Reviews (13)

  • A woman (Nadja Brand) wakes up in a coffin, with a razor blade sewn into her intestines. Once it's removed, she finds herself chained up in a wood and kept prisoner by unnamed man who proceeds to torture her, physically and mentally, until she is, as the title suggests, broken. If 90+ minutes of women screaming and being abused sounds like your idea of fun then, for Christ's sake, don't encourage these sad tendencies by watching films like this, get yourself some professional help! Even ignoring the questionable subject matter (and the fact that it never actually leads to any substantial denouement), the film is bad bad bad. It's under-scripted (it plays like a 10 minute short dragged painfully into full-length), it's over-directed, it's abysmally shot on graceless digital video, it's slow, it's repetitive, it's riddled with continuity errors, it displays no attention to detail and it's completely illogical (ie: how is Brand's make-up so immaculately applied after 40 days of being tortured in a forest?). This is horror made exclusively by and for mentally stunted sociopaths and represents the absolute nadir of the genre for the rest of us. Avoid at all costs. I'm serious.
  • One of the many things I love about DVD, as a medium, is the way that so many wonderful films that never got the video release they so richly deserved have being unearthed from the vaults and unleashed on the viewing public - usually a public that can't even remember them from the first time round at that.

    One such forgotten gem is Ray Brady's "Boy Meets Girl" (1994, UK) which although responsible for huge amounts of controversy upon its theatrical release (BBFC not liking its subject matter, for some reason!), never seems to get mentioned by many folk any more. Luckily, after being banned on video in the UK since its inception, it got a nicely put-together R2 DVD release in 2002 so now there's no excuse for having not seen this terrifying slice of thought-provoking brutality...

    The film begins, as the title suggests, when Boy Meets Girl in that all-too-familiar setting of a divey little bar somewhere. Girl is French, quite the 'randy little tart' it seems, so Boy thinks he's struck lucky, especially when she takes him back to her flat, plies him with wine and asks if he'd like to watch some porn with her. It's all very exciting but after a glass of wine he starts to feel a bit woozy and ... oops! Quicker than you can say "she drugged your drink, dude!", Boy wakes up to find he is in a small room with black walls, strapped into a dentist's chair. Girl is not actually French at all. She's also not particularly nice either. Bad things ensue. VERY bad things... and she wants to film it all.

    I'd love to tell you more, because the way I've put it probably makes it sound like one of the "Guinea Pig" films (which it's quite a far cry from!), but I also don't want to spoil the plot for you. I WILL however go as far as to say, the entire thing takes place in the black room with minimal cast members (which all lends it quite a 'theatrical' feel), so major cred points distributed all round for creating such a continuously tense and edgy atmosphere that keeps you guessing and utterly engrossed right up until the final few grotesque scenes.

    There are so many things in this deeply unusual film's favour that enable it to be so effective. The direction, despite an obvious shoestring budget, manages to be stylish and taut, using camera trickery and plot-contextual switching between film and video to keep things looking lively. The acting is surprisingly strong, considering the relative obscurity of the cast members. Danielle Sanderson (sadly never seen in anything else) is nothing short of unforgettable, playing her unstable character with a disarming mix of light and dark. One minute she's soothing, sensual, almost maternal and the next she's positively fearsome, spewing forth verbal bile with the maniacal savagery. It would be so easy for some of her dialogue to be delivered with a large side order of ham, but Sanderson makes her character believable through the intensity of her performance. I *really* wish she'd made other films. It's tragic to think of such an incredible talent being wasted.

    Of course, what REALLY makes this movie is the razor-sharp script, unpredictable and surprisingly complexed as it is. On top of its constant heartfelt assaults on the (at the time very hot) topic of violence in media, it relishes in playing with your mind and your personal politics, when it comes to morality. The lines between good and evil, right and wrong, continually shift (along with the viewer's sympathies). It's almost disorientating, the way the characterisations manipulate perceptions of what's going on and, by the time the plot reaches its ferociously visceral climax, the impact is made all the greater, because you're being made to THINK about what's going on instead of just watching it through zombified, desensitised eyes.

    "Boy Meets Girl" is one of the more genuinely disturbing films I've seen. Obviously being creeped out by the movies is a very subjective, personal thing but, like I say, this one definitely did it for me. The closest comparisons I could make would be to place it in a similar category to "Man Bites Dog" or "Audition". Fiercely original, darkly comic at times but ultimately very harrowing indeed.

    Overall Rating: A no-budget 9.5 out of 10.
  • "Gin chap hak mooi gwai" (or "The Proteges of the Black Rose") is the latest directorial offering from Donnie Yen, who's probably best known this side of the world for being the fight choreographer on "Blade 2" and the likes. It's his take on the popular Rose Noir superhero myth. Here, Rose (played by HK comedienne Teresa Mo) is presented as an aging, delusional hasbeen with a split personality and a pathological hatred of men. She lives in a huge gothic mansion accompanied only by a robot called Jacket who has been programmed to castrate men on sight, using a huge pair of shears it has strapped to its front.

    The plot begins with Rose, in a rare moment of lucidity, realising that she's over-the-hill for a superheroine and deciding she needs a protege to carry on this line of work for her.

    Enter ubercute Cantonese pop duo The Twins (Gillian Chung and Charlene Choi, whom this film is basically a star vehicle for). Gillian plays Gill, a gifted and intense psychology student prone to violent episodes and random outbursts of kung-fu if anyone ever dares use her last name while talking to her. Charlene is Sandy, a perky young thing who believes herself to be an alien from a planet where everyone looks like the Teletubbies. She lives in and out of single Mum shelters, even though she has no children, claiming that on her planet everyone is called Mum...

    Both girls lose their homes on the same day and meet each other by chance while flathunting. As they skip down the street and decide they're going to be great friends, they come across Rose's "Protege Wanted" ad and decide to visit the gothic mansion to apply for the job. After setting them a couple of traps, which the girls somehow find their way out of, Rose decides they are worthy successors and begins a vigourous training course that includes lots of costume changes, a gratuitous bubble bath, some amazingly weird magic pills and potions (including the Tricky Capsule (easily the funniest scene in the film!)) and a lengthy, side-splitting pastiche of Jackie Chan in "Drunken Master".

    Add to this mix an accident-prone taxi driver called Jim Lo (Ekin Cheung - playing his now customary hapless goofball) who falls in love with Sandy, then top it all off with a supervillain called Miss LavenCam who is terrorising the city with the help of a rogue fashion model and a schoolgirl with mean kung-fu skills, and you've got yourself a recipe for... ...well, one complete mess, to be honest! But it's such a colourful, wildly ridiculous mess that I couldn't help but enjoy it. The production values are surprisingly good, with some wacky over-the-top set/costume designs, sharply directed fight choreography and lively camerawork throughout. I can't really fault the film for trying but I'd warn anyone considering watching it that they need a very high Nonsense Tolerance if they want to make it through the whole thing. Please don't expect it to actually make sense by the end. Also, I should mention to tread carefully as there is a musical number involved and it's sang almost to the tune of "Silent Night". Sadly, Jacket The Robot is the only main cast member to not get involved in the singing...

    All in all though, "Gin chap hak mooi gwai" is a painless, inoffensive and often very amusing way to pass 90 minutes or so of your life and, I guarantee that, in almost every scene, you won't see what's coming until it happens... If you can't raise at least one smile by the end of the film, you should check to see if you even have a pulse left.

    Overall Score: A timekilling and oddly endearing 6.5 out of 10.

    [NOTE: As a bonus for those with masochistic tendencies, there are some torturous 'Engrish' subtitles on the Universe R3 DVD release of this film which make it an even more surreal experience than it's supposed to be. For example, the statement "Compared with those munta you're the best one" is responded to with an equally novel "mutton? yammy yammy!" and my favourite subtitle in the movie has to be "Boss, you picking rubbish again? You become a rich by picking rubbish". Yes, it's painful to read...]
  • Sometimes films just take your breath away. This is one of them, for me. I first saw it when it aired on Channel 4 in the UK in the early 90's and then recently managed to pick up a copy on video. After all these years, it's lost none of the impact it had on me when I first saw it.

    "Rouge" tells the story of two doomed lovers in the early 1930's. He is a high class gentleman, Twelfth Master Chan Chen-Pang, the heir to three successful medicine stores. She is Fleur, a famous courtesan. His parents disapprove of both his choice of lover and also his passion for the Cantonese opera. They are horrified when he decides to give up the shopkeeping business in favour of becoming an actor and immediately order him to return to the family. So he and Fleur take their own lives, vowing to meet up in the afterlife and be together forever. Fifty years later, her ghost returns to the world of the living, still searching for her beloved Twelfth Master.

    On the surface, it's a traditional Chinese romantic ghost story but there's far more lurking underneath. Essentially "Rouge" is a lament on a bygone age of pre-Westernised China, a yearning for a return to the old values, traditions and passions that are now lost beneath the neon lights and soulless rush of modern-day Hong Kong. It's also a lonesome mediation on the nature of trust and the complexity of human relationships with a tragic punchline and a strong sense of alienation running throughout.

    Deeply melancholy, loaded with ravishingly beautiful imagery and haunting performances from the two gifted leads (Anita Mui and the ever-mesmerising Lesley Cheung), "Rouge" is an unforgettable, understated and utterly unique piece of filmmaking. A very strange, subtle blend of genres that floats around the mind long after the end credits have finished rolling. 9 out of 10.
  • I saw my first Miike film, the cinematic suckerpunch of "Audition", about two years ago and, slowly but surely since then, I've been building up my steady little collection of his works as my respect for him grows. Admittedly, as yet, I've barely scratched the surface of his obscenely prolific oevure but with each gem I uncover, it merely reinforces my absolute adoration of unquestionably the most fiercely original filmmaker I've ever encountered. His unflinchingly diverse career is one constant curve ball - I become excited each time I find another film of his because I never have ANY idea what to expect. Not only are two Miike films rarely alike, but the vast majority of his efforts I've seen to date are simply beyond comparison to ANYONE. He ploughs a unique furrow that, rather than imitating the style of his masters, sets new standards in cinema for the rest of the world to, at some stage, catch up with.

    Tonight I watched "The Bird People In China" (made in 1998) which is, without question in my mind, the most mindblowing Miike film I've come across so far. "Bird People" is the type of masterpiece that most directors could never possibly hope to achieve, even after years of practice... But to give you an idea of this man's insane work ethic - he also made three other movies that year.

    Typically genre-bending, "Bird People" begins as a quirky, gently comic adventure story and gradually morphs into a truly epic exploration of the very nature of human emotion, loaded with rare insight, a deep, true warmth and some utterly unforgettable imagery.

    Our strange story begins with Mr Wada (Mashahiro Motoki), a Japanese businessman, being shipped off to China by his company in search of a priceless vein of Jade that can only be found in a small village amongst the unchartered depths of the Yun Nan province. Upon his arrival in the country, he is quickly accosted by Mr Ujiie (Renji Ishibashi), a Yakuza who is owed money by Wada's corporation and intends to collect his debt by following Wada out to the village and usurping some of the Jade. They are to be guided by the perpetually jolly but somewhat seedy Mr Shen, an old Chinese explorer who has been to the Jade Village before.

    It's not long until they're way off the map, stuck on a rickety raft that's pulled by turtles and smack-bang in the middle of a Mountain range. Shen, around this point, has a rather embarrassing incident with hallucinogenic toadstools, bumps his head on a tree and loses his memory of how to find the village. This is when things start getting a little strange, as the three mismatched men find themselves on an overwhelming adventure that will inevitably shape their entire lives and change them all forever.

    To analyse the film's rabid lust-for-life philosophy and examine the complexities of the script would be a media student's dream come true. Rich in symbolism and wild directorial flair, Miike continually pushes the question of whether technological progress, modern day perceptions of civility and even spoken language itself are adversaries or allies to man's untamed nature and desire to be free.

    Yadda-yadda-yadda - I know that, as a subject of discussion, it sounds like old hat (and I'm probably doing little more than making this come across like a glorified road movie) but Miike uses a combination of hugely unpredictable situations, poetic dialogue and some of the most unbelievable, bizarre and downright beautiful imagery I've ever seen. Loaded with breathtaking aerial shots of sumptuous green vistas, the film is shot with such magnificent grace as to make it unrecognisable as more being from the same eye responsible for unleashing the breakneck splatterpunk deathtrip of "Ichi The Killer" upon the world. The crowning jewel, however, is Miike's trademarked humour - self-deprecating, occasionally misanthropic and surreal, but ultimately just very funny indeed. There are many genuine laugh-out-loud moments in amongst the soul-searching and Deep Thoughts (tm), which make the film infinitely more accessible and, well... human.

    Of course, I'm of the firm belief that a film is only as good as its ending and (with the possible exception of "The Wicker Man"), I don't think I've seen one that packs as much of a punch as this one. I have no desire to spoil any second of this movie for anyone, so I'll just say that the final few frames of "The Bird People Of China" are some of the most pleasantly surprising and magically filmed images I've EVER seen - it just left me slack-jawed, reeling with joy and wonder.

    If you're not sold on how much you need to see this film already, I'm afraid there's no hope for you. This is as good as it's ever going to get. Seriously.
  • It's funny how in art, you often see a cycle in which the Masters begin borrowing techniques from the very students they influenced, in turn creating whole new heights for the rest to aspire to. It could be argued that Ken Russell single-handedly pioneered the art of stylised psychosexual horror delirium and he's back to show that no one can do it better. It's a very modernised and flashy approach he uses here though, cribbed from his contemporaries and improved upon greatly. Shot on digital video and employing breakneck editing in the style of Greg Dark or Richard Kern, Russell's latest epic "The Fall of The Louse of Usher" is a whole new plateau of erotic mania for the others to aspire to. I'm not sure Edgar Allen Poe would be fully enjoying it, however...

    Plotwise, it concerns Gothic rock star Roddy Usher (played by Gallon Drunk's James Johnson) who, upon being accused of murdering his wife, Sweet Annabelle Lee, is committed to an insane asylum. Under the care of the maniacal Dr Calahari (Russell himself, with a terrible fake German accent, chewing up the scenery admirably here) and the beautiful Nurse ABC Smith (Tulip Junkie), Roddy is plunged headlong into a roller-coaster ride of nightmare imagery and murder as the lines between reality and insanity blur into one great big psychedelic smudge. Somewhere at the heart of it all is a murder mystery (who killed Sweet Annabelle Lee?) and, amazingly, this is solved by the end. But the mystery itself is merely secondary to all the breathtakingly strange set pieces, bogglingly obscure Poe references and increasingly unpredictable twists in the tale.

    Russell's eye for the bizarre and beautiful hasn't faded with age and, despite its low budget, "Louse" looks sumptuous and outlandisht. The costumes and production design are really quite remarkable, making best possible use out of the most peculiar props he could lay his hands on. Watch out for the tea cosy hat, the blow-up dinosaur dolls, the pharoah mask, the Playstation controller, the bouncy castle and, best of all, the talking 'Big Mouth Billy Bass' ornament (here playing the Egyptian God Osiris) if you don't believe me. On top of the visual weirdness, we're also treated to a series of catchy Gothic rock songs, courtesy of Johnson, that wind up as a cross between Sex Gang Children, Nick Cave and something you'd see at the end of a "Hale and Pace" episode. Astonishingly, this actually works!

    All in all, "Louse" isn't for everybody and if you didn't like Russell before, you're unlikely to appreciate him any more after enduring 90 minutes of this feverish plunge into the depths of his twisted mind. However, if you've a taste for genuinely weird cinema or fancy a colourful, entertaining change of pace from the dreary toss that passes for alternative film-making these days, I'd highly recommend it. For my mileage, it's just another shining jewel in his crown that reaffirms Russell as being the greatest imagination working in cinema today. I only have two questions: When can I buy the soundtrack? And where is Ken Russell's knighthood already? 9 out of 10.
  • What can I say? If I've seen a film worse than this, it certainly doesn't spring to mind right now. I managed to get to the first screening in the local area and, even though the audience was fairly small, I still counted eleven people who walked out at various points in the movie and never came back. Now either Michael Myers slashed them up on their way to the lavatories or, like me, they were bored stiff by this absolute CLUNKER of a flick.

    The plot, or what little semblance there is of one, is simple yet completely ludicrous. An organisation called Dangertainment, headed by the entrepreneurial Freddie Harris (Busta Rhymes), gets together a group of six students (!) to spend the night in serial killer Michael Myers' childhood home, in the hope that they will "find clues" as to what drove Myers to kill and kill again. Quite why, 25 years on from the murders, they think they will achieve anything by sending a group of teenagers into a house that, in the real world, would probably have long been demolished, is beyond me. Surely it is the job of police psychologists to dissect the minds of serial killers anyway? The film conveniently forgets the previous five sequels (with the exception of "H20"; this gets an irrelevant reference in the gratuitous opening scenes which serve merely as an excuse to waste Jamie Lee Curtis' talents in some customary 'running around' antics) and throws us almost immediately into the environment of the house, where each of the six kids are given a little handy-cam to strap to their heads and told to go searching for clues... You with me so far? Well, that's pretty much all there is to it. Needless to say, Myers himself shows up at the house about 10 minutes into the movie (how? why?) and decides he wants to kill everybody one by one, in the style we've now become accustomed to.

    This paper-thin tale is told so badly, it's almost hard to believe what you're seeing on screen and that anyone was dumb enough to spend time and money filming it. I suppose you could almost see it like a series of noisy soundbites strung together randomly. It keeps things simplistic to the point of being nonsensical, presumably to avoid confusing its target audience of dribbling inbreds. I think I could've written a better, more entertaining and reasonable script myself on the back of a beermat. Nothing is ever explained or justified, no matter how implausible and ridiculous things get, and yet, bogglingly, the film still seems to take itself fairly seriously. It tries desperately to shock with a series of boring but bloody knife murders (nothing we haven't seen ad nauseam in any of the previous films) and innumerable 'false' scares with flashlights and toys falling out of cupboards. It's all so by-the-books and done-to-death that you'd have to have never seen a single horror film in your life to find it even remotely tense or scary.

    I think what bugs me the most about the film is just how terribly made it is. Even forgetting the GAPING plot holes, there are loads of obvious continuity errors and a sad, desperate style of direction that seems to drag every scene to the point of agony in a desperate attempt to pad out the already-short running time of the film. The cast do nothing to help things - all the characters are cardboard stereotypes and the ugly, plastic teens seem to be having a battle to see who can be the most skin-crawlingly irritating. I think it ends up as a tie between Katee Sachoff's hyperactive, squeaky airhead and Bianca Kajlich's jitterbug 'heroine', who spends the entire movie simpering and screaming loudly every time someone drops a pin. Oh, for the record, Busta Rhymes is absolutely ATROCIOUS in this. His entire purpose in this movie seems to be to deliver the worst examples of wisecrack-by-numbers dialogue I've ever heard (ie: "Trick or treat, motherf**ker?") and he plays his role as a cross between Eddie Murphy and Vin Diesel, but without the charm or charisma of either.

    I'd like to say John Carpenter would be ASHAMED to see such a horrible mess made out of his characters, but when you consider the maestro himself is making films almost as bad as this these days, he probably couldn't give a toss so long as the money keeps rolling in. I think this fact in itself proves just how much horror movies have changed since the first "Halloween" was made and, to its credit, "Halloween Resurrection" would be a perfect example of an "of its time" product you could stick in an 'early 21st century' time capsule for future generations to balk at. It is every bit as throwaway and pointless as the culture that spawned it. It is loud, crass and in-your-face constantly, despite having absolutely nothing to say when it gets there - it's like the movie equivalent of an annoying little brat screaming at you, desperate for attention. "Look at me! Look at me! I'm being noisy and irritating!"... I would highly advise, for your sanity's sake, that you don't look since, like that annoying child, you'll only encourage it and I, for one, don't think I could cope with another sequel this bad... This film is utter garbage and I fail to think of a single way in which they could've made it any worse. A resounding 0 out of 10.
  • I first began my relationship with "Death Ship" when I were a lad growing up in the Heart of England - we had a little video library in our village that had quite a nice selection of horrors and I was always fascinated by the garish, ghoulish box art... Oh, and there were few as ghoulish as the spooky cover of "Death Ship", which I vividly remember recreating with pencil sketches in my schoolbooks. We rented it and I have VERY vague recollections of it not being very good but I never got round to see it as an adult. When the video certification act came to pass in 1984, "Death Ship" (rated X) was removed from the shelves, never to be released again in the UK. Which brings us to the present day - after all these years, I finally score a copy by chance, excitedly bring it home and, with a set belief in my mind that it's going to be a huge disappointment and a rubbish movie, I line up the alcoholic anathestic and push the tape into the cringing VCR... To my surprise, "Death Ship" turns out to be a winner! In fact, I'd file it quite high up in my "Lost Gems" folder - quite why this one has been resigned to the Dustbin of History and the Golden Turkey awards is beyond me. I was greatly impressed!

    The plot is reasonably simple but inarguably bizarre. In the opening scenes, a luxury cruise ship packed with holidaymakers collides with some kind of ghastly black vessel in the middle of the ocean. The cruiser sinks, killing almost everyone on board. There are only about eight survivors who sit floating in a lifeboat, waiting for someone to come and rescue them... Unfortunately the only sign of life for miles is this horrific looking black ship that's just lingering ominously in the ocean. The cruiser's curmudgeonly Captain (George Kennedy) is becoming increasingly ill, having nearly drowned, so the group of survivors decide that they will have to board the evil looking vessel in order to get food, drink and shelter. It doesn't take long to find that the ship is completely deserted and, although no one can rationalise how or why, it seems to be running itself! Worse still, we start to see through a series of unusual events (ie: people being hit over the head with flying objects, doors locking folks in spooky old rooms) that the ship appears to want its new passengers offboard as soon as possible.

    It's all quite "Twilight Zone" to begin with but as the film moves along, it gets increasingly horrific and frenzied, hurtling towards a (quite literally) crushing climax. The film is shot mostly onboard the ship and it's a wonderfully unpleasant set. From the moment they first board and get covered with oil and grease, you can virtually smell the rust on the ancient machinery and, as it develops, the stench of putrefaction. Oh, and THE SMELL OF FEAR (oh c'mon, it's a George Kennedy movie, I had to make at least one "Naked Gun" joke!)... Seriously though, it's clearly low budget, but I really enjoyed the rough and raw directorial style - the darkness and the frequent use of shaky, hand-held camera angles and really lend it an air of madness and menace. I felt the energy of the direction coupled with such genuinely ugly and sinister set pieces combined to create a very unique atmosphere that is, from start to finish, thoroughly unpleasant. There are certain scenes, mostly in the chaotic second half, which just make your skin crawl - the murder scenes aren't particularly *gory* as such, but they're shot in such a feverish manner as to prove really quite unsettling indeed. When the real identity of the ship is finally revealed and we discover what befell of the 'crew', it's an almighty suckerpunch and, again, the use of maniacal camera-work and some utterly disgusting sets just add to the overall effect.

    As I said before, I can't understand why "Death Ship" gets such a bad rap. As a haunted house movie, it's one of the better ones I've seen - on top of the rabid direction and deathlike atmosphere, we even have some real quality actors in this one (Kennedy is particularly menacing as the cruiser Captain whom the death ship begins to drive slowly mad) *AND* a cracking script to boot. The storyline moves at just the right pace (the first half builds up creepily and then the second one is a breakneck descent into the inferno) and it's unusual enough to make "Death Ship" an extremely memorable horror movie. I'd give this one an easy 8 out of 10 on the Horror-O-Meter. If you can find a copy, it's well worth seeing!
  • "The Gruesome Twosome" has a simple plot. Old Mrs Pringle (Elizabeth Davies) lives in a lovely little house just outside a Miami University Campus and runs a high quality wig shop from within it. Her son, Rodney (Chris Martell), who's a little simple in the head, helps her out. His speciality is procuring the real human hair that goes into making these wonderful wigs. Unfortunately for the local students, this involves the brutal killing and scalping of every beautiful young girl who is lured into the house under the pretense of finding a room to rent. But hey, don't blame Rodney, it's not his fault - he's a child trapped in a man's body and his domineering Mother dearest (accompanied at all times by her stuffed bobcat, Napoleon) continually threatens him with the prospect of being sent to "the place where bad boys go" if he doesn't carry out her murderous desires.

    Sounds from that like it could be one of a million naff exploitation movies churned out by the late 60's but this one has the distinction of being directed by the undisputed king of the genre, Herschell Gordon Lewis. As a result the film is loaded with the same kind of screwball, absurdist humour as found in his "She Devils On Wheels" opus (shot virtually back to back with this'un), mixed in with the trademarked ultraviolence of his earlier splatterfests. Hilariously, as revealed in the commentary on the recent DVD release of this, much of the humour was derived unintentionally from the fact that they shot far too little footage on the set and were forced to pad out the 75 minute running time with lingering scenes of very bizarre activity that was never in the original script. For example, the film opens with a camp 7 minute conversation between two wig blocks painted to look like garish pink Mr Potato Heads. We also have an outlandish, almost dadaist "film within a film" sequence at the Drive-In in which a young female tries to seduce a gluttonous Ray Sagar ("The Wizard Of Gore") who is more concerned with squashing peaches and stuffing his face with potato chips than he is with her wily charms. However, even discounting the unintentional comedy resulting from the timing mix-ups, Lewis still manages to cram in plenty of deliberate gags from his cast of kooky, colourful characters. We have a quirky heroine, Cathy Baker (played by the delicious model/actress Gretchen Welles), who is an overzealous and fairly inept Nancy Drew type attending the local university and is forever trying and failing to solve mini-mysteries, such as the whereabouts of her friend's pet parrot (she believes they ate it the previous day in a pot pie!). We have a creepy caretaker on campus who happens to be a bone smuggler (!) when he leaves work. We have extended scenes of pseudo-go-go dancing from the female students (including one where they all bop around waving legs of Kentucky Fried Chicken, as part of a product placement agreement Lewis scored with the fast food chain who, in turn, fed the entire cast and crew!). To cap it all off, we're even treated to a bikini beach party scene *AND* a stock car demolition derby! Anyone seeking prime 60's trash will be in Heaven here!

    But it's not all fruitcake comedy. Gorefiends will delight in the extended sequences of scalpings, decapitations, disembowellings and eyeball gougings, shot in squishy, sickening close-up and rich with Lewis' beloved "red glop". It's strange that even over 30 years on from the Godfather Of Gore's heyday, no one has, in my mind, been able to out-gross him on the slippery viscera scale. The violence in "The Gruesome Twosome" is as stomach-wrenching today as it was in 1967.

    Whilst not as seminal as "Blood Feast", as shocking as "2000 Maniacs" nor as trashy as "She Devils On Wheels", "The Gruesome Twosome" is nonetheless probably Lewis' weirdest finished product and, as a result, an essential part of his oeuvre. It's obvious from the DVD commentary that he still views the film with great affection and you should too. It's a gem.
  • Looking at the packaging to this lost classic, I was expecting a real crummy slice of early 70's schlock, hence why I took so long to actually put the tape into the VCR, so it was a total surprise when it turned out to be a genuinely very haunting, beautifully made creepfest.

    The plot's fairly simple, for anyone who hasn't seen it, involving as it does a pure-as-the-driven snow church girl, Lila Lee, (of an unspecified age but I'm guessing around 13/14?) who receives a letter from the mysterious "Lemora" asking her to come out to some remote town in the middle of nowhere to see her long-lost gangster Father as he lies on his deathbed. Needless to say, Lemora is not all she appears to be and the mysteries surrounding her ominous precense unfold slowly but with a powerfully creepy vibe throughout the film's running time.

    I was really taken aback by the care which appeared to go into making the film - the soundtrack, both musically and (more to the point) the sound effects themselves, were magnificently done with lots of 'night time' sounds quite high in the mix and some really appropriately done 'scare' noises, such as a scene in which Lila is attacked by a ghoul after taking a bath, which is punctuated by an intense high-pitched shrieking noise getting progressively higher in pitch as the scene goes on... it's maybe not the smartest trick in the book but it makes the scene a *LOT* more effective and it's little touches like this which made the movie. Same goes for the imagery, which is often very surreal and frightening. Much of the film is shot in the dark and usually if something comes out of the shadows, it's something horrible that you don't want to see! There are some beautifully done shots though, such as the one in which Lila discovers Lemora's vampirism by watching her through the window as she bites a young child - the way the shot is set up, I thought was very nicely done indeed... It may not be Mario Bava but then, if it was, it'd probably not be anywhere near as affecting - there's something about the subtlety of the film which gives it a low-key, moody edge.

    There's very little gore, no real nudity and nothing that smacks of the exploitation clichés the packaging suggests. The much-touted 'lesbianism' angle on the back of the box is played as merely a quiet subtext, adding yet another pleasingly understated edge to the movie.

    I dunno *just* how obscure this movie is, but it definitely doesn't deserve to be. I was very very impressed - it's a dark fairytale in the same vein as some of Jean Rollin's stuff but with a much more coherent narrative, none of the more explicit 'erotic' elements and a strange innocence to it which makes it all the creepier... Most of the film is seen through a child's eyes and many of the scares play on childhood fears, or at least things that would've creeped *me* out tremendously as a child and still lurk around at the back of 'ye olde braine'... There's little moments, like when Lila wakes up in 'the stone room' and looks through the bars to see laughing, dancing shadows behind the curtains in the mansion window nearby... urrgh, difficult to even explain why, but things like this *REALLY* give me the shivers. That probably sounds crass and silly the way I've written it, but trust me on this one, "Lemora" is one seriously unnerving little gem of a film and a must for anyone into horror cinema IMHO.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    ***SPOILERS*** ***SPOILERS*** Ahh...

    It would be no exagerration to liken "She Devils On Wheels", an epic HG Lewis tragedy, to the writings of Shakespeare. It is quite possibly the "Godfather of Gore"'s masterpiece, his "Hamlet" and his "Romeo and Juliet" in one.

    The plot revolves around the Maneaters, a gang of motorcycle riding women, bent on smashing their gender roles, treating their menfolk like slaves and riding hard on 'the strip' (they may ride hard but certainly not fast... the girls' bikes move at a leaden, snail-like pace - no doubt a sly metaphor to represent that although the girls may appear to be riding fast, their lives are, essentially, going nowhere). There are many deep-running conflicts within the Maneaters, too complicated to go into here in full detail, but most notably the feud between leader Queenie and fairly recent member Karen is the one that creates the most tension. It's obvious that Queenie is jealous of the younger, more glamorous Karen and when Karen keeps winning the Maneaters' races, Queenie decides to put her in her place with a scene easily as devastatingly powerful as anything from Shakespeare's "Titus Andronicus". Karen, it seems, has fallen in love with one of the 'Studs' (a group of highly inbred-looking 'men' that the Maneaters keep at their shack as sex slaves) and when Queenie finds out, she ties him to the back of Karen's bike and issues the ultimatum - either Karen rides across the strip with her lover tied to the back of her hog, or Queenie rides across the strip with Karen in tow! As the bewildered Karen drives across the strip, her lover turning to a bloodied pulp in gruelling detail, I swear there isn't a dry eye in the house. It tugs at the heartstrings, readers, let me tell you that... Christ, I'm choking up just writing about it.

    As the plot unfolds from this pivotal scene, a rival gang, led by the evil misogynist Joe-Boy, get into a fierce argument with the Maneaters over who owns 'the strip' which escalates into a war of violence, betrayal and eventually, murder in clearly a homage to Shakespeare's Montague/Capulet feud. What makes it more complicated is that one of the male gang's brothers is Karen's ex-boyfriend who still holds a flame for her and is heartbroken to see her throw her life away with the Maneaters. As I say, we're talking a seriously tangled web of complexed, strong emotions here - the parallel to the Bard's work is especially hammered home as a variety of scenes are delivered using poetry and verse. Whilst Shakespeare will be forever renowned for his masterly sonnets, Lewis prefers to use the more unorthodox, less highly rated poetic technique - the limerick. Witness one Maneater recount a slightly modified version of a classic, as Lewis pays tribute to great limericks of a forgotten age - "There was a young girl from Calcutta / Who covered her (cough cough) in butter / She thought it too greasy / But it slipped in easy / It's a trick that she learnt from her mutha"... ahh, the greats.

    Despite being rife with stark imagery (who can forget the sight of the seemingly endless footage of the girls "trippin'" down a single carriageway at 30mph in a zone clearly marked 55mph?) and clever, sharp dialogue ("We ain't no daisy pickin' broads, we're the Maneaters!"), Lewis' film is ultimately nihilistc, carrying a very dark tone as it explores the fractured psyches of its tortured lead characters. It touches on the emptiness of sexual relations; a recurring theme enforced by the clever directorial trick that no-one even gets into any state of real undress, let alone actually has sex, despite constantly talking about it. Again, it reinforces the point that the shallow goals which drive the main characters to their actions will essentially be disappointing and leave them with nothing - the sheer futility of it all is presented as bleakly as possible with the stunningly grim finale - a horrific centrepiece in the form of a surprise decapitation followed by an ambiguous 'ending' which makes us ask the question: "WHY!?" WHY, DAMNIT, WHY!? There is no triumph of good or evil; no heroes in this film... Two of the girls return, post-credits, with what may well be the answer, in the form of a limerick, naturally. Truly one of the great classics of 20th century cinema, "She Devils on Wheels" holds its own easily against the works of Kurosawa, Godard and Bergman.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    "Frightmare" is one of those films that sticks in your mind from the moment you first see it which, considering the relative daftness of its basic premise, is some achievement. Rupert Davis and the always-excellent Sheila Keith are both on top form as Edmund and Dorothy Yates, a married couple who, in 1957, are deemed insane in a court of law and sentenced to spend their lives in an asylum until such time as they are deemed "fit to take their place in society". Their offence? Well, it seems Dorothy has been committing acts of "pathological cannibalism" (or to put it simply, she's been killing folk and eating their craniums for a little while now) whilst Edmund, despite not being involved directly, is also labelled mad for not trying to stop her even though he was fully aware of her unusual activities.

    Fifteen years down the line and they are both "cured" for all intents and purposes, thus let out and sent off to live in a creepy old farmhouse somewhere in the countryside of South-East England. Possibly not a good idea. Edmund has acquired a job chauffeuring around a local aristrocrat but during those long, lonely days at the farm cottage, it doesn't too long before Mrs Yates is looking for something to occupy her time productively. She takes out an advert in London magazine Time Out offering her services as a tarot reader and before long is visited regularly by lost souls looking for guidance. The bulk of her visitors are utterly lonely individuals, no friends, no lovers, no family to speak of and you're probably already ahead of me if you've guessed that when Dorothy draws the DEATH card, it's a lot more literal than you might expect. Yes, she's back to her old "pathological cannibalism" tricks, killing folk and eating their craniums... Crikey! But to make things even more interesting, Edmund has a daughter from a previous marriage who was old enough at the time of her father being committed to be aware of his circumstances. She now lives in London and is also currently the legal guardian of her younger sister, Edmund and Dorothy's only biological daughter together, who was born the very year her parents were locked away and believes them to be dead. The plot thickens somewhat here but to tell any more would be really spoiling things. Trust me though, it's good stuff.

    But, as I say, it sounds like a reasonably standard issue horror premise you might think, but in the hands of Walker and his screen writing partner-in-crime David McGillivray, it becomes something entirely more powerful. As with "House of Whipcord", Walker uses much inspired photography and gifted use of light and locations to create a grimy atmosphere of unpleasantness that gives you the creeps without once employing the standard "creepy" clichés. The scenes in the farmhouse manage to pull off a genuine sense of menace even before anything particularly nasty has happened. By the time the seriously horrible stuff starts, the tension has already reached fever-pitch and you're balanced on the edge of your seat, biting your nails and shrieking like a schoolgirl. The quality of the acting (quite rare for a film of "Frightmare"'s budget) helps too, although none of the actors give a particularly 'conventional' performance. In honesty, I could imagine some of them would be quite bad indeed in the hands of a lesser director but somehow Walker manages to extract a strange, hard-to-explain intensity from even the least 'naturally' talented cast members. Needless to say this means that with someone as strong an actress as Sheila Keith, we're talking a tour-de-force performance! As Dorothy she is quite unforgettable, playing a genuinely very disturbed, horribly lunatic individual without once resorting to hokiness or hamming it up. Instead, aided by the strength of the screenplay, she gives Dorothy a worrying sense of genuine pathos - she honestly believes the people she kills are so lost and lonely they would be better off without life and, on top of that, McGillivray and Walker even provide a legitimate, believable reasoning behind her cannibalism, all too rare in this type of film. When this pathos is coupled with the extremity of her nastiness and complete insanity, it leaves us, by the final reel, with a genuinely very threatening, very unpredictable and seemingly very, very *REAL* terror.

    Of course, the final reel is another kettle of fish altogether, worthy of paragraph upon paragraph of analysis - sadly, that would be spoiling things. Let's just say that by the end of the film, there have been so many stones overturned and everyone seems so dysfunctional that, as a viewer, you're thrown into a state of sheer confusion, having no idea how things will end. By the time the final, mortifying frame freezes on the screen and the credits begin to roll, you're left mindblown. It's a depraved and wild plot line so loaded with twisted-up Freudian implications that even Andy Milligan would be proud - in fact, it's very nearly like watching an Andy Milligan movie as shot by Hitchcock at times... which, as anyone who's ever come across Milligan would testify to, is a mightily strange and heady experience indeed... Oh, and, trust me, after watching "Frightmare" you may never be able to hear the sound of a Black and Decker power drill again without a very, very cold shiver running down your spine...

    I'm sure I don't need to harp on much more - I consider this an absolute classic of British horror. I think it's a crying shame that Walker is often lumped in with his budgetary peers from the Euro-sleaze market when a film as brilliant as "Frightmare" could quite easily wee from a great height on Hammer's entire 1970's output in the 'outright terror' stakes alone. Intense, intelligent and... invigorating. They *REALLY* do not make horror anywhere near this good any more, more's the pity.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    "House of Whipcord" is a truly great film so don't be fooled by its appearance. Criminally underrated director Pete Walker lends his amazing hand (and indeed eye) to a premise that could've been a recipe for cheap sexploitation disaster (ie: a group of nubile young girls are stripped'n'whipped) yet instead ends up as an exercise in atmospheric intensity, surreal political allegory and surprising restraint on the blood and nudity front.

    To elaborate a tad on the strippin'n'whippin' premise, our heroine is a young French girl called Anne Marie (Penny Irving) who has come to London to do some modelling work for the 'arty' w*** mag Escort. One night at a party she meets a tall, dark, handsome stranger by the name of Mark E. Dessard (pronounced like Marquis De Sade, geddit?), who purports to be a writer and swiftly seduces our heroine in a series of quite moody sequences, including an edgily erotic and actually rather tense scene in which the two go out for a meal together and Mark tests her levels of trust for him. It doesn't take long for him to talk her into coming out to the countryside with him to meet his Mother and before you can say "wasn't the name a dead giveaway?" he's driven her out into a vast Gothic mansion in the middle of Nowhere and abandoned her... Trouble is afoot, especially when she's greeted by the cruel yet almost childlike Bates (portrayed with an unnerving dementia by Dorothy Gordon) who takes her into the grimy, unpleasant depths of the house and demands that she strips. Obviously, Anne Marie is shocked by the request and quite unwilling to do as Bates suggests. However, it doesn't take long before the far more sinister and sadistic warder, Walker (played with supercharged and scary androgynous sex drive by the excellent Sheila Keith) shows the young model the price she has to pay for disobedience.

    As the superbly scripted plot unfolds, we learn (don't worry, no severe spoilers) that the house is ran by the clearly very unhinged Mrs Wakehurst (who is Mark E's mum) and the partially blind, senile ex-high court judge Justice Bailey, both very strict puritans who believe that even the slightest breach of 'the law of the land' (in Anne Marie's case, doing "shameless" nude modelling in public) deserves an appropriate punishment.

    I know what you're thinking, this all sounds like a surefire recipe for a constant barrage of cheap lines and bad set-ups for explicit sex or OTT scenery chewing. You couldn't be further from the truth however. Walker directs "House of Whipcord" with a very dark, fearsome intensity that appears to come from the heart and a distinct lack of either unpleasant gore, extended whipping sequences or even much nudity. Instead, he concentrates his attentions on the mood, which is bleak throughout most of the movie, framing beautifully Gothic shots through the eyes of nooses (hanging plays a very macabre and unsettling role in the story as it develops) and using his camera to fire up the viewer's mind into imagining far worse atrocities than those actually being committed on screen.

    Walker also manages to extract tour-de-force performances from the majority of his cast, not least of all Barbara Markham, who's insane portrayal of Mrs Wakehurst begins by being horribly effective and ends at the point of absolute mania - the final sequence in the film is horrifying, utterly unexpected and genuinely tragic, playing heavily on the deterioration of Wakehurst's mental state that has been building up from the first moment she appears on screen. To compliment the ferociousness of the performances, the mood of the direction and the tragedy of the storyline, David McGillivray's screenplay (based on Pete Walker's original ideas) is loaded with sharp exchanges of words, psychological abuse and, at times, damn near poetic speeches that make the characters believable and, in many cases, downright scary.

    "House of Whipcord" goes far beyond your average sexploitation movie of its time and is clearly the work of a man with intentions stretching way beyond his form, or possibly just a man wanting to subvert the conventions of it. Bursting with barbed assaults on the British justice system and attacks on organised religion that would make De Sade himself proud, "House of Whipcord" stands the test of time as an engrossing, beautifully filmed and fierce piece of angry, heartfelt film-making. Highly recommended.