Sunday, 25 October 2015

Blastfighter (Lamberto Bava, 1984)

Blasterfighter might look like a shoot-em-up extravaganza serving up course after course of violent obliteration but the film is, in fact, a fairly measured thriller. Upon being released from prison, where he was incarcerated as a result of murdering his wife's killer, an ex-cop purchases a super-shotgun with the aim of assassinating the lawyer that put him away. He chickens out at the last minute, however, and returns to an isolated log-cabin from his childhood with his estranged daughter. It is not long before he falls foul of a local gang of game hunters and what starts as a series of mean-spirited pranks escalates until our hero is forced to go on the run pursued by an ever increasing army of huntsmen.

The film's biggest surprise is its measured approach to thrills. Rather than going full out in its attempts to shock and delight it takes its time turning the screws. Even the obligatory attempted sexual assault is handled without the voyeuristic relish normally associated with movies cut from the same cloth as this. Of course for many this restraint will be something of a disappointment. Being introduced to a super-weapon that we are told takes armour piercing, explosive, stun-dart and all manner of other rounds only to have it hidden away under floorboards the moment the log cabin is reached is something of a tease. This is symbolic of our lead characters refusal to engage in violence, though, as each time we see him intimidated we feel the movie push against its genre expectations/restrictions always to regain its composure.

The performances are generally strong and the locations are photographed so that they at times appear beautiful and at times terrifyingly inhospitable. Character motivations and internal logic also seem unusually considered for a movie with a title like Blastfighter.

Of course, our hero can only be pushed so far and once he snaps he goes a little knife-happy on a few of his pursuers. Then when it becomes clear he is circling back to his log cabin, and buried super weapon, anticipation for a violent finale builds. The film's restraint is not only its biggest surprise but its key weapon. It builds tension carefully, then releases it in one almighty explosion.

And boy does it explode. Despite the variety of rounds promised our hero opts to only use explosives, but this is the merest of disappointments and is soon remedied by jeeps bursting into flames, stuntmen being tossed through the air, full body burns, a couple of arms being blown off and the show-stopping moment when two huntsmen are exploded. And I don't mean they vanish in a fireball, nope, their bodies burst like gore-filled water balloons.

It would have been satisfying to have at least one exploding head and the lack of a variety of ammunition promised feels like a missed opportunity for some creative kills, but Blastfighter left me satisfied right up to the final badass shot of our hero driving his pick-up into town, the back filled to the brim with well-cooked fools. It's a smart, well thought-out movie that manages to be a happy marriage of both superior film-making and balls-out cathartic absurdity. I bloody loved it.

Monday, 19 October 2015

The Aftermath AKA Zombie Aftermath (Steve Barkett, 1982)

A review of Zombie Aftermath by Doctor Gogol aged 15

My friend got this classic video about zombies. We watched it and it was well rubbish. It starts off with these astronauts in a spaceship that looks like it was made out of cardboard or something. It crashes on Earth and there are all these dead bodies on the beach but they look like they were made of paper mache. It was so funny how rubbish they looked.

Then some zombies attacked them for one scene and then there are no zombies in it for the rest of the film, just some people with ridiculous flares and afros and rubbish moustaches. Why call a film Zombie Aftermath if there are no zombies in it? Probably couldn't afford any as the budget was obviously so low. Classic 'so rubbish its funny'.

A review of The Aftermath by Doctor Gogol aged 37

I first saw The Aftermath when a friend bought it on VHS after vigorously thumbing the pages of Tom Savini's make-up book and being seduced by the video cover's promise of latex and corn syrup mayhem. We hadn't anticipated much but after the opening ten minutes we knew we weren't going to be getting the horror masterpiece we'd hoped for. Desperate to salvage something from the experience I clung onto the few moments that I was able to mock and mentally filed it as a classic 'so-bad-it's-good' movie. That is because when I was fifteen I was massive tosser.

My eyes view b-movies the way a spice-lover's taste-buds experience curry. And so watching The Aftermath after four years of writing about b-movies meant I was actually surprised by how good it looked. Set in a post apocalyptic world littered with morality-starved gangs and the occasionally deformed savage, The Aftermath (the word 'Zombie' no doubt being added by a distribution company eager to piggy-back other horror successes) is by no means a horror movie but rather a survival tale peppered with action that slowly builds to a revenge fuelled finale.

Although budgetary restraints rob us of an impressive space craft interior the evocative use of red lighting and perfectly serviceable model works starts us off ambitiously. The discovery of the bodies is also quite effective. Rather than playing the discovery of the bodies as shocking, the scene wriggles in its own eerie atmosphere. Yes, up close the corpses still look like pre-school Father's Day presents gone horribly wrong yet from a distance they seem genuinely unsettling.

Exploring the doomed planet we are treated to some not entirely convincing but satisfyingly apocalyptic matte paintings of destroyed cityscapes. The film isn't stingey with these vistas either and when paired with some exciting atomic storms creates some almost Bava-esque imagery. I'd also expected to hear a minimal electronic soundtrack but was surprised to hear a full orchestra playing a fairly bold score. For the most part it feels like a 70's TV score but there are genuine flashes of John Williams at times.

There is some nice casting with an extended cameo by Forrest J. Ackerman and a villainous turn by Sid Haig, here playing the same character he pretty much plays in most exploitation movies. He doesn't treat women very well but as unpleasantly predictable as the threat levelled against female characters is the scenes are generally pretty tame (though this may again be due to the curry-lover in me).

The narrative sags pretty heavily in the middle but ultimately pays off in a nicely staged shotgun showdown that moves from a deserted town to the tops of abandoned skyscrapers. And when the action does pick up it's bloody as hell. Bullets result in streams of thick blood while a shotgun takes off some poor bastard's head early on.

The most surprising element was that I actually fostered some kind of emotional connection to the story. I wouldn't go as far as to say I cared about characters but I certainly wasn't coldly witnessing familiar beats play out while waiting for the next splatter sequence. Not moved as such, but nudged.

The Aftermath isn't an all-timer by any stretch, but juxtaposed with my twenty-two year old dismissal I was blindsided by how satisfying I found it. The Aftermath has some effective imagery and knows how to stage action and although my dickhead teenage self did not care about the fates of the characters the filmmakers clearly did.

Thursday, 1 October 2015

F*ck Your Bad Review

What's that, you say?

You just saw a movie you didn't like?

Ok, let me dry those tears, you poor, poor soul. Yes, of course you can go and post on an IMDB comments section about how much you wish everyone involved with the film would die in a fire. That's fine. I'll wait here until you get back.

Wow, that took quite a while. I imagine you had a lot of hurt to share. Are you feeling better?

Ok, here. Have a cookie and snuggle up. I've got something to tell you.

See, the thing is, little man, it's your fault.

Not actually the movie's fault at all. You picked the wrong thing to watch. You made a bad choice. The movie can't help that. You just need to get better at picking your own entertainment.

Oh, oops, that's REALLY set you off. Jesus, you really are LOUD once you get going, aren't you? Do you want to go on the IMDB message boards again? Maybe go and yell at people on Call of Duty? No, it's alright. I'm sure nobody sees a reflection of your own inadequacies and fears when you scream those things at strangers. I'm sure everyone thinks you're a big, clever boy.

Have you calmed down again? Are we okay to talk about how you have a certain level of responsibility in terms of choosing your own entertainment? Here, have a packet of Oreos, sit down and shut the fuck up.

You see, you're ruining things for everyone. Not just with the actual whining, which we manage to tune out after a while. But there are people out there with big bags of money who make big decisions about big movies, and your constant complaining is making them risk-averse. Them being risk-averse is making our movies all look the same.

Just because you bleated and bitched about The Hunger Games having a different aesthetic to every other blockbuster, (that shaky camera style that owed a debt to indie cinema) that little trace of visual originality was snuffed from the sequels. Because God forbid a movie should look fractionally different from the others released that month. Just because you moaned about JJ Abrams actually having a favoured visual technique of his own, you got the poor sod to apologise. For being a director whose films looked slightly different to those by every other director.

Thank God the internet wasn't available to the public in Kubrick's heyday. The studios would have called him into a little glass office.

"Stan, people have been complaining on Talkbacks. Stop making everything so goddamn SYMMETRICAL, Stan. Those wide-angle lenses just have to go. Those loooong tracking shots in every movie. Look, you've seen Mork & Mindy, right? People love that. Can't you make your movies look more like that?"

There are no bad movies, only the wrong customers watching them.

So, do you promise? Do you promise to be a good boy and use that internet you love so much to do a little bit of research before you watch something? To work out whether there's a decent chance that you'll like it? To realise that just because YOU don't like something, that doesn't mean it's a failure to be eradicated?

Pretty please?

Thank you.

What's that you say? The Nightmare on Elm Street remake?

Well, yes, there is an exception to every rule, I suppose. Christ, what a godforsaken piece of shit.