Randy Rides Alone (1934)

Directed by: Harry L. Fraser

This film is so old that the cast are introduced as ‘The Players’. We open to a very youthful looking John Wayne, who plays Randy, the man who rides alone. He finds himself at the ‘Half Way House’, a saloon bar in the middle of nowhere. I like how there is no real build up, we don’t know anything about Randy, he just appears, and now we must follow him around. When Randy goes inside, no doubt enticed by the charming music that can be heard from outside, he finds a piano that is programmed to play automatically, and numerous bullet riddled bodies strewn across the bar. Randy then reads a defaced ‘Wanted’ poster on the wall for a man named Marvin Black that issues a threat to the local Sheriff.

Despite shoddy camera work, hilariously wooden acting (Wayne surprisingly not being the worst culprit), and aging terribly ‘Randy Rides Alone’ will always be remembered for its terrifyingly dramatic opening. The unique automatic piano (which I’ve discovered via Wikipedia is called a player piano) that plays on and on and on, the powerful sight of a bar room massacre, and somebody’s panic stricken eyes looking through peek holes in a portrait of Ulysses S. Grant create an unbearable sense of tension, which admittedly goes down the plug hole when a bunch of mean looking riders turn up to arrest Randy, who they wrongly suspect is one of the men behind the brutal murders. The clunky dialogue from this exchange underlines that ‘Randy Rides Alone’ is from a time in cinema history when we didn’t have scriptwriters in the calibre of somebody like Aaron Sorkin.

George ‘Gabby’ Hayes plays the villain Marvin Black who is behind the massacre, and plots to take control of the Halfway House. Black also has an alter-ego called Matt the Mute, a hunchbacked man (the hunch cleverly created using a pillow that he stuffs into his suit jacket) who annoying scribbles down messages on a notepad to communicate with other characters, each scene he’s in lasts an eternity as we watch a hand clutching a pen scrawl something insightful down on paper. “Gee, Matt I never thought of that” seems to be the stock response of the characters that get to read these messages. It gets dull fast.

Hayes just about does enough as the villain of the piece, but it is Alberta Vaughn who plays Sally, the niece of Half Way House’s owner who shines brightest and steals not just John Wayne but also this viewer’s heart. Sally’s not traumatized by the carnage she witnessed, is very feisty and isn’t your usual damsel in distress. She’s a real tough classy broad, and absolutely adorable, in that time long ago before young women began to down countless WKD’s on a Friday Night and guzzle cum like it was Activia pouring yoghurt.

With a fifty two minute running time ‘Randy Rides Alone’ isn’t a painstaking watch. There is plenty of unintentional humour that might work even better if viewed with some snarky like-minded mates for an afternoon of Mystery Science Theater 3000 style commentary.

– RJW
6/10

Randy Rides Alone on IMDB
Buy Randy Rides Alone [DVD] [1935]

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The Keep (1983)

I’ve been immersing myself in the higher end of the film world for a while, thanks to Sight and Sound magazine’s list of the ten greatest films of all time, and all the other films voted for by critics and directors, so it’s nice to look through my shelves and go “ah yes, that film about Nazis being attacked by something supernatural, you shall soothe my fevered brow”.

 

To be fair, the poster was never going to have the words “incoherent mess” on it

There’s a bunch of Nazis, led by Jurgen Prochnow, who have been told to guard a village way up in the Carpathian Mountains. They potter about for a bit and set up their base inside the spooky-looking keep, but are told by the keep’s caretaker to not mess with the tons of metal crosses that are embedded into the walls everywhere. Even though they look like silver, the Nazis are assured they’re made of pewter and are worthless, and are probably given some “hey, you might let out the ancient evil spirit if you do that” speech. I was too busy listening to maybe the least appropriate soundtrack of all time, a jaunty bit of synth from Tangerine Dream (who I saw many moons ago in Liverpool, cheers to my old mate Matt). I think deliberately anachronistic music can work in film, but this just doesn’t, and it becomes so bad that you keep expecting them to reveal they’re people from the 80s who’ve gone to a World War 2 theme park. Anyway, I’m wandering away from the plot here, such as it is.

 

An untrustworthy Nazi (if you could ever imagine such a thing) decides, one night while on watch (the first night? The thousandth? It’s a bit difficult to tell) to check the metal the crosses are made out of, and thinks it’s silver, so gets his mate to pull one out. This reveals a passageway further into the keep…one of them crawls down it, and we get one of the film’s few truly arresting images – what looks like an underground cave, miles and miles wide and high, with more crosses and unusual-looking gravestones.

 

Then…whoops!! the thing they warned would be released, is released, accompanied by the light show from a Tangerine Dream show of the period, aka some hilariously naff-looking special effects. The guy who was doing the exploring gets turned into a pile of goo, and the force sets about killing off the Nazis (yay!)

 

I shall try not to spoil too much of it for you. Oh okay, I’ll spoil some more. When the light is released, Scott Glenn is activated. We’ve not seen him up to this point, but we fans of cinema like this know that when someone’s eyes glow a weird colour and they suddenly start moving, they’re linked to the bad thing which just happened, usually in some supervisory capacity. He then heads off for the Keep, as do NAZI REINFORCEMENTS, led by Gabriel Byrne in his earlier, hungrier days. They’re the black-shirted fellows – the SS? And are way more evil than Prochnow and his lot. It’s revealed later that Prochnow would have fought on the side of the anti-fascists in the Spanish Civil War, although why he then signed up to fight for the Nazis a few years later is a conundrum which was left on the cutting room floor.

 

So, we’ve got two lots of Nazis, a mysterious supernatural killing machine, some villagers, Scott Glenn’s on his way, and we then get the last two pieces of the puzzle. Some writing appears on the wall, so Byrne finds out the only person who can translate it is a professor who’s been taken to a ghetto somewhere, being Jewish and all. He gets the professor and his daughter out, and it turns out to be a cut-price Sean Young and…Ian McKellen! He’d perhaps had a bash on the head before filming this, as he’d completely forgotten how to act. Turns out he’s not really a professor, just that one of the villagers wanted to save a few of his friends from being killed for their religion. Good work that fella!

 

The film, never particularly good, interesting or coherent, now just stops making any sense whatsoever. The supernatural force is revealed to be…well, my guess was the Golem, the creature of Jewish myth, and the word is uttered during the film, but it seems much more powerful and less discriminatory in its murdering ways. Anyway, it has a power totem which it needs taking out of the Keep so it can get on with the business of killing Nazis, and it asks McKellen for some help, not before doing some magic which makes him a younger man again (the only comment he gets for being obviously 30 years younger is “this place seems to agree with you”). Glenn shacks up with McKellen’s daughter for no reason, after knowing her for about 30 seconds, and I could have lived my whole life without seeing a Scott Glenn love scene. The monster turns up the power dial on its killing, and we’re set for a showdown, of sorts, where Glenn tries to stop McKellen from removing the talisman.

 

“I’m the way God made me, sir”

So, is it any good? No, of course not. The clever money (well, other reviewers) is on the last half of the film being heavily cut by the studio, which makes none of what happens in that climax make any sense. I don’t think there’s much which could have made this film better, though – the acting is pretty bad, the special effects are poor, the music is terrible, and there’s the sense through the entire film that any attempts to make it historically authentic were to be avoided at all costs.

 

For a director like Michael Mann (who has done many good films) and a cast like that to make a film this rotten, though, something must have gone wrong, somewhere. I think more of a sense of the passing of time and its effect on the Nazis would have helped, as would less dry ice and laser-style special effects…keeping the main monster shrouded in smoke til the last possible second would have helped too, I reckon. Oh, you know what else would have helped? If the Nazis had just gone “well, looks like this Keep is a pretty bad place. I know, let’s set up a camp in the village which is right next door, and not just let ourselves get picked off”. But such logic is not for the residents of films such as this.

 

Rating: 1 golem out of 5

 

PS: I don’t know if modern Nazis have a google alert on uses of the word. If they do, and it brings them here, please, the lot of you, kiss my spotty multicultural ass.

 

The Keep on IMDB
Buy The Keep [1983]

Jersey Shore Shark Attack (2012)

The shark film reviews are back! For those of you who’ve been reading this site for a while, you may remember my early reviews for “Swamp Shark” and “Dinoshark“, and I’ve been promising to get back into the swing of things. Here we are!

If you’ve read the title of this film, and thought “so, it’s the cast of Jersey Shore getting eaten by sharks?”, you’d be about 90% right. Thanks to a real, genuine shark attack on the Jersey Shore in 1916, the makers of this film got away with calling the film this…or maybe the parody laws in America are more lax than I thought. But not only do they need sharks, they need a group of people to either get eaten or fight back, and that’s where the first two words of the title come into action.

Rough facsimiles of 6 of the 7 original Jersey Shore cast members are trotted out – the Situation, who if my eyes and ears are to believed is currently on the British version of “Celebrity Big Brother” becomes The Complication, Snooki becomes Nooki, etc. They seem to have at least made an effort to have the men in the cast bear some sort of resemblance to their reality TV counterparts, but the women are an undifferentiated mass of fake tan and tight clothing – Nooki, for example, is the tall, slim and beautiful Melissa Molinaro, whereas the real Snooki is not really any of those things (not that it matters, just saying). Anyway, I don’t need to hold too many details of them in my mind because they all survive SPOILERS

In my Swamp Shark review I proposed a book called “The Laws Of Low-Budget Films With Sharks In Them”, so let’s go through those rules and see how well “Jersey Shore Shark Attack” fares.

Rule 1: ‘there must be a shot where the three heroes are on a speedboat looking ahead with determination’

Okay, there’s four of them this time, and it’s not really a speedboat 😦

Well, we’re batting 1.000 so far.

Rule 2: ‘ there must be a large seafront entertainment event that can’t be cancelled, for some reason’

Respect to him to never changing his name to something less true, I suppose?

You’re not just going to cancel a Joey Fatone concert! That guy from that band…okay, I know he was in N-Sync, has a funny little part and then gets eaten for his troubles. 2 up, 2 down!!

Rule 3: ‘at least one character must behave in a brain-buggeringly stupid way, to drive the plot along’

There’s a hell of a lot of proof for this rule. You’ve got asshole rich out-of-towners who take their yacht out into shark-infested waters; rich businessmen who keep drilling, even though they know the drilling is bad and attracts sharks; but surprisingly, none of our main cast do anything particularly silly.

Rule 4: “sharks be super-powered”

The sharks in this film are actually albino mutant killer sharks, a particularly nasty variety that normally stay in their deep ocean hideout; and while they don’t do anything quite as silly as the sharks from my previous two reviews, sharks just don’t jump out of the water to attack people, much less jump from one bit of water, over some land, grab a former pop star in mid-air then splash down in another bit of water.

So, the four rules are still strong, three films in.

This film has some of the most egregious stunt casting I’ve ever seen. First up, there’s an actual Jersey Shore cast member, Vinny, who stars as a local TV reporter. I presume this is why the 6 heroes, while not geniuses by any stretch, are kind to each other, respectful of the Jersey Shore and make the other Guidos proud – one of his requests before agreeing to be in the film? We also have the aforementioned Joey Fatone, who at least is a good sport; William Atherton, the baddie from “Ghostbusters”, Paul Sorvino and a couple of “Sopranos” cast members.

There’s a plot, of sorts. An evil developer wants to turn the shore into a golf course, so lays some heavy concrete supports to turn the pier into the 18th hole. This attracts the sharks, badabing badaboom, the bad guys get eaten or squashed by a runaway ferris wheel, order is restored.

You know what? This film isn’t all that bad. I mean, it’s still terrible by normal standards – the guy playing Paulie D can either do an impression of Mr. D or act, but not both at the same time, and chooses the former far more than the latter; the sharks look like some 14 year old’s first attempt at CGI; and the ending’s as damp a squib as “Birdemic”…but there’s fun to be had. Most of the time, the cast don’t take things seriously, and the combination of them with some heavyweight actors makes for some good times.

Lay back, relax yourself to a few degrees above a coma, and pop in “Jersey Shore Shark Attack”. It will be okay.

Rating: thumbs up

Jersey Shore Shark Attack on IMDB
Buy Jersey Shore Shark Attack [DVD]

We Need to Talk About Kevin (2011)

An unspecified time after a terrible tragedy hits a small-town American community, Eva Khatchadourian (Tilda Swinton) begins her new job in a menial travel agency, a poor facsimile of her previous career as a globe-trotting journalist. Ostracised from her community and enduring regular humiliation in various guises, Eva attempts to gradually rebuild her life, reflecting upon the events leading up to the tragedy: Her marriage to the affable, easy-going Franklin (John C. Reilly) and, most crucially, the troubled development of their son Kevin (played as a teen by Ezra Miller). Kevin is a supremely difficult child, increasingly cold and adversarial towards Eva, testing both her patience and affinity with motherhood. It becomes increasingly apparent that Kevin is in some way complicit in the tragedy, but how much responsibility should Eva share?

It’s of course naive to consider director Lynne Ramsay’s adaptation of Lionel Schriver’s best selling book as in any way prescient of the recent shootings in Aurora, Illinois. However, the pending case of James Eagan Holmes does help highlight a recurring problem in attempting this subject matter. Ben Coccio’s Zero Day (2003) is a found-footage video diary of two teenagers preparing to execute a Columbine-like attack. Despite the optimised effort at portraying reality, very little of the run-time is spent with any real rumination of their motives. In a similar manner to Gus Van Sant’s Elephant, another high school massacre movie released in the same year, it’s more an exercise in ruthless banality. The point is presumably that such terrible crimes are either beyond the pat conclusions of three-act narrative, or that as an audience we’ve yet to earn the cathartis of a psychological buffer between ourselves and the perpetrators. On the surface, and at the risk of trivialising atrocity, the real-life background of Holmes would attest to this point. Beyond his social ineptitude, accumulation of weaponry, and of course his alleged mass killing, there doesn’t appear to be much to single him out as nefarious. In the context of a drama, it leaves the production in a bit of vacuous state.  If we don’t glean any real lesson or insight into our characters and situation, what’s the point?

There is no point..” opines Kevin, rather helpfully, partway through the film, “that’s the point“. However, despite this nihilistic corroboration, We Need to Talk About Kevin deviates from its thematic predecessors in three main ways. Primarily, it eschews a linear approach for something more lurid and stylised, albeit ruthlessly grounded in events. In fact, it’s a production tour-de-force that should, if accounting for a modicum of innate justice, bring Lynne Ramsay to the forefront of respected contemporary directors. This is particularly in light of the endless precession of washed-out gangster films and derivative zombies that comprise the majority of the British film industry’s output. Secondly, the film never in all honesty portrays Kevin as a ‘normal’ kid compromised by social influence. For one thing, he lacks the ‘jocks picked on me’ defence and is the product of an ostensibly affluent environment. Almost from his birth onwards, Kevin is nakedly malevolent and sociopathic. Thirdly, the film is told entirely through the perspective of Kevin’s mother, Eva, whose flashbacks to his upbringing are potentially unreliable. It’s possible within the logic of the story that Kevin’s unpleasantness is magnified through the prism of Eva’s masochistic hindsight.

In the supplemental material, cast and crew attempt to paint a film with no good and evil people. That’s certainly a more noble aim, rather than the reductive notion that ‘evil’ is a tangible or innate affliction. Unfortunately, it’s not the prevailing assumption of the film that one is left with. On the upside, Kevin is a truly memorable creation, particularly when coming of age as a cold, bullying, yet unerringly perceptive youth. He singles out his mother for victimisation at an implausibly early age; it’s simply never convincing enough that his personality stems organically from Eva’s maternal antipathy. The knock-on effect is that we never interpret her as truly culpable in her own struggles, not even subsequently. As a psychological insight into those who commit such atrocity – presuming that as an intention – it fails. Its successes, however, neatly eclipse these admitted disappointments.

From the opening shot of billowing curtain leading out to a twilight patio, it’s evident we’re in different territory than a standard genre affair. The composition is frequently stunning, every other shot providing a desktop-worthy snap. The film drenches itself in symbolism, much of which rewards with subsequent viewings. Every transition seems carefully built for healthy musing, as aural and visual callbacks are elegantly intimated. Editor Joe Bini should be singled out somewhat for this; seamlessly bringing us back and forth through time without a loss of coherence is no mean feat.

As has been noted among Ramsey’s previous work, there’s a frequently vivid use of colour. Chiefly red, most explicitly in the paint attack suffered by Eva’s new house, her resulting clean-up punctuating the movie. The colour is there in children’s toys, police lights, food thrown petulantly against a fridge etc. The scenes of Eva literally cleaning off red paint from her body and environment may smack of thuddingly literal imagery – a problem the film periodically suffers from – but the cumulative effect is potent and satisfying. For a film containing so much repression and denial among the central characters, the colour serves almost to throw it all into sharp relief. It’s this sense of hyper-reality that helps buoy the film during its broader psychological moments.

Tilda Swinton is fantastic throughout, serving a tremendous dynamic of character as we track one woman’s emotional and existential descent. John C. Reilly gives a fine performance, though is a slightly bemusing presence; despite being a fine dramatic actor, his role seems to echo the kinds of endearing man-children that gave his career a deserved second wind. Franklin is a magnanimous sort, to the point of frustration, so it remains a logical fit. The chemistry between he and Eva is deliberately questionable, adding to the malapropros climate of the film. Ezra Miller luxuriates in the role of Kevin, the child actors (Rocky Duer and Jasper Newell) having already set the stage by playing the character at his more conflicted. Here, he’s given full license to exude pure, sweating ego and unaccountable contempt, yet somehow without nudging too much into cartoon.

We Need To Talk About Kevin sidesteps many real-world concerns surrounding these tragedies, such as gun control, religion or cultural identity. This isn’t quite a point against it, as hitting broader notes can strengthen the symbolic drive. It does however prohibit the film from making any kind of proactive stance, leaving it vulnerable to numerous self-defeating interpretations. It would be unfair to derive political assumptions when events on-screen are to an extent knowingly in excess of reality. Despite employing a sophistication that exceeds the majority of ‘evil kid’ genre movies, the film gives a more satisfying reading as liberal horror, or perhaps a feminist allegory about the sacrifices of motherhood. Eva is slapped, taunted and dehumanised throughout the run-time, yet appears to endure it voluntarily as a form of penance. Depending on your political leanings, the central folly of the Khatchadourian household is either an absence of communication, or an absence of discipline. It’s a tale of an ostensibly nice, wealthy family fatally disarmed by the apparent product of their own values. Beyond the peadophobic fantasy aspects, the fear at the heart of this story is ultimately primal and very palpable; its the fear that we’re vulnerable in our own home, by those closest to us. It’s also the fear – and knowledge – that problems we ignore don’t remotely go away.

We Need to Talk About Kevin on IMDB
Buy We Need to Talk About Kevin (2011) [DVD]
Read We Need To Talk About Kevin (Serpent’s Tail Classics)

Evil (2003)

Directed by Mikael Håfström

When I was a wee lad, growing up in a working class household, I dreamed that one day I would attend a boarding school. I imagined Victorian hallways garnished by fine antiques and acres of lush green sporting pastures where I might play rugby in the winter and cricket in the summer.

Mikael Håfström’s Evil takes place in the 1950s, following Erik Ponti, a teenage tearaway who is in the last chance saloon after a vicious schoolyard fight; he is referred to as “evil” by his headmaster, expelled, and subsquently sent to a stuffy Swedish boarding school by his Mother in the hope he might yet become an upstanding young man. The school is very old fashioned, and the newest pupils are ruled by the Student Council, who are quite similar to prefects in the British boarding school system. The worst of whom is Silverhielm, a tall strapping blue chipper who rules the roost. His henchman Dahlen, is a vile little twerp who revels in his role as number two.

After refusing to obey Silverhielm and Dahlen’s orders Erik finds himself as the hero of his fellow outcasts, and enemy of the Student Council. Erik bonds with his bespectacled roommate Pierre and together they decide that the best resistance is a defiant pacifist stance, inspired by Gandhi. Throughout the film this resistance is tested as they are physically beaten, endure weeks of solitary weekend detention and are frequently humiliated by the Council.

There is a heartwarming little romance in the film as Erik falls for a Finnish cafeteria worker called Marja. The cafeteria staff are forbidden from fraternizing with students, but this does not stop Erik. Marja is particularly taken by Erik standing up for what is ‘right’. The relationship fits in with what ultimately is a coming of age tale as Erik gets his dick wet for the first time.

I think anyone who’s enjoyed films such as ‘Dead Poets Society’ or ‘If…’ would find Evil a satisfying two hour viewing. Håfström’s direction is terrific, and his artistic use of blood during the fight scenes paints a harrowing sense of realism. This is used particularly well during the opening schoolyard beatdown and when Erik receives a battering from Silverheilm in the cafeteria. Violence and physical abuse features throughout the film, as Erik receives several belt lashings from his horrid stepfather. It is interesting how Håfström makes such a blunt point as to how violence usually continues indefinitely until someone steps in. This is represented by Erik’s Mum playing the piano to block out the sound of leather on flesh, and the members of the school baying for blood rather than intervening when someone crosses the line.

There are some outstanding acting performances in the film, particularly from Gustaf Skarsgård (yes, he is part of the Skarsgård acting dynasty) as Silverhielm, and some stellar supporting turns from Mats Bergman, Magnus Roosmann and Ulf Friberg as teachers in the boarding school.

If I’m to make one criticism, it is rather disappointing as the film builds quite nicely for a dramatic finale, only to then tie together all the loose ends in an anti-climatic happily-ever-after fashion. This may well closely follow the novel’s ending, which the film is adapted from, but nonetheless it still irked me somewhat.

– RJW
7/10

Evil on IMDB
Buy Evil [2003] [DVD]

Tony (2009)

Directed by: Gerard Johnson

Since the beginning of time, human beings have killed other human beings. Some do it for patriotism, some for God, and others for money or power or women. The reasons for taking the life of another human being are vast and complex and terrifying. But none are quite as terrifying as people who murder for seemingly no reason at all.

Gerard Johnson presents us with this particular brand of domestic horror in “Tony”, a film about a London based serial killer. Too many times in film history, I feel serial killers are portrayed as the rich suave sociopaths like Pat Bateman in the legendary “American Pyscho”, or the deranged lunatic like the Joker in “The Dark Night”. They are violent, commanding men, complete out of touch with the real world while committing atrocity after atrocity to feed their blood lust and desire for anarchy. Tony is not one of those killers.

We are introduced to our anti-hero as a small, pathetic man who lives in a rundown London slum. He has been unemployed for 20 years, and spends his time watching 80s action films in his dirty apartment. He has no friends or family. He looks like the kind of man that would be arrested for kiddie porn. Tony, despite being so reclusive, frequents both female prostitutes and gay bars, apparently for attention. This all makes him seem that much more pathetic, the chronic loser alone in his small shithole eating microwave dinners. Oh yes, he also brutally murders those who would seek to push him around. Drug dealers, aggressive gay men, and others all end up on Tony’s dead list. He doesn’t appear to gain excitement or sexual gratification from such murders; instead it merely seems that at some point in his shitty life he figured out that murdering someone was the quickest way to eradicate a problem. He chops up the bodies in his sink and disposes of them in the dirty river nearby, after carefully wrapping the parts neatly in newspaper and a plastic sack, much like a deranged butcher.

If you are looking for a good crime film, or a film about a menacing pyscho: this is not it. We are offered no explanation for Tony’s behavior. There is no wily old detective on his trail. By the end of the film, things are not better or worse, they just ARE. Several times throughout the film, I forgot it was a movie, and more seemed like I was looking through a window at a real life person in London just eating crap food and murdering assholes. It is raw, and honest, and cold. I think that the matter-of-fact manner in which Gerard Johnson portrays his anti-hero makes him a sympathetic character. Is Tony really a bad guy? Did he really deserve scorn? Or was he an unfortunate loser trapped in a cycle of monotony and necessary violence? There is an almost touching seen when we see Tony awake in his dirty bed lying next to a corpse from the night before. He cheerfully greets the cadaver good morning, and asks if he would like a cup of tea. Is this the behavior of a menace to society, or a pathetic fuck up with no way to interact with the human beings around him? When people are nice to Tony, he is polite and distant, and they live. When people are mean to Tony, he is polite and distant, and they die. Simple as that. By the end of the film, I was rooting for Tony, and I feel most others will feel the same way.

This was an extremely simple film, shot on limited budget, with limited music and no actors I recognized. Peter Ferdinando does a fantastic job of portraying our star, chilling and mesmerizing. This is a superb film, and the best serial killer film I have seen since “American Pyscho”, and while I don’t think Tony will ever be as popular as Patrick Bateman, he certainly deserves his place among terrifying movie killers. And all because he looks just like a guy any one of us would know.

– Adam Schirling

Tony on IMDB
Buy Tony [DVD]

The Thing (2011)

I wonder if at any point during the making of this film anyone went “why are we doing this? Like, isn’t this just a complete waste of everyone’s time?” But, I bet people are just happy to be working making a film, and those questions will only come out when the finished product is revealed. But, we’ve not got to that yet!

“Something’s different about Dave. Maybe it’s his hair, or the new limb growing out of his chest. It’s hard to tell.”

The 1982 version of the film is one of my favourite horror films ever – I still fondly remember my friend Dave, when he worked at the local cinema, getting them to show it one Halloween. I’ll try and avoid making too many comparisons between the two films, although towards the end I think it’s going to become inevitable.

 

A guy who looks weirdly familiar to me interrupts the science-y work of Mary Elizabeth Winstead, and asks her to come to the South Pole. Turns out some mining fellas have found a buried spaceship which has been there for 100,000 years or so, and they need her paleontological skills to identify…an alien! One of the blighters managed to escape from the stricken UFO but has been frozen in place for god knows how long. Well, 100000 years, minus a day or two, I suppose.

 

So far, so good. Who is that boss scientist fella? Never mind. They bring the alien back to their base and have a debate – Winstead says they should leave it and take it back to civilization to study it, boss scientist says they should take a tissue sample right now. Drilling into it evidently wakes it up, slowly, as a few hours later, while the “we found an alien” party is in full swing, it smashes out of the block of ice, and the main part of the film is ON!!!!

 

Part of the genius of the 1982 film was the sense of dread, along with the groundbreaking-for-the-time special effects. The alien could transform itself into anyone, so there was always that tension when someone left the room, or the group got split up. Hey, I tried not to compare things too much, but I couldn’t help myself. This film has the same alien, obviously, but he seems to be a lot less clever. I’ll give you an example. Later on in the film, there’s a helicopter which is taking a sick guy back to McMurdo, and one of the people on the helicopter is alien-ed up. Rather than just not alerting people to the fact he wants to eat their entire race, he transforms into his alien self and attacks them, destroying the final method of transportation out of the remote ice-station. Seems a bit stupid to me.

 

The film then gradually works its way through its multi-racial cast. We’ve got a British guy, a bunch of Norwegians, some Americans, and…the boss scientist! It’s Ulrich Thomsen, from “Festen”! The original Dogme 95 film and one of the most entertaining arthouse films of all time. That’s an interesting career arc for an actor, and the problem that was irritating my mind for an hour or so was solved.

 

The ending is really silly. One of the alien-infected runs off to the spaceship, to go back to his home planet. Luckily, after 100,000 years buried in the ice, it starts up first time. My mind rebelled at the daftness of this, so I started wondering what the alien’s friends would say when he turned back up at home. “Hey, Vexnarg, remember that 7 space-bucks you owe me?” The poor chap’s wife would give him a hard time, and his boss would probably sack him for crashing the car. The humans manage to prevent the ship from taking off, but one of the survivors is…you’ve guessed it, infected himself! So, the alien changes his mind for some reason (if he infects two people with “alien”, are they both the same person? Dunno) and that brings us to the final confrontation.

 

It’s difficult to spoil the ending of this film, as the last scene of this film is the first one of the 1982 version (give or take). But even though the makers of the film did their homework, and there’s plenty of careful continuity between the two films, it all seems a bit…silly. It’s another film which relies on people acting stupidly to drive the plot along; and I’m not just saying that as a viewer. If I was in that situation and I was surrounded by people behaving like they did, I’d be all “what? Really?”

 

The sensitive drama about conjoined twins had changed a lot since the first script draft

So, it’s part-prequel, part remake of one of the most fondly remembered horror films of all time. Is it any good? I think the main thing to say, really, is that it all seems a little pointless. The special effects are pretty fantastic, with the monsters reminding me of “Society”, the upper-classes-are-mutants film from the late 80s. But, absolutely no-one will ever say “well, the 1982 version was good, but 2011’s really knocks it into a cocked hat”. Mary Elizabeth Winstead is lovely, everyone tries their hardest, but the sense which is impossible to shift is that everyone’s time would have been better spent doing something else.

 

Rating: 2 ice-mutants out of 5

 

The Thing on IMDB
Buy The Thing (2011) [DVD]

The Interceptor (2009)

Directed by Konstantin Maximov

In most Hollywood films Russian villains are dead-behind-the-eyes sinister looking blokes. I expected that to be a stereotype, but no, the villains in Russian films are very much dead-behind-the-eyes sinister looking blokes. The Interceptor begins in a farfetched fashion, a shaven headed man is injured, wandering around like a drunk orang-utan through Morrisons produce section. He finds himself in a plane, and when he gets to the cockpit he discovers the plane is stuck in auto-pilot mode and that he is the only one on board. The man staggers about a bit, a raspberry jam-like splodge on the side of his face, he moans and groans, evidently feeling his wounds, and then he recklessly rips open a panel to find an explosive timed device, the countdown heads down to zero. He opens a hatch and jumps out of the plane just as it goes boom. Somehow this man survives falling several thousand feet without the aid of a parachute, he crashes through dense woodland and falls to the floor, barely alive.

The Interceptor is an odd mix of action and sci-fi, and after a prolonged credit sequence we learn that an evil force (named Konkere?) wants to destroy the earth, and in order to achieve this goal this force infiltrates the minds of Russian government members and high profile businessman. A vigilante group called ‘Stop Crime’ backed by the forces of ‘good’ (we know they’re good because they dress in white) aim to stop the evil forces from doing these nasty deeds. They enlist the help of the shaven headed man, who we find is called Matvey, because he is the ‘chosen one’.

Kurylo is the bad guy of the piece, driven by the evil force that has control of his mind. He’s actually not very scary, or menacing, and he never really seems much of a threat. Usually Russian villains in Hollywood films are scary; the villain in this Russian film the main villain is a bit of a soft touch, even though he is merely a vehicle for the evil that is controlling him. In fact to make things even harder for Kurylo our hero Matvey seems to have an aura of invincibility about him, surviving the fall from the plane, dodging bullets like Neo and quickly regaining his bearings after being shocked by the evil force. He’s even cold enough not to get broken up about the death of his former lover.

The Interceptor is a difficult film to follow, and though some of the slo-mo Matrix-y action sequences are impressive enough (If I was to highlight one scene then it would be the fight scene from the warehouse), the fact that the plot is unnecessarily complicated (and not in a pseudo-intellectual way) means that the film is hard to truly immerse yourself in. However, this is also the great thing about The Interceptor, and that after reading other reviews and comments about the film, it appears that I am not alone, and anyone who has watched this film for the first time appears to have no idea what on earth is going on. This might be because it is an adaptation of a novel by sci-fi writer Vasili Golovachov, and just maybe it is one of those adaptations that have overlooked key parts of the novel. We’ve probably got the beginning and the end, but we’re missing significant chunks from the middle.

– RJW
5/10

The Interceptor on IMDB
Buy The Interceptor [DVD] [2009]