A Study in Terror & From Hell; Or Elementary, My Dear Ripper

Hello and Hallo-welcome to another edition of Twofer Tuesday, where you get two films for the price of one–shame that price is your SOUL (lightning, lightning, thunderclap, thunderclap, cackle)! You join your reviewers, Andy and Lilly, as they venture into the foggy streets of 1800s Whitechapel, which are no place for a lady at night (so they should both be alright).

Today’s film offerings: A Study in Terror (1965) & From Hell (2001)

Lilly: Full disclosure: I’m all about Jack the Ripper stuff. I’ve been on the tour in London far too many times, I’ve read books, I’ve listened to all the theories (both plausible and outlandish), and we own TWO Jack the Ripper themed board games (three, if you count a pocket version of one).

Andy: He’s also a sort-of brutal irony in human form. No one knows who he was, but he’s easily one of the most famous serial killers ever. He’s very stylishly shown, but in reality he mutilated his last victim so horrendously she could only be identified from her ears. His victims elicit sympathy for their anonymity amid the squalor of London, but in death have achieved an immortality they would otherwise have lacked.

Lilly: Second full disclosure: I’m all about Sherlock Holmes stuff. I studied the stories in uni, I have done walking tours (both self guided and not) of locations mentioned in the tales, I have visited 221B Baker Street more than once, I have several video games starring the great detective, and we own FOUR Sherlock Holmes themed board games (though they overlap with the Jack ones in the case of two of those).

So, did I like A Study in Terror, a film where Sherlock Holmes attempts to solve the unsolved mystery of who Jack the Ripper is? Can I just point you towards those first two paragraphs, please and thank you, I’ll wait here.

Super biased as I am, however, I’ll do my best to review the film without dying of excitement. Let’s do this!

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A Study in Terror is everything we love about 1960s British horror–outlandish, garish, creative death scenes, and cockneys. Okay, maybe not all horror from that era had cockneys, but one set in 1880s Whitechapel sure does. With an opening scene where a prostitute gets stabbed through the neck with a large knife (there are no spoilers with these films re: the deaths, just wiki Jack the Ripper–though don’t depend on the deaths being in order at all, because nope), you can’t say this film doesn’t kick off quick. It’s actually pretty well paced, the murders happening at perfect intervals between Holmes and Watson (and Mycroft makes three!) trying to solve the case.

Let’s talk Holmes and Watson for a minute. It was said at the time of the film’s release that they were clearly heavily influenced by Rathbone and Bruce’s depiction of the pair, and since Bruce is (in)famous for creating the bumbling fanboy to Holmes version of Watson, I got to agree on this one. While John Neville’s Holmes is a picture perfect replica of the Paget illustrations of Holmes, and had some quirks that really delighted the Holmes fan in me (not to mention dropping famous lines like it was hot throughout the film like a Holmes’ Greatest Hits album), Donald Huston’s Watson had to practically comb his moustache every two minutes to make up for the mess it was after metaphorically blowing Holmes for every single deduction he made. I have a real pet peeve with having Watson act that way, so naturally, while amused by just how ridiculously up Holmes Watson was in this story, I was also annoyed because damn it, Watson is a sounding board with intelligence, not some sort of Yes Man.

Then there is the fast and loose way history is used in this piece. There are some good Holmes + History mashups out there (like The Seven Per Cent Solution which has Holmes and Freud teaming up, for one of MANY examples), but this…is not one of them. It is barely a good enough Holmes story, but coupled with the murders being in the wrong order, in the wrong places, and at the wrong time, well. It’s a bit like making a film about the Titanic set in Alaska in the 1980s.  Don’t get me wrong, I’d watch Titanic 2: You Betcha That’s a Big Boat, but it wouldn’t be anything close to the actual story. And don’t get me wrong, historical fiction doesn’t need to have all the facts–fiction can come into play–but if you take the dates and locations and mix them all about, it’s no longer historical, even, it’s just using the same name and place. To go back to the Titanic comparison, it would be like a film called Titanic being about a schooner that hit a rock and everyone lived. Basic idea of boat disaster, but waaay off the mark.

That said, Sherlock Holmes didn’t exist, so we are already setting the bar pretty low for reality.

It’s a fun film. It’s cheesy, it’s got little Holmes fan shout outs and little Jack the Ripper mythology fan shout outs, and it features very young Judi Dench, so how can you say no! Go, watch, enjoy!

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Andy: From Hell is a different beast entirely. Here, the chronology is more or less intact, Whitechapel is suitably depraved and disgusting (and most importantly, dark), and it seems to have a much firmer grasp of time and place.

What’s different is that the motive for the murders is a grand conspiracy involving everyone from the Queen down, and that the poor women of the East End, the ‘unfortunates’, were killed because of hidden knowledge about a royal affair.

Based on Alan Moore’s comic book of the same name, the story mostly concerns the trials of Frederick Abberline, one of the lead detectives on the case, and Mary Kelly, one of the women implicated in the plot. Unfortunately, if you know anything about the ripper killings, you can take an educated guess that things aren’t going to go well.

It’s an odd film, filled with all of the weirdness of late Victorian London – lobotomies, poor houses, opium dens, and bizarrely, grapes.

It’s certainly not a very fun or hopeful movie – there’s none of the morbid humour you get in, say, Sleepy Hollow, which has a similar vintage and Johnny Depp. Also, I am not sure about the decision to make Abberline a drug-addled psychic, considering the real guy was commended a bunch of times and lived until 1929.

Still, it’s one that might be worth watching. It’s conspiracy is pure hogwash, obviously, but it does a good job of leading us around between suspects. On the other hand, a half decent documentary might be your best bet on the ripper killings.

The Haunting (1963) & The Haunting (1999) Double Bill; or Hill House Ain’t Having It

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Hello and Hallo-welcome to another edition of Twofer Tuesday, where we offer up two films for the price of one, like it or not! You join your reviewers, Andy and Lilly, as they take a leisurely drive in the countryside, only to stumble upon a house that doesn’t quite have the right angles, does it…

Today’s Film Offerings: The Haunting (1963) & The Haunting (1999)

Andy: It’s a strange situation that, despite the fact that everyone can draw a ghost from the age of five up, the best ghost stories hardly have any ghosts in them at all. The works of M. R. James, The Turn of the Screw, The Woman in Black, and of course, The Haunting of Hill House by the brilliant agoraphobe Shirley Jackson. The weird, bewitching tale of young Eleanor drawn into a house that at first seems welcoming, and yet malevolent has been adapted to film twice – once in 1963, and then again 1999.

Of the two, the 1963 one is more subtle and faithful to the source material. Directed by Robert Wise, bizarrely in between The Sound of Music and West Side Story, the tale concerns Eleanor Vance, a woman who has recently been, er, ‘liberated’ from the demands of caring for her invalid and deeply unpleasant mother. Striking out for the first time, she answers an advert for an experiment at an old house, specifically for those who have displayed some latent psychokinetic ability, which she did as a child.

Joining her is fellow subject Theodora, an exuberant and coded lesbian character, Luke, the prospective heir to Hill House, and Dr Markway, the kindly man running the experiment as a cover into investigating the paranormal.

The trouble is, of course, that when the paranormal does hit Hill House, it’s not obvious whether it is being orchestrated consciously or unconsciously by Eleanor herself. Because, as becomes apparent, years of mistreatment have rendered her a deeply emotionally damaged woman.

This is a great film, one that is best watched alone with the lights off to let it affect you. It has one of the best uses of sound in a movie (which makes sense, given Wise’s penchant for musicals) and offers no easy answers to the mysteries of the house. Awesome.

And there is the terrible beating heart of the movie. Is Eleanor doing this with her mind? Or has the House found the weakest member cracking and started worming its way into widen it? Thoughtful, shuddery stuff.

Lilly: Then there is 1999’s The Haunting.

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Screw your subtleties, stuff your ambiguity, Hill House is definitely haunted in this remake. In fact, forget the book’s claustrophobic build up, the doubt of your narrator, all of that, because 1999 was not a time for thinking, it was a time of doing and casting Owen Wilson while you were at it. The Haunting is an horror thriller, and the thriller part takes front seat as you are made to be terrified, damn it, so stop thinking about the implications of a house that picks at your own mental cracks and instead be afraid of a ruddy big statue coming to life, watch out!

This film is not a thinking man’s horror. It strips the basics of the story by Shirley Jackson and slips them into a heavy handed haunted house film. There are ghosts, you are in danger, and just help us, Eleanor, help us, this is not the story Jackson wrote at all.

That said, it’s fun!

So, do you hold a film tight to the material it is remaking or do you accept some oddities if you are over all entertained? Question for the ages right there. Because if we are talking about a film adaptation of Jackson’s novel, then this is awful. It misses the point of the tale while it  takes out the spookiness of not knowing whether it is the people or the house or both that are making the supernatural events occur. Ooooo is it Liam Nee–No, it’s not Liam Neeson, there is clearly a ghost. That bed just attacked them. It’s a ghost.

But. Again. It’s fun.

As someone who hates when people compare books to films (so naturally just did that, hypocrite), I guess I just have to go with comparing the two films. And hoo boy, are they different. But I’ll watch and enjoy them both.

You know why you should watch this film? Because a bed attacks someone. A statue attacks someone. There is a scene involving the fireplace that is magnificent. Hill House means business, and as haunted houses go, this is a heck of a ride. The backstory created about Hugh Crain is pulpy and deliciously evil, the effects are creepy, and Liam Neeson is in it. It’s one of those films you watch with friends and a big bowl of popcorn, and there is nothing wrong with that. So go, watch, don’t take too seriously, and enjoy!

Severance and Doghouse; or The Long-Awaited Danny Dyer Double Bill

Hello and Hallo-welcome to another edition of Two-fer Tuesdays! You join your reviewers, Andy and Lilly, a pair who might benefit from a team building exercise or two, but would rather just have a weekend away in a town overrun by monsters, if that’s alright!

Today’s film offerings: Severance / Doghouse

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Andy: We talk about a lot of supernatural horrors on this blog. Werewolves. Witches. Vampires. There are, however, far more mundane horrors. For some, true horror is the dreaded corporate retreat. What could be worse than being stuck with the people you can’t stand 9-to-5 for an entire weekend? Other than insane paramilitary war criminals joining in the fun, of course.

Severance follows the trials of Palisade Defence’s European sales team, as they head up into the mountains of Eastern Europe, for a relaxing weekend of fun, frolics and, for one member of the team, drugs and hookers.

Unfortunately for them, they find a dilapidated cabin, no food and a band of well-armed psychopaths who seem to have something against their company and their ability to keep breathing.

The cast is notable for having a high proportion of actors more known for their comedy work as opposed to horror – Tim McInnerny, Andy Nyman and Danny Dyer make up some of the hapless crew – and there is a really vicious streak of black comedy throughout the whole thing. It’s not ‘haha’ funny, except for a few instances, and a lot of the deeper humour comes from the more overzealous corporate types trying to push the weekend activities forward even after it’s become apparent things are very, very wrong.

Overall though, it lacks the heart that makes something like Shaun of the Dead tick – if you populate a cast entirely with bland but likeable or fairly horrid characters (Mr.Dyer excepted of course), there’s no-one to root for, and when the movie reaches the inevitable point where horror takes over entirely, it’s nothing that hasn’t been done elsewhere and much better. It probably doesn’t help that so-called ‘torture porn’ as a genre lacks the mythology of the zombie genre to riff off of, but it doesn’t change the fact that someone being violently murdered is nowhere near as intrinsically funny as zombies shuffling around while all in the foreground remain oblivious.

It sounds like I’m ragging a lot on this movie, but it’s not bad per se – it’s just that the horror-comedy bar is set very, very high at the moment. I would tentatively recommend it; if anything is more subjective than what makes people scared, it’s what makes ‘em laugh.

Kudos though, for the awesome setup where a guy explains the mechanics of a fairly grisly sort of demise to an incredulous coworker, and then is happy rather than upset when he is ‘proven’ right. And for giving us Danny Dyer tripping his balls off in the middle of a forest. 

 

Lilly: And then there is Doghouse.

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Set in some remote village out in the middle of who-knows-where, Doghouse is a charming tale of a few lads trying to cheer up their buddy after a divorce got him down. The group, headed by chauvinistic charmer Neil (portrayed by the fantastic Danny Dyer), get to their destination to only find that the female population of the town (of which it was supposedly three-to-one in favour of women over men, according to Mikey, played by Doctor Who’s Noel Clarke) have turned into homicidal monsters. Lucky they came in a bus and could drive away–but wait, their bus driver was a woman, and whatever turned the locals was air borne. Oh no!

Let me open up this discussion of Doghouse with the fact that I am a feminist. Surprise! I am. I think about representation of women in films, I think about the Bechdel test, my mind is ever working to try and be better when it comes to my own thought process re:women and men in this world. So, with that premise above, you can well imagine my tiny mind was working over time to figure out if it was okay or not. I’ll tell you the exact moment where I stopped thinking. It was when Neil, known womanizer, cannot shoot their bus driver who has gone monster, and his friend yells at him ‘Now is not the time to stop objectifying women!’ Okay. You got me, film. You got me. Because this is a film that takes the struggle I felt internally and makes it a physical threat. Is it okay to be treating women this way? In real life? No. In this situation? Yes, or else they will eat your face.

And sure, even as monsters, they are objectified by the men, but almost instant karma comes of any sexualization of the creatures, and I love that. Throw in the fact that the cast is full of fun actors like Keith-Lee Castle and Stephen Graham, you have to stop thinking too hard on if the film is ‘okay’ and just accept it is a comedy horror which was not meant to be taken seriously. You see how both genders are stereotyped and abused in the plot as well, with men acting like fools because of women (even monster women) and women eating the flesh of men in a fit of rage because their brains are taken over by a chemical–that’s a stereotype, right?

Horror wise? This was a scary film. I mean, just think if half the population was suddenly transformed into monsters. Think about it! I’ll wait. Because that’s scary stuff. And the creature design was definitely aiming for that, while still having these creatures being ‘familiar’ enough to see the women they were. Creepy, shudder-inducing stuff.

As for the comedic aspect of the film, I think finding humour in situations can be different for everyone–I was straight up laughing just at the synopsis of the film, so I was an easy sell on this one, plus I think Danny Dyer is just such a fantastic bit of fun that whatever, I’m not going to nitpick about how some of the jokes fell flat or there were some parts that were clearly meant to be funny but just didn’t quite manage it because it was too close to the horror side of things. Comedy horror isn’t easy, and you do sometimes get films that don’t really manage both genres. However. Sometimes, you have films you hold to different standards, and this is one of mine. I think there are lots of films out there that are that for others that I don’t get (see: our reviews of The Thing which Andy loves and I ew at) and that’s okay.

Should you watch Doghouse? Yes. Absolutely yes. For me, it’s like if Shaun of the Dead was mashed up with At World’s End, and then Danny Dyer came along and punched it in the teeth and all the bromance happened. With a few touching moments, a few genuine scares, and a few hilarious moments wrapped around moments of ‘You IDIOTS’, this is a fun film to just pop on and have some popcorn to. Enjoy!

 

The Thing (1982/2011) Double Bill; or It’s What’s Inside that Counts

MacReady_and_Clark_approach_the_kennels_-_The_Thing_(1982).pngHello and Hallo-welcome to Two-fer Tuesdays, where you get two films for the price of one! You join your reviewers, Andy and Lilly, as they suit up, fondle their flamethrowers and eye each other suspiciously.

Today’s film offerings: The Thing (1982) / The Thing (2011)

Andy: Lilly and I generally have similar tastes in horror. Ask us to name our top five found footage movies, and there will be considerable crossover. Classic Universal and Hammer really float both our boats. But occasionally there are … fault lines.

Lilly: Big ones. Gaping chasms, if you will.

For general ease, we’re going to be calling these Thing 1 and Thing 2. Or is that for my general amusement? Either way.

Andy: And of course, Thing 2 released in 2011 was actually a prequel to Thing 1, released in 1982. Neither Thing 1 nor Thing 2 should be confused with The Thing From Another World, released in 1951. All three were loosely based on a John W. Campbell story from 1938 called “Who Goes There?”. Following?

Lilly: God no.

Andy: Anyway, onto the 1982 Thing. Following a short and fatal encounter with two Norwegian men hell bent on blowing up a husky, the men of Station 31 in Antarctica learn that the station the Norwegians originated from had discovered some sort of flying saucer and alien in the ice, but is now a blackened shell and there is a very strange body in the snow outside. Much to their horror, they discover this body may not be entirely dead, and worse still, that the husky may not exactly be a husky.

Soon the true horror dawns on them – this life form is not only aggressive, it is also able to assimilate and perfectly imitate any living organism, including their companions. It is the ultimate paranoid fantasy – what if the man standing next to you was no longer a man, let alone the man you knew? What if you couldn’t trust anyone?

Lilly: Dun dun dunnnnn.

But seriously though! The Thing suddenly becomes this psychological mind game interspersed between scenes of horrific body horror (with disgustingly realistic practical effects) and Kurt Russell yelling. Add in the fact that no one is going anywhere, damn it, which comes with the territory of isolated horror, and boom, you got this nightmare of a scenario.

Andy: It’s pretty much a worst case scenario – add into the mix the fact that it is all but impossible to follow the chain of ‘infection’ as the film progresses and you get this horrible disorienting sense of terror. And of course, it does eventually emerge, either when forced to or when it has some poor bastard cornered, and at that point, some of the most creatively awesome effects in film history happen.

Lilly: Ugh. Yes, they do. And while I can admire how creative and fantastical the effects are, I really could do with never having to see them again ever. I mean, the guy with the neck…Come on. Come. On. But yet so unique. But so gross. But so inspired. But so. Gross. I was scared, and like made physically all squirmy, and while I am a bit of a scaredy cat, the physical feeling of unease The Thing gave me was impressive. I ended up just wanting everyone to be a thing so it could be over with. And it was a different sense of wanting the film finished than if I were bored, or if the film wasn’t all that great. No, it was just wanting some relief from the relentless awful, gross messes that the alien life form created, and props to the creature design people for rolling out all those monstrosities. It was tiring and terrifying at once.

Andy: And if that paragraph doesn’t sell you, it may not be for you. It is one of the last truly great horror movies to come out of the late 70s boom, and if you are fan of horror of any stripe, you owe it to yourself to watch this movie. It is one of the Greats.

Lilly: And now, Thing 2!

Or Thing Before the Thing. Whatever.

Andy: The Thing 2011.

Lilly: Shut up.

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The prequel follows the misadventures of a plucky palaeontologist who is invited on a journey south to a mysterious dig at a mysterious Norwegian research base by a mysterious Norwegian. What could go wrong!

See: 1982’s The Thing.

Plucky and her friend head down to meet up with a bunch of Norwegians plus a few Americans so we can all relate to them. Because Americans. They discover that the mysterious dig is mysterious due to the fact that it’s a great big bloody space ship! What! And a thing/alien/whatever in the ice! Double what! They carefully excavate the two sites over a few months of painstakingly diligent efforts, and it all pays off in the end when they aren’t massacred whatsoever.

Psych! So not what happens. Opposite. That’s the opposite.

While 1982’s The Thing was a sort of Who Dunnit mixed with alien nasty, this film seems to take the more heavy handed approach of ‘we’re ALL monsters, even the people who aren’t monsters!’ with the storyline, having early disagreements and prejudices easily fuel fires the moment it is found out that the alien can replicate/copy humans. Some of the characters were so easily hateable that by the time we found out who was or was not an alien, I had a list of people I was rooting for to be suddenly made into some horrific beast thing. 

Andy: It’s worth noting that the most charismatic and interesting character here doesn’t speak English.

Lilly: You mean the dog?

Andy: Lars.

Lilly: Whatever.

Speaking of horrific beast things, I was told the effects would be CGI and not practical in this one, and I was of two minds–yaaaay, no gross weird uncanny but booo more extreme possibilities. And I was not disappointed on the latter front. They really worked in this film to make sure no one thought the 1982 film was bringing more gross.

Andy: Which brings me to the two things I hold against this film. Firstly the CGI was painted over actual practical effects that they made, which aside from being completely pointless, means that this film looks weirdly out of sync with the 1982 one. Seriously, why would you do this? Why wouldn’t you do what Mad Max: Fury Road did and use CGI subtly to enhance the practical effects? This just looks terrible.

The second is the prequel nature of the beast. This isn’t a prequel in the Prometheus sense – this takes place days, maybe hours before the 1982 one. Which hobbles the movie at the knees. In a movie that is all about not knowing who’s who, about a creature that can take any form and attack you anywhere, you know that, at the very least, it’s going to end with two Norwegians in the snow chasing a husky and a burnt out Norwegian base with no one else about. Sucks the tension out of it, somewhat.

Still, it’s watchable and inoffensive and gross, but the 1982 version is a masterpiece, so this one falls short mainly due to the astronomical standards it sets for itself

Lilly: ‘Watchable’ is a stretch at times for us squeamish, but if you are going to set out to watch some staples of horror from the different subgenres, one of the Things films needs to be watched. 

Andy: On a fun side note, the guys who did the practical effects for this one were so pissed off at the CGI thing, they made another movie in 2015 called Harbinger Down, which is worth checking out.

Lilly: Because nothing says ‘screw you’ like the long and arduous work of making a film. Good job, guys!