Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Review: The Pact (2012)

UK poster The Pact

Nicole (Agnes Bruckner) and Annie (Caity Lotz) are dealing with the loss of their mother, something of a bitter sweet affair since they both suffered at her hands, and there is very little love lost. Annie is reticent to go back to the family home to sort the affairs out, since it holds so many bad memories. It's only when Nicole does not answer her phone for days, and no one – even her young daughter Eva (Dakota Bright) who is staying with a friend (Kathleen Rose Perkins) – has heard from her that she decides she has to. Assuming Nicole has 'done what she always does when it gets tough' and resorted to drugs and running away, Annie begins the process of sorting the house. 

Trying her phone again, she is disturbed to find it ringing in the closet that the siblings were locked as punishment when they were children.
When Annie is assaulted and thrown around the room by an unseen force, she wisely gets out of the house, and seeks the help of local cop Creek (Starship Trooper's Casper Van Dien). He's dismissive and she ends up basically using him as a sounding board for her subsequent discoveries of both her mother's past, and a series of unsolved murders that all seem to be connected with the family history.

The Pact is Nicholas McCarthy's first feature film, an extension of a previous short film which basically dealt with the events of this film's first 10mins – the disappearance of Nicole. The fact he shows such skill and flair with both the shocks and the tension he manages here, shows us that he is a director to watch out for in the future. The film builds slowly, allowing the shocks to come naturally and not filling the empty space with fake jumps that so many directors do.
The first half of the film is a creepy and often scary ghost story, with Annie bringing in a blind stoner psychic Stevie (Haley Hudson) into the house to try and find out what's going on and what the spirits that are prevalent there want from her. After Annie finds out more about her mother's past, she begins to piece more together and the focus of the peril becomes something a lot more tangible.

It's a film that succeeds in scaring, and creating a real sense of dread and terror, and yes, I actually jumped – and not because of some musical sting or quick cut. The fear in what you don't see, or what you're afraid you might see works wonders here. Even when it begins to play out as a different threat in the final act, McCarthy piles the mounting dread on in spades. 
While not completely original, there are enough twists and jumps to keep it fresh, and the brooding cinematography and music add greatly to the experience. One slight gripe is the image used for the UK poster (seen above) doesn't really represent what goes on in the film, however cool and creepy it looks.
Cult classic status may well be assured for this, but in the light of such hits as the Paranormal Activity series and such, mainstream success should be assured, it certainly deserves it. Hollywood should be knocking at McCarthy's door!
8 out of 10

Sunday, 27 May 2012

Review: Iron Sky (2012)

It is 2018. An American module is landing on the moon, organised as both a PR stunt for the President (Stephanie Paul) and a secret mission to see if there are any readings for a new fuel, Helium 3. It's not long before the two man crew have stumbled on a hidden Nazi base, one is immediately killed, the other taken prisoner. It turns out this astronaut is another US stunt, him being a black model, James Washington (Christopher Kirkby) sent along just to improve the perception of the mission. Now, of course the Nazis - who arrived on the moon in 1945 and have since been building up their forces and arsenal in preparation of the rise of a Fourth Reich - don't take the sudden appearance of a coloured guy too well.

Renete (Julia Deitze) is the daughter of the base's Einstein lookalike chief scientist (Tilo Prückner), and teaches the children Earth Studies; which includes using Charlie Chaplin's The Great Dictator as an example of how great and respected Hitler was. To them, this is only a short film (basically just the famous section with the Hitler character playing with an inflatable globe) - later she will see the full 2hour version and be horrified that it actually is mocking the Fuhrer. Wolfgang (Udo Kier) is the Nazi's leader, and he sends Klaus (Götz Otto) and the newly whitened Washington back down to Earth to get supplies of the new fangled telephone computers (mobiles to you and me) to power their equipment, the scientist comes up with a cable to connect the tiny phone to their enormous machinery "I call this Universal Systematic Binding. USB for short". You see, despite their obvious advances - building on the moon, etc.. the technology does rely on gears, chains, dials and a computer the size of a room.

Things don't go to plan on the mission to Earth, Renete stowing away being one, but when they manage to have an audience with the President herself (a very thinly veiled version of Sarah Palin), Renete's rousing speech about her beloved Reich's plans for a new world order are taken and used as her own. The two Nazi's then become PR workers for the White House, until Wolfgang re-appears and attempts retribution.

A full scale Nazi invasion of Earth is of course, inevitable, with their mix of advanced and steam punk weaponry - and that includes airships, I'm pleased to note - and their ultimate weapon, meteorites/ With the United Nations having full scale nuclear disarmament, how will we retaliate?
Iron Sky has had a chequered and troubled history, to the point where we were seriously wondering if it would ever see the light of day. Six years in the making, and partly funded by fan donations, as well as several different countries. Does this audacious and potentially offensive film deliver? The simple answer is yes. And in spades. Director Timo Vurensola has crafted a film in which for just under 90mins (approx 10mins of the running time are the film's end credits, there are so many FX houses and people to thank and mention) the pace does not let up. Part sci-fi, part war and all comedy, the films takes swipes at areas of society. The Americans come off worse than the Nazis, but their are no punches pulled. The action is straight out of the Saturday morning serials, zinging along with one set piece after another, and the satire is pure Dr Stranglove. While not all the gags are hilarious, the film is certainly fun, and it flies by so fast you could easily sit through it again straight away and catch any you may have missed. The special effects are incredibly impressive considering the budget, again, some work better than others, with green screen being used for most if not all of the moon base interiors.
If you have not been lucky enough to catch the film on it's limited UK cinema run, don't miss it on DVD.
9 out of 10

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Review: Strippers Vs Werewolves (2011)

Once in a while a film comes along with a title that really sets its self up for a let down. Being as bold, jaw dropping and eye catching as it is, Strippers Vs Werewolves is one of them. That is not to say it is a failure. There's still some late night drunken fun to be had here.

After a punter (Martin Kemp) at the local lap/pole dancing club Vixens gets a little carried away and turns all feral, resulting in a silver pointed fountain pen lodged in his eye, club owner Jeanette (Sarah Douglas from Superman II), bar manager Harry (East End hard man regular Alan Ford), stripper Justice (Adele Silva) and doorman Franklyn (Nick Nevern) plot to hide the body and pretend nothing has happened. Werewolves are not a new thing, nor a shock for the old hands as their previous establishment was over run by them, causing them to take drastic action and bomb the place "It's just like Basildon 1984" Harry gruffly points out.
It turns out Mickey (Kemp) is missed, however, and his pack of lycan cronies, led by Ferris (Billy Murray, still Don Beech from The Bill to me) set out to find out what has happened to him.
It doesn't help matters that Justice's boyfriend (who thinks she works at a vets) happens to be one of the gang (she thinks he's an estate agent) and when she bites him during a bout of passion, she begins to show signs of changing.
The girls band together - with a little help from Sinclair (Simon Phillips), boyfriend of one of the girls (Barbara Nedeljakova from the first two Hostel films), who happens to be an amateur vampire hunter - to defeat the gangster wolves and to strip another day.
There's not much meat to the script, but there are some fun exchanges and interesting cameos from Robert Englund (playing the incarcerated alpha wolf behind the 1984 infestation), Steven Berkoff, Lysette Anthony and - in a genuinely funny scene - Lucy Pinder as a vampire bride. Former Bill actress Abi Bastian stands out from the main cast, her character - blonde, ditzy, funny but resourceful - interestingly was given a high profile on a number of the film's posters - do blondes sell films better? Surely Adele Silva - a regular in Emmerdale a while back - would have been more recognisable?

The films effects range from excellent to passable, the werewolf prosthetic would have probably benefited from being lit a little darker, but it all adds to the fun, cheesiness of it all. The slick, comic book editing give the film a Lock Stock meets Scott Pilgrim vibe, and the tongue in cheek delivery never spoils the tone of the film. While it may not be scary, nor hilarious, there are fun moments, and some good gore. The sight of the big, lumbering, dim witted werewolf played by boxer Joe Egan having a dirty rummage while watching a girl undress did make me laugh though!  There's some nudity on display, but, sadly for fans of The Bare Facts guide, not from the main cast, and nothing too extreme. Simon Phillips' awkward occult investigator character is a high point, even if you can't help imagining Nick Frost in the role.

The film is one of the swan songs of production company Black and Blue Films, linchpin of which Jonathan Sothcott having formed the new Chata Pictures. I did notice you name checked the upcoming Airbourne in there, well done Mr S! I've enjoyed previous films they had been involved with, Dead Cert and Stalker especially, which seem to have be written off by some areas of the media, which is a shame. UK film making doesn't have to be all period dramas and kitchen sink gloom, you know. Don't be afraid to like films that are just fun!
While you may well feel short changed on what might have been, you can't deny the film delivers exactly what it promises. Strippers. And Werewolves. And they fight.
6 out of 10

Monday, 14 May 2012

The Greatest Show In The Galaxy - event roundup!

Recently, I took myself on a 3 hour train ride to sunny Peterborough to attend the inaugural fan event, The Greatest Show in the Galaxy.
In the same vein as the Showmaster "Collectormania" shows, this event was staged by Treble Ace Promotions, in co-operation with 10th Planet Events, and had a line up of guests too good to pass up.
For those who have not attended anything like this before, basically a load of cult stars appear, and you pay for the privilege to get their autograph, spend a few moments in their presence and maybe grab a quick picture with them. Unless they are 'big' stars then you won't be allowed the photo, although there is a chance to have a professional picture with them, with decent lighting and printed out for you - again at a price.
doctor who davrosdoctor who weeping angelsdoctor who daleks

jeri ryan star trek seven nine
Jeri Ryan
The big names at this event were a full main cast reunion for the Dr Who spin off Torchwood (which was quite a coup, and I was mildly interested in, but not enough to pay) and plenty of Star Trek actors - mostly Voyager and Deep Space Nine by the looks of it, but the big name was Jeri Ryan (Seven of Nine) making her first UK signing event appearance. Now, these did not really interest me and if you read this blog on a regular basis I imagine they wouldn't float your boat either. No, the people I came for were much bigger stars than any of those will ever be. To me, at least. I'm talking Hammer films, and 70s sex comedies.
A very healthy selection of people I grew up watching, and never imagined that one day I'd meet and talk to. It was the reason I traveled so far, and it was worth every mile, and to be honest, every penny of the crispy notes that were handed over.

predatorsstar wars stormtrooper ladybumps
My first stop of the day was Fenella Fielding. She of the husky, sultry voice and big hair who makes every viewing of Carry On Screaming a special event. At 85, she is not someone you'd expect to see at something like this, but I'm glad she is still up to making personal appearances and was utterly charming in the time I spent with her. I mentioned how I enjoyed the Hammer/Castle version of The Old Dark House and asked what William Castle was like to work with. "Wonderful. He was lovely!" She then asks if I'd seen Rosemary's Baby (pfft - is the Pope Catholic?), and tells me how the scene when Rosemary goes to the phone box terrified her, because of the character standing outside, only for him to turn around and it be Bill! "How could I be scared of him?" I told her the story that Castle bought the film rights and wanted to direct only for Paramount to bring Polanski in, and she didn't seem to know that (or more likely, forgot) but she was completely wonderful and I had to gush that it had been an absolute pleasure to meet her. She posed for a picture with me, and I went on my way, beaming from ear to ear and clutching a personalised signed photo.
fenella fielding
The wonderful Fenella Fielding
I had another walk around while waiting for the ink to dry on my photo, before approaching my next star. Peter Firth may not be an obvious choice, but he seems to be someone I've always been aware of while growing up. Maybe not for the right reasons sometimes, but never the less I felt he deserved my time (and money) and I should grab the chance to meet him while I had it. He was at this event mainly due to his connection with the BBCTV show Spooks (a couple of other actors were there too - one whom I felt very sorry for as I don't think his sharpie ever left its lid.) However, As a 10 year old, I remember watching the BBCTV Play for Today drama The Flipside of Dominick Hide and although it was probably too old for me really, I enjoyed the Sci-Fi time travel story and Firth always stuck in my memory. When Channel 4 began broadcasting in 1984 one of the first films they showed (and from what I remember without advertisement breaks, very unusual for a commercial station) was Sidney Lumet's version of Equus (1977). This film blew my mind. Not only because it was a very powerful story (based on the play by Peter Shaffer, brother of Anthony who wrote Sleuth and The Wicker Man), but it featured the wonderful Richard Burton and the stunning Jenny Agutter. The harrowing events of the story seemed to come second to the full frontal nudity on display from the two young leads in my 14 year old mind though. I've grown up since then (a bit) and do see the film as one of the greatest ever made, even if it's a difficult one to 'enjoy' (the story concerns a psychiatrist trying to find out why a young stable boy blinds some horses - it was the one Harry Potter star Daniel Radcliffe appeared nude in on stage a few years ago). I had to ask Peter about it, and was it a difficult part to play? "Not really, I was young, 17 or 18 and you're kind of fearless then" He tells me he played the role for a number of years in the West End and then Broadway, before doing the film version. He agreed with me about Burton, and expressed his joy at having worked with such a powerhouse actor. It was only later I remembered he was in Lifeforce and I should have asked him about that too, but chance missed I guess.
peter firth spooks
Peter Firth
Again, a quick photo op then I thank him and make my way to the quieter end of the star roster. Only it wasn't really. I was very pleased to see the Hammer/70s stars were doing good business. There seemed to be a steady stream of people wanting to chat and meet them, and this made me very happy especially considering a few people down was Highlander star Christopher Lambert who seemed had very little interest from people. Now, I would have probably had him on my "must have" list if his 'price' wasn't so prohibitive and he didn't have a "no posed photos" sign above his head. Sorry, but if I'm paying £30 for an autograph, and no one else is waiting behind, I don't see why you won't spend a minute to stand up and lean over and pretend you're happy to see me! Oh well. There. I said it. Rant over. Next!

stormtrooper parade star wars
I then manage to grab Valerie Leon before she went off for a break. The lovely Amazonian in many a Carry On and comedy film, as well as her big Hammer role, Blood From The Mummy's Tomb. Still very statuesque and attractive, albeit with a slight stoop that betrays her age, she was genial and had time for a photo with me, but I didn't really want to keep her from her break so kept my encounter brief. I did see her again later at the train station and helped her decipher the London train times. I just hope I put her on the right one!
valerie leon nipple
Valerie Leon
Someone whose name will mean nothing (but going off my blog stats, a lot of readers will know) is Sue Longhurst. Sue made her film debut in Hammer's Lust For A Vampire as one of the schoolgirls, and doubled for Susan George in Straw Dogs before really making a name for herself - and becoming quite an icon - in that bastion of low brow taste (and hence, highly enjoyable) the British sex comedy. From the famous soap suds scene with Robin Askwith (yes, more on that legend in a moment...) in Confessions Of A Window Cleaner to star billing in films like Keep It Up, Jack  and What The Swedish Butler Saw and with Mary Millington in Come Play With Me. Ill health which left Sue with a facial disfigurement ended her career and she withdrew from public life, before facing the world again in the fantastic BBC documentary Doing Rude Things (based on the book by fabled 70s writer David McGillivray). Since starting this blog, I've watched more and more of the obscure British sex comedies (and they seem to be the most popular posts, so no doubt will continue to write about them too) and Sue pops up and is fabulous in a lot of them. I was pleased to see she hasn't lost a sense of humour, and is in no way embarrassed about her past. Perusing  the photos on display, there was plenty of flesh on show, but being a gentleman *ahem*, I chose a (slightly) modest one for her to sign. She happily posed for a photo, and I was left a happy chap once again.
sue longhurst now
Sue Longhurst
sue longhurst cleavage then
Sue in the 70s
Next stop: Robin Askwith. The Man. The Legend. I have gushed about him before, and this would be the third time I've met him. He didn't disappoint. "'Allo! What can I interest you in here? I've got all sorts of porn..." as he points to the impressive array of stills just waiting to be scribbled on. Hmmm, this is a toughie. I have previously had all my Confessions stuff signed (the box set and all the cards within) as well as numerous other DVDs he's in, and his autobiography (in which he wrote, "Enjoy this! I did!"), and some photos, but there were many more here that tempted me. So I picked one which epitomised his saucy, cheeky chappy look from the 70s. "Do you know what film that is?" he asks, testing my knowledge. Without thinking, Carry On Girls "Correct!" I mention to him that I was at the Manchester Festival of Fantastic Films with him last year, and he was brilliant, and we chat about that, and he reveals some exciting news (which I can't pass on, in case it doesn't happen) I mention how sad it was that Richard Gordon had passed away so soon after the festival last year, as he was due to attend but was unwell, and he is crestfallen as he didn't know. I now feel like the bearing of bad tidings. Richard produced a couple of Robin's horror films, Horror Hospital and Tower of Evil and they got on well. Robin wrote the foreword in Tom Weaver's The Horror Hits of Richard Gordon book and seemed a little miffed that Tom hadn't told him.
robin askwith confessions
Robin Askwith
I then moved along to the lovely lady sitting next to Robin, the lovely Linda Hayden. As well as appearing with Robin in all the Confessions films, she was his girlfriend for a while. There was no awkwardness though, and the pair seemed to chat quite happily when not busy. Linda is probably most famous for The Blood On Satan's Claw and the one time video nasty Expose  a film she was quick to dismiss. "I hated that. They made it much nastier than it was meant. I had nothing to do with it when it came out" I mention it was nice to see her back on screen in the remake/re-imagining of it, Stalker, "That was wonderful. Martin (Kemp, director and one time Spandau Ballet star) did a good job on it." I tell her I saw it in one it's only cinema outings and we both bemoan the straight to DVD status of it.
linda hayden
Linda Hayden
Next up, the last of my wishlist. A lady I've long since 'admired' - and let's face it, it's hard not to fall for her stunning eyes. Madeline Smith. It may have been her appearances with The Two Ronnies, in the first Bond film that really caught my attention Live and Let Die, or alongside Frankie Howerd that did it for me - especially Up Pompeii (we spoke about Frankie, and she expressed how lovely he was to work with) but horror fans will know her more from The Vampire Lovers where she was so wonderfully deflowered by Ingrid Pitt. Maddy was wonderful, incredibly well spoken - even when I was making a complete buffoon of myself - "Is it Martin with a Y or I?" to which I blundered "with an I, only ponces have it with a Y" "Oh, there was one earlier, he didn't look poncy" I blushed at my common side and put it down to me being Northern.
madeline maddy smith
Maddy Smith
I decide not to spend any more money, reasoning that I've met most of the other people I would have otherwise approached before, and would only be paying for a chance of a photo with them really. So sadly, Veronica Carlson, Caroline Munro and Martine Beswicke had to go without my attention. Mary Collinson was there also, famous as one of the Twins of Evil but I didn't see the point of getting just ONE twin signed on a photo. Had there been both her and Madeline I would have jumped at the chance.
veronica carlson
Veronica Carlson
mary collinson twins of evil
Mary Collinson
The day finished (for me) with me checking out the stage talk by the Torchwood cast. It is the first time the whole main crew (including occasional cast member Freema (Martha) Agyeman). John Barrowman worked the audience, taking questions and often being told "be careful, it's a family audience", but nothing really enlightening came out of it. No scoops. We all know there's no plans for another series as yet (mainly due to Russell T Davis looking after his ill partner). Highlight for me here though, was overhearing two of the Hi De Hi stars talking. "He's such a show-off" was the dismissive (and possibly jealous) tone of the aged actor who played Maplin's ballroom dancing champion. To be honest, I smiled to myself and completely agreed.
torchwood 2012 reunion
Torchwood reunion
So my day came to an end, and it was only when I got home and checked the organisers website again and noticed a Hammer Girls photo shoot, with all the girls (including Stephanie Beacham, also in attendance) which was 'only' £50. It sounds a lot, but to be honest, compared to what some events charge this was good. Also, people were getting the prints from the photo shoot as soon as they came out from having it done, unlike other events where you could be waiting for hours before the digital prints are done.
All in all, it was a great day, very well organised considering it was the first one the they'd done. There could have been more stalls to browse, and the stage talks could have been more varied (I would have loved a Hammer or 70s sex comedy one, and judging by the amount of people talking to these stars I wouldn't have been the only one), but then I'm just selfish I guess. Hopefully the next one will be as varied with the guests, and there will be some of interest to an old geek like myself. Although, if they brought some Buffy stars I'd be just as happy too...
Money well spent? Probably not in today's climate, but I wouldn't have had the chance to meet these people without it. Roll on the next one...