Bermuda Tentacles (2014)

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Asylum! SyFy Channel! It’s the combination that tastes great and always goes down smooth. When I heard about the imminent broadcast of this, schedules were cleared, phones were taken off the hook and other fake preparations were made. I started singing the Barry Manilow song “Bermuda Triangle” round the house, just changing the words a little, and even my wife seemed to be moderately looking forward to it.

The President is caught in a crazy storm while flying over the Bermuda Triangle in Air Force One, and has to eject in a special Presidential rescue pod. He’s got sort-of greasy slicked back hair, and it’s so odd looking that they make a reference to getting a haircut before a press conference; presumably, the actor was growing his hair for another part. Anyway, he drops out of the story for a while, and we’re introduced to a US Navy fleet who are trying to rescue the pod, now at the bottom of the ocean.

Hard-ass Admiral! Wacky scientist! Sexy multi-ethnic/gender group of badasses! Cannon fodder! What surprised me about this film is how quickly things kick off – we’re barely ten minutes in when he see 30-metre tall worm-looking things rear up out of the ocean and surround the ships in the fleet. The Admiral (Linda Hamilton, looking a little like she’s rather bummed out to be here) tells Chief, the head of the group of badasses, that he’d better not defy any more direct orders. The only surprising thing about it is that it takes him 18 minutes of the film before he does so. While the Navy is trying (and failing) to fight the worms on the surface, Chief takes his group, along with former rapper Mya as the Admiral’s representative, down in the special submarine they have to go get the President.

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And that’s when things get a bit odd. Turns out there’s a rather unusual reason for the Bermuda Triangle’s existence (even though smartypants like me will tell you it doesn’t really exist, no more ships disappear there than any other comparable area of the ocean, etc.). When they find themselves in some sort of underwater cavern, 7 fathoms down, the true scale of their problem becomes apparent…

This isn’t the greatest acted movie ever. Linda Hamilton and Jamie Kennedy look like they can’t be bothered to be there, and it’s only Mya of the “name” cast who makes much of an effort (although not enough that you’d say she was a great actress or anything). The crew of the submarine all try their best, but it seems most of The Asylum’s money was spent on sets, and that’s where the film really shines. It looks like they’re really on a real Navy boat, and when the submarine crew encounters an “underwater” boat / plane graveyard, it looks like they filmed in a place with hundreds of abandoned boats and planes. They’re definitely stepping up their game when it comes to the look of their movies, which is maybe just in the hope they luck into the next “Sharknado”, but might just be a few people at the company who want to make better movies, rather than ones which just scrape a profit.

Without giving the game away, you’ll spot the fairly popular film which the ending is completely lifted from (with the addition of a helicopter to give it a bit of that Sharknado flavour). There’s half an attempt at some romantic tension between the Chief and Mya, and the film goes out of its way to make them both look gorgeous – the Chief, wind blowing through his hair as he gives his best dramatic pose; and Mya, biting her lip in a very coy manner. That it comes across as her being a prize for him doing well, even though they’ve basically shared no real moments in the film, is just how films do things (sadly).

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But enough of my whinging about sexual politics! This is a film about giant worm things attacking boats! And it’s surprisingly good fun. Ignore the poor acting, and just let the plot and special effect roll over you. For a film from these guys, this is an absolute success.

Rating: thumbs up

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Travelling Salesman (2012)

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The otherwise fairly terrible John Carpenter film “Escape From LA” has a final scene where anti-hero Snake Plissken has a chance to save the world’s electricity. Instead, he – in a gloriously nihilistic moment – flips the switch and plunges the entire world into darkness. This film is, essentially, a debate about whether we should do something very similar.

Four scientists – known as 1, 2, 3 and 4 in the credits – have come together to solve a problem previously thought unsolveable – the P v. NP argument. To put it in terms I could understand, any security system is breakable if you have enough time, but for the really complicated ones you’d need millions of years to go through every possibilty. There is a branch of mathematics that is attempting to work round this, to figure out a solution to extraordinarily complex problems more quickly…if you’d like to read more about this, the Wikipedia page on P v NP is a good start, and if that page didn’t make your eyes bleed then I think this could be the film for you.

Specifically, the “Travelling Salesman” problem relates to a salesman trying to plan his route between multiple different cities. You have a list of cities and the list of distances between them -how do you plan the best route without having to plan every possible route so you can pick the best one?

Those four scientists have, amazingly, solved the problem after several years, and the world’s security systems are now open to whoever has their algorithm. 5 enters, the representative of the Government who have been funding their research. He starts off all sweetness and light, but as they debate the implications, and the changes that have been made to their agreement with the Government, his facade drops very quickly and the debate turns hostile.

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Virtually the entire film is set in one room, around a table, with the 5 people debating (there are a few cuts to a TED talk the main scientist gives, as well as what may be flash-forwards and may just be fantasies). The cast are obviously more stand-ins for strains of thought than real people, but while one or two of them don’t quite have the acting chops to convince as genius scientists, the acting is by and large fine, and the enclosed space works for the big, world-spanning conversation they’re having.

The problem comes with film logic, and everything that isn’t the captivating and fascinating debate they’re having. Take, for instance, the pure science vs. government “reality” debate – if you were of a mind that having your invention controlled by the Government would be a bad thing, why take that same Government’s dollar to do the research in the first place? Initially, the sole threat for not signing the non-disclosure document is withdrawal of stipends, and the actual financial side of it doesn’t seem that impressive. If I could take my skills and make Facebook-level money on the open market, the withdrawal of fairly measly government funding wouldn’t really bother me at all – but this is enough for nearly all of them. It’s when there’s still a holdout that the government man’s response goes from reasonable (if a little aggressive) to completely cartoon villainy.

I think it might reasonably be said that this is a film about exceptionally smart people, written by someone who isn’t quite as smart as they are. There are a few too many obvious bits of dialogue that a group of people who’d been working together for four years would have got out of the way in the first week; and the people who do sign the agreement do so after the Government position has been revealed to be much less pleasant than it was at the beginning of the conversation.

I feel like I’m being a bit too critical about this film, and it’s completely unlike almost every other film I’ve reviewed for this site. It’s a thriller set in one room, with basically no action, and it succeeds where a great many other films have failed – in fact, it works better if you imagine it as just a thriller and not the “cerebral thriller” that the advertising makes reference to. And considering it was shot for around $25,000 in ten days, that makes its achievement even greater.

There is, to the very recent viewer, a rather large elephant in the room. This film came out in June 2012, and Edward Snowden’s revelations about the NSA spying on us all came out in May 2013, meaning that while a key to get round every bit of security would be helpful, our Government doesn’t need it to subject us to illegal, immoral searches. But in a way, that helps the film (the debates could as easily be about spying using traditional methods as they could be about the new technology that the film invents).

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I would definitely recommend this. Making a film as cheaply as they did meant they were allowed to go wherever they wanted, and while I wasn’t on board for every choice, I’m still thinking about it hours later, and the same most definitely can’t be said for 99% of the ISCFC’s other reviewed films.

Rating: thumbs up

Nazis At The Centre Of The Earth (2012)

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In an existence littered with no-good “mockbusters”, this movie stands out for its makers, The Asylum. It’s riding the coattails of a fairly odd film that wasn’t really a blockbuster in its own right, “Iron Sky”; and it is one of the very very small number of Asylum films which manages to be more entertaining than its inspiration (please read my review of “Iron Sky”, which it might reasonably be said I didn’t like very much).

Nazis! I hate those guys! Right at the end of WW2, we see Dr. Mengele escaping from some Allied forces, with a package under his arm. He’s a heck of a shot, fortunately…or the Allies are all really bad at it. Anyway, his plane is lost and we’re fired into the present day, where Jake Busey clearly intends to compete with Brooke Hogan of “Sand Sharks” for the title of “least convincing scientist in the movies” (aka the Denise Richards Award). The film takes place at the South Pole, and the apparently hand-picked group of scientists there need to be told the most basic information, over and over again – if you’re going to explain the film in this way, you guys, why not have one of your group be a dumbass?

Anyway, as the title of the film may have indicated, this is about Nazis who discovered an entrance to the Hollow Earth at the South Pole, and rather than using their kickass technology to win the war, decided to head off down there and build a new society for themselves. Here’s where the holes in the plot become rather more apparent and start dragging things down, but rather than dwelling on them, let’s talk about how extremely gory this film is.

The Nazis have figured out a way to become immortal, apparently, but it involves farming humans for their organs, skin, bones, etc. Some of them have maintained their appearance more than others, and in kudos to the makeup guys, quite a lot of them are really badly disfigured. So when our scientists find a way down there, you know there’s going to be some double-crossing, some very graphic face-peeling-off scenes, and really a lot more blood and guts than you’d expect from an Asylum film. They’re also not afraid of dealing with Jews in the same way they always dealt with them, which came as a bit of a surprise.

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The thing that continued to surprise me throughout the film is how far they were prepared to go. This is the first Asylum film I can remember where they really went for that grindhouse feel, where you’d expect them to cut away for something because they couldn’t afford to film it, but they stayed right there. The plot is another area where things go way OTT, just when you think you’ve got a clue where they might be going they take another turn, and then they absolutely nail the ending. You’ll love it!

For an Asylum film, this absolutely ruled. A decent cast, okay special effects, and a gleeful disregard for good taste. Like I said, not perfect (so much exposition!) but a step in the right direction.

Rating: thumbs up

Instrument (2003)

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Directed by: Jem Cohen

Woven together with classic live footage ‘Instrument’ is a fine introduction as to why Fugazi were another one of those “only bands that mattered”. They cared about their crowd in a humanistic way, not as fans and consumers, but as equals who were there for a shared experience. They were principled and tended to practice what they preached unlike some ‘political’ bands like **cough cough*** Rage Against The Machine.

Director Cohen is a friend of the band and is able to weave an intimate narrative, but this isn’t a warts and all documentary, and that is both a strength and a weakness of this film. On one hand voyeuristically speaking you kind of what to see moments of in-band tension like in ‘Some Kind of Monster’ or ‘I Am Trying to Break Your Heart: A Film About Wilco’, but since Fugazi were all about the music, perhaps the drama is redundant.

It’s tricky to be anti-establishment within what is ultimately a business. When you record and release as a band you are playing the game. The difference with Fugazi is that they kept the moneymen out of their business. They had a do it yourself ethos which would be hard (impossible?) to replicate today.

Back to the film, I had to watch it in four bursts, mainly because it is a bit of a chore to get through, as it serves up too much of a good thing. The live footage is full of verve and energy but it is like eating a tub of Ben & Jerry’s, a strawberry cheesecake and a bag of jam donuts in quick succession. In the hands of a better editor this film could have held a much sharper focus. Arguably it is half an hour too long. It is also top heavy, we don’t really get a fair appraisal of the band (no band is wholly good) until towards the end when a few dissenting voices are heard representing the diversity of the band’s fan base.

If you’ve never heard of Fugazi before then you’d be left with a number of questions. How and when did they form? Why are they important? Who were their influences? How did they fit in (or indeed what set them apart) with what was around at the time?

Nowadays a band like Fugazi would likely be lost in the mass of music that is available to us, their story would be untold amongst all the superficial jargon that clutters the internet music wise on Soundcloud, Spotify, YouTube, Itunes etc. etc. Cream doesn’t really rise to the top so much anymore. So for all their good intentions it would be unlikely that they would be noticed, particularly if they shunned social media. Worst still they would probably be written off as hipsters. Many bands are now brands, and lifestyle has a different meaning then it did back in the eighties and nineties. Fugazi were a band apart.

We see Fugazi play high school gyms, parks, benefit shows but we don’t see enough of life on the road, the grind that was so eloquently revealed by Henry Rollins in his book ‘Get in the Van’. I’d really have known more about what it’s like out there on the open road. See the truck stops and service stations.

One of my favourite clips of live footage from the film is taken during a cramped sweaty performance in some dive. A few lads are acting a bit unruly as the band play and between songs Ian Mackaye picks one of the trouble makers out, gets him on stage and tries to get the man to apologize to everybody. Sadly the man is blitzed and Mackaye escorts him out of the building. The band expected a lot of their fans. They were not strictly performers who entertained, they wanted to be more than that.

– RJW
6/10

Instrument on IMDB

Hick (2011)

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Directed by: Derick Martini

Given that I made mention of ‘Taxi Driver’ in my last review I’d like to draw more comparisons from the seventies Scorsese classic with another movie, Derick Martini’s ‘Hick’. Jodie Foster’s performance as Iris, an American Lolita, was praised by critics, but denounced by detractors, concerned about how a thirteen year old actress would be affected by playing an underage prostitute in a city rife with violence.

‘Hick’, adapted from Andrea Portes novel, tells the story of a thirteen year old girl called Luli, a Southern fried Iris, who hits the road to escape her drunken Father and absent minded Mother. Chloë Grace Moretz, no stranger to controversial roles, such as Hit Girl in ‘Kick-Ass’, savvily plays a girl who believes she is wiser beyond her years, however unsurprisingly she isn’t prepared for the crooked people she bumps into who are all out to take advantage of her.

Initially she thumbs down a vehicle driven by Eddie (Eddie Redmanyne), a cowboy who walks with a limp. There is something immediately off about Eddie, and when the pair argue, a frightened Luli gets out of the car. She is next picked up by Glenda, who almost appears to be a living representation of Luli’s future self, a young woman who made numerous mistakes in her formative years. Glenda and Luli form a minor league Thelma and Louise duo and scam their way cross country.

Luli reaches a crossroads midway through the film when she bumps into Eddie again, after Luli and Glenda stop by at Lloyd’s place and Eddie is serving drinks behind the bar. Lloyd is a cocaine fuelled low level criminal with delusions of grandeur, in the heat Eddie is able to separate Luli from Glenda and things take a much darker turn. Luli witness’s porcelain stamped murder, and is raped and held hostage by Eddie. Martini tries to direct this horrific ordeal with care, as Eddie follows Luli into a cornfield, the camera fades.

Then in the closing stages Alex Baldwin makes a cameo as a motel owner and former marine who realizes something is amiss between Eddie and Luli. The bulk of the supporting cast in the film which includes Juliette Lewis as Luli’s irresponsible Mother and Rory Culkin flitter in and out of the scenes, not really making an impression but Baldwin certainly does; Baldwin’s arrival late on is surprising, in the sense that when he arrived on screen I just exclaimed “Bloody hell, it’s Alec Baldwin”. He overplays his role in an indomitable fashion. I suppose it fits in with the surrealness of the final moments as Luli endures an overdose of tragedy. Baldwin’s larger than life scene stealing somehow fits in with Luli’s heightened sense of anxiety.

The film is an uncomfortable watch. Moretz gives another consistent performances, as does Blake Lively but the stand out performance is provided Eddie Redmayne who is simply evil. It saddens me that there is no light, no innocence left for Luli and she ends the film likely severely traumatized. We are left with the impression that Luli is ultimately doomed.

– RJW
6/10

Hick on IMDB
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1205558/?ref_=nv_sr_1

Simon Killer (2012)

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Directed by: Antonio Campos

I’ve been away for a while. It feels important that my return to this site covers a film that scared me in a peculiar way. I can only recall two other times that I have been unsettled like this by a film, and I don’t mean frightened by a jump-out-of-your-seat holy mackeral horror scene. I mean, a believable, this is chilling because the man I am watching might have passed me on the street and chances are I didn’t notice him. It’s the kind of feeling that sends a shiver straight through my body. The first time was after watching ‘Taxi Driver’ when I was aged in my late teens. The second came a couple of years back when I watched Michael Fassbender’s performance as Brandon in ‘Shame’. These films featured sociopathic lead characters that despite their deep flaws you can empathize with, and to an extent will them along their path to redemption. In a sense both of these films have accidental ‘happy’ endings. ***SPOILERS*** Travis resumes his day job after his ‘heroic’ deed in rescuing the young prostitute Iris, and Brandon is able to get back in time to ‘save’ Sissy. There is a big ‘but’ tacked onto both of these endings, suggesting that if the film were continue, then things might get a whole lot bleaker for the protagonists. In ‘Simon Killer’ there is no redemption for the main character. The ending is ambiguous.

Simon is a wandering American student who has travelled to Europe because it seems to be the right thing to do for a person of his age. Simon is out of his depth, socially awkward and lost. He explores Paris trying in vain to connect to people. Brady Corbet is superb, playing Simon with a quiet intensity that builds throughout the film.
Early in the film Simon, feeling lonely after a bitter break-up, decides to visit a brothel. He becomes infatuated with a fragile, literally scarred, prostitute called Noura. Simon, who longs for affection, mistakes Noura’s professionalism for a sign of attraction. Noura, in time begins to fall for Simon because of his innocence. They begin a passionate relationship and she tells him her real name – Victoria.

The film skips a bit to a point when Simon and Victoria plot to blackmail some of Victoria’s clients. The decision is rash and ill-thought out, perhaps representing Simon’s inability to think what the consequences might be before he acts. Simon stands to lose nothing from the plan, worst case scenario he can run away when it all goes wrong. Inevitably it is Victoria who receives the brunt of the punishment when things go awry.

Antonio Campos uses a soundtrack of empty hedonistic electronic music like Spectral Display’s stripped back diet Talking Heads track ‘It takes a muscle (to fall in love)’ to show Simon’s bubbling emotions as they struggle to take genuine form. The music, like Simon’s rational thoughts, fade into the distance. The soundtrack like in Winding Refn’s ‘Drive’ is integral in providing the heartbeat, reminding us that Simon is human after all. As when things slow down Simon authentically plays soul jams on vinyl. Revealing glimpses of a deeper layer within himself.

Simon is the accidental tourist, unsure of his role in Paris. Is he there for life experience? Does he want a Parisian affair to get over his break-up? Is he running away from something he did in the States? It gets to the point where he confuses himself, tangling a web of lies around him. These lies work perfectly because Simon doesn’t reveal all that much about who he is to the people he encounters in the French capital, even though likely he is searching to find who he is out in Paris, and this creates a wonderful amount of discord and confusion.

We must guess and assume what motivates Simon, and this makes the film darkly irresistible. Playing the amateur psychologist causes us to deductively reason what makes Simon tick, picking up on little clues, like how his makes love aggressively, yet desires affection almost in maternal sense from his sexual partners. Then there’s this desire to be punished, to feel pain. At one stage he deliberately gets himself beaten up. The complexity of the film leads us to consider the simplest possibility that Simon is merely a flawed man exposed in a city so sure of its identity.

– RJW
8/10

Simon Killer on IMDB

Youtube Film Club – Robo Vampire (1988)

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What the hell did I just watch?

We’ve dealt with the films of Godfrey Ho before on this site – “Full Metal Ninja”, “Ninja Terminator” and “9 Deaths Of The Ninja” and although there is some indication that this may be the work of a protege, it has the hallmarks of Ho all over it. You want (at least) two films, inexpertly spliced together? We got it! You want plots that make no sense, and supporting characters who appear and disappear randomly throughout? You know we got it!

The more I think about it, the more the details of this movie slide from my mind. I tried explaining the plot of this to my wife this morning, and the end of the conversation left us both confused and annoyed, so let’s see how well I do here. There are drug dealers. Because the cops are getting too close, they decide to hire and train a bunch of vampires to act as their personal security; also, one of the cops is killed in action and his co-worker is revealed to be a tech master, so transforms him into a robotic cop. Now, Ho was probably after some of that sweet Robocop money, but it might be said that his budget was a tad lower than Paul Verhoeven’s. Proof, I hear you request?

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The robot cop goes after the vampires, including the lead vampire (credited as “Vampire Beast”) who you can tell is a beast because he’s got a monkey’s face. Vampire Beast has a girlfriend who’s a ghost, and she’s annoyed at the baddies turning her man into a vampire and wants the two of them to die and be together forever on the other side…while this is going on, the rest of the cops go after the drug kingpin’s lair, in a whole other place, who unfortunately forgot to bring the vampires to do the job they were supposed to.

For those of you who are only familiar with sexy European and American vampires, seeing Chinese ones may come as a bit of a surprise. For one thing, they can’t walk, so have to hop everywhere. They’ve also got super-OCD, so the best way to beat them is to drop a bunch of rice in front of them, as they have to stop and count all the grains; oh, and as long as you’ve got a bit of paper with some Chinese lettering on it, you’re pretty much safe, because stick it to their heads and they freeze. Huh? Anyway, they are pretty indestructible, so they have that going for them at least.

This is a particularly shambolic film. The two halves of the story are tied together in the most tenuous way possible, with obviously dubbed sections of dialogue – then they actually end up further apart at the end! The robot cop is actually blown up about halfway through the film, then they just repeat the footage of him being assembled in the first place, and in the next scene he’s good as new. What? The film also switches from the forests and dirty shacks it’s spent most of its running time in, to the middle of a busy city for the final fight between vampire and robot; the other half of the film having been forgotten by this point.

But way down at the very very bottom of the cinematic barrel, there’s fun to be had. I’m kind of thinking this was a bit of a joke, as most of the film is so laughably inept that I can’t believe any sensible filmmaker would have let it go out like that. Just check this special effect out – rather than blowing up the robot cop’s actual outfit, this is the special effect they sub in an instant before a rocket hits him. This is really in the real finished film, for real:

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For the real experts among you, why not entertain yourselves by spotting the number of people who just disappear from the film, or show up like we should know them three-quarters of the way in? Or the number of times ponytail guy dies? Perhaps you’d like to ponder why someone thought smuggling drugs inside corpses would be a good idea, when corpses are larger than bags of drugs and more difficult to move about? There’s nothing to make sense of in this film, no liferaft to cling to as the insanity happens all around. Oh yes, and it doesn’t really end either. They figured if you were stupid enough to stick it out to the end, you deserved everything you got.

So, get yourself good and drunk, strap yourself in and get ready for a really fun experience.

Rating: thumbs up

The Holy Virgin vs. The Evil Dead (1991)

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Some films benefit from HD, from seeing every effect crisp and clear, from seeing expressions and the beads of sweat on a character’s brow. Others were born to be a 3rd generation VHS copy, fuzzy round the edges and hiding a multitude of low-budget sins. Judge for yourselves thanks to the wonders of Youtube, but I think this film is an ideal candidate for the second category.

As well as the title, which is surely one of the greatest in the history of cinema, the opening credits pile on the awesomeness. They’re like edited highlights of what we’re going to see, so there’s lightsaber-looking things, demons with glowing eyes, some snippets of what look like home movie footage of a garden party, and the nude ladies.

Oh, there are a lot of nude ladies in this film. More than any non-porn film really needs, to be honest, and I get the feeling someone wanted to make a “Category 3” (the famous rating in Hong Kong cinema, where they’re either virtually pornography, exceedingly violent, or both) film but chickened out at the last minute. Anyway, if you’re a fan of vaguely unhappy-looking Chinese women getting their clothes torn off, this is the film for you!

The basic gist of this film is demons and Gods and so on. The main baddie, “Moon Monster”, wants to go back to the moon and take a woman with him; his boss, God Of All Mother (it’s how his name is shown on screen) has masks for his followers which look like a bit kabuki masks with large, bushy moustaches attached, also wants a whole bunch of naked women, for some reason. A teacher investigating the death of his students at the hands of Moon Monster and his cop friends, along with a super-ass-kicking Princess and her Dad, a local village elder in Cambodia, round out the cast. I’m confused writing that paragraph out, and I watched the film last night!

The first half of the film is pretty dull, with its fairly sedate police investigation, library research, long conversations, and only rare appearances from Moon Monster (looking really good in his wide-shouldered trenchcoat, feathered hair and carefully ripped jeans). This dullness may or may not be enhanced by the extremely poor quality of the subtitles on the version I watched, where English was seemingly an afterthought. If there’s bright light on screen, or anyone is just wearing white clothing, the subtitles become invisible, which lends certain dialogue-heavy stretches a pleasingly odd quality.

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Anyway, the film kicks off when they take the investigation to Cambodia. It’s just an increasingly insane series of fights, as Moon Monster and God Of All Mother try and do whatever it is they’re doing, and our heroes try and stop them. It’s wire-fu all the way, and while it looks as silly as ever, the helping of liberal doses of gore and magic helps keep things moving.

Is this film worth watching, though? Well, it’s certainly unusual, which is almost qualification enough on its own, and Donnie Yen is always good fun to watch. But it’s just cheap, and stupid, and while I normally love cheap and stupid I just wasn’t feeling it for this film. Maybe if I’d been able to read more of the dialogue? Who knows. Anyway, it’s free so provided you’re in a good mood and don’t feel like really knowing what’s going on, there are worse choices.

Rating: thumbs in the middle

 

EDIT: Almost forgot – there are no zombies or anything that could be called “Evil Dead” in this movie, and I’m not 100% convinced “Holy Virgin” could be applied to anyone in the cast either. But “Small Town Teacher v. Moon Demon” would not be quite as catchy a title.