The Woman in Black (2012)

One from the rewatch pile…

The Woman in Black (2012)

Film: Any horror fan worth his mettle knows of the famed English studio Hammer films. Over many years Hammer entertained the world with Gothic tales of terror and fright, and gave us brilliant performances from the likes of Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee. They also introduced the world to many a blushing busty English rose. Great things don’t last forever though, and as a new generation of horror came to light in the 70s and 80s, Hammer disappeared. But not forever.

Recently, Hammer have re-emerged with a few new films: the English language remake of Let the Right One In called Let Me In and this, a retooling of Susan Hill’s novel The Woman in Black, filmed once before in 1989. This version has been adapted by Jane Goldman, who scripted Kick-Ass and X-Men: First Class and is directed by James Watkins, who previously helmed Eden Lake.

A young lawyer, Arthur Kipps (Daniel Radcliffe) is on his last legs at his job. It has been several years since his young wife Stella (Sophie Stuckey) died during childbirth and he has never gotten over it, bringing up their son Joseph (Misha Handley) with only the assistance of a nanny (Jessica Raine).

As the final chance to save his job, Kipps’ boss has given him the challenge of travelling to the town of Cryphin Gifford to make sure that the final will and testament of the recently deceased owner of the secluded property Eel Marsh, Mrs Drablow (Alisa Khazanova) is correct, by checking through any and all documents at her estate. What Kipps finds there though is a hate filled spirit of a woman in black, but why is she so filled with loathing, and can Kipps do anything to appease her torment of the town and it’s children?

The Woman in Black looks quite beautiful, and has a mood that perfectly matches that of the main character. The township of Cryphin Gifford is so dank that one feels the cold, wet and clamminess as if it is present in the room in which you are watching the film.

The performances are all solid. Still quite young, Daniel Radcliffe plays his Peter Cushing styled character with the intensity of a man well beyond his years, or an emo on depressants. The addition of the wonderful Ciarin Hinds as his ally within the town is excellent, and Hinds has a weight and subtlety in his performance as a man haunted by the death of a young son, and whose wife has never recovered from it.

The script also tells a grand ghost story, but here lies its biggest problem. Ghost stories in cinema have a language of their own and they can fall into a trap. That trap is they either do something out of the norm and have audiences not ‘get’ it, or they stick to the generic ghost story devices such as a creaky house and creepy toys et cetera, and even though they are speaking a cinematic language that your average cinema goer will comprehend, the story just doesn’t stand out.

Unfortunately, The Woman in Black is guilty of the latter. Even though there was some impressive imagery (Eel Marsh itself is simply amazing) the story just feels as though it is telling a tale we’ve all heard many times over. It seems to me that the makers of The Woman in Black tried to ignore the fact that the tastes of horror fans have moved on, and that perhaps this type of film isn’t relevant any more. I know whilst I was watching it I didn’t feel like I was watching a classic horror film, but someone who was trying to emulate one.

So Hammer are back, baby! The pure gothic tales of fright they have given us have returned with them, but, I’m afraid their time may have passed. The acting is generally of a high standard and the movie boasts some amazing gothic horror visuals, but it seems to miss that ‘classic’ horror mood. Perhaps this is due to the main elements of that “classic horror mood” being Cushing and Lee, who would have kicked arse as Kipps and Daily respectively, but without them, this whole event just feels a little ordinary.

Spooky toys, a creaky house, ghostly children, mysterious rocking chairs, generic, generic generic. The Woman in Black is a great looking film that ticks all the ‘spooky’ boxes and has some fine performances, but it fails to deliver any real scares and never tries to rise above the regular ‘ghost story’ trappings.

Score: **

Format: This film is presented in a pristine 2.35:1 aspect ratio, which I have to say, due to the colour palette of the film, works much better is pitch darkness, If your lounge room has even the slightest bit of light in it, you won’t get the full benefit of deep blacks and immaculate shadow detail The soundscape matches the visuals in excellence, and like it, works best in the dark, and is presented in DTS-HD 5.1.

Score: *****

Extras: The disc opens with trailers for Lockout, Magic Mike and Killer Joe before taking us to the menu.

There are only two, quite short, extras on this disc:

No Fear: Daniel Radcliffe as Arthur Kipps is a brief exploration of Radcliffe’s performance as Kipps, with comments from other cast and crew as to why he was good for the role.

Inside the Perfect Thriller: The Making of The Woman in Black, obviously, looks at the making of the film featuring interviews with cast and crew.

Score: 2

WISIA: It’s highly unlikely that I’d ever waste anymore of my precious time on this film.

Mystics in Bali (1981)

One from the rewatch pile…

Mystics in Bali (1981)

Film: When it comes to cinema, gems are hard to find, but now and again you’ll find yourself sitting in front of a film thinking to yourself ” why the Hell have I never seen this?”

Honestly, I had never even heard of this film, but one of the many movie magazines I buy did a blurb on it a few years ago, and I thought I should hunt it out, but other, seemingly more important releases always overshadowed it. This was a mistake, as I can’t even remember what some of those other films may have been. I should have immediately grabbed Mystics in Bali the very second I heard of it!

Mystics in Bali tells of curious tourist Cathy Kean (played by German tourist Ilona Agathe Bastian, who had no acting experience but did the film so she could stay in Bali longer) who wishes to learn the magical ways of the Leyak, an Indonesian black art. Her friend, and potential lover Mahendra (Yos Santo) takes her deep into the jungle to meet a cackling old Leyak witch (Sophia WD) who takes Cathy under her wing as an apprentice. She starts by learning a few spells but soon discovers that once you are under the thrall of a Leyak, it is difficult to get out. Maybe even impossible, even with the assistance of local shamen and mystics!

Mystics in Bali is one of those ‘kitchen sink’ films: you know, as in it has everything but! Witches (well, Leyaks), metamorphosis, floppy titted pig women, ancient mystical masters, flying vampire heads, people vomiting live mice, awkward romance and most incredulous of them all, a baby eaten right out of a pregnant woman’s… um… punani.

Now don’t tell me you didn’t want all that in one film.

The film does suffer from some poor dubbing, but considering the female lead was a German tourist and the rest of the cast are Indonesian, I guess one can overlook that.

The special effects aren’t so special, but are a treat to watch as there are some spectacularly bad animation effects, lightning from fingers and such, that look like hand drawn animation on the original film cels. The metamorphosis scenes do their very best to be American Werewolf in London, and fail, but are actually still quite off putting.

It is without a doubt one of the nuttiest and most entertaining films I have ever seen! If I am to recall how I felt after watching this, I would compare it to how I felt after watching Evil Dead for the first time, though this isn’t at all scary like Evil Dead was the first time I watched it. Although, I was about 13 then, so give me a break.

If you don’t have Mystics in Bali in your collection, it is an error you must immediately fix.

Score: ****1/2

Format: Presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen, Mystics in Bali has a clarity that is surprising for a film of this age and region. There are occasional film artefacts, and admittedly at some of the more ‘special’ effects heavy sequences it does go slightly foggy, but I don’t think that is a problem with the transfer, but instead the original source. Presented in stereo only, but it is crisp and clear, considering it is an English overdub recorded in a studio somewhere.

Score: ***

Extras: We start with a fairly poor quality trailer and then get some extras that would have been great… if they weren’t text and had instead been actual documentaries. They are Mystics in Bali and the Indonesian Exploitation Movie, which talks about Indonesian cinema, H. Tjut Djalil – Director Filmography, which is just that and How to Become a Leak (sic) which I am sure should have been spelt ‘Leyak’, which contains the rites to becoming a Leyak. Don’t try this at home.

Finally we have a trailer park for Mondo Macabro, which features Snake Sisters, The Blood Rose, The Bollywood Horror Collection, Snake Dancer, The Devil’s Sword, Lifespan, Don’t Deliver Us From Evil, Satan’s Blood, Virgins From Hell, For Your Height Only, French Sex Murders, The Deathless Devil, Living Doll, Satanico Pandemonim, Panic Beats, Clonus, The Killer Must Kill Again, The Mansion of Madness, Alucarda, The Diabolical Dr. Z, Aswang, The Living Corpse, Blood of the Virgins, Seven Women for Satan, Lady Terminator, Crazy Love, Mill of the Stone Women, Dangerous Seductress and Girl Slaves of Morgana Le Fay. Honestly the disappointing text extras are saved by these awesome trailers!

Score: ***

WISIA: Hell yeah! This film is a hoot and a holler!

Hatchet (2006)

One from the re-watch pile…

Hatchet (2006)

Film: Writer/director Adam Green is one of us. He was shown Friday the 13th Part 2 when he was 8, and has never looked back. Thankfully, that movie fermented in his brain, and while at summer camp, a story about a murderer who dwelled in a cabin that was forbidden to the campers turned into something else, something that 20 years later evolved into this film, Hatchet.

Hatchet tells of lovelorn Ben (Joel Moore from Bones and Avatar) and his friend Marcus (Deon Richmond aka Token Black Guy from Not Another Teen Movie) who are visiting new Orleans for Mardi Gras, but Ben, who has just broken up with his girlfriend, isn’t into the idea of seeing a bunch of drunken women showing their boobs for beads.

Pfft, idiot!

So, instead of enjoying the frivolities these two friends decide to take a tour of the Louisiana swamps, in the ‘Scare Boat’ run by local Shawn (Perry Shen), and perhaps see where local legend Victor Crowley (Kane Hodder), aka Hatchetface, once lived. Once on board they meet kindly older couple Jim and Shannon Permatteo (Richard Riele and Patrika Darbo respectively), titty filmmaker Doug Shapiro (Joel Murray), his flashing females Jenna (Joleigh Fioraevanti) and Misty (Mercedes McNab) and mysterious, gun-toting honey Marybeth (Tamara Feldman).

Unfortunately, and of course, the boat comes to a crashing halt, and the gang of tourists and their guide become stuck in the woods, wet, cold, lost, and now with Victor Crowley, whom they realise is no legend but instead a horribly malformed mutant killing machine, hunting for them.

How many will make it out… if any? Will the survivors be horribly maimed and psychologically scarred? And where exactly did a mutant hillbilly get a petrol-powered sander?

The script is a fun adventure into 80s styled horror, and even though it has a few great and funny lines, at no point did I think ‘horror comedy’, which I believe to be the scourge of the genre. I think the reason that the comedy never overpowers over the horror is because the violence is just so damned nasty: spine rips, head splits, axings… a veritable treasure trove of blood spraying and sputum spewing gags that should keep most fans happy, and their non-horror friends crying ‘Ewwwwwww!’

One thing I have to pick on this film about anything it is the costume of the creature that is Victor Crowley. Rubber suits and appliance rarely look 100% perfect, but unfortunately this one doesn’t look as good as the worst of the Jason Voorhees ones.

The other is its biggest problem: this film has to live up to a expectations that started as hype on the internet after a teaser trailer oozed out, and those expectations were that it could be horror’s salvation. It isn’t, but what it is a bit of gory fun and what the DVD cover says: “Old School American Horror”.

It’s got gore, boobs, gore, violence, gore, Robert Englund, Tony Todd and Kane Hodder in it, and those elements make it alright in my book. While I don’t think the character of Victor Crowley has the longevity of Freddy or Jason it is a fun example of what a slasher film is supposed to be: gory, unpretentious fun. With boobs.

Score: ***1/2

Format: Nice clear picture presented in 16:9 with no artefacts or apparent damage. A really good Dolby Digital 5.1 mix that is clear as a bell, with the rear channels coming to life whenever Victor Crowley terrorises his victims.

Score: ****

Extras: Straight off the bat we are given a commentary by writer/director Adam Green and his Director of Photography Will Barratt, with a few do-drop-ins (specifically actors) here and there to add more colour to the proceedings. It is a full commentary that is both entertaining and informative. Yes, it is inforcational.

The Making of Hatchet is one of the better making of docos I have seen. It discusses the origins of the film from conception to … heh… execution. Mainly features interviews with Green, Barratt and producer Sarah Elbert (who I admit to having a micro-crush on) but also chats with most of the cast and a fair bit of the crew. This is the type of doco that makes me want to grab my video camera and go and film stuff.

Of course, no decent extras package is complete without the trailer, so here it be!

Also there are four behind the scenes pieces, which are all around the ten minute mark:

Meeting Victor Crowley is a look at Kane Hodder’s performance and substandard make-up. What it lacks as a visual though, he made up for in terrorising the cast with his on camera and behind the scenes routine.

Guts and Gore looks at the red stuff… which is why a lot of us are here. Well, this and boobs.

Anatomy of a Kill dissects the ‘pop top’ scene, from the original idea to John Carl Buechler’s effects teams result.

A Twisted Tale looks at the moral support that Twisted Sister frontman Dee Snyder has given Green over the years, both before and after they had met.

Score: ***1/2

WISIA: There is far too many super slashers from the 80s that I could rewatch rather than give this another look.