Tag Archives: British

RetView #25 – 28 Days Later (2002)

Title: 28 Days Later

Year of Release: 2002

Director: Danny Boyle

Length: 113 mins

Starring: Cillian Murphy, Naomie Harris, Christopher Eccleston, Noah Huntley

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Few post-millennium horror movies have generated as much debate and column inches as 28 Days Later. Based on the novel by Alex ‘The Beach’ Garland, it is often credited with kick-starting an ailing zombie genre as well as breathing life into a British film industry which had become saturated with warm, fuzzy Love Actually cash-ins. In 2007, Stylus magazine voted it the second best zombie movie of all time (after Dawn of the Dead) while a poll in Time Out magazine a decade later ranked it the 97th best British movie of all time. Director Danny Boyle has been involved in some of the most iconic British movies in history. His career started in earnest with cult classic Shallow Grave in 1994. He then directed Trainspotting, A Life Less Ordinary and The Beach, before slotting 28 Days Later on his cv. Afterwards, he went on to produce the sequel, 28 Weeks Later, as well as direct Slumdog Millionaire, 127 Hours, and the acclaimed biopic, Steve Jobs. He won widespread acclaim for making the zombies in 28 Days Later ‘fast,’ as opposed to the kind of shambling oddities popularized by George A Romero’s genre-defining zombie films, which proved all the more terrifying.

The film opens with archival footage of riots, chaos and atrocities, setting the tone nicely for what follows. The main story arc begins in earnest when a group of animal rights activists break into a research facility to free some chimpanzees. However, unbeknownst to them, the chimpanzees aren’t cute and cuddly any more. Far from it. They’ve been infected with a rage-inducing virus, and once freed they waste no time setting about the activists who then go on to infect everyone else. 28 Days later (geddit?) injured bicycle courier Jim (Murphy, allegedly third choice for the role behind Ewan McGregor and Ryan Gosling) awakes from a coma in a hospital to find it deserted. Walking out into London, he finds much the same state of affairs. The streets are empty, cars and shops have been abandoned, and there are no people. Anywhere. He finds a newspaper telling of an evacuation, stumbles across a church where a mass suicide seems to have taken place, and is then attacked by a priest, who he whacks upside the head with a carrier bag full of Pepsi cans, all of which must be very unsettling for the poor guy. He eventually runs into a pair of survivors (Harris and Huntley) who tell him of an outbreak which has led to a nationwide, and possible worldwide societal collapse. After a miss-hap during which one of the trio is killed, the others hook up with a taxi driver and his daughter and they decamp for Manchester, where they hope to find the, ‘answer to infection.’ They are eventually taken to a fortified compound by a group of soldiers, where the ‘answer to infection’ isn’t what they thought it was. Instead of salvation, they are faced with oblivion.

The last half an hour or so offers a bleak yet well-observed and perfectly plausible assessment of what life might actually be like if (or when) the apocalypse comes and people regress to ‘kill or be killed’ mode. It’s interesting to note that fellow survivors pose more of a threat than the undead, this theory being at the very core of survivalism. Boyle ingeniously inserts flashes of the narrative from The Beach here, in that the focus is on a fractious group struggling to establish an alternative society under constant threat of attack, whether it be from outsiders, sharks, armed drug dealers, or these ‘fast’ zombies.

28 Days Later is famed for its depiction of post-apocalyptic London, which was achieved largely by filming early on Sunday mornings and shutting off sections of the city for short periods to minimize disruption. The ending is a hastily re-hashed alternative. The original, which hinged on the death of a major character, was deemed by test audiences to be too bleak. It’s an apocalyptic horror film for crying out loud. It is, however, one of several available as bonus content on some DVD and Blu-ray releases.

Trivia Corner:

The Millennium Stadium in Cardiff, Wales, doubled for the interior of Wembley Stadium because at the time of filming, the ‘new’ Wembley was still under construction. Visual effects were used to turn the seats the right colour.

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RetView #7 – Severance

Title: Severance

Year of Release: 2006

Director: Christopher Smith

Length: 95 mins

Starring: Danny Dyer, Laura Harris, Tim McInnerny, Toby Stephens

To non-British readers this might be one of the more obscure entries in the ongoing RetView series, but its inclusion is entirely justified. Severance mixes humour, bravado, and some of the most brutal body horror this side of the Saw franchise to great effect, making it one of the stand-out Brit Horror films of the past two decades. It’s actually a British/German/Hungarian collaboration, but is quintessentially mainly due to the casting. Danny Dyer, perhaps best known for roles in Human Traffic, the Football Factory, The Business and, er, Eastenders, is a bit like Marmite. You either love him or hate him. Me, I think he’s a fackin’ legend. By his own admission, he’s banged out more than a few stinkers in his time. But as he says, he has to get paid somehow. He isn’t perfect, and has suffered from typecasting in the past, but he’s a criminally underrated actor. Severance, while probably being the best of his horror films, isn’t the only one. He also starred in Devil’s Playground, Basement, Dead Cert and Doghouse, none of which were quite as well received as this often-overlooked little gem.

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The plot revolves around a group of office staff from a weapon manufacturing company who are sent to Hungary on a team building exercise. As you would find in any office, there is an eclectic and varied cast of characters, all living up to certain long-held stereotypes. True to form, Danny Dyer plays everyman Steve, in a kind of reprisal of his role in Human Traffic (1999) who sees the weekend getaway as the perfect opportunity to get off his tits. He’s munching magic mushrooms and puffing on a spliff in the coach toilet before they even arrive (“Have I pissed meself?”). A spanner is thrown into the works when they find their route blocked and their driver fucks off with the bus, leaving the team meandering through a remote bear-infested forest. When they finally find the lodge they are supposed to be staying at, which offers very little in the way of home comforts, they discover it may or may not have been a lunatic asylum for war criminals and the ‘welcome pie’ has a human tooth in it. Then follows a wince-inducing scene with Gordon (Andy Nyman) and a bear trap, which is made all the more harrowing by the use of an actual amputee as a stunt double, and just when they think things can’t get any worse, the hapless office team start falling one-by-one to a progressively brutal spate of vicious attacks. But who is doing the attacking? And why? Surely those stories can’t be true…

If it hadn’t been for the presence of Dyer who positively excels, Tim McInnerny (perhaps best loved for his roles in Blackadder) would have stolen the show as insufferable jobsworth manager Richard. Shades of David Brent in The Office here (“I can’t spell ‘success’ without ‘u’). In fact, Severance is a kind of mash-up between that and Hostel. The humour is as black as you can imagine, and the gore comes by the bucket load. The ingenious tagline ‘Another bloody office outing’ sums things up pretty well. Suffice to say, not many of the office workers show up for work the following Monday.

Written and directed by Christopher Smith (Creep, Triangle, Black Death) and filmed largely on location in Hungary, Severance was met with generally favourable reviews across the board. Except high-brow whingers the Guardian where Peter Bradshaw gave it only two stars, bemoaning “the basic implausibility of the setup, (and) that weird, niggling wrongness for which there are not enough compensatory laugh-lines.” Ho-hum. This treatment could be partly attributed to the divisive nature of Dyer himself who has never been the broadsheet’s favourite son. The fact that we never find out what the killer’s motivations were also became a point of contention. Never-the-less, in 2012 Total Film named Severance the 36th best independent horror film of all time, and stands as one of the best British comedy survival horror films you are ever likely to see.

Trivia Corner:

Media interest in Severance was revived in 2008 when one of the kill scenes was (allegedly) recreated in the real-life murder of 17-year old student Simon Everitt, who was tied to a tree and forced to drink petrol before being set on fire. Lovely.

 


RetView #6 – Dog Soldiers

Title: Dog Soldiers

Year of Release: 2002

Director: Neil Marshall

Length: 105 mins

Starring: Sean Pertwee, Emma Cleasby, Kevin McKidd, Liam Cunningham

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“It puts things into perspective when you have to scoop your mate up with a shovel and put him in a bag.”

So says Sgt Wells (Pertwee). There haven’t been many British horror films over the past decade or three more worthy of praise than Dog Soldiers. From the opening scenes, when a couple camping in the Scottish Highlands are ripped apart by a ferocious beast, you’re left in little doubt that this is a werewolf flick. The signs are definitely there, not least the inclusion of a solid silver knife, which the couple don’t use to defend themselves. Doh. Cut to a few weeks later, and a group black-clad SAS fellas as part of a training exercise. Whilst sitting around a fire telling war stories and complaining about missing the football, a mashed-up animal carcass somehow gets chucked at them. I think it’s a deer, but it’s pretty hard to tell. While investigating this strange occurrence, they stumble across their SAS adversaries. Except they’re all dead, the only survivor being a severely traumatised Captain Ryan (Cunningham) who is full of gory tales of his company being attacked and torn apart. Luckily, they left their guns and ammo, which our boys gleefully commandeer as they were only given blanks. I sense a plot hole here. I mean, if it really was a training exercise, how come one side was given live rounds? Anyway, moving on, it soon becomes apparent that what they are up against isn’t human. At least, not all the time.

Soon after they come under attack and Sgt Wells almost gets ripped in half. (“My guts are coming out!”). He doesn’t die, though. In fact, being mortally wounded just seems to piss him off. He keeps soldiering on and swearing at everyone. A passing zoologist called Megan (Emma Cleasby) saves the day when she drives up in a Land Rover and offers them a lift. Yes, please! She takes them to an isolated farmhouse, where they hope to regroup and radio for help. Obviously, things don’t quite work out that way, and a bloody battle to the death between soldiers and werewolves ensues. Can they survive until dawn? Will it make any difference if they do? Why is the SAS bloke acting so sketchy? And perhaps most importantly, who won the footy match they were all so concerned about?

The answer to that last question is England, as the match they are referring to is believed to be the World Cup qualifier on September 1st 2001 in Munich when they thrashed Germany 5-1. The best scene is when Sam the sheepdog keeps trying to eat Sgt Wells’ guts as they spill out of his body, one of the other guys sees it, and throws up on Captain Ryan’s head. Soon after, they perform some much-needed first aid on him with the help of a bottle of whisky and some superglue.

“How’re you feeling, Sarge?”

“Absolutely fucking top bollocks!”

Despite his woes, Sgt Wells makes a splendid recovery and outlives most of the others. Must have been the whisky. Or the fact that he’s slowly turning. The cast is like a who’s who of English acting talent as we see a pre-Grey’s Anatomy Kevin McKidd teamed up with a pre-Game of Thrones Liam Cunningham and a post-ID Sean Pertwee whose character is named Sgt Harry G Wells, a clear nod to the sci-fi writer HG Wells. Throughout the film there are also references to Zulu, the Matrix, An American Werewolf in London, and Evil Dead among others, making it an anorak’s dream. Even 90’s lad show They Think It’s All Over gets a tongue-in-cheek mention. The director, Neil Marshall, went on to be involved with The Descent franchise, Doomsday, Centurion, as well as episodes of Westworld, Hannibal and Game of Thrones. If you like your horror bloody, funny, and gore-tastic, you can do a lot worse than Dog Soldiers. You’re probably never going to see another northern bloke holding a flare aloft and singing, “Come and ‘ave a go if you think you’re ‘ard enough!” to a group of rampaging lycanthropes ever again. That man, incidentally, was played by Chris Robson, and he’s a French teacher in the north of England now. Famed for it’s (very) black comedy elements, upon its release, Dog Soldiers achieved cult status in the UK, but I have no idea how it was received in the rest of the world. A much-anticipated sequel Dog Soldiers 2: Fresh Meat was supposed to have been released in 2014 but wasn’t forthcoming. More’s the pity. The world needs more movies like this.

Trivia Box:

Although set in the Scottish Highlands, apart from a few aerial shots the movie was filmed almost entirely in Luxembourg.

This is the latest installment of my RetView series. For past entries, please go here.


Film Review – Darkest Day (2015)

“British zombie horror at it’s best!” screams the blurb on the poster, which is a bit of a leap. Whoever said that has obviously never seen Danny Dyer’s Doghouse. Anyway, it is customary when writing a film review to summarize the plot, to help the potential viewer decide whether it’s worth their time, effort and money or not. With that in mind, here goes…

Dan (Rickard, also the writer and director) wakes up with amnesia on a beach in Brighton, that weird yet strangely hip little outpost on the south coast of England made famous in Quadrophenia. He wouldn’t be the first young man to do that, but Dan manages to do it in the middle of the zombie apocalypse. So now he isn’t being threatened by the assorted shenanigans of lively groups of mods and rockers, but rather hordes of crazed, blood-soaked zombies, who run around flapping their arms and screaming a lot. To make matters worse, it appears there’s a bunch of soldiers on his tail, too.

DVD Cover

DVD Cover

Luckily for Dan, he soon runs into a small group of survivors, who are shacked up in a student house drinking Stella, as you probably would be when Armageddon comes. There’s even a stereotypically brash American, which is one of the more outlandish parts of the entire film, never mind the zombies. Apart from the awful accent, even in this brave, new globalized world of ours, Americans still don’t go to Brighton. Why would they? If she wasn’t trying to be American, I apologise, but that’s what it sounded like, and it sucked.

When the group of student survivors run out of booze and fags, they are forced to tool up with a selection swords and bludgeoning tools and leave the sanctuary of their squat. You can probably guess the rest.

Bearing in mind there’s only so much you can do within the confines of a zombie film, Darkest Day does at least make an effort to break the mould. It took seven years to produce on a non-existent budget, and the majority of the dialogue is unscripted, a very brave (or very stupid, depending on your point of view) decision when working with a cast of unknowns. Truth be told, this doesn’t lead to much more than a few extra swear words but it’s a big ask to keep the thing going, especially as the lack of budget means the whole thing has to primarily be character-driven. There isn’t much in the way of a plot and it probably won’t win any awards, but to give credit where it’s due, Dan Rickard and his mates achieved a lot with very little. There are fires and zombies and explosions and guns. Even a couple of helicopters. What else do you need? The special effects and CGI are pretty impressive. At times, you are left wondering just how they managed it all if the budget really was as minuscule as we are led to believe. An impressive underground effort well worth 90 minutes of your time.


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