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Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987) or livewithfilm goes back to what it knows best…

8 Nov

Yes livewithfilm has returned to its roots: an 80s horror sequel. Could the third coming of Freddy Krueger compare favourably to the recurring wonders of the It’s Alive series or the ever diminishing rubber-toothed returns of Jaws II or IV: The Revenge? Whatever happened, livewithfilm could be safe in the knowledge that Michael Caine thankfully wouldn’t turn up sporting a floppy afro.

Chuck Russell’s sub-par entry into the Elm Street franchise amps up the gore yet unwittingly sheds it horrific origins, resulting in an imaginative yet ridiculous film. Relying heavily on earlier instalments for narrative clarity, Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors wavers between clunky exposition and unexplained madness as a host of new teens come to a sticky end thanks to dream-bound Freddy Kreuger. No explanation is given as children in a psychiatric hospital begin to fall prey to the knife gloved maniac, Dream Warriors happily expecting audiences to be clued up to the Nightmare formula. That is until Heather Langenkamp arrives, reprising her role as the original Nightmare’sNancy and shoehorning explanation in at every opportunity. Now a dream specialist, Nancy works with the children to battle Kreuger and manipulate their dreams.

Following Wes Craven’s supreme original, the Nightmare series relies upon its lucid concept to churn out ingenious murder sequences. Thankfully omitting a return to the shower set death-by-towel-whipping witnessed in Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge, Dream Warriors pushes new boundaries to slaughter its young cast. Yet while relentlessly inventive and disgusting (death by puppet veins?!), the kills disappointingly provoke few scares. Nevertheless, Russell’s intriguing attempts to maintain Craven’s original theme of American youngsters paying for the crimes of their forebears suggests deeper thinking at play. Similar to the ramifications of Vietnam alluded to in the first Nightmare, Dream Warriors now blames the youngsters’ dreams on the drug taking decadence of their parents. At points entertaining, Dream Warriors struggles to maintain the original excitement of Nightmare. Memorable for brief glimpses of imagination, the film remains a scare-free and decidedly non-nightmarish return for Kreuger.

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Double bill: Manhunter (1986) & The Silence of the Lambs (1991) or livewithfilm enjoys its electro pop with a nice Chianti…

23 Oct

Potentially serving as the darkest double bill livewithfilm has yet to endure, the earliest incarnations of the Lecktor/Lecter tales remain surprisingly dissimilar and fuel fear in entirely different ways. While the violent aging of Michael Mann’s Manhunter has done it no favours (synth drum solos anyone?) it still can sit contentedly next to Jonathan Demme’s Academy busting Silence, perhaps even surpassing its younger sibling. Depending on how many sunsets and short-shorts one can stomach, Manhunter’s stylised yet realistic vision is truly skin-crawling and often surpasses the frequently bogeyman-esque horrors of Silence.

Alluding to previous battles with a one Hannibal Lecktor (Brian Cox), Manhunter sees psychologically fragile cop Will Graham (William Petersen) called back into the force to hunt down serial killer ‘The Toothfairy’. Entering into the murderer’s mindset, Graham risks insanity as he hunts his latest prey. Silence sees Lecter (here, Anthony Hopkins) consulted once again as trainee FBI agent Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) hunts down a killer who skins his victims. Entering into a pact with Lecter, Starling is forced to confide deep secrets to the cannibal.

Both Cox and Hopkins excel as Lecktor and Lecter respectively, demonstrating different interpretations of the same maniacal character; yet, somewhat controversially, Cox’s remains superior. Hinting at the brutal genius of Lecktor, Manhunter teases a more chilling glimpse of insanity out of the villain. While Hopkins tears around his Perspex cage, Silence nearly explains him away, revealing all that Manhunter so eerily suggests. Hopkins is enthrallingly unnerving but remains in a film that could do with implying as much as it reveals.

Manhunter’s ‘monster’ is similarly more effective. A terrifying presence, Dollarhyde (Tom Noonan) is compellingly fleshed out, far more so than the at times Leatherface-styled Jame Gumb (Ted Lavine). When matching Gumb with Clarice however, Silence brings to the fore an intriguing gender-morphing dynamic implied throughout both films.

While it looks like livewithfilm has gone out to damn The Silence of the Lambs, this blogger agrees that the film is a classic piece of horror. Just don’t write off its earlier, and vastly underrated, predecessor.

With music like this over the closing sequence who could deny Manhunter’s classic status?: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wBWSocJMChA

The Mummy’s Shroud (1967) or livewithfilm revels in Hammer’s bandaged nightmare…

29 Sep

From the studio that dripped blood come the bandages to mop it up. Following the far more Hollywood inflected The Mummy (1959), Hammer’s second foray into Egyptian mythology remains a thrillingly gruesome and enjoyable slasher-romp. Never as diabolically dark as The Devil Rides Out (1968) and relatively restrained in comparison with the head-lopping frenzy of Frankenstein Created Woman (1967), John Gilling’s The Mummy’s Shroud finds its own niche to furrow. With an ensemble cast waiting in the wings for their inevitable bandage fuelled demise, ingenious deaths and splatters of gore remain the order of the day in 1920s Egypt.

Discovering the lost tomb of an Egyptian prince, an archaeological team led by the esteemed Sir Basil Walden (André Morell) return the cadaver to a museum in nearby city Mezzera. Reuniting the bandaged royal with his ever-loyal – yet long dead – servant Prem, the group unwittingly awaken a long forgotten curse. Roused by the calls of a soothsayer, Prem’s bandaged form enacts vengeance upon those who disturbed his master. With moneyed bore Stanley Preston (John Philips) fearing for his life, it falls to quick witted Paul Preston (David Buck) and psychic Claire de Sangre (Maggie Kimberly) to confront the walking fiend.

Transitioning from a relatively measured opening into a corpse-rich second act, The Mummy’s Shroud uses this dichotomy to shock and surprise. Perhaps as a result of its early twentieth century setting, the film’s preliminary archaeological scenes recall a prim and proper vision of adventure: more Five Go Wild in the Desert than the debauchery many have come to expect from Hammer. Yet once Prem the mummy begins to enact his bloody curse, the film kicks into an entirely different gear. Using the vital build up to establish characters and themes, The Mummy’s Shroud contrasts control with brutality, heightening the wanton violence of its second half. Deaths become increasingly creative and drive the film to a wild climax, with individuals being hurled from windows and melted beneath acid.

Slowly culled by this wild streak, the ensemble cast shine. While Philips’ villain remains so hammy that boos and hisses would not be amiss as he tears across the screen, Michael Ripper’s performance as long-suffering butler Longbarrow utterly steals the show. Simpering and withered, Ripper similarly juxtaposes against the film’s powerful feminine influences. With Catherine Lacy contributing her own drool to clairvoyant Haiti and heroine Claire de Sangre holding power over the film’s finale, women are given an unprecedented level of authority in this Hammer production. Truly unsettling and shocking, The Mummy’s Shroud builds on the mummy theme to the great glee of all concerned

The Reverend (2011) or livewithfilm wonders why Rutger Hauer is in pre-release DVD no.2 …

29 Jul

 

Unaware of his significance in a conflict between Heaven and Hell, a reverend (Stuart Brennan) takes up his role in a village parish. Yet after fending off a hungry assailant, the holy man slowly becomes aware of his growing thirst for blood. Using his new found urges to confront evil, the reverend takes it upon himself to rid the sleepy village of the most significant members of the criminal underworld.

While Neil Jones has clearly done his research, the tremendous debt The Reverend owes to its forebears only serves to highlight the ultimate failures of this Dracula-goes-to-Ambridge sub-par horror. This is never more aptly highlighted than when Brennan’s character, fuelled by a burning desire to drink the blood of a local pensioner, laps gore from the worktop of his kitchen. A clear attempt to recreate a near identical scene from Guillermo del Toro’s Cronos (1993), The Reverend repeatedly trades unnerving artistry for home counties tedium. In addition to this, thefilmmanages to condense Timur Bekmambetov’s Night Watch (2004) and Day Watch (2006) into a ten minute epilogue of immediate irrelevance. While the Russian’s films could never be seen as sophisticated, the preliminary act of The Reverend only serves to thieve a number of ‘weighty’ symbols from Bekmambetov’s vision. These are never returned to and thus become startlingly inappropriate.

Even more unsettling, Jones’s film espouses an uncomfortable vision of class. The village is continuously plagued by the problems of a nearby housing estate, which is posed as the source of all the world’s ills. The working class are shown as a thieving and violent bunch. Beyond redemption, The Reverend suggests that murder is the only way that civilised members of society can rid themselves of this ‘menace’. If one is to attempt to maintain the idea’s of the long forgotten introduction, are we to believe that the world’s poor are in fact agents of Hell? Wealth and the possession of a country house are shown to be invitations into paradise, owned only by the brave and kind.

With actors stuttering to deliver awkward phrases, Jones does little to support them with his camera. Often using infuriatingly slapdash or by the numbers direction, The Reverend retains the feel of a weekly soap opera. While Jones occasionally remembers to use a neat voice over that harks back to the film’s comic book roots, The Reverend holds no redeeming features. Times must be tough for Rutger Hauer if he needs to maintain his career with this malicious guff. Recalling his glory days in Blade Runner (1982), my tears were lost in rain.

The Woman in Black (2012) or livewithfilm wants more boo for its buck…

28 Jun

Should children’s films be scary? Coming from a blog that has, in the past, expressed its admiration for italian-giallo-splatter-punk, the answer should be relatively simple to deduce. As a mere sprog, it took livewithfilm multiple sittings to get through the first ten minutes of The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993), while Gremlins (1984) left this youthful film-fan gibbering with tears. What fun! Livewithfilm will stand by the claim that it is a true thrill to experience a scare and that it is an injustice to provide children with a ‘cotton-wool’ version of this art form. The world can be grim and film can actively reflect and evaluate this for people of all ages. Saying that, a call recently came in to a Mark Kermode radio show that sought advice as to whether a six year old would enjoy Jaws (1975). Too far methinks.

Young lawyer Arthur Kipps (Daniel Radcliffe) leaves his motherless-son for a week of work in a distant village. Tasked with collating the paperwork of recently emptied Eel Marsh House, Kipps faces resentment from the locals when his role comes to light. Fearing the vengeful ghost of a scorned woman, the community assert that his coming will bring about the deaths of many village children.

Having sat through a truly terrifying production of The Woman in Black on the West End, livewithfilm was excited that this ghoulish story had been bought to celluloid by the masterful Hammer studio. Unfortunately James Watkins’ film seems to have been hamstrung by both an overzealous trailer and a recent abundance of masterful haunted house movies. Strikingly similar to The Orphanage (2007), The Woman in Black occasionally chose to employ sadly hackneyed scare tactics that undermined its effective creation of atmosphere. Simultaneously, the most effective and original shocks had all been seen before, repeated ad infinitum in over-seen pre-film adverts. Nevertheless, the film packs two notable moments of goosebumpery and repeatedly provides neat chills rather than downright scares. Given that The Others (2001) is the same certificate and remains utterly petrifying, perhaps a trick has been missed by The Woman in Black. Still, great to see a return of Hammer with this Jane Eyre rehash (‘madwoman in the attic’ theory anyone?).

Livewithfilm’s allegiances are torn this evening for tonight’s Euro 2012 match:Germany and F.W. Murnau orItaly and Dario Argento?! At leastSpain and Pedro Almodovar are through to the final…

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: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bF8vMypby4c

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…

The Blood on Satan’s Claw (1971) or livewithfilm begs you to bear with it…

30 Apr

Grant livewithfilm itself another indulgence whilst it recuperates. Yes this blogger understands that it may be tiring for readers to be constantly bombarded with viewings from the darker side of cinema, but, with undoubtedly selfish pretentions, livewithfilm finds it hard to stop itself from delving deeper into its favoured genre.

This historic film from Piers Haggard, a director whose name suitably conjures up associations with exhaustion and decay, sees a seventeenth-century English village slowly coming under the control of a demon. A coven of children cause chaos in the idyllic countryside, watching gleefully on as the body parts of superstitious villagers transform into fiendish claws and fur. It is left to the town judge to return, spear in hand, and purge the hamlet of its union with Satan.

From a period of earthy stylised horrors that drew on folk and pagan traditions, The Blood on Satan’s Claw is undeniably similar to the more celebrated The Wicker Man (1973), but if anything creates a greater impact with its uncompromising vision of youthful moral collapse. Whilst Christopher Lee waived his fee for his performance in the aforementioned classic, both he and horror stalwart Peter Cushing were considered too expensive for Blood on Satan’s Claw and their presence is missed. The gravitas lent by both actors would not have gone amiss in a film which occasionally loses its horrific momentum. Alongside this, (spoiler alert!) the final beastly revelation in Haggard’s film would have benefitted from greater restraint and suggestion. The intrigue that is built throughout the film is somewhat lost when the downfall of all humanity emerges to be a man in a wobbly bat costume. Seeming out of place, such a final disclosure of beastliness is not dissimilar to the studio imposed creature of Tourneur’s Curse of the Demon (1957). Yet such reservations retract little from this enjoyably nasty and surprisingly shocking British gem. The discovery of a demonic skull by a ploughing farmer, staring eyeball and all, is a superbly grisly opening and the eroticised devil worshippers remain disturbing throughout. Search this one out for some bad-natured fun!