Posts Tagged ‘horror’

Haunter (2013)

Posted: August 15, 2014 in Uncategorized
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Lisa (Abigail Breslin) finds herself trapped in her home reliving the same day over and over with her oblivious family.

After a fast start to his career with the excellent “Cube” and the under-appreciated “Cypher”, Canadian film-maker Vincenzo Natali’s career had stalled somewhat with the batshit crazy but deeply flawed “Nothing” and “Splice”, a ludicrous film that almost qualifies as “so-bad-it’s-good” (but still didn’t manage to be the most laughably bad Adrian Brody film released in 2009 thanks to the truly abysmal “Giallo”).

He arrives back on the scene with “Haunter”, a supernatural mystery thriller, which has been receiving positive feedback on the festival circuit without getting a full cinema release, and is now widely available on DVD. Something of a return to basics, Natali’s trademarks are present and correct, from his inventive, silky visuals, to the labyrinthine twisting plots he seems in thrall of, and even the ramshackle CGI that has bedevilled much of his work.

The “reliving the same day” set-up is always terrific fun, mined to great effect in “Groundhog Day”, and the recent “Edge of Tomorrow” among many others, although “Haunter” does a great job in steering itself away from the ground those films covered. Here the device is used as a means to present a mystery and slowly unravel it, like peeling away the layers of an onion. This is done effectively and lovingly, and the film’s main strength lies in how engrossing the mystery at it’s centre is.

There is a healthy dose of pinching from other films, most obviously in the initial set-up but also from the “Nightmare on Elm Street” series (which is heavily mined), as well a few other notable plot lifts that are probably best left unmentioned so as not to spoil too much; although you will definitely know them when you see them. In many ways this magpie tendency becomes a positive, as the film repeatedly sheds it’s skin, morphing in ways that, although still derivative, are at least unexpected. Just when you think you have a handle on what the film is doing, it moves on, with every mystery solved just an opportunity to start unravelling the next. Although it is likely that the assembly was somewhat cynical (and the final “happy” coda feels depressingly tacked on), it does make for a gripping and surprising journey.

Abigail Breslin as Lisa shows that she is maturing into a leading lady of real standing, in no way resembling the goofy child star of “Little MIss Sunshine”, and making what could have been a frustrating role incredibly endearing. At once exasperated and scared by her situation, she is still believable when required to muster the courage to face the evil of the house, striking a fine balance that could easily have eluded a young actress (shockingly, Breslin was only 16 when this was filmed), especially when the camera is on them for much of the film’s duration. The rest of the cast are equally able in their roles, with particular mention to the wonderfully craggy-faced Stephen McHattie, who makes good use of his weathered features as the creepy and mysterious “Pale Man”. There is even time for a brief cameo from long-time Natali collaborator David Hewlett, a pleasing Easter egg for fans, even if he is somewhat under-used.

If there is one major criticism, it is that the film isn’t particularly scary, something that many consider a cardinal sin for a film in the horror genre. There are a few nice jump scares in the early going, but beyond a certain point the lack of peril is palpable, as if it fell victim to the multitude of narrative turns the film undertakes. Despite that, “Haunter” is a real return to form for Natali, a well made and creepily effective low-key ghost story that keeps your attention from start to slightly hackneyed finish.

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All Cheerleaders Die (2013)

Posted: June 22, 2014 in Uncategorized
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When Maddy’s cheerleader friend dies she tries out to replace her on the team. But what are her true motives? And how does her Wiccan friend fit in?

“All Cheerleaders Die” is a horror/comedy collaboration written and directed by respected horror auteur Lucky McKee (“May” and “The Woman”) and his close friend Chris Sivertson, best known by most for the execrable Lindsay Lohan vehicle “I Know Who Killed Me”, a strong candidate for the worst film of the millennium.

Without any knowledge of the extent of the collaboration the viewer can only guess as to the specifics. Given the way the film turned out, it would not be a surprise if Mckee and Stiverson had shared duties in a similar way to Tarantino and Rodriguez on “From Dusk Til Dawn”; with each essentially responsible for half a film, something that would explain the wild shift in tone that occurs here.

The film starts off as a dark psychological thriller, with Caitlin Stasey’s Maddy setting off on a twisted revenge mission. The opening sequence, as Maddy follows her cheerleader friend Lexi as she goes about her life, is incredibly effective; with a haymaker of a punchline capping it all off in startlingly brutal fashion. We are kept largely in the dark as to Maddy’s goals and motivations, as well as how far she will go to achieve her aims. It seems an interesting twist on the genre, broadly typical of McKee’s work; a studied pace and increasing creepiness leaving the viewer wondering where this will all go.

The narrative takes a bizarre turn halfway through, with twists stacking up, new rules established and then broken, as the film becomes increasingly breathless. Going from tense, to mildly demented, the film ends up completely insane; sitting in a corner hugging it’s knees and screaming abuse at anyone who dares to come near. It all flies by too quickly, feeling like a script written in a drunken stupor, piling up the silliness until it becomes borderline nonsensical, albeit in a very fun way. Alongside this is a rich vein of humour, pouring exuberantly from both the outrageousness of the situations and the cheerleader’s catty one-liners, many of which wouldn’t be out of place in superior teen comedies such as “Heathers” or “Mean Girls”.

The real problem with the film is the flimsy characterisation. The main characters are one note, with no discernible arcs or development, although the cast battle gamely with the challenge of imbuing their roles with something approaching personality. The supporting players fare even less well; hackneyed teen-movie archetypes that barely register beyond the single traits that define them. The result is that it is almost impossible to care about these characters, even whether they live or die, something that severely detracts from the film as a whole, robbing proceedings of any tension.

Maybe it is due to this general lack of sympathy with the cast, but when the grand finale comes it seems a massive damp squib, as characters you barely care about are offed in quick-fire fashion, often out of nowhere. Even the big final battle is underwhelming, the film threatening a grand pay-off before petering out with a brief, listless burst of unconvincing CGI.

Ultimately “All Cheerleaders Die” is something of a mess. Most of the individual elements are well enough done, and the film is a lot of fun, but it doesn’t hang together as a whole, leaving you with a feeling of promise unfulfilled. If you disengage your brain then the ever-escalating strangeness and off-beat humour is certainly entertaining enough, although long-time fans of McKee (who will likely make up a large portion of the initial audience) are sure to find themselves disappointed by it’s disjointedness and the lack of intelligence on display.

It is still easy to see this film gaining a sizeable cult following in years to come with audiences who will forgive it’s faults because of how surprisingly bonkers and unusual it is, a dumb teen-horror flick on acid making bizarre turns that no viewer could expect; something that was probably the intention all along.

Wither (2012)

Posted: June 17, 2014 in Uncategorized
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A group of young adults head deep into the woods to get away from it all and party in a remote cabin; but they hadn’t counted on one of them awaking an ancient evil that resides in the basement.

That plot summary feels awfully familiar, doesn’t it?

“Wither” (“Vittra”) is a Swedish horror film from Sonny Laguna and Tommy Wikland that mixes an “Evil Dead” style set-up with zombie mythology. Made in 2012, it’s Swedish theatrical debut came in late 2013 and it will reach UK audiences on June 23 2014 via a DVD release from Signature Entertainment.

Attempting to straddle than fine line between “homage” and “shameless rip-off”, “Wither” can’t maintain it’s balance and ends up collapsing face-first into the latter camp. The overly familiar set-up would have been acceptable if there were any originality on display in other areas, or if the film had a unique feel in some way, but early promise fades away as cliches are ticked off one by one in a rote manner, as if the script were merely a checklist of horror movie tropes. The poorly developed stereotypical characters run headlong into a melange of stale horror cliches; making the same inexplicable mistakes that you’ve seen similar characters make a thousand times before (yes, given a choice between running out of the door and hiding upstairs, they choose certain death).

The acting is truly terrible from the majority of the cast (it is a shame that Johnannes Brost didn’t get more screen-time, as his haunted delivery and craggy features hint at a background story much more compelling than the one told here), largely dull and naturalistic in style with the exception of the inexplicable wide-eyed reaction shots which wouldn’t be out of place in a “Carry On” movie. The only character in the film who has been given a discernible personality is such a monumental arsehat that you assume he will be the butt of all the jokes, but alas, he is supposed to be legitimately cool, lighting up cigarette after cigarette while the female cast try to get into his pants.

Those who like things bloody will likely get a kick, as the gore is well done and plentiful, although fairly unimaginative. The action plays out with a certain style, as Laguna and Wikland attempt to invest proceedings with a credible “Scandi-thriller” dryness. It is a shame in many ways that they didn’t concentrate more on that, as the creepy early section is definitely the most effective aspect of the film, horror seen though the prism of their national identity, threatening an interesting twist on the genre. Sadly the film too quickly descends into a knock-off of American cinema, and there is no way the film can compare to what it apes, especially on such a tiny budget.

“Wither” is a massive let-down from a country that has actually done a sterling job recently in producing high quality genre pictures like “Let the Right One In”, “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo”, “Frostbite” and even the incredibly fun “Kopps”. Shamelessly derivative in what seems to be a calculating fashion, it really is hard to recommend this film to anyone. It tries to be “The Evil Dead”, but where Sam Raimi made a low-budget film that showcased his skill and originality, Laguna and Wikland illustrate only that they are capable mimics who lack ingenuity and humour. They may have had more luck if they had gone the Raimi route; attacked the premise with some playfulness, called it something silly like “Bork of the Dead”, and had some fun. Instead they have presented us with a dreary and dull film, lacking in imagination and, most importantly, entertainment.

stagefright (2014)

Posted: April 8, 2014 in Uncategorized
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10 years after the murder of her actress mother, Camilla is working as a cook at a musical theatre camp for teens. When the decision is made for the campers to stage a revival of her mother’s last play, Camilla decides she wants to try out, but a mysterious figure seems hell bent on halting the production. 
 
“Stagefright” (not to be confused with the excellent 1987 Michele Soavi slasher movie of the same name) is a modestly budgeted light-hearted musical-horror written, directed and scored by first-timer Jerome Sable.
 
Although light in tone, “Stagefright” is more a film with a ridiculous concept played outrageously over-the-top than an actual comedy. It is a shame that more of the silliness couldn’t be translated into genuine humour, as although the film feels like it should be a comedy, it never really becomes one, despite raising the odd chuckle. 
 
The best realised aspect of the film is definitely the music. Sable clearly has a genuine affection for traditional musical theatre as well as an understanding of the medium, with one song in particular being a well constructed ode to the restorative power of showtunes that packs in references to musicals past in loving fashion. The songs used for the in-film musical are accurate pastiches of the form, although again, they are mostly played strangely straight, being more a reverential homage than parody. A rare exception is the film’s first big number, a high-school musical spoof that packs more laughs into it than the rest of the film combined, setting a tone that the film never quite lives up to. 
 
Although infrequent, the horror elements are quite well done when they do happen. A few of the murders are surprisingly graphic, particularly the early death of a cameoing Minnie Driver as Camilla’s mother. While a late surge in violence redresses the balance somewhat, the horror, like everything else, takes a back seat to the musical elements for too long, making this feel like an extra long episode of “Glee” with one or two gory moments and the occasional laugh, rather than the true genre hybrid it was intended to be.
 
“Stagefright” is a bizarre curio with a great, original idea, but it is too uneven in tone to  be truly satisfying and doesn’t really make a lot of sense. Credit must go to director Sable for at least trying to do something a little bit different in an era where taking chances is becoming increasingly rare, and the film does have moments where it delivers on it’s promise. It is a shame that it didn’t really come together, because no matter how much you genuinely want to like the film, when all is said and done it is a bit of a mess; a movie that tries to be several things without ever quite managing to be any.  
 

lesson of the evil (2012)

Posted: April 1, 2014 in Uncategorized
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Hasumi is a teacher at an exclusive Japanese school, the Shinko Academy. Outwardly he seems the perfect educator, adored by students and fellow teachers alike, but he hides a dark side that puts those around him in grave danger. 
 
Takashi Miike is the very definition of a cult director, most well known for films that intentionally shock and polarise opinion but with a vast variety of genres under his belt. With around 90 films to his name he is never less than prolific, and “Lesson of the Evil” (“Aku no Kyoten”) sees him return to the horror genre for which Western audiences know him best.
 
Initially “Lesson of Evil” is a gripping thriller, a chilling character study played out at a leisurely pace. Hideaki Ito is excellent as Hasumi; charming, handsome and oozing charisma. The more we get under the skin of the character, the more frightening he becomes; Ito’s cold, dead eyes exposing his true nature and the terrifying boredom with the world that lies beneath his cheery facade. The battle of wits with the students and a teacher who suspect him that makes up much of the first hour of the film is brilliantly done, the tension building to nail-biting levels with Ito’s performance leaving you unsure who to root for, no matter what he does. 
 
A sudden turn around halfway through shows you just how far the character will go as the film leaves behind the trappings of a psychological thriller and devolves into a much more standard slasher film filled with an absolutely ludicrous amount of bloodshed. Miike ramps up the nastiness and even tosses in a bit of humour, perhaps to remind us that films are not meant to be taken seriously, especially when dealing with the extreme cinema that Miike specialises in. The violence is genuinely relentless, at times even monotonous as the film grinds on; a remorseless cavalcade of death. 
 
Miike introduces subtexts to justify the severe narrative turn, most obviously a message about not trusting figures of authority simply because they are in charge, no matter how charming or honest they may seem on the surface. Tied in with this is a fairly unsubtle anti-American sentiment, with the final-act slaughter taking place against a backdrop of casino style facades, a representation of the moon landing and, most tellingly, big bold letters stating that “The World is Yours”. The weapon of choice for the killer, a shotgun that talks to it’s wielder in a broad American accent, really hammers the message home; especially for a movie that comes from a country where gun-crime is so infrequent. 
 
As the film becomes more outrageous Miike also takes the opportunity to mock certain horror tropes, such as the current found footage fad and the enduring craze of sequels to films where all of the story has been told. While the violent turn does give Miike the opportunity to say things that he couldn’t in the more sedate confines of a character study, that doesn’t make it any easier to watch. There is always a rawness to the violence, a reality than borders on repetitiveness, that makes it extremely unpalatable. Although that was clearly Miike’s intent, many will think that he has finally gone too far given the identity of the victims and the cold-blooded remorseless nature of the slaughter. 
 
“Lesson of the Evil” may not be as graphic as some of Miike’s other films but it is ultimately as shockingly bad taste as anything he has served up. While nicely performed, stylishly shot and a spellbinding watch up there with Miike’s best work, it is still hard to recommend this film, as you really do need to be completely desensitised to cinematic violence to get past the fact that it is essentially a movie about a grown man arbitrarily murdering children. Those that can accept the unpleasantness of the premise will find one of Miike’s more effective films, and a rare example of him having something to say beyond his urge to shock. 
 

13 sins (2014)

Posted: March 30, 2014 in Uncategorized
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With a pregnant wife and mounting debt, a salesman finds himself in deep financial peril when he loses his job on the eve of his wedding. A mysterious phone-call from an anonymous caller provides a possible solution, as he is offered money to complete thirteen tasks.

“13 Sins” is a remake of the 2006 Thai film “13 Beloved” (also known as “13: Game of Death”), directed by “The Last Exorcism” helmer Daniel Stamm. This film follows the plot of the original fairly closely, but, as is typical of Hollywood remakes, what made that film truly distinct has been ironed out. Gone are the quirkiness and odd humour that flavoured the original, replaced with a more conventional tone and stream-lined narrative. The end result is a generic high concept thriller that is enjoyable enough but essentially empty and anodyne.

Much like the recent “Cheap Thrills” and 2012’s “Would You Rather?”, this film marries the increasingly over-used concept of a powerful protagonist putting the main character through a series of trials with a none too subtle subtext about the way the elite control the poor using money. Unlike many of the vast multitude of other films with similar premises, here there is no rationale behind the tasks our hero has to undertake beyond a thrown away line explaining that they want “to show that anyone can be turned into a monster”, a murky, muddled explanation symptomatic of the film’s lack of commitment to it’s concept.

It is the unsubtle attempt to tap into the “We Are The 99%” sentiment that most rankles, feeling like film-makers looking down their nose at a problem they consider zeitgeist rather than truly engaging with it. This film doesn’t even have the guts to follow through on it’s premise, settling for a vague (possibly papal) conspiracy and a resolution that seems to suggest that it’s ok to be poor and have a messed up life as long as you act out once in a while.

While “13 Sins” isn’t bad, nothing truly stands out. Twists are signposted, thrills undercooked; even for a remake this feels stale and derivitive. It’s enjoyable enough if you disengage your brain, but we’ve been here before and seen it all done far better many, many times.

cheap thrills (2013)

Posted: March 18, 2014 in Uncategorized
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An eviction notice hanging over his head, newly unemployed family man Craig heads to a bar to drown his sorrows. There he bumps into an old friend and two strangers, a rich couple willing to give them money to take part in outrageous dares.

The full length directorial debut of E.L. Katz, “Cheap Thrills” is a horror/comedy that has been attracting a lot of attention at film festivals and will see a wider release later this year.

Essentially nothing more than a charmless and cobbled together extrapolation of Quentin Tarantino’s segment of the film “Four Rooms”, it soon becomes clear that no deeper thought went into this beyond raising the stakes of that premise. The only real highlight is the section most clearly inspired by that film (and the original Roald Dahl story on which it is based), a brief upturn that not only betrays it’s origins but also illustrates how poorly executed the rest of the film is.

“Cheap Thrills” may be nasty in tone but it still manages to be incredibly dull in execution; playing out like a kitchen sink drama that becomes increasingly horrific, with neither element done well enough to be satisfying. This is a film that tries hard to shock, but even at it’s most outrageous it still feels tepid. Alongside it’s underwhelming attempts at horror are overwrought drama and unfunny humour, constantly grating on your sensibilities like nails on a chalkboard.

It may have been possible to be more forgiving of the film’s flaws if the characters involved were likeable or in any way believable, if you cared about their predicament or empathised with their situation. Instead they evoke no sympathy or interest, especially as the plot becomes increasingly contrived and their behaviour ever more idiotic.

It is hard to know who this misfire was aimed at; it isn’t funny, scary, thought-provoking or even especially gory. Most damningly, “Cheap Thrills”, for all it’s desire to be provocative, is simply dull. A far greater torture than the acts these characters commit for money, would have been forcing them to sit through the full length of this mean-spirited and predictable movie.

odd thomas (2013)

Posted: February 17, 2014 in Uncategorized
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Odd Thomas is a short order cook in the small town of Pico Mundo harbouring a dark secret: he can see dead people. He uses his psychic gift to track down murderers, until one day he stumbles upon clues that lead him to believe that a massacre is being planned. But can he put the pieces of the puzzle together in time to prevent it?

“Odd Thomas” is a weird hybrid of horror, teen comedy and Michael Bay-esque action-fest from “The Mummy” director Stephen Sommers, based on a novel by Dean R Koontz. It tries to be quirky, funny and scary but fails at all three, ending up dumb and overblown, as if someone lobotomised “The Sixth Sense” and force-fed it steroids until it had a stroke.

Rising star Anton Yelcin is passable in the lead, possessing a certain charisma that carries him through his under-developed role. He wrings laughs out of a few of his better lines and does quite well in the action scenes, although having messed-up hair and frowning while everyone calls him quirky is not really a substitute for having an actual character. He is lumbered with constant stilted expository dialogue, mostly delivered through a trite narration, as the film does it’s best to get right down to business without bothering too much with trifling details like character development or connecting with the audience.

This is a movie that has tried to paint the story in as few brushstrokes as possible, with constant flashbacks filling in any blanks left by the continuous voiceover, leaving much of the plot feeling lazily tacked on. Damningly for a film centred around unravelling a mystery, the viewer is always one step ahead of the protagonists and anyone who has seen an episode of Scooby-Doo will have the whole thing worked out a third of the way through.

Yelcin aside, the cast are laughably poor and largely forgettable; a collection of preening eye-candy in low-cut tops and charisma-free ken-dolls with the acting chops of balsa wood.

Worst of the bunch is Addison Timlin as the ridiculously named, and incredibly annoying, damsel-in-distress Stormy Llewellyn. Her performance is completely devoid of passion or humanity as she delivers her lines with the emotional range and speech pattern of a “Speak & Spell”. She is not helped by being given some of the worst dialogue ever spoken in a major motion picture, ranging from the bizarre (“You know why i call you pooh bear…because your head is full of stuffing”) to the strangely offensive (“I’m a woman, we all have issues, it’s what keeps us interesting and you men interested”) and sometimes just plain nonsense (“You have to learn to listen with more than just your ears”).

Sommers’ star from the “Mummy” franchise, Arnold Vosloo, has a brief cameo that actually works extremely well as a bizarre comedic aside. The usually reliable Patton Oswalt also pitches up, appearing incredibly out of place doing a joke free version of his usual schtick, as if he wandered on to the wrong set, was forced into an ill-fitting costume and pushed in front of the camera.

Willem Defoe is handed a slightly more substantial role as the chief of police who aids Odd in his crusade, with a running gag about interruptions to his “date night” one of the few comedic elements that consistently hits home. He may be on cruise control but Defoe is always a welcome presence, although a late “emotional” scene shows that even an actor of his caliber wasn’t immune to the bad-acting bug that was going around the set.

While the film is relatively stylish in look, with lots of flashy camerawork and unusual angles, it all lacks originality, being soullessly derivative of far better, more interesting movies. Even worse, there seems to have been a real absence of care in the making of this film, and the only element more telegraphed than the numerous twists are the anodyne jump-scares, defeating the point of having either. The lackadaisical attitude of the makers is summed up by a scene where an old couple walk past our heroes in a diner and in the very next shot we see the same couple walking in through the entrance, as if the audience wouldn’t notice or care about the time travelling geriatrics.

“Odd Thomas” has an interesting premise, fast pace and is relatively fun, none of which manage to disguise how slipshod the whole affair ended up being. The intent was clearly to make a version of Peter Jackson’s “The Frighteners” that would be accessible to teenagers, but the finished product more closely resembles “Donnie Darko” for the intellectually disabled.

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A French province is terrorised by attacks from an unknown beast, sending ripples of fear throughout the country. A sceptical Knight and his Native American companion arrive to investigate the strange happenings, but find themselves unprepared for the dark reality behind the fantastical stories.

Loosely based on a genuine folk legend, “Brotherhood of the Wolf” makes little attempt at historical accuracy. Primarily an action/adventure, with elements of horror, mystery, native american mysticism, primitive steampunk and even a healthy dose of completely anachronistic kung-fu, this is certainly a film with eclectic influences.

Director Christophe Gans works hard to achieve a slick stylised feel, loaded with slo-mo, swooping crane-shots and stylish zooms. The film is genuinely gorgeous, with Gans’ kinetic camera gliding through picturesque locations and magnificently appointed sets. At times the camera trickery is overdone or unnecessary, leading to a cheesy or comical feel. When a distant scream leads to a zoom in on a character’s reaction, followed by a slow motion walk to the window, it simply feels hokey, while a close up on a characters face as he is propelled backwards through a wall feels so unneeded that it takes you out of the moment completely. While it is admirable that Gans made so much effort to make every shot exceptional, at times it feels like he is simply trying too hard.

The camerawork is supplemented by quite a bit of CGI, most of which works fairly well. However, there are the occasional moments when it is poorly realised, a sword that extends into a bladed whip being a notable example, severely detracting from a battle scene that really should have been among the film’s highlights.

Much of the first hour is given over to developing the relationship between the Knight, Fronsac, and Marianne, the Count’s daughter, a romance that never quite clicks and wouldn’t be missed if it were excised from the film completely. Too much time is spent setting the scene and for a good portion of the film substance is secondary to a dawdling trundle through the lavish costumes, sets and scenery. However, it all really clicks into gear when the mystery of the beast begins to be unravelled and the last hour is a breath-taking thrill-ride of action set-pieces and unlikely plot twists.

The cast are generally solid, with Samuel Le Bihan finding a nice balance between likeable oafishness and nobility as Fronsac. It is a shame that Vincent Cassel and Monica Bellucci are not given more to do in supporting roles, although Cassel makes the most of his screen time with a nuanced, creepy turn while Bellucci is enigmatic yet alluring as a mysterious courtesan.

While it takes a while to get going, “Brotherhood of the Wolf” is an enjoyable period romp that doesn’t take itself too seriously. While over-stylised and too reliant on cliched plotting, you would have to be very hard of heart not to take at least some pleasure from it’s bizarre mish-mash of styles, especially when it finds it’s groove in a rip-roaring second half filled with highlights.

dracula di dario argento (2012)

Posted: October 21, 2013 in Uncategorized
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Also known as Dracula 3-d, this is the latest film from legendary director Dario Argento. Though many of his early films are considered classics, he has had a tougher time of late with the vast majority of his releases being poorly received and considered failures at the box office. This perhaps explains why this film has finally slipped out onto DVD, almost unnoticed, over a year after it’s initial screenings.

The opening credits aptly illustrate the problem Argento faces in the modern era of film-making. The camera swoops from the sky, down a street and up through a window, recalling one of the the stylistic tics that made him famous, an audacious feel for the bravura and unusual. One of his best known shots, from his classic “Tenebrae”, went up and over a house, peeping in windows, before settling down on the hands of a killer on the other side. To execute this Argento had to import a special crane that could carry the camera through that motion and spent days getting it just right, a dedication to his craft and belief in his ideas that created shots the likes of which had never been seen before. Here the shot is quick as a flash, slick, smooth and entirely CGI; and therein lies the problem. With the right software anyone can do what he alone once did. It feels meaningless, and worst of all, it actually is meaningless, a CGI homage to his old self thrown away over the opening titles.

There are still hints of the old Argento. His camera still lingers longer than any other genre director would dare, his floating takes always stylishly framed and his palette of colours still bold and vivid. But, again, the harsh light of modern film-making has not been kind to his style. Rarely will you see a modern film where the actors involved seem more concerned with hitting a mark than delivering a line, while extras mill through shots half-heartedly as though bored of being herded like cattle.

Where once Argento was a master at building tension, here he disregards that completely. His trademark violent flurries occur with little build-up, and it is they alone that carry the horror of this film. As such, it is a shame that Argento has once again put his faith in Sergio Stivaletti. The practical effects here are even more contrived than his work on “Sleepless” with one axe to the skull effect being particularly poorly executed.

The CGI is also incredibly cartoonish, more closely resembling “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” than special effects suitable for a horror film. A giant praying mantis and a wolf transformation are nothing short of inept while one decapitation scene is genuinely laugh out loud funny.

The version reviewed here was not in it’s original 3D but with objects thrown directly at the screen and creatures rushing quickly toward the camera, the unsubtle attempts at exploiting the medium are obvious, bringing to mind the terrible spate of 80s 3D cheese like Tony Anthony’s “Treasure of the Four Crowns”. The score is equally unsubtle, swimming with theremin and violin, so on the nose that Mel Brooks would have turned it down for “Young Frankenstein”.

Thomas Kretschmann seems an unusual choice as Dracula, being physically quite different to most people’s expectations of the character and having none of the charisma or magnetism of the great actors closely associated with the role. Because of this, it was a mistake to burden him with well known lines (“Children of the night, what music they make”) as this only serves as a reminder of what he isn’t and could never be. There is a certain sadness in his portrayal at times, which threatens to be interesting, but it doesn’t mask how poor a fit he is for such an iconic part.

Most of the rest of the cast sleepwalk through their roles, while Rutger Hauer gives a strangely serene performance, in a way recalling Leslie Nielson’s turn in “Airplane”. He is completely accepting of the silliness surrounding him and some of his lines definitely wouldn’t be out of place in a Dracula spoof (“thank god i had enough garlic for one bullet”).

It is incredibly hard to know what to make of this film. It is silly and slightly camp, without being enough of either to truly qualify as a guilty pleasure. some could argue that Argento is using the mythos of Dracula as a metaphor for himself, a man trapped by past deeds who can only be a monster when he wants to be more; although that is probably reading too much into the film.

More likely is that argento just chose to have a little fun for a change rather than trying to live up to expectations he can never meet. “Dracula” is certainly an improvement on his most recent films (and his other attempt at a period piece, the putrid misfire “Phantom of the Opera”), but that really isn’t saying much. This is cheap schlock that makes little attempt to be anything else. If you view it as a homage to bad film-making then it is a theremin soaked triumph of bad acting, stilted dialogue and laughable special effects; although it is unlikely that the intention was for most of the fun to come from it’s inadequacies.