Sunday, 23 May 2010

Photo Diary : Mount Saint Bernard Abbey

Today we discovered that a few miles from our house is the astonishing Mount Saint Bernard Abbey, a working Monastary of trappist monks. In the blazing sun and beneath perfect blue skys it felt more like Italy than England.

Saturday, 22 May 2010

Video Nasty #23 : Killer Nun

Synopsis: When patients at a religious hospice start dying somewhat prematurely Sister Gertrude is the prime suspect; her rule has become increasingly dictatorial and she suspiciously blacks out before every death. Doubting her own sanity, Gertrude can only find solice in mental torture of the patients, large helpings of self-medicated morphine and humiliating her doting and obsessive lesbian roommate. Is Gertrude being framed or is she really the Killer Nun?

No. It's the lesbian roommate, stupid.

Killer Nun is one of many nunsploitation movies, following a sister's fall from grace into a secular swamp of feminism, lesbianism, sadism and murder (If there was ever a film genre that was named before a film existed, it has to be Nunsploitation). I'd guess that the sexualised element is clearly playing to man’s apparent desire for a good girl gone bad, after all, nun to scum is more of a moral swing than Harold Shipman doing a fun run for Help the Aged.

Given the bluntness of the title I expected Killer Nun to be a fun throw-away movie with some unsubtle criticism of religion, the later presumably leading to its treasured place on the video nasty black list. Instead, I got a dull trashy movie that didn't work on any level; the script meanders, the kills would only mildly excite a gerontophobe and the sex scenes are about as erotic as a scat movie narrated by Werner Herzog.

Gertrude, the nun recovering from potentially botched neuro surgery is played reasonably well by Anita Ekberg, but the script gives her little to do other than look distressed, confused and angry, mostly in that order, ad nauseam. Gertrude's nihilistic fall from grace leads to some incongruous but bizarrely entertaining scenes, such as Gertrude smashing on an elderly woman's false teeth during dinner, and later forcing her lesbian roommate to wear nothing but stockings and repeat the phrase 'i'm the worst kind of whore'. Gertrude's dictatorial treatment of the patients is one of the more interesting aspects of the film, especially as the patients appear to have complete contempt for their self-appointed guardians' religion. Unfortunately, like anything potentially interesting in the film this falls along the wayside in favour of the suprisingly dull murder mystery.

One would think that the taboo of a nun murdering her flock would be interestingly subversive, but the lack of inventiveness and visual flaire reduces most of the kills to something that wouldn't look out of place in an episode of murder she wrote. It's clear that the protagonist is being framed, and the heavy handed attempts at misdirection to implicate Gertrude are transparent and tired.

Despite the promise of its explosive title, Killer Nun is a disappointing movie that fails to effectively exploit all the interesting ideas a morphine addicted, lesbian, murdering nun raises. To be honest, i'm mostly disappointed that I didn't manage to fit a 'kick the habit' pun into the review.

Friday, 7 May 2010

Video Nasty #22 : The Funhouse

Synopsis: After enjoying a potent combination of marijuana and candy floss, four teenagers decide to have a sleepover in the carnival's ghost train. Hidden amongst rubber skeletons and cheap animatronics they witness the murder of an (evidently rubbish) fortune teller. Stalked by the deformed killer and his surrogate father the teens must escape the ironically named Funhouse.

Teenagers in horror films are always doing stupid things, be it running up stairs to an inescapable first floor, screaming their lungs out instead of quietly sneaking away, or using close visual inspection to ensure the bad guy's dead rather than putting a bullet in their head for good luck. I think deciding to stay the night in a ghost house is on a par with these perennial stupid decisions. You wouldn't stay the night in a hotel ran by carnies, so why stay in one of their many attractions/death traps? Nevertheless, if characters didn't make stupid decisions most horror films would follow a bunch of teenagers having good but legal fun and getting an early night; maybe with a closing shot of a glum psychotic killer sitting dejected in his nutty room after a non-starter of an evening.

Stupid decisions aside, The Funhouse is solidly made yet marginally disappointing film. The film looks and sounds great. For me, it finally proves that Tobe Hooper is a quality director, something I was unsure of after watching the grimy silliness that is Death Trap and the controversy surrounding his actual contribution to Poltergeist.

Hooper is at his best creating an unsettling calm before the storm, making the ordinary feel, often inexplicably, not quite right. As the teens explore the carnival only Amy, the film's lead, notices there's something creepy, almost malevolent about the Carnival's inhabitants. A barker's fixation on Amy, the deformed animals in the freak show and an old lady screaming bilious religious hatred at the girls all contribute to an unsettling atmosphere, creating a slow-burning dread of the inevitable events to come. Unfortunately, the time spent on this and the pointless subplot of Amy's brother running away means the teenagers don't get into the titular Funhouse until forty minutes into the film.

Once in the tardis of a funhouse the proverbial excrement really hits the rotating air conveyance device, as the teens witness a murder and are quickly discovered by the deformed killer and his creepy guardian. The duo are classic Hooper, a mentally handicapped freak (see Leatherface) and his loving yet psychotic father figure (see Leatherface's father). The killer appears early in the film shuffling around in a full frankenstein costume, complete with a snot covered rubber mask and a heavy laboured wheeze, making him suitably creepy and mysterious. Unfortunately, as with most movie monsters, when the mask is removed the killer's true form is not quite as effective or believable as whatever our imagination has concocted, despite being an impressive piece of practical effects.

The remainder of the film is satisfactory, but the by-the-numbers third act doesn't live up to the genuinely creepy lead up to the carnage. Maybe Hooper lost his nerve, or maybe their was too much pressure to produce a commercial horror film. Regardless, I'll definitely watch The Funhouse again, which isn't something I would happily say for almost all of the previous twenty one films.