Full Boar: Razorback (review)

Razorback-2RAZORBACK (1984)
Dir. Russell Mulcahy

From deep within an Australian Outback as grotesquely gothic as any Tim Burton landscape comes Razorback, feral boar titan, to freight-train through your living room and steal your baby. Yes, your baby. I don’t know what it does with the baby. Presumably it eats him. The film doesn’t get a whole lot more sensible than that, but for those with a taste for horror with an absurdist touch: pig out.

To the land of the weird ventures American journalist and animal-lover Beth Winters (Judy Morris), intent on reporting the country’s heartless massacre of marsupial ‘pests’. Yet with Hogzilla on the prowl the story is bigger than she realizes. Not only is the wildlife more than she bargained for, but so too are the locals, the worst of whom—a couple of yawping, greasy, black-tooth hunters—intrude with a villainy of their own.

Razorback.gifMeanwhile, grizzled pig-shooter Jake (Bill Kerr), grandfather of the stolen baby, begins a Quint-like quest against the beast. Regrettably, Jake is but a shadow of his animal-horror influences, and the film suffers here from its indecisive tone: it’s hard to develop a scarred and serious character in a circus like this. Leaving that aside, Razorback is stylish and garishly striking—fairly well-financed but shot with an irresistible exploitation verve. The final showdown with the big boy (with much organ-pounding over the soundtrack) is sort of scarier than the rest of it, but foremost a silly delight. 3.5 / 5

The Maddest of the Mad: Possession (review)

Dir. Andrzej Żuławski

667.jpgAn intense and aggressive domestic drama descends into experimental horror in Żuławski’s cult classic Possession. Steered visually by the restless cinematography of Bruno Nuytten the film constructs a world pervaded by uncertainty, discomfort, and a sense of worse to come. The initial horror is of an everyday nature: Mark (Sam Neill) arrives home to Berlin to discover his wife Anna (Isabelle Adjani) has been having an affair and is not the least bit sorry about it either. He turns on the insecure male hysterics and quickly drives her to a similar pitch—then beyond. However, in an apartment downtown Anna has been keeping (and gradually growing) a more monstrous secret, and as her behavior becomes more and more unhinged the film explodes into a warped and chaotic exploration of loathing, desire, and frustration.

As the above perhaps suggests, Żuławski’s film focuses at least partially on ‘possession’ in terms of sexual behavior: Sam Neill feels his cheating wife has acted like one ‘possessed,’ although in doing so highlights his own desire for ‘possession’ (of her). Character interactions are histrionic from the outset but often powerfully so—commanding our stunned attention with so much emotional mess. Beyond sexual ‘possession,’ the film is famous for its scenes of female madness, which are indeed remarkable and transfixing. Yet one scene in particular (you will pick it) is so explosive it seems to repel any Possession-8276_4.jpgpossible identification or sympathy, risking a kind of objectifying ‘insanity porn’—a display foremost for our shock and amazement. Or perhaps in its transgressive and apocalyptic intensity (far beyond narrative or meaning) the moment achieves a kind of liberatory chaos?  I expect opinions vary.

The mysterious Thing kept by Anna in her grubby parody of the domestic environment is darkly fascinating, yet the film seems occasionally to lose interest in it, so the device isn’t quite explored to its full visual or metaphoric potential. Ultimately the themes of partner-perfection and obedience are provocative and troubling, and the film’s emotional collisions both traumatic and captivating. But in addition to Anna’s startling hysterics, a very kooky paramour, the monster and a doppelganger there’s also talk of souls and death and God—and really there’s just a bit too much thrown in for us to get an intellectual or emotional feel for its implications. Disorienting sometimes to its detriment, Possession is nevertheless a work of wild and commendable audacity.  3.5 / 5

Review: Alien: Out of the Shadows (2016)


Audible Studios, April 26, 2016
Length: 4 hrs and 31 mins

rutger-hauer-mainThe golden age of radio drama may be in the past, but audiobook subscription service Audible supplies an enthralling extension to the saga of Warrant Officer Ellen Ripley, and of creatures and memories that also refuse to be left behind. The play is approximately novel-length (indeed based a novel by Tim Lebbon) and divided into chapters of around 25-30 minutes long, complete with not merely dynamic voice performances, but also sound-effects and a score—by turns eerie, momentous and mournful—to bring the production to vivid, egg-opening life.

7e124564b65550bf962320ddd3805d92The narrative picks up after the events of the first film as Ripley’s escape pod is intercepted by the crew of a mining vessel, who begin having a xenomorph problem of their own. Consequently Ripley, here played with all the characteristic mannerisms by Lauren Lefkow, is on hand to tell them how fucked they are—before becoming the key adviser against the threat. Meanwhile, android Ash, played by (and dismembered as) Ian Holm in the original film and now performed by Rutger Hauer, is up to old tricks. Hell-bent on fulfilling his mission for the Company of transporting an intact alien specimen, Ash’s disembodied artificial intelligence infiltrates and contaminates various ship systems to sabotage this new team’s efforts. Conceptually and tonally, the film strikes a balance between the first and second films, combining the original’s focus on malignant AI and a crew under-prepared for the menace they face with plenty of action as the creatures close in.

This is a recorded drama, so there is no ‘narrator’ and the dialogue does an excellent job of signalling to listeners what’s occuring without seeming contrived. Only at one point, during a scene of high action, did this mode feel slightly remiss in terms of timely communication. A regular verbal log kept by Ash, for benefit of the Company, also helps clarify chapter events as well as providing a sinister counter-narrative to the trials faced by human characters.

originalThis new story is thrilling and energetic, yet retains the technical flourishes that helped plausibly underpin the films. The only let-down here is  that while the drama initially presents as an ‘alternative’ timeline, later turns of the narrative work to re-integrate what has happened into the existing Alien chronology in a manner that seems clunky and unnecessary. Nevertheless, this hardly makes much of an acid burn on such an gripping and gorgeous production. A must for fans of the franchise. 4.5 / 5

Review: Quatermass and the Pit (1967)


Hammer’s sequel to Quatermass 2 (1957) earns most of its stars through a warped and imaginative conclusion; the closing scenes of this wordy film demonstrate surprisingly eerie imagination—finally showing us something wordlessly (and exquisitely) weird.

But before that: Professor Bernard Quatermass (Andrew Keir) is summoned to help investigate a mysterious metallic shell uncovered during tunnel repairs to the London Underground. He extracts from within some big crusty bugs—perfectly preserved fossils—that he deduces are ancient Martians. Naturally the authorities won’t have a bar of it, and hinder his every step. Meanwhile the craft itself begins acting up, hurtling nearby objects and inducing madness in a few of its meddlers.

Diverging from iconic Hammer fare in its modern, urban setting, the film is a rather low on atmosphere early on, focusing primary on the Professor’s inquiries being stymied by obnoxious officials. Given the innovative Underground setting, one thinks of the missed opportunity to play on this more fully (perhaps using a few haunted-house conventions to evoke a uniquely urban sense of the uncanny). Moreover, the earliest strange happenings (objects levitating near the craft) are disappointingly explicable—by visible wires.Quatermass-6

The pace quickens after the plot has been rather exhaustively unpacked (an explanation involving local legends, ancestral memories, psychic powers and alien ethnic-cleansing). Then we get what we’ve surely been waiting for all along: quakes and chaos emanating from the Underground to threaten busy London above. Most effective is the film’s attribution of a sense of the ‘demonic’ to its ultimately extra-terrestrial menace.  Once this note is resoundingly struck, the technical mumbo-jumbo of science-fiction seems left behind, allowing us to be held and haunted by the film’s final spectacles of terror.  3.5 / 5

Review: Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954)

black-lagoon-gif-200.gifCREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON (1954)

Rarely does a horror film improve much after flubbing its initial scares. The titular Creature initially gropes with fishy fingers from the water a couple of times, but fails to evoke any real alarm. Having him wetly trudge along a boat’s deck in full sunlight is not an effective use of frog-face either. Yet, later, long sequences of the monster stalking his human prey through the weedy depths are urgent, entrancing and masterfully orchestrated.

The tale of the long-lost mutant is foregrounded by evolutionary hypothesizing, and the journey down the Amazon in quest of a mythic specimen is also a journey back in time: the film’s adventurers seek a prehistoric place where all manner of freaks may yet thrive. For all his gillsCreature_from_the_Black_Lagoon_poster and fins, the monster is also conspicuously anthropomorphic, and the suggestion of our continuity with so strange a cousin provokes unease through a blurring of the human-animal binary.

The Creature’s crafty abduction of a human bride, Kay (Julie Adams), is of course iconic.  Since the strapping lover of this damsel (Richard Carlson) refuses to commit to her outright, Gill-man’s predilection for female company hints at an exploded patriarchal fear that she is not sexually “secured”—indeed, she is also desired by a rival explorer (Whit Bissell) during the journey. Later, however, the subtext shifts and the menacing Creature seems to reflect Kay’s fear of angering her lover, since she fancies his rival right back. As these thematic adjustments suggest, the film hits a sweet-spot of anxiety and ambiguity, charging us for confrontations in which humans thrash in life-or-death struggles against the amphibious terror, as well as propelling us toward the tragic finale.  4 / 5