The other day, I had what I feel I can best describe as a uniquely millennial moment. I was watching Baz Lurhmann’s Romeo & Juliet for the first time in many years, and it reached the scene in which Dash Mihok’s Benvolio quizzes Leonardo DiCaprio’s Romeo about the sadness that lengthens his hours. Romeo remarks that he loves a woman, to which Benvolio rather sneeringly replies, “I aimed so near when I supposed you loved.” Immediately I recalled studying the play as a teenager, and that line seeming fine as a droll witticism at the time; but hearing it today in 2017, I was not unreasonably struck by how homophobic it came off. A nanosecond later, this thought gave way to, “oh shit, Shakespeare was a homophobe;” and a fraction of a nanosecond after that, “does this mean it’s not okay to like Shakespeare anymore?”
For myself, I rapidly rejected this as a small-minded reduction. However, there’s not a doubt in my mind that many others could watch that scene today and latch onto the notion that Shakespeare is homophobic – and, by extension, so is Mihok for delivering the line, Lurhmann for directing it, and DiCaprio and everyone else involved in the film for being complicit in the promotion of homophobia. This would inevitably extend to every telling of Romeo & Juliet before and since. And so with a wave of a hand, the legacy of countless figures – chief among them, the single most influential writer in the history of the western world – would be dismissed as bigoted poison, and therefore of no cultural merit whatsoever.
In my humble opinion, this – as I should hope my tone makes clear – would be an absolutely absurd position to take. However, I see this kind of mindset at work with increasing regularity of late, and frequently among people whom I would generally regard kindred spirits.
When we ‘see what’s on the slab’ in the horror genre, it tends to be a young woman. Some of the films in question are just plain gut-wrenchingly horrific (such as Nacho Cerda’s Aftermath), some are undoubtedly horrific, but all the same cleverer than many might give them credit for (Deadgirl) and then – there’s The Autopsy of Jane Doe, a film which is quite unlike the vast majority of its predecessors, despite presenting us with yet another anonymous, unsullied female cadaver. This in itself is unusual; when you consider that this is the third feature by André Øvredal, it goes from ‘unusual’ to ‘bloody weird’. Yeah, this is the guy who directed the Norse legend-based Trollhunter before it all went strangely quiet on that front, considering the modest but solid reception which the earlier film garnered. Hey, no one can ever accuse this man of sticking to what he’s tried and tested before: this latest film, some six years on, is a bizarre change in direction. However, it has the nous to go all in, melding body horror to something which goes far beyond any of that, with our ‘Jane Doe’ positioned at the centre as if in the middle of a grisly Venn diagram.
Considering the calibre of the career that followed, it sometimes seems easy to overlook the sheer magnitude of Dario Argento’s game-changing debut as director. If Bava’s The Girl Who Knew Too Much and Blood and Black Lace lay the ground-work, it’s Argento’s debut that knocks it out the park. Lifting the best of Bava and infusing it with his own, career-making penchant for beautifully staged acts of violence, Argento’s film is rounded off with a
powerful central performance from Tony Musante and a memorable Ennio Morricone score.
To describe, in short, the plot of The Bird With The Crystal Plumage, risks describing the plot of countless other films that have followed. A man witnesses an attack and, believing his memories to hold the key to a series of brutal murders, investigates. There’s the template, the prototype, the giallo-by-numbers outline that so many other films after would follow (including Argento’s own). Specifically, here, it’s struggling writer Sam Dalmas (Tony Musante) who witnesses a seemingly brutal but non-fatal attack on a woman, Monica Ranieri (Eva Renzi), in an art gallery. Now a key witness to what might be an attempted murder by a serial killer, he’s restricted from travelling back to the USA with his girlfriend Julia (Suzy Kendall). Instead, as more women turn up dead, Sam finds himself drawn into the investigation as he desperately tries to recall a missing detail from that night.
For those of us who were teens in the late 90s to early 2000s and loved Marilyn Manson and JNCO jeans more than life itself, the name Jhonen Vasquez is very familiar. If you didn’t go through puberty like a butterfly of bad fashion, Jhonen Vasquez was the creator of such underground comics as Johnny the Homicidal Maniac, Squee, and I Feel Sick. Along with Roman Dirge and Hot Topic, he was an influential part of the “Spooky Cute” movement and eventually went on to help establish the “lol, so random xD” online subculture that plagues the internet to this day. The latter movement can be partially (okay, mostly) attributed to the short lived animated show Invader Zim. Though the series was canceled after two seasons, its cult status launched the show into television infamy and inspired a comic series of the same name from Oni Press. The comic is generally handled by a revolving collection of writers, which makes issue #40 that much more special. This one is penned by Vasquez himself.
If you’ve never seen Invader Zim before, basically Zim is an alien that is mistakenly sent to conquer Earth and enslave all of humankind. Along with his malfunctioning robot sidekick, GIR, he goes on wacky adventures in an attempt to fulfill his mission but is stopped at every turn by a nosy little kid named Dib (who, oddly enough, looks a lot like Vasquez). It’s a pretty bizarre cartoon, even by cartoon standards, and heavily draws upon a constantly hostile world of uncaring adults and dirt-tinged surroundings where wacky and unsettling happenings are an everyday occurrence. The comic series expands on the universe, giving Dib and Zim new adventures to butt heads over. In issue #40, the comic focuses on Zim, who becomes addicted to a terrible cartoon show called Floopsy Boops Shmoopsy and ignore his earth-taking mission in favor of sitting on the couch with GIR. For an entire issue. There you go, I saved you forty pages.
As a Swedish death metal musician once asked, ‘Who examines the doctors?’ and it’s a fair question, speaking to an anxiety which crops up again and again in horror cinema. Little wonder it does, too: ever since Victor Frankenstein decided to use his university education to stitch together dead bodies as a scholar of the ‘unhallowed arts’, people going rogue with medical expertise has formed a key component of the genre, somewhere we can play with our very real worries about these people abusing their skills, position and power. Here are some of my favourites…
Since we made the big switcheroo from Brutal As Hell to Warped Perspective, we have consciously stepped back a little from the indie horror scene – but every so often, a new project will pop up that we just have to share the news about. Such a project is The Book Club, set to be the first full-length feature from director Jamie McKeller and Red Shirt Films, the York-based team behind long-running web series I Am Tim Helsing (which can be found on their official Youtube channel). Pitched as ‘Great British Bake-Off meets The Silence of the Lambs’ with a hint of Brexit-era satire, it centres on a man who, having felt disenfranchised with the status quo, has his home legally seceded from the UK, leaving him free to live by his own laws. So naturally, he decides that murdering one’s annoying neighbours should be legal.
Pardon me for opening on what will sound like a splurge of smug self-congratulation, but… as a lifelong film enthusiast with a master’s degree in cult film and television, and almost a decade’s experience publishing horror reviews online, some part of me will occasionally feel I warrant being classed as a genre expert of some description. However, then a Blu-ray release like this will come along one to remind me of just how ignorant I remain in so many areas. Giallo has always been one region of the cult/horror realm that has always felt somewhat alien to me; while I’ve liked some of those I’ve seen, and can appreciate why the genre resonates with so many viewers, for whatever reason I’ve never quite been able to connect with them in that same way. Still, among the giallos (gialli? See, I don’t even know the correct pluralism) that I’ve most enjoyed was the fabulously titled Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key, from director Sergio Martino, with a striking supporting turn from Edwige Fenech. As such, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to look at Shameless’s new edition of All the Colours of the Dark, an earlier collaboration between the actress and the director.
The Universal monster movies: a time-honoured brand for which there is so much love, which the studio have tried so hard and failed so miserably to resurrect time and again. 2004’s Van Helsing, 2010’s The Wolfman and 2014’s Dracula Untold had all been pitched as launchpads for a new monster movie universe, but none of them won over the crowds or the critics. This time around, Universal have gone for broke and declared their new take on The Mummy to be the first chapter in the Dark Universe (ugh, we’ll come back to that title), with promises of a Bride of Frankenstein reboot next and many more to follow. Alas, The Mummy arrives to widespread critical condemnation, and potential audience apathy in the wake of unexpected smash hit Wonder Woman. So, have Universal bitten off a bit more than they can chew here, and is The Mummy really the disaster-in-waiting that many are expecting?
Britain has an illustrious history of cartoonists and illustrators who have been ready to represent life and all its ugliness in spectacularly ugly fashion. Hogarth’s work still has the power to repel, and in Georgian Britain, caricaturist James Gillray made things even more grotesque, regularly representing the monarchy for whom the era was named as toothless, gormless idiots, whilst turning ideals – such as the French Revolution – into allegorical depictions of monsters. If Gillray was the man best-known for sending up the Regency, then it was George Cruikshank who best satirised the rest of the 19th Century – initially following in his father Isaac’s illustrious footsteps as his apprentice. In the earliest years of his career, Cruikshank turned his own hand to political satire; then, as now, there was ample material, and to be fair, the Prince Regent often made himself a ripe target for ridicule…
Wonder Woman is a lot of things to a lot of people. Superhero, feminist, Amazon, an icon, a killer, and the longest-running female hero to ever grace the pages of comic books. She was the reason a lot of girls started reading comics, and a lot of boys learned that girls can kick ass and take names. She is exactly what her name is, a wonder of a woman, a genre-breaking character that proved that you, yes YOU, can do anything! And yet, despite having been around for over 75 years, it wasn’t until 2017 that she finally got her own movie. Which I finally saw! And it was pretty damn good.
In true comic fashion, I will be reviewing this movie on the merits of it being a superhero movie and how it works within the established world of Wonder Woman. My assessment is that it’s an okay superhero movie, but a great Wonder Woman movie.