The Spirit (2008)

One from the rewatch pile…

The Spirit (2008)

Film: While many comic’s fans may have never read The Spirit, they would at the very least be aware of the legend of comics craftsman Will Eisner. Eisner’s abilities with a comics board and the visuals that he displayed upon them are legendary and surpassed by no-one. His skill in relating a story in drawn visuals has influenced many, MANY cartoonists and filmmakers alike. His name is synonymous with the craft of comic writing and drawing, that the comic’s version of The Academy Awards is known as The Eisners.

Frank Miller is one of those people who were greatly influenced by Eisner. Not so much from an artistic point of view, though that is there, but more the way Eisner treated the images and ‘spirit’ of the city the characters resided in as a character as well, and his want of having the main character’s relationships with women being volatile and good guy/ bad guy barrier blurring. Take a look at Millar’s Elektra Saga from Daredevil and you will see what I mean.

Millar’s understanding of Eisner’s work and friendship with the man made him the perfect person to write and direct a film based on this character.

The Spirit tells of..the Spirit (Gabriel Macht), a no-nonsense, two fisted, supposedly ex-cop who is seemingly unstoppable. He spends his days residing in his crypt, but at night defends his city from those who choose to abuse her and her citizens. One of those abusers is a crime boss known as the Octopus (Samuel L. Jackson), another unstoppable soul who seems to have a ‘spiritual’ relationship with the Spirit.

While in pursuit of a treasure of great importance to an experiment he is performing, the Octopus, with his scientist partner Silken Floss (Scarlett Johansson) and her cloned lackeys (all played by Louis Lombardi) crosses paths with the Spirit’s old flame and professional thief Sand Serif (Eva Mendes) who is tracking down a treasure of her own. Of course they end up with each other’s objective, and then the fun really begins.

Does the Octopus’ experiment have anything to do with the Spirit, and if so will it be his undoing?

Frank Miller has made a beautiful film that is full of classic noir imagery, and scenes reminiscent of many classic directors work, such as Alfred Hitchcock, Stanley Kubrick and Robert Aldrich; sometimes deliberate, and sometimes just to this viewer’s eye. The over the top performances he gets from Samuel L. Jackson and Gabriel Macht are totally cartoony, but are brought down to earth by the absolute gravity of Dan Lauria. His ability to get actors to act at their peaks is apparent as well, even Eva Mendes, who I occasionally find lacking in  ability (though she makes up for it visually) really exceeds any role she has previously played.

Speaking of babes, Miller has scored some spectacular woman to play the menagerie of femme fatales  from The Spirit comic, even though the character of Sand Serif was somewhat merged with the absent P’Gell. The afore mentioned Mendes is at her absolute sexiest as Serif, and her competition here are other gorgeous actresses such as Scarlett Johansson, Paz Vega, Jaime King, Sarah Paulson, Stana Katic and newcomer Seychelle Gabriel, all of whom really steal any scene they are in… a special mention for exploitation fans must be Scarlett Johansson dressed as a Nazi.

The combination of P’Gell and Sand Serif is not the only liberty Miller has taken with Eisner’s comic. The comic never revealed the Octopus as anything other than a pair of gloves, so his decision to show the Octopus in full is as brave as Judge Dredd taking off his helmet or making Aliens Vs Predator films suck. He also dumped the idea of the Spirit’s sidekick ‘Ebony White’ who was one of those unacceptable Negro characters: you know the ones, big lipped ‘Yes Massa’ types.

The end credits are cool. From a visual point of view they show a series of Miller’s storyboards with the credits over them, and from a soundtrack point of view, Christina Aguilera does a beautiful cover of Marlene Deitrich’s Falling in Love Again, which she sang in The Blue Angel in 1930.

The film looks great, but unfortunately suffers from 2 big problems. The first is that the story is choppy, and the film feels like it has no flow: the term ‘Mad Woman’s breakfast’ comes to mind, which is a shame as the story is potentially a good and fun one. The second problem is its identity. It looks SO much like Sin City that the whole film feels like a cut sequence from that film. Enjoyable, but flawed.

Score: **

Format: The film is presented in 2.40:1 widescreen and is an amazingly detailed image: a credit to bluray. The soundtrack on this is spectacular and will take full advantage of your sound system. Presented in DTS-HD 7.1.

Score: *****

Extras: Commentary with director Frank Miller and producer Deborah Del Prete. It’s an excellent commentary, which the two performers exposing themselves as lovers of comics, film, each others work and of the film they created together. They do occasionally talk about re-doing excised effects for the DVD (and Bluray I imagine) but judging by the fact that they are NOT there, I assume it never happened.

The Green Room is more or less a traditional ‘making of’ type extra. It covers the origins of the film, Will Eisner’s and Frank Miller’s artwork, how actors reacted to the green screen aspects of the filming and the special effects. It’s fairly brief for what it has to cover, but covers a lot!

Miller on Miller is a queer little feature which has Miller himself recounting tales of his life and career, looking at his work on Daredevil and The Dark Knight and others and his love of city based characters. He also takes a very brief look at the history of comics, and the career of Will Eisner. For Miller fans it is a decent feature, though he does recount tales that he previously discussed on the extras for Daredevil and Elektra, and for those not familiar with Miller will find it even more interesting. What I found interesting about it though was his decision to dress like Freddy Krueger for the interview.

Alternate Ending with Voiceover by Gabriel Macht and Samuel L. Jackson is an animated storyboard, but with  dialogue spoken by the actors.

History Repeats is an excellent look at Eisner’s creation of the Spirit, with interviews with some of my personal heroes like Denis Kitchen and Neal Adams, and how he changed the world’s appreciation of comics.

We also have the theatrical trailer.

Score: *****

WISIA: It has enough surface appeal to perhaps give it another go, but essentially, watching either Sin City films again is a better option.

Book Review: Afterlife with Archie Vol 1

Afterlife With Archie

I have always been a comic fan, and for many years have entertained the idea of being a comic writer or artist. I mainly drew superheroes but also always found the drawings of Dan DeCarlo in Archie comics alluring. He just had this way about making the comics fun, and he really had a way of making all the women look gorgeous, which was probably from his previous occupation of drawing jokes in ‘men’s’ magazines. My love of horror leaked into my fondness for Archie and when I was about 19 I actually drew an entire comic of Jason Voorhees of Friday the 13th fame, butchering his way through the Archie gang.

I had a lot of fun writing and drawing that and it featured scenes such as Veronica being cut in half during sex with Archie ( and Archie’s todger popping up in the middle of her corpse) and in a tribute to Heathers, Moose and Reggie dying after a love tryst in the woods when Voorhees first emerges from the River ( the comic was set between Friday the 13th Part VII and VIII).

Of course I knew that seeing as how Archie Comics were such a stickler for the oppressive Comics Code Authority, a self imposed body that restricts various acts in comics that may corrupt our children, that violence such as that would rarely if ever hit their books (though the inclusion of a clutch of Witches in the Sabrina comics were always a surprise) and even Archie’s brief encounter with the Punisher from Marvel Comics failed to raise too much interest, that is until now… As Archie and his friends fight the dead!

Afterlife with Archie started as a joke alternate zombie cover of the long time comic series Life With Archie, which was so popular that the makers decided that with that, and the popularity of comics such as The Walking Dead and Marvel Comics’ Marvel Zombies, that it should become a regular series.

This first collection collects the first 5 issues and has, as a bonus, all the alternate covers of the individual issues presented and artist Francesco Francavilla’s initial sketch layouts for each page, which is kind of like a DVD making of!

The story goes like this… And some of it may sound familiar. Jughead has a serious problem, his beloved dog Hot Dog was accidentally run over by Reggie late one night, so Jughead takes his dog to Sabrina, the teenage witch, to see if her aunts can bring him back to life, but they can’t as Hot Dog is well and truly gone.

Sabrina, however, visits Jughead later that night with a book called the Necronomicon which is full of dark magic, with the idea to bring the dog back to life. They go their separate ways, but Sabrina is punished by her aunts for using dark magic and banished to another dimension.

Hot Dog rises from the dead, but he has changed. He bites Jughead who of course becomes the first of the living dead and he then starts infecting the town of Riverdale, starting with the school Halloween party. Most of the gang eventually manage to escape and hole up in the Lodge residence… But are they really safe there from the legions of the undead.

I really wanted to like this comic, but it fell apart of SO many levels. First, Archie comics have a ‘look’ developed by the aforementioned Dan DaCarlo and continued since then by the likes of artists like Stan Goldberg, and occasionally they have experimented outside that look. To average success. The art in this is done more traditional comic style, and I’m sorry but if I am offered Archie Vs Zombies, that’s what I want  not something that is reminiscent of The Walking Dead. This is no criticism of artist Francesco Francavilla whose panel design and color palette for a zombie comic are fantastic, but I wanted ARCHIE comics, not a horror comic with familiar names.

Archie Comics has since completely abandoned that DeCarlo look, and I’m hoping it is to great success, and even though I’m am criticising the art as part of this review, it’s more how derivative it is that makes it a frustrating read.

Which leads me to the second, and for me the main issue, was the story. There is NOTHING new here. The resurrection of Hot Dog is stolen completely from Pet Semetary, Evil Dead’s incantation from the Necronomicon and the eventually holing up and escape from Veronica’s mansion feels a lot like the remake of Dawn of the Dead. I understand that both The Walking Dead and 28 Days Later stole their initial stories bases from The Day of the Triffids, but that doesn’t make it OK to do it in another format. Is a new idea SO hard to come by? I also get these may have been an attempt at getting horror fans onside with nudge nudge wink winks, but they’re were so obvious and cheesy that for me it felt more like fromage than homage.

With these art and story issues, it feels like it doesn’t know what it’s identity is. Is it an Archie comic or not? Is it aimed at horror fans? If so the story will disappoint, or is it aimed at Archie fans, in which case the art will disappoint. If it’s aimed at both, like I am, it will disappoint on both counts.  I will say though, the book itself, though, is nicely presented.

Overall: **

Board Game Review: Cthulhu Gloom

Cthulhu Gloom

Gloom is a card game created by Keith Baker and published in 2004; its an amusing game where the players have a tableau of cards, representing ‘their’ family, and require a desire to kill them, but not without making them suffer first… sound like your cup of poisoned tea? The general gaming populous must have also decided as it was their cup of tea as well, as it has five expansions, and three themed decks, Gloom in Space (a sci-fi version), Gloom of Thrones (a Game of Thrones version) and this one, Cthulhu Gloom, based very loosely on the work of horror/ sci-fi author Howard Phillips Lovecraft.

The way a person wins this game is by having the lowest, negative score possible, which is done by having awful events happen to your family of cards, and then killing them whilst at their lowest. A player cannot ‘kill’ one of their family members if they don’t have a negative score, so the other players must provide good events on their opponents families to stop them from being able to kill them off. The first person to kill their entire family wins.

Seriously, Gloom the movie would potentially be hilarious.

The rules of this game are very simple. In front of each player is a selection of cards representing members of a family, and each player has a hand of 5 cards and on each turn, can perform 2 actions: play cards to their or other’s families, following any or all instructions upon those cards, or discard cards, drawing more cards up to the starting hand of five at the end of each turn.

The cards you’ll mostly be playing are cards that add or subtract points from each character, which is how the game is won: by having the lowest possible score. You can also throw an ‘untimely death’ card onto a character, which is how you can either make points for yourself, or beat another player by stopping a character from ‘earning’ more misfortune, as there is nothing worse than death… right?

The really amazing thing about this game is that the cards are all transparent so when you are playing a card, the negative points act as an overlay, which means every negative or positive that can be seen accumulate to make your score, and you can drop the score of another player by giving fortune cards which have positive points which may cover the players negatives point score.

The most fun can be had with this game by actually reading aloud some of the misfortunes that happen, like ‘minced by Mi-Go’, will occasionally bring a smile to everyone’s faces, especially those who are familiar with Lovecraft’s work.

Atlas Games are obviously aware of some of the unfortunate opinions of when Lovecraft wrote his stories, and so some characters have been give Mad Magazine styled alter-egos so as not to offend.

All in all, Gloom is a fun game for a quick throw around or a games night party-starter, and those who love a Lovecraft theme (like me) this game is an entertaining distraction that can still be macabre fun in an Addam’s Family style for those who aren’t fans of his work.

Score: ***

The Hills Run Red (2009)

One from the rewatch pile…

The Hills Run Red (2009)

Film: One of the joys of being a VHS/ DVD/ Lazerdisc/ BD/ Betamax collector is the hunt. Thinking you know everything about a certain type of film, but then discovering, either through research or, thanks to the internet, a group interest that there is more to buy, more to collect. The most satisfying moment is when you get your hands on that rarity: though the joy is generally shortlived as you quickly discover yet another missing treasure. 

If this sounds familiar, The Hills Run Red is the film for you.

Tyler (Tad Hilgenbrinck) is a film fanatic who is obsessed with a missing film called The Hills Run Red, a horror film about a killer nicknamed Babyface (Danko Iordanov), which was directed by notorious reclusive filmmaker Concannon (William Sadler). He has plans of making a documentary about it, along with girlfriend Serina (Janet Montgomery) and best pal Lalo (Alex Wyndham) but all he needs is a lead in.

This lead comes when his research brings him to Concannon’s daughter Alexa (Sophie Monk), a heroin addicted stripper who he helps get cleaned up. After Alexa dries out, she takes the three to the backwoods town where the film was made, but what they find is a lot worse than anything they could have possible imagined.

What they find is that Babyface is a real creature and not a fictional character at all, and maybe film and reality aren’t so different from each other.

This film is directed by Dave Parker, who was also responsible for The Dead Hate the Living and written by David J. Schow, a fairly well known name in horror as he wrote 2 Critters films (specifically 3 and 4), Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part III, Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning and probably most famously, The Crow.

This has some interesting Scream type elements that appropriately get turned on their head. One of the characters whilst venturing into the woods talks about horror film conventions, and shows his mobile phone is working, he has back-up flares in case the torches don’t work and a gun in case they get into trouble. Brilliantly, these modern back-up plans backfire and are used against them.

This is a thematic constant in the film as well; just when the bitter old horror fan inside you goes ‘I know what will happen next’, it doesn’t. There are some great extra creepy moments in this film that are all based around this idea of being atypical.

The film is only quite short, and the I believe that even so, this films bangs along at quite an appropriate pace. At no time was I bored, except maybe during the five minute long closing credits and the film had my attention at all times, especially during any scene of Babyface- driven carnage or of Sophie Monk supplying anything contained within her knocker locker.

I honestly think this is the best 80s styled slasher that wasn’t made in the 80s, and I enjoyed it thoroughly!

Score: *****

Format: Whilst the film is only a fairly recent one and maintains a fairly good level of detail, I did find on occasion that the picture was a little soft. Also a few CGI effects weren’t blended into the color scheme of the film and stuck out like dogs balls in mouse ball soup. The Hills Run Red was presented in  2.40:1 widescreen.The soundtrack is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1. The use of the subwoofer in jumpscares is so great that I must admit I almost blasted excrement from the depths of my bowels on at least two occasions. A grand time was had by all… well except for the lounge I was sitting on.

Easily my favourite slasher film in years. Perfect sized doses (all lethal) of beatings, brutalizations, babes and breasts all make for a great film, but don’t think this film is light on story either. I love it.

Score: ***

Extras: Only two extras on this:

Commentary by Director Dave Parker, Writer David J. Schow and Producer Robert Meyer Burnett  is a quite animated commentary from the three. It covers a hell of a lot of stuff about of the film, and one gets a greater appreciation of the film when one hears how deliberately they avoided referencing other films directly, even though the film is about film fans falling afoul of filmmakers.

It’s Not Real Until you Shoot It: The Making of the Hills Run Red is a great look at the filming of The Hills Run Red. It has a selection of interviews with almost all the cast and crew and is both funny and informative.

Score: ***

WISIA: Oh goodness, yes.

BOOK REVIEW : Venus in the Blind Spot by Junji Ito

Venus in the Blind Spot by Junji Ito

Whilst I have been a fan of comics for as long as I can remember, other than a few dalliances with Shonen Jump, arguably the biggest source of Japanese comics (or manga, if you prefer) I’ve never really read much except for a few reprints that companies like Dark Horse Comics did in the nineties, and the entire Akira series by Katsuhiro Ôtomo that Epic Comics, an adult line of Marvel set to emulate the more Euro Heavy Metal, released during the eighties.

I’ve always liked the style of Japanese art seen on anime like Battle of the Planets, Kum Kum, Kimba, Marine Boy, Astro Boy and the stunning space saga that is Macross aka Robotech, and I admire the fact that with manga, in general, one creator works on a title until they decide to give it up… I wonder how long Marvel would have survived if creators like Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko just stopped Fantastic Four or Spiderman! I don’t know why I didn’t jump onto manga more, especially when on considers how much I loved a comic by Guinea Pig film conceptualist and mangaka (comic creator) Hideshi Hino, whose manga Panorama of Hell sat me firmly down and taught me that there was more to horror comics than the sexualised fantasies of Vampirella, or the sub-superhero is exploits of western horror characters like Werewolf by Night and Morbius.

This brings me to my more recent discovery of the work of Junji Ito. Ito was a dental technician who submitted work to a magazine called Gekkan Halloween (translation: Monthly Halloween… who wouldn’t love a monthly Halloween?) which was well received and became his series Tomie, about an immortal girl who curses the men she comes across. Ito has sited Hino and H. P. Lovecraft amongst his influences so how could I not immediately fall for his work?

This volume of his work, Venus in the Blind Spot, is a collection of 10 short stories, mostly in his exquisite tight black lines, but occasionally with colour pages or splashes of colour for effect, and a few mini-posters taken from covers of other comics like No Longer Human. This is all wrapped in a beautiful hardcover volume which has a double sided dust jacket: a similar image is on both sides (that of a beautiful blonde woman seen in the reflection of an eye) but the interior cover is clean (and the woman is smiling instead of staring blankly) with none of the titles obscuring it. This dust cover hides, on the actual cover, a terrifying image of the remains of a man being crushed by the foundations of a house, taken from one of the tales on the inside.

In this collection, there are several tales which are amazing: Billions Alone, which tells of a killer who is sewing people together, The Human Chair, based on a story by Edogawa Ranpo, a tale about a mythical chair that has a person living within it, An Unearthly Love, also based on a Ranpa story, which sees a woman married to a man with an unusual affection for a manikin, the very Lovecraftian The Licking Woman about a woman who attacks people and licks them, leaving a deadly rash where her tongue has touched, Keepsake, about the child born of a dead woman and finally, the masterfully bizarre story of The Enigma of Amigara Fault, a story of an earthquake that reveals a crevice covered in human shaped holes that seemingly echo actual people’s body shapes, causing them to have a compulsive need to enter them.

Unfortunately the other stories didn’t resonate too much with me, though I do think the art of Venus in the Blind Spot, the story of a girl who mysteriously disappears when you get close to her, is possibly some of Ito’s finest. I had a particular dislike for the fanboy-ish Master Umezz and Me, in which Ito explains his own obsession with mangaka Kazuo Umezu, who created the manga The Drifting Classroom, which Ito respectfully parodies/ pays homage to with his own manga The Dissolving Classroom.

The first thing anyone will notice about Ito’s work is how beautiful it is. His characters are all exquisitely beautiful in the execution, with delicate features and calm stature, which is juxtapositions fantastically by the grotesque monstrosities that they become when angered, or due to unfortunate circumstance, which is the key to great horror.

Of course, thematically one would expect there are occasional ideas that seem unusual which are due to culture and tradition, but when the actual stories themes kick off, they are quickly overlooked. His ideas of compulsion and obsession are prevalent and perhaps reveal that doom comes to those who are unable to control them.

This volume has some good stories in it, but it’s probably for completists of Ito only, and a starting reader might do better with Tomie, Gyo or Uzumaki instead.

This volume is published by Viz Media.

***

Board Game Review: Horrified

HORRIFIED

HORRIFIED is from Ravensberger games, and designed by Prospero Hall, the game design team behind Ramen Fury, Villainous, Jaws and the Funkoverse games (amongst others), and in this game, the players play a variety of heroes, who are helping defend a village against the threat of a collective of monsters from the Universal Monster movies (Dracula, the Wolfman, the Monster of Frankenstein, the Bride of Frankenstein, the Mummy, Creature from the Black Lagoon and the Invisible Man).

The objective of the game is to beat the monsters by achieving a variety of objectives before they terrorise the town too much, shown by the ‘Terror track’, which goes up every time time they kill a hero or villager, or if you run out of cards in the ‘monster deck’.

The game is set up by the players selecting their hero, each who have a variety of special abilities, and what monsters they wish to fight. The instructions suggest that in the first game you play you should use the Creature from the Black Lagoon and Dracula. Also each player gets a ‘perk’ card which allows them a little extra something special, like a movement bonus’ once per game. Also, 12 item tokens have to be distributed to their respective locations.

Each turns sees one player performing how many actions they can do, as declared on their player card, which can include move, collect items, guide villager, deliver items to various locations (which will provide you the tools to defeat a monster),defeat monster, exchange items with another player or your special ability.

After the player has taken their turn, a monster card is revealed from the monster pack and indicates various threatening things the monsters can do. Basically, most things they do, if not deflected by a player, causes the terror track to go up by one, which you don’t want to happen. The monster cards also increase the amount of items on the board, and can also reveal the location of a villager, who may be killed by the monster if you don’t save them by taking them to their safe house…. yep, yet ANOTHER mission that if you fail will cause the terror track to increase!

Each of the monsters has different condition to defeat them:

Dracula – smash his 4 coffins hidden throughout the board

Creature from the Black Lagoon – send a boat to the lagoon by delivering items to the camp

Invisible Man – deliver clue items to the Precinct

The Frankensteins – stop them from meeting until they have both learned to be ‘human’ by giving them items as gifts

Wolfman – find a cure by delivering items to the laboratory

Mummy – solve the puzzle by delivering items to the museum

After you have solved these quests, the simple thing to do next is to kill the monsters, usually by landing on their space with a particular amount of items tokens, or in the case of the Frankensteins, getting them to meet so they can fall in LOOOOOOVVVVEEEE!

This is a co-operative game, but for those who love to play buy don’t get an opportunity too often to get together with other gamers, this also has a solo mode. The miniatures for the monsters are also pretty cool and are dying for a lick of paint.

It would be remiss of me to not point out the awesome art work, reminiscent of the great artwork from Basil Gogos, the artist behind the covers of the legendary horror movie magazine Famous Monsters of Filmland.

This game is a great alternative to board game legend Pandemic from Matthew Leacock and plays very similarly but with the far less scary threat of the Universal Monsters rather than, in a Covid-19 world, a killer virus. It’s also a fair bit easier, though I must say my gaming group smashed a two-monster game, but got smashed by the three-monster game. Actually, people who like Pandemic will either think this is a great alternative or far too derivative. We love Pandemic at my place and having a Universal Monster alternative for the horror aspect of it, is pretty cool.

Score: ****

BOOK REVIEW: THE ART OF THE NASTY

The Art of the Nasty by Nigel Wingrove and Marc Morris

My horror addiction doesn’t just stop at DVDs and Blurays (and a very small quantity of laserdisc and VHS), I also have a far-too-large collection of horror related toys, novels, board games, video games and comics, but my favourite non-plastic disc collectables are my books ABOUT horror films especially of they take a specific aspect of horror cinema and completely dissect it. At the top of those books that sit amongst my favourites is the wonderful second edition of Nigel Wingrove and Marc Morris’s The Art of the Nasty.

The book looks at the ‘Video Nasty’ part of England’s VHS and cinema history. Honestly if you are a horror fan and don’t know about this or at the very least haven’t seen the documentary Video Nasties: The Definitive Guide perhaps you should go outside and shake yourself, and then look it up before reading any further, but here’s a quick recap anyway: in the late 70s/ early 80s in the UK, during the rise of VHS, the politicians and media got stuck into home cinema because of the sex and violence contained within, and this may have been due to the way they were advertised and their lurid, and occasionally misleading covers which singled them out and basically lead to massive cuts as the British Board of Film Censorship (known as the BBFC, and the latter letter eventually changed to mean Classification) flexed its muscles and went on a cut-fest.

That’s basically what happened but obviously there is a HELL of a lot more to it. The effects are felt still today, as some films that have been released in other parts of the world uncut are still edited in the UK; Shameless’s The New York Ripper being a standout.

Anyway, this book is a celebration of the VHS covers of the time and just how the sex and violence of the contents were used to sell the film, seeing as how the covers were the ONLY selling point back in the non-internet days. Wingrove speaks from a firsthand experience in a lot of this, seeing as how he founded Redemption Films and Salvation Group and created the online experience Satanic Sluts. He also had his film, Visions of Ecstasy, refused distribution on the grounds of blasphemy!! His co-author, Marc Morris is a historian and broadcaster who mainly writes books about the middle ages, but also assisted Francis Brewster and Harvey Fenton with the book ‘Shock! Horror!’ another book about the art of the Nasty VHS.

The books opens with 2 forwards, titled The Nasties: A Personal View by Wingrove, one from the original edition from 1998 and the other more recently in 2009. The two forewards are definitely necessary as post-millennium so many previously banned films have been released, mostly completely uncut, and Wingrove discusses the change opinions in the new one.

The book then breaks down into chapter relating to different aspects of the Nasties. The Official Nasties, which covers the 39 films deemed obscene by the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), Nasties On Parole, which are the ones the DPP couldn’t get a conviction, Nasties – The Ones That Got Away, which are ones that completely avoided the DPP’s eye, Nice and Sleazy Does It, which looks at covers from the pre-certification era of VHS and finally The Good, The Bad and the Vomit-Inducing which is described as the best of the rest, still sleazy, but not to the extent of some of the others. The book concludes with a Video Company Listing which lists VHS companies and the films they released: essential reading for UK VHS collectors.

The book is, as you would expect, lavishly illustrated with some of the most striking images of VHS releases of the time and really, even as a devout horror collector, I am surprised by some of the images on these VHS covers (I don’t object to them, I just am surprised that middle class shop owners of the less-permissive early 80s would have allowed these images on shelves in their shops!!). All the images have a small blurb which tells the Original Title of the film, its country of origin, the director, the year and time and the video label that released that particular version. There is also a supportive paragraph which describes what the film was about and any interesting situations in which the film may have been involved. If I am to pass any criticism of this book, it is in these paragraphs as mostly I wanted more… but then again, the book is about the images, and essentially I can research any film on which I wish to gain more knowledge.

Each page also has a contextual historical snippet to show what was happening in the world at the time, which whilst not entirely necessary, is an interesting idea as it shows, now and again, what was happening in politics and other areas of pop culture at the time. It is a nice garnish to the feast that is the images and their accompanying text.

On the whole, this book is a horror gem, as inadvertently becomes a GREAT support to the aforementioned Video Nasties doco. It is well written and the bold images are an absolute treat!

Rating: *****

BOOK REVIEW: SWEDISH SENSATIONSFILMS

SWEDISH SENSATIONSFILMS by Daniel

I am going to start this review with a warning. Did the documentaries Not Quite Hollywood, Machete Maidens Unleashed and Video Nasties turn your want list into something that would cause your own personal version of the national debt? Did your wife/ girlfriend/ significant other freak out when they saw your Bluray shopping list after you read Stephen Thrower’s Nightmare USA, or Jay Slater’s Eaten Alive? Then STEP AWAY from this book review NOW. It will cause you heart and wallet ache that will only be suppressed by the spending of thousands of bucks trying to collect the films that author Swedish author Daniel Ekeroth, who also wrote Swedish Death Metal and has performed with several bands such as Iron Lamb, Tyrant and Onkel Kankel, has presented in this brilliant book, Swedish Sensationsfilms.

I guess a description of WHAT Swedish Sensationsfilms are is the immediate question in everyone’s minds. Obviously, as the name suggests, they are films from Sweden (obviously) that sit comfortably next to exploitation films of the US; they are full of nudity, violence, drugs and other lowbrow exercises that make your more refined film fan cringe, but make you and I stand on our lounge chairs with ours fists in the air, beer in our bellies and pants around our ankles.

This tome introduces us to the Sensationsfilm first with an essay telling of their origins by Ekeroth, and then with a piece titled ‘Christina Lindberg, Exposed’ where the lovely Lindberg tells the tale of her introduction to the world of movies before jumping into reviews and information about films that for the most part, quite frankly, I had never heard of before, but am now dying to see.

Obviously films like Jungfrukallan, aka The Virgin Spring which influenced The Last House on the Left, Anita – Ur En Tonarsflickas Dagbok, aka Anita and Thriller: En Grym Film, aka Thriller: A Cruel Picture or They Call Her One Eye, are present here but others as well which will ring true in the minds of exploitation fans worldwide. My personal immediate NEEDS, not wants, list from this film now contain Blood Tracks, about a rock band being picked off by a murderous family, Exponerad, a Lindberg film about a 17 year old girl who is forced into sexual servitude while her parents are away for a few weeks, and Kyrkoherden aka The Vicar, where a young vicar is cursed by a witch to have an unstoppable erection, which even the local sluts who quite happily pork him often can’t make go away.

The inclusion of Jungfrukallen proves that not all sensationsfilms are to be discounted as trash but honestly, most of them sound like loose scripts used for the sole purpose of getting as many boobs on screen as possible.

Nothing wrong with that!

With this book, Ekeroth has provided a great introduction to this dark side of the Swedish film industry. In addition to his series of reviews and the aforementioned essays, Ekeroth also gives a glossary of Swedish culture, a rogues gallery of Swedish film ‘heroes’, a look at  sensationsfilms via the National Board of Film Classification and gives the 20 sensationsfilms one must see before leaves this mortal coil.

Even though it has given me reason to spend even MORE money on DVDs and blurays, this book is spectacular. It is well written and easy to read, with a great selection of pictures courtesy of Klubb Super 8 (who look like a decent source of these films… if you read Swedish!!) and a fantastic cover by artist Wes Benscoter. Ekeroth clearly loves these films and any film collector looking for something different would be remiss not to have this book.

Book: *****

Evil Dead (2013)

One from the rewatch pile…

Evil Dead (2013)

Film: Sometimes the tone of a film is really what makes it. Films like I Spit On Your Grave achieve what they set out to do by having the correct attitude, and succeed because of it. Sam Raimi’s original Evil Dead succeeded not just for its gory setpieces and crazy storyline, but also because of its chutzpah and the wry sense of humour, which at its core has the blackest of hearts. For me, Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn, the FIRST Evil Dead remake, made that black humour far too obvious and slapstick, and fails because of it.

This film suffers the exact opposite: its failure lies in that it takes itself FAR too seriously.

Mia (Jane Levy) is a drug addict, and her brother David (Shiloh Fernandez) along with friends Eric (Lou Taylor Pucci), Olivia (Jessica Lucas) and Natalie (Elizabeth Blackmore)  have taken her to her family’s secluded cabin, in the woods, to help her dry out and support her through the coming down process.

What they find when they get there though, is that the cabin has been broken into, and some ritual performed in the basement. Eric finds a book, wrapped in plastic and bound in barbed wire, and curiosity being what it is, opens the book.

We all know what curiosity kills though, and after Eric reads a passage in the book, weird things start to happen. Is Mia’s coming down tougher than they all thought, or has something taken her… something that wants to swallow their souls…

Straight up I have to compliment director Fede Alvarez on the direction of the film. Whilst it may not have some of the innovation brought on by budgetary constraints that Raimi had to deal with, it is at times breathtaking. He managed to keep the film quite timeless by not having a load of current gadgets and by giving it that washed out ‘sepia’ look. Initially, the level of gore that has been reached made the little gorehound, hidden deep inside me, stand up and applaud, and more than once, cringe… which rarely happens these days.

Unfortunately, that’s pretty much where my interest in it stops.

The script was OK, but essentially the plotline is rehashed from the original, but updated to suit more current moviegoers attitudes, and with a few deliberate twists thrown it to throw fans of the original off. This is something that perpetually annoys me about remakes: the need to turn a story on its head JUST for the sake of being different. This is little more than a writer’s ploy to say he put ‘his’ mark on the film.

Sorry guys, but putting butter UNDER my popcorn doesn’t make me an innovator.

Of course, the film is full of those ‘fan service’ bits where iconic imagery from the original pop up for no reason other than to make you remember this is a remake, and not an homage or a flat out rip off.

The characters were photocopies of each other, and really any of them could have said each other’s dialogue and you wouldn’t have even noticed. This was made even more apparent by average performances, except for the one executed by Lou Taylor Pucci, whose performance was so annoying I considered punching the chips out of my television.

The real problem with this film though, lies in the fact that it didn’t ‘get’ the first Evil Dead. I stated earlier that I initially enjoyed the gore, but when you batter a viewer with non stop images of it, eventually the old brain starts to stop being shocked. Raimi’s Evil Dead understood that to make the violence and gore more shocking, you need shades of light and dark within the entire tone of the film. Raimi himself failed this uneasy balancing act with too much light in Evil Dead 2, and this film fails with its constant darkness. The original film had the idea of friends on a holiday to give the film some levity, but with idea that the friends are helping one of their own overcome a drug addiction, the story starts in a dark place, and doesn’t allow for any variation.

The last thing that really rubbed my rhubarb the wrong way here was the appearance of the ‘buried’ demon. Seriously, since the exposure to the Western world of Eastern films, particularly that of ‘ j-horror’, demon possession designers have gotten lazy, and I assumed I had fallen asleep, and someone had changed the disc I was watching to that of The Ring, or The Grudge, or any one of the other scary, black haired girl ghost films.

I really wanted to like this film, and honestly, the gore level almost fooled me into thinking it was a good film, but it’s not. The violence level is of what a good horror fan would want, but without levels of light, it’s just a barrage that eventually become overwhelming, and dare I say it boring and disappointing.

This, the SECOND remake of Evil Dead suffers from the same thing that the first remake, Evil Dead 2, suffers from, but from a polar opposite point of view. If you could take this FAR too dark remake and mix it with Evil Dead 2’s high level of levity you’d have a spectacular film. Wait a second… that already happened: it’s a film called The Evil Dead, directed by Sam Raimi. Watch that instead: it’s the best of both worlds.

Score: **1/2

Format: The sound and picture quality of this disc are outstanding. The picture is presented in Hi-def 2.39:1 widescreen and the sound punches you in the head with a Dts-HD 5.1 track that has some pretty amazing levels to it.

Score: *****

Extras: There’s some ok extras on this disc!

Commentary by actors Jane Levy, Lou Taylor Pucci, Jessica Lucas with Director Alvarez and writer Rodo Satagues is pretty good, and most of their recollections are either informative or amusing.

Directing the Dead is a look at what processes director Alvarez used to make the film, and get performances from the cast.

Evil Dead the Reboot has interviews with Rob Tapert and Bruce Campbell about being convinced to do a remake… sorry, a ‘reboot’, and with Alvarez and Sayagues about approaching a cult favourite and the risks therein.

Making Life Difficult discusses how psychologically hard it was for the actors to film the intensity of a film such as this.

Unleashing the Evil Force talks about the lore of the Book of the Dead.

Being Mia follows Jane Levy around on a day on the set, and looks at some of the tortures the director put her through… actually, a lot of the extras are very Levy Heavy, so the producers must have decided she is the Next Big Thing.

Previews starts with a trailer promoting Bluray as a format (hot tip idiots: I’m watching a Bluray disc, so I possibly already know about it) before giving us trailers for Django Unchained, After Earth, This Is The End, White House Down and Iron Man: Rise of the Technovore.

Score: ****

WISIA: There is enough gore to keep me going back, so yeah, I’ll watch it more than once!

Poltergeist (2015)

One from the rewatch pile…

Poltergeist (2015)

Film: So as cinema fans we have decided that remakes are something that we will no longer completely argue about as there have been enough good ones and enough bad ones for both sides of the conversation to have ammunition in a non-winnable war, but now, the detractors have a new weapon, a carpet bombing, nuclear, anthrax-filled, DNA bomb that will melt the argument of remake fans.

That weapon is the turd laden, disappointment fuelled crapfest known forever more as the Poltergeist remake.

This hunk o’junk was directed by Gil Kenan, whose previous efforts were the kid’s movies Monster House, which was pretty good, and City of Ember, but essentially we have a kid’s film director remaking one of the great all time horror films. It was written by David Linday-Abaire, who did the screenplay for Robots, Inkheart, Rise of the Guardians and Oz, The Great and Powerful, so again, another family film maker attempting to ‘reboot’, ‘redux’ or ‘reimagine’ a classic.

Sigh.

I assume you all know the story but this has a few tweaks, so I’ll share those with you. The Bowen family have moved into a new, cheaper house as dear old dad, Eric (Sam Rockwell) was made redundant from his job at John Deere. He’s moved with wife Amy (Rosemarie DeWitt), and three kids, Madison (Kennedi Clements), Kendra (Saxon Sharbino) and Griffin (Kyle Catlett) in a new house. Very quickly though, they find there is something wrong with the house… Something supernatural… And when Carolanne… Sorry, Madison, is stolen by the evil entities living in her closet, the family enlist help of a seemingly useless university paranormal investigation team and a television psychic, Carrigan Burke (Jared Harris), but will they all be able to retrieve her, or has she, and the entire cast”s acting careers, been lost forever.

Now in the throes of writing for various websites over the last 20 odd years (yep, still plugging away for no financial reward…sigh), I’ve sat through some absolute dire films in the name of cinematic, journalistic integrity, but never have I sat through such a waste of time, talent and resources. I actually should have watched it twice but I decided that seeing as how I’d already sat through the extended cut, there was no reason to poison myself again with a shorter, more incomplete film, I mean, you wouldn’t take half a dump, right?

Honestly, the only thing I can compliment this film on is one element of the production design, specifically the undulating, Croenenberg via Fulci look of the ghost world, as far as the rest of it though, well, my problems with this film lie in three measures, and I shall break them down individually.

First, the cast. I really like Sam Rockwell, and even when he is in dire rubbish like Charlie’s Angels, he stands out as a scene stealer, but here he appears to be collecting a weekly cheque, or his Downers have really kicked in, and he just fades into the background. The others are just terrible, and the director doesn’t seem to know how to get good performances out if any of them, and they all trudge through this mess like they are being forced to be there. Jared Harris normally stands out as well, and does here but it is due to his accent rather than his performance. It seems the director has no idea how to get actors to act and what he has achieved is the very definition of generic characterisations.

Second, the script. A director can perform his craft better if he has a decent script, and here he doesn’t. The story starts quickly and uses a few of the trappings of the original, but then it has jumps in the narrative that are awkward, and characters that change at the drop of a hat, making them nonsensical, not to mention a paranormal team that don’t share every scrap of information that they have experienced with each other. Their equipment is also eye rolling, especially the iPad controlled drone that is sent in to find Madison in the ghost world. At first I thought it was a cool idea, until the controls were handed to Griffin, the ten year old boy, to fly into the void. By the way, if I were watching images sent back from limbo of the tortured souls within, I’d probably react, rather than watch it like a repeat of the most boring of Richard Attenborough’s wildlife documentaries.

A lot if the script just doesn’t ring true, and even in the most fantastic of fantasies, lore and truth of the story must prevail or it becomes hard to swallow, and it happens so frequently in this film that it’s the size of a horse sedative.

Finally, the overall production design. In a post Paranormal Activity/ The Ring world, making a film about hauntings has its own visual language, but guess what: that doesn’t mean you have to adhere to it. This film has a complete lack of a visual originality.  All the flags are raised here: blue tinted imagery, little black haired girls, grabbed by your leg and pulled up the stairs, bubbling black ‘stuff’  from the ground. Even a casual horror fan, who may be suckered in completely by all these modern haunting films, would sit with arms crossed, and be able to identify from where each bit was stolen! Sure, it’s a remake so clearly originality HAS to as issue, but the good remakes generally distance themselves from the original to get a look of its own. This distances itself from the original by using all the looks from the post The Ring ghost films.

I really can’t advise you against this film enough, and have a slew of casual horror friends who have told me not to see it but I didn’t listen to their advice, but I expect that you all should listen to me: do not waste your time watching this film. The only thing wrong with this film is everything.

Just a horrible, horrible waste of a film. Don’t see this, please. I have thrown myself on a grenade for you, don’t make my sacrifice in vain.

Score: *

Format: One positive thing I can say about this disc is how well it is presented. The film is in 2.40:1 with a 5.1 and a 7.1 soundtrack (I reviewed this on the 5.1) and as one would expect from a film of this era, it is perfect. In addition to 2 versions of the film, the disc also features the 3D version of film.

Score: *****

Extras: The extras, like the film, are a pile of rubbish. An alternate ending, which is almost as stupid as the original one, a stills gallery, which is an extra that never fails to infuriate me, and 2 trailers, which in their favour make the film look like it is going to be mildly entertaining.

Score: *

WISIA: No, thousand times, no.