Hostel 2005 *****


Writer/director Eli Roth took a step up from Cabin Fever with this intense thriller from 2005; not a horror film per se, it’s a warning about the dangers of cut-price vacations in Europe; hostels rather than hotels are the subject. Paxton (Jay Hernandez) and his pals head to a Slovak town hoping for some excessive booze and drugs, and they’re rewarded by a seeming Shangri-La of available women.  But they’ve walked into a tourist trap, and soon Paxton discovers the true, terrifying nature of the resort and is fleeing for his life. With over a dozen different languages spoken and no subtitles, Roth’s film cleverly works up a set of paranoia about being an American abroad,  paying-off in tense torture and escape sequences. Hostel is a nightmarish film, but one that keeps a vice-like grip on the simple, potent narrative.

Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted 2012 ****


No prior knowledge of the Madagascar films is required to enjoy the third and best instalment; co-written by Noah Baurmbach, it’s a genial romp that finds the escaped zoo animals loose in Europe and infiltrating a circus for cover. Gia (Jessica Chastain) and Vitaly (Brian Cranston) run the operation, and there’s a choice dilemma for Alex the lion (Ben Stiller) and his gang; to stay with the circus where they are regarded as an inspiration, or admit that they’re losers on the run. The be-all-you-can-be message is exemplified by a dazzling montage set to Katy Perry’s Firefly, a sequence that elevates Eric Darnell, Tom McGrath and Conrad Vernon’s film to high art. And the regular appearances of a chimp in a Louis X IV wig are cause for hilarity in themselves; not quite on message with the rest of the gang, this baroque figure is the trickster incarnate.

The Swiss Conspiracy 1976 ***


Anxiety about the morality of banking institutions is nothing new, and Jack Arnold’s 1976 thriller makes the most of such suspicions. A Swiss bank, run by Ray Milland, discovers that the accounts of their members have been compromised, and David Christopher (Davis Janssen) is called in to investigate, although he’s more successful that they might have intended. The clues lead to an inside job, and Jannsen ends up with a bag of uncut diamonds and a finale atop a Swiss Mountain. Support from Elke Sommer, David Hess and John Saxon keep the interest in this complex but worthwhile genre entry.

Footprints on the Moon 1975 ***


A strange Euro-thriller from the mid-70’s, Footprints on the Moon is a bizarre mystery, with Alice Crespi (Florida Balkan) slipping between several realities. In one, she’s on the moon with some astronauts, in another, she’s investigating a strange town where everyone seems to know her. Novelist Mario Fanelli worked with director Luigi Bazzoni to create a disconcerting atmosphere, constantly begging questions about Alice’s grip on reality. Small parts from Lila Kredova and Klaus Kinski add to the general confusion, but Footprints On The Moon is a diversion worth exploring for mystery fans.

Perfume: The Story of a Murderer 2006 ***


Director and screenwriter Tom Tykwer (Cloud Atlas, Run Lola Run) gets a lavish production budget to capture Patrick Susskind’s extra-ordinary novel, and if the screen version doesn’t quite have the same precise tone, it’s still a feast of visual flourishes. Ben Wishaw plays Jean Baptiste Grenouille, who is born with a highly developed sense of smell, but his sensitivity to his fellow man proves to be dubious to say the least. Dustin Hoffman and Alan Rickman are amongst the accomplishes supporting cast, with the former meeting a dramatic end. Perfume is a complex fable of social alienation, and Tykwer pulls out all the stops on the way to an outrageously weird orgy at the end.

The Magus 1968


Woody Allen once said that if he could life his life again, the one change he would make is not seeing the 1968 film of The Magus. The dense and deliberately confusing nature of John Fowles novel, which even he took two attempts at getting right, was inevitably going to lead to a few dissatisfied customers, but Guy Green’s glossy 1968 film, adapted by Fowles himself, actually looks better now than it did then. Michael Caine is Nicolas Urfe, a teacher on a Greek island who falls under the spell of Lily (Candice Bergen), but also finds himself manipulated by Conchis (Anthony Quinn) who styles himself as some kind of magus or magician. The Magus is a rare existential thriller, and an ideal introduction to the complex world of literary metaphysics.

A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin 1971 ***


Writer/director Lucio Fulci delivers a thriller as weird and wonderful as the title suggests with this convoluted who-dunnit with psychedelic inserts. Filmed with a druggy ennui that sits oddly with quaint London settings like the Alexandra Palace, Stanley Baker plays Inspector Colvin, who doggedly investigates Carol Hammond (Florida Bolkan) when she becomes prime suspect in a murder case. Surreal aspects include a giant swan and a sculpture made out of living dogs, but the narrative delivers plenty of tension and surprises, leading to a conclusion that shows Balkan at her most iconic. The funked-out score is by Ennio Morricone.

Uranium Conspiracy 1978 ***


Gianfranco Baldanello and Menahem Golan directed this forgotten but undeniably proficient espionage drama from 1978, with Fabio Testi as Renzo, hot on the trail of a missing Uranium shipment. Accompanied by a music score that sounds like Daft Punk in places, Uranium Conspiracy rises to a spectacular car and speedboat chase around Amsterdam that’s as good as Puppet on A Chain, and there’s great locations, washed out photography, some neat plot twists and an oddly downbeat ending to make this something of a find for fans of Euro-thrillers. Any film that features speedboats smashing through entire houses deserves marks for trying.

Maroc 7 1967 ***


TV star Gene Barry files his name into the ‘men who would be Bond’ category with this glitzy and glamorous caper movie from 1967. Produced by co-star Leslie Phillips, Maroc 7 sees Barry play a safebreaker who ingratiates himself with Louise Henderson (Cyd Charisse) and her magazine’s fashion shoot in Morocco, with his real target a medallion hidden in a tomb. Phillip’s plays straight as an Austin Powers-style photographer Raymond Lowe, and there’s unlikely support from Denholm Elliot as the strangely-accented Inspector Barrada. Marcoc 7 has a handsome enough production, although not in the 007 class, and a neat plot twist; even if the action isn’t that involving, it’s a cool little genre entry that’s barely been seen.

Hatchet for The Honeymoon 1967 ***


The late, great Italian master of horror Mario Bava was incapable of making a dull-movie, and several of his late sixties giallo have a real touch of Hitchcock. Opening with a POV monologue from a dapper killer John Harrington (John Forsythe) that sounds like a scene from Brett Easton Ellis’s American Psycho, Hatchet For The Honeymoon balances an earnest police procedural thriller with an elaborate phantasmagoria of the disintegration of a killer’s mind, as Harrington struggles to keep his murderous hands of clients at his bridal shop while harboring dark thoughts towards his nagging wife (Pasolini’s muse Laura Betti, giving vent to her frowsy side). Bava’s imaginative framings and mind-bending colour-coding of images is given full reign, and despite the lack of gore, Hatchet For The Honeymoon is a tart, astringent thriller in the vein of Psycho.