SCARY MOVIE: A scene from Mama.
SCARY MOVIE: A scene from Mama.

HORROR pictures are not everyone’s cup of poison and, for the most part, they are predictable and overreliant on formulas that have lost their ability to disturb, let alone shock or frighten. There is the rare exception, of course, and this weekend sees the release of MAMA, whose superiority over most of its rivals is due to Guillermo del Toro, one of the genre’s masters and the maker of Labyrinth, who helped Andrés Muschietti, the director, develop a short film he had made into a full-length movie.

Another advantage is the casting of Jessica Chastain as Annabel, a rock musician, who has to take care of two young girls abandoned in tragic circumstances and left to grow up wild.

Jeffrey (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), who had been something in finance before the 2008 crash, took the markets’ fall rather badly and, after venting his anger and frustration, drove off with his daughters, whom he then left to fend for themselves in an eerie, isolated cottage.

It takes five years of searching by Lucas (Coster-Waldau again), Jeffrey’s brother and Annabel’s boyfriend, to locate the girls who, when found, behave so strangely that a doctor not only wants to treat them, he also arranges free board and lodging for their guardians.

More character-driven than is usually the case, Mama still has weird and inexplicable events, chills and scary moments as the children’s surrogate "mother", who cared for them in her ramshackle home, proves to be a jealous, vengeful parent who will not give up custody easily or without inflicting pain.

Annabel is unprepared for foster-motherhood and, if afforded the chance, would prefer a life free of responsibility, but maternal instincts kick in and she surprises herself by becoming loving and protective towards feral creatures accustomed to a more spectral, powerful and mysterious godmother in this gripping, though unbelievable, haunting tale.

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BY rights, the theft of intellectual property should never be condoned, let alone endorsed. A case in point is THE WORDS, a film that compounds its crime by failing even to acknowledge the source of its plot and then going on to make a hash of it.

A few years ago there was Lila, Lila, a German comedy about an aspiring writer who finds a manuscript, transcribes it, passes it off as his own and enjoys success until the real author comes to light.

In The Words, Rory (Bradley Cooper) is an unpublished novelist who comes across someone else’s book, enters it into his computer and presents it to a publisher who recognises it as a potential best seller with literary merit.

The result is indeed a hit that earns Rory awards, fame and money but leaving him with a nagging guilty conscience.

Brian Klugman and Lee Sternthal, the writer-directors, have Rory’s history told by Clay (Dennis Quaid), an author who has written a book revealing the truth and how Rory was confronted by an old man (Jeremy Irons) whose sad love story, based on his own experiences, he had typed out years before and then lost.

This framing device is clumsy and ends ambiguously as Clay entertains an admiring student (Olivia Wilde) in his austere apartment with a view to seduction.

Rory and his girlfriend (Zoe Saldana), later his wife, are shown to be short of money yet they were able to honeymoon in Paris, where he finds the pages that change his life, a wrinkle that adds a touch of illogical thinking to the far more serious charge of plagiarism.

Plagiarism has a long and undistinguished history that goes back to Ancient Greece and the Scriptures through Shakespeare and all the way up to Joe Biden, the current US vice-president, who stole a speech and ruined his chance to become a presidential candidate.

And how many rock hits were taken from relatively obscure recording artists?

If, as has been claimed, writers have a mere seven basic plots at their disposal, it is inevitable that some overlap in the myriad variations on these themes will occur, often in all innocence, albeit hard to explain away, and sometimes deliberately when otherwise creative minds heed Tom Lehrer’s advice — "plagiarise, plagiarise, let no one’s work evade your eyes".

Plagiarism and its consequences are the subject of The Words, a film that is itself a prime example of unauthorised borrowing which, importantly, differs from remakes — a common enough plague nowadays — that at least credit their original sources.

There are countless examples of Hollywood taking European or Japanese movies as its inspiration for a re-telling, often to no great effect, a recent exception being The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, which, unusually, retained its Swedish setting. Point of No Return, a remake of La Femme Nikita, went on to become a TV series simply named Nikita.

On other occasions, the original director is hired to transplant his film to the US — George Sluizer for the French-Danish The Vanishing and Ole Bornedal for his Danish Nightwatch — or pains are taken to ensure that the remake avoids comparison because prints of the original are made unavailable, a notorious case being that of Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai disappearing lest it be seen as better than The Magnificent Seven.

Films about plagiarism are fairly rare but there was A Murder of Crows that had a disgraced lawyer stealing a client’s book and even Woody Allen had a writer (Josh Brolin) pinch a book written by a comatose friend in You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger.

But when it comes to unashamed pilferage, The Words sets a new, highly unacceptable standard by using an idea without acknowledging on screen that it belongs to other, more nimble minds, the victim here being Lila, Lila, aka My Words, My Lies — My Love.

It is supremely ironic that a film about plagiarism should itself be an instance of that very crime, thereby offering confirmation that Americans do not understand irony.

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MEMBERS of the press, hardened by exposure to gratuitous sex, graphic violence, blasphemy, coarse language and decreasing standards, were nevertheless shocked by parts of MOVIE 43, a series of vignettes notable mainly for its lewd and crude humour and, to a lesser extent, by the sight of well-known, respected actors humiliating themselves for the sake of a few cheap laughs and to show that they are good sports.

These short scenes are part of a notorious film that has lurked in the darker reaches of cyberspace, or so a trio of thrill-seeking teenage boys believe. The first sequence sets the tone: Kate Winslet is on a blind date with man-about-town, played by Hugh Jackman, who soon reveals where he found the testicular fortitude to exercise his larynx in Les Miserables. Everyone else ignores his physical abnormality and she alone is embarrassed while avoiding the dumplings on the menu.

The other sketches include a completely unfunny encounter of would-be superheroes, all of whom lack the power to amuse; Richard Gere presenting iBabe, an inflatable woman desperate males have to approach with caution lest they lose their manhood; an outwardly sweet, shrinking violet (Anna Faris), who harbours a yen for coprophilia; Gerard Butler as a vicious, foul-mouthed leprechaun; Naomi Watts and Liev Schreiber as a couple home-schooling their son while ensuring that he still experiences a traumatic adolescence; and a skit involving menstruation.

One of the worst of a bad lot features Halle Berry, who reportedly refused to appear topless in Swordfish until she was paid an extra sum; here, she obliges singularly, probably for half that price even after adjusting for inflation.

Some may not find vulgar gags about body parts and bodily functions particularly offensive but it is more the low level of the humour that is the real affront.