Thursday 29 July 2010

Outpost (2008)

This British film tells a rather familiar story with a few new twists. A group of hard-bitten mercenaries are recruited by a mysterious client to go into a danger zone to find Something Of Value. So far, so predicable. But I didn't fall asleep, because there's enough going on here to satisfy my jaded cinematic palate.

For a start, the group of mercenaries is led by a fairly convincing Ray Stevenson. The client is the excellent 'posh Brit' actor Julian Wadham. And the mercenaries aren't too bad, including as they do among their ranks the bloke who played Tyres in Spaced. Also, the setting - a big forest, basically - is supposed to be in a European war zone that nobody calls Bosnia. So that allows them to bring in - ta da - Nazis.

The team's destination is a Waffen SS bunker that was being used for experiments that were, unsurprisingly, pretty vile. The client's sponsors want one vital component of the Evil Nazi Plan - a machine that somehow exploits a Unified Field Theory. Unfortunately, what the SS were using the thing for was to create - well, I won't spoil it all. But the resulting mayhem is fairly satisfying.

Major flaws in the film are that the forces of evil are (as so often happens) more than a mite inconsistent. Either monsters can move through solid matter or they can't. It's not helpful if they are ghosts one minute and zombies the next. Also, the ending is curiously flat, as if - having come up with a good central idea - the script guys were a bit stuck. But with these reservations, Outpost isn't bad. It's not excessively gory, either, as one imdb reviewer points out.

Wednesday 28 July 2010

Exciting developments - well, fairly

Ages and ages and ages ago I wrote here about the possibility of some sort of audio content. Well, that possibility is now moving closer. Not sure what's going to happen, but something is almost certain to be recorded fairly soon.

That is all. Return to your lawful business.

Wednesday 21 July 2010

Let Me In

Let the Right One In is one of the best vampire films I've seen. I'm not a great fan of the genre, except in its campy Hammer incarnation, because I feel the whole vampire thing leads to pretentious adolescent nonsense. We had Anne Rice (tedious, frilly shirts) and now there's the Twilight saga (which would appear to be tedious, sexist, quasi-religious propaganda). Somehow the vampire - from being an iconic horror image, and one that Joss Whedon revived for some cool TV dramedy - has become a repository for shallow wish-fulfilment fantasies. So I want Hammer's version of the Swedish film to succeed even if it isn't brilliant, and even though I usually dislike English-language remakes of foreign movies. After all, it's Hammer. And vampires should have genuine bite.

Sunday 18 July 2010

Change of plan

Rather belatedly, an author has asked to withdraw a story from ST 18. So I'm getting in touch with another writer, whose story was set for publication next year, asking if it's okay to advance its date. I don't see why any writer would object to being published sooner, but it seems the polite thing to do. And of course he may want to make some of those last-minute revisions. Stay tuned for further developments.

Friday 16 July 2010

Bad Review, Happy Me

It's not easy for an hideously deformed, ageing recluse to keep abreast of the latest trends that get the kids bopping and hand-jiving in their milk bars, so I was delighted to find a review of the latest Twilight movie. Perhaps it will give me some hint as to its quality?

It blows. No really. It blows. It’s really sad: this movie is being touted as the best of the three movies so far and THEY MAY BE RIGHT. Man, does it ever blow.

I'm not entirely familiar with the argot of the typical American youngster person, but I suspect this is not a ringing endorsement.

Saturday 10 July 2010

Dark Water (2005)

I kept putting off watching this Hollywood remake of Nakata's 2002 ghost story, assuming that - as with The Ring, The Grudge and The Eye - it would be a flat let down. Well, it's not bad at all. In fact it's the best 'Westernisation' of an Asian horror movie. Or, more correctly, ghost story, as Dark Water isn't really horrific so much as bleak and relentless.

The reworked story is set in New York, but most of the action takes place on Roosevelt Island - an unfamiliar location to me, at least. As in the original, it rains a lot. As in the original, there's a rather grim apartment block, this one described by the letting agent as Brutalist.

Jennifer Connelly plays the mother who, following the breakdown of her marriage, has to move into a far-from-perfect flat with her small daughter. Her performance is rather good, and the overall look and feel of the film is classy. What really makes it work for me, though, are two British actors playing non-Brit characters. Tim Roth is so good as the Lincoln lawyer that I didn't recognise him. Pete Postlethwaite is suitably grumpy and enigmatic as the building's East European janitor, who neglects his mopping duties.

The main change to the plot is the conclusion. While the basic story remains the same, a bit of sentiment is allowed to creep in. The message, though, remains uncompromising - life is often cruel, and sometimes sacrifices must be made. As a celluloid ghost story, this is one of the good ones. Just don't watch it if you're feeling depressed.

Thursday 8 July 2010

Codex Cthulhapalooza

With a title like that, it can only be...
a. The true Coalition Manifesto
b. The latest dub-reggae sensation or
c. A new pamphlet from Cardinal Cox.

I think we can all be suitably grateful that it is in fact c.

The story so far: Cardinal Cox, poet of Peterborough, produces pamphlets. I review them and encourage you, the reader, to buy them. As I like poetry in general, and the cardinal's sci-fi/horror/weirdness poetry in particular, this strikes me as a good arrangement.

The latest pamphlet was due to be distributed at something called Da'Con, which was cancelled. But in a note with the review copy CC explains that he just decided to do the thing anyway. What could be better than to receive a hastily-scribbled note with a small collection of Lovecraftian poems? All I need to do is put on my best strait-jacket, adjust my polarised reading apparatus, turn up the cool air machine, and get cracking.

For a start, Codex is not just about Lovecraft, but about the world Lovecraft both inhabited and helped to shape. We begin with Poe, pay due homage to Machen, Blackwood and others, before we actually encounter the Sage of Providence and his circle. It's impressive to find a collection of poems that manages to offer a sense of thematic unity while at the same time offering insights into a rather varied bunch of writers.

Saturday 3 July 2010

The Horror - now on DVD

Browsing through the horror section of HMV today I found myself curiously untempted by a lot of more recent stuff. The promise of shocks a plenty did not send my little heart racing. Instead I found myself tempted by 'old' movies - i.e. stuff made more than 20 years ago, or perhaps more than 40 in some cases. Films whose effects must, by modern standards, be a bit pants. And I think that may be part of their appeal - that I won't be distracted from the quality (or otherwise) of the story by the realism of any violence. An odd way to look at it, but there it is.

It's not that I dislike gore as such, but I would like a movie that touts itself as horror to have a bit of subtlety, intelligence, depth. I get the impression a lot of stuff nowadays is what used to be called 'gross out' - the cinematic equivalent of kids telling disgusting jokes in playground. It's a way of vying for attention, certainly, but it's not very imaginative.

Oddly enough, one of the best horror movies I've seen lately, Let the Right One In, is very gory. The finale sees a regular massacre. Well, actually we don't see full-blown, vampire-induced carnage. We get a very partial series of glimpses of what's going on, via a clever and (to me at least) genuinely original device. But there's no doubt that much blood is being shed. And this is, within the context of a well-constructed story with interesting characters, a worthy payoff, especially since the film ends on a much gentler note.

All of which is a roundabout way of saying that I find a lot of modern horror - the written kind, along with the celluloid - unappealing. Gore for gore's sake, let's 'shock' the reader. But I'm not shocked, except occasionally by the ineptitude of it all. Perhaps what's gone wrong is that we are all now a bit too sophisticated to enjoy suspense-type plotting - we've seen it all before.

Oh well, onward and upward. Meanwhile, here's a typical English pub.

'Lost Estates'

This is part of a running review of  Lost Estates  by Mark Valentine (Swan River Press 2024) The title story of the collection! And it begin...