Nymph()maniac: Volume II

Director: Lars von Trier (2013)
StarringCharlotte Gainsbourg, Stellan Skarsgard, Jamie Bell
Find it: IMDB

'Always go darker' is the general rule most films abide by when making a sequel or second volume of a story. This is true enough of Nymph()maniac: Volume II, which begins to explore the less pleasant elements of Joe's sex addiction (yes, even less pleasant than being bummed by a disinterested Shia LaBeouf). No longer able to achieve orgasm, the now-married Joe (Gainsbourg) is given permission by husband Jerome (LaBeouf) to try elsewhere. This she does, to the detriment of her marriage, health and general well-being.

Volume II introduces us to Jamie Bell's 'K', a sadistic BDSM maestro who shows fan-fiction wanker Christian Grey up for the vanilla pie he really is. As with LaBeouf and Slater, this is the best I've ever seen Bell, the act laying to rest his Billy Elliot ballet shoes once and for all. A relatively small part, it nevertheless ushers in Nymph()maniac's even darker sensibilities, spelling bad times ahead for poor nympho Joe.

Like Kill Bill: Volume II before it, the fun and the action (albeit a different kind of action) is toned down to make way for more dialogue, more metaphor and deeper pondering. Is von Trier 'slut shaming' his heroine here by having her so battered and defeated during this second volume? Or is it instead (as is suggested through the dialogue) a noble attempt at feminism, leaving its protagonist to be ultimately admired? Granted, feminism is not a word you'd usually apply to a film which depicts a man punching a lady square in the face, but von Trier is a filmmaker whose work tends to defy classification. Fluffy pink handcuffs this is not.

Nymph()maniac is the sort of film you either love or hate. It's long, pretentious and dubious in its sexual politics. It's also gratuitous, depressing and potentially very offensive to a lot of people. Forget about love; I adored it.

Nymph()maniac: Volume I

Director: Lars von Trier (2013)
Starring: Charlotte Gainsbourg, Stellan Skarsgard, Shia LaBeouf
Find it: IMDB

You don't get much more pretentious than a four hour sex movie directed by a man with the affectation 'von' in his name. Split into two volumes, Nymp()maniac is Lars von Trier's Kill Bill. It is also precisely as pretentious as you would expect it to be. Employing such typical Trier techniques as splitting the film into chapters, portraying scenes of semi-hardcore sex and getting Charlotte Gainsbourg to take her clothes off a lot, this isn't a film for casual cinema-goers. Tune in expecting Transformers level Shia LaBeouf and you will be sorely fucking disappointed. Or thoroughly relieved, depending upon your perspective.

That said, it's a shame LaBeouf - or LaBuff, in this case - isn't famous anymore, since this is the best I have ever seen him. Not even the "eh, he wasn't too bad" of Lawless compares - Shit The Beef (or LaBeefcake) is genuinely, legitimately excellent in Nymph()maniac. The same goes for Christian Slater, who is good in theory, but has actually been in very few decent films over the course of his disappointing career. Here, he portrays the film's most sympathetic character and gives the story its tenderest moments. If the cast's two worst actors are excellent in this film, then it speaks volumes as to how good everyone else is in it.

When lonely scholar Seligman (Skarsgard) finds a woman savagely beaten in the alleyway by his home, he picks the poor dear up and shepherds her indoors to recover. Tucked up in bed, Joe (Gainsbourg) recounts her story, giving patient listener Seligman her account of a humble nymphomaniac and how she came to be beaten up and left, battered and bruise, in an alleyway. The story she tells will put hair on your chest. It's little wonder Skarsgard took all of his clothes off and went mad for Thor 2, listening to this bizarre, explicit tale.

Telling the story of Joe's life, from childhood to her marriage, Volume I covers a lot of ground - most of it disturbing and slightly unsavoury, but staged well enough that you'll experience the requisite downstairs stirrings if you're of an open enough mind. Volume I's highlights include oral sex on a train, a hysterical Uma Thurman and Seligman talking about fishing all the time (metaphors, see). The most powerful moments, surprisingly, come from Christian Slater while, well, there's a lot of shagging elsewhere. It's bizarre, disturbing and sexy in a way that only a Lars von Trier film can be. All that, and a Rammstein soundtrack too.

The Attic

Director: Josh Stolberg (2013)
Starring: Sterling Beaumon, Steven Weber, Raleigh Holmes
Find it: IMDB

What's the worst thing you've ever found in your attic? In the case of the home where I grew up, it was literally me. My bedroom was in the attic, see (not in a child abuse kind of way). Before that, it was a Barbie automobile, porn and somebody else's Christmas decorations. For the lovely, all-American Gates family, the answer to that question is a terrifying Steven Weber, bearded and aggressive. It could have been worse, I suppose - it could have been Jack Nicholson.

The film's hook is an effective one; unbeknownst to the Gates mom, dad and children, they share their home with its previous tenant; Aldon Webber (Weber) who lurks in their loft, watching from afar, occasionally showing his face to murder a babysitter or punch their eldest son in the face. Weber is a good pick as the film's villain; an underrated horror actor with a dramatic face and the presence needed to scare. Like David Arquette in The Tenant, he's an overlooked choice of psycho (overlook, like the hotel. Geddit) but can bring the chops when he needs to.

The Attic will win no prizes for its execution or constant, shameless attempt at jump scares, but the story is interesting enough that it's easy to forgive its flaws. It's nice to see a family in a horror film who don't spend their whole time bickering and do actually seem to love one another. Raleigh Holmes is good as the family daughter, well supported by her on-screen family. Even the child isn't too annoying, although there is one scene in which he does nearly shoot his own head off with a paintball gun. Also, there's David Koechner, who doesn't really do much, but is always a welcome presence.

If The Attic had been made in the seventies or eighties, it would have been directed by Tobe Hooper and starred David Hess. As it is, it's a little derivative, but creepy enough that you'll see it through to the end.

Pumpkinhead II: Blood Wings

Director: Jeff Burr (1993)
Starring: Andrew Robinson, Ami Dolenz, Soleil Moon Frye
Find it: IMDB

Sodding about in the woods as kids so often have a habit of doing in nineties horror movies, a gang of youths accidentally wind up resurrecting the demon Pumpkinhead. No, not the dude from A Nightmare Before Christmas, this is the gruesome Stan Winston creation to which I refer. His head doesn't look remotely like a pumpkin, but he's a force to be reckoned with, nevertheless.

I have a vague recollection of watching the original Pumpkinhead, years ago, late night on television. I remember Lance Henriksen being in it, a revenge story (maybe) and Pumpkinhead himself looking utterly stupid. Effects master Winston has brought us some magnificent designs in the past, but Pumpkinhead is not one of them. It doesn't help that I was literally expecting Merv Pumpkinhead from The Sandman, not some punk who looks like a cross between H.R Geiger's Alien design and the Creeper from Jeepers Creepers.

Still, there is some fun to be had from this sequel. Andrew Robinson is enjoyable as the town Sheriff, although that could just be nostalgia, on my part, having liked him as the Cardassian tailor in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. There's also a brief appearance from one of the cannibals of Leatherface fame (a film also directed by Jeff Burr) and some surprisingly decent action sequences  - one of which comes with a country & western soundtrack.

Pumpkinhead II is a cult classic that dishes up plenty of the former but almost forgets about the latter. The Pumpkinhead franchise isn't without its fans though, many of whom will be thrilled pleased to pick this one up on DVD. It's not quite the grand pumpkin, but it has just enough guts (like a pumpkin, geddit) to make it a worthwhile watch.

The Small Print: follow me on Twitter for a chance to win Pumpkinhead II: Blood Wings on DVD.  Liking the Facebook Page as well gets you a bonus entry, because I'm generous like that. Region 2 only, so make sure you can actually play the damn thing before you enter. Competition closes 09/05/14, winner picked at random. If I see you put the fucking thing on eBay, I won't be happy.

Theatre of Blood

Director: Douglas Hickox (1973)
Starring: Vincent Price, Diana Rigg, Ian Hendry
Find it: IMDB

Long before I was allowed to watch discovered horror films, there was Shakespeare. Before I even knew Zombie Flesh Eaters existed, I was reading about vile jellies being poked out in King Lear. Well before I'd heard of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, there was the accidental cannibalism of Titus Andronicus. It's no understatement to say that I owe my love of horror films to the plays of William Shakespeare.

The twain meet in Theatre of Blood, a gloriously British horror slash(er) comedy starring the combined might of Vincent Price and Diana Rigg, a father/daughter duo who come together to knock off the uppity theatre critics who spurned his genius. Rigg's involvement in the crimes may possibly constitute a spoiler, although you'd have to be very stupid not to see through the 'twist' as soon as she appears onscreen in her 'disguise'.

Taking a series of bad reviews to heart, thespian Edward Lionheart (Price) jumps to his apparent death, quoting Hamlet all the way to his watery grave. Except, no. Rescued by a gang of winoes, Lionheart sets after his critics, bloody vengeance in mind. Taking the works of Shakespeare as inspiration, he sets about murdering those who badmouthed him, assisted by his hobo army and (spoiler) sympathetic daughter. The most reasonable of the critics, Peregrine Devlin (Hendry) assists the incompetent police in catching Lionheart while also attempting to stay alive himself.

Also, there is this.

Viciously funny as well as, well, regular vicious, Theatre of Blood is a charming slasher film which predates most of the classics. The death sequences are inventive, plentiful and surprisingly gory, even if a couple of them are a tad unlikely. The Othello piece is particularly daft. Price gives my favourite Price performance as Lionheart; the actor finally getting a chance to play the Shakespeare he was denied elsewhere in his career. It's essentially his best-of Shakespeare performance. The critics, meanwhile, are easy to hate, with great names such as 'Dickman', 'Larding' and 'Sprout'. To be fair, critics are a pain in the arse. Just ask Uwe Boll or Kevin Smith.

A delicious combination of Shakespeare and seventies horror, Theatre of Blood. As horror goes, this one is positively Shakespearian.