The Ward


Director: John Carpenter (2010)
Starring: Amber Heard, Lyndsy Fonseca, Danielle Panabaker
Find it: IMDB

A subdued return to the genre by horror maestro John Carpenter, The Ward is perfectly fine by anyone else's standards but a disappointment by his own. The Ward is to John Carpenter what Red Eye is to Wes Craven and The Toolbox Murders is to Tobe Hooper. All good films, but a million miles away from the masterpieces that made them famous.

Carpenter, mind, made his return to form years ago with Cigarette Burns - maybe the best Masters Of Horror episode (and proving himself worthy of that title) before losing it again with Pro Life (one of the worst). The Ward is no Cigarette Burns, but nor is it a Pro Life. It's simply another Ghosts Of Mars (shut up, I enjoyed it) or Vampires (ditto).

I don't know what Amber heard, but she didn't like it very much...

In The Ward, Kristen (Heard) is institutionalized after burning down a farm house. Unfortunately it looks like she's gone and found herself in a haunted hospital, since she and her inmates are regularly attacked by an ugly ghost woman who bumps them off one by one. But nobody believes her, because she's supposed to be crazy, see. It's like One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest meets Halloween. Except The Ward is in no way as good as Halloween.

Despite a great location, a great lead actress and some creepy spook sequences, The Ward feels like something I've seen many times before. The plot is exactly the same as New Zealand horror-comedy Diagnosis: Death, whilst it robs elements from Shutter Island and a couple of movies I can't mention for fear of spoiling the twist. Suffice to say that by the time the end credits roll, you'll be thinking "oh. So he went there, did he." It ruins much of what came before - and none of that was all too good in the first place.

Furthermore, aside from the typically wonderful Amber Heard, it's a ward populated by horrendously irritating characters. As the script mistakes 'crazy' for 'pain in the arsehole', The Ward gives us Danielle Panabaker doing a silly Posh Slapper routine, Lyndsy Fonseca wearing massive glasses as being 'kooky' and a truly horrible character who sucks her thumb and talks in a babylike voice. Ugh. Heard's Kristen is a strong heroine in the tradition of Laurie Strode, but without her Michael, sympathetic supporting cast or any of Halloween's vicious originality, she's a little girl lost. Heard capably carries the movie; it's easy to see how she's the Scream Queen du jour of mainstream horror cinema.

Carpenter's skills as a director, whilst muted, elevate the movie's duller moments. The ghost stalking the asylum and its inmates is spookily realised, and the kill scenes are good if goreless. Scenes which have Kristen on the run from both her captors and the ghost are tense and thrilling. There are a couple of decent jump scares. But I'm making apologies for The Ward purely because it's a John Carpenter movie. By any standards, it's run-of-the-mill, let alone those of the man who brought us Halloween, The Thing, The Fog, Escape From New York, and Assault On Precinct 13. Mildly watchable as it is, I can't help but be disappointed. After all, I was really looking forWard to this movie.

Burning Bright


Director: Carlos Brooks (2010)
Starring: Briana Evigan, Charlie Tahan, Garret Dillahunt, Tigers.
Find it: IMDB, Amazon

I swear was going to review Burning Bright properly. I had every intention. With my critical faculties and everything. But something happened. Following Burning Bright's opening credits, something happened to sway and get me on side completely. In its very first scene, Burning Bright became The Greatest Movie Ever Made. This is what happened:


Anyone who knows me in the slightest knows that there are but three things I love more than horror movies about tigers: (1) Zooey Deschanel (2) Queen (3) Meat Loaf. Sadly, the first two aren't in Burning Bright. But the third is. And then, as if the awesome levels weren't high enough, Garret Dillahunt turned out to be in it too. Garret Dillahunt is practically a Terminator. Meat Loaf and The Terminator meat meet in a gas station and talk about Meat Loaf's psycho tiger which eats horses. Meat Loaf warns The Terminator that his psycho tiger is a very dangerous tiger. The Terminator buys Meat Loaf's psycho tiger. Bear with me here - sorry, poor choice of words. There are no bears in this movie - The Terminator wants to build a zoo in his garden. And Meat Loaf's psycho tiger is the star attraction.

Meat Loaf leaves at this moment, but we're left in good company with his psycho tiger and The Terminator. I suppose the two main characters are in it too, but they're not as much fun. Kelly (Evigan) is left to watch over autistic little brother Tommy (Tahan) after their mother dies. Sad times. Kelly is no Meat Loaf or Terminator, but she does walk around in her skimpies a lot, like Odette Yustman in The Unborn. The kid is annoying, hence a funny dream sequence in which Kelly smothers him with a pillow. Yes, I laughed.

Obviously the tiger which The Terminator just dumped on Kelly's front lawn manages to break free. And then into Kelly's house. Which is now escape-proof thanks to a bunch of anti-hurricane panels put over the doors and windows. What follows is like Panic Room but with a tiger instead of Forest Whitaker. Or Mercury Rising if Bruce Willis had decided to feed the autistic kid to a tiger. Or like Die Hard in a house with a tiger instead of terrorists. Evigan is barefoot throughout, which is probably not a reference to Die Hard, but I'll pretend it is. What commences is an epic battle of wits between a girl and psycho tiger.

My bet's on the tiger, who wasn't stupid enough to be in Step Up 2. It's a great performance from the tiger by the way (or tigers - three tigers were enlisted for the making of Burning Bright) - far better than the guy from The Hangover. Aside from Meat Loaf, the tiger(s) is the best actor in this movie. No disrespect to anyone else though.

The kid continues to be annoying, but never derailing the whole thing. He demands a sandwich whilst they're being attacked by a fucking tiger, and then he tells Briana Evigan to get dressed. I nearly smothered him myself at that. Thankfully the tiger attacks again before she can put any clothes on. There's a Halloween style wardrobe attack, crashing through walls and much more than you'd have thought possible from a movie about a woman fighting a tiger in a house. Burning Bright may have buttered me up with Meat Loaf, but I stayed put for the thrills, tension and action sequences.

It fails completely as an adaptation of William Blake's poem (dumbed down for the horror generation) but is an otherwise wonderful movie full of tigers, Garret Dillahunt, a pretty girl running around in her undies for ninety minutes and Meat Loaf. Burning Bright is rated thusly:

Bits of the movie with Meat Loaf in:


The rest of the movie:

Vinyan


Director: Fabrice Du Welz (2008)
Starring: Emmanuelle Beart, Rufus Sewell
Find it: IMDB, Amazon

Classy cannibal horror for the broadsheet crowd. By which I mean, it's not properly horror and it's not strictly about cannibals. But it is kinda scary and someone does get their gut chomped. My point being that you can pick up a copy of Vinyan alongside your Guardian newspaper and nobody will bat an eyelid.

It stars Rufus Sewell and Emmanuelle Beart, who are always quite popular amongst the Guardian readers. Set in post-tsunami Thailand, it has them playing a married couple searching for their missing child. Lost, presumed dead in the aftermath of the tsunami, he's apparently sighted in Burma. Mummy and Daddy mount an ill-advised and very expensive search, which takes them deep into the dangerous jungle. Careful, thar be cannibals. Sort of.

It's nice to see a jungle cannibal movie that follows a different school of thought from the usual "they're savages... no wait, we're the savages" stuff, which had already been done to death by the mid 1980s. Vinyan takes a more personal approach. The parents have their own issues, see - and what they find in the jungle really accentuates that, slowly turning Mom and Pop against each other. There's tension from the start, but nothing strains a marriage like a jungle full of cannibals.

It's a bit of a slow burner in that the emphasis is firmly on Ma and Pa than everything else. And cannibals aren't the only threat - they're led deeper and deeper into the jungle by ominous seeming gangsters that we - and they - trust less and less. By the time that things take a turn for the worse(r), we're in little doubt that Mother and Father are utterly fucked. At this point, the movie has accumulated a deeply unsettling vibe. There's hardly any gore or violence at all, but rather a nightmarish streak of dread that says something like no, this can't end well.

I thoroughly recommend Vinyan alongside the less subtle cannibal classics. It's a sad, bleak but rewarding bit of jungle grue. All that and not a handheld video camera in sight.

Welcome To The Jungle


Director: Jonathan Hensleigh (2007)
Starring: Sandy Gardiner, Callard Harris, Nick Richey, Veronica Sywak
Find it: IMDB, Amazon

Not to be confused with that Seann William Scott movie of occasionally the same name, Welcome To The Jungle sees two young couples head into the jungles of New Guinea for much bickering and terror. Terror at the hands of cannibals. Which is good. There's not been a decent cannibal horror movie in years.

Welcome To The Jungle sends its protagonists deep into the jungle in search of missing US Governor's son Michael Rockefeller, hoping they can find the feller and claim any reward money going. Why a bunch of idiot kids think they can succeed where a massive government manhunt failed is beyond me, but hey - the movie needs its plot. All I'm sayin' is that they should have visited Wikipedia first: Rockefeller was probably eaten by a crocodile. When a man's disappearance is explained by several kinds of horrible death, you might be best off not following in his footsteps. Welcome To The Jungle has our foolish kids fall foul of the nastiest of those possibilities. Which is fine, because I hate those foolish kids.

Like most other jungle cannibal movies, Welcome To The Jungle is filmed on cameras held by the characters. This, however, is more like Blair Witch than Cannibal Holocaust, since none of them record anything remotely interesting until about twenty minutes before the end. They bicker and cry and shout and misbehave something terrible. It's a relief when the cannibals turn up. Cannibals are always relatively quiet and well behaved, if you ignore the eating.

I understand why it's necessary to make characters in a cannibal movie act like assholes. You want to go to the jungle and have your characters get eaten, right? But you can't just claim that these indigenous people are all merciless cannibals - because that would be xenophobic and maybe a little racist. And since you're not HP Lovecraft, you gotta give the cannibals reason to be cannibals. And you have to have someone say something like "no man, we're the real savages here" (thankfully nobody says that in this movie) and make out that we're the assholes; have the eaten deserve their fates. Which is cool. I'm in no mood to watch racist cannibal movies. But it's tiresome spending a whole movie watching whiny bastards squeal and punch their way through an undeserving jungle that they have no business travelling through in the first place.

In Welcome To The Jungle, the tribe don't have as much motive as they do in other cannibal movies. The douchebag character who looks a bit like Chris Evans steals a skull, but I'm not convinced that its the reason he gets eaten. I think he just gets eaten because he's white and really noisy all the time. So it's probably a little more xenophobic in that respect, but at least we don't have to watch the kids raping shit or bullying the natives into eating them. They're edible trespassers so they got eaten. Simple as that. It's more simplistic, banal reasoning than you might get from a Deodato, but it has its merits.

Unfortunately, if you have seen a Deodato or a Lenzi, then there's no point in watching Welcome To The Jungle. It's less gory, less violent, less interesting, less good and not even as pretty. When you've seen the genre as explicit as it gets, there's little point in watching a watered down imitation. It's good for those building up to watch the greats - or who have never seen a jungle cannibal movie before - but dull and predictable to everyone else. The found footage gimmick doesn't really work and much of the endgame's violence is shrouded in pitch blackness. The ending is predictable.

Like most cannibal movies, it stays with the viewer for a while after watching. There's a primal fear that makes it such a worthy concept. Welcome To The Jungle is perhaps more watchable than the 'classics', but it's more of a starter than a main course. The cheese sandwich of cannibal movies, it's tasty, but will leave you hungry for something more filling.


Breaking Nikki


Director: Hernan Findling (2009)
Starring: Maria Ines Alonso, Oliver Kolker, Veronica Mari
Find it: IMDB, Amazon

Following a traumatic breakup with his wife, Devon (Kolker) holds a hooker hostage and tries to train the poor ho (Alonso) up as her replacement. This being the day and age for that sort of thing, he does it with torture. Breaking Nikki is kind of like a Clockwork Orange or Pavlov's Dog sort of thing, only with a prostitute instead of a delinquent or dog. Her treatment at the hands of Devon is far harsher than being forced to watch TV or having to put up with a sodding bell. Devon tries to make Nikki truly believe that she is ex-missus Susan. This is achieved by submerging Nikki in a cold bathtub, locking her in a cupboard and doing bad makeup on her. There's also a use of clingfilm I've not seen before (well, outside of certain specialist material) and a number of surprisingly good twists.

Things to do with clingfilm no.101: The Ho Wrap

Breaking Nikki is a behavioral study. But it asks existential and philosophical questions too. If you leave a battered hooker in a locker for days on end, is that hooker dead or alive? Just like that question about the cat. I for one am glad it asks these questions, because I'd quite like to turn a hooker into my ex too. It's a how-to guide for psychopaths and people who like kidnapping prostitutes.

Competent direction, good acting and engaging characters save this from being the simple bargain basement bullshit that its Straight To DVD status might suggest. The torture is gruesome without overpowering the rest of the movie, and Nikki's plight is easy to sympathise with. It puts me in mind of The Loved Ones, only without that flick's sense of humour or awesome soundtrack. It's a grotty movie and more than a little misogynistic, but still a cut above the usual torture toss about prostitutes and stinky basements.

Gnaw


Director: Gregory Mandry (2008)
Starring: Hiram Bleetman, Carrie Cohen, Nigel Croft-Adams
Find it: IMDB, Amazon

Just like The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, only set in Suffolk, England. Watching Gnaw is an odd experience. It's like watching a movie made up of clips from other movies. And I'm not even hyping y'all. Due to the style of this review, there are massive spoilers within. But don't worry, you've already seen Gnaw, in a manner of speaking.

Gnaw opens with a girl running through the forest barefoot and in her underwear, pursued by an unseen force (Severance). Then she is captured, tied to a bed and menaced - sort of sexually - with a knife (Wrong Turn/The Hills Have Eyes 2). Cut to the opening credits, which is made up of newspaper clippings for missing persons (Wrong Turn).

Then we meet a group of friends and couples, none of whom seem to like each other very much. A small creature is accidentally run over (Leatherface) and then someone actually says "we've taken a wrong turn" (um, Wrong Turn). Eventually they reach their destination - a country lodge (Severance) where someone has baked a pie (Severance) for their delectation. Said pie is made of human (Severance) but the sympathetic Final Girl doesn't eat any, because she's a vegetarian (Severance). Then one of the characters finds a human tooth amongst the gravy (Severance). But continues eating anyway. This bit is not like Severance, because Severance characters stopped eating the pie at that point. The characters in Gnaw are actually stupider than characters in a Danny Dyer movie.

One by one, their numbers are relieved (Wrong Turn). One of the kids is caught in a bear trap (Severance/Backwoods/Dying Breed/The Hills Run Red) and the others are alternately murdered outright with a chainsaw (The Texas Chain Saw Massacre) or strapped down to a table and murdered with a chainsaw (TCM: The Beginning). An innocuous old lady character turns out to be in kahoots with the killer (The Texas Chain Saw Massacre/Wrong Turn 2/The Have Eyes 2). Final Girl jumps in a car and thinks she's escaped. But oh noes, the killer is sitting on the back seat (TCM: The Beginning). The end.

Gnaw is, if you've never seen any other movie in your life, possibly the only backwoods horror movie you'll ever need to see. The only thing it's missing is a bit in a service station. Not all of this is the movie's fault; the backwoods horror subgenre has been done, done and redone endlessly. I suppose there's only so many variations on the theme out there. And I'm glad someone is still bothering to try. The pull here is in seeing it all done with British accents and in the middle of Suffolk. Which, admittedly, isn't much of a pull.

But it's done with admirable skill, just as good as any American production. The acting is better than you'd expect from a cast of unknowns, and the kill scenes are fine. I had problems with the horrible characters (there's Jack, who brings his girlfriend and bit-on-the-side on holiday together) and the stupid decisions they make. They're such a band of thickies that they already come tied up - and in one case, blindfolded - for the killers' convenience.

Gnaw isn't a properly bad movie by any means. I've seen far worse. It's simply run of the mill. If you can cope with that - or you haven't seen many backwoods slashers in your time - then ignaw everything I've said here (sorry) and wrap your teeth around a meaty piece of homecooked horror.

Buried


Director: Rodrigo Cortes (2010)
Starring: Ryan Reynolds.
Find it: IMDB, Amazon

It's Ryan Reynolds in a coffin, and that's it. So one's enjoyment of Burial depends firmly on one's tolerance for Ryan Reynolds. Thankfully, Ryan Reynolds has grown upon me since ruining Blade Trinity. Although, to be fair, after Blade Trinity and Van Wilder: Party Cunt, I'd have been quite happy to have seen him buried underground, never to make another movie again.

But he has improved since then. No longer reliant on one-liners and his abs, Buried gives Reynolds a chance to bust some acting chops. A truck driver in Iraq, Paul Conroy (guess who) is kidnapped and dumped underground in a coffin in the desert. Like Kill Bill: Part 2 and the Tarantino CSI episode, but with less of anyone or anything else. Except maybe (SPOILER) a snake and some sand. Buried with nothing but a mobile phone and a few other basic items, Paul makes some frantic calls to try and sort out a rescue. What he wouldn't give for a Power Ring now, eh.

It's masterfully acted and directed, but dare I say it, I found Buried kind of dull. Perhaps if I suffered from claustrophobia it may have had more of an effect, but it's not much better a movie than Phone Booth. Aside from its central conceit and the impressive lead performance, Buried offers no surprises nor anything particularly original. I saw its ending coming a mile off and was left simply underwhelmed.

In all fairness, I think Kill Bill ruined stuck-in-a-coffin deathtraps for me. I spent all of Buried wondering why Reynolds didn't just punch his way out of the thing.

Naughty Bear


How exactly does one fuck up a premise like Naughty Bear? Essentially Friday The Thirteenth with teddy bears, Naughty Bear sounds on paper like the Best Thing Since Ever. In reality, it isn't. It's actually one of the worst games I've ever played. What should be Manhunt with teddy bears ends up as like Rugrats (that version for the PS1) with teddy bears. Naughty Bear, despite its adult ambitions, is every bit as facile, boring, stupid and essentially unplayable as a children's game.

Disclaimer: Naughty Bear is nothing like Rugrats for the PS1. I actually really enjoyed Rugrats on the PS1. Especially the golf minigames. And I was something like 15 at the time (what, mother wouldn't let me play Resident Evil). What I'm saying is that Rugrats was good and this isn't.

I played the first two levels of Naughty Bear and gave up after that. In the first level, you discover that all the teddy bears on, idunno, Teddy Bear Island, are holding a party and Naughty isn't invited. Despite Naughty Bear being a naughty ol' bear, the other bears treat him pretty shitty. So they got it coming. Anyway, the purpose of the game is to punish the bearstards who've wronged you by terrifying them out of their fur and killing them one by one. Like Arkham Asylum except not good or fun or playable.

So you're encouraged to stalk your victims and scare them into either insanity or suicide. You do this by breaking windows, sabotaging their teddy bear electronics and screaming in their faces. Actually, the screaming is the best bit. You sneak up on someone, grab it (occasionally even holding a blade to its neck) and scream into its face. Makes me LOL every time, despite the amount of shit you have to put up with to get to that point.

The graphics are pleasant but unpolished. The voice acting and animations are amusing but in no way worth sitting through for the repetitive, dull and glitchy gameplay. It's frustratingly difficult - or at least, you won't want to give the time it takes to become good at it - and the levels are linear and samey. You'll spend about half an hour trying to force yourself to like Naughty Bear, but all in vain. It defies likeability.

Do not let anyone or anything fool you into thinking otherwise: Naughty Bear is not a good game. Don't listen to that nagging thought in the back of your mind that says "it's got a teddy bear murdering other teddy bears with a fucking axe". Don't even let the fact you can unlock a hockey mask sway you. I really wanted to love it, but Naughty Bear is just unBearable.

The Dentist


Director: Brian Yuzna (1996)
Starring: Corbin Bernsen, Linda Hoffman, Ken Foree
Find it: IMDB, Amazon

Even as hardcore horror fans, we all have things that make us cringe and go "oof." For some, it's eyeball trauma, snipping of the achilles tendon or fingernail stuff. For others it's Megan Fox pretending to act. For me, it's the films of Rob Zombie. Sorry, I mean teeth. Anything involving teeth.

I think it stems from that one time my dentist shouted at me and told me to brush my effing teeth. Or even earlier than that, when I fell over walking in the Lickey Hills (it's kinda like Scotland, localized in Birmingham and not at all like Scotland) and chipped the fuck out of one of my teeth. Which caused trouble for years to come and ended with me wearing a brace. There's also that old stereotype of British people all having bad teeth. Whatever, I hate tooth stuff. I hate that bit in Marathon Man and that new Saw film and even Steve Martin in Little Shop Of Horrors is kinda icky. I have reoccurring dreams in which all of my teeth fall out and, what I'm trying to say right, is, this: I hate the shitting dentist.

So The Dentist, then, is one of the few horror movies that I find genuinely difficult to watch. Even when The Dentist (Bernsen) isn't doing evil things to people's mouths, I find myself cringing. I think that were this not a horror movie - say, a romantic comedy starring Christian Bale and Dame Judy Dench - I'd still be cringing. Where dentistry is involved, it doesn't take much.

Its scenes of oral violence (ha. I said oral) better any modern torture movie hands down. Brian Yuzna is the man who brought us(well, produced) Re-Animator, mind. Crazy-ass doctors are kinda his forte. Corbin Bernsen is fantastic as the dentist-driven-crazy (although I always forget he's in this movie and forever confuse it - and him - with Dr. Giggles. Despite my never having seen Dr. Giggles). You've also got professional movie asshole Earl Boen and the legendary Ken Foree in smallish roles. The Dentist is a proper psycho movie, like The Stepfather before it.

I've been needing to book an appointment with my dentist for a while now. After watching The Dentist again, I think I'll give it a miss thanks.

The 30 Minute Horror Challenge


Well, I don't have the patience to do anything for 30 days, let alone regularly update this blog. Which is a shame, because I would have entitled it something witty like 30 Days Of Shite and maybe even done a little picture on photoshop. Instead I'm going to do this in one long post and put a picture of Jack Bauer above all the words I've written. Because, geddit, Jack Bauer had a deadline in 24 just like I had a deadline to write this. Geddit? Get it? GET IT.

This being quite the popular meme, there are a few other blogs that have done this before me, and much better at that. Thanks to all those guys and to whoever started this whole thing off. Come to think of it, I might have done the wrong one, because these questions aren't the ones other people have been answering. Oops.

Disclaimer. This did not take me 30 minutes. It took me an hour.

THE 30 DAY HORROR CHALLENGE
IN 30 MINUTES

1. Your first horror movie: One of the Nightmare On Elm Street movies. After bedtime, forbidden from doing so by my mother. I think it was Freddy's Dead. She cut the plug off've the TV when she found out. But I win because I became a warped asshole of my own doing anyway.

2. The Last horror movie you saw in the theater: It's been awhile since I saw a horror at the cinema. It was either The Crazies or a Saw, whichever was the most recent.

3. Favourite classic horror movie: How do you define classic? If you mean 'old' then Texas Chain Saw Massacre or Evil Dead. If you mean 'really old', then Bride Of Frankenstein.

4. A horror movie you thought you'd love but didn't: House of 1000 Corpses, and then again with The Devil's Rejects and Halloween. Robert sure does love to fuck with people's expectations. Even that episode of CSI sucks.

5. Favourite horror remake: The Hills Have Eyes.

6. Favourite vampire movie: The first Blade. Or, if that's not horror enough for ya, 30 Days Of Night.

7. A horror movie you think no-one has seen: Decadent Evil Dead. You're not missing much, although there is a dwarf vampire hunter.

8. Favourite foreign horror: Ichi The Killer. More of a gangster thriller, but it's still fucking horrifying.

9. Favourite supernatural horror: Evil Dead every time.

10. Horror movie everyone loves but you don't: The first Saw movie. I mean, it's fine enough, but it's no classic. The emperor's wearing no clothes. And also, he's ripping off Se7en. For one I actually hate, see Switchblade Romance.

11. Favourite horror/comedy: Funny Games. No, Shaun Of The Dead, obviously.

12. Most disturbing horror film: I don't really get 'disturbed', but I couldn't finish August Underground. Ew. If I wanted to see *that* I would've watched 2 Girl
s One Cup.

13. Favourite zombie movie: Re-Animator.

14. Favourite Indie movie: Indiana Jones And The Temple of - oh, sorry, I see what you mean. The Taint.


15. Favourite monster movie: Jurassic Park.

16. Horror film with a great soundtrack: Shaun Of The Dead. Two Queen songs, I mean 'nuff said, really.

17. Favourite 80s' horror: Maniac Cop. Underrated as hell.

18: Favourite horror movie filmed in black and white: Night Of The Living Dead, although I've seen embarrassingly few black and white films.

19. Best use of gore: Pretty much all of Braindead, particularly the lawnmower stuff.

20. Favourite horror character: Resisting the urge to say Ash, I'll go with Lefty Enright (Dennis Hopper) in The Texas Chain saw Massacre 2, closely followed by Benny (Ken Foree) in Leatherface.


21. Best horror franchise: The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, but not The Next Generation and less so the remake and its sequel.

22. Best death scene: I liked Paris Hilton getting twatted with a pole in House Of Wax, but the final scenes of Freddy Vs Jason are simply sublime. You got either Freddy being decimated by Jason, or the Destiny's Child twat being splatted up a tree.

23. A great quote from a horror movie: "NO. She was so hot!" The Taint. There's also a line about dirty coathangers that made me LOL.

24. Horror movie character that describes you: Well since The 40 Year Old Virgin isn't a horror movie, I guess I'll have to go with The Monster in Frankenstein. Villagers are always chasing me away with flaming torches and my only friends are blind old people. Also, I like drowning children.

25. Favourite Christmas horror movie: Silent Night Deadly Night.

26. Horror movie for a chicken: Twilight.

27. Your guilty pleasure horror movie: The Wicker Man/I Know Who Killed Me.

28. Horror movie you'd like to see remade: I actually would see a remake of Maniac Cop if done right. Bruce Campbell in the old cop role, Timothy Olyphant as the other guy, Danny Glover as the police chief, Zooey Deschanel as the love interest, the big Hills Have Eyes mutant as Maniac Cop. Alexandre Aja to direct.

29. Worst horror movie: Twilight. It's not horror? Then fuck it off out of play.com's 'horror' section. Otherwise, probably one of the many terrible things I don't care to remember.

30. Favourite all-time horror movie: The Texas Chain Saw Massacre.

Lakeview Terrace

What could be safer than living next to a cop?
Not living next to Samuel L Jackson, for one.

Director: Neil LaBute (2008)
Starring: Samuel L Jackson, Patrick Wilson, Kerry Washington
Find it: IMDB, Amazon

True story: I find Lakeview Terrace a difficult movie to watch. Not because it's shit or anything, but rather because it actually happened. To me. In the same way that Maniac Cop elicits shivers from me every time, so does Neil LaBute's Lakeview Terrace. In this heated thriller, an angry cop (Jackson) terrorises and victimises his new neighbours (Wilson and Washington) right up to a predictably explosive showdown at the end. Such things which actually happened include the cop having Wilson arrested and wrecking their hedge for the sake of it. They left out that bit where he blocked my Patrick Wilson's driveway with his car for two weeks, and I don't remember there being guns involved, but otherwise Lakeview Terrace is pretty true to what actually happened. Thanks a lot, Neil LaBute. What next, a movie adaptation of that one time I got dumped in Starbucks?

Because Neil LaBute likes his big themes, Lakeview Terrace isn't just about a cop being a prick to his neighbours. It's made clear that Jackson's character is a racist, just like he was in Die Hard With A Vengeance. Not only does he disapprove of his neighbours' interracial relationship, but he's none too keen on their penchant for walking around half-naked or doing fucks either. He begins to unravel, both at home and work. There's an effort to make his Officer Abel Turner seem rounded and conflicted, but he's pretty much just a cartoon menace.

For what it's worth, I could see where he's coming from. Not with the racism, but Patrick Wilson is a bit of a penis. I'd probably wreck Patrick Wilson's hedges too, should he ever end up living next door to me. Lakeview Terrace is reminiscent of The Fireman and that Simpsons episode with George Bush. It offers very few surprises and little in the way of originality. Disappointingly, there's not even Nicolas Cage dropkicking women in the face. Officer Abel's racism is an interesting subtext, but nowhere near enough to hold a whole movie. Eventually the smouldering tension and building aggression climaxes, but only in a wholly predictable way.

Lakeview Terrace is a diverting psychothriller, improved only by its lead performances and amusing melodrama. Like I said, I'd probably have enjoyed it more had I not been living next door to my own mini Officer Abel at the time. Fucker ruined my hedge.

Having A Ball: the fortunes of the ball gag in mainstream cinema



Because yesterday I was totally watching a trailer for The Ledge, which is a mainstream, respectable Hollywood movie and everything (we know it's respectable; it stars Patrick Wilson and Terrence Howard, and is described as 'a battle of philosophies' on IMDB) and is about somebody threatening to jump off've a building and somebody else trying to talk him out of jumping off've the building. This, coincidentally, is how Terrence Howard took the news of his sacking from Iron Man 2. I think it was a guilt-stricken Don Cheadle who talked him down.

Any the how, I was watching the trailer, and for some reason I was watching it in Russian* (it being Russian is actually highly important) and I was pondering Terrence Howard, doing his crying face again. And then this happened:



Which used to be something you'd never see outside of, ahem, specialist material and the odd horror movie. Nowadays, the ball gag is everywhere; from crappy horror movies to crappy Liv Tyler movies to crappy Kevin Smith movies (and comics. Batman ends up on the receiving end in Smith's The Widening Gyre. Which is just bollocks. Frank Miller's goddamn Batman wouldn't have put up with that shit). Watching The Ledge trailer, it occurred to me that the humble ball is no longer just the preserve of crappy horror movies and dodgy (possibly illegal) pornography. Last year's Disappearance Of Alice Creed used the ball to great effect. Even the otherwise repulsive Rihanna featured the gag in the video for her single S&M (insert joke about how I wish she'd just shut up and wear it instead). Bravo, it's surprising to see something like that on daytime TV. That said, S&M depicts the kinky life as all whips and chains and a bit of a freakshow, so it ultimately does no favours. To anyone. Least of all music.


Outside of Betty Page videos, it was Pulp Fiction what started it all. With Ving Rhames, Bruce Willis and a gimp, it's a remarkable scene. It takes Pulp Fiction in directions anew, and would be endlessly ripped off and homaged for years to come. It catapulted the ball gag into the mainstream (for want of a better word. I hesitate to call Pulp Fiction's Indie crime thriller properly mainstream). Still, Pulp Fiction spoofs aside, all was quiet for the ball gag for a good few years. Sure, it popped up in the likes of The Simpsons (!) and the occasional horror flick (namely shit like Candyman 3), but Hollywood wasn't too sure what to do with it just yet.

And then torture got big. Not one but two Hostels treated their protagonists to the ball, as did countless other trashy gore flicks. The ball gag is an easy way to depict extremism and sexualise a movie without so much as whipping a cock out. Is it any wonder the enraged Mary Whitehouses of the world started bandying about the word 'torture porn' when every Tom, Dick and Harry was using such an overtly pornographic bit of kit as a prop? For the most part though, any horror movie which utilises the ball gag isn't a very good one anyway. When I see a badguy start breaking out the balls, I cringe. And then pop one off the wrist.

"Oh I see. So when you asked if I wanted to do another Bond film..."

Years of unimaginative horror toss followed. Then Alice Creed came out, and it was kinda like watching Pulp Fiction again. Alice Creed is an intelligent, thrilling movie and the presence of the ball works to show just how prepared her captors were. It takes a lot of effort to find and purchase a ball gag. Not that I would know that. Used in such a context, the object is desexualised. It's an implement used to silence the poor girl and not - as most everywhere else - a sign of Kinky Time.

I'm not sure how it'll work in The Ledge. I mean, is it something one of the characters just happened to have lying around, or is Liv's kidnap that pre-meditated? I suppose this is why it remains fairly underutilized. Everyone has a roll of duct tape or a scarf or a potato** hanging around. Which is a shame, because balls make me laugh. I've given crappy horror movies a hard time in this essay, but I was just (wait for it) busting their balls. I like plenty of humour in my horror, and for some reason, I find the ball gag inherently comic.

Ha, you look like an idiot and now you're going to die.

I mean, Liv Tyler has a pretty silly face under normal circumstances. The ball accentuates that. It makes its victim look and sound silly and highlights not only the ridiculousness of most horror but also communicates a sense of utter powerlessness. Plus there's drooling and drooling is funny. It's just a shame that Liv's gone with boring-ass black in The Ledge. I think a nice red would have complemented her silly face beautifully (if you want to swap instances of the word 'silly' for 'hot', that's fine. I like Liv Tyler's silly face). Whatever else The Ledge is, I'm sure it will in no way be worthy of a post as long as this one. Whatever, (wait again) I had a ball.

* The shot in question only appears on the Russian trailer. Kinky bastards.
** Yes, a potato, ala Dennis Rodman's Simon Sez.

Thor


Director: Kenneth Branagh (2011)
Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Tom Hiddleston
Find it: IMDB

Shakespearian luvvie and sometime Wallander Kenneth Branagh directs a movie about a Norse God that stars fellow luvvie Sir Anthony Hopkins and features lengthy segues into Asgard and kingdoms asunder. And yet Thor is entirely enjoyable and about as far from po-faced as one can get. Fears of a repeat of the Ang Lee Hulk debacle go unfounded as Thor turns out to be the most fun superhero film since the first Iron Man*. And unlike the sequel to that movie, it manages not to feel like an elaborate Avengers trailer and more like a proper film in its own right.

Hunky but arrogant God of Thunder (well, sort of) Thor (Hemsworth) is banished from Asgard following a disagreement with father Odin (Anthony Hopkins). He crash lands in modern day New Mexico, only to be promptly run over by Natalie Portman's scientist. Poor chap is made mortal and unable to lift his own hammer, which gathers much attention from government officials (led by Iron Man 2's SHIELD agent). Back in Asgard, brother Loki (Hiddleston) is causing all sorts of evil and just generally fucking about the place. On Earth, there's much fish-out-of-water comedy, a giant fuckoff robot and Natalie Portman being cute in a caravan. Since it's set in the same universe, I'm not sure why Iron Man wasn't sent in to deal with stuff, but hey, someone says his name. Squee.

Also, The Punisher himself, Ray Stevenson is in this movie. He has to wear a fat suit (or fat armour), but I like Ray Stevenson. I like that the Warriors Three and Sif are in this movie. I love Kat Dennings. I like Stellan Skarsgard. I like Idris Elba. And I like Chris Hemsworth and I like Natalie Portman and I like Thor. Never did I think I'd see the day Kenneth Branagh directed a movie about a pumped God hitting things with a hammer, but I'm glad I have and I'm glad that Kenneth did too.

The movie skips between New Mexico and Asgard at regular intervals, but neither universe is boring and I enjoyed the contrast between our rubbish Earth and the Lord Of The Rings-esque stuff on Asgard and the ice planet. Thor's designs are very reminiscent of Jack Kirby work and are a lot less goofy than you might imagine. It's an impressive achievement that the Asgard stuff largely works. Everyone looks a bit silly, but it's acknowledged by the movie and offset with the Earthly realism of other scenes. Oh, and there's the requisite cameo from Stan Lee.

Thor is a blast. It has its issues, sure: Thor looks mighty silly whenever he swings with his hammer or, uh, flies. Loki is a pretty crappy villain. There's not enough of Thor hitting things. The 3D is unremarkable. But that aside, I loved it. Marvellous.


*No. The Dark Knight is a lot of things, but fun is not really one of them.