Friday 31 December 2010

Flavours of the Month: December 2010...


Twin Peaks - jumping from The Horror Channel to the lovely 10-disc "Definitive Golden Box Edition" DVD (with a healthy dose of extra features), I finished my first tour through the fascinating and memorable oddball drama that was Twin Peaks. If only there had been a third season, because that cliffhanger just leaves you wanting to know what would have happened next. Additionally I dug into the prequel movie Fire Walk With Me, which I talked about in an earlier post.

The Blue Planet - I got this for my birthday months ago, but I hadn't seen it yet, so I figured it was about time I dug into it. Fascinating stuff, but it was the deep sea episode that was my favourite. It's astonishing what's way down there in the inky darkness of the deep sea, isn't it?

Lost: Season One & Two DVD Extras - the show came to an end earlier this year, so I've gone back to the beginning - well, the extra features anyway.

Italian Horror - it's been a lot of Argento-flavoured movies this month, what with Demons 1 & 2 (which he co-wrote & presented), as well as The Bird With The Crystal Plumage, Deep Red, and The Cat O'Nine Tails.

Avatar (Blu-Ray) - a third viewing of James Cameron's mega budget blockbuster. I still dig it.

The Expendables (Blu-Ray) - a ruddy good flick in its own right, but what impressed me most was the feature length making of documentary "Inferno" featured in the UK 3-disc package, which was just superb.


Twin Peaks - Angelo Badalamenti and Julee Cruse have been providing the background to my web surfing this month with their hypnotic sound.

Goblin "Profondo Rosso" and "Tenebrae" - from the Argento films of the same names.

Shutter Island soundtrack ("Symphony No.3 Passacaglia", and "On The Nature of Daylight") - both are equally as haunting from Scorsese's superior genre flick.


STALKER: Call of Pripyat - I was months late getting into this, but nevertheless I enjoyed the hell out of it. It took a bit of getting into initially, but once I was in, I was all about exploring every nook and cranny. The first game had the better story and climax, but this third entry in the series was the best all-round package.

Seasonal Snow - in January we got a shedload of snow, and this month, not even a whole year later, we got another big old dose of the white stuff accompanied by sub-zero temperatures all month. It's been as cold as -13c in my neck of the woods during the night, so it's been pretty damn cold out there. However it did mean we had a lovely covering of snow on Christmas Day itself, and I can't remember experiencing that before - so that was quite special indeed.

Call of Duty: Black Ops - one of my Xmas presents for this year; it's not perfect by any means (too many scripted moments where you have no player control, muddled battles that leave you a bit confused, endlessly respawning enemies at certain points, and generally not feeling all that different from previous entries in the franchise) ... but on the plus side I did still rather enjoy it (the plot was more interesting and better structured than that of Modern Warfare 2, which was sadly lacking on that front, being inserted into certain historical moments and alternate historical moments was cool, and some of the levels were really damn cool). Hopefully the next CoD game will shake things up considerably - and provide a longer single player experience - but despite some problems that Black Ops sports, I still quite enjoyed it.

The Big Book of Top Gear 2011 - one of the many books I got for Xmas. I've certainly got plenty to read over the coming weeks and months ... this, plus Scott Pilgrim Vol. 1&2, The Walking Dead Vol. 5, "It's Only A Movie" by Mark Kermode, "Driving Us Insane" by Jeremy Klaxon (a spoof), "The Man In The White Suit" by Ben Collins, "The World According To Clarkson: How Hard Can It Be?" by Jeremy Clarkson, and "Ice Cream & Sadness: Cyanide & Happiness Vol. 2" by the Cyanide & Happiness web comic guys.


And being that this is New Year's Eve - to one and all, have a groovy night and a spiffing New Year 2011!

Thursday 30 December 2010

Deadlands 2: Trapped on Blu-Ray review...

The guys over at High-Def Digest have done a review of Gary Ugarek's indie zombie flick Deadlands 2: Trapped - and in the extra features you'll find a familiar something from DeadShed Productions.

"I Am Zombie Man" Series (HD, 39 min) — Three short films by British filmmaker Nick Thomson of Deadshed Productions. After a brief introduction by the writer/director, viewers can enjoy the goofy faux-documentary about a very lonely zombie. It's all done for a laugh and a good time, with the third movie in the series being probably the best.

Tuesday 21 December 2010

My most memorable movie viewing experiences #6...

Graduate and Beyond:

The Descent (Neil Marshall, 2005):
When – Summer 2005
Where – Home Video
Why – It was sunny outside, it was the middle of the day, and I was watching the flick on my computer on a relatively small screen – and yet despite the setting, Marshall’s ‘chicks with picks’ claustrophobic horror managed to creep me out and cause me to jump on several occasions. Even with further viewings on DVD it still manages to chill, which in the world of modern horror movies really a special achievement.

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (Andrew Dominik, 2007):
When – 2008
Where – Home Video
Why – The titular sequence in Dominik’s luxurious western haunted me for days and days afterwards, but more than that, the entire film was a sumptuously shot slow-burn film with a superb soundtrack. A viewing just recently on DVD recaptured that same impression and I just absolutely loved it.

Eyes Wide Shut (Stanley Kubrick, 1999):
When – January 2009
Where – Home Video
Why – I’d never watched Kubrick’s final film when it originally came out – at a time when I was busily devouring numerous titles from his back catalogue (repeatedly, in some cases) and indeed it took me a decade to finally get around to seeing this after getting the Director’s Series Stanley Kubrick 10-disc DVD box set. Kubrick’s films had long since become a once-in-a-blue-moon event, so it was nice to have this one that I still hadn’t seen – his final film no less – to devour and re-experience the uniqueness of Kubrick’s visions. It’s not perfect, and not his best, but the sense of occasion and the passionate attention to detail was something to behold in itself.

United 93 (Paul Greengrass, 2006):
When – Summer 2006
Where – Home Video
Why – Greengrass’ frenetic re-telling of the tragic fate which befell the passengers of United Airlines Flight 93 on September 11th 2001 was a perfectly paced and horrifying affair. The tension and impending tragedy of the situation ratchets up with expert timing, until the final sequence in which the passengers storm the hijackers and attempt to regain control of the plane was nothing short of totally-and-physically arresting. Those last minutes of the film, right before the devastating cut-to-black was beyond an edge-of-my-seat experience, so much so that when the passengers first attacked the hijackers I literally leapt out of my chair, fist thrashing into the air, and exclaimed “get those bastards!” (or something to that effect). I can’t think of any film that I have ever seen that has had such a profound and physical effect upon me. Astonishing.

Martyrs (Pascal Laugier, 2008):
When – 2009
Where – Home Video
Why – It’s not a particularly common thing for a horror movie to properly creep me out – not just give me a shock jump – but to genuinely get inside my head and stay there like a nasty infestation. So decisive was the effect of watching this somewhat ‘existential torture’ horror flick, that I had trouble getting to sleep that night, and it remained lurking around in my mind for some time afterwards. Now and then a film will come along that will really get inside your head and trouble you and Martyrs was such a film.

Monday 20 December 2010

My most memorable movie viewing experiences #5...

Uni Years:

The Maltese Falcon (John Huston, 1941):
When – Autumn 2002
Where – Campus Screening Room
Why – My three years doing my degree in Film & Television Studies was a time when my eyes were opened to a whole host of films that I would have never watched beforehand, and one of the big new things for me was in the first semester of the first year on the Key Issues In Film Studies course when we had a print screening of the Bogart version of The Maltese Falcon. My mid-semester essay was to do with the style of the film, and I became a Bogart fan – consuming Casablanca (one of my all time favourite films, along with The Maltese Falcon), Key Largo, and The Big Sleep in quick succession in the following weeks – and as a result of this tale of Sam Spade, the 1940s has become one of my favourite periods of cinematic history.

Saving Private Ryan (Steven Spielberg, 1998):
When – Mid-2000s
Where – Off-Campus Bedroom
Why – While I’d already seen the movie a handful of times since not long after its original release, it was during the Lucas & Spielberg course that I came to do an essay on the opening Omaha Beach sequence – a shot-by-shot breakdown in fact, and when you consider how many shots there are in that first 25 minute sequence, it was an arduous task. Every few seconds I’d be pausing the DVD – sat there in my cramped 6ft by 8ft bedroom – and writing down exactly what was happening on screen and how it would fit into my analysis. I’ve rarely studied a sequence in that much detail, and as a result producing that essay has stuck in my mind ever since.

E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (Steven Spielberg, 1982):
When – Mid-2000s
Where – Campus Screening Room
Why – Again during the Lucas & Spielberg course, one of the weeks focussed on E.T. – a film that I’d enjoyed as a kid, but for some reason had come to really quite dislike during my teenage years … I’m not entirely sure why, but I was so switched-off to the movie for some reason. Quite to my surprise then, was when we watched the movie together as a class, and I got totally invested in it. What’s more, it actually choked me up, and as a result my opinion of the movie (which had become bitter for no discernable reason) performed a total 180.

La Jetee (Chris Marker, 1962):
When – Mid-2000s
Where – Campus Screening Room
Why – During the Photography & The Arts course, on which I did an in-depth analysis of the visual language of Antonioni’s Blow-Up, a film which really struck me was La Jetee – the film which went on to inspire Twelve Monkeys. The music, the static visuals in their high contrast black and white brilliance, the dark and weird sci-fi plot – it all left a lasting impression.

Saw (James Wan, 2004):
When – 2004
Where – Off-Campus Bedroom
Why – It’s easy to forget now, as a result of annual sequels of diminishing quality, clarity and box office draw, that the original Saw was a grotesquely dark and brilliant indie horror flick that came like a bolt out of the blue. It was truly chilling in its approach to truly chilling subject matter; its violence was stunningly graphic (and not at all expected or old hat as what the sequels produced), and the big reveal at the end literally left my jaw slung low with shock – in fact that entire reveal, brilliant industrial score included (which still sends shivers down my spine to this day), haunted my mind for quite some time afterwards.

Duel (Steven Spielberg, 1971):
When – Mid-2000s
Where – Campus Seminar Room
Why – Less of a viewing of the movie, and more a group presentation of a theory regarding one particular sequence. Once again on the Lucas & Spielberg course, my group and I had drawn the latter’s stunningly gripping debut chase movie, and we proceeded to – jokingly – argue that the entire movie was an allegory for male rape. We argued (with the rest of the class in on the joke, but not the lecturer, whose Modus Operandi for reading movies consistently skewed towards more Freudian territory) that the great big brute of a truck was raping the effeminate little red car and that it was all to do with sexual dominance in the male species.

Now, there is an argument that can be made for such a reading, or part of such a reading – and we were half-serious about it – but it was this deliberate, joking escalation of the theory into perverse territory that has become one of my fondest memories of film school. In fact the lecturer rather liked our theory!

Napoleon Dynamite (Jared Hess, 2004):
When – Spring 2005
Where – Off-Campus Living Room
Why – During the spring semester of our final year at university, tensions and divisions were beginning to present themselves within our group of four in our off-campus house. Personally I found the final six months of university to be quite a stressful time for various reasons, and after a few blow-outs amongst the group, we needed something to regain the sense of fun and unity that had summed up the first two years of our time at uni.

That movie was Napoleon Dynamite and it was introduced to us all by one housemate who was quite taken with it. We sat down to watch it – a background tension in the air – and within twenty minutes we were all laughing uproariously at the quirky indie-com. The movie became the last big thing that we as a house were all about, and we watched it many times – practically quoting the script verbatim as it would play, and not even when we were watching it, just during a normal day. It was such a thing of the moment, for me at least, that I’ve not yet re-watched the movie since – only the odd moment here or there when it’s been on television – however, when I do, I’m sure it’ll take me vividly right back to those final weeks of university when everything got back on track in the house and we all got that sense of fun back.

Saturday 18 December 2010

Double Bill Mini Musings: A load of old Italian cobblers...

Demons & Demons 2:
The Italians, when it comes to the horror genre at least, aren't especially known for particularly great plots. The Italians love the look of something, and that's their primary focus - and so it is with this Dario Argento presented twosome, directed by Lamberto Bava (son of Mario "Bay of Blood" Bava).

The first has a bunch of randomly dated characters (including a pimp-like dude who looks like he got lost somewhere between Saturday Night Fever and a dialogue-light bad guy for Pam Grier to pummel) all attending a secret movie premiere. So begins the movie-within-a-movie, featuring some random mask that cuts you when you put it on and turns you into a demon, who can spread the demon disease through their fingernails. Inexplicably, in the lobby, there is a similar mask (for some reason dangling off the handlebar of a motorbike ... what random movie was this display supposed to be advertising anyway?) that, you guessed it, cuts the cheek of one of the pimp dude's floozies.

She goes all demon on everyone's arse and soon enough the good stuff in the flick finally gets on the go - that being the gore and nonsense violence. Grandiose shots, agonising shots to boot, of demons having their human teeth slowly pushed out by their devilish gnashers (similiar with their fingernails) ... and then constant shots of them wandering around aimlessly screaming ... ... the cast of dated stereotypes and useless fodder, led by the white-suited pimp, barricade themselves and fend off the back-lit, glowing eyed, titular antagonists - and get picked off one-by-one.

Fast forward to a helicopter - for utterly no reason at all - crashing through the ceiling, as well as endlessly dull sequences of coke-headed punks driving interminably around a not-at-all-good-to-look-at Italian city from the 1980s, to simply become yet more fodder, and it's all a bit insufferable, I've got to be honest.

I was rather looking forward to seeing Demons and Demons 2, but neither have the grandiose, painterly vision of Argento's technically superior eye, nor the unmitigated sleaze of Fulci's grindhouse grot. These flicks sit somewhere, uneasily, between, and while Argento's flicks sometimes aren't the strongest when it comes to plot, at least they have one that makes a lick of sense. Demons, and particularly the inferior sequel, is just a bunch of random crap happening.

Speaking of which, the second movie is exactly the same - but in a building - not 'the same like Die Hard 2 is the first one in an airport', no, it's pretty much exactly the same. It again features a movie-within-a-movie, that's supposed to be important, but isn't really, it again features the pimp-in-the-white-suit (this time as a tough-talking gym instructor), it again features a useless rabble of punks insufferably driving around a naff-looking Italian city, it again features gruesomely detailed shots of demon-dental-restructuring, and doesn't make a scrap of sense.

Most of the characters, more so than in the first, are literally nameless, and it's all set in an exceptionally ugly apartment complex filled wall-to-wall with cannon fodder. A bunch of random nonsense happens scene-after-scene in this 'swish' prison, all loosely cobbled together under 'various people need to survive the siege' - and the overacting, just like in the first, is heinous. It's not just naff acting, it's stupendously bad acting, performed by apparently good looking people.

What's worse though is how long it takes for the monsters to transform for most of the movie, until the third act when - for, again, no good reason at all - every remaining side character (in a cast of side characters) instantaneously mutates for 'a scare' (and that's at the same time as being able to impersonate their former selves, which was never flagged up to be an actual ability ... especially as, again, they spend half the movie lumbering around, back-lit, eyes glowing, and screaming endlessly at nothing).

I was really quite interested to see these flicks - the trailers made them look rather enjoyable - but the horrendous scripts, overacting, and general lack of sensible pacing or interest - threw all that out of the window for me. Perhaps if I'd seen them as a young teenager, but there are countless 'lesser' horror movies with far better scripts, acting, and pacing. It wouldn't be so bad if they were 'so bad they're good' (like Zombie Lake, for example), but they're clearly supposed to be something spectacular and they just aren't by any stretch of the imagination. I usually enjoy movies like this, and to each their own, but blimey I really didn't get on with these flicks at all.

Double Bill Mini Musings: Fire Walk (or Run) With Me...

Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me:
I've been on a big old Twin Peaks kick this November/December - thanks to the much-improved Horror Channel, and then the spiffing 10-disc box set - so naturally I would be checking out this prequel.

I wouldn't call it "revelatory", as the box art proclaims, but as a newly created big fan of the show, what it actually is, is fascinating, horrific, delerious, weird, disturbing, entrancing and transfixing. I'm not a huge fan of Daivd Lynch's movies, but I have seen a number of them over the years, and considering I had 25 hours and 35 minutes worth of Twin Peaks to go on before venturing into this dark telling of Laura Palmer's last seven days, it has been the most up-to-speed I have ever been for a David Lynch movie.

Indeed I feel after this concentrated Twin Peaks fascination I've just experienced, that I better understand Lynch's work (even though he co-created the show itself with Mark Frost). Perhaps people read too much into his work - in fact, I'm sure of it - film theorists are notorious for reading things into movies and making the simple utterly, utterly complicated, and then film viewers go in expecting it to be a head-screw when in fact things are actually a little more as they seem. It's just that oftentimes, the things as they seem just so happen to be bizarre, dreamlike things.

That's how Twin Peaks plays out - like a dream - and like in dreams, weird things happen inexplicably in the background, and the narrative of your dreams take weird and wonderful divergent turns whenever they feel like it ... and sometimes, weird things just happen. You see something weird that pops inexplicably into your life, or something weird happens to you when you least expect it, and suddenly a whole world of possibilities opens up.

So perhaps with Lynch's work things are actually a little bit more as-they-seem, despite what your assumptions (developed by years of reading-in by theorists) suggest.

The world of Twin Peaks is, simply put, a tale of good and evil, of internal battles, of incest, rape, murder, drugs, infidelity, and everything in-between and - as co-creator Mark Frost said - you'd expect such themes to present themselves in a big city, but in fact it's all here in Twin Peaks - and that's the selling point.

As for the tie-in prequel movie, which unfortunately didn't set the world on fire (thus nixing any possibility of follow-ups that we Peaks Freaks (new and old alike) would have loved to have had considering the cliffhanger end to season two), it dives full-on into territory that is merely alluded to in the TV show - no wonder it's rated 18. It recontextualises what you see in the TV show, and casts a significantly dark shadow over some key characters.

It's a beautiful, hypnotic, slightly confusing, ever-so-unnerving film, and despite being not quite so satisfying in certain areas (i.e. there's not an awful lot of Agent Dale Cooper, even considering the timeline of the movie's plot), it does really satisfy in others. Laura Palmer was the catalyst for the entire series, and was essentially the focus for the majority of the episodes, but all after (and because of) her death. Here she's alive and right at the heart of the storytelling in all it's entrancing, disturbing, and horrific ways.

Marathon Man:
Not an awful lot to say about this one, but I do love a good 'New Hollywood era' movie from the 1970s. The moral ambiguity, the gritty realism of the filmmaking and the New York setting, the non-traditional leads, and the plots - so full of paranoia - a mirror to the confused, bruised and battered psyche of America after the the Vietnam war and various political upheavals in the period when the innocence of the post-war years was lost forever. Marathon Man is one of the films that expertly illustrated this complex state of the nation.

One scene particularly gripped me - when the central antagonist ends up in precisely the sort of area of town they wouldn't want to be recognised - oh and, of course, the famous "is it safe?" sequence.

Thursday 16 December 2010

General Update-ey-ness...

I've been busy doing a re-edit of Gaia & Genesis for the American market for the last week, so I've not been working on the re-draft of the short version of my (to-be-animated) zombie mini-epic The End, however now that the former is done (or it is bar a couple of tail end things to do in due course), I can return to the latter and see about cranking out a finished version hopefully before Christmas. Or at least before New Year's Eve ... the idea being to get into seeing if I can find a way to get that project moving forward during January.

Wednesday 15 December 2010

My most memorable movie viewing experiences #4...

Formative Years - Part Two:

Hellbound: Hellraiser II (Tony Randel, 1988):
When – Late 1990s/Early 2000s
Where – Television
Why – Having seen the first movie on a grubby dubbed copy, I recorded the second some time later from the TV, and proceeded to begin watching it whilst eating my lunch. The reason this viewing is memorable is that when it got to the scene where a mental patient believes her skin is scrawling with maggots – and we see her arms from her perspective to be doing just that – I actually had to turn it off in order to continue eating. That’s the only time – so far – that that has happened.

Black Christmas (Bob Clark, 1974):
When – Early 2000s
Where – Television
Why – One shot specifically, on my first viewing of the early slasher flick, wigged me out – namely the wide open eye staring through the gap in the door without the person on the other side knowing. One time when I was a kid I saw a movie on TV – a ghost story type affair – and at one point a man was pushed down a flight of stars and died when he struck the bottom, and they cut to an extreme close up of his wide open eyes. It freaked me out as a kid, and that discomfort with wide open eyes has stuck with me – so that particularly shot in Black Christmas gave me the creeps big style.

Terminator 2: Judgment Day (James Cameron, 1991):
When – Late 1990s
Where – Television/Home Video
Why – I first saw it on the BBC (and it was cut for violence and language), and I foolishly taped over my VHS recording of that broadcast, and no sooner had I done so than I wanted to see it again. It never showed on TV again and eventually, after a long time of waiting, I got it on video and was surprised to see that it was unlike the movie I was used to – namely it was uncut. Finding T2 on video became a mini mission at the time, like some sort of elusive Holy Grail, so when I finally got my mits on it again it was like a big old slice of victory cake.

A Nightmare on Elm Street 1 & 3 (Wes Craven, 1984 & Chuck Russell, 1987):
When – Late 1990s
Where – Home Video
Why – Before I was allowed to watch full-on horror movies at home (I remember being disallowed from watching the first movie when it showed on Channel 4), I got to see the first and third movie over at a friend’s house one night, and it was an illicit thrill to be watching this horror movie I’d heard so much about in the dark. Sneaking around watching horror movies you weren’t allowed to occur for a finite time, and it was a time that certainly made a lasting impression.

Although it wasn’t always horror movies – indeed one of the best examples of a forbidden movie fruit for a good while was the at-the-time-controversial Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction – the former for its tabloid-baiting violence, and the latter for its tabloid-baiting drug use. Whether it was watched on television, or dubbed from a friend’s dub, watching certain movies at a certain point in my life was a secretive thing – movies perceived to be too violent, or too scary, or a bad influence – but it’s just the sort of thing that young teenage boys do. You get bragging rights, and you ascend to the ‘seen it’ club for that flick, and it’s a style of movie watching that so epitomises being a teenager.

The Fog (John Carpenter, 1980):
When – Late 1990s/Early-and-Late 2000s
Where – Home Video
Why – On a school art trip to London, in the time we were afforded afterwards to go hunting around the capital, we stopped in at the huge HMV and – at the age of 14 – bought this 15 rated John Carpenter horror flick. It’s kind of daft and lame now, but at the time it was a thrill to ‘trick the system’ and pass for a year older than I was. However I didn’t much care for the movie on my first watch – I found it slow and far from explicit – but then I rediscovered it several years later and I thought it was genuinely creepy, and a fantastically tense ghost-story-style tale.

The Blair Witch Project (Daniel Myrick & Eduardo Sánchez, 1999):
When – 1999/2000
Where – Video Rental
Why – At the time the Internet wasn’t in widespread use, and I certainly hadn’t had much experience of the web, so word of a movie such as this was spread person-to-person. Was it real? Many people believed so, although I was only half-convinced … if it really was real, and people had really died, how would they be allowed to release it in cinemas and home video, and create a line of merchandise for it? Regardless, that final sequence proved to be the scariest part of the flick for me. It’s long since been absorbed by the popular culture, but at the time there was a special air about this indie shocker.

Eraserhead (David Lynch, 1976):
When – 1999
Where – Home Video
Why – On holiday in Edinburgh in the summer of 1999, we stopped into HMV and three videos were bought for me (being that I was underage, not that the wise till jockey cared – indeed he commended my taste) – those videos were Graveyard Shift, Evil Ed, and David Lynch’s bizarre debut. I’d never seen a Lynch movie before and its sheer power (in terms of the weird and the disturbing) freaked me out too much. As a result I was only able to watch the movie in portions of 5, 10, 15 or 20 minutes – with long gaps in between – it probably took me a good several weeks/few months to see the entire movie, and I’ve not seen it since … but I have been meaning to. Did it leave an impression? You bet it did.

The Thing (John Carpenter, 1982):
When – Mid 1990s and beyond
Where – Television
Why – I was about 10 years old when I first saw John Carpenter’s sci-horror-gore-fest, and initially it fascinated me for the special make up effects. However, as time has gone by and I’ve grown up, the themes of isolation and paranoia have really captured my imagination and built up into a genuine mild fear of the movie. It has become an intimidating flick – just like the equally superior Se7en – that is one of my all-time favourites, but one that sits on the shelf daring me to watch it. When I finally do watch it from time-to-time it’s never quite as horrifying as my mind has led me to believe since my last viewing, but nevertheless, the expertly crafted sense of isolation and paranoia linger aggressively for days afterwards.

Saturday 11 December 2010

The Walking Dead Episode Six "TS-19" thoughts...

And so the best thing to happen in the zombie genre since Romero's Day of the Dead comes to the end of its first season, and therefore I can't wait for the season season to begin (and for a full 13 episodes too).

This season closer though was rather good though. Last week's episode led us on the greatest departure from the source material yet, and this week's episode gave us the meat and potatoes of that departure.

TS-19 shared some vibes with Dawn, and Day of the Dead - the false sense of security of the former, and the dire realisation of the latter. Indeed, the exploration of the scientific approach to analysing the zombie outbreak featured in the episode felt like a modern update of Doc Logan's work from Day, so as a big fan of that flick it was great to see a 21st century take on it.

Similar to the fifth episode, this one again proved that TWD is about the people, not the zombies. It could be any world-ending cataclysm, or any monster, really - as it's all supposed to be about the people - indeed towards the end as everyone's facing their possible doom, we get some great moments thrown into the mix, such as Carol's desperate fear, and Jacqui's life changing decision.

TWD has always been a case of - who they were, how they deal with the horrors around them, and who they gradually become. As such it's a slower paced episode, but it's all to do with the characters - so for those into the human drama of the franchise, this was a spiffing season closer (but the action and zombie fans get a jolt towards the end appropriately enough).

Once TS-19 got into its second half it really became about the idea of giving up, and it was portrayed convincingly and chillingly. Jenner proved to be an interesting late addition to the show - and indeed an entirely new addition to the franchise - and his plight was dealt with in an interesting manner. He wasn't some wild eyed loon, or some totally shut-down doomsayer - he had different shades of his attitude throughout, which made him a much more believable character than he might have otherwise been in lesser hands.

In terms of it being a season closer, in addition to a tip-top scene between Andrea and Dale (Holden and DeMunn - both acting their arses off, and further cementing my love of both characters), it wasn't just a big tease for season two. Naturally I wanted to know what happens right after the big closing moment, but equally I wasn't left hanging in the wind - so it was a satisfying blend of the two.

To summarise the season as a whole, it hasn't been perfect - some scenes had wonky dialogue, or some elements didn't convince or intrigue ... such as the opening scene, and titular gang, of episode four "Vatos" ... and on occasion the pacing has been a bit off here and there during episodes, but I'm very pleased with the season over all.

Rick is a strong character, and having read the first four trade paperbacks (so far), it'll be interesting to see how Lincoln's take on the do-right law man will develop as Rick is faced with increasingly trying and complicated circumstances. The Rick/Shane plotline should also develop nicely during the second season, which should ultimately make for some good family drama with Lori and Carl.

Glenn has been a real treat throughout the season, but especially in his earlier episodes, and he remains one of my favourite characters in the show - however Andrea and particularly Dale have really stolen my interest most. I can't wait to see how their characters develop during the second season. Daryl Dixon has also been a pleasant surprise - after an initially underwhelming introduction that drew him as a generic redneck racist, he was allowed to grow in episode four (and beyond) to become a useful member of the group (albeit a hot headed and unpredictable one).

I could go on, but instead of rambling I'll re-confirm my assertion that The Walking Dead has been the best thing to happen to the zombie genre since Romero's Day of the Dead, and it's all the better for featuring zombies that don't effin' run!

Here's hoping the DVD/BR box set release will be a good one with plenty of extra content!

Wednesday 8 December 2010

My most memorable movie viewing experiences #3...

Formative Years – Part One:

The Evil Dead (Sam Raimi, 1981):
When – 1998
Where – Home Video
Why – After school one day we stopped in at the local post office, and for the previous few weeks they had had a bargain bin for videos, £5 a pop. I’d already nabbed a number from there, but having just that week heard about Sam Raimi’s gruesome horror from friends (who summed it up somewhat dismissively as “pencil stabbing and oozing mashed potato”), I knew that it was in fact going to be something special.

Still decidedly too young to buy it for myself, my Mum and the shop girl joked about how neither of them would watch it in a million years as it was bought for me, and then away home. Initially it was a bit slow, but as soon as the gore starting flying my jaw hit the floor – so as you can imagine, the final act promptly inspired me to flip my lid. At the time it was the goriest film I’d ever seen, and at that point in time the BBFC hadn’t entered its post-Ferman age, so this copy was the rather butchered version borne out of the ‘Video Nasty’ era (this being named “the #1 nasty”) – but still, it became an all-time favourite, and an inspiration.

The George A. Romero Undead Saga (George A. Romero, 1968, 1978, 1985, 2005, 2007, 2009):
When – 1998, 1999, 2005, 2007, 2010
Where – Home Video/Multiplex Cinema
Why – in May 1997 I bought a copy of SFX magazine during a school trip because in the corner of the front cover I saw the name “George A. Romero”, a name which I’d heard was synonymous with the zombie genre – a genre that had recently become of interest to me, despite having never really seen any zombie movies before. That article, in connection with the release of the Cannes Cut (distributed incorrectly as the “Director’s Cut”) on home video by BMG, made me ravenous about seeing Dawn of the Dead. Initially however, it eluded me, for what seemed like forever.

However, in a local Woolworths I came across a copy of Day of the Dead (a couple of fascinated images from which appeared in the aforementioned SFX article) for £5.99 – so I snatched it up (or rather, it was bought for me, as I was still an early teen at this point) and hurried home to check it out. Having only recently been awed by the gory delights of The Evil Dead, I was soon astounded by the Tom Savini’s make-up effects. It blew my mind.

Fast forward a bit and we have Night of the Living Dead, and Dawn of the Dead. The former was a good flick from the get-go (a friend and I even did a soft toy spoof version, a la The Adam & Joe Show), but it was the latter that stunned me silent. I remember putting the video on, sitting down, and then 2 hours and 20 minutes later I was left, still on the edge of my seat, jaw literally agape, as the sound of the clock bell echoed into nothingness. It became, and remains, my all-time number one favourite movie.

Fast forward again to the release of Land of the Dead – my first Romero flick in the cinema, and a zombie one to-boot. I watched it with a fellow Romero fan, and an audience who was likewise in-tune with what was happening on-screen … except for the trio who clearly couldn’t get in to see Guy Ritchie’s new film (Revolver), who promptly fled once the innards really started to fly.

A couple of years later and there I was, the only time I’ve been to the cinema alone, seeing Diary of the Dead. It was me, a couple, and one other guy who sodded off part-way in (maybe he worked there, I don’t know). The lens dipped whilst the projectionist was away, and while I said that I loved it, deep down I was disappointed by it. My relationship with Diary has been all over the place ever since.

Finally we come to Survival – not a memorable viewing, but I enjoyed finally getting to see it, even if it was direct-to-DVD here in the UK. It’s not perfect, but I dig it.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (Tobe Hooper, 1974):
When - 1999
Where – Home Video
Why – 1999 was a decisive time in my formative years, as the British Board of Film Classification entered a new era when James Ferman left, and a whole slew of previously banned films were finally released and went straight onto the home video market. In this instance a friend had rented it, dubbed it, and then I dubbed his dub – so I had this third generation copy (or you could argue fourth generation what with the original video having to be sourced en mass, however that’s done) and I remember eating dinner whilst watching the flick – the picture and audio were fudgy, being a dub-of-a-dub, but it only served to make the experience of first seeing this notorious video nasty all the more illicitly thrilling.

Friday the 13th (Sean S. Cunningham, 1980):

When - Late 1990s/Early 2000s
Where – Home Video/Television
Why – Similar to Chainsaw Massacre, my first copy of Friday 13th was a dub-of-a-dub, and so the fudgy visuals and audio again served the illicit thrill of watching this landmark slasher flick. Furthermore, a few years later, a group of us all sat down to watch it at a house party – and one of the girls was terrified of horror films – so on more than one occasion, including the famous final jump, the more devious-minded of us would sneak up behind her and scare the bejesus out of her.

The rest of the flicks I would see in a somewhat scattered pattern on home video and television, and as close as I can figure it the order went something like this – 1,2,3,4,8,9,6,7,10,5 … although I can’t remember exactly.

A Clockwork Orange (Stanley Kubrick, 1971):
When – 1999/2000
Where – Home Video
Why – Of all the films from my formative years, Kubrick’s balletic tale of ultra violence was one of the most influential – and it was certainly the most influential of my final year of High School. It was one of the most iconic of the video nasties era – and it hadn’t even been banned (it was removed in the UK by Kubrick himself after so-called copycat incidents occurred) – so with the combination of a change of leadership at the BBFC, and the death of Kubrick himself, his self-imposed ban was lifted.

I saw the movie, read the book and listened to the soundtrack repeatedly. It was so influential in fact that the exam project for my GCSE 2D Art was directly inspired by it utilising a mixture of adapted images from it, and images referencing it.

The Fly II (Chris Walas, 1989):
When – 1993/1994
Where – Television
Why – At age 9 I began to watch horror movies, albeit ones that were as much science fiction as they were horror, and the sequel to David Cronenberg’s ultimate body horror remake was one of those introductory movies. Certain scenes gave me a jump – such as the mangled, grotesque dog lunging out of the darkness – and certain scenes gave me reason to repeatedly rewind and review (frame by frame) to examine how the special effect worked – such as the guard who gets crushed by an elevator.

What was more memorable though was my Dad, quite rightly, making sure that the difference between reality and fiction was concrete – speaking of the guy crushed by an elevator, I remember him saying something along the lines of ‘if that character was real he’d have a wife and kids, and someone would have to tell them he was dead’ – I kind of chuckle about it now, but it was a subtle way to just re-affirm that a movie is just a movie, and horrific things happen in the real world that actually have to be dealt with.

Alien (Ridley Scott, 1979):
When – 1993/1994
Where – Television
Why – Along with The Fly 2, this was one of the first horror movies (also part sci-fi) that I ever watched, at the tender age of 9. At the time I found it a bit dull, I must confess, what with the long takes creeping around the Nostromo, and the subtle use of the titular xenomorph itself – however it implanted itself into my mind, and I now consider it a true classic.

Halloween (John Carpenter, 1978):
When – Mid-to-Late 1990s
Where – Television
Why – While I’d already started to watch adult oriented movies like Alien, The Fly 2, and the Terminator movies, I hadn’t gotten into (or, really, been allowed to get into) proper horror movies – and in this case, Carpenter’s seminal slasher. I remember watching this one weekend morning with the door closed, the sound turned down really low and with my finger hovering nervously over the ‘STOP’ button.

Similar to Alien, at the time I considered it a bit dull and light on the violence, but also like Alien I quickly came to view it as a true classic. However, it was the illicit thrill of watching this taboo horror flick that really stuck in my mind.

Tuesday 7 December 2010

Hextuple Bill Mini Musings: December 2010...

Toy Story 3:
Having not had the chance to see it in the cinema, I was eager to see this closing chapter the founder of Pixar's continuing success and creative superiority to various imitators of what they do best.

It's a nostalgic trip, a chortle-inducer, a touching human/toy drama, and even a stunningly dramatic flick. On the latter I'm of course referring to the final act, particularly that one scene - and those who have seen it, know exactly what I'm talking about. Hands down it's the single most moving and stunning moments in Pixar's history. Bravo Pixar. Bravo.

A fellow Homepage of the Dead poster mentioned this undead indie flick, so I took a punt and checked it out on DVD. A couple of high school outcasts ditch school and go to the local abandoned mental hospital to drink, smoke and cause havoc. During their exploration of the basement they discover a naked girl bound to a metal gurney - but as it turns out, she's undead.

I'm sure from that sentence you can surmise what happens afterwards, and it is indeed bizarre at least, and rather gross at most. Turns out this is from the Trent Haaga's back catalogue of banked screenplays - Haaga being one of those who has had a lot of experience at long-running exploitation merchants Troma. Indeed at times it feels like a Troma movie - but only after an entirely different, more serious coming-of-age tone has been established - and this is where the movie feels uneasy, but not in terms of the content (as disturbingly weird as it is). When these 'Troma moments' strike (albeit rarely) you feel wrong-footed, so ultimately the film feels a little confused as to what kind of horror flick it wants to be - but nevertheless by the final act it's gotten itself back on track and figured itself out to a solid conclusion.

Law Abiding Citizen:
I had zero interest in seeing this at the cinema, but Sky Movies were showing it and so I checked it out to see if it was any cop - turns out it was pretty average, as I'd figured. With lesser names behind it you could imagine it being some kind of straight-to-DVD thriller, because for the most part it's pretty ... well, average.

Until moments of SAW-like violent strikes, and then you wonder what sort of thriller this is supposed to be. There's a couple of genuine shocks in it, but it's fairly standard stuff. Only a couple of jolt-moments will linger in your memory for any time afterwards.

Four Christmases:
Sometimes you just want to watch something that's a bit rubbish, like eating food you know full-well is bad for you. So I guess that's why, deep down in my subconscious somewhere, that I ever bothered to watch this entirely predictable (as in not just from a mile of, but from the surface of the Sun predictable) chortle-free affair.

Two pretty unlikeable successful people are forced to attend the titular number of festivities and just a load of old cobblers happens for 90 minutes, with each Xmas that succeeds the one before it becoming increasingly throw-away to the four - count 'em, FOUR - credited screenwriters.

Seriously. How on earth did it take FOUR people to write this lightweight tosh?

The Informant!
Full of Soderbergh's style, and rather dry comedy, but at least Damon turns in a good performance. It went on a bit too long and I never got into the vibe of it all, but it was a nice surprise to see Thomas F. Wilson (Biff from Back to the Future) turn up.

Happy Birthday To Me:
It's been on the 'to do list' for quite some time, so when The Horror Channel inserted it into their schedules I figured it was about time to barge it out. Compared to some of the other slashers of the era, it's got a decent production value behind it, and the plot - albeit a bit long winded and confusing at times - is ultimately interesting. That said, it takes entirely too long to get to the point, and the crescendos (i.e. the kills) are mostly let downs for their insanely brief screen time. So it was a mixed bag for a slasher, which had some really off-moments tossed into the mix (like attempts to suggest 'could this guy be the killer?' in the second act), but over-the-piece it was pretty decent.

Saturday 4 December 2010

The Walking Dead Episode Five "Wildfire" thoughts...

The penultimate episode of the first season of the AMC/Darabont/Hurd/Kirkman show The Walking Dead has been and gone, and blimey was it a great episode - indeed I'd say it's the best episode of the season outside of the pilot (unless the finale steals the win at the last minute - time shall tell on that matter).

The opening of the episode was superb, with Andrea swamped by her grief while everyone else in the camp knows what will have to be done - not only is this whole portion of the episode very dramatic and moving, but it's tense - "when will they turn", you wonder to yourself. Furthermore, when the expected finally occurs, it's a wonderfully played scene that plays the 'resurrecting as a zombie' angle, which we've seen so many times before, in a new and fascinating way. Similar to the dispatching of the 'bicycle zombie' from the first episode, the scene is full of pathos.

Speaking of pathos, Dale's moment with Andrea was nothing short of truly moving, and establishes the pair's relationship, which - in the comics - was already thoroughly on-the-go by the time Rick showed up at camp. So once again the television adaptation is taking things in a slightly new direction along the same path - and in a way that feels more real, and ultimately more satisfying as a viewer.

Meanwhile, dealing with the bodies left over from the night before, we're treated to yet more awesome gory treats from KNB Effects, who have continually shown throughout this season that they are (and have been for some time) the current masters of the macabre.

This adaptation has taken some significantly different turns along the already established path from the comic books, and I was wondering how this would play out (after last week's preview of this fifth episode), but I'm pleased to say that it's working really well. The intelligent group dynamic of the comics continues to be expressed in the show - a real treat in itself when you've seen countless zombie movies where idiots make even dumber decisions as a matter of course.

There was a chillingly good moment where the Rick/Shane dynamic's crumbling is illustrated in very clear terms. Again, in the comics it's much quicker to appear, and somewhat comes as a surprise, but throughout the show the key players have taken quality themes that were already established, and explored them in different ways that make for very satisfying viewing. The moment where Dale discovers Shane in a less than favourable position was pitch perfect, and further established Dale (as expertly played by Jeffrey DeMunn) as one of my favourite characters on the show.

Speaking of the characters, there are some great beats littered throughout - most notably in connection to Jim, who (in a way direct from the source material) has to come to terms with a troubling realisation. Indeed that entire portion of the show really signalled the sort of tough drama we'll be in store for when the second season rolls around.

It was good to see, or rather hear, a track from the soundtrack for Danny Boyle's Sunshine, a piece of music that has always given me chills - but considering the context in which it is used in this episode, it was doubly chilling.

Moving into the second half of the episode, the part that I was most concerned about for this episode (based on last week's preview of this episode), was all the stuff centering on the CDC (which was established in the first episode). This is a significant change of direction from the source material, but fortunately it works out very well indeed - to see the 'science of the dead' examined in very realistic terms (as further evidenced by the online preview scene from episode six, "TS-19") was very, very cool.

Finally, outside the CDC, the sight of Rick's impassioned desperation as he pleads with a CCTV camera above the sealed-off doors of the CDC complex, was absolutely fantastic - and importantly further suggests the sort of dramatic treats we'll have in store for us come season two (when you consider what takes place over the next couple of volumes of the trade paperbacks). To say that the cliffhanger ending left me wanting more - immediately - is an understatement.

Roll on episode six - the season finale!

Screenwriting update ... a return to my zombie mini-epic "The End" ...

I mentioned a few posts back that I was seeking to end the creative dry spell, and so I've been working on a re-draft of the short version of "The End", my own little zombie epic. I had originally done a short version a couple of years ago, then I turned that into a 130 page feature length epic-of-epic-proportions, and now I'm essentially taking the essence of the beginning of the feature length version and a re-jigging of the short version and putting them together to make a new version of the short version ... if that makes sense.

The idea is to hopefully find a talented, artistic someone who can do 2D computer animation (like a motion comic, or perhaps more) and turn this in-progress new draft of the short version of "The End" into an animated short (of around 15 minutes) - it would be a great opportunity for such a someone to showcase their computer animating talent. Indeed that's part of the idea, for it to be a showcase of the respective talents of those who would be involved, and to then spread the film virally around the internet to gain recognition.

This new draft is coming along nicely, and basically it's a condensed version of exactly what I'd love to see in a shambler zombie movie. So that's what I'm working on right now (with Allen Bridge still being chewed on, as it's the trickiest script I've so far ever embarked upon - plus, I want to get it right first time ... relatively speaking ... so in addition it's a big learning experience all of its own).

Step2TV "New Talent Interview" Q&A...

A couple of weeks ago I was approached by to be a part of their "New Talent Interview" blog series. They sent me the questions, I provided my answers, and they're now up on the website:

The Q&A itself centers around The Inevitable Decomposition of Zombie Man (which is included on the page).

Thursday 2 December 2010


As soon as I saw the trailer at the head of Grindhouse/Planet Terror, I knew I wanted to see a feature length version of Machete, and now three years later here we are. Disappointingly there was barely (if any) pushing of this flick here in the UK. If you weren't somehow in the know, you wouldn't know a damn thing about it being in the cinemas.

As such the screening we went to was a bit on the sparse side, but even still it was a ruddy good old time. The pre-title sequence is the movie at quite possibly it's best - to say it starts of strong is an understatement. Heads and limbs are lopped off, gags are thrown out to the audience, and generally speaking there's just a bunch of bad-assery going on for five minutes.

Continuing the vibe established by the under performing (Theatrical Box Office wise) cult extravaganza Grindhouse, Machete goes for the 'dirty old print' look (albeit in a far subtler way), and pretty much just wants to have fun with over-the-top characters in over-the-top situations. The guys are tough and the girls are smoking (and pretty tough themselves), and the violence is brutally humorous.

Sticking the various set pieces together (the best of which are found in the first half) is a plot relating to illegal immigration, which is fair enough as without that the plot would be drearily similar to countless other exploitation flicks. However, what is disappointing is that Rodriguez & Co never really bother to get into the meat of the issue - it's pretty much 'the proponents of a great big fence are murderous uber-rednecks, and those against are poster boy freedom fighters' ... weirdly, for an exploitation flick, the plot is a bit undercooked. If you're going to introduce an interesting start point for a plot, at least dive into it, rather than leave the stone half turned.

Indeed it's when the movie focuses on getting some of the plot out of the way that the movie dips, in that it begins to lack some of the memorable moments that we are treated to so regularly in the first half. It's as if the throttle keeps slipping in the second half, which is unfortunate, because when the movie is cooking it's on fire.

Danny Trejo is fun-as-hell as the titular short-talking tough-guy hero - getting great lines like "Machete don't text" to play with, and hot chicas to bed throughout - while the supporting cast dive into the fun of it all, most notably Jessica Alba, Jeff Fahey, Cheech Marin, and Robert DeNiro, the latter of whom is a bit underused.

This was the sort of flick that had already shown us many of it's best bits in the faux trailer that preceded Planet Terror, although it was fun to pinpoint where the existing shots turn up, and where certain changes have been made along the way. Machete had a lot of hype going into it, so perhaps that explains the slight twinge of disappointment that I felt in the second half of the flick, but now that I've seen it, it'll be good to see it a second time - on its own terms for exactly what it is.

However, despite some slow points in the second half, and a slightly underwhelming finale, Machete is a rip-roaring good time that does what exploitation movies are supposed to do - give the audience bad ass dudes, sexy tough girls, and an over-the-top sense of action and violence.