Donkey Punch

Director: Oliver Blackburn (2008)
Starring: Jaime Winstone, Nichola Burley, Tom Burke
Find it online: IMDB, Amazon UK, Amazon US

Donkey Punch: Donkey punching involves the male punching the sexual partner in the back of the head during anal or vaginal sex prior to orgasm, to provoke a shock causing the vaginal or anal muscles to contract around the male's penis. (Urban Dictionary)

Setting a precedent for a movie adaptation of a sexual practice (porno not withstanding), Donkey Punch AKA Open Water 3: Dopes on a Boat is proof that stupid chavs will always find a way to get themselves killed, wherever they may be.

A grotty little Brit thriller set on a luxury yacht, Donkey Punch has the sort of title that one might expect to see cockney hardman Ray Winstone headlining. As it stands, we get his daughter Jaime instead. Which is probably a good thing, since no-one wants to see Ray Winstone in a bikini. As anyone who saw last year’s Dead Set will know, Jaime is a different sort of Sexy Beast entirely (SEE WHAT I DID THERE).

Rewind a bit. Three chav-tastic young girls ship out to Mallorca, Spain for their holidays. Once there, they meet four lads who invite them to a private party on their slightly stolen luxury yacht. The yacht heads out to sea, drugs and alcohol are imbibed, and it all gets a bit porno. Accidents happen, and someone ends up dead. The group splits up into a battle of the sexes and mucho grisly violence and high-pitched screaming reigns supreme for the next hour or so.

Donkey Punch is a film of two halves. Like Hostel, the first half follows the kids as they get wasted, couple off and get laid. Like Hostel, it’s also a little bit boring and the protagonists come across as stupid, spoilt and annoying. There’s a sexy interlude (read: lots of nudity and shagging) and then the genre switches from Hollyoaks: after Dark to something more akin to The Hole, except more good.

And thankfully, that nasty stuff is worth the wait. Once the action kicks off, Donkey Punch is gruesome, inventive and even a little bit original. Kudos to the filmmakers, who manage to make the second half less predictable than it ought to be, and drawing a decent bit of tension from the kids’ predicament.

Whilst most of the characters are irritating as fuck, the young actors and actresses make it work. Jaime Winstone is duly excellent, as is lead girl Nichola Burley. Tom Burke is sleazy and horrible (think a younger, low-rent Tom Hardy) but there’s a nice bit of schadenfreude to his comeuppance, and he has the intensity to make the character engaging and funny. The rest of the kids do a fine job too, making Donkey Punch less horrible than your average spoilt-brats-in-peril flick.

4/5 screaming Scream Queens!!!

Batman: Arkham Asylum (videogame review)

Warning: this review contains a seismic amount of fanboy gushing. Those easily sickened would be better off elsewhere. You have been warned.

Holy Batman Begins! It’s a genuinely actually really good videogame starring the Dark Knight! Superman aside, it’s hard to think of a superhero property with a worse reputation where shitty videogame tie-ins are concerned. Not since the Nintendo’s Batman Returns has there been a decent Batman game. DC vs Mortal Kombat made Batboob look good, but that was a team beat em’ up as opposed to a proper Batman game, and he was hidden amongst the JLA anyway, so it wasn’t even his game.

So hopes were high for Rocksteady’s Arkham Asylum. Indeed, this Batfan/gamer hasn’t awaited a computer game so eagerly since last year’s GTA4. £40 is a lot of money to spend on a game… but Arkham Asylum is worth every penny.

The action kicks off with Batman delivering the Joker back to the titular Arkham Asylum after yet another bout of criminal escapades. In a semi-playable cutscene, you follow the Joker through Arkham as the guards take him down to his cell. And then obviously, inevitably, the Clown Prince of Crime breaks free. Soon, to coin a cliché, the inmates are running the asylum. Joker, Harley Quinn, Killer Croc, Bane and numerous others are all out to get you. What’s a Dark Knight to do?

Well, there are two main sides to the gameplay; Splinter Cell/Metal Gear Solid style sneaking about; and an arcade style beat em’ up component, which is both incredibly easy and incredibly fun to use. There’s one button to ‘strike’, one to ‘counter’, and one to ‘stun’ (largely unused, save for the more awkward enemies, who wield knives and electric baton things). While it’s a simplistic system, it works well, and takes practice – simply hammering ‘strike’ or ‘counter’ won’t get you anywhere – it’s all about the timing.

The stealth sections are a lot harder to pull off, but infinitely cool-looking when done right. Since Bats is pretty much powerless against gun-toting enemies, you have to either take them from behind (nudge nudge, wink wink, oh fuck off) or drop down on them with a nicely powerful kick to the face. These bits can be a pain in the ass, but are supremely satisfying when carried out well.

A third aspect to the gameplay has you solving riddles. The Riddler doesn’t properly appear in the game, but is more or less constantly in touch with you throughout, asking you to solve silly little puzzles like “finding Zsasz’s work” and working out whether Tommy Elliot (that’s ‘Hush’, as dedicated Bat-fans will know) ever worked at Arkham. It’s an interesting diversion, and solving the riddles unlocks a number of sharply illustrated character profiles and ‘models’.

The graphics are as good as you could ever want - particularly the character models. You’ll spend ages just circling Batman with the camera; so faithfully and impressively is he captured. Likewise, the voice acting is top notch. Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill reprise their roles as Batman and the Joker from the Animated Series. It adds further authenticity to the proceedings.

For those of you that think Arkham Asylum has no place on a horror website, think again. Some parts of the game are actually underwear-drenchingy scary. This is one game that really earns its ‘15’ certificate.

What else? Well, there’s the gadgets, the detective vision… the cameos by less famous Arkham residents. There’s an unlockable armoured Batsuit – Arkham Asylum is packed with fanboy Bat-spunk inducing little features. In terms of geek wish-fulfilment, Arkham Asylum beats the recent Ghostbusters into the ground and buries it alongside Jason Todd.

On the flipside of the Bat-coin, there are one or two minor niggles. The plot has a slight tendency to wander into videogame-cliché territory, and the boss battles are pretty generic and uninspired. On a geekier note, I’d have liked to see a much larger range of baddies – I wanted Two-Face damn it!!! But it’s hard to make digs at a game of this quality.

The rating?

Best Batman game. Ever.

Jason vs Leatherface: a true bromance

Because I’m getting impatient waiting for the next instalment of Freddy vs Jason vs Ash: Nightmare Warriors, it’s time to delve back into the longbox in search of a good, gory horror fix.

Unfortunately, Jason vs Leatherface is not particularly good, gory or horrific. The plot is as pedestrian as you could possibly get. A Corporate Bastard dredges up Crystal Lake and, for some unclear reason, ships the water therein out to Texas. Because one Jason Voorhees is chained up at the bottom of the lake, he ends up in Texas too.

Wandering around backwoods Hicksville, Jason happens across (the first Chainsaw Massacre’s) Hitchhiker and Leatherface. There’s a brief, slightly shit scuffle; then Jason and Leatherface connect, assumedly because of their shared retardedness.

And so Jason and Leatherface become playmates. Jason goes back to the Slaughter (more on that later) household for a cute little slasher sleepover. And, at first, things go swimmingly. Jason becomes a temporary member of the Slaughter (*shudders*) family, sharing (but not eating) meals, and helping Hitchhiker and Leatherface make their kills.

But alas & alack, Jason can only stay placid for so long. After a disagreement with Hitchhiker, he tries to kill the annoying little runt. Leatherface steps up to defend his brother, and the two ex-friends finally get down to the main event.

Needless to say, Jason vs Leatherface is non-canonical. There’s a bunch of things writer Nancy Collins got completely wrong; for example, naming Leatherface’s family ‘The Slaughters’. Likewise, Pamela Voorhees is here re-named ‘Doris’, and there’s a silly little domestic violence subplot featured in a flashback. Thankfully, the main characters are captured faithfully enough. They're in pre-remake mode (think Jason from Goes to Hell and original-TCM Leatherface) and are actually surprisingly sympathetic. Aw shucks, their friendship might just be the cutest thing I’ve read since We3. Jason vs Leatherface is the original bromance.

But then, the art is far too colourful and cartoon-like to be effective anyway. It’s a light-hearted story, but Jeff Butler’s perky visuals would be better suited to an issue of The Beano or Dandy. It’s a shame, because Simon Bisley’s cover art is beautiful, and really plays up the comic grotesquerie of the characters. I’d have loved to see the whole comic illustrated by Bisley, and think that it could have really improved the flawed script. As it happens, Butler’s art really enhances the story’s problems, and really lets down the comic for me. (With that in mind, art is subjective; others absolutely love the artwork… if you’re of that mindset, Jason vs Leatherface will be a massively improved read).

And now onto the meat of the review. The big match itself. For a good example of how to do a comic-book crossover well, go read Batman vs Predator or the Batman/Judge Dredd books. Jason vs Leatherface? Not so much. The ‘vs’ aspect lasts a paltry four pages. By no mean coincidence, it’s the best bit in the whole miniseries.

It could be worse, though. Jason vs Leatherface still isn’t the worst Jason comic by far. For that dubious delight, go seek out the three-issue adaptation of Jason Goes to Hell. Then burn the fucker and read something by Wildstorm Comics instead.

2/5 screaming Scream Queens!!


Director: Kevin Kolsch, Dennis Widmyer (2006)
Starring: Margaret Laney, Eron Otcasek, Stuart Rudin
Find it online: IMDB

Absence is a story of lost, tortured souls. Mary is a bondage model, earning a living by posing for sleazy shoots. Stepdad Jeremiah is an older fella, gripped with religious fervour and determined to ‘save’ Mary from her life of sinfulness. The seemingly unconnected Harris is a guilt-ridden husband mourning the loss of his unborn child (whilst also fighting demons from his past). When Mary reaches out for Harris’s help during a chance encounter, it seems that he is the only person who can save her from the increasingly dangerous, deranged Jeremiah… If only he could get over that damn Hamlet complex.

Three semi-disconnected vignettes surround Mary’s kidnapping, converging at the end for a violent, emotional climax. Stylistically, it’s a bit like the failed Naomi Watts/Sean Penn vehicle, 28 Grams – except less pretentious and actually good.

A low-budget feature written & directed by Kevin Kölsch & Dennis Widmyer, Absence plays to its strengths. The plot is simplistic but gripping; the violence comes in short, powerful bursts – and the climax is, simply put, excellent, largely avoiding the pitfalls of melodrama. And whilst none of the characters are especially likeable, they’re well-rounded and engaging.

The acting is of a higher quality than you’d expect from a low-budget piece. Playing the bondage model/kidnap victim, Margaret Laney manages to capture a sort of abstract sadness that I rather liked. Eron Otcasek (playing Harris) also gives a great performance; I really dug the way he managed to portray the character’s emotional turmoil without making him seem too self-pitying.

But it’s the villain of the piece that almost steals the show. Playing Jeremiah, Stuart Rudin manages to make the kidnapper an almost sympathetic character; one you feel sorry for, even as he torments our poor heroine (um, taping up a professional bondage model as a punishment?? Fighting fire with fire, I suppose). It’s a testament to the script and acting that these archetypes (damsel in distress/tormented hero/villain) aren't a bore to follow.

As the characters battle each other and their own demons, the plot moves towards an inevitable, tense showdown. There’s a neat little twist, resulting in a climax (and final few shots) that packs a lovely little emotional punch.
There are one or two quibbles, but none of them major (and mostly down to budgetary constraints) – I’d have liked to see a few more twists to the plot, and there’s the occasional fit of cliché. Really, however, Absence is a rare low-budget treat that deserves to be seen.

Talking of which, the flick is actively seeking distribution now. Hopefully there won’t be too long to wait, since Absence really is a little bit good.

Scary Music: I Hate this... do you Like it??

Check the vid below for some 28 Days Later style zombie goodness, courtesy of the British band Chickenhawk. It's the directorial debut of Danny North, and features over 200 zombie extras. The song is called I Hate This, Do You Like It; and is pretty juicy too.

The full video is released on September 7th. Till then, gnaw on the bones of this here trailer, which should get the zombie fanatics/music lovers amongst you salivating. Some more of the band's music is available on their myspace.

Holy pant-wetting, Batman!! (5 scary Bat-comics)

What with a forthcoming Arkham Asylum videogame review, what better time for a brief look at the scarier moments of the Dark Knight’s career?

5. The Killing Joke (Alan Moore, Brian Bolland) – The Joker paralyses Barbara Gordon (previously Batgirl) and kidnaps her father, driving him near-insane in the process. Alan Moore’s (possible) Joker origins tale delivers horror, laughs and a bloody gripping storyline. A tad overrated, perhaps, but Bolland's art is superb, and the nastier bits are both disturbing and well-done. A genuine classic.

4. Faces (Matt Wagner) – A Two-Face tale with shades of the Todd Browning classic, Freak Show. Faces sees Two-Face attempting to build a “deformity” nation, made up of freaks he’s kidnapped from circus sideshows around Gotham. Truly nasty in places (and kicking off with a nicely grisly murder) Faces is the definitive Two-Face story.

3. Batman: Prey (Doug Moench) – Not a horror tale per-se, but Doug Moench’s tense, gripping story and dark, atmospheric visuals make it a lot more disturbing than it ought to be. Set during the Year One timeframe, Prey sees Bats face off against Dr. Hugo Strange, who sets out destroying him psychologically. Nasty dream sequences and strong violence make this scarier than your average Bat-comic.

2. Batman/Dracula: Red Rain (Doug Moench, Kelley Jones) – No, not the horrible animated series thing. Red Rain sees Batman go up against Dracula himself in a wonderfully Gothic, grisly tale. This spurred on a series of increasingly ridiculous sequels, but the original tale remains undiluted horror.

1. Arkham Asylum (Grant Morrison, Dave McKean) – Thankfully the videogame isn’t a faithful adaptation, or 90% of the gameplay would have consisted of hiding in the dark, kicking wheelchair-bound patients down a flight of stairs…

But yes, Arkham Asylum: a Serious House on Serious Earth is the one Batman comic that this weak-kneed reviewer found genuinely hard to read as a child. Featuring bug-eating, a decapitated head in a dolls’ house and some truly terrifying artwork from Dave McKean, Arkham Asylum sees the inmates take over the asylum. Batman is terrified and, ultimately utterly useless; crying and whimpering his way throughout the story. So by no means the best Batman story, but definitely the scariest.

Dishonourable Mention: