Sunday, 29 December 2013

Diary of a Serial Killer (1995) Otto Chan

It'd been a few years since last I watched any Category III pictures, though amongst my first loves in extreme cinema it isn't often nowadays that I get a fire in my belly for them. But watching Diary of a Serial Killer made me much want to return, an experience like slipping on your favourite dressing gown and slippers, sinking back in an armchair with a nice cuppa and some choccy biccies for dunking, smiling in a shifting shaft of warmth and light and dreaming of home. A second tier affair pulling the same tricks as several before it, it moves with nary a hiccup and plenty of fun, well anchored by its fine central performance. Kwok Pong Chan does fine work as crazy Lau Shau Biu, the serial killer of the title who brutally slays hookers in the belief that the more horrific their death the more thoroughly cleansed they will be of the karmic stain of selling themselves. I'm not sure that this is entirely how reincarnation works, but then I'm not a serial killer. Anyhow he does very well, beginning intense as he recounts his story in a cell, he proceeds to cover assorted psychopathic bases, from coolly hateful and vicious, to merrily sadistic to depravedly clownish and shades between. But he also convinces in his sense of righteousness and compulsive self rationalising, as well as actually harrowed by his urges and the constant threat of events to slide from control, and even keeps a handle on tonal shifts that require actual tenderness and human warmth. He may not have the presence of a Ben Ng or a Simon Yam, but is I think worthy here I think of the genre's greats. Of course a fine central performance would count for little without content to back it up, and Diary of a Serial Killer does pretty well on this front too. While actual gore is fairly limited the violence is mostly nastily sexual in nature with scenes that don't skimp much on nudity, and are agreeably twisted to boot (with one particular mean spirited mutilation standout in the final block). Happily these scenes are quite creepy also (as well as grim), taking place in an attic whose veils, bed and chair and plastic sheeting and mood lighting (permanent dusk or twilight with deep blues and reds) afford a curious ambience that has something of boudoir, dungeon and even shrine mingled. Killer's headspace given deft form, so killer, kills and killing floor align, retreat within that becomes progressively incongruous with the world without. Smart, provoking stuff, but not taken far enough, part of two twined tensions of the film that don't quite come off. Lau Shau Biu pulls against his outside world, and in so doing pulls against our outside world, the sheer fantasy that he could do what he does in the way that he does it without being caught earlier spiting those who would complain of unreality or plot holes. And his religious motives pull against his character, his real motives he prefers to avoid. So why not add more narrative meat, more psychology, have a film not just of yucks but fears of psyche and the world pulling apart in the denial of reality, barbed wire around the brute punch of straighter exploitation? The seeds are there in the structure, all the little things that aren't quite right but satisfy the audience, but the seeds don't grow. Still, this is pretty well paced and never dull, may not satisfy the more ravenous of filth hounds but most should have a pretty good time. So even if greatness is just peering in from the peripheries, this is still well worth a watch for genre fans. Go see...! 

Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Savage (2009) Brendan Muldowney

I approach revenge cinema a little differently to my usual genre appreciation, being fundamentally opposed, even disturbed by the notion, as a viewer I find myself in a position of opposition. Not predisposition not to like revenge films at all mind, just more critical, more interested in the inner workings than surface stories. Savage thus is a film of some interest to me despite not being wholly successful, as it does quite admirab;y try to make an interesting point out of a decidedly conventional scenario. The story of Paul, a photographer of Dublin's seamy underbelly who gets brutally attacked, his descent and ultimate violence, it falls into the serious category of revenge film rather than that of redemptive myth, here revenge is not a means to restore order but atavistic hunger beyond justice. Territory travelled so many, many times that the challenge of any individual film is virtually desperate, to wrest some kind of insight, any worthy insight, out of the sheerly obvious. Savage actually does quite well, rather than a matter simply of descent into madness the focus is on the folly of masculinity in extremis, so focused on ultimately meaningless signifiers like hair, muscles and genitals, that the really important things, those that make someone not just striving towards Man but simply man, strong in heart mind as well as body, good and fulfilled. The opening scene neatly foreshadows this point, as Paul pursues sordid little detail for a photostory while missing wider events right around him, then while the film practically bellows its point from scene to scene the focus remains agreeably clear. A strong performance by one Darren Healy as Paul keeps things compelling rather than eye rolling, beginning a weak man with a measure of real underlying goodness, his halting progress through fear and anger, goodness seeping away as blindness enfolds, is handled with skill and actually slightly unsettling by the end. Decent shooting helps too, painting a world merely bleak during days, at night a restless hopeless underworld crawling with violence sometimes not even out of range of streetlights.

So plenty of good here, unfortunately this only has a real punch to it in the final ten minutes. By some combination of low budget and artistic intent the key early attack is much shied away from, minor face carving and POV shots of crashing feet and fists being about the extent of it. It's mean but it really feels too restrained, too coy for a film of serious, relevant intentions. And in the final block, fantasy taking over as confrontation draws imminent, things simply aren't stressful or twisted enough, there's some psychological suspense but not so much dramatic. The climactic nastiness is reasonably gruelling, but more and earlier really would have improved the overall effect. Still, this is noble stuff, an addition to a stuffed to bursting genre that might not have much worth beyond serious fans but is still worthy of not being forgotten. So don't run, but check it out I guess...

Thursday, 5 December 2013

High Lane (2009) Abel Ferry

Wow, just what you always wanted! An almost absolutely generic backwoods (or in this case mountains, same difference) horror in which the modicum of pulse raising tension created by the one genuinely fine set piece (bridge mishap!) is almost instantly dampened by a descent into the kind of fare that feels like you've seen it hundreds of times before even if its actually been under a dozen. And of course the characters aren't especially likeable or interesting (daredevil, timid, totty etc.), with the chief shot at context or history mostly an irrelevance. 

Basically there's little reason to watch this unless you happen to be an absolutely committed fan of backwoods horror and as such will take anything. Fortunately I am that committed, and presuming that the proverbial room has been cleared, onwards! This all takes place in a lovely setting, genuinely impressive early on and later at least pleasant. The pace is swift, getting stuck into the mountaineering pretty well immediately and skipping downtime between the two phases of the film, nor is there any let up in the latter. The menace is adequate, however unimaginative. I mean, no one wants pitfalls, spikes, man traps or a loon with a bow and arrow. There's a bit of bloodshed and even a wee sliver of atmosphere when it comes to the villains lair. And when it comes to the final scuffle things are shot to quite reasonable exciting effect, frenetic yet visually coherent and modestly satisfying. 

So it works, more or less. Trouble is that work more or less is all that it does, even for die hards like myself this is incredibly thin stuff. I'm no great stickler for originality, point or purpose in a mindless horror, but time and time again I've seen films able to be genuinely weird and surprising within generic constraints, or simply doing things with sufficient gusto to override their familiarity. Such is the case for about ninety percent of worthwhile vintage slashers instance, and this kind of modern backwoods stuff is a close cousin to that. So while I won't entirely dis-recommend this I really can't judge it any more than a bog average time waster that might appeal on a really slow spell. Take it if you must I guess... 

Summer's Blood (2009) Lee Demarbre

Ah, the curse of an inviting premise and an active imagination. See, when I read of a nutter kidnapping a girl to be part of his garden, I imagine upright burial in earth, rows of unfortunates dead and dying, pale faces gasping in hunger and smeared in dirt. You know, kinda Motel Hell style but meaner. Not just a girl chained up on top of, not even within, a gardening plot in a cellar. Massive let down really. 

This is basically just your average innocent trapped by psycho family fare. Moves along fairly effortlessly, quite nicely shot, with just a couple of tweaks. As main weirdo Tom, Peter Mooney is good value the young, handsome and charming sort of loon he does a solid, even somewhat creepy job, one imagines him a nice guy outside of being irreparably broken. His "normality" does well to drive the film just a little beyond its mediocre reaches, contrasting well with the more outlandish incest themes. Contrasting too with the other villains, with whom he also shares effective chemistry. Barbara Niven works well as equally broken but considerably more downtrodden and desperate mother Gaia, but the main draw is Stephen McHattie as vicious yet charismatic dad Gant, just a bucket of fun in the final block. Classing things up with his tough, cool approach yet simultaneously bringing everyone down by being a big old scumbag, a turn of wickedly entertaining vim. 

Unfortunately this is otherwise pretty average, seen it all before stuff. Rather little in the way of bloodshed, sleaze or driving nastiness, distinctly disappointing given that director Lee Demarbre made the rather satisfyingly grisly and unhinged HG Lewis homage Smash Cut in the same year. There were the germs of something really quite appealingly twisted here, Earth mother as fount of sickness, irresistible attractive forces of family and nature turned utterly to wrongness, but things never grow, it's quite a downer But worst of all is the never convincing or compelling Ashley Greene as the heroine. Nice looking young lady and I'm sure she's lovely in real life, but Bob bless her a good actress she is not. She clearly tries, kudos to her, but no. 

So what we're left with is a generally competent affair, better than it might have been and passably worthwhile to addicts like myself that just have to watch, but still average and a little disappointing. Better than a poke in the eye with a wet stick though...