31 (Rob Zombie) Review

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I’ll just put it out there straight off the bat. I’ve never been Rob Zombie’s biggest fan. I did enjoy ‘The Devil’s Rejects’ for what it was trying to be. Pure Grindhouse exploitation. I loved it’s Americana soundtrack, I enjoyed Sheri Moon-Zombie’s raw but maniacal performance as Baby Firefly. I even loved the splattered Mexican maid on the freeway.

Then came Halloween, Halloween 2 and Lords of Salem, which took my expectation of Zombie from 7 out of 10 all the way down to zero in that order. That said, time has passed, I enjoy the aesthetic of his movies so I went into a Grimmfest preview screening of ‘31’ with an open mind.

The premise is simple. Three very British cardboard cut-out villains like to get together, kidnap rednecks and have them eliminated in a series of gruesome setpieces by deranged clowns. They take bets on who will survive. Nobody EVER survives. That is until they throw in Sheri Moon Zombie, who, of course, will survive anything, Even the nuclear holocaust, should her husband direct it. It’s simple, to the point, and yet still feels like a labour…

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The over-riding feeling I had throughout the film and after was one of disappointment. For some reason I expected that in the course of a decade Rob Zombie might have either a) learned to write a film script that made you care for or engage with the characters, be they heroes or villains; b) manage to write female characters who weren’t demented twisted psycho-sexual whores who’s dialogue is too puerile even for a teenage boy; or c) know how to end a movie.

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Unfortunately he failed to do all three with this one. From bad Jamaican accents, to the pseudo-intellectual outpourings of the villains, I kept metaphorically twanging the rubber band around my wrist, telling myself to switch off the writer’s brain and enjoy it for what it was.

Just enjoy the mindless violence and the scares!

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Let me start with the scares. There are none. Not a jump, not a creep, not a hair on the back of the neck. Why? Put it down to preposterous characterization leaving you so alienated from these characters you’re wishing them dead anyway. Or put it down to plain old bad directing and writing. For example… a scene that opens with creepy old scarecrows silhouetted against the night sky shrouded in mist. Great. It evokes a 70s/80s VHS chill that surely means a scare is on the way. But then the villains lumber onscreen and start attacking the heroes with such a lack of co-ordination I thought they might just be lost.

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As for the violence… Well the premise of the film is a group of rednecks being stalked and killed by a succession of weird killer clowns with chainsaws, flick knives, axes… you name it. So surely we’re in for some bone-crunching, shocking, repulsive acts of torture and murder. Right? Well during one kill I decided to go to the bathroom. I didn’t need to go that badly. It was just something to do. So that should tell you all you need to know.

I get why people love RZ movies. They look amazing for the most part. They make great music videos. And if you want blood and guts? You got it. But being bombarded with terribly drawn characters, mediocre to terrible acting, and a script that sounds like it’s been written by a sociopathic 13 year old… it wears pretty thin for me.

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There are gems amongst the cast. Meg Foster (Evil Lynn from the He Man Movie) is a grizzled ageing pole dancer (I think? I could be wrong but most of RZ’s female characters tend to be written that way) – and she’s a great actress with an amazing face and real balls.  And Richard Brake plays big bad psychopath clown Doom-Head with insane relish – imagine Heath Ledger’s Joker on Crystal Meth. And then comes the highlight of the entire film for me, who should have been saved for last…Pancho Moler as Sick-Head, a Nazi Midget Clown with a swastika on his chest and a shrine to Hitler.

So it’s not all bad.

No, it is. It’s all bad.

 

 

 

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Bleurgh, Witch?

So I took myself off to see the Blair Witch sequel with an open mind, an open heart, and an open hoodie ready to throw over my head when it got too scary. The hoodie got used plenty. But then I am a major pussy when it comes to jump scares. So is Blair Witch actually any good?

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You’ll find out my thoughts on Monday when I publish the podcast review. But I will say that I think it’s basically The Blair Witch Project for the ADHD Smartphone Generation – for better or worse.

In the meantime get your witch fix by listening to Part 2 of my podcast on witches in horror – Wicca, Please! We start off with the psychadelic Euro sleaze campness of Baba Yaga from 1973, which had everything from lesbian Nazi boxing to a miniature S&M voodoo doll complete with leather and studs – and I don’t mean the kind from Cruising…

We also discuss where the witch myth came from – is it just a tool we use to punish women who don’t conform? Is it a manifestation of our fears of ageing, our hatred towards women who dare to be sexual, who dare to grow old, who dare to not subscribe to any ‘acceptable’ religion?

But most importantly, is the British Media’s Panto Villain Du Jour Katie Hopkins actually a descendant of Witchfinder General Matthew Hopkins?

Only one way to find out. Here you go. As always, you can get me on twitter @jonnylarkin. Love to hear your feedback on the show…

Don’t Breathe Review

Don’t Breathe opens with the lifeless bloodied body of a young woman being dragged down a deserted street out in the sticks of the Detroit suburbs. From the get-go it paints itself as horror but what you get is more of a survival thriller.

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Bad boy Money, pretty boy Alex and young single mum Rocky are petty (and pretty) burglars. Using the keys Alex’s security firm-owning dad has hidden in his desk, they like to raid the homes of the wealthy and help themselves. When they get the opportunity to break into the home of a gulf war veteran rumoured to have accrued a small fortune after the tragic death of his daughter, they find it too good to turn down.

Just so we don’t absolutely hate our troublesome trio, we’re given a character to root for in Rocky. Stuck at home with a young daughter, having to live with her deadbeat trailer trash mom and her boyfriend, Rocky has dreams of escaping with her little girl and giving her a better life. Alex is the good boy gone bad who went Rocky to run off with, whilst Money is the more one dimensional gangsta thug who likes to whip it out and pee on the floor of his victims for extra measure.

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We have to care for them because the following turn of events would make us detest them had we not been fed some redeeming qualities. Their mark, the gulf war vet… is blind. Oh no, I hear you cry, how could we root for a bunch of no marks who’d rob from a blind man? Well… you kinda do. Because from the offset this film tells you they’re getting in above their heads.

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Before they even get into the guy’s house they meet his fierce Rottweiler in a Cujo-tinged jump scare that worked its magic all over the cinema. And then the jump scares keep coming. If you’ve seen the trailer then it’s no massive spoiler to learn that The Blind Man is a bad bad dude. He’s not the kind of guy you burgle. In fact he’s not the kind of guy you’d even look at the wrong way. So when he finds these punks rooting through his house looking for his fortune, things turn real ugly, real fast.

Don’t Breathe starts out pretty generic. The jumps are in the right place. The pace whips you along nicely until you’re sucked right in, with moral dilemmas piled on top of bone-crunching violence. But (sort of spoilery) when Rocky and Alex find themselves in The Blind Man’s hidden secret chamber beneath the house, complete with bound and gagged kidnapped girl… Don’t Breathe reveals a mean streak and a very black sense of humour.

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Alex, as pretty as he is in a Teen Wolf boy next door way, is pretty disposable. But in Rocky we do have a plucky heroine we want to get through this ordeal. Her fight for survival leads to a pretty nasty twist involving scissors poised over her crotch, a turkey baster and a big old pot of The Blind Man’s jizz. No I kid you not. It goes there. So underneath the veneer of survival thriller we get our surprisingly nasty horror, which more than earns its stripes amongst the home invasion cannon.

Check out the trailer below. Do you agree with my review? Let me know. Tweet me at @jonnylarkin.

 

Blood and Black Leather

CRUISING FOR GIALLO

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When I first saw Cruising I was a teenager discovering my sexuality. I was also a teenager with a big thing for horror and murder in movies. So confronted with a murder mystery set against an unflinching portrait of the seedy leather scene of pre-AIDS New York, with footage of orgies, fisting, and sweaty men in nothing but jockstraps, it was like all my dirty Christmases had come at once.

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Being so young I had no idea of the controversy surrounding the film from its inception onwards. Protested against and bastardised largely by the gay community, the film was seen as an insensitive, homophobic stab (no pun intended) at an already marginalised group of people. As I developed my own opinions that are forever evolving I have come to take this with a pinch of salt. I often think that when a film receives such a negative response then internalised homophobia has a part to play.

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Had I been a gay man in NYC in 1979/80 I might have felt differently. I might have seen yet another attack, yet another setback for my community despite making great steps forward to finally be accepted by the mainstream. Or, I might have been one of the actual patrons of the leather scene featured in this film, wearing me sleaze on my sleeve, albeit coated in grease and buried to the hilt in the rectum of a horny muscle daddy. I might have been on the side of the movie. Sick of being marginalised by my own community, I might have seen people like me – the dirty ones, the less respectable ones, the ones who weren’t trying so desperately to fall into heteronormative step with everyone else, finally portrayed onscreen.

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Either way I can see both sides of the argument.

We discuss this in depth during the podcast. We also discuss whether this film is in fact a giallo movie. Serial killer? Check. Black leather? Big check. Gender roles and masculinity under threat? Check. The list goes on. I think it is a giallo. But you decide for yourself. The whole movie is on Youtube. If you haven’t seen it, watch it. Then listen to our take on the film right here: