Starring:Sean Rogerson, Juan Riedinger, Ashleigh Gryzko

Directors: The Vicious Brothers

 “I don’t know how much longer we can last. We’re not alone in here anymore.”

Paranormal investigation show, Grave Encounters, is now on its sixth episode and presenter Lance Preston and his team are locking themselves in the abandoned Collingwood Psychiatric Hospital for the night. Expecting the kind of anti-climatic experience which has let the show down so far, the team find quite the opposite.

I’m a big fan of the increasingly prolific ‘found footage’ genre of horror movie. For some reason, its ratio of good to bad is unusually impressive. So I was very much looking forward to Grave Encounters, the debut from writer/director team The Vicious Brothers (who are not brothers and do not have the surname Vicious). Based on those often cheesy TV ghost-hunting shows which have found popularity over recent years, Grave Encounters simply takes the format and demonstrates what would happen if these people actually found something during one of their episodes. The filmmakers also expressed a desire to take a genre that is by nature often restrained to maintain realism and throw something a little more excessive into the mix. In this regard the filmmakers succeed, although not always to the movie’s benefit.

Grave Encounters takes it slow at first, giving us time to get to know Lance Preston, played with an amusing earnestness by Sean Rogerson, and his team of pantomime presenters and technicians as they settle into the impressive location for the night. The problem is that they are so convincing as they kind of people who usually front these shows that they are also, inevitably, rather irritating; all pretentious looks and solemn pronouncements. You are waiting for them to find out what being scared really is, and therefore never completely on their side when things go to hell.

It is when the hospital haunting begins in earnest that Grave Encounters both scales its heights and scrapes its lows. Those who have grown weary of the lack of incident in these types of movies will find much more going on during this one. In fact, the filmmakers seem at great pains to ensure that, if nothing else, their movie will never be accused of being boring. Where most other entries in this genre are content to tickle the back of your neck, Grave Encounters simply slaps you round the head. It is not subtle and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t, with some very effective frighteners but also a few scares a little too heavily signposted to truly shock. It doesn’t help that one of the main scares appeared in the trailer.

Who ya gonna call? Art students!

There are a few inspired moments amongst the horror movie clichés and classics, particularly in the way that the movie plays with your expectations as morning arrives, very little has happened and you wonder where the movie will go next. However, one thing Grave Encounters can lay solid claim to is the fact that it is a whole lot of fun to watch. Once the action kicks off it barely relents and the last forty minutes provide a breathless ride that will have you either jumping, screaming, laughing, or all of the above, depending on how you take to the various shaky-cam assaults which the hospital throws at our not-so-intrepid TV crew.

Grave Encounters is probably not one for the high-brow horror enthusiast. Yes, there is the odd CGI embellishment. Yes, it wants to entertain rather than convince. It’s a bit of a crowd-pleaser with a hit-and-miss, kitchen sink approach that may grate with some. However, watch it on its own terms, don’t take it too seriously and the chances are you’ll have a blast.

Rating – 3 Stars

Starring:Mel Gibson, Jodie Foster, Anton Yelchin, Jennifer Lawrence

Director: Jodie Foster

‘You’re nothing without me, Walter. Nothing. I’m the only part of you that works.

After two years of severe depression, toy executive Walter Black retreats completely and begins communicating with his long-suffering family through a glove puppet. Meanwhile, his estranged elder son fights to avoid becoming his father.

Having been trapped in limbo for over a year, waiting for the dust to settle on Mel Gibson’s public meltdown, The Beaver is finally released into the world. And it’s hard to imagine a more fitting role for Gibson to have chosen, even if it was chosen and performed before the event.

Walter Black, so lost in a black hole from which he feels there is no escape that he is forced to hide within an alternative persona, is such a perfect fit for Gibson that it’s hard to believe that he was second choice for the part and equally hard to believe that original choice Jim Carrey could have brought half the pathos that Gibson delivers to The Beaver. With every flicker of his eyes, every hunch of his shoulders, Gibson portrays a man trapped in his own personal Hell, while still managing to mine the ridiculous premise for nuggets of comedy. Foremost in this regard is the English cockney accent Gibson utilises for the beaver puppet itself. Apparently coached by Ray Winstone, you would swear in several places that Winstone was dubbing the puppet himself, so accurate is Gibson’s delivery. It’s the ideal voice for a puppet that becomes increasingly sinister as the movie progresses.

The always excellent Foster who, like Gibson, is no stranger to acting and directing in tandem, turns in a solid performance as Walter’s exasperated wife, torn between wanting to escape her husband’s destructive condition and wanting to save him from it. Anton Yelchin is not entirely sympathetic as Walter’s teenage son, who keeps a list of similarities between himself and his father with the intention of ridding himself of each one. It’s a sub-plot that, like The Beaver itself, is weakened by skipping over the depth, never quite fulfilling its potential.

Where the movie as a whole fails is in its rather half-hearted exploration of Walter’s underlying depression, or analysis of why he chooses to disengage from himself the way he does. That he creates a persona through a glove puppet for his own rehabilitation is a fascinating conceit. It deserves to have been explored with a little more depth, rather than simply rely solely on Gibson’s nonetheless accomplished performance.

I was going to make a gag about hands in beavers but this is a family site. Sort of.

The Beaver is by no means a bad movie. Foster has an assured touch behind the camera and the movie has real heart at its core. It is also anchored by one of Gibson’s best performances, without which it would certainly have been less of a success. By turns heart-breaking, sinister and funny, rarely has an actor seemed more at home in a part. However, the titular character itself never quite manages to become more than a puppet on the end of Walter’s arm, which seems like a failing given the importance it plays.

Ultimately, The Beaver gets caught up in trying not to be too much of any one thing. Torn between the tragic and the comedic aspects of Walter’s tale, it never quite reaches the heights of either.

Rating – 3 Stars

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Starring: Joel Courtney, Elle Fanning, Kyle Chandler

Director: J.J. Abrams

“She used to look at me… this way, like really look… and I just knew I was there… that I existed.”

Summer, 1979, in the small town of Lillian, Ohio. While 13-year-old Joe Lamb and his friends are making a zombie movie on a Super 8 camera they witness, and barely survive, a horrific train crash. Shortly afterwards, strange things start happening in the town and Joe begins to suspect that something less than human was on that train.

One suspects that J.J. Abrams always fancied himself as a natural successor to Steven Spielberg, and this collaboration with the Grandmaster of fantastical cinema really does go a long way to proving that assumption true. Abrams, of the same generation as this reviewer, grew up during the heyday of Spielberg and his ‘movie brat’ contemporaries and Super 8 is nothing less than a beautifully crafted love letter to those magical cinema experiences of the late seventies and early eighties.

In paying homage to his hero and, in this instance, mentor, Abrams gives us what almost amounts to a greatest hits of Spielberg themes. Small town Americana, broken families, kids who are much smarter than the adults, an oppressive military and a heart as big as the alien intruder abroad in suburbia. All are present, correct and served with the kind of loving nostalgia that could only be brought to life by someone whose inner-child was there at the time. And, in turn, it’s impossible for the inner-child of the viewer not to be carried back to that sense of wonder which permeated the movies of that time.

The young cast are uniformly excellent, and Abrams certainly seems to share Spielberg’s knack for bringing the best out of his adolescent actors. Joel Courtney, as the reserved, wide-eyed Joe and Elle Fanning, as the confident, sassy Alice are both engaging and sympathetic leads. And if the adults sometimes feel a little one-dimensional it’s only because this is not really their movie. They’re just there to make the kids look smart. Which, of course, they do.

Abrams manages to bring his own style to proceedings while still shooting the movie and moving the camera as if he were the young Spielberg. Indeed, it often feels as if you are watching Spielberg’s lost movie, made somewhere between Close Encounters of the Third Kind and E.T., but with shades of Cloverfield thrown in.

You think these haircuts suck, boys. Be thankful the movie wasn’t set in 1985.

However, it’s this overwhelming nostalgia, and accurate imitation of a style of moviemaking long gone that will probably be the making or breaking of Super 8 for much of its audience. Many of a younger generation will doubtless find it a little too passive and a little too otherworldly for their liking, whereas those a generation behind them will be reminded of a time when movies didn’t need to smack you round the face, or leap out of the screen, to bring into their embrace, enthralled and enchanted, for two hours of whimsical fun.

The Sixties, with all of its commendable trumpeting of tolerance, restraint and free love was always going to be too good to last. Sooner or later there’s always a rebound and in Hollywood few movies represented that rebound better than 1971’s Dirty Harry. Peace, love and understanding proved to be no match for the most powerful handgun in the world and an actor who, at that time, was best known for playing a different kind of cowboy.

The project had been floating around Hollywood for a few years by the time Eastwood came on board. Originally written under the title Dead Right as a vehicle for either Frank Sinatra or John Wayne, it began to do the rounds after both actors turned it down, Wayne because he felt it was too similar to his other roles and Sinatra because a wrist injury left him unable to carry the weight of Harry’s hand cannon. Burt Lancaster and Robert Mitchum also declined the role, both objecting to the character’s violent, right-wing persona. The script itself went through a number of revisions, including drafts by John Milius (unsurprisingly) and Terence Malick (very surprisingly). Eventually the script was offered to Clint Eastwood, on the recommendation of Paul Newman (after he, too, turned it down) and Eastwood, who found some sympathy for Harry’s dedication to victim’s rights, agreed on the condition that his old friend Don Siegel direct.

What the screenwriters, Siegel and Eastwood created was a movie, and a man, who polarised audiences and critics alike (New Yorker critic Pauline Kael denounced it as ‘fascist’) and who continues to do so today. The character of Harry Callahan is one of cinema’s more challenging propositions, especially for those of a liberal and left-leaning disposition. Unlike many other anti-heroes, such as Escape From New York’s Snake Plissken (who sounded a lot like Eastwood) or X-Men’s Wolverine, Harry exists in a wholly non-fictional world and as a result asks much more uncomfortable questions about that world. It is entirely possible to be appalled at Callahan’s disregard for the rights of those he pursues, but also to cheer him on when he puts the bad guys down. Harry represents an animal justice which must resonate somewhere in everyone, even if the necessary application of law and ethics make his actions just plain wrong.

You could debate the rights and wrongs of Harry Callahan for hours, and that’s what makes him such a potent and important fixture in the history of cinema. _________________________________________________________________________________

Dirty Harry

Don Siegel (1971)

‘You gotta ask yourself a question. Do I feel lucky?’

A serial killer is holding San Francisco to ransom and rigidly self-governing Detective Harry Callahan, at constant odds with the city’s policy of tolerance and liberalism, is determined to stop him at any cost. But preferably at the cost of a few .44 bullets.

Having been offered to just about every A-list star in Hollywood, the role of Harry Callahan finally came home to the only actor, at least in retrospect, who could have played the archetypal anti-hero cop. Dirty Harry is Eastwood’s Man with No Name in a contemporary setting, only with an added sense of righteousness and humour. And while the movie can look and sound rather dated, very much a product of its time, it set the template for a thousand loose-cannon-cop movies that followed it but never managed to better it.

Eastwood and his mentor Siegal, always a great pairing, create a taut, brutal classic in which rooting for the cop is not always as easy as it usually is. Few actors could make such an objectionable character so likeable but Eastwood’s frosty charm works perfectly. Here is a complex character masquerading as a simple one; a character whose perceived callousness is actually a result of a fervent, concrete belief in right and wrong. Dirty Harry makes you question yourself and your morals in a way that few cop movies had before or would again. 

The Punk: Serial killer Scorpio, based on the real-life San Francisco killer who called himself Zodiac (do you see what they did there). Actor Andrew Robinson had to be sent on gun training to stop him from flinching every time he shot his gun, but turns in a signature performance as the deranged, whiny lunatic. In fact that for many years he had trouble getting any roles that didn’t involve being a deranged, whiny lunatic.

Rating – 6 Shots

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Magnum Force

Ted Post (1973)

‘A man’s gotta know his limitations.’

After a series of high-profile San Francisco criminals are murdered in broad daylight, Harry Callahan begins to suspect that a rogue hit squad exists within the police department, even as he begins to attract the attention, and admiration, of four rookie cops.

Magnum Force was a direct and intentional attempt to answer the critics of the first movie by demonstrating the difference between Callahan and a group of genuine police vigilantes. Although Harry is still the same play-by-his-own-rules cop as before, he stands in total contrast to the group of executioners with badges who are slaughtering criminals in cold blood. Even when they go as far as to offer him membership of their group, he turns them down. Callahan may be ruthless and trigger-happy, but he’s not a vigilante.

Although Eastwood’s preferred choice of Don Siegel was absent from this sequel, it didn’t seem to hinder the quality at all. Ted Post, who clashed with the now far more powerful Eastwood both during and after production, does just as good a job as his predecessor, even upping the action a little as well as the violence. And it’s to the movie’s credit that it resists the easy route of simply retreading the original, by finding a way to extend the moral complexity and present and even larger grey area for Callahan to work in. 

The Punk: Make that punks. Officers John Davis, Philip Sweet, Alan “Red” Astrachan, Michael Grimes and their leader, the unctuous Lt. Neil Briggs make up the hit-squad within the department. Looking a little like Village People when they all turn up wearing the same outfit, the group features quite the list of future stars in David Soul, Tim Matheson, Robert Urich and, err, Kip Niven. Plus the ever reliable Hal Holbrook as Briggs.

Rating – 6 Shots

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The Enforcer

James Fargo (1976)

‘Here’s a seven-point suppository, Captain.’

Having just foiled a robbery by driving a car through a liquor store window, Inspector Callahan is taken off homicide and made to work in Personnel. But when a group calling themselves the People’s Revolutionary Strike Force engage in a series of escalating crimes, culminating in the kidnap of the Mayor, Callahan is reinstated. Only this time his new partner is a woman, much to Harry’s disapproval.

The series loses its legs a little with this third instalment, although it remains an enjoyable slice of debatable Callahan behaviour. Eastwood, despite delivering some of the funniest lines of the franchise, seems to be a little on autopilot here. In fact, The Enforcer is notable for being the first Dirty Harry movie in which Eastwood fails to remain the centre of attention, upstaged as he often is by a charming, engaging turn from Tyne Daly as the brash, inexperienced Inspector Kate Moore. The banter between the two characters is certainly the highlight of this one. The Enforcer also suffers from rather lacklustre action scenes, compared with the franchise’s two previous outings, although the finale on Alcatraz Island is a series high point.

Director James Fargo was originally set to be Assistant Director to Eastwood, but the actor decided not to direct due to a lack of preparation time after completing The Outlaw Josey Wales. Ultimately, The Enforcer is a worthy addition to the franchise but did mark the beginning of the decline.

The Punk: Baby-faced psycho Bobby Maxwell and his motley group of get-rich-quick hippies, layabouts and bums. DeVeren Bookwalter was primarily a stage actor and following The Enforcer primarily remained one. Unlike the foes of the previous two movies, Maxwell is never really explored in much detail, just a background character awaiting his magnum bullet. Imagine his surprise when he gets a bazooka shell instead.

Rating – 4 Shots

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Sudden Impact

Clint Eastwood (1983)

‘Go ahead, make my day.’

After yet again upsetting the mayor and police chief, despite the positive results, Inspector Callahan is shipped off to the small town of San Paulo to investigate a murder. There he meets artist Jennifer Spencer, who, as Harry begins to suspect, is hunting down and killing a group of men that raped her and her sister 10 years ago. 

The fourth outing for Harry Callahan is also the first and only Dirty Harry movie to have been directed by Eastwood himself, which is surprising considering he had been directing since 1971. As with Magnum Force, the maverick cop is again contrasted against an out-and-out vigilante, although this time a far more sympathetic and understandable one. An interesting premise in what had become an otherwise increasingly tired franchise. By this time, of course, the rogue cop was becoming a familiar movie figure and Sudden Impact suffers from being just one in a crowd.

The odd thing is, Sudden Impact probably introduces more change into the franchise than any other instalment. Moving the action from San Francisco makes for a refreshing change of scenery, the introduction of a female and uncomfortably justifiable murderer, with whom Harry develops a relationship, returns the series to its morally questionable best and Harry even gets a brand new gun. But somehow it all manages to seem like the same old same old, only without the 70s grit that elevated its predecessors.

The Punk: Rapist, bum and all-round pantomime scumbag Mick and his equally sleazy crew serve as the cannon-fodder for either Harry or Jennifer. Paul Drake, who went on to enjoy a dazzling career in lo-fi TV shows, couldn’t have been more of a ham if he wore a top hat, cloak and twiddled his pencil moustache while tying hapless maidens to railway tracks. Dreadful. Shoot this guy, already. 

Rating – 3 Shots

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The Dead Pool

Buddy Van Horn (1988)

‘Opinions are like assholes, everybody has one.’

After putting away a major crime boss, Harry finds himself dealing with more fame than he is comfortable with. And when celebrities begin dying in mysterious circumstances he becomes aware of a betting ring among the elite predicting which celebrities will die next. As one particular list of celebrities proves to be too accurate to be coincidence, Harry discovers his own name has been added.

The last Dirty Harry movie, and its easy to see why. The Dead Pool takes both a promising idea and a cinematic icon, and fritters them away on a lazy, flat and badly made attempt to make Harry seem at home in 80s cinema. He doesn’t, and so iconic has the character of Harry become that he no longer elicits the same sense of moral uncertainty as he did way back when. Instead, we get unexciting scenes of Callahan shooting bad guys to a triumphant soundtrack and are left feeling nothing. Eastwood even looks as bored doing it as we are watching it. The character, the actor and the franchise has simply become too old for this shit.

The Dead Pool is notable for featuring early appearances from a young Liam Neeson and an even younger Jim Carrey, but it’s the older Eastwood who ultimately disappoints, portraying an older Callahan who is apparently exactly the same man he was back in 1971. There is one great scene involving a car chase through the streets of San Francisco as Harry is pursued by a remote controlled car, but when Inspector Callahan finally dispatches the bad guy with a huge harpoon gun, he takes that last step toward becoming a parody of himself.

The Punk: The Dead Pool is the first and only movie in the series to keep the identity of its main villain a secret until the end, leading you to believe that Neeson’s movie director is the killer. However, when the true identity of the murderer is revealed to be a nobody stalker we haven’t seen before called Harlan Rook, it has a rather overwhelming ‘so what’ factor to it. Yawn.

Rating – 1 Shot

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Starring:Connor Paolo, Nick Damici, Kelly McGillis

Director: Jim Mickle

“I hate vamps.”

America has been laid waste by a plague of vampirism, giving rise to scattered pockets of humanity trying to survive the growing number of infected. When young Martin loses his parents in a vampire attack, he is rescued and taken under the wing of a hardened drifter known only as Mister. The two travel north toward ‘New Eden’, adding to their number while trying to survive both the vampires and a ruthless Christian cult, known as The Brotherhood, who believe the vampires are God’s instrument of Judgement.

Rejoice, for vampires are the bad guys again. No place for pale-faced, brooding teenagers or angst-ridden guys in long coats here. Just vampires the way they should be; ravenous, snarling animals who wouldn’t even know where their navel is, let alone want to spend hours gazing at it. It’s a mark of how far the vampire genre has drifted that a movie where they are actually monsters should be so refreshing. The second feature from director Mickle who, having started out as a Key Grip (you know, appears in all the credits and no-one knows what it is) gives hope to would-be directors everywhere, takes the vampire back to its parasitical roots.

Coming off like a cross between The Road and Zombieland, with all the gloom of the former and none of the humour of the latter, Stake Land is a rather bleak viewing experience. That isn’t to say that it isn’t enjoyable, on the contrary, but its apocalyptic and violent landscape makes for a rather dark hour and forty minutes that some may find hard to equate with entertainment. Not being one of those ‘some’, of course, I enjoyed it. Much like The Road, it’s this bleakness that gives the rare moments of lightness in Stake Land such a power when they come; a smile, discovering a friend is still alive, a gift. Against such a backdrop of hopelessness and horror, such moments of humanity take on a greater resonance and Stake Land never loses sight of this fact.

Like many good horror movies, Stake Land shines a light on humanity and finds the horror from within as well as from without, its prime focus being on fundamentalist religion as represented by The Brotherhood. Religion and apocalypse are willing bedfellows and it is hinted at several times that The Brotherhood are largely responsible for the spread of the plague due to their penchant for dropping vampires into populated areas, thereby delivering God’s wrath. In this world, vampires are weapons of mass destruction and the terrorists’ weapon of choice. It’s an inspired twist.

Dave couldn’t figure out why no-one was giving him any loose change

Co-writer Damici turns in an understated performance as the taciturn Mister, a character who says little and gives away less. So much so, in fact, that as the movie ends we know as much about him as we did when the movie started. He’s tough, morally immutable and kills vampires. You need know nothing more about Mister, it seems, but the lack of growth or exploration may leave some feeling a little short-changed. Joining him along the way is an almost unrecognisable Kelly McGillis as a nun, Sister, who brings some balance by representing the best of religion and also provides an amusing rhyme with Mister.

Stake Land is a good addition to a genre that has long been suffering from tediously romanticised visions of its creature. Reclaimed from the teenage market, the vampire finds its teeth again. It’s brutal, violent and sometimes scary, but there is an honest, human heart beating at the centre of Stake Land which is more potent and more real than a thousand Twilights.

I’ve been a fan of horror movies my whole life, and for much of t hat time the best of the genre invariably came from the US and, to a lesser degree, the UK. The likes of George Romero, John Carpenter and Wes Craven defined the genre through much of the 70s and 80s. However, over the last decade Western horror seems to have lost its way, becoming mired in an endless cycle of torture porn or tedious remakes of old classics, with only the occasional standout moment of success. It’s no accident, then, that a large portion of US horror movies are also remakes of films from a part of the world that seems to have cornered the market in accomplished, well-executed and downright scary entries into the genre. Hollywood is looking across the pacific toward Asia, and this is where all dedicated horror fans should be looking, too. Japan, South Korea, Thailand, Hong Kong. This is where Horror’s new home is. Often heavily influenced by the ‘J-Horror’ of Japan, with its vengeful, lank-haired, Onryō ghosts, Asian cinema produces horror movies the way they should be; creepy, brooding, psychological, extremely atmospheric and devoid of comfortable outcomes. Here are Celluloid Zombie’s Top Ten from the continent that’s putting the horror back into horror movies. _________________________________________________________________________________ 10. Kairo (Pulse) Kiyoshi Kurosawa – Japan -2001 A solemn, moribund study of isolation and loneliness in the technological age, Kairo sees spirits from the other side use the internet to manipulate the living into disconnection and suicide. Those that do not kill themselves simply fall so into hopelessness that they become nothing more than shadows on the wall. We are the ghosts in Kairo. What Kairo obviously lacks in laughs it more than makes up for in depth and mood. There are some chilling moments but Kairo is more effective when simply crawling under your skin and dragging you into its apocalyptic world. Hollywood Remake: Remade in 2005 as Pulse, with the original’s ponderous atmosphere replaced with more direct horror. Not a bad movie, but lacks Kairo’s sense of despair. _________________________________________________________________________________ 9. Noroi: The Curse Kôji Shiraishi – Japan – 2005 One of the few ‘mockumentary’ style movies to come out of the Asian horror wave, Noroi is a movie that rewards patience and attention span. Mostly revolving around paranormal investigator Masafumi Kobayashi’s attempts to solve a series of unexplained events, a host of seemingly unrelated characters and occurrances are gradually drawn together to an unforgettable conclusion. Noroi has a remarkably unsettling atmosphere throughout, which is all the more remarkable given that for much of the movie very little happens. However, as the truth behind Kobayashi’s investigation becomes clear, there are moments of bone-chilling horror and an ending which will stay with you for a very long time. Hollywood Remake: No, and not very likely either. Too weird. _________________________________________________________________________________ 8. Alone Banjong Pisanthanakun & Parkpoom Wongpoom – Thailand – 2007 Thai woman Pim lives in Korea with her boyfriend Wee. Pim was separated from her Siamese twin Ploy when they were teenagers and Ploy died as a result of the operation. When her mother falls ill, Pim and Wee return to Thailand and to Pim’s family home, where she finds herself haunted by her dead, vengeful, sister. Is it real, is it guilt or is there something else? The second movie from writer/director team Pisanthanakun & Wongpoom is probably the most Western-influenced horror movie in this list, but don’t let that put you off. Crammed full of great shock moments, a particularly mean ghost and a neat twist in the tale, Alone is scary and a lot of fun. Hollywood Remake: The rights have been bought so expect the US version soon. _________________________________________________________________________________ 7. Creepy Hide and Seek Masafumi Yamada – Japan – 2009 After a series of bizarre disappearances involving students and colleagues, schoolteacher Ryoko discovers they had all been playing a ritualistic game called ‘creepy hide and seek’. The game involves all the same rules as normal hide and seek, except that what comes looking for you isn’t quite human. Crap title, great movie. A little known gem, Creepy Hide and Seek has everything you could want from a good J-horror. The action is slow, deliberate and extremely atmospheric, helped in no small part by a very unsettling soundtrack and expert camerawork. At least it lives up to that title. Hollywood Remake: Not yet, but this is exactly the kind of movie that American filmmakers like to assume they can do just as well. Expect one soon. _________________________________________________________________________________ 6. Audition Takashi Miike – Japan – 2000 When middle-aged widower Aoyama decides to look for a new partner, he holds fake auditions for a movie role to meet women. He is immediately taken with the young, seemingly shy Asami and begins a relationship with her. However, he soon discovers that cute little Asami has some really strange hobbies. And she wants to share. The movie that made everyone sit up and take notice of unique filmmaker Takashi Miike, Audition is the kind of story that could put you off dating forever. Featuring a truly terrifying performance from Eihi Shiina, Audition is a horror movie with an emphasis on the horror. Hollywood Remake: No. And with its mixture of torture, abuse and vomit-eating, there’s not likely to be one anytime soon. _________________________________________________________________________________ 5. A Tale of Two Sisters Jee-woon Kim – South Korea – 2003 Jee-woon Kim’s highly acclaimed story of two sisters enduring an unstable, abusive step-mother and seemingly indifferent father is an intelligent, layered, unsettling film which reveals its secrets slowly and keeps you guessing right up until the end. Quite possibly one of the most beautifully shot horror movies in recent memory, A Tale of Two Sisters marked out its director as a talent to watch and he hasn’t disappointed since. This one has a brand of horror for everyone, ranging from the supernatural, through the psychological, to the purely physical. Jung-ah Yum, as the step-mother, is at once appalling and sympathetic. No mean feat. Hollywood Remake: Remade in 2009 as The Uninvited, which gave us a lot more teenage flesh and a lot less atmosphere. _________________________________________________________________________________ 4. The Eye Oxide Pang Chun, Danny Pang – Hong Kong – 2002 Blind violinist Wong Kar Mun has a successful cornea transplant and begins seeing ghosts wherever she goes, some friendly and some otherwise. Together with her doctor, she determines to find out the identity of her eye donor. The Eye starts off as an effectively spooky ghost story, but deepens into something more heartbreaking as the mystery behind Wong Kar Mun’s new eyes is uncovered. The ghostly encounters make the hair stand up on the back of the neck, and just when you think the story is resolved, The Eye throws in a surprise ending. Hollywood Remake: Remade in 2008 as The Eye. Jessica Alba, while easy on the eye (did you see what I did there), just doesn’t have Angelica Lee’s sympathetic appeal. _________________________________________________________________________________ 3. Ju-on (The Grudge) Takashi Shimizu – Japan – 2003 The third in Shimizu’s Ju-on series, but the first to get an international theatrical release, The Grudge centres on a cursed house and the characters who come into contact with it over varying timelines, usually to their extreme detriment. Complex, layered and disturbing, The Grudge is also very, very creepy. This one will definitely make you feel less safe under your covers, which is traditionally where you are supposed to feel safe. Neat trick. The movie spawned further sequels, and while Shimizu’s Ju-on: The Grudge 2 was also very good, this remains the finest of the series. Hollywood Remake: Yes, by the exact same director and starring Buffy, no less. Shimizu also directed the American sequel. Not awful, but neither matched his homeland efforts. _________________________________________________________________________________ 2. Shutter Banjong Pisanthanakun & Parkpoom Wongpoom – Thailand – 2004 Photographer Tun and his girlfriend, Jane, hit a girl with their car as they are driving home from a party. Tun insists that they flee rather than aid the girl, much to Jane’s consternation. From that point on, they are subjected to a series of spooky occurrances from which secrets begin to emerge. The debut feature from Alone’s collaborative writer/director team. Shutter is a sleek and well-oiled machine of a movie. While it doesn’t exactly break new ground, it takes the elements that had made Asian horror so successful before it and weaves a well-paced, twisting tale around a series of consistently spooky scenes. Great ending, too. Hollywood remake: Remade in 2008 with the same title but far from the same result. _________________________________________________________________________________ 1. Ring Hideo Nakata – Japan – 1998 Journalist Reiko’s niece dies, one week after viewing a mysterious video tape. Reiko views the tape and is warned, by a phone call, that she now has only one week to live. After her son watches the tape, Reiko and her ex-husband, Ryuji, try to discover the secret behind the cursed video. The Granddaddy of all J-Horror and a hugely influential movie, Ring is heavy on atmosphere from the outset. Rather than subject the viewer to a series of shocks (although there are one or two) Ring slowly builds itself up to a single, extremely scary, moment. Hollywood Remake: Remade in 2002 as The Ring. Overcooks what the original leaves simmering. You only get one chance to see this for the first time so choose wisely. Go Japanese. _________________________________________________________________________________ .

Starring:Patrick Wilson, Rose Byrne, Ty Simpkins, Lin Shaye, Barbara Hershey

Director: James Wan

‘I went into Dalton’s room. There was something in there with him. It was standing in the corner.’

When the Lambert family move into their new home, their son Dalton falls into an unexplained coma. Soon after a series of strange occurrences force the family to flee, believing the house to be haunted. However, they soon discover that the malevolent forces attacking them are not connected to the house at all.

The poster for Insidious reads ‘from the makers of Paranormal Activity and Saw‘, which is a little like claiming to be from the makers of Star Wars and 2010: A Space Odyssey, so different are they. However, despite the connection to Saw being more direct, with the same writer and director as the first (and only decent) instalment in that series, Insidious sits much more in the supernatural arena of producer Oran Peli’s runaway haunted house hit.

Any genuine horror movie buff knows that sitting down to watch an American-made horror is an activity invariably undertaken with a sense of exhausted pessimism. The odds are high that the quality will be low, so Insidious marks a most welcome spark of life for the genre. Like Poltergeist without the schmaltz, Insidious is by no means original but it does what it sets out to do with an unusual amount of success. For the most part, anyway.

Like all good haunted house movies, Insidious starts off slow, building tension and throwing in the occasional scare before the story picks up and takes off. It is within these first two acts that Insidious is at its best, with James Wan delivering an effectively spooky atmosphere as well as some genuinely chilling moments. Clearly, Wan knows his horror movies and understands how to move his camera to build expectation and make you believe that something horrible is about to happen. However, there are enough pay-offs, including a great face-in-the-window scene and a look-behind-you moment that makes the blood run cold, to prevent you ever feeling cheated.

The cast, not quite A-list but certainly of a higher calibre than most horror movies get lumbered with, all carry themselves with suitable conviction and earnestness, most especially the excellent Lin Shaye as the regulation eccentric psychic brought in to solve the supernatural problem. With a gas mask, of all things. And a horror movie soundtrack hasn’t made such an effective use of head-splitting strings since Janet Leigh decided to hose down in Psycho.

The Lens Cap Moment. We’ve all had one.

Unfortunately, Insidious does let itself down a little with an overblown third act. Having managed to spend the last hour staying just the right side of silly, the movie goes for broke with mixed results. Making the mistake of over-exposing a threat that had been wisely used sparingly up until that point, Insidious loses some of its ability to scare. It resorts to an unnecessary ‘throw-everything-in-and-hope-it-works’ approach which has as many misses as it has hits. But at least it has hits.

All in all, Insidious is definitely one of the better horror movies to emerge from Hollywood in the last few years, further marking out writer Leigh Whannell and director James Wan as talents worth following in a genre which is screaming out for just such a thing, and serving as suitable compensation for starting the dreadful Saw franchise.

 

Rating – 4 Stars (just about)

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This one has been doing the rounds for a while and I was finally caught, bagged and tagged by my good friend Custard over at Front Room Cinema. So, ever the dutiful taggee and Mememeister, here are my astounding and mildly amusing answers to 15 seemingly random movie questions.

Enjoy.

 

1. Movie you love with a passion

Raiders of the Lost Ark

For me, Spielberg’s first outing for Harrison Ford’s archaeologist and mercenary is one of the finest pieces of celluloid ever made. This is the reason why cinemas were invented. Some movies make us think, some movies teach us stuff and some movies just give us a ride. This one has a little bit of everything. Pure cinema, no pretensions. Perfect.

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2. Movie you vow to never watch

Anything with ‘Movie’ in the title

Scary Movie, Epic Movie, Date Movie, Disaster Movie, etc. Dreadful, lame, unfunny spoofs churned out to make a quick buck without actually making anyone with a brain larger than a popcorn kernel laugh. Mel Brooks could spoof, Jerry Zucker could spoof but Jason Friedberg and his gang can kiss my pink ass. Kiss it!

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3. Movie that literally left you speechless

Antichrist

Hang on, was that Willem Dafoe’s….? Did Charlotte Gainsbourg just grab a pair of scissors and cut off her…? Did Willem Dafoe just…? Why’s that fox talking? I’ve seen horror movies and I’ve seen porn movies, but nothing quite prepares you for Lars von Trier’s bizarre mix of both, with added talking mammals. Don’t watch this with your mum.

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4. Movie you always recommend

Fight Club

I recommend some movies simply because they are great movies, but I recommend Fight Club because it’s a movie that has something very important to say and says it with David Fincher’s singularly brazen style. For anyone who lives and endures the myriad banalities of Western culture, watch Fight Club.

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5. Actor/actress you always watch, no matter how crappy the movie

George Clooney

Not only do I respect him as an actor who has managed to rise above the limitations of his good looks, and as a director and producer of great movies in his own right, but also because Clooney very rarely picks a bad project. He just seems to have the knack for picking interesting, challenging roles for himself.

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6. Actor/actress you don’t get the appeal for

Jason Statham

Give me a break. How did this wooden, boring, zero-charisma, no-talent pudding with a phoney accent that is neither English nor American manage to get to where he is? I just don’t get it. He’s like a throwback to the action heroes of the 80s, before filmmakers realised that they were better when they could actually act.

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7. Actor/actress, living or dead, you’d love to meet

Christopher Walken

How could that ever be a boring meeting? It would be impossible. Walken is incapable of being boring. The guy is like a force of nature. We could talk about his amazing career, about all the movies I watched just because he was in it for five minutes (Gigli, for one) and when the conversation ran out, he could teach me some wicked dance steps.

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8. Sexiest actor/actress you’ve seen. (Picture required!)

Tina Fey

Sure, there are plenty of good-looking actresses out there but sexy is a lot more than just that. Sexy is brains, beauty, talent and a great sense of humour and Tina Fey ticks all the right boxes. It also doesn’t hurt that she seems to be completely oblivious to her sexiness. And that’s also very sexy. It’s a sexy win/win!

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9) Dream cast

Star Wars Episode VII

Okay, so it’s a bit cheesy, it’s exceptionally geeky and it’s wholly unrealistic given that they all have a collective age of about 900 (the ones that are still alive, anyway), but how cool would it be to have the original Star Wars cast together again for a new episode? Huh? Can I get an Amen? No? You got a problem with old people or something?

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10) Favourite actor pairing

Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart

Okay, there are actors and then there are British RSC actors. It’s not really my style to blow the trumpet for Blighty but the truth is we really do produce some of the greatest thespians know to stage and screen and when X-Men director Bryan Singer decided to cast two of my favourites in a superhero movie (of all things), he was having a very inspired day. Hurrah and huzzah!

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11) Favourite movie setting

New York

It’s magical but commonplace, grubby but pristine, antique but brand new. It can be an equally comfortable home to the most whimsical fairytales and the bleakest horrors. Six million movie sets rolled into one. Few places on Earth are as versatile as The Big Apple. And I’ve still never been there.

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12) Favourite decade for movies

The 80s

It’s probably got very little to do with the level of quality, although this decade delivered some of the best movies ever made. But this was the decade I grew up in, and the decade where my love of cinema truly blossomed. Raiders of the Lost Ark, Ghostbusters, Gremlins, Back to the Future, Terminator and the peerless The Breakfast Club. This was the decade when cinema got its imagination back.

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13) Chick flick or action movie?

You’re a troublemaker

I’m not falling into your nefarious trap, my friend. You can try to sow the seeds of despair and drive a wedge between the sexes with your loaded questions but you will not succeed! Evenings can be comfortably arranged to accommodate one of each, right? Yes, I am the bringer of harmony. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called big, fat couch potatoes.

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14) Hero, villain or anti-hero?

Villain (and enjoying it)

It’s a tough one, this one, but ultimately there’s something irresistible to me about the irredeemable bad guy who takes genuine pleasure in his work. Hannibal Lecter, The Joker, Richard III, or any villain played by Gene Hackman. They make being evil seem far more appealing than the sober, brooding heroes make being good.

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15) Black and white or colour?

Dumbass Question

Do me a favour. I am neither pompous enough to say I prefer black & white movies nor pedestrian enough to say I prefer colour movies. What kind of person dismisses a movie because of the colour it is? That’s like celluloid racism. Are you encouraging celluloid racism? Shame on you with your silly question.

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Starring:Byung-hun Lee, Min-sik Choi, Gook-hwan Jeon

Director: Kim Jee-woon

“Please don’t kill me.”
“Why not?”

When brutal serial killer Kyung-chul murders the fiancee of government agent Kim Soo-hyun, the agent vows revenge. Hunting the killer down, Soo-hyun incapacitates him and places a tracking device on Kyung-chul; the beginning of a cruel cat and mouse game between the two which will blur the lines between good and evil.

Korean revenge movies have become rather commonplace over the last few years so it is very much to the credit of director Kim Jee-woon that his latest is so thoroughly engaging. Jee-woon first caught the attention of international audiences with the excellent A Tale of Two Sisters in 2003, and I Saw the Devil is equally as  accomplished, and equally as chilling.

At its core, I Saw the Devil is an unflinching  journey into human cruelty, taking in murder, revenge, cannibalism, rape and torture along the way and asking one question; is an act of cruelty rendered less so according to the innocence of the victim? It is this twisting and probing of moral certainties which is the driving force behind the movie and, while the presentation doesn’t always make for comfortable viewing (I Saw the Devil will never be hailed as the ideal date movie), it is never less than thoroughly absorbing.

Min-sik Choi is both terrifying and entertaining as the psychotic Kyung-chul, delivering the kind of manic performance that brought him to the attention in 2003′s Oldboy. Here is a man totally devoid of compassion, fear and morality, but by no means a fool. His insanity has not robbed him of his wits and this makes him truly dangerous. Byung-hun Lee, as the vengeful and determined agent Kim Soo-hyun, delivers the more reserved performance as a good man discovering to his horror what he is really capable of, willingly sinking to Kyung-chul’s level and perhaps beyond in his quest to make the killer suffer for his sins.

Kim Jee-woon brings a cold, uncompromising eye to proceedings and while the movie’s two and a half hour running time takes in a vast array of locations, all are shot with a crisp, harsh beauty. What we see is the world as it is, as stark and unreconstructed as the perceptions of the lead characters. However, when Jee-woon decides to let the camera free, particularly in a scene involving three people trying to stab each other to death in a moving car, there is some breathtaking ingenuity on display.

It was only seconds after he pushed her down the hill that he realised they’d forgotten the damn sled

There are some jarring leaps of logic along the way in I Saw the Devil which sometimes leave you scratching your head. The story sometimes moves from one location to another with barely an explanation as to the journey. Occasional threads are left hanging while the fates of a few characters seem unresolved. Whether this is down to necessary editing to reduce the already bloated running time is unknown, but it is a minor issue. I Saw the Devil is an enjoyable attempt to explore violence and cruelty without sparing the audience, and while it certainly won’t be everybody’s cup of tea, this doesn’t weaken it as a valid and accomplished piece of cinema.

Expect a watered-down and feeble American remake to emerge soon.

Starring:Saoirse Ronan, Cate Blanchett, Eric Bana

Director: Joe Wright

“What did your mother die of?”
“Three bullets.”

16-year-old Hanna has been brought up in the wilds of Finland by her father, Erik, and trained as an assassin to prepare her for the day she is ready to leave and explore the world outside. When that day comes, Hanna finds herself hunted by intelligence agent Marissa, who is intent on stopping Hanna discovering the truth about herself.

So, if you’ve ever wondered what an action movie made by a director previously known for period dramas and Jane Austen adaptations is like, here you go. Joe Wright, who gained much acclaim for 2007′s Atonement and not so much acclaim for 2005′s not-as-good-as-the-Colin-Firth-one version of Pride & Prejudice, wanders from his comfort zone for this bizarre mix of spy thriller and Grimm’s fairytale. Welcome to the weird world of Hanna.

As with last year’s George Clooney vehicle, The American, those who choose Hanna expecting a fast-paced, thrill-a-minute action flick are going to be a little disappointed, not to mention somewhat perplexed. Hanna seems intent on defying expectations from the off, but that doesn’t mean it fails within its chosen genre. It just does things a little differently. Rather than assault us with a barrage of action scenes, Hanna sprinkles them sparingly on an otherwise thoughtful and languid story. So, when events spring to life, accompanied by the pounding Chemical Brothers soundtrack, you are obliged to take notice.

Following the current trend for using Europe as the setting for espionage movies, Wright still manages to make his movie look different to the rest. From the opening moments in Hanna’s beautiful snowbound home to the bookend scene in an abandoned carnival in Berlin, Wright lends the movie an almost otherworldly quality. This is the world we know, but just a little off-kilter, a little surreal. It is the perfect palette for painting this dark fairytale.

Hanna’s ‘I Hate Ska’ T-shirt didn’t go down well in Camden

Saoirse Ronan is a commanding presence in the title role, able to display all the wonderment and emotion on Hanna’s face as she discovers the world, and then switch it all off when the killer emerges. Eric Bana is his usual likeable self as Hanna’s protective and equally dangerous father. Tom Hollander is frankly bizarre, and not very threatening, as a bleached blonde, possibly gay, rent-a-thug with neo-nazi skinheads in tow. However, the genuine threat comes from Blanchett, clearly enjoying herself in the ‘wicked witch’ role as the sinister, embittered and manipulative agent hunting Hanna down.

If there is a fault in Hanna, and unfortunately it’s a pretty big fault, it is one of style over substance. While the movie looks lovely, and clearly draws from a plethora of influences, it is strangely difficult to find any emotional attachment to the characters, especially Hanna herself. This often leaves you with one foot out of the picture, less invested in the fate of the characters than you should be. It’s an odd development for a director more recognised for character-driven pieces.

Still, for its beautiful visuals, cracking soundtrack and the simple pleasure of watching a 16-year-old girl opening a can of whup-ass on a bunch of tough guys, Hanna is well worth your time.

Rating – 3 Stars