Thursday, 25 November 2010

Livide


Alexandre Bustillo & Julien Maury, the french duo behind the stomach churning (and heart rending) À l'intérieur, are definitely two new genre talents to watch... and if you're a fan, you're gonna want to see this...


They've been hard at work on their sophomore project - Livide - for some time now. It looks to be a major departure in tone from Inside (i.e. less violent), something I was initially torn about when the project was first announced. Inside is one of my most revisited and loved films of the last decade, so a big part of me wanted them to keep treading similar gore-drenched territory, especially if they could find that same perfect balance between all out carnage and strong, sympathetic characterisation. But I also respect filmmakers who don't rest on their laurels after a successful debut.

Livide looks to be considerably less gory... but not entirely bloodless. The production design is steeped in Gothic atmosphere, eschewing the realism of Inside for a dark fairy tale aesthetic that is clearly evident in the few stills that have surfaced (particularly the eerie image at right, which made a big splash when it hit the major horror sites a few weeks ago). I've been scouring French blogs and websites since, looking for fresh news on the production, and my exhaustive search payed off this week when I found a recent 25 minute behind-the-scenes vid on the CANAL+ site.

It's in French of course, but it features an exceptionally detailed look at the film's production design and location. There's also a good look at the creation of some makeup FX, and what appear to be some bizarrely creepy animatronics (see above). Amongst the footage of various scenes being lensed (including a look at the shooting of that eerie "floating girl"), there's a few tantalising glimpses of the film itself. Interestingly, a key point in a lengthy interview with Maury and Bustillo refers to Suspiria, and they seem to be drawing a comparison between their film and Argento's.


Check out my screenshots, and then take a look at the whole video HERE. It briefly shifts it's focus to other films a couple of times, but keep watching as it returns to Livide, and some of the coolest stuff is near the end.


Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Queen Of Horror


Countess Dracula is gone.

Beautiful Ingrid Pitt, beloved by horror fans for her roles in Hammer's The Vampire Lovers and Countess Dracula, as well as Amicus' The House That Dripped Blood, has died at age 73. She also had a small role in one of my favourite films of all time, The Wicker Man...

The Queen is dead, Long live the Queen!


Friday, 19 November 2010

Rare Exports


A few quick thoughts on
Rare Exports, which I caught a couple of weeks ago at the Fantastic Planet SF & Fantasy Film Fest.

This odd Finnish production has generated quite a bit of positive buzz on the festival circuit, and it's not hard to see why.
Despite some unfortunate flaws in the last 20 minutes, there's so much to like about Rare Exports up to that point that it's hard not to root for it. Two weeks on, and some of it's imagery has stuck to my brain like glue, proof that it's original premise and some incredible cinematography have made for something unique and memorable.

Reports that the tone of the movie is akin to 80's children's horror/fantasy like Poltergeist and Raiders Of The Lost Ark are spot on. As with those movies, it maintains that precarious balance between family-friendliness and darker, edgier, adult horror.

This is a refreshingly different kind of kid's movie
than we're accustomed to in the US, UK, Australia, etc. Perhaps the "Finländare" have healthier, less prudish moral values then we're saddled with, because I was surprised to hear the word "fuck" uttered about ten times throughout (both in Finnish and English). Rare Exports also proudly flaunts a very high quotient of old man cock. There's enough of it on display here to lend gritty realism to at least two concentration camp dramas. Personally, I resent my culture's hypocritical double standard regarding profanity/nudity versus violence, so I applaud Jalmari Helander's copious use of expletives and "Joulupukki kulli" (yeah, that's Finnish for Santa Penis).

Rare Exports benefits from some nicely textured characters and an original premise, but it's real secret weapon is a constant barrage of impressive visuals (it took home top honours for cinematography at this years Sitges). The film opens on some panoramic shots of an incredible mountain location that had me picking my jaw up off the floor, and it doesn't let up from there. If nothing else, it's an insanely beautiful film, brimming with loads of creepy arctic atmosphere. My only real complaint is an over indulgence in CGI and Spielberg style action in the final minutes, spoiling the moodier atmosphere up to that point. It's a minor quibble though, and shouldn't put you off checking out this bizarre little rarity.

Monday, 15 November 2010

Workin' For The Company: Yaphet Kotto & The Nostromo


Thanks to the hard work of Seth from Lost Video Archive, Unflinching Eye is proud to join some of the most stellar movie blogs around, in a week of appreciation for one of genre cinema's great undersung actors - Yaphet Kotto.

Alien
boasts one of the most remarkable character ensembles in SF cinema. A grumpy, disheveled assembly of seven space-weary technicians, flight crew and a scientist - all as different from each other as the alien is to Jones the cat. The crew of the USCSS Nostromo is as famously iconic as you'll find on any of SF's great starships, so it's a credit to the charisma and presence of Yaphet Kotto that he manages to stand out so memorably amongst such illustrious company. Let's take a look at Parker...

After being prematurely awoken from hypersleep ten months from Earth, there's few romantic aspects to life in deep space aboard the Nostromo. Just a workaday environment of boredom, tedious labour, routine and tense cabin fever. They're all company workers, but no one aboard the Nostromo exemplifies the banal, industrial nature of interstellar mining more than Engineering Technician Brett and Engineer Parker.


Parker is obviously a man with a chip on his shoulder, and it's not hard to see why. It may be the 22nd century, but social attitudes haven't changed much, and "starship mechanic" is still considered to be the same working class trade as corresponding positions today aboard a ship or oil rig. The work is hard and thankless, the conditions cramped, hot and filthy. Parker resents his higher paid, better off colleagues, especially the aloof, terse academic - Ash.

All J.T. Parker really wants is to get back into hypersleep, get home and get paid. And a bonus for this unscheduled and annoying detour (to some shitty little rock in the Zeta-2-Reticuli system) wouldn't go astray either dammit. Is that too much to ask of those fucking fat cat Weyland-Yutani execs? The burly engineer knows the company well, and that remuneration isn't likely, but it can't hurt to keep working on captain Dallas anyway. At the very least there's some satisfaction to be gained out of getting under the captain's skin. If life is tough for Parker, why should the captain have it any easier?

Of course, trust that stuffed shirt of a science officer to drag some obscure bylaw out of the handbook, threatening Parker with total forfeiture of pay. What an asshole. Begrudgingly, Parker concedes - sealing his fate.

But this landing on LV-426 ain't gonna be no "walk in the park".

When this bothersome detour leads to a crisis, it's Ellen Ripley who comes to the fore as a natural leader. But it's Yaphet Kotto's sarcastic and snidely obnoxious Parker who rises above his selfishness and personal grievances... to become the reluctant hero of the Nostromo.


When Kane's unimaginably violent and sudden death leaves the crew shocked out of their senses, it's Parker who instantly acts, grabbing a knife. He alone has the quick reflexes and courage to respond to the situation. However, in the heat of the moment his decisive action is foiled by Ash's desperate outburst, distracting Parker long enough for the blood-streaked alien to make it's escape. His attack with an eating utensil probably wouldn't have been very successful, but the point is that he reflexively risked injury or death in the face of appalling horror and great danger.

When Ripley is assaulted by Ash, Parker once again jumps into the fray without a moment's hesitation, heedless of his own safety - but it's his final moments that truly define the character's heroism. When Lambert is confronted by the organism, freezing her into a state of terrified paralysis, Parker doesn't turn and run. He selflessly stares death in the face, in a suicidal attempt to save the one member of the crew who has contributed the least to their survival (due to her pathetic indulgence in self-centred hysteria).


Parker's final moments are a screaming nightmare - a cold, terrified sweat erupting on his forehead just before the alien's metallic jaws smash through his cranium, instantly reducing his pink brain-matter to a gory mush.

Why did the initially cynical and selfish Parker respond in such a heroic way? Was it just guilt at ordering his friend Brett to chase Jones the cat... unintentionally sending him to his death? Or was Parker just waiting for the right time to shrug off the chip on his shoulder and fulfill his potential.

Whatever the truth was behind the man, we'll never know... Parker's molecular remains are just a vanishingly insignificant trace of stardust now. Light years from his home, forever a part of that cold quadrant of interstellar void that was his death place. All that remains on Earth, an epitaph on a lonely company bought plaque...


J.T. Parker (ID# 313/S4-08M)

Born February 4, 2080, San Diego, California, UA.

Died June 6, 2122, location unknown

We live, as we dream - alone





A WEEK OF YAPHET KOTTO:

Monday Nov. 15th
Unflinching Eye - Alien
Raculfright 13's Blogo Trasho - Truck Turner

Tuesday Nov. 16th
Lost Video Archive - Raid on Entebbe
Manchester Morgue - Friday Foster

Wednesday Nov. 17th
Booksteve's Library - Live and Let Die
Horror Section - Warning Sign

Thursday Nov. 18th
Mondo 70 - Drum
B Movies and Beyond - The Monkey Hu$tle
Cinema Gonzo - Report to the Commissioner

Friday Nov. 19th
Illogical Contraption - Eye of the Tiger
Ninja Dixon - Across 110th St.
Lines That Make Things - The A Team (TV episode)
Things That Don't Suck - Blue Collar

Saturday Nov. 20th
Breakfast In the Ruins - Bone
Lost Video Archive - The Park Is Mine

100% fresh Yaphet Kotto all week long!



Friday, 12 November 2010

Infected Zone


A few thoughts on the Q&A screening of Gareth Edwards' Monsters that I caught the other night. I was very impressed by the film, and not only because of it's surprisingly solid production values achieved on such a low budget. From a purely objective point of view it's a good movie however you cut it - intelligent, absorbing and full of intricate detail, all beautifully captured by Edwards' masterful camera work.

Monsters
is unique in it's genre of kaiju-influenced cinema (e.g. Cloverfield), in that it's a genuine character piece first and foremost, a simple drama played out against a lavish background of grand science fiction. The setting of a fantastic new reality is taken completely for granted by the two central characters, due to it's "distance" from their lives, and it's constant, over-saturated coverage in the media. They are desensitised to this reality in exactly the same way that we feel removed from the war in Afghanistan. It's just something unpleasant that most of us are only exposed to in sanitised snippets on TV. This clever conceit is what makes Monsters so effective, by making the SF concept a normal part of it's everyday reality, it brings it to life in a very realistic way.

The film also has a unique tone and structure for a creature feature. The focus on it's two characters, instead of constant action, allows
Monsters to drift along at a more languid pace, giving the story plenty of room to breath while allowing the characters to develop more fully. There's a refreshing amount of stillness and beauty in the way it's shot and edited, a credit to Edwards' skill with a camera.


This multi-talented young Englishman is definitely one to watch. He comes from a visual FX background and much has been made of his home-produced CG creature work for this film. I was expecting a standard on about the same level as Australia's Undead (the Spierig brothers famously did their extensive CG on a single Mac at home too), but was pleased to see that Edwards' work on Monsters is far more impressive. His work here is actually of a higher standard than much of the rushed CG seen in big budget "spectacle" movies. Monsters proves once and for all that it doesn't matter how big your budget is, if you rush through post production with not enough time, thought and love, you get piss-poor results. Are you listening Big Studios? Shit in = shit out.

Edwards' talents don't end at VFX though. He also wrote, directed, shot and edited his ambitious little monster movie. At the Q&A the other night he was enthusiastic and witty; cracking jokes and generally seeming to enjoy the limelight. Here's a few points of interest that I took away from it:

- A while back some movie website claimed that the budget for
Monsters was $15,000, and the figure seems to have stuck as fact. You only have to watch the first five minutes of the film to realise how unlikely that is. My one question for Gareth was to ask him to reveal the actual budget (before marketing etc). He said that the site making that claim simply added up the cost of their equipment, ignoring all other expenses, such as travel for the cast & crew of five to it's shooting locations in five countries (Belize, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Mexico and Texas). Not to mention accommodation and the rest. He said that as "no one has been payed yet" it's still too early to give a definitive answer, but when all is said and done the figure will be in the hundreds of thousands (but definitely under $500,000).

- The monsters have a detailed backstory. They came to Earth as spores, trapped in samples collected by a returning unmanned mission to Jupiter's sixth moon Europa. Europa is a young moon with an ice crust, and there's a popular hypothesis that if it still has a molten core, there's a high probability of a mineral rich, life sustaining ocean under the ice. The aliens in the film are aquatic animals from Europa's subterranean ocean.

- Although he was quick to point out that he doesn't think he's achieved this, Edwards said his intention was to make "the most realistic monster movie ever made". Those words were written on the front page of his first draft script.

- After getting Vertigo Films on board as producers, he only had three months to write & cast the film as well as location scouting etc. The shoot was six or eight weeks (can't remember), with a week of pick-ups later on. The first cut of the film was a whopping four and a half hours, requiring eight or nine months to edit. CG and post was four months. This really surprised me as I assumed an indie film as ambitious as this would have taken at
least five years to pull together.


- There's a huge amount of fictitious signage, graffiti and murals throughout the movie and I was amazed to find out that it was all CG. Edwards said that whenever he got a good take, he'd end the shot by panning away to a blank wall or empty sky (to later insert planes or helicopters), a practice that completely perplexed the producers when they saw the raw footage!

- The entire crew consisted of himself, a line producer and a sound technician. The cast of two are a real couple.


- Their guerrilla shooting style was completely opportunistic, making use of everything around them to add a sense of realism. All additional actors (including an excellent performance by the "ferry man") were locals who agreed to participate for a few bucks. Although the film was scripted, much of it was improvised around whatever they just happened to shoot. The details of the story changed and evolved depending on the footage they captured.

For example, there's a scene involving some cows that appears to be scripted. In reality the cows just wandered into the shot, so they worked them into the sequence. In one of the Central American countries they shot in, the government surreptitiously assigned a squad of soldiers to follow the crew around (apparently for their protection). This worked perfectly for Edwards, as he started including them in the background, giving the impression of an increased military presence near the alien quarantine zone.


Monsters truly is "the little SF movie that could". Even more so than last year's District 9 or Moon (both of which I love). The slower pace and focus on characters may put off people who are accustomed to the excesses of big studio SF, but I urge everyone reading this to go out and catch it in a theatre if you can. It's not everyday that you get an independent genre feature of this quality, and it really deserves to be supported.

I'm off to see Mexican cannibal drama We Are What We Are tonight. I'll post some thoughts on that soon...


Wednesday, 10 November 2010

BIO•SLIME


I'm a life-long fan of The Blob (I love Chuck Russell's gory '88 remake), and Larry Hagman's Beware! The Blob occupies a special place in my heart as being the movie that utterly scared the shit out me as a little kid. For a year after seeing it I was petrified that the crack under my bedroom door would suddenly spew forth an unstoppable mass of sentient, flesh-absorbing protoplasm. Blob-monster movies are a rare occurrence, so when one finally creeps around it's a reason for fans of the sub-genre to celebrate.


I've been hungrily following the oozing progress of writer/director John Lechago's Bio-Slime for a couple of years now. It seems to have had a drawn-out post production process, which isn't surprising when you consider how FX heavy the film appears to be. Successive teasers have gradually revealed more of the impressive looking creature & gore FX, and this most recent trailer boasts some tantalisingly disturbing imagery.

Lechago's Bio-Slime (recently retitled as Contagion), seems to have expanded on the traditional blob formula by mixing in elements of Carpenter's The Thing, The Raft from Creepshow II, demonic horror and Gigeresque biomechanics. These varied influences, and some clever low-budget practical FX look to have resulted in something that is satisfyingly disgusting and unsettling to behold. It recently screened as part of the Chicago Horror Film Festival, where it unsurprisingly took home the award for best FX.


The finished film is currently seeking a distributor at the AFM, so hopefully we'll get word of a DVD release in the near future. For now, enjoy this gooey trailer...



Monday, 8 November 2010

The Thing From Another World


My last post prompted reader Steven to request some of the Thing From Another World books, published by Dark Horse Comics back in the early '90s. They released a few mini-series', this short two-parter being the first (and probably best) of the bunch. The first issue's lurid cover art appears to be based on the demonic visage of the Norris monster from the movie.

This pseudo-sequel to Carpenter's film picks up immediately after the movie's conclusion: Mac and Childs suspiciously eyeing each other off amongst the burning ruins of Outpost 31, resigned to the inevitability of their fates - hypothermia or assimilation. The action in this story plays out entirely in Antarctica, a locale that the comic's writers would unwisely leave behind for future miniseries'... discouraging me from bothering to read any further. I'm not interested in seeing this ancient extraterrestrial depart the frozen wastes that it has haunted down the lonely aeons - entombed in primordial ice, patiently sleeping alongside it's literary brethren, the Elder Things. Hit the link to get weird and pissed off.


ASSIMILATION COMPLETE

Friday, 5 November 2010

"They're not Swedish Mac, they're Norwegian"


Full disclosure: one of my most keenly anticipated movies of next year is the prequel to John Carpenter's The Thing.

As I recently said of Alien, The Thing is another of my top-five "Mount Rushmore of Celluloid" films. A movie so influential on me, so close to my black, festering heart that it's position upon that gory edifice is assured until the day I die. So how can I condone this new abomination... this prequel? Quite simply, I just can't help it.

Although I've decried the practice of remaking recent movies, I've made my peace now with the remaking of older films. We've already seen so many of our sacred cows slaughtered (with varying results), it's become obvious that a new version of an old favourite doesn't really damage the original film's legacy. The original still remains - unsullied, unharmed and ready to be discovered by new generations of genre fans.

When it was announced that Dawn Of The Dead was being remade, I was among the hordes of righteously angry Romero fans. It was unthinkable to me that this cinematic sacrilege could possibly result in a good horror movie. But in spite of all my naysaying, James Gunn wrote a good screenplay (intelligent, nuanced, lacking Romero's social commentary but packed with solid characters and genuine pathos), and Zack Snyder directed a gory, scary movie that paid tribute to Romero where appropriate, while treading enough new ground to make it interesting.

Dawn '04 was brought to us by the same production company that is behind next year's The Thing - Strike Entertainment. With only eight films yet released (to my knowledge), Strike already has a very impressive genre pedigree: the aforementioned Romero remake; James Gunn's excellent but criminally overlooked Slither; Alfonso Cuarón's superb SF masterpiece Children Of Men; and this year's critically acclaimed The Last Exorcism (haven't seen it yet). As far as production companies go, The Thing appears to have found a good home (host?).

Who goes there? Not Mac and Childs.

But what of all the little creative details that are so crucially important for this movie, and without which it simply won't work? Well,
things aren't looking too bad:

- first time director Matthijs van Heijningen has always maintained that he has a huge amount of respect for Carpenter's film, and wants his prequel to dovetail with it, not "update it" or "make it fresh and hip" (ugh). The tone of the new film is said to be serious, grim and R-rated.

- This attitude is reflected in his casting choices. An interesting ensemble made up of more or less unknown Norwegian actors and a respectable group of english language thesps. The inclusion of an attractive young woman (i.e. the threat of an unnecessary love interest) isn't a worry - Mary Elizabeth Winstead has real acting chops, and van Heijningen is said to have made a point of "plaining her up", as befits her role of archaeologist. I also appreciate the "pseudo remake" casting of Joel Edgerton as a grizzled helicopter pilot and Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje (excellent in HBO's Oz) as his tough co-pilot. The two are obvious stand-ins for Kurt Russell's MacReady and Keith David's Childs, and I don't mind the homage. Sure, Edgerton is no Russell (who is?), but he's no air-headed pretty boy either.

- In line with the original's theme of isolation (not only in the hostile, remote environment, but within each person, as they come to distrust their colleagues), the word is that a major plot point involves the language barrier contributing to a rift between the inhabitants of the Norwegian base and their invited foreign guests. An interesting idea.

- As reported by various sources, an exhaustive amount of research went into replicating the Norwegian base as seen in the '82 film. Sets like the room that holds the "ice block" have apparently been slavishly recreated down to the finest details. It's also said that the Norwegian base sequence from Carpenter's film was religiously used as the primary source of reference for the screenplay and production design. All of MacReady and Copper's grim discoveries in the original will be included and explained in the prequel.

- The film was shot in the super-wide scope format favoured by Carpenter and frequently collaborating cinematographer Dean Cundey.

- Most importantly the creature FX are said to be mostly practical, generally only utilising CG to enhance details. This process was used extensively in del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth and Hellboy II, and the results there were impressive and sometimes astonishingly good. Also, the company providing the visual FX are the talented folks who worked on District 9, so what CG there is should be top notch. As far as the actual design of the creature, there's a vivid description of one of it's incarnations here, and it sounds pretty much in line with Rob Bottin's work. Although reports of the budget seem to vary at between 35 and 70 million (depending on where you look), Twitchfilm recently quoted an article in Norwegian newspaper Dagbladet, which claimed that 15 million was spent on the creature FX alone. That's a fuckload of writhing, tentacled, DNA assimilating, weird and pissed off... THING.

So. Do I think it'll live up to Carpenter's movie... or come even close to it's awesomeness? No way. I'm not a complete chump. But if any of the above is to be believed, then there is some potential here. Like I said, I'm such a fan of J.C.'s flick that I just can't help but be enthusiastic about revisiting the ultimate in alien terror.

Artwork by Tyler Stout.