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Thirst

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The long-time Ozploitation favourite, Thirst, finally makes its glorious debut on Blu-ray. Made specifically for the late seventies drive-in market, Thirst has aged surprisingly well, and it certainly has a very “modern” horror feel about it.

After being abducted by a mysterious group called The Hyma Brotherhood, Kate (Chantal Contouri) learns that she is a direct descendant of the infamous vampiric Countess Elizabeth Bathory. The brotherhood, headed up by the villainous Mrs. Baker (Shirley Cameron), Dr. Gauss (Henry Silva), and the slightly less evil Dr. Fraser (David Hemmings), run a “blood farm” for their vampire masters where “blood cows” – read, people – are literally bled dry, and view Kate as a trophy addition to their list of vampire clients. But Kate remains unconvinced, so a psychological battle ensues between her and The Brotherhood as they try to unleash her inner vampire. But will they push her to the brink of madness, or will she destroy them?

Less of a traditional vampire movie and more of a psychological horror, Thirst is a surprisingly solid entry into the canon of Ozploitation. Chantal Contouri gives a stand out performance as the initially weak and frightened Kate, who endures a seemingly endless parade of tortures at the hands of The Brotherhood before finally fighting back. The real star of the movie, however, giving a truly maniacal performance, is Shirley Cameron, who steals every scene with equal parts malice and malcontent. Likewise, Poliziotteschi favourite, Henry Silva, gives his usual monotone performance, but benefits from a truly electrifying finale.

In addition to the pristine transfer of the original movie, the Blu-ray also comes packed with special features, including an audio commentary from director, Rod Hardy, and producer, Anthony I. Ginnane; interviews with the pair; the original theatrical trailer and three TV spots; and a fascinating collector’s booklet packed with behind the scenes photos, original artwork, and an in-depth look into this overlooked classic from highly astute cult film commentator, John Harrison.

 
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Amnesiac

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An unnamed man (Wes Bentley) wakes up after a car accident to find himself being cared for by a woman (Kate Bosworth) that he has no memory of. Claiming to be his wife, the woman nurses him in her palatial house, but keeps him on a short leash, restricting his access to certain rooms. As his strength returns, the man begins to suspect that the woman is not all that she claims to be. Remembering that a young girl was in the car, he tries to piece together the mystery.

Amnesiac is the kind of film to which the term “Hitchcockian” could be safely applied. We have a mystery to solve, an even more mysterious blonde in the form of Kate Bosworth, and a dark haired, steely jawed hero in Wes Bentley. This could have been something. Instead, what we have struggles to entice or encourage continued watching.

The problem comes largely from the pacing. Amnesiac is a long, drawn out affair; it’s so slow in reaching its conclusion that an almost meditative calm envelopes the audience, lulling them into a form of apathy. Bosworth’s constant whispering of her lines does nothing to enliven proceedings, and Bentley flip flops between tired and confused. The woman is a deliberate enigma upon which the film centres its entire story, but aside from flashes of violence – she really dislikes her postman – there’s little to encourage us wanting to crack her code. Her affectation of reciting pub quiz trivia is equally annoying. When all explanations are finally given – and bolster yourself for a huge info dump in its dying minutes – Amnesiac proves itself to be nothing more than anaemic.

 
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Behind Closed Doors

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This French drama from filmmaker, Audrey Estrougo, was released in its native country under the title of Une Histoire Banale, meaning An Ordinary Story. The original title serves as a bleak irony to this tale of health care worker, Nathalie (Marie Denarnaud), who struggles to cope in the aftermath of being raped after a night out. It’s a horrific, dehumanising thing to happen to anyone, but as the original title suggests, this kind of thing does happen, and sadly all too often.

Made on a small budget financed through crowdfunding, Estrougo’s film follows Nathalie as she copes with what’s happened to her. Refusing to go to the police, she becomes a recluse; overeating and scrubbing herself red raw with a hard bristled brush. She separates from her fiancée and seeks out one night stands where she gets her lovers to unwittingly re-enact the rape. These are all clear moments of her trying to stay in control. Her friends, unaware of what has happened, try to advise her on her behaviour. They question the way that she dresses and how she talks to men. And in doing so, they unknowingly compound the idea that whatever happens to Nathalie is her own fault.

Denarnaud gives an exquisite performance as her character tackles the conflicting emotions playing for dominance in her mind. A moment when she finally musters up the courage to talk to someone in authority is heartbreaking. As audience members, most of us are lucky, for whilst the atmosphere is stifling, we know that the film will be over soon. Behind Closed Doors highlights that for people like Nathalie there isn’t always a reprieve, and a moment to come up for air. This is a powerful and important piece of work that deserves a lot of recognition.

 
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Applesauce

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Let it be known that actor/director, Onur Tukal, doesn’t invite you to like his characters. His last multitasking effort, Summer Of Blood, saw him shake up vampire mythology by playing a man on who the powers of immortality are wholly wasted. In the equally nihilistic Applesauce, Tukal’s tale blossoms on a hotbed of marital indifference, hypocrisy, and body parts.

When high school teacher, Ron (Tukal), confesses to his wife, Nicki (Triese Kelly Dunn), and friends, Kate (Jennifer Prediger) and Les (Max Casella), that he once accidently cut the fingers off someone in college, his tale sparks off a series of confessions that culminates with one of infidelity that reverberates through the group. Soon afterwards, someone starts sending Ron severed fingers in the mail.

Perhaps not surprisingly if you’ve seen Tukal’s previous work, the cast-offs from a cadavre play second fiddle to the group’s cynicism and hysteria. If Ron is the hero of the piece, then it’s only because we spend more time with his self-righteousness. He waxes lyrical to his students about the need for empathy, before failing to give Nicki any wiggle room when she burps out her latest confession. Their inability to listen to each other and talk things through means that they doom themselves to ever-increasing acts of one-upmanship and tit for tat, where no one learns their lesson. Their world is so insular that a severed penis found in a portion of chow mein isn’t enough for them to miss a step as they point the finger. Pun not intended. Applesauce is an uncomfortable watch that is blisteringly funny. It’s Seinfeld, a show that revelled in its nothingness, brought to its natural conclusion. Its emphasis on the group’s fighting shows that you don’t need a social network account to highlight your own narcissism.

 
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Some Kind Of Hate

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Lincoln (Ronen Rubinstein) is a disaffected youth, tormented by his drunk father and bullied by his peers at high school. When he finally defends himself against the school bully, he’s packed off to a boot camp for wayward teens. There he finds that the hierarchy of torment is no different from school, and he comes under attack from his fellow campers. Making an oath to no one in particular, Lincoln inadvertently summons up the vengeful spirit of Moira (Sierra McCormick), a young girl who killed herself at the camp. Moira falls for Lincoln and begins to despatch his tormenters. Having neither asked for this kind of violence or endorsing it in any way, Lincoln seeks the help of another camper, Kaitlin (Grace Phipps).

As horror movies go, Adam Egypt Mortimer’s Some Kind of Hate isn’t going out to deliberately offend. In fact, within its blood-saturated cocoon, there’s an anti-bullying message ready to burst forth. However, there’s a good chance that someone might take umbrage with it. In her previous life, Moira was a self-harmer and, seemingly as a result, her supernatural powers are focussed around this trait. Sporting a necklace made of razorblades, the pain that she unleashes upon herself is visited upon her victims; she hacks at her arms and they bleed to death. Visually, it is striking, but the idea teeters on the edge of tastelessness. A self-harm scene mixed with a resemblance of sexual pleasure is equally eyebrow raising.

That aside, as a feature debutante, Mortimer presents a confident grasp of the genre, and Some Kind Of Hate bristles with the kind of energy that makes you sit up and take notice. It’ll be interesting to see what he can do with a larger studio backing him.

 
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No Escape

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John Erick Dowdle is best known for helming Quarantine, the disposable US remake of REC, as well as the overwhelmingly bleak The Poughkeepsie Tapes. In No Escape, co-written with his brother Drew, Dowdle attempts to reshape Owen Wilson, comic actor and best mate of Wes Anderson, into a middle-aged action hero along the lines of Liam Neeson. And he almost achieves it.

Wilson plays Jack, an engineer taking his family, including wife Annie (Lake Bell), overseas to start a new life. Their destination is never officially named, but it’s evidently somewhere in South East Asia. Before they’ve even made it into their second day, any semblance of this new life is shattered when the country’s prime minister is assassinated and a political coup tears its way through the city. Stick around for a cameo by Pierce Brosnan as a seedy ex-pat.

From this point, No Escape doesn’t let up as Jack tries to get his family to safety. There are genuine moments of tension to be reaped from the film as Jack has to constantly think on his feet with each attempt for sanctuary torn away from him. Whilst Wilson doesn’t convince as an action star, he at least reflects a realistic idea of someone clearly out of their depth. Bell, however, is wasted in a role that sees her doing nothing more than cry and be sexually assaulted by the locals. Yes, whilst on that subject: during its initial release, criticisms of racism were fired at No Escape. Whilst this certainly isn’t the intent of the film, it doesn’t help itself by having the locals portrayed as either violent rapists or ineffectual gun fodder. Perhaps if a local was along for the ride, it would stop the film from at times feeling like Xenophobia: The Movie.

 
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Review: Daredevil: Season 2

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Daredevil season 2 – released in its entirety by Netflix on Friday – belongs there, and nowhere else. Following Daredevil’s highly acclaimed first season, Charlie Cox returns as Matthew Murdock, the blind, masked vigilante – attorney by day, and The Devil of Hell’s Kitchen by night. As the series begins, he is confronted by two new players who also don’t mind taking the law into their own hands…though they do things a little differently. Neither hardened war vet, Frank Castle aka The Punisher, nor Murdoch’s ex-girlfriend/martial arts master, Elektra Natchios (Elodie Yung), mind rendering the bad guys unconscious…they just don’t want them to get up again.

Revitalising the Daredevil brand following the justly lambasted 2003 film, the TV show has similarly succeeded in giving two of the comic series’ most iconic villains/anti-heroes the calibre of adaptation and screen-time that they’ve long deserved, following more than one ill-advised outing. Allowing the scope and space for in-depth exchanges that hinge the characterisation and development of a character on more than sound-bites or one-liners, as is too often the case with many film adaptations, key characters are given time to delve into their motives and intent, with a detailed-filled night of action taking place over the course of a few episodes instead of a few minutes.

Of all the dimensions to be unpacked in Daredevil’s latest season, nothing features so strongly as the exploration of the moral dimension of Matthew’s actions, depicted explicitly and thoughtfully through a prolonged courtroom drama where our hero, confronted with an adversary, is forced to grapple with the rights and wrongs of his own vigilantism. Challenging the moral compass of its protagonist through battle with a seemingly insurmountable foe, Daredevil has gone down the path of Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy, with the second series drawing many less than casual allusions to the blockbuster.

Having rid the city of organised crime elements in his first outing, and maintaining an amicable if strained relationship with the police force, those inspired by Daredevil similarly take the path of vigilante justice. Emboldened by Daredevil’s disregard for the law, an unhinged gunman wreaks havoc on organised crime and anyone who gets in his way. Able to emerge only as a result of Daredevil’s actions, The Punisher challenges Daredevil’s moral self-righteousness, and – as The Joker does – vehemently denies that he is deranged, justifying his rampage and all but proclaiming, “I’m not a monster, I’m just ahead of the curve.”

Towards the later stages of the season, Daredevil reasons, as Batman did before him, to forgo his moral code in order to defeat the bad guy and safeguard the very values and way of life that he knowingly forsakes. Ninjas abound, a district attorney is not only a central figure but a key target, an assault on a hospital takes place, and the penultimate sequence includes of all things a night-time raid on an empty building site where innocent civilians are being held. Thrilling if not overtly recognisable, Daredevil explores greater facets of its vigilante’s struggle over the course of 13 episodes than The Dark Knight ever could over its two-and-a-half-hour runtime.

Reflecting the long-term planning and investment exemplified by The Marvel Cinematic Universe’s gradual build-up to The Avengers, the frequent and now more obvious tie-ins to last year’s Jessica Jones will delight fans waiting for a much anticipated crossover; it’s inevitable in a collection of series where shrewdly-drawn storylines and adversaries mercifully and thrillingly stretch over years and into each other instead of being cut short by a perfunctory season conclusion.

As accomplished as it is, Daredevil is by no means perfect. Unlike Jessica Jones, which also underlies its key protagonist and villains with a great deal of thought, the treatment of Daredevil’s supporting, non-heroic characters ranges from the dull to the overly distracting. When Matthew isn’t on screen, and either Foggy (Elden Henson) or Karen (Deborah Ann Woll) are running the show, the dialogue and minor storylines are neither as compelling nor emotive. Foggy’s scenes are a collection of the show’s worst moments, heralded by an actor visibly less capable than his co-stars, leading to many of the show’s crucial sequences between Matthew and his oldest friend falling flat.

Moreover, Daredevil’s Hell’s Kitchen does not embrace the modern age and technology as well as Jessica Jones’ titular private eye. Set currently, despite the frequent need for communication, the show’s characters seem to have very little use for mobile phones, which rarely appear: Matthew receives a phone message from a restaurant maître d; everyone gets their news from the paper; and for research, the crew pore over newspaper clippings instead of their browsers. The show, featuring a semi-fictionalised setting espousing the classic image of Hell’s Kitchen, could just have easily been set in a different decade, and may as well have been. Depicting its neighbourhood as at the mercy of rival gangs, and fraught with unstoppable rage and violence, today’s Hell’s Kitchen adjoins highly-frequented business and entertainment districts including Broadway, and caters widely to the upper-end of the housing market.

By no means detracting from the overall quality of the show, Daredevil’s lack of regard for its context and modern advancements in technology, while in one sense a hark-back to the original comics and iterations that made it so successful, is in this day and age needlessly distracting. Regardless, Daredevil is one of the only examples of an adaptation of a successful comic series with the breadth and wherewithal to do real justice to its subject matter which, thankfully, has again been championed by showrunners responsible for taking a chance and delivering a second thrilling season.

Daredevil: Seasons 1 & 2 and Jessica Jones are currently streaming on Netflix.

 

 
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Close Range

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Brit hard-man, Scott Adkins, stars as an Iraq veteran turned deserter coming to the rescue in this low budget actioner from genre director, Isaac Florentine. In the film, Colton (Adkins) has to defend his sister’s farm when her husband’s dealings with a drug cartel places them all in danger. Throw in a crooked sheriff, Colton’s mysterious military past and huge muscular frame, and this is a Jack Reacher adventure in all but name.

Adkins and Florentine have previously worked together on the frivolous but fun Ninja: Shadow Of A Tear. And whilst Close Range doesn’t reach the same dizzying heights of B-movie madness, there’s still a lot of fun to be had. Getting down to brass tacks, the plot is slim, but the action is big. Adkins and numerous, almost infinite, stunt actors throw themselves at each other in a ballet of violence and bone snapping. Like Arnie did in Commando, Colton punches through one cartel member after another in pursuit of the final big bad, Fernando Garcia (Tony Perez). Unintentionally amusing is the film’s attempts to humanise these fleshy punching bags by giving them an introduction by title cards that gives each member a name that will soon be forgotten come the inevitable smack down.

And whilst the fight choreography is, at times, brutal, it’s not enough to hide the film’s problems. The acting is a mixed bag with lines delivered flatly as if read for the first time. Though to be fair, even the most award winning performance couldn’t hide the plot holes and clichés that make up the film’s script. Yet, the dialogue is mere window dressing to what Close Range really wants to show you: one man, at peak physical fitness, throwing other men through walls.

 
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Viral

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The directors of Catfish and Paranormal Activity 3 & 4, Henry Joost and Ariel Schuman, take the helm of this body horror flick aimed squarely at the teen demographic? The result? The Walking Dead meet Degrassi High.

Sofia Black-D’Elia and Analeigh Tipton play sisters, Emma and Stacey, respectively. Emma, the youngest sister, is shy and studious, whilst Stacy, the eldest, is the kind of girl who will dye her hair blue and party all night if she has to. On a side note, it’s unclear if the directors were deliberately trying to make them look like Kendall and Kylie Jenner. When a viral outbreak sees the sisters quarantined in their hometown and separated from their parents, they have to put aside their differences in order to survive; particularly as symptoms of the virus include vomiting blood and biting your fellow neighbours. Like Barry Levinson’s The Bay, this is the direct cause of parasites burrowing their way into their host’s brains.

Despite its violence and gore, Viral never really hits it out of the park as a body horror flick. Even in a film that sees brain worms pouring out of their victims’ mouths, this is all relatively safe territory. In fact, it’s merely a backdrop to the high running emotions of the siblings as they’re thrown together under extremely taxing circumstances. In fact, outside of a few set pieces that see the girls and their boyfriends running from the infected, this may as well be a high school drama. Take for example, a superfluous subplot that sees Stacy keeping a large secret from Emma regarding their parents. With all this soul-searching and sisterly love, Viral never really gets to grips with what it wants to be, and shuffles along like one of its own infected.

 
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Standoff

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Writer/director, Adam Alleca, clearly doesn’t like wasting time. In his debut feature, Standoff, Alleca has all his pieces in place plot wise within the first ten minutes. A young girl is a witness to an assassination attempt at a funeral by Laurence Fishburne’s Sade. With his face seen, Sade chases the young girl into the home of ex-military man, Carter (Thomas Jane). Within moments, Carter has taken her under his wing and, after a swift gunfight with Sade in which both are injured, finds himself in a standoff in his own home. Downstairs awaits Sade with a fair arsenal, whilst Carter hides upstairs with only a shotgun and one cartridge. As the day drags on, both men exchange words instead of bullets, as Sade tries to convince Carter that the girl must die.

Standoff starts off fast, and whilst the pace certainly drops once Sade has crossed Carter’s threshold, the film doesn’t suffer from doing so. Fishburne and Jane bristle off each wonderfully in a script that sees them trading insults and backstory whilst a little girl’s life hangs in the balance.

Expectations for any kind of subtlety should certainly be checked at the door as Alleca tries, perhaps a little too hard, to emphasise that these men are two sides of the same coin. He literally all but has Fishburne cry, “We’re quite alike, you and I.” But histrionics aside, Standoff still has a lot to offer, with Thomas Jane giving a grounded performance to clash with Laurence Fishburne’s own over the top one. A special note must be made of Ella Ballentine as the young girl caught up in the centre of all this machismo and bravado, who has to deal with some mature emotional responses.