Thursday, 4 February 2016

The Scarlet Blade Review

Previously published on Front Room Cinema in 2012.

This Hammer production from 1963 has lurked in the depths of obscurity for almost fifty years but is finally being released on DVD which will be news to the ears of any Oliver Reed fans out there. Unlike the typical horror films churned out by Hammer in the 60's, The Scarlet Blade is a historical adventure that takes place during the tumultuous civil war that reshaped England in the mid 1600's, with the Roundheads and the Cavaliers taking up opposing sides due to their loyalties to parliament and royalty respectively.

Daunted by the task of watching a forgotten Hammer film that had only received 87 votes on IMDB, my fears were soon laid to rest when the opening sequence exploded across the screen with a fairly impressive battle in full flight, cannons launching across fields, soldiers on horses charging at infantrymen, and what appears to be the same extras in every shot. Braveheart this isn't, but The Scarlet Blade has plenty of entertaining swordplay to keep fans of bloody history films interested for the entire 83 minutes, and enough semblance of a plot to capture the attention of all but the easily distracted.

The story follows the exploits of a group of Roundheads headed by Colonel Judd who is played by Lionel Jeffries and his second in command Captain Sylvester, portrayed by none other than the man himself, Oliver Reed, who capture King Charles I near the start of the film. It is not long before a number of cavaliers, who would not be out of place in Robin Hood's band of merry men, attempt to sabotage the well laid plans of the roundheads in order to rescue the King. Heading up this rebellion is the eponymous Scarlet Blade, who you would be forgiven for thinking should have a certain level of charisma, but Jack Hedley's uninspiring acting fails to compete with the film's more heavyweight actors.

A love triangle soon begins between Colonel Judd's daughter, Claire, the Scarlet Blade and Captain Sylvester and it is not long before loyalties are tested and sides are switched, with informers and infiltrators causing all kinds of havoc for both sides. I was surprisingly intrigued by the story, and despite a few camp and whimsical moments that could easily have been excerpts from a Monty Python sketch, The Scarlet Blade was an enjoyable historical romp that did not overstay its welcome.


Tuesday, 2 February 2016

Dead Heads Review

Previously published for Front Room Cinema in 2012:

When horror and comedy are mixed well it can lead to some fantastic results; splatter-fests such as Bad Taste and The Return of the Living Dead prove they are a combination that is meant to be together, and some of the best horrors are tinged with black comedy. I am always wary when approaching horror comedies as it is not hard for them to miss the mark but, when a handful of originality can lead to a cult classic, I was intrigued to see if DeadHeads would be up there with Bad Taste or end up leaving one in my mouth.

The simple premise of siding with the villains throughout a horror film is an under-used storytelling technique that has recently gained popularity thanks to the success of hillbilly horror spoof Tucker and Dale Vs Evil. DeadHeads treads a fairly similar path, choosing to follow the actions of a recently turned zombie, Mike Kellerman, who is struggling to comprehend his new existence.

With a burning desire to visit the love of his life, Mike sets off on a voyage of discovery stopping only to pick up other zombies who are eager to join him for the ride, and are only too happy to help when it comes to easing him into his new life as a shuffling corpse. Pursued by people hunting the living dead for different reasons, Mike and his pals soon bite off more flesh than they can chew and end up in a number of sticky, and very gory situations.

It is not long before the homages come thick and fast with nods to countless other zombie films being a staple of the film's script, thankfully this is not to DeadHeads detriment as the send-ups are all in good faith as well as fitting nicely alongside the story. Unfortunately, when it comes to humour, DeadHeads is disappointingly lacking, and some of the weaker sub-plots fail to flesh out what at times seems to be an overly long film.

There are a number of redeeming features though; Deadheads contains the best intestine scene since Machete came along, and although that's not saying much, the gruesome effects are impressive for the low budget, with some very convincing dismemberments and bucketfuls of blood thrown in for good measure. Whilst the acting is not pitch-perfect, the cast all deliver enthusiastic performances and it is worth sticking around until the end to catch the fantastic improvisations that run alongside the credits.

It is clear that DeadHeads is a labour of love and as such it feels wrong to criticise the film too harshly but there are times when the humour feels forced and falls flat. This is by no means a bad film, and will certainly be enjoyed by zombie aficionados, but I doubt that it will find a wider audience and is perfectly suited to its direct to dvd release.


Monday, 19 October 2015

New Release - We Are Still Here

Escaping to an old house on the outskirts of a sleepy village seems to be the best move for grieving couple Paul (Andrew Sensenig) and Anne (Barbara Crampton) Sacchetti after the untimely death of their teenage son in a car crash. Anne is certain that his presence is felt in their new home and an unannounced visit from their eerie neighbours, who regale the Sacchetti's with the history of its previous occupants, only serves to exacerbate these thoughts that something is not quite right with their house. Against Paul's better judgement, Anne invites the parents of her dead son's best friend to stay in the hope that his mother, May Lewis, who is a practicing spiritualist, can shed some light on the strange occurrences that are troubling the household.

Much like Ti West's excellent slow burn horrors The Innkeepers and The House of the Devil, We are Still Here tips its hat to seventies genre films that rely on mood and atmosphere to build up an almost overwhelming sense of dread. The house is as much a character as its inhabitants (both living and the dead), with the measured camerawork slowly exploring the dark recesses of the basement and the weathered exterior of the creaking house, which enhances the feeling of isolation and showcases the unsettling nuances of the fittingly creepy setting.

Comic relief arrives in the form of Jacob Lewis (portrayed here by the ever watchable Larry Fessenden), a jovial hippy who indulges in illegal substances and revels in the opportunity to hold a seance despite his wife May's concerns. Paul Sacchetti's seemingly humourless and deadpan persona is initially at odds with Jacob's lackadaisical approach to communicating with the dead but the family soon have far bigger worries to contend with as all hell breaks loose in their household.

Those expecting a crescendo of traditional ghostly scares may be slightly disappointed by the jarring change in direction We Are Still Here takes towards the latter part of the film; although the originality of the storyline is one of its strongest points, it is sure to divide audiences, as the denouement is at odds with the subtle scares that come before it.

This refreshing take on a somewhat oversaturated genre is a welcome hybrid of horror that should be approached with an open mind, and a spare change of underwear. We Are Still Here demonstrates director Ted Geoghegan's burning passion for the genre and might just be one of the best new horrors of 2015.


If you enjoy this you will like these:

The Innkeepers
The Changeling
The House of the Devil

Monday, 9 March 2015

Cinema Review - The Hundred-Foot Journey

Referring to the distance between a well-established Michelin starred restaurant on the outskirts of a French Village and a new Indian restaurant that opens its doors opposite, The Hundred-Foot Journey is actually a delightful depiction of cultures clashing as the proud proprietors of said establishments - Madame Mallory (Helen Mirren) and Mr Kadam (Om Puri) - vie for supremacy over the local villagers dining habits. Our cinematic journey begins at a much greater distance, introducing the Kadam family in their native India before political unrest forces the family to venture abroad in order to continue sharing their passion for spicy food in a more accommodating environment.

It is easy to see why Mr Kadam settles for the picaresque village of Saint-Antonin-Noble-Val in Southern France, although a timely car accident certainly assists his decision when the family are left stranded and begin to sample the local delights. Lasse Hallstrom has an undeniable talent for depicting rural life on film, and the sumptuous settings of the French vistas act as both a beautiful background for his storytelling and a constant reminder of just how far from home the Kadam family have travelled.

The stunning camerawork isn't just used to emphasise the breathtaking scenery; a masterful tracking shot through the newly named Maison Mumbai as the family prepare for opening night showcases not only Hallstrom's playful nature but also that of his characters. Accompanied by an upbeat Indian song, this scene encompasses the vibrancy and vigour of a Bollywood feature, until the arrival of the seemingly abhorrent Madame Mallory puts heed to the proceedings.

It is not long before the eldest son of the Kadam family, Hassan (played by the charismatic Manish Dayal), begins to fall for Marguerite (Charlotte Le Bon), a rival chef from across the road, and both must face a number of tough decisions regarding their future careers and desires. Despite this potential romance it is the constant bickering between Madame Mallory and Mr Kadam that really sets the story alight, with Mallory's snappy retorts and Kadam's stubborn nature fanning the flames of warfare that eventually lead to various forms of sabotage.

Certain events in the final act seem forced and slightly rushed, which is at odds with the film's lengthy runtime and hints that Hallstrom takes too long to set the story. These are minor flaws and a captivated audience is likely to overlook such shortcomings but nevertheless, this prevents The Hundred-Foot Journey from ranking amongst Hallstrom's finest films, such as the wry comedy of What's Eating Gilbert Grape? or the emotionally devastating Hachi: A Dog's Tale. A director of Hallstrom's calibre still knows how to deliver the goods though, and this is an undeniable step up from his more recent outings Safe Haven and The Hypnotist.

A colourful, culinary blend of Bollywood spice and French high cuisine, The Hundred-Foot Journey is an affectionate and sincere depiction of two cultures setting aside their differences to combine their shared love of food. The charismatic cast and infectious Indian music are bound to charm audiences - even if there are instances where the film veers too far into whimsical territory - and there is no doubt that the food on show will leave you salivating regardless of the size of you popcorn bucket.