#165 – Beast In London’s Fog, The

(1971, It/GB, 90 min) Dir Sergio Patrino. Cast William Berger, Catherine Bess, Helmut Messerschmitt.

Here comes Sergio Patrino, getting his Victorian London gore on like an Italian Hammer Horror. The fog-thick streets of the city are being stalked by once more by a knife wielding killer, bringing up uncomfortable memories for Detective Alan Brindling (Berger) who was hot on the trail of the Ripper a mere five years previously. On the prowl for the murderer he sees, through the fog, no man but a green-skinned, knife fingered beast. He passes out and when revived is believed by none. So be it – he’s on his own, one man against a foul creature that lurks beneath the streets themselves, the labyrinthine sewers it’s home. Logic? Plausibility? Forget about it – The Beast in London’s Fog has atmosphere to spare, hysterical acting without equal and an ending that’ll make you soil yourself one way or the other.

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#164 – Ice Pick Phillips

(2000, GB, 108 min) Dir Harry Denton. Cast Alan Barking, Jason Flemyng, Vera Day, Keith Chegwin.

On the back of Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels there came a slew of gangster films from the British film industry and, as with any opportunistic glut, there were the occasional examples where advantage was taken of the gold rush and quality work was produced – Sexy Beast for one, Croupier for another. These few films however, represented a very small amount of the overall whole, the remaining dreck best typified by Ice Pick Phillips. We’ve got a minor actor acting the hard man (Alan Barking, best known as Ian Bleat in TV soap Waterhigh), a Lock, Stock alum (Jason Flemyng) and an egregious example of stunt casting (Keith Chegwin getting tortured to death for an unpaid debt) – all the ingredients for a paper-thin nth generation copy of something that was barely liked in the first place. It’s the true story of the titular man, a mob enforcer for the Dubbin’s gang in the Seventies who earned his name for the expected reason. The film is firmly on Phillip’s side, taking a gleeful relish in the objects of his tortures and making sad face at his eventual downfall and incarceration like it was some kind of injustice. Mandela he ain’t, needless to say. I would have been bored if my blood hadn’t been boiling at this vile little flick.

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#163 – Dent

(1987, GB, 105 min) Dir Malcolm Mowbray. Cast Michael Palin, Shirley Stelfox, Michael Elphick.

Simon Dent had always been an accountant, taking the same bus to the same firm for thirty years until the day he was called into the Managing Director’s office. “We’re downsizing, as the Americans call it,” the MD says and with that Simon’s life to that point is changed. On the way home, distracted by his grief, he hits a car that has pulled out in front of him, hitting his head on the steering wheel. Now everything’s different, suddenly losing his job is the best thing that’s happened to him – now he can grab life by the horns and ride it off a cliff no matter what his wife Doris says! Dent is a bit like if you crossed Falling Down with Reggie Perrin, the suppressed rage at the indignities of the modern world subsumed by a more childlike joie de vivre. The most important part of the film is that by the end, no matter what he tries to plug the absence in his life with, he remains unhappy, missing something. “I didn’t just have a job and a routine,” he says, “What I had was dignity.” A forced and pretty twee film but one featuring a fine, heartbreaking performance from Palin.

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#162 – Chaînes Invisibles, Les (Invisible Chains, The)

(1978, Fr, 102 min) Dir Alain Andere. Cast Raymond Polac, Jean Rochefort, Catherine du Mai.

Anton Phillipe St. Jude Dominique La Tasse wakes in an exquisite room in a gold-leafed Baroque style that is unfamiliar to him. From the window he can see that the house it is part of is sited in a vast estate in the countryside. Curious, he rings the room’s bell and soon enough a valet appears. “What am I doing here?” he asks, scaring the valet off to summon the master of the house, one M. Vilper. “What do you last remember?” this man asks, puffing sanguinely on his pipe and studying the clouds that drift from it. Anton thinks. “It was night. A masked tribunal by candlelight. I was to be sentenced.” M. Vilper nods. “But this is no prison,” protests Anton. M. Vilper laughs and excuses himself. Anton investigates, meets his few fellow inmates and walks to what he thinks might be the extent of the grounds… but goes no further. The resulting ‘action’ are a series of philosophical debates between Anton, M. Vilper and the rest of the inmates about the nature of imprisonment, about freedom, about liberty. At the end of the film Anton’s time has been served and he returns to Paris and his life as it once was. Despite this, as his goes about his day-to-day life, he is never sure whether this is not simply a larger prison and whether he can still feel the weight about him of the invisible chains of freedom.

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#161 – Operation Oracle

(1989, US, 105 min) Dir Hector Malevich. Cast Roddy Piper, Malcolm McDowell, Rae Dawn Chong.

In a part of Iran that looks suspiciously like Arizona a Navy SEAL team headed by “crack infiltrator” Cole Baskins (Piper) lands under cover of night. Their target – the top secret lab where Dr Rodney Deems (McDowell) is believed to be working on a super weapon for the Ayatollah that could wipe out the United States. The nature of the weapon is unknown but the threat is very real. The raid goes awry, an Iranian Army brigade waiting for them – obviously a tip-off. Baskins makes it out and recuperates thanks to the kindness of some passing Bedouin, falling for one of their kind in the shape of Fallah (Chong). Once he’s fit enough he can return, defeat his enemy and root out the mole that has infiltrated his team and it will be a battle to remember. Only then will the nature of the super weapon be revealed… Knuckleheaded doesn’t really cut it – the script is beyond laughable, the cast uniformly bored and the casting of obviously not Middle Eastern Rae Dawn Chong is questionable at best. The whole thing plays out like a child’s retelling of a Rambo marathon without the enthusiasm or geopolitical nuance. How Malevich, once one of the titans of Soviet cinema, came to this is beyond me.

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#160 – Kuyruk, Bir (Tail, A)

(2011, Tur, 99 min) Dir Ahmet Şen. Cast Nuri Kesal, Yılmaz Erdoğan, Cansu Demirci.

A whimsical, surreal little film in which everyone in the world wakes up one morning to find that overnight they have grown the tails of  animals – some have big green lizard’s tails, some have brightly feathered birds tails, some have twitching cat tails and some have a prehensile primate tail (which seems to be the least problematic and most useful of them all). The problem is that this kicks off a vast restructuring of the existing social norms – for example the President, who woke that day with a giant squirrel’s tail, is ousted from government by a cadre of monkey tails within his own party. All of this is seen from the perspective of young Nuri whose mother, a seamstress, is making a lot of money in the crisis from altering trousers. Previously a small fish in his school he has found his stock rising mightily now that he is in possession of a ferocious looking and potentially deadly scorpion’s tail. Of course if we learned anything from Spider-Man it’s the whole great power/greater responsibility thing and it’s the relationship between these two that guides Nuri’s story. A well-played, beautifully shot little film with surprisingly good practical effects for the tails, it’s only downfall is that it’s a little obvious in its allegorical intent. It was well received when it premiered in Sundance a couple of years ago but a wide release seems sadly unlikely by now. Worth tracking down.

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#159 – Back Again To Be Bad

(2012, GB, 100 min) Dir Christopher Smith. Cast Reece Shearsmith, Peter Serafinowicz, Alexi Sayle, Julie Andrews.

Supernatural comedy. The Grand Order of the Everlasting Night had a foul plan – they were going to raise from the dead the most nefarious, bloodthirsty tyrants that history has to offer to wreck the most profound and unimaginable havoc on earth. From the four corners of the earth they summon Hitler, Stalin, Genghis Khan, Elizabeth Báthory and, by accident, Jim Morrison. The trouble is they have no idea what to do with them now that they have them, all five seemingly unable to raise dread armies at the drop of a hat and also a bit depressed at being reanimated. The solution? Bung them all in a remote Scottish cottage for the time being while a Plan B is hashed out. So Stalin and Hitler are continually fighting over the bedrooms, Genghis is making all sorts of odd smells in the kitchen, Báthory’s taking forever in the bathroom and Morrison refuses to tidy up. An equilibrium has yet to be reached when there is a knock at the door. It’s only Churchill, Gandhi, Mother Theresa, a not dead Julie Andrews and, by accident, the Big Bopper and they’re there to sort out the tyrants once and for all. Cheap, slapdash and hilarious with a very unexpected good sport cameo from Andrews.

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