Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Review: No One Lives (2012)

no one lives film poster

The opening credit for WWE Studios initially filled me with dread. After See No Evil (2006), not a particularly terrible film but also nothing special, and their other wrestler-led output I didn't hold much hope for this one. Fortunately, this isn't just a vehicle for their franchise, but is actually an entertaining piece of splatter cinema.
no one lives
An unnamed driver (Luke Evans) and a beautiful girl check into a hotel in the middle of nowhere, and soon catch the attention of a group of thuggish criminals, whose simple house raid earlier didn't go too well (the owners arrived home early and were blasted away). Meanwhile, the TV is full of reports of a missing girl.
It would actually be unfair to reveal too much about what follows to preserve some surprises, but I have noticed many reviews have not bothered with this caution, and, indeed, the DVD artwork features Evans wielding a crossbow, so I imagine it's safe to say the gang have bitten off more than they can chew when it comes to messing with the mysterious one...
no one lives
No One Lives is a cut above the usual horror fare we have become accustomed to (or have to put up with) - it's gory kills are inventive, shocking and fun; and the practical effects stand out, especially compared to the CGI splatters also seen here. However, there are still some flaws. The dialogue is very clunky at times; characters resorting to shouting inane things at each other, and a Reservoir Dogs reference is less a nod, more like theft, but there's enough twists and turns to keep the interest, and some shocking surprises along the way too.
no one lives
Only one wrestler makes an appearance, George Murdoch (whose ring name is Brodus Clay apparently - I don't follow the "sport") and he is soon dispatched, but is used to great effect - you'll see what I mean.
It's not going to top any "best of" lists, but it's by no means a bad film. Taken with a large amount of salt, it's a fun ride which at least on first viewing should provide at least one or two surprises among its crimson vision.
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Director Ryuhei Kitamura also brought Clive Barker's blood soaked The Midnight Meat Train (2008) to the screen; with a mute Vinnie Jones in the lead, and that was flawed but fun too. Hopefully the Japanese director will keep improving, and provide a film to top his earlier work, Versus (2000). Until then, No One Lives will suffice.
7 out of 10

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Blu-ray review: Squirm (1976) Jeff Lieberman's worm classic

squirm poster
A personal favourite from the VHS days (it's only in the last few years I sold on my old Orion tape), Squirm has had the high definition make-over and special edition treatment in the UK from the good folk at Arrow Video.
squirm liebermansquirm lieberman
 squirm lieberman
After a heavy storm leaves the tiny Georgia town of Fly Creek without power, phone lines and - thanks to the downed trees and overflowing rivers - no road in or out, a young man, Mick (Don Scardino) visits his girlfriend, Geri (Patricia Pearcey), for the first time and has more than the hostile sheriff (Peter MacLean) to deal with. The electricity being pumped into the ground from the downed lines has made the worms turn. These squishy wigglers are not the harmful sort found in your garden after a downpour, these blighters bite (and scream if you believe the skin-crawling close ups the film provides)
squirm lieberman
Between them, the pair try to find out what is happening after they discover a neighbour literally stripped down to the bone. Geri also has to deal with the unwanted attention of Roger (R.A. Dow), son of the owner of the next-door worm farm who helps out doing odd jobs. As the night falls, the whole town is soon under siege from millions of slivering worms.

squirm lieberman
Squirm is surprisingly well made, especially when you consider it was Jeff Lieberman's first film. He would then go on to make two other great cult films, Blue Sunshine and Just Before Dawn. The premise is so simple, yet very effective and considering the budget, the effects (by the soon-to-be legendary Rick Baker), while used sparingly, are incredibly effective. The infamous "worm face" particularly sending shivers down the spine of most viewers, as well as the mountains of worms (some real, some fake) that come spilling out of doorways.
squirm lieberman
While the film takes its time, it's never boring as the effective sound design and inventive camerawork is always foreshadowing the nastiness to come. It's not a masterpiece, and more creepy than scary, but it sets out to make worms even more repulsive and succeeds in being fun.
squirm lieberman
squirm lieberman
The disc comes with the usual array of extras Arrow have become famous for. A brilliant solo commentary from the director provides plenty of insight and Lieberman is very entertaining. Several of the stories he tells are repeated in the filmed Q&A, taken from a 2012 New York screening where he is joined by lead Scardino. A talking head spot with author/critic Kim Newman provides his view of the film and the 'nature-run-amok' sub-genre in general. The package is topped off with another thing Arrow do so damn well, an excellent, informative and lovely looking booklet with new writing on the film, and an interview with Lieberman with the great Calum Waddell. The film transfer is stunning, just as you'd expect, so you can buy with confidence.
8 out of 10

Sunday, 15 September 2013

Retro review: The Groove Tube (1974) comedy, Chevy Chase, Ken Shapiro

groove tube vipco cover
Being a glutton for punishment, I subjected myself to another 70s sketch comedy film. This time, The Groove Tube actually had moments of worth! I recall this again from the days of the video store, but couldn't remember if we ever actually rented it. Nothing rang a bell while watching it, so I guess not. I did however, have vivid memories of that video cover, and was amazed when the "character" pictured appeared in the film. More on that later...
groove tube spoofgroove tube spoof Buzzy Linhart
Opening with a 2001: A Space Odyssey spoof, only with the primates finding a television instead of an obelisk, and straight into a sequence involving a hitchhiker who thinks he's getting lucky only to run butt naked into the police (and instantly surprising is that the film doesn't shy away from full frontal male nudity! The naked man in question is musician Buzzy Linhart who wrote "Ya Gotta Have Friends" for Bette Midler, which was also used in Shrek!) Another big shock was hearing Curtis Mayfield's Move On Up as the main title theme. This film just gained it's first positive points!
groove tube spoof buzzy linhartgroove tube spoof buzzy linhart
Next up is a brilliant take on a morning kids show, involving Ko-ko the clown (director Ken Shapiro, who appears several times). In true pre-school fashion, grown ups are told to leave the room so we can get to the "make believe time". These include reading heavily explicit passages from Fanny Hill and the Marquis de Sade. Wonderfully subversive, although maybe not belly achingly funny.
Chevy Chase pops up for the first time (don't worry, he's not overly used) in a brief advert for a diet supplement which is basically an excuse to have adult movie star Jennifer Welles strip off. No complaints here. Chase's fingers also star in an amusing take on the old Yellow Pages ad, only rather than walking, the fingers "do it"
groove tube spoof chevy chasegroove tube spoof chevy chase
A lengthy, but not too unfunny, TV show "The Dealers" features Shapiro once again, as he and Richard Belzer (yep, the same one who would later star in Law & Order) play a pair of drug dealers who are all too quick to ditch their stash at the first hint of suspicion. This section also includes a rather brilliant psychedelic animated section which could have come straight out of Yellow Submarine. 
groove tube spoof groove tube spoof richard belzer
 groove tube spoof groove tube spoof
The spoof news report, which would become a standard trope in this type of film (and indeed on TV) is actually very funny, with lots of smutty sounding foreign names and even some stock footage from the old serial, King of the Rocket Men. It also includes one of the better payoffs, and includes some funny commercials on behalf of the Uranus Corporation... There's also a section in which comical music is played over real political footage, a technique used often later by the Not The Nine O'clock News team.
groove tube spoof groove tube spoof richard belzergroove tube spoof chevy chase
A sports section, in which the International Sex Games are commentated on expands the idea used by Woody Allen in Bananas, but more graphically. The satellite link to the "action" in Germany (which looks like an old 8mm loop) amusingly breaks down when it gets too explicit. The actress on screen, by the way is Mary Mendum, who made several hardcore films with cult director Joseph W. Sarno (whose Vampire Ecstasy, 1974 was released on DVD in the UK last year) under the name Rebecca Brooke.
groove tube spoof chevy chasegroove tube spoof groove tube spoof mary mendumgroove tube spoof
The most memorable skit is an infomercial warning of the dangers of VD, hosted by "Safety Sam" the intriguing looking guy on the video sleeve. Yep, that's what you think it is... The actor who had the balls to do this (sorry, couldn't resist) chose to leave their name off the credits, however..The lame song and dance number that plays the film out is superfluous once you've seen this bit!
groove tube spoof safety sam cock ballsgroove tube spoof buzzy linhart
In conclusion, while not laugh out loud funny, this is much more memorable than many other spoof/sketch based films of the time. Worth checking out if only for Safety Sam...
groove tube spoof safety sam cock balls
6 out of 10

Retro review: Loose Shoes (aka Coming Attractions, 1980) comedy Bill Murray, Sid Haig

loose shoes coming attractions poster
Coming Attractions is one of many spoof film trailer films which arrived in the wake of skit-based films such as The Groove Tube (1974), Tunnel Vision (1976) and more influentially, John Landis' Kentucky Fried Movie (1978). Hitting video shelves as Loose Shoes, I recall seeing this back in the halcyon days of VHS.  Re-watching the film recently (via an awful quality grey market DVD I got from a market stall), it seems we were all so easily amused back then.
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Directed by Ira Miller, who had a career as a bit-part actor in comedy films (notably in many of Mel Brooks' output), this mishmash of sketches based on film trailers was probably already out of date by the time it was made. Titles such as "The Invasion of the Penis Snatchers", "The Yid and the Kid" (a Chaplin send-up), "The Howard Huge Story", and "Skateboarders From Hell" give you the idea of the broadness of the humour on display here.
loose shoes coming attractions bill murrayloose shoes coming attractions woody allen spoof
There's more misses than hits, and for the most part it's hard to even break a smile. A spot-on Woody Allen impression from David Landserg (The Jerk, Love at First Bite) in "The Sneaker" but it goes on too long to be really successful, but is at least has the right idea.
loose shoes coming attractions jaye p morganloose shoes coming attractions woody allen spoof
There's a slighlty amusing take on the long forgotten (at least in the UK) 1940s Universal characters Ma and Pa Kettle which involves a foul mouthed talking pig, but like most of the other skits, it out stays its welcome even at five minutes.
loose shoes coming attractionsloose shoes coming attractions
loose shoes coming attractions bill murray
Some actors who are now big names make an appearance, giving the the Saturday Night Live feel of the film a little more validity. Arguably the biggest, Bill Murray, appears in a sequence where he plays a prisoner on death row. There's a few amusing moments; the prisoners plan to breakout just before his execution but fail to tell him where the tunnel is, they all eat at candelabra clan tables and the obligatory riot is started because of the choice of food and house wine, but it's certainly not side-splitting funny. Even a Wizard of Oz spoof, "Billy Jerk Goes To Oz" bombs.
loose shoes coming attractions bill murrayloose shoes coming attractions
Other famous faces popping up include Sid Haig (Spiderbaby, The Devil's Rejects) in a spaghetti western spoof, Susan Tyrrell (Forbidden Zone, Nightmare Maker), The Gong Show regular Jaye P. Morgan and Howard Hesseman (WKRP in Cincinnati). Harry Shearer (This Is Spinal Tap, The Simpsons) provides one of the voice overs.
loose shoes coming attractions howard hessemanloose shoes coming attractions buddy hackett
The best of the famous spots, and probably the best sketch, is a spoof charity announcement one behalf of the bed-wetting charity, S.T.O.P.I.T. fronted by the legendary Buddy Hackett (It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World).
loose shoes coming attractions susan tyrrellloose shoes coming attractions sid haig
The alternate title, Loose Shoes, which is the title it was released with over here, comes from the Cab Calloway type song towards the end of the film.  During the section "Darktown After Dark", David Downing sings the song with a refrain culled from a quote attributed to a former US Agricultural Secretary, Earl Butz. He allegedly once make a joke: (quote direct from Wikipedia) "I'll tell you what the coloreds [sic] want. It's three things: first, a tight pussy; second, loose shoes; and third, a warm place to shit". Those three things make up the chorus of the song. I would say its downhill from there, but as that was the last section, it says it all.
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It just goes to show, what you may have found funny when you were younger (I was probably about 12 when I first saw this) doesn't mean it is actually funny. Woeful.
2 out of 10