Harper's Island

Director: TV Series (2009)
Starring: Elaine Cassidy, Christopher Gorham, Matt Barr
Find it: IMDB, Amazon

Harper's Island should be, judging by the description, crack for horrorhounds. It's like a slasher movie, right? Only there are thirteen episodes and the cast is enormous. Each episode is titled something onomatopoeic, like 'snap', 'crackle' or 'pop'. Okay, maybe not that last one, but episode titles such as 'thrack, splat, sizzle' suggest promising violence worthy of a Friday the 13th. Harper's Island should by all rights be the best television series ever. Well think again, silly horror idiot. Harper's Island is like Prom Night or Sorority Row on a much larger scale.
Imagine Prom Night if it had lasted thirteen hours. That's what Harper's Island is like.

Well, not quite. I'm being cruel. Thirteen hours of Harper's Island is still preferable to even ten minutes of that bullshit Prom Night remake. The series takes place on the titular Harper's Island, where a large party have gathered for the wedding of Henry Dunn to Trish Wellington. The Wellington girl being most recognizeable from the Nightmare On Elm Street remake, where she thoroughly sucked. But everybody sucked in that movie, so we won't hold it against her.

Back in the day on Harper's Island, serial killer John Wakefield went on a murder spree and totally killed the protagonist's mother. Well that protagonist - a girl called Abby (Elaine Cassidy) is back for the wedding. But so, it appears, is John Wakefield (or possibly an imitator). As the ceremonies get underway, people begin to die. It's a good ten episodes or so before anyone actually realizes that there might be a killer on the loose. And it was a good five episodes before that when I lost interest. Specifically, the second episode.

The series' big hook is that anyone, supposedly, could die at any time. But aside from a couple of minor surprises, not really, no. Spoilers. It's perfectly obvious that Abby and the happy couple are staying for the duration, and you can more or less predict who'll be sticking around for some time too. The others, you couldn't give two shits about. Well, maybe three or four shits. I kinda liked the nerdy English guy and his girlfriend. Likewise, the identity of the killer becomes more and more obvious towards the end, despite the show's best efforts to throw you off the trail.

Nice try. Maybe I'd care if there were more than two likeable characters, but most of Harper's Island's inhabitants are either dull or unbearable. Maybe they should have called it Arseholes' Island. It's nice to see them die, but not worth the amount of time it takes to see that. Although when the action does amp up towards the end, it is done with an admirable amount of pizazz. Not enough gore, but a high kill count and lots of explosions make up for that.

Harper's Island is passable television. It's melodramatic and annoying and stupid, but horror fans should find something to enjoy amongst all of the nonsense. As it is though, there's only one good TV series about unlikeable people dying on an island. And Harper's Island is not that TV series.

But at least it doesn't end in purgatory. Because that, y'know, would be stupid.

Bride Of Frankenstein

Director: James Whale (1935)
Starring: Boris Karloff, Colin Clive, Valerie Hobson
Find it: IMDB, Amazon

Black and white movies can be good too (true story, there should have been an exclamation mark in that sentence. But exclamation marks actually make me angry. They bring me out in hives). Bride Of Frankenstein, despite being old and black and white, is one of the greatest horror movies ever made and also the greatest movie with a Bride Of... in the title.

Close, Star Trek, but no cigar.

Following their apparent burning-by-villagers-with-flaming-torches, it emerges that Doctor Frankenstein (Clive) and his Monster (Karloff) still live. Understandably jaded by his horrific experiences, Frankenstein plans to quit the scientisting business. But the mad Doctor Pretorius (Ernest Thesiger) has other ideas, and kidnaps Frankenstein's wife, hoping to encourage him to build The Monster a mate. That's a mate in the biblical sense, by the way. Although The Monster could probably use some friends too, poor soul.

What you have there is a plot description that completely fails to describe the genius of Bride Of Frankenstein. A classic in every sense of the word, Bride Of Frankenstein is all at once touching, disturbing, funny and beautifully strange. That's not just me gushing because I want to sound clever by liking olde movies, I really do love Bride Of Frankenstein. There's a reason some movies become classics, and Bride's credentials are evident in every scene. Of particular enjoyment is a scene in which an uncharacteristically vocal Monster enjoys a cigar with a new friend, and another - truly bizarre bit - in which Doc Pretorius unveils a collection of miniature people (or "homunculi" as he calls them. The word homunculi doesn't get nearly enough usage these days). Then you've got tragic moments, such as The Monster being bullied by idiot villagers and a sense of loneliness conveyed to perfection by Boris Karloff.

Yes, I love Bride Of Frankenstein, and not just because I want to seem cool. It's a true masterpiece, and probably the greatest Frankenstein movie ever made.

Sorry, Ken.

Bride Of Chucky

Director: Ronny Yu (1998)
Starring: Dolls.
Find it: IMDB, Amazon

Ex-squeeze Tiffany (Jennifer Tilly) resurrects demon doll Chucky (Brad Dourif). The pair have a lovers' tiff, and Chucky murders the poor girl. Then, because it's either that or fuck with Andy Barclay some more (ha, I've just realised that Andy is the name of the kid in Toy Story too) he brings Tiff back as a doll like himself. Hilarity follows. Except it doesn't, really.

Bride Of Chucky is very much of its time, eschewing horror in favour of crappy jokes and stupid 'comedy'. And, because Scream came out only two years earlier, references to other movies. Despite looking better than before, Chucky is no longer scary in the least. Ahem, not that I would ever be scared of a ginger doll. And Jennifer Tilly, hot as she was in Bound, is a fucking horrible actress. She's much more suited to Family Guy, where all the voice acting is terrible and she's not ruining franchises and is easily avoidable because I'd never fucking watch Family Guy. I guess I should be thankful that she spends so much time in her movies with a gag in her mouth. What I'm saying is, I'm not a fan of Jennifer Tilly.

Otherwise, it's perfectly adequate. The Child's Play franchise is far from revered anyway (beyond, perhaps the first two) and this is a more watchable piece than either its predecessor (the silly Child's Play 3) or sequel. Brad Dourif is predictably good, whilst there are a few worthwhile gore gags. Bride Of Chucky isn't an inherently bad idea, but fails to gel together as a coherent whole. It's fun though, if completely disposable and immediately forgettable. Director Ronny Yu would go on to miss the point of Freddy Vs Jason too, turning the whole thing into a sort of horror WWF. Like this, the very definition of a guilty pleasure.

The Rite

Director: Mikael Hafstrom (2011)
Starring: Anthony Hopkins, Colin O' Donoghue, Ruger Hauer
Find it: IMDB

A grumpy Anthony Hopkins teaches a skeptical American student the ways of exorcism in The Rite, a classy horror drama that lacks pea soup but has Anthony Hopkins saying "awesome dude" and bitchslapping unsuspecting children.

Michael Kovak (Donoghue) flees his family home to become a trainee priest. Or whatever it is you call kids in priest school. Mind, his heart's not in it and the chap plans to drop out before graduating. The Church refuse and make Mike take a course in exorcism in Italy. There he encounters Ciaran Hinds, a potential love interest and Anthony Hopkins surrounded by cats. Hopkins's Father Trevant is an expert exorcist and, despite his grumbly ways, takes Michael under his wing. During his first exorcism, something happens to make Kovak doubt his own scepticism. Is it possible that demonic possession could be a real thing? Well, with Father Trevant starting to act a bit peculiar, Kovak had better make his mind up.

I'm not the biggest fan of exorcism movies, but I enjoyed The Rite. Personally, I don't see the need for further exorcism flicks beyond The Exorcist and maybe Repossessed, but if I must watch something with priests and sweary d
emons in, The Rite will do fine enough.

Its cast of quality actors certainly helps. Colin O' Donoghue is good as priest kid Kovak, as is ladyfriend Alice Braga. Small roles for the likes of Toby Jones and Ciaran Hinds stress the movie's dramatic intentions. Whilst I would liked to have seen more of Rutger Hauer (as Kovak's daddy dearest) there's more than enough of Sir Anthony Hopkins to go around.

I suspect The Rite would have been a much duller movie without Hopkins in it. Little wonder his face is on the poster, since he gives the movie's best performance and is entirely engaging and good throughout. He's on the same autopilot mode he was during Red Dragon, but even half-arsed Anthony Hopkins is good Anthony Hopkins.

He's assisted by some nifty exorcism scenes and fairly tense drama. Hopes of some good kitty-related murders (Rome is full of them apparently) are dashed (no crappy Let The Right One In style kitty murders then), but The Rite has its fair few moments of nasty. The best of which:

Sir Anthony Hopkins punches a child in the face.

I think I've been waiting my whole life to see Sir Anthony Hopkins punch a child in the face. It made me LOL in ways only kiddy violence can. Otherwise, it's a slow, thoughtful movie enlivened by elegant performances, a good bit of demonic horror and Sir Anthony Hopkins punching a little girl in the head. In other words, it's a bit of all-Rite.

Splatterhouse (2010)

Both frustrating and fun in equal proportions, Splatterhouse is a bloody old-school romp through HP Lovecraft territory that makes up with gory excess what it lacks in originality. You play as Rick Taylor. Visiting a creepy old mansion with your girlfriend, Jenny, you are violently murdered and she kidnapped. Thank the Old Ones for spooky voodoo type masks.

You're resurrected and turned into a ridiculously overpowered (although not so overpowered that you don't die all the fucking time) Hulk type monster, determined to rescue Jenny from the clutches of Dr. Henry West (of Re-Animator fame, although they've changed the first name). You'd be better served forgetting about the plot though. Splatterhouse is the sort of game where you rip off enemies' arms and then batter things with them. Kind of like God Of War on stupid pills.

At first, Splatterhouse doesn't seem to be anything special. You'll be charging through level after level, battering things and tearing them apart with your bare hands. The third-person arcade style beat em' up gameplay is very reminiscent of Wolverine: Origins (right down to a speedy healing factor and a requisite 'rage' mode). But unlike Wolverine, there's a surprising variety to Splatterhouse. No two levels are really the same. I mean, most of them are set in West's mansion, but you'll visit post-apocalyptic futures and spooky fairgrounds too. In a reference to its low-fi origins, the game occasionally cuts to a side-scrolling mode, which is enjoyable and thankfully quite sparing in its use. At its best, Splatterhouse is a tremendous amount of fun.

But what sets Splatterhouse apart from the rest is its very Lovecraftian aspirations. I'm an enormous HP Lovecraft fan, and Splatterhouse is like playing through (a dumbed down) version of one of the author's stories. Albeit without the racism.

The creatures you'll battle are a nasty lot. There are fire-breathing clowns, giant dolls, giants, zombies and assorted slimy bastards. There are enough creatures with tentacles and annoying Fish Monsters to drive home the Lovecraft influence.

Unfortunately, there are a few too many technical problems to make this a truly great game. Splatterhouse has quite a high level of difficulty, which is fine in itself (I enjoy a challenge) but when one factors in the lengthy loading times - which occur every time you die - it becomes a little irritating. Likewise, the checkpoint system is unevenly spaced and inspires much swearing. Despite unlockables and trophies, there's not much in the way of replayability (I never understand games with an unlockable hard mode), unless you're a bit of a trophy whore (guilty as charged) or really want to get everything you can from Splatterhouse.

I came for the gore but stayed for the Lovecraft. It's a fine game. Sometimes, after a stressful day at work, all you want to do is rip off a zombie clown's arms and bludgeon another zombie clown to death with them. And Splatterhouse is fine for that.

Piranha (2010)

Director: Alexandre Aja (2010)
Starring: Elisabeth Shue, Jerry O' Connell, Kelly Brook
Find it: IMDB, Amazon

The most entertaining 3D movie ever made. And, unlike that shitty Pocahontas remake with all the blue bastards (The Smurfs, I think it was called) this one actually still works in 2D and on home cinema. Sure, some of the actings might suck and there's a flabby midsection full of teenage idiocy, but what this movie understands is that 3D was practically made for high octane gore, nudity and dismembered penis. And not fucking 7ft Smurfs flying around on dragons and shit. Well, not exclusively.

An underwater tremor releases scores of prehistoric Piranha into the heaving Lake Victoria, just in time for Spring Break. Sheriff Julie Forester (Shue) investigates, aided briefly by Ving Rhames, Christopher Lloyd and the asshole brother (but not a stepbrother) from off've Stepbrothers. Meanwhile, her kind of annoying son finds himself on a yacht with a porn director (O' Connell), some girl who looks like a High School Musical kid and two pornstars (one of them being Kelly Brook). All this, her two young children have gone missing and there's a cameo from Eli Roth.

Everything after the cameo from Richard Dreyfuss and before Christopher Lloyd is disposable guff. There are moments of gore and quite a lot of nudity, but none of it particularly compelling. I was just about to write Piranha off as a disappointment, when it finally amped up several notches. And how.

Like his Hills Have Eyes remake, director Alexandre Aja isolates everything that made the original movie good (in this case, lashings of gore and nudity) and amplifies it tenfold. When the piranhas make their big setpiece attack, it feels positively apocalyptic: there's gore and mutilation everywhere. If this is what you look for from a horror flick, then you'll in no way be disappointed by Piranha. I thoroughly enjoyed the fishy carnage and disgusting splatter. Even the terrible CGI has its charms.

Also with considerable charm is Elisabeth Shue, who doesn't do nearly enough these days. Her role as town sheriff hardly gives her much room to flex any actorly muscles, but she's a welcome presence. The lack of a tangible threat for much of the movie means there's nothing for Ving Rhames to punch, but he manages to get in at least one instance of the baddassery that we've all come to expect from the actor. I like the Adam Scott guy from Stepbrothers too, although the movie could do without the Sheriff's annoying kids and the girlfriend. Jerry O' Connell makes a fine sleazebag and Kelly Brook is... well, she's Kelly Brook.

No flying fish though. Maybe they're saving that for the sequel.

Your Highness 8===D

Director: David Gordon Green (2011)
Starring: Zooey Deschanel. Also, other people.
Find it: IMDB, Amazon

Were I still between thirteen to fifteen years old, I'm sure I would have loved Your Highness and its particular brand of penis related humour. As it is, I'm twenty-four years old and merely liked Your Highness. Quite a lot, but not as much as I would have if it were to bother with more than just two punchlines.

Thadeous (Danny McBride) and Fabious (James Franco) are a pair of regal brothers; one dashing and brave, the other rude and cowardly. You can probably guess which is which. Just for shits and giggles, I'd have liked to see things the other way round. But ho, McBride does rude and cowardly very well, so we'll let him have that one. Fabious goes on quests and battles wizards and is very much the toast of his kingdom. Thadeous isn't. After a particularly successful quest, Fabious returns with the virginal Princess Belladonna (Zooey Deschanel) in tow. No sooner have they announced their engagement than Belladonna is kidnapped by evil wizard Leezar (Justin Theroux). Fabious sets off on a quest to rescue his bride. This time accompanied by Thadeous, who must prove his worth for some reason never quite explained.

Never mind all that. The plot here is just a vague template from which to hang much swearing and copious penis jokes. It's like Lord Of The Rings meets Superbad only with slightly less wit. Whereas David Gordon Green's brilliant Pineapple Express was an action movie with stoner jokes, Your Highness is a fantasy movie with penis jokes. Where Pineapple Express was fun whether you were stoned or not, I'd suggest puffing on a few biftas before attempting Your Highness. I think that's what the title might be getting at. Although there are a lot less weed jokes than I'd expected.

I'm not overstating the knob jokes either. Almost every joke I care to remember is cock-related. And the rest are reliant on either Danny McBride swearing or Danny McBride being scared of stuff. Thankfully I'm an enormous fan of McBride, and it's good to see the chap take a starring role in a mainstream comedy like this. Franco is good too, although it's hard to tell whether the crap English accent is crap on purpose, or if he's just incapable. I'd like to think the former. Either way, he's a likeable presence, bringing the same chummy affability to the role as he did in Pineapple Express. But not Spider-man. He sucks Goblin balls in that movie.

Good as its lead duo are, Your Highness is almost stolen by Rasmus Hardiker as Thadeous's assistant, Courtney. It's an understated performance, almost a straight man role, but the lad's very likeable and will hopefully go far in Hollywood comedy. Natalie Portman and Zooey Deschanel perhaps fare the worst of everyone. Portman arrives too late into the game to be seen as a viable love interest (that, and then she disappears for about twenty minutes afterwards) whilst Deschanel gets hardly anything to do except play Damsel In Distress with a bad English accent. Now you if know the Review Hole, you'll know we quite like Damsels In Distress and we love Zooey Deschanel, but she really doesn't have enough to do here.

Your Highness is such a lads' flick that there's not really much room for the ladies. After all, ladies don't have penises. And Your Highness is all about the penises.

But what I've failed to mention is that Your Highness is funny. So funny that I almost forgot to notice the lack of Deschanel screentime. There are fun fight scenes, Danny McBride swearing copiously, Natalie Portman in a bikini (and, for the ladies, James Franco's biceps), Damian Lewis being less shit than usual, minotaur penis, Zooey Deschanel and Zooey Deschanel. That's more than you can say for Lord Of The Rings.

The Hitcher (2007)

Director: Dave Meyers (2007)
Starring: Sean Bean, Sophia Bush, Zachary Knighton
Find it: IMDB, Amazon

There are only but a handful of movies I'd describe as 'perfect'. That is, five-star scoring, wouldn't-change-a-thing pieces of wonderment. Movies I can watch time and time again, and still not find a single fault. To date, I can count but a handful; The Evil Dead, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Dead Man's Shoes and Robert Harmon's The Hitcher. I've seen those movies on very numerous occasions, and they never seem to get boring or old.
Unlike Dave Meyers's The Hitcher, which seems boring and old even on the first occasion you watch it. You won't find yourself arranging a subsequent viewing anytime soon, if ever. Heck, even The Hitcher 2 has more merit than this remake. And by 'merit', I mean a brother Busey.

Not content with half-assing a remake of one perfect horror movie (that one would be the one with the chainsaw and the massacre in Texas), Platinum Dunes proceeded to half-ass all over another. Like the Texas Chain Saw remake, this one shares a vague plot but dumbs it down and amps up the gore and action. The Hitcher of 1986 is already pretty action packed, but Meyers manages to add a bit more here. That sounds like a compliment, but it isn't.

Instead of Rutger Hauer, this hitchhiker is Sean Bean. Sean Bean, whose name looks like it should rhyme but doesn't. Sean Bean who usually makes period pics or mobile phone adverts. I like Sean Bean - almost as much as I do Rutger Hauer - but his hitcher (John Ryder) isn't even nearly comparable. Where Hauer was genuinely menacing, Bean just looks like a dickhead putting on some shitty hardman act. The hitcher of '86 is an unhinged psycho. The hitcher of '07 is a bully with a silly buzzcut and a crappy accent that he can't quite pull off.

Sean Bean aside (well, he is the best thing in it), everyone else delivers performances you've seen a hundred times before in movies that are virtually identical anyway. Leads Sophia Bush and Zachary Knighton scream and run their way through scene after scene, but they might as well be pursued by a Platinum Dunes Jason or Leatherface as they are the Hitcher. The only difference is that John Ryder drives a car and occasionally speaks. Neal McDonough is typically classy, but brings nothing besides a cool hat. Well, he says "I don't give a rat's cockbag" at one point, which I enjoyed. Oh, and shouts "you gotta be five-finger fucking me."

If there's one thing The Hitcher '86 was missing, it's a scene where John Ryder totally blows up a helicopter and flips up some cop cars whilst hella cool rock music is playing. Who needs all that overrated tension or subtlety when you can look at Sophia Bush's boobs? It completely misses out everything that made the original good, save for some nifty action sequences and a cool trenchcoat.

I've been overly harsh here, I know. The action scenes are decent, Bean is fun and there's a nice amount of carnage to be found here. Your enjoyment of The Hitcher 2007 will probably depend on your level of reverence for the original movie. With that in mind, I did not enjoy The Hitcher '07. Not at all.

Midgets vs Mascots

Director: Ron Carlson (2011)
Starring: Richard Howland, Akie Kotabe, Gary Coleman
Find it: IMDB, Amazon

It looks and sounds like an extended Jackass/Trigger Happy TV sketch, but Midgets Vs Mascots is a real movie with actors and everything. It also stars the late Gary Coleman and is possibly the most surreal thing I've seen since - well, Jackass or Trigger Happy TV. Some midgets (midgets) and some mascots (mascots) compete to win 10 million dollars by undergoing a series of increasingly ridiculous and dangerous trials. Who is better? Midgets? Or mascots? Never mind that. You'll be too distracted by Gary Coleman's massive schlong to worry about anything else.

It's not horror, but is cult enough to earn it a place amongst the Review Hole's pantheon of reviews. Look at the title. It couldn't be any more cult if it starred Bruce Campbell. Midgets Vs Mascots doesn't star Bruce Campbell, but it does have Gary Coleman in it. Granted, it's an odd experience watching this film after the star's demise - the actor's troubled private life at odds with the jokes and slapstick.

The whole thing is filmed in a faux-documentary style, like The Office, but with more knob gags and vomiting. Fighting over a deceased Hugh Hefner type's cash legacy, 10 midgets (or 'small people' as they insist on being called in the movie) and mascots take part in a bunch of Jackass style challenges. My money is on the midgets, for what it's worth.

It starts off looking like the worst thing ever. The acting is amateurish and the jokes unfunny. But then, just as the challenges begin, Midgets Vs Mascots becomes a far more enjoyable piece. A man in a gigantic rubber head is gored by a bull. That scored the first gut-laugh from me. Then everyone sits in a restaurant puking everywhere, and I was fully on board. There's also people being witlessly punched in the face, an uncomfortable sex scene with Coleman, a shower scene that puts Eastern Promises to shame and a Queen song. True story, filmmakers: if you put Queen on your soundtrack, I will instantly award you at least one Screamy Scream Queen.

It's far from the funniest thing ever, but has heart and isn't quite the exploitative bad taste feature one might expect. The jokes are near to the knuckle, but the 'midgets' aren't quite the butt of the joke you might think. It rambles a bit, some jokes don't work - and nor does a last-minute cameo from an unexpected face - but overall, I enjoyed Midgets Vs Mascots. Be honest, though. Did you even bother to read this review? Like me, you were already on board as soon as you read the title.

Scream 3

Director: Wes Craven (2000)
Starring: Neve Campbell, Courteney Cox, David Arquette
Find it: IMDB, Amazon

They saved the best until last. Well, whatever Scream 4 comes up with, it can hardly be any worse than this second sequel. Completely embracing the movie-within-a-movie concept dreamt up by Scream 2, the third entry takes place during the filming of Stab 3. The whole Stab thing, I have problems with as a concept anyway. In this day and age, I hardly think anyone would turn a school massacre into a movie franchise, as we're expected to believe Stab does. There'd be uproar. But if you can get past that... well, you have other levels of things that don't make sense to deal with.

The surviving cast members of the previous films make a return. Well, there's only Sidney (Campbell), Gale (Cox) and Dewey (Arquette) left. Perma-wrongly accused Cotton Weary (a once more wasted Liev Schrieber) is offed in the movie's opening moments. The real movie, that is, not the movie-within-the-movie. New additions include Patrick Warburton, Lance Henriksen, Parker Posey, Patrick Dempsey and, um, Jay and Silent Bob. Also, Carrie Fisher. And Jamie fucking Kennedy, although he's dead. I've an experiment for you, Jamie fucking Kennedy: STFU.

The killer, for some convoluted reason, is stalking the cast and crew of Stab 3. It's probably Lance Henriksen's fault. These things usually are. But Sidney, Gale and Dewey are at risk too, so it's up to them to unmask the killer. Well, the cop in charge of the place is played by Patrick Dempsey. And he's crap at being anything except for surgeons or grumpy lawyers.

Scream 3 is the weakest Scream so far. Despite Randy's warning that anything goes, nothing really does go anywhere. The only big cast member to die is the most expendable (and also the most interesting) and the rest get to live to be annoying another day. Hopefully Scream 4 will have the cojones to kill one - or all - of them off, but I somehow doubt it. If you can stomach the cloying Hollywood in-jokes and predictable stalk n' stab sequences, there are enough bits of stabby goodness and amusing moments to hold the interest.

Burke & Hare

Director: John Landis (2010)
Starring: Simon Pegg, Andy Serkis, Isla Fisher, Tom Wilkinson
Find it: IMDB, Amazon

John Landis directs Simon Pegg and Andy Serkis in a black comedy about serial killers, enlisting, as he goes, the help of British comedy's finest. How can Burke and Hare go wrong? I'm not sure, but it does.

I had my doubts when I first saw the poster - a jaunty affair that's more Carry On than Hammer Horror, and makes Simon Pegg look weird - but remained hopeful through to the film itself. I mean, the cast is a dream. Ever since Spaced and Shaun Of The Dead, I've had a massive man-crush on The Pegg, and (Burke and Hare included) have never seen a flick of his that I've not enjoyed on some level. Yes, even that one with David Schwimmer. A good rule of thumb though: if you see Pegg employing an accent other than his own, then the film's not gonna be one of his best. His Scotty in Star Trek is possibly my least favourite Pegg performance so far.

Andy Serkis too, rarely makes a bad movie. Casting the two as Burke & Hare sounds like a genius move on paper, but rarely transfers onto the film itself. Likewise, the rest of the
movie is populated by a veritable Who's Who of British comedy, and should in theory make Burke and Hare the funniest movie in years. In theory.

In reality, no. Too much relies on the audience's recognition of its famous faces. Which is fine here in England, but I doubt an overseas audience will know who the likes of Reece Shearsmith, Paul Whitehouse or Ronnie Corbett are. About 50% of my enjoyment of the movie was derived from my amusement at seeing Bill Bailey and Stephen Merchant pop up in little roles. If I hadn't known who they were, I'd probably give even less of a feck.

Burke (Pegg) and Hare (Serkis) are Irish immigrants in 19th Century Edinburgh. Down on their luck and utterly skint, they happen across a corpse in the guesthouse that Hare's wife runs. What else to do but sell the body to a local medical school? Turns out that dealing in the dead is good business, and the chaps decide to make supply meet demand. Murder most foul ensues.

Where Burke and Hare is funny, it should be a lot funnier. Its jokes are predictable and fall flat; for a black comedy, it isn't nearly black enough. And the punchlines ruined by the actors' atrocious accents. Even the normally superb Andy Serkis struggles with his silly Oirish accent. Pegg is even worse. How much of that is intentional, I'm unsure of. But it's distracting and a waste of talent, given all involved. It's neither as funny nor as scary as An American Werewolf In London.

What it lacks in wit, I suppose, it makes up for in charm. Although they have little chemistry to speak of, Pegg and Serkis coast by on likeability earned by past glories, and Isla Fisher's love interest is simply adorable. Tim Curry rocks a small role, whilst Tom Wilkinson's surgery subplot is nicely done.

Burke and Hare is likeable and passably amusing, but fails to live up the potential offered by its talent, on and offscreen. It promises a comedy Hammer but delivers something more akin to Sweeney Todd crossed with Year One. A misfire, by people who should have known better.

Scream 2

Director: Wes Craven (1997)
Starring: Neve Campbell, Courteney Cox, David Arquette
Find it: IMDB, Amazon

Two years later, and the events of the original Scream have been turned into a movie, imaginatively entitled Stab. Actually, I would blatantly watch any movie called Stab. It replays the opening scene with Drew Barrymore, only this time starring Heather Graham. Because it's a movie within a movie, see? Then the 'real' killings get underway as Ghostface totally murders Jada Pinkett in the cinema and her boyfriend in the toilet. At least, I think that's what happens, I might be getting confused with Scary Movie again.

The kill scenes in Scream 2 are certainly a lot more satisfying than the original movie's. Jada Pinkett getting herself stabbed up is a cheer-inducing moment (albeit only since she's become a fucking Pinkett-Smith and bred those horrible fucking children), followed by the death of a certain Jamie Kennedy. I know his character has a name, but I like picturing Jamie Kennedy being dragged into the stab van too much to remember. The death of Jamie Kennedy earns Scream 2 an extra Scream Queen.

But swings and roundabouts by golly, you also got the franchise's most traumatizing moment. Officer Dewey (Arquette) is attacked by the killer and stabbed repeatedly. Since he's the movie's only likeable character and such a nice guy, it's kinda heartwrenching to watch his apparent death. But not really, Dewey survives and gets to fight another day. And by that I mean, 'gets to be the best thing about Scream 3 as well'.

Scream 2 often gets a bum rap, usually accused of not being as good as its predecessor. I like it just fine, though. There are more kills, better gore gags, and Jamie Kennedy ends up in a bodybag. Everyone's a winner. At least it isn't Scream 3, anyway.


Director: Wes Craven (1996)
Starring: Neve Campbell, Skeet Ulrich, Courteney Cox, David Arquette
Find it: IMDB, Amazon

Believe it or not, there was a time when Wes Craven still made good movies, self-referential slashers hadn't been overdone and Jamie Kennedy wasn't an annoying fuck. Actually, Jamie Kennedy has always been an annoying fuck and he's still an annoying fuck in Wes Craven's original Scream. The rest, though, stands true.

Over ten years later, there's a new Scream in town. And it's a sequel, not a remake/reboot. Actually, a remake/reboot of a self-referential slasher movie? Surely that'd have to address the very nature of reboots and remakes without admitting that it itself was a reboot or remake and then we'd have us an apocalypse on our hands. Kinda like if you were to type google into google. But those are questions for our surely forthcoming review of Scream 4. This we should take as an opportunity to review the one what started it all: Wes Craven's Scream.

Although its impact has been vastly diluted by imitators and even its own sequels (well, mainly the second sequel so far. Time will tell if Craven has saved the best until last), Scream is som
ething of a classic of horror cinema, joining the likes of Halloween, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and Craven's own Nightmare On Elm Street amongst the pantheon of greats. It's not as good as those other movies, but it's a contender, nonetheless.

Key to this is its villain. No, I don't mean Matthew Lillard or the other one. The Scream movies always suck after the unmasking. The Ghostface - Edvard Munch-inspired - mask has truly become one of the great slasher icons, easily rivaling the likes of Freddy, Jason and Michael. It's become enough of a pop culture phenomenon to justify me saying that, even inspiring the Scary Movie series of films (nothing to boast about, admittedly) and a shitload of ripoff masks in Poundland come Halloween season.

The cast, I admit, are eminently punchable, particularly Matthew Lillard, Jamie Kennedy and Courteney Cox. Even wet lead girl Neve Campbell inspires slapping; it's no wonder a whole franchise was made of people trying to kill her. I suppose this is what happens when you populate your movie with smartarse students and ex-Friends cast members. That said, David Arquette is oddly likeable (hey, the man directed The Tripper, which gives him a lifetime pass in my book) and Liev Schreiber is great in everything, not least this.

Any movie which opens with the violent murder of Drew Barrymore will always get my vote. If you ask me, ET could have used a bit more Dead Drew Barrymore. Which is why nobody ever asks me. And why people always assume I'm a serial killer. Anyway, this opening kicks Scream off in the very best of fashions; both as a Hitchcockian wink (in killing off the 'name' star) and a precursor to the very meta things to come. But Scream works both as a playful wink to horror aficionados and as a proper slasher flick itself. The stalk n' slash scenes are very well done, and there's enough gore and grot to satiate most gorehounds.

Personally, I've always thought Scream a little overrated, and it's almost my least favourite of Craven's 'big' films, just behind The Last House On The Left. But it does what it does very well, and it's a testament to Craven's skills that it remains relevant and fresh to this day.

Unlike Courteney and David's marriage. There, I said it. Too far?

A Serbian Film

Director: Srdjan Spasojevic (2010)
Starring: Srdjan Todorovic, Sergej Trifunovic, Jelena Gavrilovic
Find it: IMDB, Amazon

Literal torture porn. A Serbian Film is actually about torture and pornography, and it doesn't much shy away from either. Not since Martyrs have I seen a torture movie that was actually shocking. The likes of Hostel, Seed, 7 Days and Craptivity all delivered on gross-out moments and hard violence, but none were genuinely hard to watch and all, crucially, had really crappy stories.

A Serbian Film does not have a really crappy story. Even without the torture, it would be an interesting movie. Retired pornstar Milos (Todorovic) is bored and poor, spending his days watching own skin flicks, teaching his son how to masturbate and drinking whiskey. So when an old contact appears and makes Milos an offer he can't refuse, he ends his premature retirement to appear in the ultimate porno - the titular Serbian Film.

Without knowing what the movie's about, Milos signs the contract. He's quite happy to wander around fucking stuff on command until the director's real intentions become clear. It all gets a bit nasty when Milos is expected to do fucks in the presence of a woman's child. Understandably unhappy with such nastiness, Milos quits. Then things get really, really nasty. Unless, like me, you're watching the Region 2 cut, in which case they only get nasty up to a point. Beware, here be spoilers. Up to a point.

If you watch the UK cut of A Serbian Film, you'll find it missing over 4 minutes of footage. According to research (yes, I do research now) it's more specific shots than scenes; namely, those which frame children in the same shots as sexual scenes. That they managed to find 4 minutes worth of shots like this doesn't exactly surprise me. There are a lot of sexual scenes in A Serbian Film, and a lot of children involved. Decide for yourself whether those shots will take anything from the experience. There's also a better article on its censorship here.

More intact than you might expect it to be is the infamous baby rape, or 'newborn porn' as director Vukmir (Trifunovic) calls it. There are a few seconds missing, but you'll go away as traumatised as Milos after seeing it. It's easily one of the most disturbing things I've ever seen in a horror movie. But it's not really 'newborn porn'. This is the one sequence in which hardly anything is actually shown. It's disgusting and horrible, but it's your mind that does most of the hard work. Pardon me whilst I go bleach my brain.

If you're still on board with A Serbian Film after that, the flick turns into a horror version of The Hangover. Milos awakens at home, covered in blood and bruises. His family is missing and he has no memory of the past three days. This last quarter of the film is more standard thriller territory, although it does contain some of the movie's most shocking and cruel moments. From thereon in (massive spoiler) everyone gets raped. Some people get raped twice. A man gets skull-raped to death. Children get raped. Dead people get raped. It's the ultimate rape/revenge movie, I suppose. Although it can't be. Because the underlying point is that some acts of violence are so extreme that no revenge will do them justice.

There are messages buried beneath A Serbian Film's ugly surface. It's just a matter of whether you can bring yourself to look for them. It's a story of how the male sex, in the wrong hands, can be a weapon of horrific destruction. It's a story of the perversion of the family unit. It's probably a critique on torture movies. Although it uses torture too much itself to work as a critique of that. Also, I think director Srdjan Spasojevic just wanted to show some really sick torture. That's some calling card. There's an intelligence that makes me not hate this movie as much as I did I Spit On Your Grave, by the way. It's easily as horrible, but unlike that thunderous turd, A Serbian Film tempers its atrocities with emotion and thought.

A Serbian Film is in no way a film for everyone or anyone. I'm unsurprised at the massive uproar surrounding it, since it contains at least one of the most shocking moments I've ever seen. But also, I find myself slightly underwhelmed by it. Maybe I'm jaded or stupid, but aside from the obvious, I wasn't really sickened or tempted to switch off. I didn't like it, but I didn't hate it either. It's a little too slick, a little too self-aware. Its explosive final act is too over the top to be taken seriously, bordering on self-parody. The vein of black humour that runs throughout keeps you aware that it is, after all, only a film.

Which is good. I want to be reminded that it's only a film. Only a Serbian Film.

Let Me In

Director: Matt Reeves (2010)
Starring: Kodi Smit-McPhee, Chloe Moretz, Richard Jenkins
Find it: IMDB, Amazon

Thankfully the only thing dumbed down by the Let The Right One In remake is the title. The moniker is clunky and a bit silly, but thankfully doesn't portend the thorough shittiness one might expect from this movie. Its biggest crime, as you might expect, is merely an unavoidable but constantly pervasive sense of pointlessness.

Owen (McPhee) is an unhappy child. His parents' marriage has broken up and he is routinely terrorised by bullies at school. And the weather's always crappy, which is bound to put a downer on anyone. Bonding over a rubik's cube, he meets Abby (Moretz) a kooky young girl who enjoys walking barefoot in the snow and shouting at her useless guardian (an almost unrecognizable Jenkins). But Owen's new girlfriend is hiding a secret. No, she's not a purple-haired superhero; the girl's a vampire.

But you know all that. Because you've seen Let The Right One In. Like the Hollywood Quarantine to Spain's [REC], Let Me In is a respectful, faithful piece that - in theory - is everything you'd want from a modern horror movie. The problem being, you don't know where the original stops and the remake begins. It's hard to praise a movie like Let Me In or Quarantine when the template is there for all to see. Let Me In is almost a scene-for-scene remake with improvements made only on a superficial level.

The things Let Me In does better than The Right One (wait for it, there's a King Pun payoff in the last paragraph) are technical type things. So Not-Daddy's serial killings are better, Abby is scarier, Owen is weirder and the crap CGI cats are gone. However, I actually liked the crap CGI cats. The scene in which the woman is attacked by cats was one of the best things about Let The Right One In. Every movie should have a scene in which a woman is attacked by crap CGI cats. Let Me In has no such scene.

Nevertheless, it's an eminently watchable piece. The performances are all very good - particularly McPhee and Hit Girl. Professional That Guy Elias Koteas and Richard Jenkins bring yet more gravitas to the already heavily loaded table. Director Matt Reeves does a great job in the directorial chair. It's just a shame he chose to lend his talents to such an overtly unnecessary flick.

Let Me In is a good start to the re-emerging Hammer brand. It's a very good piece, and if its subtitled predecessor didn't exist, I'd probably give it 5/5 stars. This is a story worth telling, make no mistake. But if you're going to feed just one vampire love story to your DVD player, please make sure you Let The Right One In.

The Loved Ones

Director: Sean Byrne (2009)
Starring: Xavier Samuel, Robin McLeavy, John Brumpton
Find it: IMDB, Amazon

Torture guff with a more feminist touch than most (well, it's a dude getting tortured for a change, and not a lady), The Loved Ones pits funky Kurt Kobain wannabe Brent (Samuel) against a crazy stalker girl (McLeavy) with grim results.

Whilst the plot might sound Misery-lite or reminiscent of such trash as Homecoming, the movie is much more intelligent and a whole lot better than that. Obviously Misery is the template and the better movie, but The Loved Ones clings to that template less than some, and brings plenty of its own twisted innovations to the kitchen table.

Still raw from the death of his father, Brent turns down the seemingly shy Lola's invitation to the Prom. Lola is cute and all, but Brent has more important things to do with his time. Like cut himself, for example. And fuck his girlfriend in the car. But Lola got serious issues, and has Daddy (Brumpton) kidnap Brent. Some people just can't take no for an answer. Brent wakes up in Lola's kitchen for a family dinner seemingly inspired by The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. What follows is like Martyrs crossed with High School Musical. And if that sentence doesn't make you want to see The Loved Ones, then you fail at liking movies.

It's been a while since I was impressed by - and actually liked - a torture movie. I'm starting to get jaded by that shit now. The Loved Ones, whilst delivering on the violence and gore front (and gee whizz, does it) has a nice emotional undercurrent to it. Brent has a proper character arc at play and everything, and 'the loved ones' of the title works on several levels. The Loved Ones is torture guff with a semblance of intelligence. That's almost rare these days.

The acting is pretty good across the board. I wasn't sure about Xavier Samuel at the start, but he soon manages to get the audience on board. Playing Lola's Daddy, John Brumpton is the best of the bunch. The character's relationship with his daughter is both sweet and kinda icky at the same time. McLeavy is perhaps a little too crazy for my liking. I know she's supposed to be a kook, but she's very much a caricature and a one-note loon. I'd have liked a little more texture to her characterization. But McLeavy does well. Especially when you consider that she's playing a character whose theme tune is this:

Hmm. Come to think of it, I'm starting to worry that I'm in danger of actually properly liking that song. Like a reverse Pavlov's dog perhaps, I associate Not Pretty Enough with the feeling I had whilst watching The Loved Ones. You know what, fuck you, I'm playing it top volume next time I stalk my exes on facebook.

Ahem. While we're at it, another admission: watching The Loved Ones, I kinda had a thought that just wouldn't go away. "Yeah, that Lola could kidnap me anytime."


Director: Ethan Maniquis, Robert Rodriguez (2010)
Starring: Danny Trejo, Jessica Alba, Robert De Niro, Steven Seagal
Find it: IMDB, Amazon

Danny Trejo finally makes leading man as the eponymous Machete. The craggy faced (wrong) Mexican doesn't have it easy though; first Steven Seagal murders his family, then he's set up and thoroughly fucked over by a crooked businessman (Jeff Fahey). What's a man to do but go on a murderous rampage and inspire a little revolution in the process? MACHETE.

Starting out as a little skit on Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino's Grindhouse affair, Machete has a lot of promise and a lot of goodwill behind it. Occasionally, the movie even lives up to that. Its pre-credits sequence is wonderful. Machete is set up for the first time on a job that goes horrendously wrong; leading both to his wife being beheaded and himself left for dead. As if that weren't bad enough, it's at the hands of Chubby Era Steven Seagal. Talk about adding insult to injury. Years later, he's eking out a living as a casual labourer in Texas. Jeff Fahey's sleazy businessman seeks Machete out and offers him a lot of money to kill anti-immigrant Congressman McLaughlin (De Niro). Machete accepts, but is betrayed again. Poor Machete. But he ain't gonna take this lying down. They just fucked with the wrong... aw, you know the rest.

Which is all fine and still fun. And then it suddenly gets convoluted and not quite so fun. There's an attempt to make Machete more of your traditional hero sort. He doesn't kill as much as you might expect him to, let alone lopping off heads every five minutes. No, there's a lot of exposition and a silly twist (SPOILER) in which it's revealed that Machete wasn't really going to assassinate the senator, just "shoot him in the throat". Hmmm. There's a cameo from the Crazy Babysitter Twins, who really get on my wick. Michelle Rodriguez is in it too. Despite being slightly less annoying than usual, she's still a pain in the arse. Jessica Alba gets tied up again, poor dear. Oh, and Lindsay Lohan has a threesome with Machete and turns into a nun. As you do.

The casting in Machete is very Robert Rodriguez. Aside from Trejo and his Babysitter Twins, there are also extended cameos from Cheech Martin and Tom Savini. The rest of the casting is delightfully odd. I love Jeff Fahey, De Niro looks like he's having a blast and Steven Seagal... well, he's essentially playing the same character he always plays, only with slightly less flicks of the wrist, a samurai sword and maybe a little less flab than usual? It's good to see the big fella in a big-budget movie again, even if he does suck.

With all of that taken into consideration, it might be a case of too many cooks spoiling the broth. There are a lot of characters and personalities in Machete, all of whom distract from the main man himself. There are times when you just want to watch Machete kill something. Instead, you'll have to suffer through breakfast with Lindsay Lohan or Michelle Rodriguez making Jessica Alba coffee.

A lot has been made of Machete's statements on immigration. Having watched the movie, I'm not surprised. Machete is a very unsubtle movie. Which is fine, but I just wanted to watch Danny Trejo kill shit. All of the highlights from the original Grindhouse trailer are there, which is a nice little nod. It is, however, rather tempting for this reviewer to suggest that you might be just as well served... well, watching the trailer instead.

But no, don't. Because when Machete is good, it's very good. It tends to get too burdened with its own issues and heaving cast, but there are numerous gory fight scenes, a tremendous amount of T&A, Cheech Martin with a shotgun and Steven Seagal duelling Danny Trejo with a samurai sword. Who hasn't been waiting their whole life to see that?

On a side note, I watched the Blu-Ray edition of Machete on a rather sizeable HDTV. Danny Trejo's face was fucking made for High Definition. Craggy is not the word. For about ten minutes, I thought I was watching a documentary about Mars.