The Dark Knight Returns: Part I


Director: Jay Olivia (2012)
Starring: Peter Weller, Ariel Winter, David Selby
Find it: IMDB

The best Batman movie of the year. There's a reason I haven't gotten around to reviewing The Dark Knight Rises yet, and that reason has something to do with Christopher Nolan's trilogy topper leaving me profoundly disappointed. The Dark Knight Rises is an okay comic book slash action movie, I suppose, but it's a sucky Batman film. In Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy, The Batman has now spent more time retired than he has fighting crime. The Dark Knight's career effectively consists of him beating up some criminals, toppling a gangster, defeating the Joker and getting his girlfriend killed. Also, taking the credit for Two-Face's death. Still, I liked Bane, and the bit with the football field was good.

But wait, this is a review of The Dark Knight Returns, not that other thing. Batman (Weller) is retired again - although in this instance, he does deserve a bit of a rest after a good few years of crime-fighting. Jason Todd is dead, Dick Grayson estranged, and the city is overrun by a gang of criminals calling themselves 'The Mutants'. Bored and still harbouring serious anger management issues, Batman Returns to sort his city out. First on his to-do list: the re-emergence of Two-Face and the hiring of a new Robin.

The Dark Knight Returns made me feel exactly how I wanted The Dark Knight Rises to make me feel. I genuinely had chills run down my spine during the "operating table" line, as well as during Bats' initial return. He might look disconcertingly like an angry version of his Brave and the Bold self here, but this Batman is properly scary. Not since Batman Begins have we seen Batman really terrorise the fuck out of some unsuspecting criminals. This adaptation of Frank Miller's comic book is almost entirely faithful, save for a few wisely chosen moments which make Batman less of a dickhead. Namely the scene from the book, in which Batman uses a criminal's massive machine gun to blow the bastard away - this adaptation has him simply conk the bad guy on the head with it, which feels more consistent with the Batman we know and love.

Except for maybe this one.
  
As with the other recent DC animated movies, it looks geat; very similar to Miller's artwork, except without the crap panels and occasionally dodgy anatomy. The voice acting isn't bad, although David Selby's Commissioner Gordon sounds a tad too old and doddery. There will always be those who say that Batman should be voiced by Kevin Conroy and no-one else, but I liked Peter Weller's crusty, understated version. The music is ace too, with a nice booming synth score which makes The Dark Knight Returns sound like an 80s action film.

Frank Miller may have gone off the rails recently, but this work remains as good as ever. I watched this as part of a double bill with Year One, and enjoyed both tremendously. Nobody does fascism fetishism like 80s' Frank Miller. I may never get an All-Star Batman and Robin adaptation (starring Charlie Sheen as the goddamn Batman) but The Dark Knight Returns (Part 1) will do quite nicely instead. 

The best Batman movie of 2012.    

The Ordeal


Director: Fabrice Du Welz (2004)
Starring: Laurent Lucas, Jackie Berroyer, Jean-Luc Couchard
Find it: IMDB

This Christmas, while others were rotting their brain cells with festive shit like Elf and The Grinch and The Muppet Christmas Carol (all of which I actually like) I found me drinking myself into oblivion and watching a French horror film about a cabaret singer who finds himself kidnapped by a mad farmer, dressed like a woman and chased around by the mad farmer's also mad love rivals. It's like Emmerdale meets Something Horrible. And yes, I'm aware that every time I watch a film about mad farmers I compare it to Emmerdale. I fucking love Emmerdale, all right.


Marc Stevens (Lucas) is the cabaret singer in question. Daniel O' Donnell and Cliff Richard should never watch The Ordeal, because this film would thoroughly make them shit their pants. Not that Cliff Richard would ever watch extreme French horror anyway. He's more of a Songs of Praise sort of fellow.

When his van breaks down in the middle of nowhere, Stevens is taken in by kindly-faced inn owner Bartel (Berroyer). Unfortunately, Stevens reminds Bartel of his missing wife, and he's less than eager to release the poor club singer. A quick bang on the noggin later, and Stevens finds himself tied up wearing a dress, while Bartel rants and raves about how his lovely wife is never going to leave him again. Luckily for Mark, it is a very pretty dress. So pretty that Mark proves to be very popular amongst all of the other locals too. 

For all its violence and forced cross-dressing, The Ordeal follows the fairly standard Torture Film template. There's the sense of impending doom, the inevitable capture, the escape, the re-capture, the re-escape - then the bit where Anything Could Happen. Being a collector of 'extreme' cinema and having heard so many good things about The Ordeal, I found myself a little disappointed by the film. It's extreme, but not that extreme - a mite predictable and slow. Still, Stevens is easy to root for, and there's a nice sense of surrealism to some of the scenes. I particularly enjoyed the local pub and Bartel's dim-witted friend, Boris (Couchard). The Ordeal is a little unsettling, but never an Ordeal to watch, as it should be.

That said, it makes for great Christmas viewing. No, really, it does. There's a Christmas tree in it and everything.



Lovely Molly


Director: Eduardo Sanchez (2011)
Starring: Gretchen Lodge, Johnny Lewis, Alexandra Holden
Find it: IMDB

The director of The Blair Witch Project, Eduardo Sanchez returns with Lovely Molly, a spooky bit of horror which is less original and not likely to have as many fans, but thoroughly traumatising nonetheless. It must be said that I found his enormously influential signature piece to be somewhat overrated, so it's no surprise that I enjoyed Lovely Molly more than I did his debut movie.


Recovering drug addict and newlywed Molly (Lodge, who is fairly lovely) moves in with husband Tim (Lewis) to the countryside home where her dead dad used to live. Painful memories re-emerge, old druggy desires kick in again, and her foul father's mean spirit begins to make his presence known. Or does he? The threat at the heart of Lovely Molly is deliberately obtuse, refusing to commit to one thing or another. At times, Lovely Molly owes more to Requiem For a Dream than Paranormal Activity. There's a nice wink to Sanchez's beginnings in Molly's opening address to camera, reminiscent of certain scenes from The Blair Witch Project. The little handheld camera interludes are pointless, but not really pronounced enough to matter.

Lovely Molly? HORRIBLE MOLLY, MORE LIKE. I was left horrified by Lovely Molly and the movie's murderous, drug-addled nasty antics. Preachers are chomped, faces chewed, Tim abused and even some nudity and not in a good way. Well, maybe an okay way, but it's hard to get a good perv on when you're scared shitless of someone. It's why Grace Jones and I could never be together. Please don't hurt me.

The film is slow to get going, but once it does, Lovely Molly is incredibly gripping and nasty. I properly felt for Molly and her plight, even as she and the film slip into some very dark places. Lovely Molly? LOVELY MISERY, MORE LIKE.


Sightseers

But not at all like any of those films.

Director: Ben Wheatley (2012)
Starring: Steve Oram, Alice Lowe, Eileen Davies
Find it: IMDB

At last, someone has made a serial killer road movie about my sort of people. That someone is Ben Wheatley, director of the headfuck hitman film Kill List. Those people to whom I was referring are Tina (Lowe) and Chris (Oram) - proper Brummies, complete with the accent. Are yow alright, am ya?  

It's meet-cute in a Ken Loach kind of way. Chris and Tina decide to holiday together in his caravan, the former promising to take the latter on a "sexual odyssey", stopping off at some of Britain's finest sights (a pencil museum!) as they go. Well, there's only so much arse sex one can have. Only Chris has serious anger management issues, and frequently finds himself bumping off innocent people along the way. Thankfully Tina is more open to the idea of serial murder than most, and joins Chris in his killing spree. It's quite sweet, in its own little way. It also confirms my own private prejudice, that you should never trust anyone who wears a fleece.

Sightseers is laugh out loud funny without once compromising plot or character. It is, at times, shockingly crude and violent. There are jokes about everything from bum sex to (accidental) animal murder. And even as Chris and Tina violently slaughter innocent bystanders, they're such an adorable couple. The ending (although mildly predictable) is a little bit heartbreaking. Its beautiful soundtrack allows me to appreciate the 'Power of Love' again without having to condone that fucking awful John Lewis advert. Television adverts are not proper stories, people - even if they do emotionally blackmail you into buying shit from John Lewis. If you want to cry, watch Jurassic Bark instead. Ahem. But yeah, Sightseers has a great soundtrack.

It may not have appeared in many cinemas at all, but Sightseers is hands down funnier than anything that did this year. If you chose to see Breaking Wind or Adam Sandler playing a version of himself in a dress over this, well, congratulations on making the world a slightly worse place to live in.

Sightseers is the funniest comedy of the year, ay it.

Castle Freak


Director: Stuart Gordon (1995)
Starring: Jeffrey Combs, Barbara Crampton, Jessica Dollarhide
Find it: IMDB 

Stuart Gordon directs Jeffrey Combs and Barbara Crampton in a loose adaptation of a short HP Lovecraft story. No, not Re-Animator, nor even From Beyond; Gordon's third concoction with the same ingredients is Castle Freak, based on Lovecraft's The Outsider. In it, family man John Reilly (Combs) inherits a crusty Italian castle from his estranged mother's estate. Unfortunately, he also inherits the asshole who lives in the basement - a fugly cross between Frankenstein's Monster and something out of Wrong Turn. The titular Freak wastes little time in sleazing at John's blind daughter, murdering cats and slaughtering a visiting prostitute. Castle Freak is the most exploitative of Gordon's movies so far.

It was while watching Castle Freak that I was struck with a sudden realisation: that Stuart Gordon might just be my favourite horror director ever. He's certainly the most consistently good. From his classic Re-Animator to From Beyond (release it properly on DVD already!), Stuck and Edmond, I've never not enjoyed a Stuart Gordon film. Even The Pit and the Pendulum has its merits. Coincidentally, most of his movies star Jeffrey Combs in some capacity, and are usually inspired by HP Lovecraft, a literary favourite of mine. So as with every other Gordon movie I've seen, I loved Castle Freak. Still, it is amongst the darkest of his oeuvre. It would be the darkest, but the ending of Edmond is some haunting shit.    

Combs's John is a recovering alcoholic, struggling to make amends for accidentally blinding his daughter and killing his son. Understandably, wife Susan (Crampton) is less than able to accept his apologies. It's not long before John is driven to the nearest pub and into the arms of the village hooker. After some not very sexy sex, the beast attacks. There are some shocking moments of sexual violence to Castle Freak as the Freak chomps a good chunk out of someone's titty and then makes designs on John's scantily-clad daughter. It's truly disturbing stuff; revolting in the wrong hands. It's still revolting here, but Gordon salvages his film, saving it from becoming a complete rapey mess (although some will no doubt disagree vehemently with that assessment) like Alan Moore's Neonomicon comic book. Still, it's an uncomfortable watch; a reminder that bringing sex to the fore of a Lovecraft adaptation does not make for a pleasant mix.


Worth watching for Jeffrey Combs alone, Castle Freak is an atmospheric, disturbing piece from one of horror's most reliable and underrated directors.



The Raven


Director: James McTeigue (2012)
Starring: John Cusack, Luke Evans, Alice Eve, Brendan Gleeson
Find it: IMDB

Quoth the raven: "I lost it. I lost it all. Faith, dignity..." John Cusack appears to have little of either in The Raven, in which he plays the great Edgar Allen Poe. Or at least, that's what the film says he does. He actually just appears to be playing John Cusack with a beard. Edgar Allan Poo, more like.

Sub-faeces related pun: The Shit and The Pendulum. Inspired by Poe's horror stories (Edgar Allan, not Cameron) a serial killer stalks the streets, offing his victims in an increasingly vicious manner. The police enlist the author himself to help them apprehend the killer. When the killer kidnaps Poe's fiancée-to-be, the disillusioned poet finds himself doubly determined to put a stop to the crimes.

It wasn't really a promising concept in the first place (especially not with it being directed by V For Vendetta wrecker James McTeigue) but its execution makes it even worse. John Cusack gives the laziest performance of his career, letting his clothes and goatee do all the talking. Only Brendan Gleeson's beard makes any sort of impact. I fell asleep five times while watching The Raven and wish I hadn't bothered waking up to finish it.

Had I slept eternally onwards, I would have been lucky enough to miss the stupid, stupid ending. It's the worst MO for a serial killer I have ever seen. I particularly liked* the part when he threatened to fuck off to France and bother Jules Verne instead. The Raven is boring, stupid and probably offensive to fans of the poet. The best thing about it is that it's entirely forgettable.

Let The Raven piss off and bother my memory nevermore. 







*Word 'like' used very loosely.

Freaks


Director: Tod Browning (1932)
Starring: Harry Earles, Leila Hyams, Daisy Earles
Find it: IMDB

This year, more so than ever before, it would be fair to say that I have watched a lot of shit. With two websites (this one and the lovely Horrortalk.com) and a magazine (Starburst - nothing to do with the sweets) on the go, I have had to watch a lot of movies. I've seen one about a man who tickles women to death, more found footage movies than I can care to remember, and I even had to watch The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation again, in preparation for a magazine feature. I know, what a fucking whine. But amongst all of the shit, I've also been trying to catch up on the classics. High on my to-do list was this, Tod Browning's infamous Freaks.  

Freaks is very worthy of the 'classic' label, and I'm not just saying that because Black And White Equals Classy And Good and I don't want you all to LOL at my stupidity. It's a film about a travelling circus - the old school type with 'freaks' and muscle men who wear leotards. Its plot has Circus beauty Cleopatra (Hyams) attempt to swindle one of the 'freaks' (dwarf Hans, played by Harry Earles) out of his fortune. When she goes too far, Hans' friends and fellow 'freaks' turn on Cleopatra and her strongman boyfriend, with grisly results. Although you'll probably recognise that ending from various clip shows and documentaries, Freaks retains almost all of its power.

I totally shed a tear at the end, so poignant is the love story between Hans and Frieda (Daisy Earles). That's a little creepy when you stop to consider that Harry and Daisy Earles were siblings in real life, but we'll gloss over that. I rarely cry get anything in my eye for anything that's not a cartoon or episode of Buffy, but this ending tugged on my old heartstrings all the same (tacked on afterwards, as it may have been). Maybe it's because I'm a deformed freak too, and I also turned a woman into a duck for scorning me (well, I photoshopped her head onto a picture of a duck, anyway. It still counts).

Freaks is a classic. Even today, it's a great story, and still has the power to profoundly move its viewers. And I'm not just saying that because I don't want to look stupid.


Paranormal Activity 4


Director: Henry Joost, Ariel Schulman (2012)
Starring: Katie Featherston, Kathryn Newton, Matt Shively
Find it: IMDB

At what stage does something stop being Paranormal Activity and become a Regular Occurrence? All the activity has led to this, apparently. To be fair, Paranormal Activity 4 does head in a slightly different direction to the first three films, its threat being of a slightly different nature to which we're used to seeing. Paranormal Activity 4 is more of a spooky child movie than it is a haunted house flick.


But, in the worlds of meme Captain Picard, why the fuck, at this point, are they still recording everything they do? Aside from a little football match at the start of the film, barely any attempt is made to explain why young Alex (Newton) is recording her every move. Never before has the series' gimmick seemed so stretched and aimless.

Creepy kid Robbie (Brady Allen) and his mother move in across the street from tweenage Alex and her family. When his mother is mysteriously taken ill, Robbie comes to stay with the family. Unfortunately, the scary little shit has brought his Invisible Friend with him. Cue things flying around the house, doors slamming shut, people levitating out of beds and the whole family flying up and down stairs in hilarious Paranormal Activity style. I haven't been scared by a Paranormal Activity since the first one, but this fourth instalment isn't even remotely worrying.

There are some new ideas which work well though, particularly those which employ an Xbox's Motion Capture facilities to catch a glimpse of the demons which stalk Alex's home and the children in it. With several laptops and an Xbox all switched on at once, this family's reliance on standby mode is the reason we have global warming, people. Switch your shit off! Unfortunately, most everything else is laugh out loud funny. Alex levitating out of her bed raises a smile while the family's repeatedly being flung around the house like rag dolls is just hilarious. My favourite part of the Paranormal Activity films is the bit in which unseen forces drag the protagonists around the place; Paranormal Acivity 4 is like a spooky version of You've Been Framed in that respect.  

It's all a bit of a non-event, culminating in a reasonably interesting cliffhanger which probably won't be followed up on in the inevitable sequel. But oh, as long as they have people falling up and down the stairs some more, I'm on board for that.


Stitches


Director: Conor McMahon (2012)
Starring: Ross Noble, Tommy Knight, Gemma Leah-Devereux
Find it: IMDB

Those who suffer from caulrophobia but love horror movies could do worse than Conor McMahon's Stitches - after all, whoever could be scared of cuddly Ross Noble? The stand-up comedian and serial QI gobshite tries his hand at horror movie villainy in this, an odd Irish cross between A Nightmare on Elm Street, IT and The Inbetweeners.


While attending a friend's birthday party, a gang of bastardly children accidentally murder  sweary clown-for-hire Richard 'Stitches' Grindle (Noble). Years later, at Tom's (Knight) sixteenth birthday party, Stitches is resurrected and out for revenge. Beyond its strange choice in lead actor, Stitches is an old-school slasher movie in the mold of A Nightmare on Elm Street (if you thought Freddy's one-liners were bad, just you wait until you hear one of these beauties) or Maniac Cop. His victims may be younger than we're used to, but Stitches pulls no punches in his bloody vengeance. Heads are kicked off, faces impaled, bollocks pulled off, intestines unravelled and that's not even the half of it. There's a shocking amount of gore in Stitches - very much earning the film its 18 rating.

Unfortunately, like everything else that's not James Bond, Sinister or Paranormal Activity 4, Stitches was utterly shafted upon its UK cinema release. I found myself huddled up in a completely empty screen at a shitty cinema in the middle of nowhere at 9:20 at night, so sparse were showings of the film. That's a shame, because Stitches is one of the few horror movies of 2012 that I wasn't disappointed by. Mind, I am a sucker for seeing horrible children get their deserving heads kicked off by zombie clowns.

This is not going to be everyone's cup of tea. Black as the comedy might be, the film is played entirely for laughs. The over the top gore makes it impossible to take seriously. Unless you have, maybe, very severe fear of clowns, Stitches isn't remotely scary. Like Noble's stand-up routines and panel show rants, the film does ramble on a bit towards the end, the youths are exceptionally horrible and the acting a bit duff. Noble is fantastic as Stitches, but alas, the hook-handed shadow of Psychoville's Mister Jelly looms large over the film. Were it not for the existence of Reece Shearsmith's fabulous creation, Stitches would be a great creation. As it is, he's merely very good.

A comedy horror with guts, gusto and plenty of grue, Stitches truly is a noble effort.


Prometheus


Director: Ridley Scott (2012)
Starring: Noomi Rapace, Michael Fassbender, Idris Elba
Find it: IMDB

It's a prequel to Alien - only not, except sort of, it is. After discovering some drawings on the wall of a cave, scientists Elizabeth Shaw (Rapace) and Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) realise that the meaning of life, the universe and everything lies in the far reaches of outer space. All aboard the starship Prometheus, then, where the scientists hope to find the answers they seek. Also, ow, my chest.


They are joined on their Star Trek by an achingly cool Idris Elba, a chilly Charlize Theron, Timothy Spall's son and robot butler Michael Fassbender (with his pants on, for once). If JJ Abrams ever decides to reboot The Next Generation characters, he could do far worse than Michael Fassbender as Data. The actor gives the film's best performance, although that isn't to take anything away from the others. One time girl with the dragon tattoo Noomi Rapace does admirably well as Not-Ripley, bringing an earnest vulnerability to the role. It would have been nice to see more from Elba and Theron, but with such a large cast all vying for time, it's difficult to fit everyone in.

They could have perhaps done without Guy Pearce as one of the Weyland clan,buried beneath heaps of rubbish make-up and doing his worst Monty Burns impression. It would have made more sense to cast the always game Lance Henriksen, seeing as (a) he has history of playing Weylands and (b) he's genuinely quite crinkly nowadays.

While I'm not the biggest Alien fan ever, I was interested to see what Scott might make of his return to that universe. His original bit is effectively a slasher movie in space, but Prometheus has a little more going on under the hood than that. Those big ideas and philosophical musings could lead some to dismiss Prometheus as pretentious, but I found it to be enjoyable and a little bit fascinating. There's plenty of action and horror to go with the navel gazing, and a lot more linking it to the Alien films than I had expected.

Prometheus is an intelligent, fun and very pretty piece of sci-fi, being absolutely enjoyable on its own merits as well as a worthy entry to the Alien series, more than washing out the bad taste left in the mouth after Alien vs Predator and Alien: Resurrection.  In space, everyone can hear you pontificate.


Sinister


Director: Scott Derrickson (2012)
Starring: Ethan Hawke, Juliet Rylance, Clare Foley
Find it: IMDB

True crime writer Ellison (Hawke) sneakily uproots his family from their home and moves them to an infamous murder house where a family were murdered years earlier. No sooner have they moved in than Ellison discovers a box of home movies in the attic. Breaking out the Super 8 projector, he digs right in. What he sees is the worst thing you could possibly find in a box in your attic - a series of found footage movies. It's the equivalent of finding a Paranormal Activity box set in your loft.

These are apparently more real than a Blair Witch though, depicting real murders and atrocities. Rather than calling the police, Ellison delves deeper into the mystery, uncovering the identity of the films' big bad and the nature of the threat. At the same time,  his young son (named Trevor, ewis experiencing a series of horrid night terrors, his daughter conversing with the dead, and things keep going bump in the night. It's all very, well, sinister.

But the word 'sinister' is a promise, a threat, rather than anything concrete. "Threatening or portending evil, harm, or trouble", to go by the dictionary definition. Which Sinister does very well. With its spooky jump-scares, creepy set-up and actually impressive found footage interludes, Sinister portends evil very effectively. But when that evil eventually arrives in the film, it's an entirely non-threatening affair. A scene in which Ellison falls out of his attic is laugh out loud funny. Also, there is nothing less 'sinister' than the name 'Mister Boogie'. I'm sure the filmmakers thought that they were going for some sort of Pennywise the Dancing Clown form of reverse-spookiness, but Mister Boogie is shit. It's a blatant attempt to recreate the Darth Maul demon of Insidious. 

There are some nice ideas at play, and Ethan Hawke is always watchable (even while wearing a cardigan, ew again), but Sinister is a massive disappointment. It's close behind Cabin In the Woods as the most disappointing horror movie of the year.


Taken 2


Director: Olivier Megaton (2012)
Starring: Liam Neeson, Maggie Grace, Famke Janssen
Find it: IMDB

Given that the director's name is Olivier Megaton, one might be lead to expect a lot more explosions from Taken 2 than one actually gets. Weighing in with a puny 12A rating, there are gunfights and fisticuffs aplenty in Taken 2, but never any impact. What it does get right, however, is its title's promise. There's lots of taking going on in Taken 2. Kidnap prone Kim (Grace) manages to stay out of the baddies' clutches, but no such luck for the rest of her family. Particularly taken (again and again) is wife Lenore, mostly because Neeson keeps leaving her behind.


Neeson reprises his role as Bryan Mills, a man who seems to spend most of his time stalking his daughter and holding crappy barbecues with his camp friends. When ex-wife Lenny's new partner leaves her, Mills decides to cheer the family up by taking them on holiday to Istanbul  There, a welcoming committee is waiting for them - the vengeful relatives of the sex-traffickers Mills killed the last time around. Bryan and Lenny are kidnapped, and it's left to Kim to find them. Considering the events here and those of the last film, Taken 2 should have ended with the Mills family burning their passports and vowing to never take another bloody holiday again.

Taken was a sleeper hit, taking (geddit) many by surprise and bringing about a career resurgence for Liam Neeson as Hollywood's go-to action guy. As with its predecessor, Neeson is the best reason to watch this sequel. It's certainly not for the bloodless action, which ranges between being incomprehensible to uninspired. No, Taken 2 succeeds only because Liam Neeson's Bryan Mills is a hilarious creation. His scenes with Maggie Grace are entirely uncomfortable, like spending the evening with a quietly lecherous relative. I honestly expected one early scene between the two of them to end with a kiss on the lips. He's certainly a lot more lapse in recovering his ex-wife than he was his daughter, constantly leaving her alone, semi-conscious in really dangerous places to get kidnapped again. That's one way to be rid of a third wheel. There are scenes in which Mills actually gets jealous of his daughter's new boyfriend. Taken 2 is a sweet romance between a man and his daughter. It's like a gender-switched Oedipus in reverse. Except this is definitely not Shakespeare.

I'm not being facetious by referring to Janssen's character as 'Lenny', by the way. It's actually Bryan Mills' pet name for his lover. Which just made me think of this, every time he said her name:


Taken 2 is a fun but silly and senseless action thriller with no gore, no grit and no gumption. The genuinely nasty threat of the first film's sex trade baddies gone, Neeson is left battling boring thugs who never stood a chance in the first place. Thankfully the big fella's presence alleviates the film's problems, his performance always fun to watch. The door is left slightly ajar for another sequel, but that would just be taken the piss.


Inbred


DirectorAlex Chandon (2011)
StarringJo Hartley, Seamus O'Neill, Dominic Brunt
Find itIMDB

If there are two things in life that I love which others regularly fail to appreciate, it's the humble backwoods horror movie, and a little soap opera called Emmerdale. Never before have the twain met, until now. Not only is Inbred a little bit like Emmerdale anyway (in so much as it's set in a small country village) but it stars my favourite cast member of that soap opera too - Dominic Brunt, aka cuddly horse traumatised vet Paddy Kirk. Prior to watching Inbred, I was aware that Paddy from off've Emmerdale had made a horror movie, but had no idea that this was that movie. Imagine my thunderous joy when I saw Paddy from off've Emmerdale pop up, wielding a fucking chainsaw, no less.

The plot at first appears to offer nothing special. In fact, I was dreading watching Inbred, so fed up am I with half-arsed backwoods horror films. As two social workers take a van load of delinquent teenagers into the countryside in the hope of getting them to behave, they are beset by the village's contingent of inbred psychopaths. The story is like a cross between The League of Gentlemen (nothing to do with Alan Moore), Severance and 2001 Maniacs. It quickly becomes evident that Inbred is more than your average Texas Chain Saw Massacre rip-off.

Insanely gory, frequently funny and very violent, Inbred is tasteless, crass and often shocking. There are vegetables being shoved places where vegetables really shouldn't go, horses trampling people to death and a truly tremendous amount of exploding heads. Needless to say, this won't be to all tastes. The characters aren't particularly likeable, and too often the victims' acting descends into bouts of ear-piercing screaming and shrieking. Still, the kids are horrid enough that you can enjoy their Murder By Inbred, and the villains are fantastically realised. Pub landlord Jim (O'Neill) is a wonderfully gruff psychopath, and Paddy Brunt looks truly disturbing as chainsaw wielding Podge. Emmerdale Farm is a pretty terrible place to live anyway (a plane literally landed on it once, and a woman was exploded by lightning in a phone box) - Not for nothing do we refer to Emmerdale as 't'village of t'damned' in our house - so it's entirely appropriate that Inbred should feature one of its stars.   

With Pearl not around to keep an eye on things, standards at the veterinary practice went downhill fast.

Imaginative as it might be in places, there are of course clichés. I've not seen a backwoods horror movie in years that managed to avoid breaking out the bear traps, and Inbred is no different. However, it manages to dance around those clichés somewhat, using them in a manner one might not expect. Several plot points and scenes I recognised from the first time around they were done in Severance, but Inbred is more enjoyable than that Danny Dyer afflicted movie. Its sense of fun overpowers most of its flaws. It even imports its own version of Deliverance's duelling banjos in the form of the genuinely catchy 'eeh by gum'. Eeh by gum, it's good.

If you're easily amused, like myself, you can pretend that Inbred is one of those whimsical Emmerdale spin-off movies - that ask things like 'what if the Dingles won the lottery or went on holiday?' - taken to a terrifying extreme. This unlikely contender might just be my favourite backwoods horror movie of 2012. It's violent, funny and more than a little silly. Not sure I'll ever be able to look at Paddy from off've Emmerdale in the same light again, though.

Guinea Pig I: Devil's Experiment


Director: Satoru Ogura (1985)
Find it: IMDB

Pride myself, as I do, on having seen the worst of the worst horror movies in existence, there was no way I wouldn't eventually get around to seeing the Guinea Pig series. While it is nice to have added another notch to my horror movie bedpost (like a regular bedpost, except grottier), in the case of Guinea Pig, I wish I hadn't bothered.

Created before 'torture porn' was even a thing, Devil's Experiment has perhaps the flimsiest plot I have ever seen in a movie. It is literally nothing more than a series of torture sequences. The version of the DVD I watched had no English subtitles or dubbing, but not once did I miss them. It opens with a woman being slapped repeatedly around the face (which goes on for about five minutes) before moving on to more mental and penetrative tortures. But as our poor victim is slapped soundly around the chops over and over again, we can actually see the actor slapping his own hand to create the sharp striking sound. I'm sure it worked better on fuzzy old VHS, but some of these infamous tortures look remarkably shonky on DVD. Particularly daft is a bit in which the kidnappers tie their victim to an office chair and spin her round and round in circles until she gets sick.

Other tortures, however, are actually revolting. Maggots, fingernails and eyeballs are amongst the few things I can't be doing with in a film, and Devil's Experiment has all three. It's surprising that it was this film's sequel that gained most notoriety, since Devil's Experiment is by far the most memorable Pig. Of course, memorable doesn't always mean good. Devil's Experiment does its job (plotless nasty) just fine, but nothing else whatsoever. There's less going on than an episode of Dirty Sanchez or Jackass. It makes Captivity look densely plotted by comparison.

Like a ridiculously fast rollercoaster, the point with the Guinea Pig films isn't in the journey but rather the ride itself - it's a test of endurance; not something you watch because you like plot, or acting, or purpose. Which is good, because it doesn't have any of those things.


God Bless America


Director: Bobcat Goldthwait (2011)
Starring: Joel Murray, Tara Lynne Barr, Melinda Page Hamilton
Find it: IMDB

A disenchanted office drone and a teenage psychopath embark upon a brutal killing spree inspired by the things that hack them off with modern life. On their kill list: noisy people in the cinema, xenophobic shock jocks and the stars of My Super Sweet Sixteen and American Idol. In a world in which people still read The Sun and Seth MacFarlane has three shows on television, God Bless America is very timely.

I might live all the way over here in wet, boring England (yes, I just had a cup of tea) but none of God Bless America was lost in translation. We invented Simon Cowell, after all - and our Daily Mail is just as bad as your Glenn Beck. There's a channel called BBC3 that shows Family Guy every night of the week. If that isn't a sign of the apocalypse, I don't know what is. With that in mind, I settled down watching Bobcat Goldthwait's satirical road trip movie hoping to see it set the world to rights.  

The dynamic of the film is like Falling Down meets Super (whose protagonist is also a man called Frank). Tara Lynne Barr's schoolgirl psychopath gives a turn so very similar to Ellen Page in the latter film that it's entirely appropriate that Frank (Murray) should dub her 'Juno'. While she is annoying, Barr's energetic performance prevents the film from getting too gloomy. With a very specific target list and modus operandi, Frank conducts his operation much like that other famous Frank, The Punisher. The humour is very black and downright cruel at times, but the film is silly enough that it tends not to stick in the mouth too much. An exception being Frank and Roxy's killing spree at the cinema - given recent events, it's a little too close for comfort.

A spiritual sequel to Idiocracy, the film owes a lot to the work of Mike Judge. Frank acts like a more mildly functional version of Office Space's Milton (and Murray is only a moustache away from looking like him) while the idiots so detested by Frank and Roxy are very Beavis and Butthead. Unfortunately, writer and director Bobcat Goldthwait's script lacks the precision of Judge's writing. By the time the film's fifteenth or so rant came about, I'd had enough. For every genuinely funny line or moment, there's Frank or Roxy giving a tired monologue about the state of the country or explaining why Alice Cooper is so awesome.

Where Super left us in little doubt that Red Bolt had serious mental health issues, God Bless America would have us see Frank and Roxy as heroes or anti-heroes, at worst. Sure, their targets are horrible (watching My Super Sweet Sixteen, I can empathise) but Frank and Roxy are imbeciles themselves.  Frank complains about the state of modern television, flicking through channel after channel of shite. We all feel like that sometimes, but hadn't he ever considered getting Netflix? Nothing like a four-season Breaking Bad marathon to restore one's faith in modern drama. I honestly consider American drama (Breaking Bad, Dexter, American Horror Story, True Blood, etc) to be the best in the world right now. Not a fan? Buy a DVD player. Nobody is making you watch that shit, dude. I agreed with most of Frank and Roxy's viewpoints (particularly the Alice Cooper thing) but their constant whining left me hating them by the end.

There is a difference between a screenplay and a diatribe. This is the latter. God Bless America sounds like the former. If I wanted to hear self-indulgent whingeing, I'd record a podcast and listen to that instead.       


Dredd


Director: Pete Travis (2012)
Starring: Karl Urban, Olivia Thirlby, Lena Heady
Find it: IMDB

Following the colourful, cartoonish mid-nineties Sylvester Stallone adaptation, Judge Dredd has gone all urban. Karl Urban, geddit. But also, grimmer, grittier and very dirty. It's a more realistic Mega City One than we've seen before, perhaps thanks to the film's relatively low budget. Glimpses of the future we recognise from the pages of 2000ad are there all right, but they're buried amongst battered vehicles and dirty architecture of our time - an uncomfortable mesh of the old and the new. All that stands between Mega City One and total chaos is the Judges - an elite force with the power to dispense instant justice. If Dredd is anything to go by, they massively favour the death sentence.

Very best of the Judges is Joe Dredd (Urban) - a jobsworth fascist who makes Dirty Harry look positively sparkling clean by comparison. Dredd has captured the essence of Dredd beautifully; he speaks in monotone, never once smiles and certainly doesn't take off his helmet. The uniform is very different (although it did put me in mind of Dredd's earlier appearances in 2000ad) and the helmet looks a bit too big, but this is Judge Dredd as I'd always imagined seeing him on the big screen. Urban thankfully resists the urge to go Full Christian Bale with the voice, which is gravelly but restrained.

In a plot which is like Training Day meets Die Hard, Dredd takes rookie Judge Anderson (Thirlby) on a routine training mission in the Big Meg. There, they are called to investigate a multiple homicide at Peach Trees block. At Peach Trees, they run afoul of gang lord (gang lady?) Ma-Ma Madrigal (Headey), Avon Barksdale from off've The Wire and a whole lot of heavily armed perps. Yes, it's like The Raid, except with Judge Dredd.

That growing feeling of intense disappointment I had while watching The Dark Knight Rises? Dredd was the complete opposite of that. I loved every single moment of it. Even the 3D, and I despise watching movies in 3D. It actually works very well in Dredd (I'm still not calling it Dredd 3D) particularly during the drug-induced Slow-Mo scenes. The action is intense, violent and incredibly gory. Heady's Ma-Ma is quietly menacing, Thirlby is adorably sympathetic as Anderson and Urban is an admirably terse Dredd.

There are, of course, criticisms. I'm a big Dredd fanboy, so some changes to the source material hurt more than others. The costume makes sense, but I'm not sure about the use of our modern vehicles on Mega City's roads. The action being largely set in Peach Trees makes for an incredibly tense movie, but I would also have liked to see more of the Big Meg. My biggest problem however, is with the language. I love fucking swearing as much as the next twat, but in Dredd, I thought it excessive. Dredd comics, see, come with their own profanisaurus, and I would have much preferred to see the characters shouting things like 'Drokk' and 'Grud' rather than boring old 'fuck' and 'shit'. It makes it seem grittier, but a 'Stomm' or two wouldn't have hurt. Likewise, it could maybe have used a little more humour and satire amongst all the bloodshed.

Dredd is a fantastic, mostly faithful adaptation of a series that really deserves the exposure. Despite some stiff competition, Dredd might be my favourite comic book adaptation of the year. Grud, it's good. 





IT CAME FROM POUNDLAND II: Saw


Director: James Wan (2004)
Starring: Cary Elwes, Danny Glover, Monica Potter
Find it: IMDB

Our semi-regular feature returns with Saw, a movie I didn't really like but couldn't turn down for £1. I've never watched it since buying the film, and probably never will. Still, at a quid, I maintain that it is a legitimate investment. Update: I sold it on eBay for £3.25. That's a lot of profit, given that I always deliberately overcharge for postage and packaging.

Se7en II: Saw stars Cary Elwes as Doctor Lawrence Gordon, a man kidnapped by the mysterious and elusive Jigsaw Killer. Together with a man who can't act and a corpse who can, Gordon is locked in a smelly bathroom and told to hack his foot off if he wants to survive. Meanwhile, other things are happening in the outside world. Wronged copper Danny Glover is on the hunt for Jigsaw, Gordon's wife (Monica Potter) and child (child) have been kidnapped and several unsavoury types fall victim to Jigsaw's little games. Despite the fact that nobody owns any lightbulbs and Cary Elwes sucks in this movie, Saw is a servicable enough little horror thriller type thing.

... and it stars Ben from off've LOST as a man called Zep.

Depending on your view of the movies, Saw has pretty much become tainted by its own sequels at this point - a byword for cheap schlock, seasonal moneygrabbing, lazy plot devices and an insistance on crowbarring Tobin Bell into flashbacks just for the sake of it. 

... and Miles from off've LOST as a man with a fat face

So Saw is a hard one for me to like now. I love (most of) its casting - Danny Glover, Monica Potter and the LOST alumni are good in everything - and the traps are admittedly quite inspired. It is what it is really; a passable Se7en rip-off with a few good twists and a neat concept. But like Freddy Kreuger and those damn cartoony sequels, it's become diluted by its own overexposure. And it's so self-serious that it's almost impossible to like. Whereas you want to see Freddy, Jason, Michael and Leatherface hack up the teens, Jigsaw is an irritating egoist with an overinflated sense of self-importance and whiny disposition. This is a man whose first thought after diagnosis with cancer is to build a bunch of silly traps with which he can torture crackheads and cheating doctors.


To be fair, if my doctor was as annoying as Cary Elwes is in this movie, I'd probably be tempted to lock him up in a toilet too. The lead performances in Saw are really pretty bad, all snot and overacting. Elwes and the crying photographer bloke are both outperformed by the supposedly (SPOILER) dead body with whom they share their lavatory. Good as Danny Glover is, even he doesn't seem to give much of a rat's ass about the film. Well, he is getting too old for this shit. Next up: Saw In A House with the Wahlberg that's not Marky Mark.

Slugs: The Movie


Director: Juan Piquer Simon (1988)
Starring: Michael Garfield, Kim Terry, Philip MacHale
Find it: IMDB

Slugs: The Movie, as opposed to slugs: the animals, I guess. You have to be pretty bad at life to get yourself killed by slugs, of all creatures, but that hasn't stopped Slugs: The Movie from making a film out of such a series of occurrences. Writer Shaun Hutson (upon whose novel this film is based) even managed to get two books out of the idea. It's a more daffy idea than most creature features, but Slugs has its icky charms.

As in the books, the death sequences in Slugs all have the feel of a pre-credits Casualty injury. There's the horny teenagers having sex (well, maybe you might find that in Casualty After Dark), the grumpy old chap in his greenhouse and the young woman preparing dinner. Each of them come to a grisly end thanks to the slugs, which alternate between looking like actual slugs and black turds with teeth.

I was putting the bins out, a few weeks ago, and I stood on a slug whilst wearing only socks on my feet. Slugs: The Movie manages to replicate that feeling throughout. It's a credit to the species' inherent nastiness (sorry, slugs) that the film manages to feel utterly repellent while also being really bad at the same time. I found myself itching all over several times, particularly during the opening credits and the sex scene. As cops pour over the aftermath of the sex/death by slugs scene for evidence, hero Mike Brady remarks on the slug trails left all over the floor. It is shocking that nobody makes a jizz joke. Wasted opportunities aside, I maintain that the film is properly nasty at times.

The rest of the time, it's hilarious bullshit. The exploding greenhouse scene is just great, as is a bit in which a slug eats a poor unsuspecting hamster. The acting is atrociously bad, all monotone deliveries and terrible monologues. A scientist gives a lecture on slugs to our heroes, describing the creatures as though no-one has ever seen a slug before in their lives. Mind, the film was made in 1988, long before the advent of Wikipedia. If you wanted to research a subject in those dark days, you had little option but to ask a scientist. A useless scientist, to boot. Even I could tell you that all you need is a bit of salt or a few half-full beer cans to be rid of the lettuce-munching menace, and I'm no Alan Titchmarsh. But no, I suppose blowing up the sewers beneath your own city is so much easier.

Slugs: The Movie is not very good. Its more gruesome scenes are very well done, but there's no escaping from the fact that slugs are a pretty rubbish threat (unless you're an idiot or a vegetable) and that the heroes could easily solve the problem with a few salt shakers and some common sense. That poster there though, redeems everything. 


Judge Dredd


No, he isn't.
Director: Danny Cannon (1995)
Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Armand Assante, Rob Schneider
Find it: IMDB

With the reportedly not-bad Karl Urban chinned Dredd imminent, Sly Stallone's infamous 1995 adaptation no longer stings quite so much. It's still a stinky hunk of dystopian dung, but like Batman & Robin in the wake of Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, it feels a little more harmless now. Danny Cannon's Judge Dredd makes perhaps the biggest mistake a comic book movie can - it makes the thing less about the character and more a star vehicle. In this case, the star is Sylvester Stallone and the vehicle is a Lawmaster with a pissy seat.

Despite having the body and chin for the job, Stallone couldn't be more wrong for the role of Judge Joseph Dredd. He spends a total of ten minutes wearing the (fibreglass) helmet. Comic book Dredd has spent nearly 40 years wearing it, and we've still not seen his face. Not that it really matters in this case. Stallone in the helmet looks like Sylvester Stallone in a helmet. We all know what Sylvester Stallone looks like. 

In the year 2139, what remains of the world has been split up into 'Mega Cities', which are ruled by fascistic "Judges" - tough guys with the authoritah to arrest or execute criminals on the spot. Judge, Jury and Executioner as it were. Judge Dredd (Stallone) is the very best of the Judges. He establishes his dominance by saying things like "I am the law", which is fine, and "I knew you were gonna say that," which is not fine. Judge Dredd has more catchphrases than Little Britain, none of which are in any way amusing. As mumbled by Stallone, he sounds more like Marion Cobretti in a stupid fibreglass helmet than Judge Dredd.

As if the bastardisation of Dredd himself wasn't enough, Rob Schneider and Diane Lane are on hand as comic relief and love interest, respectively. Lane does okay as Judge Hershey (although someone a little stronger might have been better, such as Sigourney Weaver) but there's no excusing Rob Schneider. I'm a massive Rob Schneider apologist (I actually love his Big Stan) but his pissing all over the back seat of Judge Dredd's (flying) bike is indefensible. 

Armand Assante does better as clone brother Rico Dredd (who doesn't look like Dredd or Fargo, the man they are both clones of) but isn't given much to work with. It's standard villain fare, and the finale is more than a little reminiscent of Stallone's own Demolition Man. Despite the silliness, some of the characters do actually look the part - particularly the Angel Gang (one of whom is Hershel from off've The Walking Dead) and ABC Warriors' Hammerstein. The Angel Gang sequence is actually pretty good, even if it is disappointing that they don't eat Schneider. Hammerstein looks good but lacks any personality whatsoever. Which is a pretty accurate summary of the rest of the film, actually. Mega City One looks great; exactly as I'd imagined it reading the comics. It's very Blade Runner influenced, but that's no bad thing. Likewise, the opening bit is a lot of fun and a solid introduction to the character. Unfortunately, it's all spoiled as soon as Judge Dredd takes off the helmet.

Judge Dredd is an awful film, a missed opportunity and terrible waste of the character. Thankfully, this year's reboot looks to undo at least some of that hurt. With that in mind, maybe we can enjoy Judge Dredd on another level or two, like Batman & Robin or Daredevil. Ironically enjoyable? I knew you were gonna say that.


[REC] Genesis


Director: Paco Plaza (2012)
Starring: Leticia Dolera, Diego Martin, John Sponge
Find it: IMDB

'And now', as Monty Python would put it, 'for something completely different.' It's no exaggeration when I say that [REC] is possibly my favourite found footage horror movie of all time. Although, seeing as I hate most of the others, that's not saying much. It's also one of my favourite zombie films of all time. The sequel, whilst mostly more of the same, is very good too. Given the bombshell which [REC] 2 left us with, this prequel drops the ball enormously. In fact, it's almost the most disappointing threequel of 2012.

[REC] Genesis doesn't have Tom Hardy doing an accent that I literally laughed at every time he came on-screen. It doesn't have a man's spine being repaired with rope and a hole. It doesn't even have a completely predictable ending which is telegraphed miles in advance. No, it has a man called John Sponge (who is actually dressed as a sponge) and a protagonist doing his best Inigo Montoya impression. For the purposes of this prequel, [REC] Genesis is transformed into a comedy-horror hybrid, whether the cap fits or not. Not once is Genesis as scary or even mildly unsettling as its predecessors. I love comedy horror (it's perhaps my favourite brand of horror) but only when it makes sense. Granted, this review is but a smokescreen for my unpopular opinions regarding The Dark Knight Rises, but I was still quite disappointed.    

Were it not for the [REC] brand, I would have loved Genesis. It's cruel, insanely gory, stupid and there are even chainsaws. It's not even a bad movie. There are some funky Spanish songs accompanying the violence, and the central romance is genuinely quite sweet. All in all, it sounds like a recipe for a horror movie I'm guaranteed to love. But I watched [REC] Genesis hoping to see a [REC] film. If I wanted to see a silly knockoff, I'd watch Quarantine 2 again*. Who knew that, outside of the infamous Barcelona apartment block, there was a goofy horror comedy going on. Talk about that reporter lady being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Those less enamoured with the franchise as I might enjoy Genesis. It's better than a lot of new zombie horror  releases out there, and even manages to be quite inventive at times. But as a successor (or precursor) to two of the best horror movies of recent years, it's bloody useless.







* I wouldn't. Nothing could ever make me watch Quarantine 2 again.

It Came From Poundland: ALONE WITH HER


Director: Eric Nicholas (2006)
Starring: Colin Hanks, Ana Claudia Talancon, Jordana Spiro
Find it: IMDB

Thanks to the British economy going down the shitter, the high street is ruled by three great powers: Poundland, Primark and 99p Stores. In these giants, anything is possible. For 99p, one can buy two cans of an energy drink called POWER HORSE. And let me tell you, POWER HORSE gives you exactly the energy boost that one would expect from a drink called POWER HORSE. In Primark, you can get your very own Batsuit (don't call it a onesie) for £15. In Poundland, however, they have taken to selling something  very much within this website's remit: horror movies.


Is it possible to buy decent horror for £1? Joel Harley investigates. I have bought an awful lot of this Poundland horror, since they first began stocking it. I've never watched a single one, until now. Who knows, this might become a regular feature.

Alone With Her has the very interesting distinction of starring Tom Hanks's creepy-looking son. I first noticed Colin Hanks in Untraceable, during which I thought "that guy looks like a young Tom Hanks". He has since popped up in the latest series of Dexter and the odd romcom and television episode. In Alone With Her, he takes centre stage as a very, very creepy man.

Doug (Hanks) meets Amy (Talancon) and promptly sets up secret surveillance cameras around her home so as he can watch her every move. Not in a gross way: he merely wants to learn everything about her so's he can woo her most effectively. It's quite romantic, when you stop to think about it. Like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day. The problem with wooing a girl via hidden surveillance is that you get to hear her slagging you off to her mates. It's why Mel Gibson turned into a crazy misogynist; hearing what women really thought of him in What Women Want (not to be called 'sugartits' is a good start). Surprisingly, neither her or her friends ever say "you know, that Colin looks a bit like Forrest Gump." I overheard someone say "that's Joel. He always tucks his t-shirt into his trousers" once. I was fucking heartbroken. Cthulu knows how I would have reacted if I'd heard them say I have sweaty hands. In that respect, Doug shows an awful lot of restraint.

The intrusive but dispassionate gaze of the camera is contrasted wonderfully with creepy Colin's slimy behaviour. Amy is a sympathetic protagonist, even if her choice in male company does leave something to be desired. The idea behind it is an insidious one, effortlessly scary and creating a great atmosphere and boiling tension. The story is seen through the lens' of Doug's cameras, but its presentation feels more natural and less gimmicky than most found footage horror films. The climax delivers an insufficient payoff to an otherwise impressive structure, but then, there are only so many ways a story like this can go. Alone With Her reminded me of The Collector (not that one) crossed with the more recent The Resident.

Alone With Her is a chilling, tense psycho thriller centered around a great set of performances from its leading duo. Not bad for £1.




The Grey


Director: Joe Carnahan (2011)
Starring: Liam Neeson, Dermot Mulroney, Frank Grillo
Find it: IMDB

So called because of Liam Neeson's increasingly grizzled post-Taken appearance. In The Grey, a plane full of manly men crashes in the middle of Alaska, leaving Ottway (Neeson) and his fellow survivors at the mercy of both this hostile environment and a pack of bloodthirsty wolves.


Re-united after their disappointing A-Team remake, Carnahan and Neeson are on more solid ground here, their existential survivalist thriller whipping along at a nice pace. Plenty of carnage and manly musing make up for the fact that the story is probably bollocks and also quite racist to wolves. Neeson should have taken a leaf out of his A-Teammate and not gotten on no plane (fool).

The plane crash is one of the best I've ever seen. The scenes in which Neeson struggles to make sense of the situation is very reminiscent of the first episode of LOST, except LOST wouldn't have lasted five minutes with Liam Neeson in it. There's an alternate version of LOST somewhere, where Liam Neeson punches The Smoke Monster in the face and brutally murders all of The Others in their very first appearance. Sawyer is a diminished presence in this version of LOST, as Neeson has him and his smart mouth making very good use of Locke's wheelchair. In fact, this alternate version of LOST is mostly Liam Neeson, Sayid, Mister Eko, Desmond and Lawnmower Man all chilling together in the hatch, listening to The Mamas and The Papas and reading literature (Neeson, of course, being Sayid's father-in-law now, as he was there to stop Ana Lucia from shooting Maggie Grace).

Ahem. Anyway, In The Grey, Neeson plays a deeply depressed Irishman who also happens to be an expert wolf hunter. This very particular set of skills (no doubt acquired over a long career) comes in useful when the wolves decide the humans aren't welcome on their land. Nonsense as they might mostly be, (animal lovers and wolf enthusiasts were less than happy at The Grey's depiction of wolves) the wolf attacks are thrilling and gory. It's like The Edge, except with evil wolves instead of an evil bear. The Edge is a slightly better film though, due to the fact that its bear is called Bart. Animal fans will be particularly unimpressed by a scene in which the survivors kill a wolf, eat it and then behead the creature, lobbing it back into the wilderness from whence it came.

There are people who aren't Liam Neeson in The Grey, although they're very thinly drawn and mostly uninteresting. Rather than imbue them with likeable personalities, the film goes down the easy route of having them talk about their loved ones a lot. The wolves barely need to be there though, since the humans do a perfectly fine job of killing themselves without any help from an outside party. Particularly cruel is a scene in which a man manages to drown in a shallow river. The death scenes are all memorable and shocking. The environment adds to the film's effectiveness - I felt chilly just watching The Grey.

The Grey is a well-made, gripping (if slightly portentous) survivalist thriller with Liam Neeson at his badass best. There are no Grey areas (unless you like wolves) - it's a great film.