Monday, 27 February 2012

That was the week that was (20 February - 26 February)

By the time I've got around to finishing and posting this entry in my blog, the Oscars will have been and gone for another year. To be honest, I'm even less interested than usual in this year's ceremony - from looking through the list of nominated films, it definitely seems that we haven't had a vintage crop this year.

Of course, I haven't seen all of the movies in contention, but I was only modestly impressed by the likes of The Artist and The Descendants, and I felt War Horse was a bit of a clunker. In comparison with last year, when genuinely great films like The Social Network, Black Swan and Inception were up for Best Picture, this year's contest looks rather irrelevant. To make matters worse, quite a few of my favourite films of the last year or so have been overlooked. Where were the nominations for Margaret, Senna, Drive, We Need To Talk About Kevin or Hanna? I demand answers!

From The Ashes (2011)

After enjoying Fire in Babylon (the story of the West Indian team's rise to greatness) a few weeks ago, along comes another cricket documentary, all about the England's glorious summer of 1981. The story sees the team, lead by Ian 'Beefy' Botham and Mike Brearley battle to an improbable victory from a seemingly hopeless position in a remarkable Ashes Test Match at Headingley. The story is well narrated by Tom Hardy, and we get to hear from a number of key figures who were there at the time, from both the English and Australian sides. Director James Erskine was also responsible for England football documentary One Night In Turin (reviewed here:, but thankfully, he seems to have really scaled back his irritating and distracting habit of splicing in recently shot close ups into the TV footage recorded at the time. This is probably not a film which will interest those people who don't have much time for the sport, but it's essential viewing for England cricket fans, and for me, acted as a much needed tonic after the current team's Test series defeat against Pakistan.

Rating: 8/10

The Lincoln Lawyer (2011)

In which Matthew McConnaughey plays Mick Haller, a slick and sleazy L.A. defence lawyer who takes on far more than he bargained for when he is called upon to represent a wealthy young man accused of sexual assault. To be honest, I was a little wary when I first heard about this one - McConnaughey has had a pretty bad track record over the last ten years or so, appearing in mostly lame rom coms and weak action movies. Since Dazed and Confused, you can pretty much count the number of good films he's appeared in on the fingers of one hand, even if you've had the misfortune to have had that hand mangled in some sort of unfortunate agricultural accident. However, I saw that this one had received some decent reviews, including from The Guardian's Peter Bradshaw, so decided to give it a fair shake. I'm glad I did - it's no masterpiece, but it is a gripping thriller, full of strong performances from the likes of Marisa Tomei, William H Macey and John Leguizamo. I'm not entirely sure that the plot would stand up to close scrutiny, but it all comes together in a stirring conclusion, with Mike Haller working his magic both inside and outside of the courtroom. Verdict: not guilty.

Rating: 7/10

Julia's Eyes (Los ojos de Julia) (2010)

This recent Spanish horror movie, directed by Guillermo Del Toro protege Guillem Morales, sees the familiar cinematic trope of the 'blind woman in peril' revived again. Belen Rueda plays the Julia of the title, an astrophysicist who suffers from an irreversible, degenerative illness in her eyes which is exacerbated by stress. The happy life she shares with her husband is thrown into turmoil when she learns that her twin sister (who is also afflicted with the same condition) has committed suicide. However, Julia is convinced that her sister would never have taken her own life, and decides to investigate - an action which puts her in mortal danger... For me, this film was almost a successful horror/ murder mystery film. It certainly has quite a bit going for it - in particular, Belen Rueda is very good in the lead role, establishing a sympathetic and believable character. The film is also successful (for the half or so anyway), in creating a great deal of suspense from having a shadowy figure lurk just outside of Julia's (restricted) field of vision. At this point, it isn't clear whether that figure is real, supernatural, or just a figment of Julia's imagination, which all adds to the mystery. Unfortunately, the film is let down by a number of implausibilities in the plot, the most egregious of which occurs at the mid point of the film (inor spoilers ahead). Julia has just had an operation to restore her sight and is required to spend a couple of weeks wearing a thick bandage around her eyes . At this point in the proceedings, her sister and husband have both apparently committed suicide, though Julia is sure that a mystery man is actually responsible for killing them. Rather than staying put in the hospital for the duration of her recovery period, staying with a trusted friend, or even returning to the modern apartment she shared with her husband, she chooses to spend the time, alone, in the creepy old house where her sister lived - the very same house in which her sister was found hanged in the basement! Julia's actions here seem designed solely for plot purposes - to get her into a situation where she will be blindly stumbling around the house, menaced by an unseen assailant. This, together with a flat and disappointing ending (after the villain has been revealed) mean that the scary and intriguing opening section to this film is rather squandered.

Rating: 6/10

Chronicle (2012)

A film which brings a new and interesting take on the superhero movie, a genre which has been all but exhausted over the last few years. The gimmick here is that it's a 'found footage' origins story; the entire film is (supposedly) shot on handheld cameras by the characters themselves. The set up sees three Seattle high school students develop telekenetic powers after touching some strange, glowing crystals which they discover underground. Our three potential heroes are Andrew - a shy and introspective teenager who is physically abused by his stepfather, Steve - a cocky, exuberant high school athlete and Matt, a Schopenhauer quoting would be intellectual.  The kids' personalities reflect the way in which they use their new found superpowers, with the more secure Matt and Steve seeing only boundless potential, while Andrew grows to realise that he has a way in which he can wreak vengeance on those who have wronged him. The story arc is refreshingly dark, for a superhero film, with its theme of the corrupting influence of power reminding me of The Death Ray, the excellent graphic novel by Daniel Clowes. I should also say that for a film produced on the cheap, the special effects look terrific, easily the match of the CGI work used in bigger budget comic book pictures like Thor or Captain America. Only a couple of minor gripes with this one - firstly, in the early going,  I found the central characters' over the top enthusiasm in demonstrating their powers (and whooping and shouting to one another about their feats) to be a little grating. Secondly, as all of the footage was supposed to have been shot by a camera held by one of the characters at the time, at times it felt like video cameras were shoehorned into scenes where it didn't really make a lot of sense for them to be present. Nevertheless, this is an innovative and original superhero film which sets the ball rolling for a year in which we're going to see some massively hyped comic book adaptations, including The Avengers, The Dark Knight Rises and The Amazing Spiderman.

Rating: 8/10

Monday, 20 February 2012

That was the week that was (13 - 19 February)

After a couple of quieter weeks, it was back into the swing of things this week with 6 films viewed, not to mention watching pretty much the complete series 4 of Six Feet Under. As Homer Simpson once said: "It's not easy to juggle a pregnant wife and a troubled child, but somehow I managed to fit in eight hours of TV a day." Amen, brother. (Note: I do not have a pregnant wife or a troubled child. It might be a bit tricky to get away with my current levels of sitting around watching the box if I did...).

Observe and Report (2009)

Jody Hill is the man behind one of the funniest American comedy series of recent years, Eastbound and Down, and with Observe and Report, he brings his particularly dark and twisted sense of humour to the big screen. The film stars Seth Rogen (in what is definitely his bleakest, edgiest performance to date) as the monstrous mall security guard Ronnie Barnhardt, a man whose psychotic and violent tendencies have kept him off the real police force. Ronnie and his crew of misfit mall law enforcers are on the hunt for a flasher who has been terrifying the female staff and customers at his place of work, and are prepared to use any means necessary to bring him down. Looking back at my review of Step Brothers from a few weeks ago, I recall that I marked down that film for its mean spirited humour, so I have to ask myself the question, why do I rate this film far higher than Step Brothers? I suppose it simply comes down to the fundamental, key question for a comedy - does the film make me laugh? In the case of Step Brothers, I didn't find myself laughing too often, so I suppose the unpleasantness of the central characters was something which I couldn't overlook. With Observe and Report, though it was a little patchy, and some of the humour here comes from some very dark places, there are so many hilarious scenes (Ronnie's confrontation with the sleazy salesman played by Aziz Ansari, Ronnie's run ins with Ray Liotta's detective, the unexpected finale, pretty much any scene featuring Michael Pena) that I didn't care that so many of its characters are diabolical sociopaths. This film was rather unfairly forgotten when it was initially released, but if you've got a sufficiently dark sense of humour, it's definitely worth a watch.

Rating: 8/10

Tamara Drewe (2010)

Stephen Frears takes us deep into the countryside for his latest effort, a comedy concerning the titular glamourous journalist (played by Gemma Arterton), whose return to the Dorset village in which she grew up causes a stir amongst the local menfolk. Will she choose strapping, honourable farmhand Andy, brash, confident rock star Ben or philandering, tedious, depraved novelist Nicholas (I'll give you a clue - it's unlikely to be option 3). If I was to review this film using just one word, that word would be 'meh'. The direction is fine, the cast generally decent (a few dodgy accents aside), it's fairly well scripted and makes use of its attractive West Country location. Despite all of that, though the film didn't really do it for me. I suppose the problem is that for a film which is supposed to be a comedy, I rarely found myself raising more than a chuckle, here and there. The plot is all over the place, with the title character out of the picture for surprisingly long stretches, and there's nothing here to hold the attention for too long. Pretty mediocre, on the whole.

Rating: 5/10

The Muppets (2011)

As a regular cinema goer, I see more than my fair share of adverts. Certain commercials which are repeated ad nauseaum (as it were) really begin to get my goat - particularly the Orange adverts which  appear just before the film and do not change for months on end. The most recent example of this is the Orange Muppets ad, which sees The Muppet Show ruined by evil corporate sponsors Orange. This advert was funny the first, second, and maybe even the third time, but not quite so funny when I'd seem the same advert on something like 25 occasions. For that reason, I have to confess that I wasn't really looking forward to this film, despite having enjoyed The Muppet Christmas Carol as a kid. Fortunately, any reservations I had about the film proved to be completely wrongheaded. It's a sweet, good natured movie, which sees smalltowners Gary, Mary and Walter help the Muppets reunite so that they can raise enough money to save their studios from evil oil magnate Tex Richman.  Above all, this film is really funny, full of knowing (but often hilarious nods) to the audience, brilliant songs (from Flight of the Conchords' Bret McKenzie), an '80s robot and a wide range of celebrity cameos featuring the likes of Dave Grohl, Jack Black, Emily Blunt and, er, Whoopi Goldberg. All of that and you also get a sweet, funny Toy Story short thrown in as part of the movie - for free! If you have any affection for The Muppets, Flight of the Conchords or Jason Segal (or comedy in general really) you should definitely check this one out. If nothing else, it will help you work out whether you are a muppet of a man, or just a very manly muppet. (*Maniacal Laugh*).

Rating: 9/10

Black Book (Zwartboek) (2006)

Paul Verhoeven is a director known for violent, exuberant, over the top pictures which can be extremely entertaining for all the right reasons if they come off (as in the cases of Total Recall and Starship Troopers), and for all the wrong reasons if they do not (as with Showgirls). With this movie, which was the first production Verhoeven has made in his native Holland since the mid '80s, he tones down the sex and violence a little (but not too much), to suit the sombre nature of the subject matter. What we have here is a rollicking, epic tale of the Dutch resistance during the Second World War. Our heroine, Rachel Stein (Carice Van Houten), is a beautiful Jewish singer who joins forces with the freedom fighters after seeing her family massacred by the occupying Nazi forces. She is assigned the task of infiltrating the German command centre in The Hague, but finds herself developing real feelings for the pragmatic, decent German officer (Sebastian Koch) she has been asked to spy on. To provide too much more detail would give the game away, but suffice it to say that there are plenty of plot twists from here on in, with poor old Rachel betrayed as much by her Dutch compatriots as she is by the Nazis. Although the film's running time is perhaps a little bloated at 2 hours and 25 minutes, Verhoeven punctuates the story with some exhilarating, well directed action sequences, and the central performances by Van Houten and Koch are strong. My only real issues with the film are that the sheer number of turns and detours in the plotline mean that at times it is rather hard to follow, and it seems a little implausible that Stein is able to progress so far within the Nazi organisation without detection. Nevertheless, this makes for an interesting companion piece to Quentin Tarantino's similarly themed WW2 action picture, Inglourious Basterds.

Rating: 7/10

The Host (Gwoemul) (2006)

In which the dumping of toxic chemicals into the Han river in Seoul leads to disastrous consequences for the people of that city; the mutations caused by the pollution don't just create a delicious three eyed fish - they birth a large, freakish amphibian with a taste for human flesh. The creature emerges from the river, causes widespread chaos and then grabs a young girl named Park Hyan-seo and carries her off as a snack to be enjoyed later on. Only the girl's family (lead by her hapless and clumsy father, Gang-Doo) can save her.  Unfortunately the monster isn't the only obstacle in their path - they must also deal with an agitated US military, whose fear that the mutant is carrying a deadly virus leads to widespread panic... This film was a massive hit in South Korea, and broke all kinds of box office records, but for me, I think something may have been lost in translation. Though the movie starts off strongly, with a very impressive and shocking scene in which the monster runs amok in a public park, I found myself losing interest in the story after that point. Although all of the sequences involving the hideous creature are very effective, with some seamless CGI work, for the majority of the film we are stuck with the less than hilarious slapstick antics of the Park family. Not really a classic then, and certainly not a patch on the great X Files episode of the same name.

Rating: 5/10

The Woman In Black (2012)

Daniel Radcliffe leaves Hogwarts behind with this serviceable ghost story, based on Susan Hill's novel. It's a story set in a bleak and desolate part of Northern England, towards the very end of Queen Victoria's reign. Radcliffe stars as Arthur Kipps, a widower and father to a young son, who is sent to look through the papers of the recently deseased client of the solicitor's firm for whom he works. Unfortunately, the firm's client's papers are located in a forbidding looking gothic house on an island accessible only by causeway. Despite the warnings of a number of terrified locals, Kipps is resolute in his desire to spend some time in the creepy old house, and sure enough, he becomes the victim of a series of hauntings by a vengeful and malevolent spirit. The storyline here is rather straightforward and I'd pretty much plotted out the entire film in my head halfway through, but all the same, this is an effective little shocker. Most of the scares here follow the simple formula of "Arthur Kipps hears a strange noise, walks into a creepy room, the soundtrack goes silent and then WHAM - there is a sudden burst of loud noise and the appearance of a grotesque, pale face". While there's nothing particularly new in using this technique, it got me all the same, and I found myself gripping on tightly to the armrests during the film's most frightening sequence, in which Kipps has to survive a night in the house with only an easily spooked dog and a collection of sinister looking dolls for company. Whether the film would be quite as successful without the impact of violently loud multiplex speakers, I'm not so sure.

Rating: 7/10

Friday, 17 February 2012

Listorama! My Top 10 Horror Movies

I've been meaning to do a list of my all time, top 10 favourite films of all time for a while now, but for me, compiling a list seems rather harder than John Cusack found it to be in High Fidelity. My tastes change all the time, depending on my mood, and what might make my personal top 10 today could be relegated to the dustbin of history (or outside of my top 10 anyway) next week. To make it a bit easier on myself, I've decided to limit the list to a genre of films which I'm a sucker for (no pun intended): horror movies.

Even with a list confined solely to the world of horror, I found that there were lots of films which I really like, but which I couldn't quite find a place for in this top 10. Honourable mentions go to The Dead Zone, Dawn of the Dead, Alien, Misery, The Brood, A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: The Dream Warriors, The Fog, Scream, REC, Friday the 13th Part IV (The Final Chapter), Switchblade Romance, The Exorcist and Black Christmas, all of which just failed to make the cut.

This is a personal list, entirely subject to my own tastes and whims, and although I've seen quite a few horror films, there are a number of classics which I've missed out on to date. A particular blind spot for me is classic monster movies - I've never seen the original Frankenstein, Dracula, The Wolf Man, or any of the Hammer Horror films. I'm sure I'll get around to making up for those omissions at some point, but for the time being I obviously can't include them.

Having said all that, here's the list. Enjoy!

1. The Shining (1980)

When I started writing this list, there was no question in my mind which film was going to be number one, and this is it. I reckon I've seen The Shining far more than any other horror movie, and there are so many powerful images from the film which are permanently stuck in my mind (the Grady sisters, the old lady in the bath tub, the elevator full of blood, the guy in the bear costume...)  Of course, it isn't just scary, it's also a wonderfully directed film from one of the cinema's great auteurs and a fascinating character study of a man slowing losing his mind. On top of that, it has the honour of providing the inspiration for one of the funniest ever Simpsons Halloween segments. No TV and no beer make Homer something something... (

2. Halloween (1978)

A movie which spawned a thousand imitators, none of the slasher movies which followed Halloween could match the original and best film of that subgenre. It's brilliantly creepy and suspenseful, with an iconic villain in Michael Myers and a number of fantastically executed scares that still make me jump out of my seat. John Carpenter may have gone on to bigger things, but for me, he never made anything which matched this film, produced on a budget of $325,000.

3. The Fly (1986)

David Cronenbourg is one of my favourite directors, and this may be his best film; it's certainly the one which really made his name. It's a brilliant mix of dark comedy, sci-fi and gross out body horror, but what really makes the film so great is the tragic love story between Jeff Goldblum's ill-fated scientist and the journalist played by Geena Davis. I reckon the tag line to Wayne's World is actually more applicable to this movie - after seeing The Fly, there's a good chance that you really will laugh, cry and hurl, all in the space of an hour and a half...

4. Suspiria (1977)

It might not make a whole lot of sense, but Dario Argento's twisted and terrifying story of a girl menaced by witches at a Bavarian ballet school makes it to a lofty spot on this list for being so incredibly stylish, as well as featuring a brilliantly ominous soundtrack and stunning cinematography. It's also got one of the all time great opening sequences, in which our American ballerina heroine gets a less than warm welcome to Germany... (

5. Carrie (1976)

Another Stephen King adaptation from an acclaimed director, Carrie doesn't make it quite as high in my list as The Shining, but it's still one of the great '70s horror films, with one of the original (and best) twist endings. It's one of the rare horror movies in which you sympathise with the 'monster' more than the victims, but seeing all the misery which telekenetic teen Carrie White has to suffer, you can understand why she explodes into violence in the grand finale. Brian De Palma has since made a few further forays into the horror genre, but this is definitely his best effort.

6. The Thing (1982)

The second John Carpenter film on this list, The Thing is a terrifying and claustrophobic story set within a remote research station in Antartica. When the base is invaded by a alien being able to change its shape at will, none of the scientists are able to trust one another... As well as featuring a tremendous lead performance from the always reliable Kurt Russell, the film is also notable for its groundbreaking (and sickening) special effects.

7. Let The Right One In (2008)

A brilliant recent Swedish film, Let The Right One In is kind of like a cross between My Life As a Dog and Nosferatu. It's more of a melancholic, bittersweet coming of age story than an out and out horror movie, but I love this film so much that I really wanted to include it somewhere on my list. Although it's ostensibly the story about a lonely young boy and a vicious but childlike vampire who befriends him, it contains more truth about the darker side of growing up than pretty much every Hollywood 'teen' picture ever made.

8. Braindead (1992)

Before Peter Jackson became a respectable, Academy Award winning director of Tolkien adaptations, he was known for directing low budget gross out horror films. This is one of his early efforts, a brilliantly gruesome story of a man, a lawnmower, and a battle to the death with a horde of zombies. This is definitely the goriest film on this list, but it's also by far the most amusing. As long as you have a strong stomach, it's tremendous fun.

9. Rosemary's Baby (1968)

The oldest film on my list, this one sees Mia Farrow star as the tenant at a block of flats under the grip of a cabal of satanists who are keen to use her as a surrogate mother for the son of the devil. What could have been a bit of hokey tale (like The Omen) is turned into something far more interesting and unsettling by director Roman Polanski, and by a strong cast full of memorable characters. Remember, it isn't paranoid if they really are out to get you...

10. The Others (2001)

I had to include a ghost story on this list, and this is an excellent recent example. Set during the Second World War, Nicole Kidman plays an overprotective mother, confined to a grand, dark old house with her children. The family are haunted by a series of spooky apparitions, but as the film progresses, we discover that nothing is what it seems.  It's a  gloomy, gothic story with a brilliant final twist in the tale.

Sunday, 12 February 2012

That was the week that was (6 February - 12 February)

OK, I have to leave to catch a train in about 50 minutes, so please forgive me if this week's blog is filled with even more spelling mistakes and factual inaccuracies than normal. Luckily, there's just a couple of movies to recap this time around, so I should be able to get this thing finished in time.

Chico & Rita (2010)

This brilliant love story is up for Best Animated Feature Film at this year's Oscars, and if it doesn't beat the likes of Kung Fu Panda 2 and Puss In Boots, I may be forced to write a strongly worded letter to the Academy. That'll teach them. Anyway, the plot here is rather simple - as the film opens in present day Havana, we meet the broken down, disconsolate figure of Chico, formerly a brilliant jazz pianist, but now reduced to shining the shoes of rude foreigners (he may be the most reluctant shoeshine boy since Tommy De Vito in Goodfellas). As he returns home, he turns on the radio and hears a song he recorded back in the late 1940s. We then flash back to this period, to a time when he met a beautiful singer named Rita, and fell in love with her ... All in all, it's a well told and heartbreaking story, with characters you begin to really care about. The animation used to spin this tale is simple but rather beautiful, and includes some thrilling chase sequences as Chico tears around the streets of Havana on his motorbike. The soundtrack is also top notch - the fimmakers obviously have a passion for latin jazz, and that music features in almost every scene. As Chico and Rita head to New York, we even get to meet legendary jazzman Tito Puente, who performs his greatest number since he dished out some musical justice to Mr Burns in The Simpsons (

Rating: 8/10

Young Adult (2011)

Jason Reitman teams up with Diablo Cody for the first time since their success with Juno, and the result is another excellent film. Whereas Juno featured a teenager forced to grow up to face adult responsibilities at a young age, here we have a woman in her late 30s who appears to have never grown up from an adolescent mindset. The 'Young Adult' of the title is Mavis Gary (Charlize Theron), who has left behind her small town in Minnesota to move to Minneapolis, and has become the ghostwriter of a Sweet Valley High style fiction series. Despite being relatively successful in her professional life, on a personal level she is a mess. She spends her evenings drinking to excess with a series of meaningless one night stands, waking up hungover every morning with just a bottle of Diet Coke for company. When she discovers that her former high school boyfriend has just become a father, she decides to return home and win him back - notwithstanding the fact that he is now a happily married man... I was really impressed with this one, for a number of reasons. Jason Reitman seems to specialise in interesting films which feature rounded central characters who would be reduced to one note villain status in other movies - a pro-smoking lobbyist (in Thank You For Smoking), a corporate hatchet man (in Up In The Air), and, of course, a bitchy former homecoming queen in this film.  Reitman is helped out by some fantastic acting, particularly from the two leads. Charlize Theron shows an admirable lack of vanity in creating an almost completely despicable and self-deluded character, and Patton Oswalt offers excellent support as a guy who was her polar opposite in high school, but who is now able to bond with her due to a shared interest in getting drunk.  With her work on this film, Diablo Cody has refined her screenwriting technique, and has improved upon the sometimes overwritten dialogue she became famous for in Juno and Jennifer's Body. There are no references to 'home skillets', 'hamburger phones', 'honest to blog' or 'move on dot org' here - instead we have a more naturalistic writing style, which helps to create a darkly toned but realistic movie.  I guess the moral of this story is that those characters in the film who have been able to put aside who they were in high school are those who have been able to achieve happiness in adult life, while those (like Mavis Gary), who still feel defined by their status as a teenager, are unlikely to ever really move on.

Rating: 8/10

Monday, 6 February 2012

That was the week that was (30 January - 5 February)

A pretty quiet week, this time around, with just two films watched. This was down to two factors: firstly, I spent the weekend away in Suffolk, braving the subzero temperatures. Secondly, I've been watching a lot of Six Feet Under recently. I never saw the show when it was originally on TV, but I got the complete box set for Christmas, and have been working my way through it. I found it a little slow going at first, but it's really grown on me. Michael C Hall is a very fine actor indeed.

Whisky Galore! (1949)

This classic Ealing comedy is set during the Second World War, on the remote Scottish island of Todday. Here, the islanders are putting up with two wartime annoyances: Captain Paul Waggett, a petty and officious English captain in charge of the local brigade of the Home Guard, and the rationing of food and drink which has left them dangerously low on whisky. The islanders' prayers are answered when an ocean liner runs aground off one of the island's beaches, leaving behind a large shipment of sweet, sweet whisky. While Waggett attempts to ensure that the whisky is returned to the proper authorities, the rest of the Todday's inhabitants do their utmost to hide their recent gains. As with Passport to Pimlico, this movie is now a little dated, with the plotline reflecting the concerns of the British people, still forced to put up with rationing in the postwar period. Despite this, I found the movie to be charming and often rather funny, with particularly engaging performances from the likeable Bruce Seton (as an English sergeant stationed on the island) and the beautiful Joan Greenwood (as the postmaster's brassy daughter).

Rating: 7/10

Evil Dead II (1987)

Sam Raimi's hilarious follow up to the (also excellent) Evil Dead sees our much put upon hero Ash (Bruce Campbell) battling zombies in the woods all over again. Raimi doesn't try to reinvent the wheel here - the plot is very similar to that of the first movie, with Ash spending another night in the same accursed cabin, with horrible creatures attacking him and his friends left, right and centre. However, the increase in budget for this picture means that Raimi is able to be even more inventive with the gory special effects. Thus, we see such astonishing sights as Ash being attacked by his own hand, set upon by a hideous witch and a possessed redneck, and, at the end of the movie, being sent through time to battle the undead in the Middle Ages (which sets the stage for the concluding part of the series, Army of Darkness). Bruce Campbell, in the lead role, does a tremendous job in taking all the punishment poor old Ash has to suffer, and he's a dab hand at dishing up a cheesy one liner with a knowing wink to the audience. I may have to revisit Army of Darkness before I can definitively say this, but for me, this is the best part of the trilogy, one of those rare horror films which manages to be both funny and scary at the same time.

Rating: 8/10