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Plot: cityslickers check in at Mortlake – they won’t be checking out.

It took Alex Chandon a decade to get the follow-up his rightly infamous Cradle Of Fear (2001) off the ground. His 2001 offering was a critical darling but audience reaction was mixed under the kindest of circumstances. In the ten years that seperate both features Chandon didn’t direct a single thing. You’d imagine his working with a high-profile act as Cradle Of Filth would lead him into directing music videos more frequently but no such thing transpired. Thankfully Chandon put the ten years to good use and he seems to have learned a thing or two since Cradle Of Fear (2001). The technical polish that Cradle Of Fear (2001) lacked Inbred has in spades. This is by far Alex Chandon’s most impressively lensed and photographed production to date. Inbred is a vast improvement over his debut on all fronts but some of its more glaring shortcomings have persisted despite the decade-long interval between productions.

Like many a budding splatter director a meaningful story was never high on the list of priorities for Chandon. His earlier Cradle Of Fear (2001) set the bar admittedly low on that end. Inbred does an earnest effort to actually tell a story and fleshes out at least some of its characters, no matter how unlikable they might be. Writing was never Chandon’s strong suit and it isn’t here either. While Inbred is obviously better written than Cradle Of Fear (2001) Chandon’s pervading nihilism and ruthless Darwinism appear to have persisted and Inbred fares accordingly. Inbred offers no ray of light or redemption for any of its characters. It’s always a delight seeing Emily Booth and she, as always, makes an impression. Her cameo part is merely limited to the opening scene but it’s impactful enough, to say the least. It allows Alex Chandon to indulge in his worst tendencies before moving on in a more reserved, story-oriented direction. Which doesn’t mean there isn’t plenty of carnage and dismemberment to be had. In fact there’s plenty of it to go around and it’s better distributed than in his 2001 debut. In Inbred the bloodshed serves the story, not the other way around.

Care workers Jeff (James Doherty) and Kate (Jo Hartley) and four youth offenders embark on a character education weekend in one of the more remote outskirts of North Yorkshire. When they arrive in the sleepy farming community of Mortlake the youths are none too impressed, not with the task ahead nor with the accomodations for that matter. The group settle down at The Dirty Hole, the local pub, where they meet wayward owner Jim (Seamus O’Neill), before checking in for the night. The next morning Sam (Nadine Mulkerrin, as Nadine Rose Mulkerrin) and Tim (James Burrows) are send on an abandoned train salvaging mission and they do that to the best of their abilities. Dwight (Chris Waller) and Zeb (Terry Haywood) don’t take the job seriously at all much to the chagrin of group leader Jeff. A minor run-in with local yokels Gris (Neil Leiper) and his hick goons soon leads to a second, much more violent confrontation that eventually becomes the inciting incident that turns the entire village against the city-dwelling intruders. As the entire inbred population of Mortlake descends in numbers upon them the group finds themselves fighting for their very survival…

Chandon was never much of an auteur and Cradle Of Fear (2001) was closer to the collective oeuvre of German gore merchants Andreas Schnaas, Olaf Ittenbach, and Timo Rose than it was to more esoteric and faux-philosophical splatter offerings as Shatter Dead (1994), I, Zombie: A Chronicle Of Pain (1998), or Ice From the Sun (1999). Whereas his debut was very much a mostly plot-free showreel for its admittedly impressive special effects work Inbred actually makes a concerted effort to tell a story. Inbred was clearly meant to be a homage to exploitation shockers as H.G. Lewis’ Two Thousand Maniacs! (1964), I Drink Your Blood (1970), Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974), and Wes Craven’s The Hills Have Eyes (1977). One of the biggest improvements is that the bloodshed and carnage is better distributed. The gratuitous gore only commences after a nearly 40-minute set-up and from that point onward Inbred makes each kill count. The carnage is that much hard-hitting because it happens in snack-sized portions and where it matters in the story. Cult favorite Emily Booth, she of Josh Collins’ Pervirella (1997), is given a far more dignified role although that doesn’t exclude her from meeting a sudden, gruesome end. On all fronts Inbred is a far more measured exercise that will surely satiate die-hard Chandon fans.

Yet as good as Inbred is Chandon couldn’t write a character if his life depended on it. Jeff and Kate are painted in broad enough strokes to be recognizable and Sam is by far the most sympathetic figure of the group as the prerequisite put-upon girl. Dwight and Zeb are two sides of the same coin and emblemic of Chandon as a writer. Near constant profanity spills from Dwight’s mouth and Zeb is pretty much his wingman until the two are seperated. Zeb (as the token minority character) ends up garnering far more sympathy than his insufferable colleague. Tim initially comes across as much of a douche as Dwight and Zeb but soon makes a turn for the better once he’s paired with Sam. There isn’t much to go on seperating each of the four youths, Sam is as much of a cipher as the three guys and neither is given any sort of depth, let alone pathos, to call them a lead character. Alex Chandon always had a very pronounced proclivity towards ruthless Darwinism and Inbred is, unfortunate as it may be, no different in that regard. Like George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead (1968) five decades before Inbred is nihilistic and unforgivably bleak. In hands of a different director Sam and Tim would have survived the bloodshed, but not so with Alex Chandon. Just like in Tod Browning’s Freaks (1932) the so-called normal people are the real monsters and like the townfolk in H.G. Lewis’ Two Thousand Maniacs! (1964) they are merely defending their turf.

Just like Cradle Of Fear (2001) launched the Creature Effects team to worldwide special effects superstardom Inbred is surely to do the same for prosthetics maker Duncan Jarman, silicone wounds creator Linzi Foxcroft for Trauma FX and blood and gore specialist Graham Taylor for GT FX. Inbred prides itself (and rightly so) on making use of an absolute minimum of CGI and basing the feature almost entirely around old-fashioned practical special effects. Everything about Inbred is bleak, including the extremely desaturated colour scheme. In an interesting inversion of modern conventions the colors in Inbred become more enriched, deep, and lush the more citydwelling folks meet their bloody fates. Also not so unimportant is that Inbred isn’t quite as exploitative as Chandon’s debut was. Emily Booth and Nadine Mulkerrin (who was 18 in 2011) both are allowed to keep their clothes on. At 35 Booth is as dashing an appearance, if not moreso, than she was in 1997 when she first worked with Chandon. Inbred benefits tremendously from Ollie Downey’s beautiful cinematography and a serene ambient score from Dave Andrews that is both minimal and unobtrusive. Unlike Chandon’s debut Inbred actually looks like a professionally helmed production and not some rather hideous looking shot-on-video experiment in bloody special effects work. At this point we’re genuinely interested where Chandon moves from here. If history is any indication, his next feature should arrive in 2021. We can only hope….

Plot: sculptress and soldier defend themselves from homicidal cyborg.

Richard Stanley’s feature debut arrived with quite a bit of buzz in the advance press. “Ferocious, stylish, and hallucinatory,” wrote Clive Barker. “As terrifying as Alien,” gushed US Magazine and Fangoria boldly claimed it was, “the best science-fiction horror film of the year.Hardware also scored big at the festivals and scooped up several awards, notably it won the 1991 Avoriaz Fantastic Film Festival award for best special effects, as well as the Silver Raven award on the Brussels International Festival Of Fantasy 1991, and the Fantasporto 1991 International Fantasy Film Award for Best Director where it was nominated for Best Film as well. None too shabby for a little indie The Terminator (1984) knock-off shot on a modest budget (just a million and a half) by a hungry no-name music video director. While it’s true to an extent that Hardware is all style and little substance, it’s also bursting at the seams with untapped potential of what director Richard Stanley could do on a big budget. Unfortunately the Hollywood machine would mercilessly chew and spit him out at the first sight of trouble.

Stanley was born in Fishhook, South Africa and raised in England. In 1983 he directed his first short and two years later lensed the bleak Incidents in an Expanding Universe (1985). Another two years later, in 1987, he began directing music videos and in that capacity he worked with Fields of the Nephilim, Public Image Limited, and Renegade Soundwave. Hardware forms, together with Dust Devil (1992), a conceptual duo that would launch Stanley into the prestigious big budget directorial gig that was The Island of Dr. Moreau (1996), a production fraught with problems, to say the least. To say that Hardware looks impressive would be an understatement if there ever was one. It absolutely takes no prisoners, is relentless in its pessimism, and hellbent in making something, anything, from what by all accounts was very little. Does it ever succeed. Hardware knows what it is, and it will make sure that the audience knows too…

In the bleak post-apocalyptic past future of 2000 much of the world has been ravaged by rampant radiation, pollution and overpopulation. The Big One, an unspecified event of nuclear annihilation, has vaporized much of the world’s water. This is now known as The Zone - an inhospitable, misty wasteland cloaked by perennial red clouds and holocaustwinds - is used by the government to test military hardware. What little pockets of humanity are left live in high-security automated apartments in fortified, semi-militarized cities under a totalitarian, war-mongering government that controls every aspect of life. Citizens are encouraged to undergo sterilization and legislation forbids them from having more than two children. Mutation and cancer are omnipresent. It is under these circumstances that off-duty grizzled space marine Moses Baxter (Dylan McDermott) arrives at a trading post in New York with his friend Shades (John Lynch) in tow. Baxter hopes to pick up a Christmas present for his unemployed, metalworker artist girlfriend Jill Grakowski (Stacey Travis) to make up for time in between deployments. He buys the remains of a decommissioned cyborg from The Zone dwelling Nomad (Carl McCoy) keeping the head to himself and selling the parts that do not interest him to junkyard dealer Alvy (Mark Northover, with the voice of Marc Smith). When Moses arrives at Jill’s apartment she isn’t exactly overjoyed to see him, but things improve.

Jill has problems of her own. Refugees have taken in every inch of the fortified building and the situation with her creepy voyeuristic neighbor Lincoln Wineberg, Jr. (William Hootkins) is steadily escalating. From every angle cynical W.A.R. Radio Channel DJ Angry Bob (Iggy Pop) pollutes the airwaves with his constant barrage of profanities and obscenities. Jill’s happy enough with Moses’ gift painting an Union Jack on the skull and welding it to her latest installation. A power surge activates the cyborg head and the damaged battle unit starts to reassemble itself from parts of Jill’s metal art pieces and household appliances. What Jill and Moses don’t realize is that the reconstituted cyborg is a dismantled Mark 13 autonomous combat unit prototype that was discarded due to a fault in its programming. However the new and improved Mark 13 line is on the verge of mass production and is scheduled to be deployed as a means of population control once sufficient amounts have come in rotation. By the time Moses comes into that vital bit of information by way of Alvy he’s halfway across town and his friend Shades is too stoned to be of any help. Not only will Jill have to fend off the advances of the squalid Lincoln who has come in response to all the ruckus but also the homicidal infiltration unit that lies waiting in the shadows of her apartment. Meanwhile Moses rushes to her rescue with a ragtag team of gun-toting mercenaries, but can they stop Mark 13?

Early in his career Simon Boswell composed scores for films by Italian horror directors Dario Argento, Lamberto Bava, and Michele Soavi, as well as Mexican avant-gardist Alejandro Jodorowsky. He also worked with Clive Barker, and Danny Boyle, as well as Spanish cult filmmaker Álex de la Iglesia. Our personal exposure to Boswell’s music came with the all but forgotten 1994 CD-i cyberpunk/neo-noir videogame Burn:Cycle. That exactly somone like Boswell would end up composing the score seems only right in hindsight. Whether it’s twangy, bluesy guitars, ambient New Age synthesizers (that in some parts remind of Brad Fiedel), or ‘Stabat Mater’ from Gioachino Rossini in a new arrangement, Boswell’s score fits Hardware perfectly. Also featured are songs from Fields Of The Nephilim (‘Power’), Public Image Ltd. (‘The Order Of Death’), Ministry (‘Stigmata’), Iggy Pop (‘Bad Life’), and Motörhead (‘Ace Of Spades’) with clips from GWAR and Einsturzende Neubauten (‘1/2 Mensch’) seen briefly in passing.

Hardware is a combination of two things. First and foremost the human aspect of the story is a reimagining of Richard Stanley’s earlier Incidents in an Expanding Universe (1985) wherein a grizzled space marine and a sculptress try to maintain a meaningful relationship in a bleak totalitarian society ravaged by radiation, overpopulation, and a war-mongering government. The cyborg element was liberally borrowed from the Fleetway Publications short story “SHOK! Walter's Robo-Tale” written by Steve MacManus (as Ian Rogan) and drawn by Kevin O'Neill that was published in the Judge Dredd Annual 1981, a derivate of the British weekly anthology comic 2000 AD. In the graphic novel a space marine buys his artist girlfriend a Shok cyborg head. The cyborg reactivates, and starts to reassemble itself. It culminates in both the space marine and the girlfriend coming to a gruesome end as the cyborg goes on a killing spree. The comic was reprinted in 2000 AD prog 612 and later in colorised form in issue #35 of the US format Judge Dredd series from Quality Comics. Understandably MacManus and O’Neill sued for their rightful share and a court case was decided in their favor. Legal wrangles aside, Hardware is just a very effective piece of low-budget filmmaking.

And then there are the overwhelming, claustrophobic visuals that seem to draw from any number of influences. The abstract lighting is very much reminiscent of Mario Bava and prime Dario Argento, judging from the angular interiors Stanley probably saw Blade Runner (1982) or The Giant Of Metropolis (1961). The stark minimalism and oppressive industrial feel recall both Eraserhead (1977) and Tetsuo: the Iron Man (1989) in varying degrees while the psychedelia takes a page or two from the acid/LSD flicks following the success of Easy Rider (1969) or the more broadly philosophical (and underappreciated) Altered States (1980). The action scenes breathe Hong Kong although they are not nearly as kinetic or as over-the-top. Hardware packs a lot of punch, and it was evident that Richard Stanley could be the next great action director. Unfortunately he was saddled with a big budget monstrosity that had disaster written all over it from the onset. Not even an experienced director (John Frankenheimer) could salvage the mess that The Island of Dr. Moreau (1996) was turning into, so it’s unjust that the blame was cast on Stanley – and even less so was his subsequent exiling from Hollywood. Thankfully he has recently redeemed himself in sight of critics and detractors alike with the H.P. Lovecraft adaptation Color Out of Space (2019). It makes you wonder what Stanley could have done with a Nemesis (1992) sequel and it’s incomprehensible how he was never given the opportunity to direct an action movie in, say, Hong Kong or the Philippines.