This blog is a place for Me to review classic British films (in particular horror films) by Hammer, Amicus and the like. But I will occasionally branch out and review international films as these are the international counterpart to the British films, some of which will include works by American International Pictures, Mario Bava et al. I hope you enjoy!

Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Wake Wood

SPOILER ALERT! THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS! SPOILER ALERT!

After the death of their daughter Alice, Patrick and Louise move to a remote town called Wake Wood. They discover that the town's people are practising a Pagan ritual which allows the dead to be resurrected but only for 3 days. When offered this unique opportunity which will allow them to see their daughter once more and say goodbye properly, they gladly accept the agreement to stay in Wake Wood and never leave. But what will they do when their 3 days are up?



Wake Wood is a 2011 Hammer Production. It is the 3rd production from the newly resurrected Hammer Productions. It stars Aidan Gillen, Eva Birthistle and Timothy Spall. It was directed by David Keating.

There's none of that slow build up malarkey, it gets straight into the story. We're introduced to this young happy family. It's Alice's birthday, and she's gone to visit a dog that her dad has made well again as he's a vet. But she opens the cage and the dog attacks her, in a rather grisly fashion I might add. Yeah, it's not nice. But this is all within the first 5 minutes.



Within the first 10 minutes, they've moved to Wake Wood and begin to come across some odd locals. So from early on the audience begins to feel weary of the inhabitants of Wake Wood. It all starts when a woman and her niece enter the pharmacy where Louise works and the woman asks for a new inhaler for her niece. But she hands over a prescription that ran out last year, when Louise brings this to her attention the woman just simply gives her a blank look. Looks like we're in for another one of those flicks about a village full of weirdos, or are we? Well they're not weirdos as such, but it comes about that Arthur the village leader performs a ritual to bring back the dead but only for 3 days. He explains that they must have been dead for less than a year for it to work. So yeah, they are strange folk in the sense of meddling with rituals to resurrect people but they're not as bad as those who would burn people in a wicker man for example.



We see that a woman has had her partner brought back and that another woman plans to have her husband brought back. Arthur explains that they come back exactly as they were. Now I presume that they will want to be intimate with their loved ones so my question is this. Is it still necrophilia? Well I think it's a fair question.

AH! DEATH BY BULL! A man gets crushed between a gate and a bull, and if that wasn't bad enough when the others manage to get the gate open the poor fella falls on the floor and gets stood on by the bull. So yeah, he's pretty dead. Nasty business working with animals.

During the agreement, Arthur tells Patrick and Louise that they won't be able to take Alice past the Wake Wood limits and that if he is to perform this ritual for them they must remain in Wake Wood and never leave. Which without hesitation they agree to the terms, but as it develops they have other plans. At a later point they try to leave with Alice but once they pass the wind turbines which mark the Wake Wood limits, Alice sustains all her injuries that originally killed her. So Patrick and Louise quickly return her to Wake Wood where her injuries vanish and she returns back to normal. It's then that they realise they can't leave.

I liked the method of resurrecting Alice, there was none of that reading passages or sacrificing a goat or whatever. They have to get a recently dead body, crush the rib cage, rip out the spine and other nasty stuff. Then they place something belonging to the dead person they are resurrecting into the dead body. They then burn the body, then start cutting it up and hay presto the resurrected person comes out covered in blood, almost mirroring an actual birth. I thought this was great, a dark and grisly method of bringing back the dead.



The parents do have an odd dim moment that made me laugh, they go and play hide and seek in the woods with their daughter...and LOSE HER! In the middle of their panic to find her and the shots of her wondering around on her own, I was rather banking on another dog turning up and for them to find her and be like “NO, NOT AGAIN!” but no, all was well. [thumbs up]

The town's people come to Patrick and Louise's home telling them that they believe something went wrong, that something is a miss and that Alice must be returned to the woods otherwise there will be consequences. Patrick and Louise refuse, but will soon come to regret it. The next day, Alice goes on a killing spree killing some animals and some of the locals. She turns up in Arthur's home and demonstrates some supernatural powers (changing the radio station, flickering the lights, ringing the door bell, closing doors – all with her mind), she kills one of his visitors and before she manages to kill Arthur he banishes her with the use of some powerful words. It's from this point where we see that the people of Wake Wood aren't the villains of this story, Alice is. There were some suspicious things earlier like when she went up to Louise and asked her when the baby is due, and Louise didn't even know she was pregnant. But it's here that we see that even Arthur is afraid of her. She has returned from the grave but not as she once was, she's come back evil.

WARNING! I'M ABOUT TO DISCUSS THE ENDING! WARNING!
(If you want to avoid the spoilers about the ending then please skip the next 2 paragraphs.)

It comes about that Patrick and Louise lied, Alice had been dead for over a year. So there's the reason why she's come back evil. I didn't properly notice first time round but there were hints at various points. There was the death date on her grave stone – 2008, but I just presumed that the film was set either then or in early 2009. And just before they arrive at the grave there's a shot in their car when Patrick asks Louise “Do you think she knows?” referring to the widow who's husband's body they are going to use to bring back Alice, as when she met them she said “Something isn't right” when she examined them. I liked that, everything was there for the viewer to pick up on, but it's subtle and therefore easy to not properly register, so it's still a surprise.



After an ordeal in the woods Louise manages to get Alice in a weak state after tricking her to pass the wind turbine, she then takes her to the area in the woods where she needs to be buried. When she gets there they are all there waiting, she buries Alice and I thought that was the end of it. At this point I was expecting a sort of similar ending to Premonition in the sense that she went through this whole ordeal to help her get over the death and also gets pregnant so it's sort of like one life has been lost but a new one will be born. But no, Alice's hand pops out of the ground and drags Louise down with her. Fuck, that was good. But that wasn't the last of it, we see (sometime later) Patrick taking one of Louise's hairs from her hairbrush to get her resurrected. Then I thought that was the end, but no, there's more. When Louise comes back we see that she's quite heavily pregnant so we see that he's left it near on 9 months to bring her back. Then we see Patrick sat on the bed with his operating equipment next to him, Louise comes into shot and says “I'll be there in a minute” then Patrick turns and looks at the camera. End. That I think is brilliant, I did not see it coming and I loved it. I thought that was such a brilliant ending, the idea that he brought her back at a point in the pregnancy when he will be able to perform a caesarian. Some people might not like the ending, but I thought it was great, and it wasn't as out of the blue as you might think. It was actually foreshadowed early on, the idea that the dead continue to grow and develop. This was shown when Alice first came back and Louise is cutting her hair and says “Your hair's gotten so long.” So with that in mind, it would make sense for the pregnant Louise to continue being pregnant in the afterlife and for her baby to continue growing and eventually be born. It's not so great the idea of being born straight into the afterlife mind. Which is why I think it's a sort of happy ending. Alice said she didn't want to go back to being on her own, so she took her mother with her. This then left Patrick on his own, but after the caesarian not only will Patrick no longer be alone but the newborn baby will have a life in our world. And on top of that, both parents will have a child to look after.

Wake Wood is for me the first proper new Hammer. For starters, it's British made. Also you know it's been made on a low budget, it's not as pristine and clean as Let Me In or The Resident. It's rough around the edges and gritty, and that for me is Hammer all over. Wake Wood is a throwback to the classic Hammer films, and that is brilliant. The story is great and the acting is brilliant from not only Aidan Gillen, Eva Birthistle and Timothy Spall but also from newcomer Ella Connolly who was great as the creepy resurrected Alice. Although I like Let Me In and The Resident, this for me is a return to form for Hammer and I hope that this is where the future lies for the company. Hopefully the American ones were just to get the company back in the public domain and on it's feet. Now they've released a low budget British film, hopefully this is where the path for Hammer lies. My only quibble with Wake Wood is that it's a Hammer right? Where was the Hammer ident at the start? Hell, I don't even think Hammer's name went up in the opening credits! It's the most Hammer-y new Hammer we've had and Hammer's name is nowhere to be seen [waves fist in angst]. People have compared this to Don't Look Now, I can't agree nor disagree with that as I've never seen it, but I do want to, even more so now I've seen Wake Wood. But the one I was able to compare it to was The Wicker Man in the sense of an isolated town where the locals practice Pagan rituals. So yeah, Wake Wood was a good film, very good in fact. So go buy it!

Wake Wood 5/5

Friday, 11 March 2011

The Resident

SPOILER ALERT! THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS! SPOILER ALERT!

After splitting up from her boyfriend, Dr Juliet Devereau has moved to Brooklyn to start a new life away from her ex. She moves into a dream apartment for a stunningly low price, but the apartment soon turns out to be a nightmare when her landlord Max develops an obsession with her, an obsession with no limits. But just how far will he go to be with her?



The Resident is a 2011 Hammer Production. It is the second theatrical production from the now resurrected Hammer Productions. It stars Hilary Swank, Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Christopher Lee. It was directed by Antti Jokinen.

Well first of all, Jeffrey Dean Morgan is brilliant in this. For the first half hour he's this quiet, friendly and lonely man (as he spends all his time caring for his Grandfather August). But literally half hour in, this opinion of Max is flipped on it's head as the film rewinds back to show us the first half hour only this time as a 5 minute segment all from Max's perspective. During this we see that he has been stalking Juliet from the moment he saw her in the Hospital. He planned each move carefully ensuring that she would come to his building for an apartment, and continued after that so they would bump into each other at an art exhibition and eventually hook up in her apartment which is the half hour mark it rewound back from. This I thought was great, I had expected this to be one of those that the shocking reveal is at the end, which unless there was going to be a twist then the big reveal had been spoilt by the trailers and posters. But the question isn't who is it? But is instead what will he do next? And just how far will he go? So for the rest of the film we see that he's actually this creepy, obsessive, lonely guy. We see him skulking around her apartment whilst she sleeps and even using her tooth brush whilst she's out.



I can't describe how much I loved the fact that this wasn't just a typical suspense thriller, my first reason being what I mentioned already that the fact of who done it? isn't the mystery, the mystery is what will he do next? Even the ending wasn't what I expected so this I loved even more. I'll explain about the ending a bit later. In my opinion, because there isn't a surprise twist to reveal who has been stalking her because that was already revealed very early on, I believe that this film will hold up well to repeat viewings. Some films with a twist at the end aren't as good second time round due to the shock factor no longer being there, although this isn't always the case but sometimes it is. Anyway, because this doesn't have that typical unexpected “oh the butler did it in the library” sort of twist then I believe it will hold up to repeat viewings.

The Resident reminded me quite a lot of Psycho. There are several reasons, firstly the baddie is a landlord whether it be of a block of apartments or of a motel. Secondly, is the way he stalks the female tenant he likes by spying on her through a hole in the wall. And thirdly, he even has a sick relative to look after, although at least in The Resident's case August isn't a skeleton wearing a wig being kept in the fruit cellar.



Later on in the film, Juliet gets an ADT security system set up in her apartment to capture any goings on whist she's out as she is getting suspicious because she is starting to sleep through her alarms all the time and wakes up with an unusual feeling. Up until this point we know Max is a bad person for stalking this poor woman and obsessing over her so much that he drugs her just to look at her whilst she sleeps. But at times we see an emotional side to him when he starts crying over her. He even has this childlike demeanor at one point when he tells her he's confused because she kissed him first. To which she replies that she was experimenting, that's what people do. Then he says that he doesn't do that and leaves. I took this childlike behaviour to be due to him not having much of a social life as he spends his time looking after August. This made me feel at times all most sympathetic for him, he's devoted his life to looking after August and as a result is out of touch with humanity, he doesn't go out unless he has to and his only company is August. But then all sympathy is lost when Juliet checks out some of the recordings captured by the ADT security cameras, she witnesses him raping her during her deep sleep which was caused because he has been drugging her.

WARNING! I AM ABOUT TO DISCUSS THE ENDING! WARNING!

I thought the ending was great, as I mentioned earlier I felt it wasn't the stereotypical ending for a film of this kind, so for that it surprised me and left me shocked (in a good way). First of all, there is a point where Max gets Juliet's boyfriend and we don't see what happens to him. I expected for him to turn up at the end all tied up so then there's this happy ending once it's all over. But nope, he's dead. During the 10 minute fight at the end between Juliet and Max she comes across his dead and badly beaten body in a cupboard. Then there's the ending, which for me was very traditional of Hammer films of the past. She has a nail gun shoots it into his chest, then after he jumps up at her she gets him in the head, then there's a shot of him dead followed by a shot of Brooklyn Bridge then the credits. I thought this was brilliant, it was a very Hammer-esque abrupt ending, none of that “One Year Later” malarkey in which we would see her moving into another apartment. So yeah, it's pretty much BANG! DEAD! CREDITS. But that's not all that I felt was traditionally Hammer about it, the film's length is only about 90 minutes which most Hammer films years ago had similar running times. For a typical thriller I would have expected a 2 hour film maybe 1 hour and 45 minutes, but 90 minutes surprised me, again in a good way because it didn't drag it out and the suspense was still great even on a shortish length film. And of course the use of Christopher Lee was very, very Hammer-esque (obviously).



Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed The Resident. I thought it was really good, I loved the break aways from traditional suspense thrillers that it made. The film was at times brilliantly creepy and had me on the edge of my seat waiting to see what would happen next, so credit to director Antti Jokinen. And again credit to Jeffrey Dean Morgan who was brilliant, he was great at the start as this friendly, helpful man, and then flipped this perception on it's head with one 5 minute segment revealing his true identity, obviously Jeffrey Dean Morgan was better after the half hour mark in this role after all he's always better as a baddie. I felt more sympathetic with Max rather than Juliet, the whole stalking shabang aside, her character just wasn't that likeable. She was a bit of a bitch. Then you get August played by Christopher Lee, it seems almost as if they wrote August in after they had finished the script just so they had a role to offer to Christopher Lee. The annoying thing about that is not only does he not get to do much, but whilst filming he tripped over a cable onset and pulled his back. This resulted in him not being well enough to play the main role in The Wicker Tree (a sort of sequel to The Wicker Man), so in doing a minor role for a pretty decent Hammer film (but not really on par with The Wicker Man) he then ended up having to pass on the main role and instead accept a minor role in THE WICKER MAN SEQUEL. For that reason, The Resident has been tainted for me. On a lighter note, I personally prefer Hammer Horrors over Hammer thrillers, but I would happily see Hammer make more thrillers like this one. It's out today 11th March, so go see it.

The Resident 4/5

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

The Flesh and the Fiends

SPOILER ALERT! THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS! SPOILER ALERT!

Edinburgh 1828. Dr Knox is in need of corpses for his research, luckily for him Irish duo Burke and Hare are able to acquire fresh meat for a more than reasonable price. The more bodies they provide for the good doctor the higher the risk becomes, as they get to a point where they are even having to kill witnesses and folk who suspect them of killing the people they are bringing to Dr Knox. One of the suspicious people is a student of Dr Knox's (Jackson) who falls in love with a pub tart who later becomes one of Burke and Hare's victims that is then presented to Dr Knox. Making Jackson suspicious person #1. But for how much longer can they continue committing these murders before creating too much suspicion?



The Flesh and the Fiends is a 1959 Triad Productions production. It stars Peter Cushing, June Laverick, Donald Pleasence and George Rose. It was directed by John Gilling. In America the film was released under the title of Mania.

At about 10 minutes in we get our first Boobies Flash (I say first because there's more later on at a party in the pub where there's a few topless women about, which was even more surprising as this is what I would have expected from Hammer in the 70s). I imagine for 1959 this must have been pretty strong, but then again it is in black and white. Blood and gore wasn't considered as shocking when it was presented in black and white so maybe it's the same principle. It's hilariously ridiculous though, fair enough she is one of the pub tarts and has been snogging a drunk who has pulled her top down slightly, but she grabs her drink, takes a sip then her top just flops down for a quick flash then she pulls it back up. It's almost as if it's only there to make 1959 audiences shout “Oh my giddy aunt! It's a pair of jubblies!” Hell nevermind the 1959 audiences, it shocked me and almost made me yell out “Oh my giddy aunt!” and I wasn't even born until 3 decades after the film's release (note: in my defence it was purely due to me not expecting to see boobies in a 1959 black and white film.)

Dr Knox gets one of his students, Jackson, to pay the grave robber (not Burke and Hare, this is Dr Knox's grave robber before he hired Burke and Hare) for the body that was brought to him. Whilst in the bar he gets into a pub brawl with a man who has pulled the skirt off Mary, one of the pub tarts. After getting her skirt back for her she offers to buy him a drink, but he declines and leaves. As soon as he leaves the pub he gets mugged by none other than Burke and Hare. He should have stayed in the pub! What's today's lesson? Always accept a drink from a woman. Good advice. Luckily for him she comes out and helps him as he had helped her, this being the beginning of their love and the film's romance plot.



Donald Pleasence's Irish accent continues to amuse me from scene to scene. I don't know what it is, it just sound a bit iffy. That aside Donald Pleasence is great as William Hare. In fact all the scenes with Burke and Hare are good, there's the perfect blend of black comedy and shocking horror. There's one scene where Burke is suffocating an old woman by nipping her nose and covering her mouth, all the while Hare is dancing around them nipping his own nose and covering his own mouth. This I found lightened the mood, we've got the physical horror of a poor defenceless old woman being suffocated with intermittent shots of Donald Pleasence jumping around. In fact this is kept up for the other murders too. Some of them are at times uncomfortable to watch, which is funny because there is no blood what so ever, it's all down to the brilliant acting which creates the shocking horror. The murder sequences are drawn out (as they are usually a suffocation) and allows a lot of time for having the victim wriggle around, screaming and squealing which for me was at times uncomfortable to watch. Each murder has one of them doing the killing whilst the other stands and watches (usually Hare is the one watching) this only adds to the horror, then to lighten the mood there'll be a bit of black comedy afterwards. One example is after they kill Mary, Burke's wife walks in on them and instead of questioning why there's a dead body she questions her husband's faithfulness to which Burke says “Nobody touched her.” and Hare adds “Willy just killed her, that's all.” Instantly creating an uplifting mood after the traumatic scene with Mary screaming and pleading for her life and for him to let her go.



That is nasty, now I know he and Burke killed people, but his comeuppance is after being released from the police station he is confronted by two men who restrain him and burn his eyes out with a torch. Although you just see the torch coming towards the camera then the aftermath of him with burn marks where his eyes where, it's still grizzly.

The film itself, I feel, is made up of 3 stories that intertwine. These stories are:
1.The life of Dr Knox; his striving to better humanity and his constant disagreements with the medical council.
2.Burke and Hare and their search for more corpses to bring to Dr Knox (which for me is the prominent one of the 3 stories, even though the film continues after their story has ended).
3.The love story between Jackson and Mary (which ends just over an hour in).

Although for me Burke and Hare's story is the prominent one, their story ends once they are charged of the murders and receive their comeuppance. Which by this point the 3rd story thread has already ended, in fact that was the first one to end when Jackson went to avenge Mary's murder but got killed by Hare in the process. So this leaves Dr Knox's story which ends with him discovering that in turning a blind eye to Burke and Hare's methods of acquiring his bodies has resulted in him becoming the opposite of what he wanted. Instead of helping mankind with great advances in medicine he has instead become no better than Burke and Hare. He realises this when a child fears him and calls him an ogre. So the ending is the realisation that this seemingly evil man was actually just a poor misguided soul.

“As a child I believed in God and the devil, it took a child to show me what I am now. I have failed. Yes, I have failed.”



The Flesh and the Fiends was pretty good, Peter Cushing's Dr Knox is somewhat similar to his Victor Frankenstein which is always good. Donald Pleasence as I mentioned earlier was great too bringing both shocking horror and black comedy to the role (as well as a dodgy Irish accent). I have to give the film credit for creating shocking horror that caused discomfort without using a single drop of blood, now that's what I call good film making. Bizarre thing is though even with all these really good things the film still didn't seem outstanding to me, from what I've read of other people's reviews for this film they love it and think it's brilliant. But although I liked it I didn't think it was as good as others have stated, now maybe I've missed something I'm not sure, so this is one I'm definitely going to have to give another look. But as it currently stands it's still a pretty good film and worth giving a look, anyone who is a fan of Hammer and the like should also like this. So as for anyone considering watching this, I'd say go ahead and give it a go, after all I'm going to give it a second go.

The Flesh and the Fiends 3/5

Thursday, 3 March 2011

Legend of the Werewolf

SPOILER ALERT! THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS! SPOILER ALERT!

In 19th Century France, a young boy is born in the woods at Midnight on Christmas Eve (which automatically gives him the curse of Lycanthropy). Shortly after his birth his parents are killed by a pack of wolves. The boy is then brought up by the wolves, until one day when a circus comes across him in the woods and decide to use him in their act as “The Wolf Boy”. They then bring him up into adulthood, but he then experiences his first change before the full moon. Whilst he's a werewolf he kills the one man band and flees the circus, where he moves to a city and becomes a zoo keeper. Here he falls in love with a prostitute and driven by his love for her and his anger at her clients his animal instincts kick in and he attacks them. But in the presence of the full moon with his full werewolf ability he goes about killing her clients. All the while Professor Paul who works for the police is on his trail.



Legend of the Werewolf is a 1975 Tyburn Film production. It stars Peter Cushing, Ron Moody and Hugh Griffith. It was directed by Freddie Francis. It is the second adaptation of Guy Endore's novel The Werewolf in Paris. The other adaptation being The Curse of the Werewolf, both Curse and Legend were written by Anthony Hinds under the pseudonym of John Elder.

The first thing that hit me (especially seen as it was within the first few minutes) was the WOLF VISION! It's pretty much the same as any other vision only it's BLOOD RED!



Legend seems faster paced than Curse mainly because we get our first werewolf change and attack at only 15 minutes in. Whereas in Curse we don't even see Oliver Reed until (if I remember rightly) nearly an hour in, let alone him change into the werewolf.

Peter Cushing's Professor Paul delivers the best response to seeing a man who's throat has been bitten by a werewolf. He's in the middle of his supper when another body arrives for him to perform an autopsy on, so bare in mind he is still having his food when he gives the body a look and then in a calm relaxed tone of voice says “Oh dear, that's very nasty.”



What can I say? I found it very difficult to write about Legend of the Werewolf. Nothing really seemed to stand out. Obviously Peter Cushing as ever gave a good performance and provided a huge support for this film, he is essentially the film's lifeline and if he hadn't have been in it I daren't even imagine how boring it would have been. As it is, it's still not that interesting of a film even with Peter Cushing, his scenes are enjoyable to watch but there's just so much of the film that doesn't feature him. Even Roy Castle who adds to the positives only features in TWO scenes. On a lighter note, the overall look and feel was pretty decent, presumably a lot of work had gone into making it look very Hammer-y. The make up for the werewolf was pretty good too, even if it was pretty much the same as how Oliver Reed looked in The Curse of the Werewolf 14 years earlier. It was good that they got right into the action of him becoming the werewolf early on, as it would have been even more dull and boring if they had created a slow build up to it. As I mentioned earlier this was Anthony Hinds' second stab at Guy Endore's novel and he probably should have just had the one go. Hammer's The Curse of the Werewolf is far superior to this, it may well be a bit of a slow burner but the quality is much better. It's just such a better film, it's more enjoyable and more entertaining. Whereas Legend is unfortunately just dull and at times boring. I'd been really looking forward to seeing this for years, as I'm a big fan of werewolf films and seen as there aren't many British horror werewolf films. The only ones I know of are The Curse of the Werewolf, The Beast Must Die and this. So my recommendation; watch the other two.

Legend of the Werewolf 2/5