Sunday, 10 September 2017

New Films Round Up #11 - Reviews of A Dark Song (Ireland/ Wales 2016), The Terror of Hallow's Eve (USA 2017), It Stains the Sands Red (USA 2016), The Evil Within (USA 2017), and Revelator (USA 2017)

A Dark Song (Ireland/Wales 2016: Dir Liam Gavin) Wow, what a fascinating, bold and arresting film this is. First time feature director Gavin's slow burn two hander has Sophia, a bereaved woman renting a large house in the remote countryside and engaging Joseph, an occultist, to undertake a ritual that will enable the woman to speak again with her dead little boy.

As many critics have commented, this is perhaps the first commercial film to treat the occult seriously - there's dark comedy in there, but it's character, not subject driven. And whereas previous movies of this type have rather abbreviated the spell making processes - Terence Fisher's The Devil Rides Out (1967) is a good example - Gavin's film stretches the time taken - but not the viewer's patience - for the summoning to almost Tarr-esque proportions.

But it's never boring, firstly because the detail shown is so fascinating (a lot of research has gone into this, but the learning is not conveyed in a showy way). Also, and perhaps more importantly, the performances of the two leads keep everything very grounded. Catherine Walker as Sophia is the epitome of hope against hope; her frustration as the spell casting process drags on for weeks, then months without any signs of a visitation is palpable, as is the audience's when it realises that she has not been truthful in her motivations - she is ultimately caught between doubt and acceptance, and the need to put all of her trust into the occultist Joseph, played by Steve Oram. As those who have seen Sightseers (2012) or Aaaaaaaah! (2015) will attest, Oram is one of the most interesting figures working in British cinema today, and his role as Joseph, truculent, knowledgeable, unscrupulous but also sincere, is a brilliant one, full of conviction and nuances.

When the visitation does come, it's bravely handled. Although not to show anything would surely shortchange the audience and not repay their patience thus far, the depiction of the angels and demons promised by Joseph throughout the ritual could have been less plausible without the intense and credible build up. I completely bought into the whole package of the film, from the brooding, still camerawork of Cathal Watters, picking up the passing of seasons outside the house almost as an afterthought, to Ray Harman's atonal soundtrack. A very good film indeed.

The Terror of Hallow's Eve (USA 2017: Dir Todd Tucker) It's 1981 - Timothy is a shy retiring lad, obsessed with monster movies, an excellent creature artist who lives with his mother following his parents’ break up. Timothy is going through a difficult adolescence, not helped by being the object of bullying by the town’s local tearaways, led by thuggish Brian, and having a crush on Brian’s girlfriend April. After a particularly vicious beating up, Tim discovers ‘The Book of Halloween’ in the attic of his house. Reading aloud from it, he wishes his bullies to be scared to death. And then the fun begins, as his desire is realised, courtesy of a weird creature called The Trickster whom he has inadvertently summoned.

Although the Halloween holiday feel is a little lacking in a film set between 30th and 31st October, as if to make up for it the spirit of John Carpenter is all over this movie (the director’s trademark font for the titles, the use of Haddonfield as a place name for the local asylum, even the use of one of Carpenter’s ‘Lost Themes’ on the soundtrack). But Todd Tucker’s second feature (supposedly ‘based on true events’) plays more like an extended version of a fantasy-themed episode from the old ‘Tales from the Darkside’ series. As you might expect from someone with Tucker’s extensive special effects CV The Terror of Hallow’s Eve is relentlessly inventive even when it stops making any sense; The Trickster is a particularly vivid creation, a kind of Gollum character crossed with The Crypt Keeper (excellently played by Guillermo del Toro’s go to creature actor Doug Jones), and the rest of the pleasantly non-CGI and rather colourful effects are also well rendered, if not actually scary. 

Where the film lets itself down is the end coda, an unnecessary bit of exposition which only seems to have been included to set the scene for a sequel (and while I’m not generally a fan of this sort of thing, I would like to see The Trickster in action again). Caleb Thomas’s performance as Tim (“Don’t call me Timmy!”) is also a little ragged round the edges – I wasn’t sure if he was supposed to be shy or mildly autistic. But for the most part The Terror of Hallow’s Eve is an old school wild ride, a beer and popcorn Friday nighter, no more, no less.

It Stains the Sands Red (USA 2016: Dir Colin Minihan) I loved this funny and rather touching take on the zombie movie, its intimate examination of human and inhuman very much a product of these post The Walking Dead times.

Molly (brilliantly and sympathetically played by Brittany Allen) is the blowsy girlfriend of wannabe gangsta Nick; they are driving away from zombie infested Las Vegas, aiming to reach a remote airfield where they can hook up with their friends and get away from the mayhem. When their car gets stuck in the sand, an approaching zombie - who Molly later nicknames 'Smalls' (short for 'small dick') munches on Nick, and Molly is forced to escape on foot into the heart of the Nevada desert, with 'Smalls' following.

At this point you either expect Molly to cop it in a lead-character-gets-it-in-the-first-half-hour-didn't-see-that-coming moment, or for the drama to open out with more zombies, more action, more warfare. Neither of these things happen. Instead there is a developing relationship (of sorts) between Molly and the slowly pursuing 'Smalls' which acts as a narrative pivot to understand Molly's character and back story. Loaded with gentle comedy, It Stains the Sands Red becomes a bizarre story of friendship which has its roots in odd couple buddy movies, but it's the transformation of Molly from tough cookie to fully rounded and responsible human that is this movie's big selling point. The Nevada desert, luminously photographed by Clayton Moore, looks both stunning and relentlessly bleak, and is an appropriate backdrop to the developing story of woman and zombie. Great fun, with a truly uplifting final reel, I heartily recommend this.

The Evil Within (USA 2017: Dir Andrew Getty) Even without the tragic story of the death of director Getty this would have been a remarkable film. Opinions vary on how long the thing took to make - 15 years is the most favoured guess - and The Evil Within, which started life as The Storyteller, was finished posthumously by editor Michael Lucceri.

The other most noteworthy things about the film are the central performance from Frederick Koehler as Dennis, a disabled boy who is plagued by troubling dreams (although because of the length of time to film it, Koehler ranges from teenager to man from scene to scene) and the dreams themselves, featuring some of the most nightmarish images seen by this reviewer in some years.

Dennis lives with his brother John (Sean Patrick Flanery), whose girlfriend Lydia (Dina Myer) wants John to hospitalise Dennis so they can have their own life together. For some inexplicable reason John buys Dennis a hideous antique mirror. Dennis is freaked out by this as he has already seen the mirror in a dream. The mirror contains a demon, who sometimes materialises in the familiar shape of Michael Berryman and sometimes as Dennis himself. Evil Dennis taunts good Dennis that the only way for the boy to become well is to kill things. Cats, random people, then those closest to him.

Despite Getty's singular vision - the film was actually finished in 2008 but the director spent the next seven years obsessively re-editing the thing until his untimely death in 2015 at the age of 47 - this is an incredibly uneven and rather depressing movie, which probably says more about the director's state of mind than offering up a bona fide horror film. It has moments of genius - the scene in the singing restaurant will not leave my mind for some reason, and some of the camerawork as it travelks through the mirror is breathtaking. But it's a hard watch simply because of its disjointedness. Getty seems to forget character motivations, so his cast constantly act in odd ways, and its difficult to get a handle on quite what's going on. Although it should be remembered that the guy wasn't a director, just a man with a film in him and a shedload of money to spend on it (Andrew was a member of the Getty oil dynasty). Bizarre and seriously flawed then, but absolutely worth watching.  

Revelator (USA 2017: Dir J. Van Auken) Ever since Haley Joel Osment whispered “I see dead people!” to a distinctly less than corporeal Bruce Willis in 1999’s The Sixth Sense, there’s been a thin but steady stream of films dealing with visions of the dead in a relatively prosaic manner; recent examples include Adrien Brody in Backtrack and Nicolas Cage in Pay the Ghost (2015) and 2016’s We Go On. To this list can now be added the debut feature written and directed by J. Van Auken, Revelator. John Dunning is a rather mercenary but genuine psychic who has made his living cosying up to wealthy benefactors, and taking his share of their estates in return for helping them to renew their acquaintance with departed loved ones. He’s also popping prescription pills at an alarming rate, in part to deal with the relentless tide of spirit forms in front of his eyes, but also to stave off the memory of his wife, who died in a boating accident.

His latest bequest is from a woman who left Dunning an entire island in her will. Her family are less than pleased because the land mass’s natural resources produce a healthy profit, but John is determined to take what’s his, feeling that the island will be a great place for him to live in solitude untroubled by his ghostly visions, and be closer to his departed partner with whom, for all his skills, he’s unable to contact. Into this rather tangled web walks listicle journalist Valerie, keen to pick up on his story and re-insert herself back into proper journalism via a juicy exposé of John’s talents. Valerie and John team up in a rather awkward symbiotic partnership to investigate the death of another member of the family, who has died under mysterious circumstances. And then things get really complicated.

Van Auken’s film is almost Chandler-esque in its narrative twists and turns. Nobody is who they’re supposed to be, and the longer the movie plays out, the less the supernatural elements are of importance. The film is shot in such washed out pastel colours that the sight of a bright amber plastic pill bottle comes as something of a shock, and the whole thing has a tired, scruffy, aimless feel to it which perfectly matches Dunning’s persona.

Although there are some dark comedic moments in Revelator, kiss goodbye to any thoughts of lightheartedness – this is sombre stuff. There’s also no chance of Valerie and John becoming an item – he’s too much of a mess and there are hints that she plays for the other team anyway. Ultimately the story becomes too convoluted to involve, bogged down by a funereal pace (pun intended) and a rather one – note set of performances. It’s a film I’d probably have to watch a second time to really understand (again like Chandler’s stories) but it’s not appealing enough to make that happen anytime soon. A shame, as it’s beautifully shot (Van Auken’s cinematography training clearly helpful here) but someone should have paid more attention to the sound design, which is uneven, with a soundtrack that wants to be moody but is mainly dirge-like.

The Reviews of The Terror of Hallow's Eve and Revelator were originally published on www.bloody-flicks.co.uk 

Thursday, 7 September 2017

mother! (US 2017: Dir Darren Aronofsky)

In Darren Aronofsky’s deeply allegorical and stunning mother! Jennifer Lawrence is a young woman who has moved into a huge ‘fixer upper’ house in an unspecified location with her poet husband Javier Bardem – in the credits she is ‘mother’ and he is, well, ‘HIM.’ She’s done all the fixer-upping following a fire which has previously devastated the house, while he has been struggling with writer’s block, hasn’t written a thing for months, and seems rather distant from her.

Into this rather imbalanced and awkward setup an older guy (Ed Harris) arrives at the front door, mistakenly thinking it’s a B&B. Bardem quickly befriends the man and invites him to stay overnight – the first in a series of unwanted occupations of the house (at least by Lawrence’s character) that drive the drama of the film - and soon Harris is joined by his drunken wife (a superb, witty performance by Michelle Pfeiffer – so good to have her back on our screens again) and later their bickering sons.

Tragedy strikes when one of the offspring is seriously wounded following a fight about Harris's will (he is dying and has actually come to the house to meet ‘HIM’ being a big fan of the poet’s work). Harris subsequently becomes ill and the party, including Bardem, leave ‘mother’ alone to go in search of a hospital. Lawrence is left to mop up the blood from the fight and discovers a strange, almost fleshlike bleeding hole in the floor. Soon Bardem returns, not on his own but with a party of mourners; the wounded son has died. At Lawrence’s insistence the party are asked to leave the house, which seems to precipitate a defrosting between husband and wife – as a result ‘mother’ becomes, er, an expectant mother and Bardem's character starts writing again. But as Lawrence nears full term, the poet’s latest work, clearly the best thing he’s ever produced, draws a growing crowd of fans to the house to meet their hero. And then the third house invasion begins.

It’s probably best to watch mother! as a connected series of extended dream sequences, faithfully recreating the (il)logic and anxiety of the nightmare. Bunuel’s 1962 movie The Exterminating Angel, with its bourgeois dinner party guests reverting to their base instincts after being mysteriously trapped in a house, is clearly an influence. Lawrence’s inability as a pregnant woman to influence her charming but evasive husband has more than a whiff of Guy and Rosemary Woodhouse in Polanski’s 1968 movie Rosemary’s Baby; the house as a living breathing prison conjures visions of the same director’s Repulsion (1965) and the paranoia levels evoke that film and also his The Tenant (1976).

Jennifer Lawrence in Darren Aronofsky's mother!
The descent into hell of the final reel is a bold move, and its grand guignol touches (actually great big splashes) are excessive but accommodated because of the rising sense of tension and unease generated by the film’s previous ninety minutes. Nothing in mother! is an easy watch but the final twenty minutes is, even by Aranofsky’s standards, a macabre tour de force. Lawrence and Bardem are both fantastic in their roles – much of the movie shoots in close up, showing both the differences in age and disposition between the two actors. It’s extraordinary stuff, but I was unsure of how seriously to take everything. After all, what to make of a swishing knife sound accompanying the addition of the exclamation mark to the movie’s title at the start of the film?

Although the film can be read as the study of a marriage in crisis (and also therefore biographically via what we know of Aronofsky's personal life), in terms of what lies behind the movie’s more opaque allegorical tendencies, two clues give us a possible interpretation. One is an interview in Sight and Sound magazine, where the director hints about his continuing interest in the environment, what we’re doing to it and the impact of its neglect (and lest we forget his previous film Noah was his attempt to take a non-religious view of the same subject). The other is a poem, punted out as part of the teaser publicity for the film, called mother’s prayer. This has been adapted by feminist writer Rebecca Solnit and is an entreaty to mother nature, worshipping the pattern of the seasons and asking for deliverance ‘from wanton consumption’ of the earth.  So it’s possible to view the birth/rebirth/regeneration themes of the movie as analogous to the cycles of nature, with the house as our valuable planet, and the unwelcome occupants the wanton consumers. Or something.

mother! is an extraordinary film however you approach it. It’s certainly a career best for Jennifer Lawrence and arguably Darren Aranofsky too. It’s a wild ride, bizarrely playful but deadly serious – a real force of nature. 

Saturday, 2 September 2017

Shadows of Sphere - a look back at the the films of the Phantasm franchise

With the release last year of the fifth and possibly final movie in the Phantasm film sequence, Ravager, I thought it was time to revisit cinema's oddest franchise.

Phantasm (USA 1979: Dir Don Coscarelli) Coscarelli was 23 when he made Phantasm. The director was a big fan of horror, fantasy and science fiction films, and although his previous works (both from 1976 - drama Jim, the World's Greatest, and comedy Kenny & Company) hadn't shown any traces of these influences, they dealt with the subject of childhood, a theme which was central to his 1979 movie.

Watched today, Phantasm still feels like it was beamed down from another planet - possibly the world from which The Tall Man originates. It's a weird, confused, slightly empty film (although these aren't necessarily criticisms) reduced from a much longer (reportedly three hour) first cut to the skewed and odd ninety minutes of the released version (although some of that footage would resurface in the fourth instalment). Phantasm introduces us to Jody (Bill Thornbury), his younger brother Mike (A.Michael Baldwin), and guitar picking ice cream salesman Reggie (Reggie Bannister). Jody has returned to the town of Morningside, putting his rock and roll career on hold to look after his younger sibling following the untimely death of their parents. The audience doesn't really see any of this town, beyond a local bar/diner, a funeral home and the cemetery, the three  locations in which all the action takes place.

Mike's inadvertent sighting of a strange cadaverous figure turns out to be The Tall Man, played convincingly by the late Angus Scrimm (real name Lawrence Guy, who also had another career as a writer of liner notes for record albums). He's first seen impressively manoeuvring a large coffin into a waiting hearse single handed, and it's one of the great introductions in modern horror films (apparently Coscarelli hit on the idea of the character while watching Scrimm clowning around with a young boy, making scary faces at him). The discovery leads Mike to investigate the local funeral parlour, leading to the discovery of some small, brown robed dwarfs and later a murderous flying sphere (designed by Willard Green). It turns out that The Tall Man is from another planet, harvesting the bodies of the dead from the cemetery, reducing them in size (the dwarfs) and exporting them back to his planet via a portal. Young Mike and friends Reggie and Jody (who are both musicians in real life and manage to fit in a quick jam before the action starts) must try and thwart The Tall Man's plans before he can clean out the whole of Morningside cemetery.

Phantasm was cheaply made with a budget of around $800,000 (Coscarelli's mother was on make up duties) but boasts great atmosphere and a superb analogue soundtrack by Fred Myrow and Malcolm Seagrave (sampled by DJ Shadow on his landmark album Endtroducing). As a film it's aged remarkably well; it's perhaps not supposed to make sense, but is filled with interesting details and the cast play it very straight, with great camaraderie between the three leads.

Phantasm II (USA 1988: Dir Don Coscarelli) At the end of Phantasm, things don't look good - Jody has died in a car accident caused by The Tall Man, and Mike has been pulled through a mirror, presumably to meet his death. Phantasm II, made nearly ten years after the original movie, reprises the closing scene but lets Mike survive. Now grown up, and played by a different actor (the original Mike - A. Michael Baldwin - auditioned but didn't get the part, which was given instead to James LeGros, although apparently it was a role for which Brad Pitt originally screen tested!), he has been released from a psychiatric hospital where he's been staying, convincing the powers that be that his recent experiences are all in his mind, although we know different. Mike seems to have developed a psychic ability to communicate with old flame Liz - in his visions she's linked to The Tall Man. Hooking up with Reggie, who also survived the first movie, the two old friends take a car and track the lofty alien across the US, finally cornering him in a town called Perigord in a fight to the death. But whose?

Coscarelli had never intended to make a sequel to Phantasm. After the first movie he'd spent some time directing and then recovering from the critical backlash arising from his 1982 film The Beastmaster, a film received so poorly that author Andre Norton, on whose book the film was based, had her name removed from the credits. However when Tom Pollock became Chairman of Universal Pictures in 1986, as a lifelong horror movie fan he was keen to pump some fresh blood into movie franchises that had run aground, like the Evil Dead and Childs Play films. Offered a substantial budget (the highest for any Phantasm film but peanuts by Universal's standards) Phantasm II was born.

Reggie Yates and Angus Scrimm both reprised their roles as Reggie and The Tall Man respectively, the former looking more advanced in years befitting the time gap between movies; Scrimm, 52 at the age of filming but made to look older, is his enigmatic self - there's a scene towards the end where an entire house in front of which he's standing bursts into flames (courtesy of a Vietnam special forces team drafted in for the detonation) and does not bat an eyelid - that's acting. Coscarelli had clearly been paying attention to trends in films between 1979 and 1988, as Phantasm II is chock full of influences from other movies: the obsession with weaponry from Aliens (1986); tooled up brothers in arms buddy movies like Lethal Weapon (1986); and America photographed at 'magic hour' (Top Gun and Stand By Me - 1986).

The director was also able to spend some decent money on special effects, with 1980s wunderkind Mark Shostrom doing some great things with latex; even the spheres have multiplied (all designed and operated this time by Steve Patino, although his credit in the film was significantly reduced following run ins with the producer), becoming more aggressive and flying more convincingly. But unlike many sequels the additional budget doesn't ruin Phantasm II - it's a different film from the first one, more confident in its directorial choices and with better set pieces; I liked the path of destruction that Reggie and Mike witness as they pass through towns previously visited by The Tall Man where he has literally sucked the life from them. Credit for the improved look of the film is down to cinematographer Daryn Okada, an early credit for someone who went on to be DoP for movies like Lake Placid (1999) and Just Like Heaven (2005). But there's also a certain reservedness about the movie, perhaps caused by the constant presence at the shoot of the Universal 'men in suits.' Bannister commented in an interview that "...they were always kind of hanging around to make sure the movie turned out the way they wanted it, and that made for a different kind of vibe on the set.We didn't feel as much like rebels out on the edge."

Phantasm III: Lord of the Dead (USA 1994: Dir Don Coscarelli) Fans would have to wait a further six years for the next instalment in the franchise, the first of the films designed more for the home market than a theatrical release. Coscarelli has commented that as the numbers of the Phantasm films rose, so the budgets fell ($2.5 million for this one) but the director surprises with new levels of inventiveness and even some comedy (which divided some of the franchise's hardcore audience at the time), creating a dreamlike chain of events more reminiscent of films from the latter end of the A Nightmare on Elm Street franchise.

Following a pattern set up by the last movie, we're dumped straight back where II left off: Mike (A. Michael Baldwin, the original Mike, now returning to the fold, but seamlessly picking up the reins from James Le Gros, albeit making the part less gung ho than his youthful version) and Reggie (Bannister) survive a hearse crash, although Liz doesn't make it; The Tall Man carrying her severed head around makes that pretty clear. Mike ends up in hospital where he has visions of his dead brother Jody (a returning Bill Thornbury) whose brain and soul resides in one of the spheres (III considerably expands the spheres' features - as well as being a repository for the brains of the cowled zombies, Jody sphere also acts as a laser tool and primitive GPS). Defying an attack from a zombified nurse, Mike and Reggie flee the hospital, guided by Jody who morphs between sphere and 'human' forms with amazing regularity. Along the way they pick up 11 year old Tim (Kevin Connors), whose parents were killed by The Tall Man but who is more than able to look after himself, Rocky (Gloria Lynne Henry), a gun and nunchaku toting gal that somehow manages to resist all attempts by Reggie to jump her bones, and three lowlifes who are quickly despatched but who turn up later as gurning zombies in the service of Scrimm's character.

Meanwhile Mike has been abducted by The Tall Man and the rest of the crew all end up in a huge mausoleum, where Mike is being held, and which is the scene for the final battle - well the final battle in this film anyway. The Tall Man is defeated but his indestructibility is now legendary, and the team are possibly too late to save Mike, who remains alive...but with a sphere implanted in his head. And what's going to happen to Timmy, snatched through a mirror just like Mike at the end of the first movie?

"Don't believe everything you see. Seeing's easy...understanding takes a little more time," advises the spectral and newly gnomic Jody at one point in the film. And Phantasm III pretty much lives up to that line - it's a hoot from start to finish. Quite happy to tack on any bits of exposition that work at the time, its freewheeling spirit is a triumph of ingenuity over budget. There are several staggering set pieces including some great car stunts courtesy of stuntman Bob Ivy, while the retention of many of the actors from the first movie makes it feel like a family business, although Angus Scrimm plays The Tall Man even more intensely here - and gets more to do as well. Mark Shostrom's quirky effects always deliver, and the mausoleum setting is terrific - the Compton location in Los Angeles was apparently discovered by Bannister, and his prize for securing the facility for the three week shoot was to put Reggie centre stage in the movie, a gamble which pays off as it's this film where Bannister really comes into his own as a character. Too bad that we don't see Tim again after this one, and Rocky got to drive off into the sunset (until the end of Ravager), but at least they both survived to tell the tale.

Phantasm IV - Oblivion (USA  1998: Dir Don Coscarelli) Interviewed on set at the time of making Phantasm III, Coscarelli said, of the possibility of a sequel, "I'll be honest with you - I don't have a fourth or fifth one in mind, so if you ever interview me on the set of Phantasm IV or V, I'll tell you I concocted the story for strictly commercial reasons." Four years later the director was in a slightly more accommodating frame of mind: "My plan is to answer all the questions that have been left unanswered for so long about the Phantasm world," he declared, deciding to "pretty much finish off the story arc of Phantasm" and promising that "the basic core story of Mike, Reggie and The Tall Man is all going to come to a head in this one." Well thank goodness for that. However...

The movie started off life as Phantasm: 1999, co-scripted by Roger (Pulp Fiction) Avery, and budgeted at about $8 million. This proved unworkable, so Coscarelli re-worked the story with a much lower budget in mind - around $650,000, achieved through Japanese , German and Spanish financing. He had to make some hard decisions about how he was going to achieve those aims while making, as he termed it, "A love letter to the fans." The first was to reunite the original cast again, so nearly twenty years after the first film, Thornbury, Baldwin, Bannister and Scrimm are back in their respective roles. The second was to depart from the linear narrative of the last two films and attempt to achieve the dream state approach of the original movie. For much of Oblivion the audience isn't sure what if anything is real. Coscarelli compounds this by the inclusion of unused scenes from the first film slotted in to emphasise the time travelling storyline, in which Mike moves back and forth in time, using the portal established in the first Phantasm, to discover the Civil War origins of The Tall Man and in so doing eradicate him before his transformation from kindly old mortician - Jebediah Morningside - to the crazed body shrinking alien that we all know and love. One of the previously unused scenes features The Tall Man being lynched, the inclusion of which would have been pleasing to Scrimm because of the severe discomfort he experienced being fitted with a body brace to allow the sequence to be filmed. As III was Reggie's movie, IV is largely Mike's and to some extent The Tall Man's - Mike's still a bit of a puppet but at least he fights back a bit in this one, despite his cranial addition. It's fascinating comparing footage from the 1979 film - the Phantasm movies have all been concerned with the American way of death and the process of ageing, and the retention of the original cast gives us a strong visual reminder of that process at work.

We left Phantasm III with Mike reeling from the effects of having one of the spheres surgically inserted into his cranium, and in IV it is clear that not only is this a device used by The Tall Man to control him, but that Scrimm's character wants to use the sphere to show Mike visions of different timescales and dimensions.

Phantasm IV is, like its two predecessors, a great road movie, deploying its Death Valley locations (reportedly making it a very tough shoot, particularly for Scrimm) to great effect, and there's a return to the imposing Compton CA mausoleum utilised in III.  It's lighter on set pieces, although stunt man Bob Ivy returns with some spectacular vehicular explosions and a great fight in a moving car involving Reggie and a demonic cop. Scrimm once again is his old imposing self, clearly relishing the chance to play good and bad roles (incidentally the shop where Scrimm was fitted for his outfit, the Western Costume Co, was the same place that provided him with the clothes for his first film role in 1951 as Abraham Lincoln, for Encyclopaedia Britannica). The effects are more sparingly used, although with the budget Coscarelli was lucky to have the use of Mark Shostrom and KNB crew from II, who helped out on this more from a sense of loyalty than for the paycheck.

Phantasm Ravager (USA 2016: Dir David Hartman) "Unless we can someday get Phantasm 1999 funded, I'm convinced this is going to be it for the franchise," said Coscarelli while putting Oblivion to bed. Sound familiar? Talk of a sequel to Oblivion had been reported since 2004, and the film was actually completed in 2014, but had to wait two years for a distributor. In terms of making the movie, although by all accounts guided at every step of the way by 62 year old director of the previous four films, and although he produced the first draft of the screenplay, Coscarelli handed over the reins of the fifth instalment to David Hartman, whose CV had previously largely comprised animated kids' TV shows, and who he met while making the brilliant Bubba Ho-Tep in 2002.

Phantasm Ravager (the 'V' in the title is of course the roman numeral for '5' like the 'IV' in Oblivion and the 'III' in...OK it doesn't always work) in keeping with the previous sequels kicks off where Oblivion finished - albeit 18 years later, ten of which were used to make the thing in between other projects - and plot-wise unless you've seen at least III and Oblivion, you're going to be scratching your head for much of the time. Even more abstract than the previous film, Ravager is more like a meditation on death and fate than anything else, tinged with sadness both cinematically and in real life - Angus Scrimm died very shortly after the completion of shooting at the age of 89, and the family-close cast and crew of the film lost a true friend.

As Ravager opens we meet Reggie, still searching for Mike and trying to avoid The Tall Man, the aggressive brown dwarfs and the ubiquitous flying spheres, with whom he does battle almost immediately. But we can't trust what we see; Ravager sets up the possibility that everything we've witnessed before might have been in Reggie's mind, for in the next scene he is sitting in a wheelchair in the grounds of a hospital, with Mike at his side, breaking the news that Reggie has been diagnosed with early stage dementia. Like Billy Pilgrim in Kurt Vonnegut Jr's Slaughterhouse-Five, Reggie time travels back and forth: we see him in a hospital bed, next to an old, seemingly near to death Jebediah Morningside (indicating that he's back in the nineteenth century) who tells him prophetically "this body is almost finished"; we also get glimpses of a red tinted future age where the Tall Man has decimated America, now ruled by huge silver spheres which patrol the sky. When Reggie is finally captured by The Tall Man a group of rebels frees him - they include Mike and later Jody, who together wage war against the spheres and their lanky master; meanwhile back at the hospital Reggie seems to be dying, with Jody (apparently no longer dead) and Mike at his side.

Watching Ravager, with scenes from all the previous movies spliced almost randomly into each other, is a bewildering experience. I like the critic from Variety magazine who described it as  "like an Alan Resnais film, only with zombie dwarfs." Despite Coscarelli taking a backseat on directorial duties, this is still very much a Phantasm film, albeit a sadder one - the sight of a much older Thornbury and Baldwin presiding over a similarly aged Bannister is very poignant. There are some concessions to modernity: the 18 years since Oblivion have seen the almost obligatory deployment of the hand held camera, here used quite liberally; and the spheres are now largely CGI generated (and because of the slim budget, none too convincingly).

And if you want to know whether there's going to be a sequel, watch Ravager's closing credits. Initially I thought I was watching scenes from the movie replayed, but it turns out that they are new shots that offer the possibility of further adventures with the gang, regardless of whether they're living or dead. And with it being Phantasm, the only thing that can be guaranteed is that Angus Scrimm won't be in the cast. Or will he?

Thursday, 24 August 2017

Bushwick (USA 2017: Dir Cary Murnion, Jonathan Milott)

Ok, I'll own up. I saw this at home via an on line screener: this is a movie you really need to see at the cinema. Bushwick is an exciting film in its own right but it's also a great and affectionate recreation of 1980s post Escape From New York ripoffs, in the same way achieved by the most recent film in the 'Purge' franchise (Purge: Election Year).

Lucy is a post grad student who is taking her boyfriend Jose to meet her family in the Bushwick area of Brooklyn. Disembarking at an unusually deserted subway station the couple encounter a man running down the steps onto the concourse. He is screaming. He's also on fire. As the camera follows Lucy to surface level she's greeted with the sight of open warfare slap bang in the area where she grew up (Jose's toast by the way, caught in an ice cream van explosion). The masked and heavily armoured antagonists could be terrorists, but we later find out that they're actually southern state secessionists who have decoupled themselves from the Union and are waging war against the Democratic north.

Taking refuge in a church, the frightened and seemingly helpless Lucy meets Stupe, an ex marine turned janitor who's a handy guy to be around. From then on the film follows Lucy, Stupe and Lucy's rescued druggy sister Belinda, as they try to try to make their way to the demilitarized zone on the other side of the city, where they can be transported to safety.

Bushwick is an unashamed exploitationer, the like of which generally aren't made any more. It's clearly limited in budget; the crowd scenes are sparse and most of the hardware seems computer generated, but what it lacks in spectacle it make up for in bravado. It's in thrall to the movies it's honouring, with its cast of tough knocks military guys, gang leader mommas and disillusioned priests. In Lucy (admirably played by Brittany Pitch Perfect Snow) we get a heroine who makes the familiar journey from defenseless screamer to gun toting action figure. She even gets one of the film's best lines: examining the remains of her left hand 'wedding ring' finger, shot off in an exchange of gunfire, she asks "How am I going to get married now?" Dave Bautista (Hinx from Spectre and Drax from Guardians of the Galaxy) plays Stupe (not Stupx), a mumbling angry bear of a man with, you know, a heart of gold.

New York under attack in Bushwick
Murnion and Milott, who previously made the lively and inventive comedy horror Cooties back in 2014 (itself a homage to 80s wildlife-gone-bonkers films and a sign that maybe you're not meant to take this film too seriously) handle the action well; the smooth camerawork, which glides around the mayhem and hitches a ride onto passing motorbikes from time to time, tries to convince us it's all shot in one continuous take - it isn't, but points for trying - achieving a kind of 'found footage' realism without the irritating bits and cleverly covering up some of the limitations of the effects work.

The directors have clearly tapped into the political realities of the US in 2017; this is arguably the first Trump inspired action movie (but it almost certainly won't be the last). It's telling that the southern state insurgents didn't take their beef to Washington but to New York, the heart of the liberal left. This movie may not be very bright, but it is a load of fun to watch, albeit with a slight sense of dread. Go see.

Wednesday, 23 August 2017

New Films Round-up #10 - Reviews of We Go On (USA 2016), Voice From the Stone (USA/Italy 2017), Brackenmore (Ireland 2016), Media Studies (UK 2017), The Triangle (USA 2016) and 68 Kill (USA 2017)

We Go On (USA 2017: Dir Jesse Holland, Andy Mitton)  Holland and Mitton previously wrote and directed the rather odd, atmospheric 'missing townsfolk' film YellowBrickRoad and the 'Listen' segment of the 2013 anthology Chilling Visions: 5 Senses of Fear. They're back with this very likeable, if a little uneven supernatural movie with comic flourishes.

Miles Grissom (very well played by Clark Freeman) is a young guy, obsessed with thoughts of his own mortality after losing his father at a young age, who is desperate for first hand proof that there is life after death. He offers $30,000 via a newspaper advert for anyone who can convince him conclusively that there are such things as ghosts. Aided by his mum Charlotte (a sensitive performance from the still vivacious Annette O'Toole, whose luminous presence in the movie served to remind me how little she's been seen on the big screen in her career) the two sift through the responses, meeting up with a man of science, who proves to be a fake, and a medium who seems like the real thing.

Miles then meets Nelson, who works for the local airport, and shows him something that provides the irrefutable proof that he needs, but at a price. He is now haunted by a figure, stuck between worlds, whose only chance of release is for Miles to perform an act of murder.

We Go On is that rare thing, a film which manages to elicit laughs, raise chills and occasionally a lump in the throat. Miles is a complex character whose neuroses would repel viewers in less talented hands than Freeman's, and his touching relationship with his mother (this is pretty much a two hander movie) gives an emotional depth I was quite unprepared for. In some ways the film touches on some similar themes to this year's A Ghost Story, directed by David Lowery, but whereas that film was a (failed) meditation on love, loss and time, this is probably nearer to a low budget Poltergeist (1982) in exploring the worlds beyond and the human interaction with them. Very enjoyable and distinctly bittersweet, I look forward to seeing more work from Holland and Mitton.

Voice From the Stone (USA/Italy 2017: Dir Eric D. Howell) Baby-faced Emilia Clarke is Verena, a nurse in 1950s Italy, with a successful track record of staying with families and healing young people, in Eric D. Howell's distinctly autumnal supernatural drama, which takes more than a few stylistic notes from Nick Murphy's 2011 movie The Awakening.

Verena moves in with a family whose young son Jakob has remained both mute and uncommunicative following the death of his mother Malvina from an unknown illness. The boy's father, Klaus, is both in mourning for his wife and frustrated at attempts by previous nurses to draw Jakob out of himself. Verena spends a lot of time drifting around the Tuscan mansion where the family live, but her attempts to get him to speak are slow going. In fact this is all rather slow, perhaps reminiscent of a winter costume TV drama, where all the money seems to have been spent on the clothes and location rather than the script.

Into this admittedly beautifully shot but rather tepid drama a romance builds between Verena and Klaus, and before you know it things have all gone a bit Henry - not M.R.- James, and any supernatural elements are supplanted by heaving bosoms and furrowed brows. The final scenes suggest that some form of transference might have happened, but it's all rather bland and inconsequential by this point. The movie is an adaptation of a 1996 novel by Italian author Silvio Raffo called La voce della Pietra, which judging by the story is probably heavily indebted to Daphne Du Maurier's Rebecca. Pretty but empty.

Brackenmore (Ireland 2016: Dir Chris Kemble, J.P. Davidson) Surviving a car crash back in Southern Ireland which kills both her parents, little Kate grows up and moves to London, with no memory of the event. When an uncle dies, leaving her a house, she moves back to her home village of Brackenmore to sort things out. But strange things happen while she's there, and Kate begins to feel that the village is harbouring a secret. Do the strange symbols she sees indicate something sinister, or is she just distraught at the failed relationship she's left behind in London? And can she really trust new guy on the scene Tom, who seems to good to be true?

Of course he is, and if you're ever seen Kill List or A Wicker Man you probably know the answer to the other questions as well. Brackenmore is a very slow paced, but enigmatic and beautifully shot film about small communities and how they deal with outsiders. Its central 'weird' premise is decidedly undercooked, however, which means the film is all build up and no last reel delivery, or at least a climax to justify the ponderous pace of the first hour.

Sophie Hopkins, an accomplished actor, seems rather uncertain in the role of adult Katy, and DJ McGrath as Tom fares little better. It's a pity, as with more convincing leads and a better script this may have gripped. But it's lovely to look at, and doesn't outstay its welcome at just over an hour - it just doesn't offer anything new or inventive.

Media Studies (UK 2017/2015: Dir Warren Dudley)  It's getting on for twenty years since The Blair Witch Project (1999) and I think we have to conclude that the 'found footage' film is now here to stay. The people in front of and behind the camera in Media Studies were toddlers when that movie came out, so, bless 'em, they'll not have known a time before shaky cams and pointless running and screaming in films.

Three young filmmakers, Raz, Raz's girlfriend Charlie and classmate Jess are given an end of term Media Studies project, to make a film and include lots of extras showing behind the scenes footage of how it was put together - a rather flimsy ruse to justify Raz filming everything. But hang on, haven't we seen these three before? Why yes, in Warren Dudley's last but one movie, 2015's The Cutting Room, which featured the trio as, you guessed it, three college students at work on an end of year Media Studies project...ah, it's the same film, repackaged with a more subtle title for the arthouse crowd. Come on, who'd fall for that bit of marketing? Oh.

Anyhow, our three chums decide to make a film about cyber-bullying. They focus on a girl who has gone missing in the locality following some on line persecution, interviewing family and friends but mainly bickering between themselves (quite convincingly, as it happens) about the process of making the doc. After another girl goes missing, the trail leads them to an abandoned barracks, where they uncover the secret behind the missing and, in so doing, must fight for their life.

I confess that I quite liked this. The three actors playing the students are sufficiently morose to convince (Charlie particularly, played by Lucy-Jane Quinlan, captures the sulky 'whatevs' mood perfectly), and in a nice have-your-cake-and-eat-it moment, there's a parody of TBW earlier on in the film, but then the director mines the same film for his final reel tension. And tense it is too, with a rather good end of movie reveal that I wasn't expecting. By no means a fantastic film, but competent and with a very personable cast.

The Triangle (USA 2016: Dir David Blair, Nathaniel Peterson, Adam Pitman, Andrew Rizzo and Adam Stilwell) Yep, it's more 'found footage' but this time served up as a proper documentary which is so well made, acted and edited that had you come in after the credits you could easily be fooled that this wasn't fiction.

Summoned via a postcard from a friend, a group of young (ish) filmmakers travel to the heart of Montana to seek out their mate who has joined a commune. But before you summon up thoughts of cults and films like Ti West's The Sacrament, this group of truth seekers seem to be a lot less loony tunes than the average. Quite what their credo is remains undefined for most of the film, but, as many critics have commented, the less you know about The Triangle the better.

The filmmakers are slowly introduced to and accepted by the commune, and find them to be independently minded old school hippies. Much of the film is devoted to the observance of their routines and rituals, which does make things rather slow going. Thankfully the characters are well defined and the film is shot very convincingly; after a while this viewer became rather envious of the lifestyle he was witnessing. But of course it can't end happily, although to comment more would be to give a way the big reveal.

Like most FF films this is really something out of nothing, but the film's directors use a kind of cinematic sleight of hand to persuade you that there's more bulk to The Triangle than actually exists. The good news is that the trick works - the bleak Montana mountainscapes are a great backdrop to the circle of yurts that is the commune's home, and it's that sense of oppressive arid environment encroaching on the idyllic lives of the communards that leaves the lasting impression. Not action packed then, but very good.

68 Kill (USA 2017: Dir Trent Haga) "A punk-rock after hours about femininity, masculinity and the theft of $68,000" is how this one's described in the publicity. Full of characters best described as Rob Zombie-lite, 68 Kill is playing at this year's FrightFest, and I can't help feeling that despite the smart script and sharp performances, this is going to disappoint the horror crowd.

Matthew Gray stars as Chip, as luckless and stuck as the fly caught in spilt honey under the credits at the start of the movie. His rather dominant and morally wayward girlfriend Liza (AnnaLynne McCord, as impressive as when I last saw her in Excision) shtups the landlord in lieu of rent and has her eye on the 68 large in his safe, aiming for a new start in life. Roping in Chip for a spot of housebreaking, things go wrong when Liza kills the landlord and seems to get off on it. The two escape with the money, and what follows is a road trip across the southern states with Chip falling into bad (and occasionally good) company. It's all pretty fast paced and frantic but sadly rather one note, and despite the fact that the key characters are all women it still doesn't really pass the Bechdel test, and everyone is so ludicrous and over the top that it's hard to see it from a feminist perspective.

This is Trent Haga's second film - his first, 2011's Chop trod a similar path of comedy and violence, which is I suppose what you would expect from someone who cut his teeth on Troma movies both in front of and behind the camera. But 68 Kill outstays its welcome very quickly, and is neither as sexy as the advertising suggests nor as gory.

Friday, 18 August 2017

Your Name (Japan 2016: Dir Makoto Shinkai)

I will be the first admit that my knowledge of Anime is not huge - in fact, call me Mr. Pitiful - but that doesn't stop me from knowing a good thing when I see it. And Your Name is a very good thing indeed, a decidedly literary film which deals with some big concepts in its hour and three quarters; its combination of buzzy ideas and stunning visuals rightfully put it on many critics' 'best of'' lists in 2016, and it's now getting a welcome re-release in cinemas, including some IMAX showings.

Taki and Mitsuha are respectively a teenage boy and girl; he lives in Tokyo, while she resides in Itomori, a village in the country. Mitsuha, who with her sister has been brought up by her grandmother, is bored with rural life and also with being a girl - she shouts from the rooftops that she wants to be reborn as a boy in Tokyo! By some unexplained means both get to swap bodies, albeit briefly. After the swap they can remember little about their alternative lives, but take it in turns influencing each other's future. However, the approach of the Tiamat comet brings consequences for both Taki and Mitsuha that tests both their strange friendship and their hold on youth.

A quirky sort of love story which shifts its temporal perspective on several occasions, this is a film that is at the same time funny, sweet, bewildering, and heartbreaking. For anyone has seen the mawkish but odd 2006 US romance The Lake House (or even the 2000 South Korean film Il Mare of which the US movie was a remake), you'll have some idea of the mid film twist that takes things from mildly diverting to potentially tragic. The body swap theme is popular in Japanese literary culture - Shinkai based his film on sources as diverse as Shuzo Oshimi's body swap Manga Inside Mari and Torikaebaya Monogatari, a story from the ancient Japanese Heian period. With the arrival of the comet and in the film's last scenes there are also echoes of the disaster movie - it's a film that mixes the east and the west very satisfyingly.

Despite the timeless nature of the story, the characters of Taki and Mitsuha are superb creations - lively, enquiring, both amused and frightened at their experiences, but the supporting cast are also beautifully realised: Mitsuha's spunky younger sister Yotsuha, who in a running gag constantly catches Taki, while in her sister's body, fondling her/his own breasts; Hitoha, Mitsuha and Yotsuha's grandmother, who has brought them up on her own following their mother's death and local mayor father's abandonment, and is the custodian of the making of the kuchikami sake, an ancient family tradition; and also Taki and Mitsuha's schoolfriends Tsukasa, Shinta, Tessie and Sayaka, who help to flesh out the lives of the central characters and are a great supporting cast in their own right.

But the real hero of Your Name, as you would expect, is Shinkai's animation. A combination of stunningly realistic (and occasionally rotoscoped) backdrops which capture the bustling, anonymous cityscapes of Tokyo and the tranquility of Itomori (a fictitious area realised from a combination of Nagana, Gifu and, for the area where the comet hits land, Aogashima Island). Shinkai's use of the weather - scudding clouds, rain and snow - adds an extra dimension to these already vivid scenes. Like Ozu before him, Shinkai's frequent use of passing trains, whizzing through town and country, represents both the distance between the characters and the means of connecting them.

Onto this backdrop a fairly straightforward teen romance becomes increasingly complicated (you may want to see it with English language enabled, as I found the combination of a complex story, gorgeous visuals and subtitles at times overwhelming), raising questions about gender and culture which I wasn't expecting. Personally I could have done without Radwimps' (a popular Emo-lite Japanese band) rather generic - and overused - songs, feeling that this might unfairly date the movie in years to come. But this is a small criticism of a film which offers so much visually and narratively. See it on a big screen if you get the chance. Or failing that a very big television. Excellent.

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Victim (UK 1961: Dir Basil Dearden) - notes from an introduction to a screening of the film at East Dulwich Picturehouse 15 August 2017

“It is extraordinary, in this over-permissive age, to believe that this modest film could ever have been considered courageous, daring or dangerous to make. It was, in its time, all three.”

That was Dirk Bogarde writing about the film Victim in 1979. A further 38 years of ‘permissiveness’ in society has taken place since those words were written, which makes it very difficult today to appreciate just what a risky, brave and powerful film Victim was.

Two separate events were responsible for the film’s genesis and eventual release.

The first was the publication of the Wolfenden report, or to give it its proper title, The Report of the Departmental Committee on Homosexual Offences and Prostitution; published in 1957, the result of a three year long enquiry, its intention was to bring about the repeal of the 1885 Criminal Law Amendment Act, which made any homosexual acts between men illegal. It was an Act that was still being rigorously enforced by the Police in the 1950s, encouraged by overzealous politicians; between 1953 and 1954, for example, over two thousand men had been prosecuted and gaoled for offences under the Act. This meant that homosexuals, particularly high profile ones, were vulnerable to people aiming to make money out of their sexual orientation remaining secret. The Act therefore became known as ‘The Blackmailer’s Charter’ and it was reported at one point that 90% of all blackmail cases that came to court involved the persecution of gay men – you’ll hear both of these facts mentioned in the film tonight.

The second event was the appointment of John Trevelyan as Secretary to the British Board of Film Censors in 1958. His tenure at the BBFC ushered in a more liberal approach to film censorship and, at a time when film makers would routinely have to submit their scripts to the Censors before any filming was done, a more collaborative style of working alongside the film making community. Importantly, Trevelyan’s view on films with direct homosexual themes, rather than being banned outright (which was the BBFC’s prior stance), was that they should be allowed for submission to the Censor provided that the subject matter was handled ‘responsibly.’

Victim’s director Basil Dearden was no stranger to controversy. His 1950 film Port of London contained the first interracial relationship in a British film. Eight years later he directed Violent Playground, whose subject matter was juvenile delinquency in Liverpool; and in 1959, along with Victim’s producer Michael Relph, he made Sapphire, a crime film with a largely black cast, its subject matter triggered by the 1958 Notting Hill riots.

Dearden’s scriptwriter on Sapphire was Janet Green, and it was Green who, with her husband John McCormick, came up with the story which would eventually be developed into Victim’s final script. It was inspired equally by the Wolfenden Report – or more particularly the fact that after its publication there was widespread debate but little legislative action – and the reality of the continued blackmailing of gay men; this became the core of the story, with successful QC Melville Farr (played by Dirk Bogarde) becoming embroiled in a blackmailing ring and risking both his career and exposure as a homosexual to take action against the blackmailers. The film started life under the name Boy Barrett, after the young clerk who is blackmailed over his association with Farr. It was changed to the more immediate one word title against Green’s wishes.

Dearden and Relph approached a number of actors for the lead role, including Jack Hawkins, Stewart Granger and James Mason, who for various reasons were unable to accept the part of the QC, originally designed to be an older character. Deciding to reduce Farr’s age and making him someone who has just made silk, they approached Dirk Bogarde. The actor – real name Derek Jules Gaspard Ulric Niven van den Bogaerde  - was coming to the end of his contract with Rank, who had marketed him throughout the 1950s as the clean cut ‘idol of the Odeons,’ with some success. But Bogarde was keen to take on roles which moved him away from a youthful image – he was nearly 40, after all. So he jumped at the opportunity that Victim gave him, even though he knew that being included in the film carried enormous risks, which would probably lose him a lot of his fanbase. He may also have trusted Dearden after the director gave Dirk an early role as cop killer Tom Riley in the 1950 movie The Blue Lamp.

Bogarde threw himself into the part, preparing detailed character notes and contributing to the script – in fact, one of his criticisms was that Farr wasn’t homosexual enough; and he had a point; in Victim homosexuals are treated either as objects of pity or revulsion, but it's left to the supporting cast to personify any specific 'gayness.' Bogarde himself rewrote the key scene in which his wife Laura (a rather underdeveloped role for Sylvia Sims) confronts him about his relationship with Barrett, and it was this scene, with its doubly delivered "I WANTED him!" which gave Trevelyan as Censor one of his biggest headaches, even though it's disclosed that Farr didn't act on his desires.  

Shooting of Victim took ten weeks, starting in February 1961 with a budget of just over £150,000; it premiered in September 1961, with Trevelyan awarding it an X certificate with only minor dialogue trims, effectively over-ruling his colleagues on the Committee.

But Relph and Dearden were worried. Their previous movie, the rather clunky sci-fi comedy Man in the Moon starring Kenneth More, performed poorly both critically and at the box office. Also, the backlash received by Michael Powell following the release of his film Peeping Tom in 1960 showed exactly what could happen when film makers misread the mood of the critics and the viewing public.

But they needn’t have worried – press reaction overall was positive, and it did very well at the box office (making a profit of around £50,000, although only half that of Sapphire). Sadly it wasn’t welcomed with open arms in America. The MPAA insisted on the removal of the word ‘homosexual’ to guarantee a commercial release, but Dearden and Relph refused; so Victim was denied the MPAA Seal of Approval, killing any hope of commercial business, and was relegated to art house screenings only.

So the final question: did Victim achieve its aims, as Relph and Green hoped, to help the cause of the Wolfenden report? It’s difficult to say how much influence the movie had on the post Wolfenden debate, but it was the first English language film to use the word ‘homosexual’ and some of the script of the film sounds like it’s lifted direct from Wolfenden, so it’s reasonable to assume that it would have taken the issue to a much wider audience. What we do know is that, ten years after the publication of that report, in 1967 the Sexual Offences Bill was finally enacted, which provided that for men over 21 a homosexual act in private was no longer a criminal offence. It wasn’t an acceptance of homosexuality – far from it, police arrests continued after the Bill became law - but was at least a move in the right direction.

Enjoy the film.