Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Dolls (1987) moralistic killer toys


A group of strangers take shelter from a storm in an old house only to find themselves hunted down by a collection of dolls, from old-fashioned china dolls and porcelain dolls to dolls that talk and move.

Written by Ed Naha 1987's Stuart Gordon's Dolls remains creepy and scary and is certainly not for viewers with a pediophobia. Fuzzbee Morse's great score is atmospherically fitting with its melodic cues and stings there's also a touch of 80s synthesiser thrown in.

The set design and locations set up the eeriness from the outset. Mac Ahlberg's cinematography coupled with Gordon's old school camera tricks and some fantastic blood, gore and practical special effects from an array of craft masters sell the horror. Watching the unsavoury characters getting picked off one by one, meeting their demise is horror fun throughout.

Choppy continuity and a spate of dodgy acting aside Gordon's offering for the most part is excellent. The tone is more oppressive than that of Charles Band's PuppetMaster (who was also one of the producers on Dolls) and those familiar with Brian Yuzna's horror work will notice his producer touch on the production.

Even though some optical effects and Dave Allen's stop motion has dated slightly they still add an uneasy air to the proceedings. The death scenes are effective and credit to the special effects team when it's revealed what's under the dolls it's enough to send shivers up and down the spine.

Amongst the dark corridors, antique furnishings, storms and lightening there's a handful of standout scenes, Hillary Hartwicke with a pram; killer toy solider death squad; Teddy bear attack to name a few. Aside from Mr. Punch and Teddy the dolls act as more of a collective.

With some dark humour perfectly cast Hilary Mason's (no stranger horror roles including Don't Look Now and The Haunted) timing and subtle delivery as the old woman Hartwicke is outstanding. Carrie Lorraine's Judy, an imaginative little girl is very effective. Stephen Lee's (Robocop 2) innocent Ralph fits the part in contrast to Guy Rolfe spooky character(who would later play Toulon in Puppet Master 3 to name a few) is on fine form.

A recommended moralistic adult fairytale highlighting that being a parent is a privilege not a right.


Dolls on IMDb

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Excalibur - as noble as it's knights

After Merlin the magician brings up Arthur to be king, forces conspire to tear Camelot apart.

John Boorman's retelling of the King Arthur tale is debatably the definitive version to date. It's an advantageous production which benefits from a dreamlike quality with stylized lighting, effects and sweeping cinema photography. It's violent, sexually overt, yet, intentional or not the blood is comic-like with bright reds and crimson. Based on Thomas Malory's book with a handful of writers involved in the screenplay it commendably covers a lot of ground cramming in all the main segments you'd expect from the legend.

The performances are theatrical which makes the dialogue more palatable. Arthur Pendragon's (Nigel Terry) journey from country bumpkin to King is a joy and the famous affair, love, loss and betrayal themes are handled terrifically. Nicholas Clay as Sir Lancelot is perfect and has a short character arch. The quotable lines come thick and fast, Nicol Williamson's over the top quirky, witty Merlin is a delight to watch and a young Helen Mirren as Morgana lifts the ensemble. While Cherie Lunghi may not be everyone's idea of the perfectly cast Guinevere there's still a star studded cast which includes the likes of Gabriel Byrne, Liam Neeson and Patrick Stewart to name a few.

Some of the effects may have dated but it oozes atmosphere and spirit benefiting from an on location feel, coupled with the lavish set design It is a visual treat, yes it's exaggerated reality but that's part of Excalibur's allure. Recommended.

Fire and Ice - Teegra flesh revisited

A king's land is under an impending threat from an ice lord and his army. After his daughter is kidnapped a warrior assists the princess to reunite her with her people.

Like Ralph Bakshis' The Lord of the Rings (1978), Fire and Ice has plenty of atmosphere, it actually oozes it but it's dispensable story leaves it lacklustre given its similarities to other tales. It also appears unusual that the sub character, namely Darkwolf is more fleshed out than the main lead Larn. That said, there's some nice fantasy elements notably the sub-human ape-like beings, flying dragon hawk-like creatures and sorcerers to name a few.

Given the adult nature of the film it may have been rounded by more blood splatter and Cynthia Leake/ Maggie Roswell (voice) Teegra either being topless through-out or less scantly clad as she almost becomes a titillating distraction.

That said, there's no shortage of ambiance with wonderful background paintings on display. The rotoscope technique and animation give it a magical unearthly feel. The Teegra flesh on display and a Conan-esque witch scene that makes it worth a viewing alone. Yes it's flawed but it's also visually masterfully crafted.

Invasion of the Body Snatchers those pesky pods

The people of San Francisco are being duplicated by an alien organism and replaced while they sleep with an emotionless copy. A handful of citizens who realise the truth try to escape the invasion.

Opening with a distant planet and it's life-form's journey to earth with its spore spouting (thanks to some well executed) effects, it's a quality production. Like it's 1956 predecessor what's interesting is the refreshing angle how a scifi invasion flick can be handled without spaceships and green men. As well as the number of subtexts to discover there's also a San Francisco undertone of a city changing. Here so convincingly true to life are the expected reactions including terror, humour and wit from the characters. It's relevant covering inherent fears of paranoia which is probably a testament to why the 1978 version is so well regarded.

A lot of attention has gone into the background activities on display as the characters discover something is not quite right, there is great self aware camera work and realistic settings, natural lighting and so on, it's hard not to like director Philip Kaufman's finely constructed science fiction. Overall, subtle in places, it's intense in others with chases and effective hard hitting scenes featuring ghastly half formed pod people, including a part man part dog alien. The special effects holdup and are still creepy.

Complete with a cameo for Kevin McCarthy of the original this is both Donald Sutherland and Brooke Adams (complete with hairy armpits) arguably finest performances, with the likes of energetic Jeff Goldblum, Veronica Cartwright and Leonard Nimoy in their respective supporting roles. 

Thanks to a convincing script from W.D. Richter, Kaufman's fine direction coupled with Jack Finney's solid novel source material and the natural delivery of the actors, Invasion of the Body Snatchers is still a credible, mature and tour de force of mistrust and conspiracy.

A must see for serious science fiction fans.



Gravity to boldly go...

Astronauts are left stranded in space when debris hits their shuttle, with a limited air supply they are left fighting for survival.

Director Alfonso Cuaron offers an interesting, intense tour-de-force that will leave most viewers with sweaty palms and a lump in their throat. Sandra Bullock is above her usual form as Stone, while Matt Kowalski's cock sure character played by George Clooney's is as exceptional as the first rate special effects on display. Considering the small cast the pace is fast with never a dull moment as it moves from one spacewalk to the next.

The film feels very much based in reality, the first person perspective shots are used sparingly and effectively, they add to the claustrophobic feeling in contrast to sweeping views and emptiness of space which adds to the tension. Orbit and space has never felt or looked so real thanks to the benchmark effects.

While the story doesn't break any new ground, it's a basic yarn, visually it excels all expectations, Alfonso and Jonás Cuarón's screenplay has some interesting touches and dialogue one of which notably features Clooney's character and overall it comes full circle to a satisfying conclusion. Cuaron and crew's faultless execution, coupled with a fitting soundtrack, score and some fantastic sound design deliver a heart pounding and moving tale.

A milestone cinema, which raises the special effects bar, highly recommended.



Monday, 10 March 2014

Zombie Anime, High School of the Dead

A small band students escape the post-zombiefication of their school to discover their families fates while battling some unsavoury survivors and zombie hordes.

The teen focus for the most part works, although it plays a little awkward for viewers given the abundance of up-skirt and cleavage shots. Still it's an interesting perspective. Some of the scenes granted are childish and overly comedic but these are few and those familiar with the anime style wont bat an eyelid. The interplay between the teenagers and adult protagonists are handled well and the highschoolers especially Psycho and Takashi come across older than they are.

There's cursing, violence, action, blood and gore aplenty, the slow moving zombies are perfectly realised, gruesome and scary which gives the show the required edginess to hold its own. High School of the Dead is designed and drawn skilfully with the sound design and soundtrack as equally pleasing.

Yes, it suffers from the all zombie genres clichés and stereotypes but it's fulfilling, exciting and fun.


Tuesday, 4 March 2014

When the Lights Went Out

Yorkshire, 1974: the Maynard family moves into their dream house but soon discovery it is already occupied by a violent spirit.

Based on what is regarded as the most violent poltergeist haunting in Europe and not to be confused with the 'Enfield Poltergeist', from the metal bins to glass milk bottles, cigarette filled pubs, Buckaroo, Kerr plunk, wood panelled walls, seventies patterned wallpaper and 70's TV to name a few When the Lights Went Out is worth viewing for the 70s nostalgia alone.

Director Pat Holden takes some queues from some well know horrors and parts of his offering are unavoidably reminiscent of The Amativille Horror, The Exorcist and Poltergeist. Although the closing is unnecessary effects laden, the overall unassuming setting adds to the ominous and uneasy feel, this coupled with the minimal melodic music and lighting create some good tension.

With haunting figures and things going bump in the coal shed and dwelling as the family becomes more convinced their house isn't right, it becomes quite compelling viewing especially for those also familiar with the well documented alleged haunting. The creepy sound design makes the most mundane objects jumpy and menacing as the incidents escalate throughout. Along with the on location feel amongst the expertly recreated period, the everyday UK setting adds to an air of realism.

Part horror, part family drama what's interesting is the haunting events and its effect on the daughter and family and the reaction of the school and local community. It's well filmed and acted, notable are Kate Ashfield , Steven Waddington, Tasha Connor with Craig Parkinson Martin Compston and Andrea Lowe providing some good performances in supporting roles.

With a bit of artistic licence, based on The Black Monk of Pontefract, Holden gives the events context and structure to a story that's well acted amounting to a solid British haunting film.


Insidious: Chapter 2 return to the afterlife

After being trapped in the afterlife a father must return to save his family from a serial killing entity or be lost forever.

Opening with an exposition flashback and picking up where part one left off director James Wan delivers another afterlife visual treat. This sequel has its share of shrouded corpses, ghostly figures, an abandoned hospital and dilapidated houses to name a few.

Thankfully this is not some cheap cash-in. What's engaging is that the original cast return including the solid Patrick Wilson and Rose Byrne along with Elise Rainier and Barbara Hershey in their supporting roles. Worthy of note is The House of the Devil's (2009) Jocelin Donahue as Hershey's Lorraine younger self. To the casting directors credit the supporting actors who play the younger characters are successfully integrated. Of course for a bit of relief and grounding from Tucker (Angus Sampson)and Leigh Whannell's Specs who also return.

It's stylised make-up of the ghostly faces and cross layering between and afterlife, flashbacks, spiritual time paradoxes are finely executed. While it has its fair share of creepy moments, notably a scene involving a tin can make shift telephone it's debatably not as tension filled as the first instalment. That said, with a few twists and interesting exposition it keeps you on your toes from start to finish.

What makes Chapter 2 shine is that writer Leigh Whannell expands the story building on his and Wan's original concept without changing it too much, it really is a satisfying sequel and incorporates even some of the original's scenes. Both cinematographer John R. Leonetti (Sleepy Hollow) and composer Joseph Bishara also return which again is in keeping with the first, retaining its atmosphere and look.

Granted it's packed with horror clichés but Wan's execution and style gives this an edge over similar types of horrors. Overall, while not reinventing the horror wheel, it's a satisfying follow-up.


Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Robocop (2014) - part remake, part action... All entertainment


While robots keep the peace in other countries America has yet to convert. After an officer is left for dead, what is left of him is engineered into a robotic design and he goes about to arrest his killers but finds his investigation is putting himself in jeopardy.

Forget Paul Verhoeven's excellent 1987 original, many characters and story emphasis have been changed but for fans OCP is mentioned briefly and there's some dialogue nods to the original to name a few. Director Jose Padilha's incarnation is pleasantly different enough to avoid comparison and he certainly puts his own stamp on the subject material although there are unavoidably elements reminiscent of The Vindicator (1986) and The Wraith (1986).

The action is frantic, and gritty with plenty of graphic scenes and violence, for example Robocop's innards out on display, lungs, brain and oesophagus also there's an intense shoot out even though on occasion Padilha's uses thermal imagery to possibly avoid censorship. But a film shouldn't be about a rating, Padilha's offering is about heart with it ending on a high and a hark back to the original Robocop design.

All in all the special effects are impressive, the shooting style is what you'd expect from a modern action. This version is more a cop story than robotics. What's on display delves into corporate corruption (less 'Wall Street' than the 1987 version) and (saldy) skims the street crime underbelly.

Samuel L. Jackson is Pat Novak, his segments (a show with theme tune of the original film's theme music) replaces and updates the commercial satire adverts and news reels, he's more of a political presenter /analyst, needless to say Jackson is on his usual top form.

Both Gary Oldman as Doctor Norton with a heart and Michael Keaton as OmniCorp's head Sellars are outstanding and are what you'd expect for their caliber. Joel Kinnaman is a fitting Robocop/Alex Murphy and carries the emotion, as here it's about his relationship with his wife (Abbie Cornish) making it more focal, which was only touched on in Robocop and part 2. The supporting cast are all high calibre including the likes of Jackie Earle, Aimee Garcia, Jay Baruchel and Jennifer Ehle.

Like its predecessor's social commentary another appreciation for the 2014 version, which may be overlooked, is its own subtle societal commentary, including but not limited to- non-domestic overseas manufacturing, i.e. Robocop is made in the east, countries marketing and distributing its products/ideals/morals without adopting them themselves and so on.

It will be interesting to see where a sequel will take Alex Murphy - part remake, part cop story, all new Robocop, surprisingly recommend.

Monday, 17 February 2014

Insidious: Chapter 2 (2013)

After being trapped in the afterlife a father must return to save his family from a serial killing entity or be lost forever.

Opening with an exposition flashback and picking up where part one left off director James Wan delivers another afterlife visual treat. This sequel has its share of shrouded corpses, ghostly figures, an abandoned hospital and dilapidated houses to name a few.

Thankfully this is not some cheap cash-in. What's engaging is that the original cast return including the solid Patrick Wilson and Rose Byrne along with Elise Rainier and Barbara Hershey in their supporting roles. Worthy of note is The House of the Devil's (2009) Jocelin Donahue as Hershey's Lorraine younger self. To the casting directors credit the supporting actors who play the younger characters are successfully integrated. Of course for a bit of relief and grounding Tucker (Angus Sampson)and Leigh Whannell's Specs also return.

It's stylised make-up of the ghostly faces and cross layering between and afterlife, flashbacks, spiritual time paradoxes are finely executed. While it has its fair share of creepy moments, notably a scene involving a tin can make shift telephone it's debatably not as tension filled as the first instalment. That said, with a few twists and interesting exposition it keeps you on your toes from start to finish.

What makes Chapter 2 shine is that writer Leigh Whannell expands the story building on his and Wan's original concept without changing it too much, it really is a satisfying sequel and incorporates even some of the original's scenes. Both cinematographer John R. Leonetti (Sleepy Hollow) and composer Joseph Bishara also return which again is in keeping with the first, retaining its atmosphere and look.

Granted it's packed with horror clichés but Wan's execution and style give this an edge over many similar type of horrors. Overall, while not reinventing the wheel a satisfying follow-up.

Insidious: Chapter 2 on IMDB