May 22, 2008

Diary of the Dead (2007)

After having seen Diary of the Dead at the theatre I was anxious to catch it again. I had left the theatre feeling a little underwhelmed by the movie, this may well have been down to the fact I was incredibly tired, regardless though I did want to give it another chance once it hit DVD.

Having seen it again I will say that I am happy that I have; I still don't think it is a great movie, I did enjoy it more though, plus I think as a movie it is more suited to the small screen.

The movie itself is shot as a home video style affair that follows the initial outbreak of zombies. So, in effect, if you want to follow the chronology of Romero's zombie flicks, this movie would in actual fact take place before Night of the Living Dead. This isn't really part of that mythology though as the technology in Diary, computers, cell phones etc. didn't exist in the time of Night, so I'll just take this as a stand alone movie.

Back to the story though. Diary opens with a voiceover, by Debra, explaining the movie you are about to watch. It was shot by her boyfriend, and aspiring filmmaker, Jason to chronicle the events of the outbreak as they unfold. Debra explains that she has added some music here and there for effect, but other than that it is just a video journal following the two of them, along with some friends, as they try to make their way home after the shit hits the fan.

One thing I did notice on a second viewing is how polished this movie looked with regards to the fact it is shot in the home video style. If you are expecting shaky camerawork and what-have-you fret not as there isn't really any. The fact one of the characters conveniently finds another camera also adds to the feeling that this is more a movie than a documentary, allowing as it does for the point of view to change through the course of event. Add in to this some none too subtle CGI effects and the feeling of watching some lost tapes was lost on me.

As you might expect from a Romero undead movie there is a ton of social commentary during the course of Diary, so much so that it feels at times as though it is being rammed down your throat. There isn't the subtlety that accompanied Night or Dawn, here it is flashed up on the screen at just about every possible moment. Which, is fine, but I would have liked to have seen a little more restraint shown.

Also lacking here is the inclusion of any really sympathetic characters to get behind. All of them have some really annoying traits, which makes it hard for you to build any kind of relationship with them. Saying that though, the character of the University Professor that accompanies the friends on their journey was wonderfully dry in the delivery of his script, playing as he does an Englishman with a penchant for liquor. Liquor I might say that seems to have no effect when he is aiming a Long Bow, but that's a minor gripe.

Despite all of this seeming negativity towards Diary it is an enjoyable movie, especially if you take it purely as a zombie flick without all the frills. As usual the zombies look great, most of the gore is cool to watch and there is a wonderfully sense of inevitability surrounding the events.

At the end of the day, as a documentary/home video style movie it isn't nearly as raw or pure as in movies such as Cannibal Holocaust or [REC], and as a commentary on society it falls behind Romero's earlier work due to its lack of subtlety. Indeed Cannibal Holocaust may not have been a subtle movie, but the social commentary was in comparison to Diary. However, if you can get past some of the plot holes, as a good old fashioned zombie flick Dary of the Dead is damned good fun, with blood, guts and an incredibly funny Amish fella named Samuel.

I just hope that Romero can iron out the problems and inconsistencies, that let this movie down, for the upcoming sequel. The idea behind Diary was a good one, and I see no reason why the sequel shouldn't be a far more fulfilling experience.

Diary of the Dead is flawed, but enjoyable with it.

Rating 2.5 Stars (out of 4)

May 20, 2008

Evil Aliens (2005)

Horror comedy is a tough nut to crack, but when it works well it can be a joy to behold. So, although I had been wanting to catch Evil Aliens for a while, it was with a slight sense of apprehension. I really needn't have worried though, as it was a blast!

Michelle Fox works for a dodgy TV show that features all kinds of weird and wonderful stories, most of which are utter crap. However, upon receiving information about an alledged alien impregnation and abduction case on a small island off the coast of Wales she, along with her film crew, alien expert and "cast", head off in hopes of getting a good story.

Of course, it isn't too long after arriving that they find out the story is indeed true, and there is in fact aliens running around the Welsh countryside carving up cattle, performing anal probes and other such nefarious deeds. So, the battle is on to avoid becoming victims of the aliens whilst still managing to make their program. Joining the film crew are a group of very stereotypical, but not to mention hilarious, locals as the splatter commences.

Evil Aliens has to be one of the funniest and bloodiest movies I have seen in quite some time. It is literally coated with blood, slime and shit, all combined with some very amusing humour, some of which may be lost on some people that aren't familiar with some English nuances. Nonetheless the majority of it will go down just fine.

Unfortunately there are some poor CGI blood effects on occasion, but these are interspersed with good old fashioned "real" blood caking most of the cast. There's plenty of dismemberment and general carnage to keep the gorehounds more than happy throughout the movie; my favourite being a fantastic scene involving a combine harvester accompanied by the Wurzel's I've Got A Brand New Combine Harvester. It had me in hysterics.

Watching Evil Aliens I did see similarities with movies such as Bad Taste, Dead Alive and so on, as well as having plenty of tipped hats to other movies. This however did not detract from Evil Aliens as a movie in its own right, you'll notice them but in all likelihood you will just be swept along in the good humour of it all.

Evil Aliens is splatterific, splat-tastic and very funny. It also pisses on a lot of more high profile recent horror releases in just about every department! It's full of eccentric characters, over-the-top gross-out moments and tons of energy. Oh, and did I mention it is very bloody?

Hunt this bugger down, grab some mates and have a good laugh!

Rating 3.5(out of 4)

Red Room (1999)

Don't ever let it be said that I shy away from the more extreme side of cinema, the nastier the better is how I generally like it. I'm always eager to seek out something that will surprise me, and push the limits of what I can expect to see on the screen. I'm not necessarily talking about gore, shit, anyone can throw some blood and guts about, it's how they are used that has the effect. More importantly seeing something that will make me squirm in my seat and have me thinking to myself that I can't believe they did that. Red Room was a movie that had one or two moments that fell into that category.

In Red Room four contestants are gathered together in the room of the title in order to play a game show, called The Forbidden King Game, in which the winner walks away with 10 million Yen (you work out for that is worth because I can't be arsed to, suffice to say it is motivation enough). The rules are simple enough; each player draws a card, the player that picks the king card gets to order two other contestants to perform a task. The idea being that the task set is too extreme for one, or both, to complete, forcing them to quit. This continues until there is only one left.

The games start off innocently, or should I say painlessly enough, with one pair being asked to kiss for five minutes and another having to spin around the other on an office chair for the same duration. Harmless enough, but they soon progress to far darker territories, and far more painful tests on endurance.

Inbetween the games we do learn about the contestants and their motivation and reasons behind their participation which does add a little more to the very basic plot.

A fairly low budget affair, being shot entirely in the one (or technically two) rooms, Red Room was a fairly decent affair. It plods along a little to start with, having me get a little impatient to tell the truth. However, it was worth the wait because it does sink into some pretty depraved areas. Which is just as well because the sole male actor of the four was seriously getting on my nerves to start with. Although as the movie progresses the change in all four characters comes across very well.

Red Room is not a spectacular movie, being as it uses a limited amount of special effects. Sure, there is a little blood here and there, and only one real scene that could be considered gory, but don't let that fool you as this movie will have even the most hardened extreme movie fans squirming away in their seats in some places.

Where Red Room really failed me though is with its use of sound, or should I say sound effects. Some of them were just plain distracting as they were too loud in the mix and almost added an unintentional comedy effect to proceedings.

Overall though I did enjoy Red Room and, although there are far better movies of this style out there, I would recommend it if you are looking for a little sick fix.

Rating 2.5(out of 4)

Ms.45 (1981)

When it comes to the movies of director Abel Ferrara I don't really get overly excited, because he is just too damned inconsistent. Sure, he gave us The King of New York and Bad Lieutenant amongst others, which are both solid movies. Unfortunately he also gave us the uninspired Body Snatchers and the laughable Dangerous Game. One movie though always escaped me, one that I have always wanted to see but never got around to it for one reason or another, and that was the infamous Ms.45, or Angel of Vengeance as I knew it in the UK. It wasn't that I am a particularly big fan of the rape/revenge genre, preferring instead the revenge genre, but there was always a desire to catch it. Maybe the lurid artwork of the hoodlum between a pair of legs, maybe the title, who knows? Having now seen it though I am glad I did, as this is one Ferrara movie he gets right.

The focus of the movie, and Ms.45 herself, is Thana, a young, reclusive and mute seamstress working in a very sleazy looking New York. Whilst making her way home after work one day is attacked and raped. As if that isn't bad enough she has to endure the ordeal again upon arriving home and disturbing an intruder. The second rapist is not as lucky as the first though as he doesn't get the chance to flee the scene. Instead Thana gives him a royal crack around the head with an iron, and then proceeds to make dog food out of him.

From here on in we follow Thana as she tries to overcome her ordeal, which after a couple of panic attacks basically results in her taking out her vengeance on the men she encounters, all who happen to be nasty, sleazy pieces of work; for the most part. Thana's growth in self confidence shows on the screen the further into the movie we go.

For a movie which such a brutal and disturbing premise I was pleasantly surprised to see that it doesn't focus on the physical act of rape, as some more famous (or infamous) movies have done. We see the damage done to her, the sight of her laying on the floor after the first attack spoke a thousand words. Instead the focus is on her vengeance, and what vengeance it is too.

As in other movies of this genre questions are asked of the viewer; does the punishment fit the crime? How far is too far? Well, that isn't for me to answer, instead as a viewer these and other questions will cross your mind.

I personally thought it was a fascinating movie, as even as I type this I find myself asking other questions of the movie. Questions that other viewers may well ask themselves. Of course, Ms.45 is a dirty, grimy movie, and so it should be, from the characters, to the locations and the events portrayed. It isn't as gruesome as say I Spit On Your Grave or Last House on the Left, but yes of course it is very violent in places, although the action never seemed to dwell too long on it. The point still gets across one way or another.

Ms.45 is not as gratuitous as I thought it may be, but it is still a tough movie to watch in places. Nonetheless I highly recommend it.

Rating 3 (out of 4)

I Spit On Your Grave (1978)

I first watched this movie several years ago, and I have to say that I was unimpressed. Sure, it was shocking, violent and very disturbing, but it just did nothing for me whatsoever. I was just left cold and disinterested by the whole movie.

However, just recently I read a couple of pieces about the movie in the zine Ax Wound which compelled me to grab myself a copy and give it another go. Quite honestly I am glad I did. In the past I always preferred Last House on the Left and The Night Train Murders for films in the rape-revenge sub genre, maybe it was because there was some sort of detachment in viewing them, both had more of a "movie" feel to them; the use of music in the soundtracks etc. I Spit On Your Grave though is a whole different experience, there is no real soundtrack aside from the use of some opera later on in the film, it doesn't feel as though you are watching a movie, more so being beaten around the head by this visual tour de force.

The movie itself centres around Jennifer Hill, a writer from New York, who travels to the country in order to write her debut novel. Whilst there she is repeatedly raped and beaten by four country boys and left for dead. However, she isn't dead and soon goes about getting her revenge on the assailants.

A short and simple premise that goes far deeper than initially anticipated. The movie may only be a couple of hours long but I guarentee it will stick in your mind far longer than that. There is no real respite from the onscreen savagery, no cheap laughs and no real sense of relief come the final credits. The damage was done during an intense thirty or so minutes, and no amount of retribution, however fitting, will lift the tone of this horrifically dark movie, and I for one am so glad about that.

Technically I Spit On Your Grave is an adequate movie, there is no reliance on special effects, no fancy camera work or editing just concentration on the events as they unfold. Where the real strength of this movie lies though is in the performance of the cast and almost voyeuristic style of the direction from Meir Zarchi. Camille Keaton truly does give a powerhouse of a performance during the entire movie, translating the suffering and subsequent payback with great subtlety and class, and subtle isn't really a word that can often be used in context to this movie I assure you. As well as Keaton's great showing credit must also be given to the four assailants, each one very different but each of them will make you hate them to their very core such is the strength of their performances.

The direction by Meir Zarchi, as I mentioned, is also very good leaving us in a situation that we as the viewer really don't want to be in; some of the shots linger for just that second too long adding further discomfort to the viewing experience, and believe me this is a movie to experience rather than just watch.

Unfortunately the title of the movie, and the accompanying artwork bely the real content of the movie. It sounds like an exploitation movie, and as such is marketed as one. On the rear of the case there is a question asked; Is I Spit On Your Grave just another exploitation movie, or is it truly a masterpiece of modern cinema? Upon viewing it again I can safely say that my answer lies with the latter, this is truly a great, great movie. Unsettling and disturbing to its very core, and unlikely to ever be matched in its power.

4 Stars (out of four)

Black Sun: The Nanking Massacre (1995)

Some movies set out with the intention to shock the viewer with their graphic depictions of violence, and granted many of them succeed. However, the majority of them are rooted deep within a fantasy world, made up stories depicting fictionalised events, and believe me I see nothing at all wrong with that. Sometimes they work, sometimes they don't, but I do enjoy extreme cinema, I like to see how far the envelope can be pushed, to see new limits reached, to see the viewer tested. When a movie is based on actual events though, and if it is done well, then the effect can be devestating to watch. This is very much the case with Black Sun: The Nanking Massacre.

Black Sun is a movie about the Japanese invasion of China in 1937, and subsequent attack on the town of Nanjing. The attack itself being more a case of open butchery than anything else as the population are systematically raped, beaten or murdered amongst other things. Or all of the above. These events are portrayed on screen with an unnerving realism at times; the film itself uses archive footage at times to add to the sense of realism, as if it was needed.

The film itself follows different strands throughout, with many different characters. The main ones though being the Japanese military, and some of their less savoury Generals, and a Chinese family where the two children and their uncle try to escape from the carnage.

This is an incredibly brutal movie, its portrayal of the horrors commited is unflinching. Whenever you think it can't get much worse it does. Although the movie itself comes across as a cross between Exploitation, Documentary and extreme propaganda it does do a good job of making you feel for the plight of the Chinese. The final few minutes or so being especially powerful with the use of music and the situation that unfolds during that scene. The film in its entirety though is an incredibly powerful and emotional journey and for the most part is incredibly well shot. In fact one of the most striking scenes is both one of the most harrowingly disturbing and at the same time beautifully shot sequences I have seen in some time. The use of colour in that one scene is terrific, yet is is also terribly sad. Without spoiling the scene, or the movie, I will just say that the scene itself occurs on a beach. You will know it when you see it, and you won't forget it.

How much of the movie is actually historically correct, and how much was artistic license is not for me to say. The massacre did happen, and from the use of some photos and footage throughout I would hazard a guess at saying that this is pretty close to what happened. This makes it all the harder to gauge this movie. Did I enjoy it? Yes I did. Whether I would call it entertainment or not is harder to say. However, I actually thought it was an incredible movie, one that I would recommend to fans of war movies, history or even those that just want to see some extremely savage acts commited upon other people. It's that sort of movie, falling, as it does, into many different categories. One thing is certain though, it is very strong stuff indeed.

Highly recommended, but be warned, it is harrowing viewing.

Rating 3.5 Stars (out of 4)

[REC] (2007)

After watching George Romero's Diary of the Dead I wasn't quite sure that I was ready for another zombie movie shot in the handheld camera style. The idea behind Diary was a good one, I just felt a little underwhelmed by the whole experience although that opinion could change once I get to give it another viewing. Having seen the trailers for [REC] though I was convinced though that this would be an entirely different viewing experience, and once the closing credits had rolled I am happy to say that it was not only a different experience but it was a thoroughly engaging one too.

The movie follows Angela, and her cameraman (our POV), as they record a TV show following the night shift at a local Fire Station in Spain. During the course of the night a call comes in that sends them heading off to an apartment complex where one of the residents has gone a little crazy and locked herself in her apartment.

Upon arrival they find the rest of the complex's residents gathered in the foyer, all concerned as to what is going on upstairs. The firecrew, along with Angela, the police and Pablo's camera, make there way up to the apartment where upon entering find a bloodstained woman. Whilst trying to help the woman she attacks and bites one of the firemen and a policeman.

Events take a turn for the worse when everyone inside the building finds out that they have been locked in on orders of the Health Authority. Naturally pandemonium ensues as everyone tries to work out what the hell is going on, why are they being kept here? And why are people attacking and biting each other?

Shot entirely from the point of view of Pablo's camera [REC] is a tense and very exciting movie to watch, there are no opening credits, no accompanying soundtrack, just what is happening through the camera's eye, and it is all rivetting viewing. As the action unfolds I was continually impressed by the visual effects as well as the seemless editing, the only noticeable edits were when filming stops, only to continue moments later.

Such was the intensity of the viewing it came across much less a movie and more like the news report that is intended with the style of film it is. The long takes allowed for some excellent, and no doubt thoroughly rehearsed, dialogue between the characters all of whom were played superbly by the ensemble cast.

My only real flaws with the movie unfortunately come with the territory of this tyle of movie, you get a fair amount of shaky camerawork, especially when there is running involved, and some of the scenes were a little on the dark side, most noticeably towards the end. Nonetheless [REC] was an absolutely terrific movie from start to finish with some genuine scares that are helped no end by the clever camerawork and lack of aural warnings.

A remake of this is on its way, and from what I have seen of the trailer it looks very much a shot for shot style of remake, so try and grab a copy of this first, I doubt you will be disappointed. If you can imagine a mix between The Blair Witch Project, Night of the Living Dead and Assault on Precinct 13 you might get an idea of what to expect from this movie.

[REC] is an excellent movie that goes to show the documentary style horror film is far from (un)dead.

Rating 3.5 Stars (out of 4)