Monday, 28 June 2010

Photo Diary : Cropped Memories

One of the nice things about my current job is that, despite being on an industrial estate, it's flanked by fields and woods to walk around at lunch.

This photo isn't a true reflection of walking through the field; to the left there's a craggy horizon of warehouses and to the right there's a busy A-road, soundtracking the walk with the constant rumble of lorrys.

I start a new job next week, on an industrial estate in the middle of a busy town. There's a few things I really don't like about my current job, but i'm learning to not let slight negativity burden otherwise good memories. Like the photo above, i'll just crop them out.

Saturday, 26 June 2010

Video Nasty #27 : Contamination AKA Alien Contamination

Synopsis: After a ghost ship arrives in a New York dock Lieutenant Aris is sent to investigate, quickly discovering its cargo of mysterious green glowing egg-like lifeforms. Before you can say 'I've seen this somewhere before' the eggs burst open, causing those who come into contact with the psuedo-yolk to explode, chest first. Can Aris and Colonel Holmes from the secretive Special Division Five uncover the true origins of the alien eggs (*cough* Ridley Scott's Alien *cough*) before they are distributed across the planet?

They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. The problem is, when money's involved imitation becomes a thin line between flattery and plagiarism. Superficially Contamination is a cheap Italian rip-off of the seminal Alien, released to quickly cash in on its phenomenal success. Actually, other than the iconic eggs and its short lived title of 'Alien 2', Contamination has far more in common with camp 50's b-movie sci-fi then the haunted house atmosphere of Alien.

The plot is silly, but bumbles along quickly enough. I think the film was made to appeal to an American audience, and in many ways fits into the cookie cutter template of an early 80's action flick - The unlikely love affair between the quarrelling leads is very Indiana Jones, and the evil corporation's elaborate and presumed successful attempts to kill our heros is textbook Bond. In a way these elements make the film comfortably predictable, like a pair of manky slippers you wouldn't want anyone else to see you wearing.

Special mention is deserved for the sets of Special Division Five's laboratory, almost exclusively built using hexagons, because, you know, architecturally awkward six sides shapes that don't fit together are soo futuristic. Wrongly I assumed the set was a homage to cheep and cheerful b-movies, the sliding door's jerking movement and cardboard aesthetic a deliberate decision. Unfortunately, after listening to the director discuss the timeless quality he was trying to achieve in the movie (hahaha!) i'm not so sure.

Whilst the film's sets are unimaginative, there is glimpses of the film-makers true vision in the quirky costumes and special effects. Some of the effects are realisticly gorey (I will never get tired of seeing people explode), and others are hilarious but enderaring, such as the mother alien locked away in the evil organisation's basement. Cameron's sequel to Alien introduced the terrifying queen, where as Contamination has a green octo-thing with a huge glowing yellow eye and extended osmosis tube that eats its victims whole, like a snake. Possibly the most hilarious shot is that of the Alien cave on mars, filled with hundreds of eggs - it's clearly a scale model of peas in a paper mache diorama.

I really liked Contamination. It was rubbish, but had enough fun moments to keep me hooked. Despite the sometimes poor effects, at least the director tried to deliver pay-offs instead of relying on stock footage and reaction shots. Its biggest downfall is its (admittedly underplayed) efforts to cash in on Alien; It's easy to blame the poor quality of the film on age, but when you remember it was released after Alien the age cannot mitigate the lack of quality. Contamination is cheap, cheerful and, I think, is just intended as a bit of escapist fun. A rareity on the list.

Sunday, 20 June 2010

Photo Diary : Gloucester Cathedral

On the way back from Cardiff we decided to follow the most exciting brown sign. Gloucester Cathedral won.

Photo Diary : Cardiff

We went to Cardiff, because we could.

An inexplicable memorial to Ianto Jones, a lame character in the lame sci-fi series Torchwood. You have to admire the amount of (presumably ironic) effort put into celebrating mediocrity.

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Video Nasty #26 : The Witch Who Came From The Sea

Synopsis: Molly is not well. Struggling to come to terms with her horrific upbringing, she has developed an alternate personality that avenges her Father's despicable crimes by seducing, castrating and killing men. As her memory's protective facade begins to drop Molly must face the truth of her childhood and unconscious revenge.

One of the most interesting and disorientating aspects of watching an obscure film from the early 70's (and i've done this a lot recently) is that one rarely has any realistic preconceptions. Other than the title, video cover and promise of something potentially offensive, it's difficult to know what to expect. The Witch Who Came From The Sea is the epitome of not judging a film by its cover. The title, pulp video cover and tag line ('Molly really knows how to cut men down to size!!') suggests camp horror, when the film is actually a slow paced character study exploring the psychological scars of child sex abuse, the title begin derived from the main character's obsession with a mermaid. Watching the film was akin to entering a ghost house and the train immediately stopping in a large lecture theatre where the riders are subjected to a two hour lecture from captain smug himself, Richard Dawkins - I could stomach the lecture, but I really just wanted rubber skeletons and bats on strings.

Sexual abuse is a difficult subjet to tackle in a (predominantly) entertainment medium. It's something that many other films on the list have approached with blood-tinted exploitation glasses, their slightly off-hand dealing with the subject leaving me more than a little sour. Thankfully the The Witch... doesn't trivilise the subject, painting a subtle portrait of a woman in denial.

Molly has rewritten her childhood, believing her perfect father is lost at sea and one day may return. Her need to accept this fantasy is reinforced by her less than supportive sister ('You could be a top waitress, even a bunny if you put your mind to it'), the constant presence of her beloved nephews and all them men in her life being part-time misogynists. In moments of clarity Molly has flashbacks of her father's dispicable acts, soundtracked by the white noise of waves crashing, a reminder of the sea that has, in her mind, taken her father and childhood.

As the frequency and intensity of Molly's flashbacks increase so does her alternate personality's appearances and more men, as the tagline has it, are cut down to size. Every girl remembers her first castration, and Molly's is a doozy, luring two major league footballers to a hotel room, tying them up and administering some permanent contraception. Aside from the scene being rendered almost unintelligible by heavy 'we're all stoned' reverb, It's difficult to believe that the rather plain looking Molly managed to seduce the two men, let alone the film star she seduces later (unsurprisingly Millie Perkins, who plays Molly, was married to the writer). Despite the relatively graphic scenes of violence, I suspect the film earned its blacklisting due to the horribly effective scenes of child abuse. The haunting image of a grown man's legs grinding on top of child's in bed is deeply unpleasant, but how can child abuse be anything but?

I feel the biggest problem with The Witch... is the dichotomy of it trying to be both a gory horror film and an earnest character piece. I couldn't warm to Molly, and aside from a very silly fantasy sequence of bodybuilders being violently contorted around their gym gear, there was very little in the way of the silliness promised by the title, cover and tagline. The film's biggest failure is its final emotionally charged scenes, which falls completely flat because I really couldn't care about the tortured lead. Despite its flaws, The Witch... has soul, which is a rare quality for films on the list. As Mr E. would say, it's a beautiful freak.

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Video Nasty #25 : Snuff

'Cut & Shut' is a term used to describe a composite automobile that has been created by welding two cars, often write-offs, together. Snuff is a 'Cut & Shut' film, 90% a low budget unsuccessful horror flick, and 10% a freshly shot piece of marketing genius. It's essentially a Lada with the rear end of a Lexus.

In 1971 Roberta and Michael Findlay wrote and directed Slaughter, a low budget horror film inspired by the Manson Family murders and shot in Argentina. The film achieved little distribution and quickly disappeared into the obscurity it probably deserved. Five years later, to the surprise of the Findlay's, Slaughter was re-released in cinemas with a new ending and title - Snuff.

Snuff was the illegitimate child of soft-core film producer Allan Shackleton. After reading lurid tales of real-life murder films shot in South America, Shackleton spotted an opportunity to exploit the outrage and perverse interest in these so-called 'Snuff' movies. He knew that if he could release a film and convince the right people it was a real snuff movie the inevitable moral backlash would create free publicity and an 'event movie' that will have curious punters flocking to their local grindhouse. But Shackleton still needed a film, and how could a mock Snuff movie be dragged out for more than five minutes without the viewer, after the initial burst of adrenaline and curiosity, suddenly realise that what they were watching wasn't only disgusting but, frankly, boring? Shackleton then devised his master stroke - take an existing, preferably cheap film and after ninety minutes insert a new ending, purportedly real footage of the crew killing one of the cast members. The film would keep the audience in the cinema for ninety minutes, eager to see the hyped finale, and most importantly, the whole venture will be extremely cheap. Shackleton choose Slaughter, presumably because it did very little business on its original release and, consistent with the Snuff legend, was shot in South America.

On release Shackleton hired fake protesters to hook the media, which led to legitimate protests from Women Against Pornography. The Findlay's, obviously pissed with the fact Shackleton managed to make good money from their crappy movie, sued and settled out of court. Bizarrely, Michael Findlay later died on top of an NYC skyscraper from lacerations caused by a tipping helicopter's blades.

Slaughter, or what of it is in Snuff, is a badly scripted, badly shot, badly scored, badly dubbed, badly acted, yet bizarrely watchable film. The film follows Satarn (subtle), the male leader of an otherwise all-female cult. His followers will do anything to apease him, which alternates between sadist sexual favours and murder. It's essentially male wish-fulfilment bullshit. The misogyny runs through out the film, a later scene having a nymph explain that her sexual needs are the result of being repeatedly raped as a child, something she partially enjoyed. Despite the moral questionability of the film, it's difficult to be offended by something so poorly put together.

And then Slaughter abruptly and prematurely ends, leading into the newly filmed Snuff footage. Presumably there were only a few minutes of Slaughter left, which annoyed me. Despite it making as much sense as the appeal of colonic irrigation, I actually wanted some closure on the mad storyline.

The new footage is, compared to Slaughter at least, quite convincing. This is aided by the jaring and slightly disorientating sudden cut, dragging the viewer through the fourth wall, with crew and lighting now visible. One of the actresses from Slaughter (not actually the same actress, but lets ignore that) is led to a bed by a crew member and convinced to 'fool around', all under the watchful eye of at least four crew members, one of them still filming. The women is quickly tied down and with the acquiescence of the crew she has a few fingertips snipped, her hand jigsawed and finally her stomach disembowelled. At this point the film seemingly runs out and the screen is left a brilliant white, with the sound of crew members planning their escape fading to silence.

The idea is pretty smart, and the execution (sorry, bad pun) isn't too bad. Unfortunately, there's numerous indicators that give the game away. Ignoring the normal found-footage screw-up of multiple inexplicable camera angles, the effects just aren't good enough. During the disembowelment the woman's chest is ridiculously elongated and where she ends and the special effect stomach begins is blatant. Despite this many swallowed the lie whole, and this inevitably led to its banning in the UK.

Snuff is an intriguing yet ultimately dull film. One has to admire the audacity of Shackleton's plan, and for that the film deserves at least some of its infamy. Much like Faces of Death, the film's legacy is in the camp-fire stories of real snuff films it has perpetuated.

Wednesday, 2 June 2010

Mr & Mrs Manser

On a sunny and slightly breezy 30th May 2010, Kimberly Christa Rebecca Atkins married Sam Manser, forming what can only be described as Samberly, a visualisation & fancy dress expert with emo tendencies and a penchant for girly drinks (that's mostly Sam, to be fair). This of course means that both of my siblings have got engaged and married during Jen and I's protracted but perfect engagement.

Although they've been planning the wedding for well over a year (in typical Kim fashion, she's got through three wedding dresses in this time), the whole thing snuck up on me a little, probably because we live nowhere near any of my family and have had the luxury of avoiding involvement with what was surely lengthly and arduous planning. For this reason, the emotional weight of it all hit me randomly on the day, like a sack full of sweetly scented rocks. First was during my dad's amazing father of the bride speech and secondly was (admittedly after quite alot of drink) watching Kim and Sam dancing and holding back the man-tears. I blame Pixar's Up, before that film I hadn't openly cried since watching My Girl when I was 10.

I can only apologise that this well-intentioned post is sandwiched between reviews of 'Cannibal Man' and, in due course, 'Snuff'. As some kind of weak mitigation I came up with the following analogy: Life is generally a lot of rubbish with some wonderful moments in between. Kim and Sam's wedding was, and this is not hyperbole, perfect. Apart from everyone's inability to pronounce my sister's full name, the day couldn't of been better. Kim and Sam deserve it. It's clear how wonderful they are as both people and as a couple by the warmth of the family and friends that surround them.

One day like this a year will set me right.

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

Video Nasty #24: Cannibal Man AKA Apartment on the 13th Floor

Synopsis: After accidentally killing a taxi driver the only way Marco can avoid capture is to reluctantly silence those who discover his secret. Whilst Marco's self-preservation is leading him to relentlessly hack away at his family tree, a mysterious male admirer is watching his every move.

Experience has taught me that any film with 'Cannibal' in the title is inevitably going to be so painfully dull it will, somewhat ironically, make we want to chew my own arm off. Cannibal Man disproves this conjecture, but only because the title is pure marketing tosh. There is a man, but he is in no way a Cannibal. In fact, i'm not even sure he's a meat eater.

Misleading title aside, Cannibal Man is something of a hidden gem. The film's plot is refreshingly simple, affording the director time to focus on the slow-burning mental collapse of our anti-hero, Marco. Unsurprisingly, Marco's brooding hardman facade quickly dissolves after he's killed his girlfriend, brother, brother's girlfriend, father-in-law to be and a local waitress.

Although the plot sounds darkly comic, almost cohen-esque, the film is primarily a tragedy with only a few subtle nods to the humour that can be found in the slightly ludicrous story. Marco is a reluctant, almost accidental serial killer. As if trying to justify the kills to himself, he always offers his victims a way out, as if their persistence makes them fair game. Marco exhibits further denial by positioning the corpses of his brother and his girlfriend in a naturalistic loving embrace.

In the third act Marco finally succumbs to the advances of his over-friendly neighbour Nestor and, oddly, joins him in a homo-erotic splash in the local pool. After a sexy soft-lense shower scene Marco returns to the Nestor's apartment, situated in a modern tower-block that shadows Marco's dilapidated cottage. Nestor confronts Marco about the killings he has witnessed through binoculars and, unlike anyone else in the film, offers to help. Marco is a knife's edge away from killing the only person that's tried to help him and, in a moment of clarity flees and confesses to the police. There's clearly a subtext regarding social divide, but despite the writer's obviously strong conviction it wasn't entirely clear to me. Further reading has filled in the gaps - knowing about the huge gap between rich and poor under Franco's rule helps provides a much clearer context for the film.

Despite the high quality of filmmaking on display, some of the film's dialog is shocking, I suspect due to bad translation and dubbing. My favourites include Marco's tirade against the taxi driver who objects to Marco having sex on his back seat - 'Haven't you been with a girl before, what are you? Some kind of homosexual!? ... My suggestion to you is, shove your taxi'; and Marco's response when his girlfriend asks if there's anything in the paper about the taxi driver they killed the night before - 'No. Not at all. Oh, there was one thing - the man died'.

Cannibal Man is an atypical video nasty, probably finding its way onto the list due to its blunt title rather than the relatively moderate content. it's nice to watch a listed film that is engaging and attempts to provide an underlying subcontext, even if it's intentions are never quite successfully expressed. Whilst most of comically bad dubbing in euro-trash films makes them more watchable, it only hinders Cannibal Man; I wish I had seen a subtitled version that, I suspect, would provide better dialog and, in turn, better reflect the subtle naunces of the story.

Also, thanks to its misleading title I can continue to further recycle my mediocre 'chew my own arm off' gag in future Cannibal movie reviews. Hooray!