Reviewed by Andy
Anthology films are pretty rare these days – the last that springs to mind being Trick R Treat – but on the other hand found footage films are three a penny. So what happens when you put the two together? In the case of V/H/S, it seems you put your weaker foot forward first, as the opening of the film seems to focus on the most criticised elements of found footage in unlikeable characters and lots of shaky cameras.
Ostensibly the wrapper is that a group of young robbers are being paid to break into a house in search of a VHS tape, but they don’t know the contents other than they must be blackmailable. This is roughly where the format links end, as the rest of the stories are set in times past the usage of VHS in camera formats, mainly focussing on digital technologies. But of course anything can be recorded onto VHS tape… while the digital formats are played with effectively in several of the segments, there’s a bit of a missed opportunity in the “quirks” of VHS not being used at all – 90 minutes of movie and not one skipping pause or need to adjust tracking!
However, if you can get past the first 20 minutes or so, things start picking up towards the end of the first segment when events take what was developing into a rather uncomfortable date rape tale into something really unexpected! Though there’s some variation in the other segments, there are some really strong stories that raise the film as a whole – particular favourites being a slasher-esque tale set in some woods with some clever work done involving the killer, the Skype tale and the final story. By the time the credits roll its been a mixed bag, but the balance has tipped well into the watchable. Given how many focus on their ending, maybe there’s some value in trimming found footage films to the length to fit anthologies – watch this space for V/H/S 2? Or maybe that should be called D/V/D? ***
Hidden In The Woods
Reviewed by Andy
There are a few things that are stereotypically found in woods – odd (and usually single) wellington boots, rotting remains of ripped tents, and particularly in the pre-internet days, occasional stacks of second-hand porn, Unfortunately, its the latter that seems to have most connection to Hidden In The Woods, a grotty grindhouse tale centering on sisters Ana and Annie (or Anny, depending on what the subtitles decide) and Ana’s inbred mutant son Manny. Cue rapes, prostitution, random resurrection from the dead and occasional cannibalism while the subtitles gradually get worse and worse to the point where you can’t tell which character was meant to say the word that resembles nothing in english.
It’s pretty well stylised in a grindhouse/exploitation sense but is really not the kind of subgenre I like to watch or have ever gotten in to, so not for me at all. If you are, you may appreciate the look and feel, and may find intentional humour as well – other than the subtitles of course! **
Nightbreed – The Cabal Cut
Reviewed by Andy
Nightbreed is a film with a chequered history – based on the visionary novella Cabal by Clive Barker, the original theatrical release was marketed as slanted towards the slasher genre despite and despite a wonderfully creepy turn by David Cronenberg in a rare acting role, felt disjointed and reassembled yet with occasional glimpses into the epic that many suspected had originally been filmed. Over the years since its original 1990 cinema release, there had been much work done trying to find some of the reported major amounts of footage edited out, and finally while spring cleaning Clive Barker’s office a VHS tape marked “Nightbreed” (who’d have thunk it!) turned out to be the start of a holy grail… what was shown at Frightfest was still a work in progress to an extent (v5 so far!) – the festival showings which include footage cut together from multiple sources including the original print and VHS tapes is heading towards a full restoration which will have reportedly also have some of the VHS footage replaced with film from Fox so will look more consistent.
For those unfamiliar with the previous release, the film follows Boone (Craig Sheffer, here providing the template for the look of Angel in Buffy that would eventually come full circle in Hellraiser: Inferno), who has been trying to bring himself back to normality following recurring dreams of a town of monsters called Midian. Accused of serial murders by his psychiatrist Dr Decker, Boone has to go on the run – but what of his love Lori (Anne Bobby) and could all of his dreams have been real?
Unsurprisingly considering its subtitle, this version is much closer to the original novella, and feels much more complete for it. While there is still some footage missing – some of the creatures in the promo materials are still absent for example – this is much more of an epic, and a much more coherent story too. Lori’s role is fleshed out, as is Rachel’s, and the climactic siege is much more fully realised. The quality of some of the footage makes occasional elements difficult to follow, yet it’s still easier than the theatrical cut which speaks volumes. The design is still brilliant and really hasn’t aged; a testament to practical effects and Clive Barker’s vision. It’s only really things like hairstyles that have dated at all as the film’s focus on the monsters’ story has always felt ahead of its time. A brilliant event and something well worth following, as the DVD/Blu-Ray release promises to be something very special indeed. ****
Reviewed by Andy
If In Bruges was Father Ted with hitmen, then Grabbers is Father Ted with alien sea monsters. There we go, review done, off to the pub! That choice, as it turns out, may not be coincidental… After a fairly standard monster-movie intro, we go into full-on rom-com mode as new Garda Lisa (Ruth Bradley, soon to be heard as Molly in Big Finish’s Dark Eyes) arrives as holiday cover to back up perpetual drunk (Richard Coyle) just as a storm is due to head for their island – not the best time for the arrival of a monster that drinks human blood and can travel anywhere wet, so has picked Ireland as the perfect holiday destination!
* A quick interjection for anyone who has a similar experience to me, to save the self-annoyance I had – Richard Coyle played Jeff in Steven Moffat comedy Coupling, where he had a welsh accent. In fact, if he had played Jeff in this it would probably have made it the perfect film, as Jeff in a proper rom-com and Jeff in a monster movie would both be brilliant! *
There’s a lot of emphasis on the Irish as heavy drinkers, but director assures that it’s fine as it isn’t so much a stereotype as an archetype! Good job though, as our alien monsters are allergic to alcohol – so be sure to drink while watching!
What may seem an odd pairing of rom-com and monster movie does end up working well together, and the monster effects and design are excellent. The story itself may be a little on the disposable side, particularly with the blatent sequel setup, but it’s fantastic fun even without a drink. Watch out for Russell Tovey being exceedingly english and with a neat nod to Being Human, but don’t be tempted to try a drinking game such as having a swig every time one of the cast members do or you may end up in hospital! ***1/2
Cockneys vs Zombies
Reviewed by Andy
Ronseal really should start sponsoring movies, with films like Snakes On A Plane, Man On A Ledge, My Dinner With Andre and now Cockneys vs Zombies there’s an increasing number of titles that really do exactly what they say on the tin. (Product placement cheque is in the post, right?) The zombie apocalypse has arrived courtesy of some greedy workmen looking to loot a crypt marked as sealed by royal decree in 1666 – and so with the evidence of Terileptils and 5’s sonic screwdriver in there too, obviously – and it’s all kicked off in East London. Bad news for the zombies…
The story follows two brothers (Andy and Terry, played by Harry Treadaway and Rasmus Hardicker) who decide that the only way they can raise the money to save their grandad’s care home is to rob a bank. So they enlist the help of their cousin (Michelle Ryan), well-intentioned but rarely-successful Davey (Jack Doolan) and Mental Mickey (Ashley Bashy Thomas) for whom the nickname is something of an understatement. Perfect time for zombies to get involved then… they may be slow, but old people can be slower!
This idea along with the cockney acceptance of the whatever comes their way underpins the movie, and while the younger generation are the ones we follow for the “rescue”, the real stars are those in the home. Joining ubercockney Alan Ford are such TV and movie royalty as Honor Blackman (Pussy Galore herself!), Georgina Hale (Daisy K in The Happiness Patrol), Tony Selby (Glitz), Richard Briers (Paradise Towers) and Dudley Sutton, and they show age really is just a number when it comes to zombie-bashing. The film is gleefully un-PC and with a good sense of its own silliness, which are tied by James Moran’s brilliantly funny script into set-pieces, one liners and visual gags that will satisfy both zombie and comedy fans alike. Plus we get to see the answer to questions like “do zombies still support football teams?”, “how would you really deal with a zombie baby?” and “what would you call a zombie in rhyming slang?”
Excellent music choices and neat directing and editing (all about the Star Wars-style wipe cuts!) add up to a film that can proudly stand as a great British zombie film and a cracking comedy to boot. And keep an ear out during the closing credits for a proper zombie-themed knees up by Chas and Dave! ****
Cockneys vs Zombies shuffles onto DVD and Blu-Ray on October 22, including just over 20 minutes of Behind the Scenes featurettes (watchable individually or all together), a four minute Zombie School shown to the extras before filming, and the trailer. The first run also has a neat lenticular slipcase.
Seen it? Tell us what you thought in the forum!
The Seasoning House
Reviewed by Andy
The Seasoning House would be a chirpy title for a cannibal knees-up, but there’s nothing so cheerful in Paul Hyett’s vicious tale of the young girls dishomed by war and exploited by ruthless soldiers. We follow Angel, a deaf and mute girl who has been chosen to help the soldiers by keeping the girls made up and drugged up for the paying visitors, and cleaning up the blood and mess afterwards. Compliance is set early on in a way that rams home the casual disregard for life by the men involved, but after being entrusted with a key apparently opening the main door, and striking a friendship with a girl who can communicate via sign language, will Angel take her opportunity – or is it a test?
Set in the Balkans, the story elements may be ficticious but the basis is predominantly in fact, which makes the film all the more disquieting. I really wasn’t proud of being male by the end of the film!
Blistering performances by Kevin Howarth, Sean Pertwee and especially Rosie Day as Angel add effectiveness to the sparse use of dialogue, and tension levels are kept high by the direction and soundscape. It’s a film you won’t say you “enjoy” per se, but it’s an disturbing and well-made movie that has a real point to impart and does so effectively. ***1/2