Dundead 2017 Day One

Dundead 2017

After a creditable slightly-above-average placing in the annual Dundead Film Quiz (team name: The Dank Tower), the festival began in earnest with Sean Byrne’s The Devil’s Candy, a tale of family strife, satanic possession, and sick guitar riffs. Strange things begin to happen when the Hellmans, dad Jesse (Ethan Embry), mum Astrid (Shiri Appleby) and daughter Zooey (Kiara Glasco), move into their new dream home. Jesse, an artist, is beset by an irresistible urge to paint grotesque images, and his obsession starts to take a dire effect on the family. When the house’s previous occupant Ray (Pruitt Taylor Vince), a strangely innocent man tortured by sinister, whispering voices, begins to take a special interest in Zooey, the rifts in the family threaten to become truly lethal.  Continue reading “Dundead 2017 Day One”

Best of Dundead 2016 – Southbound (2015)

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The anthology horror has made something of a resurgence in recent years with films like V/H/STales of Halloween and The ABCs of Death. In any such collection there will be stronger and weaker segments, some good enough to justify a film’s whole existence, some sufficiently terrible to sink the entire movie. Southbound achieves an impressive balance of quality, perhaps never achieving excellence but never tripping itself up. Watching the film is rather like enjoying a marathon of decent-to-great episodes of The Twilight Zone, albeit all set in the same haunted and arid wasteland. At Dundead 2016, much fanfair was made about Jeremy Saulnier’s Green Room, which ultimately turned out to be an okay movie rather bafflingly lauded as fantastic. In my own case, Southbound was superior, gripping and imaginative and unsettling. Continue reading “Best of Dundead 2016 – Southbound (2015)”

Best of Dundead 2015 – Let Us Prey (2014)

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Thus far, Let Us Prey is the only feature film from director Brian O’Malley, and what he lacks in fecundity he makes up for in crafting one really great horror. Taking more than a few cues from John Carpenter (in the pulsing, rhythmic music and in setting almost the entire movie in a police station under attack), Let Us Prey is mad and contemplative, combining visceral violence, wry wit and religious rumination into a highly entertaining package. When it was showing at 2015’s Dundead festival it was not originally a part of my viewing slate, and my last minute decision to see it was spurred almost entirely by the presence of Liam Cunningham. As happenstance goes, this was very fortunate, as Let Us Prey turned out to be the best new movie I saw at that year’s horror-fest. The lesson here is that even the most superficial reasoning can sometimes yield rich rewards. Continue reading “Best of Dundead 2015 – Let Us Prey (2014)”

Ring/Ringu (1998)

Based on the horror/sci-fi book series by Koji Suzuki, Ring is one of the most iconic and influential horror movies ever made. This is undoubtedly partially due to the veritable deluge of American remakes of Japanese chillers incited by Ring‘s Hollywood adaptation, as well as the numerous parodies of that film, but is also down to the fact that it is excellent. It is horror at its most basic, twisting normality just enough to terrorise while remaining eminently relatable. While a killer video tape might now be slightly dated, it is still an idea that will chime with anyone over the age of 25 or so. Ring eschews gratuitous violence in favour of a thick atmosphere of dread and a ghostly tale that targets youthful fears and parents’ worst nightmares alike.

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Sequence Day Three – Supergirl (1984) & Hardware (1990)

Over the weekend of 7-9 April, 2017, in collaboration with the Comic Studies department at the University of Dundee, overseen by the world’s only Professor of Comics Dr. Chris Murray, and the city’s very own festival of geekdom Dee Con, Dundee Contemporary Arts is running Sequence, a series of films inspired by comic books and animation. 

Supergirl holds the distinction of being the first American superhero feature to star a female protagonist, an achievement that becomes all the more important given the fact that movies about female superheroes can easily be counted on less than two hands. After the mediocre-to-awful Superman III, the intent was to spin off from the franchise, elevating the largely unknown Helen Slater, in the same way as Christopher Reeve was, in the role of an iconic DC character. Given the obvious lack of a Supergirl II, this was ultimately unsuccessful, and the quality of the movie must take its share of the blame for this. Feeling as though several scripts were thrown together without regard for consistency, pacing or basic coherence, Supergirl shows only moments of greatness in a broadly dull and oddly small story.

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Sequence Day Two – Batman: Mask of the Phantasm (1993) & Watchmen (2009)

Over the weekend of 7-9 April, 2017, in collaboration with the Comic Studies department at the University of Dundee, overseen by the world’s only Professor of Comics Dr. Chris Murray, and the city’s very own festival of geekdom Dee Con, Dundee Contemporary Arts is running Sequence, a series of films inspired by comic books and animation. 

If Heavy Metal‘s view of “mature” content is that of a hormone-addled teenager, Batman: Mask of the Phantasm takes a more genuinely adult perspective, despite being aimed at a younger audience. Based on the celebrated Batman: The Animated SeriesMask of the Phantasm utilises its longer running time and higher rating certificate to tell a story of revenge that delves into the psychology behind loss, and what separates vengeance from justice.

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Sequence Day One – Heavy Metal (1981)

Over the weekend of 7-9 April, 2017, in collaboration with the Comic Studies department at the University of Dundee, overseen by the world’s only Professor of Comics Dr. Chris Murray, and the city’s very own festival of geekdom Dee Con, Dundee Contemporary Arts is running Sequence, a series of films inspired by comic books and animation. 

The first film of the mini-festival was Heavy Metal, the cult 1981 adaptation based upon the magazine of the same name, which was itself based on a French-language publication called Métal hurlant. The movie is an anthology of various versions of stories which appeared in the comic book, written by various science fiction and fantasy authors, most notably Dan O’Bannon, screenwriter of AlienDark StarLifeforce and Total Recall. It covers a broad and ecletic mix of tones, styles and settings, blending grimy sci-fi, Howard-esque fantasy, and gratuitous sex and violence. All of this is set to a fantastic soundtrack of (unsurprisingly) heavy metal tracks and a dramatic orchestral score.

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Ghost in the Shell (2017)

Views on adaptation can vary from person to person. For purists, fidelity is paramount. The are so attached to a piece of media that any change can only serve to diminish, because it is already perfect. Conversely, there are those who see an absolutely accurate re-creation as a complete waste of time. Since the original version exists, an exact replica is superfluous. Rather, the opportunity should be taken to do something novel with the premise or characters, to put a new spin on a familiar story. The Ghost in the Shell franchise certainly leans towards the latter philosophy, being no stranger to divergent incarnations. This is no surprise, since the concept contains huge scope. After the manga, there have been at least four separate continuities spread across movies, TV shows and video games. The new live-action film is yet another take on the mythos, taking elements from its forebears and attempting to strike out in its own direction. In this it has decidedly mixed success, getting caught between a desire to retain iconic scenes and images, and to be its own thing. It’s fairly impossible to discuss this movie properly without spoilers, so consider this fair warning going forward.

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We Need to Talk About Motoko

Confession time: I am a huge fan of Ghost in the Shell. The 1995 anime classic is a tightly-paced, visually-stunning, beautifully-scored masterpiece that blends big ideas with kickass action. No Ghost in the Shell, no Matrix, and to me that’s unthinkable. Major Motoko Kusanagi is a great protagonist, struggling to understand her own humanity as an artificial person with an organic brain. Her situation foreshadows issues we will all have to face before too long, as the technology that is already encroaching upon our lives becomes more integrated into our very beings. The announcement of a live-action Ghost in the Shell ought to have been cause for tentative celebration, an opportunity to see this story brought to a new generation. Instead, the whole enterprise has been overshadowed by a piece of highly questionable casting: Scarlett Johansson will play the Major.

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Beauty and the Beast (2017)

Co-authored with Amy Bowring

Disney is, of course, an evil, money-hungry empire seemingly intent upon subsuming every element of your childhood under its huge and imposing mouse-shaped banner. Beyond the acquisition of Marvel and Lucasfilm, Disney has begun to make live-action versions of some of their most beloved animated features, beginning with Cinderella and The Jungle Book. Despite how iconic the original versions of these films are, they are arguably a safe bet and fair game for re-adaptation. Both are well over half a century old. Disney’s latest offering re-tells a tale a mere 26 years old, a tale considered by many to be the high-water mark of the Disney Renaissance of the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, a movie that was the first animated feature to be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture. Remaking Beauty and the Beast is a curious blend of sure thing and huge risk; there are millions of people primed to love this film, and who will be ready to riot if it fails to live up to expectations.

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