The Exorcist Comes to Leeds. Controversy Ensues.

The Exorcist Comes to Leeds. Controversy Ensues.

I love combing through the archives of the local newspapers to see the ads used for my favourite films as they were released in Yorkshire.

If one of these films is controversial enough, it will find itself the centre of attention, wherever it is released.

One such film was, of course, The Exorcist. The film being released in Leeds (in May 1974) didn’t go unnoticed by the local bureaucratic busybodies as they hadn’t even seen the film yet. What happened gives a glimpse into the censorship process that held more sway in the 70’s when a film was to be released.

The film came to Leeds without a press screening.

The above article is very telling. In those days, films would have to go through a two stage process regarding whether it was shown in a locality by a certain council or not rather than today’s process in which the decision of the British Board of Film Classification (or the BBFC for short) is the ‘be all and end all’. A local council could decide whether a film passed (or indeed, rejected) by the BBFC could still be shown or banned locally. Hence, The Warriors could be banned by Leeds City Council after it was passed with an X certificate by the BBFC. Conversely, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre could be banned by the BBFC but local councils could still decide to show the film in their area. This actually happened with 3 councils deciding to show it including the GLC and Leeds.

In the above article, Coun. Lund asks for further screenings to be stopped until the Licensing Sub-committee have seen the film in a private screening to ascertain if it is suitable to be shown locally. I’m gobsmacked that the film had already been banned in Bradford and Wakefield.

Of course, local religious figures piled on to set pressure to get the film banned. Tellingly, Mr Holy Roller hadn’t actually seen the film. I wonder if he knew Mary Whitehouse.

And after all of that broohaha, the film is actually passed as safe to be shown. But not until Coun. Rose Lund, who caused all of this stink, dismisses it as ‘rubbish’. Thanks for your opinion. I actually disagree wholeheartedly though.

The Exorcist went on to play for many weeks in Leeds, went on to become one of the highest grossing films of all-time and is generally regarded as one of the best horror films ever made.

Again, thanks Coun. Lund.

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Meathook Cinema Hall of Fame- Don’t Look Now (1973)

Meathook Cinema Hall of Fame- Don’t Look Now (1973)

After the death of their daughter by drowning, John and Laura Baxter (played brilliantly by Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie) decide to go to Venice as John has an assignment there restoring a church. It’s here that Laura crosses paths with an elderly pair of sisters named Heather and Wendy, one of whom claims to have the gift of second sight even though she is blind. She claims to see their deceased daughter which prompts Laura to faint. After Laura’s recovery the couple venture out to a restaurant but after getting separated, John glimpses a small figure dressed in red which promptly makes him think of his daughter who was wearing a red raincoat when she drowned.

Laura then attends a séance held by the two women who had told her about her daughter. Heather predicts that John is in danger and must leave Venice. However, they then get word that their son who is attending boarding school back in England has been involved in an accident. Laura leaves Venice to attend to their son whilst John stays on to continue restoring the ancient church. John is nearly killed within the church when scaffolding holding him collapses. The foretelling of this incident now makes sense to John who now thinks that this was the danger that the elderly sisters had predicted would befall him.

But then John sees Laura on a boat with the two women, all dressed in black. He also keeps on seeing the figure in red who proves to be as allusive as it is omnipresent. What could this all mean?

Don’t Look Now is one of the most unsettling films I’ve ever seen. Not only is the locale of Venice used to great effect (this Venice is very far removed from Cornetto adverts) but it becomes a character in it’s own right within the film. And a very sinister, macabre character at that.

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The fact that all of the film’s events are playing out with the news that there is a serial killer on the loose in the city makes for very uncomfortable viewing indeed and adds an extra layer of horror to proceedings.

Don’t Look Now and it’s locale would later inspire Siouxsie and the Banshees to film the video for their cover version of Dear Prudence there.

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The character of the old woman with second sight whilst being blind (her eyes are a milky hue due to her blindness) who predicts horrific events in the future for John is crepiness, literally, personified.

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Heather’s ‘second sight’ eyes

Look out for the use of the colour red within the film too. The red of John and Laura’s drowned daughter’s mac, the red of the figure who darts around Venice, the red of the photograph negative slide that Laura has accidentally spilt her drink on…

And speaking of the drowning scene near the film’s beginning, this must be one of the most harrowing opening sequences I’ve ever seen. It’s epic in magnitude and sets a blueprint for the calibre of acting we’re to see throughout the rest of the movie especially from Sutherland and Christie.

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The use of the colour red- Christine’s mac…
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…and the red of the ruined photograph slide. Red means danger

Also look out for the theme of water within the film. The drowning of Christine, the Baxter’s daughter and then the fact that they find themselves surrounded by water. There is also a horrific shot of the serial killer’s latest victim being recovered naked from the water of one of the canals. Water isn’t a giver of life within the film but a force that takes it away.

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Just imagine going to see these two masterpieces back to back in 1973

There is also a scene that proved to be very controversial when the film was released. There is a scene of John and Laura making love intercut with footage of the couple after this. At that point in the 1970’s, the censors weren’t ready for a scene that was too realistic for them (whilst not being gratuitous or graphic). Nine frames were removed from the American version of the film, whilst the BBFC passed the scene uncut in the UK.

The score by Pino Donnagio is just as haunting, surreal and disturbing as the action on the screen. It really is one of the greatest film scores I’ve ever heard and it will burrow it’s way into your brain in much the same way as the score for John Carpenter’s Halloween will. It really is a thing of disturbing beauty. This was also Donaggio’s introduction to the world of scoring films and it’s an impeccable first score for an impeccable career.

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And then there’s the last scene. One of the most unsettling last scenes in horror history, most of you will now what I’m referring to. But for those few who haven’t had the pleasure of seeing it whilst projecting your popcorn bucket skyward in fright, then I’m sworn to secrecy.

In fact, if you’ve seen the ending of the film, I’m hoping you’ve seen the film as a whole rather than just this shocker of a scene on it’s own. Don’t Look Now is a film that will stay with you long after the end credits have rolled. After years of being buried by studio red tape, it was released but the print was very poor indeed. I can now say that in this wonderful age of Blu Ray and 4K the film has been restored and remastered and has never looked or sounded better.

Also, try to read Daphne Du Maurier’s short story that the film was based on. There even more detail in it and it’s just as brilliant as the film.

Don’t Look Now would make a great double-bill with Carnival of Souls.

Jaws 3D- Nice Promo, Shame About The Film

Jaws 3D- Nice Promo, Shame About The Film

With all of this talk of the original Jaws in 3D I got to thinking about the other Jaws in 3D. This was, of course, the third film in the franchise starring the then unknown Dennis Quaid and a shitload of dolphins.

I actually got to see the film in 3D at the National Film Theatre in London as part of their annual 3D season wherein they show films shot in 3D in their full glory. The night before I had seen Friday the 13th Part 3-D and had been blown away by the experience.

I then saw Jaws 3D. Oh dear, I thought. A mediocre movie with mediocre 3D effects.

But I remembered in the 80’s that the film was promoted on boxes of Shredded Wheat. I then hunted high and low on the internet for these promotions and can confirm that they are MUCH better than the actual movie.

Scenes from the film were printed in 3D for youngsters to go goggle eyed over whilst using the special Jaws 3D glasses that were in every box.

And here they are for your delectation.

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My Top 10 Documentaries Of All Time

My Top 10 Documentaries Of All Time

Out of all of the cinematic genres, I’d say apart from horror, that of the documentary is my favourite. A fantastic true story told brilliantly is worth it’s weight in gold. Which leads us onto my Top 10 favourite documentaries of all time. Hold onto your hats- these aren’t your average examples of the genre…

10. Long Shot

Juan Catalan is convicted of a drive-by shooting even though he was at a Dodgers game at the time. He has to prove his innocence. Add to this the fact that the woman who is trying to prove that Juan actually committed the crime has an impeccable record of succeeding in the cases she takes on.

Thankfully Juan has a solicitor fighting in his corner who is prepared to go above and beyond to prove without a reasonable doubt that Juan definitely didn’t commit the murder and was elsewhere when it took place.

But then events take an unexpected turn in a VERY strange way resplendent with a cameo appearance by someone who is very well known to people around the world. And no, I’m not going to reveal all here and ruin this amazing documentary for you!

Life is stranger than fiction and this is certainly shown to be true in this instance. The film also depicts issues regarding race, the flaws of the judicial system and the goodness of some of those working in this realm along with the rabid lack of empathy of others.

9. Dig!

A great music documentary that chronicles the bands The Brian Jonestown Massacre and The Dandy Warhols at the start of their trajectories.

The real revelation is the introduction to many of the genius of The Massacre’s lead singer and visionary Anton Newcombe. He exudes creativity with a healthy interest in the past but whilst being able to take that and make it his own. He isn’t interested in merely copying his influences but giving them his own twist in the present. He’s also not interested in compromising his art by commodifying it whilst selling his soul to a huge corporate record label.

Contrast this with The Dandy Warhols who have just signed a deal with Capitol Records. And this is where the two bands who had previously been running in parallel start to separate and plough their own paths.

The Dandies seem to have plenty of surface gloss but when you scratch further there’s just more surface and no substance which is the complete opposite to the brilliant art created by Newcombe and his band. There’s a very telling sequence in which The Dandies drop by the L.A. house in which Anton and Co live in the day after a huge housewarming party they have thrown. The Dandies start to be photographed as if this is their house and as if the debris we see them suddenly in the middle of is the just the way they role. It feels like narcissistic posturing that is neither real or sincere. It’s a false depiction and has more to do with empty fashion than sincere art.

In fact, you’ll see that the world depicted in the documentary is completely topsy turvy and somewhat maddening because of it. The Brian Jonestown Massacre create truly great music but don’t reap the appropriate rewards whilst the superficial image led fakery of the Dandies is rewarded with riches, festival appearances and money (admittedly after one of their songs features in a mobile phone commercial, of course).

In fact the documentary does nothing for the Dandies just as it acts as a fantastic introduction to Newcombe and co.

There’s even cameos by Genesis P. Orridge and Harry Dean Stanton. You ain’t seen nothing until you see Newcombe dressed head to toe in white resplendent with a huge furry hat on rollerboots and clutching a boombox.

8. Ramones: End of the Century

Another music based documentary, this time chronicling the history of punk pioneers, The Ramones.

From their origins in Forest Hills, Queens to their early gigs as part of the new NYC punk scene and then onto their lack of success in America but their huge fame across the pond as part of the emerging British punk scene, their history is documented candidly and without a sugar coated nostalgia.

This excellent documentary also examines the relations between band members with one incident seismically changing relations between Joey and Johnny forever wherein Johnny stole Joey’s girlfriend with them being in a relationship ever since.

There are also observations regarding being the pioneers of a movement and not receiving the appropriate success because of this. You might be seen as a seminal band who are name-checked by future flavour of the month bands after that but that doesn’t mean that you suddenly become a band who suddenly sell records by the bucket load because of that. The sad irony is that as great as their records are, they probably sold more t-shirts.

7. How To Survive A Plague

A time capsule of the effect AIDS had on the gay community, America and the world. The pressure group ACT UP and later TAG both sought to spread awareness, pressure the Reagan administration into more and quicker drug testing (no mean feat) and to fight the homophobic ignorance spread by scumsuckers such as Jesse Helms (there is a fantastic part of the documentary in which activists cover Helms’ house with a giant condom to raise awareness regarding the safest combat against the disease rather than ‘abstinence’ which is what Helms was recommending).

It was the matching of brains, expertise and organisation that made ACT UP so successful. The group started to be acted to participate in drug conferences when it was quickly realised the level of knowledge and awareness that the group possessed. These were people with a great awareness of the kind of drugs and drug tests that were needed to combat the vile disease and save lives. The number of lives lost to AIDS year to year is displayed via a counter that periodically appears onscreen. And the number increases at an extremely disturbing and depressingly fast rate.

But the documentary also records the infighting that can develop within any political group which can successfully divert energies and time from where they would be much better channelled. Watch out for Larry Kramer’s argument in opposition to this. It cuts through and silences the whole hall full of bickering participants and for very good reason.

How To Survive A Plague also captures the community that has always been at the heart of the gay and lesbian community and before it became the commodifiable entity known as the LGBT community with one letter taking precedence over all others.

6. Who Took Johnny?

Johnny Gosch was one of the first children who disappeared to feature on the side of a milk carton in the U.S.

I first found out about this documentary as John Waters named it as one of his Films of the Year in Artforum magazine.

This documentary isn’t only about Johnny’s disappearance but is also a testament to his mother Noreen becoming a one-woman campaigning machine, trying to get the police to act (against the odds apparently, with the police being shown to be unwilling to investigate new leads even when new evidence is overwhelming), trying to get laws passed regarding missing children (before this the local law enforcement agencies would only investigate a missing child after 72 hours of the child going missing. It’s now widely believed that the first 24 hours after a disappearance are the most crucial for police to act to actually find the child) and advising other parents who are going through what she so tragically had to experience.

The journey that we are taken on with this film is unexpected, traumatic and ventures well and truly into the unknown. There’s even an episode near the end that changes what we have seen before and what we will possibly think afterwards about the whole case and possibly about Noreen.

An exemplary piece of filmmaking which deserves wider exposure not just so that people can see how a brilliant documentary can be made but also to educate about the dangers of child abduction.

5. Abducted in Plain Sight

Every now and again I see a documentary that is so warped, so surreal that I think ‘What the fu…’ Abducted In Plain Sight takes that to the very limit.

Robert Berchtold infiltrates the Broberg family with one intention- to get to their underage daughter Jan. He realises that to do this he has to get through her parents.

This is just the beginning as to tell you anymore would be to ruin the impact and power of this piece of work. We are only just beginning to learn about topics such as pedophilia, grooming, narcissism, psychopathy and abduction now. Imagine getting to grips with those topics as early as the 1970’s when this documentary is primarily based.

Many critics have mentioned the parenting on display in this documentary. I’d agree with this and also suggest that issues of trust need to be addressed in relation to the topics I mentioned above. A child’s welfare should be paramount. Maybe it will be with more parents after they’ve seen this extraordinary piece of work. Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction. In this case, it’s a lot stranger!

4. Legend of Leigh Bowery

Leigh Bowery accomplished the impossible. He stood out in an arena (1980’s London gay clubbing that had evolved from the New Romantic movement) that was already populated primarily with peacocks and poseurs. Leigh stood out because of his outfits which not only made heads turn in whichever establishment he was in but also revolutionised the medium of fashion through his ‘outside the box’ thinking, extremes and sheer innovation. He was a creature of his own imagination and the sky was the limit.

Director Charles Atlas has sourced and utilised a broad range of sources for the clips of Leigh from TV programmes he either guested on or participated in, photographs of his wonderful creations (including some of the wonderful Fergus Greer portraits) and recordings of performances such as the Michael Clark shows and his Minty performances.

There are also contributions and reminiscences from those who knew him well with these memories being just as colourful as the man himself. There are even interviews with Leigh’s family members which add a poignancy to proceedings.

One of the things that I loved the most about Leigh was that it was impossible to pigeonhole him into one firm category regarding his art. The broad range of his talents and the mediums he applied them to are fully explored here showing what a wide ranging talent he really was and also how irreverent he could be.

An incredible documentary.

3. Grey Gardens

A mother and daughter both called Edith Beale (although one is referred to as ‘Little Edie’) both live in a rambling and crumbling mansion known as Grey Gardens in East Hampton. The estate has been raided by the local sanitation department as it was found to be in severe disrepair with no running water, infested with fleas and with rubbish piling up.

The Beales are actually the aunt and cousin of none other than Jackie Onassis who, after two high profile magazine articles about the house and it’s two occupants, provided the funds to repair the house and the estate as a whole in 1972. It was because of this exposure that brothers Albert and David Maysles decided to reach out to the Edies regarding making a documentary about them.

The resulting documentary is a peek into the lives of the pair. Both Edies are wonderfully eccentric but one of the things I love about the film is that at no point do the Maysles brothers try to portray the Beales are freaks or weirdos. They are photographed as is with no interference from the brothers as their magic unfurls in front of the camera. The film was first shown in 1975 which is the year in which another great eccentric was introduced to the public with Quentin Crisp’s life being captured in The Naked Civil Servant and shown on UK television.

I’ve always been attracted to people who have carved out their own life and personalities without caring what others may think or bending to society’s expectations. And this film is a shining beacon example of this.

The film is also VERY quotable through a number of key scenes which have gone down in film history such as being a staunch character, Little Edie’s fashion tips (the skirt can become a cape) and her search for a Libra man. We even get a fantastic dance routine with American flags.

2. Nico Icon

Witness as we see Nico progress from model to cutesy 60’s singer to the chanteuse on The Velvet Underground’s first album and then onto having a highly idiosyncratic solo career.

Her vision, the way she carved out her own life on all levels, how she chose to interact with those who entered her orbit and her mammoth intake of narcotics are all examined. But it’s her genuinely revolutionary and genre smashing music that is the real star here if there is any doubt amongst the peanut gallery who question if Nico and her legacy. How many artists released a string of genuinely five-star albums with each one being a masterpiece? Nico did whilst influencing a whole host of female artists (Siouxsie Sioux is an obvious example).

The emotional pull of the content of this documentary was completely unexpected as the film forces us to re-examine Nico’s and indeed, The Velvet Underground’s music with fresh ears as if we are discovering them for the first time.

This documentary is a revelation. Not even the now dated ‘words that appear on the screen’ trope can diminish it’s brilliance.

1. The Trials of Gabriel Fernandez

The top shot for this list of documentaries goes to this Netflix six part documentary about the abuse, torture and eventual death of eight year Gabriel Fernandez from Palmdale, California.

This is easily the most shocking piece of cinema I have ever seen. I spent roughly five hours of the six hour running time crying at what I was seeing.

But what could have been an overly sentimental ‘weep-athon’ is instead a detailed, nuanced and somewhat forensic examination of the events leading to Fernandez’s death at the hands of his birth mother and her boyfriend, the people he interacted with who reported the tell-tale signs of abuse to the relevant authorities, why Gabriel wasn’t taken away from his extremely toxic family home and what is being done (or should that be what isn’t being done) to prevent similar tragedies from happening again.

This extremely well made series should be used to test if viewers have the empathy chip or not. If they do, the tears will flow almost immediately as the ghastly and inhumane events unfurl in front of our shocked eyes. 

Essential.

Faster, Meathook Cinema! Kill! Kill!

Faster, Meathook Cinema! Kill! Kill!

I first heard about the opus Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! when I bought a book that still remains like a cine-bible to me, Re:Search’s Incredibly Strange Films. There was a chapter on Russ Meyer (as there should be in any self-respecting book on cult cinema) and I was instantly taken with the huge picture of goddess Tura Satana using her martial arts expertise to throw a man to the ground whilst wearing a black catsuit and matching black gloves. ‘I need to see this film!’ I vowed.

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The essential Incredibly Strange Films

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How said book featured Faster Pussycat. As if I wouldn’t see this film

The film centres around three go-go dancers Varla, Rosie and Billie. When they aren’t at work dancing erotically for their male patrons, they enjoy nothing more than driving their cars FAST in the desert. We see them play a game of chicken until a jock couple show up. A fight breaks out, resulting in Mr Jock (actual name Tommy) having his back broken by Varla. His girlfriend Linda is drugged and taken along for the ride. The three women next encounter a gas station and the people who run it including the owner who has been injured in a railway accident. Varla is told that apparently the compensation he received, as a result, is stashed somewhere on the premises. She decides to find out where so that she can steal the loot.

If this film plotline doesn’t sound like the most awesome you’ve ever read, you’re probably on the wrong website. Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! is a film in which the women call the shots, the outsiders are shown to win (the scene in which Mr Jock is killed epitomises this) and all whilst the lead characters are kitted out in the best fashions EVER. It’s a world of karate chops, knock-out drops, flick knives and pure sleaze.

But there’s so much more to the film than just cult film goodness. It showed that marginal cinema could also constitute what the readers of Cashier Du Cinema would call *gulp* art. The film looks beautiful, as the home media releases have shown more and more over the years. Just like Night of the Living Dead and The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, with each new release and restoration, the film gleams more and more. Will we see Faster on Criterion someday? Let’s hope so.

The film also made a star of Tura Satana who would go on to epitomise cult cinema badass cool and clad in black rebellion. Satana’s back story is as larger than life as her role in Faster Pussycat, especially what prompted her to learn the martial arts she so effectively displays to great effect in the film. Satana would later become a major draw when she attended cult movie conventions later on in life.

Add to the mix one of the best theme songs ever (sung by the Bostweeds) which had the perfect endorsement- it was covered by The Cramps.

It’s also a film in which almost every line of dialogue is dynamite. Again, this reminds me of the best of John Waters with the example of his meisterwerk Female Trouble instantly springing to mind. Bloodsucking Freaks is another film that exemplifies this level of perfection when it comes to a genius screenplay. The script is so primed to perfection that the film hits every bullseye it aims for head-on.

It’s also one of the most influential cult films ever. If this movie was a stick of rock, it would have the film ‘CULT’ running through it. It’s as pivotal as Pink Flamingos (Faster Pussycat is one of John Waters’ favourite movies), Eraserhead and El Topo.

When I arrived to study Film at University in London, I saw that there was a retrospective of Meyer’s work showing at an art cinema in Piccadilly Circus. ‘Wow! Art cinemas are showing the bodies of work of my favourite cult directors here! Isn’t life great?!’ There were multiple screenings of all of his oeuvre but most screenings were devoted to Faster. It was during the first screening that I realised that it wasn’t an art cinema, however. Single guys would move from seat to seat after the lights would go down. It was only after a while that I fully grasped what was going on. This wasn’t an art cinema at all but a porno movie house. A guy even sat down next to me and tried to feel me up (‘Erm, excuse me, you’re making me miss one of the greatest films ever made!!!’)

Whilst on my Film course, I was undertaking (and it was an undertaking) a module called Images of American Women (!) There would be a presentation/seminar given by each of us at the end of each lecture on any film that we wanted to talk about that depicted, y’know, American Women. My classmates gave their presentations on such fare as Terminator 2 and Thelma and Louise. So far, so bland. I decided to give mine on Faster Pussycat and was all prepared with a handout consisting of photocopies of the pages from Shock Value by John Waters regarding what he thought of the film and clips to show including the opening of the film and then the clip in which Varla kills the jock. To show how Faster Pussycat was influential in wider popular culture, I showed some of the video for Say You’ll Be There by The Spice Girls in which they depict futuristic vixens in the desert. Faster Pussycat but with a sci-fi twist (and with music nowhere near as brilliant as The Bostweeds).

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The Spice Girls video for Say You’ll Be There- Faster Pussycat with a sci-fi twist. Here’s Old Spice.

My classmates loved it. All except one (there’s always one). The new voice of dissent came from the girl who looked like she had a poker shoved halfway up her backside. The girl who played the cornet (!)  in the Uni orchestra. The girl who I saw perusing the Alanis Morrissette official website in the computer room. ‘That film isn’t real life, though is it?!’ she scoffed. ‘No film is real life’, I replied. ‘But what I mean is that film isn’t real to life!’ she continued. ‘Can you let me know the name of a film that is just like your life?!’ I replied. There was then a very awkward silence that was shattered by Jane, an American lesbian and classmate who suddenly said to Lil Miss Cornet Player, ‘You chose Thelma and Louise for your presentation. Is going over a cliff in a Cadillac real life for you? Is that like your life?!’ And with the snorts and titters of laughter from others in the room, I closed my presentation.

Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill! will always be in my Top 10 films of all-time. If there was ever a more perfect film, I haven’t seen it yet.

Meathook Cinema Hall of Fame- Cujo (1983)

Meathook Cinema Hall of Fame- Cujo (1983)

Amongst the slew of Stephen King film adaptations that were released in the 80s was the film version of his fantastic 1981 novel, Cujo.

Cujo is the St Bernard dog who is bit by a rabid bat whilst he chases a rabbit. Slowly but surely he transforms from a loveable family dog into a slobbering, rabid killer.

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There’s so much to love about the 1983 film that was based on one of King’s best books. Firstly, if Dee Wallace Stone is starring in a film, in my book, it instantly gets an extra star as her acting chops are superb. Her use of method acting especially within the horror movies she has starred in works very well indeed, even if the boring film purists would say that such a technique wouldn’t work with such a genre. As someone on the set of The Howling said ‘She actually believed that werewolves existed for the duration of her working on the movie!’ Which is exactly why she’s such a kick-ass actress. And her turn within Cujo is no different. Here she plays Donna Trenton, a woman who is having an affair with her high school old flame behind her advertising husband’s back.

Which brings us onto another reason why Cujo works so well. The film is faithful to the book (except for one MASSIVE plot point and I won’t be saying what it is. You need to watch this movie and read the book. You’ll thank me for this) and so King’s fantastic character arcs and the turmoil of their lives aren’t smoothed over or written out completely for this screen adaptation. And so we get adultery, domestic violence, alcoholism and someone’s career dying a death (in stark contrast to the 80’s Yuppie dream depicted in the adverts of the time).

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We also get an extraordinary sequence involving Donna’s son going to bed and the nightmarish circumstances that surround such an event. This sequence is like a Siouxsie and the Banshees song made flesh. It’s exquisite. Kudos to director Lewis Teague, although the entire film is testament to his directorial genius.

And then we get the sequence based solely in their malfunctioning car as Donna and her son are held under siege in their vehicle by the rabid dog. Not since The Texas Chain Saw Massacre have we as an audience experienced the sticky, clammy suffocation of such stifling weather conditions as Donna has to think of how to get out of this situation as her son starts to experience the effects of dehydration. These scenes are worth the price of admission alone. We see Donna go from rationally trying to get out of this nightmare to becoming a fearless warrior as her maternal instincts kick in and she is prepared to do anything to save her son.

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In fact, one of the things that amazes me the most about Cujo is how Wallace Stone didn’t get at least an Academy Award nomination for her portrayal. Yes, her performance is that good. In fact, I feel that within the sub-genre of Stephen Kind adaptations, Cujo is criminally underrated. It’s time for a proper reappraisal.

Meathook Cinema Hall of Fame- Assault on Precinct 13 (1976)

Meathook Cinema Hall of Fame- Assault on Precinct 13 (1976)

It’s 1990. I’m tuning into the excellent Moviedrome series of films on BBC2 with each cult film in the series being introduced by director Alex Cox.

The film being shown that night was John Carpenter’s second feature film Assault on Precinct 13, his reworking of Howard Hawks’ Rio Bravo and my mind was blown. I had been a fan of Halloween since I had seen it a few years before this and desperately wanted to see Assault but tracking it down was very hard indeed due to the video release being out of print. That made this screening even more essential. I recorded the film and watched it over and over and over again.

The film concerns a police station in the crime-ridden suburb of Anderson, California closing down with a cop named Bishop being assigned to oversee this for his night shift. He arrives to see that there are still a few staff working in the police station. Unfortunately, the local gang named Street Thunder have decided to announce a ‘cholo’ (meaning ‘to the death’) against the police as the pigs had killed six members of their tribe. That night they will seek their revenge because of this.

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Members of Street Thunder

Add to this a bus transporting Death Row criminals that has to make a stop at the police station and a distraught father who is catatonic with grief who also arrives at the near derelict locale. Add together all of these ingredients, blend together and voila! You have a kick ass movie.

What is it about the film that makes it so good? There are many reasons.

Firstly, the look and feel of the film are amazing. Carpenter’s use of Panavision gives the film a panoramic (duh) scope that is not only inspired but also epic.

This aspect ratio also makes the film very sinister in places with the Panavision making the dark, shadowy corners of the police station and it’s environs even more creepy. In fact, there are a number of parallels between Assault and Night of the Living Dead with the black leads of both films, the character who you think is going to be a major player in the film’s narrative being completely sidelined because of their catatonic state (Lawson is the father who reminds me of Barbara who very quickly retreats into herself shortly after she reaches the farmhouse in Night) and the zombie-esque qualities of the Street Thunder gang members who are just as omnipotent, numerous and expendable as Romero’s undead.

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Another great quality that Assault possesses is that whilst it contains a great deal of humour this never overbalances the horror and suspense. Whether it’s Napoleon Wilson and Wells playing ‘potatoes’ to decide who goes out to hot-wire a car or the plathora of funny one-liners uttered by one of the film’s characters (‘I have a new plan. It’s called ‘Save Ass’), these moments never make Assault descend into a horrible sludge of geek humour or derivative dialogue (yes, I’m thinking of you Quentin Tarantino). The screenplay for Assault crackles with electricity.

Assault also contains one of the most shocking scenes I’ve ever seen in a film, something that is still talked about by many film critics, journalists and fans. I’m not giving it away but it remains taboo even today.

The characters are another reason why I love the film so much. Napoleon Wilson is yet another legendary Carpenter creation that includes Snake Plissken, Michael Myers and Jack Burton. How did he get his name? (I think the arm breaking scene is a good step in the right direction when pondering this point regarding his backstory). In fact, we want to know everything about his life that led to the night captured within Assault’s narrative.

And yet every character is just as enigmatic and brilliantly realised whether it be Bishop who just wants a quiet night shift or Leigh who is working at the police station still. I love the scene in which Bishop whispers to Leigh what he had carved into a desk as a child that had prompted his father to drag him to that very same police station years before to be ticked off by a cop there. The audience never finds out what it was. I love mystery in film, something that modern filmmakers know nothing about but should. Overexplanation hinders so many films especially the vile horror prequels that get churned out nowadays.

In fact, the character of Leigh is a fantastic updating of the Hawksian woman- tough, resourceful and icily sexual. Witness the scene in which Napoleon finally finds someone with a cigarette. Leigh gives it to him and even lights it. This scene in itself is one of my favourite moments in film history. In fact, there are many scenes with Assault which are lay claim to that mantle. Another example is the gang attack on the police station which quickly turns into a beautiful ballet of bullets. It’s impeccable.

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Add to this one of Carpenter’s best music scores (which is really saying something. His music for Assault is minimalist, gritty and utter analogue synth perfection) and you have a bona fide masterpiece. I was honoured enough to see the film at a midnight screening here in Leeds a few years ago and it was great to see one of my favourite films on the big screen.

A film I love from start to finish. All killer, no filler.

Meathook Cinema Hall of Fame- Prick Up Your Ears (1987)

Meathook Cinema Hall of Fame- Prick Up Your Ears (1987)

I’ve always been fascinated by the writing of, and indeed, the legend of playwright Joe Orton. It was so refreshing to discover someone who was, shock horror, a confident homosexual in the 60s rather than some simpering, guilt-ridden closet case. I remember when I arrived in London to study film, a friend told me about an organised tour entitled The Joe Orton Walk that went to the sites of public lavatories where Joe looked for casual sex. A worthy tribute as ever there was one.

Stephen Frears’ 1987 film adapts John Lahr’s fantastic biography of Joe with the working-class boy from Leicester venturing to London to join the RADA (darling) and pursue a career in acting. It’s here that he meets Kenneth Halliwell who becomes his partner and co-conspirator. But this union would come to a horrifying conclusion as the tutored (Orton) would eclipse his teacher (Halliwell) and accomplish everything he wanted to but that which was beyond his grasp (you could say it was ‘Beyond Our Ken’ haha).

We get a fantastic depiction of being gay in London in the 1960s where sex was everywhere with a knowing look or if you knew the relevant places to frequent. We also get a vivid depiction of the gay paradise of that era, Morocco.

Orton was ‘punk’ before ‘punk’. His plays poked fun at society’s hypocrisies through his amazing use of language and his fantastic, laser-sharp wit. The library books he altered the covers of and wrote new liner notes for were another example of his playful subversion. I love the fact that the existing examples of these books have now been preserved for the enjoyment of generations to come. And to think that this act actually earned Orton and Halliwell six months holiday at Her Majesty’s Pleasure. Outrageous.

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Frears’s directs amazingly aided and abetted by a screenplay by none other than Alan Bennett. The cast is also uniformly brilliant with Prick Up Your Ears being an example of perfect casting- Gary Oldman as Orton, Alfred Molina as Halliwell and Vanessa Redgrave as the regal but irreverent Peggy Ramsey.

I also loved the parallels between Kenneth Halliwell and Lahr’s wife that the film establishes. This is very perceptive indeed.

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And something else which is remarkable about the film is that it’s currently on YouTube for your delectation. Watch it before it gets taken down.

Meathook Cinema Hall of Fame- Kes (1969)

Meathook Cinema Hall of Fame- Kes (1969)

I was brought up in Yorkshire and still live here (I just got lucky, I guess…) but even I have a problem with the Barnsley accents in Ken Loach’s masterpiece, Kes. Thank God for subtitles and online Yorkshire dialect translators.

Billy Caspar is a 15-year-old youth who is due to leave school soon. He is permanently dishevelled, looks unwashed and is smaller than everyone else in his class. He always seems to be in another world, maybe because his existence in his grim 1960s town is so brutal. He discovers a nest of kestrels and early one morning steals one as a pet.

Billy and his kestrel quickly become inseparable as Billy trains and cares for it.

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Kes is nothing short of astounding. A film that was made just after the boom in ‘kitchen sink dramas’, it blows my mind that a film featuring characters with the broadest Yorkshire accents would eventually be so revered that it would be released on the prestigious Criterion label when it was released on home media.

Billy is daydreaming his way through life but is approaching a critical juncture. He is due to leave his soul-destroying school life and is due to enter the equally vile world of work.

Kes (the name he gives the kestrel) gives him a purpose in life and shows that there are things that fire his interest and can even win him admiration and attention (witness the impromptu presentation he gives on his newly found passion to his English class). It’s a cruel irony that the horrific event that occurs near the end of the film (I’m not going to ruin it, but I will warn you that it’s one of the most upsetting scenes I’ve ever seen in a motion picture) occurs just after his meeting with a school careers advisor. We literally see Billy’s hope, his newly found sense of freedom and his passion snuffed out in one fell swoop. It’s devastating.

Whilst there are plenty of fantastic performances by already established actors (Lynne ‘Ivy Tilsley’ Perrie, Brian Glover), it’s Ken Loach’s insistence on using ‘real’ people who had never acted before that is the revelation here. Kes feels 100% authentic on every imaginable level.

Loach’s greatest find when it came to authenticity and real people being captured on film, was the casting of David Bradley as Billy. Bradley’s performance is nuanced, multi-layered and, most of all, utterly captivating. It’s one of the best performances I’ve ever seen in a film and one of the most audacious and brilliant casting decisions also.

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David Bradley and director Loach on set

I’m so glad that the sheer brutality of the dark years when corporal punishment was permitted in school has been captured here also and shown as the archaic practice it really was. If you don’t feel a twinge of emotion at the youngest boy’s reaction to getting the cane then you don’t have a soul. Corporal punishment in schools was outlawed in the UK in 1986, the very year I entered a secondary school. My timing was impeccable. I could still sense that some teachers were gutted that physically punishing a child had been made illegal and that their real reason for being a teacher had been taken away from them.

Kes is beautiful but don’t forget to switch on the subtitles. Loach says that for the American release of the film, some parts were dubbed to try to make some speeches a bit more understandable for those not from South Yorkshire. But even this didn’t work. One American film executive said that he had a better chance of understanding Hungarian films than he did of Kes.

Review- The Running Man (1987)

Review- The Running Man (1987)
So I reinvestigated The Running Man last night. The last time I had watched it was in the 80’s on VHS. I remember it as not being one of Arnie’s best efforts.
On watching it now I found some of the worst acting I’ve ever seen from Arnie (which is REALLY saying something), hamfisted attempts at social commentary and more cheesiness than an Edam factory.
But maybe these aren’t criticisms because IT WORKED!
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It’s a fun movie that doesn’t take itself too seriously. It’s also aged very well indeed with great special effects that look great as they pumped megabucks into the production. You get what you pay for (Yes, I’m thinking of you Escape From LA).
In fact, there was more than a passing nod to Escape From New York and They Live (but not as good as either).
I also love that it takes place in 2017. Their predictions as to life in the future are unerringly accurate (Alexa, booking a holiday through a screen, differing views being punishable by law…)
Also, we get a great supporting cast, fantastic source material and solid direction by Paul Michael Glaser. And I had forgotten about the iconic Harold Faltermeyer score.
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I’m so glad I rewatched this noisy wild ride of a film.
4 stars out of 5