SWEETS FOR THE SWEET

Ed Cooper

Talking Pictures alias talkingpix.co.uk

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"Things change" grunts Batman and he's only half wrong . The answer, my friend, is blowing in the ill wind that has lingered long enough to become the stagnant stench of recessional safety. Sequilitis, derivitis, inanititus, all festering sores of stubborn stain bankability, hi-concept lo-art, lo-concept, lo-art - yes, they're all here and drag the movies to prove it in their wake. Oh that this was a funeral. 

If one transgresses the stink then it is actually pleasantly surprising to find that despite the all-present-and- correct formulae, the annual offerings hold almost redeemable jollities. If one lowers one's anticipation enough then it might even appear that ideas are in vogue again. Unfortunately there is always one exception which allows for audiences to be a tad more flexible in their cranial capacities: 

Candyman is based upon the book by Clive Cashtill Barker. It has Bernard Rose at the helm, who launched the promising-if-not-desperately-unusual Paperhouse. It also has a monumentally cathedralic sound track by Philip Glass. These are the good things about Candyman and what a marvellous British movie it might have made. However, purely because it would have been British it also would not have been made. Enter Hollywood's sheep dip of blandness that coats it right down to the setting which only the most wily will perceive is not Liverpool. Others may notice that it has little to do with Mr Barker's babyburn bonanza but drowns to a damp squib in a sea of sentimental bullshit where any ending can only make it better. Er, until you see this one. 

Mr Glass's score is hardly complemented with visuals which is unforgivable when considering Bernard Rose's televisually sound commercial background. And again, like Paperhouse, this displays Rose's affection (despite his hollow protestations of Kruegeric ignorance) for regurgitating movies as classic and old hat as the battered Fedora itself... 

The not so grim reapings of Candyman Stateside indicates the starvation of audiences for a decent scare and perhaps a new anti-hero with whom to relish in death and cherish for life. But despite Candyman's interesting background, he is not interesting enough in himself to commit to memory. The hook in his hand stump isn't trifle-curdlingly original - if not downright dull - and the sudden introduction of the bees that once stung him to death is clumsy. Say his name five times in a mirror and he'll appear behind you? I think not. "Candyman" is just a buzzword for Hollywood's vanity. 

Hellraiser III: Hell On Earth is a far more successful movie in having less pretensions to horror movie conventions. Discarding any kind of coherence it blazes on disregarding its status as a sequel, and is all the better for it. The attitude here, absent in Candyman, is of complete flippancy for the genre's flights of fancy. "Demons are parables, metaphors" says a pompous priest to our heroine. "Then what the f*** is that?" she screams pointing at the church-busting appearance of Pinhead. Pinhead, of course, is the showman, the ringmaster, the linkman who holds the movie together. He is the guy who provides the connection with the first two films and the reason that People Will Come. This is very much in evidence for the preliminary half hour in which Pinhead is restricted somewhat, encased in the Pillar of Souls. There is no specific motivation for this or why Anthony Hickox is happy to leave these scenes debatelessly obvious as Doug Bradley sticking his head through a block of foam. 

There are no good or bad characters here - if one should find any at all - just as the supposedly blurred delineation between pleasure and pain. Actually, it's all rather muddled and one would have thought that when the Cenobites are having a bad time then they should perhaps enjoy it. But there again, and as Pinhead remarks in one of Barker's usual home-spun half-baked pat-a-cake contrivances: "Hell has its commandments too, ..you know. " Bra-vo . 

Protagonist-wise, some effort has been made to be sex-o- sound but masculinity is still maintained as the Way To Go. Our two identifiable women have had their names castrated to Joey and Terry because they simply haven't got over their penis envy and want to keep up with the big boys. Pinhead, however noble in his intentions, condescends to Terry with his abrasively delivered "Hell hath no fury for a woman scorned". No points for trying. 

But the wonderful thing about Hell On Earth is its refreshing boardroom decision to refrain from explaining anything: puzzle as Joey finds and removes an old radio playing in her wardrobe at night; wonder as she shrinks from causeless explosions and snaking livewires in the street. The sound track that crashes alongside is as exaggerated and illogically placed as the characters who have some terrific lines (' I'm a kitchen virgin" says tarty Terry on burning the toast) and there is moronic logic to make even Lassie turn in her chow mein. But there's little time to worry about rationality as Hickox wrestles this hellish fury in the rough direction of a curious Field Of Dreams-cum-Dario Argento finale. 

Frightful or fright-filled, Hellraiser III is either complete crap or a work of surreal competence. It is most probably the former but it at least shows some passion for filmmaking and enough energy and bare-faced cheek to give its audience a good time. 

Hell On Earth also manages to turn in one of the most diverting scenes of the trilogy in which a nightclub of thrashing punks (very Bucks Fizz, very leather stage) are systematically turned into either corpses or Cenobites. Thus it's out with the old (Butterball, Chatterer, Female Cenobite) and in with the new (Camerahead, CD, Cocktail, Barbie). The job description has also changed and there's no just standing around looking pretty anymore. They're out to kill, no doubt about it, and woe to any fluffy puppies that may get in their way. 

The nightclub scene is a protracted and vaguely gory interlude with a certain outrageousness in its hardcore relentlessness. Perhaps if the scene was lengthened to a hour and a half then one might come up with something a tad like Peter Jackson's Brain Dead. Never a director to choose his titles frivolously, Bad Taste was just that and Meet The Feebles was an introduction not to be messed with. And now comes the mind-bludgeoning experience of a lifetime. 

Brain Dead begins with an amputation scene that might provide the peak of excess in your two-a-penny run-of-the-mill middle-of-the-road ten-turnips-to-the-pond twice-on-Sundays and more-is-more exploitation movie. Beyond these boundaries is Jackson's ability to portray precisely what is on his mind and expose its icky hideousness. Any dialogue is defiantly superfluous to what is seen despite an occasional addition to the fun: "That's my mother you're pissing on" is the level we're talking about here., There again, there are no words that can properly describe the frustration in feeding fast-exiting porridge to a half-decapitated nurse. The only solution, needless to say, is to flip her head back and spoon it directly into the stump of her neck. 

And as an antidote to the climactic come-down of Candyman, just when things could not possibly get bloodier or more grotesque, Jackson pulls his trumpcard and lets loose Lionel - man of the moment - and his Flymo onto a roomful of listless and lusty zombies. "They're not dead exactly. They're sorta rotting" says Lionel which goes some way to explain their ease in changing from being to offal. 

Peter Jackson is the direct directorial antipodean antithesis of Sam Raimi. Just as Jackson has exceeded his excess with each movie, so Raimi has mellowed. The original Evil Dead inspired the video nasty generation and Jackson is still paying the price in blood. He shows gutted intestines looking disdainfully in a mirror with respect to the new life that Ash's hand found in severance in Evil Dead II. But whereas the inheritor is gaining status as goremeister by cultivating his violence, Raimi is strimming his rep to let his initial interest in Three Stooges-type slapstick grow through. Funnily enough, Evil Dead remains a movie that is either hilarious or horrendous depending upon the company and mood of the spectator. Its sequel played up the fact that that was exactly what it was - if not a chance to remake the first on a higher budget at the expense of Hollywood. 

Evil Dead II: Dead By Dawn was a sensitively pummelling parody of its predecessor with moose-on-the-loose humour. And now Army Of Darkness: The Mediaeval Dead arrives, a victim of de Laurentis production dealings as much as its precedents' notorious ratings wars. In disputedly, Army Of Darkness will have no such problems. Gore is ignored and eschewed for a humour broader and more dogged than either Crimewave or Darkman. As with all movies that are rooted in comedy, this second sequel is so fundamentally trivial that if it had not been made by the same director then one would assume it to be some shallow pastiche of parts one and two. 

So. As a compromise and a sell-out, Army Of Darkness is highly qualified: the blood sacrifice, the comedic quotient, the prospective Summer release, the potentially teen-embracing certificate and, significantly, the lack of sequel acknowledgement in the title. And this is where the movie shoots itself in the foot (no bodily dismemberment, if you please) for the humour relies totally upon having seen the first two parts. "It's a trick. Get an axe" commands Ash knowingly as a zombie "she-bitch" plays dead. There's also another traumatic confrontation with a mirror for Ash that outclasses all his previous encounters. 

Still - and for the uninformed - Army Of Darkness opens with a brief recap of the basic Book of the Dead legend and gives Bridget Fonda her most challenging role yet (how to be recognised in one second of screen time). By an extraordinary twist of fate Ash is now not a Deadite-slaying god but a slave ."He don’t look so clever now" smirks a peasant as Ash is cast into a Deadite pit. 

Our hero was never intellectually propelled and this second sequel sees his evolution as well as his entity go back in time. 'Primates" he scoffs over the plebeians but Ash is the Dudley Do Right of Neanderthal man. "Are all men from the future loudmouth braggards?" asks the inquisitive love-interest Sheila. “Just me, baby" cocksures Ash.

Ash is no more than a two-dimensional cartoon and, as such, harmonises full-throttle with his surroundings. Trademark Warner Brothers' sound FX accompany the skeletal hands that claw for him and a Danny Elfman score (now synonymous with the seriously comic capers of Batman and, to a far lesser extent, Darkman) flushes against Raimi's lush gothic mattes. Likewise, Ash's bloody self-amputation of Dead By Dawn now becomes goreless bodystretching in a couple of Hans Barbaric gags. And when the gags come they're good. 

The second half of Army Of Darkness puts away such childish japes to allow for the Deadite battle to commence. A piece d'homage d'Harryhausen, this is merely an excuse for Introvision skeletons to do what they do best: play skulls as bongos, fall apart and generally be all rather quaintly amusing. Raimi milks it for sure and original talk of cutting it for time seems to have gone the way of the Deadite. 

With a devastatingly black ending nabbed from Roddy McDowall's finest cinematic hour, Army Of Darkness holds the most mindless and britch-rupturingly sensational diversion for 1993. Sadly, these may provide big thrills but there are certainly no chills for the foreseeable future with Bram Stoker's Dracula resorting to unsophisticated and costly elementaries to put the whole genre at stake. 

Candyman has been hailed by Gorezone in its oozingly glossy classlessness as the scariest film since The Silence Of The Lambs, the measure by which Scorsese's Cape Fear was also inched up on the shriekometer. What is mildly disconcerting for the horror genre as a whole is that both these worthy hypebusters are still stamped as 'thrillers'. Perhaps if they didn't have their Names and their budgets and their success and their goddam peachy reputations then they might be regarded rightfully as horror movies. And then if they were regarded as such then perhaps there might be a little respect for the genre to be able to wipe its cliche-clinging arse, and move right on out of this particularly airless toilet and give us something to scream about.
 
 
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