Archive for May, 2011

Spanish director and writer Amando De Ossorio’s cult horror series began with La noche del terror ciego, Tombs of the Blind Dead in 1971, it’s three follow ups came in quick sucession ending in 1975, the plot is quite a novel idea, 13th century evil Knights Templar, quest for eternal life by drinking human blood and committing human sacrifices. They are then executed for their unholy deeds and crows peck out their eyes. Cut to modern day Portugal and a group of people stumble on the Templars abandoned monastery, reviving their zombified corpses.The Blind Dead series are stand alone fims each with it’s self contained story, almost remakes of the same concept, what they all share is the Knights rising from their graves and attacking the living.

Ossorio insists that the Templars are not zombies as they resemble mummies and that, unlike zombies, his Blind Dead are not mindless corpses. Still they share many of the same elements.

The Tombs of the Blind Dead is notably slow paced with a creepy atmosphere that set the foundation for the interesting sequels, forging their place in horror history.

Return of the Blind Dead, El ataque de los muertos sin ojos (1973)
Return of the Evil Dead
Evil Knights Templar are put to death, their eyes burnt out and bodies burned on bonfires only to return 500 years later on the anniversary of their deaths to have their revenge. 
With moments reminiscent of Night of the Living Dead the rest of director Amando De Ossorio’s  (follow up, remake or stand alone story of Tombs of the Blind Dead) is a slow burning, effective little Spanish horror.

The characters and story of El ataque de los muertos sin ojos are developed arguably further than it’s predecessor and while the pace is faster it’s still very slow. Your patience is rewarded with creepy visuals, killer blade welding zombie knights, fitting music, all with the backdrop of an eerie small town.

The Blind Dead Collection (Tombs of the Blind Dead/The Ghost Galleon/Return of the Evil Dead/Night of the Seagulls/Amando De Ossorio)Although dated the idea of knights coming back from the dead is still appealing, there’s plenty of hammer horror-esque bright blood on display and it has a seventies charm about it, flares, huge collars etc. The cast are more than adequate, notably unrecognisable José Canalejas  as Murdo the hunchback-like village outcast. 
The final act is satisfying enough and as the dawn arrives prior to the credits you’ll feel relieved in a good or bad way dependant on your feelings of this atmospheric gem.
The Ghost Galleon, El buque maldito (1974)
The Ghost GalleonThe living corpses of the Knights Templar must dispose of a few models, a professor and some unscrupulous characters on a 16th century phantom galleon.
EL BUQUE MALDITO : PELICULA[DVD Non-USA Format, Pal Region 2 import]An unnecessarily sleazy entry into the series replaces the seaside town settings to the high-seas. Blind Dead 3 Ghost Galleon is dense with creepy atmosphere aided by an abundance of thick fog, sound effects and eerie music.  Unfortunately, this instalment lacks a likable character to latch onto. Director / Writer  Amando De Ossorio once again manages to draw in the viewer with the concept of the dead Knights returning to life. Although the sets are less effective in this third film and the Knights take there time to appear, when they do there’s enough going on to give a few cheap chills.

Visually it’s the darkest (due to poor lighting), most mystical entry, on a positive note it arguably played a part in influencing John Carpenter’s The Fog. Nevertheless, poor production design, a jarring flashback, slow deaths, less blood, Scooby Doo-like investigations and the confinement of the Galleon stilts this instalment. Despite Ossorio’s usual faults the middle section is entertaining enough mainly due to the return of the dead. However, while the finale works conceptually, it is poorly realised with a model that lacks scale and a tame beach confrontation that lacks tension.

Given the strong predecessor and the refreshing direction with a new setting it’s sadly a missed opportunity.

Night of the Seagulls, La noche de las gaviotas (1975)

Night of the SeagullsA doctor and his wife open his practice in a traditional coastal  town, where they are met with distrust and hatred from the locals. The couple soon find out town harbours an ancient evil. Offering resident women for sacrifice to the zombie dead Knights Templar then to be eaten by crabs.
Although only connected by the Knights returning to life Night of the Seagulls (La Noche de las gaviotas) is the fourth and final zombie Templar film from Director /Writer Amando  De Ossorio. 

Although it takes about 20 minutes for the Knights to rise from their graves in the seaside town, Night of the Seagulls is the faster paced of the bunch. This borrows from H. P Lovecraft, clearly Dagon is has influenced this instalment.

There’s more fog, more eerie music and the dreamlike visuals come thick and fast, odd townsfolk, zombie knights on horseback and screaming seagulls.  There are fewer leads, the couple and the village girl are adequate enough and there are plenty of worn and old faces on display, Amando De Ossorio throws in the obligatory slow ‘village idiot’ in that is hounded by the community.

Debatably I maybe being to critical here but as a standalone film it works better if you haven’t seen the other Blind Dead films, but for those familiar with them it’s old trodden ground, a remake of a remake, that’s it hard to enjoy fully without fresh eyes.

Dubbing and seventies jumpers aside this last Blind Dead retains it’s creepy atmospheric factor and trades the better sets for some character development.  Technically it’s put together well but the closing act with a siege on the a house has been done and despite some good makeup effects is somewhat anti-climatic. That said, it redeems itself with the church showdown and conclusion.

All in all a mix bag of enjoyable bones.

Italian director Lucio Fulci had varied directing ventures prior to Zombi 2, with a visual style of his own arguably less art house and more appealing than Dario Argento.
Lucio’s fan base grows and grows even after his death in 1996  due to his ability to create gory, yet, beautiful atmospheric films. Surprisingly, Fulci didn’t realise how well known and celebrated he was in the rest of the world until stuck in a snowstorm in New York surrounded by fans not long before his death.
Many of his fantastic framed films images linger in your mind long after the credits, notably The Beyond (1981) a.k.a E tu vivrai nel terrore – L’aldilà and City of the Living Dead (1980) a.k.a Paura nella città dei morti viventi.
Zombi 2 brought him world cult status while it’s sequels dissipated into dust. Nevertheless, they have a small fan following but I feel they fail as follow-ups, lack cult stature and Fulci’s style so much so I haven’t comment on Zombi 5 (even with actor Robert Vaughan being a personal favourite of mine).

Zombie Flesheaters (1979) a.ka. Zombi 2

Zombi 2 (25th Anniversary Special Edition 2-Disc Set)After an incident in New York bay a reporter and a scientist’s daughter travel to an Island aided by two locals. However, the dead are returning to life on the Island… The zombies long for human flesh and the pair find themselves in hopeless situation.

Not to be confused with Bruno Mattei’s Zombie Creeping Flesh (1980) (a.k.a Virus, Hell of the Living Dead to name a few) Lucio Fulci’s Zombie Flesheaters (1979) is far superior. Repots say it was written prior to Dawn of the Dead (a.ka. Zombi) (this maybe unfounded) either way most horror fans are aware that the name Flesheaters was changed to Zombi 2 and a new ending was tagged on to cash in on Romero success. You could argue that the talked about soundtrack is as intrusive as Dawn of the Dead music themes and that the eye scene is better than Argento’s vocational displays.

Comparisons to other movies aside Zombie Flesheaters (1979) suffers from Lucio Fulci’s own trappings – including badly written dialogue, choppy editing and bad dubbing. That said, there are very few directors that capture atmosphere you can taste. Fulci’s cinematic look is heightened by Giorgio Cascio and Fabio Frizzi’s excellent eerie and foreboding score.

The cast are more than sufficient, Tisa Farrow and Ian McCulloch surpass adequate, note worthy is Richard Johnson as Dr. David Menard. Notorious for the shark/zombie scene Flesheaters is so much more, Fulci creates some unmatched ambiance, the visuals are as lingering as the dead, dusty paths, an old Spanish cemetery, darkness lit up by Molotov cocktails and so on.

Zombie Flesheaters with all its low-budget faults is a creepy, slow paced, effective zombie film.

Zombi 3 (1988) a.k.a Zombie Flesheaters 2

Zombi 3

Not really linked to its predecessor zombi 2, a virus outbreak (similar to Return of the Living Dead) causes the dead to rise and the military must stop the contaminated. Trapped in the zone are a few soldiers and civilians that must fight to survive.

Although billed as directed by Italian directing maestro Lucio Fulci who supposedly shot approximately 70 minutes of footage, second unit director Bruno Mattei and writer Claudio Fragasso took over and only used 50 minutes of Fulci’s footage. On viewing this lovable travesty it is very debatable how much of Fulic’s footage really appears. There only appears smudgings of the Italians magic as it feels more like Mattei’s Hell of the Living Dead/Night of the Zombies/Zombie Creeping Flesh.

Like its follow up, zombi 4 there’s talking zombies, jumping undead and zombies that want to fight rather than attack and eat flesh. Also there’s two crazy standout scenes, a flying head and a baby zombie birth. It may all sound like fun but it’s zombie scenes with the civilians and regular soldiers fighting the government’s hazardous white suit army that stand out, sadly not the wacky ones.

The zombie gore, blood, make-up and effects are inconsistent, sometimes effective and at other time revealing poor. There’s overuse of a fog machine, laughable dialogue especially from the scientists and military personnel. The synthesised soundtrack is great but like the broadcasting DJ ill-fitting at times. As a sequel to Zombie Flesheaters it’s below average, meandering from one silly setup to the next but it’s still plenty of fun.

Zombi 3/Zombie Flesheaters 2 at times is more a virus flick, reminiscent of The Crazies or Nightmare City than Fulics cult film Zombi 2. Overall, with its gooey opening restored despite it’s short falls Zombie 3 remains none the less entertaining.

Zombi 4 : After Death (1989) a.k.a Zombie Flesheaters 3

Zombie 4 - After DeathA woman inadvertently goes back to a zombie infested island where her parents were killed.

Writer /director Claudio Fragasso wild abysmal sequel has very little link to Fulci’s Zombi. Fragasso’s film seems predominantly like Mattei’s Virus/ Hell of the living Dead / Night of the Zombies (1980). Like Night of the Zombies was a Dawn of the Dead wannabe, this is another bad cheese festival of zombie nonsense.

While the phrase so bad it’s good can be be applied to Night of the Zombies, Zombi 4 is plain borderline with a few redeeming features. Mainly some make up effects and lead cast. There’s awfully executed effects, shoddy lighting, sub-par directing, illogical storytelling and coupled with daft exposition dialogue in every scene at times its simply cheap but not cheerful. While fun, talking zombies, guns, candles falling over, jumping undead add up to very little.

The 80’s rock soundtrack of is probably its best redeeming feature. As another cash-in follow up to Zombie Flesheaters it’s slightly disappointing.

Oh horror, you can’t beat it, so many people have different ideas of what horror is and what makes a good horror film. Here’s a selection of recent examples I’ve watched but what strikes me is how diverse horror can be especially in style, content, rating and budget…

The Last Exorcism (2010)

A Reverend takes a crew of two to Louisiana to film him carry out an exorcism.

Director Daniel Stamm gives a polished and perfected hand-held camera POV film. However, Eli Roth’s name has been used heavily in publicising the film and his producer touches are few and far between. As a fan of Hostel The Last Exorcism is disappointing.

Many elements are reminiscent of many old and new horror films and the ending comes as no shock or surprise. The acting is average and is not as naturalist as you’d expect from the realistic setting. That said, Ashley Bell is creepy enough as the possessed girl, who’s fine performance is further enhanced by the great sound design and score.

Overall, the take on the trodden subject matter is just not clever enough to standout, especially when compared to the traditionally filmed House of the Devil (2009) and p.o.v films for example REC (2007) & 2 (2009), which have delivered more thrills with less effort.

The Last Exorcism is in no way a bad film, but this style of filming making has become competitive, common place and this Exorcism appears mediocre and unauthentic in the crowd.

The Human Centipede (2009)

A warped mad Dr. Heiter experiments on humans and animals to create the perfect pet centipede, this involves stitching mouths to rectums.

If you are shocked by the previous sentence don’t even consider watching director Tom Six’s Human Centipede. It’s horrific, but not hofficially bad. The film given it’s subject matter is very well-made with a clinical stylised look.

Lead Dieter Laser without a doubt is a fine actor and gives an excellent performance as he kidnaps, drugs, experiments and kills his way through the film, he is truly creepy The supporting cast are a diverse mix and are more than adequate in the supporting roles.

Nevertheless, the film goes beyond recent torture films a-la-Saw, Hostel and oozes more grossness than 80’s flick Society. That said, there’s problem with Six’s horror and that is it isn’t horror, it appears to be made for shocks sake and bad taste. It may not have been Six’s intention but oddly, as good as the settings, music and acting is you can’t get lost in the film. At times you may feel like an unwilling voyeur, dragged into one man’s mind. However, in this case it’s the writer/directors sordid fantasy and you’re watching him play out a desire and not the character of Dr. Heiter.

Overall, it’s one film a selective few will get off on and give others something to talk about down the pub.If the aim was to get the writers/directors name out, it works, but for most viewers wanting a satisfying horror flick it fails for all the right reasons.

Season of the Witch (2011)

Discredited 14th-century knights transport a suspected witch to a monastery as her powers could be the source of the Black Plague. It’s possibly fitting to describe Season of the Witch as a Hollywoodised version of Blackdeath, and In the Name of the Rose mixed with a dash of the opening of The Kingdom of Heaven.

Bragi F. Schut’s story delivers everything you’d expect from a supernatural action adventure. Director Dominic Sena delivers a fantastic looking film with good sound design and lighting. Over elaborate set ups aside the film is entertaining, the opening scene truly eerie. It has a Gothic feel reminiscent of Sleepy Hollow and The Wolfman.

Nicolas Cage (sporting his suited Sorcerers Apprentice style hair) is on form and Ron Perlman is a joy to watch as usual. However, oddly between the engaging dialogue there’s some forced jokes that are ill-fitting at times and borderline cringe worthy. Maybe due to rewrites or an uneven script, either way this injection of humour slightly mars the overall tone of the film. The supporting cast are first-rate including Stephen Campbell Moore, Stephen Graham, Ulrich Thomsen, Claire Foy,Robert Sheehan and Christopher Lee as the Cardinal.

It has great costumes, sets and eerie pious music. Despite the aforementioned problem there’s wolves, witches, demons, exorcism, possession, brooding fog, castles, dark forests, swordplay and everything you’d expect from an atmospheric fantasy period piece. Recommend.

For me it’s comparable to Al Pacino and Robert DeNiro meeting in Heat as horror stars Vincent Price and Peter Cushing converge in Madhouse. It’s a surreal and momentous moment in horror so I was compelled to share a few thoughts on the occasion.
An ageing horror star comes out of retirement only to find murder follows him everywhere he goes.
There’s nothing better than watching two stars, in this case horror stars grace the same screen. Very loosely based on Angus Hall’s novel Devil day (1969) Madhouse is certainly of time (1974) which is a good thing, making it contemporary of that time and different their older films. After parties, Cine films, film reels, film launches, tributes and the trappings of fame are on show indicative of film world at that time. Madhouse is wonderfully shot, rich in contrast, with excellent set design and locations. It exudes atmosphere in places and is genuinely creepy in spots, still it’s an odd film, almost surreal in places, especially the scenes in the cellar and the body on the boat.
With a striking looking supporting cast both Vincent Price and Peter Cushing are excellent. Even though in their fermenting ages which is a shame, it’s fitting to the story, and you can’t help feel that there’s irony baste over irony in Prices role of Paul Toombes, even maybe a hint of truth in the dialogue of his character. Mild-mannered Cushing as Herbert Flay unfortunately doesn’t get as much screen-time as you’d like. This is certainly Price’s show and he effortlessly captures the viewer with his immense presence and deep tones as much as he did 10 years earlier in The Last Man on Earth (1964).
Although reminiscent in feel of The House on Haunted Hill (1959) and The Satanic Rites of Dracula (1973) it’s my no means a ‘classic’ but there is enough killings, spiders, old horror clips, kooky cops and good performances to keep you watching veteran editor Jim Clark’s (Charade (1963), Memphis Belle (1990)) last and only horror directing contribution.
All in all, Madhouse an intriguing must see for its possible comparable look at how much real life Price was injected into Dr. Death by Ken Levison in his screenplay.
Although box office spectacles, summer extravaganzas and leaps in special effects Jurassic Park was fairly unrealised compared to Michael Crichton novels. The three films in total grossed a whopping $1,902,110,926, that’s a lot of dino-dough. Here are ;some thoughts on the franchise so far…
In 1993 after queueing forever I watched the much hyped film and left the cinema unfulfilled, I still feel the same way. The effects still hold up well, although the seams between C.G.I, animatronics and puppets are even more apparent it was a mile stone.
Jurassic ParkAlthough Michael Crichton’s book wasn’t fully realised Steven Spielberg’s film adaptation has some fantastic set pieces, notably the T-Rex attack, raptor kitchen action and closing finale.
Sadly, even though superior in scope it’s not as balanced as West World,the in between segments feel like gap fillers and the characters are given little, albeit some witty dialogue, usually from the most developed character Ian Malcolm played by Jeff Goldblum others are are wasted. Laura Dern is good but the script let’s her down at times making her unnecessary dated feminist fodder. Sam Neill is on form but is given some cringe-worthy dialogue usually involving the kids.
The supporting cast are fine, even the child actors are likable and superb. Samuel L. Jackson Richard Attenborough, Bob Peck are solid and Wayne Knight as crook Dennis Nerdy is memorable. Nevertheless, characters fleet in and out, either killed or never seen again. There are a too many cliffhangers and throw away gags. Events appear as just that, events and it doesn’t flow as well as it should. In addition, the editing doesn’t compliment the earlier action or the dialogue scenes as much as in the later half. Too much happens off screen and I don’t just mean the dinosaur shenanigans.
Jurassic Park (Widescreen Collector's Edition)John Williams score is simply wonderful, and the location feel gives it a unique atmosphere. Even with a lack of blood and an archetype hero to root for Jurassic Park still manages to thrill but these magic moments are few and far between compared to Spielberg’s other works.
An entertaining benchmark in effects history but as a dino-bite of cinema but I prefer the flow of Joe Johnson’s third instalment.
Four years after the disaster at Jurassic Park on a nearby island (site B) dinosaurs roam free but InGen a plan to capture and bring the dinosaurs to the mainland.
The Lost WorldSteven Spielberg’s follow up to Jurassic Park bears little resemblance to the novel and is more reminiscent of King Kong. Missing an opportunity to include Dodgson from Crichton’s novel and the first film, both Joseph Mazzello as Tim and Ariana Richards as Lex briefly return. Like Richard Attenborough’s John Hammond they are welcomed, although simply throw away cameos. There’s far too many unnecessary characters in The Lost World, that said, hunter Pete Postlethwaite and Vince Vaughn are notable. Jeff Goldblum returns as Ian Malcolm, but paranoid after the events of the first film and must rescue his partner Sarah Harding (Julianne Moore).
The Lost World: Jurassic Park - Original Motion Picture SoundtrackIt’s welcomingly darker and pacier than Jurassic Park but unfortunately it’s less consistent in tone and feels rushed which is surprising for Steven Spielberg. Nevertheless, the sound and John Williams score is on the money, the practical and visual effects are superb there are some stand out scenes, including the capturing of the dinosaurs, the raptor attack in the long-grass and the T-Rex cliff assault. Aside from the jarring and disjointed closing act set in San Diego, the set pieces flow making it as satisfying as its predecessor.
Overall, The Lost World: Jurassic Park is packed full of dinosaurs but is also full of peaks and troughs.
An odd couple with ulterior motives convince Dr. Alan Grant to go to Isla Sorna (InGen’a dinosaur site B) to find their missing son.
Jurassic Park III: The Original Motion Picture SoundtrackSteven Spielberg’s hands over the directing reigns to Joe Johnston who does a great job at mixing the feel of Jurassic Park and the velocity of the Lost World. The events of The Lost World are mentioned briefly, which is a nice nod and link for fans of the second but it also allows the action to swiftly move on. Jurassic Park 3 injects some surprises, however, they’re mostly reworked, unused segments from Crichton’s first novel. Despite, Téa Leoni annoying character Amanda Kirby, the other players are entertaining enough including reliable William H. Macy and the welcomed return of Sam Neill in the lead role and Laura Dern (in a cameo).
Jurassic Park III (Widescreen Collector's Edition)Although many ideas and themes are regurgitated from the Jurassic Park novels and movie predecessors, it’s all done slicker by ILM, Stan Winston and Johnston. Topped with John Williams original theme and some great dinosaur setups, including a boat attack, the Pterodactyl aviary and T-Rex battle Jurassic Park 3 doesn’t miss Spielberg’s directing magic but isn’t perfect either, it lacks depth. That said, it’s still a tight entertainment ride.
As a fan of Hammer horror, with a few of their many films being a spiritual inspiration for my book Blood Hunger, Hammer sent me a brad new copy and I thought it rude not to say a few words on the iconic studios latest offering Wake Wood...

Blood Hunger

Following the unnecessary, yet excellent remake Let me in Hammer returns with Wake Wood a supernatural chiller in which a child is brought back from the dead to comfort her parents for three days. But she’s not quite the angelic child she was.

Eva Birthistle plays the grieving mother Louise and Twelve Rounds (2009) bad guy Adian Gillen is exceptional as the deceased child’s father. Reliable Timothy Spall and the child actress are notable and the supporting cast are solid.
There’s some effective bloody gore, grizzly births, severed spines, dog attacks and killings. Some supernatural elements take place out of shot to avoid the use of CGI, which adds to the believability and saves the budget.

Wake Wood is dark, damp and dreary just as it should be. Nevertheless, it is slightly stifled by a filmed for TV look. That aside, with a small budget director David Keating keeps the blood flowing and the pace going. And it benefits in plausibility and atmosphere with an on location shoot. There’s plenty of shadows, eerie music, sharp editing and a grounded screen-play (by Brendan McCarthy) to keep you watching with a grin that Hammer may have a place in this century.

Wake Wood [Blu-ray]

With elements of Don’t Look Now, Case 39, Carrie, The Wicker Man and Pet Cemetery to name a few you could argue it’s all be done before and better. However, Wake Wood’s great ending debatably leaves you thinking sometimes less is more.