Monday, 30 November 2015

blood rage

blood rage is a film that’s so bad it’s really hard to recommend, except for the fact that i kind of loved it.

the film opens at a drive-in where twin boys todd and terry sneak out of their mother’s car, steal an axe from the back of a pick-up truck then butcher an unsuspecting young man. ten years later, terry is the most popular kid in the neighbourhood while todd is still locked up in a psychiatric hospital for the murder. when todd escapes it’s not long before the bodies start piling up at the apartment complex where terry lives with his mother.

like any great slasher it’s all about the kills, and blood rage has some great ones. from the first scene where the guy at the drive-in is hacked to pieces with an axe to the doctor who is cut in two, no limb is safe in this film. the kills ramp up quickly, with nearly half a dozen characters losing their lives as well as various body parts within the first half an hour. that’s kind of where the problems start.

to say that blood rage lacks subtlety isn’t quite enough; whatever the opposite of subtext is, this film is full of it. this is a shame, because the idea that we as an audience don’t know which twin is the killer could have been really effective. instead, we are shown very early on that terry has a big problem with his mother having a relationship with anyone other than him, so we immediately know we’re in pseudo norman bates territory, and that terry is the killer. in case we have any doubts, terry kills his mother’s boyfriend in the very next scene, amputating his hand. we’re less than twenty minutes in all hope of intrigue has been butchered as brutally as terry's victims.

while it is kind of refreshing to watch a film this determined to not bury the lead, it causes major problems later on. after the blood-drenched first act, the film slows to a snails pace as the unlikable survivors, now only a handful of them left, trip over each other trying to figure what’s going on whilst occasionally stopping to fuck or play videogames, like what teenagers do. meanwhile, terry and todds’ mother drinks herself into a nervous breakdown. at this point it almost loses the all-important so-bad-it’s-good quality, but luckily there is some truly awful dialogue to make up for it. also, while mark soper does a decent enough job as a saturday morning cartoon serial killer, the other performances are either overblown or just bad. the only other thing that’s really great about the film is the synth score.

that said, i enjoyed every minute of blood rage, even the dull parts. when i was little my dad was obsessed with car boot sales. he’d always come home with these weird, knock-off films on vhs that my brother and i had never heard of then and have never come across since. we loved the horror films in particular. there seemed to have been an infinite number of slasher films released in the 80s and no matter how many times i thought i’d seen them all, my dad would always manage to find another. these are films that maybe a handful of people saw at the time they were released and perhaps deserve to have been forgotten, so the fact that we were there watching them as a family made it feel like kind of a unique experience. watching blood rage gave me that warm, cosy feeling of watching teenagers being hacked up on vhs with my dad and my brother. i don’t know if that’s something anyone else will relate to, or that other people have versions of, but it certainly helped me enjoy a film that is very difficult to enjoy otherwise.

what is cool is that arrow have put together an exhaustive and incredibly thorough selection of special features that even includes an interview with ted raimi, who is in the film for all of twenty seconds. it is truly fascinating to delve into the thought process behind a film like this and to find out more about the people who made it. special features on bad films are way more interesting than those on good films anyway, so giving blood rage such a wealth of extras is a real selling point.

less appealing is the theatrical cut, titled nightmare at shadow woods. deleted scenes restored from a 35mm print are re-inserted into the film, whilst other moments, including some of the more violent kills, are cut. there’s an overlong and completely unnecessary swimming pool scene that adds some redundant exposition and sets up a baby that appears later, and some extended moments to other scenes that don’t add much either but otherwise there's nothing new of note. there’s also a composite cut on the disc that takes the best elements of both versions, should you wish to watch the film three times. to be honest, the alternate cut would only really be of interest if you had seen the film in this form originally, but here it feels so inferior to the uncut version that it adds little value.

as much as i enjoyed watching blood rage, it is difficult for me to recommend it as a film, but i would recommend it as a curiosity. and if you’ve ever wondered how something like this got made and what was going through the minds of the people making it when they stepped onto set each day, the abundance of extras will certainly answer those questions.

blood rage is available now on dvd and blu-ray from arrow video

Thursday, 19 November 2015

robinson crusoe on mars...

robinson crusoe on mars is a film that does exactly what its title suggests. it’s also kind of like a 1960s version of the martian.

when his spaceship is hit by an asteroid, commander christopher draper (paul mantee) finds himself stranded on the surface of mars with only his pet monkey, mona, to keep him company. together, draper and mona must figure out a way to survive this most hazardous environment, all the while hoping that someone is coming to rescue them.

robinson crusoe on mars opens with a scene in which adam west, playing draper’s co-pilot, has a conversation with a floating monkey wearing a spacesuit. it is the most awesome opening of any film ever, but it’s also kind of misleading. to my modern sensibilities, a film that opens with adam west talking to a monkey in a spacesuit is going to fall into that so-bad-it's-good movie category. i was expecting queen of outer space or santa claus vs. the martians, but once draper lands on mars things get a bit more serious.

the first thing to note about this film is that it’s practically silent. the filmmakers get around the problem of draper being along by having him talk to his monkey and occasionally to record his thoughts in a journal, and he also has some instructional videos to hand, kind of like youtube tutorials about how to survive on mars. despite all this, there is very little dialogue for what at first seems like a typical schlocky b-movie, and as a result of this the film has a kind of haunting intensity, particularly when draper is exploring the martian landscape alone.

the first half of the film is really about draper figuring out how to survive on mars; how to get water, how to breath, what he’s going to eat. the solutions to these problems are more science-fiction than science-fact (despite the claims of the original publicity material), but there is a reality to his struggle to find them and a tension in the moments when he’s running out of air or water. his biggest struggle in the film, however, is with increasing loneliness and isolation. draper finds himself hallucinating at one point, and realises that the isolation is driving him mad. he confesses that although he spent two months in an isolation chamber in training, the fact that he knew he was getting out got him through it. it’s knowing that you’re going to be alone forever that’s tough.

i don’t know about that. there were moments where i kind of envied draper in his martian cave, alone forever. there’s something comforting to me about knowing that you will never again have to deal with people and their endless attention-seeking social media updates. i was actually disappointed when another character turned up, around halfway through.

having done their best to establish a realistic story world, we are then introduced to an alien race mining mars for ore with the help of slaves, and another alien race intent on destroying them. suddenly draper finds himself thrust into the middle of a space war and has to survive being shot at whilst managing to keep one of the escaped slaves alive. what does work about this is that the film keeps the aliens at arms length, and other than his new companion draper never encounters them in the flesh, which adds a welcome sense of mystery.

the director, byron haskin, was clearly the perfect person to direct this film, having previously directed an adaptation of treasure island and the 1953 version of war of the worlds (there is definitely a resemblance to the alien spacecraft of that film here). it also has to be said that the design and the effects in robinson crusoe on mars are pretty impressive for the time, even if they do reuse some of the same shots over and over again. mars itself is also very well designed and the landscape shots look fantastic on blu-ray.

overall, robinson crusoe on mars is a bit of a mixed bag. there is a great film here about a man struggling to survive the perils of an alien world and discovering that perhaps the greatest hazard he has to overcome is himself. at the same time, all this is happening on a stylized, sci-fi version of mars, and while that brings an element of camp excitement to the experience, everything great about it being on mars is at odds with the more down-to-earth nature of the story. as a result the film does outstay its welcome towards the end and feels a little directionless at times. that doesn’t mean it’s not an interesting watch and particularly given the recent success of the martian it is interesting to see how filmmakers tackled a similar story over fifty years ago. also, there is a monkey wearing a space suit. so there's that!

eureka entertainment release robinson crusoe on mars in a dual format edition on 23rd of november 2015

Saturday, 7 November 2015

6 - insomnia...

sorry this isn't me talking about something interesting or cool, but i've barely slept this week and the only thing i could think of talking about is the fact that i've barely slept this week. enjoy is probably the wrong word, but i hope you find this interesting, or maybe relate-able. let me know in the comments if you do.

in other news, i'm thinking of doing a q and a video soon. if there's anything you'd like to ask me either let me know in the comments or tweet me a question with #pazqanda

btw, i'm @pazvsstuff on twitter

Wednesday, 4 November 2015

technotise: edit & i

edit & i is a serbian animated cyberpunk thriller, which despite being set in the future feels kind of retro because no one makes cyberpunk thrillers anymore (i blame steampunk).

edit is a college student who keeps failing exams so decides to cheat by installing a military-grade chip into her arm that improves brain function. she also makes some extra money on the side by caring for a mute, autistic man who has in his head a formula to predict the future. when edit is exposed to the formula it reacts with the chip in her arm and suddenly she is evolving into a brand new lifeform, which would be great except the technology is probably going to kill her and that’s if the military don’t get to her first.

it seem kind of lazy to compare edit & i to the two other great animated classics of the genre, akira and ghost in the shell, but it does in fact share an awful lot with both of those films, both in the narrative and thematically. at it’s heart, this is a story about youth and friendship, and how friends react when one of the group is essentially transitioning into adulthood, only adulthood is represented by having your nervous system replaced by wires and your brain taken over by a supercomputer. like akira, this focus on the friendship group and the reaction of the friends to the transformation of the central protagonist is a key part of the film. at the same time, edit spends much of the film in conversation with her newly developed computer brain and this idea of artificial intelligence evolved is very similar to the themes of ghost in the shell. it also reminded me of perhaps the best entry in the animatrix anthology, koji morimoto’s beyond, because it’s a sci-fi story that feels very grounded in reality.

despite these comparisons, edit & i is very much its own film and what it adds to the genre is a sense of humanity and realism missing from many animated features. the film has quite a frank and naturalistic approach to sex and relationships, which somehow makes it seem more mature than many similar sci-fi titles.

edit herself really feels like a person too, and her decisions and behaviour always ring true. for example, when she is shown the top secret technology for predicting the future she immediately tells all her friends about it, which puts in her much greater trouble than she was in before but also is exactly what that character would do. she also has some rather explosive arguments with her mother and is constantly fending off her boyfriend’s advances, all of which adds a level of complexity to an already interesting character. at times it’s easy to forget that edit & i is set in the future and even that it’s animation because the world and the characters it presents are so recognisable and it all feels very grounded.

added to this there are some incredible action sequences. the computer inside edit’s body is obviously awesome at martial arts so there are a few fights along the way and there is an amazing hoverboard chase halfway through. overall the visuals are quite stunning and occasionally beautiful. the style is naturalistic for the most part but the filmmakers make full use of the medium to bend reality in the more surrealistic moments. at one point early on edit is distracted when she hallucinates a network of wires and circuitry expanding artfully across a concrete wall, and though the same effect could be achieved in a live action film, it somehow seems more integrated into the world of the story here.

on the down side, there are moments where the film veers more towards meandering art project than sci-fi thriller and while these moments do give the story its substance, they do occasionally feel a bit indulgent. it also has to be said that the translation isn’t the best and while it never fully detracts from the experience, the frequent errors in the subtitles are distracting.

edit & i is a welcome return to a genre that felt like it disappeared after the last matrix film. while the ideas presented in the film may not be anything new, the well-written characters and more naturalistic narrative elements make the big sci-fi themes and ideas seem somehow refreshing and new. and the animation is beautiful so it’s worth checking out for that alone.

technotise: edit & i will be released on dvd by simply media on 9th november 2015