Tag Archives: Malcolm McDowell

Hillbilly Noir

The Big Ugly

by Hope Madden

When my son was young, we liked to watch Animal Face-Off, an educational program that proposed hypothetical battles between animals that wouldn’t normally fight. Sperm Whale v Colossal Squid, African Lion v Nile Crocodile, Walrus v Polar Bear.

Ohioan Scott Wiper delivers a similar culture clash movie: Brit gangster v hillbillies with money. The filmmaker drops us in the Appalachians along with London mob elite Harris (Malcolm McDowell), his muscle, Neelyn (Vinnie Jones), and Neelyn’s girl, Fiona (Lenora Crichlow).

After decades of hard, dirty work, these men are about to make a deal with an oilman who can’t get legal money to drill. They finance Preston (Ron Perlman) and his son Junior (Brandon Sklenar) now, and it pays off for the rest of their lives.

Bills are exchanged, drinks are drunk, but when the dust clears the next day, Fiona comes up missing.

Even at 55, Jones is still an intimidating presence. He’s looking a bit worse for the wear here, but the effect gives Neelyn a weariness that serves the character well. And while it’s always wonderful to see veterans McDowell and Perlman with real characters to dig into, it’s Sklenar who impresses most.

His entitled sociopath schtick slides fluidly from charming and hateful, and the fact that he and writer/director Wiper offer the character both intelligence and physical prowess makes this a villain who may just stand a chance.

It’s also to the filmmaker’s credit that the West Virginians are rarely the oversimplified hillbilly clichés we’ve come to expect.

Which isn’t to say the film is full of nuance. Though the tone is less laughable, The Big Ugly sometimes takes on a Roadhouse feel about it. Plot contrivances and obvious resolutions mark a film that’s clearly breaking no new ground.

The subplot about the heads of the families carries too little weight and too much screen time. It’s hard to complain about an honor-among-thieves conflict between two such beloved genre veterans as Perlman and McDowell, but Wiper tells of the bond more than he shows it, so the payoff feels unearned.

Still, for a B-movie, The Big Ugly delivers what it needs to. Our favorite Animal Face-Off was Hippopotamus v Bull Shark because we love it when the big, lumbering beast you’d bet against turns out to be the badass. Doesn’t everybody?



by Hope Madden

Before heading to the screening of Rob Zombie’s new flick 31, I hopped on imdb to find out how long a film it was. I needed to know whether Chipotle would still be open when the movie got out. While on the site, I happened to notice that 31 possessed a metacritic score of 11.

For those of you new to metacritic, it’s a website that calculates a film’s ratings from major film critics across the globe and offers an aggregate score from 1 to 100. Now, I didn’t read those reviews – I like to go in clean – but still…


It’s Halloween night, 1976. A van full of what appear to be do-it-yourself carnies pulls into a dusty, woebegone Southern gas station and meets a couple of creepy characters.

You’ve seen at least one horror movie in your life. You know things cannot end well for everyone involved. But if you’re familiar with Zombie’s work, you’ll know that 31 is neither a spoof nor a ripoff. Every film in Zombie’s repertoire is a mishmash homage to everything from slashers to Blaxploitation flicks to grindhouse movies to the “savage cinema” of the Seventies. 31 is no different, except that the mishing and mashing don’t work especially well.

The homages continue with the cast. As is the director’s way, Zombie’s populated his overly familiar yet strangely mismatched world with similarly remembered yet out-of-place faces. Favorites Sheri Moon Zombie (natch), Jeff Daniel Phillips and Malcolm McDowell join Laurence Hilton-Jacobs (that’s right! Boom Boom Washington, people!), Meg Foster and Richard Brake in a game of death on Halloween night. (31 – get it?)

The writing is dreadful and the acting worse. While Zombie’s attempts at humor may make you recoil, the carnage itself is generally uninspired. He contrasts the grimy fight on the ground with a weirdly opulent games-masters celebration (powdered wigs and all). What I’ve learned is that you can bedeck Malcolm McDowell with all the frilly collars and broaches you like, he can’t deliver with a shitty script. And if he can’t manage, what’s a hack like Sheri Moon Zombie supposed to do with it?

“You want to know what’s in this head of mine? I’ll tell you what’s in this head of mine. What’s in this head of mine is…”

Do you know what that is?

That’s bad writing.

Is 31 an 11? No. It’s probably a 31 – not bad enough to be memorable, not good enough to pay to see.

The great news, though, is that Chipotle was still open.