Keri O'Shea

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Zombies in cinema have gone from being one of my go-to good fun film monsters to something approaching a personal phobia. For that, I blame years of reviewing low-budget horror films. I mean, I know the earliest zombie films were low budget too, but they made the mistake of being modestly successful; this success has thereafter announced to every dick and his dog that they, too, could make a few quid off of unfussy horror fans who will be genuinely entertained every time they see a horde of bozos in bloodstained shirts shuffling around, groaning. Better still, if you’re a director, you can get your mates to pretend to be zombies, which saves even more hassle – like writing a decent script, or bothering to watch all the other films which have had the exact same idea as you, in order to avoid making the same damn film they did.

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Ah, Paul Naschy. It’s entirely possible that I’m speaking for myself here, but the ratio of ‘how well I know his films’: ‘how well I feel I should know his films’ needs a little revision. His name certainly precedes him, and he’s instantly recognisable, but there only seems to be a handful of decent UK releases of Naschy films, even now. A cursory glance over at Amazon shows you still need to rely on imports; I’ve seen lots of Naschy stills, but haven’t stumped up the extra for many of his movies. Well, step forward Black House Films, who – in their recent release rota – have included Crimson (A.K.A. The Man with the Severed Head) and it’s an entertaining way to right this wrong. Is it wall-to-wall with false advertising, from the title right down to the plot and beyond? Yes, it damn well is, and you’ll sit there and bloody well enjoy it anyway.

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It’s no secret that I adored the first Stake Land film. For me, it epitomised just how much you could do with familiar horror elements, if you had a clear idea of the importance of character, and an understanding that good horror stories depend on an awareness of the ratio of ordinary:extraordinary, whether that ratio be skewed greatly in one direction or another. For all of my enthusiasm for the film, however, I had absolutely no idea that a sequel had been made; I have since found out that actor/writer Nick Damici has hopes of getting a Stake Land franchise off the ground, but in any case, it’s a pleasant thing to get the chance of a screener which is – at least in promise – a very happy surprise. Now having watched the second film, I’m completely torn. On one hand, it’s immensely gratifying to again see characters on screen that (for me) work so well, in a film which re-captures some of the striking visuals and atmosphere of the first film. But in re-capturing much of what made the first film so effective, Stake Land II has seemingly re-trod a very, very similar story arc. This has led me to ponder – when is a sequel truly a sequel? And when is a sequel justifiable?

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Zombie Lake opens with a bit of a fib: there is no director by the name of  ‘J.A. Laser’, and the pseudonym conceals the fact that the film was actually directed by Jean Rollin, who is of course better known for rather more artistic fare. It turns out that Zombie Lake had a bit of a troubled birth, with the original director, Jess Franco, quitting the project before it began. It then fell to Rollin to take up the reins, but by all accounts he was so mortified by the script that he decided to disguise the fact that he’d had anything to do with it. To be fair, though, misgivings about the script don’t excuse some of the ridiculous errors that occur throughout on Rollin’s watch, but somehow, this is all part of the full Zombie Lake experience.

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The first thing which hit me when I settled to watch Helga: She-Wolf of Stilberg – apart from the Lidl-like almost-familiar name (what exploitation classic could they possibly have had in mind when they named this one?) – was a feeling of profound disorientation. Surely, with a title like this, we were in store for a piece of mildly-derivative Nazisploitation? Well – yes; and no. But mainly no. Perhaps, I dunno, there was a bit of mild concern about making a film which openly referenced the Nazis, in France, so relatively soon after World War II? I suspect this may have been part of it, but from the very offset, this film feels a bit like the Exploitation Movie which Dare Not Speak Its Name. We’re apparently in some sort of politically-unstable version of France (?) where the soldiers wear striking red armbands bearing a distinctive symbol which IS NOT a swastika, and don’t you dare confuse the two; the blonde lady present at the argumentative interim-governmental meeting at the beginning of the film (Malisa Longo, who has form) is indeed a tyrannical nympho who gets sent off to a remote outpost to govern over female prisoners, but honestly, I don’t know why this would make you think of a certain other film…

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In many respects, my first reaction to seeing that actor Tom Hardy had thrown body, mind and soul – and a lot of income – into a BBC period drama was one of complete surprise. I mean, coming fresh off the success of Mad Max: Fury Road, then swapping the big rigs for horse-drawn carriages is a sizable shift; why would he, alongside his father and co-creator ‘Chips’ Hardy, take such a strange turn, or risk such a big gamble? Critics have also raised the question: The Guardian was quick to sneer at Taboo, dismissing it as “silly”, but having watched – and enjoyed – the first series, I think I get it. Although (presumably) hundreds of years and miles apart from Hardy’s most recent success on-screen as ‘Max’, Taboo builds on what Hardy now clearly knows he does very well. He’s bloody good at being dark and ambiguous and he’s equally good as a vital underpin to a story, though, as it turns out, both men are dependent on a number of other miscreants in order to properly rally against powerful forces which do far worse things than they, in terms of scale and magnitude. James Kaziah Delaney and Max have been spat out by the machine and they have done dreadful things along their route back to freedom; this makes them problematic, but perhaps all the more engaging for it.

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We’ve been saying since we launched Warped Perspective that we’d be covering a fairly broad selection of what could be termed ‘genre’ cinema, but it’s taken me until now to really put this into action. And, it has to be said, I elected to watch a film which was always going to pose certain issues for me. See, the star of the ‘based on a true story’ comedy, Army of One, is none other than Nicholas Cage. I have respect for Cage, as he’s been acting for a long time, and to be fair, he’s been in some films which I very much like – usually when his character is having the worst time of his life, now I think of it, such as in Leaving Las Vegas. However, in other roles, I find Cage’s jittery, manic stylings incredibly challenging to watch. It’s too intense; it saps the life out of the rest of the film (his performance in Vampire’s Kiss still hurts my mind). But if I veer between grudging admiration and utter exasperation when I watch Cage on screen, then it’s nothing compared to my feelings about Russell Brand, who also features here – as none other than God, a role Brand may well have felt very comfortable playing. So, a challenging cast, and a divisive director (Larry Charles, who gave us Borat). Army of One was sizing up to be a challenging prospect…

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3D cinema may have undergone a bit of a resurgence in recent years, but it’s important to remember that – although we now have an array of new-fangled technology to enjoy it and a whole host of new films to go alongside – the phenomenon isn’t exactly new. Hence this brilliant little factoid on the cover of the Salvation Films Blu ray release of The Stewardesses: apparently, prior to Avatar (!) this was the highest-grossing 3D film of all time. Now if that’s a piece of the much-vaunted ‘fake news’ we’re currently hearing so much about, then it’s the kind I think we can approve of. But who knows? It could well be true. Before audiences wanted to be immersed into fictional universes, perhaps they wanted to be immersed into something rather more, shall we say, earthy…

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I think it’s fair to say that director M. Night Shyamalan has had a variable track record to date. After his big break, The Sixth Sense, made a new sport out of guessing-the-twist, he seemed to have landed straight at the top and seemed likely to stay there – but subsequent films saw this influence wane, with offerings such as Lady in the Water dividing fans and more recent efforts, namely The Last Airbender, uniting them again – mostly in derision. (I’ll admit I haven’t seen The Last Airbender, though whenever faced with Shyamalan’s most twee efforts, I always feel like Michael Jackson’s Earth Song is about to break out.) So, this brings us to his new film, the recently-released Split (2016), which features no spooks, no mysterious realms and no crop circles. On paper, it certainly seems like a concerted effort has been made to head in a new direction – but just how complete, and successful, is this departure?

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I’ve always thought it’s a crying shame that we generally know very little about Russian cinema; although many fine examples have made it across to the West, we can be sure that many have not, and even those which have are often very under-appreciated. And so it is that it has taken me around a decade from the point of seeing some intriguing stills in print from Viy (1967) to actually seeing the film itself. However, this omission has meant that I’ve just been able to see a film, which is now a staggering half a century old, as one amongst the most innovative supernatural yarns I’ve ever enjoyed to date. That is the magic of cinema. The best of it not only doesn’t have a best-before date; it actively gathers extra appeal from the intervening years, adding the charm of the time capsule effect to its other merits. Add Russian folklore into the mix and you also get that strange, but not displeasing distance, too – where the tales are similar, yet different; the predominant religion is unique, but also recognisable – and the threat of the otherworldly is so very Russian (or Ukrainian) in many ways, yet feels as though it’s interlaced with themes and ideas akin to many European stories.

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