The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

Director: Francis Lawrence (2013)
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Donald Sutherland
Find it: IMDB

While I enjoyed the madly popular, Twilight-for-intelligent-people, Battle Royale-for-dummies film The Hunger Games a lot more than I thought I would, I was in no hurry for a sequel. Interesting as the premise was, pretty as it looked and well-acted as it might be, it was all a little toothless for my tastes. Still, when Catching Fire rolled about, I had no qualms about settling down for another two-and-a-bit hours of pretty teenagers murdering one another in the jungle. The three or four beers I had beforehand might have helped.

But no beers are required to enjoy Catching Fire, a more confident, mature piece than the film which preceded it. The Battle Royale comparisons are shed as the story blazes its own trail, in the process becoming a much better sequel than the maligned Battle Royale 2 (which I have seen two or three times but still only vaguely recall). There's still no gore, the characters' names are as stupid as ever, and there's too much CGI, but all it feels much less childish this time around - perhaps thanks to the more pronounced political element.

The lovely Donald Sutherland's President Snow gets a bigger part to play in this outing, as well as the introduction of Philip Seymour Hoffman's slimy Gamesmaster (has poor Hoffman ever played a character whose introduction couldn't be preceded by the word 'slimy'?). Elizabeth Banks (sigh), Woody Harrelson (also sigh), Stanley Tucci and Lenny Kravitz also return in their respective roles, and are great. It's obvious that it'd be Katniss and Peeta returning to the games, but I'd be lying if I said that I didn't want to see the adventures of Woody Harrelson in the I'm a Celebrity jungle. Still, great as the adults are, this is the kids' show. I shall have to wait another day for my Haymitch prequel.

Thankfully, Lawrence and Hutcherson don't disappoint, more than capably holding the screen on their own. Fuck that Gale guy, though. Consider me firmly on team Hutcherson. His gormless brand of dim, semi-unrequited hunk is simply adorable, like a puppy or dopey giraffe.

Peeniss FTW.
Not the offical poster, but it should be.
Even for adults and those who haven't read the books, Catching Fire is a great watch. I found myself surprisingly invested in the story, even going so far as to get a little emotional at times. For everyone else, there's a kid running around with a trident (if Jack Quaid doesn't get an Aquaman movie, I'm calling bollocks), angry monkeys and Donald Sutherland looking like he wants to execute everything all the time.

Where I left the first Hunger Games with a sheen of mild indifference, I find myself eagerly awaiting the next Hungry Game. Please sir, can I have some more?

You Can't Kill Stephen King

Director: Ronnie Khalil, Monroe Mann & Bob Madia (2012)
Starring: Monroe Mann, Ronnie Khalil, Crystal Arnette
Find it: IMDB

...Unless you're a van, of course, in which case you can have a damn good go at trying. Ahem. Bad taste, I apologise. Stephen King meets Scary Movie in You Can't Kill Stephen King, a spoof horror film about kids visiting Stephen King's hometown and promptly getting themselves killed there. Because of course they do. The characters are made up of dim stereotypes - there's the traumatised war veteran, the black dude who talks about how black he is all the time, and the girls who have big breasts. That's not me being dismissive or misogynistic, either - the film is completely fixated with the girls' titties. I mean, I love boobies as much as the next heterosexual chap, but, c'mon guys, characterisation is sexy.

None of this has anything to do with Stephen King. Aside from the fact that it's set in Maine and there's a boat named Christine, you'd be hard-pressed to find many Stephen King references in there. The main tune sounds a bit like that of The Shining, I suppose, but even that's inappropriate, given King's well-documented dislike of Kubrick's adaptation. I'm not sure that anyone involved has ever read a Stephen King novel, because there's none of his influence here.

What there is amounts to many ugly stereotypes, unfunny comedy, a cheap titty obsession, and an atrocious rap soundtrack. The Last Lovecraft was equally flawed, but you at least get the impression that those guys actually read and enjoyed the work of their titular author. The writers and directors of You Can't Kill Stephen King got as far as 'titular'. Well, no, they stopped at 'tit'. It's a shame, because it's obviously well-intentioned (no-one sets out to make a bad film, after all) and has a fantastic title. Don't let that fool you though - You Can't Kill Stephen King is a hoary old load of Tommyknockers.  

Doctor Who: The Movie

Director: Geoffrey Sax (1996)
Starring: Paul McGann, Eric Roberts, Daphne Ashbrook
Find it: IMDB

Knock-knock. Who's there? Doctor. Doctor Who? The infamously unsuccessful attempt at remaking Doctor Who for an American audience, that's who. How did they go about that? Well, thankfully Geoffrey Sax's Doctor Who doesn't re-cast the Doctor as an American (although, just sayin', Nicolas Cage would probably be up for it) but instead has Eric Roberts playing the Master and the Doctor kissing his assistants. Watching it now, there's a lot of groundwork laid for the Russell T Davies and Steven Moffat versions.

Crash-landing the TARDIS in San Franscisco on the eve of 1999, the Doctor is promptly shot, causing a regeneration from cuddly Sylvester McCoy to the rakish, Byronesque Paul McGann. The Master, meanwhile, is reborn as Eric Roberts, brother of Julia and slavering scenery-chewer. In spite of what its reputation might suggest, there's few sins here that the television series hasn't since repeated - kissing companions, crap sidekicks and a reliance upon deus ex machina. Even Roberts' unsubtle turn as the Master looks positively subtle compared to the mad gurning antics of John Simm. A touch too Terminator, maybe, but I like his Master. Eric Roberts, I'd bottom for you anytime. Even in that daft Dracula collar and cape.

McGann is excellent as the Doctor - by far the film's strongest suit. It's a shame that he never managed a full series, as he could have been really great. The radio plays and recent developments rectify this somewhat, but it still burns. Especially when you consider how the likes of Tennant ("I don't want to go") went on for (heresy, I know) a bit too long. I'm far from a Doctor Who scholar (aside from The Unearthly Child and a Tom Baker and Peter Davison episode here and there, I've not seen much outside of nu-Who) but I'd already rank McGann as my second favourite to Christopher Eccleston. Less is more, I guess.

This TV movie is funny, fast-paced and fun for fans and newbies alike. It gets a bit silly towards the end, and the Master's minion is annoying, but this is in no way the absolute failure some would have you believe it to be.

World War Z

Director: Mark Forster (2013)
Starring: Brad Pitt, Mireille Enos, Daniella Kertesz
Find it: IMDB

Yes, I know it's pronounced 'Zed' (rhymes with 'head') but in this case, you have to say it 'zee', otherwise you're missing out on a great pun. In this high-budget zombie thriller film, Brad Pitt plays ex United Nations employee Gerry Lane, called upon to investigate the origins of a terrible undead plague which sweeps the globe and threatens the lives of literally everyone in the world. Whatever else World War Z might do wrong, you simply can't fault its sense of scale.

And, bless him, Pitt gamely gives it his all in a genre that one wouldn't normally associate with the A-list hunk. Make no mistake, World War Z is dumbed down zombie action for the same audiences that enjoyed I Am Legend, but it's still far more enjoyable than any Transformers or Pirates of the Carribean sequel. Fast and furious, its zombies don't have much in the way of personality, but they more than make up for it in tenacity. They make the rage monsters of 28 Days Later look like shambling Romero corpses by comparison.

It's a wonder Pitt manages to last as long as he does. Constantly falling over, stumbling about and making noises where he really should be quiet (now would be a good time to activate that phone's quiet mode), one can't help but wonder why it is everyone seems to regard him as something of an expert when it comes to staying alive in shithole places. Even his hair is a liability.


Mireille Enos has considerably less to do as Gerry's wife, although she works just fine with the material she does get. Familiar faces such as David Morse, Peter Capaldi and, oddly, Matthew Fox pop up throughout the film, although the cast doesn't feel particularly diverse given the size of the canvas the story is playing out on. Of its action sequences, the aeroplane and Jerusalem bits work best, although there's not a duff action beat among them all. Even the CGI serves the film well, giving us more zombies at a time than we've ever seen before. Their speed and the lack of gore will put many off, but I enjoyed it plenty for what it is - an over-serious Zombieland, on an epic scale.

Now, the elephant in the room: World War Z is fuck all like Max Brooks' novel. It's an adaptation in name only. While I thought that the book was vaguely overrated, to some, this utter lack of fidelity will be a deal-breaker. Myself, I managed to dig it in spite of its flaws. Like star Brad Pitt, it could do with a bit of a trim, but it looks good and is surprisingly difficult to dislike.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2: The Joel H Edition.

Director: Tobe Hooper (1986)
Starring: Dennis Hopper, Caroline Williams, Jim Siedow
Find it: IMDB, Arrow Video

The greatest sequel of all time to the greatest horror film of all time. Tobe Hooper's The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: Part 2 is a completely different piece to that which preceded it, in terms of style, tone, visuals and story. Not content with just replaying the previous film from a slightly different angle, this sequel is very much its own beast. But we already know that: I reviewed it ages ago, remember?

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre returns with this Blu-ray release from Arrow Video, a truly majestic box set featuring not only the movie itself, but a definitive set of special features, short films (including his Eggshells), interviews and a commemorative book. And also, me.

Yes, the surprisingly hefty book which accompanies Arrow's box set includes a piece written by yours truly - The Saw is Family: The Further Adventures of Leatherface and Co - a thorough history of the Sawyer family's adventures in sequelisation. Needless to say, I'm incredibly proud of this achievement and the finished piece. Even if it didn't have me in it, I would recommend the hell out of this set. It's comprehensive, glossy and beautiful. It has Dennis Hopper fighting Leatherface and his family with a chainsaw. The book also has plenty of pictures of Dennis Hopper and his chainsaw.

Pictured: Me.

 If you've not seen The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: Part 2, I'd recommend this box set. If you have seen The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: Part 2, I'd recommend this box set. Basically, I would recommend this box set. It is the greatest thing anyone has ever created. I especially liked the book. Particularly that one article. You know, the one I wrote.

I may be slightly biased, though.

V/H/S 2

Director: Simon Barrett, Jason Eisener et al (2013)
Starring: Lawrence Michael Levine, Adam Wingard, Jay Saunders
Find it: IMDB

Don't worry - I'm not about to make that stupid "shouldn't they have called it Betamax or DVD?" joke (although I sort of already did, in saying that I wasn't going to). The videos return in V/H/S 2,  a sequel to the popular, not-shit found footage portmanteau horror film. The deal is roughly the same, although it's less misogynistic, and the bookend story has changed. In search of a missing girl, two private detectives binge-watch the video cassettes found at the suspected kidnapper's house. Freaky shit ensues. And also, the most snot I've seen in a horror film since The Blair Witch Project.

Where the original V/H/S had a cool concept but flawed execution (only one or two of the stories were actually any good) all involved seem to have brought their A-game for this sequel. There are six short tales, including the main story, and most of them are incredibly impressive. It gets the weakest out of the way first, with Phase I Clinical Trials being a fun, jump-scare inducing wee ditty about a fellow who gets a video camera implanted into his dodgy eyeball. It's not long before the camera starts picking up a little more than the minutiae of daily life. It's a shorter, louder version of The Eye, with a random bit of sex in the middle. From there, the film picks up pace, and never stops to look back. A Ride in the Park is a fun twist on the usual zombie shenanigans, Slumber Party Alien Abduction is a loud, upsetting oddity (the camera on the dog's head is a clever idea) while Safe Haven might just make the most intense use of found footage I've seen since [REC]. Everything else is very good, but I could quite happily have watched a feature length version of Gareth Evans and Timo Tjahanto's segment.

V/H/S 2 is a vastly improved sequel to a film that wasn't too shabby in the first place. Gory, fast paced and genuinely disturbing in places, it's inventive, exciting and gratifyingly nasty. Where the original movie was a likeable oddity, this follow-up makes me think that there might be real life in the format.    

The Dyatlov Pass Incident

Director: Renny Harlin (2013)
Starring: Holly Goss, Matt Stokoe, Gemma Atkinson
Find it: IMDB

Another found footage horror film claiming to be based on a true story. Except this one actually is, a little! In 1959, nine ski hikers mysteriously died in Russia's great Ural mountains, leaving a heap of questions and conspiracy theories surrounding their icy corpses. And a disembodied tongue. Renny Harlin (he of one-of-the-greatest-action-films-of-all-time fame*) tackles the mystery in The Dyatlov Pass Incident, a surprisingly decent variation on The Blair Witch Project, set on the side of a mountain.  

I've made no secret of my contempt for found footage horror features, but, given the right material and setting, I can be swayed by individual pieces. [REC] for example, sits in my Blu-ray collection as one of the finest zombie films of all time. And I do love me a Cannibal Holocaust or two, too. The snowy mountains of The Dyatlov Pass Incident are certainly interesting enough for the gimmick to work, even if our team of intrepid young filmmakers do seem more interested in filming each other than the mountains or the Northern Lights.

Making a documentary about the Dyatlov group and the circumstances surrounding their deaths, the kids retrace the hikers' steps, uncovering more than a few ominous signs as they go. Who killed Dyatlov and his friends? The Russian military? Aliens? An avalanche? A Yeti? Whatever the answer, it's bound to be concealed in that sinister-looking metal door buried in the side of the mountain. Either that, or a bearded Scotsman pining for his true love while rocking out to Mama Cass. Despite some stupid decisions from the kids (avalanche? Sure, let's follow that up by screaming ourselves hoarse) and logical inconsistencies (sleeping naked on the top of a freezing cold mountain, with only a tent and a sleeping bag for protection) The Dyatlov Pass Incident is watchable enough. The snowy mountain setting is a great location - even if it does leave me hankering for a Mountains of Madness adaptation - and the shift to the underground bunker is interesting if a little uninspired. A few neat twists and turns towards the end will keep audiences guessing, while the acting is of a generally decent quality. Apparently, though, Matt Stokoe is in Misfits, which I watch every week. I had no idea that this was the same person. Might want to work on that screen presence, pal.

The Dyatlov Pass Incident does a thing I haven't experienced from a found footage film in a very long time - it holds my attention.

(*Cliffhanger, of course)

Machete Kills

Director: Robert Rodriguez (2013)
Starring: Danny Trejo, Amber Heard, Lady Gaga
Find it: IMDB

Well, it's about time. After not killing much of anything in the disappointing Machete, Danny Trejo's titular wrong Mexican strikes again, this time battling Mel Gibson, a schizophrenic dictator and a veritable army's worth of hookers, hitmen and hired mooks (including, inexplicably, Lady Gaga). While Trejo's Machete does get to live up to his name a little more than he did in the previous film, Machete Kills still manages to be an even bigger disappointment than its predecessor. Can't Robert Rodriguez go back to making real films already?

Trejo is as entertaining as ever as Machete, but there's no hiding the fact that the joke is wearing a little thin by now. I love a bit of ironic Grindhouse as much as the next Planet Terror fan (the last decent film Rodriguez made) but there's only so much nudge nudge, wink wink, it's shit on purpose a guy can take. Where the first Machete was flawed but amusing, this sequel borders on unwatchable. I was fed up of it by the time its opening gambit had finished - and unfortunately, there was a whole lot more of it left to come after that. Machete jogs from one ludicrous set piece to another, notching up a hefty bodycount, meeting Mel Gibson and even boning Amber Heard as he goes. That sounds fun, but it's oh-so very tiresome. Almost everyone puts in a decent performance, but it's so layered in pastiche and artifice that it's almost impossible to enjoy any of it.

CGI gore, Lady Gaga and a fight between a blind person and a villain that was better when Rodriguez did it the first time around, with Johnny Depp. Gibson fighting Trejo with a Klingon blade and driving about in a little shuttle from Star Wars. The complete waste of Walton Goggins, Antonio Banderas and Cuba Gooding Jr. (the latter made even more depressing because it was the only time I have ever enjoyed Gooding Jr. in a film). The stupid James Bond/Austin Powers ending. The inexplicable decision to give that ending away before Machete Kills had even started. The fact that Machete got a sequel while Dredd didn't.

I know it's supposed to be, but Machete Kills is awful. It takes a great cast and not-bad concept, and spends the whole film wasting it all. Guys - you tried, but the joke just isn't that funny anymore.

I Spit on Your Grave 2

Director: Steven R. Monroe (2013)
Starring: Jemma Dallender, Yavor Baharov, Joe Absolom
Find it: IMDB

An aspiring model replies to an advert she finds posted on a wall. Text a photo of yourself to an anonymous Nico Bellic voice motherfucker, for a free photoshoot? Sounds legit. It's the sort of advertisement that's ten-a-penny on Gumtree or Craigslist, and a plausible setup for an I Spit on Your Grave movie... of which there are now three, counting Meir Zarchi's original video nasty.

"Aaaaargh!" you scream, outraged, "a sequel? Profiteering from our rape culture, much?" And while you wouldn't be wrong, if so many of you (maybe not you personally... I'm sure you have better taste than that) hadn't paid to see the remake, we wouldn't be here, and nor would I Spit on Your Grave 2. Zarchi, for all his film's faults (being terrible, chief among them) had intended I Spit on Your Grave as a warning; an anti-rape piece. The remake and its sequel exist only to make money. There's no message to them (apart from maybe, the obvious keep the fuck off've Gumtree) only exploitation, pure and simple. Judging by the fact that the remake made enough money to justify a sequel, well, it looks as though that worked, didn't it?

As an exploitation film, then, I Spit on Your Grave 2 does what it does very well. It's one of the most unpleasant movies I have ever seen, aided by an all-too realistic performance from lead actress Jemma Dallender. Bleak, moody and atmospheric, it certainly looks the part. It's not remotely scary but, then, it was never intended to be. But the problem we have is the same as the previous two instalments suffered from - as soon as the rape part of this rape/revenge tale is over, everyone seems to lose interest. Katie's vengeance feels tacked-on and perfunctory. A guy is drowned in a toilet, though, which is always amusing.

Also amusing: Eastenders person Joe Absolom and his dodgy Bulgarian accent.

Warning: this paragraph spoils the film's ending. Look, if you're going to make a revenge movie, you should at least try to ensure that the revenge is more powerful than the initial crime, otherwise it just makes your protagonist look like an amateur. Here, it underlines the futility of revenge, but I doubt that was the statement the filmmakers were trying to make. To add insult to injury, a man turns up at the end and saves Katie's life, killing the Nasty Man for her. 

I Spit on Your Grave 2 is a thoroughly effective exploitation movie. Ugly, offensive and lacking in artistic merit, it's the most worthless instalment yet.

Truth or Dare

Director: Robert Heath (2012)
Starring: Tom Kane, Jack Gordon, Florence Hall
Find it: IMDB

The reason I don't play Truth or Dare. Or go to parties. Or have friends. In Truth or Dare, a gang of friends play a game of terrible truth or dare. Tied to chairs and bullied to death, all in the name of vengeance, it may just be the worst game of their lives. See, you don't get this shit playing Scrabble. At least, not unless you're taking it really seriously, in which case you should probably chill out a bit.

Led into the woods to attend the birthday party of a chap nobody really liked, the protagonists of Truth or Dare bring everything they get upon themselves. The villain of the piece isn't much better - a homophobic posh army veteran (think James Blunt, except not quite as beautiful) - so we're left with very few people to sympathise with. As secrets are revealed and truths are unsheathed, that list of the not-as-loathsome becomes smaller and smaller. One person, to be exact: the lovely and fairly decent Florence Hall. Well, it's impossible to hate someone called Florence. My nan's name is Florence, so there, I have proof.

Better Florence than her horrible ex-boyfriend, Chris (Gordon), the guy responsible for setting a whole chain of events into motion. He does have an impressive David Hess style perm though, so at least he has his redeeming feature. Much like the film has a few of its own. For all the annoying characters, bad acting (none of the kids can do villainous for shit) and Saw type torture bollocks, it does offer a few surprises by the time the denouement rolls about. At least one of these I saw coming, but there are some nifty left-field shocks that might make the film worth your while.

The truth is (predictable joke) I would recommend this film in spite of its more irritating flaws; it's worth a watch, even if it is only for a dare (predictable joke).


Director: David Twohy (2013)
Starring: Vin Diesel, Jordi Molla, Katee Sackhoff
Find it: IMDB

I had no idea that the perfectly okay Pitch Black and entirely boring Chronicles of Riddick warranted another sequel, but there you go - David Twohy and Vin Diesel have gotten their way - Riddick is back. I'll never agree that Richard Riddick is a character who deserves his own franchise, or that Diesel makes for particularly good leading man material, but who am I to judge? I'd happily watch thirteen-hundred Friday the Thirteenth films, and have loved every dubious Wrong Turn so far. I went into Riddick not expecting much but hoping to have a good time.

Wisely doing away with the Necromonger nonsense of the previous film, Dick Riddick is betrayed, battered and dumped on a nameless planet somewhere in the middle of nowhere. We watch as Riddick picks himself up, dusts himself off and gets back to fighting fit. The first quarter of the film plays like a Bear Grylls documentary, with Riddick kidnapping puppies, fighting off feral animals and swimming on the mud pits of not-Mars. It's here we get the best acting from Diesel, thanks to his barely speaking. Then the mercenaries turn up, and things get more entertaining and infury(an)ating, at once. Riddick vs Arsehole Mercenaries is by far the best part of this pie, in that Riddick pretty much disappears for half an hour. It's during this time that we're able to be intimidated by him again - gone is the macho posturing and ridiculous tough guy flourishes - it's just a team of heavily armed mercs, dragged off one by one into the darkness by a formidable, fearless foe.

Then he starts talking again, and doing stuff on camera, and the film becomes much harder to like. The dialogue and action is like a fifteen-year-old boy's interpretation of "cool" - all rapey smack talk, Call of Duty one liners and 'banter' which sounds tough but makes no sense. "I don't fuck guys, but I occasionally fuck guys up," says Dahl (Sackhoff). Which is fine, but makes little sense in the context of the conversation. I much preferred the CGI monsters of the last quarter, which are all action and no shit-talking.

From there, it's a complete remake of Pitch Black. The action is slick, fun and frequently gory. Again, Riddick's posturing makes it a bit of a chore to watch (dude, was there any need to bring Sackhoff's nipples into this?) but it's solid enough. If you liked Alien: Resurrection and Pitch Black, you should be absolutely fine with this. There's a cute dog, Dave Bautista, Bokeem Woodbine and some nifty-looking aliens. That doesn't hide the fact that Dick Riddick is the weakest element of his own film, but it helps. Look, if Dahl had been the lead character here, Riddick would have been all the better for it.

Olympus Has Fallen

Director: Antoine Fuqua (2013)
Starring: Gerard Butler, Aaron Eckhart, Dylan McDermott
Find it: IMDB

Politicians don't have an easy time of it, when they're played by Aaron Eckhart. As District Attorney Harvey Dent in The Dark Knight, Eckhart was emotionally and physically scarred in half by his experiences at the hands of the Joker and Batman, before being lobbed off've the side of a building, wasting a good character and a great actor. In Olympus Has Fallen, Eckhart plays the President of the United States, widower, hostage to Korean terrorists and victim of a crazed stalker.

That said, a good stalker has his uses. In this case, ex-bodyguard Mike Banning proves to be quite useful, taking it upon himself to break into the White House and rescue Mr. President where everyone else has failed. It's Die Hard in the White House, although Olympus Has Fallen would have been vastly improved by a protagonist who wasn't such an Olympic level Presidential arse-kisser as Banning. His rush to get to the White House when he discovers it's under attack reeks of desperation rather than heroism. Have a little dignity, dude. Rather that, though, than the early scenes in which we see him act as best pal (and boxing coach) to the Prez, fashion advisor to the First Lady and nanny to their son. It's a little tragic, really. If it weren't for the terrorists, Olympus Has Fallen would be just a really sad version of One Hour Photo or The Cable Guy. The opening, by the way, has been nicked straight from Stallone and his Cliffhanger.

I'd heard good things about Olympus Has Fallen (admittedly, only from Butler himself on the Graham Norton show) but I can't fathom why. It's far too dark, nowhere near brutal enough (save, worryingly, for one attack on a female worker) and far too silly. We're expected to believe that no-one in the White House ever changes their passwords, and that the US army wouldn't have put a stop to the terrorists' shit before it had even started. I did laugh at the line "let's play a game of fuck off," though.

At least it's well acted, with Butler, Eckhart, McDermott and Morgan Freeman (if in doubt, put Morgan Freeman in charge) all turning in decent performances. It's just a shame that the action and story couldn't have been a little better. Derivative of Die Hard, Under Siege and Air Force One, it feels like a throwback to the good old fashioned action films of yesteryear, but without the sense of brutality or grit. Butler is a good action man, but this film is too slick, too dull to showcase his talents.

Olympus Has Fallen, alright - alseep, that is. Just like I did.

The Texas Roadside Massacre

Director: Scott Kirkpatrick (2012)
Starring: Marina Resa, Elio Mardini, Dusty Probert
Find it: IMDB

How nobody has been sued over this is beyond me. Most of the time, when you try to rip something off, you at least try to hide it. Well, if you're good at ripping things off, you do. Pro tip: call it a homage. The rest of the rime, see Lianne Spiderbaby and Texas Roadside Massacre. As you may have guessed from the title, this film doesn't even bother to hide the fact that it's a massive, staggeringly obvious rip-off. They couldn't even be bothered to change most of the title.

So in The Texas Roadside Massacre, we have a gang of teenagers, on a road trip in their van. After picking up an obviously disturbed hitch-hiker, they stop off at a roadside diner, where both the food and the owners aren't quite what they appear to be. The poor kids are then picked off one by one, before being chased by an obese cannibal who kidnaps the nicest of them (Resa) and ties the poor girl to a chair. There's no dinner scene and no chainsaw, but those are about the only elements of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre that the film doesn't rip off. "Oh, but you're just butthurt," you may argue, "just like that Child's Play film you hated." Well that may be the case, but, in my defence, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is my favourite film of all time. Of course I'm butthurt.        

Remember that line in The Texas Chain Saw Massacre where Sally says she'll "do anything" if Leatherface and his family let her go? Well the film even pockets that, in a scene in which subtext is made, well, foretext, I guess. It makes The Bunnyman Massacre look like the second coming of Tobe Hooper. It makes The Next Generation bearable by comparison. It also has time to rip off The Loved Ones, in its villains' stupid plot. The big idea? To brainwash people into working at your restaurant by drilling holes into their foreheads. Because everyone knows that victims of trepanning make the best employees.

"But I have an English degree! I don't want to work at McDonalds!"

Even if you've never seen The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, this is an awful movie. It can try to hide behind the excuse of having no budget, but neither did Tobe Hooper. That doesn't excuse lazy unoriginality. Worst of all, there's barely even a roadside - and when there is, no-one gets massacred on it.

You're Next

Director: Adam Wingard (2011)
Starring: Sharni Vinson, Nicholas Tucci, AJ Bowen
Find it: IMDB

A promise; a threat; a great title. You're Next is that most immediate of horror films, the home invasion thriller. It's also maybe slightly ironic in a way I can't quite work out, in that You're Next wasn't 'next' to get released - it was sat on a shelf for two years after its completion. An inexplicable decision, since it's really rather good.

A family of bickering posh people meet and their parents' grand county home to celebrate a wedding anniversary. Felix (Bowen) is the once-chubby middle son, bringing student Erin (Vinson) home to meet the parents. The name of the game is awkward familial interaction, although it doesn't take long for the tale to take on a more (physically) vicious edge. As the family gather for dinner, a gang of nasty masked psychopaths begin firing crossbow bolts through the window, murdering neighbours and picking off the siblings and their lovers one by one. They haven't, however, counted on one of their victims having something of the Bear Grylls about her. Even better, the family mater is played by Barbara Crampton, from off've some of the greatest horror films of all time.

Inventive, gleefully violent and a lot of fun, You're Next was most definitely worth the wait. Both the killers and the family are well-drawn, if rarely sympathetic. It's not quite as clever and unpredictable as it thinks it is (I saw several plot and character beats coming from quite early on) but it's a refreshing change that it tries. It's like Cabin in the Woods, shorn of (most of) the abiding smugness. It also has its killers wearing animal masks, which I have a strange thing for, in my horror films.

And in the bedroom. Oo-la-la.
(I have no idea what is going on here).
While it may not be the superlative horror film you're going to hear it is over the next year or so, You're Next is delightfully smart, nasty and subversive. You're Next should most definitely be, well, Next on your shopping list, Netflix queue or whatever (predictable joke).


Director: Nicolas Lopez (2013)
Starring: Eli Roth, Lorenza Izzo, Andrea Osvart
Find it: IMDB

From Psycho through to From Dusk Till Dawn and Hostel, the two-act story is something of a staple in horror films. Starting out as one thing (crime drama/crude sex comedy) and abruptly changing genre halfway through can be a very effective technique. See all of those films I just mentioned (except for Hostel) as your example. Add The Cottage to that list too, then go and watch The Cottage again. Where Hostel fails is in that its first half is intolerable and ugly, filled with characters you hate and an odd reliance on casual homophobia. It may make the second half switch feel more satisfying, but you're still left with a film full of assholes.

Aftershock follows the two-act template to a tee. Obviously, there's not really much way of foreshadowing such an event as an earthquake, so the first real sign of any horror in the film is when the club our pretty young idiots are dancing away in suddenly collapses on their heads. As the city around them crumbles to bits, the survivors take to the streets, where they are beset by more falling buildings, tsunami warnings and gang rape teams. Because society is only ever an earthquake away from certain gang rape.

A stupendously gory and violent natural disaster film, Aftershock is impressively nasty, once it finally gets going. Using practical effects and prosthetics instead of CGI, it looks and feels authentic. Even Eli Roth, playing the character 'Gringo' isn't too annoying. I still wish he'd stop acting forever, but it's his best performance to date. What does become boring, however, is how quickly the film descends into a battle between pretty girls vs rapists. The earthquake itself is nasty enough without having to resort to that.

True story (mild braggartry included) folks: I was lucky enough to speak with actress Lorenza Izzo and director Nicolas Lopez (Eli Roth, too) and Aftershock does none of them (except for maybe Roth) justice. It fails to capture Lopez's hilarious wit, or that bit when Izzo speaks, and you suddenly fall in love with her. Aftershock is a good disaster exploitation film, but not one that registers too highly on the horror movie Richter scale. Kudos, too, for spoiling it all by putting the ending in the trailer. Well done, guys.

Child's Play 3

Director: Jack Bender (1991)
Starring: Justin Whalin, Perry Reeves, Brad Dourif
Find it: IMDB

Not long ago, I revisited Rob Zombie's Halloween films, and was jolly surprised to find that the opinions of my 21-year-old self weren't quite as reliable as I believed them to be. To be frank, 21-year-old Porkhead was kind of a ballbag. Well, he was the sort of dude who'd call his blog 'Porkhead's Horror Review Hole'. What do you expect? In eager anticipation of the latest Child's Play reboot/sequel, I found myself watching all of the old Chucky films. Which, in turn, led me to revisit Child's Play 3, and my old review thereof.

I'm not the sort to leave things be. I'm too laid-back to be a perfectionist, but I expect I'll always be revising these reviews, fixing grammatical errors, re-evaluating old opinions and adding in a new favourite swear word or two here and there. And, in the case of Child's Play 3, I'll be fucking horrified by what I find. "This reviewer is one hell of a troller," says one commenter, below. He's not wrong, although I was 21, so maybe cut me a little slack. I take umbrage with the word 'butthurt' too. Mostly because it's a stupid word, but also because I've never really given enough of a shit about the Child's Play franchise to get 'butthurt' about it. I'd venture so far as to say that the only 'butthurt' one is the one angry enough to call the reviewer 'butthurt' in the first place. Which, in turn, got me 'butthurt' enough to issue this rebutt(hurt)al. What the fuck does 'butthurt' even mean, anyway?     

Ho, on to the review, and my re-evaluation therein. As with my revisited review of Halloween, only a few sentences of my original text remain. Certainly not that whole paragraph where I repeatedly referred to Justin Whalin as 'Jimmy fucking Olsen', or the bit where I called Chucky's plan 'retarded'. Christ, 21-year-old me was the sort of reviewer who used the word 'retarded' in his writing. I shudder. At least it's not 'shit feast' though. And I did manage to keep the animal ball-sucking references to a minimum.

Anyhow, in Child's Play 3, we find that little Andy Barclay has grown up to be Jimmy Olsen from Lois & Clark, the crap Superman TV series.  Obviously the director decided that he didn’t really care whether we root for poor Andy anymore (not that I ever did), because everyone hates that particular Jimmy Olsen. As such, the biggest problem with Child’s Play 3 is that there aren’t enough scenes with Chucky beating up Jimmy Olsen. Bouncing from foster home to foster home, Andy has been transferred to military school, where they hope to iron out his doll-traumatised tendencies. Apparently he’s become a tearaway now, but it’s hard to buy Jimmy Olsen as anything other than a whiny brat, traumatised by a ginger doll.

Despite a military academy being an awful place for a tiny serial killer to hide, Chucky sets about trying to steal the body of Tyler, another child they just happen to have hanging around the school. And so Chucky kills a few insignificant bit players before trying to carry out his stupid plan and kill Andy, while he's at it. To be fair, Jimmy Olsen does have a face that tends to invite being murdered.

Repetitive and predictable, Child's Play 3 isn't a great sequel. Its setting is uninspired, the story a little dull. However, it does have the Cardassian chap from Deep Space Nine in it, playing a sadistic barber (really) who appears to have nothing better to do than shave children's dolls (also really). Dourif's voice work is as skeezy as ever, and the Chucky animatronics are pretty great, in a creepy, dodgy kind of way. My original review was a lot longer here, with me whining about the child actors (no change there then) and making far more references to Chucky's hair colour than was at all necessary. 

Gingers do have souls, and Chucky wants to put his in your body. 

Ultimately, and despite any whining otherwise, Child's Play 3 is far from the worst instalment of the series. We have Seed of Chucky to thank for that, which is about as enjoyable as, uh, fuck it, I can’t think of anything even nearly as agonising as watching Seed. Except for reading my old reviews.

Child's Play 2

Director: John Lafia (1990)
Starring: Alex Vincent, Jenny Agutter, Gerrit Graham
Find it: IMDB

As is bound to happen when you go around telling people that a possessed children's toy tried to kill you, Mother Barclay is immediately committed following the events of Child's Play. Andy (Vincent) is put into care, sent to live with Jenny Agutter and her husband for the duration. You would have thought that ensuring that the kid is sent to a Good Guy free household would be top of the social services' priority, but apparently not: the Simpsons just so happen to have a Good Guy of their very own just chilling in a cupboard. This gives the recently resurrected (again) Chucky the perfect way to infiltrate the house.

Which is a shame, because that spells curtains for Jenny Agutter, and I really like Jenny Agutter. It was her performance in Logan's Run which was instrumental in my first noticing girls (that and Catwoman in Batman Returns and, um, Wendy in Disney's Peter Pan). Jenny Agutter abuse aside, Child's Play 2 is a great slasher sequel. Andy remains the worst thing about the series, but he is sidelined enough by the rebellious Kyle (Christine Elise, looking as though she's escaped from a Nightmare on Elm Street sequel) to be less annoying than he was in the first. While still being quite annoying.

The plan remains much the same as the first - Chucky wants Andy's body, and won't rest until he's taken it. His being constantly distracted by a compulsion to kill everyone around the kid gets in the way though - if he was to just get it over and done with, nice and quickly, the film would be about half as long. Brain of a plastic doll, too.

There's more gore, more swearing and more great voice work from Brad Dourif. It's as good a sequel as A Nightmare on Elm Street: Part 2 was to its own predecessor - good, but a tad derivative. Child's Play 2 is less gay than the former (although there is a scene in which kinky Chucky straps little Andy to a bed). Savour it, for Child's Play 2 is the last genuinely good Child's Play film. It's all downhill from here.

Child's Play

Director: Tom Holland (1988)
Starring: Brad Dourif, Catherine Hicks, Alex Vincent
Find it: IMDB

Well, if you will insist upon buying your children birthday presents from a tramp in an alleyway. A hard-up single mother (Hicks) buys her awful son (Vincent) the next big thing - a $100 doll, cutting corners by buying it from a bearded tramp who probably stole it or found it in a pool of blood. Any money Karen might have saved by buying Chucky cheap will ultimately end up going towards the cleaning bill, since the creepy little bastard wastes little time in trashing her house, trying to kill her son and making everyone bleed everywhere. Buying from tramps - it's a false economy. That's why I never buy The Big Issue.*

We all know the plot. After all, Child's Play is a minor classic by now. Still, even today, it's surprisingly effective, and the moment Brad Dourif starts doing his angry Chucky voice is still chilling. There's no hiding the ridiculousness of the premise, but by constantly having Chucky on the move, or stabbing something, the film always manages to stay just on the right side of camp. Chucky still has the power to scare. Well, he doesn't scare me, but I won't exactly laugh in your face if you confess a fear of the little one to me*.

The real villain of the piece is Andy Barclay, a selfish little shit who gets his mother's best friend (and eventually his mother... and everyone else) murdered thanks to his own greed. Child's Play is a great argument for not buying your children what they think they want when they ask for it. You'll get what you're given and like it. Terrible taste in toys, too. What, Batman or Star Wars action figures not good enough for you, asshole? Really, it's like Jingle All the Way, gone terribly wrong. Forget what I just said; you know who the real villain of the piece is? Consumerism. Child's Play is a damning indictment of our consumerist culture.

Child's Play has aged impressively. The numerous sequels and his popularity have dented Chucky's power somewhat, but this remains an admirably shocking, nasty old slasher film. Wanna play? Oh go on then, Chucky, you twisted my arm.

*Not true.

The Wolverine

Director: James Mangold (2013)
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Tao Okamoto, Rila Fukushima
Find it: IMDB

He's the best he is at what he does. Apart from films. He's not very good at those. Aside from his cameo in First Class, I've not really cared for (the) Wolverine since X-Men 2. There's only so many times you can stick a character with massive claws on his hands in a 12A film before I lose interest and start demanding he stab something. Thankfully, The Wolverine bypasses that particular criticism by being one of the most age inappropriate 12A films I've ever seen.  

Very little blood is shed, but necks are broken willy-nilly, Logan stabs a great many Yakuza, and there's the return of his new catchphrase. No, not 'bub', go fuck yourself. Obviously I couldn't care less about your children, but this should have been 15 rated by a mile. I look forward to a 12A Punisher film in which Frank Castle blasts the hell out of Jigsaw and his men in a manner which is incredibly violent yet suitable for all the family! Just like A Good Day to Die Hard and Taken 2. Thankfully, The Wolverine is far better than either of those films. While still being fairly flawed itself.

Recovering from the events of X-Men 3 (aren't we all) Wolverine is living in a cave, rocking the Old Man Logan look. His only friend a grumpy bear and a hallucinatory Jean Grey (hello again, Famke Janssen) Wolverine is dragged from retirement when an old acquaintance comes calling. No sooner is he off the plane in Japan than he's embroiled in all manner of Yakuza shenanigans and ninja conspiracy. It's like a seventies' Yakuza film, starring Wolverine. Which is no bad thing. It's a far cry from the Frank Miller comics the film was inspired by, but still a lot of fun. Not once does the ol' Canucklehead get down on his knees and scream "noooooo" at the sky (apart from in an iffy poster or two). True, his haircut is horrible and the final twist is predictable, but director James Mangold gets a lot more right than he does wrong. Jackman remains faultless as Wolverine - this might just be his best appearance as the character (First Class not withstanding) yet. And at last we have a Wolverine film which realises the potential of a lead character who can take all manner of abuse before falling down. Logan is exploded, shot, stabbed and filled up full of arrows throughout The Wolverine. There's even a couple of moments during the last act which genuinely made my knuckles ache with sympathy.

Inexplicable photo of the day

The Wolverine is a return to form for one of cinema's (and the comics') most overexposed characters. While it has its fair share of flaws (not the least that haircut) it does make Wolverine a figure to be reckoned with once more. This might just be his most impressive regeneration yet.