Overlord

overlord1Overlord should be a guilty pleasure, a pulpish, b-movie blast. It reminded me a great deal of Planet Terror, a film I really do consider a guilty pleasure. It has that same kind of madly self-indulgent, OTT approach, but Overlord certainly isn’t anywhere near as bold as Planet Terror was. Instead of grindhouse this film is way, way more mainstream, and yeah, plays things surprisingly (considering its as gory and violent as it is) safe. I find myself thinking that had Overlord been a Quentin Tarantino flick, it could have been great- it just needs that edge, that wild dialogue and those crazy shocks that Tarantino is so famous for, which its lacking.

Which is, yeah, a case of me moaning more about what it isn’t rather than what it is, which possibly isn’t fair, but the film rather seems to have set itself up this way, promising a pulpish World War Two horror film that is pretty wild. But it isn’t, really. The bad guy Nazi’s are pretty routine when they possibly should have been super-pantomime villains, hysterically crazy-funny. They should have been really ‘Out There’ and instead they seem quite pedestrian bad guys; it’s almost as if the film wastes its Nazi menace. Which is a little odd, considering the main bad guy villain Wafner is played by Pilou Asbæk, who was so wild in Game of Thrones as the insufferably annoying Euron Greyjoy. Asbæk is quite neutered in this, and his performance sums up the rest of the film too. And don’t get me started on the utterly anemic mad scientist in this.

Maybe it should have been more of a War movie than it is a horror movie? I mean, it isn’t really scary as it is, and maybe that’s because it fails as a horror film.  I don’t know. I just get the feeling this film could have been a riot, and it wasn’t. Despite the gore and violence, it’s quite uninvolving and comes across like the PG-certificate cut of a proper R-rated picture. So bloody weird, frankly.

 

 

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Last Week: Warning- Disney loves the Alien

ndisneyDistressing news last week (at least I think it’s distressing, your own mileage may vary) was that Disney, having now gobbled up 20th Century Fox, is looking at all the IP its bought and is looking at ways to maximise the potential returns. One of the first properties under its uncanny eye is Alien, and it has been reported that it is looking to reboot the franchise.

Dear God. I hope that doesn’t mean a remake of the original Alien.

Now, I well understand that this also means we can finally dump Prometheus and Alien Covenant in the trash bin and pretend they never happened, because once the reboot button is pressed, then essentially everything prior becomes non-canon, and, well, as we won’t be getting a third prequel from Ridley Scott, the two films are pretty much even more useless than they were before. I’ll be honest, I was rather forlornly hoping that Ridley had another Alien film in him to tie things up with those Engineers and save the day but, alas, it seems its not to be. Maybe this is a good thing.

But they’d better keep there hands off remaking the 1979 movie.

Rebooting Alien. What the hell does that even mean? Do they go back to the Dan O’Bannon/Ron Shusett original treatments and start from scratch? Does that mean a redesign of the Alien and dropping Giger’s creature? There’s a special circle of Hell waiting for any execs crazy enough to make that move. Giger simply is Alien. His dark twisted horror/sexual imagery is the core of the film’s Lovecraftian dread. There’s all sorts of subconscious tensions and fears in that stuff. Maybe they could recreate the creature in CGI fully recapturing those proportions of his paintings that really confound the limitations of a man in a suit. I’d go with that. But let’s not lose the creature.

So what do Disney do? What the hell has that Mouse got in its head? Making a movie set in the same Alien universe, but maybe set after Alien, or Aliens? Pretend that everything from Alien 3 never happened?

Or does it go the Another Life route? Crew the Nostromo with a hip young crew of beautiful people, white, black, gay, straight, bisexual, oversexed, ultracool, dressed in cool fashionable clothes with perfect haircuts. Send them into space with a slick spaceship carrying a payload of water to a climate-change ravaged desert Earth and have them detour to a planet and a flying saucer with a Made In the USA sticker hidden of their sight in a cunning ploy by the Weyland corporation to field test their new bio-warfare toy on an alien Love Island?

God leave it alone Disney. You’ve messed up Star Wars, just leave Alien alone. Its not your thing. This isn’t about selling children’s toys/merchandise or creating Nostromo rides at Disneyland. Alien is Heavy Metal, its hardcore adult horror. I know it hasn’t been that for years, really, but let’s just pretend that 1979 film is Out Of Bounds.

Whatever next? Reboot Planet of the Apes (again)? Reboot Die Hard (again)? Hey, I can see it now- it’s the grudge match everyone’s been waiting for- its Aliens versus Apes in Weyland Tower, a corporate skyscraper under siege by eco-terrorists, and our only hope is a bitter detective visiting town to see her ex-husband who works on the 99th Floor. Can Jane McClane alert the authorities of the terrorist attack before they can steal the Weyland Biowarfare files, while somehow surviving the attention of talking Apes and slimy Alien Face Huggers? It may be Easter, but those Eggs aint for kids mutha—-r.  Kerching! I can hear those cash registers ringing, I’m on fire. Talk to my agent, Disney, I’m sure we can do business.

Flatliners (2017)

flat1I’m sitting here feeling somewhat numb. What can I possibly write about this new edition of Flatliners? It feels about as pointless as the film itself. I expected it would be bad, but it turns out it’s worse than I had imagined. Frankly, life is too short, but here goes, I’ll try keep this brief-

I remember watching the 1990 original of Flatliners and thinking it was pretty good at the time- I saw it on VHS rental, so what, that’s 25+years ago now, and I can’t recall watching it again since, as it was pretty forgettable really, the most notable thing about it being the cast (Kiefer Sutherland, Julia Roberts, Kevin Bacon), who all went on to bigger better things. The set-up (medical students deliberately flatline/kill themselves for a few minutes prior to being resuscitated in order to study/discover what happens after death), is daft but full of potential- I remember hoping for something like Brainstorm, a film that would offer an answer to the inevitable questions: is there a Heaven, is there a Hell, or is there Nothing? At least Brainstorm, for all its flaws, had suggested an answer, albeit just really offering familiar religious iconography in doing so, but hey, it’s one of my guilty pleasures and it’s a decent movie. But Flatliners just ducked the questions like a coward, afraid to upset anyone in the audience and offered up guilt-trips instead, but hey, that’s show business, and I believe it made lots of money (more than Brainstorm, certainly).

Incredibly, this new Flatliners makes the exact same mistake but compounds it by featuring a mostly uninteresting cast of unconvincing and bland characters with a script that is shockingly inept. Its terrible, really, not that I should perhaps be surprised, but really, the stupidity is what’s most shocking. Ellen Page’s character flatlines and has an out-of-body ‘experience’ of rising up out of the hospital into the sky above it, afterwards convincing her colleagues by daft nonsense like “I flew above the roof of the hospital- I’ve never seen the roof of the hospital before!” as if thats some kind of proof. Suddenly she’s super-smart and can also play the piano, but these sudden bursts of knowledge and creativity, a catalyst for others of the group to give flatlining a go, is subsequently ditched as a plotpoint in favour of jump-scares and standard horror tropes. Religious imagery seems to have been consciously avoided in order to not question any audience belief-system. Its therefore completely anemic and bloodless and boring, certainly to me. And none of it makes any sense- the film suggests that everything is happening in each person’s mind, like a guilt-trip for past transgressions, but this does not explain how Ellen Pages character gets dragged across the floor of her apartment or how James Norton’s character gets stabbed in the hand by a knife. Its preposterous and silly nonsense that falls apart with any thought.

But you know, it really is so typical of the bullshit modern films have become. The characters are all beautiful and rich. They are all students, but one drives a new car (minus plates) another rides a big motorbike, one of them lives in a big apartment, another in a luxurious home, another lives on a bloody yacht for goodness sake. After a cursory glance at fancy 3D graphics on a laptop following the first experiment, they follow the further flatline experiments by going to rave parties or dances, getting drunk or having sex, they don’t seem to delve into the successive medical results or ponder What It All Means or worry about getting a night’s sleep before attending med school the next day. And don’t get me started about how fully-functioning and totally unmonitored medical machinery and equipment just conveniently sits in the hospital basement for our characters to play with each night.

Horrible. Time to dig out my Brainstorm Blu-ray I think and thank the lord no-one has sullied it by a vapid remake featuring young beautiful Somethings. Yet.

Angel Heart 4K

angel4kOh this shall be mine- pre-ordered this one for October 14th release. I first saw Angel Heart back on a VHS rental (so probably in 1988) and I loved it- one of those rare films that suckered me with its ‘twist’ and whose mood just lingered in my psyche for days/weeks/months. The restoration work the film has received sounds pretty impressive, it’s certainly a welcome surprise that a film like this received such attention and it will hopefully look better than it ever has. Maybe there is yet hope that Jacob’s Ladder might get such attention, you never know.

Funnily enough, I downloaded a pdf of Angel Heart‘s screenplay only the other day. I’ll probably have to refrain from reading it now as I’d prefer to come to the film fresh, as its been several years since I last saw it (actually possibly longer than that, as it may have been on DVD). Its always a funny thing revisiting films you like after several years, because they are never quite the same film you remember (and we certainly aren’t the same person watching it) , so yeah, curious to see what it will be like. Some films seem worse, but some actually seem better. We’ll see in a few months- this looks like the one of the (few) release highlights for October, which is looking like a pretty barren month this year for releases. More time to catch up on old/unwatched discs etc then.

Unsane

unsaneI’m not at all sure what I thought about this one: underwhelmed, I think, is the safest way to put it. Very likely a film more notorious for having been shot with an iphone 7 rather than any particular merit in the film itself, this is directed by Steven Soderbergh and possibly represents what modern Hollywood thinks is guerilla filmmaking. I suppose it’s experimental nature is to be commended with so few chances being taken in film these days, but not sure how much of any risk was being taken when television commercials possibly cost more to make than this ‘film’ did.

The premise is intriguing- an unhinged young career woman, Sawyer Valentini (a typically fine performance from Claire Foy) is finding it increasingly difficult to function in normal society having suffered the trauma of being stalked (and possibly abused) by a man a few years before. She opts for what she thinks is the first of a series of therapy sessions at a mental health clinic but signs on the wrong dotted line and realises to her horror that she has been tricked into voluntarily committing herself to 24 hr observation in the clinic. When she panics and causes trouble, injuring someone in her attempts to get out, her stay gets extended to seven days. Another patient tells her the clinic is operating a scam to rinse money from health care insurance and that she’ll only ever get out when the insurance money dries up. Of course, her confidant is also a patient so might himself be crazy or untrustworthy, but Sawyer’s nightmare heightens when she  recognises one of the clinics orderlies as the man who stalked her years ago, and he now has her trapped with nowhere to go…

Yeah on the preposterous scale of one to ten this is stretching nine – the only saving grace that keeps the film moderately absorbing is the suggestion that Sawyer may indeed by crazy and we are not ‘seeing’ everything via a reliable narrator, but as the film starts to slip into ever-sillier horror tropes and twists it’s inevitable to conclude that its the whole film that unreliable, not Sawyer.

I will say that the film at its best, mostly due to the low-rent ‘look’ of the production had a suggestion of 1980s horror films from David Cronenberg, particularly Rabid. The stilted acting or unrehearsed feel of some of the scenes really had that early-1980s direct-to-video ‘feel’ shared by so many horror VHS tapes back then. This is always, of course, subtly undermined by having a star like Foy in the lead- I think it would have been better served by having an unknown in the lead, but Foy is very good and possibly holds the film together so I can understand the counter-argument with her casting.

I have noted before, its curious when mainstream or ‘sophisticated’ directors have a go at the horror genre, as if trying to elevate it somehow.  It doesn’t always work and I suspect that this genre, likely looked down upon by the more arthouse cineastes such as Soderbergh as beneath their station, has claimed another victim here.

Quatermass and the Pit (1958-59)

Hammer’s 1967 adaptation of Nigel Kneale’s Quatermass and the Pit has always been one of my favourite films, simply because it scared the hell out of me when I was a kid-  it’s always impossible to shake that connection you have with a film that has such a key effect on you like that, you’ll see better films, sure, but you’ll always hold those early film experiences dear. Thankfully the film still holds up pretty strong today and the blu-ray I have of it is a prized part of my film collection on disc, but I never saw the original BBC serial from 1958 upon which the film was based, until now.

q1The tv serial Quatermass and the Pit dates from a far-different era to what we know now, as far away from today’s big-budget Netflix extravaganzas as one could imagine. The serial was aired over six episodes, broadcast on Monday evenings at 8 pm from 22nd December 1958 to 26th January 1959. Incredibly, each episode was mostly live, broadcast from BBC studios in Hammersmith, London, with some sequences previously shot on film (due to technical issues such as location shooting or reliance on physical special effects etc) inserted during the performance. It lends the whole something of the atmosphere of a play, with a genuine feeling of vitality and excitement, and edginess from the feeling that, well, anything might happen. Any mistakes can’t be fixed by an editor! Fortunately everyone seems to have been well prepared- rehearsals took place between the Tuesday and Saturday prior to each Monday transmission (camera rehearsals taking place on the day of transmission), but there’s clearly that tension of live performance, slight timing issues that might have been edited on film but had to be accepted here. There’s a lovely moment when Bernard Quatermass walks into an office and the door doesn’t close behind him as intended, and he turns during his line and closes it in passing before putting his hat and coat away. Its nothing at all, really, but it feels like a ‘real’ moment that the actor has to nonchalantly react to, as if he were in a theatre. Sometimes it’s the little things that give something its reality, moments that are edited out or corrected in subsequent retakes. The tension and edginess of being a live performance translates well into the subject matter and tactile horrors of the story.

q3Workmen on a construction/demolition site in Hobbs Lane, London discover a pre-human skull which excites the attention of Dr Matthew Roney (Cec Linder) a paleontologist who is baffled and thrilled by the skulls large brain volume that suggests a primitive man hitherto unknown to science. Subsequent excavations discover further bones and skulls and finally what appears to be the outer surface of a missile or bomb, which halts Roney’s work as the military are brought in and the site closed off.

Frustrated, Roney calls his friend Professor Bernard Quatermass (Andre Morell) in an effort to stop the military ruining his valuable archeological find. Quatermass and Colonel Breen (Anthony Bushell), who has recently been appointed to lead the British rocket Group against the professors objections, arrive at the site; more fossils are found as the strange metallic object is uncovered. Roney dates the fossils to some five million years, suggesting that the object has been buried all that time, a finding Colonel Breen considers ridiculous, instead hypothesizing that the object is an experimental german bomb that failed to explode during the Blitz.  Whatever it is, it is large and hollow, the interior apparently empty but for etchings on one of the interior walls that suggest an occult pentacle.

Most everyone feels a strange, foreboding atmosphere around the object, a sensation of unease. Intrigued, Quatermass makes enquiries about the history of the area; Hobbs Lane was formerly Hob’s Lane, Hob being an antiquated name for the Devil, and there are tales of ghosts and poltergeists told by locals and in press articles over decades. The military attempts to drill into an interior wall of the object into what appears to be a concealed chamber, the resulting vibrations cause some distress to those there and one soldier has an hysterical attack, screaming that he saw a dwarf-like creature walk out of the wall, a description Quatermass remarks matches a 1927 newspaper story of a ghost seen in Hobbs Lane.

Further drilling causes a hole to open up and Quatermass and the soldiers find inside the remains of insect-like creatures, evidently aliens that resemble some kind of locust with horn-like antennae.  Examining the remains, Quatermass and Roney postulate that the creatures may be Martians that arrived on Earth five million years ago. Colonel Breen still believes it the work of Germans, evidently an elaborate hoax to instil panic in wartime England. Quatermass, however, feels that the object is yet dangerous, in some way affecting those near it with horrific visions and causing poltergeist-like activity, and evidenced thus in the historical record as far back as he can investigate in records centuries old. What Quatermass does  not realise is that the object, or alien vessel, is itself alive and is becoming activated by the human activity around it, and will soon result in a transmission that will affect the public nationwide in a night of violence and terror…

q2.jpgHaving seen the Hammer film several times before, I was naturally familiar with the general plot, and it is evident the film was faithful to the serial. But naturally the longer running time (each episode was allocated about 35 minutes incase the live performance over-ran beyond the usual 30-minute runtime) over six episodes allowed more detail, background and character moments than the film was afforded over its own 97 minutes. Aired in black and white it feels much like a Twilight Zone episode, the monochrome aiding the mood with its stark lights and shadows, and of course it feels naturally authentic in its 1950s period setting, today almost lending it a kind of strange, alien-world vibe with its antiquated technology and scientific knowledge.

I’ve become familiar with Andre Morell through his work with Hammer, over the past few years seeing him in Hammer’s The Camp on Blood Island, Cash on Demand, The Plague of the Zombies, The Mummy’s Shroud and The Hound of the Baskervilles. He was an actor with a commanding presence and powerful voice, and his Quatermass here is generally considered the definitive one, as it was played by other actors in the earlier BBC serials and ensuing Quatermass films/projects. I was surprised to discover that he declined the role in Hammer’s own feature-film adaptation. Andrew Keir played Quatermass in Hammers version of Quatermass and the Pit and, being the performance I became familiar with he’s always seemed my Quatermass, but I have to admit Morell is brilliant here and it’s such a pity he didn’t reprise his performance in the film.

The rest of the cast is universally fine; Bushell suitably infuriates as his characters closed-thinking hampers the efforts of Quatermass to raise the alarm, and Canadian actor Cec Linder is very good as the scientist friend of Quatermass- notable among the minor cast roles is Michael Ripper as one of the military worksquad. The acting of all the cast is pretty impressive considering a great deal of it was performed live.

q4The scale of the production is obviously limited by its age and budget, but I think this works in its favour. In its live performance it has the feel of a play and stagecraft, and it also works in similar fashion to a radio production, larger-scale events often occuring offscreen and being described by characters (looking through doorways or windows for instance, or watching tv transmissions)  and thus benefiting from the viewers imagination. Its a technique that works brilliantly on radio and it’s the same here. As the scale of the horror escalates out of Quatermass’ control, thus it becomes increasingly handed over to the audience’s imagination. Of course a modern adaptation would be more literal and show more (as did the Hammer film version, albeit itself limited by budget naturally) but I don’t think a contemporary version would necessarily improve on this thrilling original. That said, the film is obviously Nigel Kneale examining racism and using his tale to explain it as a genetic modification of apes by ancient Martians in their attempt to colonise the Earth- in the grand tradition of the later Star Trek, Kneale’s tale is an allegory of racial tensions of his time (1950s Britain being plagued by race troubles culminating in some attacks and riots) but obviously it’s all quite timely for us today in our own era of Political fragmentation, Brexit and immigration issues.

The grand twist of both serial and film is that while it is a tale of alien invasion, it’s one that occured five million years ago, and by some accounts the aliens won, as we are the descendants of their genetic manipulation (the original Earth-Apes being wiped out). While they themselves perished (the Martians destroyed themselves in Wild Hunts on the Red Planet, in which Martians of different groups ultimately slaughtered each other), their legacy of bigotry and racism continues through us. At the conclusion, Quatermass delivers a stark warning directly to camera: “If we cannot control the inheritance within us, this will be their (the Martians’) second dead planet!” he snarls. In the Atomic Age of 1959 and on the eve of the next decade of manned spaceflight, it must have been a foreboding and chilling ending. It rather worked that magic on me, in 2019.

This was quite excellent and yes, superior even to the Hammer film that I have loved all these years since a kid. I watched the serial on iplayer, but it has also been released on Blu-ray, which includes some considerably intriguing special features so I’ll no doubt be ordering a copy someday. As its free on iplayer, it’s surely a no-brainer for genre fans unfamiliar with it to give it ago. Its somewhat dated, but endearingly so- this has the feel of something to treasure. This is science fiction of ideas and grand concepts and its rather disturbing too- quite refreshing compared to the big on spectacle, empty-headed nonsense that passes for science fiction so much of the time these days.

And maybe a remake/reboot of this would indeed be quite timely and pertinent to the times we live in. Blame the Martians.

Jacobs Ladder Sequel?

Well it’s been threatened over the years, but it looks like it’s finally coming- the trailer has landed for the Jacob’s Ladder remake/reboot/reimagining or whatever they are calling it. This is so wrong on so many levels it just, well, leaves me pretty speechless. I could understand if they had gone back to the original script and made the film that they couldn’t make back in 1990, maybe, but instead… well, going by the trailer I’m not sure what they’ve done. It looks pretty horrible, and I’m sitting here not quite believing they even had the nerve to go there….