No One Gets Out Alive (2021)

noonegetsoutGood lord. Well the title rather gives the game away, but its dubious (does she? doesn’t she?) finale only exacerbates a thoroughly reprehensible and pointless film. Maybe its a trendsetter of some new horror genre called the Horror Panto, because about the only fun watching this film is giggling “its behind you!” every time a ghostly apparition appears behind the witless and unknowing heroine. 

This is one of those horrors that proves the genre is well past its sell-by date but like every undead corpse its a genre that just doesn’t know that its done. A title sequence throws visual clues in the background- several decades ago some excavations in Southern America unearth remains of an ancient city and artefacts are unearthed, in particular an odd-looking box. That’s about the only explanation/excuse that we’re going to get for everything that then occurs.

A young Mexican immigrant, a pretty young woman named Ambar (Cristina Rodlo, much better than the film really deserves), who has smuggled herself across the border and is trying in vain to buy papers with which she can get a ‘proper’ job and place to live, is forced to work in a sweatshop and take lodging in a terribly run-down boarding house, where the shady owners turn a blind eye to legality and take anyone in in order to get some cash. Well, its not just cash they’re after, because it transpires that their clientele don’t usually get to leave while still breathing. Its a thirty-minute plot stretched to just shy of ninety so as you might imagine, there’s plenty of padding by way of moody atmospheres and sly jumps and pointless b-plots. 

And most of those moody atmospheres are of those “its behind you!” moments where we can see spooky apparitions which our heroine is quite oblivious to. My wife Claire laps this stuff up, hiding behind her  fingers thoroughly creeped out, so who knows, maybe there is an audience indeed for such low-rent horror trash as this. But really, its pretty dire and further evidence that the Netflix quality-bar is set pretty low. Like some damn fool who should know better (but never learns) I was expecting some explanation or narrative twist to explain exactly what was going on and why, but the film seemed more concerned with busting the majority of its budget and effort in realising some patently CGI monster in the basement which, again, is not explained or anything. The film was based on a book (by Adam Nevil, who’s no Stephen King on this evidence), so I expect there is some internal logic that explains things in the book that the screenplay couldn’t quite wrangle- probably the producers assumed the title sequence would be enough. Well, lets be honest, they probably didn’t really care. Its really not very good and deserves to be absolutely forgotten, which I’m sure it will be.

 

The Asphyx (1972)

asp2Probably more one of those fairly obscure film coincidences rather than one of those film connections that leaves me scratching my head at the sometimes arcane synchronicity of movie-watching, but it turned out that The Asphyx was directed by Peter Newbrook, who was the director of photography on Corruption, which I watched just a few days earlier. While the two films are both of the horror genre, they couldn’t be more different- Corruption was a present-day horror calculated to shock, reflecting the growing trend at the time for nastier horror thrills for audiences jaded by the more traditional horror films that Hammer had been making for over a decade, and The Asphyx was much more restrained, a period piece that deliberately avoided being graphic or gory, and wouldn’t have seemed out of place had it indeed been from Hammer.

Barring an ill-judged present-day opening and close which bookends the story proper, the film takes place entirely in Victorian England, and the peculiar obsession of Sir Hugo Cunning (Robert Stephens) a scientist who notices grim shadowy artefacts in his photographs of the recently, or imminently, dead. He deduces that his unique photographic chemical solutions are capturing the image of the Asphyx,  the spirit of the dead of Greek mythology, and proposes a way of trapping the creature in a device of his own devising, thus granting immortality to the subject of the creatures attention (the Asphyx unable to take possession of a dying person, that person would then be unable to die). While Stephen’s experiments prove successful with a family pet and then later upon himself, things start to go awry when he attempts to immortalise his daughter…

It is to the cast’s credit that the preposterous plot is taken absolutely seriously, in the best tradition of Peter Cushing or Christopher Lee in any of their own Hammer yarns, and Robert Stephens certainly lends some weight to it all. A well-respected actor who was at one time tipped to be the successor to Laurence Olivier for his theatre work, he was very much a theatrical actor, very intense. I recall him appearing in Ridley Scott’s first film, The Duellists, and voicing the part of Aragorn in the BBC’s marvellous radio dramatization of The Lord of the Rings. I’ve always struggled with him, personally, but oddly enough he works well here as the typically slightly manic, deranged scientist whose personal tragedy during a family boating accident drives him to ever greater extremes. The central premise of the film is daft but its treatment is actually quite disturbing, especially with someone like Stephens as the star: for once I’m not going to suggest its a horror film that would have been better with my old favourite Cushing in the starring role.

Indeed, I have to wonder if Stephen King was at all familiar with this film, because it shares some striking similarities to his story The Green Mile, and the film directed by Frank Darabont: maybe its a stretch, but an immortal character accompanied by his immortal guinea pig through the decades seems rather akin to The Green Mile‘s immortal Paul Edgecomb and his similarly immortal pet mouse, Mr .Jingles, and both tales share grisly scenes of an Electric Chair doing its ‘thing’. One of those film coincidences maybe.

Corruption (1968)

corrupt4I came to Corruption rather blind- indeed until a few months ago when Indicator put it’s new Blu-ray edition up for pre-order I didn’t even know it existed (this is its first release on home video in the UK), but as its a horror film starring Peter Cushing, one of my all-time favourite actors, it was an inevitable purchase, particularly when I learned that Peter Cushing pretty much disowned the film, embarrassed by it and refusing to ever talk about it afterwards. Like the same years The Blood Beast Terror, the film was a means to an end- Cushing needed the work to pay his beloved wife Helen’s medical bills, and while, as ever, he gave everything to the film (he lived by the credo that his audience always deserved at the very least that he make every effort in every project, refusing to phone-in a performance (Bruce Willis take note)), its clear Corruption wasn’t a very pleasant experience. The Blood Beast Terror is far inferior film, and far less interesting to watch now, but it was clearly a more positive, fun experience for the actor. 

Both films came about as horror films were changing- the days of the traditional Hammer gothic horror were waning, and horror films were becoming more explicit, with more violence, gore and nudity. Even though Hammer had often troubled the censor with its films, the boundaries were moving and leaving Hammer behind (Hammer would soon react in the 1970s with films like The Vampire Lovers, Twins of Evil and Hands of the Ripper but the studio would always be behind the curve). Corruption reflected those changes, indeed, embraced them, and its really quite shocking to witness dear old Peter Cushing in the starring role in a film as thoroughly nasty and exploitive as this one. 

Corruption is not a very good film, but its is an absolutely fascinating one, and rather disturbing too, if only for the fact of seeing Peter Cushing in it. For my first viewing, I threw caution to the wind and watched the continental version, which was more graphic than the more restrained UK edit (the Indicator disc contains three presentations, the UK, US and continental, which was retitled Laser Killer but retains the original Corruption title here). It proved rather a shock, seeing Peter Cushing wrestling with a topless woman, stabbing her to death and wiping his bloodied hand on her breast before graphically cutting her head off. It doesn’t make the film any better, but it does make it more notorious and unpleasant (the UK version has a different actress playing the victim, and she keeps her top on). 

Peter Cushing plays a gifted surgeon, Sir John Rowan, whose unlikely, younger girlfriend, Lynn (Sue Lloyd) is a successful model who is scarred by an accident partly caused by Rowan when he is caught in a jealous fight with Lynn’s photographer, Mike (Anthony Booth channelling Andy Warhol). Rowan’s guilt over Lynn’s disfigurement drives him to drastic measures to restore her face and beauty. Initially this finds him visiting the morgue and interfering with the corpse of a beautiful woman, cutting out the bodies pituitary gland for its fluids, but the subsequent operation on Lynn, while a success, is only a temporary one. It becomes clear to Rowan that for longer results he needs to use the female pituitary gland of living subjects, and therefore is forced to go on something of a killing spree, his first victim being a prostitute in what is perhaps a grim nod to Jack the Ripper. Rowan’s horror at what he is doing brings him to a halt but Lynn become manic about maintaining her beauty and drives Rowan on.

corrup2Cushing, as ever, is quite brilliant. His repugnance at his own actions, as his initial guilt pushes him into increasingly despicable acts, is palpable; possibly a reflection of the actors own distaste for the project. I’d actually suggest its one of his better performances, but part of that may be the shudder one feels at the  bizarre sight of him in something so… exploitive, at least in the continental version I saw. Sue Lloyd is the real surprise- she’s absolutely superb. I only remember her from her role in the TV soap Crossroads when I was growing up- this film suggests that she was capable of far more, and her character’s madness and evil is quite convincing as she manipulates and ultimately betrays Rowan. The rest of the supporting cast is also very good- Kate O’Mara, Noel Trevarthen, Vanessa Howard and  Wendy Varnals give very good performances (I wasn’t so enamoured by Anthony Booth). The colourful 1960s fashions are delirious madness, although the attempt to depict the swinging sixties flounders terribly – its obvious the middle-aged film-makers didn’t have a clue regards youth culture, in just the same way as Hammer blundered in films like Dracula  AD 1972.

Its hard to qualify Corruption as a good film- frankly, it isn’t, but it is something of a morbid fascination. It is just so bizarre and strange and unpleasant. The film takes a very odd turn towards the end, when Rowan and Lynn are accosted by criminals who are clearly burgling the wrong summer house, and concludes in a frankly astonishing climax of mass murder enacted by a wildly out of control surgical laser, which censors would never allowed just a few years before. Its a crazy finale which is followed by a curious coda that is either a total cop-out or possibly an apologetic reaction to the films previous excess. 

corrIndicator’s Blu-ray is possibly far more than such a film deserves: a genuine special edition, with an 80-page book and replica production skills accompanying the disc inside a handsome slip-box. The book is excellent, with really informative essays that I found thoroughly engrossing after having watched the film. Its a lovely package which feels like total overkill for a film of such dubious quality (although the very fact that a film such as this can get such treatment is an almost endearingly lovely thing, even if Peter Cushing would be aghast, no doubt). The disc itself, alongside the three versions of the film, contains a commentary track, numerous interviews and featurettes and a 72-minute audio interview from 1986 with Peter Cushing himself which I can’t wait to settle down with. Its a typical Indicator triumph. Bravo.

 

Bloodbath at the House of Death (1984)

bloodbth2This really isn’t the film the title suggests that it might be, and the oddest thing about it is that I had absolutely no idea that this film even existed until I stumbled upon it watching Netflix a few nights back. Some films slip into an obscurity so total its like they were never even made, and to be brutally honest, some of them deserve that too. Which is the case with this one.

Released way back in 1984 this British comedy-horror film stars a bunch of British television actors/comedians of the time and is thus something of a time capsule for those of us who lived through the 1970s/1980s. Kenny Everett, Pamela Stephenson, Gareth Hunt, Don Warrington, Cleo Rocos, Sheila Steafel… you might not know their names but if you were watching television here in the UK back then you’d remember their faces, possibly with nostalgic affection. The film even features a minor role (albeit important to whatever constitutes a plot role for horror favourite Vincent Price who, like Peter Cushing, had a peculiar penchant for appearing in any old rubbish as long as there was a pay check. 

But strike from your mind any thought that this might be some long-lost classic, because this film is terrible. It isn’t funny, it isn’t scary, its just appallingly bad. Most of the cast listed above are playing a bunch of scientists investigating alleged paranormal goings-on at Headstone Manor, a creepy old building with a history of death and violence, and none of them convince as actors never mind scientists: the acting wooden to the point of being inferior to a Gerry Anderson puppet show, and the direction woefully perfunctory and lame. Its a chore to get through and I winced most of the way through -partly out of embarrassment for those onscreen, partly through the jokes landing with repeated thuds. Its a cringe-worthy ordeal to sit through during which one frequently wonders, “what were they thinking?” 

The film was written by Barry Cryer, something of a legend in British television comedy, who worked on several comedy shows of that era like The Two Ronnies, Morecombe and Wise and many others, but most notably The Kenny Everett Video Cassette, which was Everett’s hugely popular comedy series airing between 1978-1981 that I loved growing up, and likely landed him this gig which proved to be Everett’s one ill-fated foray into movies. Lampooning horror tropes of the time, this could have been quite fun, but it fails to hit the mark of aping the style of the 1960s Hammer horrors that its supposedly making fun of. It feels more like a television comedy sketch stretched too far, too much a thing of the early 1980s when it should have been more of the gothic horror of two decades before with an affectionate comedy bent. This film doesn’t seem to know what it wants to be- at least the infamous Carry On films knew what they were, and Carry On Screaming is some kind of golden classic compared to this and far more successfully nails its horror-comedy balance.

bloodbthIt probably doesn’t help that the budget must have been pretty dire;  there’s indications that much of it was shot under considerable time-pressure, resulting in blatant continuity errors and a disjointed story that really makes no sense whatsoever. Vincent Price for instance, nominally playing the major villain evidently filmed his scenes quite apart from everyone else. It has the effect that his scenes seem from some other movie just edited in-between scenes featuring Everett and company exploring the manor (which Price never enters, and with whom Price never shares any screen-time). Worse, Price is written out suddenly as if they literally ran out of time (was he available for just three days or something?) so he just seems to disappear midway through. I accept that in a horror-comedy lampooning horror tropes the last thing one should expect is a sensical storyline or anything approaching genuine horror, but all the same, when you have a guy as canonical as Vincent Price in a film, you should use him as such. Price was always so larger-than-life that part of the pleasure of any of his horror films was his tendency to play things big, almost parodying the very horrors he was starring in (whereas Peter Cushing would underplay roles, not drawing attention to himself). Mind, there is some pleasure in seeing that Price was clearly enjoying himself as usual, so at lest some good came from the film.

Maybe they just couldn’t afford him to be around sufficiently enough to use him to the films advantage. In defence of the film, one cannot appreciate the pressures when making a film, the money and time constraints at the time. Which sounds like I’m making excuses for a film being woeful, but its obvious that a British film such as this is an entirely different enterprise to a $200 million Hollywood blockbuster that turns out appalling. Some scenes such as a flashback of Everett’s character messing up a surgery is a blatant one-camera piece of schtick that looks like something direct from his television sketch show. I can imagine in some film projects a director shooting retakes until he can say “that’s perfect!” whereas I imagine director Ray Cameron here would just say “that’ll do!” and then move on to the next (likely unprepared) scene. Its just the reality of low-budget film-making, particularly back in the early 1980s here in Britain, when we hardly had any film industry at all.

So really one to avoid then, unless the sheer curiosity of this strange oddity overwhelms you, as it did me. Its really something of a time capsule for those of us who grew up back then, albeit perhaps one that shouldn’t have been dug up yet. I wonder how on Earth Netflix got a hold of it? I suppose its just further proof that Netflix will stream anything and everything.

Memory: The Origins of Alien (2019)

memoryI enjoyed this documentary far more than I had expected to, believing that it was largely redundant at this point, after all the documentaries made about Alien featured on various DVD and Blu-ray releases over the past few decades, and of course all the books written about the film- most recently the late J W Rinzler’s magnificent The Making of Alien volume. An additional handicap is that some primary interviewees are no longer with us (Dan O’Bannon, H R Giger) and Ridley Scott was presumably not available/not interested, therefore forcing the film-makers to use video interviews from those old Blu-ray documentaries with the now so-familiar soundbites. The film’s editor Terry Rawling was a pleasant surprise appearance; he died in 2019 so I suspect this was one of the final interviews that Rawlings attended, if not the last.

And yes to some extent Memory is indeed redundant because there is little here that’s really new regards Alien lore for fans of the film. In some respects its largely a Readers Digest of all the factoids that Alien fans have learned over the years, but I did enjoy some of the points about mythology and symbolism, and how Alien really represents where society and its audiences were back in 1979 – it was clearly the right film at the right time, capturing the cultural zeitgeist and resonating through all these years since. I think there are some very valid points made and some views quite illuminating, particularly regards universal archetypes and myth.

Maybe the films argument that Dan O’Bannon was some kind of genius is a bit of a reach, but its no accident that O’Bannon was connected to some of the most important or memorable film projects that I have seen over the years- Dark Star, Alien, Total Recall, The Return of the Living Dead and Lifeforce. Some of them are great and the others are at the very least great fun (and I REALLY want to catch up with his last directorial effort, the Lovecraftian horror The Resurrected, which has escaped me for years, frustratingly). You don’t get a resume like that in Hollywood without having some talent, and he’s surely qualified as a genre great. Yes, Alien was very derivative of other, earlier movies and the genius of Alien is mostly that of Ridley Scott’s approach of elevating schlock b-movie fodder into serious, top-list quality motion picture, but one can’t deny that what made Alien unique was Giger, and it was O’Bannon who knew the artist (from the aborted Dune project) and championed his work for the film.

On the whole though I really enjoyed this documentary: the title is ironic considering so much of it was like a stroll down memory lane of Alien factoids and familiar faces. But yeah, this is Alien, and I don’t mind being reminded why the film is so bloody great, so this was certainly a very pleasant watch.

Memory: The Origins of Alien is currently available on Channel Four’s On Demand service up to late September, and is also available on DVD and digital download/rental.

The Return of Captain Clegg

inham6Quite how a film like Captain Clegg becomes subject of a double-dip is rather bizarre- its a wonderful little gem of a Hammer film but two copies on Blu-ray seems as financially irresponsible as NHS spending on PPE during the heights (depths?) of a pandemic. But who could have guessed back in 2014 when I bought the disc from Final Cut Entertainment that it would be part of a sixth Hammer boxset in 2021? Crikey, Indicator wasn’t a even a thing back then, and here it is rivalling Criterion in the boutique label arms race (if there was such a thing).

So anyhow, this is the fourth and last film in this sixth Hammer boxset that I’ve watched- last only because its the one that I’d seen before. Have to confess, re-watching the film after several years, I was surprised to realise just how good a film it is: certainly its a ravishing-looking film by Hammer standards, with some fine location photography boasting lovely golden light in some landscape shots that suggests considerable care and attention was made and the sets etc are really good too. Best of all, Peter Cushing is clearly relishing his role here and the result is one of his best performances in any Hammer- and he’s not alone, even Michael Ripper, a frequent Hammer veteran who can irritate sometimes, is possibly never any better than he is in this.

cleggI have often remarked that Peter Cushing would have been the perfect actor to play Robert E Howard’s puritanical anti-hero Solomon Kane, and its never clearer than here, when he was possibly the right age and eminently looks the part with his character’s own puritanical stylings (he plays village priest Reverend Blyss). There are moments that are uncanny; that jawline, those steely eyes… how ironic that Cushing himself probably never even heard of the character during his lifetime, totally ignorant of a role he seems born to have played. A trick of fate and  unfair timing, I guess, and certainly our loss- another one of those movie ‘what-ifs’ to haunt us film fans.

Captain Clegg (‘Night Creatures’ in the US) really is the little Hammer film that surpasses expectations, and clearly deserves the extra attention re: supplements that it gets in this Indicator release (which also ports across the extras from the earlier Final Cut edition). They even fixed the colour-timing issues that plagued the day-for-night shooting that  troubled that earlier release. Its a whole lot of fun and its such a pleasure to witness Peter Cushing in such fine form. I don’t think I’ll be waiting seven years for my next re-watch…

The Blood Beast Terror (1968)

bloodbeastHorror fans might think a film with a title like The Blood Beast Terror simply cannot fail, but even reliable horror favourite Peter Cushing can’t save this lacklustre effort.

Part of the problem is that its not particularly clear what’s going on or what exactly is the threat. Cushing plays Inspector Quenne, investigating a series of murders in which victims are bled dry by some bizarre assailant, leaving the police at a loss. We see odd glimpses of what is evidently some supernatural creature (the Blood Beast of the title), and it soon becomes clear that the mystery involves a scientist, Dr Mallinger (Robert Flemyng) whose daughter Claire (Wanda Ventham) behaves rather suspiciously. Its an odd horror film, a low-budget hybrid of Frankenstein and Vampire movies that unfortunately feels particularly weak-bloodied (sic) – a Tigon British Film, it’s so low-rent it makes Hammer films look luxurious.

Most frustratingly, the film leaves many questions unanswered at the end of the film, suggesting it really wasn’t thought-out: for instance we don’t how or why Mallinger created the monster. During the film I assumed it was a curse or affliction suffered by his daughter for which he was trying to find a cure but I’ve since been led to believe that Clare was his creation (like Frankenstein’s monster) and not his ‘real’ daughter at all.

Cushing of course is as dependable as ever and as usual is the best thing about the film- he’s obviously having some fun but the script is hardly stretching him. While its clearly routine he was never one to simply phone-in a performance no matter how silly the material, which is one of the reasons we fans of his adore him. He deserved much better films than this, but I understand that he was taking pretty much any gig at the time in order to pay for his wife’s medical bills as her health deteriorated.

Curiously, the actress who plays his daughter Meg in this film, Vanessa Howard, turns up in another Peter Cushing film from 1968, Corruption, which I’ve never seen and have on pre-order from Indicator (will be arriving with their Columbia Noir #4 box towards the end of September). There are often so many such curious connections between British films of this period: small world I guess. 

Enemy (2013)

enemypostrrThe final shot of Denis Villeneuve’s surreal Enemy had me jumping out of my chair- its absolutely shocking and terrifying. I’m not certain what that shot actually means, because the film is something of an enigma, reminding me throughout of early Cronenberg movies. There is the weird sense of not knowing what is reality, and of a character having the fabric of reality pulled from under him: in Videodrome (1982), this is caused by a signal in a pirate video feed affecting the characters brain, while in Enemy it seems to be a video rental recommendation that triggers the main characters crisis. And of course the idea of twins/dominant personalities etc reminds of Cronenberg’s Dead Ringers (1988). Enemy is a relentlessly dark, fascinating film and another example of just how impressive a film-maker Villeneuve is.

However, if you don’t like spiders, it might be best to give this film a wide berth, because it uses spiders as a major part of its surrealist imagery. The film opens at a clandestine sex show being witnessed by a group of men: after a woman apparently masturbates to orgasm in front of them, a second woman stands naked but for high heels, a menacing-looking tarantula spider then unveiled at her feet. One of the attendees, Anthony (Jake Gyllenhaal) can only look through his fingers, evidently more scared of the spider than aroused by the woman or sense of danger. The scene ends with the woman apparently about to crush the spider under her heel. Spiders will become a regular motif during the film, usually haunting dream imagery- we see a giant spider over the city, a naked woman walking down a corridor with a spider’s head, and that final shot where I nearly lost my lunch. Spiders mean something. There also seems to be a visual motif for webs- whether it be the fractured glass of a window in a car accident, or in the street cables/telephone wires in the sky. 

enemy2If you have not seen this film, it might be best not to read the remainder of this post if you intend to give it a go, because I’m going to spend much of the rest of this trying to decipher the film and unravel what it might mean (albeit having only seeing it once, I’m likely wide of the mark). As well as certain Cronenberg movies, this film also reminds me of David Lynch movies, particularly my favourite, Mulholland Drive. Enemy is a mystery, a masterfully obtuse film that only suggests that it can make sense, that there is an internal code that can be used to decipher any meaning. For all I know, there may not be any solution.

Adam (Jake Gyllenhaal) is a college professor living in a quiet, rather monotonous, uneventful life in Toronto. He doesn’t seem to have any freinds or much of a social life, and he seems unable to really connect with his girlfriend Mary (Melanie Laurent) other than on a basic physical level- they don’t seem to talk and he seems more attentive to marking his course work: they have an argument and she leaves. He seems so emasculated he doesn’t go after her. 

(Adam’s lectures concern “bread and circuses”, how totalitarian states placate the masses through diversions of entertainment, such as the coliseum of Rome: does this also reference diversions such as the sex show frequented by groups of men we see at the start of the film? Or indeed the virtual escape of films and cinema?)

A colleague at the college recommends a film, Where There’s a Will There’s a Way, and while Adam replies “I don’t like movies” (which may have further implications later on), when Adam passes a video store he rents the film out. He watches it, and then during the night wakes up from a strange dream and goes back to his laptop and plays part of the film again, upon which he realises one of the extras playing a hotel bellhop looks just like him (albeit minus Adam’s beard). Its not clear if he missed this when first watching the film, or if the film has changed- or perhaps if Adam is now imagining the likeness, ‘seeing’ this face in the background of a scene (triggered by the nightmare?) and a sign that he’s beginning to lose his grip of reality. Or perhaps he’s remembering?

Looking up the films credits, he investigates the actor who looks like him- discovering that this apparent twin is Anthony Claire, stage name Daniel Saint Claire, an actor whose talent agency is (conveniently/suspiciously/alarmingly) nearby. Clearly beginning to obsess over this strange doppelganger, Adam gets into the talent agency, is mistaken for being Anthony, who hasn’t been seen there for awhile, and is given a package marked for Anthony’s attention which reveals Anthony’s address (we will later discover that the package also contains a key, which likely links directly to the opening scene at the sex show, which possibly infers the whole film is some elaborate loop or one that holds multiple loops within one greater loop). From the address on the packet Adam divulges Anthony’s phone number and calls it, but Anthony’s pregnant wife Helen (Sarah Gadon) answers- she mistakes Adam’s voice for that of Anthony, and believes he is playing a prank call on her. At first amused she becomes frightened by Adam’s refusal to ‘fess up to the prank and abruptly ends the call. When Adam marshals the courage to ring again, Anthony answers, angry at who he believes is a stalker.

Neither man seems aware the other even existed, and they are indeed quite identical (Anthony now sporting the beard too) and each gets mistaken for the other: actually, however, the men’s personalities are quite tellingly different, Adam quiet and introverted, Anthony confident and assertive. Perhaps they are two facets of one personality, broken.

Now, strange things seem to be happening with Time in this film- in this respect it feels rather like a Christopher Nolan movie. I may be wrong about this, and having only seen the film this one time I cannot be certain, but I think the film is actually some strange loop, or loops within loops. And clearly, I’m not at all certain we have a reliable narrator, and that things we are seeing can be relied upon as ‘real’. Although the film seems to suggest the two men are two separate individuals, each living in seperate, quite distinct apartments with different women, I have to wonder. Helen berates Anthony for an affair, claiming that he is seeing ‘her’ again- I think she is referring to Mary.  Also, Adam searches a box of photos at home and discovers one of him in which half the photo has been cut out, hiding the second person in the photograph: later when he gets in Anthony’s apartment, he sees the same photo, now whole, on display in a frame, with the photo revealing the second person to be Helen. Are we witnessing two time periods, with Adam/Anthony losing his mind and slipping between the two? Anthony pursues, and has sex with, Mary; Adam sneaks into Anthony’s apartment and has sex with Helen (the latter suspecting who he really is but being attracted to him).

Anthony goes to visit his mother (Isabella Rossellini!) who congratulates him on having a proper job and no longer wasting his time trying be a successful actor. So was Anthony an actor who gave it all up to be a history professor, when he ‘becomes’ Adam, if that’s the case, which of them ‘belongs’ in the past and which in the future? I began to think my seperate timelines/multiple personalities theory had some weight, but its doesn’t completely hold true.

A complication is that Helen is as mystified/horrified by the implications of her husbands doppelganger as the men are themselves- Helen visits the college and chances upon Adam, who does not recognise her, they have a conversation in which Adam thinks he is simply making small talk with a stranger, and he leaves, upon which she calls Anthony on her mobile and he answers, wondering where she is, apparently elsewhere- but of course we cannot see Adam as he has gone into the building and may have answered the phone himself, now adopting Anthony’s personality. Helen is upset, can’t understand what is going on- unless of course she KNOWS what is going on, and that she knows that he is suffering from a multiple personality disorder or some kind of schizophrenia, fearing perhaps he is not taking medication and he is slipping back into twin personalities/getting confused. 

The cast is uniformly excellent. Its possibly the finest performance I’ve seen from Gyllenhaal, and the women are brilliant (although Rossellini basically has just a cameo, its a very pleasant one). An intrusive, yet ambient score grates as it gets under your skin sonically; the visual effects are convincing (and at times horrifying). The ending suggests Villeneuve could make one hell of a horror film someday.  

It is a confusing, fascinating, quite disturbing film. Its some kind of genius. It again demonstrates that Villeneuve is without any doubt one of the most exciting and interesting directors working today: his filmography is really quite remarkable. Enemy displays some familiar fascinations of Villeneuve- the lingering shots of the city skyline, of buildings and location, remind of Polytechnique and Blade Runner 2049. The dark mood and slow pace reminds of most every film of his; but of all his films, Enemy feels unusual in its absolute morbid darkness, its Cronenbergian sense of unreliable reality. Maybe its an alien spider invasion movie, an arachnoid Invasion of the Body Snatchers and our protagonist is the only one who realises what is really going on. Maybe its a nod to Lovecraft’s From Beyond or Philip K Dick’s Valis, and Adam is glimpsing (through the spider images) reality pushing in on the ‘bubble’ of our perceived reality. Who knows? All I know is that the film creeped me out and really got under my skin.  

Another Thing…

anotherThingWhilst on the subject of John Carpenter movies (cunning link there to yesterday’s post) I’ve found myself pre-ordering another copy of The Thing, this time the 4K UHD edition that Universal are releasing in September. I don’t know how many times I’ve bought this film on a home video format: DVD twice, Blu-ray twice… actually I think it may have been three times on Blu-ray, and that is just plain insane even to me. But it’s The Thing, and it’s on 4K UHD, and it is surely the last copy of this film I will ever buy. Please, lord, the last time. I’m beginning to think the 4K format is the work of the Devil.

It is rather quietly ironic, in what is supposed to be the slow decline of physical media, that we can still be suckered into buying these new editions of films we’ve bought so many times before. Its likely no accident that Carpenter is so well-represented on 4K disc (Prince of Darkness, Halloween, Escape From New York, The Fog and They Live with more likely to follow before the disc replicators finally grind to a halt), as his films have always been very popular on home video formats. I remember back when VHS started here in the UK, Escape From New York was one of the first big ‘hits’ on rental in 1983, partly because its a good film but also because it sported, at the time, a pretty amazing stereo track the likes of which previously unheard of in the home. Of course it was on VHS in pan and scan/pain an’a scam format but hey, it was 1983 and our televisions tended to be still black and white even then, and absolutely 4:3. How times change, but some Things (see what I did there?) stay the same, sort of.

These Vampires still suck

vampiresLast night I rewatched John Carpenter’s Vampires for the first time in maybe fifteen years, which probably indicates what I think of it. I first saw the film back in… well, it was likely 1998, because it was a R1 DVD that I bought before the film had even had its theatrical release here in the UK. Those were the heady, rather intoxicating days of R1 DVD players and delayed International roll-outs of movies. This time around, it was a Blu-ray edition from Indicator, which Amazon reliably informs me I purchased back in 2017… and which I haven’t watched until now. Clearly, I have a bit of a problem with Carpenter’s Vampires.

The sad thing is, I lay all the blame here on John Carpenter, and I’m writing this as a huge fan of both him and his movies. Over the years he has made some great movies and most of them have likely made a fortune on various home formats – his films are loved by fans. Not just admired but genuinely LOVED. And the guy himself, although obviously I’ve never met him, seems a nice, laid-back, down to Earth and unassuming guy with an extraordinary talent for making cool genre films. And, perhaps more importantly, for making genre films cool.

But Vampires isn’t one of them. The problems are manifold, the bad far outweighing the good. Chiefly, for once it seems Carpenter is undone by his budget, which is odd because he usually thrived under the pressure of limited resources and time, but here he finally succumbs. Final takes look like first or second takes, the interior sets are some of the shakiest I have ever seen, the largely b-movie cast so woefully wooden they give the stakes and coffins a run for their money. Worst of all, the composition of the shots (always one of Carpenters strengths, his films really shining in widescreen once the bad old days of pan and scan were left behind) is terribly poor. There seems little ambition- the usual low-angle tracking shots, so effective in films like The Thing, The Fog and Halloween are simply awol here. Maybe the cheap sets made them impossible but there’s no indication of that eye Carpenter always had. The craft is absent, the ambition and imagination missing. Indeed, the better (and most visually interesting) shots look suspiciously like second-unit work, such as the make-up/special effects footage of the vampires crawling out of the earth and some of the stunts (the captured vampires being yanked out into the sunlight to burst into flame, for instance).

Frustratingly, the script shows sign of promise, but what should be a scary horror movie seems to be upturned into a modern-day Western, Carpenter hijacking a film to satiate his foiled ambitions to make a Western. James Woods is woefully miscast- he’s a fiery character actor but hardly up to an action lead more fitted for Roddy Piper, Keith David or someone similarly larger than life. Instead, Woods would have been perfect -absolutely perfect- as the crooked priest played here by Maximilian Schell; he’d have torn the scenery up as the priest who betrays God to join the master vampire Valek. I want to see THAT movie! He’d have been brilliant in a role largely wasted on Schell. Instead Woods looks out of sorts, uncomfortable in a physical role unsuited to him (Carpenters framing of shots does him few favours in this respect). Mind, Woods does look excellent compared to Daniel Baldwin playing his vampire-hunter buddy Montoya: Baldwin is excruciatingly bad here, I’ve seen chairs that stand more convincingly than him, and Conservative and Labour MPs with more chemistry together than Baldwin and poor Sheryl Lee as Katrina, a hooker turned-vampire who serves as some bizarro love interest for wooden plank Baldwin.

To be fair to the thespians, maybe the fault lies in Carpenter whose heart was alarmingly just not in it; really, this is the Carpenter equivalent of a modern Bruce Willis movie, and an indication of what was to come. He’d make one more movie three years later (the dismal Ghosts of Mars) and then one more in 2010 (The Ward, which I watched once and promptly forgot) before finally calling it a day. His slide in quality was so pronounced that his fans can be forgiven for being thankful he didn’t make any more. I often wish I would hear news of Carpenter getting back behind a camera and making a great movie like in the good old days but maybe his (unofficial?) retirement really is for the best. I’d be fascinated to learn what happened, but suspect he simply grew out of love with making movies. They are hard work, and the way the business was going even back in his day, it was just getting harder. I believe Carpenter has paid his dues and owes us fans nothing anyway: the films we have are enough, but I could certainly do without Vampires