Evan Glodell on Bellflower: Borderland Film Podcast

Hellflower on Wheels: Tyler Dawson (left) and Evan Glodell prep for the end of civilization as we know it in BELLFLOWER.
Hellflower on Wheels: Tyler Dawson (left) and Evan Glodell prep for the end of civilization as we know it in BELLFLOWER.

The course of true love is never easy. When an imposing, MAD-MAX-like, fire-breathing automobile intervenes, it can get downright complicated. Evan Glodell’s BELLFLOWER is the tale of two Southern Californians — Woodrow (Glodell) and Aiden (Tyler Dawson) — who fill their free time with speculations of the post-apocalyptic future and preparations for same that include the construction of Matilda, a bad-ass, black automobile that would make the Road Warrior drool. But when Woodrow begins hanging out with Milly (Jessie Wiseman), a woman with similar, dark impulses, the ecology of the two friends and their circle of acquaintances is about to undergo a serious upheaval.
Glodell packs the film with a wired, spontaneous energy, and doubles-down on the rough, hand-tooled feel by having a hand in the building of the film’s flame-throwers and cars, as well as the home-made lens system used to shoot the footage. Good to know that, come the Fall, canny filmmakers will still be able to survive.
Click on the player to hear the interview.


Book of Eli on DVD: The Use and Abuse of Religion

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The recent release of THE BOOK OF ELI (2010) on DVD provides an opportunity for a reassessment of important elements within its story. Viewers with religious convictions have interpreted the film in strongly positive and negative terms; however, another reading is plausible that avoids these extremes. Taking into account its late-modern-Western and post-9/11 context, THE BOOK OF ELI may be interpreted as a film that urges caution in the use of religion by both its practitioners and the irreligious – who variously objectify religion and justify violence in fundamentalist fashion while failing to heed the message of religion or recognize its power as a form of social control and a tool for oppression. This review will address these elements, which appear to be overlooked in many reviews of the movie.
THE BOOK OF ELI is the latest example of Hollywood (and popular culture’s) continued fascination with and exploration of the post-apocalypse. Blending genre elements from the Western and action films, the story follows a man (Denzel Washington), who lives in a near-future world ravaged by nuclear war. He is on a personal mission to carry a book, which he holds sacred, to the West Coast. Along the way, he stops for water in a town under the leadership of Carnegie (Gary Oldman), an oppressive and violent man who rules with an iron fist. Carnegie is looking for a book with the power to control people and expand his power; his search dovetails with Eli’s mission to protect the same book in his westward journey. The resulting conflict sets the stage for the rest of the film, with post-apocalyptic elements providing the backdrop and context for the exploration of religious themes.
As the narrative unfolds, we learn that after the war Washington’s character (who only at the end of the film do we learn is named Eli) responded to an internal voice that told him where to dig in the rubble for an important item. There he found the book, more specifically a Bible, around which the story circulates. The voice also told Eli that it was his mission to carry the book West and that he would be given divine protection in his travels. THE BOOK OF ELI provides a number of examples of Eli’s devotion to his faith and his calling, such as prayer over his food, daily Bible reading, and the quotation of biblical verses, even in connection with the slaying of his enemies.
Before considering an alternative reading to the pro- and anti-Christian readings of the film prevalent in many commentaries, a few words are in order about the possibilities related to someone actually thinking they could be the recipients of divine revelation in a period of great social upheaval, such as the post-apocalyptic scenario of this film. While skeptics will be doubtful of any such possibilities in the assumption of the absence of the supernatural or the transcendent, even so, sociological evidence exists that can account for such beliefs. Noted sociologist of religion Rodney Stark, in his discussion of revelators in new religious movements and major world religions, notes that “all successful religious movements arise in response to crises.” He goes further and develops a proposition from this idea, stating that, “During periods of social crisis, the number of persons who receive novel revelations and the number willing to accept such revelations are maximized.”
In THE BOOK OF ELI, we are led to believe that religion has largely disappeared since most of the previous generations of religious people have died, and at some point at least the Bible if not all religious Scriptures have been destroyed; however, the post-apocalyptic scenario certainly provides the social context of extreme crisis wherein people would be receptive to the possibility of personal revelation. As this plays out in the film, it is not so much the surviving humans who are looking to hear the divine, but rather Eli himself who hears the inner voice which for him provides a strong sense of divine vocation. Understood as developing in a context of social crisis, it is not so much Eli’s understanding of divine vocation that is problematic, but his actions that come as a result. Eli’s actions as a man of religious devotion, often violent ones, have resulted in different interpretations of the film, and in light of this they deserve further exploration.
A sampling of the reviews and commentary on THE BOOK OF ELI by those with religious convictions, particularly those with a Judeo-Christian orientation, reveals diverse interpretations of the film in regards to its relationship to Christianity. On the one hand, there are those who take exception to the film, seeing it as incorporating a strongly anti-Christian caricature; on the other hand there are those who see the film as sympathetic to Christianity (one website even going so far as to describe it as “positively Christian”).
In my view both of these readings are problematic. For starters, THE BOOK OF ELI is not presenting Eli as a Christian. Although he reads from the Bible, and gives thanks for his meals, the name of Christ is never once invoked in the film. Instead, Eli prays to “the Lord” and closes his prayers with a simple “Amen.” In this way his brand of religious devotion may be understood as a generic brand of Judeo-Christian theism rather than a specific expression of Christianity. If the film does not present the Christian faith and the actions of a devoted Christian, then it is difficult to see how the film could be construed as either pro- or anti-Christian.
If these popular readings may be inaccurate, then what reading might better account for various elements of the film? I suggest that, instead, THE BOOK OF ELI should be understood as a critique of the misuse of religion by skeptics and religious devotees alike. First, consider the late-modern and post-9/11 context of the film. Late modernity, or postmodernity, often includes critique of dominant cultural narratives, including religious ones. In addition, we live in a post-9/11 world, where religious tensions and violence around the world exert a constant influence in our lives. When these two considerations come together, it is plausible that the cultural context out of which THE BOOK OF ELI has arisen is one that attempts to critique prominent religious narratives, particularly those that have led to violence.
This leads to my second consideration, and that is the ways in which religion is used by the two principle characters in THE BOOK OF ELI. On the one hand, we have Carnegie, a violent man who seems to have no religious convictions of his own but who seeks a Bible because he recognizes its potential for expanding his power over others. In one scene he shouts to his cronies that “It’s not a book, it’s a weapon!” Here we have a character who seeks to use an important aspect of a religious tradition in order to gain control over “the weak and desperate,” but not as an important part of his heartfelt religious pathway. As the villain of the film it is clear that viewers are to recognize the illegitimacy of Carnegie’s (mis)use of religion.
However, there is a second major character for whom religion is significant: Eli. While his use of religion is presented more positively, it is not without its difficulties. Eli is a lone hero with a divine mission who must do everything he can to protect the holy book as he carries it West. In a post-apocalyptic world where people are fighting for their lives, Eli’s mission results in mayhem and violence for those who try to kill him and steal his belongings, including the Bible. Not only is Eli prone to violence in his mission, perhaps understandable in the survivalist context, but his violence is selective.
In one scene Eli sees a man and a woman traveling who are accosted by a roving gang affiliated with Carnegie. The man is killed and the woman is violently raped. Eli is moved by this viciousness, but he tells himself that he has his mission and that the violence taking place around him is not his concern. So in the case of Eli we have a man of religious devotion who is driven to great violence to protect a religious object, but who is not driven to “love his neighbor as himself” to the extent that his faith compels him to assist those suffering around him. Thus, while Carnegie’s use of religion is clearly problematic, Eli’s is as well, perhaps more so in light of his religious devotion.
For those who may dispute this interpretation of Eli’s actions, Eli himself seems to come to understand that his own faith missed the mark. Near the conclusion of THE BOOK OF ELI, after Eli has lost the book to Carnegie, he is rescued by his traveling companion Solara, to whom he acknowledges that he was so caught up in protecting the Bible that he failed to live its message. Eli’s religious faith was focused on the externals, that of protecting a sacred item of Scripture, often leading to grotesque violence, perhaps necessary at times; in the process, he failed to internalize the essence of his religion and, in so doing, turned a blind eye to the suffering around him that he might have been able to alleviate.
Viewed from this perspective, THE BOOK OF ELI may be read as not so much articulating a pro-Christian or anti-Christian message. Rrather, arising out of a critique of religious narratives of our time that often incorporate violence and neglect marginalized, this film may be read as one that cautions against the abuse of religion by believers and non-believers alike. For those willing to stretch themselves in their consideration of religion, from whatever their personal frameworks, THE BOOK OF ELI provides some interesting aspects for personal reflection.
The DVD and Blu-ray discs of  THE BOOK OF ELI include a handful of special features. The standard version of the DVD is disappointing in that its bonus material is limited to some additional scenes and an animated tale that develops the storyline further. The Blu-ray Combo Pack includes more – not only the additional scenes and animated story, but also explorations of other aspects of the story related to Eli’s journey and post-apocalyptic, as well as a soundtrack for the film.



The Road (2009)

Harrowing trip into a bleak nuclear winter of the future offers a cautionary tale for today.

The Road (2009)John Hillcoat’s film of Cormac McCarthy’s widely-praised novel (adapted for the screen by Joe Penhall) presents what may well be one of the bleakest and most terrifying stories ever told on the big screen. THE ROAD follows the harrowing post-apocalyptic journey of a father and son, named simply “Man” and “Boy” (played by Viggo Mortensen and Kodi Smit-McPhee, respectively). The nature of the apocalypse is never described (nor does the novel explain it any more clearly than the film), but there is neither vegetation nor animals, and the landscape is covered in grey ash. It’s perpetually cloudy or raining, and bitterly cold. People are filthy and hollow-eyed, with ashen skin and torn fingernails, starving, homeless. The Man and the Boy are traveling on foot, pushing their meager belongings in a cart, heading vaguely south, determined to avoid another northern winter. They’re on foot not only because there is so little fuel and the roads are littered with abandoned cars and wrecked semis, but also because being on foot lets them hide easily, and in this post-disaster landscape, kindness and compassion have vanished as surely as apple blossoms and pizza.
Charlize Theron appears in flashback sequences; she is the “Woman” to Man and Boy, a wife and mother who gives birth the same night that the world turns upside down. After a few years, during which, we must assume, food has become scarce and daily existence has become dangerous, she determines that suicide is the only way out for her family. She says that eventually “they” (referring to the apparently-ubiquitous roving bands of murderous thugs: martial law gone real, real bad) will hunt them down, rape her, rape her son, and then kill and eat all three of them. Learning her husband has onlytwo bullets left, she is furious that this plan can’t work, and walks off into the night, alone, after telling her husband to travel south, as they can’t survive another winter where they are. The Man tearfully begs her to stay, but she refuses, emotionless and resigned to her decision. She clearly doesn’t want to die a victim, and yet it’s almost implausible that she could avoid such a fate. The Man has occasional dreams of her, lit with soft, golden light, full of the warm colors that have been drained out of the world in which he now lives.
For this world is a decidedly brutal one: early on the Man and the Boy meet a band of thugs traveling on a big truck, checking abandoned cars for fuel, searching for food. They try to hide but are discovered (by Garret Dillahunt, one of a number of fine actors in memorable cameos in this two-character story). With the Man’s gun trained on him, the thug offers to bring them along, says they have food, but his cracked, desperate smile and rotted teeth reveal he’s lying. He is the first of a number of bloodthirsty mercenaries the Man and Boy encounter. One terrifying sequence brings them to a seemingly deserted farmhouse that turns out to be a stronghold for a group of ruddy-faced villains who spend their days hunting. The signs are vague but unmistakable in the snowy yard: human skulls on spikes, an iron hook, freshly-split wood, a huge black cooking pot, and a pool of blood in varying shades of red, suggesting a series of slaughters over time.
It seems the primary danger in this cowardly new world is cannibalism, and the Boy understands this only too well; perhaps it’s why he’s quicker than his father to share their food with solitary strangers they meet (including Robert Duvall as an elderly, near-blind man shuffling along in shoes crafted of cardboard and plastic). Despite the Man’s insistence that they’re “the good guys” because they would never eat people, he nevertheless is slow to show compassion to others, believing his “every man for himself” approach is the only thing that will keep them alive. But keep them alive for what? There seems to be no imaginable future for them. Even a fortuitous discovery of an enormous cache of packaged foods doesn’t last. Their clothing is not sufficient to keep them warm; thieves take their survival necessities, and even if they reach the coast, it’s not clear anything will improve.
The Man has made it clear he’ll use his remaining bullet on the Boy to save him from a fate worse than fratricide; and the Boy realizes his father’s wracking cough is a harbinger of his uncertain future, when he’ll have to fend for himself. Of course, the Man is trying to give the Boy survival skills for this inevitability; but distrust and brutality don’t come naturally to a ten-year-old, even one who has been raised in a world as cruel and perilous as this one. THE ROAD suggests that human nature will adapt to anything, even the dissolution of humanity.
The film offers an ending that is perhaps more hopeful and redemptive than audiences should expect. But this brief respite from so much relentless brutality and despair cannot erase THE ROAD’s unforgettable imagery and indelible messages. It’s been said that starvation instills desperate behavior in humans. But the cannibalism of this post-apocalyptic world is not the drastic, apologetic action of a Donner Pass traveler. People in this post-disaster world seem to be steeped in aggressive cruelty and selfishness. Or, perhaps, those who still remain are so, because the compassionate and gentle were sacrificed long ago. Dreary weather, massive destruction and pillaging are nothing compared to the savagery of rape, murder, and cannibalism, and these atrocities pervade McCarthy’s vision of our possible future. If the loss of botanical beauty is heartbreaking, then seeing women and children sodomized and eaten is soul-breaking. It’s hard to see how any spiritual belief system could persist in such a world; but the Man talks of God to his Boy, and also sees his son as a god. Is it that the Boy’s innocence makes him holy? Or that blind faith in a once-powerful, all-forgiving deity is the only flicker of light in an utterly dark existence? When the everyday becomes unbearable, the survivors understandably see the beatific in the banal.
Is THE ROAD’s vision of the future plausible? It might be difficult to find an adult who has not contemplated what might happen were it all to come crashing down on us. Our world is full of nukes and chemical weapons and super-germs. One carefully-planned act of biological warfare would easily decimate the population, and one good natural disaster could shut down the pipeline of food and fuel to the world’s largest cities. We could be screwed almost instantly, and FEMA might well leave us, you’ll pardon the expression, high and dry. Cataclysm comes in many forms, and even in a wealthy, cushy country like the United States, our post 9/11, après-Katrina mindset has made disaster a plausible reality. It flashes through our minds every time we stock up on food for a winter storm, or hoard bottled water and batteries during hurricane season.
I’ve often wondered how our lives might look without the constant crutch of accessible personal technology, and how society would break down if it were taken away. What if we really had to fend for ourselves, forage for food, avoid thugs on a daily basis? Maybe some of us have even wondered what clothing we’d wear to venture out into that endless night, what weapons we’d carry, if any, what we’d do if confronted with our own imminent mortality, our humanity erased by the swift evil that descends in the wake of having our comforts and loved ones whisked away in the blink of an eye. Of course, some people in the world already live like this. THE ROAD is a murky harbinger of our future, but perhaps more urgently, a cautionary tale clearly reflecting our present.

The Road (2009)

THE ROAD (2009). Directed by John Hillcoat. Screenplay by Joe Penhall, based on the novel by Cormac McCarthy. Cast: Viggo Mortensen, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Robert Duvall, Guy Pearce, Molly Parker, Michael K. Williams, Garret Dillahunt, Charlize Theron, Bob Jennings.

Book of Eli opens January 15

Oscar-winner Denzel Washington goes post-apocalyptic on us, in this action-adventure film from Albert and Allen Hughes (whose last work was the Jack-the-Ripper film, FROM HELL, adapted from Alan Moore’s graphic novel). Washington plays one of those archetypal loners out to save the remnants of humanity, this time by protecting a sacred book filled with the secret that will, well, save humanity. Mila Kunis and Ray Stevenson are in the supporting cast. Warner Brothers is distributing.
Not sure this means anything, but I find it interesting that this week’s big genre release, like last week’s DAYBREAKERS, comes from a brother-brother directing duo. How will the Hughes Brothers fare in head-to-head competition with Michael and Peter Spierig?

Laserblast: Doomsday arrives at home

Click to purchase DOOMSDAY on DVDThis is a heavy-duty week for home-video releases. As usual, there are only one or two new titles making their debut, but Hollywood has become so adept at recycling old material that they could serve as a useful model for the environmental movement: numerous golden oldies make return engagements this week, their resurrection justified by director’s cuts, multi-packing, or new technology, with titles previously released on DVD now appearing on Blu-ray disc and/or on DVDs offering bonus “Digital Copies” that you can download onto your PC.
The most interesting newbie is DOOMSDAY, writer-director Neil Marshall’s homage to post-apocalyptic action-thrillers of the MAD MAX variety. Perhaps because of its derivative nature (plus a promotional campaign that did little to excite fans), Continue reading “Laserblast: Doomsday arrives at home”

Doomsday (2008) – Film Review

Ironically, the end of the world as we know it never seems to end; at least on the big screen, the fat lady simply never stops singing. Technically, the latest chorus in this endless string of end-of-the-world arias is not about our planet at large, just a large chunk (i.e., Scotland); nevertheless, DOOMSDAY justifies its title by incorporating motifs from its apocalyptic predecessors. You will find bits and pieces of THE OMEGA MAN, ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK, and THE ROAD WARRIOR, among many others. The result feels a bit like a medley of greatest hits performed by a hot, young talent who brings a new vocal inflection to the tired, old standards, revitalizing them for a new generation of listeners. You may not like the new version as much as you loved the originals, but it is fun to hear the various verses and choruses reprised together, creating something simultaneously familiar and new.
The film launches with one of its best sequences, portraying the outbreak of the “Reaper” virus (whose bloody pustules suggest Poe’s “Red Death”), which leads to the quarantining of Scotland behind a massive metal wall. A mass exodus toward the border becomes a violent free-for-all, with trigger happy guards shooting both the infected and the uninfected, turning the formerly orderly march into an uncontrolled riot. However, the sequences works less as a spectacular set-piece than as an introduction to our central character, Eden Sinclair, a young girl who is lifted to safety on the last helicopter out of the hot zone, forced to leave her mother behind.
Twenty-five years later, Sinclair (Rhona Mitra) is a major in a special ops team taking out some drug dealers. When the Reaper virus erupts anew, this time in the heart of London, the British government needs a cure. Unbeknown to the public at large, satellite photos have revealed survivors in Scotland, suggesting that there may be a cure. Department of Domestic Security Chief Bill Nelson (Bob Hoskins) selects Sinclair to head a mission into the quarantined area to search for Dr. Kane (Malcolm McDowell), who was working on the problem when the wall went up.
Searching the doctor’s old facilities, Sinclair’s team runs afoul of a band of cannibals led by Sol (Craig Conway), who hopes to use Sinclair as his key to circumvent the wall. Sinclair and her surviving team members escape and, with the help of Kane’s daughter, find their way to the doctor, who has set himself up as a local king in an old castle, having renounced modern technology in favor of a return to medieval mode of living. Natural selection, rather than medical science, is the reason for their survival…

Although the screenplay has a fairly clear, linear through-line, writer-director Neil Marshall explores other motifs like a jazz musician wandering off on a solo that diverts from the main melody. Besides Sinclair’s quest for a cure, she also has a personal quest to reconnect with the memory of the mother she lost. She has to confront three different factions of survivors, two of which appear to be at war with each other. And back in England, there is a political corruption sub-plot in which the prime minister (Alexander Siddig) yields to the suggestion of advisor Michael Canaris (David O’Hara) that they let the Reaper virus thin out the population before taking advantage of any cure that Sinclair might find.
These elements are meant to add complexity to the main storyline, but they feel more like loose improvisations than like a tightly structured symphony of melodies and counter-melodies. The war between the rival factions is barely glimpsed, let alone resolved. Sol turns out to be Kane’s son, but the film does nothing with the idea (you could drop it without changing the story). Sinclair’s personal quest is pretty much on the back burner until the ending. Her search for Kane suggests Marlow’s trip into the Heart of Darkness, looking for Kurtz, but DOOMSDAY only hints at the potential doppelganger theme: like Martin Sheen’s Colonel Willard in APOCALYPSE NOW, Sinclair even ends up enclosed in a wooden cage while Kane pontificates on his new philosophy; Kane comes across like a surrogate father figure (as he talks about losing a wife and a daughter, you briefly fear that the film is going to make the connection literal), but the dramatic implications drowned out beneath a crescendo of genre-required action scenes. 
Marshall has so much fun with these sequences that it is hard not to be swept up into the sheer post-modern joy of seeing him cram in one darn thing after another (a gladiator style duel between our heroine and a hulking killer, a la Snake Plissken’s last-reel battle in ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK, is soon followed by a ROAD WARRIOR-style multi-car chase on the open highway, with hardly a breath wasted on how Sol knew where to intercept Sinclair). Relying on old-fashioned physical stunts, rather than modern computer-generated imagery, Marshall recaptures much of the rhythm and percussive power of the films he is referencing. He also supplies more than enough gore and splatter to appease horror fans who fell in love with his previous efforts, DOG SOLDIERS and THE DESCENT. (Besides decapitation, brains splattered with a shotgun, and a victim cooked alive, there are a couple moments of gratuitous cruelty toward animals that are meant to provide either a sick joke or a satirical statement about the Fascist nature of a government that could cold-heartedly turn its back on its citizens. I’m betting on the former.) 
The only real problem with the action scenes – and it is a major one – is that they over-edited, obscuring most of the stunt choreography beneath a glissando of hyper-fast cuts. One could also nitpick about the ease with which Sol’s band of savages overcome the modern tanks that Sinclair’s team drives into the hot zone. (In the reviled tradition of RETURN OF THE JEDI, high-tech armor-plated equipment is vulnerable to bows and arrows.) Marshall makes an effort (including a Trojan horse-type gag to take out one tank), but to be truly convincing, the take-down should have been a little more difficult.
A British beauty playing a lethal warrior, Mitra comes across like this year’s model of Kate Beckinsale in UNDERWORLD, but she does handle the Sinclair role well, even if Marshall’s screenplay does not provide as much depth as his previous efforts. Although their scenes are brief, Hoskins and McDowell manage to register forcefully on screen, justifying their presence as something more than cameo casting. O’Hara is excellent as the power behind the prime minister; his super-stiff body language is enough to tell you he’s a bastard the first time you see him. Conway has a blast as the savage Sol, but Vernon Wells (who set the standard in ROAD WARRIOR) is probably probably in no danger of being eclipsed by this upstart. And Lee-Anne Liebenberg is memorably in a virtually silent role as Viper, Sol’s main squeeze.
DOOMSDAY is a blast from the past, filled with familiar echoes that should please fans. Marshall acknowledges his sources with the use of character names: Carpenter (as in John, director of ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK); Chandler (as in Raymond, the hard-boiled mystery novelist with a sentimental streak); Talbot (as in Lawrence, the Wolf-Man in the classic 1941 horror film); and even Viper (a kind of snake, as in Plissken). There is also a fair share of original invention, like a removable mechanical eyeball that Sinclair can use to spy on her targets.
As a step up from Marshall’s smaller-scale horror films, DOOMSDAY makes it only halfway. As an ode to ’80s action and exploitation movies, it delivers the goods far better than both halves of GRINDHOUSE combined (it feels like the real deal, not like some stoners whacked out recollections). Unfortuantely, for the first time the genre requirements seem to outweight the story requirements. Unlike DOG SOLDIERS and THE DESCENT, we do not see a dramatic depiction of a tight-knit group unraveling under pressure; with one or two exceptions, the members of Sinclair’s team serve as disposable bodies, obliterated almost as off-handledly as those red-shirted subordinates on the old STAR TREK. Even if the point is to show how emotionally detached Sinclair is, she should show some concern as the team leader who bears responsibility for the lives of her soldiers.
One would be tempted to conclude that Marshall simply conceived a score that was too big for him to orchestrate and conduct, but the film’s rousing coda overturns these doubts almost entirely. Avoiding the conventional ending, DOOMSDAY riffs on an idea from APOCALYPSE NOW, blatantly and brilliantly setting up a potential sequel. If there have been so many themes that not all of them could be resolved, it is only because we have been watching a dense prelude what what will come next. Far from the frustrating set-ups in many Hollywood films (that simply cheat and leave the audience wanting more), DOOMSDAY takes Sinclair to a point that satisfies the needs of this film but leaves her poised for an encore that could be even bigger and better than the opening number.

Dr. Talbot (Sean Pertwee) fnds himself at the mercy of the savage remnants of a decimated society.

DOOMSDAY (2008). Written and directed by Neil Marshall. Cast: Rhona Mitra, Bob Hoskins, Adrian Lester, Alexander Siddig, David O’Hara, Malcolm McDowell.
RELATED INTERVIEW: Writer-Director Neil Marshall

Interview: Neil Marshall Directs "Doomsday"

 DOOMSDAY is the new post-apocalyptic thiller from writer-director Neil Marshal, who gave us DOG SOLDIERS and THE DESCENT.  Although the visceral impact of those two horror films earned him honorary membership in the so-called “Splat Pack,” Marshall films’ evince a stronger narrative drive: they are dramas about group dynamics breaking down under extreme pressure; the pressure just happens to take the form of werewolves or mutant cave dwellers. Continue reading “Interview: Neil Marshall Directs "Doomsday"”

Tooth and Nail (2007): After Dark Horrorfest Review

This is a laughably bad post-apocalyptic thriller that was inexplicably included as one of the “8 Films to Die For” in the 2007 edition of the After Dark Horrorfest. Apart from the overall low-quality of the threadbare production, one has to wonder why After Dark Films would stretch the definition of “horror” to include a second-rate entry like this (presumably because of the gory violence?)
To be fair, TOOTH AND NAIL quite honestly announces its awfulness in the opening narration, which rather absurdly tries to blame the complete collapse of civilization on running out of gasoline! It is easy enough to believe that such an event would radically alter society, but here we are supposed to believe that it led to a total collapse, followed by anarchy and savagery. Guess all those wind-powered generators, electrical dams, and nuclear reactors were good for nothing! And nobody thought to press bicycles, sailing yachts, and horses into transportation service. And all those historical societies and naturalists and campers and boy scouts who learned how to rub two sticks together – they didn’t help out much either! The absurdity of the whole notion is underlined by the intonations of Robert Carradine, who delivers the lines as if telling a bad joke – which indeed it is.
Once the story begins, we soon see that we are in a throwback to bad drive-in filming from the ’70s and ’80s, which often consisted of finding a large, abandoned building (in this case, a hospital) and setting a whole movie inside it. Our cast of characters are trying to build a new life, but after they rescue a stranger (Rachel Miner) they find themselves menaced by “Rovers,” a band of cannibals who pick off their victims by night, one at a time.
The lip-service explanation for this modus operandi is that Rovers like fresh meat, so they do not kill all their victims at once and let them rot. Of course, it would be just as easy to capture everyone and hold them prisoner until dinner time, but then there would be no excuse to drag the film out with scene after scene of characters being killed off one by one.
But plot is only one of the problems here. The real laugh riot is the dialogue and performances, which plumb the giddy depths of silliness as our hapless, helpless band of misfits stand around wondering what to do and asking each other if it will be all right and worrying about their inability to handle the situation. When voting for a new leader (after the death of the previous one), the pettiness and bickering has all the dramatic impact of high school kids picking the president of the prom committee.

Later, lest we forget that this is just a schlock exploitation film, there are a couple of gratuitous sex scenes, one of which is outright goofy (with night falling and the Rovers on their way, the guy promises the girl that he will protect her – oh, that survival talk is so sexy!) Otherwise, the subject of sex never comes up. The Rovers seem to enjoy eating men and women equally; although their leader talks about survival of the fittest, the fact that their tribe will not survive without women to bear children never comes up.
By the time our heroine decides to put the hammer down on these cannibalistic cretins and dons her warpaint, the film comes close to achieving camp classic status; sadly, the lethargic pace prevents TOOTH AND NAIL from being truly enjoyable bad, so the film will have to settle for the distinction of being the best reason in recent memory for the return of MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000 (it would make a good companion piece for ROBOT HOLOCAUST).
It is a shock to see Carradine in middle age (where has he been since REVENGE OF THE NERDS?), but he gives a respectable performance, lending the film a little class for a short time. Michael Madsen shows up in two brief scenes as one of the Rovers, but he never interacts with the rest of the cannibals and none of them seem to notice when he’s gone, leading one to suspect that his footage was shot and added seperately, to provide a little name value. Rachel Miner (who was so good in PENNY DREADFUL, one of After Dark’s offerings last year) is ultimately defeated by the script, which turns her character into a melodramatic cliche.
There is one good idea in the movie: for the final confrontation, the odds for our outnumbered heroine are evened because the cannibals are doped up – the bodies of their latest victims having been injected with drugs. It’s the one moment when you actually think, “That’s clever,” and it thankfully spares us from an extended knock-down, drag-out, tooth-and-nail fight scene. It ain’t much, but when sitting through something this bad, you grow grateful for the few meagre crumbs of quality.
TOOTH AND NAIL (2007). Written and directed by Mark Young. Cast: Rachel Miner, Robert Carradine, Michael Madsen, Vinnie Jones, Rider Strong, Michael Kelly, Nicol DuPort, Alexandra Barreto, Emily Catherine Young. Beverly Hynds, Patrick Durham, Jonathan Sachar.