Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Approach With Caution

Prepared for the zombie apocalypse armed only with a fruit knife and a veg hat.

I returned home last night to find that my husband (The Boycat) has started his own blog. Although I feel obliged to warn you that nothing good can possibly lie therein, please stop by and say hi and be his friend anyway. But don’t like him more than me.

Monday, 28 June 2010

Sarah Water's The Little Stranger

Sarah Water’s 2009 novel The Little Stranger is a gratifying concoction of psychological mystery and gothic ghost story set in the post war English countryside. It follows in the grand gothic tradition of such tales as The Fall of the House of Usher and The Castle of Otranto pursing the familiar themes of psychological decline trapped within the confines of a symbolically deteriorating abode.
Hundreds Hall was once a grand sprawling estate owned by the Ayres family that has systematically declined along with the decline its family’s wealth. The book’s narrator, Dr. Faraday is a small town country doctor with a curious affinity for a house he encountered only once before as small child when attending a fete with his mother a former house maid at the hall. He recalls that shortly after this visit the Ayres tragically lost their then only daughter Susan,

After some thirty years absence events conspire to bring him back to Hundreds Hall when he finds himself back at the house professionally to tend to a sick maid, whom he finds out is actually not so sick but rather unnerved by something faintly malevolent about the house that she doesn’t quite understand. He dismisses her as a young, uneducated, homesick child, but does cover for her deception understanding the emotional strain such a situation could create.

Although initially the doctor is surprised by the current condition of the once majestic hall, he soon finds himself intrigued by the Ayres family and begins to visit regularly, ostensibly manufacturing reasons for repeated visits, and rapidly he becomes entwined with the lives of increasingly troubled family.

It soon becomes apparent that the family is under escalating pressure, each member is already marked personal psychological issues and these are only exacerbated by the financial strain of the collapsing estate. We become aware of the barely disguised fragility of each family member; matriarch, Mrs. Ayres, still mourning the death of her first child has retreated into a blissful state of self denial, daughter Caroline, just as her life was getting started free of the burden of Hundreds found circumstances dragged her back and now she is resentful feeling nothing but trapped by what was once her home and son Roderick, who bears his wounds psychically in burns and injuries sustained during the war, must deal not only with trauma of surviving the horrors of war and coming to terms with his incurred injuries but also the impossible burden of master of the house managing a penniless, unworkable estate.

But peculiar forces are work at Hundreds Hall, and as a cycle of increasingly disturbing events begins to play out within the hall, Dr. Faraday finds himself acting as voice of reason continually explaining events away as the result of overactive imaginations or the natural peculiarities of an old, worn house. The Ayres family, however, continue to become more and more convinced that they are, in fact, haunted or, at the very least, cursed and no amount of rational explanations from self-appointed logical interpreter Dr. Faraday can fully convince them otherwise. As the Ayreses are perversely compelled to remain, the doctor is then left to witness the systematic destruction of a family in crisis, trapped by the very symbol of their former wealth and standing amid the crumbling ruins of what was once the noble Hundreds Hall.

In terms of actual paranormal, or alleged paranormal, events they are sporadic and few and far between, it is, rather, the suggestion of possibilities that is intriguing and the continual question of psychological rationale versus supernatural culpability and it these factors combined that contribute to the pervading unsettling tone.

Along with its potentially ghostly and mystery themes it is also fair to say that there is a strong vein of social commentary running through the book, we see anxiety from the doctor regarding the onset of the NHS and the suggestion of the Ayreses deteriorating situation and loss of status as being directly correlative with the new labour government. More significantly, the doctor insinuating himself into life at the hall introduces class themes, irrespective of their current situation the Ayreses are of higher birth and their breeding consequently places a doctor as essentially a servant leading to a precarious undercurrent in the burgeoning relationships. Equally, the doctor clearly exhibits conflict with his own class status, he displays in equal measures both working class guilt and contempt for his humble roots and significantly his aspirational desire for Hundreds Hall and what it represents seems to continually override his better judgement and to be his prime motivator.

Really The Little Stranger is neither a ghost story nor a thriller though it does utilise elements of both genres, it is more a poignant insight into a troubled family in the wake of a war struggling with their own disparate yet inexorably co-dependant personal tragedies. It is both beautifully crafted and beautifully written, a compelling read that could certainly appeal to genre fiction lovers as well as more traditionally oriented readers.

Friday, 25 June 2010

Mega-Jinx vs. Killer Mr. Bitey

Apologies for my recent absence, on a whim I took much needed week off work and I am now trapped on my couch apparently unable to stop watching American Gladiators. I don't know why, but, seriously, it's becoming a problem, I may need help.

To make up for my recent uselessness here's a picture of me taking on Mr. Bitey in a titanic battle (during the ads in American Gladiators obviously).

Be back soon. x

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Midnight Warriors: Jinx Loves….well, everything apparently

Once again the super awesome The Mike over at yon From Midnight With Love has sounded the battle cry to call together his Midnight Warriors so we can answer the important questions that need answering and address the issues that lesser mortals cower before. Responding to his call, much like so many Thundercats calling ‘Ho!’, we have crawled our way out of our moldering crypts and cellars, our dark, dark woods and cobwebbed attics, our green-lit, bubbling laboratories and our sinister, abandoned amusement parks, or, in my case, from where I was lurking around the back sneaking a sly cigarette.

And so it was that we were all gathered, swathed in moonlight, an eager sweat beading our brows and our collective hearts beating a furious, cold tattoo against our chests, until The Mike strode atop his stone promontory, beheld us all and proclaimed:

"What's guaranteed to make you happy when it comes to Horror, Genre, or Cult cinema?"

And we all knew what we must do. Well, most of us knew, I hung around for a bit looking characteristically baffled and had another cigarette.

So what then does make me happy? The wannabe cool kid in me wants shrug noncommittally, arch a disdainful eyebrow and mumble something almost incoherent about the state of modern cinema. But the truth is I’m not a cool kid and I never will be, while there may be some things I’m not overly keen on that seem to make some people a lot of money in cinema today and I might rather see a few more risks being taken instead of oh so many remakes and mediocre franchises, I still love my genre and generally want to defend it more than knock it. Really I’m a happy little soul and frankly it doesn’t take a lot to make me grin with glee. (I prefer to look on this as positive and open rather than lacking the depth to discriminate, also it is another reason why I’m the best wife ever).

So, as we’ve established I lack the grown up ability to discriminate and am, in fact, something akin to an over excited puppy creating merry hell and leaving some unpleasant stains on the carpet, I shall, in answer to The Mike’s excellent question present a brief(ish) rundown of the things that have most made me come over all necessary generally and/or recently. I shall also endeavour, for the sake of decency, to keep this within the parameters of the question and also not to mention Ron Perlman.

1) Innovation, Risk Taking and Good Old Fashioned Balls

Not that long ago I posted about the British flick CUT (2010) that proudly proclaimed itself to be ‘The World's first single continuous shot Horror/Thriller Feature Film’. I kinda wish I’d saved that ‘review’ for this occasion because it would have perfectly exemplified one of the major factors that gives me serious happy face, and it would have given that post some context rather than me just rambling.

CUT had the balls to take the conventions of the slasher movie and revitalise it with the surprisingly simple concept of shooting the whole thing in one, long continuous take. I have already gone into the various reasons why I wholeheartedly admire this attempt so won’t bore you with it again, you can have a read if you fancy it, but, suffice to say, CUT is the first movie in quite a while that has given tingles for its entirety, not simply for its actual content, but rather for its scope and its potential. CUT, I salute you, you make me supremely happy, I want more people to see you.

2) Everything is Better on a Spaceship

Honestly, it is. There is absolutely no intellectual justification for this whatsoever. I just have to admit that I get base, primal thrill at seeing anything in my genre set on a spaceship. Naturally, I love Alien, and its sequels, I also more recently adored Moon, but these seem to me perfectly natural and rational examples of awesome stuff going down on a spaceship and I really need to confess a darker altogether more unsavoury love. When certain familiar franchises find themselves becoming a little spent and there’s not really anywhere left for them to go that’s when they tend to don their rocket pants and head off into space for no real logical reason, and that’s when I say ‘hell yeah!’. I will grin inanely at you, Jason X, Leprechaun 4: In Space, fear my giggling glee, and, god damn it, I’m even on board for Hellraiser IV: Bloodline. Now I know more conventionally the space misadventure is considered to be the death throes of a franchise, but to me they’re a peculiar happy place. I like spaceships. Don’t you judge me!

3) Ron Perlman

OK, I lied.

Ron Perlman’s presence in anything makes me glad. I love how he just appears in stuff when you’re not expecting him and it’s a nice surprise, like finding a fiver in the pocket of a coat you haven’t worn for ages. Now, I’ll be first to admit, some of the stuff that Big Ronnie P has cropped up in has been a bit questionable (Police Academy: Mission to Moscow??!), or a bit mediocre; The Devil’s Tomb/Outlander or frankly just plain silly The Mutant Chronicles, he always lends a certain gravity (and occasionally a silly accent) to proceedings and makes everything look better than it often really is. And he’s Hellboy. Every now and then though the Ronster leads me to something just a little bit special, most recently it was Sons of Anarchy which I probably wouldn’t have watched despite my love for tattoos, bikes and Hamlet if Ron wasn’t in it, but even more special than that was I Sell the Dead which I unreservedly and completely adored. Movies that celebrate and truly love the horror genre also make me unspeakably happy and I Sell the Dead is one of those, it loves B movies, it loves Hammer, it loves comics and as I love all of these things (and Ron Perlman). I loved I Sell the Dead and it topped last years’ Jinx’s Happy List. Ron Perlman always makes the list.

4) A Good Ole Whodunit

One of my special super hero powers is the ability to always know whodunit in any given Agatha Christie. Not the greatest power in the grand scheme of things but one I possess nonetheless. I inherited this skill from my late, much beloved Grandfather who was a huge Agatha fan and, in fact, became a pharmacist purely because of the interest in poisons instilled in him by the novels of the lady herself.

This warrants a happy mention because last year I was particularly excited by the premise of the TV show Harper’s Island (see also Innovation, Risk Taking and Good Old Fashioned Balls). Harper’s Island (essentially a slasher version of And Then There Were None) was the first horror TV show I could remember being truly excited about in a long time and that thrilled me. From time to time I like to be able to engage my little grey cells and if I can do that along with some splattery mass carnage all the better. As I far I recall it didn’t do too well here or in the US and I really think that was shame, it deserved better.

If I’m honest I also partly included this so I could show off that I totally called the Harper’s Island killer very early on (see special power) and this was solely based on my understanding of Christie’s narratives, plot devices and use of characters. I’m just like Miss Marple, if Miss Marple smoked copious cigarettes, had badly dyed hair and refused to take of the same ancient Motorhead T-shirt she’d been wearing for a fortnight. Yup, so I basically included this to point out how much I rule, albeit in a slightly pointless way. But I do genuinely adore whodunits and though I remain loyally partial to the classic old British style I would like to see more of this new gory style on my TV, especially now Midsomer is winding down. Curse you, John Nettles!

5) Terrors of the Deep

I can’t swim. You may find it surprising that I’ve managed to live for thirty-flump years without acquiring this particular basic skill, but I have, I’m a social marvel. Probably as a direct result this inability aquatic related horrors scare me a bit, but in equal measures they also make me inexplicably excited and happy (yup, I’m a social marvel). Jaws remains one of my absolute favourite films ever and I will doggedly, to the point of borderline obsession, search out any film with any one or combination of the following words; ‘shark’, ‘piranha’, ‘octopus’, ‘megalodon’ ‘alligator’ or ‘crocodile’ in the title. Oh, SyFy, or whatever you’re calling yourself these days, you selflessly indulge these whims and I love you! The day I discovered Mega-shark vs. Giant Octopus was a genuine, actual film my head nearly exploded. Seriously, if it’s got a lot of teeth and it’s in the water I’ll watch it, hell, I even watched Raging Sharks the other night and that was terrible! Though it did begin on a spaceship strangely, maybe you actually can have too much of good thing. No, that’s crazy talk, more sharks in space, that’s what I want to see!

I think we’ve learned several things about me here that none of us really wanted or needed to know: 1) I am very easily pleased 2) my taste is questionable and 3) I don’t get out very much. 4) I sink. And while these things are probably unlikely to garner me the respect of…well…anyone really, I refuse to think of unabashed enthusiasm as a negative trait, in fact, I fully intend to celebrate it. I shall continue to emit a high pitched squeal that only dogs can hear whenever any of the above (and a lot more besides) is mentioned, I will continue to trawl the internet in the hope that one day I’ll find an experimental whodunit movie set in a mutant killer sea creature facility in space starring Ron Perlman. I shall not be ashamed, I shall probably also not ever be burned as a witch, ha, take that buoyancy.

My name is Jinx, I wear my heart on my sleeve, and it’s making a bloody mess. Also all I can think about is space sharks now, god damn it.

For more coherent offerings please check out the other Midnight Warriors who have contributed so far:

Howlin’ Joe Monster from From Beyond Depraved

R.D. Penning from Dead End Drive-In c/o From Midnight With Love

Monday, 14 June 2010

The Witches (1966)

Joan Fontaine is one of the last surviving stars of Hollywood’s golden age; at the height of her career in the 1940s she was a huge star excelling in the kind of melodramas that earned her multiple award nominations. We almost certainly remember her from the Alfred Hitchcock classics Rebecca (1940) and Suspicion (1941), the latter securing her the only Academy Award won for a Hitchcock performance. By the 60s, however, Hollywood being notoriously limited in roles for the more mature lady, she was finding film work harder to come by and admirably took the matter into her own hands securing the rights to 'The Devil's Own' by Norah Lofts (writing under the pseudonym Peter Curtis). The concept found its way to the Hammer Studios which resulted in it being brought to the screen in 1966 under the title The Witches.

The Witches introduces us to Gwen Mayfield (Joan Fontaine) who in the opening sequence is working as a teacher in a small school in Africa. Unfortunately the locals are not taking too kindly to her presence and following a frightening encounter (for ‘frightening encounter’ read ‘man in mask gives nice lady a bit of a turn’) Gwen is forced out of Africa suffering from a nervous breakdown.

Back in jolly old England and feeling a bit better (probably after a cup of good old British tea) she’s ready to get her career back on track and secures herself a position as headmistress at a small rural school in the village of Haddaby. An appointment made all the more remarkable considering when we see Gwen being interviewed for the position when questioned about her time in Africa she clearly exhibits some disturbing indicators of mental instability which you would think wouldn’t be desirable for such a responsible role, but apparently they are fine and she gets the job anyway. Go the British education system! The school in question is owned by wealthy locals Alan and Stephanie Bax (Alec McGowan and Kay Walsh), Gwen seems happy enough with her new employers although it does transpire that Alan likes to impersonate a priest and march about the countryside, but if he can overlook her borderline mental problems she really can’t complain.

Initially life in Haddaby looks set to be idyllic; Gwen has her own quaint country cottage, she’s back on familiar ground in quiet village school and after initial trepidation she’s even beginning to become friends with lady of the manor and academic Stephanie Bax. But, under the picturesque exterior, things in Haddaby are not as uneventful as they seem. Gwen is slightly concerned about some odd behaviours amongst certain members of her class and following a minor parental to do regarding the relationship between a boy and the odd girl in her class , Gwen begins to feel even more unnerved as she witnesses further unusual behaviour in Haddaby residents, and when before long the boy falls into a coma and she happens across a doll filled with pins things begin to ring with an eerie familiarity and she begins to fear the practice of witchcraft might still be alive in Haddaby. Blimey, or, to paraphrase Bruce Willis in Die Hard II, how can the same shit happen to same woman twice?! Given her experiences in Africa and her already slightly fragile mental state, Gwen’s perspective of goings on could certainly be considered questionable, but nonetheless she throws herself into polite investigation of events, a course of action that will ultimately sees her buffeted on a tumultuous wave of conspiracy and her own dubious sanity.

The Witches is slow paced and exhibits some glaring plot holes. The nature of the story requires it to be a slow build, but it never really fully manages to achieve the kind of tension necessary for such a narrative to work and be satisfying cinematically. However, as a fan of both Hammer and of genre films of the period I still found myself suitably absorbed in the unfolding events. Unfortunately though, or possibly predictably, the sacrificial, witchy climax fell a bit short of what I was hoping for, though it was certainly memorable, but in quite a different way, as it quickly became apparent that what goes on at a witches’ sabbat is altogether less satanic and deviant than one might expect and, in fact, primarily consists of an exhibition of interpretative dance the likes of which I’ve only ever witnessed before at first year drama student end of first term theatrical showcases. (I’m fairly certain all first year drama students aren’t witches/devil worshippers so I’m assuming the similarities are coincidental, although I have no proof either way). Also noteworthy is a cameo by comedy legend Leonard Rossiter as a crazyhouse doctor and an early glimpse of Michele 'Oooh, Betty' Dotrice.

Although The Witches may be a slightly unimpressive, meandering and strangely sexless entry into the Hammer cannon, Joan Fontaine works hard in her role, a role that would turn out to be her last theatrical film appearance, and that alone makes it worth investigating. The extraordinary performance put in by Ms. Fontaine’s hair should also be commended. The Witches may not demonstrate the fortitude to stand up against similar Hammer ventures of the period, Devil Rides Out, for instance, but it’s a reasonably enjoyable foray into the rural occult nonetheless. An interest in contemporary dance may also increase your viewing pleasure.

Monday, 7 June 2010

CUT (2010)

On paper there’s not really anything original or innovative about CUT, it’s essentially the tale of a group of friends trapped in an isolated location while a sinister killer stalks them. However, what is remarkable about CUT is that it is ambitiously presented in one long, continuous 60 odd minute take. Now while I’m aware that this isn’t thoroughly original technique, I know Hitchcock experimented with the concept in ‘Rope’ and I’m fairly certain I have previously heard mention of another more recent horror movie that utilised the same principle, I do still have to admire the audacity and skill of the attempt and the divinely bold claim of it being ‘The World's first single continuous shot Horror/Thriller Feature Film’. Awesome! Also, I’m a bit enamoured of the fact that, really, CUT operates like theatre, super scary killer theatre. It does a remarkably successful job of employing aspects of the two disciplines to create an experimental, yet accessible, piece of cinema that is both exciting and fresh. One nice outcome of this is that the audience is allowed to almost participate in the action, the fourth wall is all but removed and we are essentially invited right into the action almost like an additional member of the endangered gang.

CUT is the story of five friends who, following some manner of probably very glamourous party, return to spend the night in a picturesque and suitably isolated house in England’s charming Peak District. Unfortunately for them their after party is unceremoniously ruined by the dawning realisation that, contrary to popular belief, the Peak District is not merely a scenic holiday destination in the north of England mainly populated by ramblers and the occasional twitcher, but rather it is a hotbed of stalking nutcases eager to menace visiting urbanites.

We are introduced to Jack (Zach Galligan or ((Billy from Gremlins to you and me)).) and his buddy Michael (Dominic Burns ((who looks a bit like my BFF Kev, but you don’t need to know that)).) indulging in a comedy bicker fest as they chivalrously debate the pro and cons of copping a sneaky eyeful or indeed feel of one their lady friends while she drunkenly unconscious, but, hell, what’s a little borderline sexual assault between friends? The pair are fortunately rumbled by Billy from Gremlins girlfriend Natalie (Lauri Brewster) who, while less disturbed by this turn of events than she probably should be, is understandably irate.

We then continue the action with Andy (Simon Phillips) who is engaged in a battle of wills with a local pizza delivery service and as the other characters mill downstairs and begin interacting we are given a pretty clear idea of the dynamics that will underpin the rest of the movie. In anticipation of the imminent arrival of crazy our merry band of friends pass the time with dilatory banter, passive aggressive insults and general well meaning bickering, as is the British way. We also learn that Michael has been harbouring some kind of secret that is slowly filtering its way around the group and that Andy is planning to write the great British horror novel and has a great idea for an urban myth that he has no intention of disclosing because it’s just too great, so our time here isn’t wasted.

Then things start to get weird, phone lines get cut, gnomes get systematically massacred, pizza gets delivered and the gang begin to realise they are far from alone. The rest of the movie sees the friends fighting for their lives with kind of British resolve that induces you to wield a bedpan as a suitable deterrent to psychotic killers.

CUT has a lot of things going for it; the concept is refreshing and predominantly executed well, the cast is charming, the murderous killers are suitably creepy and the location provides the ideal balance between quaint, rural idyll and claustrophobic, inescapable nightmare. The only real downside is the audio, at times it was difficult to make out the dialogue, one cast member in particular sounded like he was underwater a lot of the time, and often the music was overwhelming and equally impeding, however, given the ambition of the production it’s hardly surprising that there were difficulties. Naturally, given the conceit, the gore factor and visible kills are low and sometimes the altercations between victims and killers seem a little clumsy, but the tension is built nicely and effectively sustained throughout and the kills that are visible are credible.

In terms of the comedic, bantering style of dialogue I have previously alluded to, this was often hit and miss, at times it was genuinely amusing but there were occasions when did appear somewhat awkward and less effective. Again though this is small concede given the overall scope and I am appreciative to the mechanics and the skill involved in crafting the script that had to accommodate not just creative and character aspects but also technical considerations such as time for costumes changes and for resetting other cast members and scenes.

Not my BFF Kev and Andy (Simon Phillips)

CUT is worth watching for a lot of reasons and I would advise you take the time to give it view even if it’s only as a show of respect for the sheer effort, preparation and ingenuity that went into the production. The blocking and timing of both the cast and crew throughout would have had to have been meticulously calculated and the energy of the ensemble actors is remarkable considering the amount of repeated takes it must have taken to compensate for the smallest visible mistake from the cast or crew.

Writer and director Alexander Williams (who I believe is actually actor Dominic Burns who also plays Michael and looks a bit like my BFF Kev if you recall) does an impressive job with such an ambitious project, CUT is daring and different and it’s also exciting, not necessarily in terms of the story and the action, though that’s commendable too, but more the freshness of the concept and the potential for future ventures. It’s also nice to see Billy from Gremlins out and about again.

Wednesday, 2 June 2010

When Sea Creatures Attack....

I don’t know about you, but for me, when the weather warms up and we’re starting to be dimly threatened by summer, all I want to do is watch sea creature related peril movies, particularly if they primarily involve beaches and bikinis.

So in celebration of Britain's brief attempt at not being bleak and drizzley, last week I watched:

Piranha (1978)

Still awesome. Completely silly, completely B Movierrific, completely camp and completely wonderful.

Piranha Part Two: The Spawning (1981)

Clearly James Cameron’s finest film. It’s got Lance Henriksen in it and it taught me several valuable lessons:

1) Having sex underwater is stupid.

2) Piranhas can fly. Not glide in a favourable wind like lesser fish, literally fly.

3) It’s remarkably easy to make a waterproof time bomb.

4) A torch is an inadequate weapon against piranhas.

5) I hate Titanic, it still sucks.

6) I’d probably watch anything with the word ‘spawning’ in the title. It’s a great word.

Piranha (1995 remake)

Exactly like 1978’s Piranha except that in the intervening 17 years special effects have apparently made no advancements and have, in fact, gotten worse and no amount of Williams Katts and curiously flat-chested and brunette ex-Baywatch babes is going to change that.

Mega Piranha (2010)

Starred Tiffany. That’s all I have to say about that.

Megalodon (2002)

I watched 50+ minutes of a film about some people on an oil rig until a prehistoric shark eventually showed up, did very little and got blown up. V. disappointing. But it did have that guy who made fires in a couple of episodes of The X Files, and who appears to be in everything I watch recently to point I’m beginning to suspect he may be stalking me, in it.

Malibu Shark Attack (2009)

Beaches, bikinis and blood, that’s what I signed up for and MSA did its very best to oblige, which was thoughtful of it. Other than that, better than Shark in Venice is the best I can offer.

To celebrate my personal ‘Menace of the Deep’ season (and that fact that I’m the most awesome wife ever) my gorgeous husband bought me this:

This is romantic to us. Mr. Bitey now resides on the top of our TV where we both now continually eye him suspiciously because we’re fairly certain that he’s just waiting for us to drop our guard so he can mount an attack. He fits into our little family well.


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