2016, Belly of the Bulldog, Ben Wheatley, cinema, film reviews, films, horror, horror films, Michael Smiley, Movies, November, Paranormal Sex Tape, Sex Tape Horror, Tank 432, weekly screenings
For the third week of November, I fear that the pickings were a bit slim: the stresses of starting a new job in a new field left little head space for the cinematic arts. For this week, we only screened two films, neither of which could have been called a home-run, by any standards. Call it a wash, then, but we still crossed two more off the 2016 releases list, so the Graveyard remains groovy. In that spirit, let’s take a look at this particular week’s offerings.
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Nick Gillespie’s Tank 432 (nee Belly of the Bulldog, which is a much better title) has a lot of things going for it: if anything, the veteran camera-man (he’s done lots of work for personal hero Ben Wheatley, who also produced) brings an awfully stacked deck to his first stint as a feature-length director. He’s got a great cast of British actors, including Rupert Evans, Michael Smiley, Deirdre Mullins, Gordon Kennedy and Tom Meeten. There’s a unique concept and location. The visual style and sound design are top-notch and work well with the overall feeling of dread. All of the elements are here for a classic British genre film, ala the aforementioned Wheatley or Neil Marshall. Why, then, did I walk away so disappointed?
A group of shell-shocked soldiers, including Evans as the voice of reason, Smiley as the mouthy Irish guy, Kennedy as the hard-as-nails leader and Mullins as the resolute medic, emerge from an underground pipe and make their way across a desolate landscape. After finding a pile of bodies at an abandoned farm, the soldiers and their hooded, bound captives flee an unseen enemy until they find a single, solitary Bulldog tank sitting in the middle of a wide open field. The motley group stows themselves away in the tight confines of the broken-down gargantuan, jamming the door shut behind them against the threat outside. And then the fun starts.
Tank 432 starts out so strong that it seems all but assured a place in the same Hall of Fame that contains Marshall’s Dog Soldiers or David Twohy’s Pitch Black. The military element is uncommonly sharp, with great dialogue and a genuine sense of unity between the brigade. The veteran actors are all playing types, without a doubt, but they play them with nary a wink nor a nod: combined with the breakneck pace, there’s an instant immersion that builds a tremendous amount of good will early on.
Cinematographer Billy Jackson’s imagery can be quite lovely and mysterious, when he refrains from the sort of shaky, quick-cut nonsense that’s become so fashionable in genre films. The sound design adds immensely to the proceedings, accentuating the otherworldly quality of the tank and lending later events a heightened sense of lunacy. The fantastic element is introduced gradually and with enough organic clues for the astute viewer to pick up on what’s going on fairly early.
And that, in essence, ends up being one of the first (and perhaps biggest) problems with the film: after establishing a few possibilities for the uncanny events, the film proceeds to hammer down on the most obvious one, including a full explanation at the conclusion, just in case viewers were still in a fog. It’s completely heavy-handed and, coupled with the film’s completely chaotic and rather silly climax, left me with a bad taste that managed to wash away much of I’d enjoyed before. There are other issues, to be sure (the fact that the clever script devolves into “Fuck you!” “No, fuck you!” is particularly painful), but that was a real deal-breaker.
Tank 432 isn’t a bad film, by any means, but it is a terribly disappointing one, primarily because there was so much potential for a genuinely unique, strange and memorable film. The result is a movie that promises much more than it can deliver, writing a check that it can’t possibly cash. There’s a shell of a good story here and a pretty good idea of where it could have gone. In the end, however, like that proverbial tank, it just sits there and rusts.
Paranormal Sex Tape
I’ll be frankly honest: were it not for my personal goal to screen every single horror title released in 2016, there’s no way I ever would have watched auteur Dick Van Dark’s Paranormal Sex Tape (or Sex Tape Horror, if you make it to the end credits). I’ve developed a sixth sense for stinkers, so to speak, and there’s no way this one passed the smell test. Since it was on the menu, however, I was more than willing to let the dish speak for itself: after all, I’d been surprised by other no-budget horror flicks, this year, so the precedent was there.
If I may continue to be honest, gentle readers, I didn’t make it 10 minutes into the film before it became necessary to employ judicious use of the frame-forward button. I have a longheld personal rule that just doesn’t allow me to turn a film off once I’ve started watching: I may resist watching something for my whole life but, once it’s on, I’m gonna finish it or be damned. I couldn’t turn Paranormal Sex Tape off but there was no way I intended to watch every single obe of its 70 minutes: even I have my limits.
The plot (I don’t have a more appropriate word but that’s not quite right) seems to involve a young woman named Scarlet (the impossibly blank Amber West) and the “terrifying” figure that appears every time she has sex with her boyfriend (I’m assuming, since the film never makes this clear or even gives the poor fellow a name). She sets up a camera, in order to record the “demon” (again, the film never makes this clear in any way) and things get strange.
In essence, the film consists of incredibly long, dull scenes of Scarlet either walking to various places or riding the subway intercut with incredibly long, dull, softcore sex scenes involving Scarlet and the guy, while the demon waggles its hands in the background, looking thoroughly dejected. That’s just about it. We also get some nonsense involving Scarlet and a tattooed drug dealer, along with Scarlet and her strange friend (who I believe was portrayed by the director but, again, who really knows?) but none of them ever amount to more than time-fillers.
As noted above, I started advancing through the film once I realized exactly what it would be. The pattern was pretty simple: watch for a moment, get to a walking scene, advance until it was over, watch for a moment, get to a sex scene, advance until it was over, lather, rinse and repeat. I did manage to watch a few individual bits, here and there: one sex scene involving blacklights, bodypaint and a forced perspective vignette filter was too preposterous not to sit through. For the most part, however, this was just impossible, the kind of impossible that even Troma doesn’t seem capable of.
I’ll freely admit that certain films just aren’t my cup of tea and I don’t hold them to the same standards: the Sharknado series (the 4th, of which, is also on my 2016 list) is a good example of this. Maybe someone out there really got a kick out of this: if so, more power to ’em and a long and healthy life, to boot. As for me, this was amateurish junk, unfitting of even a porn label. Potayto, potato.
Join us next time as we delve further into November with last week’s screenings, including another of my picks for best films of the year. Until then, gentle readers, stay away from abandoned tanks and keep an eye on your sex tapes: you never know what may be watching!