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That's me sorted!
A region 2 DVD review of THE ACID HOUSE by Slarek
 

Portmanteau or multi-story films are almost always a problem. Though it's perfectly possible to create a set of identifiable characters and set up a situation in which they can interact in just thirty minutes, by the time you've done so you're often left with little room to take them anywhere, at least to the level we have come to expect from feature films. It's almost inevitably a hit and miss affair, with even the best multi-story films – Dead of Night comes to mind – rarely scoring on every tale. Amicus made a career out of portmanteau horror pictures such as Dr. Terror's House of Horrors and the superb Tales From the Crypt (someone, please, put this on DVD), but their output was always erratic. That, though, is the nature of the medium. It has also been argued, though, that with multiple stories on offer, if one isn't to your taste then one of the others probably will be, and this is the comment most frequently applied to Irvine Welsh's adaptation of three of his own short stories from his book The Acid House.

All three tales tell of luckless losers, but all are played out with a surrealistic edge. The Granton Star Cause sees young Boab lose his job, his girlfriend and his place on the local football team, only to meet God in a pub and be given a most peculiar opportunity to enact his revenge on those he believes have wronged him. A Soft Touch observes put-upon Johnny as he loses his girlfriend and dignity to the semi-psychotic Larry, who moves in upstairs and forces him to face, though not necessarily deal with, his own personality failings. The final story, The Acid House, has child-hating, pill-popping Coco take one trip too many and get hit by lightning, which prompts him to exchanges bodies with a new-born baby.

For some the three short films here are little more than cinematic illustrations of the original stories, providing visuals for those unable to create them in their own minds. In some ways it's hard to dispute that, as none of the tales teach us anything new or even provide a fresh take familiar situations. But somehow the film as a whole still manages to deliver, through acute observation, smart writing, a real ear for street language, dedicated performances and direction canny enough – despite the occasional (though somethings appropriate) drift into pop video visuals – to make you want to see McGuigan get his teeth into a really decent feature script (and his next film, Gangster No. 1, came close). Everyone I've spoken to and every review I've read has a preferred story, usually the first or the last, most being dismissive of the middle story, A Soft Touch, but to a degree, at least, I'm prepared to throw my weight behind it. All three stories have their individual strengths and weaknesses, but there's something so grimly, hopelessly, depressingly real about the characters and their plight in this middle segment that I can't help empathising, and a couple of the dialogue lines from that story – in particular the one that heads this review – have become eternal catch phrases at my place of work. I have to admit, though, it was the third story, The Acid House, that went down best with our cinema audience.

sound and vision

A clean, bright and very watchable transfer, not exactly reference quality but this is a grittily shot film that has little in the way of primary colours. As expected for a recent work, the print used is completely free of scratches and dust. Pleasingly, there is little sign of artifacting. The picture is also enhanced for 16:9 TVs.

The sound is clear, well-mixed but Dolby 2.0 only, no 5.1 track. A lot of source music is used in the film and it sounds good, but a 5.1 mix would have been nice, and no doubt would have given the final sequence a real aural wallop. The hallucinogenic story intros have the best sound, which is a bit of a surprise.

extra features

Not much. There is a Photo Gallery, but this is of little interest and after one look a revisit is unlikely. More surprising, especially for a UK region 2 disk, is the complete lack of subtitles. This could be especially problematic for those not familiar with Scottish dialects, as the accents are very thick at times and non-British viewers are likely to have trouble here – there are a couple of moments moments in A Soft Touch when even I was struggling.

summary

This pulled in a good audience when we screened it and went down well. Successive viewings have emphasised its weaknesses rather than confirmed its strengths, but there is still much in the script, performances and handling to enjoy (though some would say appreciate – it's not exactly a laugh a minute). This was an early Film Four release and bereft of extras and a boffo sound mix, but the upside is that it can now be picked up very cheaply and still beats any VHS copy into last place.

The Acid House

UK 1998
110 mins
director
Paul McGuigan
starring
Stephen McCole
Maurice Roëves
Kevin McKidd
Michelle Gomez
Gary McCormack
Ewen Bremner
Martin Clunes

DVD details
region 2 .
video
1.85:1 anamorphic
sound
Dolby Digital 2.0
languages
English
subtitles
none
extras
Photo gallery
distributor
Film Four
review posted
28 November 2003