Thursday, 16 February 2012


Steve Balshaw considers our Arthouse doublebill screening on the 23rd February.

Whenever I am asked what I look for in a film, my answer is always the same: Something I haven’t seen before. The problem is, increasingly, I’ve seen it all before - the perennial hazard of the Film Programmer’s profession. Of course, when it comes to horror films, half the fun, sometimes, can be the way in which certain expectations are set up, exploited, toyed with, and either fulfilled or deconstructed. The horror film audience is a very knowing audience, and filmmakers play up to this.

But still, sometimes, it is nice to see a film that takes familiar elements and well-worn tropes and twists them into new shapes, taking the viewer somewhere unexpected in the process. So it is with our latest double bill of slightly off-centre shockers.

First up, A HORRIBLE WAY TO DIE offers a startlingly low-key, mumblecore-influenced take on the serial killer film, that plays like a cross between HENRY PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL KILLER and ALICE DOESN’T LIVE HERE ANY MORE. The wife of a former serial killer tries to rebuild her life in a new town. Meantime, her ex-husband escapes from prison and cuts a bloody swathe across the country as he journeys to find her. The film has the understated, icy precision of Lodge Kerrigan’s nightmarish CLEAN, SHAVEN, unshowy naturalistic performances and dialogue, and a shooting style - handheld, lots of focus pulling and lens flare - reminiscent of classic early 70s films such as TWO LANE BLACKTOP. The film’s depictions of quiet desperation and desperate violence build towards an inevitable, possibly controversial final twist, which takes the film finally into more familiar horror territory, but in a cruelly ironic manner.

Then there’s AMER, which was a big hit at Grimm Up North back in 2010, and one of my own favourites from that year. This is the first full-length feature by Bruno Forzani and Helene Cattet, whose work Ive loved since their astonishing early short THE YELLOW ROOM back in the early 2000s. Cattet and Forzani specialise in boiling down all of the more fetishistic tropes and stylistic ticks of Italian giallo slasher movies into sexually charged, tense, S&M-tinged mood pieces. Really visually rich and beautiful, often using stills rather than moving images. And very unsettling. AMER takes this approach even further. 

Chronicling three stages of a woman's life, from childhood fear, to burgeoning, dangerous teenage sexuality, to memory-haunted, terrified adulthood, it is steeped in cinematic reference; starting off in Bava / Argento psychedelic gothic territory, then veering off into the kind of charged, voyeuristic Mediterranean-based eroticism of Jesus Franco. It‘s visually gorgeous, and has its own wonderful, woozy, dreamlike logic; not so much a narrative film as an exercise in cinematic reference and mood. Anyone who has any love whatsoever of 1970s European exploitation cinema should be totally entranced. 

In short, then, a double bill that toys with expectations, delivering those familiar frissons of fear in unfamiliar patterns. Film buffs, fright fans, and seekers of the strange should join us for the show. Steve Balshaw

Wednesday, 8 February 2012


Steve Balshaw takes a look at Shogun Assassin.
Ah, the 80s… What an ugly time it was: Horrible politics, horrible music, horrible clothes, horrible haircuts, and horrible movies. Everything was backcombed, hairsprayed, box-jacketed, skinny-tied, patent-leathered, overproduced, overlit, garish, loud, greedy, and right wing. In the USA, Bret Easton Ellis smirked thinly at what he saw around him and nailed it cold, but the best we could manage in the UK was the laboured, snotty public schoolboy satire of Martin Amis. It is an era about which nostalgia should be all but impossible, and yet…

And yet for a brief period of time, on VHS, it was a time of Anything Goes. A golden era, when the BBFC had no jurisdiction over what was being released onto video for domestic rental. It was the era of… The Video Nasty, when fly-by-night companies with the ethics of grave robbers and the publicity instincts of pornographers unleashed whatever the god-damn hell they could get their sweaty hands on before the bleary, bloodshot eyes of an appalled public: American exploiters from the Drive-in and Grindhouse circuits; mean-spirited semi-underground slashers, dripping with angst and misanthropy; gory Italian gialli, zombie and cannibal films galore, mad-eyed martial arts massacres and sleazy Shogunate savagery from the East.

It was into this grainy, garish, still-unregulated straight-to-video world that SHOGUN ASSASSIN first  slashed its way into the British consciousness. I first saw it, or rather some of the bloodier highlights, playing on a continual loop in a long-since shut down night club in the centre of Manchester. It was the kind of film that the clubbers would stand around watching, cheering on the katana-wrought carnage. By the time I found out what the film was, it had been banned, and the video recordings act had come into being, ruining everything for everybody.

Fast-forward a few years. What I didn’t know at the time was that SHOGUN ASSASSIN was itself a kind of “edited highlight”; dubbed into English by a voice cast including, somewhat improbably, Sandra Bernhardt, and pieced together from SWORD OF VENGEANCE and BABY CART AT THE RIVER STYX the first two films in a six-film sequence derived from the legendary, long-running Japanese Manga comic strip LONE WOLF AND CUB, by writer Kazuo Koike and artist Goseki Kojima. The films were hugely successful in Japan, just as the original manga had been.

In the West, however, the films’ popularity was largely limited to the straight-to-video grind house fans, and would find themselves endlessly referenced by the Quentin Tarantinos of this world. Ironically, it was Koike and Kojima’s original manga that would have the wider impact. Championed in America by Frank Miller, whose own art was heavily influenced by Kojima’s deft, impressionistic brushwork, it was acknowledged by Max Allan Collins as the primary influence on his and Richard Piers Rayner’s now-classic graphic novel ROAD TO PERDITION, the basis of the critically-acclaimed Sam Mendes film, starring Tom Hanks. Strangely, Besson's LEON also springs to mind!?

Grimm Up North offers a unique chance to see the much-loved video nasty SHOGUN ASSASSIN, alongside the third film in the Lone Wolf sequence, BABY CART TO HADES. And while you are watching this brace of blood-splattered bushido blockbusters, just remember - the American remake of this film won an Oscar. Both films screen on the evening of Feb 17th in MCR. for more info.