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The Weekend Horror Double Bill: Gone Camping April 16, 2007

Posted by Ian W in : Film Reviews, Horror , add a comment

The weekend horror double bill returns after missing the Easter weekend, and this time we’re going camping. I hope you brought the essentials - food, clothes, sleeping bag, torch and a homisidal maniac…

The Long Weekend (1978)

This low budget ’70s Australian film is something of a lost treasure and shows that sometimes having no money can almost be a blessing. There are no make-up or special effects to hide behind and this seems to have made all involved up there game to compensate.

The film only has two characters – Peter and Marcia, a married couple whose relationship is on the rocks. In an attempt to save their marriage they take a weekend break to a secluded beach and it’s their experiences there that make up the bulk of the film. Strange sounds at night and a mysterious shape in the water are just some of the terrors they encounter and rather than bring them closer, their trip serves to drive them even further apart.

It gradually becomes clear that Peter and Marcia are the villains here, not just attacking each other but the idyllic beach environment as well and Mother Nature isn’t happy. The characters are brilliantly realised but you don’t sympathise with them — rather you observe with a sense of revulsion as their history of infidelity and abortion unfolds.

Given the assured direction, you expect director Colin Eggleston to have ascended to the heights of his fellow countrymen Peter (Picnic at Hanging Rock) Weir and George (Mad Max) Miller. Sadly, though, this is his career highlight — but what a highlight! He makes the environment a living thing. What you can’t see is usually far more effective than what you can and this is true here where most of the time you don’t see anything; instead you hear sounds that turn the woods into an alien world full of unknown threats. He also shows a gift for character as he cuts open Peter and Marcia’s marriage and lets us see its dark innards.

As Peter and Marcia, John Hargreaves and Briony Behets are completely convincing. The structure of the film is such that you’re not sure who you’re supposed to be rooting for (Peter? Marcia? their marriage?) and the script gives them both the chance to be good and bad, not to mention downright ugly.

Also worthy of mention is screenwriter Everett De Roche. Patrick is probably one of the most well known Australian horror films of the ’70s and that to came from Roche’s pen and was made the same year. This film, though, is more of a character study, with Roche dissecting the couple’s relationship. Rarely do horror films have such keenly observed characters; these aren’t the usual stereotypes but real people, shown to us warts and all.

It’s a real joy when you discover a film as rewarding as this one and I can’t recommend it highly enough. Fans of ’70s horror owe it to themselves to check it out.

Wilderness (2006)

There is a new wave of British horror directors making films that are as good as (and often better) than anything produced across the Atlantic. Leading the pack is Neil Marshall (Dog Soldiers, The Descent) and hot on his heels is Christopher Smith (Creep, Severance). Wilderness’ director Michael J. Bassett isn’t so much tagging along behind as being dragged. His first film Deathwatch attempted to merge the horror and war genres with less than spectacular results. This time we get a blend of Dog Soldiers with that old chestnut, The Most Dangerous Game.

A group of juvenile prisoners are taken to a small island on a camping trip after a fellow prisoner commits suicide. Why do they get the pleasure of this little holiday? Simple, because the plot requires them to be on the island. The plot also requires that a group of young female offenders be camping there as well just so we can have a few cross gender confrontations and a (none too explicit) sex scene. Then people start dying and it’s clear someone else is on the island, someone who thinks the unwitting campers are fair game.

Wilderness is trying for a group dynamic similar to that of the squaddies in Dog Soldiers but without that film’s inventive, not to mention humorous, script. Sean Pertwee is even on hand as the prison guard responsible for the boys and the part is a virtual carbon copy of Harry Wells, the sergeant he played in Dog Soldiers. Sadly Pertwee’s character is taken out far too early and it’s left to the inexperienced young actors to carry the film, something they fail to do.

It’s not fair to blame them however. This film’s failure rests squarely with Bassett, who manages to create zero tension. Clearly bereft of original ideas, he relies on gore to keep the audience watching, and while there is plenty of ketchup splashed about, it’s not enough to take your mind off the flimsy plot and cringe-worthy dialogue.

Then of course we have the identity of the killer, a plot device so contrived as to beggar belief. Still by that point you’ll have given up hope and quite possibly the will to live. Avoid.

Cinema Macabre Issue 1 April 2, 2007

Posted by Ian W in : Film Reviews, Horror, Rants & Raves , 1 comment so far

Over at BC Magazine some of the film writers have selected their favourite horror flicks for a new monthly feature called Cinema Macabre.

As a taster this is my entry –

Race With The Devil (1975)

Peter Fonda and Warren Oates join forces again for this tale of the holiday from hell. The pair first worked together on the elegiac western The Hired Hand and enjoyed the experience so much they jumped at the chance to make this film, about two married couples whose journey to Colorado in an RV is interrupted by a group of backwoods Satan worshippers after the holidaymakers witness a human sacrifice.

The two stars’ real life friendship allows them to bring a natural camaraderie to their characters and they’re aided by a pair of seasoned TV actresses as their wives. Loretta Swit gets some R&R from playing “Hot Lips” in M*A*S*H as Warren’s better half, while Lara Parker, of supernatural soap Dark Shadows fame, shines as Fonda’s onscreen spouse. Also making a welcome appearance is Peckinpah regular R.G. Armstrong as a local sheriff who may know a little more than he lets on.

Master low budget director Jack Starrett makes sure everything moves at a cracking pace yet still leaves room for some Invasion of the Body Snatchers-style paranoia as Lara Parker becomes convinced that everyone they encounter is a member of the cult. Add to that some expertly crafted scares (most notably the rattlesnake scene) and an action-packed final twenty minutes that has the beleaguered campers fending off attacks from all sides while trying to stay on the road and you’ve got the perfect action/horror movie.

If you want to read the rest of Cinema Macabre Issue 1 you’ll find it here.

The Weekend Horror Double Bill: The Valentine’s Day Massacres April 1, 2007

Posted by Ian W in : Film Reviews, Horror , 2 comments

My Bloody Valentine (1981) Region 4

An early entry in the glut of stalk ‘n’ slash films that followed the success of Friday the 13th, this ranks as one of the weakest in the subgenre, lacking not only in suspense but also in those other staples of this kind of film – sex and gore.

The pre-credits sequence features a bit of kinky sex as a miner gets it on with a hot blond down in the mine. After she fondles his air hose (no, that’s not a euphemism) he spots her heart-shaped tattoo and decides rather than get off with her he’ll just off her.

The film takes place in the mining town of Valentine’s Bluff where several years before a group of miners were trapped underground. Only one man walked away from the tragedy — Harry Warden, who survived the weeks it took to rescue him by turning cannibal. A year latter Harry went on a killing spree seeking revenge on those responsible for the accident by cutting their hearts out on Valentine’s Day. Harry was found insane and should be spending the rest of his days in a padded cell but when people start dying as the town plans its first Valentine’s Day party in twenty years, Harry seems the obvious suspect, particularly as the victims bear the marks of his trademark open heart surgery.

This is clearly a Friday the 13th clone, with the action transplanted to the mine. It even tries to pull a similar “Who’s the killer?” style twist at the end, although unless you’re completely new to this kind of film you’ll have guessed who the real culprit is within the first half hour.

The film is populated by the standard bunch of nobodies, none of whom have gone on to great things subsequently. Still, they all manage to remember their lines and, as most are only there to provide victims for the pickaxe-wielding killer, that’s as much as you can really expect.

This kind of film stands or falls on the strength of the director but George Mihalka clearly isn’t up to the task. He’s given what must surely be a gift of a location for creating a suspenseful chase; dark, confined, and oppressive, the mine shaft where the climax of the film takes place is crying out for a John Carpenter or even a Steve Miner to make effective use of it, but Mihalka just gives us lots of running around in the dark.

With no scares, no nudity, and practically no gore, there’s absolutely no reason to watch this film.

The film gets a decent transfer on DVD, with daylight scenes looking particularly good. Mono is the only audio option and it does a decent, if unspectacular job.

No extras, a common occurrence on Paramount releases.

Valentine (2001) Region 2

Jump forward twenty years and the stalk ‘n’ slash movie is given a new coat of self-referential paint thanks to Wes Craven’s Scream. As with Friday the 13th the film generated a rash of Scream wannabes – I know What You Did Last Summer, Urban Legend, and Cherry Falls, just to name a few. Unlike the ’80s however, this time it was familiar faces who were meeting a gruesome end, as well-known Hollywood names were queuing up to be offed. Directed by Jamie Blanks (Urban Legend), Valentine came in towards the end of the craze but was still able to boast a cast featuring Denise Richards, Katherine Heigl, and David Boreanaz.

What’s most surprising about this is that although it was based on a novel, there doesn’t seem to be enough plot here for even a short story. Geeky kid gets rejected by all the girls at a high school dance except the fat girl and when he’s caught practising mouth to mouth with her, a gang of boys beat the crap out of him after she claims he attacked her. Jump forward twenty years and he’s back for revenge. That’s it for the plot.

While the acting talent has improved, the characters remain as clichéd as ever with one of the girls even referring to them as “the popular one”, “the brainy one”, “the fun one”, “the sexy one”, and “the big, fat one”. An attempt at the knowing humour of Scream? Possibly, but if so, it falls flat as do the numerous references to other horror flicks of which Carrie and Halloween are only the most obvious.

The identity of the killer is clear even from an early stage (and gets more obvious as he kills the other possible candidates) the film still tries to keep us guessing even to the extent of pulling a double bluff at the end that you’d have to be deaf and blind not to spot coming.

One day someone may make a good Valentine’s Day horror movie, till then we’ll have to make do with this. While it may not be scary it does feature Denise Richards in a hot tub (sadly not naked) and that must weigh in its favour. Unfortunately it’s all that does.

The film gets a first rate presentation on DVD in both video, with an excellent anamorphic transfer and audio, with an active Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack.

Extras include a decent commentary by Director Jamie Blanks, the video for Orgy’s ‘Opticon’ and a shallow behind the scenes featurette that reveals nothing of interest.

Next Week: Long Weekend and Wilderness.

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