November 2000

Guest House Paradiso

Guest House Paradiso Rik Mayall and Adrian Edmondson take the two losers from Bottom (Ritchie and Eddie, although their surnames are changed for this film) and put them in charge of the sleaziest hotel in England. What then follows is 90 minutes of violent slapstick comedy as the pair letch, lie and steal their way from one disaster to the next.

Guest House Paradiso doesnt have a much of a storyline, preferring instead to string together a series of comic set-pieces. But lets face it, no-one is watching this for Rik Mayalls insight into the human condition or for Adrian Edmondsons sensitive portrayal of a thieving alcoholic. Mayall and Edmondson have stuck to what theyre good at and done it well.

This is a funny film and it kept me laughing pretty much the whole way through - Rik and Ades mindlessly gratuitous and excessively violent slapstick style of comedy has a hell of a long way to go before its going to start looking stale and there is still something inherently funny about watching Ritchie try to walk with a pencil rammed up his rectum. That said, Rik and Ades usual nastiness has been toned down for the film and a lot of the scenes involving Ritchie and the hotel guests leave Ritchie looking like a weak imitation of John Cleeses Basil Fawlty.

Also, there are a few scenes where they have tried to carry over some of the running gags from Bottom, but undermined them by holding back from going all the way - presumably because a non-UK audience who arent familliar with the sitcom just arent going to know what the hell theyre going on about. The blouse joke which is cut short with a pencil springs to mind as do a couple of instances which appear to set up a joke between Ritchie and Gina Carbonara and then not carry it through. But these are few and far between and only a minor criticism.

Rik and Ade have taken their Bottom characters out of their sitcom environment before with their Bottom Live shows. Guest House Paradiso feels very much like the next step along this path and, if the live shows are anything to go by, we could be looking forward to another Ritchie and Eddie film in the future. I, for one, certainly hope so.

In short, if you find the idea of two grown men beating each other about the head with a fire extinguisher, watch Guest House Paradiso. If you dont, watch it anyway - you may well change your mind.

A Grand Day Out

A Grand Day Out The First, and my favorite, of Nick Parks Wallace and Gromit films. This is a simple but incredibly well executed story about crackpot inventor, Wallace, his long suffering dog, Gromit and their grand day out.

On discovering that they are out of cheese, Wallace decides that their hunt for the perfect holiday is over and they will go somewhere where they can enjoy some cheese.

As everyone knows the moon is made of cheese

The characterisation in A Grand Day Out is superb. Wallaces none too bright and inconsiderate inventor plays wonderfully against Gromits intelligent and sensitive personality. This is made more impressive whe you consider that, being a dog, Gromit obviously cant talk, so everything he thinks and feels has to be portrayed through his incredibly expressive face.

Then theres the sheer inventiveness of the film. From the cutesy style of the machines to the quick succession of great jokes, everything simply works and if you blink and miss one joke, you can always be sure that therell be another along in a couple of seconds.

On the back of the video box it claims that A Grand Day Out will captivate adults and children alike. For once, the film lives up to its marketing. No-one with a sense of humour should miss this.

Dracula

Dracula Wow.

The 1931 Tod Browning classic with a whole new score written by Philip Glass. I saw this in Het Muziektheater in Amsterdam with the score performed live by Philip Glass and the Kronos Quartet and it blew me away.

First of all, the film. This is a great interpretation of the Dracula story with Bela Lugosi playing the count with a powerful and hypnotic intensity. But, for me, the film is stolen by Dwight Fryes manic portrayal of the insane Renfield. While still sane, the Renfield character is a wonderful collection of English stereotypes transported into an evironment that is simultaneously derelict and unnerving. But once he goes mad, the manically grinning lunatic wandering Dr Sewards sanatarium seemingly at will (there are a couple of references to his constant escaping, but no evidence of any real attempt to find out how hes getting out or how to keep him locked up) dominates every scene he appears in… and Browning does a lot more with Renfield than I have seen in a long time.

Lugosis Dracula hits all the right notes as the timeless Transylvanian trying to fit into modern (okay, 1930s) English society. The contrast between Draculas decrepit castle and the comfortable English society in which he tries to move combined with Lugosis halting and heavily accented English combine to effectively undeline the vampires outsider status. This is visibly the perfomance that Christopher Lee drew on when he portrayed the (for me) undisputed personification of Dracula for the Hammer House of Horror.

The film is packed with great set-pieces, the battle of wills between Dracula and Van Helsing (Edward Van Sloan) is particularly memorable as is Renfields journey to Castle Dracula. This had a particularly eerie quality because, during the night time scenes, Glass and the Kronos Quartet were visible behind the screen and from where I was sitting I had a great view of one of the violinists looming out of the storm ravaged mountains.

I even enjoyed the porters terrible cockney accent. Every time he spoke, I was half expecting Mary Poppins to fly in and complain about the state of the chimneys - and this is supposed to be in Whitby! One of the maids took a stab at the same accent, but it was so bad that it almost passed unnoticed.

And then theres the music…

Dracula Although there were a few bars from Swan Lake in the original film, Browning largely avoided using any music at all, preferring to rely on the silence and the background noises to generate an oppressive atmosphere. For this re-issue, Philip Glass was commissioned to write a wholly new soundtrack and its an amazingly good fit, adding hugely to the tense and brooding atmosphere of the film. I dont normally notice a films soundtrack unless its jarringly bad, but this one does a great job of carrying you along with the sweep of the film.

Faultless!

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre This is another of Britains notorious video nasties (although now granted an 18 certificate) and it is a hard going film. The narration at the start, the use of an ensemble of totally unknown actors and the pseudo-documentary style of filming give it a feeling of being a crime reconstruction rather than a piece of fiction.

Inspired by the American serial killer, Ed Gein (who was also the inspiration for Hitchcocks Psycho) the film starts with a radio report detailing a recently discovered and extensive grave robbing. The story then follows brother and sister Sally and Franklin Hardesty, Sallys boyfriend Jerry and two of their friends as they travel to the cemetery to check that the grave of Sally and Franklins Grandfather was not one of those that was vandalised.

The trip is going badly right from the start, initially full of relatively minor discomforts and accidents, but getting steadily worse and more unsettling. A lot of these events could have been played for laughs and, in most post Evil Dead films probably would have been. Here, though, they are played straight and work to build an atmosphere that is both tense and ominous.

Eventually, they find themselves low on fuel and in the middle of nowhere where, in ones and twos, they start to fall into the clutches of a family of cannibal rednecks.

From this point on, there is absolutely no let-up and the film becomes relentless in its assault on your senses. And its this relentlessness that both makes The Texas Chainsaw Massacre such a strong film and which led to it being refused a certificate by the BBFC for so long - there really is no single scene that could be cut to make the film any easier, it really is all or nothing. There is very little gore and the violence tends not to be explicit, relying more on your imagination and on identification with the victims than on covering the screen with blood. But the ongoing pain and terror that the victims suffer combined with the dysfunctional family dynamic of the rednecks make this film a horrifying adrenaline rush right up to the closing credits.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is a hugely influential film and one that stands up to repeated viewings. Just make sure you give yourself a couple of hours to unwind once youve seen it.