Thursday, 27 October 2011

Assignment: Terror

Rennie Dreadful?

Assignment: Terror
(aka Dracula Versus Frankenstein aka
The Man Who Came From Ummo)
Spain/Germany/Italy 1970
Directed by Tulio Demicheli
The Camden Collection Region 0

Spoilers: This review pits spoiler against spoiler in a spoilerific mash-up that can only end in inevitable death by big explosions!

Okay... let me make something clear before I start my review of this awesome movie. This film is not to be confused with Al Adamson’s 1971 movie Dracula Versus Frankenstein (despite having the same title in some territories) which I’ve already reviewed here. Neither is it the version being sold in some countries on DVD as Dracula Versus Frankenstein which seems to be cut down by almost a half an hour. This “review” version is pretty much uncut... although it’s probably not in its correct aspect ratio.

This movie was the last film made by everyone’s favourite peace loving alien Michael Rennie (Klatu in The Day The Earth Stood Still) but in this movie he’s playing the bad guy... well, bad alien in fact. Sent to earth by his alien superiors, he is assisted by two resurrected earth scientists (one played by Karin Dor, who played the first German Bond girl in scenes in You Only Live Twice) in his attempt to kill off and control the planets population by... wait for it... resurrecting four of our worlds supernatural monsters to create a force of deadly destruction... or at least a fresh supply of victims to hold mankind enthralled in the fear created by its own superstitious beliefs.

I’m guessing this would take quite a lot of time to do since these monsters are not the size of a behemoth but what do I know. The similarly plotted Godzilla movie Invasion Of The Astro Monster (aka Godzilla Versus Monster Zero) seems to me to be a much more credible version of the same plot line in that, at the very least, monsters like Godzilla, Rhodan and King Gidhora leave a much more effective wake in their particular force of deadly destruction.

To be more specific... Michael Rennie’s plan involves bringing back to consciousness and using Dracula, the Frankenstein Monster (called something very similar, presumably to evade copyright but there’s frankly no doubt on screen as to who this Karloff-styled creature is supposed to be), The Mummy and The Wolfman and setting them loose on the Earth faster than you can say “Klatu Baradu Nikto.” And if that’s not interesting enough... The Wolfman character in this one is none other than the great Paul Naschy in his Waldemar Daninsky wolfman role. Naschy also wrote the movie and this is only his second appearance in the role (not counting the possible “lost” movie in the series). Unlike many of the later Waldemar Daninsky movies, Naschy’s wolfman character is actually given a credible explanation for being resurrected (instead of just reappearing as though the last film in the series never happened). He has almost no dialogue for most of the movie and very much plays a supporting role until the final third where he returns to his former glory and does a very creditable job... making the part his own once more and giving the role a certain conviction.

Dracula is brought back to life in exactly the same way he is brought back in Universal’s House Of Frankenstein, by removing the stake from the chest of his skeleton which is being exhibited in a side show carnival. This is almost certainly a deliberate homage from Naschy, who loved those old movies, but the make ups on both Dracula and the Frankenstein monster are... well not terrible but not great. The Daninsky wolfman make up is fine, however, but the one make-up job which really is quite good on this one is The Mummy... which manages to capture and crossbreed the withered Karloff as Imhotep face from Universals original 1932 version, with the walking bandaged visage of Kharis played by both Tom Tyler and Lon Chaney Jr in the sequels. The Mummy in this film is pretty eerie... although he doesn’t do that much, it has to be said.

Above all though... this movie is fun with a capital “F”! The policeman trying to work out the cause of the strange deaths in his city has a groovy, sixties, swinging theme tune that follows him around in his investigation and a main squeeze, who is “sixties cute”. They are, of course, no match for Michael Rennie’s permanently smirking alien villain but this is okay because Waldemar Daninsky comes to the rescue when our hero is ensconced in his vampire-bat death trap and as for Rennie, well he’s on to a loser from the start as his freshly undead human scientists fall prey to weak human emotions such as love.

This film is a great laugh. I can only refrain from commenting on the artistry of the cinematography because I’m pretty sure the transfer I saw is, as I said previously, in the wrong aspect ratio, but the film ends up with monster fighting monster... I especially liked the bit where Naschy’s wolfman traps The Mummy in something which is very similar to a mouse or hamster exercise wheel and then sets fire to him. Very funny... err... I mean chilling, very chilling!

There’s not really a lot more I can say about this film without damaging it in the eyes of some but certainly raising its credibility in the eyes of others. Seriously folks... this is a Paul Naschy movie from the Waldemar Daninsky canon that involves space aliens trying to conquer the earth using Universal style monsters... how could this movie ever put a foot wrong? Answer... it doesn’t. It’s brilliant trash and it seriously deserves a proper, commercially produced widescreen transfer... and so does its modern audience, most of whom exist without any proper access to this movie. Get on the case now. It’s brilliant!

The Return of Dracula

The Vampire Strikes Back

The Return of Dracula
(aka Curse of Dracula
aka The Fantastic Disappearing Man)
USA 1958 Directed by Paul Landre
Midnite Movies (20th Century Fox variant) Region 1

Spoilers: This review contains blood vessel
busting spoilers that may clog up yer arteries.

Well now... I wasn’t expecting a whole lot from The Return Of Dracula but what I did get was an unsurprisingly underrated little gem. I’ll get to why the “unsurprisingly” in a minute. Stay with me.

Directed by Paul Landre, The Return Of Dracula has much to recommend in it. It opens with a Dragnet style voice over narrative which, with its in-built silliness, still does nothing to spoil the intense atmosphere as some cars speed to a morgue and a team of sanctioned vampire hunters go to kill Count Dracula... only to find he has slipped from their tenacious grasp. He has, in fact, killed and taken the identity of a fellow countryman, Bellac Gordal, and taken a train to small town, suburban America to stay with the relatives of his latest victim... who happen to be unable to recognise the original Bellac.

The atmosphere is genuinely chilling due to the intensity and bleakness of the crisp black and white photography and this, pitched against the fifties homespun nuclear family, the kind you’d see on sit coms and westerns on TV around about then, gives the movie a wonderful frisson it may not have had in such abundance without this uneasy juxtaposition.

Francis Lederer, who some of my readers may remember from such films as the original G. W. Pabst version of Wedekind’s Lulu plays, Pandora’s Box, is absolutely fascinating to watch as the manipulative Count Dracula. He is, according to the government cell trying to locate him and his kind, looking to set up shop stateside and spawn a new following in the US... I’m wondering now as I’m typing this if Dracula in this movie actually represents communism in the context of when this movie was made. The point is... Lederer is absolutely hypnotic in the role of Dracula and it’s a shame that this movie didn’t spawn a series of progressively inventive sequels like the Hammer version which came out not long after this one in the same year and which helped put Christopher Lee on movie goers maps.

Talking of which... this is the reason why I suspect this film was mostly overlooked when it was initially released. Hammer’s Dracula (aka Horror of Dracula) was an all colour shocker and, while not particularly bloodier than a couple of sequences in this movie, caught the publics attention in much the same way that Hammer’s The Curse Of Frankenstein had the same year. And I suspect the goriness (which is relatively mild) in the Frankenstein movie, and the fact that Hammer had a similarly styled Dracula movie coming out in ‘58, may have somewhat influenced certain sequences in The Return Of Dracula.

To explain... now I suppose it could be a no-sex-in-the-USA censorship issue but whenever the title character moves in for a bit of neck nipping, the scene goes dark and transitions to another place... and I guess everyone is just supposed to know what is going on. Better hope the 1958 audience is sufficiently “up” on their vampire lore, I guess, because there are not even any neck bites on any of the victims after these sequences. I figured they were shying away from the gore... until I watched the last ten minutes of the film. During the end sequence, this particularly charismatic Dracula falls down a mineshaft and impales himself on a handy and convenient wooden stake. The black blood welling out his front is quite implicit... although why the geezah didn’t just transform himself into a bat on the fall down and flutter out of harm’s way is anyones guess.

But this is nothing in the gore stakes compared to a shot from a few minutes earlier which occurred in the original release prints of this movie and which has been restored (unheralded, so this scene took me completely by surprise) for the Midnite Movies DVD presentation. Dracula has made a blind girl his undead minion and our intrepid cell of international vampire hunting authoritarians (aka the Van Helsing substitute and his colleagues) are laying in wait for her to return to her coffin just before sunrise. She does so and our heroes drive a stake through her heart... for a few seconds we get a shot of blood spurting up from her wooden pierced chest and the film-makers have coloured the blood up to a bubbling bright red, which in contrast to the black and white of the surrounding area of the shot and the lack of any gore in the film leading up to this moment, gives the sequence a visceral impact much similar to seeing Hitchcock’s Spellbound with the extra frames of red at the end of the movie. It also lends a little "Lars Von Trier does Europa" atmosphere to the proceedings. I suspect these extra gory sequences were probably a direct response to Hammer’s initial impact on the state of horror films on an international audience.

The other big strength of this movie.... asides from the stark black and white photography and Francis Lederer’s brilliant portrayal of a vampire abroad... is Gerald Fried’s amazing and pounding, atmospheric score which also quotes the Dies Irae, something which would become a popular melody to quote within the genre and which most people would recognise these days as being woven into the opening title music of Stanley Kubrik’s The Shining. This score really helps give the whole thing an edge and Gerald Fried is another one of those talented composers who perhaps didn’t get the exposure and recognition he deserved.

Anyone who likes watching those old 30s and 40s Universal Horror movies is probably going to appreciate the pacing and atmosphere of this movie. And the curious mix of 50s suburb and chilling, gothic, smouldering dread is absolutely perfect. Don’t miss out on this one.

Hausu (House)

House Rules

Hausu (House) Japan 1977
Directed by Nobuhiko Ohbayashi
Criterion Collection Region 1

When I first watched this movie the other day my first response was... how can one use mere words to be able to describe the absolute head-shagging madness of it? For a while there I was at a loss for words but, as my regular readers will know by now, I’m rarely at that much of a loss for words for very long... so my best bet to try to get through this review and make some kind of sense of the images and sounds of the Hausu experience is to take it slow and list my impressions of the film as I go along.

So what do I know for sure? Well, Hausu is a horror movie... although I have to confess that for the first half an hour or so I had my doubts on this. The whole film, you see, is infused with the style of... well not to put too fine a point on it... a Saturday morning Hanna-Barbara cartoon show crossed with an episode of Sesame Street. That’s my best way of describing it. The actors and actresses pretty much look like they’re having some tongue-in-cheek fun but I suspect none of them realised just how wild and basically wrong (in that good kind of way) they would look like after they’d been fast edited and jump cut to death against a deliberately overloud cartoon style score with wooshy sound effects and general kids anime-paced rhythms. This movie is madness.

And it all manages to work quite well... the mad, inappropriate sensibility is never really subtle and it pops out at you right from the start... although it does, to be fair, get more furious with the pacing and mixed media collage techniques used on screen to augment the director’s vision... like he’s some kind of extra crazy Jan Svankmeyer on acid!

Oh wait, did I say “pops out at you”? Perhaps a better way of putting it would be the sheer bizarre and fun hilarity of this movie is so awesome it’s like it just jumps out of the frame and starts slapping you around the face with a crazy metaphor of a jazz-funk porno soundtrack while repeatedly dropping bunches of bananas on your head!

It’s like nothing I’ve ever seen before. I’m not saying it’s totally unique because it almost certainly isn’t... I’m sure there’s been a lot of movies which have attempted, either before or after, to reach the same dizzying heights as Hausu... it’s just that they haven’t necessarily been imported or been well enough received by audiences to warrant importing into English speaking countries before this. This is really different and the whole thing really does seem to have been directed like a cartoon (or should that be anime?).

The story of a bunch of High School girls who go to stay with the dead, as it happens, aunt of one of the girls is a real trip. Each of the girls have a single, identifying name which matches their character... Gorgeous, Professor or Melody for example. This is sometimes reenforced in the sound design... Melody is usually accompanied by the “spooky house” thematic material and whenever "Kung-Fu" does something which is Kung-Fu like... the music takes on the funky seventies aspect of the fight music in an episode of the TV series Monkey. There is some great stuff going on here.

However, it is a horror film too and... well I don’t want to give away too much of the sheer wonders on display in this movie but... flying decapitated heads which bite you on the bum, eyeballs peering out from mouths, dancing skeletons and a piano which may bite you but will certainly come back later to eat you bit by graphic bit and still use the fingers it tore from you to keep the piano melody going.

This film rocks in so many ways that it’s really hard to pin down the tone for a reader without getting too bogged down in semantics. There is gore and even some nudity in the movie... and then, at any moment, the music tells you that Big Bird or the Cookie Monster are just around the corner. You won’t know whether to laugh or scream in some sequences. It’s bright and colourful (Bava colourful!) and has some wonderful scene transitions that almost but not quite threaten to seem like they’re the brainchild of a video editor with some brand new, rocking, video editing software and he’s going to press every button in the manual and throw it all in there.

There are a few little sequences where the movie catches its breath a bit but these are mostly within the first half an hour... after that your brain isn’t going to get a chance to stop moving. This is “movie making” in capital letters with each letter coloured in with a different neon shaded tint and a big bugger of an exclamation point crashed in on the end. I’m not sure I could possibly recommend this to everybody but I know I’m going to be lending this one out to everyone I know who will be able to handle it in terms of why such a movie might come into being... and why such a movie was not an error on the part of the director in the first place. This is so much more than just a horror movie...

NUTS4R2’s Astonishing Trivia Treats: Hausu is one of the very few movies I know that actually includes a character who is a film score composer. Gorgeous’ dad is one, although he’s not in the film for very long. He makes a reference to Sergio Leone preferring his music to that of Ennio Morricone’s.

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Humanoids From The Deep

Fish Fish, Bang Bang

Humanoids From The Deep (aka Monsters) US 1980
Directed by Barbara Peeters
Shout Factory Region 1

Wow. I’ve been so wanting to see this movie from years and now, thanks to Shout Factory who have been releasing a whole spate of less than stellar Roger Corman produced classics (as this one is), I am finally able to grab a copy in a beautiful transfer with a tonne of extras. It could, of course, be argued that movies like this, Battle Beyond The Stars and Galaxy Of Terror are perhaps being given much more affection and deluxe treatment than they deserve... but you certainly won’t catch me saying that. Shout Factory have produced some of the most interesting titles on DVD over the last year and are beginning to have the same clout and reputation, to my mind anyway, that Anchor Bay used to have 10 or 15 years ago with their groundbreaking giallo and horror releases.

I once bought a bootleg recording of the now world famous composer, James Horner (but let me call him Jimmy), which was a double bill soundtrack of Battle Beyond The Stars and Humanoids From The Deep. Id never heard of Humanoids From The Deep but the score was pretty amazing (we were all lured by the young, early works of Jimmy Horner in our more innocent days) and I hoped that I’d one day be able to see the score within the context of the original movie.

Well that day is here and let me tell you that this movie is everything I’d hoped it could be. It’s trashy and terrible and unintentionally funny and, basically, as fun a time as you can get with a movie. I don’t know where to start but I’ve got to start somewhere so...

Let me mention the cast first. The film top-lines a pudgier and older than his heyday incarnation of Doug McClure. As the saying goes, at least with his composite Troy Donahue parody character Troy McClure, “You may remember him from”... well now... loads actually including TV shows like The Virginian but, primarily for me anyway, fond childhood memories of McClure in the 70s... as the main lead in shoestring epic fantasy movies like The Land That Time Forgot, The People That Time Forgot, Warlords Of Atlantis and At The Earths Core (reviewed here). Being in such films I wasn’t expecting to see him turn up in a Roger Corman movie filled with goriness and nudity.

But that’s basically what Humanoids From The Deep is... it follows the classic Corman recipe of frequent and constant bursts of sexuality and violence in a way that I was just not used to seeing adhered to quite so luridly before in a Corman movie... especially not with Doug McClure in the cast. Doug plays one of a group of fishermen in a small town who are having disputes with another group of fishermen over genetic improvements to the fishing (or some such... I don’t remember if I ever figured out what they were arguing about during the course of the movie but... who cares... sometimes you just have to let art wash over you, as they say), punctuated with fighting and racial tension.

Anyway, while all this disputing and fisticuffs is going on, the genetic tampering company in question are refusing to take seriously the warnings of one of their star scientists, played by the lovely Ann Turkel (still haven’t tracked down that Modesty Blaise pilot movie she made back in 1982), that they have accidentally created a race of fish people under the sea. Turns out that they should have listened to her because it isn’t long before the fish people... sorry, "the humanoids from the deep", are terrorising the towns population by killing first the dogs and then the menfolk and also, while said killing and terrorising is taking place, ripping the clothes off any handy female characters and raping them. Because that’s what fish people do when they see our women, apparently... they have sex with them and then bury them under the sand so they can have weird, fishy/human spawn lurking with intent.

There seems to be no end to the amount of fun this film can supply... not just with the constant nudity and violence but also because the way the characters are written is just so cliché that it would be very hard not to accurately predict within any given scene, just what arc those characters are going to follow in relation to each other. And all the time we have gruff and heroic Doug McClure to fight the marauding fish people and defend the bigoted, racist people who live in his town. It has to be said... sometimes you’re not sure if you should be rooting for the humans or the fish. But I honestly don’t think that matters, to be honest with you.

Since watching this movie last week there’s been a bit of a coincidence in that the first "official" score release CD of Humanoids From The Deep has been announced in a very limited 1000 copies edition. Can’t wait for that one to arrive. The other thing I found out is a real mind bender though. Turns out that Humanoids From The Deep was remade in 1996 as Roger Corman’s Humanoids From The Deep. Hmmm... seriously? This film needed a remake? I bet that one’s not half as much fun but I’m going to try and track it down anyway. I can’t vouch for the remake here, of course, but if you want to watch a fun filled romp with gore, violence, topless ladies and some of the most stupidest riffing on Creature From The Black Lagoon costumes fish people you ever did see... then Humanoids From The Deep is the movie for you. They don’t, quite, make them like this anymore.

The House By The Cemetery

Grave New World

The House By The Cemetery
(aka Quella villa accanto al cimitero)
Italy 1981
Directed by Lucio Fulci
Arrow Region 2

So, for my third night of "A Week Of Halloween" reviews I watched Lucio Fulci’s The House By The Cemetery and, boy, was I disappointed with this one. I’ve always had a hit and miss kinda thing going on with Fulci but the memory of some of his films like the stylish Lizard In A Woman’s Skin always kept me coming back to him.

The House By The Cemetery is the third part of his “unofficial Gates Of Hell trilogy” but, honestly, I can’t see why. Although the first two “parts”, City Of The Living Dead and The Beyond, were both pretty much stand alone movies, they were at least connected by the fact that they dealt with a portal into hell... but The House By The Cemetery has no such portal into hell thing going for it... unless I missed a vital clue somewhere.

About the only thing I can see which is worthy enough of mention that the three films share... asides from the fact that they were all directed by Fulci, is the fact that English actress Katherine MacColl is in all three... although it has to be said that her roles are all completely different (in name if not in function) and this is probably her weakest role in a Fulci film... weak as in not having a particularly well written role or any real opportunity to do much with it. The previous two films were much better for her on screen presence I felt.

The House By The Cemetery tells the story of a man picking up another man’s research after he has killed himself. He moves with his wife and child to a house in the town where he needs to carry out said research (don’t ask me what research... I can’t remember or they didn’t actually say... either way it’s just a plot device). Meanwhile, his son has been having telepathic conversations with a young girl who keeps warning him away from the house where they move to. Good advice, it turns out, because the house they’ve picked out was once inhabited by the evil Dr. Freudstein who would lure people to the basement and kill them for his own, presumably demented, experiments. And guess what, as soon as our family turn up, just when they happen to be out of the house (for the first two thirds of the movie), Dr. Freudstein’s reanimated zombie corpse is up to his old tricks, gorily murdering any visitors to the house and storing them in the basement.

And so on.

And the film really doesn’t get much better than that.

And usually it doesn’t have to because Fulci could, when he was really on top of things, inject a certain flair and pizzazz to the proceedings which can lift even the cheesiest of plots and terrible examples of bad acting into a whole other area by infusing them with some surreal imagery and atmosphere.

Sadly... The House By The Cemetery doesn’t do this.

There was a nice bit where a shop window dummy’s head falls off and blood and gore spills out from the wound. However, the problem with using this kind of vision is he’s also used the same kind of dummys as stand-ins for the human characters when they get “gored up” (a technical term) in many instances and it just adds to the fakeness of the less than special effects in the movie. Nothing here is really that convincing. True, he used similar dummies for similar purposes in other films... the opening of Seven Notes In Noir springs to mind... but you tend to cut him some slack sometimes if the cuts are quick and the film is suitably gripping.

But, again, The House By The Cemetery is neither gripping nor stylish and my expectations here were that I’d at least get to watch something which was at the level of The Beyond or Zombi. Alas, I was very disappointed in this one and it’s not something I’d actively watch again. Why people hold this movie, out of Fulci’s not insubstantial portfolio, in such high regard is beyond me. My advice on this one would be to stick by the warning the little girl gives in the movie itself... “Don’t go in the house Bob. Don’t go in.”

Nightmare Castle

Welcome To My Nightmare

Nightmare Castle (aka Night Of The Doomed)
Italy 1965
Directed by Mario Caiano
Severin Region 1

Warning: This review has nightmarish
spoilers at every twist and turn...

Like a lot of movies I watch these days, I "ordered in" a copy of Nightmare Castle because I already had the soundtrack and I wanted to know how Ennio Morricone’s distinctive score for the film worked within the context of being heard while the film played out. However, I was at once on my guard when this one turned up for me because a review site quoted on the front cover of the sleeve wrote the following about the it...

“As good - if not better - than any Mario Bava gothic tale.”

I have to admit that this got my back up from the start with this movie because, frankly, nobody could make gothic horror like Bava... nobody. Bava’s visual style was so intense that pretty much any other films straying into the same kind of territory fall flat when it comes to a comparison. Certainly Britain’s Hammer Films couldn’t top Bava and, perhaps, the nearest in the US in terms of at least being heavily inspired by Bava’s directorial signature would be the Edgar Allen Poe cycle of films directed by a young Roger Corman.

However, I have to say that this movie here certainly comes close to at least catching a little of the weight of Bava’s own forays into the gothic horror genre (which includes movies such as Black Sunday, Black Sabbath and The Whip And The Body). There is a certain gravitas inherent in the movie from both the way the performances of the actors are pitched and from the fact that a general bleak tone is maintained throughout, propped up by some very clean and crisp black and white photography.

The story tells of Muriel, played by euro-horror queen Barbara Steele, whoo is caught making love to her manservant in the greenhouse by her husband, Dr. Stephen Arrowsmith. Being as Dr. Arrowsmith is obviously a little deranged and has a room especially set aside for his “mad experiments”, he tortures Muriel and her lover to death... but not before Muriel lets slip that she changed her will and her sadistic husband won’t inherit her castle. Instead she has willed it to her deranged, step sister Jenny who is recovering from her mental health problems in a sanitarium.

After Dr. Arrowsmith finishes killing Muriel and her lover, he takes out their hearts and uses their blood to youngify the old housekeeper woman so they can become lovers... just why he got this idea is anyone’s guess.

Somehow, after a short period of time set between shots, Dr. Arrowsmith returns to the castle with his new wife, Muriel’s step sister Jenny (also played by Barbara Steele but this time with blonde hair) and there seems to be no explanation as to why everyone is just accepting Muriel’s death without any question.

The plot from here on in seems simple... the Doctor and the housekeeper must drive Jenny insane so they can get the will ... and to act as a witness to this, they’ve hired her last Doctor from the sanitarium to come and treat her. So far so good, but it soon transpires that all is not well within the castle walls. Jenny, for instance, has dreams flashing back to the night that Muriel and her lover were killed. And of course, the young Doctor brought in to “witness” Jenny becomes the films other half, along with Jenny, of a "romantic development." Added to this, there’s the housekeeper, whose young countenance could slip any minute and whom needs periodic top ups of the blood of the two sisters in exchange for her own immortality.

Needless to say, the ghosts of Muriel and her lover come to sort things out at the end... and there’s a general creepiness to the way Barbara Steele looks in the part of the resurrected Muriel as one half of her face is hideously deformed, although she covers the whole right side of it with her long black hair... this and the long, diaphanous white dress she wears while slowly creeping towards her victims in her vengeance make her the perfect forerunner of Sadako from the Japanese Ringu movies. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the producers and directors of those smash hits of 90s J-horror had been, in part, influenced by this movie.

However, things take a turn for the worse again when the surviving members of the household, Jenny and her romantic interest, are equally pursued by the two ghosts but, luckily, this is where the hearts that Dr. Arrowsmith removed from them after he killed them come into play because, once they are destroyed by “our hero”, the to ghosts disappear up their own ectoplasm at the speed of... well... “cross cutting shots” I guess.

Morricone’s music provides a very strong melody base in a piano theme played by both incarnations of Barbara Steele and the music even has a contribution to the world of the film in that it’s the music Muriel plays to summon her lover and give him the all clear. The theme is heard in various interpretations throughout the film, pitched against more atonal selections which you may be more familiar with from Morricone’s horror and giallo writing. This, pitched against the standout photography and languid pacing of the movie where a pan or dolly shot is much favoured over the use of cutting between places, gives the film a certain edge which is undeniable when compared to a lot of the lesser efforts of the genre.

The attitude towards torture in the first reel is, perhaps, rather strong from what you’d expect in a 1965 movie... but having said that, I would certainly recommend it to fans of the slow, relentlessly paced gothic horror as something they might enjoy. One thing I will say again though is this... don’t believe the DVD sleeve. This is not as good as Mario Bava!

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Paranormal Activity 3

Fuzziness and Ghosting

Hi there. Welcome to the first entry in my week long lead in to Halloween. Seven days and seven horror movies reviewed. Hopefully the majority of these won’t be obvious choices you’ll see reviewed elsewhere for Halloween... although I’m sure this first entry is pretty much on everyone’s radar at the moment. I hope you enjoy what you read. Please leave a comment if you feel so inclined and thanks for taking time out to read my posts...

Paranormal Activity 3 2011 USA
Directed by Henry Joost & Ariel Schulman
Screening at UK cinemas.

Warning: Sizeable Spooky Spoilers
contained in this review that may haunt you.

Wow. What can I say about a franchise of extremely low budget horror movies that truly are horror movies (big on scare and no blood or gore involved) which are truly successful with audiences and which really deliver the goods while leaving an audience wanting more every time. Well probably a lot, knowing me, but I’ll try to keep it fairly brief.

I quite liked the first in the series of Paranormal Activity movies but really didn’t find it very scary... although the audience certainly did. I admired it for the way it took all the obvious and old horror tricks and handled them so competently (if not that freshly) that it really managed to create an atmosphere of dread. And, as usual with these “found-footage-home-movie-truth-at-24-frames-per-second” style movies... the acting has to be really top notch to make them believable because the lack of, too much, visual flourish means that you need the audience to be hooked into the characters as quickly and tightly as possible... hermetically sealed into the world “documented” by the camera.

Paranormal Activity 2 was, for me, a much better movie and it had a lovely twist up its sleeve which meant that this movie was not only a prequel to the first one (which everyone knew anyway) but also a sequel to the first one, the entire first movie having taken place chronologically at some point between two shots near the end of Paranormal Activity 2. This was a bit of a winner as it allowed characters from the first movie to be in the second one (essentially as guest stars) but at the same time give a little postscript to the events of the first movie... one which begs a sequel... a sequel we have yet to see. It’s a film that really, in respect to the timelines, tries to have its cake and eat it... and it does succeed brilliantly in this. What’s more, the second one is actually a "scary" movie and succeeded in making me jump a few times.

Paranormal Activity 3 is a prequel proper because, aside from a little prologue sequence slotted into the previous two movies timelines and featuring characters from those two, the rest of the movie goes back to the early life of the two sisters from the previous films, Katie and Kristi, and concentrates on what happened to them in their childhood, specifically in the year 1988 (something which neither of them can remember too well as adults, if you remember the first two movies).

There’s a few little negatives about the movie, the main one being that the clichés are truly revved up to the max. You pretty much know exactly why certain things are done and at one point I was feeling quite insulted by the film-makers because it’s obvious why things are set up as they are. For instance, when a character makes a camera that scans across a room in an arc from one side to the other, by fixing it to the mechanism of a common or garden household fan, you know precisely why the creators of this one have introduced this element. Specifically, so they can pan across from one side of the room, pan back and have a shock reveal, or even a series of shock reveals... and sure enough, this is exactly why they’ve done this.

One thing you learn about these particular movies, though, is that it really doesn’t matter if you know what’s coming or how cliché ridden the whole thing is... if it’s done effectively, and with its tongue wedged firmly in its cheek, as these movies are... then it really works well. And I have to say, it didn’t stop the movie from scaring the pants off me... or of the audience who were loud and screamy throughout the entire screening, pretty much (which is slightly different behaviour to the first two, where you mostly could hear a pin drop).

Another slight negative would be that because we are going back to 1988, all the found footage is supposed to have been shot on home video tape, so the image quality is fairly blurry and downgraded... which isn’t great for cinema viewing but it doesn’t take long for the eyes to get used to it so I guess I’m probably just fussy.

There are so many positives to this one though and the set pieces are even more outrageous than the last one. There’s more blatant CGI in this one, to change the facial features of characters as they become “demonised” and all the usual stuff to presumably mask out cables and such like for practical, in-camera style effects... and it all works great. The two very memorable reveal scenes using the fan-mounted camera are great moments... one involving “something” under a sheet where the camera is used to incrementally build up tension through location before a “happening” and the other which involves a brilliantly disappearing kitchen... didn’t see that one coming, actually.

The other nice thing this movie does is flesh out the history of the phenomenon much more. Giving it strong hints of a back story which is very Dennis Wheatley in tone. Specifically, a coven of witches which have presumably made a pact with a demon and who are part of Katie and Kristi’s family. Their grandmother is sinister as hell... and with good reason, as the husband in this movie discovers to his, very graphically portrayed, cost. It seems to be a running gag with the movies that the camera obsessed husbands in these pieces come to a bitter end... and this is demonstrated here to chilling effect.

The trailer for the movie shows footage not actually present in the film and which is, in some ways, slightly misleading. It does, however, serve as a great lead in to a terrifying sequence in the movie and so it’s a great idea to watch the trailer before seeing this one. It just gives you another level of scary to focus on.

And we also get a name to the demon doing all the scarinesss in this movie... Toby. That name will soon become synonymous with big scares, I’m sure, as the inevitable sequel comes to town... hopefully next year. I really like these movies and think a fourth one would be a good thing... if it’s handled as well (preferably better) than these three have been.

One things for sure, you’re not going to be seeing too many movies much scarier and jumpier than Paranormal Activity 3 this year... if you like horror movies, then this is definitely one you’ll want to catch, preferably early so you can see it with a big audience. The audience reactions to these movies are huge and as good a reason as any to plonk down your hard earned cash... if you are interested in seeing a group of strangers bound together in a shared experience by fear. Definitely worth seeing at the cinema rather than on DVD. Give it a go.

Friday, 21 October 2011

London After Midnight

Once A Lon A Time

London After Midnight US 1927
Directed by Todd Browning
Restoration from stills by Rick Schmidlin 2002
LCM DVD Region 0

So there I was, in a one-day film bazaar in a museum in London, and I spied a bootleg copy of London After Midnight for a fiver. Now most people reading this who are into movies will understand why my immediate reaction was to try to control my gawping facial muscles which probably looked like someone had plugged my backside into an electrical socket... whilst simultaneously reaching into my pocket to extract this princely sum of £5 from my wallet.

London After Midnight, you see, is a very rare and lost silent film classic starring the man of a thousand faces, Lon Chaney Sr, in one of the more iconic of his horror make-ups. That gawping-eyed, top hatted vampire with all the teeth filed into points you might have stuck in the back of your visual memory somewhere? That’s Lon Chaney Sr in London After Midnight. It’s not an image one easily forgets and the loss of this one is particularly galling because we used to have a working print of this in living memory (for some people’s living memories who are just a smidgeon older than me that is). The last print was accidentally destroyed in a fire at MGM in 1967 and it’s been on everybody’s “to find” radar ever since then.

Now I have to say, before I go any further, that I have found long sought after and lost or supposedly commercially unreleasable gems at the various London film fairs before, going for a fiver... so I wasn’t being totally naive, after some of the stuff I’ve stumbled across, in thinking this might actually be something like an actual and workable (if barely watchable) print of this movie from a “collector’s” private archive. It wasn’t such a hard stretch given that a film none of us would ever had thought we’d see restored in a pretty much complete form, Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, had recently been discovered, expensively restored and released to much critical salivating (I plan on watching this version, finally, very soon). Also, I remembered reading a story on Aint-It-Cool-News back in 2008 that a copy of the London After Midnight print had been found in the UK... but that story grew cold and it was obviously a hoax or, at the very least, an enthusiastic assumption made from incorrect information. Still, my fingers were crossed and my expression was hopeful... like I said, I’d stumbled upon things before at events like these.

Alas, this dream was not to be and, after getting the DVD home and onto a player, it turns out that this is the “restored” version commissioned by Ted Turner and produced by Rick Schmidlin in 2002 and not the actual motion picture. And, to boot, the transfer on this DVD is jumpy and erratic and definitely at the low end of the spectrum of bootlegs made from such “found objects” (presumably this was from a broadcast on TNT at some point).

So how do I review this DVD since, well, this really isn’t a print of London After Midnight in much sense of the word? Well.. the answer is... on its own terms, I guess.

What this particular restoration does well, considering it is literally a 45 minute burst made up of publicity stills which are panned and scanned over while zooming in and out, is to get the timing down just right... with the intertitles and relationships of shots cut slickly against each other, to trick your brain into thinking you are watching a pretty close approximation of a silent film. The intertitle cards are presumably taken from a surviving script of the movie. I’m betting the original movie would have aired on TV sometime before the print was destroyed in 1967 (alas, before the days when off-air recording at home was beyond the audience imagination) so there may have even been someone who could remember a screening called in to assist... I don’t really know. All I know about this restoration is two things...

One: It’s a very good approximation of a silent movie which manages to just about hold your interest and doesn’t get boring and...

Two: It’s nothing like (and nor could it ever be) the true experience of watching London After Midnight.

Now then, as the story unfolded before me (with its new piano score) in dynamic interpretations of static publicity stills, I realised that this was Browning’s original version of a film he remade in 1935 as a talkie with Bela Lugosi... Mark Of The Vampire. Now Mark Of The Vampire, and I may be a philistine for admitting this, is not a movie I’ve ever really held a great affection for, asides from a minor infatuation with Carroll Borland who also appeared briefly in an early episode of the original Flash Gordon serial. It’s a bland movie and although many people feel it’s a finer film than Browning’s version of Dracula from 1931... I am not one of those people. Dracula is a great movie which I can repeat-watch in any of its 1931 versions but Mark Of The Vampire is not something I could imagine revisiting that often... maybe once every ten years or so.

Also, the fact that in both versions of this tale, the vampires are revealed at the end to have been circus performers hired to play vampires to manipulate a murderer into confessing his guilt, has always seemed a bit twee and “scooby doo comfort zone” for me. Give me real bloodsuckers any day of the week.

From what I can see from this “presentation” of the film, I would probably have responded to London After Midnight a little better. Frankly, seeing Lon Chaney prancing about in that get up would have been enough to enthrall me I would imagine... but all this is speculation. There are presumably no surviving “screen-caps” from London After Midnight and so these are probably all specially posed stills manufactured from the publicity department at the time. Shot’s like Chaney marauding a lady in the background of a shot but with him in the foreground and with his head twisted around to stare into the camera are, I would suggest, not reflective of the content of the actual movie. And as such, I really can’t, in any way, shape or form, even attempt to review London After Midnight and get away with anything other than a sham. This is not the real deal.


Whether this 45 minute oddity is reflective of what the real experience for audiences would have been or not, what it most certainly has going for it is that it’s a nice little tribute to both Chaney and Browning and fans of either would probably be very pleased to have this in their “to watch” pile. So definitely worth a purchase if you want to just wet your toe in the general proximity of Chaney’s iconic horror creation... perhaps a little less of a recommendation to people who are not that familiar with the rhythm and timing of silent film but a strong shout out to movie lovers in general. Give it a go if you can find a copy.

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Under Western Stars/Rainbow Over Texas

Trigger Happy!

Under Western Stars 1938 USA
Directed by Joseph Kane

Rainbow Over Texas 1946 USA
Directed by Frank McDonald

Special screening as part of the Treasures of the
National Archive section of the London Film Festival.

You know, it’s a sad state of affairs but when you work full-time you end up not going to Film Festivals very often at all because... well, you got a day job.

Over the last couple of decades, since I was a carefree student on a degree course when the London Film Festival was a more “doable” proposition, my attendance to the festival has dropped off a fair bit and since I’m now mostly rationed to attending said festival on Saturdays and Sundays only, it means there was only one piece of programming I could go to this year that I really wanted to see and that was a double bill of Roy Rogers movies. Since absolutely nobody I know other than my dad (who prefers Gene Autry) is tolerant of early American Westerns, I ended up having to go by myself but it was definitely an event worth taking the solitary trek across London by rail and tube for.

The first one up in the double feature was a screening of a newly restored print of Roy Rogers first starring role (as opposed to bit parts and appearances under another name). I didn’t realise this before I’d turned up at the National Film Theatre, who were good enough to screen this for their punters in Screen 1, but luckily they’d also flown out restoration expert Robert Gitt of the UCLA Film and Television Archive in California to talk to us. The UCLA had built the restoration for us (with some heavy financial help – film preservation isn’t free folks – dig deep!) and, when I say built... I mean built!

Turns out that this new print of Under Western Stars was the first full length version to be seen in many decades, since the original version was chopped down to under an hour for TV broadcasts to ensure the timeslots weren’t jeopardised. A fair few sources were used to reassemble this print and some of those sources were severely compromised and the quality of the film does tend to jump between a few very noticeable states throughout the duration of the film. That being sad though, credit where credit is due and the restoration job was absolutely brilliant. There was nothing in any way unwatchable in the technical make-up of this movie, even in the few and far between “visually softer” passages.

And I have to say that I had a really good time with this one... especially since the only real reason I wanted to go to a Roy Rogers double bill in the first place is because I like Gabby Hayes... when I realised Smiley Burnett was on sidekick duties in this first movie instead of Gabby I let out a groan. As is happens though, I was much more taken with this movie than the second part of the program.

The story about water rights was strange enough to be interesting and Roy Rogers did resort to a little subterfuge at times... although it’s a quality I wouldn’t normally equate with such an upstanding pillar of the cowboy community. There was even an English fox hunt complete with obligatory fox hunty uniforms which looked well out of place in this kind of movie... much to my satisfaction.

A great little oater but the main attraction for me, and I drooled as soon as I saw the name in the credits, was the inclusion of Carol Hughes. This would have been exactly one year before she took over the role of Dale Arden, replacing the gorgeous Jean Rogers for the third of the Flash Gordon serials, Flash Gordon Conquers The Universe. Although I have always preferred Jean as Dale, I’ve always thought of Carol Hughes as the more sophisticated take on the character. That being said, however, in this movie she was acting more like Jean Rogers for most of the time... although to be fair, I don’t think she feinted or twisted her ankle once.

This was the longest version of the movie possible, but I did notice that in the trailer there were a few seconds which were quite noticeable as I thought it a bit of a mistake being that Roy was in his saddle and he shoots his gun while his four legged friend Trigger gave a bit if a start at the gunplay... but I was waiting for it to come up in the movie and I never noticed it. Doesn’t mean to say it wasn’t there, but my guess is that it was a hastily prepared trailer from rushes and the director just didn’t want that “horse flinching” in the film. This practice of eliminating sequences which were in the trailer continues to this day of course.

My dad always told me that Roy Rogers never got his hat knocked off in a fight. A popular myth from what I understand, as he certainly got it knocked off in one fight sequence here... although he hastily retrieved it and returned it to its regular perch. However, I did notice Roger’s hat take a tumble a second time in the long shot of a fight... it was somehow mystically back on his head when the shot cut to a close up though... so maybe he does have mystical hat wearing powers after all?

In between the movies, the BFI showed a Meet The Stars short from 1941. Entitled Meet Roy Rogers and directed/produced by Harriet Parsons, daughter of the famous Hollywood gossip columnist Louella Parsons, the short dealt with a few minutes of footage of Rogers working on new stunts followed by a lengthy sequence showing Roy Rogers opening his cowboy apparel store (which, perhaps not surprisingly, didn’t do so well). Various famous colleagues dropped into the store to wish him luck, such as George “Gabby” Hayes and Gene Autry, and it also included lotsa singing and a running gag involving good luck horseshoes. This was a real joy to see.

The second of the two films, Rainbow Over Texas, was in more familiar territory for me in that both Dale Evans and “the ultimate sidekick” Gabby Hayes were both on hand and, although I didn’t quite enjoy this one as much as the first movie (hey, I prefer Carol Hughes, okay?), it was still pretty good fun with some comical hijinks as Roy and Dale attempt to deceive Gabby as to Dale’s mistaken identity and then Gabby and Dale try to deceive Roy as to Dale’s true identity... aw... maybe it’s better if you just watch it rather than I explain it. Consarnit!

What was also fun about this second one was yet more “talent spotting” as I noticed two of the cast of It’s A Wonderful Life were in it... I don’t actually know their names in real life I’m afraid but basically, the goofy little Bailey Buildings and Loans clerk who counts the money in and out had a small role and a slightly more villanous role was given to the guy who played Nick from behind the counter in the bar (“Get me, I’m giving out wings!”) so that was fun. And of course, Gabby Hayes bizarre manner of just stumbling around, in and out of trouble like he’s got a purpose is always the icing on the cake for these kinds of movies. Not a great film but... still one I’m gonna pick up if I see it on DVD somewhere.

So this one’s a very thorough recommendation and it’s with thanks to the BFI for taking a risk on showing these kinds of films in todays cowboy unfriendly environment and a special thank you to Robert Gitt, “the man from UCLA” for making the whole thing between films so entertaining and enlightening. It was a really special show and it’s whet my appetite again to get some more Roy Rogers films in on DVD sometime soon... or at least some more Gabby Hayes movies. Before I do that, though, I have to work my way through some of “Buster” Crabbe’s Billy The Kid movies... who is this “Fuzzy”?

The UCLA website can be found here...
The BFI website can be found here...

Sunday, 16 October 2011

Real Steel

Steel Got It!

Real Steel 2011 USA/India
Directed by Shawn Levy
Screening at UK cinemas.

Warning: Rockem Sockem spoilers coming your way.

Real Steel is a film that is partially inspired by Richard Matheson’s 1956 short story Steel (made into an episode of the original Twilight Zone) and partially inspired by a toy I never owned but always wanted as a kid which involved two boxing robots trying to bash each others heads in called Raving Bonkers (in the USA this same game was called Rockem Sockem Robots which, to be fair, is a far more descriptive, does-what-it-says-on-the-tin name for the game).

Even so... I was a little bit worried about not getting what I wanted, or even needed, from it.

Now if you’d have told me once that I was going to be worried that a movie company could fail to deliver to my expectations on a movie about boxing robots punching the heck out of each other then I may have taken those words of caution with a pinch of iron filings but, now I’ve experienced both the second and third Transformers movies, I have grounds to be doubly suspicious that modern directors can screw up even the most formulaic mechanical mayhem and leave you with a less than palatable taste in your mouth.

So how did this one do?

Well, I’m happy to say that, Real Steel held my interest for the full (and definitely over-long) two and a quarter hour running time and I say that even though there are some things about it which are real negatives. But that being said... there are also a lot of positives in there... although the opening credits mentions that there are animatic robots in it which I suspect is a lie. I can’t quite believe that the robots are done in this manner. This film is pretty much CGI... or they’d be doing these kinds of tournaments for real already. Believe me... this stuff is several steps up from an episode of Robot Wars.

The main elements of this story are made up of basically “everything you’ve ever seen before”... there’s no real originality in this movie whatsoever apart from the odd bit of cinematic window dressing to remind everyone that this movie is set in the future (because the presence of giant, boxing robots is just not enough of a clue for modern audiences, right?).

The film tells the story of a washed up boxer played by Hugh Jackman who does appallingly badly at his new career of Robot Boxing... "we’ll send the boys around to break your legs if you don’t pay what you owe" kinda bad. Then his young son who he abandoned at birth comes into his care for a period of a month or two and together they conquer the world of robot boxing and in the process bond, cultivating a proper father/son relationship which allows the boxer to mature emotionally and become more of a person to those he cares about.

So let me tell you in essence what this film is then... it’s formulaic, incredibly schmaltzy and the writers, producers, directors and performers do everything they can to sucker punch you in on an emotional level and exploit these values to give you an uplifting experience which, obviously, means more coffers at the box office.

And you know what? It doesn’t matter.

Yes, this one is formulaic and schmaltzy but it’s formula and schmaltz carried off with such competence and aplomb that it puts a lot of other Hollywood movies of recent years which have tried to press those same buttons to shame and all the while it’s pitching it to us with the basic science fiction values which allow writers to take that kind of emotional exploration up to a whole new level, which is impossible in less speculative genres of fiction... celluloid fiction or otherwise. The movie may well be dealing with the exploits of a broken down, underdog of a robot but the astonishing level with which this one pulls this off is definitely ripe for a metaphor comparing the production of this particular piece of sentimental fodder to a well built machine... a well built machine that will keep on punching and punching at those emotional buttons until it has you on the ropes.

The performances by all the actors are great and, even though you know they’re suckering you in for the emotional poundings and the film is “unbelievably predictable” from scene to scene, you still invest in them because you respect their work. Similarly, the special effects are effective and the film is a real piece of storytelling... even if it’s a story you’ve seen so many times before. And, although it’s quite a long film (which it really didn’t need to be... some judicious editing might have improved things) it still ends in just about the right place. It recognises the traps within its own set up and doesn’t try to put those things right at the end of the movie... there’s just enough closure in there that they don’t have to ruin it with a proper resolution.

In short then... if you like the odd American blockbuster and you don’t mind treading on very familiar storylines and plot points you’ve seen a million times before as long as it’s done right... then go see this movie. It’s done right!

Thursday, 13 October 2011

Hobo With A Shotgun

The Bloodiest Hobo

Hobo With A Shotgun Canada 2011
Directed by Jason Eisener
Momentum Region 2

Like the brilliant Machete, Hobo With A Shotgun started life as a fake trailer in the Rodriguez and Tarantino joint Grindhouse venture... although I understand it only played as that trailer in the Canadian release of the movie (apparently it was a competition winner). I’d read a lot of feedback to it on places like Twitter and it had some pretty positive reviews... all except one person who really seemed to hate it (my only guess is it’s a generation thing).

Like Planet Terror, Death Proof and Machete before it, there’s a definite knack to getting these kinds of movies right for a modern audience and a lot of that has to do with the “nostalgia haze” that comes with movies of a certain age and the ability to look back at things through a certain, almost hyper-real attitude which gives the movie a degree self-awareness which would have been, by its very nature, totally absent on the original, definitive articles which these movies are paying homage to.

And that’s the difference, in my mind, between enjoying these films and embracing them on a fun level or standing back from the action a little bit and admiring the artistry of the brush strokes in comparison with the original archetypes of this sub-genre. This is why, to me, Tarantino’s Death Proof section of Grindhouse is not anywhere near as successful as either Planet Terror or the later produced Machete. Death Proof was far more like the product it was actually trying to emulate. Everything felt just right for that style of cheap, exploitative American moviemaking that, asides from obvious indicators such as the “out of their time” cast list, the movie is almost indiscernible from the original product. Trouble is... I’ve seen the original product and those experiences are usually frustrating and not something I’d care to repeat. Those movies, the US variety anyway, were ugly and uninspiring and, fairly often, quite bland. So I guess what I’m saying here about Death Proof is, for once, Tarantino made an uninspiring and bland movie.

Planet Terror and Machete, on the other hand, are both major triumphs of the genre because, well they’re giving it a bit more than what you would have seen in the original versions of these kinds of movies. Certainly they’re made in the style of those grungy, violent, seventies B-movies... but they are much more fun and certainly a lot wilder with their set pieces than a lot of the directors and producers of those 70s movies would have been brave enough to release.

So how did I find Hobo With A Shotgun? Well, for starters this movie doesn’t really seem to be parodying 70s “grindhouse” at all... except for in the choice of typography, which is brilliantly tied to that period. No, this is a movie that looks and feels much more like it belongs within the realm of the cheesy, straight-to-video market of the early to mid 80s. That’s probably a better viewpoint to approach this movie with. As the “straight to VHS or BETA” secondary market... that should give you some idea of the tone and feel of the movie.

But how does it do in comparison to its modern predecessors? Just fine. Actually, more than just fine.

For starters, getting Rutger Hauer to play the lead hobo is casting genius... and giving him a character who moves along to another town to beg for money so he can save up to... buy a lawnmower is just an odd enough premise to keep you rooting for him. However, the town he’s ended up with is run by a boss and his sons who hold the towns population in a grip of terror and who have the police in their pockets. They really are quite appallingly bad in the way that only direct-to-video villains were back in the 80s and after not too much time you really want these guys and their minions to die a long drawn out and overtly gratuitous death... each and every one of them. And of course, because this is an over the top and rose tinted glasses echo of these kinds of movies... that’s exactly what you get.

And when I say rose-tinted, I’m not that far off from describing the movie in a literal sense also. The colours in this movie absolutely jump out at you from the screen, kiss you, slap you around the face a little and then jump back into shot and wave at you for a while. Everything about the colouring and lighting on this movie is almost hallucinogenic... it’s like what would happen of Mario Bava and Dario Argento had got together to paint a fence and found a couple of gallons of fluorescent paint to do the job with... and this movie is that fence. In other words... this movie is a visual powerhouse of beauty and, just to give you an absolute contradiction to the beauty of the images... it’s also one of the most violent and bloodiest movies I’ve seen in quite some time. Really gory here folks. Over the top, perhaps, but certainly enough to really put off people with a nervous disposition.

But the most important thing about this movie, with its mean spirited villains who have created a town of absolute despair, is that the central hero character played by Rutger Hauer, even with his “love interest” subplot which works really well, is not your typical 80s antihero. He is not an antihero in any sense of the word in fact. What we have here in Hobo With A Shotgun is a bona fide all American, righteous, Roy Rogers meets James Stewart doing Destry, full blooded hero. A man of high morals and standards who is ready to stand up for what is right and just... even if it means he has to give up on his dream of buying a lawnmower to be able to afford a shotgun and some shells. A hobo’s gotta do what a hobo’s gotta do... it won’t be pleasant and the ending won’t be particularly happy either... but it has to be done and at least the ending is a good one... and you can’t ask much more than that.

Hobo With A Shotgun, ladies and gentlemen... not a film for the squeamish to be sure but certainly a big recommendation from me. Well, with that kind of combination of technical brilliance and a high moral centre.. it was hardly likely to get any other verdict, if truth be told. Take a look and see for yourself.