Sunday, 28 October 2012

The Living Dead at (the) Manchester Morgue (Let Sleeping Corpses Lie) - review

1974 (Spain / Italy)

Contains Spoilers.

Now, this was a film I was really looking forward to. Having garnered a bit of a cult following it not only appears regularly on top zombie movie lists but has also received widespread recognition as an important title, influencing the look, feel and behaviour of the modern zombie. Released in 1974 sandwiched between seminal Night of the Living Dead and the game changer Dawn of the Dead Spanish director Jorge Grau took the suspense and atmosphere of Romero's work and added a bit of European scepticism and surrealism.

The premise is relatively simple. George (Ray Lovelock) is escaping the city for the weekend and stops at a garage for some petrol. At the pump his motorbike is reversed into by Edna (the alluring Cristina Galbó) and having to leave his bike there for repairs the duo reluctantly team up to first drop George off. On the way to Windermere Edna persuades George to first drop her off at her troubled rehabilitating  sister in South Gate, happy for him to pick the car up later, but the two become lost and stop to ask for directions at a farm which is assisting the Department of Agriculture run a field test on a prototype alternative to the use of insecticide.

Emitting ultra-sonic radiation over a square mile, the boffins at the DOA have worked out a way to stimulate primitive life forms such as insects into a frenzy leading them to kill each other off. Of course there's a catch and unbeknown to the officials the radiation is also having an effect on young babies and the recently deceased. With George receiving directions we're introduced to the our first zombie of the day and it's here we start to see the heavy influence of Romero. The way in which local nuisance and homeless guy Guthrie (Fernando Hilbeck) stumbles after Edna is reminiscent of Bill Hinzman stumbling after Barbra in the iconic scene in Night of the Living Dead.

With Guthrie disappearing before George can corroborate Edna's story the two continue their journey to her sister Katie (Jeannine Mestre) only to find Gutherie has beat them there. Here we have our first zombie killing of the story and the first sign that there may be a few inconsistencies with the narrative. If the premise is that the recently deceased still retain some very basic brain function and that is stimulated by the ultra-sonic radiation causing them to reanimate with only basic motor functions and a hunger for sustenance (i.e. human flesh) how is it Gutherie seems not only to know precisely and conveniently where to be to drive the narrative and tension, but can seemingly magic himself around at will. One scene he's chasing Edna near the river where it's reported he drowned, and the next after they've driven at quite the pace to her sisters farm, he's not only managed to beat them there but he's had time for a bit of a chase and a murder. It's all a bit City of the Living Dead, and ambiguous and European, and on it's own I could just about go with it; but I struggled to find room for both this and the rational narrative in my ability to weave it all together as a coherent whole.

With George, Edna and Katie all implicated in the murder by the old school small minded chief inspector played brilliantly by Arthur Kennedy, Katie now totally gaga and sectioned and George and Edna falling deeper down the rabbit hole trying to get to the bottom of things themselves, The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue has a change of pace and the problem I talk about above become all the more apparent.

Take the two big zombie scenes. The first, an uprising caused from the Department of Agriculture's expansion of the range of the radiation to the nearby morgue; Ok. The second, on checking the crypt to once and for all prove or disprove Gutherie being up and about they get locked in, where Gutherie now adopting a pseudo leadership role is able to resurrect dead comrades by smearing blood on their eye lids; it just doesn't all quite fit together and it's like there are two separate narratives running in parallel.

There's a lot to recommend in The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue. The acting is first class and I personally loved the very 70s English interchanges between Edna and George which was full of complexity and subtlety. The style and direction is full of atmosphere and the beautiful and authentic portrayal of mayhem in the English countryside is a delight. The zombies make up and effects expand on what Romero had started and finally delivers the blood and gore Night of the Living Dead lacked. It's not up there with Fulci's gruesome macabre death scenes but you can see its influence. It's all not enough to save the film though and for all the positives I've spoken about, as a whole I found it hard to get that excited and found its faults far outweighed its positives.

Also on the one hand while I'd like to argue it's cult status as an influence on both Romero zombie film tradition and more-so also the more surrealist European Fulci film style, in truth I kind of feel it would have all probably happened regardless. It definitely helped cement zombie lore at an important time but I'd argue that it probably actually borrowed more, especially from Night of the Living Dead than it actually contributed.

I'd really love to be more passionate about The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue but as it is, the incoherent narrative and mishmash of ideas is too distracting. It's an important part of the zombie film story, I'll go with that, but I'm finding it hard to end the review with anything more than, it's merely ok, 6/10.


Thursday, 18 October 2012

Resident Evil: Apocalypse - review

2004 (Germany / France / UK / Canada / USA)

Contains Spoilers

Whilst I felt I should come at the Paul W.S. Anderson's second instalment in the fun popcorn flick franchise expecting to be both dissatisfied with it as a coherent action movie and also with its zombie credentials, in truth I was actually looking forward to just being entertained with more of the same. For some reason the Resident Evil series whilst being a huge commercial success, has failed to gain the respect or acknowledgement from zombie film fans; maybe it's that old adage that makes niche and publicly successful mutually exclusive, or maybe I'm just easily satisfied. I mean the zombie genre if we're honest doesn't necessarily demand the highest levels of narrative control or strict serious portrayal of its subject matter, and quite frankly often and successfully plays with this fact. I've watched and enjoyed many a cult classic that under closer scrutiny fall apart, so why Resident Evil should be singularly picked apart so mercilessly is beyond me. I really didn't see much wrong with the first film. It remained true to its video-game roots as well as forging a new narrative branch of its own, its portrayal of zombies was authentic, brutal and didn't stray from established zombie canon, and I felt it satisfied my zombie itch as well as being a good fun kick-ass action film.

And more of the same I got. Directly following the events of Resident Evil Alice again played again Milla Jovovich and again naked to start with, wakes up in a secure Umbrella hospital in Raccoon City. Pulling out her wires and tubes she stumbles out into a city ravaged by the escape of the T-virus from the Hive alone and confused. It's all very apocalyptic, I Am Legend, and very reminiscent of 28 Days Later which was released a couple of years earlier. Slowly regaining her memories Alice learns that during her incarceration she has been experimented on and now possesses superhuman strength and agility; hold on I hear you say, isn't that like the first film and well yes it is but this time she's an even more kick-ass superhuman than before and is aware of the fact pretty much from the off.

On the other side of the city police officer Jill Valentine (Sienna Guillory) attempting to help evacuate the remaining survivors through an Umbrella checkpoint witnesses firsthand the mega-corporation's callous disregard of law and human rights as they close it off condemning those left inside to certain death. Seeking refuge in an abandoned church with Sergeant Peyton Wells (Razaaq Adoti) and news reporter Terri Morales (Sandrine Holt) we learn that as well as facing zombies they have to deal with overwhelming supermutants, but fortunately, and with a dramatic entrance, they have Alice on their side.

Alice and the gang soon get offered the chance of escape but only if they can locate and rescue the now isolated and trapped daughter Angela (Sophie Vavasseur) of Dr. Charles Ashford (Jared Harris) the Umbrella scientist responsible for T-virus, which was originally intended as a cure for her rare genetic illness. Ashford also extends the offer to Carlos Olivera (Oded Fehr) and his team of Umbrella soldiers who have also been abandoned in the city after setting down to defend innocent citizens from the zombie onslaught and the two groups team up against all that Umbrella head honcho Timothy Cain (Thomas Kretschmann) can throw at them, which includes the latest subject in the Nemesis project.

With the virus out of control, the city designated for nuclear destruction and Alice on the loose Cain sees the perfect opportunity for a live combat experimentation. Taken straight from the video games Umbrella unleashes Nemesis project; a huge, hulking, monstrous humanoid born from perverted T-Virus experimentation uses powerful heavy weaponry and computer controlled guidance on Alice and the gang and in true video game style this even leads to highly styled, action packed and rather contrived boss-fight ending to the film.

 Yes it's all a bit far-fetched and unsubstantial, and you feel what narrative there is, is really there just to drive the many action sequences, but it's all relatively coherent does a good enough job to hold it all together. Gone is the tight claustrophobic feel of the first film; now replaced with the large urban sprawl of the city and a focus on big budget expansive scenes and action. Make no mistake Resident Evil: Apocalypse isn't a horror film and other than a few scenes in the school that you feel were put in for something to talk about; the film is unashamedly an action flick. There's explosions, gun fights, martial arts, helicopters, hordes of zombies getting shot and a big kick-ass climax and it all flies past at quite a pace, Anderson obviously reluctant to give anyone a chance to stop and question what exactly is taking place.

Now I enjoyed the first film and I can say I enjoyed this as well. It is what it is and pulls it off with style and aplomb. Jovovich shines in the role once again as the rest of the cast struggle to impose themselves, but there's no bad performances and her interactions with them feels genuine enough. There's also the question of whether it's really a zombie film. Unlike the first film where the main protagonist was most definitely the zombies throughout, this time the central battle is really Alice against Nemesis and the zombies take a bit of back-seat; it's more an action film with zombies more than a zombie film per se. This being said the pandemic is still very much real and the undead horde still play a very prominent part; there's gruesome deaths, dramatic expansive sequences in Raccoon City, lots of biting and head shots and they are still the ever present constant. It's still very much a zombie film in my book.

Just because one rarely sees an entry from the Resident Evil franchise in top zombie film lists doesn't mean one should ignore them; if you watch them for what you'll find they're competent, compelling and extremely well put together additions to the genre. Like it's predecessor Resident Evil: Apocalypse is fresh, fun and a great action pop-corn zombie flick; just don't think too hard, 7/10.


Tuesday, 16 October 2012

The Last Man on Earth - review

1964 (Italy / USA)

2010 included on Ultimate Horror Classics SD Blu-ray R(All) 

Contains spoilers.

Ok, now. The Last Man on Earth directed by Ubaldo Ragona and Sidney Salkow is the closest cinematic adaptation we've got of Richard Mathesons 1954 novel I Am Legend and I know what you're going to say, and yes you're right but I still think there's enough ambiguity for it to warrant a discussion.

Vincent Price as Dr. Robert Morgan has witnessed the end of the world. An apocalyptic plague has swept humanity aside leaving him alone to deal with not only the trials of mundanity and acute loneliness but also the fact that everyone else has returned from the dead as vampires. So, three years on we find Morgan spending his days securing his house, sourcing supplies and methodically working his way through the city staking sleeping vampires and during the nights drowning out his paranoia and the provocation from outside by listening to loud music and drinking heavily. 

Now to the issue. Both in Last Man on Earth and I Am Legend the protagonists are referred to as vampires. They're afraid of mirrors and garlic, can't come out in the sunlight and can be killed by a stake to the heart. So what's the problem? Well the undead are also weak, slow and mindless, and they are cited as one of the biggest influences for the zombies that George Romero created for Night of the Living Dead. They don't have fangs, there's no biting, no mention of crucifixes or damnation and they don't possess any of the supernatural strength or abilities most commonly associated with the prince of darkness. They also tend to gather in packs and Morgan even comments how alone they don't really possess much of a threat and they're easy to manoeuvre around.

As one watches the undead monotonously chant Morgan's name and shamble about outside his house every night pathetically trying to force entry one instantly recalls the siege of the farmhouse in Night of the Living Dead. They both have a rudimentary use of tools to bash, and can throw stones and turn handles, both are easy to run away from and both hanker for human flesh. For all intents and purposes if it wasn't for the aforementioned vampire shunning paraphernalia their behaviour and mannerisms are zombie as is the viral pandemic manner in which they became infected. I'm really quite torn. Yes, they are vampires, Matheson said so, as does Morgan in the film but as I watched I couldn't help think how important this undead variant was in helping to establish and mould the zombie that's in mainstream consciousness today. It almost comes down to how one defines a zombie and whether the term vampire and zombie have to be mutually exclusive.

As Morgan relives the death of his wife and daughter he can only posit that he alone survived the plague because his body had developed antibodies after he was bitten by a vampire bat in Panama; one he somewhat later proves after he successfully transfers some his blood and cures the enlightened vampire Ruth Collins (Franca Bettoia). After coming across Ruth, who Morgan believes, with some trepidation to be another survivor, Morgan learns that a small section of the undead have developed a vaccine that enables them overcome the limitations of the plague and they're planning on rebuilding society. Morgan it comes out has been unwittingly killing many of this new sect's loved ones and is now reviled and hated and Ruth confides that they are coming that night to kill him. The enlightened zombies are interesting in that they're not cured; they're still reanimated dead. It's just now they've regained their higher brain functions they no longer resemble the zombie-esque undead we've seen so far and they're more akin to revenants or vampires.

Whilst it is the closest we've come to an accurate adaptation of I Am Legend;  The Omega Man in 1971, and I Am Legend in 2007, being the other two, it still digresses quite heavily in places, especially at end and the way in which Morgan reaches his fate. For one reason or another the directors felt a more action oriented climax was needed but it feels out of place and Price never seems convincing as the action hero as he fights off dozens of armed vampire soldiers firing guns and throwing smoke grenades, and for all the extra razzmatazz it ultimately ends up missing the subtlety and gravitas of the original climax.

Other than these action sequences Price does a remarkable job portraying the weariness of character that spends the majority of the film alone. His narration perfectly accompanies his acting and his character feels authentic. Whilst the copy I watched felt a little washed out in places it was never distracting and Ragona and Salkow have done a remarkable job painting a believable apocalyptic world which you can see as an influence on many films that came after. I've read since that a colour remaster is now available and I enjoyed it enough I may pick this up at some point.

 So I'm going to leave it for the viewer to ultimately make their own mind up whether they're vampires or zombies, or both, or neither but at least I hope the zombie aficionado will recognise enough to see the heavy influence on the genre. The film is a solid attempt at adapting the book with only a few silly decisions holding it back from fully realising it. It's still a very well put together, engrossing film that has aged extremely well. Like films of its time the make-up and effects are minimal much like that in Night of the Living Dead and like Romero's iconic masterpiece this doesn't detract as the horror and tension are driven by constantly evocative scenes and imagery. A recommendation for the zombie or vampire fan, 8/10. 


Thursday, 11 October 2012

The Cabin in the Woods - review

2011 (USA)

Contains mild spoiler.

Now I've given it a few days since I watched this and I'm still not sure what I make of the whole thing. Yes it's hugely enjoyable, yes the twist, which I'd actually describe as more of an extra narrative reality has a wow factor and is hugely absorbing, yes the script is fun and dark and imaginative and the characters are interesting and well acted; it's just for all it sets out to play with and challenge the genre, it still ultimately relies on clichéd tropes and may not actually other than for the thing be quite as original or ground breaking as it claims to be. Let's make one thing abundantly clear right from the off though, The Cabin in the Woods is a very good film.

It comes with quite the high profile and expectations. Written and produced by Joss Whedon (Buffy: The Vampire Slayer) and written and directed by Drew Goddard (Cloverfield), they claim they set out to produce a film that was a response to how they perceived horror was losing its way and devolving more and more towards endless rehashed sadistic torture porn flicks. They wanted something that was evocative of how horror used to be and yet also something that would breathe new life and revitalise a tired genre.

On the one side it's still just the usual horror narrative of five kids heading for an isolated cabin, unlocking an ancient evil then fighting for their lives; it's all been done before; but it's supposed to echo what has done before; but it's still what's been done before. See the dilemma? Let's push this philosophical wrangle aside for one moment. The base narrative follows the old horror staples closely, but it's still presented to a very high standard. The kids are both formulaic and ever so slightly interesting enough that you kind of hope they survive but don't actually mind when they are brutally picked off one by one. The Buckner family of zombies are foreboding, dark and menacing and present a genuinely frightening evil force. The Cabin in the Woods does a great job of instilling tension, fear and a feeling of utter hopelessness for the kids; it's a true horror experience it's just we've kind of seen it all before.

But we had to have seen it all before; if in itself it was too fresh and original the second higher narrative wouldn't have quite the same impact. You see the kids have been guided to the cabin and their fate by an ambiguous group of global and secret technicians that are doing this  as it's part of an ancient ritual to placate old and ancient gods from destroying mankind. In full Truman Show style all that befalls the kids in the cabin is relayed to the lab who ensure customs are adhered to and deaths are met in the correct order. For all Whedon and Goddard claimed this as a challenge and a clever parody to the snuff generation; as the method of their deaths are announced to rapturous applause, and as the final kids are brutally slaughtered on a big screen in the background to champagne and partying at the thought the ritual has been a success and the world is saved, one couldn't help think well, it's still just snuff and sadistic voyeurism, just cleverly done snuff and sadistic voyeurism. I should say though that these are really great evocative scenes.

The lab technicians Gary Sitterson (Richard Jenkins) and Steve Hadley (Bradley Whitford) play the operation like two old tired regular Joes and the set up feels like an underground military bunker full of bureaucracy and hierarchy gone out of control. As the operators start to realise the ritual has not quite gone according to plan and two of the kids have not only managed to survive the Buckner zombies but found their way down to the facility the film in an explosion of eye candy and absurdity smashes the up till now two distinct environments and worlds together. As they fall deep below the surface in an ethereal glass elevator, Dana (Kristen Connolly) and Marty (Fran Kranz) come face to face with all the possible horrors that could have been unleashed on the cabin and on reaching the base manage to release them on the unsuspecting technicians and guards. At this point Whedon and Goddard let anything go; as Romero zombies, ghosts, aliens, mermen, evil unicorns, werewolves all run amok bringing carnage and death, and we're gifted to an overload of gore, brutality, action and sheer bat-craziness.

It's a hard film to pigeon hole and I'm still not sure whether it's a comedy, parody, sadistic horror, action adventure or even existential exploration; it's not so much genre redefining but genre undefining. It's a mishmash and for me it works brilliantly. Browsing popular opinion it seems to have really polarised people; I've read that it's the smartest horror film in years, ground-breaking and a game changer and I've also read it's absurd, silly, nonsensical and not even a horror. Whilst I can't really disagree with any of this I will stand by my opening lines that it's still bloody good stuff.

I should perhaps detail the zombies a bit more. The Buckner family zombies are a different enemy to the western Romero-esque zombies that are unleashed on the lab at the end. The Buckners are a darker, more sadistic weapon wielding bunch that seem more aware than your typical undead. They are unleashed on the cabin when Dana reads their history from an ancient book and we learn they were a family sect that revelled in the use of torture and death to test their faith Unlike the flesh desired by the traditional zombies the Buckners seem only interested in the kids brutal sadistic deaths and they reminded me a little of Fulci's zombies from City of the Living Dead.

Even if the idea of someone watching or helping to orchestrate the actions of the unwitting either metaphysically or in this case more physically has been done before The Cabin in the Woods has still done it in an original, absorbing and clever way.  In playing across so many genres they do successfully engineer something entirely new even if I have no idea what to make of it and for all the craziness they do somehow manage to hold it altogether to produce a coherent overarching narrative that works. Yes the first part of the film was trite and cliché but it had to be and sometimes there's a reason old fables are retold. The Cabin in the Woods is mad, crazy, original and yet full of familiarity and references to iconic moments from horror lore. It's indefinable, totally captivating and brilliant, 8/10.

One thing to note. This Blu-ray is coded LGB94935B and the B is very important. Technicolor the disc manufacturer shipped a bad batch to the whole of Europe and had to reissue it. The original copies were recalled but check your copy if you're buying outside the main resale channels and think you're getting a bargain.


Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Paranorman - review

2012 (USA)

2012 Universal Pictures (Cinema)

Contains spoilers.

Paranorman is a film about fear and prejudice; of how a young boy overcomes the abuse and challenges of being  different to solve an ancient curse, bring peace to the dead and save the townsfolk from themselves. Whilst marketed as a children's film it's also definitely not one for the really young with some darker and more complex themes than you'd get in your average Disney affair.

Young Norman Babcock (voiced by Kodi Smit-McPhee) has a gift. He can see and speak to the dead; those souls that are trapped in spiritual form because they have unfinished business on earth. Because of this gift Norman is misunderstood, feared and ridiculed by his school mates, his neighbours and even his father and feels isolated and alone. He mistrusts and shuns genuine attempts at connecting with him, even the ever persistent chubby school chum Neil Downe (Tucker Albrizzi), and buries himself at home in his love of horror films and paraphernalia

300 years ago the good townsfolk of Blithe Hollow executed an evil witch. Dragged from her mother and accused of all manner of evil, as she was found guilty and condemned to death she cast a curse on the judge, the witnesses and the town. The legend of the witch still dominates the town and it commemorates, celebrates and relishes in its dark heritage. Or that's what people think. Unbeknown to the town the curse and the witch are still very much present and are only held in stead by an annual ritual performed by the witches descendent, and Norman's Uncle Mr Prenderghast (John Goodman) who also shares the family gift of being able to talk to the deceased.

Things are coming to a head though. Uncle Prenderghast fears he is close to his death and feels it's time to pass on the ritual but dies on the eve of its anniversary leaving young Norman to work it out and save the town all on his own. After a slow and tense build up Norman suddenly finds himself in the middle of a maelstrom; trying to contain the evil spirit of the witch, flee from the judge and seven witnesses who have all burst from the grave and keep all this from his family and the town. With hell about to break out though he is joined by his older cheerleading sister Courtney, his school friend Neil and Neil's older jock brother who all came out to look for him, and school bully Alvin who tagged along just to beat him up. Between them they have to come to terms with the fact that there may actually be something to Norman's gift and also put aside their differences to make sense of what is happening, find the witches grave and perform the ritual before the curse consumes the town.

Evil witches, curses, ghosts, bullying, mobs with pitchforks, zombies that lose limbs and are shot and a prevalent mood of mistrust and fear; Paranorman is a dark film full of dark themes but it's never overly oppressive or sinister. It's behaves like a classic children's fairy tale, painting scenes that aren't really what they seem and reducing the horror before it becomes too much. Like Scooby Doo on Zombie Island after introducing the traditional shambling scary looking zombies and after having an albeit slightly comical but still tense and dramatic chase we discover the zombies aren't actually the big bad baddies the group perceived them as being. They're actually full of regret and sorrow for what they did 300 years ago to the young  Agatha Prenderghast (Jodelle Micah Ferland). They aren't out to massacre the town, they are cursed to eternal un-life until the small girl they condemned to death can find peace and they actually want to help Norman achieve this. The zombies really being good, Aggie like Norman and his uncle all being misunderstood, feared and rejected is all part of the over-arching narrative of acting on assumption and fearing that which one doesn't understand.

Eventually everything comes full circle and the citizens of Blithe Hollow see things how they really are; that with pitch forks and flaming torches ready to burn down the civic hall that they're more the monsters than the zombies, that Norman might actually be the hero with a special gift and the they should learn to tolerate and accept that which they don't understand. It's an old tale done before but here it's presented in a refreshingly original and vibrant way. With an emphasis on engaging dialogue the story of retains all the charm of an animated children's movie, with grittier social commentary and depth for the adult viewer to chew on.

As for the zombies; in so much as they're dead and reanimated that's really as far as it goes. They're not bad, they're not after brains or flesh and they don't really pose a real threat to anyone. They're reanimated because they're cursed and this curse only goes so far as to ensure their spirit can't move on and protects them from being destroyed by being pulled apart, or run over or even being shot, etc. They're still presented to the traditional zombie spec though, with ripped clothes, groans and dry dead skin where I did notice a slight blue tinge; a nod to Romero perhaps? There's also a nod to the comical and absurd side of the genre with many lighter b-movie moments occurring with and to the zombies. All are brilliantly executed and never forced, and they provide necessary and expected relief in a film aimed for the younger audience.

Produced by the Laika, the same stop-motion animated film team that created Coraline, the film shares many of the same intelligent and deviant qualities as well meticulous attention to detail, style and artistry and special mention must go to a final twenty minutes, which are as captivating, dramatic and visually exciting as anything I've probably ever seen, animated or not. Paranorman is sharp and witty with great pacing with a faultless narrative and strong interesting characters. There's never any dumbing down and the film stays true to its themes and visions throughout. Directors Sam Fell and Chris Butler have produced a beautiful and poignant experience and a children's film with real depth; I can't recommend it enough, 9/10.


Friday, 5 October 2012

Trailer Park of Terror - review

2008 (USA)

Contains spoilers.

Trailer Park of Terror, written by Timothy Dolan and based on the comic series of the same name is a film of two halves.

The first half concerns the ill fated Norma (Nichole Hilt) and the residents of a small isolated trailer park in the deep south. Here, ostracised and removed from main stream society they live in deprivation and squalor and survive day to day by doing what they must, which for Norma means selling her body like her mum did before her. Seeing a possible way out, she is about to go out on a date with a genuinely nice guy from outside the park when jealous and painfully aware of their own inadequacies, a group of her redneck neighbours take it upon themselves to cause a bit of trouble accidently impaling the guy on a metal fence. Raging with grief Norma storms away and encounters who we presume to be the devil, who offers her a means of retribution. Returning to the park she releases a lifetime of pent up emotion and anger through the barrel of a gun but resigns herself to an eternity of damnation.

The scenes proceeding the massacre are emotional, full of intensity and deeply disturbing. Director Steven Goldmann whose previous work was all Country music videos perfectly captures the sense of resignation felt by the people of the trailer park. Each character is deeply flawed and has depth and a story. They feel raw, authentic and full of self-loathing and bitterness.

Cut to the modern day. It's been a couple of decades since the massacre and a group of six wayward teenagers returning home from a week long mountain retreat with Pastor Lewis (Matthew Del Negro) find themselves off the main roads. Colliding with a broken down truck in the middle of the night and in the torrential rain they see the lights of trailer park and knock on Norma's door seeking help. Offering them refuge until morning she settles them into the now empty trailers and then starts on the Pastor successfully enticing him to her bed. During their tryst the man of god starts to realise something is seriously wrong when part of Norma's face collapses and unable to continue, angers her to the point where she pulls off his head; this is when we realise, forty minutes or so in, that the sociological biopic we've been watching is about to take a rather dark new direction.

The deal struck with the devil has turned Norma and the denizens of the park into festering zombies of the night hungry for human flesh. Over the years they've appeared from time to time to prey on lone truckers and the arrival of the Pastor and his troupe this night has got them particularly excited and riled up. The zombies are exaggerated parodies of their former selves, they're still coherent and they still possess the same quirks and dreams they had when they were alive but they're still stuck in their own proverbial ruts; it's the curse of the trailer park, and the theme throughout of being unable to escape whether alive or dead. Other than now being gruesome ghouls nothing has really changed for these people at the fringe of society.

There's no infection or virus, no pandemic or apocalypse, what we have is straightforward demonic reanimation. Having sold her soul Norma has condemned herself and the citizens of the park to an eternal life of preying on lost souls. There's no indication they can be killed, no talk of head trauma putting them to eternal rest and no signs that this is a curse that can be broken. They're malevolent, dark and evil but the way they're portrayed is also still comical especially the redneck duo Merv (RoachLew Temple) and Roach (Myk Watford), an ex-army vet drug addled red neck guitar player who struts and sings from the top of his trailer accompanying all the carnage below with heavy rock country.

As the true horror of what the kids have stumbled into becomes apparent and the zombies make themselves known the film soon turns into full parody mode with exaggerated dialogue, sadistic crude horror, gore and some ridiculously over the top scenes. It's really quite at odds with the serious tone of everything that leads up to it and I'm really not sure what I think about it all. I mean, for the most part the whole thing still works, the background story is beautifully and authentically told, the characters are all built up and the scene is set for a dramatic finale, the over top comedy and parody of the second half doesn't disappoint with shocks, scares and many memorable scenes; it's just I'm not sure how well it all meshes together. If I'm honest I think I'd have preferred either for it to maintain its levels of maturity and introspection through to the end, or push the fun and parody a little harder while it set the opening scenes. All this being said though, it does kind of all still work.

Trailer Park of Terror is a fun wacky film full of great effects and memorable moments. It's sumptuously directed and styled with some of the best special effects and make up I've seen. It has a thumping good soundtrack, great characters and acting and for a limited budget I can only raise my hat. I can't help but think though there's a missed opportunity somewhere; there's something not quite right and for all I enjoyed the exaggerated mayhem of the last thirty minutes I couldn't help but question how and why it decided to go quite so mad and ridiculous. Quite the ride and recommended, 7/10.


Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Osombie - review

2012 (USA)

Contains mild spoilers.

Ok, I wasn't expecting much. Maybe a satirical light hearted zombie romp across the Middle East; a few laughs, a few good gory scenes, a bit of a daft plot (obviously); a coherent pop corn flick I could kick back and laugh at with a couple of beers. Osombie, written by Kurt Hale and directed by John Lyde isn't satirical, isn't particularly gory, has no memorable scenes and rambles along incoherently with no redeeming qualities. Now I'd love to end the review there but I've set myself a standard (albeit not very lofty) with my reviews to date so I should elaborate.

Osama Bin Laden wasn't just shot in a house in Abbottabad, Pakistan then buried at sea hours later. He was instead found and shot at a zombie experimentation lab where he was chief researcher. During transportation he rose from the dead causing an accident and the helicopter to fall into the sea. Found by loyal Al Qaida followers he's now protected at secret military camp in the mountains bordering Afghanistan and Pakistan where his blood and research are being used to fashion an army zombie foot soldiers ready to topple the godless heathens of the west etc, etc.

Enter our heroes. Dusty (Eve Mauro) a yoga instructor from Colorado has taken it upon herself to head into the mountains to look for her brother Derek (Jasen Wade) who struggling to come to terms with the death of the rest of his fire fighter crew on September 11th, has self funded a trip there where he hopes to uncover the truth to Bin Laden's un-death and kill him once and for all. On their way they run into a small NATO task force sent to identify and destroy the secret camp and the put a stop to the zombie outbreak.

Now I will forgive a film many things when working to a low budget and limited resources; in this case the CGI is overdone, the acting is wooden, the sets and environments are unconvincing and the scope is limited but I can live with these, they make b-movies what they are and lend a certain charm. Here though and rather more unforgivable,  we also have an incoherent narrative full of inconsistency, dialogue that's just plain awful, a plot full of holes and a whole ambience that feels flat and lifeless. Even during the high octane action scenes with wave after wave of not actually that badly made up Arab zombies being mowed down with precision and CGI exploding powdery heads I found myself wondering how long it had to go. It's a problem.

Now I've seen films before that have managed to make an absurd concept work with limited funding and they do this with either brilliant writing and vision or by going down the totally over the top route recognising their own flaws and playing to them. Osombie does neither instead trying to retain creditability and seriousness when clearly the subject matter dictates it can't and shouldn't even try. Everything about the film is ridiculous and absurd yet it plods along with uninspired unmemorable characters sharing trite badly written dialogue and there is never any recognition of this. Like it's style and direction everything about the film is average and mundane; the film has no spark or life. Even if it was a yeehaa isn't America great propaganda piece it would still have been a huge improvement over the lifeless dirge that was produced. To top it all off I had constant audio and visual stutters with my Blu-ray. I'm not sure if it's isolated to my copy and quite frankly I don't feel that impelled to find out.

I went into this with some trepidation but I still fancied I could have a laugh. By the time the credits rolled the only excitement I felt was from knowing it was all over and I had my life back. Osombie is joyless, inept, badly written nonsense and a waste of anyone's time, avoid. While I really wanted to give this a 1 the zombie make-up was nicely done and someone deserves some credit, 2/10.


Tuesday, 2 October 2012

The Beyond (The Seven Doors of Death) - review

1981 (Italy)

Contains mild spoilers.

The Beyond or The Seven Doors of Death as it was titled for the US audience is the second film in Lucio Fulci's Gates of Hell trilogy following the reasonably well received City of the Living Dead. All of Fulci's trademarks carry over with intense shocking scenes and the use of extreme blood and gore, an ambiguous dreamlike narrative and an inconclusive and not-so-happy end to proceedings.

Catriona MacColl returns for the second film, this time as jaded New Yorker Liza Merril who has recently inherited a dilapidated old hotel in downtown Louisiana. Seeing this as her final chance to have any success, her determined-not-to-walk-away-whatever-the-cost attitude comes in handy as her and her tradesmen unwittingly disturb one of the seven gateways to death that has been sitting idle for the most part of a century.

Back in 1927 Schweick (Antoine Saint-John), a macabre and visionary artist who was staying at the hotel was brutally crucified by a lynch mob in the basement originally opening the portal. As the plumbers and builders start to work on the hotel for Merril, one by one they disturb not only his old room but the site of his death, awaken the old evil and meet their untimely deaths. Warned by a mysterious blind girl, Emily played by Cinzia Monreale to leave and starting to suspect there may actually be something to all the crazy shenanigans and deaths, Merril turns to her local doctor Dr. John McCabe (David Warbeck) who has taken a bit of a shine to her and the two try to at first make rational sense of what's happening then later survive as the horrors unfold.

Fulci heavily cites the influence of French surrealist Antonin Artaud. Artaud held the position that theatre should be less about linear coherent narrative and more about imagery and symbolism that would shock or confuse people and leave a lasting impression, and you can certainly see his influence. Whilst The Beyond does have a linear narrative following Merril there's an increasing dreamlike incoherence to the film as Fulci not only challenges the viewer to question who is really alive and who is really dead but what these notions might even mean. At the end even Merril is faced with having to confront her own identity as McCabe asks her, who she really is.

Whilst Fulci's films are full of the reanimated there is always a mystical feel to proceedings with the zombies used to drive the story and reinforce the macabre atmosphere; it's certainly not traditional survival horror. Whilst the zombies of City of the Living Dead do make a few brief appearances, Fulci also brings the more iconic Romero zombie in for the ride. Returning to the hospital as if in a dream Merril and McCabe are attacked from all sides by slow shambling un-dead and as shots are fired and heads explode it feels like it could easily fit into one of his Dead films. It's quite a high tempo set of scenes and contrasts with the rest of the film, but it's still full of the over-the-top Fulci effects and style and manages to work. I've read that Fulci only added these and the shoot-out at the request of the production company who weren't overly keen on the ambiguous surrealist spin and considered zombies the flavour of the month. If this is the case he did a good job of wedging them in without disturbing the overall atmosphere and direction.

Lucio Fulci's The Beyond oozes style and suggestion. In retains the Lovecraftian overtones of its predecessor and feels just as much a mystery as it does a horror film. It's ambiguous and surreal yet somehow retains a strong narrative and voice through to an ending that raises as many questions as it answers. It has all the trademark Fulci over-the-top and over played, but always imaginative and uniquely stylised slasher scenes with enough blood and gore to get the film banned in the UK once again on release, but here, unlike City of the Living Dead I felt there was tighter cohesion and they never felt shoe-horned in. The Beyond is a remarkable piece of cinema; it's surreal, existential and  beautiful and the more I watch from Fulci the more I understand and respect the direction his films take, 9/10