While this low-budget horror movie never quite manages to fulfil its promise it has a certain charm. Made in the same cheap and cheerful fashion as Sam Raimi’s The Evil Dead (1981) by a bunch of amateur filmmakers in New Jersey, The Deadly Spawn features intergalactic carnivorous aliens munching on the local population. A cult favourite on VHS the film is very much of its time. It has the bleakness often found in American horror films from George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead (1968) onwards and the gross out comedy horror of the 80’s in which death is treated as an elaborate joke. The Deadly Spawn has a knowing sense of humour and is clearly made by people who love horror films and science fiction. The most resourceful character in the film is a kid who is obsessed with horror and is able to adapt when his own life turns into a scary movie. The creatures when they appear are suitably disgusting, tadpole-like with layers of teeth. Not nearly as frightening as the décor though. It’s terrifying, a mixture of garish colours and unholy shades of brown which might well inspire intergalactic visitors to think human beings are of little use except for eating or tearing into pieces. The film was a minor sensation today but now looks as hokey as the B-movies of the 1950’s. Fun though.
Credit to Arrow Video they never stint on the extras. Doesn’t matter if the film is an arthouse classic like Ashes & Diamonds (Andrzej Wajda, 1958) or a daft homemade horror film like The Deadly Spawn Arrow respectfully takes the same care when putting the DVD extras together. In this case the special features are far more interesting than the actual movie. An accompanying booklet contains written work on The Deadly Spawn by film experts Calum Waddell and Tim Sullivan. Producer Ted A. Bohus provides two commentaries, one of which is a conversation with Editor Marc Harwood and basically involves them describing whose house they are filming in at that particular moment. This really was DIY filmmaking. The archive footage provided in a trio of features emphasises this. It is like watching a hairy grown-up version of Super 8 (2011, J.J. Abrams). John Dods IMDb page credits him with providing Matt Dillon dummies on A Kiss Before Dying (1991, James Deardon) and being Grace Jones Corpse Creator on Boomerang (1992. Reginald Hudlin). Since then he’s been off the radar, maybe Grace Jones got him, but there is an amusing documentary filmed in his workshop. There is also an audition reel which includes actors who didn’t get the parts they were reading for which is perhaps cruel, but not as cruel as it is funny. There are also interviews with Bohus on various low-rent TV channels, a comic strip prequel which attempts to give the film a backstory but seems more like an afterthought, and the original trailer for the film’s cinema release.
Cast & Crew Interviews are fairly short but in Leigh’s case revealing as she discusses her approach to the film and how she wants the audience to be a “tender witness.” Apart from that there are only trailers; one for Sleeping Beauty, the disturbing serial killer movie Snowtown (2011, Justin Kurzel), and a TV mini-series called The Slap starring Melissa George and Alex Dimitriades.
|Smiley reflects on events in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy|
Tinker Tailor, Soldier Spy didn’t make much of an impression on me at the cinema. Watching Tomas Alfredson’s film on DVD proved to be a much more rewarding experience. The attention to detail is astonishing. Not just in terms of set design (loved the Wimpy bar) but also in terms of how subtle Alfredson’s approach to the material is. There are little touches that passed me by first time around, such as seeing a Hungarian police officer carrying a baby in the background of a scene. Earlier we saw the child’s mother get caught in the crossfire as Jim Prideux’s (Mark Strong) operation went badly wrong. I misjudged the film thinking it cold and indifferent. There is plenty of humanity here, it’s just everybody keeps their feelings hidden. Letting your guard down in this world can prove costly as Ricky Tarr (Tom Hardy) finds out when he inadvertently blows his cover and puts the woman he loves in danger not to mention his own colleagues.
Le Carre experienced the paranoia of the post-Kim Philby era first hand and Alfredson captures this unease perfectly. Often he places the camera up high or at unusual angles so it seems like the viewer is also complicit, another pair of eyes watching as these people scheme and machinate. George Smiley (Gary Oldman) too is an observer, rarely speaking, taking everything in. It’s a great performance by Oldman, easily his best since the 1980’s when he did his most exciting work in films like Sid and Nancy (1986, Alex Cox) and The Firm (1987, Alan Clarke). I’ve watched the film twice since getting the DVD and it gets better each time.
There is a fantastic interview with John le Carre in which he discusses his novel, his own time in the Intelligence service, the differences between Gary Oldman and the TV version’s leading man Alec Guinness. The only other extras are deleted scenes and a laid back commentary from Alfredson and Oldman.
|Driver and Irene Share a Moment in Drive|
Here’s my top ten list for 2011. As with all lists it is a matter of personal taste.
Its final descent into a hellish sexual underworld with sex-addict Brandon (Michael Fassbender) on an odyssey to penetrate anything with an orifice is ridiculous but for the most part Shame is a haunting study of urban loneliness. The heart of the film is the fractious relationship between Brandon and his equally damaged sister Irene (Carey Mulligan). Fassbender has been getting most of the acclaim but Mulligan matches him. There is clearly some traumatic incident in their past they can’t get over and though there are subtle hints screenwriter Abi Morgan and director Steve McQueen avoid offering any easy explanations. Shame is exactly how I like my movies, ambiguous, voyeuristic, and full of yearning. And when it comes to singing ‘New York New York’ Carey Mulligan kicks Frank Sinatra’s ass.
There has been a fair old backlash against Nicolas Winding Refn’s sleek and stylish existential crime thriller. The arthouse crowd resent an exploitative B-movie getting critical acclaim while curiously enough the artier aspects of Refn’s direction alienated those who like their action films to be a bit more fast and furious. Drive is derivative but genre films always are. Its influences are many; Melville, Michael Mann, Shane (George Stevens 1950), Kenneth Anger’s Scorpio Rising (1964), and pretty much the whole of the 1980’s. However Refn brings his own sensibility to the film. Refn’s devotion to violent protagonists has been in evidence since his debut film Pusher (1997) and once again he takes a morally non-committed approach to his storytelling. It is entirely up to the audience whether they see the Ryan Gosling’s Driver as a hero or a head-stomping psycho. The early scenes with Driver growing close to Carey Mulligan’s single mom have a tenderness rarely present in Refn’s work. Only the awkward courtship between social misfits Lenny and Lea in the otherwise macho Bleeder (1999) hinted Refn has a romantic side. One day Refn might actually get around to making a great drama about real human beings rather than films about movie archetypes but till then I’m happy to watch him move from genre to genre. Next up a martial arts film with Ryan Gosling. Looking forward to it already.