Thursday, 30 June 2011

Eaters: Rise of the Dead

Dirs. Luca Boni and Marco Ristori

Another month, another zombie flick; Eaters: Rise of the Dead follows the tried, tested and arguably tired formula of pitching a small band of post virus-induced global apocalypse survivors against the marauding undead. Somewhat typically, it opens with a montage of news footage documenting the spread of a mysterious virus, a zero birth rate, the threat of nuclear intervention from governments and the fall of civilisation as we know it. When we pick up with the main characters Alen and Igor (Guglielmo Favilla and Alex Lucchesi), post apocalypse is full-steam ahead. They are two of a number of survivors hiding out in an abandoned building outside the city. Shades of Romero’s Day of the Dead echo through these scenes as the group; largely made up of military men, tussle with boredom and fatigue, while a shady scientist searches for a solution.

In terms of the zombie movie, Italy really jumped on the band wagon after George Romero’s seminal classic, Dawn of the Dead. Lucio Fulci, I'm looking at you, kiddo. Lately however, all has been quiet on the Italian horror front, save a number of independent titles and the work of Dario Argento. With other European offerings of the 'living dead' movie coming thick and fast in the wake of Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later, such as last year’s Rammbock and La Horde coming out of Germany and France, respectively, Italian cinema has been slow on the up-take. Eaters took a while to get here (thanks to the lack of support its makers received in their native country) and it sets itself apart from the rest of the slathering zombie movie pack with a dark subtext reflecting on the destructive nature of Fascist regimes. A subplot involving a mad scientist experimenting on the living dead in an attempt to create a new ‘master race’ draws uneasy parallels with the Nazi regime and adds more intriguing subtext to the mix. Indeed, the protagonists face off against a Neo Nazi group who have declared themselves a New Death Militia. A telling scene also depicts several zombies in a cage, mindlessly pacified by a TV and the fleshy scraps they are thrown by their captors. These are but several ideas contemplated by the movie, but which ultimately remained unexplored.

The bulk of the narrative consists of Alen and Igor setting out to retrieve living corpses for the scientist to experiment on. We follow them as they make increasingly pointless excursions, giving Boni and Ristori a chance to introduce us to a plethora of crazed characters, including the aforementioned Neo Nazi Death Militia, a mysterious young girl and a reclusive painter dubbed Caravaggio, who trades them beer in exchange for body parts to paint. This scene provides a sly reminder of the Italian cinematic legacy of the artistic rendering of death and violence.

The pace and tone of Eaters shifts between ultra-violent and gory encounters with zombies and often tedious scenes of Alen and Igor in their car. Flashbacks which pad out the story of a female scientist (Rosella Elmi) whose fertility experiments may have enhanced the onslaught of the zombie apocalypse, and a subplot involving the intriguingly named the 'Plague Spreader' fail in their pay-off. The momentum of the story lurches about as much as the shuffling undead depicted within it, and by the time it picks up in the third act, it might be too late for some viewers. While there are some interesting ideas scuttling about beneath the video-game violence and macho-deliberating, and the directors exhibit daring ambition, Eaters still doesn’t muster enough interest or momentum to make it even as remotely compelling as it could have been. Having said that, credit must go to the directors for having the guts (pardon the pun!) to see their vision through against all the odds, the least of which being such a low budget. It is also fantastic to see Italian filmmakers producing genre pictures again – especially given the country’s rich history of genre cinema and the sorry state their film industry has fallen into today, when even ‘Masters’ such as Argento find it difficult to find funding for their work.

Credit must also go to Uwe Boll (calm down, I never thought I’d type those words either), who helped the project get off the ground by promising to distribute it. His own work may be a joke amongst some circles, but thanks to him, the talents of Luca Boni and Marco Ristori will hopefully now be set on a course that will enable them to make more movies in future and hone their craft; for while Eaters didn’t particularly float my boat, there’s no denying the passion and energy they poured into this long running labour of love. Boll helped them out when their own film industry turned away in snobbish distain. Yes, it’s the same industry that forced Argento to turn to the States in order to get Giallo off the ground. And look how that ended up (production company ‘neglecting’ to pay actors and so on). Hopefully the new generation of genre filmmakers emerging from Italy will help it scrape back at least some of the glory it used to laud over pretty much everywhere else when it came to such films.

Extra Features

The special features on Eaters: Rise of the Dead include a 30 minute ‘making of’ documentary, a VFX breakdown - a four minute montage comprising comparative shots and scenes in the film before and after VFX were added, all set to a pulsing techno soundtrack – and a trailer. Of these, only the ‘making of’ documentary gives us anything to really chew on. It features behind the scenes footage and interviews with the key cast and crew. It sheds light on how much of a labour of love the low budget Eaters was to its makers, and directors Boni and Ristori candidly discuss everything from the genesis of the story, to how they acquired the help of Uwe Boll to distribute the film, to the difficulties of shooting on a low budget. The main cast chime in with their reflections on the shooting process, and we’re treated to some behind the scenes footage of SFX secrets and a couple of shots that weren’t included in the final cut. It’s all fairly in-depth even though it clocks in at just less than 30 minutes; really helps piece together how hard it is to make genre pictures in Italy today. And whether you like the film or not, credit must go to the directors for having the guts (pardon the pun!) to see their vision through against the odds.

Monday, 27 June 2011

Oscar Wilde And The Vampire Murders

Unfolding in the spring of 1890, 'Oscar Wilde And The Vampire Murders' is the fourth instalment in Gyles Brandreth’s series featuring writer/poet/wit/dandy/philosopher Oscar Wilde as a highly sophisticated, eloquent and, in typical “Wilde” fashion, self-indulgent sleuth.

Aided in his investigations by fellow literary luminaries Arthur Conan Doyle, Bram Stoker and his eventual biographer, Robert Sherard, the Philosopher of Aestheticism finds himself irrevocably embroiled in a series of nasty murders, the grim details of which suggest they were carried out by a vampire…

Amidst the lavish locations and copious amounts of Perrier-Jouët decadently guzzled by Wilde and co, is an irresistibly macabre mystery which will undoubtedly please those who enjoy classic murder-mystery  whodunits in the vein of Agatha Christie or indeed, Conan Doyle’s own Sherlock Holmes.

To read my full review, head over to Fangoria.

Friday, 24 June 2011

Happy Birthday To Me

Dir. J. Lee Thompson

In the run up to her 18th birthday, Ginny begins to experience bizarre blackouts and flashbacks of a prior traumatic event. These coincide with the gruelling and morbidly inventive murders of her friends. Has Ginny finally lost it after experiencing something unspeakably traumatic a year ago? Is it someone from her past back for revenge for something she can’t remember? As her friends continue to get cut up, Ginny must work fast to remember her recent past and unmask the killer before its too late…

Released in the wake of the success of Halloween and Friday the 13th, Happy Birthday To Me is a typical example of the myriad slasher movies unleashed during the early Eighties. With every new title (usually involving an anniversary/holiday/date) stories became more slight and unimaginative and the main raison d’être, as established by Friday the 13th, was the various death scenes; boasting all manner of splattery SFX, they were the real draw of the genre. Happy Birthday To Me is really no different in that regard, it sticks to the conventions of the slasher genre like flies on a rotting carcass. Opening with a fairly intense, if rather clichéd scene in which a young student is strangled by an unseen, black-leather glove clad assailant hiding in the backseat of her car, Happy Birthday To Me gets off to a typical enough start. And it doesn’t get much more original than that; though there are some rather memorable, if totally fucking ridiculous death scenes featuring motorbikes, gym weights and shish kebabs.

It works a little too hard to indicate that any one of the wispily-drawn characters could be the killer, and from time to time various characters will have a random menacing expression on their face or say something that could be construed as threatening. We often cut away from a scene and are led to believe one of the characters has been killed, only for them to show up later. People show up ‘dead’, only for it to be revealed as a practical joke. Yes, it is as tedious as it sounds. As a straight slasher it does at times have an appealing gothic ambience, particularly during the mist-enrobed graveyard scenes and morbidly atmospheric finale in which Ginny (Melissa Sue Anderson) attends a party where the gathered guests are the mutilated corpses of her mates. At other times however, it adopts the guise of a tacky soap-opera. While there is indeed some camp humour in the scenes where Ginny’s mother necks booze like there’s no tomorrow and has a mascara-eviscerating hissy-fit at the entrance to a grand mansion during a rainstorm, it just adds to the overall unevenness of proceedings. Too much time is spent with the group of friends as they banally goof around, and there is little tension in the build up to the murders.

Where it is successful is in its anti-upper class outlook. Ginny and her friends all come from wealthy families and spend much of their time being obnoxious and rude to other people. At one point the prim headmistress of their private college reprimands Ginny and quips: “Think you can sneer at others? You think that because you’re rich you can sneer at people who have had to work hard, people who have had to fight for a decent education? That you can just do as you please?”

Also of interest is the increasingly ambiguous depiction of Final Girl, Ginny. Initially sweet natured and demure, Ginny eventually begins to change through the course of the film, her mood becoming more volatile – the catalyst being when she and her friends race over a drawbridge in their cars as it lifts up, jumping the ever-widening gap. When the car she is a passenger in makes the jump, she completely flips out and runs home, via a moody graveyard, natch, to say hey to her dead mother. Throughout the film she has increasingly lengthy blackouts and flashbacks to the prior year, when she and her booze-sozzled mother were in a car accident, resulting in her mother’s demise. She also has memories of the experimental brain surgery she underwent; cue unsavoury and lingering shots of the operation. This all serves to throw doubt on her hitherto upstanding nature. To begin with, all the intrigue really enhances the narrative and stop-start pacing. Who is Ginny? What happened to her? Why is she in therapy? However, it is all bogged down in repetition until the pace finally picks up towards the climax and things really get going.

There is something about Ginny that ensures she’ll never be in the running for my favourite Final Girl. Maybe it’s the way in which she’s made out to be bat-shit crazy, or that she’s just too vulnerable, or too much of a push over. She shows no signs of resourcefulness or strength, and while there is some tension derived from her plight later on, I never really rooted for her as much as I did the likes of Laurie, Alice or Nancy.

Shameless in its conventionality and ludicrousness, and brazen enough to pull off the ‘what-the-fuck-ending’ it assaults/cheats us with, Happy Birthday To Me is a moderately entertaining ‘old-school’/vintage slasher which makes attempts at originality with its wildly implausible twists and turns, moments of gothic horror, macabre humour and gruesome kills. And more red herrings than the National Library’s Agatha Christie collection. But it’s just not enough, and it winds up being limper than a corpse’s wrist pre-rigor mortis. To add insult to injury, director J. Lee Thompson’s previous films include the masterful Cape Fear (1962), and, erm, Battle for the Planet of the Apes (1973).

Scream 4

Dir. Wes Craven

Ten years have passed since Sidney Prescott survived violent attempts on her life by the ‘Ghostface Killer.’ She has rebuilt her life through writing about her experiences. Returning to her hometown of Woodsboro on the anniversary of the original massacre to promote her new book reunites her with old friends, bumbling cop Dewey and reporter Gale Weathers. However, Sidney’s return also sparks a violent killing spree suggesting someone else from the past seeks a reunion with her; albeit a reunion sodden in blood…

The legacy of Scream is undeniable. It succeeded because as well as providing a commentary on the horror genre, particularly slasher movies, it was also suspenseful and scary. In its wake of savvy self-awareness, ironic humour and biting reflexivity, horror was never the same again. Audiences have been inundated with sub-par, second rate slashers with hip casts spouting self-indulgent and ‘knowing’ dialogue which also served as a critique of modern horror cinema and its audiences. What started off as a breath of fresh air for the lumbering genre, soon became stale.

Skip forward a decade and director Wes Craven has re-teamed with writer Kevin Williamson to return to the leafy suburbs of Woodsboro to revisit victim/survivor/long-suffering Sidney (Neve Campbell) and provide more cutting edge commentary on the past decade of horror cinema. Initially conceived as a trilogy, the prior Scream movies, with the exception of the weaker third entry, were critically lauded and most would agree it was fine to leave the series there. There was a sense of closure. The more cynically inclined may suggest the filmmakers, or rather the production company Dimension Films, were in dire need of a hit to boost studio profits in these cash-strapped times. Others, including Craven and Williamson, insist there is still a story to be told regarding Sidney and her blood-dark past, hence this, the fourth film in the series and possible springboard for a whole new trilogy.

A riveting opening scene harks back to the original’s, and perfectly reflects the playfulness the series has become renowned for, expertly setting up our expectations, toying with them and then blindsiding us completely with twist after ever-surprising twist. Everything from Saw and ‘torture-porn’ to Hollywood remakes and the very concept of post-modern horror cinema is raked over the coals of savvy critical analysis that is the unmistakably Williamson penned Scream movie dialogue. And that’s just the first 15 minutes. After this however, the film never manages to reach the same dizzying levels of daring and ingenuity, and proceeds rather conventionally, though no less entertainingly. At their heart, the Scream films have always been murder mystery tales with each instalment featuring a different killer connected to Sidney’s life in some sordid way. Scream 4 is no different here, though the revelation of the killer and their motives may annoy rather than rivet. Though in this crazy meta world we’re living in, one could argue this surprisingly conventional twist is unconventional in its conventionalism. Or something.

At times Scream 4 tries a little too hard to prove its relevance in contemporary horror, but there are instances when Williamson’s script does touch on a number of insightful concepts. When one character states forlornly: “One generation's tragedy is the next one's joke”, it seems to suggest how things change through the years; one generation’s relevant and groundbreaking horror flick is the next generation’s old hat. When Scream first leapt out at unsuspecting audiences back in the late Nineties, it was the fresh-faced, opinionated new kid on the horror block. Scream 4 sets itself up as something deliberately more ‘old-school.’

Craven’s direction tautly builds the momentum and while certain sections are quite pedestrian, there are a number of expertly executed set-pieces, particularly the stalking scene in a multi-story car park. A very likable cast also enhances proceedings and the returning trio of Neve Campbell, David Arquette and Courteney Cox are an asset to the film. Seeing them together again is akin to catching up with old friends and their bond really helps lend the film much needed heart.

In keeping with the current trend of ultra-violent, ‘torture-porn’ films, Scream 4 is by far the most violent instalment of the series and the ferocity of some of the attacks is intensely unnerving. Craven references the work of horror masters Dario Argento and John Carpenter, while Williamson’s hyper-meta screenplay not only unravels as a tantalising and gory murder mystery, but also a scathing critique of the state of the horror genre, post-Scream. Scream 4, like its predecessors, is also a love-letter to fans of the genre, and this is no more evident than during a particularly humorous moment in the Stab movie marathon scene. The beer-swilling audience recite lines from the movie they’re watching as they are spoken onscreen. Another particularly ingenious and barbed jab comes when horror-nut Kirby (Hayden Panetierre) is quizzed by Ghostface on recent remakes and systematically rhymes off a shockingly lengthy and precise list.

While nowhere near as daring as it should have been, Scream 4 is a definite mark up on Scream 3 (sorry Parker Posey - I still love you!) and not bad for the fourth instalment of a series that arguably should have remained a trilogy. Perhaps the most incisive, relevant and potent remark quipped onscreen is the last line spoken: “Number one rule of a remake, don't f**k with the original.”

Sunday, 19 June 2011

The Slayer

Dir. JS Cardone

Hugely influenced by Italian horror cinema, particularly in its doomful mood and nightmarish illogicality, obscure slasher The Slayer seems to draw from the same well of horror as the work of Fulci and Argento; where any semblance of logic and coherence is overshadowed by atmosphere and mood. Struggling artist Kay, her husband, her brother and his wife all head off on vacation to a rugged, deserted island retreat. Once there, the already strung-out Kay can’t help feeling she’s been there before. Her mounting sense of dread and paranoia peak when her companions are stalked and slain, one by one of course, by a mysterious assailant who seems to have haunted Kay’s dreams from childhood. Director Cardone builds tension and menace from the outset with the slow-burning story unfurling gloomily to establish vague character dynamics, and the miasma-gorged location serving to wring every drop of foreboding dread from proceedings. No humour is evident in the script, aside from some of the unintentional variety, mainly derived from bad Eighties fashion, some awkward dialogue, questionable performances and hair styles; however, nothing that detracts too much from the otherwise deathly serious tone. Indeed, one of The Slayer’s strengths is that it is played completely straight and takes itself very seriously.

Certain aspects of the script would be echoed in Wes Craven’s groundbreaking shocker A Nightmare on Elm Street, particularly with regard to Fay’s dreams and the scenes in which she is alone in the house, trying desperately to stay awake as she begins to realise that the ‘entity' (or whatever it actually is) that has been offing her friends, seems to manifest itself in her dreams. Is she responsible for the brutal murders? Is it a monster from the id? What is the creature? Why does it target Fay? Where does it come from?! The Slayer provides no easy answers, if any answers! Cardone wisely keeps the titular killer hidden and largely unseen for the duration, he relies instead on POV stalking camerawork, terrified glances from the characters as they are pursued by it, an ever-nightmarish atmosphere and shadowy glimpses of ‘something’ just lurking in the periphery of the frame. When we do finally see it – in a moment reminiscent of the scene in The Thing from Another World where that film’s monster is revealed in a doorway – it bears down on Kay; hideous, nightmarish, and pretty effective for such a low budget film.

While it does follow typical slasher conventions, The Slayer still manages to set itself apart from the pack with a few neat twists and memorable effects. The characters for example are much older than your usual slasher fodder. Sure, they may make the same mistakes (splitting up to search for missing friends) but they are slightly more developed – they're all artistic, media types and hint at lives away from the dire situation they’re in. That the cast is so small ensures the story is tighter and when things start to go wrong, the shifting dynamics between the characters creates a lot of tension, too. Kay just seems frightened and uneasy from the outsight – her sickly nervousness only increases once they reach the island, where her feelings of déjà vu immediately add a sense of intrigue and odiousness. The violence featured in The Slayer is also very nasty – it unsettles and sickens and usually comes after carefully structured stalking sequences where suspense is carefully mounted. By turns extreme and nightmarish, the death scenes, including a protracted decapitation and an especially nasty pitch-fork impaling, really pack a punch. The morbid mood is enhanced by the atmospheric orchestral score courtesy of Robert Folk, who really knows when to allow matters to fall into silence, thus further heightening tension.

Some of the locations where grisly events unfold are also immensely creepy and atmospheric. Kay stumbles upon an abandoned, crumbling theatre she seems to recognise from her dreams (and has even painted before arriving on the island) and the storm-lashed, leaky cellar where her husband meets his gruesome end, are but two memorable places where terrible things happen. Even the open spaces such as the beach, are filmed from such weird angles it renders them completely sinister – even during the daytime scenes. There’s just something that feels very ‘off’ about the place, and the sense of isolation is masterfully conveyed. Events play out on desolate, windswept beaches, choppy seas, gloomy woodlands and marshes and a creepy house (with tasteful wood panelling interior) lashed by thunderstorms, and all are meshed together to impregnate the film with an unshakable sense of hopelessness and an atmosphere bloated with blood-gorged dread.

I watched The Slayer without really knowing too much about it, and without having particularly high expectations. I was pleasantly surprised by it. If you crave an old-school vintage slasher with buckets of doomful atmosphere, moments of really nasty violence, immensely eerie locations and a genuinely intriguing premise (arguable ‘cop-out’ ending notwithstanding), then The Slayer is for most certainly for you…

Saturday, 18 June 2011

Wine of the Month – Albali Caliza

This month’s reviews were brought to you courtesy of Caliza (‘barrel aged’), a lush cabernet sauvignon and tempranillo blend from Spanish wine company, Viña Albali. A smooth and medium bodied wine made from selected cabernet sauvignon and tempranillo grapes from the Castile La Mancha region, Caliza displays a mild strawberry with a hint of cherry flavour, which has been aged in oak for several months, adding a lovely, well, ‘oaky’ finish.

Established in 1952, Félix Solís (the parent company of the Viña Albali brand) grow their grapes in harsh climatic conditions (up to 40C in summer and as low as -15C in winter).

If it’s simple and mildly flavoured accompaniment with my movie watching last night is anything to go by, it works quite well with dark and moody David Fincher thrillers like Se7en (the oaky, tannin finish is wonderfully complemented by Morgan Freeman’s dulcet tones and the washed-out colour palette) and, providing your housemate doesn’t make you flick over halfway through to The Sin Eater (heathen!), Lamberto Bava’s Argento-produced Demons.

The light cherry undertones may also compliment anything with Edwige Fenech in it – such as Mario Bava’s 5 Dolls for an August Moon or the uber-trashy Strip Nude for Your Killer… Enjoy responsibly.

"You're absolutely right! I DO detect light cherry undertones. Hic."

The Bird with the Crystal Plumage

With his dazzlingly shot and sadistically violent directorial debut The Bird with the Crystal Plumage, Dario Argento built on the giallo blueprint laid down by Mario Bava in the groundbreaking The Girl Who Knew Too Much and Blood And Black Lace; effectively kick starting the popularity of the giallo movie in early Seventies Italian cinema. A slew of films combining art-house aesthetics and exploitative sex and violence followed suit.

This month sees the release of his chic and savage debut on blu-ray, courtesy of Arrow Video, who have once again really gone all out to give cult movie fans a package to salivate over.

Head over to Eye for Film to read my review of Argento's debut and the host of Arrow Video's tantalizing, jaw-dropping extra features - which ensure this release is a MUST for fans of Argento and giallo all'italiana...

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

The New York Ripper

Dir. Lucio Fulci

Lucio Fulci’s The New York Ripper has a reputation as a misogynistic slasher/giallo Video Nasty which definitely precedes it. Throughout its running time the audience is subjected to all manner of abhorrent and depressing violence – pretty much solely directed at women; and scantily clad ones at that. These scenes are loosely lashed together by a convoluted ‘murder mystery’ narrative, in which a hard boiled, burnt out New York cop (Jack Hedley) attempts to track down the titular ripper, who has been butchering free-spirited/promiscuous/beautiful women with seemingly wild abandon. Fulci relegates the detective story aspect of the film to the background, focusing more on the killer’s sadistic, frenzied exploits, to push his set-piece driven narrative forward. Indeed, tension is often broken by the tonal change when we switch to the police procedural scenes, as our detective and various bumbling cops just stumble from one convenient clue to the next, with little logic or reason.

To say the scenes of violence live up to their reputation is a vast understatement. Despite being made over thirty years ago, and boasting some SFX that has admittedly dated a little, The New York Ripper still wields a massively disquieting and disturbing power. Murderous proceedings are rendered all the more stressful to watch due to the grimy, sleazy atmosphere and their sheer merciless onslaught. Add to this the often laughable dialogue and the fact that the killer quacks like Donald Duck (!) while slashing his victims to death, and you might also get an idea of the ludicrous nature of the film.

Fulci revels in his ability to churn up feelings of disgust and he excels in composing a disheartening and grubby backdrop for his story to play out against. The New York depicted in this film is akin to Abel Ferrara’s scuzzy depictions of the city – an overcrowded space wallowing in filth, deprivation and graffiti-gorged grit. The music, courtesy of Francesco De Masi, sounds like it belongs in a 70s cop show, and really fuels the exploitative, sleazy heat of proceedings. It is by turns kitsch, creepy, sleazy and perfectly moody. Aiding Fulci in his squalid depiction of NYC is cinematographer Luigi Kuveiller (who previously worked with Dario Argento on Deep Red). Every alley and corner poses a threat, every shadow conceals a prowler. And as Fulci is just one of those directors you can’t trust, things don’t happen as you expect – the killer often bursts from inconceivable corners of the frame to hack, gouge, slash and mutilate the flesh, nipples, eyeballs (and worse) of the wide-eyed, petrified unfortunates which (usually only momentarily) populate this lurid tale.

Indeed, certain elements are highly sexualised, and the excessive nudity and prolonged violence – forensic violence even, for Fulci practically thrusts his highly subjective camera into the deeply seeping, bloodily flowing wounds of the victims – verges on the pornographic. The scene depicting the live sex show features more shots of a couple having intercourse than it probably should. A later scene, in which two members of the sex show audience – the prime suspect and a promiscuous housewife – hook up in a grotty motel, is unbearably sleazy. However this scene also eventually plays out as one of the most suspenseful in the film, as the woman – tied to the bed – hears a description of the suspected killer on the radio, which matches that of the man sleeping next to her… Given that the characters are only introduced to be cut up, Fulci still manages to create scenes of stifling tension, another of which occurs when a young woman is repeatedly stabbed while trying to escape a car on a ferry. Her door is wedged against a wall and she struggles weakly to escape the killer’s maddening onslaught with a switchblade.

What was most unexpected (for me anyway), was the killer’s motive. Yes, it’s cheap and fairly unimaginative, but given that I wasn’t expecting one at all, let alone one that makes an attempt at poignancy, it came as quite the surprise. It weakly ‘explains’ why the killer has been murdering women. And quacking like a duck (!) while doing so. What was even more unexpected was that I didn’t hate the film. Note how I said ‘didn’t hate’ and not ‘liked’, because this is a difficult film to like. Yes, you can laugh at the cheesy music, inexplicable logic and guffawing dialogue, and maybe even gasp at the special effects work; but there is still something that lurks in the film that maybe just won’t sit right with you. You may love or loathe Fulci, but this is further evidence that his work shocks, unsettles and bothers. To be completely honest, I 'enjoyed' it, if indeed, that word can be applied to such a film. I appreciated it for what it is, but The New York Ripper is not a film for everyone. It is disturbing and ludicrous, but if you allow yourself to try and watch it objectively (perhaps not as easy as it sounds), you will see that it is also perhaps a perfect exploitation movie and a throbbing example of classic grindhouse cinema.

New York Ripper (cert. 18) will be released on Blu-ray and DVD by Shameless Screen Entertainment on 27th June 2011. Special Features include: feature introduction by Antonella Fulci, daughter of Lucio Fulci and curator of his work; “Beyond Fake Blood” – exclusive interview with Antonella Fulci and writer Dardano Sacchetti; collectors’ booklet adapted by Stephen Thrower from his definitive book, “Beyond Terror, The Films Of Lucio Fulci”; English, Italian and Spanish 2.0 DTS HD and Dolby 2.0 audio options; optional English subtitles. All lovingly packaged in a bright lemon Yell-o-ray case!

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Julia's Eyes

Dir. Guillem Morales

Julia (Belén Rueda) and her twin sister suffer from a degenerative disease that will eventually leave them blind. When her sister is found hanging in the family basement, everyone but Julia assumes that she committed suicide. As she begins her tender-footed investigation to determine the true cause of her sister's death, Julia is sure that she is being watched, but she cannot see her observer. Is it a distorted result of her failing eyesight or is she only imagining things? Or could it be that the man she believes is watching her every move is invisible? Increasingly isolated after an operation – a last ditch attempt to save her sight - Julia’s nerves are fraught and her psyche seems to be completely unravelling. Is it merely her imagination getting the better of her, or is her sister’s mysterious killer now toying with her too?

Julia’s Eyes is a dark and engrossing thriller that initially looks set to unravel as a vaguely supernatural spook-show mixing elements of The Eye and Wait Until Dark. However, it soon becomes clear that Guillermo del Toro’s new protégé, director Guillem Morales, is telling a story all his own. Skilfully weaving together themes of blindness and invisibility to terrifying effect, at its heart, the film is about a woman’s struggle to come to terms with the loss of her sight. Morales frames this concept tightly within the horror genre however, and through precise camerawork that enhances the suspenseful atmosphere, he places us right in Julia's situation and we experience the movie from her perspective. The director deploys unnerving camerawork that distorts our vision as much as Julia’s, and much of the time, we only see what she sees. Or thinks she sees. Characters waft in and out of frame without us ever seeing their faces. At times the screen is plunged into stifling darkness, at other times the mere dimming of the lighting by a fraction in various scenes to convey Julia’s own failing vision, has us rubbing our own eyes and straining to peer into the dark corners and peripheral spaces onscreen (and perhaps off-screen!) in search of the vaguest hint of threat.

Themes of sight, seeing, visibility, invisibility, identity and how others perceive us – if they even notice us - give the film greater scope and at times it is glowingly unconventional and thought-provoking. The terror and frustration of having our worlds plunged into perpetual darkness and not being able to perceive those around us is effortlessly conveyed, not only through Morales’ visual trickery and moody atmosphere, but also Belén Rueda’s (The Orphanage) touching performance as the central character. She carries the film and we believe in her, willing her to find answers before it is too late. The scenes in which she returns home, blindfolded after her operation, and under strict instruction not to remove the bandages, unflinchingly depict her attempts to familiarise herself with her new, dark world. Rueda gives a raw performance of a strong woman reduced to helplessness with heartrending assuredness.

After all the tantalising, unsettling intrigue however, some may find the film’s climax to be a rudimentary affair relying too heavily on genre convention; especially given the expertly crafted mystery of the first half. Morales has more than a few nasty surprises up his sleeve though. The amalgamation of influences he draws upon include Asian horror imagery, the Italian giallo (including one moment of eye-trauma that would make even Argento and Fulci wince), good old fashioned Hitchcockian suspense and lashings of dark psychological perversion, which all make this a rich, intriguing, gripping and eventually unexpectedly moving film; images and moments of which will singe themselves onto your retinas for some time to come. Be afraid of the dark. Be very afraid.

Sunday, 5 June 2011

Paracinema #12 Available to Pre-Order!

Now in its fourth year and going from strength to strength, Paracinema is a New York based, independently produced magazine specialising in the appreciation of films that fall outside of mainstream cinema. Written by fans for fans, each issue features in-depth studies of titles from genres such as horror, exploitation, cult, Asian, giallo and B-movies.

Within the vivid, exquisitely designed pages of issue 12 you’ll find features such as The Man From Australia: Falling Without a Parachute Through the Films of Ozploitation Filmmaker Brian Trenchard-Smith by Justin Bozung; Howling All the Way Straight to Video by Brett Taylor; The Good, The Bad and The Fulci: Tales of Redemption and Revenge from Four of the Apocalypse by Christian Sellers; and Explorers: Exploring Childhood Escapism by Matthew House - of Chuck Norris Ate My Baby infamy - plus much, much more...

*shameless self-promotion alert!*

This issue also includes Sketches of Venice in Red: A Comparative Glance at Who Saw Her Die? And Don’t Look Now by yours truly. But you shouldn’t let that put you off. Skip on over to Paracinema’s online lair and pre-order your copy now.

If you’re on Facebook (and let’s face it, everyone’s on Facebook), you can ‘like’ Paracinema by going here. Oh, and check out an interview with the editor/co-founder of Paracinema, Christine Makepeace, here.

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