Rawshark Mark Gatiss takes to the stage to introduce the 1973 Amicus anthology From Beyond The Grave with stories of talking to David Warner about the film (DW - “I haven’t seen it. Is it any good?”) and once randomly meeting the actor who plays the sprit in the mirror in the first segment.
For those of you who have yet to see the film (yes, DW, that includes you!), FBTG features four separate stories held together by Peter Cushing’s antiques shop owner. First up is The Gate Crasher, with David Warner entering the shop to haggle over an antique mirror (“I’ll give you £25 to be clear of it” “Done!”). Of course, (this being Amicus) the mirror is possessed and it’s not long before Warner is murdering prostitutes to feed the mirror “More Blood!”
Perhaps the best of the bunch is the second story, An Act of Kindness featuring Donald Pleasance (as jolly and loveable as ever) as a matches’n’laces selling war veteran who befriends Ian Bannen’s office clerical worker. With great performances from Diana Dors and Angela Pleasance as Donald’s daughter (“It’s not a song, It’s just words I made up”) the story builds up to a nice twist ending featuring voodoo dolls and wedding cakes. Third story The Elemental also features a nice concept, with Ian Carmichael enlisting the help of a dotty old clairvoyant to rid him a homicidal demon that has burrowed into his shoulder (they live in the Underground apparently). Unfortunately the fourth story, The Door, is the weakest and features a pre-Saint Ian Ogilvy as a man who buys an ancient door to another world.
With many laugh out loud moments, and much enjoyment to be found in within this ‘British’ film and cast, From Beyond the Grave is one of the best 70s anthology films around, and this rare and well-appreciated screening proved a real crowd-pleaser.
Soulmining It's easy to see why Mark likes this film so much; watching it over twenty years after its initial release proved to be a real fun way to start the day. Whether the film was actually creepy back then is a moot point - in today's world this time capsule of early seventies England is a real comedy classic. The stories are fairly standard hokum that wouldn't be out of place in Tales Of The Unexpected, but they're packed full of familiar faces and all are entertaining to watch aside from the rather dreary fourth segment.
As Rawshark has already demonstrated, some of the exchanges of dialogue here are fantastic; witness Edward's friends when they spy his new mirror - "It looks like it belongs in a medium's parlour," says one. "Let's have a séance!" replies another. This is funny the first time around, but downright hilarious when it happens for a second time! Then in the second story there's Lowe's wife (Diana Dors) and her thinly-veiled contempt for her husband in addition to her fixation for cooking sausages and beans for supper.
In the third segment when Reggie switches price labels on some snuff boxes we have Cushing delivering the immortal line, "I hope you enjoy snuffing it." And that's before we come to the turn of Margaret Leighton as the barmy Madame Orloff exorcising the invisible 'elemental', followed by one of the best exit scenes I've seen in ages courtesy of Reggie's wife. Despite the rather weak final chapter which fails to thrill or chill, there should be something here to tempt any potential unsuspecting viewer.
Director Kevin Connor
Cast Peter Cushing Ian Bannen Ian Carmichael Diana Dors Ian Ogilvy David Waner
Release Date Available on American VHS
Rawshark R-Point is yet another example of Asia’s current obsession with long, dark haired girl ghost stories, although this time with the additional element of being set amidst the Vietnam War in 1972. Apparently based on true word-of-mouth stories about the real R-Point, the film opens promisingly, with a group of Korean coalition soldiers being sent to the infamous area to investigate the disappearance of a number of men. As they make their way to their base camp on the island, they are caught in a shoot-out, which leads to them disabling a female attacker. Instead of killing her though, they leave her to die in the open and set off for base camp. First mistake.
Soon enough, there’s ample spooky goings on with certain soldiers being killed (who weren’t even supposed to be there anyway), talk of ghosts, and slowly and surely paranoia sets in amongst the whole troop. Unfortunately, by this time we’ve managed to get so confused as to who is who (Butterfly? Mole One? Who’s the name on the helmet?) and what is what (are the US soldiers real?) that we simply fail to care.
To be fair, R-Point is fairly well filmed, has a nicely structured opening set-up, and if you liked Deathwatch then you’ll probably get a lot out of this Korean take on a wartime ghost story. But as the soldiers in the film all start to get picked off one by one (mostly by their own bumbling attempts) it’s a shame that we are unable to identify closely with any of them. Maybe the whole R-Point of the film is just stay clear of bleeding transmitters, and if that’s the case, it all just seems, well, a little R-Pointless…
Soulmining Now, I'm a big fan of Far-Eastern horror, but even I am beginning to tire of Asian ghost stories these days. I had hoped that R-Point might offer something a little different from the norm, with its Vietnam War setting involving a platoon of haunted soldiers, but no, they still manage to squeeze in the all-too-familiar image of the long-haired young lady somewhere along the way.
Let's just say that after the first five minutes of this movie you'll have predicted the ending, and you'll be right. The main interest is in seeing how this is accomplished, but even then director Kong isn't quite sure whether he wants to make a straightforward ghost story or just rip off some ideas from The Thing. The story unfolds at a slow pace and is hampered by a cast of characters that are just too interchangeable for you to really make any connection with. It doesn't help that they're supposed to be tough guys, yet as soon as there's a drop of blood spilt they're crying like a bunch of babies!
On a more positive note some of the cinematography here is very accomplished, with some great swooping shots over the advancing platoon as they head towards their impending doom, yet the director tends to focus too much on long shots, rather than intercutting with close-ups of the individual characters. Rawshark sums it up best when he describes it as more R-Pointless than R-Point.
Director Su-chang Kong
Cast Woo-seong Kam Byung-ho Son
Country Sth Korea
Release Date There is currently no release date for R-Point in the UK.
Rawshark Maybe the filmmakers of Shallow Ground had been in the same film classes as the makers of R-Point as Shallow Ground follows a very similar template (great opening before descending into loss of logic) to the preceding film of the day. There’s no doubting the opening is up there with the best of them as a naked boy drenched in blood strides purposely through a wood edited together with Texas-style close-up shots of decomposing corpses. By the time he’s burst in on a closing police station, you’re filled with about a million questions – Who? What? Why? - and are left desperately wanting to find out.
It’s a ballsy attention grabber, and it must have worked as Shallow Ground was recently caught up in a huge bidding war on its recent festival run. It’s a shame then that the film buyers didn’t stay behind to catch the last hour of the film, as unfortunately the film falls apart towards the end, largely to a lack of budget and terribly clichéd dialogue. It’s a cool concept (well, a cool X-Files concept at least) that is handled extremely well in the first act (come on – those spiders on the boy and the moving blood trails were creepy!) and the hint that this is not necessarily just an isolated incident is superbly underplayed to begin with.
But, as the film-makers seem to turn their eyes to more commercial appeal rather than any intellectual aspirations it becomes the film’s undoing, with the obligatory naked breast shots, splat-gore moments and terrible dialogue (“I’ll be right back” “This doesn’t make any sense”). The introduction of a serial killer into the mix is perhaps too much towards the end too, and it all ends in one of those ‘shock’ sequel-setting shots that at times can be so annoying. Think B-grade Cabin Fever.
Soulmining Shallow Ground is a hard movie to summarise as it doesn't possess the most coherent of plots. For example when paramedic Darby (Natalie Avital) runs some makeshift blood tests on our fella she discovers that he has at least three different blood types, which coincidentally happen to match a number of missing persons in the area, and (you shouldn't laugh, but you will) if you cut and paste the various mugshots of these people together the resultant photo-fit looks remarkably like our bloody friend. As officer Dempsey (Kirsch) rightly exclaims at this moment, "This doesn't make any sense!"
You have to give first time director Wilson some credit here though, there are a number of original ideas in Shallow Ground. The main problem is they don't work terribly well together in the one film. You've got all the issues with the bloody character - probably the strongest idea in the movie - mixed in with a homicidal maniac on the loose, plus a hokey subplot involving Dempsey and some lowlife drug dealer to contend with. It does kinda pull together in the end but there's little in the way of an explanation as to what's happening.
Wilson gives it his best shot on a limited budget and produces an intriguing piece of work here. Unfortunately the acting is fairly poor, but then again the entire script is straight out of The Big Book of Movie Cliches. Having said that, the cheesy dialogue does add a fun element to the film and certainly for my part made the whole thing a lot more enjoyable as I was trying to figure out what the hell was going on. I'll certainly be interested to see what Wilson can do with a decent script and a bigger budget. He could be a name to watch.
Director Sheldon Wilson
Cast Timothy V. Murphy Stan Kirsch Patricia McCormack Lindsey Stoddart
Release Date Shallow Ground will be released in the UK on July 29th 2005.
Rawshark Robert Rodriguez obviously set out to make Sin City the ultimate graphic novel film, and pretty much succeeds with this simply stunning movie adaptation of Frank Miller's cult creation. Structured like a novel (opening and closing with a Josh Hartnett starring cover story) we are first treated to a smart prologue featuring Bruce Willis’ character Hartigan as he attempts to rescue a nine year old girl from a crazed and perverted killer. If that (along with the breathtaking colour-dappled visuals) hasn’t grabbed you by the balls and dragged you under its raging riptide, then settle down for the first, and perhaps the most meatiest and heartfelt of the three slices of life in Frank Miller’s Sin City.
Simply put, Mickey Rourke is outstanding in the role of Marv on his quest to avenge the murder of his beloved ‘tart with a heart’ Goldie. Rourke, buried under a tonne of prosthetics, is a career-best as the noble brute, and this chapter also features by far the best baddie in the shape of Elijah Wood’s cannibal killer Kevin. Their face-off (ending in a right old dog’s dinner for one of them), is almost balletic in its visual creation and totally nasty. You will believe Frodo can beat up a hulky bulky Rourke.
The other two chapters are almost as equally intense; the first being Clive Owens’ attempt to help the Girls of Old Town save themselves from Benicio Del Toro’s corrupt cop and invading mafia, while Bruce Willis returns in the last third to complete the romantic redemption tale of his love for Nancy the stripper. It may be ever so slightly misogynistic, one-voiced and occasionally repetitive, but this is Frank Miller’s mean and darky world, replicated frame by frame for the big screen, and it rocks as hard as The Rock at a giant rock smashing competition in Rockford. An early claim to Film of the Year.
Soulmining Sin City brings three stories from Frank Miller’s acclaimed series of graphic novels to life. As with Tarantino’s masterpiece Pulp Fiction the individual plots intersect a couple of times along the way and this structure suits the film perfectly. These stories are pure pulp fiction, full of vigilantes, cops, corrupt officials, whores, rapists and murderers who love nothing more than to beat, torture, maim, stab, rape and kill their enemies. Did I mention that this movie is violent? Whilst it could be considered a flaw that each vignette is so similarly themed, the movie transcends these drawbacks with its overwhelming visual flair.
Director Rodriguez insisted that Miller come on board to co-direct, and between them the pair have succeeded in putting the pages of the comics right up there on the big screen. Sin City has a style all of its own which matches the source material down to the last detail; all black and white with a few splashes of colour dabbed here and there for effect – it’s a bold, audacious approach and looks amazing. The film’s powerful look is heightened by some terrific make-up work and costuming, from the criss-cross of plasters and scars on Marv’s face, to the curve-clinging fetish wear of the hookers – it really is a fan boy’s wet dream!
The casting too is inspired, from the main characters right down to the minor roles involving such talent as Michael Madsen, Rutger Hauer and the lethal Devon Aoki. Of course Willis lives for this type of role and is as solid as ever, but this time he’s outshone by Rourke who proves that he really is now firmly back on the comeback trail. Whether the unique style and relentless brutality will appeal to a mainstream audience is perhaps open to question, but it’s safe to say that for those who do make the effort, you really won’t have seen anything like this before.
Director Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller
Cast Bruce Willis
Benicio Del Toro
Release Date Sin City will be released in the UK on June 3rd.
The League of Gentlemen's Apocalypse
Rawshark The League of Gentlemen’s Apocalypse has a clever concept (the characters from the TV series LOG find a way into ‘reality’ in an effort to prevent their creators from killing them off) and for the first half an hour the film sails along merrily with plenty of jokes hitting the mark. After brief introductions to fan favourites (including Papa Lazarus) it’s left to butcher Hilary Bliss, sex-obsessed German Herr Lip and ‘walking accident zone’ Geoff to save the day. The moment when the truth dawns on the poor characters now in ‘reality’ is great, as is the raid on the production office in order to steal the writers’ computer, but then the film takes a curveball into a completely different direction as we head off to Middle England in 1690 to set up ‘the villain’ of the piece, David Warner.
It’s a bit of a leap to take, especially if you’re not a true fan of the show, as we say goodbye to a lot of the characters we’ve just invested in, and find ourselves having to get to know a whole new group of oddballs. Cameos by Victoria Wood, Bernard Hill, Paul Kaye and Simon Pegg are all rushed (was that them?), and a lot of the emotional engagement is lost in favour of post-modern postulating and a few too many self-referential gags.
Stick around for a rousing climax though, with a great stop-motion Homunculus (hey, it’s the LOG’s name for it ok) and a brilliant head explosion that kills one of the main cast / characters / real people / whatever. It’s by no means a failure, and the message of we all can inhabit whatever fictitious world we choose to create is well put across, but you can’t help feeling it’s often too uneven and as a result is a slightly missed opportunity for the hugely talented team. Oh, and it’s also got a rather limp tail-end joke.
Soulmining After three successful television series and a live tour (with another to follow later this year), The League of Gentlemen now bring their goofball creations to the big screen. The fictional village of Royston Vasey is under threat; meteors are falling from the sky and the locals are terrified. A decision is made to send three of the townsfolk through the secret door – and into our world. Now aware that they are merely fictional characters it is up to the team of butcher Hilary Briss (Gatiss), German teacher Herr Lipp (Pemberton) and the bungling Geoff Tipps (Shearsmith) to track down the real-life League and to persuade them to keep Royston Vasey going.
It’s a risky strategy taking these well-loved characters from their familiar setting and placing them within the real world, but it actually works rather well and opens up the film to a much wider audience. Unfortunately just as you’re getting into the film you’re thrown into the middle of a period drama – which Pemberton is currently writing – as Geoff unwittingly finds himself involved in the schemes of the wily Dr Pea (Warner). Thankfully the film soon gets back on track and there’s much fun to be add as Dr Pea escapes his environs and the League members come under threat themselves.
Gatiss, Pemberton and Shearsmith tackle their multitude of roles with gusto and succeed in making you care about the rather unsavoury inhabitants of Royston Vasey. Only camera-shy writer Jeremy Dyson fails to appear as himself, with Michael Sheen taking his role in the hilarious opening sequence in which he’s visited at home by Edward, Tubbs and Papa Lazarou. Director Bendelack (who also directed the television series) does a competent job and you have to admire the team’s dedication to stop-motion animation and some old-school horror staples – the exploding head shot is always a classic! Overall it’s a fresh approach to these well-liked characters and produces a movie that should appeal to more than just ‘local people’.
Director Steve Bendelack
Cast Jeremy Dyson
Release Date The League of Gentlemen's Apocalypse will be released in the UK on June 3rd.
The Devil's Rejects
Rawshark Streets ahead of it’s predecessor House of 1000 Corpses, Rob Zombie’s second film The Devil’s Rejects is one of those wild, untamed ‘anything goes’ films that are oh so rare in this current day of sanitised shopping mall multiplex horror movies. The Devil’s Rejects bites. And it bites hard.
A credits sequence shoot-out sets the scene as Baby and Otis escape from a police raid on their house, whilst Mama Firefly is captured by an ’over the edge’ Sheriff Wydell (William Forsyth). Baby and Otis soon hook up with their uncle Captain Spaulding and proceed to travel across the state killing anyone who gets in their way whilst avoiding getting caught by the cops. And as far as plot goes, that’s pretty much your lot.
Gore aplenty and ample nudity (it’ll be interesting to see how this film sits with the BBFC) The Devil’s Rejects is a truly vicious ride with lashings of violence and endless swearing (Baby and Otis’ dialogue is “Fuck You” to each other for at least half of the film). Their encounter with the country band at the motel is a seat-arm-clenching exercise in tension, ending in a truly sickening fight scene (that was unfortunately marred by a loss of sound at our screening – oh well). There are also many crowd-pleasing cameos (Foree! Berryman! Trejo!) and the film has a very black sense of humour (in particular the scene where Foree and Berryman attempt to buy two chickens).
Rob Zombie’s direction is assured and stylish with some fantastic editing work. The garish carnival colours have been stripped away to show a raw and red-blooded mid-America with homicidal rednecks and Elvis-Presley-loving cops intact. Some may say that The Devil’s Rejects is all style and no substance, or even far too over the top and reprehensible, but that’s the whole point. By truly getting under the skin of some sick-fucks, Rob Zombie has presented us with The Devils’ Rejects as the first Natural Born Killers for the twenty first century.
Soulmining This kind of movie requires little in the way of plot, as it's nothing more than an exercise in exploitation, sleaze and unflinching violence. Make no mistake, this is a nasty piece of work that aims to shock and offend the viewer in every conceivable way. Honestly, the Firefly clan make Mickey and Mallory Knox seem about as threatening as Spongebob Squarepants. Quite what the BBFC will make of this, with its violence towards women, and in one particularly uncomfortable scene, which sees Otis terrorise a female hostage by slipping the barrel of his gun into her panties, remains to be seen.
Zombie also risks alienating his audience by having no sympathetic characters in the movie, so you're never really sure who exactly you should be cheering for. The Devil's Rejects are completely beyond redemption, but Sheriff Wydell is little better as his thirst for revenge sees him use more and more extreme methods. Yet for all their flaws, Zombie has created some fascinating characters who are eminently watchable; Haig's foul-mouthed Spaulding is one of the finest anti-heroes of modern times, and both Otis and Baby make a welcome return with their constant bitchy banter. Moseley seems more subdued this time around, but Moon has a lot of fun with her role, switching from tease to tormenter at will.
Director Zombie has learnt a lot since his first foray into filmmaking and The Devil's Rejects is a far more assured picture with some fine editing (check out the opening credits) and a terrific score. Sadly had to miss the film's big finale in order to catch the last train home, but I'm reliably informed that it ended pretty much the way I expected it to. It's a film that will divide audiences - as indeed it did here - and certainly won't appeal to readers of The Daily Mail, but for me sometimes there's a lot of pleasure to be had from such an uncompromising, balls-nasty horror film.
Director Rob Zombie
Cast Sid Haig
Deborah Van Valkenburgh
Release Date The Devil's Rejects will be released in the US on July 22nd and in the UK on 5th August.
Phew... lengthy review there, but with so many quality films on show in one day what do you expect?
Overall, FrightFest Presents (at the Prince Charles for the last time) was a blast, with yet another wide selection of genre movies to see. Mark Gatiss' choice of From Beyond the Grave went down a storm for the early crowd who made it in time. Unfortunately R-Point was not quite the "Apocalypse Now meets The Thing" movie we expected, and proved a little stale in light of other recent and classier Asian ghost stories.
The trailer for Night Watch (yes, the film has been confirmed for Frightfest in August) was a great treat, but unfortunately Shallow Ground proved it didn't quite have the depth to deliver a truly great shocker. Nice opening though.
Alan Jones (right) with Neil Marshall (second right), Nora-Jane Noone (left) and The Descent's DP, Sam McCurdy (second left) - Pic thanks Ghouldrool
Neil Marshall then made a guest appearance, bringing with him the new trailer for his second film, The Descent which looks simply amazing. Good to see him there (along with his cameraman and leading lady), and even better was the announcement that Frightfest have been asked to host the premiere of Marshall's latest film in early July. (Visit www.frightfest.co.uk for information on how to grab hold of tickets soon). Hope he enjoyed the next screening Sin City as much as we did, which blew most of the Frightfest crowd away.
The League of Gentlemen unveiling their latest film to a sold-out crowd was a great highlight of the day, with a sharp and witty Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton in attendance for an entertaining Q&A afterwards (we'll have a transcript of that for you soon LOG fans!), and all hints of sleep were soon punched out as the balls-to-the-wall The Devil's Rejects took to the screen as the final curtain closer to a hugely enjoyable day.
Big thanks go to Alan Jones, Paul McEvoy and Ian Rattray for hosting such a great event, and all we can say is we're looking forward to FrightFest 6 (August Bank Holiday weekend - Odeon West End on Leicester Square) now more than ever...