Perhaps unfairly criticised at the time of its release because of the weight of fan expectation and hype surrounding it, Prometheus emerges these days as a much finer, more intelligent science-fiction film, albeit not one without flaws. In its grandiose production design and excellent special effects, it truly is a breathtaking sight to watch, laden with awe and wonder. In its ambitious attempt to ask fundamental questions about the meaning of life (questions that science-fiction was made to ask), it reaches for lofty heights, even scaling them from time to time. A lack of focus, particularly with an overlarge (though excellent) cast, does harm the complexity of the film, and the final act’s devolution into standard action filmmaking does feel like studio imposition rather than authorial vision, but regardless this is the most worthy successor to Ridley Scott’s original Alien; a superior work to even James Cameron’s Aliens and perhaps as close as we might get to realising the unachieved ambition of Alien 3’s messy conception.
No-budget ‘80s horror is a prime area for finding films that fall firmly into the so-bad-they’re-good ground, and Basket Case very nearly does. No film about a bloke who carries around a murderous unintelligible blob in a basket case made on $35,000 is going to be a technical masterpiece. Yet beneath the ham-fed amateurish acting and the ketchup-strewn special effects there is a genuinely endearing film; director Frank Henenlotter has a real feel for the grimy underside of early-‘80s New York, giving Basket Case a rough-hewn, ugly air that suits the splatter-fuelled material. Alongside the Freudian subtext revolving around sexual liberation and familial rejection, the film is filled with enough knowing humour and sincerity that it never comes off as hacky or dishonest.
David Cronenberg’s work is often brilliant, but even at his best, be it Videodrome or Dead Ringers, it can often be a little bit too cold; there’s a precision and iciness to them that makes them easy to appreciate but difficult to love, for they lack in that little touch of humanity. That’s why The Fly is Cronenberg’s best film: it is the most humane of his works, centring around Seth Brundle’s (Jeff Goldblum) transformation from brilliant scientist to disgusting fly-man, pitting him not just against his ambitions as a scientist, but also his tender burgeoning romance with Veronica (Geena Davis). The sense of genuine human tragedy permeating The Fly (and the film is nothing if not a slow-motion tragedy) is what makes it so horrifying and so hard to watch, more so than any of his other films.
As far as 80s body horror goes, Re-Animator isn’t as visually imaginative as Hellraiser, nor as philosophically inquisitive or emotional heartbreaking as The Fly, but it definitely knows how to have fun. Amidst the absolute nonsense of its Frankenstein-parodying plot, there is plenty of black humour, gory special effects, and some absurdly stupid science. Granted, this is a science-fiction film, but oh Lord the science is hilarious. Re-Animator is a rare breed of horror film; it manages to be funny, silly and entertaining without having to be in the realm of ‘so-bad-it’s-good’ filmmaking – this is a genuinely well-made film and that above all is why it remains fresh today, even if most of its characters have rotted beyond recognition since.
Like all truly great works of modern art, Antichrist seems to divide opinion completely. However, those that hate it are wrong. It is a flawed work, but flawed in such a way that it merely enriches and enlivens the film. Lars Von Trier’s masterpiece is genuinely terrifying and unsettling, and not simply because of its sadomasochistic bent. Indeed, the infamous descent into madness of the film’s final third is a perfectly natural progression of the mental torture of the first two thirds, and it is every bit as intense as it ought to be because the film spends its time letting us get close to its characters. That is why Antichrist is so painful to watch, and that is why it is such an incredible film – few other films out there achieve this level of catharsis without recourse to cheap manipulation. A work like almost no other.
The Quatermass Experiment is exactly the sort of cheap, low-budget, 1950s, sci-fi B-movie that is impossible not to be charmed by at least a little, especially when done by a production company as consummately likeable as Hammer, they of countless Dracula films and the greatest purveyors of 50s and 60s British schlock-horror. The cheapness of the film is visible throughout, with plenty of goofs and continuity errors that you’ll spot even if you’re not a pedant explicitly looking for them; the main monster is clearly just tripe; and everything else, from the acting and dialogue to the sets and camerawork, is as basic and stripped back as it can be. This austerity is also prevalent in the storytelling, and The Quatermass Experiment is a prime example of how valuable and entertaining economical direction can be in a film when done well, with all the necessary action and events to explain the whole story contained in just one 80-minute-or-less bloc.
Despite its simplicity, the story, like much of the science-fiction of the 1950s, hides fears about nuclear Armageddon and the ethics of science in a nuclear, weapons-research dominated age. Here, Dr. Quatermass (Brian Donlevy) illegally authorises a spaceship launch which disastrously crashes back down in the UK with two of the three crewmembers having completely disappeared and the other in a state of shock. The survivor is then taken to hospital where we quickly discover he’s been infected by some alien organism which inevitably is highly dangerous and wants to kill things. There’s a mad dash through London as the astronaut turns into a monster and goes on the rampage.
Throughout there are illusions to Frankenstein, including even a scene where the monster meets a small girl by a body of water. The Quatermass Experiment centres around the same idea as Mary Shelley’s classic, that notion of whether man has the right to play God in the name of scientific progress. With the Cold War in full gear and nuclear paranoia rife throughout the world, the parallels here are clear: the vicious alien lifeform can be seen either as a manifestation of the fear of nuclear Armageddon or the fear of Communist invasion. What’s interesting about the film is the uniquely British tack it handles this fear with; all the main characters simply stay calm and keep a stiff upper lip, making themselves a nice cuppa whenever there’s a break from the action, as if to say “this nuclear stuff will all blow over tomorrow morning,” presumably with the fallout blowing onto Wales.
Whilst easy to read Cold War parallels into The Quatermass Experiment, the film is, at the end of the day, a film about a monster on the run. It is fast-paced and simply filmed, with most of the framing and camerawork functioning at the most very basic level, although there are a few interesting devices used, such as creepy, grainy, TV footage reel recovered from the spaceship that is eerily effective. At only about 80 minutes long, The Quatermass Experiment doesn’t have much of an opportunity to become boring, and it doesn’t, remaining entertaining and solid throughout, if not at all spectacular.
Throughout the world, or perhaps more accurately, the West, Srpski Film has been universally panned as a disgusting piece of exploitative trash masquerading as quasi-intellectual pretension. Even those critics who claim to be aware of the context within which the film enacts its satire and allegories often find it disgusting, but their knowledge of the context is also often completely unsatisfactory.
I am a Yugoslavian, and a Serbian. I was born just around the time hyperinflation reached its absolute peak in Serbia, which still holds the statistical record for the world’s highest inflation. I haven’t lived in Serbia since I was 4, though I go at least once a year – it is on some level home, after all. I adore it. I love my friends, and I love my family, and I love my home. I love all the Balkans. I love Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia, Montenegro, Macedonia, and Kosovo. They are all painfully beautiful places. With the exceptions of Slovenia, Macedonia and Montenegro, all these places were torn apart by war in the 1990s.
You probably think the film is disgusting and ugly. I disagree, I think it is actually fairly polite in comparison to the reality. And when you know the reality, which most of you don’t, then you might be inclined to agree with me. Most of you probably know some of the story behind how what once was the glorious nation of Yugoslavia broke up amidst a series of hateful wars, where neighbour fought neighbour and brother fought neighbour. It was a war that ought to prove to all humanity what a sick and disgraceful poison nationalism is, but in reality it was a war that simply exacerbated it beyond belief. And still, the West does not understand. Most of the European Union is now led by quasi-fascist parties along the line of Front Nationale and UKIP. Nobody learns, and people in the West (and yes, I’m generalising when I say the West, as some sort of mythical homogenous land where neoliberalism reigns supreme, but hey, read any news stories about the Balkans and you might realise that it works both ways) still don’t understand what it’s like to be a Former Yugoslavian.
They understand that the war happened, but few really understand how or why, and they understand even less about how to help. That’s why the Western powers did fuck all to help from 1991-1995 when the wars in Croatia and Bosnia erupted. The West insisted on an arms embargo across all the Yugoslavian nations that left the Serbian armies with all the firepower and the Bosnian Muslims with fuck all. Cue massacre in which the West pretends the only culprit was evil baddie Serbians, as if it couldn’t do jack shit to help. Then, a few years later, in 1998, when violence erupted again in Kosovo, the West finally decided to pull its fucking finger out and do something. But what did they do? They aligned themselves with Hashim Thaci, the first Prime Minister of Kosovo and current Deputy Prime Minister. He is also one of the most powerful men in European organised crime and a war criminal. The terrorist group he led during the Kosovan war, the KLA, is every bit as nasty, nationalistic, and awful as its Serbian counterparts. He is involved in organ trafficking. This is NATO’s boy in Kosovo. And still, nobody understands Srpski Film.
Today, the Prime Minister of Serbia is Aleksander Vucic. He has officially held power since last year but he has been the most powerful man in Serbia for a while. He is a former crony (sorry, Minister of Information) of Slobodan Milosevic, with whom the whole fucking mess started, and therefore a war criminal, if not by direct action then at least by association. It was during his time as Minister of Information that anti-Milosevic journalist Slavko Curuvija was murdered by the state, a murder that Vucic probably had something to do with. He was part of Vojislav Seselj’s ultanationalist fascist party until 2008. Seselj is another war criminal and he is a man whom The Hague doesn’t have the balls to proclaim guilty because they don’t truly give a shit about justice. He is, I believe, currently back in Serbia. There is a huge billboard in my home city of Nov Sad that proclaims “Serbia wants Seselj!” My stomach feels sick whenever I have to pass by it. He currently has cancer. I wish him a 1000 deaths.
Of course, desperate for power and tainted by ultranationalist connections, Vucic formed his own party, the Progressive Party. Same leopard, different spots, suddenly friendly to the European Union and perfectly happy to kowtow to neoliberal agendas that are currently economically decimating Serbia. Now he is the Prime Minister.
These are just a few purported events that have occurred in the Former Yugoslavia since its breakup. I’m not sure I’m allowed to say facts lest men in dark Mercs start following me. The allegory in Srpski Film has frequently been dismissed as heavy-handed and serving only to lead to the grotesquely violent scenes, but this is simply untrue. The film is intellectually rigorous, with every scene serving to make a specific point, sometimes subtle sometimes not so much; from the sexually frustrated policeman to the pseudo-artistic porn director, every single scene with each character colours in another aspect of modern Serbian society. It’s far from perfect: outside of Milos (played by the magnificent Srdjan Todorovic), all of the characters are little more than ciphers for aspects of Serbia. To add to this, the flashback structure of the second half of the film, whilst intending to go for a Lynchian surrealism, is actually rather clunky and awkward, ensuring the second half of the film lacks a real sense of tension and mystery.
But within the context of modern Serbian politics and modern Serbian society, with bombed-out buildings still standing smack-bang in the centre of Beograd and war criminals leading our nation to friendly talks with Merkel and co. as to how to best sell off anything of worth in Serbia, the images of Srpski Film, the ones that so disgusted everyone – beheadings, rape, newborn porn – are really not that shocking. This is a film that is alarmingly close to the reality of modern Serbia, because when you have a war criminal leading the country then what the hell is a filmic interpretation of snuff porn compared to that? I love my home to absolute pieces, like I’ve already said. And I urge anyone who likes good friendly people, good food, cheap drinks and stunning architecture to visit Ljubljana, Zagreb, Split, Dubrovnik, Sarajevo, Mostar, Novi Sad, Beograd, Pristina, Skopje, Budva et. al. But beneath that remember that what lies beneath the surface is at times truly disgusting and awful, and the knowledge of this, I would argue, is what led to the massive nationwide riots across Bosnia in 2014. Eventually, some of us could not take it anymore, and we screamed. We are good people, a people that the West has, over centuries continually ignored and misunderstood, preferring to see us often as quasi-oriental foreigners mired in violence who just by accident of circumstance happen to live on the edge of the culturally ‘evolved’ half of Europe. Even in today’s politically-correct atmosphere and back-patting world of Guardianista identity politics, few people actually care to understand the reality of modern Serbia, preferring instead to act shocked and angry whenever our idiot football fans do some more racism. These modern Western intellectuals have an excellent habit of conveniently ignoring all of their own racism, and consistently refusing to see the sheer hypocrisy, the sheer fucking hypocrisy, of their own history and context. So I suppose nothing changes.
Srpski Film is an angry, furious, black scream into the dark void of modern Serbia. It is a film that is absolutely, utterly, 100%, necessary.
I had the excellent pleasure of seeing The Tingler in a cinema. Sadly, they didn’t manage to electrocute the seats as William Castle would have wanted, but we were still treated to a mad scientist introducing the film for us and all the audience even got their own death certificate! The film itself was a superb mix of 1950s B-movie cheese and genuine quality filmmaking. Vincent Price plays the world’s most unethical scientist who fears he may have discovered a parasite that lives on the spine of every human and feeds off fear, and he also injects himself with LSD. What’s not to like?