The Blob (1958)


Director: Irvin S. Yeaworth Jr & Russell S. Doughten Jr (1958)
Starring: Steve McQueen, Aneta Corsaut, Earl Rowe
Find it: IMDB

Never mind the Blob, the real freak show is in seeing Steve McQueen - aged 28 but looking about 40 - play a petulant seventeen year old. It's a very different Great Escape for Mister McQueen, climbing out of his bedroom window in the middle of the night to visit best gal Jane (Corsaut).

One summer night, as all-American teenager (shut up) Steve McQueen is taking his High School Principal's daughter on a date, a space rock crashes into the nearby woods. Trapped within, an extraterrestrial lump of goo - the titular Blob. As the song goes, "it creeps and leaps and glides and slides, across the floor, right through the door." Although don't expect to see any of that stuff in the movie itself. Mostly, it's Steve McQueen trying to convince skeptical adults and authority figures that the Blob is coming to eat them all up. "I did so see a man-eating Blob. Ugh. I hate you all!" 

It's a classic, but The Blob hasn't aged very well. It's far too slow, with not nearly enough Blob action and lots of Steve McQueen acting in a manner one wouldn't expect from Steve McQueen. "But I don't wanna stay in no Prisoner of War camp. I wanna go to the prom!" Sulky face. McQueen is as watchable as ever, but seeing him play a seventeen year old is as distracting here as it was with the evil faced kid in Grease. That he actually plays a guy called Steve is best of all. His character is non-existent, so one might as well drop the pretence, sit back and enjoy the Steve McQueen show. You certainly won't be watching for the hideous child or gruesome landlady characters, neither of whom get Blobbed on. Musical interlude before the scores:



It disheartens me to be disappointed by such a classic, but The Blob fails to live up to either its own premise or my expectations. It's plenty cheesy though, and there's fun to be had with McQueen and Lt. Dave. It ends on quite the cliffhanger too: "At least we've got it stopped." "Yeah, as long as the Arctic stays cold."  As if global warming wasn't bad enough on its own.

Piranha 3DD




Director: John Gulager (2012)
Starring: Danielle Panabaker, Matt Bush, David Koechner, David Hasselhoff
Find it: IMDB 

Geddit, boobs. Alexandrea Aja's Piranha remake seemed to come out of nowhere and instantly became one of my favourite movies of 2010. Given its success, a sequel was inevitable. That sequel comes in the form of Piranha 3DD. The title is a good indicator of the film's level of maturity. Haha, boobies.

It's more of a broad comedy than its slick, gory predecessor. With Alexandre Aja not returning, Feast director John Gulager takes over as head honcho. As with Aja's abandoning The Hills Have Eyes sequel, his influence feels sorely lost here. It's not as taut as Aja's Piranha; the scale of the action smaller and less impressive. Maddy (Panabaker) returns to her small American hometown after going away to study fish at University. The water park she co-owns with stepfather Chet (Koechner) is undergoing a big renovation. Chet is turning 'The Big Wet' into an adult water park, in which boobs are the order of the day. But in siphoning the water from an underground lakes, Chet is just asking for trouble. And piranhas.   

And yet, piranha teeth are only the second most set of impressive gnashers in this Piranha movie. As its predecessor did with grumpy Richard Dreyfuss, the film opens with a celebrity cameo from one Gary Busey and a farting cow. He's just one of a stream of cameos that makes Piranha 3DD so much fun to sit through. Christopher Lloyd reprises his role from the original, as does a decidedly shorter Ving Rhames. Best of all though, is the film's secret weapon - David Hasselhoff, gamely playing himself as the water park's celebrity lifeguard. I left the cinema with the Baywatch theme tune stuck in my head. And yes, he does do the running-in-slow-motion thing. "Welcome to rock bottom," the Hoff says, as he first enters The Big Wet. Hardly. If anything, it's a career highlight. The script is deliriously filthy, but it's Hoff's delivery of "little ginger moron" that emerges triumphant (certainly more so than the predictable and over-repeated "Josh cut off his penis because something came out of my vagina").

It's a sleazy, low-rent sequel to something that was already pretty sleazy and low-rent. The nudity is made more blatant than before (oh, but all those three dimensional diddies) and the action is scaled back and more personal. A Nightmare On Elm Street/Slither bathtub scene is predictable, but most of it works well. The 3D is suited to the material and fairly unobtrusive, because if I am gonna spend money on stupid 3D glasses, it had better show me interesting things, like vomit and bosoms and gore.

Piranha 3DD delivers the best mid-credits scene of the year. Balls to Thanos, his moment of glory outshone by David Hasselhoff in a 3D booby movie.

Dark Shadows



Director: Tim Burton (2012)
Starring: Johnny Depp, Eva Green, Helena Bonham Carter
Find it: IMDB

A rare collaboration between Johnny Depp and director Tim Burton. Those guys really should make more movies together. Dark Shadows is a big-screen adaptation of the cult TV soap opera of the same name. After spurning the advances of a smitten housemaid, rich Barnabas Collins (Depp) is cursed and turned into a vampire. Feeling that her revenge hasn't gone quite far enough, Angelique (Green) curses the Collins' family name and locks Barnabas in a coffin, deep underground. Two decades later, Barnabas is inadvertently exhumed by workmen building a McDonald's. Barnabas is released into a world he no longer recognises - the funky 1970s. He returns to his family mansion, hoping to reverse the fortunes of his now almost-destitute family and restore the Collins name to its former glory. Groovy.

Except Dark Shadows is decidedly not-groovy. Despite starring Johnny Depp and featuring a purple colour palette, it feels surprisingly little like a Tim Burton film at times. A lot of this is due to the soundtrack; rather than the overfamiliar Danny Elfman tunes (although there are some) there are several funky 70s dance and disco tunes. It also looks surprisingly bright. The little fishing village in which the Collins family lives is sunny and very normal, for a Burton neighbourhood. It has plenty of Goth moments, but less than that poster might suggest. Still, those hoping for a change from Burton's usual will be disappointed. On the evidence of this and his more recent works, it would seem that Tim Burton has completely lost the ability to tell any sort of compelling story.

"He only lets me out of the box to make movies... terrible, terrible movies."

I laughed at the fish-out-of-water jokes, but not nearly as often or as hard as I would have liked. The humour is funny, but the story is dull and predictable. Tonally, it's all over the place, with Barnabas being the film's hero one moment and slaughtering a gang of innocent hippies the next. Its vampire sex seems utterly tame following the scary fucks of True Blood. Mind, everything seems tame after True Blood. Appropriately, the lengthy dialogue scenes feel like something out of a soap opera. As Barnabas and his relatives struggle with their failing fishing business, it's like Emmerdale or The Archers crossed with Dracula. There's some fun to be had with the Collins clan (particularly Jackie Earle Haley as the staff handyman and Jonny Lee Miller as Sleazy Dad) but I have no idea why Helena Bonham Carter is there nor why the film insists on sexualising Chloe Grace Moretz as it does.  

For the first forty or so minutes, Dark Shadows is mildly funny with one or two inspired touches. There are a couple of neat cameos from 70s Alice Cooper and Christopher Lee, while the better actors take up enough slack for the boring story to not matter so much. And then the tone changes completely. Attempting to ape the comedy horror action of Beetlejuice, Michelle Pfeiffer blasts away at Eva Green with a shotgun, Chloe Grace Moretz does something unbelievably ridiculous (a twist that even Night Shyamalan would look at and think "fuck that") and Dark Shadows falls to pieces. It is the single worst ending to a film in a very, very long time. I can forgive most things for the sort of soundtrack Dark Shadows offers - but not that ending. None of it works on any level.

It's nowhere near as bad as his Alice In Wonderland, but not as enjoyable as Sweeney Todd (the last film of Burton's that I enjoyed). Let's hope he gets over whichever curse maligns his filmmaking skills at the moment - poor Tim Burton is a (Dark) Shadow of his former self. 


Heartless



Director: Philip Ridley (2009)
Starring: Jim Sturgess, Clemence Posey, Noel Clarke, Luke Treadway
Find it: IMDB

It's Faust on a council estate as mild-mannered Jamie (Sturgess) finds that the best way to rid himself of a troublesome heart-shaped birthmark is to strike up a deal with a devil. Jamie is freed of his supposed deformity and finds himself developing a sweet relationship with neighbour Tia (Posey). But the devil drives a hard bargain, and Jamie finds himself forced to do something truly horrible in order to keep himself looking pretty.


Like Shameless crossed with Faust, the inner city London of Heartless is a shitty place to live. Jamie's brother is a thieving chav, his father is dead and the streets are constantly under siege from hoodies with demonic faces. When mother is immolated by a molotov cocktail and friendly neighbour AJ (Clarke) is shanked to death (the technical term) lead Jamie to the brink of suicide. Then gang boss Papa B (Joseph Mawle) offers the poor lad a little hope; the chance to free himself of the birthmark that has plagued him his whole life. Silly Jamie agrees. Sure it's nice being all sexy and all (although even with his birthmark, he's no Elephant Man) but the deal looks all the less sweet when Papa B starts demanding that Jamie kill innocent people to keep his face blemish free. Heartless, geddit. 

Sturgess is sympathetic as Jamie, while famous British faces such as Eddie Marsan (as Papa B's menacing enforcer) and Timothy Spall add a touch of class to proceedings. Clemence Posey is a lovely love interest and Noel Clarke is likeable in the few scenes in which he appears. The only one to really let the side down is  Luke Treadway. Much better in Attack The Block as the middle-class pothead, he struggles with his chav ebonics and sounds stilted and stupid. Thankfully he isn't in it much, leaving Sturgess to shoulder the majority of the screentime and drama. You'd have to be Heartless (GET IT) not to shed a tear at the more tender moments near the end.

Heartless is very well made, although it does have a tendency to take itself a little seriously at times. But then, it's a Faust adaptation on a council estate. A little loftiness is par for the course; the film's ambition and imagination far outstrips its moments of pretension.


The Walking Dead: A New Day (Episode 1)


Because I don't have enough unfinished zombie games cluttering up my Playstation's hard drive (it's quite handy then, that Dead Island do a trophy for not playing the game for 28 days or longer), it's The Walking Dead videogame. Being an episodic bit of DLC, the main thing it does is go unfinished. Based on the comic books, it puts players in the shoes of escaped convict Lee Everett, a man who may or may not have murdered his wife's lover. As he is being driven to jail, the cop car in which he is travelling crashes (into a zombie) and Lee is freed - into a world more dangerous than any jail. Along the way, he picks up a possibly orphaned little girl named Clementine, and a sweet friendship forms between the two. Aaw. I don't know about you, but I prefer my sweet friendships to be tempered with zombies. 

Those hoping for a Resident Evil style slice of survival horror or a Dead Rising hack-em-up will be sorely disappointed by The Walking Dead's (lack of) action. Much like the comics and the television series, it is far more concerned about the atmospherics and characters than it is with chopping zombies to bits. Which isn't to say that A New Day doesn't have its share of grotty bits. There's a moment with an axe that made even me stop and go "huh." More divisive than all the talking, however, will be the overall style of gameplay. The Walking Dead is not so much a videogame as an interactive comic book. 

It's like a much less interactive version of Heavy Rain; a point and click adventure in which there isn't all that much to click on. Most of the gameplay is in choosing which bit of bullshit you'll tell your fellow survivors - you can't exactly go around telling everyone that you're a convicted murderer, now, can you? In The Walking Dead universe, earning a man's trust is the difference between life and death. I puckered right up to Herschel's arse here, just because I wanted him to like me. The conversations are a lot like those in Fallout 3, and will apparently have a lot of bearing on future instalments of the game. In this first episode, I felt real doubt as to whether my choices were having any impact on the game. I tried many times to get one character's horrible child killed, but to no avail. It's completely linear.

The cel shading is beautiful, evoking Charlie Adlard's work in the comic books. Sometimes it seems inappropriate though, especially during the more tense moments. Lee makes a sympathetic protagonist, his facial animations surprisingly expressive. One side effect of the branching conversations does tend to make everyone seem as though they suffer from mental disorders; jumping from friendliness to fury in a matter of seconds.

Default facial expression: sad. 
Unfortunately, 'hug Lee' is not a playable option.

A New Day is interesting and very well told, but not once did I feel as though I were in control of the action. For those who can't get enough of The Walking Dead universe, it's ideal. Those after an actual game from their game will find themselves a little more disappointed.      

The Bunnyman Massacre



Director: Carl Lindbergh (2009)
Starring: Cheryl Texiera, Matthew Albrecht, Alaina Gianci
Find it: IMDB

If I whined at The Bunny Game for being too arty and pretentious (and I did, quite extensively) then The Bunnyman Massacre has the opposite problem - it's completely artless. Artless like me linking two completely unrelated movies together simply because they both have 'bunny' in the title. There's a reason it has the word 'massacre' in the title and a picture of a chainsaw on the poster though - The Bunnyman Massacre is an uncredited remake of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre with a man in a bunny costume and no headcheese. It is brainless. 

Dim teenagers drive out to the woods where they are menaced, first by an aggressive truck driver and then by a lunatic dressed in a bunny costume and wielding a chainsaw. I very much wanted to like The Bunnyman Massacre, since it utilises two of my favourite things: a madman dressed in a comically inappropriate costume, and chainsaws. But this is ruined by the fact that it also utilises one of my least favourite things: horrible filmmaking.  

There's a scene in which the youths beg for help from a woodland hillbilly who stands and shouts abuse at them like he's the Frenchman in Monty Python and the Holy Grail. The rest of the characters are the sort of relatives that even Leatherface wouldn't bunk with. They make the Firefly family look positively aspirational. There's the requisite hot daughter (who winds up being the most psychopathic of all), the deformed childlike idiot and the scary one who carries the chainsaw (in this case, Bunnyman). There's a scene in which  Bunnyman tortures a poor innocent soul whilst listening to classical music, then a bit in which the heroine is held captive, bound and gagged in the villains' lair.  


"Oh fuck, I'm literally trapped in a cliche!"

It's based on a true story, but only as far as The Texas Chain Saw Massacre was based on Ed Gein's crimes and The Bunnyman Massacre is based on The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. It's like Chinese Whispers but with chainsaws. I spent the whole film wondering what washing powder Bunnyman uses. Considering the amount of blood splattered about the place, that thing scrubs up good.




The Avengers


Director: Joss Whedon (2012)
Starring: Robert Downey Jr, Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth
Find it: IMDB

Here in the UK by some trickery of Loki, The Avengers goes by another, much stupider name. I suppose Marvel wanted to disassociate this film with its 1998 incarnation. So ashamed are the studio of that Uma Thurman slash Ralph Fiennes bomb that even the character names have been changed for Joss Whedon's reboot. They're still fairly recognisable though: Scarlett Johansson can go around calling herself Black Widow all she wants, she's definitely playing the Emma Peel part. And jolly well she does it too. The role of Steed is vastly reduced, but Clark Gregg brings charm and stoicism to the character. Not an umbrella though, which is disappointing. 

Peel and Steed are minor characters though, compared to The Avengers' newest recruits. There's Iron Man (Downey Jr) who has a smart mouth and flies around in an iPod suit listening to Black Sabbath. Thor (Hemsworth) is a Norse God with a massive hammer and great designer stubble. Captain America (Evans) is a man out of time; a relic from World War II, he dresses like your granddad and calls ladies "ma'am". You reportedly wouldn't like Bruce Banner (Ruffalo) when he's angry, although his Hulk gets the funniest moments in the film. And Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) has a bow and arrow. When Asgardian asshole Loki (Tom Hiddleston) threatens to take over the world, the Avengers must assemble to protect all humanity.   

Unless The Dark Knight Rises or Prometheus pull something pretty damn fantastic out of their respective bags, The Avengers is going to be my favourite film of 2012. It could never have matched my ridiculously high expectations, but it comes very, very close. As Thor and Iron Man began knocking lumps out of one another ("doth mother know you weareth her drapes?") I was giggling like a girl. And then, again, as Thor punched the Hulk in the face. Come the finale, I was beginning to know what multiple orgasm feels like.  

It's an imperfect epic: the plot is silly and a little saggy. Samuel L Jackson does nothing for me as Fury (I still dream of Clint Eastwood). I really wanted to see the whole team have to fight Hulk, not just Thor. Captain America feels like a guest star rather than one of the big hitters - and his costume looks awful. But it's just too spectacular for my nerdy soul to not wholeheartedly love. I hadn't thought much of Loki in Thor, but in The Avengers he feels like a genuine threat. And a foul-mouthed one, too. Its apocalyptic endgame is similar to that of Transformers: Dark of the Moon but in emphasising character over thrills and spills, it feels very different. If it's fun watching the Avengers fight amongst themselves (in a series of battles that feel very Marvel vs Capcom) it's fullt incredible to see them put aside their differences to become team-mates.

With The Avengers, Marvel may just have punched themselves into a mighty deep hole. The individual characters' sequels are soon to follow, but I don't know how satisfied I can be with just Captain America on his own, Thor riding solo or Tony Stark without his fellow Avengers to riff off've. With this wrapped and The Dark Knight Rises on the horizon, I really don't envy the next batch of superhero flicks.