Tuesday, 21 July 2015

london film and comic con 2015

i wasn't sure whether to go to lfcc this year. it should be exactly my kind of thing – i'm a ‘geek’ i suppose (although i fucking hate that word – a geek is what tyrone power turns into at the end of nightmare alley, and i’m sure as fuck not that), i like comics and movies and i like the idea of meeting the people who make the things that i like, even though i know if i actually talk to any of them i’ll be all starstuck and will probably make it weird. it was because of this that i decided to attend one such event about four years ago.

i think it was the year david tennant was going to be there, i remember that being a big deal. i went on my own because i couldn’t find anyone to go with, so i was already freaking out about that (whereas these days i kind of prefer doing stuff on my own). i suffer with anxiety sometimes. not all the time, i’m sure a lot of people have it worse than i do, but the idea of making my way across london on my own at that time was fucking terrifying. i thought that would be the worst part, but it wasn’t. it was getting there to find a queue a mile long, knowing that all those people and all the people behind me would be inside that building, all at the same time. i tried to comfort myself with the fact that the place looked pretty huge, this was at earl’s court i think, and maybe i'd meet some nice people, but it was all a bit weird and i was too shy to make friends with the doctor who's and master chiefs and commander shepard’s in the queue. i’m building this up too much, making out like there’s some big climax to the story. there isn’t, i made it inside, had a panic attack, and then when a friendly steward asked if he could help i basically ran outside. i was too embarrassed to go back in.

it’s fucked, i’ve been to gigs where i’ve pushed my way to the front of the crowd, dodging elbows in a fucking moshpit, just to see a band i like and that’s been fine, but for some reason, maybe because of the travel or the fact i was on my own or whatever, i couldn’t handle it. so i never went to another one. until last weekend.

i don’t know why i decided to go to this one, i mean , it’s not like i had a burning desire to meet any of the guests. i think as each year passes and these events get bigger i just feel like i should be there, like it’s my thing, where my people will be. my people used to be the pierced, tattooed kids dressed in black at metal gigs, but i was more into being part of the crowd than the music i think. it seems like right now i’m mostly into movies and videogames and here’s a place where all the people who are into movies and videogames (and comics and books) go to hang out. so i should be there too.

so i was there and it was fine. i didn’t freak out, not even when the district line was closed and i had to squeeze onto a packed tube to take a route i hadn’t planned, then walk across an area of london i’ve never seen before. there were times on that journey i almost turned around and came home. at one point on the crowded tube train i thought about just staying on the train until it reached the end of the line, but then i saw freddy krueger standing on the train with scorpion and subzero and i remembered where i was going. later i was walking along an endless road following vague directions on my phone thinking i was lost and considered turning back, but then i saw mad max and poison ivy walking in the same direction and i realised i wasn’t lost at all. when i made it to kensington olympia i saw batman and he waved at me, and i knew i was home.

inside it was super hot and crowded and crazy. it was everything i was worried it was going to be, only a million times worse. but it was okay, because every time i looked up i’d see a dinosaur made of balloons, or a skinny bane or one of a hundred deadpools and that made me smile. i don’t think it was the crowds and the heat that made me have a panic attack last time, i think i was scared of something else. i think i just didn’t get it. i think i get it now.

i still didn’t talk to anyone, maybe next time. i stared at a few celebrities from a distance. i thought about going to talk to gemma whelan because yara greyjoy is like my favourite character in game of thrones and she didn’t have much of a queue, but i got scared so i just stood and stared at her. i tried to stare at iain glen because he’s fucking hot even though he’s probably older than my dad, but when i did manage to push through the hayley atwell queue to get to where he was supposed to be sitting there was just an empty chair, so i’m guessing he was on lunch or not there that day. i gave tom savini a nod which he didn’t see, but if he had it would have been a nod that said ‘my brother made me watch your shit when i was like 3 and it turned me onto horror movies’. i tried to catch jennifer rubin’s eye so i could give her a look that said ‘you were a fucking badass in dream warriors and i wanted to be you when i was a kid’ but she didn’t see me. she had a huge queue anyway.

i know, i could probably go and talk to these people, but just being among them was enough, this time. i also wondered if i’d ever have my own table there. i know that sounds ridiculous, but i’m serious. dieter laser from human centipede 1 and 3 called me a genius on twitter a couple of weeks ago, and maybe he's onto something. i’m still planning on starting my youtube channel this year, and i know i’ve been saying that forever, but it’s going to happen. maybe if it takes off i could be sitting next to james remar (who has aged remarkably well) or motherfucking hodor or even a power ranger – i’d settle for sitting next to a power ranger.

you probably aren’t interested in my narcissistic fame fantasties. it was a fucking cool event, if you like stuff you should go. do what i did, go later in the day, it gets a bit calmer in the afternoon on the sunday but most of the cool things and the cool people are still there. next time i’ll take pictures, i promise.

Sunday, 19 July 2015

the adventures of buckaroo banzai across the 8th dimension

sometimes when i meet someone new i’ll casually throw a buckaroo banzai reference into the conversation. if they get it, they’re cool. if not … well, if you don’t get buckaroo banzai then i’m not interested in talking to you. and if your defence is that you’ve never seen it, then read on.

i have, on occasion, encountered individuals who have witnessed mr. banzai’s first (and unfortunately only) adventure and professed not to like it. these people are the enemies of all that is awesome and should not be given the time of day. should you wish to arm yourself with an arsenal of reasons why buckaroo banzai is one of, if not the greatest film ever made please refer to the list below.

one - it’s really funny, but in it’s own unique way. this is why i like people who get buckaroo banzai, because it has it’s own offbeat sense of deadpan humour. the story follows a scientist/rockstar/adventurer and his band, the hong kong cavaliers, as they take on duelling alien races who have chosen earth as their battleground. that explanation kind of makes it sound normal, but there’s so much more to it than that. part of what makes the humour work is that the actors take all of it incredibly seriously. this isn’t one of those tongue-in-cheek, knowing wink at the audience pseudo-spoof films, this is a serious sci-fi-action-adventure that happens to have been written by someone with a sense of humour.

two – there is a huge amount of imagination and creativity on display here. why the plot is ultimately good guys vs. aliens, it is executed in a most bizarre and innovative way. the way the film is constructed is almost like the spaceship built by lord john whorfin; it’s a mishmash of tropes and movie iconography, all thrown together in a way that works but when you look at the bigger picture it shouldn’t really work at all. like buckaroo himself everything about this film is a mixture of different elements – a bit of sci-fi here, a bit of western there and if we’re ever in any doubt about the filmmakers' ability to pull this off there’s a pinch of satire sprinkled over the whole thing that makes it clear there is more going on here than is obvious at first glance. the film stops these disparate elements from tearing it apart through the force of it’s imagination. there are things here you will never see in any other film, and that strength of creativity has not diminished over the years.

three – the performances in this film really make it work. let’s take banzai himself, played by peter weller. with so many elements thrown in, banzai could easily become a caricature. he’s part john wayne, part james bond, part elvis – how could anyone play that seriously? weller not only plays it straight, he adds layers of complexity to what could easily be a comic book character. rather than heroic and impulsive he makes banzia softspoken and contemplative. as a viewer, you never doubt that banzai knows exactly what he’s doing at all times and it’s because of weller’s performance that this works. he is supported by an amazing cast including ellen barkin, jeff goldblum, clancy brown, christopher lloyd and john lithgow who delivers a career defining performance with his portrayal of john whorfin. with a cast like that, all doing a great job, how can this not be considered one of the greatest films ever made?

four – it manages to take itself seriously and be a lot of fun at the same time. i know that’s one of those things that people say a lot, that it’s just a bit of fun so stop over-analysing it. firstly, buckaroo banzai is more than a bit of fun, there is a lot to analyse here, but secondly it really is fun. usually when people say that about blockbusters, my argument is that i really didn’t have fun watching the giant robots hitting each other in a computer-generated mist through which the action is incoherent at best. but with buckaroo banzai if you want to switch off and just have fun with a movie, there is much fun to be had here.

five – the greatest end title sequence ever filmed. i’m not explaining that one, just watch it, although it is worth pointing out that wes anderson referenced the ending in the life aquatic.

there are issues, sure. the female characters don’t come off particularly well in the film and at one point are excluded from the discussions the boys are holding in their den. but i wondered if this was intentional and to do with a comment on the way women were being portrayed in films at the time. after all, the leader of the nice aliens is presented as female, and at one stage barkin’s character reveals an uncanny understanding of the inter-dimensional science buckaroo is exploring, so it seems unlikely that this was casual, throwaway misogyny. i wondered if part of the point of the film was that so often the fate of the world depends on boys playing kids games. the hong kong cavaliers often come across as kids playing with guns, and maybe that’s intentional too. maybe there is a point about how our impending doom can be brought about and stopped by boys playing with guns, but outside of that the rest of the world keeps turning.

there are similar musings on what the film is about from the very people who made it, most of whom appear in some form or another on the blu-ray special features. the vintage documentary, deleted scenes and commentary (in which director w.d. richter treats the film as a documentary on the real life adventures of the banzai institute) all appeared on the earlier dvd release but are worth revisiting. there are also fascinating new interviews with weller and lithgow, a visual essay and screening of a q&a with weller and lithgow quizzed by kevin smith. together these extras make this the definitive release of buckaroo banzai and one worth picking up even if you own the dvd.

the only real criticism you can level at buckaroo banzai is that the promised sequel never materialised, but at least with this superb blu-ray release you can relive the magic of one of the greatest films ever made in its best ever presentation to date. that way you will be fully prepared for the moment someone you’ve just met asks you, ‘why is there a watermelon there?’

arrow video release buckaroo banzai on blu-ray on 20th july 2015

Thursday, 16 July 2015

the vatican tapes - soundtrack review

the vatican tapes is an exorcism movie about a 27-year-old woman possessed by a demon that could be the devil himself. the only person who can prevent the total destruction of the world as we know it is a vatican priest played by michael pena. it’s like the exorcist turned up to eleven, and it sounds amazing.

the score is by joseph bishara, one of the most prominent and influential composers in the horror genre. his filmography reads like a list of the best horror movies of the last ten years, including insidious, the conjuring and dark skies. he also worked with darren lynn bousman on the score for 11-11-11 (which i reviewed here) and produced the music for bousman’s cult horror musicals the devil’s carnival and repo! the genetic opera. in addition to composing the music for horror films bishara also acts in them, having played supernatural creatures in both the conjuring and insidious.

from the opening track on the vatican tapes score, it’s clear why bishara has earned himself such a prestigious reputation. this is creepy, unsettling stuff; a mix of low piano tones and a cacophony of wind instruments with an ominous choral backing track, all building to an apocalyptic conclusion. bishara’s score does exactly what a good horror movie score is supposed to do – it suggests a sense of dread and creeping terror to accompany the dread and creeping terror onscreen. what is less common is a horror soundtrack that is this effective on its own. it’s impossible not to feel chills down the spine listening to bishara’s score. it sounds like music made my demons, like you’re listening to a band playing from the hottest nightclub in hell. there’s something otherworldly and supernatural about the music and it’s tremendously effective as a result.

it’s hard to pick out individual tracks because the score works so well as a whole piece, but the opening track, ‘the vatican tapes’, is certainly a highlight and sets a perfect tone. another standout is ‘drowning innocents’, one of the more creepy tracks on the album, with strings and eerie vocals building to truly terrifying crescendo before settling back down into something more subtle and equally unnerving. the final track on the album, ‘basement tapes’, reuses elements of the opening track but with a more ominous and climactic undertone.

overall, this is an impressive and really effective score from a renowned horror composer at the top of his game. the score works really well on its own and does a fantastic job implying dread and scares without you having the visuals to go with it. it's music you don’t want to listen to in the dark, unless you want to be really, really scared. if the film is even half as fear-inducing as bishara’s score then the vatican tapes is set to be one of the horror highlights of the year.

lakeshore records will release the vatican tapes – original motion picture soundtrack digitally on july 17th and on cd on august 14, 2015.  

Thursday, 9 July 2015

digging up the marrow

at first glance, digging up the marrow appears to be a film about filmmaker adam green starring adam green as filmmaker adam green, written and directed by filmmaker adam green. except when you dig beneath the surface it isn’t really a film about adam green at all.

writer/director adam green is drawn away from the tv series he is working on by a piece of fanmail from a man called william dekker. dekker claims to have proof of the existence of an underground society of outcasts; a world of genuine ‘monsters’ situated beneath our own. green decides to make a documentary about dekker in the hope of capturing the creatures on film.

this isn’t a typical found footage movie. sure, there are a handful of scenes in which green, his dp will barratt and dekker (played by ray wise) wander the woods in the dark chasing shadows, and there are some genuine scares in those scenes too, but that’s not where the dramatic arc of the film lies. this is a film about belief and imagination and, as is perhaps obvious, it’s a film about monsters, although the important thing to examine here is the definition of a ‘monster’. we’ll come back to that. this is also an example of how to create a world of monsters on a tight budget, suggesting an underworld realm as vast as midian without ever having to take the cameras down there. it reminded me a little of a low budget takashi shimizu film called marebito in which shinya tsukamoto discovers the entrance to an underground world beneath japan (which I only mention because it’s a fucking weird film and if you like digging up the marrow you should check it out). however, to namecheck other movies does this film a disservice; this is very much its own movie and a really unique and original one at that.

structurally the film breaks up the night-time expeditions with scenes of green interviewing dekker and then reviewing and discussing the footage with his friends and family. the tension here is around whether dekker is telling the truth or acting out some kind of deranged fantasy. as green becomes more convinced by dekker, his colleagues become more and more sceptical and there is a real sense that green could be throwing his career away to appease a crazy person. this tension is at the core of the film and while there are monsters and scares and all the things you want from a horror film, it’s surprising how engaging and effective the dramatic scenes really are.

what makes this work and holds the whole thing together are the two central performances; green playing an at times unflattering version of himself and ray wise as dekker. the film has received some criticism for the casting of such a recognisable actor in the lead role because it somehow detracts from the false reality of the movie, which is kind of ludicrous. for one, it assumes that audiences are unable to suspend their disbelief and go into every found footage movie thinking it might actually be real, but more importantly it completely disregards wise’s ability as an actor. wise is perfect for this part, and from the moment he started speaking i never once saw leland palmer or the guy from robocop or any one of the other characters he is famous for playing on screen, he was william dekker. wise’s performance is a master-class in subtlety, and as a viewer you are never sure whether he is lying, crazy or actually telling the truth. there is genuine sadness in his eyes when he talks about the monsters, mixed in with the awe, excitement and fear, which conveys the complexity of his relationship with the creatures. it’s an amazing performance by an actor at the top of his game and as such it never once took me out of the story, only immersed me further.

green does a great job on the acting front too, really conveying his excitement at what’s happening in a way that makes it clear why his character has to pursue this. his character mentions on a number of occasions that finding a real monster is all he ever wanted to do since he was a kid. it’s green’s search for this lost piece of his childhood that really pushes this film beyond the realm of the found-footage horror into something magical and thought-provoking.

possible spoiler here, you have been warned. however, if you don’t get it by now i really liked this movie so if you haven’t seen it, go watch it then come back and read the rest of the review.

on a number of occasions there are hints that dekker has, or had, a son and that this son is possibly now among the creatures. later there is a suggestion that dekker liberated one of the creatures, presumably his son, and kept him chained up at his house. but this film isn’t about a literal lost child, it’s about lost childhood.

green opens the film with a series of interview clips showing what the idea of ‘monsters’ means to different people. this is where the definition of a ‘monster’ becomes important. in this film there are really two definitions. there’s the literal monster that wants to eat you and is essentially evil – as dekker points out, every society has them, even a society made up of monsters. then there are the outcasts and freaks – people who are otherwise normal but can’t live in civilised society because they were born different. there is a third definition too, the type of monster green's character talks about the most. this is the monster in the closet or under the bed – not a physical thing that wants to eat you or a deformed, possibly physically disabled human being, but the idea of a monster; of something dangerous and fantastic at the same time that exists just beyond our reach. this is the monster green wants to find, and it’s not a monster at all, it’s imagination. it’s the imagination we have as children that we lose as we grow up; the part of us that easily believes in santa clause or the tooth fairy or whatever else. it’s the part of us that can create worlds to play in and populates them with friends who don’t exist. it’s the part of us that didn’t have to worry about ever being alone or bored or unfulfilled in any way. that’s what i think of when green talks about monsters, and that’s what he and dekker are searching for in this film.

i wondered at times if there was a father/son relationship suggested between green’s character and dekker, but ultimately i don’t think that’s it. i think dekker is a warning of what green could become. dekker is what happens when we don’t grow up.

there’s an alfred bester story called the starcomber about a guy who gets see his greatest fantasies played out, like he wants to relive his youth with all the knowledge he has as an adult and he wishes he was the last man on earth and all the women want to sleep with him and so on. the antagonist in the story, mr aquila, purges him of these dreams by showing him how they will go wrong and it’s really a story about being happy with what you have. digging up the marrow is a story about a filmmaker who wishes he could recapture the adventure and mystery of youth, and through dekker he has his chance. at the same time, dekker shows him what happens when you don’t grow up, and that while monsters can be cool and exciting they are also very dangerous if we don't give them some distance, just like our imaginations. at a certain point, an excess of imagination becomes dangerous and that’s why we have to grow up, before we become outcast ourselves.

i don’t know adam green and i don’t like to make assumptions about a person, but given that he puts himself all over this film it’s hard not to connect the themes of the film to the filmmaker. i wonder if despite my opening statement this is a film about adam green after all. i wonder if this is a film about a filmmaker who has a made a career out of holding onto his imagination from childhood, but is coming to terms with the fact that at some point you have to grow up. at some point you have to let the monsters go. but then, don't we all go through that? it's just that some of us are able to hold onto the monsters longer than others.

digging up the marrow is a truly interesting, thought-provoking and genuinely exciting horror film and if you’re a fan of this genre or even if you’re not and you just want to see something original, you should be watching this right now.

Monday, 6 July 2015

the human centipede 3 (final sequence)

at a certain point in the human centipede 3, dieter laser’s character, prison warden bill boss, looks directly into the camera and says ‘hey, cockroaches! do you like these movies?’ 

in the context of the film it’s a question to the 500 inmates who have just sat through back-to-back screenings of the first two human centipede film. it’s also a direct question to the audience and a clear reminder that we’re once again in the realm of the theatre of cruelty.

bill boss is the warden of george h w bush state prison and he and his accountant, dwight butler (laurence r. harvey sporting a toothbrush moustache that is more oliver hardy than adolf hitler), are struggling to find new ways to keep the inmate population under control. when governor hughes (eric roberts) gives the two of them an ultimatum they devise increasingly extreme ways to force the prison population into submission. while boss favours genital mutilation and boiling waterboarding, butler has another idea, something he saw in a movie once…

compared to the bleak, arthouse aesthetic of the second film, this is a sun-drenched, slapstick, over-the-top comedy. much of the action takes place in boss and butlers’ office in scenes that are written and staged like almost like a traditional british farce. from the moment laser and harvey speak it’s clear that between laser’s occasionally incoherent ranting and harvey’s southern drawl with a hint of wigan there will be no attempt at naturalism here. if the second film had elements of looney tunes cartoons, this film plays like an extended episode of south park, only much more determined to offend.

laser’s performance made the first film work just as harvey’s carried the second one, and the two combined make a truly demented double team. harvey’s butler is actually the most likable character in the film, which is saying something as he’s the one advocating the human centipede. he manages to take the misunderstood loner elements from his character in the second film and use those characteristics to make butler almost endearing. meanwhile, laser’s performance is a hundred times more insane than that of the first film. he makes use of every inch of the frame every second he’s on camera, which is pretty much every scene, and sometimes his enthusiasm seems so genuine it almost disguises the content of the dialogue, so lines like ‘thank god for female circumcision’ almost slip under the radar before you think, 'did he really just say that?'. it’s an incredibly physical performance, with every rant and offensive tirade coupled with appropriate (or inappropriate) gurning and thrusting and occasionally even dancing. he plays boss as someone who delights in the suffering of others, to the point where he is even quite explicit about being sexually aroused by it. whatever laser is doing, it works. boss is one of the most disgusting, despicable characters ever portrayed on film and laser makes sure that he’s completely unforgettable.

like the second film, there’s no real narrative tension in the human centipede 3. yes, boss and butler face losing their jobs if they can’t control the inmates, but we’re never really tasked with caring about them all that much. the conflict of the first half of the film is butler needing to convince boss that the human centipede idea will work, and once he does convince him (by bringing in director tom six, playing himself) the drama becomes more about whether butler and the prison surgeon will be allowed to finish the centipede before boss kills everyone. but that’s not the real story here; there’s something much more interesting going on.

when boss is explaining what he intends to do to the inmates after screening the first two human centipede films, i couldn’t help thinking of a scene from the da vinci code. there’s a moment in the book where robert langdon is lecturing a prison population about art. dan brown’s intention in that scene is clear – you, dear reader, are uneducated scum and i’m here to save you from your own ignorance. six has a similar approach here, and it’s quite clear that the 500 inmates represent us, the audience. however, in the case of the human centipede six isn’t trying to educate his audience but offend them. it’s easy to transpose boss’s frustration at his failed attempts at forcing the inmates into submission to six’s frustration at being unable to truly offend those watching his films, until he finds a new way to do so. the idea of the prisoners as the audience is never more explicit than in the screening scene, when one of the prisoners stands up and declares the human centipede films are harmful and should be banned, echoing the bbfc’s ruling on the second film. this theory holds up until six himself appears in the film and shows that even his character is disgusted by what is happening. this suggests that perhaps the film isn’t necessarily about a filmmaker's struggle to reach new levels of depravity but is perhaps a comment on cinema in general.

there’s an element of the human centipede 3 that feels very much like a satirical statement about american culture as a whole. as characters, boss and butler are parodies of over-used hollywood stereotypes and there are frequent shots of the american flag and shades of the national anthem in the score. as the second film referenced the gritty realist films of mike leigh and ken loach, the third film is a clear parody of the hollywood machine. six has stated that his trilogy was supposed to be a centipede itself, and this idea works in the way that each of the previous films are incorporated into the next like waste passing through the human digestive system. from there, it’s easy to make a comparison between the shit that passes through the human centipede and the perceived state of the hollywood product, with the same ideas being swallowed and excreted over and over again by a captive audience. at times, it feels like this whole project was both a comment on hollywood movies and a challenge to the studio system, because whatever you think of six’s work it can’t be denied that there is originality here. on this basis, it becomes apparent why six distances himself from boss by appearing in the film. it’s not about his frustration at being unable to truly offend, it’s about his disgust with the state of mainstream cinema.

taking all this into account, lets look at the one female character in the film. bree olson plays boss and butlers’ secretary. daisy. in her very first scene she is subjected to a casual sexual assault from boss and things only get worse for her from there. daisy only exists in the film to be abused, with no opportunity for revenge. even when beaten into a coma her suffering continues. to make matters worse, she serves no purpose in the story, with even the hint of narrative purpose in her relationship with butler coming to nothing in the end. she is an extreme and utterly abhorrent example of female objectification at it’s most vile, and on the surface seems like a crass and ill-advised attempt to offend anyone with even the vaguest belief in gender equality. except by being so deliberately offensive, it becomes completely inoffensive.

in my review of the human centipede 2 i went off on a bit of a tangent about the representation of women in game of thrones, a show that remains revered and critically acclaimed despite the rampant and unnecessary objectification of women in every episode. my point about the second film was that it’s hard to be offended at something that is at least honest about what it is. in this film I think six is actually making a real point about the representation of women in mainstream cinema. 

daisy is a perfect example of the token female character. in the majority of hollywood movies, the token female character exists to be objectified i.e. to look pretty for the male audience members, usually not wearing very much. occasionally she will be put into peril (or ‘damselled’) to drive the story forward, if she's really lucky she will be raped or killed or both in order to give the male protagonist a reason to take revenge. the treatment of daisy in the human centipede 3 is no different to the treatment of the token female character in most movies, it’s just that six is honest about it. if your female character exists only to be an object for the male gaze with no narrative purpose, then why not have her casually raped and brutalised? what does it matter? the poor representation of women in films is offensive when it’s casual, and though i’m loath to mention the overused bechdel test, the point of that test was to point out how widespread this casual misogyny really is. by making the objectification so obvious it’s abhorrent, six not only makes his token female character less offensive than the norm but also makes a bold statement about the representation of women in films. while i perhaps wouldn’t go so far as to call the human centipede 3 a feminist film, i do believe it has a strong and effective feminist message about the way hollywood presents women.

that last thought ultimately sums up what i took from the experience. bill boss has no respect for his audience, he wants to line them up, force feed them junk food, and then watch as the shit passes from one audience member to the next. why does he want to do this? because he wants his audience to be submissive. he wants them to take whatever he is feeding them without complaint and in doing so further his own career. bill boss isn’t a caricature of a prison warden, he’s a caricature of a hollywood producer. it’s hollywood movies that are depraved and disgusting. it’s hollywood movies that are casually and discreetly racist, misogynist and worse. whatever you think of this film, it puts all its ugliness upfront where it can be seen. that’s more than you can say about most films, hollywood or otherwise. it’s this hypocrisy that six is directly attacking with his work, and i think he should be applauded for having the audacity to do so.

i can’t say i thoroughly enjoyed this film, much like the other two entries in the trilogy, but i did appreciate it. there is genius at work here, not the kind of visionary, high-definition christopher nolan-type genius that most filmmakers aspire to, but a vulgar, antagonistic and ultimately realist genius that we need more of in cinema. tom six may not be the best filmmaker of the twenty-first century, but he is certainly one of the most important.

the human centipede 3 will be released by eureka and monster pictures in selected cinemas from 10th july 2015, and on blu-ray, dvd and vod on 13th july 2015.

Sunday, 5 July 2015

the human centipede 2 (full sequence)

i don’t even know where to start with this film.

so the first human centipede movie exists in the world of the movie and car park attendant martin is obsessed with it. as his obsession grows he decides to take matters into his own hands and kidnaps people from the car park to build his own human centipede, only his will be four times as long as the one in the original movie.

i’m going to be reviewing human centipede 3 this week and i’ve seen the first one so i felt obliged to watch this one too. i liked the first movie. despite the insanity of the premise it actually holds together as a pretty solid horror film, with a standout performance from dieter laser as what has to be the best portrayal of a mad scientist in film history. but the sequel is one of the strangest films i have ever seen.

on one hand, it’s clear that director tom six has set out to make the most grim, filthy, disgusting viewing experience possible. the rain-drenched locations are decrepit and ugly, none of the actors are presented in a particularly flattering light, and there is this drone on the soundtrack that just makes every scene feel uncomfortable and unsettling. it would be easy to argue that this is an earnest attempt at making the most unsettling film experience of all time, and yet six also clearly has a sense of humour. there are moments of the film that play like a cartoon, with lead actor laurence r. harvey practically winking at the camera on a couple of occasions. the violence and gore and depravity are so over the top at times it becomes hilarious and six knows it. except whenever you think you’ve got the joke and start to settle into it, he does something truly horrible and disgusting that throws it all out again.

it’s worth talking about harvey’s performance as martin in a little more detail. where did six find this guy? like laser in the first film, the casting is perfect and ultimately it's this that makes the film work. harvey oozes depravity and perversion every moment he’s on screen. he plays a character that is too over-the-top to play with any kind of naturalism, but he makes it feel real. if they truly gave out oscars for the best performance rather than it being a popularity contest, harvey should’ve walked away with one in 2011. and yet, despite admiring the performance it’s impossible to like the character.

that’s what makes this a tough watch, much more than the violence and gore. martin is the protagonist in every sense of the word, but that means as an audience we are put in the unenviable position of being on his side. this is his story, the human centipede is his goal and to truly engage with the film is to want him to achieve that goal. in putting his audience in this position, six makes the film a completely alienating experience. it becomes pure art, because we have nothing to hang our perceptions onto, nothing to relate to except for the truly unspeakable. so what happens is we just have to watch it and see how it makes us feel, like a rothko painting. except i've never felt physically sick at a rothko exhibition.

let’s be clear, i didn’t enjoy the experience of watching this film, i’m not sure that’s even possible. at times i wondered whether i should have been more offended than i was, but martin is an equal opportunities murderer and the men get as much abuse as the women, to a degree. maybe i'm trying too hard to defend something indefensible, but at least the human centipede makes no attempt to hide what it is, unlike the misogyny and sexual violence in something like game of thrones, which pretends to be high art while quite obviously adhering to a nudity quota every fucking episode. six is quite clear with his intention to offend, and in a way that makes his work less offensive.

there is an element of sexual violence, which is problematic, especially if we're being asked to laugh at it. but i'm not sure that is the intention. there is a noticeable shift in tone between the moments that are so extreme they're funny to the moments that are genuinely disgusting that makes me think six is deliberately trying to catch us out, albeit in a very juvenile way. we laugh at martin injecting his victims with an over sized bottle of laxative and making fart noises as he dances around them, but six is hoping we're still laughing when martin rapes the end of the centipede so we feel bad. and maybe i should be offended at that because turning rape into a game isn't cool, but six clearly wants me to be offended so i'm naturally refusing to do so, and in refusing to be offended by something that's offensive purely to stop the filmmaker getting what he wants, doesn't that mean he wins anyway? this is why i find this film fascinating. six has a deliberately antagonistic relationship with his audience and is so dedicated to antagonising them that he has made three films, films that took time and money and the efforts of a whole team of people, simply to offend and antagonise his audience. because it's a film and so much time and effort and money goes into making films this seems absurd, but is it any different to the theatre of cruelty developed for the stage by antonin artaud? deliberately torturing the audience is not a new idea.

there are other elements of the film i found interesting. a theme that a lot of horror films share, sometimes unintentionally, is the dehumanisation of the human body. if you watch a lucio fulci movie for example, after the third or fourth grisly, over-the-top murder the characters stop seeming like human beings and are reduced to blood and meat held together by a thin covering of flesh that happens to talk. in the human centipede, people become parts. the obvious comparison is frankenstein, with body parts forming a whole, except here the bodies themselves are the parts. the human body is very much on display in this film; there is an excess of flesh in the room where martin conducts his experiment, and yet he manipulates that flesh into something that no longer resembles a human being. the struggle of the characters in the centipede becomes one of holding onto their humanity, and that’s difficult to do when you’re part of a chain of defecation. by making his audience feel nauseous, six rams that point home – that ultimately we’re nothing more than a machine built for passing fluids. as we watch the human centipede form, we ourselves are dehumanised.

i also wonder if is a movie about making movies. martin is inspired by his favourite movie to create something of his own. he steals the components he needs, but when he starts to build his centipede he’s frustrated that it’s so much harder than it appears in the source material. in the end, when he’s finished and he has knocked together something that in many ways is a poor, cobbled together mess of a creature compared to that of the original, he is unsatisfied. sure, he makes it work, he has his fun with it, he has made the thing he wanted to make, but when it’s over there’s a sense that it was all rather pointless. what has he really achieved? is that how six feels about filmmaking, i wonder?

i can’t really recommend this film, but i am glad i saw it. i think tom six is doing something interesting and i’m glad he is able to do it. roll on number 3!

Saturday, 4 July 2015


imagine a low-budget 'homage' to alien in which the action is moved from space to present day new york and there are no aliens in it (not quite, anyway). that's kind of what luigi cozzi does with contamination and the results are truly bizarre.

marino mase plays tony aris, a new york detective investigating a deserted cargo ship. inside, aris finds the crew ripped apart and a collection of large green ‘eggs’ in the cargo hold. when one of the eggs explodes it sprays green gunk over aris’ three colleagues and within seconds they are being ripped apart from the inside by a truly horrific, incredibly fast-acting virus. the only survivor of the incident, aris is taken in by col. stella holmes (louise marleau) and together with former astronaut ian hubbard (ian mcculloch) they begin to investigate the source of the alien eggs.

the opening scenes of contamination do a great job setting up the mystery. the deserted cargo ship, the discovery of the crew, finding the eggs – all of this is done with a kind of earnest atmosphere and mood that really sets a creepy tone. then people start exploding and it all gets a bit ridiculous. occasionally the more ridiculous moments make it all the more worthwhile but I couldn’t help thinking there was a better film here somewhere. the issue is, taking alien out of space and re-setting it on earth is actually a pretty cool idea for a low-budget film and it’s a shame cozzi doesn’t completely follow that idea through; a single alien stalking a police detective and his team through an abandoned new york location would have worked brilliantly. the problem here is, there’s no alien. as the title suggests, the eggs carry a deadly, flesh exploding disease and nothing else, so there are no creature effects until the final sequence where things do at least get a bit more creative.

before we get to that there’s a lot of aris and holmes stomping around what looks like an abandoned space ship set, complete with star trek-style sliding doors. then there’s a really effective flashback to a mars expedition, followed by a trip to south america where it all goes a bit james bond. despite the obvious alien inspiration in the opening, what the film actually reminded me of more in its best moments was quatermass. there’s something about the returning astronaut and the alien eggs that feels very nigel kneale, but like the efforts to steal from alien, cozzi again neglects to mine the best part. just like there’s no alien, there’s also no professor bernard quatermass and the film badly needs a more interesting character among its three leads.

one thing that becomes clear that cozzi understands how to get amazing production value for little or no money. there are numerous aeriel shots of new york, an extended parade sequence in south america and an extensive tour of a coffee factory, all of which would make it look like the film cost more than it did except cozzi overuses every one of them. that said, there is a sequence in which hubbard is flying over a coffee plantation that is quite effective. but where this film really excels is in the effects.

the chestbursting is like the john hurt scene in alien turned up to eleven, and it happens over and over again. in a way, what’s interesting about this film is that in expanding some of the ideas set up in alien, cozzi comes to many of the ideas that would later turn up in james cameron’s aliens, including an alien ‘queen’. the creature at the end of the film is truly brilliant in a roger corman way. it’s part audrey 2 from little shop of horrors, but with a face from a 1950s b movie monster and a snake-like appendage that swallows it’s victims whole. this is where the film is at its ridiculous best and unlike alien where the creature was mostly hidden from view to build suspense, here we see every inch of it in all its slimy rubber glory.

contamination is not a good film, but it’s entertaining enough and there are some great sequences, like the moment holmes is trapped in a bathroom with an egg that’s about to explode. it’s also a fascinating to see how you can take the opening sequence from alien, set it on earth and take in a completely different direction. at the same time, the film really slows down once the action moves from new york to south america and it starts to feel a bit tedious until the alien shows up in the last ten minutes.

what makes this blu-ray release worth checking out is the abundance of extras. there’s a vintage Italian documentary about the film, a q&a from when the film was shown at the abertoir film festival last year, a new interview with cozzi and a featurette about the trend of italian filmmakers copying american films, among others.

contamination is an example of a film that shouldn't necessarily be re-released because it’s a great film, but because it’s a piece of history. it’s a snapshot of the influence of american movies on europe and of how their ideas were reinterpreted. it’s also a testament to creativity and finding creative solutions when you’re on a tight budget. this is a curiosity piece, an oddity, so if you are indeed curious then it’s worth a look.

contamination is released by arrow video on dvd and blu-ray on 6th july

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

chuck norris vs communism

chuck norris vs communism is a documentary about the popularity of bootlegged hollywood movies being redubbed and distributed in 1980s communist romania. the film is made up of interviews with people who watched the films as well as those getting them out to the people and is held together with reconstructions and clips from the films themselves. if you ever find yourself struggling to argue the cultural and political importance of a chuck norris film, this documentary gives you all the ammunition you need.

the story the film covers is a fascinating one and i don’t want to divulge all the surprises here, but essentially the hollywood movies of the 1980s, particularly those in the action genre, became an unlikely source of hope for the people of an incredibly repressed society. under the rule of nicolae ceausescu, romanian media was subjected to extreme censorship when it came to anything that even remotely suggested life in the capitalist west had its advantages. this essentially meant that practically all media from the west was banned and even media from surrounding countries was heavily sanitised. ceausescu backed this up with a large and incredibly brutal secret police force.

the rebellion against ceausescu's regime came in an unlikely form. a bootlegger named teodor zamfir began to illegally obtain videotaped copies of hollywood movies, then had them redubbed with the help of a government translator, irina nistor, and finally distributed them among the people. this was a nation consumed by poverty so these videos weren’t finding their way into every home. instead one member of a community would fork out the money for a video player and then hold video nights where large numbers of their neighbours would gather around a tv set to watch films like missing in action or lone wolf mcquade.

i’ve seen missing in action and lone wolf mcquade, and to be honest was never that struck by either of them. however, hearing the people in this documentary describe the pivotal scenes from these films and the experience of seeing them for the first time, they take on a whole new importance. these were films about repressed individuals fighting to take back their rights and that was a situation the people of romania could easily relate to.

those responsible for distributing these films also emerge as heroes in this story, particularly nistor. the translator put much more than her career on the line by being involved in the scheme and recounts several experiences of close calls with the secret police. she was also one of the first to understand how important these films were to her audience.

overall, this is a really insightful documentary about a period in recent history not often discussed. the reconstructions occasionally feel like padding and there is a feeling that occasionally the same points and ideas are being repeated, but this is countered by the passion of the subjects when talking about the films. ultimately, this is a film about the power of film, and that’s something that transcends genre.

chuck norris vs communism recently had its european premiere at edinburgh international film festival and will be released in uk cinemas in september www.chucknorrisvscommunism.co.uk