Movie Reviews

Short: Chuck Steel – Raging Balls of Steel Justice

Film4 Frightfest 2013

 

Remember the show Sledge Hammer!, with David Rasche as the caricature cop-on-the-edge with a penchant for violence? Give him Bruce Campbell’s chin, Max Headroom’s quiff and make him out of clay and you have Chuck Steel…

The plot is like taking the movie-cop cliche book to extremes – a gang of thugs have holed up in a warehouse with a hostage who they are going to repeatedly kick in the balls until they pop out of his nose (if interested, the magic number is 250). Only one cop can save the day – Chuck Steel!

What follows is 10 minutes of violence, explosions, bloodshed, brilliant names, one-liners (a personal favourite is “When are you gonna realise it’s not 1985 anymore – it’s 1986”), a sexually obsessed robot and pure unadulterated entertainment. Creator Mike Mort (he of the criminally underseen North Walian series Gogs) may be most recognised for the “Mr Boombastic” Levi’s advert from 1995, and the character design and use of sidejokes are easily identifiable.

There is talk of a Chuck Steel feature – based on the short, it’ll be nothing short of epic! Frightfest has always shown some great shorts, this is up there with the best *****

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No One Lives

Film4 Frightfest 2013

 

2013 has been a year of interesting directorial choices for WWE Studios films – Dead Man Down was helmed by (the original) The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo‘s Niels Arden Oplev, The Call by Brad Anderson (The Machinist) and now No One Lives by Ryuhei Kitamura. This was a selling point of the film for me – ever since I saw Versus I’ve been a fan of Kitamura’s dynamic style and wicked sense of humour, maintained when Midnight Meat Train was one of my favourites of Frightfest 2008 so seeing his name piqued my interest in what had initially appeared to be a fairly straightforward home invasion/stalk and slash movie.

In fact, No One Lives is a tricky film to advertise, suffering from the curse of the spoilery trailer, and it’s anything but straightforward! After a home robbery goes violently wrong, Flynn (Derek Magyar) tries to make amends with his family-based cohorts by targeting a couple he sees in a local bar (Luke Evans and Laura Ramsey) for kidnapping them to get access to their money. At the same time, there is news that an heiress missing after 14 of her friends were murdered may not be dead but abducted. Could the two be connected somehow?

One of No One Lives‘ strengths is its awareness – the dialogue pokes fun at the habits and overobviousness that pervades the genre, and from the outset there is a similar attitude to the kind of predictable behaviour that usually has viewers rolling their eyes. The sense of fun is furthered by inventive kills too which had the Frightfest audience cheering as well as laughing.

The directing is actually a little more subdued than Kitamura’s other films for the most part, though there are still some excellent visuals (including – unsurprisingly given the 80s genre influences – a gratuitous moonlight butt shot), and the cast are all strong too. In short, No One Lives is an absolute blast, especially when watched with fellow horror fans. Perfect Halloween fun – or any other time for that matter! And who knew that the tagline from The Thing really was true? ****1/2

Hammer of the Gods

Film4 Frightfest 2013

 

Vikings! In Wales! Er, what? Don’t worry, director Farren Blackburn hasn’t taken his Who experience from The Rings of Akhaten and rewritten history, it’s a filming location, but don’t go in expecting historical accuracy anyway!

Hammer of the Gods is set in 9th century Britain, where the Viking invaders are making inroads. Wounded in a battle against the Saxons, King Bagsecg (James Cosmo) sends son Steinar (Charlie Bewley) and a team of warriors to find his estranged elder brother Hakan (Elliot Cowan) and bring him back into the fold. Of course, things are never quite as simple as that….

If it doesn’t sound a particularly new story, it isn’t really, and the change in direction in the latter third just makes it reminiscent of different films than it did earlier. None of the characters are particularly likeable, and it all feels a little bit hollow.

Yet that also feels like a shame, which is unusual. It’s certainly not all bad – it looks great, with the Snowdonia-shot backdrops being suitably imposing, is decently paced and the action is suitably brutal and bloody.

Hammer of the Gods isn’t a horrible film, but I came away with more of a sense of disappointment, as though the look and style of the film deserved more. There is some entertainment value in a popcorn sense, and it’s probably the only time you’ll ever see Cockney-sounding Vikings joking about STIs! **1/2

Frankenstein’s Army

Film4 Frightfest 2013

 

Anyone remember Clive Barker’s Tortured Souls, the brilliantly designed McFarlane toy range that promised a movie which sadly got stuck in development hell? There’s a sense of that style of object mutilation in Frankenstein’s Army, the first feature from Richard Raaphorst.

It’s near the end of WWII, and a Russian reconnaisance unit is being filmed for propaganda while pushing into Germany. As mistrust grows between the soldiers and those filming, the true purpose of the mission starts to become clear – they are to find a Nazi scientist who as a descendent of Viktor Frankenstein is continuing his research. Cue the undead Nazi zombie monsters!

The creatures are the real stars of Frankenstein’s Army, and the design and implementation are uniformly excellent. They are varied and inventive, and you get a feeling that there are many more that we have yet to see. Partly as a result, I found myself slightly in two minds about the use of the found footage style used – while it is a comparatively rare case of feeling genuinely linked to the story (niggles like the footage not being in the aspect ratio used at the time fade quickly) and it proves a handy way of working round budgetary and pacing constraints when things kick off, it also limits the amount of monster visibility as the cameraman is generally unsurprisingly trying to get away from them! Of course that’s probably because of the limitations of the budget, but when watching there was the occasional wish they had longer and more detailed screentime.

While solid and entertaining, it’s not a film that will go down in many best-of-year lists, but as a design showcase and potential franchise it is a good start. Now, where’s the toy range… ***1/2

100 Bloody Acres

Film4 Frightfest 2013

 

And now, a film about fertiliser. No, not that kind of fertiliser – that would be 100 Crappy Acres surely and would make for very easy reviewing if it wasn’t very good! Fortunately (!) it’s about the blood and bone type fertiliser, which is much more the kind of crap that’s appreciated at Frightfest…

Brothers Reg and Lindsay Morgan run a small fertiliser business in South Australia, and are always trying to set themselves apart from the competition. Happening across a crash site while on a delivery, Reg spots an easy opportunity for fresh blood (sorry!) with the driver’s body, so hides it in the back of his truck to take back. Just bigger roadkill than normal, which wouldn’t be so bad if not for a group of tourists hitching a lift to a music festival…

By keeping the focus and scale small, 100 Bloody Acres belies its low budget and is an assured feature debut by writer/directors Colin and Cameron Cairnes. The concentration on the characters helps – at heart this is a tale of love in truly unfortunate circumstances – though there’s also a helping of old-fashioned farce to keep a sense of fun. That said, it’s not a constant joke-fest, though when it goes gross-out it easily equals anything by the Farrellys with more mind bleach needed than with Kingpin at one point!

On the weaker side, none of the characters are particularly likeable, and the seeming justification of infidelity rankled on a personal level – which also goes to show a level of believability to the writing. It may not be one for watching back over and over, but 100 Bloody Acres is still entertaining and a good pick for a midnight movie! ***

V/H/S 2

Film4 Frightfest 2013

 

Read the review of the first film here!

Last year, I referred to anthology found footage film V/H/S having a sequel being called D/V/D – twelve months on the sequel is here, but has missed a trick slightly in not even going for S-V/H/S but taking the more mundane title V/H/S 2.

The good news is that it has learned from some of the weaknesses of the first film – the wrapper story, while still taking a background seat, is stronger this time round and finds a private investigator finding the stash of tapes from the first film. There are hints to a larger mythology too, which indicates that this will not be the last in the series either.

The “component”stories are nicely varied – an eye implant that sees more than expected, a cyclist encountering a zombie outbreak, the investigation into a personality-based cult and even an alien invasion! Slightly unusually, all are at least solid, with the middle two segments being particularly good – if anything, it means the final segment suffers a little from not being quite up to the level of the one preceding.

V/H/S is fast turning into a series that showcases a variety of talent and with a pretty quick turnover – it is unsurprising to hear that there is a third film in the works (not called Betamax, sorry!) so the franchise could potentially become an annual horror fixture. Having the variety even within each film should prevent stagnation, so could be one to watch for!

One note though – avoid the trailer, which is hugely spoilery! ***1/2

Haunter

Film4 Frightfest 2013

 

My first thoughts when watching Haunter were how old it made me feel – lead actress Abigail Breslin (first seen in Signs) is now 17, and wasn’t even born until 3 years after the premiere of Groundhog Day which the opening recalls.

At the onset, Lisa (Breslin) seems like the stereotypical surly teenager in her prediction of the family routine, until it transpires that the prediction comes from living the same day over and over. But then little things seem to start changing, like washing missing from the machine or her father’s previously unseen smoking, and as well as the truth of her situation Lisa soon realises it goes beyond her family, and even her time…

The bulk of the film is set in 1985, and the attention to detail is lovely – it’s quite easy to get lost in a nostalgia kick for the days of Walkmen, Atari 2600s and Angela Lansbury – and Vincenzo Natali (Cube, Splice) adds some nice style to the visuals. Abigail Breslin shows she can carry a film too, and while the supporting cast is a bit mixed at times it’s not distracting. The script by Brian King (who worked with Natali on Cypher) keeps a solid pace with nods to the likes of Poltergeist, The Others and Stir of Echoes, though in the case of the latter while it did trigger a smile in usage Prokofiev gets trumped by the Rolling Stones every time I’m afraid!

Haunter is an effective thriller that has a refreshing sense of originality and slick visuals. It may not go down as either Natali or Breslin’s best ever, but it’s a good watch especially if in the mood for a Twilight-Zone-esque mystery. ***1/2

Hatchet III

Film4 Frightfest 2013

 

Read the Hatchet II review here!

Both the Hatchet series and its creator Adam Green have strong links to Frightfest – as well as showing the movies Frightfest hosted a live commentary for the first, and since Hatchet‘s premiere in 2006 Adam has attended a total of 7 Frightfests bringing his movies and also taking time with friend and fellow filmmaker Joe Lynch to produce several special shorts for the fest.

This year, the saga of Victor Crowley comes to a bloody end in Hatchet III and whilst keeping writing duties, Adam hands over directing to regular cameraman BJ McDonnell. In a similar way to Hatchet II, the film directly follows its predecessor, opening with a tried and bloody Marybeth (Danielle Harris) heading to a police station to recount the numerous deaths and the truth about Victor Crowley. As is typical for a slasher movie, the police assume Marybeth is responsible for the killers and lock her up while sending out a team to recover the bodies from the swamp. Or to put it another way, providing fresh blood for Crowley… Being a finale, the stakes are higher, loose ends are wrapped up, and there’s tankerloads of fake blood ready to flow!

Like the previous films, there are lots of nods to horror past and present, not least of which include roles for Gremlins star Zach Galligan, scream queen Caroline Williams (the second and third Texas Chainsaw Massacre films) and Derek Mears who replaced Victor Crowley actor Kane Hodder as Jason in the remake of Friday the 13th. This time round, the swamp really was a New Orleans swamp, and there is a good sense of atmosphere. This is bolstered by the cast clearly enjoying themselves despite what must have been very challenging filming conditions – Adam Green described pretty much every day having someone in the cast or crew going to the ER at some point, and runins with bugs whose larvae grow under the skin and can only be killed by acetone (Troughton-era Cybertechnology?) so requiring production staff to paint nail polish remover in places it was really never intended to go…

Funny and gory with excellent kills, Hatchet III is great fun and a fitting end to the trilogy. In terms of personal preference I think Hatchet II just about shades it, but the whole trilogy is impressively consistent and excellent entertainment. If you fancy a bloody flashback to the slashers of the 80s, get in the popcorn and enjoy! ****

Short: Crazy for You

Film4 Frightfest 2013

 

Read the Cockneys vs Zombies review here!

And read the Tower Block review here! 

Last year’s Frightfest had a particularly strong showing for friend of Skaro James Moran, with Cockneys vs Zombies on the first night and Tower Block closing the festival. This year, he directed as well as wrote Crazy for You, with a couple of names that readers may recognise…

Charlie has a problem with polka dots. So much so, in fact, that he has to kill anyone he sees wearing them! That tends to get in the way a bit when looking for love, but things may look up when he meets Jessica – but can she love a killer, or his nose?

As Charlie, ex-Pond Arthur Darvill has an easy watchability, and he and Hannah Tointon make a cute onscreen couple. Both the humour and the violence are well handled, and the romantic element works too, impressively so considering the brief running time. The music by Ben Foster too belies the brief nature. Could we have a new BBC3 sitcom hiding at Frightfest? It’s certainly better in its 10 minutes than any on the channel I’ve seen recently! ****

Dementamania

Film4 Frightfest 2013

 

Paintings.

Not just a portentous hint from Matt Smith about The Day of the Doctor, it’s a handy thing to bear in mind the first time you watch Dementamania – and the second too!

After Ed Arkham (Sam Robertson – Corrie‘s Adam Barlow, or more recently Beaver Falls) steps on a strange red wasp, his well-paid and neatly arranged life starts to fall apart. From office politics to attempts at contact by his ex, situations worsen as the effects of the sting spread. But can Ed believe everything he sees?

There’s a lot riding on Sam Robertson’s shoulders in such a character-focussed film, but he handles the tricky role with ease and puts in a confident performance that belies it being his first movie lead role. Supporting actors are also strong, with special mention due to Robert van Twillert as coworker Pablo who guarantees a smile every time he is on screen.

Dementamania is not the lurid grindhouse flick that the title may imply – it’s a neatly directed piece in which no shot or placement is accidental, and there’s alot of value in a second watch where you can see how every twist has been hinted through the film, and the importance of specific perceptions.

Oh, and remember – paintings… ***1/2

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