[Album Review] “Music From Another Dimension” (Deluxe Edition) – Aerosmith

Album Title: Music From Another Dimension

Artist: Aerosmith

Year: 2012

Running Time: 80m 38s

Track listing: 1. LUV XXX; 2. Oh Yeah; 3. Beautiful; 4. Tell Me; 5. Out Go the Lights; 6. Legendary Child; 7. What Could Have Been Love; 8. Street Jesus; 9. Can’t Stop Lovin’ You; 10. Lover Alot; 11. We All Fall Down; 12. Freedom Fighter; 13. Closer; 14. Something; 15. Another Last Goodbye [Deluxe CD] 1. Up On The Mountain; 2. Oasis in the Night; 3. Sunny Side of Love

I’ve finally unveiled rock legends Aerosmith’s grand plan for protecting their legacy – subliminal revisionism.  I recall being somewhat underwhelmed by 1997’s “Nine Lives”; a brash, sprawling follow-up to multi-platinum mainstream hit-machine “Get a Grip”.  Four years later it seemed like a minor classic in comparison to the eclectic “Just Push Play”.  Now, in 2012, even “Just Push Play” may be considered under-appreciated when laid side-by-side with “Music From Another Dimension”.

It’s the record that almost never got made what with Steven Tyler falling off stage, Steven Tyler going to rehab, and Steven Tyler becoming a mainstream TV star.  In fact the only time the other band members entered public consciousness was when Steven Tyler was talking trash about them or they were threatening to form some sort of New Aerosmith without him.

And if you thought all that tension and middle-aged angst would translate in to an inspired, angry opus, you’d be dead wrong.  The presence of Jack Douglas – legendary producer of “Toys in the Attic” and “Rocks” – suggested a return to the attitude and swagger of the mid 70s.  But there’s very little he can do with the dearth of strong material and a band that seem at odds with themselves.

It’s part-Aerosmith album, part-Joe Perry solo record, part-Steven Tyler solo album and the deluxe version even features a debut lead vocal from bassist Tom Hamilton. If it sounds like a patchwork, it really is – an overlong one.

There are high moments for sure.  Joe Perry’s infectious, Stones-inspired “Oh Yeah”, enhanced by horns and female backing vocals, finds the group in their element.  Similarly, the seven-minute “Out Go the Lights” recalls the good-time groove of “Get the Lead Out” and “Lick and a Promise“, while Brad Whitford’s “Street Jesus” is a very good 21st century “Jailbait“.  “Lover Alot” – in spite of it’s seven (!) co-songwriters – is an efficient rocker without pretensions and I’m willing to admit that its complete antithesis – Diane Warren-penned ballad “We All Fall Down” – does overwrought sentiment very well.

Then there’s the near-misses.  “Beautiful” combines a punchy rhythm, with Tyler’s menacing semi-rap (‘I was earjacking, eavsdropping/down on my knees so I can hear what she was sayin’ … Now I got to thinkin’/About my high-speed, dirty deeds’), a fantastic guitar section from guitarists Brad Whitford and Perry but just when the song should be exploding with a crescendo, it gets dragged down by an insipid chorus.

Opener “LUV XXX” is a little lackluster in spite of its crunching riffs and reasonable hook, while the formulaic “Legendary Child” walks that fine line – a lazy rehash of “Walk This Way” or a sassy tribute to their own history?

But the ballads, oh the ballads.  In isolation any one of the country-like “Tell Me”, the uplifting but by-numbers “What Could Have Been Love”, Carrie Underwood duet “Can’t Stop Loving You”, or piano-driven album closer “Another Last Goodbye” would be fine.  But there’s five of them.  On a fifteen track rock album.

The end of the record seems almost like it was tacked on when no one was looking.  Two sturdy Joe Perry vocal vehicles (“Freedom Fighter”, “Something”) and the noirish curiosity “Closer” (co-written by Joey Kramer) are okay but don’t seem very necessary.

And if it seems like the album will never end you can make it last even longer by shelling out a few extra bucks for the deluxe edition.  Hamilton’s 80s rocker “Up on the Mountain” is a victory for the popular axeman who survived throat and tongue cancer while Perry picks up the mic again for “Oasis in the Night”.  The eighty minute carnival ends with the “Jaded“-lite pop song “Sunny Side of Love”; a surprisingly good radio-friendly hook – certainly miles better than those “Girls of Summer“.

The album lacks hits.  There’s not really anything as good as “Beyond Beautiful” or “Jaded” and in fifteen years time we’ll still be hearing “Pink” on rock stations.  But for all that, it’s encouraging to see Tyler and Perry writing together again (“Luv XXX”, “Out Go the Lights”) and great to hear meaningful contributions from Whitford, Hamilton and Kramer.

It’s overlong, clunky and mostly average but I’m sure in a decade I’ll wonder how it wasn’t considered for a Grammy.

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[Movie Review] The Amityville Haunting

Starring: Jason Williams, Amy Van Horne, Devin Clark, Nadine Crocker, Gracie Largent, Luke Barnett
Director: Geoff Meed
Genre: Horror
Cert: 18
Released: 2011

It was only a matter of time until the ‘found footage’ format reached The Amityville franchise.  In the latest direct-to-DVD installment – aside from 2005’s original remake, it’s the first since the mid-90s – a brand new family move in to the infamous, murderous spirit-filled New York suburban house, seemingly the only home they could afford.

But there’s a reason that the place is cheap – no one ever lives there for more than a month or two. Former serviceman Douglas Benson (Jason Williams) persuades his wife Virginia (Amy Van Horne) to fall in line and help build a home for them and their children. They are a contrary bunch: Tyler (Devin Clark) is about 12 years old with a penchant for filming everything (you can see where that is going), Lori (Nadine Crocker) is probably 16 with an attitude that’s at least an 11 and Melanie (Gracie Largent) is the youngest and, just like the original kid from the seventies, has the connection with the house that no one else does.

The film begins with what turns out to be virtually unrelated scenes featuring four adventurous kids who break in to the house and film themselves getting up to no good. The only reference to this during the rest of the movie is when Tyler finds an old iPod with the footage they filmed that night but it doesn’t even become a plot device so it’s kind of pointless.

Most of the movie revolves around Tyler filming the family around the home and capturing the aftermath of the demise of several characters (a real estate agent, a mover). He’s not a bad kid but he gets treated like a dog by the contemptible Douglas, a stern, unreasonable, impatient, needlessly-aggressive man whose disdain for his son is only superseded by his intolerance of his (admittedly) annoying older daughter. When the back door is left open at night he blames all the kids one after another showing parenting skills on a par with Harry Wormwood (when of course, having seen almost a dozen of these movies, we know who is really responsible).

Even though the script acknowledges the house’s infamy – a detective who turns up to investigate the disappearance of a neighbour references the movies and books written about the building – the fact that doors open and close by themselves and several people die in the first few days doesn’t initially suggest to Douglas that something might not be quite right. He decides to put up CCTV cameras (“Paranormal Activity 3”-style) to catch the ‘burglar’ that is opening the door at night, and this becomes another source of footage which I suppose adds a little bit of variety if nothing else.

We know that there’s an unseen presence as the camera occasionally goes black and an accompanying “static sound” interferes with the footage. The best scenes are when we see ghosts on camera that the family cannot see although that effect wears off pretty quick as it increasingly loses its subtlety.

The final ten minutes counters utterly laughable scenes involving Douglas with the movie’s best moments (albeit that’s not saying much). Performances are predictably poor although these are bit-part actors who are presumably doing their best in the leading roles. And, in a rather castrating move, not once in the film do we see the distinctive house front that was pretty damn effective in its initial outings.

The final word on “The Amityville Haunting” is that it’s from The Asylum. Presumably they came up with and filmed this entire thing bell-to-bell in about three weeks. And it shows.

[Album review] “Super Delux” – Terrorvision

Album Title: Super Delux

Artist: Terrorvision

Year: 2011

Running Time: 35m 18s

Track listing: 1 Demolition Song; 2 Hold Tight; 3 Neighbourhood; 4 Pushover; 5 This is Suicide; 6 Babylon; 7 All the Girls Wanna Dance; 8 Friend in Need; 9 Rock Radio; 10 Shiny Things; 11 Run and Hide  

Ten years on from their last album release (“Good to Go“), high-energy UK rockers Terrorvision have reformed (sans drummer and founding member Shutty) and returned to the studio.  Best known for a slew of hit singles (“Alice, What’s the Matter“, “Oblivion”, “Perseverance”, “Tequila”) and an ability to write infectious rock and roll, their sixth album “Super Delux” shows that they’ve hardly missed a beat.

“Demolition Song” (which could easily remind you of the theme from 80s kids show “The Banana Splits“) has classic Terrorvision character: ridiculously catchy riff, hand-claps, na-na-na backing vocals and a snappy lyrical trip.  Lead singer Tony Wright recounts the changes he saw in childhood: “I remember the day when they pulled down the school, the hospital too and they built the new flats.” Seems like progress, but not when he talks about how “the theatre died when the fire tore through it” and that “the parks now a car park, no ball games allowed”.

“Hold Tight” rides a roll call of vehicle-related terminology – or are they vehicle-related metaphors: “Take it easy, calm down/Let’s live a little longer/Cos the needle’s off the dial/Doesn’t make you stronger”.

“Neighbourhood” brings the smoky menace that we probably haven’t heard since “Regular Urban Survivors”.  The neighbourhood Wright sings about is full of “busy bodies” and “nosey neighbours” and he comes to the conclusion that “with friends like that, who needs enemies”.  With a police-siren backing for the refrain of “somebody call the cops, it’s never gonna stop” and a terrific solo from guitarist Mark Yates, “Neighbourhood” can proudly take its place alongside their best material.

The pace barely lets up with “Pushover” (aided by what sounds like a few borrowed notes from their 1994 hit “Middleman”), a groovy mid-tempo number with typical Terrorvision humour (“you told me you’re a rocker but I caught you dancing to Madonna”) and another fine solo.  And even within their unique, fast-paced style of rock, the band can knock out distinct genres.  We go from energetic punk number “This is Suicide” to harmonica-led rocker “Babylon” to the fifties-inspired “All the Girls Wanna Dance”. And with no track reaching four minutes in duration, the pace is relentless.

“Friend in Need” is more sedate as Wright warns us not to “believe all that you read/Don’t take for granted/That what folk tell you/Is what folk really mean”.  But it’s not long until the band kick in and thrash along with Wright’s sentiment about how he’s a “layabout and expensive to feed/But I’m still a friend in need/And if you do need me, then lean on me”.  Excellent tune.

Any fan of rock music will appreciate their complaint about today’s “Rock Radio” (“Hey rock radio, play the songs that I know”) and admire their jaded observation about what passes for entertainment these days (“I really loved Ozzy, not so sure about Kelly/I want Sabbath on the wireless, not Sharon on the telly”).

Some people have “Shiny Things” while others are “held together with bits of string”.  I doubt that Tony or anyone else in the band is short of some shiny things but it doesn’t stop them travelling the well-trodden road of there never been enough money to last the week (“You gets your money/You pays your rent/By the time you get to Monday/Then the money’s always spent”).  Another classic groove.

The album closes with “Run and Hide” as we finally see the band take a breath with the only track that could be described as being anywhere close to a ballad.

It may only be thirty five minutes of new music but Terrorvision have managed to fill that time with terrific, catchy, personality-filled rock music.  Great to have them back.

[Album review] “Mirrorball” – Def Leppard

Album Title: Mirrorball: Live & More

Artist: Def Leppard

Year: 2011

Running Time: 1h 59m 17s

Track listing: [Disc 1] 1 Rock Rock Til You Drop; 2 Rocket; 3 Animal; 4 C’mon C’mon; 5 Make Love Like a Man; 6 Too Late for Love; 7 Foolin’; 8 Nine Lives; 9 Love Bites; 10 Rock On  [Disc 2] 1 Two Steps Behind; 2 Bringin’ On the Heartbreak; 3 Switch 625; 4 Hysteria; 5 Armageddon It; 6 Photograph; 7 Pour Some Sugar on Me; 8 Rock of Ages; 9 Let’s Get Rocked; 10 Action; 11 Bad Actress; 12 Undefeated; 13 Kings of the World; 14 It’s All About Believin’

Hard to believe that the Sheffield rockers have managed to make it over 30 years without releasing a live album.  But here it is, a two-disc collection of their greatest hits along with three new studio tracks (and a bonus live DVD featuring four live performances and two music videos) to give those completists a reason to buy.

The recordings are taken from various shows on their 2008/9 “Songs from the Sparkle Lounge Tour”.  This means that we get three tracks from that album, two of which are rather good (“Nine Lives’ and “C’mon C’mon”) with the only throwaway live recording on the entire record being the awful “Bad Actress”.

But the band don’t ignore their early days.  Five classics are included from 1983’s diamond-selling album “Pyromania” and – possibly the stand-out performance on the entire album – “Bringin’ on the Heartbreak” from 1981’s “High N’ Dry”.

Their world-domination period is almost without omission.  “Rocket” and “Animal” are out of the starting blocks early-on, both sounding as energised as they did almost a quarter of a century ago, with “Love Bites” and “Hysteria” providing some respite before the frenzied guitar licks of “Armageddon It” and “Pour Some Sugar On Me”.  Their nineties hits “Let’s Get Rocked” and “Makin’ Love Like a Man” – overshadowed at the time by grunge’s emergence – are concert mainstays, and both are great fun.

Considering that you’re getting 21 live tracks for $12 (exclusively at Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club right now) the three new studio tracks can be considered a bonus.  And it’s probably a good thing.  While US radio chart #1 “Undefeated” is a nailed on late-era Def Lep rocker, “Kings of the World” and “It’s All About Believin'” are forgettable pop songs.

But whatever way you look at it this long-overdue live album is a must-buy for even the most casual fan.

[Album review] "This is Gonna Hurt" – Sixx:A.M.

Album Title: This is Gonna Hurt

Artist: Sixx:A.M.

Year: 2011

Running Time: 48m 49s

Track listing: 1 This is Gonna Hurt; 2 Lies of the Beautiful People; 3 Are You With Me?; 4 Live Forever; 5 Sure Feels Right; 6 Deadlihood; 7 Smile; 8 Help is on the Way; 9 Oh My God; 10 Goodbye my Friends; 11 Skin

Many side projects don’t create more than a ripple on the musical landscape so when Sixx:A.M. (lead singer James Michael, Motley Crue bassist Nikki Sixx, and guitarist DJ Ashba) sold almost 350,000 copies of their 2007 debut album “The Heroin Diaries”, many people (most notably record executives I’m sure) sat up and took notice.

The record served as a “soundtrack” to Sixx’s New York Times Best-Selling book of the same name – a memoir chronicling Sixx’s addiction to cocaine and heroin in the mid-80s. And, just like the debut, new album “This is Gonna Hurt” follows the same template. The new book of the same name has reached #4 on the NYT list while the album debuted at #10 on the Billboard Hot 100.

“The Heroin Diaries” was a fascinating project. It mixed powerful rock tunes (“Life is Beautiful”, “Pray for Me”, “Courtesy Call”, “Heart Failure”) with more mid-tempo rockers and ballads (“Tomorrow”, “Accidents can Happen”) and punctuated it with semi-spoken-track numbers that acted as an album narration (“X-Mas in Hell”, “Intermission”, “Life After Death”). “This is Gonna Hurt” is a more conventional record.

This is Gonna Hurt
The title track draws on Sixx’s own experience with being down and out (“Feels like your life is over/Feels like all hope is gone”) but offers a message of hope (“Rise against your fate/Nothing’s gonna keep you down/Even if it’s killing you”) and, ultimately, redemption (“There’s a devil in the church/Got a bullet in the chamber/And this is gonna hurt…Keep your secrets in the shadows and you’ll be sorry”). Fast, crunching guitars meet irrepressible melody.
Rating: ****

Lies of the Beautiful People
The lead single and #2 mainstream rock hit takes a not-at-all-thinly-veiled swipe at those who think “real beauty’s on the outside”. Inspired by one of his photo subjects – Amy Purdy, an athlete who lost her legs at 19 – Sixx rails against the media-driven obsession with glamour and external beauty. Lead singer Michael laments how many of us are “outside the velvet rope/standing there all alone”, are “grotesque and ashamed” and insists that the beauty we are force-fed (by the likes of People Magazine’s “100 Most Beautiful People”) is “a far cry from the truth”.
Rating: ****

Are You With Me?
It might be doing a disservice to “Are You With Me?” to suggest that this could be mistaken for a Daughtry track. The singer recounts the early days of a relationship (“Laughing like we’re crazy/Nothing mattered, nothing fazed me/We were younger then”) but acknowledges that things are not what they were (“have I judged a book by how its bound/am I lost or am I found/and are you with me?”). He encourages his partner to “come back from the dead/you’ve been inside your head for too long…Find the places that scare you/Come on I dare you”. Yes, it’s radio-friendly and familiar but it works.
Rating: ***1/2

Live Forever
Sticking with the subject of relationships, “Live Forever” compares the carefree early days (“You and I never really gave a damn/We spent our lives running through the wastelands”) to how the protagonist feels now (“Now, you’re the only thing left worth dying for/You give me a reason I can’t ignore/And make me wanna live forever”). From being “so independent, so high on ill intentions” to being “everything I’ve been waiting for/for all these years and a thousand more”). “Live Forever” is an exceptional rocker with a soaring chorus.
Rating: *****

Sure Feels Right
“Sure Feels Right” takes it down a notch, a pseudo-country ballad with reflective lyrics (“The traffic’s backed up on the 405/And the smog’s so thick you could cut it with a knife/But it gives me time to think about my life”). With snappy references to diverse subjects like Sunset Boulevard, Sex Pistols, Jesus and Hollywood vampires. Nothing wrong with this whatever.
Rating: ***1/2

Deadlihood
So just who is the “you” in “Deadlihood”: “I swear you told me, that you’d be my life support/Guess I misunderstood, you were my deadlihood”. Maybe it’s not a you – maybe it’s an “it”. Maybe it’s heroin. It could be the “insanity” that’s driving him insane and now its “star is burned out for good/Somewhere in Hollywood”. Sonically dramatic, convincingly powerful, this is another fine track.
Rating: ****

Smile
A gentle acoustic ballad that wonders “What’s an angel like you/Ever do with a devil like me”. Michael shines on vocals (as he does throughout the album) and it’s punctuated by a sweet guitar solo by DJ Ashba.
Rating: ***

Help is On the Way
If “Smile” is anything it is perfectly placed on the album as a buffer between “Deadlihood” and the rocking “Help is On the Way”. The hand-clap intro, ‘do do doo do’ refrain and soothing bridge give the track something a little different. The singer talks about troubled times – like when he feels he is “a paralyzed soul” and “a left out only child” who is “so unaware that my heart’s about to stop”. But he says we’re all the same and that “everybody cracks and bleeds/So hit your knees and pray/That help is on the way”.
Rating: ****

Oh My God
After lashing out at the “beautiful people”, Sixx and Co take aim at society as a whole with the socially conscious “Oh My God”. Using the street birth of a baby (presumably to a homeless, teenage mother) as a symbol, the band underline our apathy towards such reality (“the truth is that we’ll never know her name/’Cos as long as we can fill our glasses up, we’ll look the other way”) while also addressing major global events (“it’s not far from here to New Orleans/Where the seemingly forgotten people are still foreclosen on their dreams”). The song reaches a stadium-anthem level crescendo (think U2 or Bon Jovi) with the chorus of “Oh my God, this is insane/How’d it get like this?/Or has it always been this way?”. Epic.
Rating: ****1/2

Goodbye My Friends
The piano intro suggests a halcyon ballad might be on the way but a thrusting riff and dramatic, brooding verse (very reminiscent of Muse) carry us to the hard-hitting bridge (“Isn’t life lived right at the edge/And when it’s not that’s when you’re dead”). The subject, seemingly in his final moments of life with “friends and lovers” gathered around him and “piles of roses” at his feet, tells us that there’s no need for be mournful (“Goodbye my friends/To hell with the sorrow/We have made amends…by this time tomorrow/It will be the end”). Fantastic arrangement, great guitar work again from Ashba – another winner.
Rating: ****

Skin
“Skin” is a beautiful piano ballad. For those scared to be themselves, afraid of what others think, Michael suggests that you should “paint yourself a picture/of what you wish you looked like” and urges the fearful to “come in to focus/step out of the shadows…kill them with your kindness/Ignorance is blindest”. “You are not your skin”, he sings as the final chords close out the album.
Rating: ****

Summary
If “This is Gonna Hurt” doesn’t find itself in the mix at Grammy time, I’m a monkey’s uncle. Sixx:A.M. are an act that are comfortable in their material, tight and focused as a band and, quite simply, write excellent rock songs. There will be trolling I’m sure about how the social justice and anti-A-List stuff is all just populist fakery from Sixx. But this would be a distraction and an irrelevance. A great record is a great record and this is one of the best in my collection.

[Movie Review] Stepfather III

Starring: Robert Wightman, Priscilla Barnes, Season Hubley, David Tom, John Ingle

Director: Guy Magar

Genre: Thriller/Horror

Cert: 18

Released: 1992

Terry O’Quinn received much acclaim for his performances in the first two “Stepfather” movies where he played a disturbed sociopath, dedicated to creating and being part of the perfect family unit.  While the first film was an outstanding cult chiller, the second one was more campy, notable only for O’Quinn’s turn.  The talented actor (who found international fame as John Locke in “Lost”) was – one would assume for either artistic or financial reasons – not involved in this direct-to-video second sequel in 1992.  So in steps Robert Wightman (briefly John-Boy Walton in The Waltons) as the maniacal titular character.

Changing the actor while not changing the character means that there needs to be some form of explanation as to why he looks different (unless it’s the Donna Reed/Barbara Bel Geddes switcheroo I suppose).  Director Guy Magar’s explanation, while being a reach, makes sense: The Stepfather (aka Henry Morrison, Jerry Blake, Bill Hodgkins, Gene Clifford) has escaped (again) from a maximum-security mental hospital.  Having been featured on every news broadcast around the country he decides to have plastic surgery so as to evade capture and continue his search for the perfect family.

The movie opens with a hooded man being operated on by a backstreet plastic surgeon who promises that’s he’s “the best there is” while he cuts and slices his patient without any anesthetic and with a bottle of whiskey nearby.  Some days later the bandages come off and The Stepfather is back … almost looking like a different person altogether.

We cut to a small Californian town where local gardener Keith Grant (Wightman) dresses as the Easter bunny and hands out eggs to the local community’s children at the urging of local priest Father Brennan (John Ingle – TV’s “General Hospital”, “Days of Our Lives”).  His unassuming charm interests single mother Christine Davis (Priscilla Barnes – TV’s “Three’s Company”, “Licence to Kill”, “Mallrats”, “The Devil’s Rejects”) and before long the two are involved in a whirlwind romance that leads to marriage in what seems about 4 days.

Her wheelchair-bound son Andy (David Tom – “Stay Tuned”, “Pleasantville”) is less impressed though, telling Father Brennan that there’s something not quite right about his new stepfather, who had no friends or family at the wedding and seems to change his back-story frequently.  No matter how hard Keith tries, he can’t make that connection with the crime-obsessed Andy who already suspects that Keith could be the escaped “step father” that he has seen on a TV news report.  The youngster uses his computer expertise (using the Internet and Photoshopping before they were common) to investigate Keith’s background.

Becoming disillusioned with his already-disintegrating relationship with his new family, Keith lines up Jennifer, a single mother who he has just rented his old cottage to.  But with Andy digging deeper and Father Brennan increasingly suspicious with Keith’s behaviour, time is running out for The Stepfather to make everything right.

“Stepfather III” came in for a bit of a battering at the time of release as one might expect.  Certainly when I first viewed it almost two decades ago I wasn’t that impressed.  But, on second viewing, the film – in the context of the franchise – has stood the test of time quite well.  I mean, come on, “The Stepfather”, quality film though it was, was a B-movie – shorn of gloss and rough around the edges.  And that’s what the third movie is – hampered slightly by a less-engaging lead man, admittedly.

In fairness to Robert Wightman he puts up a good fight in the role where O’Quinn set such a high watermark.  His syrupy, southern-accented, nice guy act is a little clunky but when required to go a bit mental, he pulls it off very well.  His facial mannerisms and general appearance is close enough to O’Quinn that you can almost buy in to the storyline that this is O’Quinn with a different face.

He’s in good company on set though.  David Tom does a convincing job as Andy and Priscilla Barnes was a good choice as The Stepfather’s lover (as were Shelley Hack and Meg Foster in the previous movies).

The violent scenes are not as hard-hitting as some of the ones we have seen previously and the entire film is undermined by the fact that we’ve seen it all before – and better.  But for a largely-disregarded, low budget thriller, “Stepfather III” is no embarrassment and worth a watch.

[Movie Review] Saw VII

Starring: Tobin Bell, Costas Mandylor, Betsy Russell, Cary Elwes, Sean Patrick Flanery, Chad Donella, Gina Holden

Director: Kevin Greutert

Genre: Horror

Cert: 18

Released: 2010

Note: Some storylines from earlier films are spoiled in this review.

I don’t know why I do it to myself. For the seventh – and hopefully final time – I endured the blood fest that is the Saw franchise.

“Saw VII” – or “Saw 3D” – or “Saw: The Final Chapter” – or “I’m Sure I Saw This One Before” – brings the popular but increasingly-jaded horror series to a blood-splattered end.

The first movie introduced us to Jigsaw, a sociopathic killer who punishes people he considers morally bankrupt by putting them in elaborate death traps which he calls “games”.  Their only chance of survival is to make some form of sacrifice in order to escape, allowing them to have a second chance at a life that he considers they have taken for granted.  And the first movie is really, really good.

Of course when you produce what is largely the same film six more times, it’s going to run out of steam eventually.  Add to that – and unfortunately it’s necessary to spoil the story arc somewhat to properly review this seventh installment – the fact that Jigsaw (Tobin Bell) dies half way through the series, the most compelling reason to watch died with him.

This is Billy. Hello, Billy.

“Saw VII” opens with a flashback to the closing scenes of the first movie before cutting to a gathering crowd at a shop-front window.  In the window, two young men are strapped to opposite ends of a bench with buzz saws and a woman is suspended over a large saw in the middle.  Jigsaw’s messenger puppet Billy (pictured) cycles in to view and instructs the men that the woman is a harlot who has been playing them against each other.  Their choice is to try to kill each other in the next sixty seconds and save her – or let her slowly descend on to a saw.  And so sets the tone for another series of depraved and hard-to-watch death scenes that are admirable in some cases for their invention, but, equally, seem to feel just a little played-out at this point.

Outside of the slicing through and chopping off of body parts is a semblance of storyline.  Jigsaw’s work is carried on by Detective Mark Hoffman (Costas Mandylor) who survived his attempted murder by Jigsaw’s widow Jill Tuck (Betsy Russell) in the sixth movie.  Tuck goes to internal affairs detective Matt Gibson (Chad Donella) and promises to testify against Hoffman if she is granted immunity.  He pops her in a safe house and heads off to apprehend Hoffman, a man he has history with.

Meanwhile, Hoffman is kicking off Jigsaw’s next game.  He kidnaps Bobby Dagen (Sean Patrick Flanery – “The Boondock Saints”), a man who has amassed wealth and fame by falsely claiming to have survived a Jigsaw game.  Bobby awakens in an abandoned building and is instructed by the helpful Billy that he must navigate a series of obstacles in sixty minutes to save his wife’s life.  Along the way he’ll encounter and have to save the lives of his best friend, his lawyer and his PR person – all complicit in his lies according to Jigsaw.

If you’ve seen the previous “Saw” movies then this one won’t do much for you.  In fact the main storyline of VII – where the protagonist has to pass a series of tests in sixty minutes – is far too similar to the storyline of VI.  And VI was marginally better.

The cast of the “Saw” movies are never going to win any awards (the best performer was always Tobin Bell and he shines when he’s briefly on screen here (despite his death he makes appearances in all the movies)).  But in the context of a gore-filled horror movie nobody is expecting Academy Award-level turns anyway.  The whole production is slick, fast-moving and well-directed.  The dialogue is polished and coherent.  But yet “Saw” is less than the sum of its parts.

However it’s an artistically-limping franchise that has pulled in just south of a billion dollars worldwide gross.  So that’s probably the only sum that matters at this point.