Dead and Buried (1981)

Dead and Buried (1981)

It will take your breath away… all of it.

In the small coastal town of Potter’s Bluff, a number of tourists are being sadistically murdered. Sheriff Dan Gillis begins to investigate but finds it strange when the victims seemingly turn up alive a few days later. The events seem to point to eccentric local mortician William G. Dobbs who treats his corpses as works of art and takes great pride in making sure that they remain beautiful after death.

 

The advent of DVD in the late 90s and early 00s really allowed a lot of obscure titles to be brought back to life and exposed to new audiences who hadn’t lived through the 80s home video boom. I remember seeing Dead and Buried when it was released on DVD back in 2008 to little fanfare and being pleasantly surprised. Now I’ve made the upgrade to blu-ray and found that the film is even better than I remembered it to be. Originally banned as a ‘video nasty’ in the UK during the 80s, it was not one of those prosecuted and was eventually released uncut in 1999. It is almost ludicrous to look back and see the bedfellows that Dead and Buried found itself with: there’s no comparing this to Cannibal Holocaust or SS Experiment Camp. This is a near-masterpiece of horror.

It’s hard to write a really in-depth review without giving too much of the plot away – Dead and Buried works best when you have no idea what to expect. Mixing elements of Night of the Living Dead and Invasion of the Body Snatchers as well as having a distinct slasher-vibe during the murder scenes, the film does a superb job of creating a sense of paranoia. Just what is going on in Potter’s Bluff? The well-paced narrative provides enough clues as you go through the story to ensure that your attention is consistently hooked. Not skirting over the fact that we know just who is responsible for the murders from the opening scene, it’s amazing how well the film keeps this mystery peddling – we become focused on the ‘why?’ rather than the ‘who?’ This goes all the way from the opening scene right up until the finale where even then there are still a few questions.

The excellent atmosphere and mood is one of Dead and Buried’s key successes. The dimly-lit, grainy cinematography oozes suspense, foreboding and the feeling that something is not quite right about Potter’s Bluff. The washed-out, classic ‘ghost story’ visuals reminded me of John Carpenter’s The Fog. Likewise, the small town setting and otherworldly goings on really hammer home the comparisons. This is truly a drab place where you wouldn’t want your car to break down and have to be introduced to the eerie locals. Director Gary Sherman and cinematographer Steven Poster deserve high praise for their work here. They know what type of mood they want to portray and they succeed in doing that. It’s a pity that Sherman didn’t try his hand in the genre again after this one because he has a keen eye for detail.

Another of Dead and Buried’s strengths is the visceral violence which punctuates the morbidly serene nature of the rest of the film. People are burned alive, have syringes stuck into their eyeballs, are melted with acid and have rocks smashed into their heads. The film doesn’t glorify the kills but they are shocking because they happen so matter-of-fact that it’s almost a natural occurrence for the town. The killers just look on with little emotion and watch their handiwork come to fruition. Late special effects maestro Stan Winston was the man tasked with the job of keeping everything running smoothly in the practical effects department and he does sterling work, particularly in a number of effects late on in the film. Again, to explain more would be to ruin the film.

Jack Albertson will forever be known to movie lovers the world over as Grandpa Joe from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory but his creepy mortician character here is as far away removed from his cuddly, lovable character as is humanly possible. It’s a great casting choice against type and really enhances the mood of the film. He steals every scene that he is in here, particularly the one in which he gives a stunning soliloquy on his ‘art’ of making dead people look beautiful again. James Farentino makes an excellent lead man, slowly coming apart at the seams as it appears everyone in the town is involved in these murders except for him, or so he believes! Robert Englund has small role as one of the townspeople.

I said ‘near masterpiece’ in the introduction and Dead and Buried comes close to going all of the way. However, the final third is where the film begins to lose steam and focus and it becomes a tad messy which was a real shame as the preceding two thirds were superb. A number of plot twists are introduced which in turn reveal a number of a plot holes. It’s not exactly going to ruin your enjoyment of the film but it does stop the film from becoming an all-time classic. Apologies for the sketchy details but Dead and Buried’s strength lies in not having the faintest clue what is going to happen during its running time. It’s hardly a one-watch film as it stands up to repeated scrutiny. But that first viewing is a real doozy.

 

It’s a travesty that Dead and Buried is not as widely known or regarded in the genre as it should be. A near perfect horror film with a great cast, nearly water-tight script and an atmosphere that is second-to-none, it’s the type of great quality horror film that they just don’t make anymore. If Carpenter gets a load of praise nowadays for The Fog, then Sherman deserves to share the podium alongside him.

 

 ★★★★★★★★★☆ 

 

 

As Above, So Below (2014)

As Above, So Below (2014)

The only way out is down.

Archaeologist Scarlet Marlowe is obsessed with finding the famous Philosopher’s Stone and, after her search takes her to Iran, she finally believes she has found its resting place in a secret chamber in the Catacombs of Paris. Hiring a team of urban explorers who frequent the underground caverns and know their way around, Scarlet and her team head below the surface to find the elusive stone. However, once they venture into areas of the caverns that tourists are forbidden to enter, they soon become lost and come to the stark realisation that they are not alone down there.

 

The found footage sub-genre sees no sign of slowing down with the latest offering, As Above, So Below. I’ve never been the biggest fan of these films, save for some truly exceptional efforts like Spanish zombie flick [REC]. However the lure of As Above, So Below wasn’t so much the genre but the setting. I was about to set off to go to Paris for the first time in February and was booked in to take a trip down to the Catacombs when this came along and I (foolishly) decided it would be a good idea to watch first before I went down.

For those of you unfamiliar with the Catacombes de Paris, they are a vast underground labyrinth of caverns and tunnels which hold the remains of around six million people dating back to the 18th Century. These people aren’t just buried here in coffins – their skulls and bones line the passages like some macabre artist has been working for centuries. The tunnels stretch for miles and miles and much of it is out of bounds to the public due to the danger of collapse. However there is a large section of the catacombs which are open to the public. Having nervously set foot in the catacombs myself in 2015, I can assure you that they are not a place you would want to get trapped in. Between the limestone roof leaking water and showing obvious signs of cracks, to lots of fenced-off ‘no-go’ areas, there is also the matter of millions of skulls and bones stacked and assorted in all manner of shapes and patterns. It’s claustrophobic beyond belief and there is a truly unnerving, eerie silence down there. The artificial lighting set up for tourists soaks the remains in a ghostly glow, almost giving the skulls a strange smile as you walk past. You won’t experience anything like it in the world. Such a place is straight out of a nightmare and if this didn’t actually exist, you’d think that it was some far-fetched version of Hell that a Gothic writer had dreamt up.

It’s the perfect place to set a horror film and for the most part, As Above, So Below does a great job of utilising the location to perfection – the film was shot in the real catacombs for the most part, with some set pieces necessitating the use of sets for safety reasons. The film plays upon the fear of collapse, being stranded below the surface in a remote, unhospitable location and unable to find a way out just like Neil Marshall expertly did in The Descent many years ago. The use of the Go-Pro cams really adds to the claustrophobia as we share the characters tortuous decisions on whether to crawl through tunnels barely wide enough to breathe. You’ll be holding your breath along with the characters during some of these scenes. What adds to the realism is knowing that the real camera crew would never have been able to film in such tight spaces and so the Go-Pro cams become essential. The silence that fills these tombs is eerie and unforgiving – you could scream in there until you had no vocal chords left and no one would hear you.

Like The Descent, the film manages to get your heart racing long before anything untoward actually happens to the characters. Having suffered the ordeal of being trapped underground with them, you’re already to chill out but that’s when the strange things begin to happen and the characters realise they’re not alone. But this is where the film quickly unravels. The clichés of the found footage sub-genre come thick and fast: ‘blink and you’ll miss them’ sightings of weird things in the corner of the frame, characters talking directly into the camera, obligatory green ‘night vision’ shots, death of the cameraman (come on – it always happens, it has to happen for the footage to be ‘found’ by someone else) and so forth.

Not only does the film suffer from these clichés but it then sets itself out into some video game-like puzzle solving quest where the characters must solve the next riddle or find the next secret passage in order to progress into the next section. UK readers will be familiar with Channel 4 gameshow The Crystal Maze and this feels like a big budget version of that during the second half of the film. Think of a horror version of Indiana Jones when he’s exploring all of his ancient archaeological sites.

The problem is that the script, with all of its allusions to Hell and the Satanic theme that shines constantly through, can only go one place after the build-up as it writes itself into a corner. The finale is wholly anticlimactic and happens far too fast especially given how slow and methodical the build-up had been. Once the original terror of being trapped underground had been established, the levels of fear don’t really go much higher despite the explorers finding all manner of weird and wonderful (and deadly) things down there. Suspense and tension could have been ramped up far more and the finale stretched out more to give the film a much needed release. But hey, I’m not a filmmaker, so what do I know? Actually the one thing I do know is that I like Perdita Weeks very much. As some sort of nerdier version of Lara Croft, Weeks looks pretty, comes off as quite a nice person and has a reasonable range of skills so I would expect big things in the coming years.

 

The excellent set-up and amazing location fill the screen with the promise that As Above, So Below will end up being a standout horror film. Sadly, this is not the case as the film hurtles through the usual found footage clichés with aplomb. It’s deliberately paced, has a lot of suggestion in there rather than visuals and can be annoying at times but you could do a lot worse in this sub-genre.

 

 ★★★★★★☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Zombie Flesh Eaters 3 (1989)

Zombie Flesh Eaters 3 (1989)

The dead rise again

A group of scientists in a remote island are trying to find a cure to cancer. Unfortunately their work angers a voodoo priest on the island who raises the dead. The scientists are wiped out with the exception of one little girl who manages to survive. Years later, she ends up back on the island along with a group of mercenaries and finds that the living dead are still roaming the island.

 

As was the case with the previous film, Zombie Flesh Eaters 3 is a standalone Italian horror flick which was rebranded under the Flesh Eaters umbrella for release overseas. Originally titled After Death, the film has no connection to the previous entries (though laughably it struggles badly to make connections between scenes in its own film let alone a prior entry!) and was rushed out the same year as Zombie Flesh Eaters 2.

Claudio Fragasso, who took over duties from Lucio Fulci in the previous film after the director had a stroke, gets the chance to helm his own zombie film here and does a reasonable job – though having watched this, it’s easy to see which parts of Zombie Flesh Eaters 2 are his work and which are Fulci’s. Fragasso has little style and here his film is a mess of ideas, poor editing, sloppy script and awful dubbing. It shamelessly rehashes the usual zombie tropes in abundance, as well as throwing in some half-baked The Evil Dead-style book reading which is supposed to reanimate the dead through voodoo.

Consequently, none of this matters as there are people on an island filled with zombies but a little bit of effort could have been made to make the story make some sense. I mean the girl wasn’t that old when she survived the original massacre so for her to forget everything within the space of twenty years is a bit far-fetched given the traumatic nature of the incident. There’s a secondary story about a trio of explorers looking for the old research lab and come across the book that raises the dead – even though they’ve already been raised and have been walking around the island for years. Nothing makes sense from scene to scene so just sit back and go with the flow and see what other crazy stuff happens.

The characters are your token issue bunch of military types and college kids, complete with some awful dubbing jobs. As is usually the case, the dubbing adds a certain level of comedy to proceedings and the performances of the voice actors are laughable.  As I recall, one character aggressively shouts “don’t waste any ammunition” as a bunch of the guys stand their ground outside a cabin each armed with assault rifles. No sooner had he just said those words, everyone starts unloading their magazines like they’re in a Rambo spoof. And just how did they know to shoot them in the head? It’s a well-known rule but one which every zombie film needs to establish early on in its own little universe (unless you’re in a semi-spoof like Zombieland).

Someone skimped on the zombie make-up for this one and the extras are forced to dress up in black rags, looking like lepers from an old Biblical film rather than intimidating monsters. The zombies, I assume to be sick of boring eye-gouging, throat-ripping and stomach-tearing methods of dispatch, don’t act like traditional zombies in this one. Sprinting around the forest, hopping and leaping around for their hearts content, and even talking, these killing machines have been given the ultimate upgrade: the ability to use firearms! Yes, these flesh-eating friends are happy to pick up an assault rifle and give as good as they get! Like in the previous film, Fragasso has selective memory when it comes to presenting the threat – if the scene requires them to move slowly like the traditional walking dead, they do that. If he requires them to move like ninjas, then they do that as well. Trying to keep track of continuity is a nightmare. Almost every close-up of a zombie features it spewing a load of green goo out of its mouth.

One thing you can always count on is that the Italians always liked to get messy in their zombie films. Whilst the zombies themselves are shambolic representations of their usual deadly selves, the damage that they inflict is still as gruesome as ever. Faces get peeled back. Chests smashed out from behind. There’s plenty of grim stuff in here for gore hounds though a little bit restrained from earlier efforts. With a lot of the stuff on display, its only half-hearted commitment to the usual zombie conventions. Boxes are ticked off and the generic twists and turns are all met – Fragasso’s heart is in the right place, but it’s a pity that he didn’t have the talent or budget to back it up.

 

Like the previous film, Zombie Flesh Eaters 3 is almost totally inept but has an innocent, goofy charm which is almost impossible to hate on. A grand Z-grade movie which is good for laughs and seeing how far the film can dazzle you with its ludicrousness, it will not win any awards for quality but has bags of a different kind of entertainment.

 

 ★★★★★★☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Fog, The (1980)

The Fog (1980)

When the fog rolls in… the terror begins!

Antonio Bay has just turned a hundred years old and is getting ready to celebrate its centennial year. But as the residents of the small, quaint harbour town begin to prepare for the festivities, a mysterious cloud of fog appears upon the shore and begins to make its way across town, leaving a trail of horrifying slaughter until the deathly, dark secrets of Antonio Bay’s blood-soaked history are finally revealed.

 

John Carpenter’s directorial follow-up from Halloween, The Fog is his much-overlooked classic. A traditional ghost story with a slight hint of the violence that the 80s was to embody, Carpenter was always going to be up against comparisons to his earlier masterpiece and does an admirable job of nearly getting away with it. It was a commercial success on release but not so much in the way of critical acclaim. Like much of Carpenter’s earlier work (I’m looking particularly at The Thing), it is only over time that the film has started to receive the praise it deserves.

With a production team virtually identical to those that worked with him on Halloween, Carpenter is able to replicate a lot of the feel of that film with The Fog. All of his trademark visuals are present here, including the gorgeously-shot anamorphic widescreen which makes Antonio Bay appear to one of the scariest places in the world. There’s the slow-burner approach which maintains a steady pace leading up to the more chaotic finale. Carpenter also scores the film and brings his own unique style of synth to add to the ambiance. It’s classic Carpenter from his most creative and fertile period as a director, with the focus on creepiness and unsettling his audience rather than going in for the obvious kill.

The star of the show has to be the fog itself. Carpenter shoots it in a way to give it a life and soul of its own, let alone the horrors that it hides within. Sticking a couple of strong lights inside a load of dry ice might not sound the greatest technique but it’s effective – check out the scenes with the fog slowly encroaching on the fishing vessel or shrouding the weather station in its deathly vapour and tell me that this isn’t scary. Cinematographer Dean Cundey deserves a lot of the credit for this as he works almost totally at night throughout the film and utilises a variety of lighting techniques to really sell this town as a spooky place. Constantly back-lighting the ghosts also increases the sinister presence – you never truly get a good look at them and they appear as silhouettes. Perhaps Carpenter relies a little too heavily on Cundey’s obvious skill at creating mood and doesn’t do as much with the story to further this on as he could have done.

See were The Fog really fails is with its story full of convenient twists and turns and poorly written characters, most of whom are paper-thin. There are too many characters for a start and a good two-thirds of them contribute little to nothing to the film. Apart from Adrienne Barbeau’s gusty DJ who spends most of the film on her own screaming into the radio, we don’t warm to any other of the main characters. Tom Atkins’ character is meant to the hero I’m guessing but he’s hardly the focus of the story. Jamie Lee Curtis has a lesser role as a hitchhiker who hooks up with Atkins’ character (it always made me laugh how easy it was for the older Atkins to get the young Curtis into the sack in the film) – I’m guessing she was cast for name value as her star was shining brightly after Halloween a few years earlier. The Fog marks the only occasion in which she starred alongside her mother, Janet Leigh (another genre veteran from Hitchcock’s classic Psycho). There are appearances from Nancy Loomis and Charles Cyphers, two other Carpenter regulars.

It isn’t just the characters who suffer from a script which needed more work. Whilst the overall story of spectral vengeance is time-and-tested, there’s not a lot else going on apart from that. I guess keeping it simple is relative to the film’s success but the script does throw in too many gimmicky events to try and keep this theme of undead retaliation going as long as possible: bodies that come alive in morgues; piece of driftwood which start gushing water; and all of the clocks and alarms in the town going crazy upon the stroke of midnight. The idea that the ghosts are back for revenge and to claim six lives also puts some restraints on the film’s later scenes. Once the body count has increased (and early scene does a pretty good job of getting that number up quickly), then you’ll be sat counting the numbers on your figures. It doesn’t mean to say that you know who will die, just how many more.

Despite Carpenter’s attempts to make a traditional chiller, his first edit required that he add more violence to the film to give it some punch. Hence the ghosts don’t just come back for revenge, they come back for brutal revenge. Fish hooks and knives are the implement of choice for this band of marauders and they do a quick and efficient job with their victims. The short, sharp bursts of sporadic violence do unsettle the deliberate pacing but actually work well to heighten the sense that these ghosts will stop at nothing to get what, and who, they want. The film isn’t very bloody but the aggressive and merciless nature of some of the deaths will make you think you’ve seen a lot more than you have.

The Fog was one of the first of the huge swathe of remakes that Hollywood has forced upon us since the mid-200s, but the less said about that awful abomination, the better.

 

A great atmosphere, some excellent chills, stunning visuals, nervy sounds and generally well-crafted approach make The Fog one of horror’s most under-appreciated gems. Not a perfect film by any stretch of the imagination and it does have obvious issues but it’s one of a small breed of films which nails the mood and tone of chilling horror to perfection.

 

 ★★★★★★★★☆☆ 

 

 

Jaws 2 (1978)

Jaws 2 (1978)

Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the water

Four years after having to battle the monstrous Great White shark, a few unexplained events including the explosion of a skiing boat and the disappearance of a pair of divers prompt Chief Brody to suspect that another Great White shark has staked claim to the waters. But no one else on Amity Island believes him and Brody begins to wonder whether he is just being paranoid. However his theory ends up coming true and he must go out to sea once again to face the terror from the deep.

 

It was always going to be impossible to top one of the greatest films ever made so Jaws 2 was up against it from the moment it was given the green light. Jaws was a brilliant film, a once-in-a-lifetime occasion, where a coming together of quality and talent coupled with problems, mistakes and enforced changes, ended up in the film’s favour to create the masterpiece that we have come to know and love today. The problem with any sequel was going to be simply: how do you even get close to matching the greatness of Jaws?

Jaws 2 gets an unfair rap as a sequel, mainly because the following sequels were atrocious. Jaws 2 seemingly gets lumbered in with them when people talk about the follow-ups but it’s actually a rather decent sequel which is far better than it has any right to be. Though still a troubled production like its predecessor, Jaws 2 manages to deliver decent suspense, another solid performance (if better) by Roy Scheider and, of course, some plentiful shark action. The main problem is that it tries to replicate the original but without the best parts.

Case in point #1: Roy Scheider makes this film. He’s excellent as Chief Brody once again, bringing a little more to the role than he did in the original. Here, the character has been visibly affected by the events that transpired and he’s not as laid back and prepared to sit back and take orders like he once was. The film is quite interesting as it explores Brody’s paranoia about the shark threat and the scenes both on the beach where he’s in the shark tower and later in the town hall where he confronts the council are highlights.

However what is sorely lacking, and what Scheider clearly misses, is having another great character to spark off. The camaraderie that the second half of the original shared between Scheider, Richard Dreyfuss and Robert Shaw aboard the boat was one of the main reasons why it worked so well. Seemingly surrounded by a cast of teenagers, Scheider even gets short-shifted for a lot of this half as the main focus is on the youngsters and their ever-sinking flotilla of wrecked sail boats. They’re not the worst teenage bunch ever to grace film but they’re so weakly written that it’s hard to distinguish between most of them and even hard to show any interest in their survival.

Case in point #2: The shark itself. Director Jeannot Szwarc realised that the audience knew what the shark was going to look like so it was pointless in having a slow reveal as in the first one. Here, the shark is pretty much seen from the first major attack on the skiing boat and you get to see a lot of it during the course of the film. The threat just isn’t there though and Szwarc just fails to get any major sequences of tension going. Apart from a nervy moment where Chief Brody wades out to check some driftwood and another in which the shark closes in a teenager who has fallen overboard, there’s little to match the original in terms of dramatic tension. Instead of going for the subtle build-ups, Szwarc is more than happily going straight in for the kill.

Kept in the shadows again, the shark may have posed more of a threat but now we really get the feeling this is a mechanical monster, such so that the shark’s head actually bends during one collision with the side of a boat. In a nice touch, the shark is scarred by an early encounter with fire and as a result, sports this cool signature burn mark across its snout for the duration. It gives the shark a menacing look.

Case in point #3: I am sure if you saw a shark attack in real life, it would be a bloody affair. Though the body count is upped significantly in Jaws 2, the gore quota has been toned down a lot. You won’t get to see any floating heads, severed legs or people bitten in two. That is disappointing because there are some great kills in here which screamed for a little something extra. The attack on the skiers is suspenseful, the shark looks like it swallows another victim hole and the helicopter attack was aching for a limb or fountain of blood. Part of the fear of being attacked by a shark is the unrelenting damage that it could do whilst it rips you apart with its teeth. We never get any of the sense of the ferocity or the damage that the shark can do. Everything has been toned down.

John Williams returns to score the film. The signature Jaws motif is still lurking around here but the score is a broader selection of more upbeat tunes. Since much of the tension and suspense had been lost from keeping the shark hidden, it was easy to make the film’s soundtrack a lot more vibrant, adventurous and exciting.

On a last note, the tag line for Jaws 2 is one of the most famous I’ve ever heard of. ‘Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the water’ sends an ominous message out to those people who were petrified to go swimming after the original’s release. The shark is back and it’s hungrier than ever so make sure you don’t go out too far!

 

 

Jaws 2 is a hugely underrated sequel which suffered from the fact that there was no way any film would match that of the original. That is the main thing which holds it back. It’s got some fantastic moments, does a great job of keeping the story as fresh as possible and is entertaining from start to finish. Arguably the second greatest shark film ever made.

 

 ★★★★★★★★☆☆ 

 

 

Shark Attack 3: Megalodon (2002)

Shark Attack 3: Megalodon (2002)

The terror has surfaced.

When two researchers discover a colossal shark’s tooth off the coast of a Mexican holiday resort, their worst fears surface: the most menacing beast to ever rule the waters – The Megalodon shark – is still alive and mercilessly feeding on anything that crosses its path.

 

After trying to play everything so serious in the first two Shark Attack films, I guess a light was switched on inside someone’s head. Why not go out and have some fun with the notion of killer sharks? After all, no matter how many low budget killer shark films have been made since Jaws, not one has come anywhere close to matching Spielberg’s classic let alone beating it. They’ve all gone down the serious route and trying to beat Bruce at his own game is impossible. Shark Attack 3: Megalodon isn’t meant to be a total comedy spoof, nor do I really think it is meant to be viewed as such. But one can’t help but smile and laugh at some of the things that happen throughout the course of the film. Purposeful or not, this is a terrible film which doesn’t even try to be funny yet it is for all of the wrong reasons. It’s the film that the later Sharknado desperately wanted to be and tried too hard to top.

Shark Attack 3: Megalodon takes the idea of a killer shark and runs with it for a change, first increasing the size of its shark problem to gigantic proportions. This isn’t just your run-of-the-mill Great White terror – this is a bad ass prehistoric shark which can swallow dinghies whole. Well at least for the final third of the film. The first two thirds feature just your average-sized killer sharks swimming around. It’s kind of a misleading title at this point. You’ll get your run-of-the-mill shark story in the lead up to the gigantic shark being unveiled. Nu Image have clearly seen Jaws, with the generic ‘authority figure who won’t close the beaches’ spiel thrown in there for good measure. Once all of the standard Jaws tropes have been wheeled out, Shark Attack 3: Megalodon then starts to come into its own.

Just when I thought the series was heading in the right direction with some half-decent CGI sharks in the finale of Shark Attack II (ok, so it’s not Jurassic Park quality stuff here folks), the rug was pulled from under me. The novelty of the thought of this huge shark causing havoc is quick to wear away when the film starts up and you realise that they’ve ditched the CGI and rely purely on stock footage. The sharks are simply culled from footage of normal great white sharks which have then been blown up to enormous proportions where the victims appear to ‘fall’ into the open mouth. It would be a clever piece of trickery – if it didn’t look so awful. The sharks are well fed so at least there’s that.

It doesn’t help that the footage is really grainy and faded so it sticks out like a sore thumb. The shark changes from shot to shot because they obviously couldn’t find two shots of the same shark doing what they wanted it to do. In most cases, the exact same shot of the shark breaking the surface and opening its mouth is used. The ‘fin cam’ is back and looks more ridiculous than ever, looking like it’s going to topple over from the weight of the camera on a number of shots.

Physics laws are also broken as, in one scene, the shark breaks through the bottom of a boat and starts attacking people in the cabin but the boat doesn’t sink for absolutely ages. Come on guys, the Orca in Jaws sank in about four minutes after Bruce had rammed himself across the sternum and then through the window. I suppose in a film dealing with an extinct 60ft prehistoric shark, I shouldn’t be looking to pick faults with the science.

John Barrowman stars before he became more famous with Doctor Who and Torchwood and I’m guessing he left this off his CV when applying for the role. Here, he just looks like a Baywatch reject who wandered on to the wrong set at the wrong time but at least he utters one of trashy cinema’s most infamous chat-up lines. Barrowman has said that the line was an ad-lib meant to get a rise out of Jenny McShane and wasn’t the scripted dialogue but it was kept in for how absurd it is. His co-star, Jenny McShane, is back with a totally unrelated character to the one she played in the original Shark Attack. She also has a new agent who is obviously less demanding of contracts because she gets naked in this one. However she still looks as bored and wishing she had a better career.

 

Shark Attack 3: Megalodon has become one of the most notorious of the killer shark films due to how awful it really is. But through being awful it comes full circle, adding extra layers of cheese and humour to proceedings to create the most camp killer shark flick of all time. It’s a terrible film but essential viewing. You won’t believe that anyone could make something like this.

 

 ★★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Hellraiser (1987)

Hellraiser (1987)

Demon to some. Angel to others.

Larry moves into his brother’s old house with Julia and daughter Kirsty. When Larry cuts himself and bleeds into the floorboards, he resurrects his brother Frank, who had previously solved an ancient Chinese puzzle box and was drawn into a nightmarish world of sadistic demons known as the Cenobites. Their eternal vision of pleasure crossed disturbing boundaries with pain and Frank was left a mess of bones and bile. Given a new lease of life, Frank enlists the help of ex-lover Julia to murder innocent victims so that he can continue to restore his body. No one has ever escape from the Cenobites and a chance encounter with them leads Kirsty to making a deal in order to send Frank back.

 

After he was disappointed in the way that a couple of his previous novels had been adapted for the big screen, horror writer Clive Barker stepped up to the director’s chair to turn his own best-selling novel, The Hellbound Heart, into a film that did justice to the source material. Thus in 1987, Barker unleashed Hellraiser upon the genre and, with it, the nightmarish world of the Cenobites. Considering how horror was on a downward spiral in the late 80s with the likes of Friday the 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Street outstaying their franchises and the slasher sub-genre as a whole being on life support with scores of nonsensical teenagers being sliced and diced without a second thought, Hellraiser came along like a sucker punch to the gut with its graphic adult content and seriousness. This wasn’t play time in the summer camps anymore – the ‘dead’ horror genre was given an energetic jolt of Britishness in the form of Clive Barker’s seminal classic.

Hellraiser was dabbling in the ‘torture porn’ sub-genre long before Saw and Hostel came along, exploring the fine line between pain and pleasure and highlighting humanity’s primal urges and cravings and constantly giving in to primitive temptations. These are adult themes and are explored in some detail, which might be why this film went way over my head the first time I saw it when I was a lot younger (and which is probably why it never really found its audience until years later). Now as a mature viewer, I can appreciate the messages and the undertones that the film is attempting to establish.

Hellraiser isn’t quite the film you’d expect after seeing a lot of the promotional material and the first half plays out like some quasi-slasher with a romantic subplot latched alongside. Grounded in a very character-driven story, the film does slow the pace right down between Frank’s flesh feasting. The strongest part of the screenplay is in the complex relationship between the four main characters: Frank, Larry, Julia and Ashley. Though the film depicts Pinhead and his ‘friends’ as the villains, in reality it is Frank, and to a lesser extent Julia, who are the villains. I can’t give too much away about how each of the characters interacts with each other as that would give too many of the plot twists away but the story never feels forced. Though there are a few hiccups along the way, the majority of the narrative is solid and it will keep you engaged. Most importantly, the script treats the audience with intelligence, assuming we can figure out a lot of what is going on but without over-explaining and spoiling everything.

Hellraiser belongs to Clare Higgins, who plays Julia as one of cinema’s biggest ultra-bitches. Compelled to assist Frank because of her carnal lust, Julia soon goes about doing all of his bidding, luring in horny men so that Frank can use their bodies to continue to resurrect himself. She starts off as an uptight, rather distant and unloving stepmother but as the film progresses, she becomes more and more cold, and more sinister. Higgins’ performance is so underrated – it’s so easy to hate on her for her actions but the character is given far more depth than just being a one-note villain and the back story she has allows her just the faintest hint of humanity. Maybe it’s another of Barker’s ideas of human weakness, but Julia feels driven to obey Frank due to some primal instincts rather than her love for him. Andrew Robinson is equally as good, playing loving father and husband Larry with oblivious sincerity before events in the film cause him to change gears.

Hellraiser isn’t afraid to pull the punches with its content. From the sexual and sado-masochistic undertones, to the gore content, the film pushes the ratings system as far as it can go. It’s a very bloody affair, quite graphic at times, and relishes every minute of it. For a start, Frank’s heap of blood and goo form in the early part of the form is a masterpiece of practical effects work and stop-motion animation and his eventual resurrection into skinless form is a sight to behold. Years later and the practical effects stand up as well as they ever did. The film’s tour-de-grace is the finale which involves one character famously being torn apart by hooks and chains – the image which has become synonymous with the Hellraiser franchise.

Though he didn’t have a name in this one, Barker was responsible for introducing cinema to one of its most sadistic and recognisable villains: the iconic Pinhead. He is credited only as ‘Lead Cenobite’ and has little screen time, with even fewer lines, but his image was that startling that it was a no-brainer he would become a horror favourite. With his pale blue bald head covered in jewelled pins that had been intricately driven through to the skull, his black S&M-style clothing and a number of open wounds ripped with hooks down his chest, the character was something out of the darkest nightmares. The fact that he is so ably portrayed by actor Doug Bradley just adds to his aurora – Pinhead’s lines are Shakespearian-esque and morality-driven soundbites, far from the hokey one-liners that Freddy Krueger was spouting at this point in his career.

The rest of the deformed Cenobites are some of cinema’s most magnificent creations. With their pale complexions, skin twisted and contorted in all manner of ghastly ways and hooks and other sharp implements stuck into their bodies, they are truly the creatures of nightmares. We’re only given little insights into their history and their world but it’s enough to pique your interest. Clive Barker was, and still is, a modern day Edgar Allen Poe or H.P. Lovecraft, with his wild imagination conjuring up all manner of supernatural and extradimensional horrors that can’t simply be explained by reason or science. The Cenobites sit firmly at the top of that warped brain of his.

 

Unleashed into a bland world of Friday the 13th wannabes, Hellraiser was and still is a breath of fresh air to the genre. Highly imaginative and deeply unsettling, it gets better with age in my opinion. Certainly one of the most unique and disturbing horror films of all time.

 

 ★★★★★★★★★☆