also becomes the topic of the documentary. However, Nana and Pop Pop soon prove to be quite the eccentric geriatrics and, what begins as your run of the mill incontinence and forgetfulness, soon develops into much more disturbing behaviour.

The Visit has been described as a return to form for Shyamalan and this is true on many levels. Firstly, the film represents a thoroughly back to basics approach, not just for the director but for horror in general, and is a found footage film crafted from the tried and tested Paranormal Activity (2007) formula. There is also a very well judged balance between playful comedic banter from the siblings and genuinely unsettling performances from the Grandparents and the incorporation of "Sundowning" (a genuine form of dementia) was as fascinating as it was gripping.

Secondly, the film marks a welcome return to Shyamalan's real talent of weaving a strong emotional core into his horror and, like The Sixth Sense (1998) before it, The Visit is really a film about childhood growing pains and absent parents. Indeed, I couldn't help but get a lump in my throat during the scenes where the children let down their guard and show exactly what kind of effect their father walking out has had on them. The way this is mirrored by their mother's own issues with her parents was really touching and represents the kind of sincerity that a lot of people wouldn't associate with Shyamalan these days.

I don't feel it's a spoiler to mention that, of course, the movie has a twist in it's final act and, let's be honest, you'd be a lot more surprised if an M Night Shyamalan film didn't have a twist. What might surprise you though, is the restraint that he seems to have applied this time around and, although it's still a great twist that I didn't see coming, it's not a feature that the entire movie hinges on. The Visit is one of the finest horror films of the year with more heart than anyone would've expected and has to rank near the very top of Shyamalan's entire output...maybe don't watch it with your Grandparents though.

***** 5 Stars

What did you think of The Visit? How do you rank it amongst Shyamalan's other films?

Saturday, 31 October 2015

Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982): Review

Halloween III is a 1982 horror sequel. The film is directed by Tommy Lee Wallace (IT, Fright Night part 2) and stars Tom Atkins (The Fog) and Dan O' Herlihy (Robocop) . Although this instalment was not directed by John Carpenter, he did co produce and create the soundtrack.

Season of the Witch is a numbered sequel in the Halloween franchise, however, It does not feature Michael Myers as the antagonist or have much to do with the other films, other than being set at Halloween. The film centres around the mysterious Silver Shamrock company and their wildly popular Halloween masks which are being snapped up by children everywhere. When a local shop owner is murdered by a suit in the local hospital, doctor Challis (Atkins) and the shopowners daughter Ellie travel to the hometown of Silver Shamrock to uncover a clandestine, pagan plot to take over the world.

I have distinct memories of watching this movie as a kid and being bitterly disappointed by the lack of Michael Myers, who had been the iconic villain for much of the franchise. However, in recent years the movie has been reappraised and reassessed as a standout of the series and now I can see why. In retrospect, the decision to ditch your iconic villain and make a film that was distinctly not a slasher has to be regarded as an extremely brave and original move. Rather than buckle under the pressure of the first 2 films, as so many other threequels do, Halloween III is arguably the finest sequel to the greatest horror film ever made (that one isn't arguable).

The concept of a new world pagan cult who try to take over the world through children's masks is a great one, but the choice to fuse that with a satire of corporate America (as Carpenter himself would do with They Live) is inspired. Speaking of Carpenter, this feels like a Carpenter film in almost every way, particularly through the excellent score which veers wildy from the kind of minimalist synth used in The Thing (1982) to maniacal organs during the more hypnotic moments. The special effects and gore are also at a high point for the franchise and it's evident that the film was influenced by the groundbreaking effects in The Thing, released earlier that year.

If I had to nitpick, I would say it's an idea that feels a little stretched at times and more like an anthology segment or a Tales From the Crypt episode. There's also a part of me that wants THAT music to kick in and for the shape to appear at certain points. However, on the whole, Season of the Witch is a perfect example of a horror sequel tearing up the rulebook and refusing to cower in the shadow of it's predecessors...happy, happy Halloween from the Silver Shamrock corporation!

**** 4 stars

What do you think of Halloween III? How did you feel about the absence of Michael Myers?

Tuesday, 27 October 2015

The Green Inferno (2015): Review

The Green Inferno is a 2015 Cannibal horror film. Directed by Eli Roth (Cabin Fever, Hostel) and starring Lorenzo Izzo, Ariel Levy and Nicolas Martinez, all of who appeared in the 2012 disaster movie Aftershock. The film had intended to be released in 2014 but issues with funding and distribution delayed the release by an entire year.

The movie follows a group of fresh faced keyboard warriors who are looking for the next big "issue" to get behind. After Justine (Izzo) is accepted into Alejandro's (Levy) social justice group, the next big protest is unveiled. The group plan to journey into the heart of the Amazon in order to put a stop to deforestation and displacement of indigenous tribes (mainly through hashtags and retweets). Although this is initially successful, the group soon find themselves stranded after a plane crash and discover that the local tribes would love nothing more than to have them for dinner.

The Green Inferno is Roth's love letter to the gory Italian cannibal films of yesteryear and it's only fitting that he got his title from the most notorious and influential of them all, Cannibal Holocaust (1980). But, much more than appropriating one of the working titles for that film, Roth allows the gruesome, stomach churning atmosphere of Cannibal Holocaust to seep into every corner of the Green Inferno and, as a throwback to the exploitation era, it's a triumph. He also draws on another classic of the genre, and arguably a better made film, Cannibal Ferox (1981) in so much as he relaxes the oppressive atmosphere from time to time to let a little levity, dare I say slapstick, into the mix.

The concept of the social justice warriors, or slacktivists as Roth calls them, is a neat way to bring the genre up to date and makes the movie instantly more relatable to younger audiences who have no intention of discovering the grimy cannibal classics (nor do I blame them). However, I did feel the script was a little heavy handed at times with the satire and didn't end up being as clever as it though it was. The same can be said for the attempts at comedy within the film. Some gags made me chuckle whereas others, such as getting the cannibals stoned, made cringe a little.

Considering the wait for this film was so protracted and the expectations on Roth's return to directing (his first film in 6 years) were so high, it must be said that The Green Inferno delivers surprisingly well. Though nothing new or inventive it is a refreshing trip down memory lane to the days when exploitation films really were considered dangerous and something of a dirty secret to discover. It might not hit all the marks in terms of the writing, and one particular character did not get the cummupence I was hoping for, but it's one hell of a blast and puts Roth back upon his splat pack throne.

**** 4 stars

What did you think of The Green Inferno? Was it worth the wait?

Monday, 23 March 2015

TMMDI Top Ten of 2014

2014 was a great year for franchises old and new, genre rooted art house and intelligent, provocotive science fiction. Many films on this list demanded repeat viewings and will linger in the mind (and eyeballs) of this reviewer for many years to come. Honourable mentions to The Guest, Dead snow 2 and X-Men: Days of Future Past.

1. The Raid 2: Berandal

2. Godzilla

3. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

4. Nightcrawler

5. Under the Skin

6. The Babadook

7. Frank

8. Interstellar

9. Snowpiercer

10. Tusk

What were your favourite films of 2014?