Friday, 12 August 2016

The Green Inferno (2015)

The Green Inferno harks back to the Italian cannibal films of the 1970s but lacks the truly disturbing edge of the likes of Cannibal Holocaust, as well as their grimy underground feel. In addition the misjudged tone and annoying characters blunt any satirical edge.

Justine (Lorenza Izzo) is a college student and daughter of a UN lawyer. After going to a lecture on female genital mutilation, and meeting hunky rabble-rouser Alejandro, she agrees to sign up his protest trip to take a gang of do-gooders to halt a logging company and their paramilitary security in the Amazon rainforest. It looks like their protest is a success, but after their plane crashes on the return trip, the protesters soon realise that the people they are trying to save would rather have them for dinner.

To his credit, Roth has made a mostly well-structured film in terms of plot, and there are also some brilliant set pieces, not least the plane crash, which is every bit as stomach churning as any gut munching scene.

While the most of the characters exist in order to be bumped off, Roth takes time introduce some tension in the group, particularly through Justine, who finds to her disgust that the crusaders are happy to put her life at risk without asking, banking on her daddy's reputation to avoid her getting killed.

The film also brings the cannibal genre into the twenty first century. For a start, the idea of Westerners flying into a foreign country uninvited with good aims, only to have the natives turn on them still seems topical. The narcissistic campaigners seem as obsessed with getting their work noticed on the internet or planning their next tattoo as with any good they are doing. However Roth seems to lack any ideas as to where to go beyond this, and the constant sneering at the mostly unlikeable characters becomes tiresome, not helped by misjudged scenes about drugs and diarrhoea.

The lush photography is wonderful and is a throwback to more highbrow 70s films such as Herzog's Aguirre, Wrath of God. The cannibals, while portrayed by a real South American tribe, are never shown to be more than obviously outrageous caricatures so I found it hard to get as offended I might have done if I thought Roth was trying to portray anything realistic. But for all the nods to more lowbrow Grindhouse cinema of the same decade like this, The Green Inferno lacks two important elements from these films.

Firstly is unsimulated animal cruelty, something that makes the likes of Cannibal Holocaust uncomfortable viewing even in these jaded times. Incidentally, it is something that Holocaust director Ruggero Deodato seems to regret, having recently completed a special cut of the film that eliminates nearly all of the animal footage, while keeping, it should be noted, nearly all of the human cruelty. Similarly, the focus in The Green Inferno is on the grim and gory fates that befall the cast.

The second hinges on the viewing experience itself. I watched The Green Inferno on a plasma screen TV from a DVD I had bought in a supermarket. I first saw Cannibal Holocaust on a grimy, wonky, third generation dubbed VHS (on a double bill with Cannibal Ferox), borrowed from someone at school who had bought it from an ad in the back of a horror movie mag, with the sound turned down so my parents wouldn’t hear it. Every aspect of this reinforced the feeling that I was watching something truly underground and transgressive, (which also distracted from the problems with the film). Without being able to capture these elements The Green Inferno becomes ultimately, just another horror film.

Eli Roth's The Green Inferno - Official Trailer by FanReviews

Wednesday, 27 July 2016

Night of the Demon (1957)

Night of the Demon is a wonderfully wry supernatural story, with the chills coming from the ambiguity and atmosphere, and the tension and drama coming from the battle of wits between the human lead characters.

Psychologist Dr. John Holden (Dana Andrews) comes to England from the US for a science convention at which he plans to expose renowned occultist Julian Karswell (Niall MacGinnis) as a charlatan and a cult leader. On arrival he finds that not only has his research partner, Professor Harrington, has died in a mysterious accident, but Harrington was growing increasingly afraid of the powers he thought Karswell possessed. Holden is having none of this however, even when Karswell tells him he is going to die in three days time. But as increasingly strange incidents keep occurring, Holden is forced to question whether the supernatural does exist - and whether or not his days are numbered.

Andrews does not totally convince as a scientist, but one thing he does bring to the role is a forcefulness and an unshakeable faith in rationalism that makes him a believable opponent to Karswell, an equally strong character supposedly based on the so-called “wickedest man in the world”, real life occult guru Aleister Crowley.

The tension between the two is palpable as the cat-and-mouse games escalate, but it also found an off screen parallel in tensions between this film's producer and director. Hal E Chester originally wanted to make a straightforward monster movie rather than ambiguity and atmosphere, and shot the scenes involving the demon without the director's knowledge. With little money in the budget, the end result is a little bit silly. The appearance at the beginning of the film sets completely the wrong tone for what is to follow, and the appearance at the end almost undoes the hard work that the director and actors have done up to then - almost,but not quite.

Director Jacques Tourneur had built a career on spooky and atmospheric horror classics such as Cat People and I Walked with a Zombie. He takes a similar approach here, with the end results feeling wonderfully spooky, rather than actually terrifying, with a ghoulish sense of humour thrown in, and much as the incidents affecting become ever more baffling they never truly spill over into the supernatural.

In addition, in all three of the demon's appearances, there are no external witnesses so it could still be argued that there is some ambiguity as to whether it makes it into the real world or whether it is simply a demon of the mind.

Night of the Demon (1957) by MargaliMorwentari

Sunday, 17 July 2016

Carry On Behind (1975)

Carry On Behind (1975)

Despite still turning in a profit, the Carry On Films were facing something of a crisis by the mid-70s. Several of the regular stars had walked away from the series, along with the regular script writer, and many of the box office rivals such as the Confessions series were hoping the smut ante as well as including actual sex and nudity. While Carry on Behind is in some respects a reworking of the earlier Carry on Camping, the new cast members help stop it feeling like a straightforward re-tread.

There is little in the way of plot, and instead we get a series of situations and sketches involving the assorted characters at the Riverside Caravan Park. Firstly, there is uptight archaeology professor Roland Crump (Kenneth Williams), whose joy at the discovery of Roman artefacts during the digging of a cesspit at the park is ruined by having to expert share a caravan with fellow expert Professor Anna Vrooshka (Elke Sommer) while they investigate further. Then there is randy butcher Fred Ramsden (Windsor Davies) and his dopey and clumsy electrician mate Ernie Bragg (Jack Douglas), both hoping to wow the ladies while away from their wives Sylvia (Liz Fraser) and Vera (Patricia Franklin) at Riverside. Elsewhere there is Arthur Upmore (Bernard Bresslaw) and his wife Linda (Patsy Rowlands), whose dream of a nice break away together is scuppered by the presence of Linda’s mother Daphne (Joan Sims), the lecherous campsite owner, Major Leaper (Kenneth Connor), and the camp site odd job man, Henry Barnes (Peter Butterworth), who bears a striking resemblance to Daphne’s estranged husband, Henry Barnes (Peter Butterworth).

Long-time Carry On screenwriter Talbot Rothwell had been forced to retire through ill health, so was replaced for this film by Dave Freeman, who had a long career in TV and film comedy, including the film version of hit TV sitcom Bless This House, starring Sid James. Not that you would notice the difference, with the usual blend of vignettes rather than story, groan inducing puns and innuendo, saucy seaside postcard humour and broad caricatures rather than characters.

This blend of the new and the familiar is perhaps the key to the film’s success. Kenneth Williams, Bernard Bresslaw, Peter Butterworth and Joan Sims were Carry On veterans, well versed in how to make the cheesiest of lines get a laugh. Of the newbies, Windsor Davies deserves praise for stepping into the character of the randy womaniser, the role usually filled by Sid James, and making it very much his own. The same can also be said for Jack Douglas, who brings his distinctive physical and verbal comedy style to the sidekick role usually filled by Bresslaw or Butterworth.

The real and very welcome surprise is Elke Sommer. She had made comedy films before, such as the Inspector Clouseau classic A Shot in the Dark, but the ribald and very English Carry On films are something else entirely. Nevertheless, she jumps in to the proceedings with aplomb and energy, the forceful and uninhibited Vrooshka acting as the perfect foil to Crump.

Monday, 30 May 2016

Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959)

For many people, Plan 9 From Outer Space is the gateway drug to the world of bad movies, and it was certainly the case for me. Writer/Director Ed Wood Jr can be accused of many things in terms of deficiencies of plot, characterisation and special effects, but there is no way you can call his work boring.

While on a routine flight airline pilot Jeff Trent (Gregory Walcott) and his co-pilot Danny are surprised by a bright light and loud sound, and are shocked to see a flying saucer. The saucer lands at a cemetery, where a number of suspicious deaths have taken place. It turns out aliens are hiding out there, carrying out their fiendish plan to take over the world: reanimating the dead, otherwise known as Plan 9 From Outer Space.

The basic elements of the story, mad scientists, atomic power, alien invasions, zombies (albeit the pre-Romero, non contagious, non-flesheating kind) are not unfamiliar in the genre films of the time. In the hands of another film-maker, what could have resulted is the sort of pleasant but forgettable film that so many others were churning out at that time. Thankfully the job was turned over to Ed Wood, a man whose enthusiasm for movies was only matched by his enthusiasm for vodka. This meant that his scripts were bursting with ideas, and while he was not always the best at shaping these into a coherent whole, they have an anarchic energy and anything-can-happen atmosphere, coupled with dialogue that veers between the drearily banal and the outrageously surreal.

There are so many other points of interest along the way, from the health and safety loving police sergeant who insists on punctuating every line of dialogue by pointing at things with his gun, the Styrofoam Gravestones, the outrageously camp chief alien, and the heroic disregard for continuity, especially in terms of what time of day it is.

The star of the film, Bela Lugosi died a few days into shooting, the sort of event that would have crushed a lesser man than Ed Wood. Instead, he simply carried on, getting his wife's chiropractor to play the Lugosi role with his cape over his face so that we can't see the difference, even though he is at least a foot taller than Lugosi.

When I first saw this, back in the early 1990s the consensus was that this was something silly and terrible, something to be sneered at. Nowadays, I feel nothing but admiration for Wood. Granted his film-making skills are not up there with the best, but his enthusiasm and tenacity shines through in the movies, The surfeit of ideas means the film never gets dull and stands up to repeat viewings. 

Sunday, 29 May 2016

Gorgo (1961)

Gorgo is a rare British excursion into kaiju, the genre usually associated with Godzilla, where huge seemingly indestructible monsters smash up major international cities. The two dimensional human characters are more than made up for by the sympathetic monsters, fast paced script and competent special effects.

A huge volcano erupts off the coast of Ireland, nearly sinking a salvage ship working nearby. While awaiting repairs on a nearby island, Captain Joe Ryan (Bill Travers) and first officer, Sam Slade (William Sylvester of 2001: A Space Odyssey fame) hear tales of a giant monster and mysterious deaths and disappearances amongst the fisherman of the island. When they discover that the monster is all too real, the pair and their crew manage not only to capture it, but also transport the creature to be shown off in a circus, where it is named "Gorgo" - but a group of scientists thing the 65 foot tall Gorgo may only be a youngster, and his mother is three times that size, and wants her child back.

The script with a plot straight from the Toho studios template, with a bit of King Kong thrown in as well is competent if unoriginal. The main point of interest is how unsympathetic the two main characters are, driven by greed, blind to the consequences until it's far too late, although Ryan gets to redeem himself by saving a cute little orphan boy. By contrast Gorgo and his mother, like King Kong are likeable, despite the destruction they cause, because of the treatment they have received from human beings

Director Eugene Lourie keeps things moving along in an entertaining way, and the scenes of panicking crowds as London gets smashed up are full of nervous energy and hysteria, with lots of handheld shots, close-ups and fast cutting. The special effects are also borrowed from Japan, with a man in a rubber suit stomping models of famous landmarks into the ground.

These scenes of destruction are even more interesting when put in an historical context. The film was released 20 years after the Blitz saw Nazi bombs raining down on England and right in the middle of the Cold War, when the end of the world could be around the corner. Filmmakers and film goers were eager to explore any potential apocalypse, are still are, but always seemed to prefer doing so in a fantasy context.

Gorgo (1961) Full Movie by TheCryptoCrew

Thursday, 5 May 2016

Chuck Norris vs Communism (2015)

Chuck Norris vs Communism (2015)

A breezy, pleasant documentary that poses an interesting question - what if you lived in a world where watching a Chuck Norris film was an act of political defiance?

Through a mix of talking head interviews and dramatic reconstructions, we are taken back to 1980s Romania, under the dictatorship of Nicolae Ceaușescu. Western Imperialist Capitalist culture was banned outright, but the government and Secret Service were no match for one enterprising citizen, and a woman who went on to have one of the most famous voices in the country.

The citizen was Teodor Zamfir, a man who had overseen the smuggling of scores of videos of banned American films into Romania and set up a dubbing studio in his apartment. The woman is Irinia Nistor, who was working as a translator for Romania’s Government controlled TV channel. Clandestinley approached by a colleague, she ended up providing Romanian language voiceovers for the bootlegged films, and as the underground network of viewers spread, Nistor became the second most well known voice in the country, after that of Ceausescu himself.

The title of the film, while understandably attention grabbing, is not strictly accurate. Norris was one part of a wider set of American films that was not limited to the action genre, but took in comedies and romances such as Dirty Dancing. These would all be viewed in clandestine screenings at somebody's apartment, and if word got around that one was taking place these could be busy affairs.

This is ultimately what Chuck Norris vs Communism celebrates, the communal joy of a shared experience, of being lifted out of reality, even if only for a few hours.

By 1989 Ceaușescu's regime had collapsed following a wave of violent protests, and he and his wife were tried and executed. With the collapsing economy and living standards he presided over, it is likely Ceaușescu would have fallen eventually anyway, and I don't think the director Ilinca Calugareanu is trying to imply the videos were responsible for his overthrow. But, there is no denying, they did help people get through the troubled times.

Chuck Norris vs Communism Official Trailer by filmow

Wednesday, 20 April 2016

Island of Terror (1966)

Island of Terror (1966)

Island of Terror is a fast paced, imaginative and at times, wonderfully cheesy slice of British sci-fi horror, straddling the twin sub genres of "science run amok" and "trapped on a remote British island". Despite the presence of director Terence Fisher and star Peter Cushing, it is not a Hammer film, and feels if anything like a precursor 1970s era Dr Who.

On a remote island the police constable makes a grisly find - the corpse of a local farmer, but without a single bone in his body. The local doctor is stumped, so travels to the mainland to seek help from top London pathologist Dr. Brian Stanley (Peter Cushing) and bone disease expert Dr. David West. Back on the island they find more boneless bodies - and a mysterious lab where a scientist was working on a cure for cancer. Has this got some link to the strange creatures responsible for the horrifying deaths? But with all transport and communication to the island cut off, will any of them make it off alive?

Island of Terror was very obviously knocked out cheaply and quickly, but the film-makers respond to it with typical British Gusto. Firstly, by cheerfully ignoring the ridiculous rubber monsters causing the terror, and secondly by focussing more on the script. Being trapped in a place is a classic horror trope, and the script does set up, albeit through portentous dialogue, plenty of reasons why they can not get away. The writers are also not afraid to throw in twists and shocks, and bump off important and likeable characters. Granted some of the attitudes have not dated well. Toni Merrill, Dr West's girlfriend exists purely, as the daughter of a wealthy man with a helicopter, to give the men quick transport back to the island. After that she spends most of her time screaming and needing to be rescued. The slightly patronising attitudes of the London lot to the island folk looks a little cringeworthy too, especially when it was big city slicker scientists that started the whole crisis in the first place.

Some of the special effects, such as the boneless corpses or an dismembering a hand are surprisingly gruesome and shocking for a 1960s film. Others, particularly the creatures themselves, are just awful. They look like rubber shells stuffed with noodles, and coupled with the weird squeaky electronic noises they make, could come straight out of 1970s Dr Who. Cushing, as usual, plays it admirably straight, and brings some dignity to these scenes.

In fact, with some minor tweaks, the whole thing could play as a 70s Dr Who story, with Jon Pertwee in the Cushing role, and similar ideas of science gone bad and threatening the world were explored in stories of that era, such as The Green Death and The Seeds of Doom. Plus, there is a perpetually screaming woman who always needs to be rescued.

The film finishes on a speech defending the scientist whose work caused all the problems, a sort of, "okay, it went bad, but at least he meant well". This is quickly followed by a twist ending along the lines of "at least it's not happening anywhere else", followed by a cut to a lab in Japan, where.... well, I'm sure you can guess.