Sunday, 30 March 2008

It's that shark again

With my incessant blather about shark movies recently, I’m considering creating a new label for the various posts on the subject – or perhaps renaming this blog entirely (I’m thinking “SHARX!”). Anyway, there’s yet more finny fun today as we profile the top shark actor of his generation, as seen in this publicity shot:

Back in 1974, young director Steven Spielberg was casting for a soon-to-be-blockbuster shark movie called Jaws. The coveted title role eventually went to a newcomer called Bruce, but one other shark made it to the final round of auditions. Shamefully, he doesn’t seem to have a profile page on the IMDb, but we’ll call him “Brian”.

Although Brian never appeared in a Jaws movie, he’s starred in numerous classics of the genre whilst never quite achieving mainstream fame in his own right – much like a squaloid Lou Diamond Phillips. His breakthrough came in 1976’s Shark Kill, a rushed-into-production Jaws cash-in. Here he is on the DVD cover, easily recognisable from the photo above:

Shark Kill was a made-for-TV movie but, hey, we all have to start somewhere, and Brian’s slick performance brought him to the attention of exploitation filmmaker René Cardona Jr, who cast him in the rushed-into-production Jaws cash-in, Tintorera! (1977), which was this time released in cinemas. Brian is featured prominently on the DVD cover alongside co-stars Andrés García and Susan George:

Fashions change, however, and the ensuing decade was a cruel time for Brian. And fashion in general. The two major shark movies of the eighties – Jaws 3D and Jaws: The Revenge – were widely ridiculed for the poor performances of their leading sharks, and it wasn’t until 1999 that Brian found work again. This time it was the video hit Shark Attack, the DVD cover of which depicts Brian about to chomp on the legs of a nubile female swimmer:

International fame beckoned, and Brian found himself working in Europe on the 2004 German telemovie Hai-Alarm auf Mallorca, known as Shark Attack in the Mediterranean on DVD:

What will Brian’s next project be? Let me know if you spot him on any other DVD covers!

Saturday, 29 March 2008

AiP goes on the LAMB

Everybody’s flocking to LAMB, the internet’s significantly-sized collection of frequently-updated personal sites on the subject of cinema – or, as they call it, Large Association of Movie Blogs. Much snappier, don’t you think? And Anchorwoman In Peril! is now a proud, proud member. I got me my very own Q&A session, membership badge and... well, there’s no T-shirt but I probably wouldn’t wear it anyway. I’m no one’s clothes horse.

Anyway, if you love movies, blogs, movie blogs or even just baby sheep, head on over and prepare to spend several hours lost in the amazing assortment of links on offer.

Tuesday, 25 March 2008

Gory Graduation continues

“Way back in the mists of time - back when the internet was pretty much in its infancy ... there was plenty talk about lost slasher flicks from the golden age of the subgenre. Two titles kept popping up: SUMMERHOUSE SLAUGHTER and GORY GRADUATION ... As you can see from the image above, a novelisation (by Randy Sykes) of GORY GRADUATION does exist, and below is an exclusive extract from that book! So, did the movie ever get made? That’s one more mystery to unravel...”

That’s according to Justin Kerswell of the ultimate slasher movie reference site, Hysteria Lives! (Seriously, check it out if you haven’t already.) Of course, as Justin admitted, the book was an affectionate hoax, but his faux Chapter 15 was a little gem of nostalgic slasher spoofery, and first introduced us to Gory Graduation’s now iconic axe-wielding killer decked out in full cap and gown. Chapter 18 quickly followed, and then I contacted Justin with a Chapter 5 I’d written myself, picking up the ongoing story, which he kindly published.

All this jumping around between chapters makes Gory Graduation the Kill Bill of slasher movies... and now there’s a Chapter 21 (written by me!). Visit Hysteria Lives! to check it out, or navigate using the handy chronological links – or Director’s Cut, if you will – below:

Chapter 5 (by me) – In which nerdy Trish stays late after school and ends up losing more than her Laverne & Shirley sticker collection.

Chapter 15 (by Justin Kerswell) – In which slutty Sherri loses her head in the boys’ locker room.

Chapter 18 (by Justin Kerswell) – In which guy-candy Sam narrowly escapes a brush with the graduation day slasher... or does he?

Chapter 21 (by me) – In which an innocent (or is it?) slumber party turns into a gruelling night of terror for Toni, Lupe and Joyce.

Monday, 24 March 2008


There’s been Shark Attack, Shark Hunter, Shark Kill, Shark Swarm, Shark Zone... erm, Shark Attack 2... In fact, if you put the word “shark” in front of it, it’s probably been filmed. But one movie came before them all, and that movie was so pure, so raw, they just called it Shark. That, and the title was still available.

The year is 1969. We know this because all the sharks in the movie are played be real-life sharks, rather than special effects, and Burt Reynolds is still cool. He plays the single-named Caine (see? Still cool), a gunrunner stranded penniless in a Sudanese town after his truck blows up under the opening credits. Remarkably, he looks a bit like Seann William Scott:

Unfortunately, since Seann William Scott has not yet been born, Caine can’t get any work as a stunt double – but, luckily for him, a local professor is looking for a diving partner since his last man was, unluckily for him, eaten by a shark. The prof is a little secretive about why exactly he seems so intent on exploring a sunken shipwreck, but explains it’s all to do with collecting “shark proteins”. Caine suspects it may have more to do with collecting sunken treasure, but takes the job nevertheless. It’s certainly a lot more convincing than the “Alzheimer’s research” excuse for the shark action in Deep Blue Sea.

You may be surprised to learn that, by this time, it’s over thirty minutes into the film. I’ve given you the bare skinny, you see. The straight dope. I think it’s time for a recap in order to see what else has filled this strangely uneventful first half-hour:

– Everything before the opening credits (which appear ten minutes in) is, admittedly, pretty cool. Shark is directed by rogue auteur Samuel Fuller (Shock Corridor, The Big Red One) who creates a striking and suspenseful opening scene in which the abovementioned former diver is savaged by a shark. It’s filmed in effective underwater silence with just the starkest of musical cues, and...

– All the sharks are real! And they’re not just nature footage spliced in, either. Shark gives us sometimes quite startling footage of divers swimming with the toothy terrors, as described in this onscreen dedication at the start of the film:

– Burt Reynolds rules. Yes, I know I’ve said this already but, in light of his later career choices, I think it bears repeating. Caine isn’t even a particularly appealing character in this film, but Burt makes you like spending time with him – which is important because, to be perfectly honest, not a whole hell of a lot happens in minutes 10 to 30 of Shark.

– We also meet Anna, the professor’s wife (and, if you read this as film noir at sea, the femme fatale of the piece). And there’s also a multitude of locals, including an alcoholic doctor, a kid Caine affectionately calls Runt, a hotel manager Caine less affectionately called Fatso and, well, almost too many others to mention. Sam Fuller really fills in the Sudanese milieu here (filming, naturally, in Mexico) and you have to give him credit for it, even if it’s not the blockbuster shark action you’re expecting.

At long last, the diving begins, the reasons for the professor’s excursions are revealed (you’ll be shocked... shocked!) and the double-crossing kicks in – all of which make Shark a fairly entertaining film. Famously, one of Fuller’s stunt divers was killed by a shark during production (really no wonder with some of the exploits on display) and this also gives the film a slightly disturbing edge. A shark attack towards the end is quite nasty – not that I’m suggesting it’s snuff footage (it’s PG after all) but you’ll wonder how they pulled it off. I mean, once those sharks start snapping, they really go for it! There’s also the moment where a fleeing diver quickly removes his scuba tank and throws it at an attacking shark... Quick-thinking, yes, but probably not recommended unless you’re in sight of the surface.

As well as the fish/human violence, watch out for a staggering amount of man-on-chicken violence too. If it’s not the Chief of Police bashing a defenceless cockerel in the beak, it’s good old Burt himself, in a moment that has to be seen to be believed, swinging the legs of a small boy into the path of a peaceful chicken and sending it flapping out of the frame. If there’s ever a sequel, I fully expect it’ll be the birds that come back for revenge, rather than the sharks. And, as far as I’m aware, the title Chicken is still available.

Rating: 3/5

Thursday, 20 March 2008

The Majorettes

An evil nurse scheming to get her hands on her elderly employer’s fortune... A pregnant girl trying to dupe the school geek into having sex with her so she can claim he’s the father... A cheerleader trying to manipulate her quarterback boyfriend into staying in town instead of going away to college... No, not an episode of Sunset Beach, but the 1986 slasher movie The Majorettes.

Now, you hear me saying the words “slasher movie” but I know your inquisitive mind is saying, “Ross, that sounds more like a soap opera”. And you’re right, damn you, there’s definitely something a little different going on here, as further evidenced by the fact that (a) it’s based on a novel, and (b) it runs over 90 minutes – almost unthinkable for a low budget 80s slasher.

Things get off to a comfortably familiar start, at least. After a title sequence positively bursting with synth-rock and neon credits, it’s down to business as a high school majorette squad practise their new routine. There’s a little of this:

A lot of this:

And, really, I thought I was in for an archetypal slasher. Especially when, barely ten minutes later, we’re already had a gratuitous lockerroom scene and a double-stabbing in the woods (where, naturally, two teens have been getting it on in a parked car). Where things start to seem a little off-kilter is when you start to realise that no single character is getting much screen time of their own. By the looks of things, Vicky McAllister (Terrie Godfrey) – granddaughter of the elderly widow mentioned above – seems set to be our final girl but, with enough going on around her to give Peyton Place a run for its money, it’s actually anyone’s guess.

The reason for this? There IS no final girl! Because The Majorettes suddenly stops being a slasher movie about an hour into its running time, and becomes instead a vigilante revenge flick complete with shootouts, explosions and this:

Which is something of a shame, because a lot of the more slashery aspects of the film work well, particularly the killer’s hunting-gear attire and creepy habit of hiding in ingenious places before carrying out his kills (check out the swimming pool sequence for a memorable frisson of fear). What doesn’t work is the film’s nasty ending: after sixty minutes of cheap thrills, you can’t expect me to come along willingly when you start trying to go all serious. For onesies, I don’t really care about any of these characters. For twos, this ain’t The Deer Hunter, no matter how you dress your killer.

I did appreciate the attempts to flesh out the teenage characters a little more substantially than we’re used to in films of this sort (although, again, it’s all left by the wayside when the movie switches gear). Ultimately, The Majorettes feels like half a pretty good slasher struggling to burrow out from beneath a ton of other, less successful stuff.

Extra points, however, for the diner scene in which the characters inexplicably colour-coordinate with people and things behind them:

Rating: 2/5

Sunday, 16 March 2008

New Year’s Evil

Wow, now here’s a slasher movie from the golden age of 1980 that fills me with that fuzzy feeling... How fuzzy exactly? Well, when I tried to take screen caps for you, the image quality was so fuzzy that it somehow bunged up my hard drive with all its... fuzz, and caused it to crash. So, instead, I’m afraid you’ll have to make do with a rough approximation of New Year’s Evil’s general fuzziness, as performed by an American Fuzz Lop rabbit:

Thanks, Mr Fluff. And, since New Year’s Evil has yet to be released on DVD, this is probably the kind of picture quality you’ll encounter if you manage to get hold of a copy (mine came from eBay)... although something in me suspects it’s never going to be a movie that gets a digital remastering. And, to be honest, it’s no great loss, either. Even the rabbit agrees.

If I were a proper blogger, I’d probably be reviewing this on New Year’s Eve or something (y’know, like when I reviewed the Christmas-themed Silent Night, Deadly Night on, er, January 6th). Why? Because it’s a “holiday slasher” in the grand tradition of Halloween, Friday the 13th and friends, using its chosen date as a hook on which to hang the horror. Or, in this case, lack of.

As Justin Kerswell points out at Hysteria Lives!, it’s hard to describe the plot of New Year’s Evil without inadvertently making it sound much better than it actually is. Arriving early in the 80s slasher cycle, it taps into the Laura Mars trend of casting middle-aged women as media personalities stalked by psychos (see also A Stranger Is Watching, Visiting Hours, The Fan etc). Here, it’s music show presenter Blaze (played by Roz Kelly) who’s hosting a New Year special of Hollywood Hotline, an über-cheesy showcase for some really middle-of-the-road punk rock. (One particularly edgy song is called “Dumb Blondes” but, due to the slightly dodgy audio, I was convinced they were singing “Don Knotts”... Now there’s a new-wave rock classic in the making!)

During the show, Blaze receives a phone call from a man calling himself “Evil” – or, to be strictly accurate, “EEEEEEvil” – who calmly outlines his intention to kill an innocent woman every time the clock strikes midnight across the various time zones of America. That’s right... as New Year arrives in New York, a-killin’ he’ll be, and the same goes for Chicago, Aspen and, eventually, at the TV studio in L.A., where Evil has plans for Blaze herself...

I unfortunately misunderstood this as a plan to carry out each murder in its related time zone, leading to all kinds of unfulfilled expectations of Evil hopping on private jets and flying breathlessly between crime scenes, but this was sadly not to be. Instead, he sticks to the rather skanky-looking back streets of Hollywood – although, thanks to the intervention of a gang of vengeful bikers when he accidentally runs over one of their number, it’s not all uneventful.

Throw in a subplot involving Blaze’s grown-up actor son – who’s bitter, twisted and sitting in a hotel room watching the show with a red stocking over his head – and you have what sounds like a pretty fun gimmick-slasher. Unfortunately, it’s mostly just dull. The fact that our final girl, Blaze, is such a self-absorbed and unappealing personality really doesn’t help – so much so that, by the time Evil catches up with her, I was half-hoping he’d finish her off before she had time to introduce another dismal punk band. But no... just more bad songs, a dash of blood here and there, and the sinking feeling of a decent premise being completely squandered.

That said, there are scenes that work, my favourite being a marginally tense sequence that starts with Evil seducing a girl in a nightclub with the promise of a “command performance at Erik Estrada’s house” and ends with him smothering her so violently that his fake moustache comes seriously unstuck. Luckily, she does last long enough to deliver the classic line: “When a girl doesn’t have a date on New Year’s Eve, she’s in Shit City!” Quite.

There’s also a Friday the 13th-esque soundtrack, consisting of a whispered “hahh-hahh-hahh” during the suspense scenes, sometimes elevated to an all-out sneezing sound that leads to a few confusing moments as you wonder if someone hiding in a nearby closet has accidentally revealed themselves. And, speaking of revealing themselves, the revelation of the killer is quite effective – although less so his motives. When asked by Blaze why he did it, he snaps back, “I’m fed up!”... By the end of New Year’s Evil, so was I.

Rating: 2/5

Thursday, 13 March 2008

Diary of the Dead

I may have given the impression that I thought Diary of the Dead was the fifth part in George Romero’s zombie series... and, well, it sort of is, although it doesn’t continue the careful chronology of its four predecessors. In fact, it’s actually almost a remake of Night of the Living Dead... As in, the one where everything went batshit to begin with.

Here in Diary of the Dead everything goes batshit for the first time again – only this time it all takes place in the much-discussed “digital age” (so called because everyone wears digital watches). Accordingly, instead of just hearing strange reports of the dead returning to life over the radio, here we get viral videos on YouTube, camera-phone footage on MySpace pages... Hell, Romero even shows Anchorwoman In Peril! on a PC screen at one point (or so I fantasized).

And of course we have a hip young cast – film students all – whom we first encounter while they’re out filming an amateur horror movie in the woods. Unlike any previous Dead movie, they’re all gorgeous – just like in your average mainstream horror movie – and it’s here that the jokes begin. Because Diary of the Dead is as much about questioning the relevance of the horror genre in the modern world as it is Romero’s fabled metaphors of “us versus... wait, we are them!”.

Our squeaky-clean teens call themselves documentarians, but their idea of making a documentary is pointing their cell phones at each other and asking for sound bites. Horror is something they clearly believe beneath them – although they obviously also have no idea what they’re doing, since they’re making an old-fashioned, hopelessly anachronistic mummy movie complete with a bandaged baddie and fleeing girl in gothic dress.

So when the dead really do begin to rise, these MySpace-generation media-junkies actually find themselves more at home with videoing the kinds of atrocities they’ve seen on the news a million times before, with the aim of putting the footage online and “getting the truth out”. Despite being forced to kill friends, discover dead family members and survive zombie attacks, they barely bat an eyelid. But, as they point out, they’ve become completely desensitised – as much by making video footage as by viewing it.

As for whether you’ll feel any actual sympathy for these cyber-ciphers of characters, I’m less sure. Yes, Diary of the Dead works as a zombie movie (and Romero is the master of the unexpected detail) but I’m not sure it horrifies as a horror movie. There just isn’t the emotional investment. But, as far as I’m concerned, Romero owns the zombie genre and can do whatever the hell he likes with it. He’s already made four undead epics fizzing with emotional and intellectual stimulus... If he thinks the time is right for a step back from the fear-factor in order to shuffle zombie-style in a new direction, then I’m right there with him. And Diary of the Dead is definitely a new direction, one that the director sees right through to the sticky end.

Rating: 4/5

Thursday, 6 March 2008

And finally...

You don’t get much more “anchorwoman in peril” than the news footage on this nifty official website put together for tomorrow’s UK release of Diary of the Dead. I’ve loved all four of George Romero’s Dead movies so far and, if the snippets I’ve seen of the latest are anything to go by, things are looking fifth-time lucky too. See you after the weekend when I’ll know for sure!

Monday, 3 March 2008

Shark Kill

Few phrases fill me with such glee as “TV Movie Terror Collection” – to my mind, the best thing you can find written on a DVD cover other than “Starring Roddy McDowall”. It’s certainly the best thing on the cover of Wild Eye’s DVD release of Shark Kill, the rest of which consists of a poorly PhotoShopped shark collage and some truly clumsy blurb-writing like “A horrible, flesh eating Great White shark invades a quiet coastal town”. (What? The actual town? Does it drive?)

Luckily, it takes more than an airbrushed mug shot of a toothy monster to put me off a DVD (hell, I watched Georgia Rule) so there was never any danger of Shark Kill escaping the gaping jaws of my DVD player. When I did put it on, however, I quickly noticed that something about the picture was a little, well, slanted:

Quick-thinking as always, I wedged a thick book under one corner of the TV set, thus making the picture once again horizontal... although an unfortunate side-effect was that, during the ocean scenes, all the water tended to slosh to one side of the screen:

But you can’t have everything, anyway, and at least I managed to enjoy Shark Kill without developing a crick in my neck.

And enjoy it I did, because Shark Kill is a highly entertaining little film – not exactly the Jaws rip-off suggested by the cover but, at 75 minutes, a snappy drama-cum-suspense thriller with a tense, lost-at-sea climax that predates Open Water by almost 30 years.

Things get underway with some stock nature footage of about 45 different sharks swimming through the water. I don’t know if they’re all meant to be shots of the same shark – in fact, the picture quality is so poor I’m not even sure they are sharks – but we get the point: there’s a big fishy blob on the loose and it’s probably going to eat some screaming human blobs before the running-time is up.

Time to meet some of those human blobs who, as it turns out, work on the oil rig we saw under the opening credits. In particular, there are Mexican brothers Cabo and Luis, a pair of divers who’ve been sent down to find a pig in the underwater pipeline. Yes, it’s a little known fact that oil companies are plagued by infestations of pigs trotting up and down the... Naw! I’m just kidding you! A “pig” in Texaco terms is actually a kind of cleaning tool sent through oil pipes to unblock them. Anyway, this pig’s got stuck – but Cabo and Luis are going to find it and flush it out.

Or, at least, they were until some busybody turns up with a cry of “Sh-SH-SHAAAARK!”. It’s Rick, the company’s token white-collar worker, and he’s seen what he thinks is a great white in the area. Cabo and Luis pooh-pooh his suspicions and go ahead with the dive anyway. Not a good idea. Haven’t they seen Jaws III? Well, probably not, since it won’t be made for another few years, but the point is: diving anywhere near great white sharks is dangerous. And 3-D Jaws sequels are rubbish.

Anyway, sure enough, poor Luis gets chomped, losing several limbs and very nearly his life to the fuzzily-photographed predator. Lying in his hospital bed and dreaming of revenge, Luis pleads his brother to “get him for me” (meaning, of course, the shark) and so Cabo, along with anyone else in the vicinity who owns a boat, sets off to kill the monster...

There’s a very simple reason why Shark Kill worked for me, and I think it can be summed up with the simple phrase “murky underwater shots”. The film is full of them and, boy, do they freak me out. I don’t know what it is; I’ve never even been diving, but something about peering through the gloom fifty feet below the surface wondering if that dark shape in the distance is a shark or not just sends shivers right through me. And, thanks to the poor picture quality, Shark Kill pretty much triples the terror of the standard “murky underwater shot”. See... check these out...

Argh! That last one had a shark in it!

Shark Kill also has a decent script. It’s a simple story, a fair potion of which actually takes place inland, but it holds the attention whatever it’s up to. Much of this is undoubtedly due to the characterization, which fleshes out even relatively minor characters like the male leads’ girlfriends and makes them interesting. The low budget gives everything an air of reality, and even allows for the odd great shot, like this chilling moment when we see the size of the shark compared to Cabo’s hunting boat:

And perhaps I’m reading a little too much into things but – SPOILERS AHEAD – is it me, or does the last scene sail into some previously uncharted levels of homoerotic banter? Not only do our heroes both decide to leave their girlfriends, but they also sail off into the sunset together on “their” new boat chatting about all the fun they’re going to have fishing. Now, I’ve seen Brokeback Mountain... I know what boys in cowboy shirts get up when they say they’re going fishing, and all I can say is: when’s the sequel out?

Okay, SPOILERS OVER... and so is this review, other than to give Shark Kill a well deserved:

Rating: 3/5