Thursday, 30 May 2013

Grindhouse 4: Creepozoids


Newborn UK studios 88 Films selects DeCoteua’s 1987 acclaimed debut feature Creepozoids as its fourth 80’s horror cult-classic revival for its (now) eight-strong Grindhouse Collection. 

Set in the future of 1998, six years after a nuclear apocalypse that left Earth a ‘blackened husk of a planet’, a group of army deserters seeks refuge in an abandoned former military base. But it’s not long before the survivors realise their sanctuary was a government research laboratory, where a genetically engineered creature still prowls its corridors. 
To say this is another Alien rip-off would be accurate right down to a handful of its mimicked set pieces. But this unpretentious effort does not try to conquer the emerging - and hackneyed- film fad that followed the success of the groundbreaking sci-fi blockbuster; ultimately the low budget B movie-type never allows this imitation to be a competitor, and it doesn’t in any way try to be. Instead, it relishes in its rubbery façade and triumphs with its self-aware schlock horror conventions.
The conflicting quartet spends much of their time lurking in the shadows around winding corridors and dim lit rooms, and a lot of the effects work makes its excuses by hiding in the shadows. But it does wonders to create an eerie atmospheric setting, and thanks to the release of the 1:33:1, it isn’t the unbearably dark picture that it once was.                                                           

Aside from the looming silhouettes of DeCoteau’s bloodthirsty mutants and a great deal of limbs and heads protruding from the edge of the frame, the cast fight the force by wrestling of bunch of, what seem like, cuddly toys. A giant fuzzy rodent for one (that, rest assured, gets zapped by a laser gun.) It’s good fun, and what it lacks in commitment to the monster, it makes up for it with full frames of blood spurting exploding heads and melting ripped flesh as the victims go through their fatal transformations to their own bloody endings. It’s an enjoyable gore fest and, in hindsight, the FX of the mutilated bodies wouldn’t look out of place in a 90s movie with the same production values. Retrospectively it’s as silly and shabby as the rest of DeCoteau’s catalogue and probably scores below par in comparison to his next underwhelming project, odd horror parody Sorority Babes in the Slimeball-O-Rama (1988). 
A raunchy shower scene with Linnea Quigley (Return of the Living Dead, 1985. Night of the Demons, 1998 & 2009) and a lengthy girl-on-girl punch up, which I’m sure has made a few teenage boys squirm over the years, also ticks another box to assume its trashy appeal. But when the bare breasts and cheesy clichés have done their bit, the 69 minute running time doesn’t allow much time for anything more than hasty decisions and sweeping suggestions - though dinner debates and deliberations form theories on government intervention, military deployment and genetic mutation wander in to make up the intervening cumbersome dialogue. Though we long for them to break free form the enclosed danger, the outdoors is as unknown to us as it seems to be for them.

Guy Moon has become a household name in TV and movie soundtracks in the last twenty years, critically acclaimed for his later works in composing music for animation. His familiar trashy score, analogous to Goblin’s sound and the Cannibal franchise’s score, signposts the beloved 80s horror and forms most of the film’s early substance.

VERDICT: It may have only been another stone in the rubble back in the mid-80’s when Alien influences seemed to creep into the booming sci-fi horrors, but today it’s a nostalgic raw piece of entertainment from the “golden-age” of horror that will surely be appreciated by DeCoteau’s few remaining fans and those who didn’t have the patience to squint at its before. Kudos to 88 Films.
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Monday, 6 May 2013

Best Friends Forever @ Sci-fi London

With the release of Star Trek Into Darkness into our cinemas this week, it seemed all too fitting for the SCI-FI LONDON FILM FESTIVAL, an annual festival celebrating the best of new and old sci-fi and fantasy fiction, to be held during the rife anticipation. Some ‘Trekkies’ were calling it a ‘warm-up.’ Celebrating its 12th year, the week-long event opened with indie vamp Byzantium on Tuesday 30 April and has, and will continue to, exhibit an invigorating programme of Sci-fi and Fantasy film UK and World premieres, exclusive talks with the genre’s key players, a short film showcase, and an array of special events, all-nighters and workshops until this Monday (6).

As SUNDANCE LONDON, which ended last weekend, was becoming a mere memory by the time Tuesday dawned, I was all too eager to check out the action at Stratford Picturehouse, the festival’s primary host venue alongside BFI Southbank. I caught up with the UK premiere of indie post-apocolyptic Best Friends Forever.

Marking Brea Grant’s directorial debut, this Thelma and Louise-type adventure tells the story of graphic comic book artist Harriett (Brea Grant) and best friend Olivia (Vera Miao) who pack up a ’76 AMC Pacer in LA and embark on their first road trip together to Austin, Texas. But what is meant to be a final ardent flee for the two hipsters before Harriett starts grad school and their lives part ways, becomes slightly interrupted by the fact that, on the day that they leave, nucleur bombs wipe out half of the US. Unaware of the terrorist attacks and mass destruction around them, the pair find themselves entangled in a string of misfortunes and mishaps. Their car gets hijacked by a trio of desperate wanderers and the trucker that gives them a ride becomes abnormally abusive at their innocently jovial demeanour. Before they know it, their honest and carefree reunion on the road becomes a battle for reconciliation and redemption on a journey towards the truth.

Co-written and co-produced by the two leads Grant and Miao, Best Friends Forever is as much of a sci-fi as it is a dark comedy. Consciously dumbing down reality, the attention lies more with how the disaster toys with the end of a friendship rather than, well, the end of the world. It’s more heartfelt girl talk, boys and booze behind an amusing backdrop of plain ignorance, with the odd explosive tantrum as opposed to the expected imploding landscape. Being low-budget, much of the apocalyptic goings on are communicated through inference, with passers-by conveying brief information or showing signs of nucleur-reactive illness or abnormal behaviour, and the occasional glance at a generic disaster TV news report. The narrative’s earnest and lighthearted tone is unfamiliarly uplifting and entertaining enough, and it skips through an average ‘take it or leave it’ notion for an aptly eighty minutes.

But what really needs shouting about is its B-movie style cinematography. Shot on Super 16 film, rather than digitally, its raw and grainy substance really revives a lost texture in the genre, giving it a genuine handmade touch. It really does look and feel great, concurrently enhancing the digetic content for which it so well suits, and its distinctive, poignant score adds melodrama and sentiment. Though an abundance of imagination is undoubtedly the primary driver throughout the film’s entirety, it would have perhaps benefited from another dimension of graphic art imagery to bring to life its recurring references and break free from its extreme provincial outlook.

VERDICT: A frivolous and fun throwback road trip movie that ultimately falls short in conveying an underlying sombre didactic, but contributes to the genre with its commitment to tactile and sensory effects.