Sunday, June 13, 2010

Doctor Who and the Lesbian Vampire Killers

Lesbian Vampire Killers is a film which I got out on Blu-Ray when it first came out, and recently I picked up a cheap DVD of it to keep. It's also a film which is not as funny as it should be, but on second viewing, a lot better than I thought it originally was. The plot is great: two stoners, Fletch (James Corden) and Jimmy (Matthew Horne) decide to head for a holiday in England as Jimmy has just been dumped by his cheating girlfriend again. They wind up in the village of Cragwich which has been cursed by Carmilla the Vampire (Silvia Colloca) such that all women there will become lesbian vampires on their 18th birthday. The lads join up with a group of girls on an archaeological field trip from Scandinavia, and end up battling them as they all (bar Lotte for some reason) become lesbian vampires. Paul McGann plays a vicar out to destroy the curse before his daughter succumbs, and there's lashings of decapitations and fangs and boobs along the way. It's a fun film for a beery evening in, and had me laughing out loud on a few occasions. The whole thing is pitched at a comic book level, such that head movements are accompanied by 'swoosh' sounds, and the vampires pose seductively all the time while wreathed in mist, their hair blowing in the breeze. The effects are superb for what was presumably a low budget film. There is no blood as the vampires seem to be filled with a gooey milky substance which splatters everywhere, and no-one is safe from the curse - even Jimmy's ex-girlfriend is turned - except for the virginal Lotte (MyAnna Buring - who played Scooti Manista in the Doctor Who episode 'The Impossible Planet') who manages to survive the film to fight another day. Corden plays a sex-and-beer obsessed lout, cowardly and self-obsessed who feels he has landed in heaven initially, and then bumbles through the film quipping and joking like a poor man's Jack Black. Horne ends up the hero with a penis-handled sword, and even gets the girl at the conclusion - all the other girls amusingly remain lesbians leaving Corden with no-one to love. The film bombed at the box office, probably because it cannot really live up to the hype it was given at the time, but as an enjoyable piece of Brit-horror it's not at all bad. James Corden seems to be flavour of the year at the moment - he's got some sort of World Cup football program on, and is even number 1 in the charts with a remake of the old Tears for Fears song 'Shout', alongside rapper Dizzee Rascal, as well, and was even in the recent episode of Doctor Who, 'The Lodger'. I enjoyed the episode a lot, but unfortunately it all went wrong at the end. There's a lovely build up which puts the Doctor trapped on Earth as the TARDIS cannot materialise due to a time distortion, leaving poor Amy trapped on board (and able to take a holiday as she's not really in the episode that much). The Doctor discovers the source of the time disturbance to be the upper floor of a flat owned by Craig (Corden), and so rents a spare room there to investigate, trying to appear human in the process and mostly failing. Meanwhile, strangers off the street are lured into the upper flat by a variety of characters, and then screaming and flashing lights ensue. There's also a mysterious stain on the ceiling of Craig's flat which is getting bigger and bigger. Typically, Craig's 'girlfriend', Sophie (Daisy Haggard) is a girl from work but they've never told each other their feelings, and so there's an awkwardness about their relationship which neither seems able to correct ... The problem with the story comes in the revelations at the end. The early part is great - Matt Smith is brilliant as an alien trying to be human, with a quirky edge to everything he does. There's some great visual gags and dialogue here, and Smith and Corden bounce off each other well. But the ultimate problem is that there's nothing in the upstairs flat except some sort of alien machine which is trying to find a pilot to go home (in fact, there's no upstairs flat at all - it's a perception distortion). So the machine is intending to try out everyone on the planet with a holographic lure. The Doctor seems suitable, but he works out that everyone chosen so far wanted to escape, but that Craig doesn't. Why doesn't he? Because he loves Daisy. Craig and Daisy proclaim their love for each other, and the ship destroys itself. What? The 'love conquers all' theme was very poorly used here, and with no monster/alien to fight, the ending was very anti-climactic after what had gone before. I was wondering during the episode whether whatever it was in the attic was using the humans to build something - an idea slightly reminiscent of the story 'Frontios' where the Tractators used human body parts to power their drilling machine - but this wasn't the case either. Other commentators have said they like that there was no CGI monster ... but I agree and disagree ... I would have loved to have seen an honest to goodness prosthetic creature there ... doing something nasty with the humans that the Doctor has to try and stop. Maybe they were using the episode to save money or something as well before next week's climax with the opening of the Pandorica - whatever that means.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Return to House on Haunted Hill

It's always a surprise when a sequel turns out to be good fun in its own right, and this one, a sequel to 1999's House on Haunted Hill, which was in turn a remake of the 1959 original, is not at all bad. First off, however, it really has little to do with the original film, aside from featuring the same house, and a similar collection of ghostly inhabitants. This time, there's an idol hidden somewhere in the house which is trapping all the spirits there. The idol is the focus for a disparate group of people to assemble at the clifftop mansion, and go in search of the object. The film is somewhat confused in terms of all the different characters, and I couldn't hope to try and explain it without help ... so here's what Wikipedia says about the basic set up:
Ariel Wolfe is the sister of Sara Wolfe, a survivor of an massacre some years ago in the sanatorium known as the "Vannacutt Psychiatric Institute for the Criminally Insane", which was overseen long ago by the sadistic psychiatrist Dr. Vannacutt. Sara claims that ghosts had killed all those who entered the building, but no one believes her. When Sara commits suicide, Ariel tries to find out why. A diary of Dr. Vannacutt leads Ariel to the cruel past of the Institute. She and her friend Paul are then kidnapped by an unscrupulous dealer, Desmond, who knows a lot about Sara and Vannacutt's Institute. While meeting Desmond and his crew, Ariel realises Sara didn't kill herself, Desmond killed her. Ariel is required to help Desmond to find a precious artifact, a figurine of the demon Baphomet. The artifact in question being said to be hidden somewhere inside of the Institute. While Ariel, Desmond and four of Desmond's accomplices walk into the building, Paul and one accomplice are told to wait outside. Inside, Ariel and her kidnappers meet Dr. Richard Hammer (a university professor) and his assistants, Kyle and Michelle. Desmond used to be a student of Richard's and they begin arguing about the idol. While bickering, it comes out that Michelle is Desmond's new lover, who seduced Richard only to gain information about the sanatorium and the Baphomet idol.
The film is enjoyable as something you can watch and appreciate the GCI effects, inventive deaths, and general ghostly mayhem as it all careers to the ending. The characters are also quite interesting: the two girls are pretty good to look at, Amanda Righetti (Ariel) seems to get wet quite a lot and Cerina Vincent (Michelle) has an amazing chest. There's even Andrew Lee Potts off of Primeval in there - with an American accent - and lots of guns. Another thing I liked was that on the Blu-Ray version, there are nine places in the narrative where you can choose what the characters do, leading to different scenes, characters dying at different points, all leading to - it seems - one of four different endings for the film. The disk also includes the Director's cut - which I assume is the one which Wikipedia's synopsis details (here). I didn't watch that, but chose to experiment with the interactive film, leading to some degree of fun, as the film really does play out differently if you choose different options. I liked the way in particular that, at one point, if Ariel goes for the map, all the cast are killed in gunfire immediately afterwards and the film ends about half an hour early! Some would be cruel and suggest you take that option to shorten the misery, but I did genuinely enjoy the film, and will watch the Director's cut at some point to see what was actually in that version. As I say, as sequels go, it's a good way to spend an evening and quite diverting. There's even some lesbian zombies, and a nurse ghoul who seems to be straight out of Silent Hill (though nowhere near as creepy as those rubber-clad ghoulies). Sometimes a horror film doesn't have to pretend to be high art, and is just there to be drawn along with, laughed at, and in this case, interactively adjusted.

Friday, June 11, 2010

The Doctor and Vincent

What an interesting little story. I was pleased to see that the second 'guest writer' slot in this season came up with something which felt a little more like Doctor Who than the earlier Dream Lord one. Richard Curtis of course has a great track record, but this could have resulted in something starring Hugh Grant and Rene Zelwegger, involving a romantic intrigue, missed opportunities, and of course a wedding ... but instead we got a Scottish Vincent Van Gogh fighting an invisible chicken. That's a little unfair perhaps, as the monster was apparently more based around the paintings of Hieronymus Bosch, but the head was very chicken-like, and the fact that it was invisible and made sort of squarking noises made me imagine something like a giant Big Bird-like creature off of Sesame Street. Van Gogh, however, was something of a revelation. Completely brilliantly played by Tony Curren, he was totally believable. From the moment he first appeared, looking exactly like the Dutch artist, he held the screen. I loved his interactions with Amy and the Doctor, sympathised for his depression, and cheered him on in the gallery at the end. Curren nailed it completely. I even loved his question to Amy, asking if she came from Holland too as she had the same accent as he! Obviously the TARDIS translation circuits are a little fritzed, making Dutch sound like Scottish in translation. The flow of the story was gentle, but nicely paced, and the whole invisible chicken thing was a bit of a red herring really (lots of animals in this blog). The meat of the episode was the final ten minutes which had me crying both times I watched it ... moving and respectful, brilliantly acted, superbly paced and played ... it's testament to what Doctor Who can do given the right material. Bill Nighy's cameo was equally excellent ... perfectly pitched by the actor, and totally believable. In fact there wasn't anything really duff about the episode at all ... except for the chicken perhaps. Even the music was bearable! One thing I did puzzle over: right at the start, we see a cornfield and Van Gogh painting it, with a trail left by an invisible monster wending through. We are then told that this was one of the last pictures that Van Gogh painted before his death? But then the Doctor and Amy go back to a year before his death and kill the monster ... yet the painting still has the monster trail in it at the end ... but the monster was dead by this point, so why did Van Gogh paint it like that? As I say, not really important, but it confused me. Overall though, a lovely episode, touching all the right nerves. Next week we have that James Cordon off of Gavin and Stacy in a house. Personally I don't really get why he is so flavour of the year at the moment ... but we shall see how he fares.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Battle Royale and Phone

Two more slices of J-Horror today ... and a couple of films which I had heard about but not managed to catch up with. Battle Royale is a sort of Lord of the Flies meets I'm a Celebrity ... Get Me Out of Here ... with just about every weapon you can imagine. The back story is quite nice: the kids of today are so unruly and disrespectful that the only way to try and deal with them is to pick a class at random, ship them all off to a deserted island, and then let them kill each other. At the end of three days, whoever is the sole survivor returns home. And if there is no sole survivor, then all the survivors are killed by exploding necklets which each kid wears. The latest class arrives, and the events are apparently being orchestrated by an ex-teacher of theirs, Kitano, who they tormented. There are 40 kids in total, and unfortunately having so many makes the film drag somewhat. There is not really enough time to get to know them before they are being slaughtered by their classmates either on purpose, or by accident. The set pieces are quite nice, with kids being killed by crossbow, hanging, scythe, revolver, tazer gun, poison ... the list is endless, but the film soon starts to get a little repetative as kid after kid makes his or her maker. I won't reveal the ending here as there is a twist, and it's quite nice - I didn't see it coming even if those I was watching with did. Apparently there are sequels to this outing which are dire and should be steered clear of ... which sounds like a good warning to me. The other film is Phone (or Pon), which is a very effective piece indeed. A girl, Ji-won, brilliantly played by Ji-won Ha, finds her mobile phone being called by a mysterious number which cannot be traced. Others who listen to the calls seem to be driven mad by them, and the girl has to try and work out what is happening, and what the connection between the victims is. Best of the lot is the young daughter (Yeong-ju) of a married couple, Ho-jeong and her husband Chang-hoon, who gets posessed by whatever is haunting the phone and ends up throwing herself down a flight of stairs. The young actress, Seo-woo Eun, is simply brilliant and playing the possession, and she is genuinely creepy in a way, perhaps, that Linda Blair was in The Exorcist many years earlier. The explanations, when they come, are all good, and make sense, and the ultimate revelation of who is behind it all is very nicely hidden and revealed. Again, I didn't guess ... and the revelations of what had actually happened are good and gruesome. This is one of the better films of its type, up there with Ringu and the original Ju-On (The Grudge). The sequels are never as good, and the inevitable American remakes often lose the plot and the horror in their translation. But Phone is excellent, and well worth seeking out.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010


It's not often that a vampire film comes along which makes me sit up and be impressed ... well Daybreakers is such a film. I'd bought it on a whim, really, despite seeing some so-so reviews around, but it's actually a really neat little thriller which turns the whole vampire/human thing around on its head and has some interesting things to say along the way. It's 2019, and vampirism has taken over the world to the extent that there are now very few humans left alive, and those that remain are living as hunted men. The vampires have taken over all facets of worldly life, building their own cars and houses with daylight warning sensors, blackout windows (they drive by seeing outside the car via TV screens) and the like. There are human 'blood banks' in which living humans are plugged in, Matrix-like, to provide a blood supply for the vampires, which they take with their coffee from Starbucks-like stalls at the railway stations and on the streets. But the blood is running out, and the vampires are getting desperate. They need to develop an artificial version fast or they will rapidly age and turn into crazed monsters without human sustenance. One of the doctors investigating this helps a group of humans, and is sympathetic to them. He discovers that one of their number used to be a vampire but is now human again ... there is a 'cure' for the vampire condition which offers another way out of the dilemma ... but the vampires in charge rather like being vampires. The film plays out a little like The Matrix (but nothing like 28 Days Later which the blurb would have you believe), with plenty of action adventure along the way, and some really neat vampire effects. The aged and blood crazed creatures that the vamps turn into are very well realised, and the accompanying documentary (which is excellent in itself) explains that vampires look like humans because they drink human blood ... so what would they look like if they drank vampire blood? The acting is really top notch with Sam Neill playing the vampire leader with suave coolness, and Willem Dafoe turning in a brilliant performance as the vampire-turned-human, with Ethan Hawke as the doctor looking for a solution. They really hold the film together and force you to take it all seriously, presenting some scary and terrifying moments in amongst the excitement, like when a group of starved, monstrough vampires are dragged into the light in chains, only to immediately burst into flame and distintegrate into ash as they go. I won't give away the ending and eventual solution to the problem here as it's pretty cool in its own right, and is worth watching the film for. I had a great time watching it, and appreciated all the details which made it original and compelling. It's certainly a film I'll want to watch again.