This is where you'll find some infrequent film reviews.
None of these are official reviews; this is simply me waffling about films I've bought or already own on DVD. Hopefully I can direct people towards something interesting they've never seen before....
When I was much younger I loved the man-versus-nature films that were in vogue during the 1970s, and Jeff Leiberman's Squirm is, to me, the best of them all.
The small coastal town of Fly Creek, Georgia suffers a monumental overnight storm. Power lines are brought down and left to generate masses of electricity into the earth, which brings up hordes of local worms to attack the populace.
I'd only ever seen it before on grainy third-generation VHS, and it was wonderful to see a nice clean print on DVD. It's long been one of my favourite exploitation films of the era: witty, classy, clever, and actually rather creepy. The special effects, although primitive, look a million tmes better than most modern CGI (even the worms projected onto a victim's twitching body to signify that she's been engulfed), and the ending is a joy of clumsy symbolism and skin-crawling terror.
The cast give decent performances, and a lot of the secondary roles seem to be taken up by local characters who were dragged in to film their scenes. The rubbery worm effects are suprisingly effective: a slow-moving avalanche of pink and red that swallows everything in its path.
Leiberman was always a canny director - he knew his limitations, and that of his budgets, and constantly tried to work around problems to produce something fresh. Squirm takes its time in getting anywhere, using the structure of a mystery until it's finally time to unleash the beasties. The final fifteen minutes are marvellous, with a house under seige by killer worms, human emotions running wild, and a desperate fight for survival that takes place amid the ruins of a family.
SOYLENT GREEN (1973)
I hadn't seen Richard Fleischer's Soylent Green since I was a teenager, so decided to enjoy another viewing just to see if the film had stood the test of time. Well, when I say enjoy, I think I'm possibly misguided, because Soylent Green might just be the most depressing film ever made.
Set in a dystopian future (2022) suffering from over population, pollution and food shortages, the film creates a hideously claustrophobic atmosphere. Charlton Heston plays Robert Thorn, a cop who's workload is so heavy that he can barely spare time to sleep. He is assisted by an aged friend called Sol (played by the brilliant Edward G. Robinson), who does all the deskwork while Thorn does the endless legwork.
New York City is depicted as a smog-filled urban nightmare, with people sleeping on staircases, balconies, and under tarpaulin shelters in the streets. Rotting apartment buildings are guarded by gunmen, who control the numbers of residents. The populace is fed on Soylent products - Soylent Yellow, Soylent Red, and the eponymous Soylent Green, which is in short supply. They are watched over by edgy riot police, and arrested at the first sign of public dissent.
Thorn starts to investigate the murder of a rich, high-ranking member of the Soylent Corporation, and slowly uncovers a conspiracy that leads him to question the entire nature of the society he is helping to police.
The film is relentless in its depiction of urban misery. Part mystery, part future noir, part social commentary, the plot weaves its way through an environment of utter despair. The only recent film I can compare this to in terms of bleakness is John Hillcoat's The Road, which is another exercise in pure horror dressed up as SF.
The 1970s produced some black-tinted visions of the future - brilliant, challenging films like Soylent Green, Westworld, Rollerball, Logan's Run. It's difficult to imagine these films being made today, with their lack of high-octane action scenes, slow pacing and clever, screenplays. I yearn for a return to this kind of SF filmmaking. These films are now more relevent than ever, and watching Soylent Green again left me feeling cold inside. I can see it happening. It's dark, amoral world is just around the corner from our own.
OF GODS AND MEN (2010)
Of Gods and Men (Des hommes et des dieux) is based on true events. A group of Trappist monks stationed in an impoverished Algerian village must decide whether to stay and stand behind what they believe in or leave and be safe when terrorists start to exert pressure upon them.
It's a slow, almost ponderous film, but at the same time it's utterly gripping. Over the two hours plus running time we get to know the monks as individuals, and even begin to understand a little of what was going on at ground level during the Algerian Civil War. There's no onscreen violence, nobody is physically threatened, but as the film progresses we begin to fear more and more for the lives of these simple monks.
It's an astonishing piece of work. Beautifully shot, brilliantly written, and with some sublime performances from the leads. It's rare that a film can captivate me as much as this one; I didn't want it to end.
But when the ending comes, it leaves you feeling both sad and uplifted. These men - these real life heroes, for want of a better word - stood their ground and fought quietly, humbly for what they believed in. They demonstrated a commitment to a lifestyle that is difficult for most of us to understand and they asked nothing in return for their sacrifice.
Afterwards I watched a documentary that formed part of the DVD Extras, and found out what actually happened to the monks (a detail the film leaves out). It's horrifying, and if I can find one flaw in the film it's that it pulled its punches: we should have been shown their fate, if only to demonstrate the ultimate price of their commintment.
See this film. Remember the heroism of these men.
DAUGHTERS OF DARKNESS (1971)
The other night I watched on DVD Harry Kümel's Daughters of Darkness. It's been a long time since I first saw the film - on Alex Cox's much missed Videodrome series, if memory serves - and it was everything I remembered it being.
Based loosely on Sheridan Le Fanu's Carmilla, and casting Delphine Seyrig as a sexually charged Countess Bathory, the film has a young honeymooning couple stranded in an off-season Ostend hotel. Bathory and her equally sensual consort arrive, and the couple is subjected to a seductive onslaught that leads, inevitably, to crimson-washed mayhem.
The pace of the film is wonderfully ponderous, it's incredibly pretentious, and when the violence comes it's all a bit contrived and comical. But I loved it. Everything I enjoy about European horror films is there: pretension, perversion, gleeful sadism, gratuitious bloodshed, and an utter disregard for the logic of real life situations and characters.
The location of a somewhat blustery Ostend is used wonderfully, and could almost be seen as a visual metaphor for the ennui of the characters. The hotel is a treasure of faded grandeur. The actor who plays the hotel manager is deliciously dour, Seyrig is sex in high heels and gold lame, and the girl who plays the young wife has the sexiest nose I've ever seen in a film.
Just look at the picture above and tell me you don't want to see that...now go and order the DVD.