Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre III

Director: Jeff Burr (1990)
Starring: Kate Hodge, Ken Foree, Viggo Mortenson (!)
Find it online: IMDB, Amazon UK, Amazon US

They all had their moments of true brilliance, but my favourite of the big four franchises (the other three being Halloween, A Nightmare On Elm St and Friday the 13th) has always been The Texas Chainsaw Massacre movies. In memory of the great Dennis Hopper, I rewatched the second of the massacres last week. Chainsaw Massacres are like pringles though - you can't just stop at one. The first and third movies followed in quick succession. And (to push the Pringle metaphor) in the case of the later movies, too many will make you fucking sick.

Like the first sequel, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 3 is an often and unfairly maligned movie. True, it suffers in comparison from the original piece - but don't all sequels? Leatherface is actually a very very good movie when taken on its own merits. And merits it has lots of. Ken Foree, for instance. And Viggo Mortenson, less depressed than he was in The Road, and not-so against cannibalism either. There's also an enormous chainsaw, outstanding actings and lots and lots of blood n' guts. Leatherface is by far the nastiest in the series, a far cry from the bloodless antics of Leatherface's first massacre.

As has become something of a mainstay in the series, Leatherface and his Grandpa have relocated to a different Texas, where they're now living with another lot of relatives. Before Hitch-hiker, Cook and ChopTop all got themselves killed, family get-togethers must have been a hoot. Although I'd imagine no-one invited Vilmer McConaughey, since that character was an annoying cunt, even by Sawyer standards.

Travelling through Texas, bickering couple Michelle (Hodge) and Ryan (William Butler) happen across the remaining Sawyers during a horrible car crash incident. Luckily, mental survivalist Benny (Foree) is on hand to take some of the strain with his M-16. He's no Dennis Hopper, but its good to see the Sawyers meet yet another force they can't quite defeat. One does get the feeling that Hopper would've eaten the lot for breakfast though. Especially Viggo Mortenson, who plays things in an inexplicably quite camp manner.

No Dennis Hopper and no overacting Bill Moseley means that none of the performances go overshadowed. Kate Hodge impresses both as damsel-in-distress and tough-as-nails final girl. Viggo Mortenson is both fun and menacing, as are all of his onscreen family members. Ken Foree is inevitably the best of the bunch, simply by virtue of being Ken Foree. A little of the enthusiasm he shows here surely wouldn't have gone amiss in Dawn of the Dead and might have made the outcome a little less grim. He clearly has a ball playing Benny, and the scenes in which he dessicates the remaining Sawyers are amongst the best in the movie. Leatherface is the hardest he's ever been here. He looks mean and pissed off throughout, and the leg brace he wears only makes him seem more intimidating. None of that phallic-chainsaw-lovey-dovey nonsense that troubled TCM2. I guess seeing so many of his relatives murdered by idiot teenagers and Dennis Hopper finally made the big fella grow up a bit.

Alas, Leatherface was to be the last legitimately good TCM movie. What followed in the series was a transvestite Leatherface, Matthew McFucking McConaughey, an overrated Sheriff Hoyt, pointless prequelisation and a total dearth of inspiration. I daresay there'll be more Massacres further down the road, but the original trilogy will always hold a very dear place in my heart.

Action Movie Monday presents... REPLICANT


More so than any of his action peers, Muscles from Brussels Jean Claude Van Damme has something of a penchant for making dour, miserable movies in which he gets his ass handed to him by near enough everyone. In Replicant, JCVD spends much of the considerable running time either in handcuffs or as Michael Rooker's bitch. And when not being abused by Rooker, the poor fooker gets beaten to a pulp by a gay(er) looking version of himself. Replicant is not JCVD's lucky movie. Although it could be worse; it could be In Hell, a prison movie so depressing that it makes the darker scenes in The Shawshank Redemption look positively Disney.

JCVD plays 'Torch', a serial killer who's offing women and prank-calling cop Michael Rooker to brag about it. Pissed off with this behaviour, Rooker takes delivery of Torch's clone (also played by JCVD) in the hope that he can use his magic clone powers to hunt the killer down. Like Keanu Reeves in The Watcher, JCVD doesn't make a very convincing serial killer. His idea of menace is speaking slightly gruffer than usual, wearing a long leather jacket and not washing his hair. It's an odd choice having Van Damme play a serial killer, since I don't recall seeing Charles Manson or Ian Brady ever do split kicks or acrobatic kung-fu. You can never really buy that Torch gets his kicks (no pun intended) from murdering innocent women, since he seems more the terrorist or arms dealer type.

His clone - simply named 'Replicant' - requires an altogether different acting style from Van Damage. He spends pretty much the whole movie wearing a dumb, slightly-aspergers', hangdog expression on his face. It's eminently kickable, and you can kinda see why Cop Rooker hates him so much. Slightly disturbing are the brothel scenes. Did anyone ever need to see Jean Claude Van Damme come in his own pants? No, I didn't think so. But at least this is followed by a sequence in which he actually fights something. Fight scenes in Replicant are too few. But I digress, because Van Damme's acting is actually pretty good as The Replicant. He's as sympathetic as he is punchable.

Playing it entirely unsympathetic and unlikeable is Michael Rooker as Jake. Rooker is a brilliant actor, but his character here does him no favours. He pretty much spends the entirety of the movie whaling on a mentally disabled man. Not cool, Jake. Even more uncomfortable than the brothel scenes are the ones in which Jake strips a handcuffed Replicant down to his underpants and carries out a very thorough body search. A mutual respect is eventually built up between him and his Replicant, but it's impossible to like a man who treats the mentally disabled like a pet. Imagine if Morgan Freeman had spent most of Unleashed beating the shit out of Jet Li and forcing him to eat dog food. Replicant is like a very cruel and violent version of Forrest Gump.

It's passable enough, though. The action scenes are well-done, the story gripping and the acting surprisingly good. It certainly beats Schwarznegger's own clone movie into a cocked Belgian hat. It's just a shame that Mister Jean Claude couldn't cheer up a bit. Doing the splits isn't quite as impressive when you're wearing a face like a smacked bottom.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2

Director: Tobe Hooper (1986)
Starring: Dennis Hopper, Caroline Williams, Bill Moseley, Jim Sideow
Find it online: IMDB

Rest in peace Dennis Hopper. The man will probably best be known for his role in the classic Easy Rider, or as Blue Velvet's terrifying villain of the piece. Me, I'll always remember him as Leiutenant Lefty Enright in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2.

How does one follow up a classic horror movie such as the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre? Well in the case of this sequel, Tobe Hooper just goes balls-to-the wall crazy. You might remember that his original piece contained surprisingly little amounts of the red stuff. Hey, it worked. This time around, Hooper goes down the complete opposite route and pours lashings of the red, red vino everywhere. And because why not, phallic chainsaws and Bill Moseley eating bits of his own scalp.

That's all fine and dandy, but the movie's real top trump card is Dennis Hopper. As Enright, he actually manages to be scarier, crazier and more scary than any of the nasties. Moseley does fine as crazed 'Nam veteran ChopTop, but is a little too cartoonish to be scary. It's actually a performance that borders on annoying. Likewise, Jim Siedow plays things a little too screechy. Caroline Williams' DJ character is ostensibly the main character, but suffers from massive overshadowing under the Hopper. Every moment he's onscreen is an incredible one. And when he's not onscreen, you'll be wishing he was. His scenes in the chainsaw shop are amongst my favourite in the history of horror cinema.

Inevitably, the final showdown is something of a disappointment. It doesn't last nearly long enough, for one. But any movie with the balls to have Dennis Hopper and Leatherface duelling with chainsaws gets very infinite respect from me. Like the third movie in the franchise, TCM2 is a very much maligned movie. Much of that owes to its being a sequel to something genre defining and almost perfect. No sequel ever could live up to Hooper's original Chainsaw Massacre. But this is a movie that gives it a bloody good shot. It's admirable just how much deviation there is from the original's course. It's not even set in the same part of Texas. And the decision to do away with stoned teenagers in favour of Dennis fucking Hopper is a genius one.

Not only is The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 my second favourite TCM movie so far, it also remains one of my favourite horror flicks of all time. It has the lot: chainsaws, gore, a great villain and an equally insane 'heroic' performance from the one and only Dennis Hopper. Ride Easy, Mister Hopper. You will be missed.

Less terrible than you thought it was: THE MASK

A little lecture in comic book history for youse all today. Unless you're a semi-virginal hermit Geek Lord like myself, the only incarnation of The Mask you're likely to know of is that 1994 Jim Carrey piece in which he acts like a Looney Toons character and pulls Cameron Diaz. The 'real' Mask (or 'bighead', as the comics call him) is a hardcore mamalover with an affinity for OTT violence, gruesome revenges and explosives.

A list of all-time cinematic disappointments: Aliens vs Predator, Judge Dredd, the Futurama movies, and the new Texas Chainsaw Massacres. Up there with the best of them is The Mask. Yes, the one with Jim Carrey and very especially Son of the Mask. Superpowered babies are all fine and well, but I want bazookas and mean-spirited anarchic violence. With a side order of tartan trousers, if you please.

The (real) Mask is an outstanding, highly underrated little comic book in which loser Stanley Ipkiss (not even remotely resembling Jim Carrey) finds a mystical mask and sets about performing bloody revenge upon anyone who's ever wronged him. Think of it as an an evil My Name is Earl with a magic mask, bazookas and invulnerability. This Mask also conjures up a Tommy Gun outta machine guns. But where Jim Carrey wasted the bastard thing, The Real Mask blows everyone to shit with it. The Real Mask wastes a precinct full of cops and very violently murders anyone who gets in his way. Like Wanted or Kick-Ass, it's a large dose of wish fulfillment fantasy for those unsatisfied with their lot in life. The comics are highly immature and probably quite irresponsible, but just too damn fun not to enjoy.

As an idiot child, I loved The Mask movie. I collected the action figures and tie-in comics and even hunted down the TV series on VHS. Classic escapism. Then, aged probably 13ish, I happened across my father's own comic book collection. After I'd done with about 20 years' worth of back issues, I started on the more underground stuff. Amongst it, The Mask. I was captivated.

In his further adventures, The Real Mask would go head-to-head with Lobo and Batman. He'd become a Dirty Harry-esque vigilante, a mafia don and a woman. Pah, the most edgy thing Jim Carrey thing did in the movie? Well, he stuck his tongue out a lot and accidentally robbed a bank. It's your classic case of a concept being utterly wasted in the name of mass appeal. Sure it might not have made as much money, but a true interpretation of The Mask could've been a cult classic. My dreams had it directed by Sam Raimi (think Darkman) with maybe Bill Murray as Ipkiss and Michael Keaton as Lt. Kellaway. I may never get to see that movie, but at least I'll always have my retarded imagination.

There's an argument that the movie is actually a quite literal adaptation of the source material. After all, The Mask isn't so much a character itself - it merely accentuates an individual's worst qualities and gives them a few superpowers to play with. So one could argue that in the case of Jim Carrey and Jamie fucking Kennedy, the host bodies were just a pair of childlike losers. That is, they didn't have the personality for violence and nastiness. It's a good theory, but who really needs to see Carrey and Kennedy gurning like idiots again? They have their own inane little franchises for that (Ace Ventura and The Jamie Kennedy Experiment) whereas there's only one The Mask. I doubt we'll ever see a decent adaptation of the comics now.

If you've not read them all ready, I'd highly recommend the Dark Horse omnibus editions which collect the best Mask stories. Arcudi's writing is fun, angry and sharp; Doug Mahnke's artwork is an ever-improving thing of grotesque beauty. Unlike that unremarkable movie and its terrible sequel, The Mask books reward revisiting again and again.

House of the Devil

Director: Ti West (2009)
Starring: Jocelin Donahue, Tom Noonan, Mary Woronov, Greta Gerwig
Find it online: IMDB, Amazon UK, Amazon US

In association with Final Girl's neat Film Club thing comes a retrofitted re-review of House of the Devil. Because writing a new one would've been far too much like work. It's a movie that, had Ti West made it in the 80s, we'd probably regard it as a classic by now. It's very much a movie that feels like it could have been directed by John Carpenter and starred Jamie Lee Curtis or PJ Soles. House of the Devil is a knowing yet entirely straight throwback to the babysitter-in-peril slasher movies of the late 70s/early 80s.

It's even set back in 1980s' America. Samantha (Donahue) is your typical skint college student. After agreeing to rent a house from Dee Wallace, hard-up Sam realises that she can't actually afford it. In order to make ends meet, she takes on a babysitter job as advertised on campus grounds. Only things aren't as they seem. There's no baby, for one. But to describe the movie's events any further would be cruel of me, since the various twists and turns need to be experienced with an unspoiled mind to work fully. After all, House of the Devil only has about three or four tricks up its sleeve.

At its best, House of the Devil is very good. At its worst, it's merely a bit mediocre. The acting is very good, particularly from Donahue. She's cute and all sorts of adorable - arguably the movie's second strongest suit. The best thing about it? The style and tone painstakingly set up by West. It looks and feels like an authentic old-school slasher movie as inspired or directed by John Carpenter. Right down to its synth-rock soundtrack, House of the Devil is pitch perfect. To add to the effect, there's even a VHS version available. It's this remarkable attention to detail that saves it from becoming just another lazy piece of STD dross. Like Babysitter Wanted, there's more at work than you might expect from just hearing the synopsis.

Ironically, it's that attention to detail that holds the movie back from greatness. Too much is predictable. There are a few mild surprises in the setup and the tension racks up nicely, but there's nothing you won't have seen before (and back in the 80s', to boot). Its gorefest finale provides a nice change of pace, but is all a bit overwrought and melodramatic.

Still, it has a heart and ambition that's hard to fault. House of the Devil might have its problems, but it tries too damn hard for any horror fan to dislike. This is one that deserves watching a few times: once for the plot, and again to revel in the 80s' trashiness of it all. Savour House of the Devil. After all, they don't make 'em like this anymore.

The Road

Director: John Hillcoat (2009)
Starring: Viggo Mortensen, Cody Smit McPhee, Charlize Theron
Find it online: IMDB, Amazon UK, Amazon US

If you find that many post-apocalyptic movies end up being a little too cheerful for your tastes, then The Road is most surely the one for you. Based on quite possibly the most depressing book I've ever read, The Road sees a man and his son wandering through post-apocalypse America, very slowly dying as they go. It's to the director's credit that The Road manages to be as uplifting as it is. Especially when you consider that Cormac McCarthy's novel made me want to curl up and cry for a month. And also eat a lot. The Road really makes you appreciate food. Even spam.

The Man (Mortensen) and The Son (McPhee) are survivors of an unnamed, mostly unseen apocalypse. If this is how 2012 is gonna play out then I think I'd rather be dead, since it's a miserable world they live in. They're heading down the eponymous road to the Southern coastline, in the hope that the weather might be nicer and life a little less shitty. Mostly though, The Man is preparing The Son for life without him. He's ill see, and the crappy weather and lack of food really isn't helping matters. To make things worse, they're pursued by cannibal tribes (more subtly done than the likes of Doomsday might portray them) and beset by thieves and untrustworthy types. In flashbacks, we see Man and child's life before things went wrongwise. Before the youngster's birth, we see The Man with his missus - Charlize Theron, as it happens - and watch as she pops out the poor kiddo into their horrible world. Later still, we watch as they grow further apart and The Woman longs for death whilst The Man clings to hope. They're heartbreaking scenes, and it's horrible watching the pair grow apart.

Charlize Theron isn't the only surprising cameo you'll find in The Road, although you may not even notice the others at the time. Robert Duvall plays an old man, and Guy Pearce shows up too. But I was so engrossed in the story, that I truly didn't recognize either of them. It's Father and Son's journey, through and through. They may encounter others on their path, but this is only incidental. Cheesy as it may sound, this is a story of fatherly love.

And it's that sense of love that makes The Road so surprisingly uplifting. There was a real danger that the bleakness and gruesomeness of that world might overpower the characters' relationship, but Director John Hillcoat manages to make McCarthy's message of hope and love shine through it all. And it shines through in a way far less tacky than that cringeworthy sentence made it sound. Sure there's cannibalism and action and misery - lots and lots of misery - but it's The Man's protectiveness and The Son's unrelenting hope and capacity for good in spite of everything that manages to enthrall and captivate throughout.

The Road is a beautiful and haunting movie that truly does its literary origins justice. What with this and the Coens' No Country For Old Men, faithful Cormac McCarthy adaptations really are knocking 'em outta the post-apocalyptic, loony cowboy-filled park. They might not always make for the happiest of viewing, but they'll stick in the memory for a very long time afterwards.

Action Movie Monday Presents: Silent Rage

Director: Michael Miller (1982)
Starring: Chuck Norris, Ron Silver, Steven Keats
Find it online: IMDB, Amazon UK, Amazon US

The following review is in association with Chuck Norris Ate My Baby and the neat little contest they be running over there. Described on Wikipedia as a romantic/action/sci-fi/horror movie, Silent Rage pits the legendary Chuck Norris against a genetically modified loon. Or, as the tagline most subtly puts it, "Science created him. Now Chuck Norris must destroy him." In the time of the slasher movie boom, Silent Rage is Chuck Norris' effort - effectively pitting him against Michael Myers. Who would win in a fight between Chuck Norris and Michael Myers? Chuck, obviously. When people go to bed, they look in their closet for The Shape. When The Shape goes to bed, he looks for Chuck Norris. Ahem, sorry. This being the Review Hole's first Chuck Norris related feature, we're contractually obliged to hammer out a number of cliches. Including (but in no way limited to) Chuck Norris facts, references to Walker Texas Ranger and that bit in Dodgeball when Ben Stiller says "fuckin' Chuck Norris."

Chuck Norris plays Dan Stevens, Sheriff of a small Texan town. When local crazy John Kirby finally snaps and starts hacking people up with an axe, Stevens brings him in. Using bullets. Instead of letting him die, a team of medical clever sorts decide to use a new method of genetic modification to save the killer's life. This brings him back stronger than ever. And also a little bit indestructible. Silly killer, your indestructability might've bothered someone like Stallone or Willis*, but high-kickin' Chuck Norris ain't having none of it. Chuck Norris is the only man who could ever get away with having the letters 'Norris' anywhere near his moniker and yet still retain utter hardness.

Obvious Coronation Street joke

Upon waking up, killer Kirby sets about murdering a whole bunch of people. What follows will seem awfully familiar to fans of Slash, but with more Chuck Norris than we're used to. The closest us slasher fanboys get to kung-fu is usually Busta Rhymes in Halloween: Resurrection. So to see Norris beating some slasher ass is a nice little treat. It's just a shame that the Killer isn't quite as iconic as his foe. He doesn't even have a mask.

But before all that, there's a bit of a love story, much ado about the morals of Frankenstein science, and a silly subplot in which Stevens takes on a gang of bikers. Occasionally, director Michael Miller decides to chuck in the odd scene in which Kirby murders a hapless passer by. It's like three or four movies in one, all fighting against one another for supremacy.

When they finally find the time, Sheriff Stevens and Kirby tussle for a bit. Stevens plugs Kirby full of lead, tosses him through a window and beats several shades of hell outta the poor Myers-wannabe. Upon realising that it's a fight that can't be won, Stevens gets bored and tosses his opponent down a well. The end. Really. Kirby's a guy that can heal from literally any wound, and yet Stevens assumes dropping him down a well will kill him. Out of sight, out of mind I suppose. Silent Rage sets itself up for a sequel, but none ever came. Not particularly surprising, since Silent Rage isn't Norris at his best. He's not even at full beard (the moustache, impressive as it might be, doesn't count). The fat deputy character is annoying, and too much time is spent on Stevens' feud with the bikers. A little more gore wouldn't have gone amiss, and I'd have liked to see the twosome's battle be somewhat more epic perhaps.

Still, it makes for diverting viewing should you fancy a little Slash with your Chuck Norris (or vice versa). The very 80s' era sci-fi stuff works well, and the fight scenes between Stevens and Kirby are pretty fun once they get going, even if I was expecting something a little more gruesome and OTT. When all is said and done, it's a Chuck Norris slasher movie. For that, it earns itself infinite kudos.

Fun fact: those aren't credits that roll at the end of Silent Rage. That's a list of Norris-related fatalities that occured during the making of the movie.

Ultimately, Silent Rage scores a record

*Chuck Norris knows what Willis is talking about.

The Descent: Part 2

Director: Jon Harris (2009)
Starring: Shauna MacDonald, Michael J Reynolds, Jessika Williams
Find it online: IMDB, Amazon UK, Amazon US

Following the grisly events of her first Descent, Sarah (MacDonald) gets herself rescued by local Appalachian cops and proceeds to forget everything. Since old friend Juno (Natalie Mendoza) is apparently something of a big deal, it's of utmost importance that a search & rescue is launched. Oh, and for the other girls too - although no-one seems to give a shit about Beth, Holly and the other two. Sheriff Ed Oswald (Reynolds) and Deputy Small (Williams) head into the underground caverns, dragging some cannibal-fodder and Sarah with them.

They find the missing girls. Well, bits of them. And predictably, things soon turn very messy and very violent. Sarah regains her memory just as the naked cannibal people arrive to finish what they started. Can she and her fellow potholers escape? Unlikely, but lets tune in anyway.

An atmosphere of complete pointlesness pervades every moment of The Descent 2. Even as it impresses by not being completely shit, it fails to make a decent case for its own existence. Literally everything it does is a repetition of the first movie's events. Sure it's quite a bit gorier and more violent, but it wasn't the violence that made the first Descent such a brilliant movie. It was Neil Marshall's masterful direction - making it as much about grief and claustrophobia as it was cannibals. It was about the relationships between the six girls. We loved it because they were all friends and we cared about them. Aside from Sarah, we have no reason to care about any of this new lot - and Sarah's arc was over and tied up by the end of The Descent anyway.

The otherwise brilliant Shauna MacDonald is wasted here. She barely speaks two lines in the movie's first quarter, and by the time Badass Sarah returns, she has a useless and annoying Deputy character to drag around with her. It's good to see her kicking cannibal nudist ass again, but much of the action is virtually indistinguishable from that of the first flick.

There are very good moments, but it's just a shame that they're buried in a film so pointless. It's well directed, and the kill scenes are even an improvement over the original's. And the beautiful, haunting score is back too. But it just feels incapable of breaking out from beneath its predecessor's quite considerable shadow. And although it isn't too awful, I'm not too keen on the perfunctory yet ridiculous 'twist' that comes during the closing moments. It suggests a sequel, but given Part 2's lukewarm reception, I doubt that there'll be one forthcoming.

The Descent: Part 2 is as disposable a sequel as one can get. It provides more of the same but fails to bring anything - at all - new to the table. If you enjoyed The Descent, then you may get a kick from the revisitation of old characters and environments, but it's ultimately an empty, hollow and forgettable experience. An unsurprising, intermittently enjoyable shame.

The End

Warning. Here be a great many spoilers. Now, I knows that LOST isn't horror at all, but I couldn't let the big finale of my favourite TV show of the noughties pass by without a few words. And by a few, I mean 'lots'. If you haven't been watching, then chances are you won't understand this review at all. I'm still not etirely sure what happened myself.

One thing's for sure though - The End delivers ultimate Jackface and a Star Trek-esque flying punch. Also, fan favourite Frank Lapidus returns in all his hearty hair-chested glory. Lapidus' return from the dead was all a bit convenient though, as it provides the surviving Losties with a rather neat way off've the island. But first, that pesky business of defeating Smoke-Locke/Smocke/UnLocke. He and Jack drop Desmond into the heart of the island, whereupon the plucky Scotsman pulls out the plug (!) causing the place to begin collapsing. Smokey is now able to leave the island. But also, he's mortal again. Jack chases him down, but is mortally wounded. Kate shoots Smokey, killing him dead. But the island's still breaking down. Jack bids farewell to Sawyer and Kate, before heading off to recork the island. He's accompanied by Ben and Hurley, neither of whom want to leave. Kate and Sawyer, picking up Claire en route, board Lapidus' convenient airplane and leave the island along with Miles and Richard Alpert.

Phew. Jack realises that he'll have to die in saving the island. He makes Hurley his successor as God of the Island (poor Ben - passed over again) and drops down the hole into the island's heart. He rescues a semi-conscious Desmond and replaces the plug. As the island returns to 'normality', Jack wanders alone into the jungle. Ready to die, he collapses. Making a welcome return, Vincent snuggles up at his side and watches him go. As Jack's eye closes (GET IT, THE INVERSE OF HOW THE SERIES BEGAN) an airplane passes overhead. And so it ends.

Sort of. But before that, something a little bit more slushpot. Remember the alternate universe? The flashsideways? Actually, they're not. It turns out that the other universe is actually the Losties' own purgatory; a place they could all gather after death and reminisce on the good ol' days. They're all there, re-united. Charlie and Claire, Shannon and Sayid, Sawyer and Juliet, Sun and Jin, Kate and Jack - everyone gets a happy ending. Even the real John Locke. The whole purgatory thing is explained to Jack by father Christian Shepherd (yes, that gets a LOL from Kate too) who leads his son to a Church where everyone's waiting. Well, nearly everyone. Michael, Walt, Rose, Bernard and none of the tailies were invited. As an old-school LOST musical montage plays, Christian opens a set of doors and the Church is filled with blinding white light. And they all lived happily ever after. Or died happily ever after. Either way, everyone's happy. And they're all together. Not quite "Live together, die alone" is it?

On an emotional level, it's as perfect an ending as one could ever wish for. It had me getting all misty eyed at at least three points (Aaron's birth, Sun & Jin's re-awakening, Sawyer/Juliet's reunion) and I might as well have been bawling at Jack's death. But plotwise, well, it kinda sucks. I still have no idea why Smokey leaving the island was a bad thing - nor why everyone cared so much as to whether the place sunk or not. Purgatory is all fine and well, but I saw that last week on Ashes to Ashes. Talking of which, why are there no black people in purgatory? And shit, surely Nadia is Sayid's one true love, not bloody Shannon?

Those niggles aside, I really enjoyed the last of LOST. It's an action packed, emotional 2.5 hours of TV, and one of the best finales I've ever seen. Sure, they didn't answer many of the questions we've been asking for years, but did you really expect them to? As a fan, I got what I needed: copius Jackface (dying Jackface FTW), Vincent, Rose & Bernard and the return of Frank fucking Lapidus. It's been a fantastic six years following LOST. As we all knew it would, the series bows out with one last big mindfuck of a question on its lips: well couch potato, what you gonna do with your life now?


Director: Abel Ferrara (1992)
Starring: Harvey Keitel, KeitelPenis
Find it online: IMDB, Amazon UK, Amazon US

That headline catch your attention, gentle reader? Likewise, much of Abel Ferrara's infamous Bad Lieutenant relies on shock and awe tactics to make its impact. The rape of a nun, repeated and explicit scenes of drug-taking, authority figures acting like complete scumbags... and, indeed, Harvey Keitel's penis. So good that they put it right there on the poster. And the head of this review. And at the bottom of this review.

Keitel and his penis take on the central character of The Lieutenant, a gambling, thieving, junkie police detective. When a nun is violently raped, The Lieutenant senses a chance at redemption, and sets about hunting the rapist down. But all this is just an excuse to watch Keitel doing some truly horrible things. Unforgettable is the scene in which a naked Keitel makes wibbling sounds and waves his manhood around a dirty crack den. Similarly unforgettable is his breakdown in Church, wailing like a crazy person whilst the visage of Jesus stands watching. I've heard good things about the Nic Cage 're-imagining', but Werner Herzog will really have to make with the A-game to beat (or even equal) this original piece. KeitelPenis is probably more famous than the movie itself. Which is a shame, because Bad Lieutenant is a seminal piece of cinema.

Bad Lieutenant is like Dirty Harry minus that sense of righteousness. It's like an X-rated episode of House. It's Maniac Cop made literal. It's a movie that celebrates the nuttiness of its central character, even as it condemns him. He's certainly no aspirational figure, but if I were to become a cop, I'd want to be Harvey Keitel. That said, I want to be Harvey Keitel whatever my surroundings. The Lieutenant is a horrible and possibly irredeemable human being, but magnetically so. Even as he disgusts, you'll watch transfixed in fear as to what his next actions might be. It's a powerhouse performance from Keitel - his Lieutenant is every bit as perversely compelling, complicated and well-acted as Robert DeNiro's Travis Bickle, if only less quotable. Naughty Constable disgusts and impresses in equal measures, but who could ever expect a conventional cop movie from the star of Reservoir Dogs and the director of Driller Killer? It defies convention, spits in the face of good taste and wishes everyone "die in hell" while it's busy dangling its crack-injected penis about the place.

Talking of which:

Dear my subconscious, what the fuck?

Really, brain? What the fuck?? I've watched some of the 'scariest' movies known to man, and not once flinched. I've seen The Shining, The Ring, The Grudge and The Excorcist. I've sat through all manner of torture tripe; Hostel 1-2, Martyrs (okay, that one made something of an incredible emotional impact - but it didn't really scare) and even a Human Centipede. And not since I was, oh say ten, has anything given me nightmares (back then Mary Shelley's Frankenstein managed it, Jebus knows how). Truly I thought I was unflappable.

And then last night in search of some late night TV slop, I happened across The Blair Witch 2: Book of Shadows. I've seen the first one multiple times, and even that didn't bother me. Can you say overrated? The sequel eschews the 'found footage' gimmick of the first movie in favour of a more traditional kids-in-the-woods horror tale. After watching the first movie, a gang of college kids decide to head on down to the woods to see if there's any truth in the Blair Witch myth. At their head is Jeffery, a possibly-crazy tour guide and video camera fanatic. On the tour, he takes the kids to the rotted ruins as seen in the first movie. Drunkening and partygoing quickly ensues. The youths pass out. When they wake up, their cameras and research have all been destroyed. They're all suffering from amnesia. All that remains is a few tapes. What follows is like a horror version of The Hangover.

I watched it, I was reasonably amused and then I went to bed.

And then in the middle of the night, something strange and unusual and horrible happened.

(No, not masturbation, I said unusual. That happens every night).

I woke up in cold sweats with the horrific horryifying feeling that something was in my room.

No, not that. The other one (I wish I could wake up to find Linda Blair in my room).

Not even that one.

The Blair Witch, I thought in my half-asleep stupor, was in my bedroom. In a little corner, between the DVD rack and the comic book bookshelf. And that doesn't even make sense, since the Blair Witch doesn't appear in The Blair Witch 2. And it wasn't just the Blair Witch that was in my room, but the supporting cast too. That guy from off've Burn Notice, the sexy Wicca and the kinda hot Goth were all there. But not the central couple (Tristine Skyler and Stephen Barker Turner) because they were a bit bland, unremarkable and forgettable. I couldn't see any of them but I knew they were there and I knew they weren't there, all at the same time.

Book of Shadows isn't even a scary film. It's got some good ideas and creepy sequences - I really enjoyed the pagan rituals, the group's mass hysteria, mis-perception of events and especially liked the movie's ending. I even found it more enjoyable than the predecessor, which is good but a little hokey and overrated. In no way is it scary though. It's creepy yet empty, like the House on Haunted Hill remake or Event Horizon. But there's something about the meta film-within-a-film scenario that managed to pierce my normally boob-obsessed subconscious enough to creep the hell out of me. Like Freddy Kreuger turning up in one of your own dreams (no lie: I stole Freddy's fedora when he last made an appearance) there's that idea in The Blair Witch 2 that the Witch can break through the boundaries of reality and 'infect' one's perception. Spreading the mass hysteria as experienced by the kids, perhaps? Damn, I am giving this much more thought than Book of Shadows ever could deserve.

By the way, this is the film I'm scoring, not the waking nightmare. There wasn't nearly enough gore, boobs or Timothy Olyphant to get that past the 2/5 mark.

Two fer' one: [REC] and Quarantine

Because there's a sequel out now. And writing two seperate reviews for a virtually identical set of films would have been too much work. [REC] (2007) which is the best of the two - and came first - sees a news reporter and her trusty cameraman trapped at the centre of a zombie outbreak in Barcelona, Spain. Quarantine (2008) tells the same story, only set in LA, America and with Dexter's sweary sister from off'a Dexter. There aren't nearly enough horror movies set in Barcelona. You don't get to see much outside of the apartment complex, but it's still a neat setting. The remake being relocated from lovely Barcelona to overused LA is just one of the things that makes it a slightly less interesting movie.

Baaaaaarceloooonaaaaaa. Just out of shot: zombies.

The way the movies are filmed is like Cloverfield crossed with The Blair Witch Project crossed with the Dawn of the Dead remake crossed with The Descent. Not only is that as awesome as it sounds, in the case of [REC], it's even better. It's like the nightvision bits of The Descent, dragged out for feature length. It works very well in both cases - largely managing to sidestep the "why are they still lugging that damn camera around?" question that tends to plague films of its ilk - making for tense, properly scary viewing. Very few horror movies tend to stick in this jaded horrorphile's memory nowardays, but [REC] is one that really manages to dig itself into one's psyche. Quarantine, not quite so much...

Whilst there's nothing wrong with Quarantine per-se (well, Jennifer Carpenter's latter-half screaming and shrieking gets annoying fast - to the extent that her character here is almost as irritating as the one she plays in Dexter), it just suffers mightily in comparison to its inspiration. It functions extremely well as a zombie movie, but if you've seen [REC] then it just feels overfamiliar and redundant. Unsurprising, considering that it's mostly a shot-for-shot remake. Much of the original flick's power is in the use of relatively unknown actors and a powerhouse performance from the adorable Manuela Velasco. Watching Jennifer Carpenter and Jay Hernandez go through the very same motions doesn't really seem to have the same impact. Plus I just can't buy Hernandez as a fireman. Or as anything other than a torture Hostel victim, really.

If you've not seen [REC], then consider your enjoyment of Quarantine doubled. It's well shot, well acted (perhaps a little too well) and gripping throughout. But as with most things, the original is unbeatable. In this time when most zombie movies need a comedy element to be succesful, [REC] is proof that there's still plenty of mileage in playing things straight. And if this set of films teaches us anything, it's that "AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAGGHHHHHHHHHH" sounds the same in any language.



Ten Banalities of Quite Stultifying Terror

For your consideration, ten things that are far more terrifying than a Human Centipede. Sometimes you don't need to camp out at Crystal Lake or buy a house on Elm Street. Sometimes the most horrifying things can be found right under your nose, in everyday life. What follows is ten of the most piddle-inducingly scary - yet utterly banal - things that are out there right now...*

10. The BT adverts - Because nothing says "buy a new telephone" like the crushing, depressing triviality of everyday life. There are few incentives liable to make me upgrade my broadband like social awkwardness and having to put up with someone else's shit children. Since 2005 here in the UK, we've watched Adam and Jane go about their everyday lives. Adam's moved in with Jane and her kids from a previous relationship; he's had to deal with her son taking an initial dislike to him; accidentally flirting with her friends; her shit of a daughter hogging the TV with Hannah fucking Montana. And now they're getting married. We live in a dull, grey little world and the BT adverts incessantly remind us of this. Our lives are dreary, miserable, pointless and plotless; the best you can do is buy a shiny new phone so's you can make those uninteresting telephone conversations sound that little bit crisper.

9. Justin Bieber - A horror of Lovecraftian proportions, this. His increasing popularity can be explained in one of two equally terrifying ways: either the world's children are getting dumber and dumber, or its paedophiles are spending a shitload on CDs. Bieber's meteoric rise to fame is made all the more saddening by the fact that it came just after the death of Michael Jackson. Another slap in the face to the King of Pop, who would've loved a bit of the Bieber.

8. Empty shops - Picture it. You've a day off've work and a wallet full of cash. You wander into town, hoping to splash out on a new DVD, CD, book or jacket. You walk into a shop. Your favourite DVD, CD, Book & Jacket shop. A deafening silence greets you. The shelves are chock full of stock. The aisles are empty. A team of sales assistants stare at you as you try to browse. You either hastily grab the nearest thing to hand and purchase it, or you flee. There's a reason the shop's empty, surely? Now run, before they cut off your legs and sell them.

I too dreamed a dream. Susan Boyle was in it and I pissed myself.

6. Horses - A ha ha ha ha haaa, look, the 24-year-old man's scared of My Little Pony. Shut up and think about it. Last week I had the misfortune of being packed away to a works' weekend in the country. This involved barbeque, camping and orienteering excercises. Being an idiot, yours truly was quickly quite lost. Much of it resembled an episode of L O S T. I wandered around the woods for a good two hours, drenched by rain and under attack from smoke monsters (well, chain smoking idiot colleagues). And then there were the horses. During our misadventures, we ended up traipsing through a big empty field. Well, empty save for the fucking horses. Lots of horses with big horsey penises. I'm not ashamed to admit that the thought of death by horse rape crossed my mind. Until you've had the thousand-yard-stare from a horse, you don't know fear. One of them whinnied and I shat myself.

5. Frozen Prawns - Not such an obvious one, but I had a fear of frozen prawns well into my teenage years. Ever read HP Lovecraft? I swear to thee, his Old Ones and fishy things would blatantly resemble frozen prawns. TRUE FACT: in his foetal stages, Justin Beiber was a frozen prawn.

Our country's newspapers told us to vote for this, and blindly we did. Now we have a Prime Minister called 'Dave'.

3. Live from Studio Five - Sorry, another one for the Brits amongst us. If you're not aware, Live From Studio Five is a late-afternoon talk show in which an ex-footballer, an ex-model and a(?) talk utter bollocks for an hour. Live From Studio Five is Mike Judge's Idiocracy made real and is, like the proliferation of the Justins Beiber and Lee Collins, symptomatic of the nation's stupiddening. It's produced by Sky News and is so trivial and so idiotic that it'll make your brain hurt.

2. That dream where all your teeth fall out - According to a mister Freud, the 'teeth falling out' dream is symbolic of castration as punishment for masturbation. Obviously, I have totally never had that dream...

1. Twilight - Everything about Twilight scares me. Well, save for the things that are supposed to be scary. It normalises emotional abuse and makes it seem aspirational. It was written by a woman that's never read Dracula and couldn't give a fuck about vampire fiction. It has a horrible insidous religious undercurrent (if Meyer was a half-decent writer, that undercurrent might be dangerous). It has a fucking adult fall in love with a baby. Once more, it rewards idiocy and ineptitude with fame and a multi-sequel deal. It has a fucking adult fall in love with a baby. Twilight will bring about the Idiot Apocalypse. You have been warned.

Sucking ass: less terrifying and more preferable than Twilight.

* Well, you might have to go and look for them. But they're there all right.

This week, it's the turn of my second-favourite comic book adaptation of 2008 (no prizes for guessing that the Dark Knight pips it to the post) and my second favourite action movie of that year too (sadly, Rambo is fucking unbeatable there). The Punisher: War Zone divides critics massively, but for my money it's the character's definitive movie appearance. Dolph Lundgren couldn't be fucked to even wear the t-shirt, and Thomas Jane was just a little too wet for my likings. War Zone puts Roman Legionary Ray Stevenson in the skull and stubble, to very literal explosive effect. Punisher: War Zone pits a team of freerunners against a rocket launcher. Welcome back, Frank.

Whereas 2004's adaptation was a non-too-gory origins tale rooted in lighthearted Marvel Knights territory, War Zone takes much of its inspiration from Garth Ennis' seminal MAX imprint work. And when I say 'inspiration', I actually mean 'hardcore violence and gore'. Despite it being arguably a reboot of the franchise, we're spared an origins story and cut straight to the violence and wholesale slaughter of bad guys. It's a wise move by director Lexi Alexander, and one which leaves plenty of room for the introduction of main villain Jigsaw (Dominic West).

During a fracas in an industrial factory, The Punisher/Frank Castle drops mobster Billy Russoti into a glass crusher and leaves him for dead. In a move inspired by Jack Nicholson's Joker, Russoti escapes from what should've been his demise a changed man. With his face torn to shreds, Jigsaw is born. Top of the agenda is claiming revenge on Castle. But there's more going on in War Zone than a simple hero/villain vendetta. Frank is being hunted by Detectives Soap (Dash Mihok) and Budianski (Colin Salmon) whilst also suffering under the weight of his own conscience; during an early shootout, he accidentally kills an undercover cop. Whilst trying to find a way to quit the vigilante game, poor put-upon Frank must also find a way to protect the cop's widow (Julie Benz) and child (some kid). All this and more cannon fodder than you could ever wish for from an action movie.

Where the movie falters is in its occasionally slow pace and awkward tone. Comical characters such as Detective Soap and Loony Bin Jim don't work too well with the ultraviolence and cruelty. It's a bit like having Ace Ventura investigate the latest Saw killings. There's also the horrible feeling that certain characters are being wasted. Wayne Knight's Micro is introduced - only to be dismissed before the movie's end.

Still, War Zone is my favourite Punisher movie so far, and a wonderful little action ditty in its own right. There probably won't be a sequel, but heck... we'll always have Ray Stevenson resetting his own broken nose with a pencil.

HITMAN (2007)

Hunky man-crush Timothy Olyphant (The Crazies, Perfect Getaway) plays the eponymous bald barcoded Hitman. Despite looking like a Tory politician, Hitman - AKA Agent 47 - is a consumate badass. He's not quite as cold and cruel as the videogame character - but then, I did spend most of my time murdering hapless butlers/chauffers/mailmen, undressing them and dumping them down storm drains. Also cut from the movie: the numerous fuck-ups, dull wandering and sneaking around, and the epic failures that comes with being a completely inept gamer. Olyphant's Hitman is far less useless than I was, and it makes for a far more entertaining cinematic experience. Heck, I'm so terrible at the Hitman games that only Uwe Boll could do it justice.

There's a plot, but only as much as they could get away with inbetween set-pieces and hyperkinetic fight scenes. Agent 47 is employed to assassinate Russian president Belicoff, only to find himself set up and pursued by fellow Hitmen, the Russian military and a pair of dogged British cops. For some reason I missed, he gets himself mixed up with Nika (Olga Kurylenko) and sexual tension/LOTS OF NUDITY ensues. Villain duties are ably handled by Robert Knepper (Transporter 3/Prison Break/Heroes) and Desmond from off've Lost. Throw in a bit of casual misoginy, a hilarious four way sword-fight and plenty of nods to the game, and you have a wonderful example of how a videogame adaptation should be done.

Fans of the game series should find a lot to like in Hitman, even if it is a movie that feels like it should star Jason Statham (no bad thing). It's the dumbest thing since the lunkheaded Brit's Transporter trilogy, and is as a result, only marginally less entertaining. I like how the supposedly super-slick assassin couldn't look any more conspicuous if he tried. And nobody ever says "dude, what's with the barcode?" Hitman is as good as a videogame adaptation could possibly ever be, and is never anything less than fun. If you can get past the relentless idiocy, then there's a lot of fun to be had there.


Director: Jon Hewitt (2008)
Starring: Joshua Payne, Sebastian Gregory, Hanna Mangan-Lawrence
Find it online: IMDB, Amazon UK, Amazon US

Bullied schoolkids undergoing puberty discover a serial killer burying his dirty deeds in the woods. For reasons best known to themselves, the silly kiddiwinks decide to blackmail the killer into doing dastardly things for them. Namely, offing bully Gary Parker. Silly children. Their serial killer is less than thrilled with being blackmailed, and sets about hunting the brats down.

Like Deadgirl, this is a movie that deals with the difficult adolescent struggles of emotionally conflicted youths. Unlike Deadgirl, it's done with subtelty, maturity, intelligence and understanding. Whereas that previous film was high on gruesomeness but low on motivational believability (say what you like, but rape is NOT a standard response to zombification), Acolytes backs up its youths' nasty deeds by giving them plenty of motive for their actions.

Indeed, that buildup is slow at times but completely necessary. And once the game does get going properly, it doesn't let up until the end. The final 45 minutes or so have multiple plates spinning at once, efficiently working plenty of twists, action and neat character moments working like a tightly oiled machine. I've mixed my metaphors there, but Acolytes is worth it. It's an example of how a low budget need not detract from your movie. It even has not one but two great villains (perhaps more, depending on how you count them) going for it. As serial killer Ian Wright, Joel Edgerton is wonderfully cast, bringing a masterfully sinister moustache and sunglasses to the table. Bully Gary Parker is nicely slimy, more than making up for the spots of dodgy acting from the movie's leading trio.

(Predictable Ian Wright Joke)

Lesson learned, kids - don't fuck with serial killers. Especially not when they have moustaches and sunglasses as awesome as Ian Wright. And serial killers - dig your holes deeper. There's always a gaggle of idiot semi-psychopathic children on hand to dig that shit up.