Tuesday 29 August 2017

Why Haven't You Seen...? Toolbox Murders (2004)

This week, Why Haven't You Seen...? pays tribute to one of the greats, a man who changed horror cinema irrevocably with his second film, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and made many other great and interesting contributions to the genre. Tobe Hooper will be missed.

What's it all about?
A couple (Angela Bettis and Brent Roam) move into an apartment in a building that is being renovated. As soon as she moves in, Nell begins to feel unsettled, all the more so when a new friend (Juliet Landau) disappears. With the help of an old man (Rance Howard) who has lived in the building for almost 60 years, Nell discovers that there's more to her new home than meets the eye and that the reason for the murders that have been happening lies inside the building.

Why haven't you seen it?
This is an early entry in what now seems an unstoppable cycle of remakes, initiated by the 2003 take on The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, but it never looked like a particularly inspiring one. It's fair to say that director Tobe Hooper hadn't been on a winning streak, working mostly in TV in the 90s and The Toolbox Murders, a sleazy entry in the Video Nasties list with little to recommend it, is hardly, on the face of it, the most interesting of properties.

Why should you see it?
Toolbox Murders isn't The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. It breaks no new ground, it won't have multi-generational impact on what we talk about when we talk about horror cinema. That said, what it is is the work of a genre craftsman cutting loose, acknowledging his legacy and giving his creative muscles the best workout they had had in almost 2 decades.

I haven't checked this, but from watching the film I had the feeling that the screenplay may not have started as a remake of The Toolbox Murders. The first two acts have a very different flavour; a creepier more occultish horror that seems to lean on the idea of a building having insidious influence over its residents (like the teen who uses a webcam to spy on Juliet Landau, or the couple whose fights disturb Belle) and perhaps even housing a few ghostly figures (Rance Howard's character, for instance). During this first hour, Hooper generates an otherworldly atmosphere and creates the feeling of the building as something with a history and a malign influence. The murders, gruesome as they are (a clump of hair stuck to a hammer in the first killing is an especially nasty little detail), feel almost bolted on at this point, and when the film moves into its third act it's as if it has suddenly become something different, shifting from creeping fear with some short sharp shocks into a bloody and nasty slasher.

The third act could just be seen as the standard slasher moves, but what's interesting is the fact that Hooper often seems to be looking back on his own work. The killer (who is pictured on the DVD sleeve, so this doesn't feel like a spoiler) is revealed as a mutant referred to as Coffin Baby and the design seems to be part Leatherface and part Funhouse. The first time we see him properly, sitting at a table looking in a mirror, is highly reminiscent of an iconic moment with Leatherface in the original Chainsaw. There are many more nods for fans to spot, from a moment that Nell and her husband fall into a room full of bodies, which looks to Poltergeist for inspiration to when Nell is tied to a table, with a circular saw running, coming up between her legs in a clear allusion to Leatherface's attack on Stretch in Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2. Hooper doesn't wink too hard at us with any of this, but it's all there for us to catch if we care to, and I take it as sign of a director having fun with this movie and with his own work. All this said, those standard slasher moves are present, and Hooper executes them with the eye of an old pro. He's not reinventing the wheel here, but it's an effectively grimy climax, even if it feels like it belongs to another film than the one he started out making here.

Toolbox Murders is occasionally a clunky film, but the reason it works, aside from Hooper's direction, is Angela Bettis. Bettis is a great talent who has never really got the recognition she deserves outside genre circles. Nell isn't her most complex role, but Bettis never feels less than real in the role, as her concerns go from unfounded - a funny scene where she accidentally calls the cops on an actor running lines - to something much deeper when her new friend Julia disappears. Juliet Landau and Rance Howard also stand out. Landau takes a role miles from her detached, insane, Drusilla on Buffy the Vampire Slayer and makes an impression with not that much to work with, while Howard is effectively mysterious about his character's origins and motives.

As I've said, Toolbox Murders is far from a perfect film, but it's never less than entertaining to watch. I'd be intrigued to see the third act of the film it feels like Hooper is making up until the hour mark, but it's hard to mind when he has as much fun cutting loose in the last half hour and creates as many well paced slasher scares as he does here. While you're watching his Texas Chainsaw films, or Lifeforce, or The Funhouse, or Poltergeist in tribute to him it's worth making space for this flawed but interesting entry in his filmography.

How can you see it?
You can see the film on Shudder in the US, but the UK DVD is the best buy. It includes 2 commentaries, one with Hooper, and a bonus disc including the excellent feature length documentary The American Nightmare. Prices for the UK DVD start at 73p on Amazon.

Monday 28 August 2017

God's Own Country By Francis Lee

Reviewed By Linda Marric

Fresh from wowing the crowds at this year’s Edinburgh Film Festival and going on to win the award for best British Film in the process, Francis Lee’s God’s Own Country finally sees its nationwide release this week. This deeply touching and thoroughly charming first feature has garnered the greatest amount of good will from critics and film fans alike, making it one of the most awaited British films of the year. Set amongst a Yorkshire Dales farming community, and recounting a love story between a Romanian worker and the owner of a sheep farm, the film is predictably being referred to by some as the British Brokeback Mountain, but in reality God's Own Country has a lot more in common with Barry Jenkins’ surprise 2016 hit, Moonlight than with Ang Lee’s deeply flawed 2005 movie.

Friday 25 August 2017

Detroit By Katherine Bigelow

Reviewed By Linda Marric

Chartering the events that took place during the Detroit race riots of 1967, Kathryn Bigelow’s harrowing new film Detroit maybe a hard watch for most, but is nevertheless as essential today as Alan Parker’s Mississippi Burning was almost 30 years ago. Written by Mark Boal and staring some of the most impressive young actors working in Hollywood right now, the film carries with it a strong message which nobody can afford to ignore, especially in the current circumstances America finds itself under the Trump administration and the recent Charlottesville debacle which has reignited the hateful rhetoric of white supremacy and allowed the far right to flourish.

Thursday 24 August 2017

Metamorphoses by Christophe Honoré

Reviewed by Andy Zachariason

Christophe Honoré’s elliptical metamorphoses opens with a sensual gaze upon nature as classical music guides us between a deep green forest and into seaweed swaying below the water. There’s a curious rhythm to the imagery as if it’s looking for some answer. Context to this is given by an Ovid poem. You might think you’re watching a Koyaanisqatsi riff or an homage to Kurosawa’s Dreams, but the film quickly reveals itself to be a series of chapters and connected vignettes about human’s inner nature; in particular, their sexuality.

Logan Lucky By Steven Soderbergh

Reviewed By Linda Marric

It wasn't so long ago that Steven Soderbergh was talking of retirement and the need to move on to something new.  Luckily for us, the director is back with a film which is set to be one of his most well received to date. Yes Logan Lucky is yet another heist movie, and yes the jokes are a little on the predictable side, but make no mistake, this brilliantly well crafted and impeccably acted production was worth waiting four years for. Staring Channing Tatum, Adam Driver and an unrecognisable Daniel Craig, the film is everything any Soderbergh fan could have wished for and more. In fact, with its quirky characters of bumbling country folk and reckless misfits, Logan Lucky would certainly feel more at home alongside any Coen Brothers production than the average Soderbergh narrative.

Tuesday 22 August 2017

Why Haven't You Seen...? The Black Panther (1977)

What's it all about?
Closely based on the facts of the case, The Black Panther is a documentary style reconstruction of Donald Neilson's (Donald Sumpter) escalating criminal career, from robbery to murder to the kidnapping of Lesley Whittle (Debbie Farrington).

Why haven't you seen it?
For many years you couldn't. It was, predictably, controversial in the press (including those parts of it that had endangered Lesley Whittle with irresponsible reporting during the real events). Sue Lawley took director Ian Merrick to task on TV, having not seen the film herself. Shortly after this the film was banned, again without being viewed, by several local councils. This meant that the film had only minimal and brief distribution. There were video releases, both pre-cert and 18 rated, but these seem to have been small scale and, never re-released on video between 1981 and 2012, The Black Panther effectively vanished for more than 30 years.

Tuesday 15 August 2017

Why Haven't You Seen...? Stop The Pounding Heart (2013)

Post by Sam Inglis

What's it all about?
The third of Italian director Roberto Minervini's America trilogy focuses on Sara, the 14 year old daughter of a large, deeply religious, goat farming family in rural Texas. We see her everyday life, helping with the family and the farm, but also a little spark between her and Colby, the bull riding son of a neighbouring family, which may be part of what is challenging her faith.

Why haven't you seen it?
Stop The Pounding Heart was never going to be a big mainstream title. It played well at festivals, but without stars or a big name director to act as a hook, wide distribution for a film this small and quiet was always going to be an uphill struggle. Unless you caught it at a festival, this was always likely to be a film that fell through the cracks.

Friday 11 August 2017

A Ghost Story By David Lowry

Reviewed By Linda Marric

Once in a while a film comes along which affects you in more ways than you could have ever imagined. Heralded by some as one the best movies to come out of Sundance this year, David Lowry’s A Ghost Story is an incredibly well executed exercise is subtly and an engenoius masterclass in clever filmmaking. Centring around ideas of loss, legacy and the need for human connection, the film is sure to leave its audiences stunned and in awe of its simple yet highly effective premise. Written by Lowry himself and staring Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara, A Ghost Story never resorts to predictable tropes nor does it go out of its way to alienate its audiences with an overly complicated narrative arc. Lowry’s ability to normalise allegory and symbolism is a testament to his sublime writing credentials.

Wednesday 9 August 2017

Atomic Blonde By David Leitch

Reviewed By Linda Marric

With an action filled narrative and a truly impressive cast lists to boot, Atomic Blonde had all the ingredients needed to be one of the best blockbusters of the summer, rivalling even some of the most robust franchises. However, things didn't quite go to plan for this stylish, yet completely forgettable production. Staring Charlize Theron and directed by stunt actor turned director David Leitch, the film is a ballsy female-centric action flick which takes no prisoners when it comes to violent fight scenes, shoot-outs and car pursuits. However where things don't quite add up, is in its inability to keep audiences interested long enough in its unnecessarily far-fetched storyline about Soviet spies and double agents. In short,  for a film which purports to have an action female as lead, this really should have been way more exciting than this.

Tuesday 8 August 2017

Why Haven't You Seen...? Wake Wood (2011)

What's it all about?
Patrick and Louise (Aiden Gillen and Eva Birthistle) who recently lost their daughter Alice (Ella Connolly) in a dog attack move to the village of Wakewood. There they discover that their landlord Arthur (Timothy Spall) can perform a ritual that will bring people who died less than a year ago back for three days, giving them time to say goodbye to Alice. When the ritual is performed though, something may not be quite right.

Why haven't you seen it?
Hammer Horror is a legend of British cinema, but the attempt to bring it back to life, beginning in 2008 with Beyond The Rave, produced more misses than it did hits. Outside of The Woman In Black and Let Me In, most of the new Hammer productions flew under the radar, and there hasn't been a film from the studio since 2014's The Quiet Ones. 

Why should you see it?
You might be forgiven for thinking that in relaunching a legendary studio, the goal would be to make films that would mine any nostalgia for the original Hammer films. Wake Wood probably wouldn't have felt out of place in the studio's heyday, but it's not an attempt to recapture old glories. 

The film actually hews closer to The Wicker Man than any of the best known Hammer films.  It's set in an apparently isolated and insular community, in which an ancient ritual is performed with the town's most prominent man performing the key part of that ritual. That said, this isn't some empty homage, Wake Wood creates a spooky atmosphere of its own, along with a surprising emotional weight. The way the ritual is established, with a 'visiting' girl who comes into Louise's pharmacy, balances this particularly well. Suggesting what's going on without initially coming out and dropping a load of exposition on us.

Like many of the best horror films, Wake Wood grounds its characters motivations in reality. It is easy to understand how the agony of the sudden loss of a child could drive a person to embrace any possibility, however remote, for any time, however brief, to see that child again and be able to hold them and say a proper goodbye. Aiden Gillen and Eva Birthistle give simple unshowy performances. You believe them as a couple, you believe in their trauma and the different ways they process it, and this makes the film's supernatural side easier to swallow. 

The film builds slowly, with Ella Connolly, Gillen and Birthistle gradually establishing, through some unsettling moments that there is something not quite right about Alice. The first, and one of the most effective, of these is when they note that their daughter's eyes are now brown, like those of the man whose corpse they used to resurrect her for this brief time. This sense builds through Alice's behaviour and that of the townspeople, who also sense that something is amiss, setting us progressively more on edge scene by scene. 

While it does some good solid atmosphere building, this doesn't mean that Wake Wood shies from the more visceral scares. The ritual itself is wince-inducingly nasty at times, Alice's amputated skeletal finger being placed in a corpse's mouth being one of the less nasty images. The third act also gets impressively gory, in a way the old Hammer productions didn't often get away with. It's worth noting that animal lovers may find themselves turning away from some of the scenes here, not only is Patrick a vet, which we see in pretty graphic detail, but there are some other nasty moments involving animals.

However, it's not the film's gore but its emotional corre that sets it apart. The film is defined by loss and a parent's reaction to that loss, it's about sadness giving way to desperation for the tiniest amount of hope, and that truly resonates in the film's ending. It's a great sequence; brutal in implication, devastatingly sad but also the only route to fresh hope for a better future. It's a perfect note to end the film on, closing both memorably and by encapsulating the feeling of the film as a whole.

How can you see it?
There are various DVD and Blu Ray releases available (though apparently no UK Blu) and the film has just been made available via UK Netflix.

Friday 4 August 2017

Land Of Mine By Martin Zandvliet

Reviewed By Linda Marric

Set during the immediate aftermath of WWII, some might be tempted to describe Martin Zandvliet's Land of Mine as a war movie. In reality, this beautifully crafted and wonderfully acted Danish production is one of the most powerful indictment against warfare yet, and goes a long way into nailing its pacifist colours to the mast. Zandvliet who writes as well as direct, manages to tell in 90 minutes what most war movies seem unable to convey at best of times. It is a film about the struggle to come to terms with loss, hardship and makes a strong case against conflicts which send young innocent men to their death.

Wednesday 2 August 2017

Maudie By Aisling Walsh

Reviewed By Linda Marric

Chartering the life of folk artist Maude Lewis and the romance which blossomed in later life between her and taciturn fish peddler Everett, Aisling Walsh’s Maudie is moving without ever being schmaltzy and gripping without having to resort to a superfluous narrative arc. Staring Sally Hawkins as the Nova Scotia artist known for her infantile drawings of cats, flowers and colourful landscapes, the film is not only likely to move its audiences to tears, but also manages to tell a beautifully nuanced story without ever sugar-coating some of the more unsavoury element of relationship between the two protagonists.

Tuesday 1 August 2017

Why Haven't You Seen...? The Opening Of Misty Beethoven (1976)

What's it all about?
It's Pygmalion with blowjobs. Dr Seymour Love (Jamie Gillis) is writing a book about sex and finds his subject in Misty Beethoven (Constance Money), a prostitute he initially deems “the nadir of passion” and “a sexual civil servant”. Love decides that, with the help of his friend Geraldine, (Jacqueline Beudant) he will make Misty the next Goldenrod girl.

Why haven't you seen it?
Because you don't tend to spend 85 minutes watching a feature film on Pornhub. This just isn't the way adult films are consumed (or made) anymore.