Aileen Wuornos (Nick Broomfield) – This documentary, by the man who did ‘The Chicken Ranch’ and ‘Tattooed Tears’, is about the woman claimed by the media to be America’s first female serial killer, a hitch-hiking hooker who supposedly offed seven clients. Well, actually, it’s more to do with the really sick people who’re exploiting her and the situation, including her lawyer and foster mother. Movie deals, interview fees, the works, and the documentary slowly warps into something that could be very black satire. When Wuornos herself finally appears, she’s about the sanest person we’ve seen and her ‘self-defence’ pleas seem horribly plausible – in an estimated 8,000 clients, seven psychos isn’t impossible. The film is stomach-churning, hilarious and totally gripping. A perfect documentary, and a must-see when it appears on C4. A+.
Bad Karma and Drill Bit (Alex Chandon) – Coming in on a wave of reviews are a pair of films from London-based Shapeshifter Productions. And hey, they’re actually pretty good. ‘Bad Karma’ scores with a gleefully energetic and imaginative approach cramming in warped idea after warped idea into an end product that’s part “Personal Services”, part “Evil Dead 2”, but is mostly unique (trans-dimensional creatures disguised as crazed Hare Krishnas?). While not all the ideas quite work, bonus points are due for having the gall to try, and the film is certainly miles away from the usual cliches. The story in ‘Drillbit’ starts off just as imaginatively – an AIDS cure turns people into zombies – but it peters out and becomes a show-case for violence and splatter (spot the TC contributor as a crazed killer!), though as it’s an extended show-reel rather than a finished movie, this is to be expected. Technically, both films are certainly as good as many pro-production I’ve seen, thanks in no small part to some impressive effects. Amateur psychologists may care to ponder the way that Alex’s mother ends up dying killed horribly in both films! B+ and C.
C’est Arrive Pres De Chez Vous a.k.a Man Bites Dog (Remy Belvaux/Andre Bonzel/Benoit Poelvoorde) – This ultra-cheap, b&w Belgian film is based around a serial killer (co-director Poelvoorde), followed by a camera team for a ’40 Minutes’ type documentary about his life and family (played by Poelvoorde’s real family, who didn’t know what the film was about!). At first, it’s a cheery exercise in black humour and sharp editing, with lots of shoulder-cam turning the murders into a psychopathic version of ‘Treasure Hunt’. But just as the killer is established as a near-likeable chap, the film crew gets drawn into complicity and the “hero” is gradually revealed as a real sicko, notably in one very nasty sequence that probably beats the “home video” scene in ‘Henry’, and is a near-cert for BBFC removal. The movie isn’t easy to watch, and it’s origins as a short film are occasionally far too clear, but it raises all sorts of questions about the nature of violence, and as debuts go, it’s uncomfortably impressive and intelligent. B
Hollywood Scream Queens Hot Tub Party (“Bill Carson”) – Michelle Bauer, Monique Gabrielle, Brinke Stevens, and a couple of lesser known names find a variety of reasons to take their clothes off in a near-plotless excuse for gratuitous nudity, mixing movie clips with special footage (see Michelle Bauer lick that chainsaw!). I detect Jim Wynorski and Fred Olen Ray at work, under pseudonyms (“Joseph D’Amato” as dialogue coach??) and it’s full of their usual trademarks – such as acting most politely described as ‘minimalist’. However, they know the target audience wants T&A and they deliver the pizza with never a dull moment from the time the scream queens put on their lingerie for a seance – as any cinephile knows, seances are always conducted so clad. Highly sexist and politically incorrect, so definitely recommended. B
Night on Earth (Jim Jarmusch) – For a film in which, basically, nothing happens, this is surprisingly good. It’s a collection of five stories, set in different cities at the same time, all concerning taxi drivers and their passengers. Few have much plot development, most just peter out with no real conclusion. But they are effectively directed, evoking the spirit of the cities effectively, and they’re also well acted all round, with nary a duff performance. Definite highlight has to be a manic Roberto Benigni confessing his sins to an unwilling passenger-priest, just ahead of a cutely smudged Winona Ryder as her tale is a little too schmaltzy. Only real complaint is the repetitive approach – it might have been better to have a different director doing each story, maybe Abel Ferrara for New York, or Dario Argento for Rome? B.
The Rapture (Michael Tolkin) – This is possibly the strangest film to come out of Hollywood in years and I’m not quite sure what to make of it. Telephone operator Mimi Rogers, disenchanted with a life of depravity, gets religion and heads off into the desert with her daughter, convinced the end of the world is near. I spent most of the film wondering when it was going to slip over into full-blown zealotry, as it’s pretty sympathetic to religion (even to Jehovah’s Witnesses!). But it stubbornly refused to go, and had my hair standing on end with some effective apocalyptic imagery and a last half-hour of general weirdness. Thought provoking stuff, albeit the thoughts were mostly “Eh?”. B-
Romper Stomper (Geoffrey Wright) – Anyone else think ‘Reservoir Dogs’ was nothing but a rip-off, right from the opening credits of men in suits and dark glasses walking in slo-mo, as seen in a million HK movies? Wish someone had told it’s director that “funny psychos” went out with ‘Nightmare on Elm Street 4’? Want ultraviolence? Try this Australian movie, an unmoralistic look at a gang of Melbourne skins and their ‘relationship’ with the local immigrants. Most memorable sequence is a fight/chase around the gang’s base, but most of the opening 45 minutes is chilling stuff. Then, as if to demonstrate skinheads are human too, the director throws in a lurve triangle. Big mistake – while perhaps realistic, it’s hard to accept and, hell, it was far more enjoyable to see them as monsters! So it finally ends up a maudlin love story/road movie, but (if you’ll pardon the pun) a nice stab, nonetheless. C.
Single White Female (Barbet Schroeder) – The key question in this film is not “whodunnit?”, which is obvious from the start, nor is it “will she get away with it?”, this being mainstream Hollywood fodder. No, the most gripping thing about this film is trying to decide how many times Jennifer Jason Leigh is going to take her clothes off. I won’t spoil the movie by giving away the answer, but suffice to say, it’s non-zero. Oh yeah, the plot – psycho flatmate tries to duplicate identity of her co-habitee. Nice ‘n’ sleazy stuff, though why anyone would choose a computer consultant as a role model beats me… Bridget Fonda doesn’t need to act, so doesn’t bother, JJL turns in her usual effective psychonaut. File under “lingerie or less”. C.
Tale of a Vampire (Shimako Sato) – Financed in Japan, directed by a lady,inspired by an Edgar Allen Poe poem, and oozing Anne Rice-ness – strange in many ways! Julian Sands is the title character, pining for a love lost last century, who finds a replacement working in a dust-filled library, but he’s also pursued by a mysterious man with a grudge (Kenneth Cranham). Sands seems born to the role (‘Gothic’ was good experience, no doubt) and Cranham is a good foil: together, with help from excellent cinematography, they overcome a script with some glaring errors (I doubt many public libraries in London are open till closing time) and the result, on a budget of less than a million pounds, is striking. More ‘Daughters of Darkness’ than ‘The Lost Boys’, gore bores will hate it, but if your IQ is less lukewarm you could do a great deal worse. B-.
Tiny Toons: How I Spent My Vacation – Fifty years on, Bugs, Daffy, Porky, etc, have grown up, married, moved to the suburbs and had kids. The results are depicted in this weird, surreal and very funny cartoon, which borrows heavily from places most American animated films don’t go: ‘Texas Chainsaw Massacre’ and ‘Deliverance’ are obvious steals. It’s style, a relentless barrage of visual gags, is a straight take from the 40’s Warner Brothers stuff, updated to include sharp digs at Disney (‘Happyworldland, the happiest place on Earth’) and other icons guaranteed to sail over the heads of most kids. Probably the best American cartoon in ages, despite it’s Spielbergian roots. Trivia note: co-writer and executive producer Sherri Stoner starred in ‘Reform School Girls’ as bunny-clutching Lisa (who leaps off a tower after getting her ass branded) and was also the live-action model for Disney’s Little Mermaid and Beauty. This may explain a lot… B