Hounds of Love (2016)

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Hounds of Love is a highly traumatic modern horror. Based on a true series of events in Perth, Australia in 1986/1987, it is doubly disturbing because the serial killers that the film centres upon are a married couple. Its one thing for a film’s sick bastard/killer/rapist to be a man, but another for a woman to being aiding and abetting and even joining in on the awful depravations that ensue. Somehow it feels doubly wrong, doubly abhorrent, and while the film does seem to try to rationalise what makes the wife, Evelyn White (a standout performance by Emma Booth) such a subversive accomplice, it is nonetheless guaranteed to leave a sour taste in your mouth. Indeed, this is one of those few horror films -alongside stuff like Texas Chainsaw Massacre– that really lingers in your head afterwards, horrifying not for being particularly graphic in this case (Hounds of Love is far more restrained than Massacre or other ‘torture porn’ horrors, etc) but rather for offering an awful glimpse of the grim filthy underbelly of modern suburbia.

I’d even go so far to say that the genius -if it is genius- of this film is that very restraint, because the worst things that happen do so behind closed doors, and it is the viewers imagination, triggered by the sounds of screams etc and visual clues that preempt the sequences (a box and its contents is glimpsed, as are the blood-sodden aftermaths of earlier events) that does the most disturbing work. What is suggested in horror films is most often far more effective than graphic display.

The film is also a very intriguing study of domination and a need to belong, to be loved and have purpose (if I’m ‘reading’ it right).  John White (Stephen Curry) is bullied by neighbourhood thugs who he owes money to- his sense of powerlessness and weakness in that situation seems to be externalised by his emotional and physical bullying of his wife Evelyn. Evelyn is coming off some kind of dysfunctional relationship in which she lost her two children, and feels ‘saved’ by John and utterly dependant on him, so much so that she facilitates his grisly desires for kidnapping and raping/torturing/killing teenage girls. I don’t think for one minute that the film ever really suggests we should try to empathise or sympathise with these two sick killers, but it does offer some kind of nuance to what could quite easily be a straight slasher/exploitation flick. There’s much more going on here. In any case, this is certainly a superior horror film.

One point I must make- the dog.

Don’t mess with the dog, man. Thats where I draw the line. I’ll watch many things in film and forgive pretty much anything, but violence to dogs, even if it is offscreen and suggested? Well, that’s just too far and has to be punished. I don’t care who a character is, what they done, what they reasons were, they got it coming if only for canine mistreatment. Thankfully, the shit who crosses the line here gets his just comeuppance. Otherwise this film would be relegated to the ‘never again’ list, like Tyrannosaur.

Anyway, just thought I’d get that out of the way. Torture porn is one thing, but hurting a dog? Get out of here.

 

 

 

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The Love Witch (2016)

lovewAnyone fond of Roger Corman’s vividly-coloured 1960s horrors featuring Vincent Price, or 1970s tv cop-shows, will absolutely adore the decadent technicolour-saturated charms of this strange movie. It’s a love-letter to 1960s and 1970s occult horrors and as a retro feature its an unmitigated success. The casting, the acting, the sets and costume design, it’s a beautifully garish work of art. As a movie in its own right, well, maybe not, but I guess your final opinion will be swayed by how much you love and recall those 1960s and 1970s exploitation flicks that this film revels in. You might find yourself thinking that the style is strong enough to outweigh the lack of substance, or you might find the film long out stays its welcome over its two hours.

Samantha Robinson chews up that lurid scenery as Elaine, a beautiful, single witch in search of a man- the perfect man, and she’s going to use all her witchcraft to get him. Unfortunately, her search pulls a a number of gorgeous hunks into her web but when found lacking they end up dead, and the police end up on her trail. Wouldn’t you know it though- that police detective hunk measures up just fine, and Elaine decides she’s found her perfect man. But will detective Griff be man enough to resist her spell?

In all honesty, the story isn’t the film’s strong point, particularly with its overlong running time and awkward speeches about feminism and the role of women in an ostensibly man’s world, or how women use their sex to overpower men. What I enjoyed was the garish production design, that incredibly vivid cinematography and the deliberately (?) wooden acting and delivery that seems straight out of a 1970s tv-movie. As an homage, I thought it was brilliant.

Budget constraints hurt it somewhat. Or maybe it’s an advantage, all the curious mixing of authentic 1960s/1970s styles with modernity awkwardly (accidently?) thrown in like mobile phones, modern cars etc. sneaking into shots making it a particularly surreal, dreamlike film.

If only this was a Kolchak: the Night Stalker movie instead of something about witches, it might even have been perfect. I’m sure I’ve missed the point of it, but really, someone should shoot a Kolchak movie just like this one was shot, complete with Kolchak’s cheesy monster-of-the-week. It’d be fantastic.

 

2017 Selection Pt.7

2017gWell, after a  year of some success regards curbing my disc-buying, everything went out the window towards the end of the year. I mean, just look at that haul above, which dates from around Sept onwards I think. This 2017 selection update is clearly way overdue, and with so many additions I almost gave up on it, but I suppose that would have defeated the point of all those preceding posts so here we are.

So a quick run-through seems in order. The sales caught up with me with The Walk and Nocturnal Animals. You can’t go wrong at about £4 each. Guardians of the Galaxy 2 was my favourite cinema experience up until BR2049 swept me away- I may be in the minority, but I do think Galaxy 2 is superior to the original. Wonder Woman didn’t particularly fill me with wonder but it was still cheaper than a cinema visit and I’ll inevitably rewatch it sometime.

While I quite enjoyed Alien:Covenant at the cinema, it fared less well on disc, but I chiefly bought it for the Ridley Scott commentary, which unfortunately I haven’t heard yet (come on Ridley, explain it to me, what’s going on with the Alien franchise?).  The Vikings, meanwhile, is a great catalogue release- it’s a brilliant film brought to HD with a beautiful picture quality and worthwhile extras. Brilliant. Then of course we come to one of  the releases of the year- the simply gorgeous Arrow edition of The Thing, here in its LE variant- a lovely matt-finish hard box with the Amaray slipped inside with a book and artcards and poster. Regardless of the package, it’s the remaster of the film that is the big draw- it’s perfect. I almost dread the inevitable proper 4K release one day- I’ve really brought this film too many damn times already.

Then Indicator’s Hammer box (the first of four, I believe) heralded the Autumn of big releases coming up. I just cannot resist Hammer, and while the Sony Hammers that Indicator have access to are not exactly the Premier league of Hammer their treatment is exemplary and I really rather enjoyed them all. Some nice surprises in this set.

So here we come to the start of the spending madness.2017h

In My Mind was an impulse purchase, a great documentary about The Prisoner, celebrating its fiftieth anniversary this year. Season three of The Leftovers was another import due to there being no HD release here, which was followed by the exact opposite- a release that tempted me with one too many HD options. HBOs Westworld really impressed me when aired and was a disc release that I was looking forward to all year, and it turned out to be my first dual-HD format purchase, as I bought the tin with both 4K and blu-ray discs. Of course, I don’t have a 4K telly yet and have no idea when my current perfectly-fine Bravia will fail and cause any 4K replacement. Months? Years? It feels a bit silly but already future-proofing is on my mind. That slick packaging likely swung it.

La La Land was another sale purchase, and I really enjoyed it- I only hope I won’t regret not waiting for the 4K edition to come down in price. The Farthest is a simply brilliant doc about the Voyager space mission and Captain Scarlett in HD needs no explanation for anyone like me who grew up on a diet of Gerry Anderson magic.  Then of course two blockbusters I didn’t see at the cinema- Spiderman Homecoming and War For the Planet of the Apes, both great movies. They look great in HD but again, should I have stretched out to the 4K editions? I have a feeling that question will be a routine one going forward.

2017g (2)So then we come into Decembers offerings. Two more tv series boxsets follow- season 7 of GOT and the sublime wonder that is the Twin Peaks series three set. When in the world I will actually get to watch them I don’t know (the last three sets of GOT have sat on the shelf waiting for the past few years- I love the show and having only seen them on Sky Atlantic over the in-laws are surely ripe for proper viewing without breaks etc but somehow it never happens). A few more sale buys follow- 4K/Blu-ray of the notorious marmite flick Valerian that might prove to be a disastrous purchase (haven’t seen it yet) and two anime titles from a Christmas sale at All the Anime; the tv series Terror in Resonance (actually in a deluxe set in a huge box that’s hardly shelf material) and the twin set of Genius Party/Genius Party Beyond, two rather curio films that I have been interested in for years but never seen.

Finally, last weeks Arrow release of The Apartment, one of my top ten fave films in a lovely set with some new extras and a book, and the extended 4K/Blu-ray release of The Martian. The latter has been on my radar for ages but was in one of those flash-sales at Amazon last week (I bought it whilst surfing on a break at work, and the price had already gone up again by the time I got back home later in the day). Bit daft really, I wanted it mostly for the commentary and addl extras but figured if I was double-dipping I might as well go the 4K route whilst doing it.

Christmas presents/festive sales may yet add to the selection and require another post. But clearly I already have my work cut out for me regards the to-watch pile. Breaking the barrier into 4K purchases is a troubling event that may prove to be a trend next year (I already have the 4K BR2049 pre-ordered) which frankly feels a bit silly knowing a 4K telly and Ultra HD player may yet be over a year away. But double-dipping is so frustrating maybe it’s the only solution. Will 2018 be the year I buy discs I can’t even watch yet? Shudder.

 

 

 

 

Napoleonic California: The Terror

terror32017.71: The Terror (1963)

An impossibly young Jack Nicholson plays a Napoleonic officer with a lazy californian accent, Boris Karloff plays a reclusive Baron with a shady past (with a twist straight out of leftfield) and Dick Miller plays his tough-guy servant as if he somehow stepped straight off a tough New York street. Its one of those old films full of utterly bizarre casting, a cheap-as-chips exploitation b-movie (Karloff filmed his scenes in just four days, using sets from Corman’s previous flick, The Raven, I think, just before they were torn down) that doesn’t make any sense at all.

And yet there is a certain charm about it. Partly it is that fun, twisted casting. It is strange indeed to see Nicholson phoning-in a performance so early in his career, or maybe it’s just that he isn’t taking any of it as seriously as Karloff, who clearly relishes it like it’s his crack at Shakespeare (but that was true of Karloff in every film). Any historical accuracy is purely coincidental, simply adding to the dreamlike sensibilities of the confused script and the vibrant, richly colourful lighting that reminded me of ’60s Star Trek.

Indeed, it’s almost shocking to reflect that as a ghost story (before it veers off into something else) this film almost works, in spite of all that is so wrong about it- the plot-holes and inconsistencies lend it an air of dreamlike strangeness that threatens to make it a much better film than it is. But of course, it’s all accidental, a combination of rushed and fractured shooting and a script that looks like it was cobbled from out-takes from other scripts (like the sets themselves, evidently, as many props and scenery look like leftovers from earlier Poe films by Corman). With its cast and strange sensibilities it’s a rewarding curio, if nothing else.

Stabbing Tedium

fanatic2017.56: Fanatic (1965)

This one’s a pretty strange Hammer movie. It lacks the usual ‘look’ and cast of a Hammer film, with more the feel of a (bad) Hitchcock thriller. But there’s plenty in it that deserves a watch- a young Stefanie Powers is really pretty great in a very under written part, as a heroine who does very little heroic and there’s Tallulah Bankhead chewing up scenery like she’s in full-blown demolition mode. It’s really very odd and I doubt it’s ever really in line for a rewatch (it’s the worst of the four films featured in Indicator’s first Hammer box), but you never know, sometimes these crazy curio pictures pull you back more often than you’d expect.

Even at 97 mins though it really outstays its welcome, with a very flimsy plot. Our ill-fated heroine, Patricia Carroll (Powers) feels she has to visit the mother of her recently-deceased boyfriend to pay her respects, little knowing that the mother, Mrs Trefoile (Bankhead) is a religious zealot and nuttier than the fruitiest fruit cake. The old lady imprisons Patricia in her isolated house and suffers her to listen to her bible readings, intent on cleansing the young girl’s soul before killing her (and therefore reuniting Patricia with her son). That might make the film seem more interesting than it really is.

What helps the film, like in so many bad movies such as Lifeforce, is the retrospective oddity of its casting. The supporting cast includes the late great Peter Vaughan (I’m thinking of Brazil but most will be thinking of Game of Thrones) and Yootha Joyce, famous here for 1970s sitcoms (and apparently subject to unwelcome attentions from the bisexual Bankhead during filming). Couple this with a bizarre turn by an impossibly young Donald Sutherland, and it’s quite a strange item.

Unfortunately by the time it stutters to its ending it really becomes rather tedious. They don’t make ’em like they used to, and sometimes maybe that’s just as well.

Aren’t you the ‘good man’?

maniac12017.54: Maniac (1963)

Hammer is remembered these days as a horror studio, but they made all sorts of films back in the day- Maniac being one of its noir/psychological b&w thrillers. Set in France with some impressive widescreen photography out on location, Maniac is quite a surprise when one considers Hammer’s mostly studio-based Gothic horrors, with their constantly familiar sets. Maniac looks different; bigger, more sophisticated visually.

It is of course, almost at odds with the ambitious location shooting, a pulpish thriller that doesn’t stray too far from what one would expect, but it does start with a very unnerving sequence in which a girl returning from school is picked up and attacked. It’s really quite a brutal sequence, more from what is inferred happening off-screen and our own imaginations, and the film starts confounding our genre expectations from the start- the girl’s rapist is not the maniac of the films title at all. Instead, we see the girl’s father taking justice into his own hands when he catches the rapist and viciously murders him with a welding torch. What is this, a Tarantino movie?

Its funny watching ‘old’ films like this for the first time with modern eyes and different social attitudes. The hero of the film is Geoff Farrell, an American painter played by Kerwin Matthews, Sinbad himself, no less. Farrell is an utter bastard, a self-preoccupied narcist on the bounce from a failed relationship with a rich girlfriend who latches first onto Annette, the girl who was raped five years earlier in the films aforementioned prologue, and then when those overtures seem thwarted, has an affair with her mother, Eve (Nadia Gray). By the time all the twists and turns have resulted in Eve being arrested by the police, Farrell then latches onto Annette again. Really, it had me thinking that Annette would have been safer with the maniac.  It’s not that the character of Farrell does anything particularly bad from the point of view of 1950s/1960s society, but it does look damned questionable from the perspective of 2017. It rather lends this formulaic, if surprisingly effective thriller with an extra layer of grubbiness and sense of distaste, with some questionable sexual objectification of women in general.

In anycase, it’s a great little pulp thriller which suggests there was far more to Hammer than just those gothic horrors we are more familiar with. If you could smell a film, Maniac would be thick with the slightly mouldering odour of old paperback pulp potboilers sitting out on bookstore racks in the old days. It is what it is, and pretty glorious for that.

Maniac can currently be found on Indicator’s recent Hammer vol.1 boxset- slipping fairly obscure (Hammer purists will no doubt take me to task for that) films like this in boxsets such as this is a great move, as I doubt many would purchase Maniac on disc on its own merits. As it is, the film can be a very pleasant surprise for those like me who are unfamiliar with it. The picture quality is pretty great in HD, especially considering how badly some of those more popular gothic horors have fared in comparison. Indicator even supply a fantastic booklet and plenty of on-disc extras, surely going the extra mile for a film that wouldn’t ordinarily be on the receiving end of such attention. More please, Indicator!

 

Of Things and Replicants

th1One of the pleasures/appeals of both The Thing and Blade Runner originate from their…. I hesitate to call them ‘mistakes’, but in all honesty it’s hard to consider them deliberate constructions.  Both films somehow created genius from chaos, perfection from accident. One of the timeless appeals of Blade Runner is the question of whether Deckard is human or Replicant, but during the making of the film it wasn’t a deliberate conceit, more one created from the melting-pot of the films confused conception. The writers wrote the character as human, the actor played him as human- the idea of him actually being that which he was hunting was an idea that appealed to director Ridley Scott and is one he has played upon ever since, particularly in subsequent re-edits of the film.  The strength of it is the ambiguity of it’; there seems no definitive answer, only hints and suggestions and contradictions which are left for the viewer to decipher.

I suppose it raises the issue of authorship; who is the central creator of a film and whose opinion really matters. Or maybe it’s all about teamwork which even includes the viewer as a participant in that teamwork and authorship.

In the case of The Thing, the role of the viewer as author is based upon the films confusion regards who is the Thing and what constitutes the Thing in the first place, all of which predicates on how one ‘sees’ the ending of the film. The film is never clear (except perhaps in two or three cases) who exactly is the Thing or when the they ‘became’ the Thing. A strength of this is the rising state of paranoia and conspiracy as the events unfold, but one might also view it as confusing and a lack of control by the film-makers. It establishes that the Thing ‘infects’ a subject and on a cellular level absorbs or replicates that host, but on a macro level demonstrates that it feeds and destroys that host as it duplicates it (what it does to the dogs in the kennel early on, or how we see it attacking some of the humans later, or leaves torn and bloody clothing in its wake). I have often felt that much of this stems from Rob Bottin and his creature effects crew dreaming up ever wilder and graphic set-pieces which, while spectacular, are almost at odds with the more subtle suggestions from the screenplay.

There is a suggestion, for instance, that one does not know one is the Thing, while also a suggestion that the Thing knows who is the Thing (due to glances between characters like Palmer and Norris). The latter would infer that at the films conclusion, at least one of Childs or MacReady must be human because they don’t ‘know’ each other’s real identity of human or Thing (because if they were both the Thing they would be triumphant and content to wait out eventual rescue). We are offered alternatives- they are both human but suspicious of each other, or one is the Thing and content to let the human die while it is content to freeze and thaw out later upon rescue, or both are The Thing and don’t know it. It could be any of those possibilities. Should the film be settling upon one and establishing it?

The blood test sequence is a highlight of the film and it is based upon the mystery of not knowing who is the Thing or indeed if oneself is the Thing- witness the relief on characters faces when they pass the test, a fantastically paranoid conceit which which means nothing if the Thing knows it is the Thing.  But whilst it establishes that Palmer fails the test and is indeed the Thing (betrayed by his own blood cells, which raises other questions of what constitutes the Thing and hive mentality etc), it always raises questions in me regards why he/it doesn’t act sooner, why he allows himself/itself to be tied up and cornered like that. Unless he doesn’t know, but this itself seems at odds with his apparent resignation just prior to being discovered as the alien. And yet a little earlier when he delivers his famous line “You’ve got to be fucking kidding!” he seems so human and so shocked at what Bottin magic he is witnessing. Its as if the script and the film is wrestling with itself, a chaotic mess from which order may or may not emerge.

All this confusion and apparent lack of control allows room for the viewer to step in and interpret things (sic) as he wishes. A critical view might suggest that this ambiguity is a weakness in Carpenter’s direction, that perhaps he himself lost control of who is the Thing and when, and indeed what the Thing actually is. But it undoubtedly becomes the films strength, when even at films end, viewers can have opposing views of what it all means or what has actually just happened. Happy accident/coincidence? Or just the viewer repairing a broken film?