Rhys Darby is one of those comedy actors who, even if the name doesn’t automatically ring a bell, you’ve most likely seen in something. On the small screen, he’s surely best known for his supporting role in Flight of the Conchords as Murray, the inept manager who handles the band on the side of his day job at the New York branch of the New Zealand tourist office, whilst movie fans may know him for his brief but memorable cameo as leader of the werewolves (not swear-wolves) in What We Do in the Shadows. Short Poppies, an 8-part comedy series from 2014, puts him centre-stage as he plays a succession of characters living in a nondescript New Zealand coastal town, where filmmaker David Farrier (a real-life journalist, so I’m told, appearing under his own name) is putting together a documentary series. It’s a promising idea, and makes for around 3 hours of harmless fun, but all in all I’m sorry to say it left me feeling that Darby is perhaps best utilised in a supporting capacity, dealing out his distinct comedic persona in smaller doses.
The daikaiju (or, if you’re a bit less ostentatious, giant monster movie) has always offered a handy, audience-friendly way for filmmakers to address big fears. As countless books on the subject will tell us, Godzilla served as a cathartic expression of post-Hiroshima/Nagasaki angst for Japan, and the ensuing franchise has addressed broader concerns about ecology, corporate greed, and the many various abuses of power which bring down nature’s wrath upon mankind. Since then, Cloverfield dealt with the traumas of 9/11, the Godzilla reboot evoked the Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami of 2011, and Kong: Skull Island touched on both Vietnam and, by inference, the subsequent US-led invasions made in the name of the War on Terror. All huge, large-scale horrors which had a devastating effect on large numbers of people. However, it’s rather less common that we see giant monsters used as a symbol for troubles of a more intimate, personal nature, which would seem to be what writer-director Nacho Vigalondo is aiming for with curious genre-bender Colossal.
Negotiating the relationship between art and artist can be a tricky business at times. For many, approaching any new movie from Mel Gibson is going to be a tough pill to swallow given the man’s many public disgraces and personal views which don’t sit well with some of us. But even if we try to take the filmmaker’s real life persona out of the equation and approach Hacksaw Ridge purely as a new addition to his body of work, it may seem fraught with contradictions right away. Throughout both his acting career and his work behind the camera on Braveheart, The Passion of the Christ and Apocalypto, Gibson’s fascination with violence has always been front-and-centre, and many would go so far as to suggest he fetishises combat; and yet, here he is taking on the story of a devoutly Christian pacifist who steadfastly refused to engage in violence during World War 2, despite having enlisted in the army of his own accord. Indeed, at a glance Desmond Doss’s story would also appear somewhat self-contradictory. So in a curious way, it is a very fitting tale for Gibson to tell, and one that cuts directly into the clash between religious conviction and rampant bloodlust which runs throughout his filmography.
As most readers are no doubt aware by now, Jonathan Demme has died. Taken from us aged 73 from a reported combination of heart disease and cancer, the director, writer, producer and documentarian leaves behind a remarkably varied and illustrious body of work. As can often be the case on these occasions, I come to the sad realisation that I’m really not as familiar with the length and breadth of that oeuvre as I should be. Beyond Caged Heat (whose praises I sang here several years ago), I haven’t seen any of Demme’s earliest films, and while I did see Something Wild and Married to the Mob, both were so long ago they’re hazy in my memory.
However, as a lifelong horror fan, the one Demme movie which will always be close to my heart is naturally his Oscar-laden 1991 classic The Silence of the Lambs. And yes, let’s make this abundantly clear straight away: whatever anyone says, of course The Silence of the Lambs is a horror movie, and any denial of this is absurd and rooted in anti-genre snobbery. That said, to play devil’s advocate, it’s understandable that some would declare it to be (wince) somehow ‘more’ than horror, as it was a film that pushed the genre to new heights of sophistication which few can really be said to have reached since; and God knows they tried, as its echoes can be felt in so much of the horror fare to have come in its wake.
Any contemporary example of extreme cinema, loaded with shocking imagery and structured in an unconventional manner to keep the audience on their toes, has one fairly sizeable obstacle to tackle: cinema has seen more than its fair share of extreme, indecipherable, shock-heavy fare over the decades. As such, while We Are The Flesh is specifically designed to defy straightforward explanation, I still feel like I can sum it up easily enough: if you felt that Refn’s The Neon Demon or the final act of Rob Zombie’s The Lords of Salem were just a little too linear and sedate for your liking, and didn’t feature nearly enough explicit sexual content, then this might be your cup of tea. On the other hand, if you think that sounds like 80 minutes of audio-visual torture, well, that’s just what you’ll get as well – and there’s no doubt in my mind that this is what writer-director Emiliano Rocha Minter is aiming for with his feature debut. Whatever your proclivities, this is not a film you can passively sit through; but just how great an impact it’s likely to have may vary according to how easily shocked you are, and/or how receptive you are to the near-constant use of shock tactics.
Tackling films dubbed cinematic landmarks can sometimes feel a bit of a minefield. There are any number of worthy, ‘important’ films which can be argued to have demonstrably changed the face of cinema, but in many instances this doesn’t necessarily equate to the film in question still being enjoyable to watch in the 21st century. However, this most definitely isn’t the case with Drunken Master. For some, it might be a bit of an eyebrow-raiser to see Eureka Entertainment releasing Yuen Woo-Ping’s low-budget 1978 kung fu flick as part of their illustrious Masters of Cinema series; yet while the film may have been introduced to the west via grindhouse cinemas and shoddy VHS tapes, it also breathed new life into Hong Kong martial arts cinema, which seemed to have focused its energies on trying to find the next Bruce Lee in the years following the action icon’s death. The way to advance, of course, was not to emulate Lee’s style, but to experiment with new approaches – and this was just what Woo-Ping and his leading man Jackie Chan did here, in what is widely acknowledged as the first kung fu comedy.
There are horror franchises, there are horror franchises with a cult following, and then there’s Phantasm. One of the few properties of its kind to remain in the hands of the same creator right up to the present day (even if the most recent film was the work of another director), Don Coscarelli’s humble 1979 oddity somehow birthed a series which has endured for the better part of four decades. As an example of independent genre filmmaking done right, it might easily be mentioned in the same breath as such other titles of its era as The Evil Dead and Friday the 13th, and yet Phantasm clearly stands apart inasmuch as it has arguably proved to be a genuine, inimitable one-off. Well, a one-off that’s spawned four sequels, but hopefully you see my point. Combining elements of simple drive-in horror movie thrills, mind-bending Argento-esque surrealism, apocalyptic science fiction, and all-American, gun-toting, muscle car machismo, there’s no mistaking a Phantasm movie, and there really isn’t anything else quite like it.
As hard as it may be for some of us to believe, it’s now been a full decade since Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez’s Grindhouse first opened, and, as I’ve discussed at length elsewhere, the big-budget box office flop wound up having a far greater cultural impact than anyone could have anticipated at the time. No, QT and RR did not single-handedly bring grindhouse exploitation cinema into the popular consciousness, but they did raise its profile significantly, to the extent that neo-grindhouse (if you want to call it that) has become a prominent subgenre in the indie/genre scene this past decade: on top of Grindhouse spin-offs Machete, Machete Kills and Hobo With a Shotgun, we’ve had Black Dynamite, Bitch Slap, Time To Kill, All Hell Breaks Loose, Run! Bitch Run! and Nude Nuns with Big Guns, to name but a few; but to my mind there’s no question that the big daddy in this field was James Bickert’s gleefully debauched 2011 bikers-versus-Bigfoot movie, Dear God No!
I’ll admit I wasn’t completely sold on Dear God No! when it first came to British shores. The post-grindhouse approach invariably hinges on a degree of artifice which is always going to leave a bad taste in the mouth for some viewers. However, with time and further viewings, not to mention holding it up alongside similar films that have been made since, it became clear that Dear God No! had a sincerity, a certain purity of intent (believe me, I’m well aware how wrong it seems to imply there’s anything ‘pure’ about it) that held it up as almost certainly the best film of its kind to emerge this past decade. As such, when Bickert announced plans to shoot an even more ridiculous sequel in Frankenstein Created Bikers, damned if I wasn’t anxious to see that right away, to the extent that I happily donated to the film’s Kickstarter fund – hence my contributor copy Blu-ray arrived at long last this past weekend.
Just in case you wondering, no, this isn’t some sort of sequel to The Bunny Game which you hadn’t heard about.
Originally released in the US under the title Beaster Day: Here Comes Peter Cottonhell, The Beaster Bunny is the first and to date only film credited to writer, director, producer and cinematographer team the Snygg Brothers, and as you might have already ascertained from the title and the still to the left, it’s about a sleepy middle-American town (is there any other kind?) which comes under attack from a giant killer bunny rabbit on Easter weekend. Absurdist monster movies of this ilk are hardly unheard of these days, most of them coming from SyFy, The Asylum and/or Roger Corman (although more often than not they centre on sharks rather than rabbits), and I’m sure I’m far from alone in having often thought while sitting through such feeble efforts that they would almost certainly be improved if they didn’t tone things down for TV, and piled on the bloodshed, swearing and gratuitous nudity. Well, The Beaster Bunny certainly tests that theory. It’s got tits, gore and F-bombs galore, as one of the most wildly unconvincing monsters you will ever see goes on a rampant killing spree. Whether this is enough to keep the joke from getting old for a full 80 minutes is another matter.
It can be tricky when you’re late to the party. Feverishly hyped in horror circles since its announcement, and one of the most talked-about films at the horror festivals in 2016, The Void has been on my radar for a good length of time, and all the signs indicated that it was something very much up my street. Publicity emphasised heavy use of old-fashioned practical SFX in favour of CGI, and a vision of otherworldly terror that drew heavily on HP Lovecraft, Clive Barker, Lucio Fulci, but at the same time reached out to do something new. Naturally, I went in with very high hopes… so when I say now that The Void is, well, just alright, it feels like a devastating blow. It really shouldn’t be at all, as this is not in any way, shape or form a bad film; it’s just nowhere near as great as I’d been hoping it would be, with far fewer surprises in store.