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Posts Tagged ‘horror’

I’ve been saying for years that there is some irony in the fact that one of the film genres most likely to acknowledge the existence of God as a key plot point is also the one least likely to be watched or enjoyed by your actual people of faith. I speak, of course, of the horror movie (although I suppose the biblical epic is also wont to upset believers of a certain stripe). On the other hand – and join me now as I generalise egregiously – the issue may be that what for most people just seems to be good camp fun – entertainment about ghoulies and ghosties, imps and demons – may appear to those who believe in the supernatural as dangerously frivolous and in desperately poor taste. Well, it’s a working hypothesis, although I am reminded of a story Sir Christopher Lee used to tell, about a priest who revealed he had no problem with any of the films Lee made: ‘The cross always wins.’ (Clearly he never saw The Wicker Man.)

When it comes to religiously themed horror, The Omen probably takes the prize for textual fidelity (if not actual quality), loosely based as it is on the Book of Revelation, but probably coming a close second is William Friedkin’s 1973 film The Exorcist. We should not forget the huge importance of The Exorcist in showing that a well-made horror film from a major studio could be a massive hit: films like The Omen were all following in its profitable wake, in addition to aping its style to a greater or lesser degree.

This is apparent almost from the start of The Exorcist, the opening sequence of which is set in Iraq: linking a story set in the contemporary west to the ancient landscapes and civilisations of the Middle East adds immeasurably to the scope and atmosphere of the narrative. In Iraq we find Father Merrin (Max von Sydow), an elderly priest working at an archaeological dig. He uncovers some unsettling fragments and seems troubled by a towering statue he comes across; the sequence is loaded with significance but the audience is left to interpret its exact meaning for themselves; von Sydow does not appear again until the climax of the film, even though he is playing the title role.

The scene changes to Georgetown, a pleasant suburb of Washington DC; here we find actress Chris MacNeil (Ellen Burstyn) involved in making a movie. For the duration of the shoot she is renting a house with her daughter Regan (Linda Blair). Also living in the area is Damien Karras (Jason Miller), a Catholic priest with special responsibilities as a psychiatrist to his colleagues. Karras is struggling to care for his elderly mother and experiencing a profound crisis of faith.

Karras’ mother eventually dies, leaving him guilt-ridden and in despair. Meanwhile, small events accumulate that lead Chris to suspect not all is well: strange noises from empty rooms, the pointer of a Ouija board flicking out of her hands after Regan confesses to having played with it, Regan complaining of her bed shaking in the night. A local church statue is obscenely desecrated. Regan’s behaviour grows more and more extreme, with medical experts unable to identify what is causing it – until one of them reluctantly suggests that, as Regan seems to believe she is the victim of possession by some kind of foreign intelligence, going through with the pro forma of an exorcism might cause her to cease her strange behaviour…

I first saw The Exorcist on the big screen, when it was given a 25th anniversary re-release. And, I must confess, I wasn’t especially impressed by it, certainly as a horror movie. ‘You probably have to be a Catholic to really find The Exorcist scary’ was a line which was in circulation around the time; it’s certainly one of those movies which makes a virtue over its lingering depiction of some aspects of the Catholic faith. Watching it again, however – well, I still wouldn’t say I was scared by it. Repulsed by some bits, yes, baffled by others, but overall my feeling was really of disquiet and unease – which I suppose in many ways is a harder effect to achieve than simple fright.

Much of this may be due to some of the curious directorial and editing techniques employed by Friedkin – sequences of long, carefully choreographed shots are interspersed with sections of staccato editing, the scenes almost seeming to end prematurely as they pile up on one another. There also almost feels like there is something incorrect, if not actually bad, about the structure of the film – the actual exorcist himself feels almost like a secondary character, despite von Sydow’s prominence and presence, while the abrupt switch to a couple of minor figures as viewpoint characters for the conclusion of the film is also rather jarring. But perhaps it is these very choices – unexpected, unusual – which give the film its unsettling atmosphere.

It’s this atmosphere which stops the end of the film, in particular, from sliding too far into the realm of camp spectacle (a possibility which is always there). For me the most genuinely creepy moments of the film come earlier, when the clearly troubled Regan is subjected to the full scrutiny of modern medical science – and the doctors are baffled. (Apparently many viewers find the scene in which Regan is given a angiography, causing blood to spurt out of a tube in her neck, more distressing than any of the stuff with the spinning heads or fake vomit.) The film’s great innovation is to place supernatural horror into a realistic modern setting, and slowly build the way in which it manifests – the climax is just a little bit too close to gothic drag to really work.

The effectiveness of the end of the film is thus limited, if you ask me, but it’s helped a lot by very strong performances from Max von Sydow (the popular image of the actor as a severe elder figure of impeccable integrity no doubt originated here – von Sydow was under heavy make-up and only in his mid forties at the time the film was made) and Jason Miller (Miller is quite a long way down the cast list but in many ways it’s his subtly intense performance that carries the film). It would be silly not to mention to remarkable combined performance of Linda Blair and Mercedes McCambridge as the possessed girl and her unwelcome guest.

The Exorcist comes from that brief period in American history between the end of the sixties and the twin traumas of the Watergate scandal and the withdrawal from Vietnam (events which coloured or influenced pretty much every major film for the rest of the decade – even George Lucas’ stellar conflict movie was arguably such a massive hit because it completely rejected the cynical mundane world in favour of idealised escapism). It takes that faint sense of implicit disquiet you find in films from this time and uses the lens of the supernatural to magnify it into something with the potential to be profoundly disturbing: the realisation that the whole world has lost its soul and is completely unequipped to deal with a sudden eruption of spiritual evil. It offers no easy answers; the ambiguity and obliqueness of the film is part of what makes it so effective. A highly intelligent and well-made film, and – whatever its eccentricities – still one of the classiest American horror movies.

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Even before you start watching Todd Strauss-Schulson’s 2015 movie The Final Girls, it’s clear from the title what flavour of film it’s probably going to be – horror, most likely a slasher, from the knowing-ironic-meta-deconstructionist tradition which has developed over the last couple of decades (most likely traceable back to Wes Craven’s New Nightmare in 1994). And so it proves, with the movie immediately launching into a pastiche of the original Friday the 13th, with a film-within-the-film called Camp Bloodbath.

This concerns a lakeside youth camp, a collection of attractive but disposable young people as counsellors, a scarred lunatic with a machete and a grudge, and all the other bits and pieces you might expect from this kind of movie. It’s crashingly unsubtle, but then that’s sort of the point: the film is basically establishing its terms of reference, and there is a fair degree to get straight here.

One of these elements is the distinction between Nancy, one of the victims in the film-within-the-film, and Amanda, who is the actress playing her (they are both portrayed by Malin Akerman, who I have recently learned is of Swedish extraction – that explains a bit, I suppose). The main character is Max (Taissa Farmiga), Amanda’s daughter, who – nearly thirty years on from the release of Camp Bloodbath – has developed a real dislike for the film, feeling it ruined her mother’s career.

Still, it has become a cult classic, and Max finds herself persuaded into going to a revival, on the somewhat inauspicious occasion of the third anniversary of Amanda’s death in a car crash (Max feels responsible on level, also being in the car at the time). With her are her kooky best friend (Alia Shawkat), the bitchy local queen bee (Nina Dobrev), a guy she’s sort of into (Alexander Ludwig, who managed to spend 2015 appearing in both The Final Girls and another film called Final Girl, which to me only suggests some kind of clerical mix-up at his agent’s office), and the horror geek responsible for the revival (Thomas Middleditch).

The film begins, but quite early on there is an accident and the cinema catches fire. Max and her friends have no alternative but to hack their way through the screen in order to escape. However, rather than the back of the cinema, they find themselves in woodland, in the daytime. A vintage minivan trundles past, and the occupants stop for directions: they are the characters from Camp Bloodbath, on their way to the camp!

Yes, Max and the others have somehow managed to get themselves stuck inside the film they were watching; quite why this has happened and the finer details of how this new reality functions are never completely addressed – initially it seems to be the case that the events of the film are happening on a permanent loop, repeating endlessly, but this rather gets forgotten about, as is the question of whether the film itself is as inimical to them as Billy, the killer from the movie, is.

Getting stuck in a slasher movie is naturally cause for concern, even if they do know in advance how events are going to play out. What rather complicates the situation is the fact that Max can’t help responding to Nancy as though she really is a younger version of her lost mother, which makes her absolutely determined to change the plot of the film and save her life. Things get even more complicated when the newcomers’ interference causes the plot to take a radically different course – the ‘final girl’ who is supposed to slay the killer meets a sticky end much too soon. With her gone, who is qualified to take on her mantle and save the day?

The Final Girls apparently had its genesis in the fact that one of its writers, Joshua John Miller, was the son of Jason Miller, who achieved horror immortality of a sort when he appeared in The Exorcist: watching a parent repeatedly die on screen was what planted the seed. Most of the obvious influences on the film come from elsewhere, however – quite apart from Friday the 13th, there are clear debts to the Scream series (the geeky character who delivers a lecture on ‘how to survive a horror film’) and the Halloween series (the Camp Bloodbath sequel has a hospital setting, like Halloween II, and perhaps the daughter of a famous victim in turn becoming the final girl is another oblique reference). There’s even an obvious debt to the Woody Allen film The Purple Rose of Cairo, in which the fictional world of a film gets problematically tangled up with reality.

The thing about The Final Girls is that it is much more of a playful deconstruction of slasher flick tropes (and other movie conventions) than it is a genuine horror movie – not that there aren’t a few effective scares along the way, but most of the entertainment value comes from the inventive way in which the script keeps finding new spins on its metafictional conceit – characters have to step over or around captions as they appear ‘on screen’, are fully aware of when they’ve gone into slow motion, and so on. There’s a clever plot thread where the characters realise that only one of them can be the ‘final girl’ (obviously), and start jockeying for position, listing their qualifications for the role. The movie’s ability to genuinely feel like an old-school exploitation horror film is a bit hobbled by the fact they film-makers clearly don’t want to go all-in on the elements of gratuitous sex and nudity and graphic violence that most of these films were notorious for.

To be honest, this would probably jar with the emotional core of the film, which is the relationship between Max and her ‘mother’: there’s a sense in which the film is essentially about the grieving process and the need to let go. Needless to say, this is an odd premise for a metafictional horror comedy, almost to the point where one would be inclined to assume the thing simply isn’t going to work. Bizarrely, it does, possibly because the film takes the time to set this up with just as much care and attention as the horror pastiche, and also thanks to some unexpectedly good performances: Taissa Farmiga is spot-on throughout, and you have to envy Malin Akerman her genes as well as her acting skills – she plays both the youthful Nancy and the older Amanda, the latter part being (to put it delicately) somewhat closer to her actual age, and is convincing in both roles. But this is a film which is consistently well-played and written, the only criticisms that I can send at it being that the low budget is sometimes a little obvious (the effect put on the Camp Bloodbath footage intended to make it look like it’s 35-year-old 16mm film doesn’t really convince) and the direction is very occasionally just a little bit showy-offy. Apart from that, The Final Girls is an unexpectedly smart, funny, and effective film that seems to have rather vanished into undeserved obscurity, which is rather a shame.

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Any film featuring the final performance of a talent as singular as that of someone like Diana Rigg instantly acquires a significance – and, perhaps, a set of expectations – it wouldn’t otherwise have. Edgar Wright’s Last Night in Soho doesn’t really do itself any favours by reminding everyone of this fact at the very beginning, featuring the dedication to the legendary actress and icon as virtually the first element of the film. It’s a brave step, but also a laudable one, and the film does not feel swamped by this unexpected (and unwanted) new element.

Wright is one of those directors who can be rather tricky to read: he bounces around across all kinds of genres, usually managing to make each his own in a rather quirky way – so far his CV includes a zombie rom com, a buddy action movie set in rural England, an offbeat comic book adaptation, an alien invasion movie, a diegetic musical car chase thriller, and a documentary about one of the world’s weirdest bands. (For a long time he was also attached to direct Ant-Man, but the whole ‘making it his own in a rather quirky way’ thing fell foul of the Marvel Studios method.)

The new movie is certainly creative, but largely tones down the overt oddness and games with genre. Thomasin McKenzie, who for a while has looked like one of those actresses one really good film away from significant stardom, plays Ellie, a young girl who has grown up in Cornwall with a head full of the sights and sounds of the swinging sixties. She is determined to go to London and make it as a fashion designer – what also rapidly becomes clear is that a suitcase full of old LPs is by no means the only baggage she is carrying with her: her mother took her own life, which has not stopped Ellie from seeing her about the place sometimes.

Despite some misgivings from her gran (Rita Tushingham), Ellie heads off to fashion designer university in the smoke anyway, and almost at once begins to find the reality does not match up to her dreams. Problem number one is the self-absorbed and callous room-mate she’s been assigned (Synnove Karlsen), which she manages to solve by renting a bedsit from a local resident (Rigg).

The fact that, after moving into the flat, Ellie starts to have some rather strange dreams does not initially appear to be a problem. She finds herself transported back to the half-mythical London of the swinging sixties (Thunderball is showing at the cinema, along with The Plague of the Zombies and Dr Terror’s House of Horrors, from which we can conclude that it is supposed to be early 1966 – even though the Amicus film came out six months earlier), experiencing the life of another hopeful young woman named Sandie (Anya Taylor-Joy) – though in Sandie’s case, her disillusionment comes faster and harder and altogether darker. Ellie sees Sandie fall under the sway of Jack (Matt Smith), a shady and controlling character, and begins to fear for what eventually happened to her. But isn’t she just making it all up? As the boundary between her increasingly nightmarish visions and the waking world begins to splinter, it becomes difficult to tell…

Last Night in Soho might not be quite the genre-bender that some of Edgar Wright’s films have been, but it’s still a slightly tough film to pin down. Is it a psychological thriller, or a full-on horror movie? (I was amused to hear two very earnest patrons at the showing I attended intently persuading each other, as the final credits rolled, that – despite its legions of genuine alarming spectres and some rather gory revelations in the third act – this couldn’t possibly be a horror film as it dealt with some serious issues. Hey, money from genre snobs is as welcome as anyone else’s, I suppose.

I’m pretty sure this is a horror movie – it’s genuinely unsettling for long periods, deals with proper horror material, and Wright deploys a few classic horror gags along the way – but it is also a very modern piece dealing with the topics of mental health and misogynistic violence. The sense being alone in a new place, feeling isolated, and never quite fitting in no matter how hard you want to, is superbly created, as is the sickly reality of being a vulnerable single woman constantly having to deal with the calculating male gaze.

And that’s just some of the present day sequences: the stuff set in the late sixties is arguably much worse. It initially looks like this is going to be a love letter to the glamour of that period, the London of Carnaby Street and the Beatles and their peers – a young Cilla Black appears as a character – something only emphasised by the appearance in the cast of such iconic sixties faces as Diana Rigg, Terence Stamp, and Rita Tushingham. But the film is also a ruthless deconstruction of the notion of that kind of glamour and the reality it was built on, which was one of ruthless exploitation and abuse.

It’s a powerful thesis and one the film puts across highly persuasively – I was even slightly surprised that Wright was making a film which was quite so on-the-nose with its moral premise, although I should say the film also works exceptionally well as a piece of dark, hard-edged entertainment, with the director showing off his usual casual mastery of the craft.

However, what definitely came as a real surprise was the conclusion of the film, in which Wright and his co-writer Krysty Wilson-Cairns opt for something rather more unexpected and nuanced. To be honest, it does feel like the film is reaching a bit, mainly because some kind of twist ending is what the form calls for, and while the ending is still strong and effective it is a little bit contrived.

Nevertheless, this is up there with the very best of Wright’s other films, taking you on a journey into another world (more than one, in this case). It does a good job of suggesting how foundational the pop culture of the sixties remain in the modern world, making full use of the music of that period (along with a few interlopers: the most recent song I recognised was Happy House, released in 1980 by Siouxsie and the Banshees), but is more than just a casual piece of nostalgia. That said, Stamp, Tushingham and Rigg all get meaty roles that allow them to show their quality, and there is something rather marvellous and touching about seeing Diana Rigg command the screen so effortlessly one final time, far removed though she is from her iconic persona of so many decades ago. But nearly everyone involved in this production emerges with credit. Last Night in Soho is a terrific film, one of the best of the year so far, and a worthy valediction for a great star and a great actress.

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Stabbing, shooting, gas explosions, falling from a great height, decapitation: some people just can’t take a hint, and so it is little surprise that Shatner-masked homicidal vessel of pure evil Michael Myers has once again shaken off apparently certain death and is back doing his thing on screen. This time the movie is Halloween Kills, directed by David Gordon Green. Technically this is Halloween XII, but that’s the sort of title that doesn’t go down too well with focus groups, I imagine, and the one they’ve gone for is concise and catchy and tells you what to expect (like you couldn’t already guess).

The eleventh film, just called Halloween, disregarded all of the previous sequels and remakes, and displaced Halloween II as the continuation of the 1978 original. Perhaps it is therefore slightly ironic that there are quite a few call-backs to Halloween II, both explicit and structural, in the new film, not least in the way that it carries straight on from the end of the last one.

As you will of course recall, in that film Michael ended up caged in a burning cellar by Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis), the final girl from his 1978 killing spree, after she spent decades and a fortune preparing for his eventual return. However, no plan is perfect and what Laurie has reckoned without is the prompt and diligent response of the Haddonfield fire department, who get stuck into trying to put the fire out. Suffice to say that not everyone who goes into the burning building comes back out.

It actually takes a little while for the film to get to this point, as it opens with an extended flashback to Halloween 1978 and the events surrounding the end of the original film (in this continuity at least). Quite what purpose all of this serves doesn’t immediately become obvious, but what Green is seemingly trying to do is establish the sheer extent of the psychic trauma inflicted on the town by Michael’s visitations and the long-term effect it has on many of the inhabitants.

Back in the 2018 narrative, news of Michael Myers’ return slowly filters out, initially causing panic and distress – but a group of survivors and their friends decides they have done enough running and hiding, and decide to go on the offensive by hunting Michael down and dealing with him permanently. Laurie and her family are initially oblivious to this, as she is in surgery at the hospital (much less gloomy and deserted in this movie).

Michael, on the other hand, has polished off the fire crew and is steadily making his way through the town, visiting gory trauma on everyone in his path. But just who or what is he heading for…?

I note that Halloween Kills has had some rather mixed reviews, some suggesting the film is about nothing more than finding new ways for a man in a mask to bash people’s heads in, but I think it’s another rather superior Halloween film, respectful to the original to a degree that verges on reverence. Certainly they’ve done their due diligence in terms of getting the original cast on board: apart from Jamie Lee Curtis and Nick Castle, Charles Cyphers comes back as the sheriff, Nancy Stephens as the nurse, and Kyle Richards as one of the now-grown-up kids being babysat back in 1978 (making the transition from child actor must be a bit easier when you’re in a super-long-running franchise like this one). The other now-grown kid is played by Anthony Michael Hall, who is rather good in the part. It also looks like they digitally resurrect Donald Pleasence for a few scenes, but this is kept to a respectful minimum. There is also a rather bizarre pseudo-cameo by Bob Odenkirk as the yearbook photo of one of Michael’s original victims (apparently they couldn’t track down the original actor and then someone noticed the resemblance).

One consequence of this big cast is that it isn’t immediately at all clear what the focus of the story is going be this time around, beyond the requisite scenes of regular bloody slaughter. Slowly it becomes apparent: Laurie may have been the most prominent survivor of Michael’s 1978 attack, but there is a town full of other people who lost friends and family and their sense of security, and the film is largely about how they respond to his return. And while this initially seems positive – friends banding together to support each other and take steps to defend themselves – as the film progresses it transforms into something disturbingly similar to mob hysteria, something nearly as ugly and dangerous as a masked killer on the loose. Perhaps there is a political subtext too – Laurie observes that the system has failed all of these people, and hence they are taking matters into their own hands. Quite what comment the script is trying to make is wisely left for the viewer to decide, but it brings a welcome extra layer of texture to the film.

That said, this isn’t the most tense or scary film, with the main innovations being some reasonably inventive killings and a repeated motif where Michael finds himself confronted with large mobs of armed and aware enemies. What ensues is more like a kung fu movie than anything else, as they essentially charge him one at a time and get gorily despatched. (You would have thought that the seventh guy in line, the one with the power saw, would have thought, ‘You know what, on the basis of what’s happening, I’m not going to chance it,’ and run away.) The careful ambiguity as to whether Michael is an actual human being or something more fantastical is really stretched to its limit, anyway: the film is openly playing with the character’s mythic aspects by the end, even suggesting he is somehow powered by the fear and anger of the people around him.

The film certainly ducks the issue of actually attempting a conventional conclusion to the story, although this is probably because it was announced as the same time as Halloween Ends, due out next year (the title is suggestive, but as the Akkad family (long-time producers of the franchise) apparently have a legal clause preventing anyone from actually killing Michael Myers off without their permission, we’ll have to see). In the meantime, though, I think this is an effective and satisfying new riff on the Halloween franchise.

*Yes, I know that because some of these films take place on the same night and another doesn’t feature the character at all, the strictly accurate title would be The Nine Nights of Michael Myers. But you try coming up with names for these things.

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I was talking to my nephew the other day about the difference between a ‘good’ sequel and a ‘bad’ sequel (and he even managed to stay awake); a good sequel exists because someone has had a good and original idea about doing something new with the material, probably moving the story on, and either expanding or deepening the world of the story (maybe even both). (The example I suggested was The Empire Strikes Back.) A bad sequel, on the other hand, is just there to revisit the key elements of the original for the purposes of making more money. (And at this point the majority of the stellar conflict films made in the last six years or so came up.)

The weirdest thing about Dominique Othenin-Girard’s Halloween 5 (aka The Revenge of Michael Myers) is that very occasionally it really does feel like someone attempting to do a ‘good’ sequel. This is what sometimes happens well into a franchise or series – some ambitious young talent is brought in, possibly from an entirely different film-making background, to freshen things up and use some brave new ideas. What often happens, however, is that the producers or studio get frit, because the daily rushes look just a bit too ambitious, fresh, and brave, and the final cut invariably attempts to drag things back to familiar territory, often at the expense of things like coherency and logic. The result is usually a very bad sequel indeed.

This is what happened to Halloween 5, I think. That said, as the film gets underway it feels more like a mid-period Hammer sequel than ever before: the end of the previous film is revisited, which previously seemed to show the antagonist’s apparent demise – however, the secret of how they survive into the new movie is also revealed.

The previous film ended with Michael Myers being repeatedly shot by the police and falling down a mineshaft (which, in the recap, someone then throws dynamite into: I think this constitutes excessive force under the terms of most police handbooks). However, he crawls off just in time and is washed out of the mine into a river, which carries him off. The odd thing is that the film feels like it’s almost urging us to root for Michael and cheer when he survives; he’s the only character we’ve properly seen so far and he does seem very much like the underdog (for the first time in the series so far).

Anyway, Michael crawls out of the river and into the dwelling of someone who appears to be a hermit, where he collapses. The implication is that he is then in a coma for nearly a year, no doubt receiving the top-quality medical care and general support that all hermits are famous for providing, before waking up on ‘Halloween Eve’ the following year. (Just go ahead and call it Halloweeneen, why don’t you; dearie me.) There’s a quick shot of a tattoo on his wrist which eventually proves to be just simply confusing, before he murders his host, masks up, and picks up where he left off in the previous film. The sheer mass of odd creative choices and things which are just plain dumb and stupid get the film off to exactly the wrong kind of start.

Anyway, the focus of the film is still Michael’s pursuit of his niece Jamie (still Danielle Harris); she is in a clinic for the pathologically upset after having possibly-or-was-it-all-a-dream stabbed her stepmother at the end of the previous film; Halloween 5 fudges the question of exactly what happened to an unforgiveable degree. Still hanging around in Haddonfield is Dr Loomis (Donald Pleasence), although the events he’s been caught up in (in addition to making his burn scars change between movies) also seem to have driven him completely nuts. (That, or too much red wine has inspired Pleasence to take it way over the top.)

I say ‘the focus’, but after a while everything becomes rather centred on Michael Myers’ pursuit of a teenage girl named Tina (Wendy Kaplan), for no particularly convincing reason – the main character of the previous movie, Rachel (Ellie Cornell), is unceremonious shifted off-screen, another creative choice which is simply rather baffling. This is all very slasher-convention-congruent and rather reminiscent of something out of a Friday the 13th movie, right down to the bit where a couple of teens enjoying some whoa-ho-ho in a barn are interrupted by someone wielding agricultural implements.

It may come as no surprise if I reveal that the closing sequence of the film, which doesn’t have much connection to this, doesn’t make a whole lot of sense either, but the sheer brazen oddness of what happens might well be; an ominous figure dressed all in black has been stalking Michael and Loomis around town for most of the movie (his stature as an emissary of the Dark Powers is somewhat undermined by the fact he travels on the bus); he has the same tattoo as Michael. Suffice to say the connection between this mysterious personage and Michael Myers is central to the ending of the film, not to mention the fact that it doesn’t really have one.

This is, as you may have guessed, the point at which the ‘occult curse’ storyline really becomes prominent in the Halloween series, but on the other hand it seems like most of the exposition relating to this has been cut out by nervous producers, in favour of pedestrian and un-scary scenes of Michael Myers killing unsympathetic teenagers and tooling around Haddonfield in a stolen muscle car he shouldn’t really be even able to drive (though to be fair he does something similar in the original movie).

You almost feel sorry for the director, if this is the case: the series certainly needed a new direction by this point. (Whether the occult curse angle, or indeed the more humanised version of Michael Myers Othenin-Girard was also keen on introducing, are actually notions with any mileage to them is a different question, of course.) You certainly feel sorry for Donald Pleasence, who delivers virtually all of his dialogue with the same bug-eyed expression and in the same raspy whine; it’s as if he got sick of being the only person in one of these films actually bringing any class to proceedings and just decided to fit in with all the others.

The most remarkable thing about Halloween 5 is the way it manages to make Halloween 4 look like a coherent and thought-through movie. The difference is between something pedestrian, predictable and dull, and complete mess. So maybe the message is that sometimes you should be grateful when things are merely really bad, rather than absolutely dreadful. Which even for a horror movie is a rather downbeat message; depressing rather than actually scary. Then again, that’s a good summation of Halloween 5, unfortunately.

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That leap beyond the second sequel is an important step for a young film franchise: you’re not just settling for being a trilogy, you’re potentially in this for the long haul. It is not surprising that many series take some time to reflect before coming back for a fourth instalment – Jurassic Park took fourteen years, the Indiana Jones series nearly twenty (and many people still feel the eventual decision may have been the wrong one in this case).

The Halloween series took a relatively brisk six year break between third and fourth outings – grit your teeth, but it also switched from Roman numerals (Halloween III) to the more regular kind (Halloween 4) at this point. Given that this series seems to have been a reliable income stream for the Akkad family, who were loathe to give it up, one suspects the delay was initially due to logistical concerns, and ended up having something to do with the value of releasing a film for the tenth anniversary of the original.

Apparently John Carpenter initially wanted to do a ghost story for the fourth film; whether this had anything to do with a proposed script about a spectral Michael Myers being summoned into existence in a fear-wracked Haddonfield, I’m not sure, but Moustapha Akkad opted not to take any chances and commissioned another screenplay much closer in tone and substance to the first two films. The result was Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers, directed by Dwight H Little.

So we end up with Michael Myers, who has been comatose for a decade after being repeatedly stabbed, shot, and blown up in a gas explosion on Halloween night 1978, being transferred by ambulance from one institution to another. Unfortunately one of the medics overseeing the move makes the mistake of mentioning that Michael has one sole surviving relative, a little girl living back in Haddonfield. Needless to say this perks our man up, and soon he is ramming his thumb through someone’s skull like he’s never been comatose at all.

Yes, we are told that Laurie Strode has died off-screen in a car crash, leaving behind a young daughter named Jamie (played by Danielle Harris, who is nearly as cute as the in-joke behind her character’s name). She is living with a foster family, and has a dislike of Halloween (unsurprisingly, given it seems to be public knowledge that her uncle is ‘the bogeyman’). Her foster sister (Ellie Cornell) is Rachel, and she is one of those decent and virtuous but slightly dull final girls fairly and squarely in the lineage established by Laurie Strode herself. Rachel and Jamie prepare for Halloween, unaware as they are that Michael is coming to town.

Equally unaware that Michael was due to be transferred was good old Dr Loomis (Donald Pleasence), who has made his own impressive recovery from being stabbed and blown up in Halloween II; Pleasence has some burn-scar make-up on one cheek that makes him look a bit like he’s still playing Blofeld, and also does a limp. When he learns that Michael has escaped again, Loomis delivers another variation on his usual ‘He’s not human… pure evil… they should have listened to me!’ speech and sets off in pursuit.

And you can probably write most of what ensues for yourself, given a passing acquaintance with the first two films in this series – in fact, whatever you come up with will probably be rather more imaginative and interesting. The cycle of slasher movies Halloween had inaugurated had arguably peaked by 1988, when Halloween 4 came out – Friday the 13th Part VII came out a few months before this film, indicating a certain degree of market saturation – and there is a definite sense of creative exhaustion about the film. It’s not so badly done that it’s completely risible, it’s just often very predictable and not especially tense, scary, or cinematic.

Even the bits that are surprising aren’t necessarily positive features. There’s a definite sense that Michael Myers has transformed from a figure who is terrifyingly simply because his crimes are so inexplicable, to a single-issue monomaniac with a weird compulsion to hunt down his surviving family members. He also displays a surprising degree of tactical thought in this film, carrying out a de facto pre-emptive strike against the Haddonfield PD and also taking out the town’s power grid (needless to say, this is achieved by throwing a hapless lineman into the works).

While this is going on, we keep cutting back to the doings of Rachel and Jamie – particularly Jamie, who is mixed up in a teen soap-opera subplot where her boyfriend (who doesn’t exactly seem like a catch) takes the first opportunity to get a little jiggy with her friend, the sheriff’s daughter. Needless to say they meet the fate of anyone who gets amorous in a mainstream slasher movie, and even the T&A is unexpectedly tame (the whole movie is surprisingly well-behaved – apart from the thumb-through-the-skull scene and a bit where Michael tears a man’s throat out with his bare hands, there’s so little explicit violence in this movie it could almost have been made for TV). Soon enough Michael catches up with his niece and the stage is set for a low-octane chase.

Given the fact the film is silly, dull, and often not scary, I was quite surprised to learn that Halloween 4 is considered by some serious critics to be the second-best film in the series. To me it just seems the purest kind of knock-off, inferior in every way to the first film, and not as cinematic as the second one. Donald Pleasence remains a terrific presence – he’s the only reason to see the film, really – but he’s so much better than everyone and everything around him that in a funny way he’s the one who becomes incongruous.

The film’s one and only interesting idea is alluded to early on, when Jamie chooses a Halloween outfit suspiciously similar to the one Michael wore twenty-five years earlier, the night he killed his sister. This is setting up the conclusion of the film, which is a little too laborious to count as a twist ending, but is certainly striking and offers some potentially interesting new directions for future episodes. You can sense the series losing touch with all the things that made the original film so great, but such is the nature of the franchise business, I fear. Halloween 4 was not born out of a desire to do anything interesting or creative, but just to extract more money from a lucrative property. It may have made money back in 1988, but these days the film looks just about as bad as you might expect.

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Just as every family has its oddballs, its black sheep, and its estranged relations, so every long-running film franchise has its weird outliers – its equivalent of Licence to Kill, or Godzilla’s Revenge, or Terminator Salvation. In the case of the Halloween series, the film that probably never gets invited round to dinner by the others is the third one, Halloween III: Season of the Witch, simply because they have so little in common.

What makes it even odder, perhaps, is that this was the intention all along – nine sequels further on, it seems hard to believe, but John Carpenter and Debra Hill had concluded there was no further mileage to be extracted from the doings of Michael Myers. Their idea was for Halloween to become effectively an anthology franchise, each film introducing new situations and characters.

Hence this film, which is not a slasher movie, and only refers to the original diegetically (characters in Halloween III are seen watching Halloween on TV, where it is modestly referred to as a ‘classic’). Looking for a new angle, Carpenter made the inarguably smart move of hiring Nigel Kneale (writer of The Stone Tape, amongst other things) to produce a script – but an intervention by the producers to add more gore and violence led to Kneale disowning the film, and the screenplay is credited to director Tommy Lee Wallace.

Perhaps this was a typically smart move by the veteran scribe. The film opens a week or so before Halloween and counts down towards the night in question. We initially see a man being pursued by sinister figures in grey suits, from who he barely escapes, wandering into a man’s shack and then collapsing. The man has one of those handy exposition TVs, which only shows things which have some bearing on the plot of the film, and so we soon learn that Halloween masks made by the Silver Shamrock company are important to whatever’s going on, along with the fact that someone has apparently managed to pinch one of the blocks from Stonehenge (yes, I know your disbelief is turning a funny colour, but just keep it suspended anyway).

The man who was being chased is whisked off to hospital where he is placed in the care of Daniel Challis (Tom Atkins), a slightly boozy doctor with a failed marriage behind him. One of the grey-suited men manages to sneak into the hospital and crush the patient’s skull, which I would describe as evidence of negligence, but Challis at least chases after him – the grey man immolates himself in the hospital car park.

It turns out the murdered man was a toy store owner, who was last seen heading to the small town of Santa Mira to collect a load of – oh, is that a bell ringing? – Halloween masks. So Challis, largely because the plot requires it, goes up there to investigate, in the company of the victim’s rather striking young daughter Ellie (Stacy Nelkin, who as a teenager was in a brief relationship with Woody Allen and claims Manhattan is partly based on this). Despite there being no discernible chemistry between them, Challis and Ellie get it on: this happens like someone turning a switch, and is presumably just there to meet some kind of assumed audience expectation. Needless to say, Nelkin gets a couple of nude scenes, Atkins (thank God) doesn’t.

I’m guessing the setting of Santa Mira is one of Wallace’s amendments to the original Kneale script, as it’s a very obvious call-back to the original Invasion of the Body Snatchers, which this seems in part to be a rather clumsy homage to. The parallels between the two films become much more pronounced as it continues, anyway, not that there isn’t always a lot of other stuff going on.

Santa Mira is a company town for a Halloween mask-making outfit run by wealthy old Conal Cochran (Dan O’Herlihy), and he and various other characters turn up to pad out the plot a bit. Cochran is obviously a bad ‘un and the other characters are there to meet sticky ends of various kinds – someone gets zapped by the maker’s tab off the back of a Halloween mask and their face falls off, someone complaining about Cochran has their head removed by two grey men, and so on. Cochran clearly has special plans for this year’s Halloween…

The act of reviewing some films does make demands upon your critical judgment and ability to articulate complex philosophical concepts. Halloween III is not one of those films. Halloween III is the kind of film that only really requires you to describe what happens in it, in order to provide a very clear picture of the kind of quality involved.

That said, simply describing the plot does not quite do the film justice. As the plot concerns an insane toymaker with an army of android duplicate henchmen, who steals part of Stonehenge and grinds it up to hide the dust in Halloween masks, which will then respond to a particular TV commercial by killing the wearers and causing poisonous vermin to erupt from their corpses, all because of a sentimental fondness for the traditions of Halloween, this is no small thing. The basic synopsis does not cover the quality of the playing, which is basic, to say the least: the closest thing to an acting performance comes from Dan O’Herlihy, who seems to have nicked it from Alec Guinness in The Ladykillers. Tom Atkins resembles someone who has wandered onto a film set, possibly to make a delivery or do some maintenance, and accidentally ended up being cast in the lead role. Stacy Nelkin is better, but grievously underused.

I can imagine a version of this film in which the sheer lack of narrative cohesion worked in the film’s favour – where it had something of the accelerating quality of a hideous unfolding nightmare, with a succession of bizarre images (mutilated faces, masks erupting with snakes and insects, characters revealed to be androids) piling up on top of one another to a disorienting cumulative effect, rather as in Hellraiser II. Unfortunately, Tommy Lee Wallace doesn’t have the skill or narrative control to pull something like that off, and he takes a very meat-and-potatoes approach to the material. At the very end, when the film’s debt to Body Snatchers is clearest, it does acquire a certain kind of energy, but it’s really too little, too late.

It would be interesting to speculate on a parallel world where Halloween III was, well, good, and the series went off on the anthology tangent Carpenter and Hill originally envisaged (in our world, the relative failure of the film meant that every subsequent episode has been firmly Michael Myers-centric). But it’s hard to imagine that world, based on this film. Halloween III isn’t just poorly assembled, it’s weird and tonally inconsistent, often mixing unintentional camp with stodgily-presented B-movie staples. This may have been quite a good idea, but it’s also an extremely poorly executed one.

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We are now at a point where there are three films called Halloween, so it follows as logically as anything else that there are also multiple Halloween IIs – although I feel obliged to make it clear that the sequel to the most recent Halloween is, of course, not one of them (like I say, logical).

The first Halloween II was probably inevitable from a financial point of view, given the immense returns of the original film ($70 million on a £325,000 budget), and I suppose this is one of those cases of the sequel being the film which really laid the groundwork for an ongoing franchise – the original film is brilliant, but one of the reasons why it’s brilliant is because it’s such a perfectly self-contained narrative. It’s also a very slight outlier when it comes to the slasher movie genre, and the sequel is more conventional in this respect too.

The problem with a calendar-date horror movie like Halloween is that you’re a bit limited when it comes to staging the sequel – you can’t just move on to the day after or the title will become a bit spurious, while jumping ahead a whole year also brings its problems. So Halloween II is one of the most direct continuations in movie history, very slightly tweaking the end of the original film but pretty much just carrying straight on.

So: Shatner-masked embodiment of pure homicidal evil Michael Myers is still on the rampage in his home town of Haddonfield, despite having been repeatedly shot and stabbed by feisty babysitter Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) and obsessed shrink Dr Loomis (Donald Pleasence). However, Haddonfield being the kind of folksy place where people leave their doors open at all hours, he is quite soon able to shrug off multiple bullet wounds, resupply with a big knife, and do in someone just down the street from the scene of his earlier crimes, just to keep his hand in.

Laurie, meanwhile, is whizzed off to hospital by nice young ambulanceman Jimmy (the film debut of Lance Guest, perhaps best remembered for quintessential 80s nonsense The Last Starfighter and Jaws: The Revenge), while Dr Loomis keeps up with his increasingly frantic attempts to hunt Michael down. But having heard where Laurie has been taken, Michael also heads to the gloomy and seemingly almost-deserted hospital, seemingly intent on finishing the job he started before the clock ticks twelve and they have to call the movie All Saints’ Day (though Day of the Dead would also be very appropriate and was still available back in 1981)…

John Carpenter really didn’t want to do a Halloween sequel, as he couldn’t see a place to take the story; he eventually limited himself to co-writing and producing, with Rick Rosenthal actually in charge of direction. Carpenter has said the creative process involved a lot of beer and him sitting in front of the typewriter saying ‘What am I doing? I don’t know.’

Then again, a classic slasher movie generally has two elements to it, the overarching storyline, and all the individual set-piece kills which punctuate the film. I suspect you can get away with making quite a congruent and popular slasher movie with very little actual plot and just a lot of good murders. Sending Michael to the hospital certainly presents the opportunity for a number of inventive slayings as he thins out the supporting cast (as ever, anyone foolish enough to have recreational sex in a Halloween movie is signing their own death warrant) – there’s death by scalpel, death by claw hammer, death by syringe, death by exsanguination, death by hydrotherapy pool, and what may be an attempt at death by slippery floor – though this may just be an accident. As you may perhaps be able to tell, the body count in Halloween II comfortably exceeds that of the first film, and where the original had a long period of Carpenter relentlessly cranking up the suspense before the killing begins in earnest towards the end of the story, in this one there’s a murder every few minutes, just to keep everyone paying attention I suppose. As I say, this is much more of a conventional slasher film than the first one.

It’s when Carpenter moves on to wider elements of the plot that the script begins to wobble somewhat – initially, it’s a spot-on continuation of the original film, with even some of the original cast returning just to play the corpses of their characters. Then Michael starts scrawling ‘SAMHAIN’ on the wall in blood and Donald Pleasence is issued with some cobblers about the history of Halloween and suddenly we’re on rather shaky ground.

The notorious plot device which the film introduces, simply because Carpenter felt it essential, is the revelation that Laurie and Michael are siblings, hence his monomaniacal pursuit of her. It feels like the film has suddenly gone a bit soap-opera at this point, and to be honest I don’t think the story really needed it – the really scary thing about Michael in the first film, after all, is that he doesn’t actually have a recognisable or intelligible motivation.

Most of the film is passably entertaining, anyway; Rosenthal manages a decent mimicry of Carpenter’s style, although the film is never as tense or scary as the original. However, the ending does feel weak – after Laurie is comatose for most of the first hour (I’m guessing there were issues with how available for filming Jamie Lee Curtis was), she ends up being chased round the hospital while Loomis – who’s just been conveniently informed of dynastic revelations – is racing to her aid.

This was, apparently, intended to finish off the story of Laurie and Michael in the most definitive way possible – let’s just take a moment, nine further films later, to reflect on just how successful that was – and I suppose it does just about hang together. (Just how do you kill off the bogeyman, though?) That’s about the best you can say about Halloween II – virtually every film in this series has basically the same plot, which is dressed up and tweaked in a new way every few years or so, and one of the jobs of the sequels is to disguise this fact as well as possible. Halloween II does a serviceable job of it; it is a sufficient sequel, but hardly a necessary one.

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After being almost-unseen for decades and seemingly like a prime candidate for ‘lost movie’ status, Ray Cameron’s Bloodbath at the House of Death, released in 1984, has recently turned up on the UK incarnation of the world’s biggest streaming service. If ever a comparatively recent film has languished, it is this one. Perhaps the distinct lack of enthusiasm for it, even amongst some of the people involved in its production, may give us a clue as to why. ‘It’s a fairly terrible film,’ recalled the producer in a 2008 interview. ‘It’s not the film I want on my headstone, or in my obituary when I die.’

Well, there’s a refreshing sort of honesty there, anyway, and the movie does have the kind of bizarre cross-genre conception and eclectic cast list that usually indicates it may be on the road to cult status. As you may know, being ‘fairly terrible’ is not the kind of thing to put me off a film, and the thing is only a brisk 90 minutes or so long. So: how bad could it be?

Well, the producer was possibly being a bit over-generous. The film opens with the first of many swipes at horror cliches: we start with a shot of a big old house in the countryside, as seen via a POV shot from someone creeping towards it through the undergrowth. The watcher pulls back the branches to get a better look – only to lose his grip, and them to spring back into his face, painfully. It’s a better gag than it sounds (the first time they use it, anyway) and a promising start.

Anyway, a mob of robed figures with axes, spears, shotguns, nooses, and so on, break into the house and kill everyone inside, leaving a scene of absolute carnage, in which none of the other attempted jokes have been very funny. British comedy legend Barry Cryer (who co-wrote the film with Cameron) briefly appears as a cop investigating the slaughter, but doesn’t manage to uncover any clues (or any more decent lines).

Then we are nine years later, and rather than death by stabbing or shooting we are threatened with death by exposition as the main cast all make their way to ‘Headstone Manor’, scene of the massacre, carefully telling each other who they are and why they’re going there. Most prominent are top-billed DJ-turned-comic Kenny Everett, in his only movie lead, and comic-actress-turned-latterday-sex-therapist Pamela Stephenson; the rest of the ensemble is not unimpressive as it includes the likes of Gareth Hunt, Sheila Steafel, Don Warrington, and John Fortune; appearing as the juvenile leads are Everett’s regular stooge Cleo Rocos (who brings big hair but no discernible acting ability) and John Stephen Hill (a fairly nondescript young fellow whose Wikipedia page claims he stopped acting the year before he made this film; maybe there is sometimes truth in Wiki after all).

Apparently they are all scientists, sent to the spooky old house to investigate reports of supernatural phenomena and high levels of radiation. The cognisant viewer will by this point essentially be expecting something along the lines of Carry On Up Hell House, given the broad low comedy on display and the premise thus established, but the film doesn’t even have the coherence and focus to hit this rather low target. (The censor, when showed the film, apparently thought it wasn’t especially problematic and indeed had its moments – generous fellow – but thought there’d been a mix-up and he’d been shown the reels in the wrong order. He had not. The plot makes that little sense.)

What you end up with is an increasingly baffled and/or desperate-looking cast, flailing about for a way to get laughs – Stephenson opts for a silly voice, while Everett starts off doing a silly walk and then also goes for a silly voice. Nothing, by the way, makes it apparent that Everett is a TV star doing his first movie more clearly than the over-the-top mugging he indulges in throughout. Some of the dialogue would struggle to get into even a late Carry On film, as when Rocos and Hill are exploring the kitchen: ‘Could you pass me a spoon?’ – ‘I suppose a fork is out of the question?’ – ‘Maybe, but let’s get dinner out of the way first’. Much of the rest of the film is made up of scattershot parodies of other films from around the same period – there’s a Carrie spoof, a very problematic Entity skit with some gratuitous T&A from Stephenson, a scene apparently referencing American Werewolf (which was partly a spoof itself), and even a gag based on E.T. (Inexplicably popular – if you ask me – comedian Michael McIntyre apparently appears in the E.T. segment, due to his being the director’s son.)

The vast majority of this movie is dreary, awful rubbish, one of the signs of the moribund state of the British film industry in the 1980s; it’s actually quite surprising how it manages to take normally capable performers and seemingly drain all the talent and charm out of them. The occasional flash of directorial cleverness, or a decent special effect, doesn’t come anywhere close to rescuing it.

However, there is a reason to watch this movie, and that reason is the presence of no-foolin’ horror legend Vincent Price, making his final appearance in a British film. I have often written in the past of the remarkable ability of stars like Price, Peter Cushing, and Christopher Lee to lift dodgy material through sheer talent and presence, but what Price achieves here is truly exceptional: to say this is a game piece of self-parody is a huge understatement. Price’s scenes are genuinely very funny: he plays the leader of the local Satanic cult, saddled with a bunch of insubordinate and incompetent followers (he’s off by himself and never interacts with the rest of the main cast). He gets a magnificent speech about his centuries-long career of evil, delivered in the classically arch Price manner, concluding with ‘…and you tell me to piss off? No, you piss off!’

That said, Price is only in the movie for about ten minutes, and it’s a near thing either way as to whether this is enough to justify watching the rest of it, which is really and truly properly dire. I have considerable tolerance for and fascination with bad movies, and even I found most of it tough going, so go in prepared and don’t be ashamed of bailing out. I can’t imagine anyone genuinely liking this movie, and even those who can get through the whole thing will probably only do so once.

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I like Tom Hardy; he’s a talented guy. I also like Andy Serkis, for the same reason. I like Woody Harrelson, Naomie Harris, and Reece Shearsmith too, and I suppose I don’t have a beef with Stephen Graham or Michelle Williams either, now that I think about it. An enviably talented bunch, that lot, with some really impressive work behind them.

Quite what they’re all doing making Venom: Let There Be Carnage together, I have no idea, but I suspect the siren song of an $850 million box office return for the original film may have something to do with it. That is a slightly baffling figure for a not-especially-good film where (essentially) a pool of brain-eating slime is the theoretical protagonist and lots of things don’t actually make a great deal of sense. But here we are, with a sequel touted as featuring ‘one of Marvel’s greatest and most complex characters’.

(Yes, we are back in the realm of Marvel Comics-inspired movies yet again, though – for anyone not versed in such matters – this is not an actual Marvel Studios production, but one made ‘in association with Marvel’ – basically, Marvel sold off the rights to the Venom character years ago to Sony, who know a promising bandwagon when they see it and are pressing ahead with their at-a-slight-remove franchise of Spider-Man characters, tangentially connected to the Marvel Studios juggernaut.)

Greatest? Well, that’s a matter of opinion – but ‘most complex’? Venom’s a pool of brain-eating slime that started off as a gimmick costume for Spider-Man, so let’s not get delusions of grandeur here – we’re hardly talking about Othello or Hamlet. Thankfully, the film has little truck with this sort of pretentiousness, cheerfully chucking it out (but presumably failing to notice that things like characterisation and plot coherence were apparently packed in the same box).

Tom Hardy, who also co-wrote the story and co-produced the film, once again plays Eddie Brock, a whiny loser of a journalist who is still sharing his body with Venom, an alien symbiote with various bizarre powers, an egotistical personality, no moral compass whatsoever and an insatiable appetite for brains. (The dynamic between the two of them is oddly reminiscent of that of Rod Hull and Emu, although with more CGI.) For reasons mainly to do with the requirements of the plot, Brock is summoned to meet with imprisoned serial killer Cletus Kasady (Woody Harrelson).

This whole plot element is epically fudged, to be honest, but the upshot is that Kasady is sent to death row, for which he blames Brock. (Forget all those years of appeals and pleas for clemency you often see in movies and documentaries – on this occasion, from sentencing to execution seems to take about a day and half.) However, Kasady also manages to eat part of the Venom symbiote (don’t ask), which fissions off into an angry red blob with severe daddy issues called Carnage. Pausing only to bust his crazed girlfriend (Harris) out of an institute for mentally unstable people with mutant powers, Carnage sets off to destroy Venom, Brock, and everyone close to them…

(Yes, it is very odd that, in a film set in a world where there isn’t a superhero on every street corner and Venom and Carnage appear to be the only unusual inhabitants, someone randomly turns up with mutant powers, but no-one makes much of a fuss about it even though it feels like a stretch for this particular movie. But the whole issue of the relationship between the different Marvel franchises is a live and dynamic one right now, and this film is likely to be discussed a lot with particular reference to a moment which will presumably end up being blamed on Lokiette nuking the Sacred Timeline.)

I thought the greatest value of the first Venom movie was as a stern reminder of just how bad a lot of superhero movies were, X-Men franchise excepted, in the late 90s and the early years of this century. This one is, objectively speaking, at least as bad and quite possibly worse – it’s a toss-up as to whether the plot makes more or less sense this time around, but there’s also an undistinguished performance from Harrelson, who is perhaps a bit swamped by all the CGI, and Harris frantically chewing the scenery as an almost totally one-dimensional character.

And yet, and yet… oh dear. I have to confess that I really enjoyed a lot of this film, although I did feel a bit embarrassed about it even at the time. This is mainly because the movie isn’t afraid to really engage with the potential silliness of the relationship between Brock and the symbiote and play it hard for laughs. The bromance between the two of them and their various squabbles over who is in charge, are actually quite sweet and funny, and Tom Hardy gives a genuinely accomplished comic performance, both in terms of physical slapstick as Brock, and vocally as Venom. (Never mind Patrick Stewart or Ronnie Kray or Bane, the Venom voice is probably the most impressive in Hardy’s repertoire.)

Perhaps one of the problems of the film, for Woody Harrelson in particular, is that Carnage comes across as a slightly tedious single-issue version of Venom, with essentially the same powers and a boring personality – if Harrelson had found a way to differentiate between the two characters more effectively, the rest of the film might have been as engaging as Tom Hardy’s comedy schtick.

In the end it is really just an exercise in simple charisma and incidental pleasures; the film is paced like an absolute bullet, presumably to ensure no-one has time to think about exactly what’s going on in front of their eyes – most of the time you’re bombarded with decent gags frequently enough to keep the weaknesses of the film from seeming too obvious. (That said, the climactic CGI battle is, as usual, 10-15% too long.)

I wouldn’t bet against Let There Be Carnage’s mixture of CGI-boosted grisliness and slapstick turning out to be just as big a hit as it was the last time around, but it’s difficult to see where they can go next with the character without repeating themselves – beyond the obvious alternative, which is to do a team-up with one of the other characters they have the rights to. That would certainly be interesting. Putting Venom into a bigger world might do both him and it some good; as it stands, this film is likely headed for cult guilty pleasure status.

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