Friday, 30 December 2011

Audiodrome#3: Fantastic Planet


Head over to Paracinema.net to check out the latest instalment of Audiodrome: Music in Film. This month I look at/listen to Alain Goraguer's prog-tastic score for Fantastic Planet; a visually stunning and psychedelic French-language animated feature directed by René Laloux. Combining elements of funk, jazz and prog-rock, Goraguer's music provides a suitably trippy mood for one of the most unique and provocative films you'll ever see.

Why not pick up the latest issue of Paracinema while you’re there? Amongst its lurid delights are articles such as Panic in Detroit: RoboCop and Reagan’s America by Andreas Stoehr; Blood on the Rubber Chicken: Horror Parodies of the Early ’80s by Mike White; and Peter Jackson’s Heavenly Creatures from Hell by Todd Garbarini. All great stuff, written by hardcore fans of genre films for hardcore fans of genre films.

Friday, 16 December 2011

The Case of the Monstrous Art


I recently conducted an interview with self-taught artist Ryan Case for Fangoria. Case's striking paintings of the enduring icons of fright cinema have gained him comparisons with the likes of Basil Gogos, an artist renowned for capturing the underlying melancholy of the classic Universal Monsters. Head over to Fangoria.com to check it out.

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Issue 14 of Paracinema Available to Pre-Order

Paracinema? I'd buy that for a dollar! Well, $7 actually.
Issue 14 of Paracinema is now available to pre-order! Hard to believe that the magazine has been going for 14 issues. It has been independently published since 2007 and, as clichéd as it might sound, has got better with every issue. It’s also recently widened its net and is available in various independent retailers right across the length and breadth of the States. Cool stuff, eh?

Issue 14 contains a number of exciting features on various genre classics and obscure gems. Articles include Panic in Detroit: RoboCop and Reagan's America by Andreas Stoehr; Blood on the Rubber Chicken: Horror Parodies of the Early ’80s by Mike White; Christ Stopped at San Miguel: Italy’s Economic Miracle and A Fistful of Dollars by Jef Burnham; Catching the Bus: Jump Scares in the Horror Film by C. Rachel Katz; Slavery in 70's Cinema: Mandingo and Drum by Paul Talbot; and (personally speaking, the one I’m most looking forward to checking out), a comprehensive overview of the career of Riccardo Freda, a very important figure in Italian horror cinema. Huzzah!

Head here to pre-order your copy. Do it!

Friday, 9 December 2011

Ladies Month at The Death Rattle: Top 10 Final Girls #3-1

This week Aaron Duenas and I have been counting down our top ten favourite heroines in horror over at his fine blog, The Death Rattle. There have been a few surprises along the way as we both felt it wouldn’t be that interesting to just peddle out another masturbatory treatise on the likes of Nancy, Laurie, Alice and Ripley, and why they’re so wonderful. As much as we love those particular Final Girls, and recognise the influence they have over the ones we did decide on, it’s not really very original – we know why they’re wonderful. But hey, maybe you won’t think our choices are that original either – you won’t know until you check ‘em out. So what are you waiting for? Head over to The Death Rattle and see for yourself. And let us know what you think! Be brutal. We like that.

Red Hoods, Dark Woods Part IV: Happily Ever After

'Snow, Glass, Apples' by Julie Dillon
With Hardwicke trailblazing modernised fairytales for teen horror audiences, it is safe to assume that more will soon follow suit – think of what Twilight did for romanticising vampires and making them appealing to maudlin teenagers. Love it or loathe it, its influence on popular culture is undeniable. Fans of Twilight no doubt flocked to Hardwicke’s latest offering.
A number of Hollywood horror-tinged adaptations of fairytales are actually already in the works. Amongst them is the Julia Roberts starring Mirror Mirror, with Roberts tipped to play the Evil Queen. Directed by Tarsem Singh (The Cell), the film is a dark twist on the classic fairytale, in which Snow White and the seven dwarfs look to reclaim their destroyed kingdom. Another film that refigures the tale of Snow White, only as a chase movie, is Snow White and the Huntsman, starring Kristen Stewart as Snow White, and Chris Hemsworth as the huntsman sent to kill her and bring her heart back to the Evil Queen (Charlize Theron). Also forthcoming is Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters; set '15 years after' their traumatic encounter with a cannibalistic witch in a gingerbread-house, siblings Hansel and Gretel have grown up to become a formidable team of bounty hunters who track and kill witches the world over. 

So when you’re off to visit Grandma, or just going to the videoshop; take care. Stick to the path. Don’t talk to strangers. And beware the full moon… Fairytale horrors are here to stay.

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Red Hoods, Dark Woods Part III: The Beast Within…

With this central image of a young girl being stalked and menaced through dark and foreboding forests by a snarling, sly and slathering beast, Little Red Riding Hood has also always had its roots firmly planted in horror. It shares its conservative morality with many fairytales that warn of what happens to young women who ‘stray from the path’ and indulge their ‘primal instincts’. It is essentially a dark tale about sexual awakening. The forest, a place used time and again in literature and cinema to represent a place of hidden danger, primal fear and dark threat serves as the suitable backdrop; a place that is as far removed from civilisation as possible.

What further embeds the tale in horror is the fact that the Big Bad Wolf can be seen as a werewolf – another handy metaphor for physical and emotional transformation. Werewolves - humans who are condemned to spend their lives transforming into bloodthirsty beasts when the moon is full - are a common theme in mythology and folklore throughout the world, as well as in literature and cinema. They usually serve as allegories of our internal primal instincts and intrinsic savagery, buried deep down under years of civilisation and social conventions – but still lurking there nonetheless. The transformation of man into monster is representative of the manifestation of inner conflict - surrendering to the animal within, and to the primitive side of our nature. Most werewolf stories are concerned, on some level or other, with exploring the consequences of unleashed moral and sexual depravity, serving as allegories to warn us of the dangers of indulging our ‘animal’ instincts.

'The Company of Wolves' by Emily Tenshi

'The Big Bad Wolf' by Graham Franciose
Returning to Angela Carter’s ‘The Bloody Chamber’, we can see that she has utilised the figure of the werewolf to explore notions of unleashed female sexuality and empowerment. There are three takes on the tale of Red Riding Hood in Carter’s collection of short stories, and each one refigures the tale to reveal different aspects of ‘womanhood.’ Carter consistently challenges the way in which women are represented as passive victims and as such, the female characters in her retellings aren’t rescued by woodsmen, but by themselves, their mothers and by other women. The stories deal with ideas and notions of the traditional roles women play in relationships, the uneven balance of power, their burgeoning sexuality, identity, coming of age and their eventual ‘corruption’ at the hands (claws) of men and their base instincts. This notion found its way into John Fawcett's werewolf-movie-as-metaphor-for-menstruation, Ginger Snaps (2000); surely the most significant and effective example of 'feminist horror' since Carrie. In Ginger Snaps, Little Red Riding Hood is the wolf.
Catherine Hardwicke’s sensibilities and preoccupation with younger characters attempting to find themselves, and her choice of cast, compliments and at times even seems filtered through Carter’s own approach to Little Red Riding Hood as a tale of female empowerment. Red Riding Hood features a trinity of actresses renowned for their portrayals of strong, independent women in a myriad of unconventional roles and movies: Julie Christie, Virginia Madsen and Amanda Seyfried.

'Red Riding Hood' by Fleury Francois Richard
'Red Revenge'

Happy 'Bloody' Birthday, Behind the Couch

Behind the Couch turns 3 years old today!

Thanks so much to everyone who has swung by over the last year. There were quite a few great films watched and reviewed, the usual plethora of bad films, and of course, absolutely fucking ridiculous films. Natch. This year I also rejoiced (sort of) at the return of John Carpenter to our screens, pondered the sickening excesses of the films of Lucio Fulci and celebrated the centenary of none other than the patron saint of Behind the Couch, Mr Vincent Price. Huzzah! There was also a Halloween movie marathon and the usual contemplation of all things gialli and trashy. Fun times.

Away from the blog, I’ve continued to contribute to the likes of the really rather awesome Paracinema- including a new monthly feature on their website looking at music in cult cinema – and the brand-spanking new indie publication Exquisite Terror.

Also! Earlier this year an excerpt from an article I wrote about Sergio Martino was used as the title of an all-new 20 minute interview with the director, which appeared on the Shameless DVD release of The Strange Vice of Mrs Wardh. Exciting stuff, eh? The interview was called Thrills, Chills and Cleavage, and according to Shameless, was an apt title for a mini-doc about the filmmaker. You can read the article here.

Here’s to the next year of writing about horror movies! May it be as wine drenched, bloody and as good as this one!

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Red Hoods, Dark Woods Part II: Once Upon A Time…

Throughout the years many filmmakers have adapted various versions of Little Red Riding Hood for cinema, most to investigate or exploit its coming of age subtext. In the early Eighties Irish filmmaker Neil Jordan collaborated with English writer and novelist Angela Carter on an adaptation of her book 'The Bloody Chamber.' 'The Bloody Chamber' is a collection of fairytales, including Little Red Riding Hood, which Carter had reworked, reinterpreted and filtered through a 20th Century feminist viewpoint to give them a fresh and provocative perspective. Their resulting collaboration was 1984’s strikingly beautiful and dreamlike The Company of Wolves, a film that unfurls as the fever-dream of a young girl experiencing menstruation for the first time. Boasting a narrative of stories within stories and dreams within dreams, The Company of Wolves retains its power even now, and in terms of stylisation and mood, even manages to ‘out-Burton’ Tim Burton, with its rich and intoxicating atmospherics. Angela Lansbury starred as the Grandmother who warns her young granddaughter Rosaleen (Sarah Patterson) to be wary of men who are ‘hairy on the inside’ and whose eyebrows meet in the middle. The tales they tell each other form the bulk of the movie, unspooling as striking vignettes ruminating on the nightmarish plight of female adolescents.

Matthew Bright’s indie film Freeway updated and reinterpreted the story in 1996, with Little Red Riding Hood (Reese Witherspoon) portrayed as a white-trash juvenile delinquent on her way to stay with her grandmother when her drug-addicted, prostitute mother and abusive step-father are hauled off to prison. Naturally, she has a run in with the ‘big bad wolf’ – Kiefer Sutherland as a mentally deranged serial killer targeting vulnerable young women on the titular freeway. Unfolding as a wickedly off-kilter road movie, Freeway also provides damning social commentary on the US’s Right Wing justice system and how it treats the juvenile delinquents caught up in it.

Still from 'Trick 'r Treat'
Giacomo Cimini’s 2003 film Red Riding Hood, re-imagined the tale as the misadventures of a young girl acting as a vigilante, delivering violent justice to thieves, rapists, murderers and thugs with the aid of her imaginary, wolf mask wearing friend, George.

Also made in 2003, Little Erin Merryweather updates the tale to feature Red Riding Hood as a serial killer with severe psychological hang-ups originating from her molestation as a child: the 'big bad wolf' in her past being her abusive father. She works as a fairytale-obsessed librarian on a college campus and preys on male students; stalking them through nearby woods, stabbing them to death and sowing stones up inside their bellies. The film, directed by and starring David Morwick boasted the tag line 'A flash of red... Then you're dead', and craftily subverted the norm by playing around with gender conventions resulting in a film about a group of young men who are stalked by a female killer.

The Ellen Page starring Hard Candy reinvented the story for the iPod generation, with a self-appointed vigilante ‘red riding hood’ figure tracking down paedophiles through online chat-rooms and extracting brutal ‘justice.’ The Syfy commissioned series, Red: Werewolf Hunter also put a slyly subversive spin on the tale. The series follows the exploits of the modern-day descendant of Little Red Riding Hood, who brings her fiancé home to meet her family and reveal to him their occupation as werewolf hunters. Trouble ensues however after he is bitten by a werewolf and the pair must go on the run, with her having to protect him from her werewolf-slaying family. Ultra low budget slasher Rotkäppchen: The Blood of Red Riding Hood mixed erotic stylisation with gory violence in its retelling of the tale as directed by Harry Sparks in 2009.

Still from 'Brothers Grimm'


Catherine Hardwicke’s Red Riding Hood - written by David Leslie Johnson (who also wrote the creepy and disturbing The Orphan) - is loosely based on the original folk tale “Le Petit Chaperon Rouge” (Little Red Riding Hood), as written by Charles Perrault, and elements from the version by the Brothers Grimm, “Rotkäppchen” (Redcap), which was written several decades later. With its supernaturally charged story boasting werewolves and angst-ridden teens embroiled in a quivering love triangle, Red Riding Hood has already drawn comparisons with Hardwicke’s adaptation of teen-vampire romance, Twilight. It would be easy to dismiss Hardwicke as a peddler of pallid, gothic-hewn romances for lovelorn, awkward teenage girls; easy, were it not for the fact that she also co-wrote and directed the hard-hitting and wayward drama Thirteen.

Hardwicke has a penchant for stories that revolve around marginalised young people, particularly young women, who undergo tumultuous strife and heartache in order to find their own identities and voices. The character of Little Red Riding Hood after all, depending on what variation of the tale you look at, was resourceful, independent, head-strong and resilient. The perfect heroine for a modernised gothic horror flick. In some versions it is she who saves herself and her grandmother from the big bad wolf, not a woodsman. Each version acts as a thinly veiled metaphor relaying the pain and potential dangers girls face as they mature into womanhood.

It is fair to say that the figure of a red-hooded girl picking her way cautiously through deep dark woods, still haunts popular culture today and drips with sexual undertones. It is one of the most effective expressions of the ultimate loss of innocence. From Roald Dahl’s ‘Revolting Rhymes’ through countless music videos by the likes of Evanescence and Cathy Davey, to explicit references in horror movies such as Trick 'r Treat and The Brother’s Grimm, to darker, more erotic takes on pre-Perrault versions of the tale, such as Neil Gaiman’s reinterpretation in ‘The Sandman’; the little girl with the red riding hood actually cuts a pretty impressive swathe through pop culture and media.

Ladies Month at The Death Rattle: Top 10 Final Girls #7-4

A pregnant college girl; a grieving widow; a murderously obsessive best friend; a nervous wreck and a spoilt daddy’s girl. Any of these sound like your typical horror heroine or Final Girl?

Head over to The Death Rattle to check out the latest instalment of mine and Aaron's favourite women in horror.

Monday, 5 December 2011

Ladies Month at The Death Rattle:Top 10 Final Girls #8-10


When Aaron Duenas of The Death Rattle infamy asked me to choose a few favourite Horror Heroines for his Ladies in Horror month, I was hardly going to say no, was I? 

As much as I love Laurie, Alice, and Nancy et al though, I thought it might be more interesting to take a look at a few other ‘horror heroines’ who perhaps broaden, bend or even negate the concept of what it is to be a Final Girl.

The plucky women I’ve chosen might not necessarily fit the rigid and conventional definition of ‘Final Girl’, but they still represent the strong spirit she is renowned for. Of course, many of the women Aaron and I have listed obviously owe a huge debt to Laurie, Alice, Nancy and co – whose essences pervade this month over at The Death Rattle - which is where you should head now to check out the first of our Top Ten.

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Red Hoods, Dark Woods Part I

"The Company of Wolves II" by Olukemi
With Snow White and the Huntsman galloping onto screens in the wake of, and from the same gothic fairytale stable as Catherine Hardwicke’s Red Riding Hood, and Tarsem Singh’s Mirror Mirror to follow soon after, it looks like fairytale adaptations are ‘trending’ at the moment. They’re certainly not a new thing; fairytales have often provided the basis of films throughout cinema history – either directly or loosely. I thought it might be interesting throughout the course of December to have a look at one of the most recognisable and enduring of these tales – Little Red Riding Hood.

The tale of Little Red Riding Hood is centuries old. Most people will be familiar with it thanks to growing up with the likes of the slightly diluted version by the Brothers Grimm, in which a young girl and her grandmother are rescued from the belly of a ravenous wolf by a chivalrous woodsman. Earlier versions of the tale were much darker, and bleaker. The earliest recorded written version of the tale dates back to 17th century France and a writer named Charles Perrault. Perrault’s tale featured young Red Riding Hood and her sickly Grandmother being devoured by a Big Bad Wolf who tricks both of them, only this time; they are not rescued by a woodsman.

A typical fairytale, Little Red Riding Hood works on a subconscious level to teach us about the dangers inherent in our world; it isn’t just the story of a young girl who is menaced by a wolf when she gets lost in the woods on her way to her grandmother’s house. It is a story, as most fairytales are, that hangs heavy with cautionary morality, warning young girls of the dangers of conversing with strange men and the potential threats which will accompany their burgeoning sexuality as they cross the threshold into womanhood.

"Le Petit Chaperon Rouge" by Gustave Doré

Still from Trick 'r Treat (2007)

Fairytales remain a relevant and powerful form of storytelling because of their ability to be constantly reinterpreted and retold, making them relatable enough for most generations. That they are usually drenched in sexual connotations and concerned with the awakening of sexuality renders them even more potent. The renowned psychologist Bruno Bettelheim – also a follower of Sigmund Freud's and an important contributor to psychoanalysis - proposed in his book “The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales”, that the fairytale is an important part of helping children define who they are and what their place is in the world. Bettelheim believed that by hearing about life-threatening problems and potential threats, children are given vital information that operates on a subconscious level, educating them about the struggles of life, and that these struggles are actually an intrinsic part of our existence. Like Plato, Bettelheim maintained that the education of children should begin with the telling of myths and that the fairytale presented a model for behaviour; giving meaning and value to our lives. He commented: “As children, we need monsters to instruct us in the ways of the world.”

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Abney Park Cemetery

On a recent trip to London to visit friends I also took the opportunity to visit Abney Park Cemetery in Stoke Newington, in the London borough of Hackney. It is one of London’s ‘Magnificent Seven’ cemeteries and a peaceful Saturday afternoon was spent exploring the place. It’s no secret I love cemeteries (the older the better) and wouldn’t think twice about spending an afternoon wandering around one and taking photos.

In 1840 Abney Park became a non-denominational garden cemetery and semi-public park arboretum, and today it is used by local residents who walk, jog, picnic, hang out and drink there.

Amongst the dark delights I discovered were an abandoned gothic chapel in the middle of the grounds and various catacombs amongst the overgrown and hauntingly beautiful walkways; themselves flanked by landscaped woodlands. Everything is wildly overgrown and atmospheric.

Amongst the dead interned in Abney Park are William and Catherine Booth, founders of The Salvation Army. Here are (but a few!) of the photographs I took whilst wafting around there on a strangely mild November afternoon... 















Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Audiodrome#2: Eraserhead


Head over to Paracinema's online lair to check out my article on the soundtrack of David Lynch's “dream of dark and troubling things”, Eraserhead; a surreal and nightmarish meditation on the horror of parenthood.

"You're in very bad trouble if you won't cooperate..."

Why not pick up the latest issue of Paracinema while you’re there? Amongst its lurid delights are articles such as 'Blood Is Thicker Than Fear: Maternal Madness in Horror Cinema'; 'Dreams That You Could Never Guess: Bela Lugosi on Poverty Row, 1940-42' and 'Censoring the Centipede: How the BBFC are Sewing Our Eyes Shut.' All great stuff, written by hardcore fans of genre films for hardcore fans of genre films.

Sunday, 13 November 2011

The Woman

2011
Dir. Lucky McKee

Social satire or horror movie? Misogynistic or an attack on misogyny? Feminist tract or manipulative glorification of violence? These are the kinds of questions that The Woman has raised with audiences and critics. Whether the film is viewed as a powerful portrait of misogyny, a thinking man’s torture-porn flick or simply a brutal and nasty gore-fest - The Woman proves to be an uncompromising and memorable ordeal. More a film to be endured than enjoyed, it has left audiences divided, devastated and immersed in deep debate. Frenzied viewers were left shocked, dazed, horrified, angry and outraged in its wake as it blazed through festival screenings and cinemas. Interestingly, apathy wasn’t something experienced by most viewers – The Woman demands that you have a strong opinion one way or the other. Of course, the danger with having such a fearsome and provocative reputation so adamantly preceding it is that it will fail to live up to the hype.

Does it? Well, it does and it doesn’t. It is shocking, gripping and well directed, but it is also very manipulative and morally black and white; the thinly veiled points it makes about gender relations, familial dysfunction, spousal abuse and contemporary morality are all hammered home with unwavering intensity.

Based on a screenplay by Lucky McKee and horror writer Jack Ketchum, The Woman works both as a stand-alone film and a sequel to the pair’s previous backwoods shocker The Offspring. It follows family man Chris Cleek’s (Sean Bridgers) attempts to civilise a wild woman he encounters in the forest and subsequently chains up in his cellar. He forces his submissive family to partake in his attempts to tame her, but unsurprisingly, it turns out to be he who is far from civilised. The Woman leads viewers along a frequently shocking and emotionally draining trail, twisting and turning but always leading unavoidably to that haunting and unforgettable climax. From the outset, it is one of those films in which everything indicates it won’t end well. At all well.



While it does serve as an exploration of the darkness in humanity and the atrocious, barbarous things society does in the name of civilization, it is a fairly simplistic depiction of such. It takes barbed jabs at conservative patriarchal family values revealing them to be inherently corrupt. While unquestioningly provocative and commanding, The Woman isn’t quite the feminist allegory it has been made out to be. Perhaps best viewed as a pitch-dark sitcom, if you scratch the surface there isn’t really that much more going on. Everything is loud and blatant – but it is conveyed with enough vigor and conviction to ensure it remains pretty damn compelling.

While its obvious button pushing is clear, it remains strangely effective. Its depiction of domestic abuse is unflinching and overwhelming in its matter of fact and abrupt execution. Even though the sporadic bloodletting will sate gore-hounds in its alarming intensity, it is actually the psychological horror and quiet degradation of the family unit that packs the weightiest punch. The female characters all live in fear of Chris. Tension comes from his unreasonable nature, his family’s inability to stand up to him and his tyrannical brand of patriarchy. He has no redeeming qualities – he has no moral grey area or ambiguity – he is presented as a clean-cut monster we’re actively encouraged to despise. He views his actions as morally righteous, and simply sees women as weak and deserving of such harsh treatment. Were these misogynous values instilled within him by his own father? Society? Or something broken, dark and damaged in his own soul?
Add to this the deliberately languid, slow-burn approach masterfully handled by McKee and you’ll get some idea of the stifling tension the film exudes.



One of the most disturbing aspects of the story is how Chris’s son begins to exhibit signs of following in his father’s footsteps, and is actively encouraged by Chris to do so. When Belle (Angela Bettis) chastises him for sexually assaulting the woman, Chris beats her unconscious and props her up at the kitchen table for daring to question their son’s actions, basically saying there was “no harm done.” It is in these moments when Chris condones violence and hatred towards women that get the blood boiling most of all.

The performances hold the increasingly extreme story together and all are highly effective. Pollyanna McIntosh is addictively compelling as the titular feral woman. Equal parts threatening and vulnerable, the wash of emotions exhibited by her is startling; everything is conveyed through her eyes, body language and guttural gurglings. As the dominating patriarch, Sean Bridgers is unnervingly calm and manipulative; behind closed doors he treats his daughters and wife with disdain and contempt. The mask he wears is that of an upstanding pillar of the community, a respectable business/family man who attends barbeques and partakes in the All-American pastime of hunting. As awkward teenager Peggy, Lauren Ashley Carter quietly commands attention as she implodes in fear and distress at the events unfolding in her own family home. Angela Bettis meanwhile provides yet another reliable performance as the downtrodden, soul-broken wife Belle. Fragile and fearful, the frustration she feels as she helplessly watches her family be psychologically abused consistently simmers behind her watery weak eyes.

The crowd-pleasing and blood-soaked climax enthralls as much as it frustrates – and the fate of one character in particular boasts a distasteful ‘blame the victim’ slant. Otherwise The Woman is a very well made and commanding film – McKee’s best since May


The Woman (cert. 18) will be available to buy on DVD and Blu-ray from 17th October 2011 courtesy of Revolver Entertainment.

Special features include: The Making of ‘The Woman’, Deleted Scenes, Short Film – ‘Mi Burro’, Meet The Makers, Music track ‘Distracted’ by Sean Spillane and 5 Exclusive Limited Edition Art Cards (HMV only).

The UK Blu-ray release also features an exclusive extra 'The Film4 FrightFest Total Film' panel with Lucky McKee, Andrew van den Houten, Adam Green, Joe Lynch, Ti West and Larry Fessenden.

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Kaboom

2010
Dir. Gregg Araki

Director Gregg Araki has never been one to shy away from controversial subject matter. His work usually explores the dark side of teenage life, where bad things happen ‘unexpectedly' and the lines between life and death, reality and nightmare are increasingly blurred. As a director he lingers somewhere between amateur and auteur. His 2005 film Mysterious Skin looked at sexual abuse and its aftermath through the eyes of two teenage boys – one of whom is convinced he is the victim of alien abduction. The Doom Generation was a gloomy, ultra-violent and nihilistic 'Generation X' for the soulless Nineties. His work usually features various depictions of the apocalypse as an almost mundane, matter of fact event and drugged-out characters wander through hyper-retro candy-coloured sets and broodingly dark cityscapes.

His latest film, Kaboom is a fantastical, mind-altering, sex-charged romp through the fickle world of college life that gradually morphs into an increasingly oddball, horror-tinged and absurd story about the onset of a global nuclear holocaust brought about by a sinister cult. Part comedy, part horror, part sci-fi, the range of tones Araki adopts throughout this head-melter shouldn’t really work, though everything holds together well enough to form an off-kilter and intoxicating film that is anything but boring.


The lives of Smith (Thomas Dekker), his arty, sarcastic best friend Stella (Haley Bennett), kooky free spirit London (Juno Temple) and pretty but dim surfer roommate Thor (Chris Zylka) are turned upside when Smith is convinced, while tripping on hallucinogenic cookies he ate at a party no less, that he has witnessed the brutal murder of an enigmatic red-haired girl he’s seen before in his dreams. His investigation leads him deeper into a sinister mystery that looks set to alter not only his own life, but the destiny of the entire world.

Rather unfortunately, the intriguing central premise all too soon falls into the background and becomes a mere backdrop, and the narrative is propelled by various sex scenes in which Araki’s characters explore their sexualities with each other while discussing everything from pop culture to the meaning of life. Cue much bed-hopping between couples and copious close-up shots of ecstatic faces during orgasm. The colourful and dysfunctional characters are typical of those who inhabit Araki’s film work; disaffected, bored, tedious and cynical; they indulge in copious amounts of drugs and sex while waxing lyrical about the state of the world. While Araki’s attempts to flesh out his creations are admirable, Kaboom might have benefitted from more attention to the story. When the central mystery eventually comes to the fore and Araki builds a fair degree of tension rather seamlessly, it’s all arguably too little, too late, as the film suddenly ends in a moment that will make some audiences feel utterly cheated and others – maybe those more familiar with the director’s bleak, absurdist humour – just smile wryly.


The ethereal score by ex-Cocteau Twins member Robin Guthrie and Austrian ambient-electronic composer Ulrich Schnauss is suitably moody and swirls throughout the movie headily, enhancing the tripped-out, hallucinogenic feel.

Araki’s meshing of sci-fi, horror, queer cinema, road movies, dark drama, full on sex, magic-realism and quasi-religious foreboding may not be everyone’s bag – especially as it all feels so detached – but those seeking genuine oddness with humour by turns both madcap and absurd, may find what they seek in this spaced out oddity.

Sunday, 6 November 2011

Maniac Cop

1988
Dir. William Lustig

Innocent New Yorkers are being brutally murdered by a uniformed police officer. As the death toll mounts, officer Jack Forrest finds himself accused of the slaughter. With few friends, powerful enemies and a psychopathic slayer still at large, Jack teams up with hardboiled Detective Frank McCrae and blonde-bombshell rookie Theresa, to prove he’s not guilty and bring down the killer.

You have the right to remain silent… Forever!

Boasting a cult-tastic cast of 80’s exploitation veterans including Tom Atkins, Richard Roundtree, Bruce Campbell and Laurene Landon, Maniac Cop has so much going for it. The script, by Larry Cohen, coupled with William Lustig’s bruising direction, ensures the film unravels as an entertaining and riveting suspenser. Cohen has made a career out of subverting normal, everyday things into objects of terror: babies (It’s Alive), ice-cream (The Stuff), paramedics (The Ambulance), and public phone boxes (Phone Booth). Maniac Cop subverts the notion of the police as a bastion for law and order, and twists it around to create something more sinister and unsettling. By taking a figure usually associated with safety, security, law and order and capsizing it, Cohen and Lustig are able to create effective scenes involving innocent people seeking help from the police, only to come face to face with a ruthless, psychotic killer.

Maniac Cop meshes together standard slasher movie tropes with police procedural movie trimmings. As well as the plethora of stalkings and murders, the film also boasts an engrossing central mystery; who is the cop and why is he killing people? As the eponymous cop, Matt Cordell comes complete with a tragic back-story and a thirst for revenge. That he is also a hulking brute who never speaks, is severely disfigured and wears a rather iconic garb means he could sit comfortably alongside other slasher villains of the 80s such as Jason, Michael or Freddy. The ways in which he kills his victims are both brutally violent and slyly humorous, particularly the scene involving a handcuffed man and a pool of just poured concrete. An especially taut scene features one woman handcuffed to a dead man and trying desperately to escape as the psycho-cop bashes down her door…


The central theme of the film seems potently relevant today, given the increasing instances of police brutality in society; the most prominent one in recent memory being the case of Ian Tomlinson, who on April 1 2009, was passing through the G20 summit protests in London and was pushed to the ground by a policeman. He died soon afterwards and the officer responsible for pushing him – demonstrating disproportionate force - has been charged with manslaughter. Another instance of contemptible police brutality that I couldn’t help but recall when watching Maniac Cop was the case of Jody McIntyre, who was dragged from his wheelchair by police during a student protest over tuition fees in London, 2009. What happens when police abuse their power and the trust we have in them? Who do we turn to then? This notion is exploited perfectly throughout Maniac Cop, most obviously in the opening scene where a woman, fleeing through a darkened park from a pair of muggers, spies a cop ahead of her and runs to him for help, only to receive a crushed throat for her trouble.


It is ingrained within us as a society not to question the police, and there are a number of suspenseful scenes where the titular cop exploits the authority his badge gives him – notably in the scene where he yanks a guy from his car as the dumb girlfriend looks on with weak trepidation, realising something isn’t quite right but feeling powerless to protest. Cohen’s witty script also finds time to take a few side swipes at the media – particularly at its ability to whip up frenzied panic by sensationalising stories, resulting in people panicking and acting without foresight or rational thought - perfectly conveyed in the scene where a lone woman in a broken down car listening to the news with increasing anxiety, shoots the cop who comes to her assistance, believing him to be the killer.

The New York City depicted is gritty, sleazy and menacing and the dank atmosphere is perfectly enhanced by the score, courtesy of Jay Chattaway; a typically 80s horror movie affair – all pulsing synths, taut strings, creepy atmospherics and a haunting Goblinesque lullaby theme that echoes throughout the flashbacks.

If you’re looking for a trashy, though well written and tightly executed exploitation flick with major slasher tendencies and some Tom Atkins AND Bruce Campbell action thrown in for good measure, you really can’t go wrong with Maniac Cop.


Maniac Cop (cert. 18) was released on Blu-ray (£27.99) by Arrow Video on 31st October 2011.

Special Features: Brand new High Definition transfer of film presented in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio; exclusive UK introduction to the film by star Tom Atkins; Doomed Detective: Tom Atkins on Maniac Cop; Lady Of The Night: Laurene Landon remembers Maniac Cop; Scripting A New Slasher Super-Villain: Larry Cohen on Matt Cordell; trailer; collectors’ booklet featuring brand new writing on the film by author Troy Howarth and “The Original Maniac: An interview with William Lustig”, adapted from Calum Waddell's book “Taboo Breakers”; reversible sleeve with original and newly commissioned artwork; double-sided fold out artwork poster; original Stereo 2.0 audio; optional English subtitles for the hearing impaired.