Random bollocks I watched last night: Skeleton Key

Kate Hudson makes a rare deviation into non-romcom territory; wandering around a big house in New Orleans, caring for a completely paralysed John Hurt. An utterly unscary but blatantly evil old lady, meanwhile, chops up chickens and casts not-Voodoo spells in a vain attempt to stop Hudson’s a-meddlin’. A lawyer character also turns out to be evil, in a silly ‘betrayal’ that everyone saw coming anyway.

If you really want to watch a horror movie set in New Orleans, then go watch Hatchet instead. Otherwise, don’t watch Skeleton Key. A horror movie for people who don’t like horror movies, Skeleton Key is an unmemorable little flick, the only redeeming point being a shot of Kate Hudson in her undies. Which, to be fair, you could have gotten off the Internet for free.

Now, Skeleton Key isn’t really that bad, but it wasn’t good enough for me to be nice about it either. The great John Hurt’s presence is inexplicable, since he gets to say about two words in the whole movie. He spends the rest of the running time alternating between (a) looking Haunted in a wheelchair (b) having his hair cut in a wheelchair. There’s about one scene where he gets to act, but that’s mostly ruined by being offset with shots of Kate Hudson trying to do not-Voodoo (that is, throwing potpourri around and reading from what sounds like a homeopathic handbook).

In the final quarter, the movie gives up all pretence of its ghost story, and just has Hudson running around, trying to fight off an unscary fat old lady and an unscary lawyer. To add to his indignity, John Hurt spends the finale lying in a shed, buried under a blanket.

In the hands of a better director, this probably could have been a decent movie. Not enough movies are set in New Orleans, and Skeleton Key pretty much wastes the opportunity. Likewise, Kate Hudson is a fair actress, and probably has the chops to pull off a better horror than this. With a better director, this could have turned out to be a precursor to Drag Me to Hell. And yet here, it’s even worse than even The Unborn.

And so plays out Skeleton Key; a movie which, despite being set in New Orleans, only features about two black characters; one of whom is Hudson’s best friend, and therefore doesn’t actually live in New Orleans. Skeleton Key is so irredeemably stupid that it stars John Hurt and doesn’t even bother to let him act.

2/5 screaming Scream Queens!!!

Albino Farm

Well no, an ‘Albino Farm’ probably isn’t exactly what you think it is, but the film’s pretty damn entertaining anyway. Unless you’ve ever seen a backwoods horror film in your life before; in which case you’ll be able to predict what happens half an hour before it actually does.

The plot? Four college chums doing some research for a school project find themselves lost in the Ozark territory of dodgy backwoods America. Whereupon, obviously, they are beset by a tribe of deformed Wrong Turn rejects… one of whom just so happens to be Chris Jericho from off’ve wrestling.

After one of the idiots decides to leave the spare tyre at home (in place of beer), their SUV breaks down and they end up travelling to a nearby house to buy tyres from the owner. Shit, at least it’s not a gas station. And, because they all deserve to die (apart from the bookmarked Final Girl - Tammin Sursok offa’ Home & Away) they immediately start taking the piss out of the blind owner. He responds by telling them they’re all gonna die. “What you oughtta do is turn around and go home.” But I digress, what’d a backwoods horror be without a doom-predicting local? (Original, perhaps).

So far so Texas Chainsaw Massacre/Hills Have Eyes/House of 1000 Corpses/Wrong Turn/Manhunt/Backwoods. After finding an enormous pile of tyres in the old geezer’s back yard, the kids head off on their way. As night falls, they come across a great big tent and decide to investigate. Tammin Sursok surmises that the locals are having a party (y’know, like in 2001 Maniacs) which the gang’s Chris Evans-lookalike decides to crash; easily the most irritating of the characters, you’ll hope that he dies soon. Unfortunately, he doesn’t. “I see this as an opportunity to dink heavily and make fun of some hicks.” The fella’s the entire reason why people hate college students and American kids.

You’d think that this would be the beginning of some actual story, but no. Albino Farm takes an exceptionally long time to draw out what little narrative there is. Much of the first twenty minutes could have been condensed into a single scene. The bit with the tent comes to nothing, and is followed by another pointless bit in a cafĂ©, followed in turn by some pointless wandering around darkened streets and a church. And then, finally, the boneheads are led to the titular Albino Farm. At this point, the script has the cheek to say: “I know how this is gonna play out.” So the fuck do I, and so will anyone else who’s ever seen a movie in their entire life.
Albino Farm cleverly distracts from its lack of originality by drenching everything in darkness so you can’t tell what’s happening. There’s probably a bear trap scene in there somewhere, and a whole lot of wandering around with torches screaming haplessly.

The whole thing is accompanied with a highly xenophobic streak which sees the characters relentlessly bully and insult anyone who looks different to them. No wonder Southern American movie folks are so angry; Albino Farm regards them with disgust and probably advocates locking the disfigured and disabled in a cage anyway.

Needless to say, the acting is awful. The script is slightly better than you’d expect, and the villains of the piece do look pretty good. The scare scenes are of a higher quality than, say, Backwoods, whilst there are one or two decent bits scattered amongst the clichĂ© (the lap dancing mutant). With better written characters, decent actors, and a higher budget, Albino Farm could probably have been on a par with Wrong Turn or Timber Falls.

As it stands, Albino Farm is, ultimately, a predictable backwoods hack-em-up that somehow accidentally ends up being entertaining despite (or perhaps because of) its lack of originality. It’s a hard film to recommend, but also difficult to completely condemn. If you’ve ever thought that The Texas Chainsaw Massacre could use a wrestler or two, then Albino Farm is the film for you.

3/5 screaming Scream Queens!!!

The Abducted (aka Match.Dead)

Director: Jon Bonnell (2009)
Starring: James Ray, Kathleen Benner
Find it online: match.dead

Ridley meets girls online. Then he kidnaps and murders them, like the unimaginitive cliche he so obviously is. Beginning to question your membership yet? You bloody should be: The Abducted plays out exactly like an after-school special on the perils of meeting people online. The tagline? ‘Before you date online – think again.’

The thing opens with a lot of cut-and-pasted heavy metal rock, and a dude being shot in the back of the head. Mere moments later, we meet our heroine, Valora; already at Ridley’s mercy. After they swap truly horrible expositional dialogue and naff threats (“you go and do anything stupid, and I’ll take this girl out faster than you can say match dot dead"* or “if this were a hurricane, you’d be the one getting taken”), Ridley chains Valora up and leaves her to wander around his junkyard back garden for a while (like many STD villains, Ridley lives in a trailer). All of this is interspersed with him never shutting the fuck up.

As Valora remains Ridley's captive, the viewer is forced to endure the worst excesses of STD horror. It’s slow, boring and stupid; a dull piece of trash that’s even less interesting than the Coronation Street handling of the same subject. As Ridley begins to fall in love with his captive, we are treated to a bunch of pointless flashbacks to Valora’s childhood.

The whole thing, then, is a bit like a modern day remake of The Collector as helmed by a Rob Zombie wannabe. The Abducted is highly predictable and far too slow to sustain the viewer’s interest. The script is unintentionally hilarious; featuring such zingers as “can you dig it?” (as Ridley enters the trailer carrying a shovel), and the action isn’t much better. A key scene has Ridley beat Valora unconscious with a bright yellow watering can. Done right, it could have come across as darkly funny, but The Abducted plays it straight, and falls flat as a result. Likewise, in a later scene, she fantasises about pulling Ridley’s eye out with a fork… and director Jon Bonnell fucks it up worse than he did the script.

Playing Ridley, James Ray is undoubtedly the movie’s worst ‘actor’. Looking like a budget Eric Bana in Chopper, he speaks with a Texan drawl and is constantly babbling nonsense throughout. Serial killers aren’t supposed to be particularly likeable, but Ridley misses the ‘scary’ mark completely and ends up slap-bang in ‘fucking annoying’ territory.

As Valora, Kathleen Benner isn’t quite as unbearable, despite her inability to appear, in any way at all scared by her situation. She does a quite convincing Bill Murray impression throughout, seeming unimpressed by yet distant from Ridley’s various tortures. Shit, spending ten minutes in the annoying cumfunt’s company would have me begging for mercy; let alone two shitting days. They’re well suited to one another, really, since she’s an irritating tit too.

This is one film where a little torture guff would have benefited; since both characters are so unlikeable, it’d be rather nice to see them strapped to tables and cut the fuck open. As such, the nearest we get to any action here is a bit of mud wrestling. And not even the fun kind of mud wrestling, dagnammit.

In place of a denouement proper, we find Ridley showering as a Sheriff gets the drop on him. Conveniently enough, said Sheriff has a heart attack just as he’s about to shoot Ridley. The final fifteen minutes then consist of some fucking about with a sniper rifle, a shovel and a laptop.

In the end, despite its all-around uselessness, The Abducted stands as a damning condemnation of online dating. The scariest thing about The Abducted? That two people as fucking annoying as Valora and Ridley are out there, waiting behind their keyboards to talk just to you


Freddy vs Jason vs Ash: Nightmare Warriors (1 of 6)

Picking up a month after Freddy vs Jason vs Ash left off, the first issue of Nightmare Warriors finds the Chosen One – that’s Evil Dead’s Ash to you – living happily in suburbia with the first book’s survivor. Jason Voorhees is buried at the bottom of a lake, whilst Freddy has presumably buggered back off to the dream world. A group of shady military types find the Necronomicon (which, it is revealed, mama Voorhees used to grant Jason eternal life) and steal it away. This, predictably enough, ends up bringing Jason back to life, whereupon he kills a diver and some soldiers. Once more, Freddy remains in the shadows for now – seemingly content to control Jason from the sidelines; encouraging the retarded mummy’s boy to hunt down and kill Ash. Apparently killing the chosen one will give Jason some superpowers or something.

This being but the first part of a six-issue miniseries, it’s hard to say how Nightmare Warriors will pan out. At a guess, I’d say that Freddy and Jason become a national threat of some sort, and the government will call on Ash to save the day (what with the Necronomicon being taken by military types & an attempt to recruit Ash into some sort of military scheme).

The original writing and illustration team are back… which doesn’t bode amazingly well for Nightmare Warriors’ future readability. The original FvJvA started off well, but by issue six, Craig’s artwork had become distractingly shoddy; often seeming rushed and half-finished. Likewise, Kuhoric’s script ran out of ideas after the second issue, with the story descending into something of an unintelligible mess (with an unforgivable Watchmen rip-off being perhaps the lowest of all low points). And, unfortunately, the first issue of Nightmare Warriors is disappointingly… samey.

With all that said, however, Nightmare Warriors is pleasingly gruesome and comical. In this age of remakes, it’s nice to see Freddy, Jason and Ash in their original incarnations once more, and hell… the concept is still a spunk-inducing dream for fanboy bitches like myself.

Expect the following issues to be reviewed in due course.

4/5 screaming Scream Queens!!!

Torchwood: Children of Earth

The immortal Captain Jack Harkness and his Torchwood team (well, the few that haven’t died yet) are back for a five-episode special, originally screened every night on BBC1. Doctor Who’s adult spin-off is a decidedly more intelligent affair this time around, as the writers seem to have finally realised that “adult” doesn’t necessarily mean “smutty”.

It’s taken until its third season, but Torchwood has finally hit its prime. The story: Earth (specifically, England) is contacted by an alien race known only as the 456. Said aliens communicate through the Earth’s children: cue several creepy scenes in which playgrounds full of children speak in union (“we are coming,” “we are coming tomorrow” and “we are here”). That the aliens don’t arrive until late into episode three speaks a lot for Torchwood’s new found restraint. Most of the series consists of Torchwood-on-the-run, as their underground base is blown up by the government, and Captain Jack (repeatedly) killed (not a spoiler). As the aliens reveal their sinister motives and Torchwood begins to fight back, it’s up to Jack, Gwen Cooper and Ianto Jones to save the day. Interspersed with much misery and suffering, Doctor Who this ain’t.

The action kicks off with the aliens making their first announcement via the world’s children. Understandably, this sets alarm bells ringing at Torchwood HQ (think the MIB base, set in a drippy basement) and Jack and the team investigate. As Captain Harkness (John Barrowman, making a rare TV appearance) uncovers something he shouldn’t have, he brings down a government cover-up on his and his team’s head. Jack is blown to smithereens, and Gwen (Eve Myles) and Ianto (Gareth David-Lloyd) are forced to go into hiding. So ends the first episode.

Jack being invincible, however, he stays dead for about five minutes. The second episode is the weakest and the stupidest, consisting of a number of plot-holes and too much of John Barrowman’s flabby arse. But don't give up yet, because:

Episode three is relatively action-light. We follow eminently stressed MP John Frobisher (Peter Capaldi – the best thing about the series) as he conducts the first of Earth’s face-to-face meetings with the 546. Old scabs are picked, leading to Jack coming out of things smelling less than rosy.

In episode four, things get really depressing. Ianto is murderified by the 456, who have demanded 10% of the Earth’s children (which, it is revealed, they use as drugs.

If episode four was depressing, then the finale is an all-out masterclass in sustained misery. Told that he must give up his children to save government face, Frobisher instead chooses to murder them. And his wife. And then commits suicide. And, just to rub salt in the wound, we get to see Jack (more or less) murder his own grandson. Torchwood has an impressively high child death rate for a BBC drama. This episode is complete with a nifty little Cloverfield-style prelude, in which Gwen hazards a guess as to why The Doctor chooses sometimes to ignore the Earth at times of peril (answer: totally disgusted, apparently).

On the flipside of the Tardis, however, a lot of the acting still stinks. The supporting staff are universally brilliant – especially, as mentioned earlier, Capaldi – but the lead duo of John Barrowman and Eve Myles frequently threaten to derail things (Barrowman’s gasp whenever he is revived from death is shockingly awful) and it’s probably amongst the show’s biggest weaknesses. Mind, Barrowman is improving, and does quite well in the darker moments.

Having said that, there’s a bunch of great character moments. Whilst Jack still doesn’t quite gel with the way he’s portrayed in Doctor Who (less flirty, if that’s possible), the writers have managed to give a sense of the inherent loneliness that might come with living forever. It’s also great to see Ianto being given more to actually do here (not bad, considering he spent the first season making tea) and his relationship with Jack is given a neat bit of poignancy and actual depth. And then – in perhaps the writers’ bravest move - they go and kill him off.

Frequently daft yet entertaining second episode aside (shit henchmen incapable of firing in a straight line, John Barrowman’s flabby arse/cock, lots of plotholes, stupid happenstance) Children of Earth is an impressively mature piece of British sci-fi. Each episode contains a surprising amount of scenes set in government boardrooms and meetings – so much so that it occasionally feels like a Spooks crossover (in a good way). True, the final episode can’t possibly match up to what has gone before, but it isn’t as much a dud as so many other Doctor Who/Torchwood series finales – and the emotional impact at the end of episode five completely makes up all of Children of Earth’s faults.

Following this excellent sort-of-third-series, a third season is sure to ensue. What with this, Psychoville and the recent Dead Set, it looks as if British genre TV is finally starting to grow up.