2013 / Director. Mike Mendez.
The first script I ever wrote was a sequel to ARACHNOPHOBIA. I was 13 years old and pretty clueless. My story focused on the further adventures and exploits of John Goodman's character, the bug-buster Delbert. IF that movie had ever been made then BIG ASS SPIDER would have been it. Now here's a creature feature that puts others to shame. THIS is how it's done!! The film opens with a brilliant musical sequence with glorious slow motion mayhem surrounding the lead character as a colossal spider terrorises Los Angeles. Right from the get-go the movie is inspired and reassures the audience that they're in good hands. These types of schlocky B-movies have been done countless times but few have been as good as this. With a tight running time, excellent script and hilarious performances the movie has it's tongue planted firmly in it's cheek and it lets the audience in on the joke. What makes it a cut above the rest is that while very funny, it's also scary. The first act plays on the suspense with the spider still infant and easily concealed... and as the creature grows, the comedy unfolds and eventually morphs into a far-fetched, outrageous and action packed military blockbuster. I first saw it at MonsterFest and discussed it in my feature blogs. Watching it with an audience made for an awesome movie-going experience. People laughed, cheered and startled at the movie's trickery. The second time I watched it was at home on blu-ray and the experience was just as good. It plays just as well to a room of two people as it did to a cinema of 100. BIG ASS SPIDER made it to my top 10 movies of 2013 and I can't recommend it enough. A little bit creepy... a little bit thrilling.... and a whole lotta hilarious!!!
2014 / Director. Greg McLean.
WOLF CREEK was the genre film Australia so desperately needed. It was uniquely Aussie and still managed to break international boundaries. It was a horror film that the world could embrace and with such a huge reception it was inevitable that a sequel would come. After a long and arduous pre-production it's finally here... and it's a belter. This is a much better film than the first BUT it couldn't possibly play successfully without the reputation of the original. Audiences were shocked by the first movie and expectations for this new instalment have been understandably high. I was nervous that this would be more of the same... a rehash of past exploits with a bigger budget. Well, I am thrilled to say that WOLF CREEK 2 delivers something completely unexpected. It is a satire of itself in some ways. We catch up with serial killer Mick Taylor in the middle of the outback, a long way from home. He's been "hunting" and on his way home he happens upon an assortment of characters... cops, tourists, farmers. It's literally a smorgasbord and he relishes every juicy bite. Where the first film relied on suspense and menace, this sequel plays on the comedy and carnage. Mick Taylor is already larger than life in our minds and director Greg McLean and writer Aaron Sterns play on that notion. They have presented us with Mick Taylor the anti-hero. The colourful, hilarious and psychopathic nut-ball. John Garret slips back into the role with ease and he's got so much good material to sink his teeth into. The sequence of events throughout the film are cleverly written and while a lot of it is conventional horror, the movie is packed with surprises to keep the audience on it's toes. Mick is presented as a reflection of our culture (as I perceived it). His world view is a heightened and animated manifestation of some of our own uglier traits. At one point in the film he is challenged by a foreigner who is better educated in Australian history than he is... and his reaction is strangely familiar. Do we laugh because Mick is a funny bugger or do we laugh because we know his type? Whatever the case he is a scary man and a unique character that will hopefully enjoy longevity. The theatrical version is considerably trimmed and yet it is still a balls-to-the-wall shocker. If THIS is the censored version then I am salivating at the idea of the uncut one. Bring it on. WOLF CREEK 2 is the most fun I've had at the cinema in ages and you are guaranteed a good time. If you don't want to see it for the relentless butchery then see it for the kangaroos... and the flying truck!! My only gripe is the wasted opportunity with the opening song... the first movie kicked ass with Daddy Cool's Eagle Rock... surely part 2 was begging for Daddy Cool's Come Back Again!?? LOL. Wicked stuff.
2013 / Director. Mikael Hàfström.
The seniors are kicking ass. The action heroes that my generation grew up with are still full of mojo and aren't showing any signs of letting up. With franchises like THE EXPENDABLES and RED the demand for these fossils is stronger than ever and we're lapping it up. The ingredient for ESCAPE PLAN is a formula for instant hit. Stallone and Schwazenegger killing bad guys together and joined by a great cast including Vincent D'Onofrio, Jim Caveizel, Vinnie Jones and Sam Neill. What's not to get excited about? Well prepare to have your enthusiasm squelched. ESCAPE PLAN is crud. Stallone plays a professional prison-escape artist. His job is to find flaws in prison facilities by posing as a prisoner and finding his way out. When he's offered a job to penetrate a new top secret, off-the-grid super-max he finds himself set up and held captive in a fortress of immeasurable durability. With the help of another inmate (Arnie) he sets out to crack the high-tech labyrinth and find whoever set him up. It's a contrived story and a lacklustre affair. Formula movies never bother me so long as there's an obvious passion in the filmmaking. There needs to be a zeal about the whole thing and something fun on offer... ESCAPE PLAN seems to have run out of steam the second Arnie & Sly shook hands... it's as though their star-power is enough and the actual movie doesn't matter. The performances from Caveizel and D'Onofrio are actually terrible to the point of being cringeworthy... and Neill's role is so insignificant that it's not even worth casting anyone of his calibre. I persevered with this movie even though I wanted to switch off. I was hoping for a strong final act and while there are a few uninspired twists and turns it all comes together as a lousy, second-rate vehicle for two big time action heroes from the 80s.
2001 / Director. Jamie Blanks.
Today was Valentines Day and so naturally I made the missus watch VALENTINE with me. LOL. It's a movie that's copped a lot of flack over the years and Aussie director Jamie Blanks is even on the record apologising for it... to that I say "no need". It's a perfectly suitable adage to a formulaic genre. There's been countless films like it and there will be countless more to come. Sure it's riddled with cliches, implausibilities and contrived set-ups but that's part of the fun. Some of the early foreshadowing of deaths is cheeky and much of the irony is lost until repeat viewings. I think Blanks knows the genre well enough to pull the right strings while keeping his tongue planted firmly in his cheek. Coming off the instant success of his debut film URBAN LEGEND, this follow up is a much strong movie in my opinion. The cast are gorgeous, dumb and annoying which bodes well considering that they all get diced up. The Cherub faced killer is a cool creation and his kills, while not exactly inspired, are fun enough. I also think that VALENTINE has appreciated with age. We can now look back on it with hindsight and a more forgiving eye and it sits well as a slice of early naughties genre. It's by no means a groundbreaking, nor memorable fair, but it's a solid little mantel-piece amongst better company... it's essentially what TERROR TRAIN was to HALLOWEEN. Harmless fun.
2013 / Director. Luc Besson.
I'm a sucker for Luc Besson. I've loved almost everything he's produced and just about everything he's directed. I was bummed out when he announced his retirement in 2006 following ARTHUR AND THE INVISIBLES but was quickly relieved when he went against his own word and made more movies... FIVE more movies to be precise. His latest is THE FAMILY, starring Robert DeNiro, Michelle Pfeiffer and Tommy Lee Jones. A mob family are moved from country to country in a witness protection program in an attempt to allude vengeful mobsters from New York. Assisted by a small team of FBI agents lead by Tommy Lee Jones, the are resettled into the small French township of Normandy and must attempt to assimilate into the community. It's an odd film and I'm undecided about it. The first half is terrible and it plays for laughs. It's presented as a comedy and lines up one gag after another. The gags are riddled with cliches and none of them hit their mark. To be honest I almost nodded off to sleep... but then suddenly it all switches gears and becomes a really good movie instead. The comedy is abandoned for a harder edged, straight up thriller. It's this second half that works and were the entire film as good, THE FAMILY would be something special. Adding an extra allure is the film's awesome soundtrack. Musical interludes from artists such as Gorillaz, LCD Soundsystem and M give it a really surreal quality. These pop songs shouldn't fit in to this sort of mobster movie but they work the treat. I hated THE FAMILY and then I loved it. Does the second half counteract the first half and make it worthwhile or is the first half too terrible for redemption? I'll sit on it and reflect. I'm keen to hear other people's thoughts. Please leave a comment.
2013 / Director. Ron Howard.
I love Ron Howard. He's a valuable director and has made some important and iconic films. Having said that I can concede that he's made some stinkers... but he's never boring and doesn't repeat himself. He has a wonderful ability to switch genres and explore different qualities. From lowbrow to historical, western to thriller, and everything else between. His latest film, RUSH, is an outstanding true story. I am not a sports fan and I could not care less about formula one racing, however, for a director to capture my attention and hold it tightly for over 2 hours is an achievement. Fortunately F1 is not entirely foreign to me (many of my friends love it) and I was familiar with the story... but rest assured that total lamens could watch RUSH and be completely swept up by it. The film chronicles the famous rivalry between James Hunt and Niki Lauda during the 1976 racing reason. From their competitive sledging to their unspoken respect for one another, the story captures a moment in time that's well documented and renowned. Some liberties have been taken and the extent of their rivalry is exaggerated but it's all for the sake of an entertaining story. The likeness of the characters is uncanny and the racing sequences are amazing... i'm talking AMAZING. Actually some of the best racing footage I've ever seen. Ron Howard has complete control over this film and it's unlike other films he's made previously. I would rate it as probably his most distinguished film since Apollo 13 and will hold it in the same regard. If you're looking for a compelling, high octane docurama then look no further. RUSH impressed the shit out of me! Excellent.
2010 / Director. Todd Solondz.
I love Todd Solondz. He's an auteur and a provocative filmmaker. He has a remarkable and unique ability to explore society's darkest taboos and present them humorously. That's not to say he treats these issues lightly... to the contrary. Possibly his best film (certainly my favourite) is HAPPINESS. Made in 1998, the film delves deeply into some seriously disturbing matters... most significantly, pedophilia. The way he presented the issue and had his characters interacting was not only confronting but also enlightening. Cut to 12 years later and he made LIFE DURING WARTIME, a sequel which revisits all of the HAPPINESS characters to see where they are in life. I think it's a terrible film. It's easily Solondz's worst movie and without a doubt a huge misjudgement on his behalf. When the film was first revealed I was hesitant about seeing it. I didn't want to see these characters again because they were so perfectly captured already, but my faith in Solondz was strong enough to convince me to persevere. Sadly the film fails. In true Solondz fashion none of the characters are played by the same actors and he has cast the film with completely opposite types of personalities. This was about the only genius quality to the film. Having new faces recalling past events gives the film new life and offers an immediate challenge to the viewer. The performances are excellent but everything else is garbage. The script is elementary, contrived and forced. There are no subtleties to the subjects and the word pedophilia gets bandied around like a running gag. I take particular exception to the character of Alan who was originally played by Jon Lovitz. He is now played by Paul Reubens, who is actually AMAZING in the role, but the actual character traits are conflicting and insulting to the original personality. I felt betrayed by what he has become and it didn't seem fitting. Other characters are where you might expect them to be in life and none of them offer anything new or insightful. It's all rather boring really. In interviews promoting the film Solondz often remarked that he wanted LIFE DURING WARTIME to be a stand-alone film and not to be compared with HAPPINESS... ha. what a pretentious and wanky thing to say. If he did't want comparisons then he shouldnt have written a continuing storyline featuring a dozen of the same characters and situations from another film. This IS a sequel and it's not a very good one.
2013 / Director. Dito Montiel.
EMPIRE STATE is based on the true story of one of America's biggest money heists. In the early 80s an armoured truck company were robbed of over ten million dollars. The men behind the robbery were a newly hired security guard and two neighbourhood criminals. With the police and FBI honing in on them, their world begins to shrink to the point of no escape. The true story lends itself well to a film adaptation but EMPIRE STATE is such a lacklustre and pathetic attempt at telling it. This is the type of story that ought to be taken seriously and it should have a gritty TRAINING DAY-esque feel about it or perhaps something resembling CLOCKERS in aesthetic. Instead EMPIRE STATE is riddled with cliches, stereotypes and sloppy storytelling. If it wasn't for Dwayne Johnson and Liam Hemsworth you could easily mistake it for a midday movie. Emma Roberts is also featured in the film and she's completely useless. She's not a terrible actress by any means but her talent is wasted. Her character serves no purpose whatsoever. There really isn't much left to say... at least nothing worthy of my energy. Hmm... reckon I might watch MONEY MOVERS now.... THAT'S how it's done!
2013 / Director. David Twohy.
RIDDICK has left me with mixed emotions and too many negatives to consider. Right off the bat the title pisses me off. The first film in the series was aptly titled PITCH BLACK and the second was stupidly titled THE CHRONICLES OF RIDDICK... oh and then PITCH BLACK was later retitled THE CHRONICLES OF RIDDICK: PITCH BLACK as though to blend into an ongoing franchise... and lets not ignore the cool anime chapter titled THE CHRONICLES OF RIDDICK: DARK FURY, which bridged the first two stories. So a third live-action movie comes along and the "Chronicles" moniker has been ditched in favour of RIDDICK. Retarded! But I digress. I loved PITCH BLACK and also thought that the second instalment was underrated (it's a grower and took a few viewings to appreciate). Riddick is such a well conceived character and naturally the promise of a third movie was exciting. In the years between films director David Twohy explained that he wanted to return the franchise to it's modest, low budget, independent roots. Fans were told to expect something closer to PITCH BLACK and we were itching with anticipation. So the film was delivered and as far as my own expectations go, I feel let down. The story itself is good. Riddick finds himself abandoned on a desolate planet (not unlike the planet from the original) and he spends months devising an elaborate and daring escape. Using a beacon call, he sends out a distress signal which catches the attention of two head-hunter crews who set out to capture him. Riddick has other plans and uses the foreboding landscape and all of its native wildlife (monsters) to his advantage. The premise is great but the execution leaves a lot to be desired. If Twohy had kept his promise and filmed RIDDICK as a low budget indie flick then he would have pulled off something truly awesome. Instead we're insulted with TERRIBLE digital FX and poorly executed chromakey, sound-stage landscapes. Generally I love an artificial set design and often defend films that are shot inside studios rather than on locations... but with RIDDICK the difference matters. PITCH BLACK was filmed in the remote township of Coober Pedy in South Australia and offered one of the most unique and original sci-fi landscapes that we've ever seen. In this new film the planet aesthetic is cartoon-like and unnecessarily complex. Too much concentration and emphasis is put into the alien-monster creatures, including Riddick's weird dog companion. It's difficult to invest ourselves in the story when the director and its star/producer seem intent on saying "hey look at this" and "see what we've done here?". Another thing that bothered me was the misogynistic attitude of the movie. I'm rarely one to fuss over such things but I thought that identifying the only woman character as a "lesbo" and baring her breasts to the audience was piggish and insulting. Anyhow... I will watch the film again sometime soon and hopefully cast aside all of these negatives. Will I be able to look past all of that shit and focus on what should be an awesome character and exciting sci-fi franchise? It remains to be seen. Damn you David Twohy!! Richard B Riddick is your creation. He's your baby. Love him right!
1992 / Director. Mary Lambert.
Before she was reduced to making movies like URBAN LEGEND 3 and MEGA PYTHON VS GATEROID director Mary Lambert announced herself as a formidable talent within the horror community with her adaptation of Stephen King's PET SEMETARY. It's a film that has stood the test of time well and continues to build it's audience. When looking for inclusions to WOMEN IN HORROR month I felt she was an important figure to focus on. PET SEMETARY was a wonderful film but I personally think her most underrated movie is the 1992 sequel PET SEMETARY TWO. The sheer audacity she committed to in forging a follow up to an adaptation of which the original novel stood on its own was nothing less than gutsy. Add to that the fact that Stephen King didn't approve, nor did he support, a sequel... every indicator Mary Lambert faced would have said NO. Nevertheless with David S Goyer and Richard Outten contributing to the script, she kicked against the pricks and made a surprising and original sequel that built upon the original film rather than repeating it. Such tenacity sadly closed a lot of doors on her. PET SEMETARY bombed at the box office, was torn to shreds by critics and audiences rejected it. It's strength was clearly lost on everyone at the time. As a teenager I loved it and I preferred it over the original. As an adult, I still love it and still hold it in a higher regard to the original. The story uses the previous movie's story as a foundation for this second exploit with the Creed murders becoming a local legend and a reason for teenagers to host Halloween parties as the old pet semetary. The story focuses on two outcast teenagers, Jeff and Drew, who resurrect a pet dog who was killed by Drew's abusive step-father. When the zombie dog then kills the step-father it's then his turn for resurrection. Clancy Brown plays the brutal step-father and relishes the role. His performance is hilarious, scary and totally balls-to-the-wall. PET SEMETARY pushed the horror further and demands more from the viewer. It requires a deeper understanding of horror to what the first movie did. This is not a Stephen King story. It's something more. Something more evolved and more fantastic in the true sense of the word. Mary Lambert was courageous to tempt such a film. There was no need for it. There was no demand for it and the strange surrealistic nature of it makes it more than just a typical cash-in sequel. I love it and I hope it's status becomes cult. More people should revisit and revaluate it. Great stuff.
2013 / Director. Adrian Goodman.
Kickstarting the Women In Horror month I have just finished watching a subversive little film called WAKEY WAKEY. It's a surreal and nightmarish story about two sisters living together while their parents are away. The younger sister, Josie, suffers from chronic narcolepsy and the older sister, Samantha, carries a devious awe of perversion about her. When Josie collapses into deep sleep sporadically, she is left exposed and vulnerable to her sister's distorted mind. She often wakes up feeling violated and confused. Samantha fills her mind with truths and falsehoods of her time spent unconscious until Josie's sense of reality becomes blurred. WAKE WAKEY is a challenging film and I know that it will stick with me for some time to come. It captures your attention immediately with a striking black and white palate, which creates a cold and uneasy ambience. The aesthetic conjures up thoughts of films like ERASERHEAD and NADJA and the morally ambiguous sexual connotations cast my mind to Tom Kalin's SWOON. The film's anchoring strength is it's cinematography. It's been shot with such restraint and director Adrian Goodman has resisted the tropes that many low budget films fall victim to. There's no shaky cam or pretentious angles and every shot is controlled. The two leading performances are solid and perfectly understated. I can understand WAKEY WAKEY being included in the Women In Horror event, however, it's horror is far more thematic and indicative... consider it a psychological nightmare. The film is eloquent, perverse and provocative and may require repeat viewing and director Adrian Goodman is a name to keep tabs on.