Thursday 30 April 2020

Batch Review: The Isolation Tapes, Part I

All work and no play makes Ian Blackout a dull boy. Ian Blackout is arguably a dull boy to begin with of course (to which regular readers of this blog will attest), but still. In the middle of March 2020, cinemas in the UK finally (and rightly) closed their doors in the face of a burgeoning global pandemic; no more details of that are required in this missive, I'm sure.

Of course for a blog which exists almost solely to review the movies its proprietor has watched at the cinema, this is the equivalent of backing it into a garage, putting it up on blocks, removing the wheels and waiting for the dust to gather. World of Blackout reviews some films at home, but not many. I like the structure of the theatrical experience. If I preferred doing it in my living room, that's what the blog would be to begin with. But I digress.

Now I was (and am) lucky enough to have a job which, for the most part, can be performed from home. It's far from ideal, but it is possible. But since it takes longer from the kitchen table, and since the remainder of the activities have to be performed from the office while it's deserted at weekends, this has resulted in far less free time than I'd have had normally. Woe is me, I know. Not complaining, that's just how it is.

Anyway, the knock-on effect of this is that my 'to-watch list' has barely budged at all over the last month, as even when I find myself at a loose end and craving escapist distraction, I don't have the concentration or enthusiasm to appreciate it properly anyway.

With this in mind, I've taken to watching entries on the macabre-pile (quickly developing a Lovecraft theme, some of which I've seen before, many of which I haven't) and committing to nothing more than micro-reviews on the blog's social media platforms. And there still aren't many of these, but I present them here in a round-up form as a means of completion and continuity. And let's face it, to have something to post this month.

World Of Blackout will return in earnest as soon as the cinemas do*1...

IN FABRIC (2019)
Cert: 15 / 119 mins / Dir. Peter Strickland

Boy, I wish I'd enjoyed this more. In Fabric makes me realise how spoiled we've been with the works of Gatiss, Shearsmith, Pemberton and Dyson. There are seeds of absolute brilliance, but they're left untended in a sprawling, unsatisfying story that looks darkly beautiful but feels like it's been written by someone who doesn't know how it should end...

Cert: 18 / 91 mins / Dir. John Carpenter

I've watched In The Mouth Of Madness before. I don't remember it being great, but I certainly remember it being better. The film's heart is in the right place and I won't fault the ambition, but Carpenter is a very literal director, so concerned here with heavy-handed tropes that he can't tell (or doesn't care) when his cast veer between under- and over-acting. Check out the Twitter-thread for the full, visually-assisted, list of gripes...

Cert: 15 / 108 mins / Dir. Richard Stanley

Owing as much to Raimi and Cronenberg as Lovecraft, Color Out Of Space is cheap trash masquerading as ponderous invasion-horror. Contains Cage-heavy notes of Mom And Dad and Mandy, both of which are more fun and more focused. Reproducing the eponymous, indefinable, indescribably alien hue was always going to be tricky in a visual medium where questions have to be answered. Anyway, turns out it was fuchsia...

Cert: 18 / 86 mins / Dir. Daniel Haller

Yes, if you can't be outright scary or even macabre, aim for 'camp as a row of tents' instead. There's more of The Love God? than Lovecraft about this, but it's good kitsch fun if you're in the right mood. The cinematography, production design, direction and haphazard continuity of The Dunwich Horror just makes me want to watch The Love Witch and Garth Marenghi again, which suggests I enjoyed this film for precisely the wrong reasons...

Cert: N/A / 89 mins / Dir. Leigh Scott

If 2009's iteration of The Dunwich Horror was a no-budget fan film or someone's A-Level project, it'd be more than acceptable. But y'know. It wasn't, it wasn't and it isn't. You might think it would be inherently wrong to retool Lovecraft with Indy-style relic hunting, and you'd be absolutely right. But props to Dean Stockwell for delivering his lines here with a straight face and absolutely no shame...

DAGON (2001)
Cert: 18 / 98 mins / Dir. Stuart Gordon

It's a surprisingly nasty little horror which moves at a cracking pace with great tension and solid effects-work, but a cast running the full gamut of acting styles from 'Ikea' to 'enthusiastic am-dram'. A zombie-flick by any other name, Dagon works far better than many others on its shelf. Not stylish enough to be one of the all-time greats, but since when did students of #HPLovecraft worry about being cool?

Cert: N/A / 45 mins / Dir. Andrew Leman

Utterly Glorious. Clears the hurdle of 'filming the un-filmable' by embracing an era of cinema when visual economy was king, shining with unconditional love for its subject while retaining an air of arch fun. One of the purest examples in recent times of art existing in commercial form, but purely for the sake of art. The Call Of Cthulhu is an analogue passion-project for a digital age...

Cert: N/A / 103 mins / Dir. Sean Branney

If this recent season has illustrated anything, it's that Lovecraft works best in cinema when he's not so much adapted as transcribed and embellished. The style of The Whisperer In Darkness may be of the 1930s, but paranoia is timeless. The film probably looks more 'clean' than it should, but is meticulous in its joy for film noir and early sci-fi. What's more, it's also a fantastic movie in its own right, keen to savour every last frame of uncanny dread...

*1 Although given the re-opening will be by necessity somewhat staggered and that the global release market is currently in a state of utter upheaval and re-scheduling, I dread to think a) what new content there will be to watch, b) what sanitised, crowd-pleasing, back-catalogue filler will be shown alongside it, and c) what the level of etiquette will be amongst patrons who didn't know how to behave in a public space before being cooped up with a minimum of physical human contact for weeks on end.

It'll either be really quiet in the cinemas, or ridiculously busy. One of those is ideal for me, the other is ideal for the businesses themselves. C'est la vie. Things will even out in the long-run, I have no doubt, but prepare for more complaining from the heights of Blackout Towers until it does. Which I imagine you already were, anyway... [ BACK ]

• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

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