Tuesday, 25 December 2018

Merry Christmas

Merry 'samtsirhc' and a happy new year to all the readers of this blog (thankfully I managed to get it the right way round on the 2nd attempt)

Sunday, 16 December 2018

Devil Girl from Mars (1954)

Ever watched a film and been constantly distracted by the thought “I bet that actress received more than her fair share of kinky fan mail on account of this role”. Such is the case with Devil Girl from Mars, a characteristically cheapo production from quota quickie merchants The Danziger brothers (check out how many plant pots went on making the arms of the robot henchman). Devil Girl contains possibly the most quintessentially British line ever uttered in a sci-fi movie (“while we’re still alive we might as well have a cup of tea”), but really deserves cult immortality on account of the high camp spectacle that is Patricia Laffan’s merciless villainess Nyah, a female space invader intent on abducting earth men for breeding purposes. Resplendent in black leather with matching cape and helmet, and dishing out cruel but hilarious put downs (“It amuses me to watch your puny efforts!”), Nyah anticipates the leather and fem-dom obsessions of 1960s fetish mags like Bizarre Life, at the same time I wouldn’t even begin to speculate how many young women first realised they were gay while watching Patricia Laffan in this film.

Devil Girl from Mars beats Mars Needs Woman (1967) to the punch when it came to taking a gay lead, dressing them up in leather and casting them, somewhat ironically, as a character hell-bent on heterosexual procreation. Devil Girl’s leather boots also kicked the doors open for Spaced Out, Lifeforce, Species, and all the other sci-fi movies paradoxically enamoured with, yet terrified of, female sexuality.

Tuesday, 11 December 2018

Carnivore: Werewolf of London (2017) – round two

First of all, a bit of a confession. The last review I did of Carnivore: Werewolf of London was so short because the person who lent me the DVD wanted it back the next day so they could exchange it for a CEX voucher. If you couldn’t tell, they didn’t think too much of the film (“the only decent thing about it was that bird in the tight dress”), i on the other hand, have to say, i liked the film allot, enough to pick up the DVD myself and give it a bit more of a thorough write-up. So consider this Carnivore: Werewolf of London- round two.

In all honesty my first reaction to seeing the DVD cover of Carnivore: Werewolf of London –in the West Kirby Branch of ASDA- was “please let this live up to at least a tenth of what’s promised by that DVD cover, I’m not asking for the whole 100%, just a tenth of it and I’ll be happy”. That DVD cover, is quite simply a work of art, take a bow whoever put that together, it really does do the job of catching your eye and making it stand out from the Supermarket DVD pack. OK, it is guilty of promising more than the film delivers, but you’ve got to be pretty naive to the ways of Supermarket DVDs to think that a DVD cover can be trusted to depict the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Shameless exaggeration has after all been one of the long-time hallmarks of B-movies, and their dishonesty part of the overall experience, so why should the Supermarket DVD era be held to greater account. In a way these Supermarket DVDs hark back to the very early days of video, where distributors had on their hands films starring and made by people whose names wouldn’t mean much to the average person, and so entirely had to sell these films on the basis of an outrageous cover or a tag-line that compared the film to much more well known fare. Where once you’d have the VHS release of GBH (1983) hyping itself as “more brutal than The Long Good Friday”, these days Supermarket DVDs like to lay claims to be “Robocop meets Mad Max” or “The Terminator meets Universal Soldier”. Really, little has changed since the pre-cert video days.

Carnivore: Werewolf of London’s prized DVD cover quote is “very similar to Dog Soldiers but with civilians”, which i don’t think is quite as ballsy or catchy as “more brutal than The Long Good Friday”, but on the other hand it does lay out the film’s MO, and it’s difficult to argue with that assessment. That quote does at least let you know what you’re in for, allot more so than the DVD cover, which conveniently forgets to mention that only the final scene in the film and about 5 seconds at the start are actually set in London. The film opens with an aerial shot of Piccadilly Circus –i guess someone must have bought the director a drone for Christmas- and until the end scene that is pretty much your lot as far as London goes. After that briefest of trips to Piccadilly Circus we’re off to a countryside rental cottage, where two young lovebirds Dave and Abi hope to spend a romantic time. Dave is played by Ben Loyd-Holmes, a shaved headed, muscular actor in the Jason Statham/Luke Goss vein. I don’t think the film ever goes into Dave’s background much, but he is the type you can imagine working as a cage fighter during weekdays. For all his hardman appearance and swagger though, Dave is actually a likeable, ok kind of a guy. Surprisingly romantic and attentive to the needs of his lady love, Dave isn’t above preparing a meal for his girlfriend while she takes a bath, even throwing in a few dance moves in the process. During the whole dance/food preparing montage the sight of Dave chucking the flower around prompted a friend of mine (who was half-heartily watching the film whilst reading a book) to look up and enquire “are they using cocaine?”

For all of the time and effort Dave puts into preparing the meal, the end results aren’t really all that impressive. The fruits of Dave’s labour being this feeble, cheap looking Steak and Ale pie which looks like something you’d pick up in Iceland and stick in the microwave for a few minutes. Still it does appear to have the intended result.

Who knew a Steak and Ale pie was such an aphrodisiac? One of the many things you can learn from Carnivore: Werewolf of London. We also have to talk about the other half of this couple, American Abi, played by Atlanta Johnson...no relation to Dakota...she actually bears more of a resemblance to a young Kim Cattrall.

Where do we even begin when it comes to talking about Miss Abigail...how much you get out of Carnivore: Werewolf of London might depend on your response to this character, Abi does walk a very thin tightrope line between being adorable and being grating. If you do find yourself in the latter camp then Carnivore: Werewolf of London may prove to be a very long 80 minutes indeed. Even Dave, who is meant to be madly in love with her, can’t resist doing a mocking imitation of her speaking voice at one point (Atlanta Johnson being the latest in a long line of British thesps to adopt an American accent in a home grown B-movie, a tradition going back to the days of Fire Maidens from Outer Space). Kooky and high-maintenance may be among the kinder ways to describe Abi, her yo-yo relationship with Dave isn’t so much a whirlwind romance than a full on hurricane. She loves him, she loves him not, she loves him...Dave is never quite sure where he stands with Abi. One minute Dave is proposing marriage to her, the next she is turning him down and complaining that their relationship was just meant to be a short term thing. Then when a crestfallen Dave storms out of the room, Abi does an emotional 180%, tries on his ring, starts showing it off to her imaginary friends, begins dancing with one of them, then nearly dies of embarrassment when Dave comes back into the room and catches her errr...dancing with herself.

Intentionally or not these early scenes do evoke memories of all those Red Shoe Diaries type erotic thrillers of the 1980s and 1990s, with this young, affluent couple working on their relationship ‘issues’ and having all this passionate sex amidst a pleasant backdrop of scented candles, scattered rose petals and acoustic love songs. The film does pay particular homage to the famous food scene in 9 and a half weeks, when Dave blindfolds Abi and begins feeding her dark chocolate, i guess it’s a step up from Steak and Ale pie!! It’s a testament to either how much i like this film, or how easy on the eye Atlanta Johnson is, that i can tolerate the fact that the red dress Abi wears throughout the film constantly reminds you of a certain Chris De Burgh song. One of the unintended downsides to Carnivore: Werewolf of London, for sure.

No character in Carnivore: Werewolf of London is ever going to win prizes for logical behaviour, in fact Dave and Abi may well be the uncrowned King and Queen of illogical movie behaviour. One minute Dave and Abi are hearing heavy breathing noises outside, appear in fear of their lives and are making sure all the windows and doors are locked. A few minutes later they’re ripping off their clothes and having sex again, this time on their backdoor, whilst the werewolf watches them from the woods and –how can i put this?- appears to be knocking one off to the sight of them doing the business.

At which point Carnivore: Werewolf of London stops being “very similar to 9 and a half weeks, but with werewolves” and does indeed start to make good on being “very similar to Dog Soldiers, but with civilians”. Much as it feels just like yesterday that Dog Soldiers was released, the appearance of a film like this does drive it home that Dog Soldiers is now 16 years old, and that there are people who’ve grown up with Dog Soldiers and are now making their own films that are following in its paw prints. I suppose Dog Soldiers is a good blueprint for all low-budget, rookie filmmakers trying to get a foothold into feature filmmaking, with its simple location, small cast and ‘home invasion’ premise. In an age of lazy, done on the cheap CGI, it is pleasantly surprising to discover the werewolf here is mostly a practical, old school, man in a suit. The werewolf itself puts you in mind of a bad guy character from a 1980s cartoon like Masters of the Universe or Thundercats. Scary enough to impress the kids, but with a slightly goofy quality to it, to pacify any parents who might be thinking twice about letting their kids watch this show or buy the tie-in action figures.

Carnivore: Werewolf of London doesn’t short change the viewer when it comes to werewolf action, thankfully this isn’t one of those films where you see a claw in the half hour, a shadow at the hour mark and the full creature for the last 5 seconds. Once all the lovey-dovey/heavy breathing stuff is out of the way, the werewolf is rarely off-screen. At the same time, director Simon Wells seems to have a good idea of how much of the werewolf he can get away with showing. Setting the film entirely at night does obviously hide a multitude of sins, and only in a handful of wide shots does the werewolf really look like a man in a bear suit. As for the actual CGI that is in the film- chiefly shots of the werewolf jumping through a window and trying to burrow through the roof- well i suppose the werewolf does resemble a character from a 1980s cartoon show in that sense as well!! Once you’ve seen those shots it really does make you glad that this film favours the practical, bad CGI being the ruin of many a poor 21st century horror film.

No review of Carnivore: Werewolf of London can fail to touch upon Dave’s misguided, ill-advised yet unswerving belief that the best way of defending yourself against a werewolf is by arming yourself with a rolling pin. Yes, Carnivore: Werewolf of London really does tear up the rule book when it comes to werewolves, forget all that stuff about silver bullets, what really strikes fear into the hearts of werewolves everywhere is a good old fashioned rolling pin. Full credit to Ben Loyd-Holmes for trying to look all heroic and macho, while running around with that rolling pin.

Curiosity about the Carnivore: Werewolf of London cast did lead me in the direction of another hitherto unknown British horror short “Predator: Dark Ages” (2015). A half hour Predator fan film, set in medieval times, which pits a bunch of templar knights against the alien hunter from the 20th century fox film franchise, and represents another attempt by Ben Loyd-Holmes to muscle in on the action movie market. As is the case with most fan films you can watch Predator: Dark Ages for free on Youtube, and while the words ‘fan film’ automatically set the alarm bells ringing, Predator: Dark Ages surpassed all expectations. Production values, acting and storytelling are well above average for a fan film, and the period setting transcends its initial novelty value and succeeds in bringing something new and fresh to that franchise, albeit in an unofficial capacity. I’d definitely have no problem with putting both Carnivore: Werewolf of London and Predator: Dark Ages on a top ten list of my cinematic discoveries of 2018.

Ben Loyd-Holmes does actually get a bit ‘Arnie in Predator’ towards the end of Carnivore: Werewolf of London as well, what with Dave stripping off his shirt and running about the woods with a lit torch. Dave maybe needs to work on his Predator-esque one liners though, his shout out/challenge to the werewolf of “Hey...I’m calling the police” falls a bit below the Schwarzenegger standard. Even miss scaredy pants Abi manages to come up with better one liners when she goes all Sarah Conner towards the end of the film and starts dishing out remarks like “we’re checking out early” and “i’m gonna put you down”.

Carnivore: Werewolf of London also doubles as a great advert for the cottage they filmed it at, which if the film is anything to go by, may well be the most secure cottage in England. Try as it might that werewolf just can’t seem to break into the place. Even though elsewhere in the film it rips off a man’s arm and can pull people to shreds, smashing down a small wooden door of this cottage appears to be beyond it, and it fails to even put a scratch into that door. Strangely enough Dave is similarly unsuccessful in his later attempts to blow up the cottage with the werewolf in it, it’s almost as if one of the provisos for filming at this cottage was that they cause no interior or exterior damage, resulting in what is possibly the most considerate werewolf rampage ever seen on film. The werewolf might think nothing about tearing people limb from limb but it always makes sure to never cause any damage to the property itself, no broken windows, no smashed up rooms, nothing that would cause you to lose your deposit on the place. Although it does leave some dirty footprints on the bathroom floor at one point.

Seemingly impenetrable to damage from man or beast, the cottage comes across as the Captain Scarlet of holiday lets, it’s simply indestructible. A plot point that is even more absurd when you discover that the cottage is part of a nefarious scheme to lure hapless tourists to the place fully in the knowledge that they’ll be slaughtered by the werewolf. The brains behind this scheme being a sinister old farmer. Known simply as ‘The Man’, he is played by Gregory Cox an actor with extensive film and TV credits going back to the 1980s, his other claim to fame within the horror genre being having played the Jason Voorhees parody character Jackson in the 1989 horror spoof ‘Unmasked part 25: Jackson’s Back’. As i said earlier, characters in this film aren’t overly blessed in the logical behaviour department, since The Man’s end game is to have the werewolf kill everyone who stays at the cottage, why does he make it so secure that the werewolf has such a struggle to get into the place, frequently requiring its human sidekick to open doors for it. ‘The Man’ is also portrayed as this luddite yokel who goes around mumbling “wi-fi, there is no wi-fi, city folk!!!”, yet this cottage is tailor made to the needs of your average millennial, the place even has bluetooth and mobile phone chargers ferchristssake!!

Whatever else can be said about it Carnivore: Werewolf of London is a very 21st century British horror film, tapping into all of today’s frightmares about being trapped in a place without a decent wi-fi connection and with characters forced to venture outside and risk certain death in order to get a decent mobile phone signal. The film also taps into less common fears about having what looks like shit smeared on you by an old man. Part of The Man’s scheme being to rub this crap on unsuspecting people, which according to the rules of this film automatically attracts the werewolf. At one point The Man shakes Dave’s hand leaving Dave with all this gooey brown crap on his hands, which Dave just assumes is the sort of thing that country folk have on their hands all day. Apparently the crap in question is actually meant to be pheromone, but this isn’t really made clear in the film and instead it just looks like The Man is throwing diarrhoea around at all and sundry. Which makes a moment towards the end of the film, where The Man ties up Abi in a barn and smears this crap all over her mouth, seem especially gross.

Your heart really does go out to Atlanta Johnson, a fashion model making her first serious steps into acting here, in a role that requires her to put on an American accent, be hung up in a barn, and have blood and shit thrown on her. Talk about being flung into the deep end of the often unglamorous world of acting. Atlanta really does prove herself to be quite the little trooper here.

Carnivore: Werewolf of London does also pose the question “what does a film have to do to get an 18 certificate these days”. There is a very, very small disclaimer on the back of the DVD admitting that the film itself only managed a 15 certificate from the BBFC and that the DVD itself was upgraded to an 18 certificate on account of the DVD extras. Which doesn’t make a whole lick of sense because the extras on the DVD are just behind the scenes/talking head material and trailers for a pair of direct to DVD westerns (The Legend of Ben Hall, Lonesome Dove Church) nothing that would get you a higher rating. The film’s 15 certificate does seem like a source of embarrassment here, and rightly so, because this film has nudity, ass sex, entrails being pulled out, eyeballs being eaten, all of which would have easily earned an 18 certificate in days gone by. In an age where film distributors are frequently cutting films down to get a more commercial 15 certificate, its rather endearing that the makers of this film appear to have voluntarily put this out as an 18 certificated DVD, for fear that their film would otherwise be mistaken for a boring, bloodless horror film.

Carnivore: Werewolf of London is packed to the rafters with laughability, at the same time this isn’t an out and out, unmistakable horror comedy like I Bought a Vampire Motorcycle or The Revenge of Billy the Kid. Instead it’s more of the Horror Hospital school of films that can play as a straightforward horror movie if that’s what you want from it, yet is also a film that openly invites you to laugh along with it, should you so desire. On the surface everything is played straight and as sober as a judge, but the DVD extras do tip you off that the filmmakers’ tongues were slightly in their cheeks. Going into the film blind though, especially as a first time watch, you’re never quite sure whether the preposterous nature of what is unfolding before your eyes is meant to be legitimately funny or not. Its star, Atlanta Johnson, describes it as a “chill with pizza, laugh, get scared, watch the gore and enjoy” movie, and that pretty much nails it. It’s certainly head and shoulders above most films with the words ‘Howling’, ‘The’ and a number in the title (faint praise, admittedly) is the first, and likely last time, you’re going to see a werewolf knock one off in the woods and be violently beaten about the head with a rolling pin, and is heartening proof that the British B movie is alive and well and available for a few quid at your local supermarket. The world is truly a better place for having Carnivore: Werewolf of London in it, let’s hope for sequels, they could do one for each British town....Carnivore: Werewolf of Skegness....Carnivore: Werewolf of Scunthorpe....the possibilities are endless.