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Saturday, 28 March 2015

Why Banning Something Isn't Always A Bad Thing!

Welcome Everyone,

Today I want to talk to you about a new film that's been recently banned, here in the UK, and why I don't have an issue with it being banned.

It was recently announced on   that James Cullen Bressack's film HATE CRIME had been banned by the BBFC. Now, for those who aren't aware of it, HATE CRIME is one of Bressack's latest horror films. According to his IMDB page  here  he's been a busy man, directing, producing and writing plenty of films, since his first work back in 2004. And he's still exceedingly young - 23 years of age.

The film follows a bunch of Neo-Nazi thugs, as they break into a Jewish family's house, and rape, torture and murder them. The film is of the "found footage" variety, and lasts a measly 71 minutes.

The BBFC banned the film, with the full statement reading:
HATE CRIME focuses on the terrorisation, mutilation, physical and sexual abuse and murder of the members of a Jewish family by the Neo Nazi thugs who invade their home. The physical and sexual abuse and violence are accompanied by constant strong verbal racist abuse. Little context is provided for the violence beyond an on screen statement at the end of the film that the two attackers who escaped were subsequently apprehended and that the one surviving family member was released from captivity. We have considered the attempt at the end to position the film as against hate-crime, but find it so unconvincing that it only makes matters worse.

The BBFC's Guidelines on violence state that: "Any depiction of sadistic or sexual violence which is likely to pose a harm risk will be subject to intervention through classification, cuts or even, as a last resort, refusal to classify. We may refuse to classify content which makes sexual or sadistic violence look appealing or acceptable [...] or invites viewer complicity in sexual violence or other harmful violent activities. We are also unlikely to classify content which is so demeaning or degrading to human dignity (for example, it consists of strong abuse, torture or death without any significant mitigating factors) that it may pose a harm risk."

It is the Board's carefully considered conclusion that the unremitting manner in which HATE CRIME focuses on physical and sexual abuse, aggravated by racist invective, means that to issue a classification to this work, even if confined to adults, would be inconsistent with the Board's Guidelines, would risk potential harm, and would be unacceptable to broad public opinion.

Of course, the Board will always seek to deal with such concerns by means of cuts or other modifications when this is a feasible option.  However, under the heading of 'Refusal to classify' our Guidelines state that "As a last resort, the BBFC may refuse to classify a work, in line with the objective of preventing non-trivial harm risks to potential viewers and, through their behaviour, to society. We may do so, for example, where a central concept of the work is unacceptable, such as a sustained focus on sexual or sadistic violence. Before refusing classification we will consider whether the problems could be adequately addressed through intervention such as cuts." The Board considered whether its concerns could be dealt with through cuts. However, given that the fact that unacceptable content runs throughout the work, cuts are not a viable option in this case and the work is therefore refused a classification.
Clearly, the BBFC have issues with the films amoral content. The certification was for a VOD (or Video-On-Demand) version of the film, to be viewable via TheHorrorShow.TV's site, rather than a physical release to UK cinemas or for home viewing on DVD/Blu-Ray. Bressack originally said:
I am honoured to know that my mind is officially too twisted for the UK. So it goes… I find it unbelievable that a film that shows little to no on screen violence and no nudity was actually banned. it just shows the power of what is implied and peoples imagination; and is a testament to the fact that the same crimes that happen in the world are truly horrifying.
Now, the problem I have, is that the BBFC - and this may surprise some of you - don't actually want to ban things! It does them no favours to do so. When they do, they receive a lot of criticism, not only from the film-maker themselves and/or the studio releasing their work, but also from anti-censorship campaigners.

Normally, I do become interested in something that has been banned, and have written many times about such works. It's usually a sign of something interesting and worth my time seeking out - usually via an import DVD/Blu-Ray. HATE CRIME is out in the USA, on DVD, and has been legally available there, since 15th October 2013, via Unearthed Films: a company who have released many other controversial, and/or films that would be banned within the UK, such as Nacho Cerda's AFTERMATH (1994) or the brutal and nihilistic PHILOSOPHY OF A KNIFE (2009, Andrey Iskanov).

HATE CRIMES (Image has been edited, to conform to various
global laws, in which Swastika imagery is illegal to show!)

Since HATE CRIMES release, it has barely raised a murmur online, showing at a few film festivals around the globe, often to extremely mixed reviews - mostly negative. Online reviewers have been similarly torn between rating it "excellent", "thought-provoking" and "harrowing", to "badly-made", "gimmicky" and "wretched"!

So why am I writing about this film? Well, first of all, I need to state that I have not seen this film. As such, what I am about to say, is liable to end-up with me being labelled a hypocrite, and a clueless idiot. But, that's fine with me. No one can ever claim to be a perfect individual, and I am certainly no angel. I say what I feel, and I write what I mean.

For James Cullen Bressack, having his film banned, wouldn't have been an issue for me. However, what has caused me problems, is that a few days AFTER the film was banned in the UK, and he said how proud he was to have been banned, (why?), he then released this piece of ultra-defensive P.R.:
As a Jewish man, and a victim of anti -Semitic hate, I made a horror film that depicts the very thing that haunts my dreams. As an artist I wanted to tell a story to remind us that we live in a dangerous world; a world where racial violence is on the rise. It saddens me to learn that censorship is still alive and well. As a critic and journalist, you should at least see the film you are criticizing and do your research to learn that the filmmaker is Jewish. However I have to admit that I do appreciate the press.
I'm calling bullshit on this! He's clearly upset that his film can't now be legally viewed by UK viewers, which means he can't make money from this title. But to try and glibly claim what he does in the afore-mentioned piece of P.R., is hilarious.

So, let me get this straight: his film is banned for (presumably) being extremely violent and potentially anti-Semitic (under English Law, at least), but at the same time, the film contains nothing controversial that would warrant a ban, in his view, and - because he is Jewish himself - that that means his work is wholly defensible? Is that really how you want to go about things, Mr Bressack?

This reminds me of the very same defence that Srdjan Spasojevich tried when A SERBIAN FILM came out a few years back. As you will note in my blog post  here  he said that the infamous "baby-rape" sequence was a metaphor on the rape and murder of the Serbian people, by their Government. At the time, I didn't buy it, and neither did many others. Even those who quite liked the film, and stood up for its entire artistic existence. To my mind, this is exactly what Bressack has done. After the film's notoriety has gained attention, and been criticised, he is now desperately trying to do some major damage-control, and defend the indefensible: to justify why his work should be allowed to be seen by over-18's here in the UK. Claiming he is Jewish, means that automatically gives him the right to make a potentially anti-Semitic film, doesn't wash with me. Likewise, nor does it excuse the content that the BBFC have flagged-up as being unsuitable for classification.

Clearly, the film must contain some extremely contentious material, otherwise the BBFC would never have banned it, and/or the option of cuts would have been offered to the director. As that didn't happen, we can only conclude that the film must contain material that is potentially grossly inflammatory. If the BBFC can find a way to edit A SERBIAN FILM for an 18 rating, and we all know how extreme that film is in its cut and uncut versions, then HATE CRIME must presumably be far worse.

HATE CRIME has been compared to the 1977 film FIGHT FOR YOUR LIFE from director Robert A. Endelson. In that film, a bunch of redneck prisoners flee from their prison, and wall themselves up in a local Black Ministers home. There, they terrorise, degrade and torture the Ministers family.

If you've not seen that film, it's certainly a movie worthy of your time. The main difference between this and HATE CRIME however, is that in FIGHT FOR YOUR LIFE, the viewer is firmly put on the side of the victim, rather than the perpetrators. As such, at no time do you either sympathise with the aggressors, no matter how much venom and bile they spout about "niggers" and "coons"! Although the film was banned in the UK, back in 1983/84, and placed on the Video Nasties list, I suspect that if it were submitted today, that it would pass through uncut, with an 18 rating. Not because the film is especially violent, as it isn't, but purely for the racist language, which is extensive and potentially degrading. However, although the language is contextualised to a certain degree, it is still going to be seen as really inflammatory, and that is why I believe an 18 rating would be handed-out to it, rather than a more lenient 15 certificate.

HATE CRIME clearly doesn't side with the victims, and thus it can't use the same defence. According to some online reviews, there are scenes that feature the sexualised violence, from the eyes of the perpetrator, and you watch the scene unfold as if you were the aggressor, actively taking part in the torture. Much like a similar scene found in HENRY: PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL KILLER, when Henry and Otis rape and torture a family, in the infamous "home invasion" sequence. When that film came through the BBFC's doors, James Ferman the then chief censor, had real issues with this moment, and insisted on major cuts and alterations. (Full details of these cuts and alterations can be found at this 30-minute long video link  here  courtesy of Gavin Salkeld, which I should warn you all, is not suitable for under-18's, and isn't work-safe either!)

Now, stylistically, it may be seen as in interesting way to get under the skin of an audience member, just as happens in HENRY, but it will also - quite often - make the scene feel even more seditionary than you intended. And then, the power and impact of the scene, suddenly doubles or triples. That is why directors have to take great care when using this stylistic technique in films.

That said, such filmic techniques are nothing new. PEEPING TOM, the classic British chiller from 1960, had its killer use a camera on a tripod with a steel blade inserted into one of the tripod's legs, as a way to have an audience see the victim's suffering, to demonstrate that murder is often not quick, clean and painless. It too, was similarly controversial, and the film's notoriety permanently ended the career of its director, Michael Powell. So, this device is neither new or novel. And the recent upsurge in the "found footage" genre of horror films, stemming from films like THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT and CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST, have also rendered this once-innovative filmic device commonplace.

So, with the film now being banned here in the UK, what does this mean. Well, whilst many horror fans will now be eager to download or purchase this film, which is freely available from places like Amazon, I won't be one of them. I think the film is as crass and dumb as it appears to be! Just another excuse for a director with no talent, no creativity and no ability, to make some money by being infamous. Someone whom, once all the fanboys have stopped wetting themselves over this film's ban, will realise has produced a work with no purpose, point or relevance, other than being a grubby, repellent exploitation flick. In-and-of-itself, that's not a problem. But the problem the BBFC has, is that the justification for the extreme content, does not override the "entertainment" side of things. Namely, the film has been created to entertain first, rather than suggest or inform the audience that such on-screen-violence is contextual or has some moral fibre to it.

Ultimately, I know people will condemn me for my view - namely being a hypocrite for being okay with a film being banned, that I've not actually seen myself; and being a hypocrite for being okay with this film being banned, yet readily admitting to watching, owning and liking other, similar banned films (e.g. SNUFF 102, PHILOSOPHY OF A KNIFE, etc, etc), and that may all be true, but it's my viewpoint.

As I've got older, I've become less and less tolerant towards films that have no moral purpose whatsoever in them. I get fed-up with the horror genre as a whole being tarnished, by directors just coming-up with more and more excuses to show ever-more-extreme content, when there's no point for the violence in the first place, and no story. For every worthwhile work, that attempts to subvert the genre, there are a hundred others who just want to peddle ever-more brutal violence. I've not become desensitised to it. I'm just bored by it. There's only so many eye-gouging's, beheading's, blood-letting's, and amputations of all known bodily organs - both external and internal - I can stomach, before it all gets rather coma-inducing.

Don't get me wrong. I still like violence. I still like gore. There's nothing wrong with liking that stuff, or including it in your films, but for goodness sake, give me some kind of story, or point, if you want me to give you 60-120 minutes of my life, to viewing your work. Show me something innovative, rather than derivative. Give me a new take on a story or plot, not just a rehash of someone else's ideas. If, as a director, you think that showing excessive violence is the coolest thing possible, then clearly you are not as smart as you'd like to think you are.

And on that note, I will see you back here shortly.

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Arrow Fanboys Are Having A Laugh

Hello again,

You have to love the hypocrisy that drips from the fingers and mouth of Arrow's fans. It's unintentionally hilarious at times.

As readers of my blog will probably know, Arrow released David Cronenberg's SHIVERS on UK Blu-Ray last year, and after announcing it was going to be a new, HD presentation of the uncut version, what was released was in fact anything but uncut.

When fans of the film took to the Web, to complain and understandably vent their spleen, Arrow passed the blame onto TIFF (Toronto International Film Festival) who were the organisation behind the HD print. They blamed Cronenberg, and he stated that he had not seen the film in years, and that the new HD restoration looked amazing. What he didn't notice, was that the film was cut, in many scenes, to remove violence and gore.

As has happened before, Arrow said they would "investigate" the matter. This was back in October 2014. It's now March 2015, and Arrow have just made an "announcement" on their Facebook page. It reads...

We’ve receive a fair few queries about the progress of this. First up, we can only apologise that it is taking far longer than we originally anticipated. We were very much hoping the situation would be resolved by the New Year but sadly this was not the case. So, the good news is we will be running a replacement programme for this one so if you have purchased a copy of our release do keep hold of those proof of purchases! The bad news is, we don’t have an exact timeline for this and at present it does look like this will be a bit of a way off. Unfortunately we're in the hands of TIFF who have their own schedule and Shivers isn't a priority for them at present. We are doing all we can to apply pressure and try and speed things up but sadly there isn't too much we can do. We believe that they are scanning another element of equal quality to the restoration they initially performed so this is what we are waiting for. We could have cut in the SD elements we have - we have tested that and it looks fine - but knowing that higher quality work is underway, has made it very difficult to simply settle for SD inserts. If we'd know we'd all be waiting 5 months maybe we would have stuck with the SD option however we really want our Shivers release to be the best release possible and not simply a quick fix. As mentioned we are working hard to keep things moving and we really appreciate all of your patience and support whilst we try and reach a suitable solution. As soon as we have a concrete update on the situation we will widely publish this so do keep checking back!
This all sounds fairly decent, but as has been amply demonstrated by me, and others, they're still trying to pass the buck onto TIFF, and implying that it was their fault, rather than Arrow's.

Now, there are many comments added onto this Facebook post, but one that made me laugh out loud, was this one. I've removed their names, for privacy purposes. The censored swearing and spelling and grammar errors, are exactly how they appeared on Facebook...

ARROW FANBOY 1: Now this is customer service! Unlike 88 cut classics!

ARROW FANBOY 2: You mean 88 cu@t classics lol 88 cu@ts logic is "oh we screwed up a release" "Oh well let's just lie about it as we don't give a crap" great business there guys.

ARROW FANBOY 1: You put it better (name removed) haha!

I'm sorry, but if you're going to take the piss out of another label - 88 Films - who are a newcomer to the UK, and are doing some pretty good work, with some excellent and definitive Blu-Ray releases, then you might want to get your own house in order first. And, if you're going to take the piss, because 88 Films released a messed-up version of Full Moon Pictures TOURIST TRAP (which was the same faulty version that the USA got, from Full Moon Pictures, for their Blu-Ray), then do you really want me to repeat the list of all the films that Arrow have fucked-up over the years, and are a label who still continue to fuck things up, as the SHIVERS debacle continues to unfold?!

Pot. Kettle. Black. Anyone?!

Seriously, guys. If you want me to stop taking Arrow to task, for all of their gargantuan fuck-ups over the years, and in the same breath, you berate me for daring to keeping bringing these mistakes up, then you really ought to keep your own traps shut. Don't belittle another label, and then simultaneously try to claim another label that you support, is a paragon of fucking virtue. Otherwise people like me, will be on-hand to give you a gentle reminder, that things aren't as squeaky clean as you are claiming.

Yes, 88 Films have released the problematic TOURIST TRAP, and if you want to split-hairs, then this year's release of THE TOXIC AVENGER 3 - which was the cut, R-Rated version (as approved by director Lloyd Kaufman, rather than an inherent fault on the part of 88 Films) - could also be included as a mistake that should have been caught too. But, ultimately, that's two films, in less than two years of existance.

Arrow released triple that number of "mistakes" in their first couple of years, so be really careful about all the finger-pointing, or it might come back to bite you in the ass!

Saturday, 7 March 2015

Blu-Ray Review: [.REC]: APOCALYPSE

Welcome Back,

I trust you are all in good health, as we now slowly begin to leave the Winter months behind us and enter into Spring. Today, I am going to review the final film in one of the better, more intelligent horror franchises out there. I hope you enjoy it.

The [.REC] franchise was unleashed on the world, back in 2007, courtesy of Spanish directorial duo Jaume Balaguero and Paco Plaza. The sequel arrived in 2009, followed by a Prequel in 2012, and this year, we see the final segment.

The franchise follows a TV news reporter, Angela Vidal - played by Manuela Velasco - for her late-night investigative journalism show "While You're Sleeping", in which she focuses on employees who do jobs that run overnight, whilst the rest of the country is asleep. In the original [.REC] film, she arrives at a Fire Station, and goes on a job with a local firehouse crew, to a call to help a woman trapped in her apartment. Once at the house, they encounter the local Police breaking down the woman's apartment door, when she suddenly attacks one of the officers. Meanwhile, the disturbance disrupts other tenants in the block, and soon enough, things go haywire.

What was ground-breaking about the original franchise, was that it dealt with the world of reality TV, and the frequently abused "shaky-cam" tactic that had become abused by so many recent horror films, and put an innovative twist on it, adding into the mix another variation on the zombie/viral infestation genre. Unlike many similar films, the movie's running time, was a short-and-sweet 81 minutes.

After its original release, the film soon gained a much-deserved reputation of being an innovative twist on the "found-footage" genre, and soon became an international success, wherever it was released.

The sequel, continued straight-on from the end of the original flick, and shows what happens to Angela, once word gets out about the mysterious viral outbreak. In many ways, it is to [.REC] what ALIENS (1986, James Cameron) was to its predecessor: a more gung-ho, adrenaline-fuelled action-oriented horror that almost outdid the already phenomenal original.

When it was announced that two more films would be made, and the franchise rested with the release of Part 4, fans were relieved to hear that the franchise was not going to be dragged through the mud, and its reputation destroyed, with endless sequels, like so many other horror franchises have had done to them.

With Part 4 or [.REC]: APOCALYPSE as it is formerly known, the tale comes full-circle, and it's actually a pretty decent conclusion to the series. This UK, Region B Blu-Ray release came out on Monday 2nd March, and I had deliberately avoided reading-up on any previews about it, to make sure I didn't accidentally come across any information that might spoil my enjoyment.

The action starts with the GEO's (Grupo Especial de Operaciones - the Spanish equivalent of the Armed Guard or Homeland Security) from Part 2, desperately seeking to rescue Angela. As they plant bombs around the inside of the block, they are attacked by some of the infected tenants at the apartment block, causing the operation to fail. Guzman (Paco Manzanedo) manages to rescue Angela. We then jump to Angela waking-up on-board a boat, in the middle of the ocean, with medical tests being performed upon her, presumably to make sure she herself is not also infected. Accompanying her, the medical staff, and the crew of the boat, is her camera - which is in a pretty bad state. Thankfully, much of her footage is recoverable. Guzman notices an elderly woman wandering about the boat. She is asking everyone whether they've seen her daughter, or any of the wedding guests. Clearly, she is the only survivor from the third film, but is wholly unaware of what took place their.

She accompanies Guzman and Angela, and they meet the crew. They are told that Angela is "clean", but she soon discovers that she is not the only person on board the boat, being tested. In a closely-guarded medical centre, deep in the bowels of the boat, she leans that some of the infected blood is being tested, to create a vaccine. But the vaccine is still being tested on others - both human and animal - much to shock of the crew. It's not long before something goes hideously wrong, and Angela, Guzman and the rest of the boat are suddenly realising that things are about to get very crowded in here!

At 96 minutes, this is the longest of the films, but it's surprisingly good. Despite the title, and the original intention, there is no true Apocalyptic event of any kind. Balaguero has gone on record, stating that due to the low-budget nature of all four [.REC] films - roughly 1.5 Million Euros for the first and 5.6 Million for the second, with Parts 3 and 4 being made for not much more each - undertaking a complete, national or global crisis with thousands of infected people would have been impossible to do, without resorting to poorly-created CGI (something I wrote about in my review of DEAD SNOW 2 - which can be read   here  if you wish.) or utilising thousands of extras and a lot of special effects. So, it was decided that this final film would only use the themes of an "apocalypse" in the broadest sense of the term.

To be fair, that is fine with me. Of course it would have been amazing, to see what might have happened, had the virus infected most of Spain, or possibly, the rest of the world's population, but I think the resulting film would have been significantly weaker for it. As it stands, this final part of the franchise, retains the gutsy claustrophobia of the original, whilst including just enough action to keep it from getting boring.

The first death, doesn't occur until about 33 minutes into the film, but trust me. It's a really gruelling sequence, when you see what happens, and to whom! So be prepared!

For the most part, the film zips along, at a pretty punchy pace! Whilst I would have liked a little more gore and grue, as per the first three films, Part 4 still delivers a couple of nasty deaths, that will be appreciated by horror fans, but you will be left wanting a few more. In many ways, the film is a little too restrained with the gore. Whether that's due to budgetary reasons, or lack of time, I don't know, but this is not the darkest or nastiest part of the series.

That said, the one thing you will note, is how reminiscent and unintentionally similar it is to the afore-mentioned ALIENS. I won't say the film plagiarises it, but there are a lot of moments that come mightily close to being so similar, that you wonder if Balaguero wasn't heavily influenced by it, to the point of plagiarism. Those of you who have seen [.REC]: APOCALYPSE, will know what I mean. Those of you who will see it, will soon spot the similarities in the final 20 minutes or so.

It's not a bad thing to be similar to another film. However, you do feel that the similarities are bordering so close, that you will be left with a nagging feeling, that the ending is too similar.

This is a shame, because the film wraps-up most of the franchise's plot-lines quite well. It's a solid film. Not a breakout hit, by any means, and you may not rewatch it for many years, but it is a solid genre hit. Not brilliant, but by no means is it a wasted purchase/rental.

If you enjoyed the first two, then you will enjoy this final part. Stay-tuned through the early parts of the end-credits, as the film includes a small coda, that hints at something more. It's not a flawed way to end the film, but it gives the creators' the potential chance to return to this franchise once more, at some point in the future, if they should wish too. As much as a [.REC] 5 would be fun, I really do believe, it would be better to leave [.REC]: APOCALYPSE be the end of it!

The UK Blu-Ray contains just one extra: a 30-minute "Making Of", which is fun, but I would have liked to have heard more from the directors, and Manuela Velasco herself, about working on this franchise, and their own views on what they liked (or disliked) about the final film. The picture quality is, much like the film itself: solid, stable, dependable, without ever being anything more than that. There are two soundtrack choices: Spanish DTS 5.1 HD Master Audio, or Spanish Dolby Digital Stereo HD Master Audio, both of which do a good job, though there's nothing here that's going to make you go "wow" during your viewing. The accompanying English subtitles are removeable, if you wish to see the film purely in Spanish, but being in white, during the early parts of the film, they can occasionally be harder to read. This is because the film has quite a bleached, almost monochrome look to it in the first half. So white subtitles on a white/grey-white image, means the viewer occasionally strains to read them. There was only one noticeable error, in the subtitles I noted, but nothing that should harm your enjoyment in any significant factor.

Overall, this is an enjoyable horror film, and a fun and entertaining end to the series. It's by no means the best of the series, or even the best way to end it, but it shouldn't give most fans too much to complain about. Recommended.