Thursday, 30 June 2011
Year of Publication: 1991, originally published as Batman: The Cult issues 1 to 4 in 1988
Number of Pages: 208 pages
Genre: Grpahic novel, superhero, crime, horror
Summary: Batman is investigating a bizarre series of crimes targeted at the criminals of Gotham City, many of whom are mysteriously disappearing in violent circumstances. His investigation leads him to the mysterious and charismatic preacher Deacon Blackfire who has set up a base in the sewers of Gotham and is recruiting an army of the homeless and the disenfranchised.
However Blackfire captures Batman first. Held prisoner, Batman is starved, drugged and brutally tortured both physically and psychologically. Almost totally broken down he comes under Blackfire's malevolent influence.
As Blackfire's plans for Gotham become clearer, Batman has to face his worst fears and nightmares if he has any hope of saving the city.
Opinions: The 1980s were kind of a watershed for Batman. With the collapse of the Comic Code, which had heavily restricted the content of American comics since the 1950s, creators were able to write books for an adult audience and had greater freedom in their depiction of darker themes and violence. The Batman series took full advantage of this new freedom in such stories as Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns and Year One, Alan Moore's The Killing Joke and Grant Morrison's Arkham Asylum, and this series The Cult, which often seems to be unjustly neglected.
Right from the opening this chilling psychologial drama, originally published as a four part mini-series in 1988, depicts Batman in his weakest state. Plagued by horrific nightmares and hallucinations and sadistically tortured the story explores some of darker areas of Batman's psyche. In a way, Blackfire's purge of the criminal element of Gotham isn't too different from the Dark Knight's own crusade, however unlike Batman, Blackfire is more than happy to kill. Of course, the impact is not just on Batman himself as the whole of Gotham City is brought to it's knees by Blackfire's brutal army. Robin features heavily in the story and here he really comes into his own, becoming more than just the side-kick, which he is often depicted as.
This was quite controversial on it's first publication due to it's depictions of violence. The level of violence is high for a Batman book but it is justified in terms of the story that is being told. The art is effectively dark and moody.
This is a must-read for Batman fans.
Saturday, 25 June 2011
Director: Dan Turner
Screenplay: Jason Arnopp, from a story by Dan Turner and Jason Arnopp
Starring: Katherine Flynn, Grant Masters, Patrick Flynn, Grahame Fox, Munir Khairdin, Martin Delaney, James Capel
Running Time: 88 minutes
Genre: Horror, supernatural, military
Summary: Stormhouse Military Base, England. May 2002: The British Army invoke and imprison a supernatural entity. Several months later, New York psychic and "ghost whisperer" Hayley Sands (Katherine Flynn) is brought to Stormhouse to try to contact the entity. However she finds that the base is running at a skeleton staff and the pressures of controlling the entity are starting to show on the soldiers and scientists working there. Hayley soon discovers that the entity, though contained, is very active and extremely dangerous and will stop at nothing to free itself and take revenge against those who captured it. At the same time, hard-nosed Major Anthony Lester (Masters) has his own plans for the entity.
Opinions: This low-budget British horror movie opens with a title card claiming that it was "inspired by true events". According to the director, the film was inspired by the rumours and folklore surrounding the old military base where the film was shot. The film is set almost entirely in the dimly lit, claustrophobic environment of the base. The fact that the nature of the entity itself isn't explicitly revealed on-screen works pretty well since the characters are never sure exactly where the thing is or what it is doing, until it strikes out. The tensions of life on the base are well-depicted and the rigours of military life add to the claustrophobic tension. However the military characters aren't explored very much, and another problem is that the film is frequently shot so darkly that it can be difficult to make out what is going on in places.
The film has a slow, deliberate build-up and for the most part keeps itself fairly low-key, coming across initially as almost a military version of Paranormal Activity (2002), with the amount of quiet surveillance camera footage and sudden loud noises after long periods of silence. However the low-key approach is put aside in the blood-drenched climax.
It's worth checking out for horror fans. It plays with a straight face and provides plenty of shocks and tension.
Katherine Flynn enters Stormhouse
Monday, 20 June 2011
Directors: Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado
Screenwriter: Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado
Starring: Lior Ashkenazi, Danny Geva, Ania Bukstein, Menashe Noy, Yael Grobglas, Ran Danker
Running Time: 90 minutes
Genre: Horror, dark comedy
Summary: A brother and sister, Pini (played by Ofer Schechter) and Tali (Liat Harlev), run away from home into a densely wooded nature preserve where they fall into traps set by a psychotic killer (Yaron Motola). Pini escapes and desperately tries to search for a way to rescue his sister. Along the way a group of young tennis players, a forestry worker (Noy) and a sadistic cop (Geva) and his more restrained partner (Ashkenazi) become involved in a violent criss-cross of accident and murder, as the tensions between friends, enemies and strangers begin to flare violently out of control.
Opinions: This film (the title translates as Rabies) is the first slasher horror film ever to come out of Israel, and is probably one of the best, and most interesting, to have come around for some time. The film is very entertaining and packed with enough gruesome set pieces to satisfy horror fans and is frequently very suspenseful, it is one of those films where literally anyone can die at any time. The film's violence is handled very well and the more graphically explicit gore takes place off-screen there is also plenty of intentional humour.
The film-makers were obviously well aware of slasher movie cliches and seem to have had a lot of fun playing with them. For example almost the entire movie takes place in broad daylight and the psycho killer is pretty much a minor charcater with most of the violence being perpetrated on themselves by the typical "vicitms" or "heroes" of the horror film.
This is a real treat for fans and well-worth checking out.
Yael Grobglas, Ania Bukstein and Lior Ashkenazi in Kalevet
Saturday, 18 June 2011
Written by Peter Milligan
"Trying to turn myself into Gemma Constantine. Maybe tonight I've finally become Gemma Masters."
NORTHLANDERS # 41
Written by Brian Wood
Illustrated by Marian Churchland
Thor's Daughter. The Outer Hebrides, A.D. 990: Birna Thorsdotter is the fourteen year old daughter of a powerful man who pretty much owns the island and is paid by travellers for his advice and opinions. Birna's mother died some time earlier. After her father is murdered by some of his own men, Birna is left completely alone with no status and no protection. Despite her fear and grief, Birna realises that she has to step up and survive in a hostile world and reclaim her birthright.
Northlanders is an endlessly fascinating series. Despite being linked by a common backdrop (the Viking age, approximately the late 8th to 11th centuries in Northern Europe) each storyline is completely self contained with completely different characters and even different artists for each story. This issue contains a single issue story concerning the resourceful Birna Thorsdotter who has to avenge the death of her father and earn her birthright from her family's enemies. The story has the feel of an old folk tale and benefits immensely from beautiful and evocative artwork from Marian Churchland. Treasure this series while you can because apparently it has been canceled by Vertigo and is scheduled to finish in March 2012."I was born on these islands, not far from the stones. Sometimes it feels like magic. Sometimes like a prison."
CINDERELLA: FABLES ARE FOREVER # 5
Written by Chris Roberson
Illustrated by Shawn McManus
Published by Vertigo
Cinderella, Fabletown's premier spy, is hot on the trail of the murderous criminal mastermind Dorothy Gale, who is working for a sinister Shadow Fabletown. In an attempt to flush out her enemy, Cinderella decides to deliberately step into a trap that Dorothy has set for her. However, Dorothy has an ace up her sleeve.
This is the fifth installment of a six issue spin off from the popular comic Fables, which featured popular characters from fairy tales and folklore existing in a contemporary universe. This story recasts Cinderella as a secret agent, and Dorothy Gale (from The Wizard of Oz) as a villainous criminal mastermind, along with monsters, magical spoons, witches and wizards and a plot straight out of one of the James Bond books by Ian Fleming (the title is a reference to Fleming's book Diamonds Are Forever and subsequent film). The mix of styles works very well and the story is told with plenty of humour and there are plenty of enjoyable twists and turns along the way. Since this is the fifth of a six part story it's too late really for newcomers to the comic, but wait around a couple of months and check it out when it's released as a graphic novel.
"Don't worry, the fall won't hurt you. But stopping certainly will."
BATMAN # 711
Written by Tony S. Daniel
Illustrated by Steve Scott and Ryan Wynn
Published by DC
Pieces, Part Two. Harvey Dent (aka "Two Face") is shocked to discover that his beloved Gilda is alive after all, despite the fact that he thought he killed her. However Gilda is now with his enemy, mobster Mario Falcone, and is trying to kill him. Dent is then captured by Edward Nigma (aka "The Riddler") and his "daughter" Enigma. To his surprise, the Riddler offers to help him and informs him that Gilda is being held by Falcone against her will. With all the confusion, Dent is desperate to retrieve his "Two Face" coin (one side is clear but the other is badly scarred and Dent uses it to decide whether the Harvey Dent or Two Face part of his psyche should be in control). To complicate the situation for Batman, he has to watch out for Kitrina Falcone (aka "Catgirl") who has gotten in way over her head. The Caped Crusader has his work cut out for him.
It's complex enough in stories when you have two sides being played off against each other, whereas here you have three sides being played against each other with Batman stuck in the middle. It is a dark and complex plot, full of twists and turns and double crosses The main problem being that Batman himself is kind of pushed to the background with all the other stuff going on around him. While this is probably not going to become one of the classic Batman stories it is a solid slice of Gotham City adventure, mixing both action and detection, which will please fans.
"From now on, I'm killing anyone who pops up."
NORTHLANDERS # 41
Thursday, 16 June 2011
Director: Ryan Redford
Screenplay: Ryan Redford, based on the short story "Veterans" by Rachel Ingalls
Starring: Garret Dillahunt, Donal Logue, Molly Parker, Kaelan Meunier
Running Time: 82 minutes
Summary: Lonely veteran Sherman Oliver (Dillahunt)travels to a small rural town to reconnect with his old Army friend Franklin Page (Logue). Seven years earlier Page saved Oliver's life in a war, an incident which left Oliver with shards of metal froma bullet still embedded in his head and Page missing part of a finger.
Page is now married to Irene (Parker), has a good job in a local mill and has a four year old son, Jacob (Meunier), and a baby girl, and seems toi have successfully put the war behind him. By contrast Oliver is a drifter and appears to have no family or permanent residence.
Page takes pity on him and allows Oliver to stay with him and his family. However Oliver's strange, taciturn mannerisms, rough way of speaking, heavy drinking and obsession with war and violence quickly begin to disturb Irene. On Oliver's part the difference in fortune between him and Page begins to cause resentment.
Opinions: This low-budget independent film from Canada is a powerful and bleak thriller, which deals with the themes of human compassion and also the cpapacity for violence. The film moves at a slow pace and focuses much more on character than incident. The acting is uniformly excellent form a largely little known cast. The basic storyline is not particularly original, but then it's not about the story, it is about mood and camera.
The film is well photographed and makes great use of the wintery landscapes, and strikingly composed images. The main problem with the film is that some of the dialogue sounds quite "stagey".
Despite the brief running time, the film does demand patience from the viewer due to the fact that not much really happens throughout the course of the film. However, the power of the film lies in the knowledge that at some point Oliver will snap.
This is a disturbing film which leaves a strong impression.
Donal Logue and Garret Dillahunt in Oliver Sherman
Tuesday, 14 June 2011
Director: Arthur Crabtree
Screenplay: Herbert J. Leder, based on the short story "The Thought Monster" by Amelia Reynold Long
Starring: Marshall Thompson, Kynaston Reeves, Michael Balfour, Kim Parker
Running Time: 73 minutes
Genre: Horror, science-fiction, monsters
Summary: A US Air Force base near a remote Canadian town is conducting secret experiments in using atomic power to boost radar signals. However, a number of local people have been mysteriously killed by some unseen force which removes their brains and spinal columns. The locals, who are already suspicious of the Air Force base, believe that the newcomers are ssomehow responsible for the killings.
Major Jeff Cummings (Thompson) tries to investigate the killings, with the help of Barbara Griselle (Parker), the sister of one of the murdered locals, and who also happens to work as the secretary for reclusive scientist Professor Walgate (Reeves), who has been working on the idea of telekinesis.
Opinions: On the surface this is a fairly average "B" grade horror/science-fiction film. Despite being set in Canada, this is a British production and was filmed entirely in England (the setting chosen because it was thought that a Canadian setting would appeal both to American audiences and British Commonwealth audiences and the producers thought that a Canadian landscape would be easy to replicate in the UK). The film moves at a fairly sedate pad, with the already brief running time padded out by long exposition scenes in offices, hospitals and living rooms, and also endless stock footage of jet planes and radar equipment.
However, the film comes into it's own in the final act when the previously invisible monsters are finally revealed as squishy disembodied brains, with spinal cord tails, tentacle-like nerves and protruding eyes on stalks. Filmed in jerky, stop-motion animation the creatures are genuinely bizarre and unsettling. The set-piece siege on the country house is a genuinely tense and memorable sequence, with an influence that can be felt in later films such as George Romero's Night of the Living Dead (1968). The monsters themselves can be seen as a forerunner of the infamous "facehuggers" in the Alien series.
The acting is mostly pretty strong from the leads although there are a few weak notes among the supporting cast.
This little-seen curio is well worth checking out if you get the chance. With the climax in particular sticking in the mind long after the film is over.
Launce Maraschal encounters a Fiend Without a Face
Sunday, 12 June 2011
Number of Pages: 179 pages
Genre: Satire, Hollywood, comedy
Summary: The story is narrated by Hazie Coogan who has devoted her life to fulfilling the every whim of her employer, Hollywood star Katherine "Miss Kathie" Kenton who at the height of her glittering career was one of the biggest stars of the Golden Age of Hollywood, and has subsequently survived numerous failed marriages, countless cosmetic surgeries, career setbacks and comebacks, as well as alcohol and drug addiction, and now lives in the serene retirement of a movie legend.
Until Katherine falls for a young suitor named Webster Carlton Westward III. Hazie immediately pegs him as a would-be writer who wants a few lurid personal detials for a "tell-all" celebrity biography which is just lacking a final chapter before it is sent off to the publisher.
Until it turns out that Westward's book already has a final chapter written, describing the exact circumstances in which Katherine will meet her violent end.
As always it is up to Hazie to protect Katherine, and Katherine's reputation, for posterity.
Opinions: In the course of his ten previous novels and two non-fiction books, Chuck Palahniuk has taken numerous bitterly funny and savagely satirical swipes at the nightmarish world of modern life. In this one he turns his attention to the world of movies and in particular the Hollywood "Golden Age", the period of Hollywood movies which lasted from roughly the end of the Silent Film era at the end of the 1920s to the early 1960s.
As usual with Palahniuk, the book utilises a number of stylistic tricks, for example the novel is written in the style of a screen treatment (the chapter headings are all numbered with "Act" and "Scene" such as "Act One, Scene One" and so on), all names are written in bold type, the narrative flits frequently between past and present and there are numerous lurid fantasy sequences (including frequent extracts from a Lillian Hellman penned screenplay which depict Hellman (in reality a well-known playwright) as a kind of superheroine.
The book is not one of Palahniuk's best and lacks some of the wild inventiveness of his best works and reading it I got the feeling that Palahniuk's heart wasn't really in it. The book will feel like very familiar territory to Palahniuk's fans. However, despite that, it is an entertaining, funny and disturbing work, which reads like a mash-up of the movies All About Eve (1950) and Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962). Fans of old Hollywood movies will enjoy it, with it's repeated references to classic movie stars.
Director: Matthew Vaughn
Screenplay: Ashley Edward Miller, Jack Stentz, Jane Goldman and Matthew Vaughn, from a story by Sheldon Turner and Bryan Singer, based on characters created by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby and Chris Claremont
Starring: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Rose Byrne, January Jones, Jennifer Lawrence, Oliver Platt, Kevin Bacon
Running Time: 132 minutes
Genre: Science-fiction, superhero, action
Summary: Poland, 1944: Young Eric Lensherr (Bill Milner) is put in a concentration camp and, being forcibly sperated from his mother, Eric's pain, rage and fear cause the metal gates to buckle and distend. The event is witnessed by Nazi scientist Dr. Schmidt who tries to force Eric to demonstrate his powers, however when Eric is unable to Schmidt forces him to watch as he kills his mother, which triggers a devestating display of Eric's power.
New York, 1944: Young Charles Xavier (Laurence Belcher) is fully comfortable with his telepathic abilities. One night he meets a young shapeshifter named Raven (Morgan Lily), who in her natural form is a blue-skinned girl with golden eyes, stealing food from the kitchens. Charles befriends her.
1962: Eric (Fassbender) travels the globe, using his power to manipulate metal objects in his search to find and kill Schmidt.
Charles (McAvoy), studying at Oxford University, achieves success with his thesis on mutation, while Raven (Lawrence), who is now his foster sister, is working as a waitress.
CIA agent Moira McTaggart (Byrne) discovers that Sebastian Shaw (Bacon) is the leader of a team of mutants and is playing both the USA and the USSR against each other in his plan for domination. She approaches Charles and Raven who join the CIA's covert mutant operation along with Eric who has discovered that Shaw is in fact Schmidt. Soon Eric and Charles are recruiting mutants for their own team to combat Shaw's. However, Eric becomes increasingly resentful of the fact that they are helping a world that both hates and fears them.
Opinions: This is the fifth feature film based on the X-Men comic books. It's a prequel to the other films and showcases how the X-Men came to be as well as the souring of the initial frienship between Charles Xavier (aka Professor X) and Eric Lensherr (aka Magneto). Magneto was always one of the most interesting "villains" in comics because it's hard not to feel sympathy for him and his motivations. A survivor of the Nazi concentration camps, he sees history repeating itself in humanity's attitudes towards mutants. Michael Fassbender gives a superb performance as the complex and tormented Lensherr.
As Charles Xavier, James McAvoy has a less interesting character to work with. He is perfectly comfortable and in control of his ability right from the start and his main character development is showing him turning from a feckless and egotistical student to become a more responsible, if still somewhat egotistical, leader.
The rest of the large cast doesn't really have much of a chance to shine, and the message of racial tolerence and prejudice is hammered home quite heavily, even though the film's only two black characters in one case is killed after about five minutes of screentime and is never mentioned again, and in the other case almost immediately swops sides to join the villains.
Despite this the film is hugely entertaining and benefits from a complex plotline that puts a fantasy spin on real world recent history. The special effects are spectacular and director Matthew Vaughn keeps the action moving along well despite the daunting two hour plus run time.
While falling short of being a great film, this is still a very good one and should provide plenty to interest and entertain non-comic fans. Also the fact that this film in the first in a proposed trilogy makes for a very enticing prospect.
Fans will probably notice Hugh Jackman appearing in a brief cameo as Wolverine.
Caleb Landry Jones, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Rose Byrne, Nicholas Hoult, James McAvoy and Lucas Till in X-Men: First Class
Director: Mario Bava
Screenplay: Mario Bava, Giuseppe Zaccariello, Filippo Ottoni and Sergio Canevari, from a story by Dardano Sacchetti and Franco Barberi
Starring: Claudine Auger, Luigi Pistilli, Laura Betti
Running Time: 84 minutes
Genre: Horror, slasher, mystery
Summary: In her mansion beside a beautiful bay, the elderly Countess Federica (Isa Miranda) is murdered by her husband, Filippo Donati (Giovanni Nuvoletti), and arranged in a way to make it look as if she comitted suicide. However, no sooner is Donati finished arranging the crime scene when he is brutally stabbed to death by a mysterious assailant.
Believing that the Countess killed herself and her husband has disappeared, real estate developer Frank Ventura (Chris Avram) and his girlfriend Laura (Anna Maria Rosati) travel to the bay to get Donati to sign a series of legal documents which will enable them to take posession of the bay to devlop it as a holiday resort.
Also travelling to the bay is the Countess' daughter Renata (Auger) and her husband Albert (Pistilli) who are determined to get control of the bay by any means necessary.
Already at the bay are four teenagers ready to spend a weekend of drinking and partying at one of the abandoned bayside cabins.
However, the mysterious killer is still stalking the bay and the bodies are piling up in the water.
Opinions: This film is one of the classic Italian giallo films. "Giallo" is the Italian word for yellow and it came to refer to a series of cheap pulp fiction paperbacks which had distinctive yellow covers. The term came to refer to a series of horror and crime films which were notorious for lengthy and stylish scenes of extreme violence.
Mario Bava was a noted and well-respected film maker who specialised in horror movies, and this film got a very negative reaction from many critics due to the gruesome violence.
The movie proved to be very influential though and it's impact can be felt throughout the "slasher" and "splatter" horror film genre. The Friday the 13th films in particular with their killers stalking bucolic woodland locations are a direct descendent from this.
The storyline is fun and full of countless twists and turns. The impressive special effects were provided by Carlo Rambaldi, who went on to huge acclaim for the effects in E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial (1982).
The acting is kind of bland, although it is hard to really judge due to the dubbed dialogue.
It is definitely worth watching for horror fans and giallo fans. Although it is worth remembering that it has been released under a wide variety of titles including Twitch of the Death Nerve, Blood Bath and Carnage.
Laura Betti and Leopoldo Trieste in A Bay of Blood
Saturday, 11 June 2011
Director: Lucio Fulci
Screenplay: Giorgio Mariuzzo, Lucio Fulci and Dardano Sacchetti, from a story by Dardano Sacchetti
Starring: Catriona McColl, David Warbeck, Cinzia Monreale, Antoine Saint-John, Veronica Lazar
Running Time: 89 minutes
Genre: Horror, supernatural, zombie
Summary: Louisiana 1927: A lynch mob break into the Seven Doors Hotel and brutally murder a painter, Schweik (Saint-John), who is living there.
In 1981, New Yorker Liza Merril (McColl) inherits the run-down hotel from her uncle. The renovations are plagued by a series of increasingly severe and bizarre "accidents". A blind psychic girl, Emily (Monreale), informs Liza that the hotel was built above one of the seven gateways to Hell. Along with local doctor John McCabe (Warbeck), Liza finds herself pitted against nightmarish supernatural forces as the dead begin to rise and attack the living.
Opinions: This gruesome Italian horror film is often cited as the masterpiece of it's director Lucio Fulci who made his name with films such as Zombie (1979) and City of the Living Dead (1980). Certainly the film doesn't stint on gore and is full of blood and flesh tearing special effects.
The film doesn't really make a lot of sense, especially towards the end, but that isn't really important as the film works in a kind of dreamlike sense and is purely nightmarish. Aside from the zombies and flesh eating tarantulas, the film is full of dream like images, some of which are very powerful.
The special effects are effective and should provide plenty of moments to startle even jaded gore hounds. The dialogue is very obviously dubbed but that was common practice in Italian films and in any way it helps to make the film even more bizarrely surreal.
The symbol which appears prominently at various points of the film was taken from a tattoo which Fulci's fourteen year old daughter got.
Horror films and connoiseurs of cult cinema won't want to miss this one.
Incidentally, in some prints of the film which are currently available, the opening sequence is in black-and-white, when it was originally intended to be in sepia.
Catriona McColl and David Warbeck in The Beyond