All the Boys Love Mandy Lane

Review first published December 2008

Director: Jonathan Levine (2006)
Starring: Amber Heard, Anson Mount, Whitney Able.
Find it: Every Poundland in England, most likely

All the boys may love Mandy Lane, but as the titular protagonist of this horror movie cum (heh) teen drama, she comes up severely lacking. The biggest problem with All the Boys Love Mandy Lane is that its proverbial emperor is wearing no clothes. Yes, Mandy Lane is an entirely dull, charmless and humourless cut-out Scream Queen. If the whole movie weren’t devoted to her, she’d be just another attractive yet unmemorable horror movie heroine.

Mandy Lane is described on the DVD case as “The OC meets Friday the 13th”, described asthough that's a good thing. For all its contributions to horror cinema (not the least of which is the iconic Jason Voorhees), the original Friday the 13th is a slow, fitfully boring slasher flick which hasn’t aged too well. And the OC is one of the worst television programmes ever to exist, anywhere. Combining the two leaves us with a slow, fitfully boring movie that is full of annoying, boring teenagers trying to get laid, interspersed with whiny American rock montages.

Indeed, this review was a shallow excuse to post nearly-naked pictures of Amber Heard

That’s not to say Mandy Lane doesn’t have its high points. The last fifteen minutes of the film are exceptionally good, thanks to a lack of dialogue and a girl being chased by a car whilst wearing only her undies. The acting is generally decent, if uninspired, and the cinematography is kinda nice, I suppose.

But I’m grasping here. Mandy Lane is let down by everything else. The villain of the piece is unscary, unimposing, uninteresting and a fucking whingy bitch, to top it all. All of the cast (no exceptions whatsoever) are tiresome adverts for (a) contraception (b) murder. I don’t know if you’re supposed to sympathise with any of them, but you don’t. You wish that the bad guy would just hurry up and shotgun them all in the face, before turning the gun on himself.

Overall, I’d say that this sounds like a negative review. That’s because it is. After all the hype I’d heard surrounding Mandy Lane, I’d expected to see something exceptional – or good, at the very least – and not another stupid Friday the 13th knock-off. From start to (nearly) finish, Mandy Lane is a disappointment.

Eden Lake

Director: James Watkins (2008)
Stars: Kelly Reilly, Michael Fassbender, Tara Ellis, Jack O' Connell, Chavs
Find it: Amazon UK, Amazon US

If the tabloids were to review this, the debut piece by James Watkins, they’d probably wheel out the hyperbole. They’d talk about holding mirrors up to things, and mention Broken Britain a lot. And normally, it’d be like listening to a slightly racist grandparent whinge about “the youth of today” and make with the populist ill-informed garbage. But in the case of Eden Lake, they’d be mostly right.

The plot (cribbed from the similarly themed French chiller They) follows a pretty young couple as they holiday to the rural, titular lake. A heartstrings-tugging marriage proposal is in the air, and they’re so gosh-darn lovely that the forthcoming nastiness is practically signposted. Their romantic weekend is rudely interrupted by a gaggle of noisy, recognizably horrible yobs. Soon enough, petty arguments escalate into brutal violence, and it’s adult VS yoof – to the death!

The past few paragraphs fail to convey just how horrible Eden Lake is. This isn’t a film you watch – this is something you experience. It’s all humourlessly done, with a sadistic streak so wide you could park a landrover on it. Forget the creepy blonde kids of Village of the Damned – these pre-pubescent psychopaths are achingly plausible and terrifyingly realised by the script and the child actors themselves. Kudos must go out to Jack O’ Connell, who plays Brett, the gang leader. He’s far scarier than any Freddy Krueger or Jason Voorhees. And worst of all, you can half expect to see him loitering outside your local chippy.

That’s not to say it’s perfect. Too much of the tension relies on horror clich├ęs, and the final twist – whilst deliciously vicious – is perhaps a bit too predictable. The movie’s particular brand of terror won’t be for everyone, that’s for sure. Its deliberate humourlessness and cruelty will put off the squeamish, whilst it’s probably a little too dismal to make for a good date movie.

All in all however, Eden Lake is an assured debut from a director who has already proven himself as a face to watch in the future of Brit-horror. This is a white-knuckle rollercoaster ride from start to finish - provocative, relevant, scary and gruesome in equal measures. Eden Lake will make you fear children… Hug these hoodies, Cameron.

Kill the Scream Queen

Wherein the DVD case is as atrocious as the movie itself.

Director: Bill Zebub (2004)
Starring: Deborah Dutch, Heather Taylor, Rachel Plastor, Cellulite.
Find it: IMDB

Most people won’t have heard of this no-budget bite of STD by actor slash director slash Rob Zombie clone Bill Zebub. And for good reason; it’s a crass, exploitative pile of stinking old turds. Probably the most pointless and plotless movie outside of a pornography, Kill the Scream Queen is an incessantly boring, repetetive mess. Zebub claims to have made this film as an argument against everything that's wrong with modern horror. Brilliantly, he's only gone and made a film that actually characterises everything that's wrong with modern horror.

Just out of shot: a glass house.

There’s no real beginning, middle or end. Characterization is nowhere to be found. There are no characters anywhere to be found, for that matter. There’s no action and no climax to anything, besides perhaps inside the pants of those desperate enough to be jerking along to this masturbatory nonsense. The acting is uniformly awful (although Zebub would insist that’s the point) and most of the titular 'Scream Queens' are not an attractive sight to behold, unless you like cellulite. In place of its plot, Kill the Scream Queen consists of a series of vignettes (each imaginatively entitled something like “torture” or “molestation”) in which a different girl ends up variously bound, naked and dead.

This humble movie-drone ended up watching most of Kill The Scream Queen on fast-forward, thereby skipping a great deal of the horrible dialogue: “the problem with horror movies today.” The actor/director`s constant pontificating is probably the worst part, as he continually tries to make his 'movie' sound more relevant than it actually is.

Mr. Zebub has a bone to pick with the “scream queens” populating modern horror with bad acting and constant tit shots. He aims to make a snuff movie to remedy the situation. This is billed as a satire, which in this case is like advertising Little Man as a comedy. There are about six boring deaths before the movie comes to an end, although you only need to watch the first ten minutes to get Zebub’s gist.

In all honesty, the very movies Zebub is critiquing all wind up being better than even one minute of this cheap, sleazy, stupid crap. Avoid, unless you’re a masochist, and hate your own eyes.

Comic Book Review - Freddy vs Jason vs Ash

Review first published December 2008.

The first few story arcs aside, Dynamite Comics’ Army of Darkness was a disappointment. And up until recently, Nightmare on Elm Street and Friday the Thirteenth comics were hardly a guarantor of quality (saying that, even the recent Elm Street comics kinda suck paedo balls). Still, hopes were high when Freddy vs Jason vs Ash was first announced. A comic-book sequel to 2003’s Freddy vs Jason, it promised to be a great big fanboys’ wet dream. It was easily my most eagerly anticipated comic event of last year (save, perhaps for Garth Ennis’ final arc on The Punisher, but I digress). And then it arrived. Well, did it live up to expectations?

Well, it could hardly have gone wrong. In my eyes, Kuhoric and Craig (the writer an illustrator, respectively) could have taken a massive, sweaty dump on the page… and I’d have lapped it up like a dog. Freddy vs Jason vs Ash provides everything you’d expect from such a title… but not much more.

Taking a less fanboy-esque stance on the thing, you can see how some might say that FvJvA is a bit, well, shite. The story’s hardly imaginative; Freddy, hankering to give himself some really nasty powers, is after the Necronomicon. To accomplish this, he sends Jason to fetch it. Into the fold comes Evil Dead’s Ash who also wants the Necronomicon; presumably to ensure it doesn’t fall into the wrong hands. Things go tits-up when Jason refuses to play ball, Ash refuses to die, and Freddy just acts like an arse about everything.

Most of the action consists of homages to the three respective franchises. So you get to see Ash lop of his hand (again) and a virtual replay of Freddy vs Jason’s climax, only with added Ash. It’s pretty fun to see set-pieces like that revisited, but too often it feels lazy and in place of any real action. And, once more, this feels more like a Nightmare on Elm Street story with added guests, rather than a combination of three mighty franchises.

Still, there’s a high bodycount, and a fair amount of gore and violence. For the most part, it’s illustrated with gusto by Jason Craig. And then it reaches issue three. Suddenly, the art takes a real dip in quality. It’s like Craig’s rushing to meet the deadline; or as if he just couldn’t be arsed with putting any more effort into things. Which is a shame, because the first issue is beautifully illustrated.

It’s hard to knock something such as this, though. Freddy vs Jason vs Ash is unlikely to ever be realized on the big screen now, so I’ll be happy with whatever I can get.

Cold Grip

Review first published May 2008

Director: Javier Barbera (2004)
Starring: Anna Lluch, Juan Sola, Alejandro Cardenas
Find it: IMDB

Tied with Bill Zebub's thick, pornographic Kill The Scream Queen as the worst movie I have ever seen. Unlike Kill The Scream Queen, Javier Barbera's movie actually bothers with some semblance plot. In a spin on the old AIDS Mary Urban myth, carrier Greta (Lluch) picks up unwitting men, infects them with her disease and runs off. She's having a whale of a time with her vindictive crime spree until she crosses paths with travelling businessman Robert (Sola), who takes his infection in a less than understanding manner. Robert kidnaps Greta and does vengeful torture on her.

Cold Grip is a movie so indescribably and utterly bad in a way that only the nadir of Straight to DVD can manage. Almost ten years have passed since I first watched Cold Grip. I've seen a lot of movies since then, and Cold Grip remains tied as the worst of them all.

As can be particular to STD cinema, much of the screen time is made up of endless filler with no relevance to the plot: Robert making telephone calls (10 minutes), some guy talking about pitching a tent (5 mins), Robert walking around a warehouse (10 mins), a young couple talking about how much they love each other (5 mins). Never before has a film so short (not even 80 minutes) ever felt so very long.

The torture scene is the movie’s main event. Unfortunately, it's as terribly awful and incompetently done as everything else in the film. Robert kidnaps Greta by running her over with a car and whisks her away to his newly aquired torture warehouse. He chains her up, hoses her down, and proceeds to beat her to death with a baseball bat.

Presumably Greta wasn't born with AIDS; presumably she has a motive for going around infecting random men. But none of this is ever touched on by the movie or its woeful script. Greta is as thinly drawn as the urban legend which this stupid story was inspired by. But Greta is The Bad Guy, and presumably we're supposed to feel good when Robert takes to her with a baseball bat. To be fair, Robert doesn't fare much better. This archetypal businessman takes to murder like a paedophile to babysitting. Once he's decided to do away with Greta, not once does he look back. No hesitation, no regret. Robert's a killer now, because that's the way the world works.

Following Greta's death, we have to watch Robert dispose of the body. Around this time, he turns from a stressed businessman into Michael Myers himself. Dumping the body, he happens across a young couple camping nearby. Robert thoroughly kills the boyfriend and chases the girlfriend about for a bit. And then it ends. The memories, however, never go away.

Cold Grip is without a doubt one of the worst movies I have ever seen. It looks and feels as if it has been made on home video. Where a good bit of budget horror would cover the cracks with wit or invention, Cold Grip takes its woeful story and plays it utterly straight. There are constant dips in sound, and the actors are all wooden and ugly. "Save your breath," the tagline runs. I wish those involved in the production of this bollocks really had.