You Can't Kill Stephen King

Director: Ronnie Khalil, Monroe Mann & Bob Madia (2012)
Starring: Monroe Mann, Ronnie Khalil, Crystal Arnette
Find it: IMDB

...Unless you're a van, of course, in which case you can have a damn good go at trying. Ahem. Bad taste, I apologise. Stephen King meets Scary Movie in You Can't Kill Stephen King, a spoof horror film about kids visiting Stephen King's hometown and promptly getting themselves killed there. Because of course they do. The characters are made up of dim stereotypes - there's the traumatised war veteran, the black dude who talks about how black he is all the time, and the girls who have big breasts. That's not me being dismissive or misogynistic, either - the film is completely fixated with the girls' titties. I mean, I love boobies as much as the next heterosexual chap, but, c'mon guys, characterisation is sexy.

None of this has anything to do with Stephen King. Aside from the fact that it's set in Maine and there's a boat named Christine, you'd be hard-pressed to find many Stephen King references in there. The main tune sounds a bit like that of The Shining, I suppose, but even that's inappropriate, given King's well-documented dislike of Kubrick's adaptation. I'm not sure that anyone involved has ever read a Stephen King novel, because there's none of his influence here.

What there is amounts to many ugly stereotypes, unfunny comedy, a cheap titty obsession, and an atrocious rap soundtrack. The Last Lovecraft was equally flawed, but you at least get the impression that those guys actually read and enjoyed the work of their titular author. The writers and directors of You Can't Kill Stephen King got as far as 'titular'. Well, no, they stopped at 'tit'. It's a shame, because it's obviously well-intentioned (no-one sets out to make a bad film, after all) and has a fantastic title. Don't let that fool you though - You Can't Kill Stephen King is a hoary old load of Tommyknockers.  

Doctor Who: The Movie

Director: Geoffrey Sax (1996)
Starring: Paul McGann, Eric Roberts, Daphne Ashbrook
Find it: IMDB

Knock-knock. Who's there? Doctor. Doctor Who? The infamously unsuccessful attempt at remaking Doctor Who for an American audience, that's who. How did they go about that? Well, thankfully Geoffrey Sax's Doctor Who doesn't re-cast the Doctor as an American (although, just sayin', Nicolas Cage would probably be up for it) but instead has Eric Roberts playing the Master and the Doctor kissing his assistants. Watching it now, there's a lot of groundwork laid for the Russell T Davies and Steven Moffat versions.

Crash-landing the TARDIS in San Franscisco on the eve of 1999, the Doctor is promptly shot, causing a regeneration from cuddly Sylvester McCoy to the rakish, Byronesque Paul McGann. The Master, meanwhile, is reborn as Eric Roberts, brother of Julia and slavering scenery-chewer. In spite of what its reputation might suggest, there's few sins here that the television series hasn't since repeated - kissing companions, crap sidekicks and a reliance upon deus ex machina. Even Roberts' unsubtle turn as the Master looks positively subtle compared to the mad gurning antics of John Simm. A touch too Terminator, maybe, but I like his Master. Eric Roberts, I'd bottom for you anytime. Even in that daft Dracula collar and cape.

McGann is excellent as the Doctor - by far the film's strongest suit. It's a shame that he never managed a full series, as he could have been really great. The radio plays and recent developments rectify this somewhat, but it still burns. Especially when you consider how the likes of Tennant ("I don't want to go") went on for (heresy, I know) a bit too long. I'm far from a Doctor Who scholar (aside from The Unearthly Child and a Tom Baker and Peter Davison episode here and there, I've not seen much outside of nu-Who) but I'd already rank McGann as my second favourite to Christopher Eccleston. Less is more, I guess.

This TV movie is funny, fast-paced and fun for fans and newbies alike. It gets a bit silly towards the end, and the Master's minion is annoying, but this is in no way the absolute failure some would have you believe it to be.

World War Z

Director: Mark Forster (2013)
Starring: Brad Pitt, Mireille Enos, Daniella Kertesz
Find it: IMDB

Yes, I know it's pronounced 'Zed' (rhymes with 'head') but in this case, you have to say it 'zee', otherwise you're missing out on a great pun. In this high-budget zombie thriller film, Brad Pitt plays ex United Nations employee Gerry Lane, called upon to investigate the origins of a terrible undead plague which sweeps the globe and threatens the lives of literally everyone in the world. Whatever else World War Z might do wrong, you simply can't fault its sense of scale.

And, bless him, Pitt gamely gives it his all in a genre that one wouldn't normally associate with the A-list hunk. Make no mistake, World War Z is dumbed down zombie action for the same audiences that enjoyed I Am Legend, but it's still far more enjoyable than any Transformers or Pirates of the Carribean sequel. Fast and furious, its zombies don't have much in the way of personality, but they more than make up for it in tenacity. They make the rage monsters of 28 Days Later look like shambling Romero corpses by comparison.

It's a wonder Pitt manages to last as long as he does. Constantly falling over, stumbling about and making noises where he really should be quiet (now would be a good time to activate that phone's quiet mode), one can't help but wonder why it is everyone seems to regard him as something of an expert when it comes to staying alive in shithole places. Even his hair is a liability.


Mireille Enos has considerably less to do as Gerry's wife, although she works just fine with the material she does get. Familiar faces such as David Morse, Peter Capaldi and, oddly, Matthew Fox pop up throughout the film, although the cast doesn't feel particularly diverse given the size of the canvas the story is playing out on. Of its action sequences, the aeroplane and Jerusalem bits work best, although there's not a duff action beat among them all. Even the CGI serves the film well, giving us more zombies at a time than we've ever seen before. Their speed and the lack of gore will put many off, but I enjoyed it plenty for what it is - an over-serious Zombieland, on an epic scale.

Now, the elephant in the room: World War Z is fuck all like Max Brooks' novel. It's an adaptation in name only. While I thought that the book was vaguely overrated, to some, this utter lack of fidelity will be a deal-breaker. Myself, I managed to dig it in spite of its flaws. Like star Brad Pitt, it could do with a bit of a trim, but it looks good and is surprisingly difficult to dislike.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2: The Joel H Edition.

Director: Tobe Hooper (1986)
Starring: Dennis Hopper, Caroline Williams, Jim Siedow
Find it: IMDB, Arrow Video

The greatest sequel of all time to the greatest horror film of all time. Tobe Hooper's The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: Part 2 is a completely different piece to that which preceded it, in terms of style, tone, visuals and story. Not content with just replaying the previous film from a slightly different angle, this sequel is very much its own beast. But we already know that: I reviewed it ages ago, remember?

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre returns with this Blu-ray release from Arrow Video, a truly majestic box set featuring not only the movie itself, but a definitive set of special features, short films (including his Eggshells), interviews and a commemorative book. And also, me.

Yes, the surprisingly hefty book which accompanies Arrow's box set includes a piece written by yours truly - The Saw is Family: The Further Adventures of Leatherface and Co - a thorough history of the Sawyer family's adventures in sequelisation. Needless to say, I'm incredibly proud of this achievement and the finished piece. Even if it didn't have me in it, I would recommend the hell out of this set. It's comprehensive, glossy and beautiful. It has Dennis Hopper fighting Leatherface and his family with a chainsaw. The book also has plenty of pictures of Dennis Hopper and his chainsaw.

Pictured: Me.

 If you've not seen The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: Part 2, I'd recommend this box set. If you have seen The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: Part 2, I'd recommend this box set. Basically, I would recommend this box set. It is the greatest thing anyone has ever created. I especially liked the book. Particularly that one article. You know, the one I wrote.

I may be slightly biased, though.

V/H/S 2

Director: Simon Barrett, Jason Eisener et al (2013)
Starring: Lawrence Michael Levine, Adam Wingard, Jay Saunders
Find it: IMDB

Don't worry - I'm not about to make that stupid "shouldn't they have called it Betamax or DVD?" joke (although I sort of already did, in saying that I wasn't going to). The videos return in V/H/S 2,  a sequel to the popular, not-shit found footage portmanteau horror film. The deal is roughly the same, although it's less misogynistic, and the bookend story has changed. In search of a missing girl, two private detectives binge-watch the video cassettes found at the suspected kidnapper's house. Freaky shit ensues. And also, the most snot I've seen in a horror film since The Blair Witch Project.

Where the original V/H/S had a cool concept but flawed execution (only one or two of the stories were actually any good) all involved seem to have brought their A-game for this sequel. There are six short tales, including the main story, and most of them are incredibly impressive. It gets the weakest out of the way first, with Phase I Clinical Trials being a fun, jump-scare inducing wee ditty about a fellow who gets a video camera implanted into his dodgy eyeball. It's not long before the camera starts picking up a little more than the minutiae of daily life. It's a shorter, louder version of The Eye, with a random bit of sex in the middle. From there, the film picks up pace, and never stops to look back. A Ride in the Park is a fun twist on the usual zombie shenanigans, Slumber Party Alien Abduction is a loud, upsetting oddity (the camera on the dog's head is a clever idea) while Safe Haven might just make the most intense use of found footage I've seen since [REC]. Everything else is very good, but I could quite happily have watched a feature length version of Gareth Evans and Timo Tjahanto's segment.

V/H/S 2 is a vastly improved sequel to a film that wasn't too shabby in the first place. Gory, fast paced and genuinely disturbing in places, it's inventive, exciting and gratifyingly nasty. Where the original movie was a likeable oddity, this follow-up makes me think that there might be real life in the format.    

The Dyatlov Pass Incident

Director: Renny Harlin (2013)
Starring: Holly Goss, Matt Stokoe, Gemma Atkinson
Find it: IMDB

Another found footage horror film claiming to be based on a true story. Except this one actually is, a little! In 1959, nine ski hikers mysteriously died in Russia's great Ural mountains, leaving a heap of questions and conspiracy theories surrounding their icy corpses. And a disembodied tongue. Renny Harlin (he of one-of-the-greatest-action-films-of-all-time fame*) tackles the mystery in The Dyatlov Pass Incident, a surprisingly decent variation on The Blair Witch Project, set on the side of a mountain.  

I've made no secret of my contempt for found footage horror features, but, given the right material and setting, I can be swayed by individual pieces. [REC] for example, sits in my Blu-ray collection as one of the finest zombie films of all time. And I do love me a Cannibal Holocaust or two, too. The snowy mountains of The Dyatlov Pass Incident are certainly interesting enough for the gimmick to work, even if our team of intrepid young filmmakers do seem more interested in filming each other than the mountains or the Northern Lights.

Making a documentary about the Dyatlov group and the circumstances surrounding their deaths, the kids retrace the hikers' steps, uncovering more than a few ominous signs as they go. Who killed Dyatlov and his friends? The Russian military? Aliens? An avalanche? A Yeti? Whatever the answer, it's bound to be concealed in that sinister-looking metal door buried in the side of the mountain. Either that, or a bearded Scotsman pining for his true love while rocking out to Mama Cass. Despite some stupid decisions from the kids (avalanche? Sure, let's follow that up by screaming ourselves hoarse) and logical inconsistencies (sleeping naked on the top of a freezing cold mountain, with only a tent and a sleeping bag for protection) The Dyatlov Pass Incident is watchable enough. The snowy mountain setting is a great location - even if it does leave me hankering for a Mountains of Madness adaptation - and the shift to the underground bunker is interesting if a little uninspired. A few neat twists and turns towards the end will keep audiences guessing, while the acting is of a generally decent quality. Apparently, though, Matt Stokoe is in Misfits, which I watch every week. I had no idea that this was the same person. Might want to work on that screen presence, pal.

The Dyatlov Pass Incident does a thing I haven't experienced from a found footage film in a very long time - it holds my attention.

(*Cliffhanger, of course)