Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Guy N. Smith Book Review - Warhead

Here's an interesting one. How many books have you read where the Soviets use the power of Voodoo to infiltrate a US-controlled nuclear missile base in the UK? It's got to be less than five. It begins unassumingly enough, with three University students, Mel Borden, Marc Sallus and Keith Widdington. They are celebrating the end of exams by playing with a Ouija board, because apparently they are 13 year old girls at a slumber party. The board spells out "DEATH" for Widdington both literally and figuratively and he burns to death in a fire that night. Is it a coincidence or have Marc Sallus' childhood experiences with the Houngan in the Carribean left him tainted with their Petro Voodoo black magic?

Many years later Mel Borden has found work at Caerlaverock, an American nuclear missile base situated on the Scottish/English border. Everybody working at the Caerlaverock lives under Draconian security measures, including constant surveillance and libido-dampening drugs, and the base operates with complete autonomy from the local police and military. Tensions are running high and the constant reminder of the nuclear threat has rattled the local villagers. I don't know if Smith has met many Americans because the ones in this book have some of the silliest names I've ever heard (eg Sax Blurton) and they are enormous assholes and massively racist to boot.

Meanwhile Marc Sallus has found work at an organic food company where he befriends a Slavic fellow named Ivan. Eventually Ivan reveals himself as a Soviet spy and that he wants to use Marc's Voodoo powers and his spiritual connection with Mel to gain access to Caerlaverock. He blackmails Marc with photos of him engaged in homosexual shenanigans which will threaten his position with his extremely conservative employer. Marc claims they are doctored and that "the very thought disgusts me". He doth protest too much, methinks. The two of them drive to a Scottish castle near the base and make their first attempt to summon the Petro gods.

One of the main gods they summon is Erzulie. She is typically seen as an earth mother and goddess of love but in this book she takes on a slightly more evil flavour, using her eroticism to entice and manipulate men. When their first attempt at summoning her fails, leaving them with supernaturally blue balls, the two guys strip off all their clothes and writhe around on the ground while masturbating. There was probably some awkward breakfast conversation the next day. Pretty soon Erzulie visits Mel Borden on the missile base, manipulating him into sabotaging the missile launch by enticing him with sexytimes.

The book also focuses on the nuclear threat that looms large over the village. One of the residents is an old retired Army Major who runs daily air raid drills, leading a procession of bored housewives into an underground bomb shelter. This goes horribly wrong when a nasty young delinquent, in the kind of nonsensically cruel behaviour typical of Smith books, decides to throw a petrol bomb into the packed bomb shelter, incinerating himself and everybody inside. Subsequently all of the depressed widowers rally behind a mysterious man who blames Caerlaverock for the incident, as a symbol of the nuclear threat. All of the suicidal men march on the missile base and barbecue themselves on the electric fence in protest. Pretty grim.

Eventually Marc kills the sinister Ivan but that only leads to an even more evil and ruthless Soviet spy taking his place. They take up residence in the burned out bomb shelter and eventually the dark forces they have summoned become beyond their control, demanding more and more blood sacrifices. This leads to a fairly ridiculous part that made for a bit of unintentional comic relief. One of the villagers walks into the bomb shelter to look for his missing son only to find him crucified by Marc and the evil Soviet Voodoo priest, sacrificed to the Petro gods. In a violent rage the man tears the enormous crucifix off the wall with his son's corpse still attached and throws it at the men. Who would do that? Pretty soon the Voodoo spirits are running wild all through the missile base with only one goal on their mind... nuclear apocalypse and the extinction of all mankind!

Coming off the heels of Manitou Doll and Doomflight, this book is even more gloomy and pessimistic but it's probably one of Smith's more ambitious books, combining cold war tension with supernatural horror. He tries to tie together a lot of different plot threads, juggling the villagers, the people at Caerlaverock, the Americans, the Petro gods and all of the conflicts between them. I think he's mostly successful (I think things got a little muddled towards the end) although it's generally lacking in trademark Smith silliness.

Sunday, 25 October 2009

12 Rounds (2009)

Oh Renny Harlin, you magnificent bastard

It's important in life to have dreams. Some people want to climb the highest mountain, just because it's there. Other people dedicate their lives to charity work to try and make the world a better place. My dream was to watch all films produced by WWE Films and today... I achieved that dream. After watching See No Evil, The Marine, The Condemned and Behind Enemy Lines: Colombia, 12 Rounds completes my long and arduous journey through the cinematic wasteland of WWE Films. Finally my life is complete.

After The Marine failed to launch John Cena's career as an action movie star, they decided to wait a couple of years until everyone had forgotten and try again. Here he plays Danny Fisher, a New Orleans cop who along with his partner Hank (Brian White) tries to help the FBI take down a notorious international arms dealer named Miles Jackson. Every stupid action movie has to include a former HBO actor by law so Miles is played by Aiden Gillen from The Wire. Hank is black so of course he gets shot (in the ass, comedy etc) while Miles and his girlfriend try to escape on foot. Unfortunately she fails to look both ways and gets pancaked by an SUV. Several months later Miles uses this flimsy justification to escape from prison and kidnap Danny's wife, forcing him to participate in 12 rounds of a sadistic game in order to save her.

He starts the game by blowing up his car, his house and his plumber. This is a real tragedy, do you know how hard it is to find a trustworthy plumber? Clearly they've built up a good working relationship since the guy scolds Danny for not maintaining his fixtures and gives him unsolicited marriage advice. On the plus side, no more leaky plumbing. Also, his beloved pet pug Shorty survives. I don't know how because it was a huge explosion but I'd love to see a sequel/spin-off that shows how the pug escaped. I assume a slow motion leap through a doggy door was involved. He dumps Shorty on a neighbour and rushes off to save his wife but I like to imagine that the dog chased after Danny and helped him out behind the scenes, perhaps by herding people out of the way of traffic or creating diversions to let Danny get from A to B more quickly.

In case you hadn't noticed the plot is pretty much a direct copy of Die Hard With a Vengeance. Danny gets behind the wheel of many different vehicles and causes millions of dollars worth of property damage while trying to defuse bombs, save his wife etc. The puzzles are few and simple and the car chases are long and destructive. At one point he commandeers a fire truck and plows through dozens of cars and a whole row of motorcycles on his way to the next location. When he arrives one of the FBI Agents says "Tell me you didn't kill anyone in that thing" and I was thinking the same thing. I can't blame the guy for wanting to save his wife, but where do you draw the line? There's at least three people who die in the process, including his partner and his own brother. I think this is one of those games where the only way to win is to not play.

I'm trying to piece together the swath of destruction that Danny carves through the city and it's just mind-blowing. There's the highly destructive fire engine chase. There's a city bus (upon which Danny's wife is fitted with a suicide bomber vest that is set to fire a nail into her heart and then blow up the entire bus) that careens out of control and crashes spectacularly. Several buildings are bombed and there's a lengthy sequence involving a runaway tram where Danny blows up a power substation. Hasn't New Orleans been through enough? Obviously he saves his wife and it's a happy ending but just imagine how he's going to feel after the reality of the situation sinks in. I'm sure dozens of people would have been killed in the numerous explosions and car crashes, not to mention the incalculable property damage. This is a guy who felt guilty about being made Detective after Miles' girlfriend was killed, this shit is going to kill him. What a depressing movie.

Naturally there's a big plot twist and it's exactly the same as Die Hard with a Vengeance too. The elaborate revenge scheme is all part of a one-man plot to steal $100 million dollars from the mint. This is a really elaborate plan too. He's a smart guy (at one point he stops to give advice to some guys playing chess, movie shorthand for "this is a smart guy") but he'd have to be clairvoyant for this plan to work. He seems to know precisely which course of action Danny is going to take and he's got no way of knowing whether things worked out the way he expected. His plan also hinges on some pretty stupid holes in the mint's security procedures. He walks in wearing an armed guard uniform and claims that the regular guy is sick and they let him walk right into the vault. Makes you wonder why he bothered with all the other shit.

The movie is directed by the mad Finn Renny Harlin but it's not as sublimely stupid as I expected, more Cliffhanger than Deep Blue Sea. It's shot in a modern shaky-cam style and although I've seen a lot worse examples it ruins a could-have-been-great fight in a medical helicopter involving scalpels, defibrillators etc. This another one of those PG-13 action movies but it's more about car chases and property damage so the rating isn't as noticeable as in something like The Marine, although there are two instances where a good guy shouts "Bitch!" at a dramatic moment where "Motherfucker!" would have clearly been more appropriate. It's watchable but definitely not as fun/stupid as you would expect from a WWE Films production directed by Renny Harlin.

Saturday, 24 October 2009

The Final Destination (2009)

They kind of fucked up with this one. Everybody knows it's the third entry that's supposed to be in 3D. They must have been pretty ashamed about it too because instead of calling the film Final Destination 4 or Fin4l Destin4tion or some shit they just called it The Final Destination. I believe Vin Diesel kindly donated one of the surplus "the"s from Fast and Furious. I don't know when Hollywood developed this phobia about the number 4 but I believe this is the done thing now when a film series reaches it's fourth installment. You add/subtract definite articles or you just give up and reboot the title from scratch. In the first film the title was a pun about a plane crash, it doesn't even make sense anymore.

Titles aside, I thought the idea behind the series was pretty clever. The filmmakers knew that a big appeal of slasher films was the creativity and ingenuity of the death scenes so they decided to cut out the middle man and structure the film entirely around that. Unfortunately it's clearly an idea that was never meant to sustain a franchise. With each subsequent film the series has settled into a rut that's even more formulaic than the slasher films that inspired it. Firstly there's a part where some kid has a vision about a horrible accident where they all die and freaks out, causing a group of diverse stereotypes to be ejected from the premises just in time to avoid a horrific death. Then one by one, all of the survivors suffer death by Rube Goldberg in the order they were supposed to die until the rest realise what's happening and figure out a loophole they can use to "cheat death". There's a false ending and then everybody dies because you can't escape death, motherfuckers. The end.

Some of the other films have tried to add a twist to the rules but it usually ends up a confusing clusterfuck so for this film they just said "fuck it" and played things out with as little creativity as possible. The only addition to the formula is that the main guy has psychic visions of how the next person is going to die. He doesn't know who is about to die and the visions are maddeningly vague so he has to call all his friends and shout "Stay away from water!" Not particularly helpful, I don't know why they even bothered. There's also a part where a character tries to commit suicide but fate keeps fucking things up because it wasn't his turn to die yet.

The fatal accident that kicks things off is a horrific crash at a Nascar racetrack. These kids really don't seem like the type to be attending an event like that, but whatever. Although I still think the freeway pileup in the second film does a better job at building suspense and has a better payoff, this one is pretty damn good and the 3D is put to excellent use. I was skeptical about the "Real-D" 3D gimmick at first, but it won me over when a guy gets stabbed through the back of the head with a wooden spike and it sticks out of his mouth and into the audience. It's such a good effect that they use it again later.

The deaths in this film are pretty fucking stupid even for a series that is built upon stupid deaths. All it takes is a few drops of water or a poorly aimed projectile for a machine to fatally malfunction, failsafes be damned. By this stage in the series it's clear that they aren't trying to build any tension, they are just trying to make you laugh with most ridiculous deaths they can think of and it worked for me. There's also a pretty dumb part where one of the girls finds out about the events of the previous three films by doing some research on Google. The articles state that all of the survivors died in the order they would have died in the respective accidents, but fuck knows how they would have known that. It would have been more believable if she said she Netflix'd the first three films in the series.

I liked the part at the end of the film when the main character points out a potential safety hazard to a builder on some scaffolding. It makes sense because fuck destiny, most of the deaths in these films are caused by lousy OH&S practices. There is a building site at the end of the film that has a jaw dropping disregard for safety. Huge piles of sawdust sitting right next to leaky drums of flammable chemicals. Nail guns left plugged in and switched on. Broken and defective fire alarms. The list just goes on and on and pretty much every death is like that. This series of films would make a terrific set of instructional videos for workplace safety.

I have to admit that I was entertained by this stupid film. I don't know how much longer the franchise can coast along on cruise control but I guess the Saw series has been doing that for seven entries so who knows? I think this one was pretty successful so I guess we can look forward to this series cheating death for quite some time yet.

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

The Condemned (2007)

"Don't call me Stone Cold!"

Since Gamer isn't out here yet (and likely to skip theaters altogether) I thought I'd review another film in the inmates-forced-to-fight-for-the-public's-amusement genre. This one is another film produced under the prestigious WWE Films banner. It's a dodgy action film but unlike The Marine it has an R rating which means that people can fuck, say "fuck" and get fucked up in a fight. Also, the main star is a wrestler I've actually heard of. He used to be called "Stone Cold" Steve Austin, but now he's just known as plain old room temperature Steve Austin. He has got a good screen presence and is a big improvement over John Cena.

Austin plays Jack Conrad, a death row inmate languishing in a Central American prison. He and nine other prisoners from around are selected to be contestands on some sort of pay-per-view reality tv show where they are sent to a remote island and forced to fight to the death. It's a rip-off of Battle Royale, you say? Well here the explosive bracelets are on their ankles. Totally different. If they'd tried something as colourful and silly as The Running Man it might still be entertaining, but unfortunately it goes for a gloomy, realistic approach that is alternately boring and condescending. You see, this isn't just a stupid action movie, it's a stupid action movie with a message. It's about violence-as-entertainment and reality TV going too far, something that has never been explored in film in the history of cinema, ever.

The mastermind behind the show is Breckel played by Robert Mamonne. He looked really familiar although I couldn't remember from anything, so I checked his imdb page and it turns out he has been on a shitload of Australian TV. Over the course of the film two of his underlings have a change of heart so for a good chunk of the film instead of watching Austin wrestle with death-row convicts we watch these two assholes wrestle with their consciences. Breckel also tries to pump up the action by giving special treatment to a contestant played by Vinnie Jones, a murderous psychopath and the villain of the film. I'd make a reference to an asshole contestant on a reality show here but I don't watch them so I'm drawing a blank. Sorry.

Jones causes mayhem throughout most of the film, killing indiscriminately and trying to provoke Austin, but towards the end of the film he busts into the control room and starts terrorising everybody. The music tries to convince us that it's a shocking and poignant moment but it is massively unearned. There is a lot of this blunt morality shit too, including fights where the camera cuts away to people watching at home or in the control room looking ashamed, including all of Conrad's friends and family gathered around the TV at a local sports bar. Seems like a weird thing to do, I don't know if I'd want to watch a family member engage in bloody battles to the death on live TV. Maybe I'd TIVO it. There's also a reporter who gives long, boring speeches about violence like she's lecturing a bunch of five year olds, leading to the crowning moment of the film where she turns to the camera and says "Maybe it's us who are the condemned." Jesus Christ.

These kinds of movies really get on my tits. You can't make a fun, violent action film and then point at the camera and say "j'accuse". Don't punish us for enjoying your stupid film. Although, in their defence, the violence in this film isn't all that enjoyable. It's more of that herky-jerky, closeup action that robs you of any sense of choreography, geography or tension. It doesn't help that some of the fights are at night in the rain with a gloomy blue tint and several of the characters are bald musclemen. If anybody you'd think the WWE would be able to shoot a coherent fight scene. It doesn't even make sense in the context of the movie, I doubt the TV show has a cameraman standing three feet away from the fight with the caffeine jitters. Also nobody dies in any interesting ways, they are all shot, stabbed or blown up. If I were one of the suckers paying for this stupid reality show, I would be seriously pissed.

Austin turns out to be a Delta Force operative who was captured during a Black Ops mission, which brings up another thing that annoys me about these kind of films: The hero always has to be innocent of their convicted crime. These films are partly about the dehumanisation of criminals so by doing this you're just cheapening your own argument. Also they always have the producers rig the game in some way, which is pretty funny when you think about it. Forcing death row inmates into gladiatorial combat is one thing, but rigging a reality show? Now they've gone too far. Isn't the idea of criminals being forced to fight to the death for the public's amusement horrific enough, do we really have to stack the deck by making the system extra corrupt and the hero an innocent everyman?

The Condemned explores territory well-covered by other films (The Running Man, Death Race 2000) in a dour and overly-preachy way, punctuated by dull and confusingly shot violence. In a way I guess this film is like the anti-Funny Games. Funny Games failed at it's goal by being a riveting example of the kind of genre film it was trying to condemn. In effect it was too good. Luckily The Condemned doesn't make the same mistake.

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Behind Enemy Lines: Colombia (2009)

This is my serious face.

I don't remember all that much about the first Behind Enemy Lines film. It was set in Bosnia for that ripped-from-the-headlines-of-a-few-years-ago feel and it featured a sniper in a jogging suit and a hilarious scene where Owen Wilson runs through a minefield in slow motion, the anti-personnel mines tearing his enemies to shreds but leaving him unscathed. Must have had them set to 'Balkan' instead of 'American'. Meanwhile Admiral Gene Hackman chewed the scenery and scowled lines like "I'm getting my man out and I don't give a damn what those pencil pushers in Washington think." It was a mildly entertaining piece of propaganda but nothing you haven't seen before.

Apparently someone thought this was a concept worthy of a franchise and a direct-to-video sequel followed in 2006, this time set in North Korea. I didn't see that one though, and the only reason the third entry caught my eye was because of the involvement of WWE Films, the company who brought us See No Evil, The Marine and The Condemned. This one stars Ken Anderson, a wrestler who goes by the unassuming name of Mr. Kennedy. The cover of the DVD consists pretty much entirely of Mr. Kennedy standing in front of an explosion and a billowing American flag. If you use a magnifying glass you might be able to spot the real star in the background somewhere, a Navy SEAL named Lt. Sean Macklin played by Joe Mangianello. Mangianello's imdb page has a lot of TV roles but few movie credits except for a small role in Spider-Man and a 2002 movie named The Ketchup King in which he played a character named Black Dildo.

This film also has some of that action movie bullshit that tries to paint life in the marines as basically being in the most bro-tastic frat ever. Ooh-rah! What appears to be a stealthy reconnaissance mission turns out to be a surprise birthday party for Lt. Macklin, during which all of his other SEAL buddies are introduced through the lazy direct-to-DVD tradition of subtitles. There's tough guy MCPO Carter Hold (Mr Kennedy), the gadget man CPO Kevin Derricks (Channon Roe), the bomb expert PO3 Steve Gaines (Chris Johnson). They also include a fun fact about each member of the team, for instance PO2 Greg Armstrong (Antony Matos) "Loves Jesus, and cleavage". There's also a terrible gag about a cake decoration going haywire, but it's still better than the golf scene in Navy SEALS.

Their celebrations don't last long and after a mission briefing they are sent into the jungles of Colombia on a reconnaissance mission. They are there to investigate a secret gathering of FARC guerrillas that turns out to be a peace negotiation between FARC and the Colombian military, but unfortunately nearly everybody there is slaughtered by some mysterious rogue soldiers. They are led by a Colombian officer who went rogue after his wife and child were killed in a FARC terrorist bombing. They manage to kill a couple of SEALs, take one hostage and the rest are framed for the shooting. Due to the Black Ops nature of their mission the American government is reluctant to intervene, so now the survivors have to rescue their buddy and gather the evidence that will clear their names.

Pretty standard stuff, if it were made twenty years ago it would probably be made by Cannon films and star Michael Dudikoff or something. Occasionally the film cuts back to their CO played by Keith David who wrestles with weaselly government bureaucrats. Tim Matheson appears a minor role too and he also directs. The action is filmed in a modern style, shakily filmed but reasonably coherent, although I was hoping a little less Blackhawk Down and a little more Commando. The DVD special features seem to be very proud of the authentic military hand signals and equipment and you can tell because it seems like half the film consists of the SEAL team loading and unloading gear and creeping around the jungle.

I was hoping for some of that shamelessly exploitative patriotism and xenophobia that you'd expect from the WWE and 80s style action films but there really isn't much of that. Oh sure, it presents a simplistic view of Colombian politics and U.S. interventionism (the fact that their mission is basically a hostile incursion into an allied nation isn't even acknowledged) but there's certainly nothing as ridiculous or tasteless as John Cena's one man war on terror in The Marine. I got a chuckle out of one part: The Colombian General states that "America isn't well liked in Latin America" and Lt. Macklin looks back with an expression like "Whuh? How could this be?" Well, films like this probably don't help.

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Guy N. Smith Book Review - Manitou Doll

Wow, it's been a while since I've reviewed a Guy N. Smith book. It's not that I've run out of books, in fact I've got a stack of unread Smith books piled higher than a giant mutant crab, it's just that I typically read in bed before I go to sleep. That nightly ritual has since been supplanted by my Nintendo DS, the siren's song of ScummVM and my collection of Lucasarts adventure games being too strong to resist. Well, with Halloween coming up it's the perfect time to dive back into the blood-soaked world of death and clumsy sex metaphors that is the Smithiverse.

Of course Smith is best known for his horror books, but he has also written a lot of Westerns and Manitou Doll starts with a prologue that allows Smith to briefly indulge his taste for that genre. In 1868 Kansas, a Native American (or "Red Indian" as Smith puts it in his book) named Mistai is raped by a bunch of genocidal US Cavalrymen after they wipe out her village. She prays to Manitou for retribution, but I guess Manitou is kind of a dick because he curses her bloodline. Cut to the present day (ie 1981) and we are introduced to a woman named Jane (just Jane), a direct descendant of Mistai who has been passed down a gift for woodcarving, an ancient curse and an intense hatred of the white man. So she emigrates to the UK, go figure. She finds employment doing fortune telling (gypsy, Native American... close enough) and woodcarving at Shaefer's fair, one of those seedy seaside funfairs that British people flock to during Summer and pretend to enjoy. It's an excellent place to set a book like this, too. Ramshackle quayside shops offering fatty, overpriced snack foods. Ill-maintained carnival rides staffed by surly inbreds. Pasty, grumpy British holidaymakers complaining about the weather, the prices and that they should have gone to Spain this year instead. Truly, it is a horrifying creation.

The book opens on a particularly suspenseful moment. For some reason two rival biker gangs have decided to make Shaefer's fair the epicenter of a large-scale brawl. Things finally boil over when a small child accidentally sticks some fairy floss in the face of a particularly nasty biker named Fat Fry. The guy goes apeshit (maybe he's diabetic) and in a particularly graphic sequence he punches out the boys mother, sending blood and teeth flying, and knocks the kid over onto a protruding nail which pierces his spine, crippling him instantly. The funfair immediately erupts into violence and in the chaos Fat Fry and his friend manage to slip into Jane's tent for some light gang rape. They get their comeuppance though, that evening they are decapitated when their bikes slam into the rear of a truck.

With all of the bodies and blood cleaned up, Roy and Liz Catlin and their deaf daughter Rowena arrive at the seaside resort, determined to have an enjoyable holiday despite the shitty weather. Rowena heads straight to the fortune teller's tent and takes an immediate shine to Jane, who gives Rowena an ugly carved doll. Rowena forms a strange attachment to the doll, but Liz finds it deeply disturbing. Soon it becomes apparent that Shaefer's fair has become the focal point for strange demonic forces, giving Jane's carvings supernatural powers and causing bad things to happen whenever it's convenient to the plot.

Roy and Liz are pretty vile protagonists. Roy is a wet fish who is led around by his boner like it's a divining rod and Liz is a hysterical superbitch. The two of them seem to have no control over Rowena whatsoever, she slips away at every opportunity to, for instance, take a ride on a ghost train with a creepy child molester. Jane is the only likable character out of the three but she is shoved into the background for most of the book. She is trotted out occasionally to provide some cryptic clues or an exotic love interest, and typical of the Smithiverse there's some weirdly retrograde gender dynamics. The curse was enacted not because Jane was raped by a white guy but because she enjoyed it. Roy gets a boner when she reveals that she orgasmed during the rape (creeeepy) and then they totally do it too. Unfortunately her copulation with whitey shames her ancestors even further. Way to go, Jane.

There's also the usual parade of paper-thin characters, set up like bowling pins to be knocked over in ridiculous, gory ways. One guy is fed up with his fat, annoying girlfriend so logically he attempts to rape her on the Big Dipper while it's still in motion and packed with people. He's unsuccessful thanks to some teenage girls who hold him still while his presumably-now-ex-girlfriend literally rips his balls off. Unfortunately their act of vigilante justice is interrupted by a freak accident that tears everyone on board to shreds. Smith gets some good mileage out of carny stereotypes too. A description of an inbred hunchback is lifted wholesale from one of Smith's crabs books, but I prefer to imagine it's the same character, traveling from book and book dispensing vague threats and ominous warnings to Smith's protagonists.

Smith's books are at their most entertaining when they reach the heights of silliness and luckily there are a few parts of this book that are ri-goddamn-diculous. The most hilarious parts of the book involve Rowena's evil doll, which make the Zuni Doll story from Trilogy of Terror look downright sensible. One guy gets lost at sea and is pummeled to death by the tiny wooden doll. Another couple taste his miniature fists of fury during a fishing trip, the doll somehow managing to pulp a man's entire head. That naughty little doll, always running off and getting into shenanigans. One of the highlights of the book is a sequence involving the best Punch and Judy show ever. I defy you to read these chapters with a straight face.

I thought this one was pretty good. Rather pessimistic and nasty in parts, especially the great opening scene at the fairground. Nothing else in the book quite matches the awesomeness of Fat Fry, but it still had enough silly moments to hold my interest. Like a seaside funfair, Manitou Doll is seedy and predictable but it's still a fun day out if you don't take it too seriously.

Saturday, 10 October 2009

Baise Moi (2000)


I wonder how many guys saw the vaguely cute-sounding French title and the premise "two women are wronged by men and take a road trip to Paris" and thought it would make a good date movie? Not many I hope because it features copious amounts of drug use, brutal violence and hardcore sex, including a graphic rape scene. Oh, and the title actually means "Fuck Me". It's really more of a second date movie. It also got banned in Australia which made me even more interested in seeing it, if only to see whether the buzz surrounding the movie was justified. Yeah, that's right, I got a copy anyway. Try and stop me OFLC, you fuckers.

Nadine (Karin Bach) is a drug-addicted prostitute and Manu (Rafaella Anderson) is a part-time porn actor. One day the two of them are kidnapped by a group of thugs and violently gang raped. Both are severely traumatised by the incident and it drives them each to murder (one kills her brother, the other her flatmate). When the two girls meet that night at a train station and discover that they've both missed the last train, they decide to take one last road trip to Paris, indulging in a hedonistic orgy of sex and violence along the way. That's pretty much it. It's like Thelma and Louise with murders and full penetration.

Pretty much any film that prominently features women killing men is going to get a feminist label, but here it kind of fits. The two stars and the director are all porn stars so it's no accident that the two main characters are sex workers, it's about women seeking revenge on a society that degrades them and sees them as worthless. When they are raped Nadine screams and attempts to fight them off but Manu just mutely resigns herself (thereby causing her attacker to lose interest), so afterward Nadine shifts her shame onto Manu, blaming her for not fighting back. Manu responds "It could be worse. We weren't killed." Regardless of their profession or how they responded to the incident, both are profoundly damaged.

At the beginning there is an interesting scene where Manu reveals to her brother that she has been raped. He immediately grabs a gun and demands to know who did it and she responds "Bastard! You didn't even me if I'm okay!" and kills him. Most other movies would focus on the brother's act of vengeance, but here it's just seen as a purely selfish act. I also liked the scene where the two girls bemoan the fact that they can't come up with a cool line every time they shoot someone. Manu says "I mean, people are dying here. The dialog has to be up to it." Indeed. There's also a few moments of dark humour, such as when Nadie is getting boned by a client and sees someone cutting up a sausage on TV (a clip from Gaspar Noe's Suel contre tous, probably one of the few films as bleak and miserable as this) and smiles to herself.

In a film like say Ms. 45 or I Spit On Your Grave the woman will target men who have wronged women in some way. Here Nadine and Manu's rampage is purely nihilistic and it feels more raw and realistic because of it. They kill men and they kill women. They kill to get money and they kill random people on the street for fun. They don't bother to cover their tracks or conceal their identities and when they pick up a magazine and see themselves on the cover they're mainly just amused. They don't give a fuck. At one point they walk into a sex club and kill everybody inside. One poor guy gets it worst of all, they stick their gun where a gun don't fit and pull the trigger. They also indulge in a lot of casual sex with random guys, always making sure the guys never lose sight about who is in charge. Woe be to the guy who insists on a condom.

It makes me laugh when I hear people calling a film like this "pornography" because as far as I'm concerned pornography is a matter of intent and titillation is the last thing on this movie's mind. I doubt any sane person could this film erotic. It's also amusing reading the reactions from critics who are shocked, shocked I say, at the hardcore sex scenes, like they've never seen a porn film in their lives. Still, being explicit and shocking doesn't make it good. Even at a scant 77 minutes interesting scenes like the ones I mentioned earlier are few and far between. It's got good energy and pacing though so I can't say I was ever bored, even if the message gets drowned out by sex, violence and nihilism. It's a film worth watching but not with your grandmother. Unless she's really open minded.

Thursday, 8 October 2009

Warbus (1984)

What's that you say? Looks like an ordinary school bus?
Fuck you, man! This is a WARbus.

The opening scene is so desperate to convince us of it's bonafide American patriotism it all but leaps out of the TV and crams apple pie down our throats. The mournful trumpets, billowing American flags, endless shots of statuary honouring the country's brave fallen soldiers, they all but guarantee you'll have a single, manly tear rolling down your cheek by the end of it. So naturally it's an Italian film. It is written and directed by Ferdinando Baldi (like the rest of the cast he is credited under an anglicised name, those sneaky Italians) who ran the gamut of Italian genre film including swords-and-sandals, spaghetti western and giallos, but is probably best known for Comin' At Ya!, a 3-D spaghetti western that sparked an 80s revival of 3-D film. So I guess he's partially responsible for Jaws 3-D. Fucker.

Warbus tells the story of the little school bus that could, a bright yellow bus packed to the gills with a cast of missionaries, prostitutes and mercenaries that manage to escape a Vietnamese mission right as it's being bombed into the ground by the VC. They are soon confronted by a trio of US Marines let by Sgt. Dixie (Daniel Stephen aka Catch Dog from 2020: Texas Gladiators) the only survivors after their entire platoon was wiped out. They commandeer their bus until they can get to the nearest American military base. This is no longer an ordinary bus. It's a WARbus.

They are kind of lucky these soldiers stopped by because it turns out that the bus driver man not only drinks and cusses and stinks up the buses... he's also a commie traitor! You'd think somebody would have noticed by now but apparently he's been driving North this whole time, right into the hands of the VC. After taking care of the traitor and turning the warbus around, the Marines head for the nearest military outpost but discover that the riverbanks have all been mined and they are very low on fuel. That night they stage a raid on an abandoned military base with hopes of scrounging some fuel, but find it completely overrun by VC forces. Their mission starts with stealthy throat slitting before transitioning into a desperate, explosion-filled battle for survival. Right as things start looking hopeless warbus comes crashing through the gates. God bless you, warbus! You may be bright yellow, but you ain't no coward!

Unfortunately we aren't all as brave as warbus. While the Marines are on their mission liberating fuel from the VC, Ronny the missionary (Don Gordon Bell) pulls his hidden fuel tanks out from under the warbus and tries to take off on his own! Luckily he's discovered by Major Kutran (Ernie Zarate), an officer in the South Vietnamese army who, despite his superior rank and frequent acts of heroism throughout the film, can only every hope to be a second string character due to his unfortunate affliction of not being white. Ronny's weird, paranoid and generally quite stupid behaviour might have you thinking he'd be more at home on the short-warbus, but later on he keels over from a seizure and his wife Anne (Gwendolyn Hung, who played Richard Harrison's wife in Fireback) reveals that he has "epilepsy with schizophrenic tendencies". That's got to be a pain to deal with, no wonder she's eyeballing all the other guys on the warbus.

Aside from Anne, the rest of the girls aboard the warbus don't get to do a lot except splash around in the river with no pants on and provide love interests for two of our heroes. Surprisingly despite being the hero Sgt. Dixie doesn't get any love from anyone. Even Anne's roving eye passes him over, going straight for a grizzled, middle-aged Australian played by spaghetti Western veteran Benito Stefanelli. Must be the accent. Or maybe she just goes for the bad boys (turns out he's a convicted murderer). Or maybe she just doesn't go for guys in glasses. Yes, poor Sgt. Dixie is forced to suffer the slings and barbs of his fellow Marines when he puts on a pair of glasses in order to operate a radio. War is truly hell.

Anyway, they use the radio to call for a couple of helicopters to pull them out, but unfortunately the VC intercept their communication and send out a platoon of soldiers. After enemy forces arrive and engage in synchronised tumbling, there is a massive gun fight that leaves several main characters and dozens of VC dead. In a final heroic act, the mortally-wounded Major Kutran gets behind the wheel of the bullet-riddled warbus and drives it into an ammunition dump, causing a massive explosion. Hail to the bus driver... bus driver man.

I've been giving this film a lot of shit, but it's actually pretty good. There's some pretty impressive explosions and exciting, well-staged gun battles. There's even a few touching moments amidst all the carnage. At one point they find the crucified bodies of American soldiers. Unable to bury them because the bodies have been booby trapped with explosives, they can do nothing but look on sadly and detonate the charges. In another scene they manage to find some music as they operate a radio and pipe it over the loudspeaker, giving everyone a few moments of peace before the final battle. Small touches like this and some strong character development really elevate it above many of the other shot-in-the-Phillipines cheapies. Take a ride on the warbus. You won't regret it.

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

The Girlfriend Experience (2009)

Finally, a Sasha Grey film I can watch
with my pants on

Steven Soderbergh is an interesting director because you never know what he's going to come up with next. A big budget, crowd-pleasing heist film? He did it thrice. A huge, alienating 4 hour biopic about Che Guevara? You bet. A low-budget semi-improvised TV show about Washington lobbyists? Hells yeah. I hear next he's working on an sprawling 5-hour western with a cast made up entirely of talking bananas. It must be true, I read it on Aint it Cool News.

The Girlfriend Experience is one of his low-budget shot-on-digital experimental films. It stars Sasha Grey as Chelsea, a high-class escort who provides the titular "girlfriend experience" meaning that super rich guys hire her so they can whine about their lives. If you're a woman you can get guys to do provide this service for free but if you're a guy I guess you've got to pay. Sasha Grey is, of course, star of such films as Face Invaders 4 and My Daughter's Fucking Blackzilla 9 and the recipient of AVN's 2008 Female Performer of the Year award. She's been in porn parodies like This Ain't Star Trek XXX and Not Bewitched XXX and porn films with delusions of grandeur like Pirates 2: Stagnetti's Revenge, but this is her first real film role. She does a good job (I guess, it's kind of hard to tell with this character) but enthusiasts of her other work might be disappointed. It's set against the backdrop of the Global Financial Crisis and the '08 election so the only thing that gets ass-fucked is the US economy.

What it shares in common with most of Grey's other films is that there isn't much of a plot and it's generally populated by non-actors engaging in unscripted conversations. Camerawork is very static and distant, there's very much a meandering, documentary feel to the whole thing. The movie is basically about artificial relationships. There are IT and publicist guys who are trying to get Grey to expand her business into the "big time" (even though she seems to be doing pretty well for herself already). Her boyfriend Chris (Chris Santos) is a personal trainer who is trying to make a connection with his clients so he can get a bigger cut of the gym's income. A journalist is trying to pull information out of Grey so he can piece together a juicy story. With all the talk about the GFC there's a sense of uncertainty and desperation to everybody's interactions. Everybody is scared, everybody wants a bigger cut.

Nobody is particularly evil though, and the movie generally tries to avoid judgement against Grey or her clients or paint them as perverts. I think one guy wears a nappy but it isn't dwelled upon or even mentioned by Grey in her narrated diary entries (I would think it would at least rate a mention but I guess that's small potatoes in her profession). The one villainous character in the movie is a fat, sleazy nerd who runs a site called "The Erotic Connoisseur". He summons Grey to meet him in his apartment in the back of his dad's furniture store and basically demands a freebie in exchange for a positive review. He tries to entice her with a first-class trip to Dubai, free cocaine etc. He is a sleazebag of the highest order. When she finally submits to his demand he gives her a terrible, Comic-Book-Guy-esque review that all but concludes with "Worst... Fuck... Ever". What an asshole.

Unlike something such as Grey's Anal Cavity Search 6, this film fails to probe it's characters too deeply, so like many of Soderbergh's films it can seem a little chilly and distant. You never find out too much about Chelsea or why she's chosen her particular profession. Occasionally there is some voice-over narration as Grey writes in her business journal, but her reports are cold and professional, diligently listing her clothing labels like she's Patrick Bateman. A journalist, kind of an audience proxy, tries to explore deeper into her life but fails. The movie seems content to just follow her around, raising some interesting questions about escort etiquette. How do you react when you're having drinks with a client and another client recognises you and comes up to say hello? Or when you see a client out on a date with another escort? These are the kinds of awkward social situations you never saw on Seinfeld, or indeed Grey's own Seinfeld: A XXX Parody.

In typical Soderbergh fashion the timeline is all over the place, but what little story there is revolves around Grey falling for one of her clients, even though she has only met him once. Her boyfriend is angry because she wants to take a weekend trip away with him, which seems like a fairly arbitrary place for him to draw the line. I would have drawn it at penis/vagina contact but I'm old fashioned that way. In the end she goes anyway, essentially dumping her boyfriend, and things basically turn to shit. This is where a bit more character depth would have been nice because sometimes she seems very astute and intelligent, other times frustratingly naive.

Still, it's kind of interesting watching these guys try to fool themselves into thinking they're in a real relationship. It's pretty funny when a guy starts chatting about his day or talking about the importance of communication as they strip off their clothes and get into bed. Mostly they talk about their stresses at work and Grey looks pretty bored during the whole thing, although with her weird sleepy cross-eyes it's kind of hard to tell. The movie ends of kind of a weird note. She visits this fat orthodox Jewish guy who gives a McCain endorsement while they strip down to their underwear and then he just hugs her and starts panting and then the film ends. Would have made an awesome campaign ad.

As beat-off material I'd have to give this film a 2 out of 10 (unless you're a hardcore Marxist and your particular fetish is watching rich guys whine about the GFC) but aside from that I enjoyed it. Even if it doesn't delve deep enough into anything to be more than an interesting curiosity it's still better than a punch in the gut from Rocco Siffredi.

Sunday, 4 October 2009

Ruslan (2009)

In this film Seagal plays a Russian crime novelist.
Yes, really.

For some reason this film is known under the title Driven to Kill in the US, which is kind of weird because although it sounds like a pun about cars there isn't a car chase in the entire film. I guess they wanted a title that followed fundamentalist Seagalian title grammar (ie adjective, preposition, verb). Over here we aren't such hardcore Seagalogists (it's mainly a Christmas and Easter thing), so it's known under the much better title Ruslan.

The film starts with Seagal having lunch with his much, much younger girlfriend. She offers him a three way with her best friend if he shows her his paper cup trick, which is kind of like the shell game or three card monte, except if you guess wrong you get a metal spike impaled through your hand. When she asks him how he does it he replies "The secret is to not give a fuck", which is coincidentally how Seagal is able to produce up to four direct-to-video films a year. She is so turned on by this that she sexily bites her lip, but thankfully you don't find out whether she followed through on her offer. One hot, young girl making sexy eyes at Seagal is bad enough, two would have blown my already overtaxed suspension of disbelief and we're only a couple of minutes in.

The inexplicably hot, young girlfriend is a typical feature of modern-era Seagal, but here he plays a completely different character than usual. Rather than an ex-CIA agent he is Ruslan, an ex-Russian gangster who now writes crime novels under the pen name Jim Vincent. We know he's a Russian novelist because he's got a post-it that reads "Tolstoy, Chekov, Pishkin" stuck up on his monitor while he writes his terrible pulp crime thrillers. I guess for inspiration. Thankfully his Russian background isn't pointless window-dressing like in Half Past Dead. He's got the sleeve tattoos, he's got the accent (sometimes) and he even he attempts a few words of Russian here and there, even if they dub over him when it's important or when other Russian-speaking actors would make him look bad.

He is busy writing his latest novel when his ex-wife calls him up and asks him to be at his estranged daughter Lanie's wedding the next day. Like in Pistol Whipped, his ex-wife is now married to a huge asshole (a defense lawyer named Terry Goldstein) but she is still so attracted to Seagal that she all but fucks him right in front of her new husband. He discovers that Lanie (Laura Mennell) is engaged to the son of a big-time Russian gangster who betrayed him in the past. Small world! His would-be son-in-law Stephan (Dmitry Chepovetsky) assures him that he has no intentions of following in his father's footsteps but sure enough some gangsters bust in, kill his ex-wife and attack his daughter.

Lanie survives the attack however, and Seagal manages to convince the police to keep things quiet while he tracks down the attackers. He also goads Stephan into helping him by basically calling him a pussy in front of his dad Mikhail (Igor Jijinike who played the scary Russian bad guy in Indiana Jones and the Search for More Money). He does this to upset Mikhail and to make sure that Stephan didn't have anything to do with the attack, but I also get the impression that it's his way of sizing him up and making sure he's good enough for his daughter. It's like one of those films where the father and the son-in-law bond over a fishing trip, except here they are bonding over murder.

It used to be that every action film would include a scene in a strip club but it doesn't happen too much these days. Or if they do it's some alternate-universe bizarro strip club where guys buy $15 watery beers to ogle fully clothed women. Well, here they bring that old tradition back, the girls take their tops off and everything. Seagal even has a bonding experience with his would-be son-in-law while they are having a private dance in a back room. They look very uncomfortable during the whole thing and the stripper must be pretty jaded because when the two of them start openly discussing all the murders they've committed she doesn't even flinch. Naturally some mobsters show up, leading to a surprisingly gory knife fight with squirting gouts and blood and messy impalements.

The fights are generally well executed with relatively subtle use of stunt doubles and decent editing, though they are often uncomfortably brutal, on the level of the curb stomp in Kill Switch. Seagal rams a broken glass into some asshole's face, he smashes a pawn shop owner's head through a glass countertop when he refuses to give out information and he stabs a guy in the neck with a metal spike and has to fight him until he bleeds out. He also savagely beats a guy with a plank, but the brutality is undercut by the fact that it's clearly made from balsa wood. The best one is where he stabs someone in the eye with the barrel of his gun and then pulls the trigger. That's some hardcore shit. Give Seagal a hockey mask and this could almost be a Friday the 13th sequel.

After his strip club fight a couple of cops arrest Seagal but they are generally useless and do diddly-shit. His ex-ex-wife's new husband bails him out and unsurprisingly he turns out to be an even bigger asshole than first thought (in some ways this movie is like a fantasy for divorced fathers). It all culminates in a final showdown where Mikhail and his crew dress up in police uniforms and storm the hospital where Lanie is recovering. It's not exactly Hard Boiled but there is a lot of gunfire and Seagal manages to do some pretty cool stuff, such as set up ambushes and make an improvised nail bomb.

Thankfully this film is a huge step up from Kill Switch and Against the Dark. In fact, I'd say we are back up to a Urban/Renegade Justice level of quality here. Very promising. Although Seagal is looking pretty chunky and his hair is looking more and more like a brillo pad with a widow's peak, I appreciated the effort he put into his role and that the film is free of Seagal's questionable sartorial choices (although he does manage to work a dragon shirt into the opening scene). This is Seagal's first film as part of a new distribution deal with 20th Century Fox, and if this is the level of quality we can expect from Seagal in the future then I'm looking forward to his next blood-spraying, wrist-snapping adventure.

Saturday, 3 October 2009

Pieces (1982)

Nah, ain't nothing suspicious about that guy.

First of all, let's get this out of the way: Pieces is not a good film. You first clue would be the cover, which features an enormous chainsaw hovering over the corpse of a half-clothed woman and the tag-line "You don't have to go all the way to Texas for a chainsaw massacre." Well no, but you might have to go all the way to Spain, those photos of Reagan and American flags plastered all over the sets aren't fooling anybody. The director of this film is that crazy Spaniard Juan Piquer Simón, the same guy who brought us the ridiculous animal-attack film Slugs. Like that film, Pieces features terrible dubbing, deranged performances, numerous continuity errors and plot holes and is generally so jaw-droppingly awful that it's an absolute blast to watch.

1942, Boston. A young boy is entertaining himself with a nudie jigsaw puzzle when his mother walks in and loses her shit. She starts ransacking his room for pornography and tells him to "fetch a plastic bag of which to discard and burn these smutty puzzle pieces, stupid". He must get confused (understandable, since plastic bags haven't been invented yet) because he comes back with an axe and plunges it into her skull. Then it's out with the hacksaw, and by the time the police arrive (and their response time is quite impressive considering there has been no indication of suspicious behaviour whatsoever) she's lying in pieces on the floor and he's cowering in the closet claiming a stranger broke in and splattered his mother all over the room. What can I say, the kid loves his porn.

Forty years later at an unspecified university, after witnessing a retarded college girl ride her skateboard right into an 8 foot mirror, the killer's thirst for murder has reawakened. Donning a hat, trenchcoat and some giallo-esque black gloves, he fondles his beloved jigsaw puzzle before grabbing an enormous chainsaw and heading out to make a jigsaw puzzle of his own. The first victim is decapitated by his chainsaw while she is lying on a lawn in the middle of campus in broad daylight. Strangely nobody sees or hears a thing, although considering the students spend most of their time standing around exchanging pearls of wisdom like "The most beautiful thing in the world is smoking pot and fucking on a waterbed at the same time", it's not really surprising.

So who did it? There's the huge, bearded gardener Willard (Paul Smith) who happens to own exactly the same chainsaw as the killer. He acts so suspicious and crazy you know it can't be him, but damned if he doesn't steal every scene he's in. After one of the students is killed he wanders into the crime scene and when the cops try to question him he goes apeshit, throwing them around like rag dolls. I would watch an entire film about this guy. There's also the cold and aloof Professor Brown (Jack Taylor), who is extra-suspicious because of his child-molester moustache (or molestache). Or is it the overly-friendly dean? Or his secretary? Or one of the students? Well, subtract forty years from the ages of the suspects and the answer becomes pretty obvious, but you'll have to wait about 80 minutes for the police to reach the same conclusion.

The detectives assigned to this case are Lt. Bracken (the always fun to see Christopher George) and Sgt. Holden (Frank Braña, the guy who uttered the immortal line "You don't have the authority to declare happy birthday!" in Slugs). They aren't progressing particularly well (as Lt. Bracken puts it "We're just buying clothes without labels here, trying them on to see what fits") so they recruit the help of Kendall, a nerd who wears dorky sweaters and glasses but is inexplicably the campus stud. Hell, one girl in the library passes him a note that says "I want to know what it's like to fuck you underwater. Meet me at the pool." I guess he's gets so much ass that the note doesn't even register, so doesn't actually go to the pool, but the killer does. He drags her to the edge with a pool skimmer (lol) where she obligingly sits and waits until he can retrieve his chainsaw and add her torso to his collection.

They also enlist the help of Mary Riggs (Linda Day George) an undercover cop and famous tennis champ. You wouldn't think that would be a very good combination of professions, but here she's so deep undercover (as a tennis instructor, natch) that when she plays an exhibition match at the university her performance is laughably poor. Although Mary doesn't really do anything useful, she does provide a moment of WTF hilarity when when a random kung fu expert leaps out of the bushes and attacks her during a late-night stroll. Kendall shows up and reveals that it's just Chang, his "Kung Fu Professor" who, in a painful Charlie Chan accent, blames his violent outburst on "bad chop suey" before scurrying off into the night, never to be seen again. When Mary's tennis protege is chainsawed in the locker room, the noise masked by some mysterious music, Day George gives the most batshit insane performance I've ever seen in my life, screaming: "While we were out here fumbling with that music, the lousy bastard was killing her! BASTARD! BASTARD! BASTAAAAARD!"

The killings are rounded out by a disco-aerobics enthusiast who the murderer manages to kill by sneaking onto an elevator with a 2 foot chainsaw hidden behind his fucking back and a Daria-Nicolodi-esque nosy reporter who learns that getting penetrated on a water bed isn't all it's cracked up to be. The fact that all of the victims are pretty young women in various stages of undress (mostly the late stages) has given this film a reputation as being somewhat misogynistic. Well, womankind manage to get some measure of testicle-crushing revenge in the surprise ending, even if it makes no sense whatsoever.

Although this film is definitely in the slasher mold, it's Euro-horror influences shine through. Sometimes it feels kind of like a giallo, with the black gloved killer, the funky disco score, the sexualised killings and the way-better original title One Thousand Cries Has the Night (Mil Gritos tiene la noche). It's full of explicit gore, gratuitous nudity and it's just a whole lot trashier than your average slasher film, which shouldn't be surprising since it was co-written by Joe D'Amato. For example, a scene where a topless girl is menaced with a chainsaw is rendered even more tasteless by a gratuitous close-up of her crotch as she wets her pants. That's the kind of whole-hearted commitment to sleaze I can appreciate. Two severed limbs, way up.

Friday, 2 October 2009

Long Weekend (1978)

Oh, the huge manatee.

Marcia (Briony Behets) and Peter (John Hargreaves) are a bickering married couple who take a long weekend camping trip as a last ditch effort to save their crumbling marriage. On the way to the campsite they are so busy bitching and arguing that they get lost and I mean really lost (there's a Tasmanian devil wandering around even though they're supposed to be in New South Wales). The next morning Marcia wakes up to find that they've made it to the campsite and Peter is busy chopping down a tree. When she asks him why he replies "why not?" Why not, indeed.

They are definitely obnoxious and unlikable, but not in an annoying way. They aren't typical horror movie assholes, their dialog is realistically written and well acted. I especially liked the way that the history of their relationship is dished out in bite-sized pieces. Early in the film you get hints of a traumatic experience in Marcia's past, but it's not until much later that the truth comes spilling out, something that may or may not have something to do with their current situation.

I also liked that they aren't completely villainous in their disrespect for nature. Marcia loathes the outdoors and surrounds herself with the amenities of civilisation. Peter treats it like his own personal playground, arrogantly stomping through and destroying anything in his way. They could have easily made this too broad and cartoonish, but mostly they are just so absorbed in their relationship problems that they take their superiority over nature for granted. They litter, they flick their cigarettes out the window, they spray everything with insecticide. Normal stuff.

As tensions fray their crimes against nature become a bit more felonious. Peter orphans some ducklings when he starts firing his shotgun aimlessly into the bush and in a fit of frustration Marcia smashes an eagle egg against a tree. Worst of all, Peter shoots at a menacing dark shape in the water only for it to turn out to be a harmless dugong. Subsequently a bunch of spooky shit starts happening. The nights become filled with strange noises, possibly the dugong's orphaned offspring, each morning the dugong's bullet-riddled corpse appears to be closer and closer to the camp and a frozen chicken goes moldy within in a few hours. Okay, maybe that last one isn't so scary.

Most of the time it's just subtle things like that, although Peter also gets attacked by an eagle and a possum. Fucking possums. The couple aren't the only victims of nature's sudden uprising either (some campers further up the beach suffer a mysterious, off-screen death) but they are definitely the focus of the film. The final twenty minutes are virtually dialog free, just the spooky sounds of nature and Michael Carlos terrific suspenseful score. The film ends with a deliciously ironic death that bring things full circle.

There were so many of these nature-fights-back films in the 70s, the unloved bastard children of 70s environmentalism and Hitchcock's The Birds, that I really wasn't expecting much from Long Weekend, but it really surprised me. It's sharply written by Everett De Roche (Road Games, Patrick, Razorback, pretty much every horror film made in Australia at the time) and directed by Colin Eggleston. Thanks to the great, moody cinematography, the film locations are alternately picturesque and threatening. I don't have a lot to say about this one, except that it's fuckin' good.