In Conversation with Robert Englund II: a horrortalk interview.


One of the highlights of 2011 was interviewing horror icon Robert Englund in regards to his film The Moleman of Belmont Avenue. I could probably have died a happy chap there and then. But recently I got to do it all over again, as Horrortalk.com invited me to speak with Mister Englund about his latest film: Inkubus (which I reviewed too, here). I managed to hold back the fanboy hyperventilation for long enough to ask him a few questions:

JH: What attracted you to the project?

RE: The real drawing card was that I was going to get to work with William Forsythe, the great character actor. I've been a fan of Bill's for years. We almost butted heads years ago. I was up for the skinny version of one of the two brothers in Raising Arizona. I was looking forward to having William Forysthe playing the nemesis of Inkubus. And I think it's a very original story. It's very nasty, in the best sense of the word. I put my stamp of approval on it. It's down and dirty and nasty.

JH: It seems like a while since we've seen you play a properly villainous character. Is this something you've actively tried to avoid?


RE: Coming out of the make-up at my age, after 20 years of Freddy, Phantom of the Opera and my Stephen King films, I was older and my face was starting to change. I went in a boy and came out a man! By the time I was done with Freddy, I looked like Trevor Howard — a little bit of Klaus Klinski. It's natural for me, once or twice a year, to do a Vincent Price or Klaus Klinski role. Because I'm paid better for genre films. It's the natural way for me to go. Occasionally I'll have some fun doing a horror comedy, like Strippers vs Werewolves, 2001 Maniacs, things like that. I've been doing traditional acting too; I worked with Brian Cox on a film called Red.

JH: I really enjoyed seeing you pop up in Red. It's a great film.

RE: I would do anything to work with Brian Cox because I'm such a fan of his. That's a great little slow-burn movie. There's this real Don Siegel/Sam Peckinpah thing to it. And I'm hoping to work down the line with Lucky McKee again. There's a lot of controversy about it here in the states, but I thought it was a great film — his new movie, The Woman. It's really terrific.

The full interview, as ever, can be found at Horrortalk.com, where he talks some more about Inkubus and the perils of typecasting.

Red, White & Blue


Director: Simon Rumley (2010)
Starring: Amanda Fuller, Marc Senter, Noah Taylor
Find it: IMDB

True story*: sixty percent of this movie's budget was spent on duct tape. Also a true story*: so much duct tape was used during the making of Red, White & Blue that America had itself a national shortage of The Serial Killer's Favourite. Red, White & Blue is so sticky-tape happy that almost every character ends up tied up with the stuff at some point. There's a great scene in which angry Nate (Taylor) turns up outside a victim's house, several rolls of tape hanging off've his belt. I haven't seen so much duct tape used in a film since that one time I spent all evening** watching certain specialist videos on myvideo.

Erica (Fuller) is what certain people might call a 'loose woman', diving into bed with almost every man she meets. After accepting a job at a DIY store, she meets and befriends Nate, a strange fellow with an incredible beard. They form an odd-couple friendship; surprisingly sweet, given the film's reputation. Meanwhile, amateur rocker Franki (Senter) is one of Erica's conquests. The three individuals' miserable, lonely lives violently converge when a certain revelation is revelated revealed.

Red, White & Blue takes a long time to kick off, but once it does so, it happens with explosive, unforgettable results. The film is reminiscent of the British Dead Man's Shoes. Noah Taylor sports a beard that even puts Paddy Considine's to shame. It also shares with Dead Man's Shoes (my third or so favourite movie of all time, by the by) a set of semi-sympathetic 'villains' and a magnetic performance from its leading man. I've only ever seen Noah Taylor playing nice guys with weird faces. Here, he's properly intimidating. It's probably the beard. You don't fuck with a man who wears a beard like that. I had a University lecturer who wore a Red White & Blue beard. Needless to say, all of my assignments were handed in on time.

"You do not use Wikipedia as an academic reference..."

Also a nice surprise was Marc Senter. I've only ever seen him before in the Jack Ketchum adaptation The Lost. He plays an equally odd looking character here, but the tics and Jim Carrey-isms are toned down a lot. Amanda Fuller is sympathetic and vulnerable as Erica. There are no heroes or villains in Red, White & Blue; no-one to properly root for. It's a difficult, intelligent piece that's heartbreaking and hard to watch at times. Billed as a "slacker revenge movie", it proves that not all slackers are as cuddly as Simon Pegg or Nick Frost.

"G'day there; I'm your door-to-door knives & duct tape salesman."

It's the sort of movie where lonely, miserable people go around being lonely and miserable all the time. As a result, it'll probably make you feel lonely and miserable too. Unless you own shares in a duct tape company. It's basically one long advertisement for duct tape.


* not a true story.
**weekend***
***week

Red State


Director: Kevin Smith (2011)
Starring: Michael Parks, Nicholas Braun, John Goodman
Find it: IMDB

Blatant schadenfreude for anyone who's ever looked at the Westbro Bastard clan and thought "I wish they would shut up." Trawling the Internets for sex, three horny American teenagers happen across a Craigslist-like website where a local lady promises to do the lot of them at once. I'm not sure why that would appeal to anyone, but the lads are thrilled. They jump in their car and take off to the woman's trailer forthwith. So far, so Inbetweeners. It's also schadenfreude, then, for anyone who's ever looked at a horny teenager and thought "DIE."

For pretty soon, Red State turns all Hostel; the youths find themselves captured by a deranged preacher (Parks) and his adoring followers. It's a film partly inspired by the infamous Westbro Church and partly by the infamous 1993 Waco siege which saw a cult of Bible lovers violently clash with US law enforcement. The latter influence is particularly well felt in the second half of the film, wherein it becomes less a horror movie and more a standard sort of action/thriller affair. Thankfully the horrible teenagers take a back seat, allowing the Reverend Cooper (who looks distractingly like an evil Richard Branson) and John Goodman's Federal Agent to take center stage. If there's a problem with the acting, it's the film's decision to have Stephen Root wasted on an awkward retread of his Office Space character.

Following the atrocious Cop Out and having read his Batman comics, I was ready to give up on Kevin Smith (that said, I am an unabashed fan of Jersey Girl, which everyone else seems to hate). But Red State is indeed the return to form that many proclaim. Much of that is down to the magnetic Michael Parks as the villain. Half an hour or so into the movie, there's a very lengthy scene in which Reverend Cooper delivers his sermon. Many movies wouldn't have survived such a prolonged lack of action, but the acting, script and direction ensures that it's not at all boring. It's actually the extended gunfights during which Red State flounders. It briefly finds its way again during a surreal showdown - and then loses it yet again in a silly, smug sequence that thinks itself cleverer/funnier than it is.

As critiques of religion go, Red State is smarter and more entertaining than most. It's not at all preachy and lacks the forced look-I've-read-the-Bible feel that so soured Dogma. Despite the difficult subject matter, it's a lot of fun. It's probably the most fun I've ever had with a Kevin Smith movie. And it raises a lot of questions too. Like, where did a bunch of hardline religion nuts come by a ball gag? Someone, it would seem, has been frequenting some very un-Christian shops. You can't just buy that shit in Sainsbury's, y'know. I actually tried: that's why I'm banned from Sainsbury's.

A great film from that Kevin Smith, Red State truly puts the fun and da mentalism into fundamentalism.

Detour


Director: Severin Eskeland (2009)
Starring: Marte Christensen, Sondre Krogtoft Larsen, Jens Hulten
Find it: IMDB

Inspired by a true story. But more inspired by The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (particularly the remake and The Beginning). Driving home to Norway, Lina (Christensen) and Martin (Larsen) are stuck in rural Sweden when their car breaks down. A friendly policeman leads them to a house that looks just like the house in The Texas Chain Saw Massacre where they are set upon by (Swedish) Hillbillies straight out of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. But instead of eating their victims, these Swedish sadists film their torture and demise to sell online.

From the premise to the 'twists' and secretly pregnant heroine, everything in Detour has been done before. Of course the friendly cop is in on it; the friendly cop is always in on it. At least R. Lee Ermey had the good grace to not even bother pretending to be friendly. Detour presents the least professional torture dungeon I've ever seen. Every five minutes victims are escaping all over the place. At some point you gotta take note and realise "this kidnapping lark ain't for me."

The run-up to anything happening is incredibly boring and predictable. It takes a good half hour for the car to even properly break down. When it does get going (the film, not the car), it becomes more enjoyable but hardly riveting. For the life of me, I can't remember what happens at the end. Answers on a postcard, people. Send them to another address though, because I'm not sure that I actually care.

"STFU. They might hear us. It's The Texas Chain Saw guys: they want their plot back."

If nothing else, Detour is proof that not everything with subtitles is groundbreaking or awesome. If you're thinking of watching this movie, I'd advise taking a Detour of your own: via something else.

Sucker Punch


Director: Zack Snyder (2011)
Starring: Emily Browning, Abbie Cornish, Jena Malone
Find it: IMDB

AKA Speed Ramping: The Movie. It's like 300 except with super hot women instead of super hot men. It's a movie that probably employed more makeup artists than actors. Even when lead hottie Babydoll (Browning) is incarcerated in a hospital for the clinically insane, she's done up to the nines. I've seen the Joker wear less makeup in Arkham Asylum.

I really enjoy Zack Snyder's movies, but it's starting to feel as though he has trouble delivering anything beyond fancy visuals. His debut, the Dawn of the Dead remake still remains my favourite Snyder movie. Watchmen never really transcends the source material enough to become its own thing, and I've never been a fan of 300. It's the same reason I can't play Call of Duty; too much macho makes me feel ill. Sucker Punch might be all about the hot girls, but it still feels sickeningly macho. If 'girl power' is female macho, then Sucker Punch has girl power in spades. I actually think it would have been improved by putting some Spice Girls on the soundtrack.

But Sucker Punch has no such self-awareness. And its supposed female empowerment is undermined by a wardrobe that's all fishnets & schoolgirl outfits and the leering gaze of the camera. After accidentally shooting her sister and attempting to murder her rapey stepfather, Babydoll is committed to an asylum for the criminally insane. There she awaits the arrival of a lobotomist to relieve her of her troublesome mind. Can she escape before he arrives? In an attempt to do so, Babydoll retreats into a fantasy world and then another fantasy world inside that fantasy world. It's like One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest if One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest had been stupid. It's like Shutter Island as made by somebody who didn't read Shutter Island but played a lot of videogames instead.

In her fantasy world, Babydoll is friends with Vanessa Hudgens, Jena Malone and Abby Cornish. Apparently Vanessa Hudgens plays the streetwise one, although I didn't really pick that up, given that she only has a handful of lines of dialogue. To escape the institution, Babydoll and her friends must steal a number of tools. Every time Babydoll wants to steal something, she does a hypnotic dance at a warden/the cook/the mayor and her friends steal said item. Instead of seeing anyone steal anything, the film retreats into the fantasy-inside-the-fantasy and we see the girls fight Samurai or robots or zombies or serpents. This always happens in slow motion and it's always stupid except for maybe the one with the giant robot Samurai.

Sucker Punch looks lovely but its story verges on unbearable. None of the characters ever feel real - like videogame avatars they do little other than pout or kill things. Occasionally they pout and kill things at the same time. There's as much emotional investment as a game of Tomb Raider. Sucker Punch is like watching someone else play a videogame: it's very pretty and all, but entirely boring unless playing yourself. I may not physically have been punched, but I feel like a sucker for watching this movie.

Jason Goes to Hell: the Final Friday


Director: Adam Marcus (1993)
Starring: John D. LeMay, Kari Keegan, Kane Hodder, Steven Williams
Find it: IMDB

Widely regarded to be the worst Friday the 13th movie and suffering from a crippling lack of Jason, Jason Goes to Hell is the strangest of them all. Even more so than that one where he went to space. The plot is like that Denzel Washington bodyswapping movie, except with Jason and not very good. When his body is blown to pieces by the FBI, it looks like Jason Voorhees is finally gone for good.

Except of course not. When a mortuary worker eats Jason's heart (which he does in a manner that makes me feel ill every time) the serial killer takes control of his body and sets about effecting his own rebirth. It's a very misleading title. He spends even less time in Hell than he does Manhattan. The only part of Jason Goes to Hell that anyone remembers is the final shot, in which Freddy Kreuger's disembodied hand appears and grabs Jason's mask. It would take a further ten years for Freddy vs Jason to emerge. Enough time for Jason to go to space and back. In this movie he goes black.

Briefly. Body swap shenanigans abounds as Jason seeks out a family member to possess. Only through a Voorhees can a Voorhees be born or killed. As that synopsis might suggest, Jason Goes to Hell is the stupidest Friday so far. It wastes a great opportunity for a cool not-Jason character with Steven Williams's Creighton Duke. Duke introduces himself as a bounty hunter determined to hunt down and kill Jason. Duke is set up to be like this movie's version of Dennis Hopper in The Texas Chain Saw Massacre 2. I spent the whole film waiting for Creighton Duke to do something awesome.

Spoiler: he doesn't.

Cretin Duke is a waste of time and money. Until the day comes that someone takes out a bounty on your fingers, Cretin Duke is a shitty bounty hunter. All he does is look weird during a word association game and break some dude's fingers.

Jason Goes to Hell is bad - almost Freddy's Dead bad - but I like it, all the same. The first and last ten minutes provide some reasonably good Jason action, whilst cameos from Kane Hodder, Freddy Kreuger's hand and a certain Necronomicon provide amusement. It's a bizarre entry, but not an entirely uninteresting one. If you want to see naked teenagers die at a campsite, there are eight other films to choose from. Let this one have its moment of semi-interesting madness.

Jason X


Director: James Isaac (2001)
Starring: Kane Hodder, Lexa Doig, Lisa Ryder
Find it: IMDB

The first Friday the 13th movie I ever saw*. For a full two years, Jason X was my favourite slasher movie. And then Freddy vs Jason came out. And then I re-watched it and realised that Jason X is kinda crummy. But it is also kinda awesome. Because as we all know, slasher icon in space = movie gold.

In futuristic 2008, Jason Voorhees has been captured and is being held at Crystal Lake Research Facility. Scientist Rowan LaFontaine (Doig) decides to cryogenically freeze the slasher bastard, keeping nubile teens everywhere safe from his seasonal rampages. But Jason escapes and violently kills a team of soldiers. Of this I approve. Watching Jason fight trained soldiers is infinitely more entertaining than watching Jason fight stupid teenagers. Before Jason can kill her, Rowan freezes them both. To the future!

In the year 2455, Rowan and Jason's frozen corpses are discovered by a field trip of intergalactic pupils and their teacher. The Earth has become dangerously polluted and now humanity lives on another planet. The kids and their teacher take the Jasonsicle and the Rowansicle back to their spaceship and set sail for outer space. Both Rowan and Jason make a full recovery. In Rowan's case, this means shivering and pouting a lot. In Jason's case: killing nubile teenagers.

It's not as good as I once thought it was, but Jason X is still a bit of a blast. As an introduction to Friday the 13th, it was a revelation to sixteen-year-old me. Jason hacks and beats his way through a spaceship full of soldiers, teachers, students and androids alike. He even makes to the holodeck and fucks that up too. There's room for a replay of my favourite Friday the 13th kill evarr (that'll be the sleeping bag against the tree, then) and a cameo from David Cronenberg. Yes, that David Cronenberg.

You may be scornful, but this is proof that sometimes the sequel-in-space route does work. The great thing about Jason Voorhees is that his shtick works anywhere. Be it Manhattan, Elm Street, Hell, Texas or space, I'd be quite happy to watch Jason stab the bollocks out of someone wherever, whenever. Jason X is the closest I'll ever get to a Star Trek crossover so shut up and let me have my moment of happiness.

Wherein the tie-in is actually worse than the fan-fiction.

That said, robo-Jason is horrible. Robo-Jason is proof that not everything needs an upgrade. You can keep your 3D, Facebook timeline and your hashtags; I prefer my Jason to be all smelly and raggedy. It's fortunate that his transformation to stupid glittery space robot is only for the last 20 minutes of the film. Although it does allow me to imagine an alternate ending where his remains crash near a small squad of Cybermen and he rises to become king. King robo-Jason of the Cybermen. After lopping Amy and Rory to bits, Jason kills The Doctor with his own bowtie (repeatedly, until he can't regenerate anymore) and steals the TARDIS. He takes it back to the inception of the Earth whereupon he and his Cybermen become overlords of Crystal Lake; always and forever. Just a little idea of mine. Feel free to use that, New Line Cinema and Steven Moffat.

It's no 2001: A Space Odyssey, but Jason X will always hold a dear place in my own heart. As the last proper Friday the 13th movie, it goes out with a damn big bang.


* So much so that I didn't realise that the 'X' stood for '10'. I thought it was just a fancy futuristic way of making Jason sound futuristic.

My Soul to Take


Director: Wes Craven (2010)
Starring: Max Theriot, John Magaro, Denzel Whitaker
Find it: IMDB

Something of a return to form for horror maestro Wes Craven, following the Screaming turd that was Scream 4. I went into My Soul to Take with the lowest of expectations. Best case scenario: a mediocre disappointment ala John Carpenter's The Ward. But please, by Cthulu, don't let it be another Cursed. Thankfully it has more in common with the director's own Red Eye. It's a cruel and surprisingly nasty picture. Best of all, My Soul to Take is kinda good.

Seven children are born as a serial killer goes on the rampage in small town USA. They become known as the Riverton Seven. Sixteen years later and it seems that The Ripper is back, hunting down the unfortunate seven. At the centre of it all is Bug (Theriot) a troubled young individual whose connection with The Ripper goes deeper than even he knows. Myself, I was just amused at the fact that a character called 'Bug' lives with his aunt May. LOL, tenuous links.

I thoroughly expected to hate My Soul to Take. It's (mostly) bloodless horror with a cast of sixteen year olds. I hate (mostly) bloodless horror and sixteen year olds. But the film covers its relative lack of gore by making the kills count - I actually found myself feeling for the kids as they were being knocked off, one by one. Some of them are kinda douchey, but I felt genuinely bad as one of the youths had their throat slashed before me.

Not all of the kids are so likeable (the jock character and Bug's sister are horrible), but it makes a real difference to not be loathing the movie's characters all of the time. Even when they're not being stabbed by The Ripper, they find themselves beaten black and blue by one another and their own family too. A scene in which Bug is set upon by his own sister made me laugh and sob at the same time. Mostly the former.

The ending is convoluted and a bit stupid; the identity of the killer wholly predictable. The script is occasionally bad and Bug's mental issues do get annoying. But My Soul to Take is a slick, tense and grim slasher picture that's probably not as bad as you'd expect it to be. Well okay, it's not quite a return to form, but at least it's not Cursed.

Captivity


Director: Roland Joffe (2007)
Starring: Elisha Cuthbert, Daniel Gillies, Pruitt Taylor Vince
Find it: IMDB

The movie that made a lot of people realise just what a tiresome subgenre torture guff was. Until Craptivity, we'd gone along with the likes of Hostel, pretending that we were being clever and arty by watching films in which kids wear ball gags and find themselves carved up by weird foreigners. For myself and many others, it was a case of the emperor wearing no clothes: Hostel was shit and its imitators are shit too.

So along came Craptivity and outraged everyone by putting its silly posters up even after the MPAA said not to. People began to realise "actually, films about torture and ball gags are a bit wank, aren't they?" But worse than shitting in its own bed, Craptivity tried to ruin it for the rest of us too. It gave horror a bad name. It made people say things like "won't somebody please think of the children" and made us horror fans seem sick in the head, the sort of people who enjoy putting gruesome posters opposite schools (which is admittedly quite funny). And that's partly why I hate torture movies and I hate the phrase "torture porn". But mostly it's because torture movies are boring, stupid self-serious nonsense.

24 star Elisha Cuthbert plays celebrity model Jennifer; object of a crazed stalker's affections. I didn't recognise Cuthbert at first, since every time I saw her on 24 she had a piece of duct tape or a hand over her mouth. It takes about ten minutes before somebody covers her mouth with anything in Craptivity (in this case a leather glove, Giallo style) but it's still her most kidnappy movie so far.

She wakes up in a gloomy basement and is repeatedly set upon by a shadow-dwelling figure, who gasses, chloroforms, buries and forcefeeds her face over and over again. Eventually, Jennifer realises that she is not alone - enter Gary (Gillies) who claims also to have been kidnapped. If you believe that for so much as an instant, you're even stupider than Jennifer. Before I'd ever watched Craptivity, I was reading a Fangoria story on the film. "I bet this Gary bloke is in on it," I thought. The Gary bloke is indeed in on it, using the torture dungeon like his own private Plenty Of Fish.

An actual screencap from Plenty Of Fish's 'success stories' page.

There's nothing to Craptivity but suspenseless torture scenes and Elisha Cuthbert looking hot. For a girl who endures days and days of violent torture, she comes out of it all as fresh as a daisy. After half an hour on the bus I look like a wreck, let alone a week in a torture dungeon. What I wouldn't give for Elisha Cuthbert's T-zone.

After drinking a smoothie made up of body parts and being forced to shoot her own dog, poor Jennifer is trapped in a little box that rapidly fills up with sand. She needn't worry though - like a Brazil nut in a bag of museli, she just rises straight to the top. Earlier, there's a scene where she communicates with Gary by scratching messages into her side of the glass. Bless her, she fails to realise that she needs to be writing backwards (as you would to read something in a mirror) in order for Gary to read it properly. It's a movie that hopes to distract the viewer with gruesome tortures and sexy Elisha Cuthberts.

It doesn't have the unintentional brilliance of I Know Who Killed Me, nor the intelligence of the few torture movies I happen to like (an exception to the 'all torture movies are terrible' rule; look under subsection 'hypocrite'). Other than the fact that I like Elisha Cuthbert and it has Pruitt Taylor Vince in it, Craptivity has few redeeming features. It's anything but Captivating.