Film: You just have to love it when a first time director knows how to use a hammer, and hits every nail right on its head, and here, with After.Life, Agnieszka Wojtowicz-Vosloo does just that. The director is also the co-writer along with Paul Vosloo and Jakun Korolczuk and the three of them have crafted an amazing story with some spectacular set pieces and excellent performances from the cast: not bad for the first swing at the ball.
After.Life tells the tale of uptight school teacher Anne (Christina Ricci), who is in a relationship with lawyer Paul (Justin Long) that has its problems, that is, constant fighting, and in general she just seems completely disinterested. After an argument that starts as a misunderstanding, Anne jumps in her car and has a horrific car accident, where she is pronounced dead at the scene… until she wakes up on the slab at a mortuary.
Funeral Director Eliot Deacon (Liam Neeson) is attending to her body and explains to her that he has the ability to talk to the dead, in which he feels he helps the souls of the deceased transition from their living state to one otherwise. He explains to Anne that not everyone has the same ease in their transition, and he feels that she might be one who finds it complicated.
Anne is not thoroughly convinced, and feels as though she is still alive so it takes all Deacon’s patience to help her, and being her burial is a few days later, he is under a time constraint but Anne’s concerns that she is not actually dead, and instead a prisoner keep resurfacing, and after a time, may be not so unfounded…
Wojtowicz-Vosloo’s directorial skills lie in two main areas: cast performance and scene setting. Every scene was lit and set like a painting and put together with the kind of meticulousness that would make Dario Argento sweat, and the cast all really were able to show their stuff. Ricci’s character’s fractured personality mixed with confusion made her initially unlikable but eventually you felt badly for her plight… I should probably point out for the pervy Ricci fans that there is a little bit of nudity in this film of her as well!!! Liam Neeson played his role like a less vaudevillian Vincent Price, and Justin Long actually acted for the first time in his life, and didn’t just seem like the Mac/ PC guy.
All in all, After.Life is a delicate film with some great performances and drips with a creepiness that could only be compared to an old guy in a raincoat on a schoolbus. I didn’t know anything about this movie going into it the first time I watched it, had forgotten all about it and have to admit to being totally impressed by it. The performances of all in this film were superb and the film will keep you guessing right to the end.
Extras: The disc opens with a few trailers for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Crazies (remake) and The Collector and the only other extra is a trailer for After.Life itself.
WISIA: This is a forgotten film that I only just remembered even existing and now I think it will enter my regular rewatch rotation.
Film: You gotta love Something Weird Video! They don’t whitewash their lesser releases…they REVELL in them. These three films, The Zodiac Killer, The Sex Killer and Zero in and Scream, although not all containing ‘sharpshooter’ murderers, are classic examples of exploitation films, but somehow they are still kitschy fun and entertaining, if not just for the nudity, then at least for the acting, or the inappropriate soundtracks or just because they are dumb.
The Zodiac Killer
Produced and directed by Tom Hansen (who played Mongoose in The Hellcats), The Zodiac Killer is the tale of a motiveless killer who is terrorising San Francisco, ridiculing the police with letters and phone calls, but who is he…? This film is apparently based on the facts in the case of the ACTUAL Zodiac Killer, and features an introduction from a reporter who was ‘actually threatened by the Zodiac Killer’. This film is worth its weight just for the philosophical discussion about women over the age of 20 and the worst wig ever put on film. This film has no nudity in it but it more than makes up in violence, even if it’s of the red paint variety.
The Sex Killer
Directed by Barry Mahon, upon who Steve McQueen’s character in the Great Escape was based, The Sex Killer tells the story of Tommy, a lonely, introverted manikin factory worker, who is taunted by his macho workmates and has an obsession with watching women sun-baking topless from the roof of a building using binoculars, but his fascination becomes a dangerous one, as Tommy becomes more obsessed, he turns to violence, murder and necrophilia. Funnily enough, a premise like that would make you think this film is like Maniac, unfortunately this B/W picture is as dull as they come, with some of the most plodding camera work ever seen…but there is a hell of a lot of topless women in it. Amusingly enough, POV shots of sunbathing women through his binoculars change viewpoints without him ever leaving the same spot on the rooftop. There’s also some hilariously bad continuity errors too, like underwear magically appearing under a characters clothes.
Zero in and Scream
This film, directed by Lee Frost, who also directed Love Camp 7, is about a lonesome man, whose sense of solitude leads him to commit acts of violence against well heeled amorous couples in Hollywood. Of the three films this seems to be the one that gave the disc the ‘R’ rating. It is more a soft core porno with a murderer thrown in. His lingering looks through the sights of his gun BEFORE he has even cocked it are very funny. One of the funniest endings to a LRSK-themed movie you will ever see.
Let’s face it, when the makers of these films made them, they weren’t worried about the effects of the Viet Nam War on young minds, or how Kafka or Neitzche influenced modern thought, or any sociological ramifications these films might have, they wanted to make short movies with a lot of nudity and/ or violence in them. The story was only ever secondary to how many nubile young girlies could be butchered and/or whip out their boobs for a bit of male oriented entertainment. Luckily there were many such girls and we can still enjoy them today, although while watching I can’t help but think that most of these girls are probably grandmothers…
There is just so much on this disc it has to be given an average score just for the quantity, as for the quality, well, if exploitation sex films of the sixties and seventies are up your alley, you’ll love it. The film and audio value varies from feature to feature, but all in all you can clearly see and hear everything that is going on, and to be quite honest, the average quality adds to the sleaziness of it. A warning though for fans of the Brazilian or the shaven haven: you will be disappointed. The women in Zero In And Scream have more bush than Mike and Mal Leyland EVER saw. That’s not to say that there isn’t a bit of meat for the ladies either: in ZIAS there’s a fair bit of swimming pool-based penises as well!
Extras: Trailers for ‘The Sex Killer’, ‘Zero in and Scream’, ‘The Psycho Lover’,’ Honeymoon of Terror’ and ‘Aroused’.
Gallery of Sick Sixties Sex films with Audio Oddities is a 10 Minute and 40 second montage featuring audio of radio commercials for such films as ‘Wife-Child’ and ‘Poor White Trash’ and others played over images of posters and one-sheets of films such as ‘A Smell of Honey, A Swallow of Brine’ and ‘Orgy of the Golden Nudes’ and others – this is one of those great montage sequences that Something Weird Video is so good at.
WISIA: I don’t think I would watch these again, even though I enjoyed them a fair bit. They are in interesting snapshot of the exploitation films of the time.
Film: Sometimes the best Batman stories are the ones that have a limited lifespan. Year one, The Dark Knight Returns and their ilk all stand up and really put Batman on the map, both as a flawed hero and an obsessed human being who’s obsession makes him more a bad guy than a good guy.
Myself and a few friends used to host a podcast called the Nerds of Oz where we predominantly talked about comic movies, but also other nerdy stuff, and one of the members of the podcast crew, Shane, says that this graphic novel/ limited comic series was one that made him really sit up and pay attention to just what Batman can be, and it turned him into an obsessive collector who just two days prior to me watching this Bluray, bought every single Batman ‘66 action figure, vehicle and play set from McFarlane toys.
Batman was a serious part of my upbringing as well. I still have memories, and photos, of me going to school EVERY DAY when I was in kindergarten, dressed in a Batman Halloween costume, and could only be addressed as ‘Batman’ whilst wearing it. When you consider that my stori in relation to Shane’s is 40 years prior, you can tell that Batman consistently been THE superhero that fans want to see on screen, whether it be due to the very fact he is someone who just stood up and said ‘Enough’ in regards to injustice, or whether you’re a furrie who likes to hang out in black leather on rooftops, getting your kicks from beating people up.
Anyway, this film, Batman: The Long Halloween Part One, is a part of the amazing DC animated features that have been coming out for well over ten years, and personally I think in most occasions have been more entertaining than the Marvel or DC live action movies because they lean much more heavily into the ‘real’ world of the comics, rather than thirty Hollywood writers adapting stories to what they feel the ‘general’ public could digest easily… you know, with that typical lack of respect some production companies have for the cinema going audience.
Dumb it down to make it more palatable to the masses… I’m looking at you, Thor: Ragnarok.
Ok, so I’ll tuck my soapbox aside and look at this film.
Halloween night in Gotham City always brings out the crazies… actually, every night in Gotham brings out the crazies, but Halloween seems to see the population rise.
Batman (Jensen Ackles), Captain Jim Gordon (Billy Burke) and DA Harvey Dent (Josh Duhamel) have come together to investigate the murder of the nephew of gangster Carmine ‘The Roman’ Falcone (Titus Welliver), who was about to roll over on the crime family in court.
Problem is though, it’s just the beginning of a series of murders that take place on holidays, and after being hospitalised by the Falcone gang, it might appear that Dent himself is the prime suspect and may be leading a double life… and if you know who Dent becomes, double is exactly the name of his kind of trouble.
Gordon and Batman go to the Calendar Man (David Dastmalchian) in Arkham Asylum, who offers them some cryptic information, but quickly they discover the Joker (Troy Baker) has escaped, and the last thing this investigation needs is a wild card in the deck…
The first thing I’ll have to say that I really liked about this feature was the new take on the animation style. I got a real ‘Archer’ feel from it, with nice hard black outlines that don’t deter from the realism that it’s going for. There’s a real smoothness to the animation too that makes it almost feel more like live-action, which really gave the story a lot of gravity.
The design of the whole production is really amazing, borrowing styles from Batman the Animated Series, Anton Furst’ s designs from Tim Burton’s Batman and David Mazzucchelli’s art from Batman Year One. It’s weird that they decided to ignore Tim Sale’s style from the comics, but at least that gets seen in the opening credits.
The story is fantastic (so far); it’s a classic gangster/ crime drama, but with Batman villains thrown in for good measure, just to remind you that it takes place in the DC universe. The inclusion of a a-grade villain like Calendar Man is simply exquisite, especially to transform him into an almost Hannibal Lector advisor in the crimes.
I can’t comment on whether or not there was much difference between this and the source material, but I do know that I thoroughly enjoyed the story… let’s hope Part 2 doesn’t screw it up.
DC Showcase: The Losers is one of the short animated features that they slip on as extras onto these discs, and I love them because, as the title suggests, they ‘showcase’ characters who may not be popular enough to get a full feature. This is not the Losers seen in the 2010 movie of the same name (starring Zoe Saldana, Chris Evans, Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Idris Elba) but instead based on the original comics created by Robert Kanigher, which told of Navajo pilot Johnny Cloud and his platoon and their adventures in World War 2. This tale sees them trapped on an island with dinosaurs and a traitor… a lot of fun, and some nice visual tributes to Jack Kirby’s artwork here and there.
A Sneak Peak at the Next DC Animated Movie, Batman: The Long Halloween Part 2 looks at the second part of the story, available on a future release.
There is also previews of other Animated films, such as Batman: The Dark Knight Returns Part 1 and Batman: Gotham by Gaslight. Also from the DC Vault, we have two episodes of Batman the Animated Series; ‘Christmas with the Joker’ and ‘It’s Never Too Late’. I find these extras occasionally irrelevant as most people collecting these discs would be collecting all of DC’s animated product, so ‘previewing; something that came out three years ago seems superfluous, and most of us would already have the episodes on season collections of the series’s. I do appreciate that they try to make the episodes relevant to the story, and I do find myself revisiting them, so I shouldn’t be too harsh.
WISIA: I’ll have to watch it again when I watch part 2! Seriously thoigh, it’s a good, engaging mystery where Batman is actually being a detective instead of most modern-day iterations where he’s just a thug-like vigilante. I look forward to watching it again!
This review was done with the Australian Bluray release of the film.
Film: Mary Millington is best known for being the UK’s best know striptease artist, and, along with Fiona Richmond, was labelled ‘the two hottest sex stars of the seventies. Millington started her career as a glamour model and eventually graduated to sex films and reels. In her life she was contacted pursued by the police, which eventually resulted in her committing suicide at age 33.
(The is a review of Respectable: The Mary Millington Story elsewhere on this very site)
This film, Playbirds, tell of a serial killer who is targeting girls from the men’s magazine Playbirds. The police, Holbourne (Glynn Edwards from Get Carter) and Morgan (Gavin Campbell from On The Buses) investigate the murders, interviewing the magazines owner, Dougan (Alan Lake from Blake’s Seven) before deciding they need a ‘man’ on the inside… you know, putting a female officer in danger by posing as a stripper/ glamour model… standard police procedure.
Speaking of ‘standard police procedure’, the way they decided which WPC should be used in the undercover work is to get a bunch of them to volunteer to strip and show their bodies, the ‘winner’ being an officer named Lucy (Millington), new so she goes undercover to infiltrate the business and try to find the killer… but will she a victim herself?
It’s such a weird film as it really does appear to attempt to be telling some kind of giallo-ish thriller! It’s written by George Evans, who worked on Carry On films and several 70s tv series like Bless This House and the Dick Emery Show, and Willy Roe, also the director, who wrote mainly soft core porn films, including Millington’s Come Play With Me. The combination of TV comedy writer and a porno writer don’t make for a gripping story.
It being 70s soft core though, I expect the story isn’t was the viewer was supposed to be ‘gripping’ – nudge nudge wink wink.
The weird thing about this film is the attempts to be a ‘legitimate’ film, with actors like the aforementioned Edwards, Campbell and Lake, also joined by such well known actors as Dudley Sutton, Alex Mango and Windsor Davies!
It’s little more than a quaint and kitschy curio, but it’s an interesting look at the attempts to legitimise soft core porn as ‘proper’ entertainment. I warn you though, it’s not in the slightest but PC, so it’s not for the easily offended… but I guess the easily offended wouldn’t be watching this sort of thing anyway!
Extras: Honestly, I was surprised by how many extra they are on this disc:
Mary Millington’s Striptease Extravaganza is a 45 minute featurette from 1981 celebrating Millington’s life via a striptease competition. It reminds me of Varietease and other strip reels. It’s a quaint, and occasionally awkward when you think these women would all be grans now, look at stripping.
Response (1974) is an 8mm ‘short’ of the type that were sold in sex shops in the 70s. Soundless (because it’s a reel) soft-porn shenanigans.
Still gallery featuring the artwork and media marketing for the film.
Lastly, 4 trailers for other ‘adult’ films: Cool It Carol, Intimate Games, Spaced Out and Secrets of Sex.
WISIA: I don’t think I would watch it again, except to show someone else.
Film: It is a strange thing that sometimes, the viewing of a film makes you realise that you haven’t experienced a particular director’s work at all. Before starting the review on this film, The House That Jack Built, written and directed by Lars Von Trier, I looked at the directors filmography and discovered that even though I have both volumes of Nymphomaniac and Antichrist, I don’t remember actually watching them.
This is why this is called the To Watch Pile: too many movies, too little time.
Von Trier originally perceived this film as a television series, which it would have possibly suited considering it is played out episodic in a series of 5 ‘Incidents’ that take place over a 12 year period from the 70s to the 80s.
The House That Jack Built tells the story of architect, engineer and serial killer, Jack (Matt Dillon), and a discussion he is having with Verge (Bruno Ganz), a disembodied voice whose identity we eventually discover, but to share here would be to spoil the ending.
The two are looking over a series of incidents, in reality murders, that Jack has committed on various victims (played by Uma Thurman, Siobhan Fallon Hogan, Sophie Gråbøl, Riley Keough and others) that Jack attempts to justify as psychological soothing acts which result in art. Jack and Verge explore Jack’s origins as well as his state of mind during the acts, and the highs and lows of the act of murder itself.
This is a quite fascinating look at the functions of a serial killers mind, and Von Trier has done his research. Von Trier doesn’t just reference psychology though, as Jack finds justifications for his ‘art’ everywhere, and his fractured thought process is shown through archival footage from hunts, World War 2 newsreels, cartoons… everywhere really, and it represents the state of mind perfectly.
One thing I can say is that even though its a discussion on serial killers, their acts and their origins, it certainly doesn’t mind showing you the acts of violence and the ensuing gore or the results of the violence, and even though it appears to be practical special effects, some of them aren’t necessarily great… but that also might be the point: it’s hard to tell whether Von Trier’s restrictions are deliberate, or an accident of budget or lighting. There is also a little bit of animal violence, both in the afore mentioned archival footage of hunting and special effects, so if that’s something that completely and utterly repulses you, this film definitely isn’t for you.
Von Trier’s camera style is unusual too. The whole film is told in this almost voyeuristic news camera-styled look that perpetually moves and keeps every scene, no matter how static, interesting.
The casting is fantastic too. It’s easy to forget just how good an actor Dillon is, and he both recounts his tale to Verge, and acts like a psychopath with such a lack of enthusiasm that is comes across as very real. The other cast are fantastic in their roles too, a highlight being Thurman playing quite possibly one of the most horrible human beings ever put to film, which in a movie about a serial killer is saying something, and is an interesting juxtaposition on character.
It’s a long film, but there is always something happening, and it is constantly saying something about the psychology of killers, and also how societal norms have changed the regular human being into a lamb, and there are very few tigers.
Format: This film was reviewed with the Australian Umbrella Entertainment release, which is apparently the complete and uncut version, which runs at about 2 hours and 32 minutes and is presented in a fines 2.35:1 image with a deep Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track.
WISIA: Whilst this film is both interesting and provocative, I am not sure if it does hold itself up to repeat watches.
Film: Many film critics and academics have discussed the important virtues of films that James Quandt described as ‘the New French Extremity’. Hell, it’s such an important part of film history that the Faculty of Horror’s Alexandra West wrote a whole damned BOOK about it (titled Films of the New French Extremity, available now). The key things, according to Wikipedia (who were quoting an article from MUBI), that define the New French Extremity are a ‘crossover between sexual decadence, bestial violence and troubling psychosis’.
Now, I am no academic, and I write this site because I just love horror and cult and sci-fi movies, but to me that also sounds like a description of ‘torture porn’. I guess because it’s French it becomes artistic rather than lowbrow (you can tell it’s lowbrow as it doesn’t deserve capital letters).
Anyway, this film was made by a person who is associated with this movement (New French Extremity, not torture porn), Pascal Laugier, writer and director of the award winning, and critically-acclaimed film Martyrs, a film which he claimed was written whilst under the influence of clinical depression, and by the torture porn poster boy Hostel: in some hands that mix might be a recipe for destruction, but in this filmmakers hands it was an exercise in the futility of existence.
This film, Ghostland, has thematical similarities to Martyrs, but honestly, effected me far more.
Pauline (Mylène Farmer) and her daughters Beth (Emilia Jones), a studious, wannabe-writer who resides mostly in a fantasy world, and Vera (Taylor Hickson), an obstreperous teen-bitch, are travelling to an old house they have inherited from Pauline’s cousin’s step-sister. On the way they encounter a strange candy truck, driven by an odd woman (Kevin Power) who waves and then drives off, only to return to observe them when they stop at a truck stop for directions.
The continue on their way to the house and find that their relative was an odd person who had a dramatically large collection of dolls and other bizarre curios all through her two-story house. Something else that becomes a surprise to them is the Candy Truck Woman turning up again, but this time with a large, brutish accomplice (Rob Archer).
It would appear that these two travel around, collecting victims for the larger of the two to rape and beat, but this man has a particular kink which is the person he is raping has to lie perfectly still like a doll. Beth has just started her first-ever period, and after sniffing her, the brute decide to start with Vera instead, and drags her off, kicking and screaming.
Beth attempts an escape and witnesses her mother, previously incapacitated by the men, attack and kill the Candy Truck Woman, before turning her attentions to the large man, and after a fight, dispatches him also.
We then flash forward several years and Beth (now played by Crystal Reed) has a perfect life. She is a successful author, happily married to a wonderful man and has a young son. After a stint on a TV show promoting her latest book, she is contacted by Vera (now played by Anastasia Phillips) who is screaming and in a panic.
Beth returns to the house and finds that Vera is now completely mad, and lives in the basement where her rape occurred, and her mother is dealing with it as best she can. She decides to stay for a few days, but the longer she stays, something seems to be fracturing her psyche… or maybe her memory… and all is definitely NOT what it seems!
There was basically nothing to dislike about this film. Laugier has directed it perfectly and gotten performances from everyone, no matter how small their role, that really creates tension and once it really kicks off, doesn’t let up. At no point during this film did I look at the time or become distracted, which is unusual for me, and the sense of dread throughout the film is SO pervasive that my stomach felt like I had a rock sitting in the bottom of it.
Please, see this film but make sure you have a cartoon or some ice cream to eat after it: you’ll need it.
One small note: the cover of the Australian release of this film clearly has the title ‘Ghostland’ emblazoned on the front, whilst the actual movie itself presents us with the alternate title ‘Incident In A Ghostland’. Weirdly, IMDB has this listed as ‘Ghostland’ but the cover used to represent the film has the other title. Subsequently, I have no idea what this film is called, exactly.
Format: This film was reviewed using the Australia release, marked as region B on the back cover. Both the 2.40:1 image and the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 audio were of a high quality.
WISIA: It’s an enormously good film, and I enjoyed it thoroughly, but I am not sure I could watch it again.
Film: There was a period in the 90s where it felt like horror was maybe-not dead, but starting to smell a little. Even Fangoria was sticking blockbuster films on its covers! In the post Silence of the Lambs world though, a few thrillers popped out that surprised me with their level of entertainment, this, Copycat, being one of them.
(Yes, the irony of after a film like Silence of the Lambs that a similar film called Copycat would be released is not lost on me)
Copycat: Sigourney Weaver
Copycat tells of agoraphobic abnormal psychologist, who specialises in serial killers, Dr Helen Hudson (Sigourney Weaver) who has become this way due to being captured and tortured by a killer named Daryll Lee Cullum (Harry Connick Jr.) who was apprehended soon afterwards.
Thirteen months later a new serial killer has started a reign of terror in town, and investigating officers Monahan (Holly Hunter) and Goetz (Dermot Mulroney) are stumped, but when Helen starts calling them offering them advice, she ends up involved… but perhaps she was already involved… perhaps the killer is working on her involvement, and maybe it involves Cullum…
Now it’s not the greatest thriller in the world, and the technology in it is laughably dated, and not yet kitsch enough to be cool, but solid performances by the leads, particularly Hunter and Weaver, both of whom I been a fan of for years. There are some other actors who pop up in this as well who add to the acting quality of the film: Terror at the Opera’s William McNamara, The Punisher’s Will Patton and Pollock’s John Rothman.
Interestingly though I am drawn to it, and it remains a film that I return to quite regularly, even though it’s not so great. I think it’s because it is easy to watch, and the story, whilst a little generic, does have a few surprises that drive the female leads on, though the motivation of Hunter’s character is more alluded to than confirmed.
Maybe that’s when the appeal lies, in the fact that it’s like comfort food: easy to consume but not necessarily a proper meal.
Menu screen for the DVD of Copycat
Format: This film was reviewed on an (admittedly) older Australian, region 4 DVD version of the film which runs for just shy of 1 hour and 59 minutes. The video, present in 2.35:1, was of a below average quality but I imagine the age of the DVD may have something to do with that. The audio was presented in a functional Dolby 2.0.
Extras: Only a few extras on this disc. The first is a ‘cat and crew’ text piece that looks like you are able to see the credits of a bunch of cast and crew, but when you go to select them, only Weaver, Hunter, Connick Jr. and Amiel are available! It seems weird to me to list everyone, especially when you consider Mulroney, McNamara, Rothman and Patton’s many and varied careers!!
There is also a commentary by Amiel that is accessible by the ‘languages’ option on the menu. It’s a fascinating commentary that explores filmmaking and serial killers, and really explores how important the score is to a successfully creating mood and tension.
WISIA: I actually really like this movie, even though the story is little more than an extended episode of a police procedural TV show, and not necessarily a great episode either. I think it’s due to the quality of performance by all the actors in it. Whatever it is, I do seem to watch it once a year.
Copycat: Harry Connick Jr. as Callum and a future unfortunate cop