Archive | May, 2012

Dr Terror’s House of Horrors (1965) or livewithfilm is pursued by a ravenous rhododendron…

31 May

A much maligned sub genre, the portmanteau horror is close to livewithfilm’s heart. A contained series of tales that are linked through some nefarious means, these episodic wonders offer a clutch of (occasionally) chilling short stories with final punch-to-the-gut twists. Often offering a host of bizarre stars in increasingly odd situations (Tom Baker’s presence in The Vault of Horror (1973) is notable for all the wrong reasons), portmanteau films remain wildly inventive. Without the need to sustain a plot for a full film’s length, segments often steer into amusing lunacy before stumbling across a dénouement.

Five strangers enter a train carriage and intrigued by the tarot cards of Dr. Terror (Peter Cushing), begin to discover the horrible fates that await them: Jim Dawson (Neil McCallum) travels to his ancestral home, only to release a werewolf from a concealed crypt; Bill Rogers (Alan Freeman) discovers that a carnivorous plant has sprouted in his front lawn; Biff Bailey (Roy Castle) gets into a mess when he replicates a voodoo chant with his jazz band; Franklyn Marsh (Christopher Lee) is hounded by the severed hand of a vengeful artist; and Dr Bob Carroll (Donald Sutherland) questions the blood sucking potential of his new bride to be.

Yes, as you have probably guessed from the plot synopses above, livewithfilm enjoyed some rather wacky viewing. Dr Terror’s House of Horrors is undeniably worth a watch, if only to witness how far each story plummets down the rabbit hole. Often seeming unsure if it wishes to be screamed with or laughed at, there are notable peaks and lulls. The man eating plant remains exceptionally unthreatening and livewithfilm struggles to think of an image that inspired less dread than this peckish pansy. Lingering elsewhere on the horror spectrum, Christopher Lee’s approaching appendages and Donald Sutherland’s penchant for heart-staking remain the film’s high points. Dr Terror’s House of Horrors is absolutely teeming with ideas, even if not all of them are pulled off. If you haven’t seen the final twist coming, then under livewithfilm rules you must copy: ‘I must watch more horror films’ one hundred times.


Phenomena (1985) or livewithfilm takes in the company of a razor wielding chimp…

29 May

Quickly becoming the livewithfilm-does-Italian-horror-megamix, this blogger once again lets its head droop in recognition of what it has become. Yes variety is the spice of life, but once Dario Argento’s bug controlling, monkey nightmare had risen into view, there was little livewithfilm could do but indulge itself once more. Argento’s films have been a revelation for livewithfilm. Initially picking up Bird With the Crystal Plumage on a whim, the auteur has swiftly become a favourite of this blogger. How far we’ve come. What started off as nuanced giallo suspense has reached its natural conclusion in man-eating-insect-body-horror. What a journey it’s been!

Jennifer (Jennifer Connelly) is finding it hard to settle into her new boarding school. Her sleepwalking and vivid nightmares are made far more intense by the presence of a prowling serial killer. Only the kindly etymologist (Donald Pleasence) believes Jennifer when she claims that she can use telekinesis to communicate with insects. But when Jennifer is led to the headless corpse of her recently deceased room-mate, she decides to hunt for the murderer, bugs in tow.

Before we go any further, livewithfilm must acknowledge that the presence of Jennifer Connelly in Phenomena, one year before she undertook the greatest work of her career in Labyrinth (1986), was slightly jarring. Nevertheless, Argento’s film had its own, far nastier goblins to hurl at the screen. The director’s grisly touch is all over Phenomena as heads fly from shoulders and scalpels carve up victims. While arguably Argento’s finest creation of psychological threat was envisaged in the pulsating pupils of Cat O’ Nine Tails (1971), Phenomena relished every opportunity to make skin crawl. Using sublimely paced shocks, the gore remains (aptly) fresh and uncomfortable thanks to its initial scarcity. Building up to an indescribably frenetic final act of bloodshed, livewithfilm was ultimately left reeling by Phenomena. The intriguing premise was sweetly delivered by Argento in a stylishly entertaining fashion. This blogger was eventually left with a single message ringing in its ears: never mess with a chimp with a penchant for revenge.

Demons (1985) or livewithfilm chooses the wrong moment to eat raspberry yoghurt…

20 May

As seasoned veterans of the livewithfilm blog will attest, this movie fan can never turn down a chance to experience the gritty back catalogues of horror. Are these merely the aspirations of a completist? After avidly studying Kim Newman’s superbly meticulous Nightmare Movies, livewithfilm has felt duty bound to expand the more extreme breadths of its knowledge. Therefore we find ourselves today at Italian-splatter-punk… Yes, I’m aware of how ludicrous this sounds but please read on. If you have a favoured overlooked gem (the more bizarre the better) then let livewithfilm know post-haste. Especially if they boast a slap bass soundtrack in any way comparable to the stunner found in Demons.

A group of characters sit down to watch a horror film having been lured in to the cinema with free tickets. However the building becomes filled with monstrous Demons who burst from the screen and viciously attack the audience members. As more of their number becomes possessed, the survivors are forced to band together and defend themselves from the cinema stalls.

After watching the gloriously gruesome Braindead (1992) a few weeks ago (check out the blog if your memory needs refreshing), livewithfilm decided that it was relatively hardened to on-screen gore. The relentless nature of Lamberto Bava’s Demons made it think again. In a style found across a great swathe of Italian horror (Zombi Flesh Eaters (1979), Zombie Creeping Flesh (1980), Zombi Holocaust (1980) ad infinitum…), blood and assorted bodily fluids spew from the screen in a gut-wrenching wave. Unfortunately though, unlike the aforementioned Braindead say, Demons struggles to move beyond the bloodshed. While it is keen to mock the film-within-a-film for all its hackneyed clichés, Demons rarely pushes genre staples and becomes a less successful retread of Night of the Living Dead (1968). Bava does find some starling and intriguing imagery to play with and the finale is satisfyingly nihilistic. The score has also justifiably become a hip shaking grindhouse classic and Demons is almost worth checking out for this alone. Groovy and grisly.

Here is that funky theme song! Boogie along with livewithfilm:

Bonnie and Clyde (1967) or forces conspire against livewithfilm…

15 May

Yes, it has been a little while coming but today’s livewithfilm post serves as a retort to the many reasons this blogger might have to just stop writing. While livewithfilm will never become sickened by the sight of celluloid (hooray for sibilance!), after gaining a job at a magazine, there is questionable logic in sitting at a computer to blog after spending my working day doing the same. Nevertheless, when film’s like Bonnie and Clyde tear in, tommy-guns blazing, there is little livewithfilm can do but write away. As Henry Newbolt would say: blog up! blog up! and livewithfilm!

Seductively meeting eyes across an attempted car theft, Bonnie Parker (Faye Dunaway) and Clyde Barrow (Warren Beatty) become immediately and irreversibly reliant upon one another. Drawn into a series of dangerous bank robberies, Bonnie and Clyde grow in infamy and develop their fame acrossAmerica. Forming the Barrow Gang, the group continue to confront the banks that they despise with increasing vehemence.

Watched in the happy surroundings of The Prince Charles Cinema, Arthur Penn’s film was a thrilling and often emotionally devastating ride. The movie clearly owes a debt to the kinetic visual graces of the French New Wave, even without the directing styles of Truffaut and Godard who were both linked to direct the project before Penn.Perhaps as a result of the influence the film had over the pop art scene subsequent to its release, Bonnie and Clyde constantly provides iconic visuals that fill the screen and demand your attention. Just as the bank robbing duo become dependant on the fame that surrounds them, Penn never lets a scene depart without insisting on your attention with an arresting image. Dunaway and Beatty create an arresting couple and the relationship they depict is touchingly heartfelt next to the ever escalating violence. Even though livewithfilm knew exactly what was coming, it left the cinema with a lump in its throat, touched by a beautifully crafted parade of characters. Bonnie and Clyde remains a surprisingly timely depiction of bank-bashing-en-masse that is ripe for rediscovery in the current world of celebrity highs and poverty lows.

Braindead (1992) or livewithfilm sources the perfect film for a midnight showing but is swiftly put off its minstrels

7 May

Another day, another superb midnight screening from the haven of the horrible, the sanctuary of the sickening: the PrinceCharlesCinema. Acting as a clarion call for all genre fans, these witching-hour shows exemplify both the joys and tribulations of the horror devotee. Frowned upon by the snobbish filmic establishment, livewithfilm and its fellow fans were forced to congregate under the cover of darkness to enjoy the nastiest scenes that cinema had to offer. Fortunately enough, livewithfilm cannot think of a film to suit such a setting more than the gore-caked Braindead. Having shared groans and wails, the movie audience left the cinema unified in a state of awe.

Terrified into servitude by his overbearing mother, meek Lionel (Timothy Balme) is delighted when local girl Paquita (Diana Penalver) begins to take an interest in him. However, his romantic plans collapse once a bite from a Sumatran Rat Monkey transforms the matriarch into a swiftly decaying zombie. Attempting to hide his decomposing family member from the inquisitive townsfolk, Lionel is forced to contain and ultimately battle a slowly increasing horde of flesh-eaters.

Even with livewithfilm’s extensive experience of the darker side of cinema, this blogger was taken aback by the waves of gore that spewed from Peter Jackson’s film. Officially the bloodiest movie ever made (300 litres of the red-stuff was used in the final scene alone), livewithfilm was forced to put down its nibbles almost immediately as its stomach took a turn for the worse. Yet clearly inspired by Raimi’s The Evil Dead (1981), Jackson offsets this tidal wave of body matter with a razor sharp wit. Never pertaining to any high-brow state, Braindead gleefully revels in its own absurdity and subsequently pulls off scenes of progressive lunacy. Sporting Kung fu priests (‘I kick arse for the Lord!’), man-eating internal organs and zombie offspring, Braindead has everything a grindhouse fan yearns for. Just steer clear of the custard…

Fitzcarraldo (1982) or livewithfilm realises it has the emotional state of a nineteenth-century steamship

3 May

It is an oddly tiring sensation for livewithfilm to know that every film it watches will require a write up to follow. It isn’t difficult to form opinion about film because, after all, as an art form it is arguably designed to provoke debate and discussion. Simultaneously livewithfilm is under no obligation to keep going, aside from the ever creeping guilt ignited by another empty day on the blog’s calendar. But much like the enormous steamship dragged through the Amazonian jungle in today’s film, livewithfilm keeps moving on, fuelled by the momentum of all the blogs that precede its latest entry. You know when times are tough when one emerges from a two and a half hour epic, feeling pathos for a hulking water cruiser.

Opera lover Fitzcarraldo (Klaus Kinski) is determined to build a suitable music venue in the centre of the Peruvian jungle. Realising that he must generate considerable funds for his project, he forms a crew that will travel with him and harvest rubber from a section of untouched forest. Yet his plan develops into one that forces the ship to travel into dangerous territory and scale a mountain.

After hearing the tales about Werner Herzog’s film, livewithfilm couldn’t wait to observe the madness. Worthy of its own documentary (Burden of Dreams (1982)), the film’s production saw a 320 ton ship moved over a jungle hill, without special effects; multiple members of the crew injured during the turbulent filming of a rapid sequence; and Herzog being offered a gift of Kinski’s murder by a native chief who took exception to the star’s violent displays of anger. Amusingly this offer was only refused by the director because he needed his actor to complete certain scenes for the film’s completion. Amidst all of this emerges an intriguing movie that deftly mixes naturalism with the scene chewing fanaticism of its acting talent. Yes Fitzcarraldo tends to drag in places but this only adds to the uncompromising nature of both the protagonist’s and Herzog’s visions. It is a grand spectacle that both encapsulates and envisions untamed artistic vision.

Cat O’ Nine Tails (1971) or livewithfilm thinks it should be a ‘fit and proper’ blogger & stop watching horror… for the moment anyway

2 May

It was undoubtedly time to take a pigeon step away from the recent livewithfilm horror trend. And what a small change it was. For Dario Argento’s twisted crime thriller turned out to be a puzzle of unknown killers, splashes of gore, shady eroticism and bizarrely unsettling camera work: Giallo at its finest. Therefore livewithfilm needs to look further afield. But having treated itself to a newly rereleased copy of Bava’s Dèmoni (1985) (incidentally produced by Argento), this blogger will have to resist the urge to return to the dark side.

After overhearing a whispered conversation outside of a medical institute, blind Franco Arno (Karl Malden) and his young niece become curious when, that same night, the building is mysteriously broken into. Once those surrounding the case begin to fall prey to an unknown psychopath, Franco and reporter Carlo (James Franciscus) unite to investigate.

Whilst occasionally reminiscent of Argento’s previous film Bird With the Crystal Plumage (have a look at the livewithfilm review from the twelfth of December last year), Cat O’ Nine Tails still manages to surprise and unnerve in equal measures as it plays out its relentlessly engrossing plot. Both films notably envision the work of a journalist at the centre of a mystery; much like the audience, these figures, grounded in the hunt for truth, are constantly surprised by the darker shocks doled out by Argento. Close flashes of eyeball are consistently unsettling and the killer’s point of view shots appear to be a blueprint for the camerawork of later slasher films such as Halloween (1978). A highly enjoyable film, livewithfilm was totally absorbed, falling for all the tricks and twists and rooting for the beautifully envisioned investigative odd couple. An innovatively crafted crime thriller with the darkest of cores.