A team of Louisiana Army National Guards venture into a local bayou. After getting lost they take three small boats belonging to local Cajuns. When they fire blank bullets at the men the Cajuns return this gesture with real bullets, killing one of the soldiers. From here on in things get worse and worse for the soldiers as they must fight for their own survival.
I remember seeing the last act of this film on late night TV in the 80’s and it was one of the most paranoid and chilling sequences I think I had ever seen in a film. Seeing the full film, this sequence remains taut and utterly unnerving.
In fact the film as a whole is yet another gem from director Walter Hill (The Warriors, 48 Hours, The Driver) with amazing cinematography from Andrew Laszlo.
This film reminds me of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre in that we have a slow tension-filled buildup until a massively violent incident comes out of the blue and shows us that the film means business. I’m certainly not going to disclose this genuinely shocking moment but it’s a gritty, uncompromising incident in a gritty and uncompromising film.
A fine all-male ensemble reminds me of the same dynamic as John Carpenter’s The Thing which can’t be bad. In fact, it reminded me of The Warriors also, but minus another Mercy type character. Again, this comparison is no bad thing.
On it’s release the movie drew inevitable comparisons to Deliverance but this feels rawer, leaner and more suspenseful. This has the sensibilities of an edgier independent film. And there are no cringy scenes involving banjos.
I first heard of this Yuletide horror flick as John Waters spoke about it as being his favourite seasonal cinematic shocker. With such high praise from The Prince of Puke I later heard it was being shown at a local cinema in Sydney, Australia where I lived for a year (it was actually shown as part of a double bill with Black Christmas which is possibly the greatest duo of films I’ve ever seen on the big screen).
This film was also seized during the raids on video shops that happened in the UK during the video nasties furore. After it was seized it was then banned by the BBFC. Hence, why I wasn’t allowed by the powers that be to see this masterpiece in the 80’s.
The film centres around Harry Stadling who we see first as a child as he sees Santa pleasuring his mother. After seeing Old Nick being so naughty he goes upstairs and self harms with a broken ornament from a Christmas tree.
The film then flashes forward to Harry as an adult working in a local toy factory. He seems to be completely obsessed by Santa Claus and even dresses like him, sleeps in his outfit and orientates his whole being towards becoming him. We even see him applying way too much shaving foam to his face so that it resembles a white beard to make the likeness even more apparent. He has also starts to make notes regarding the neighbourhood children as to who has been ‘good’ or ‘bad’ whilst jotting down examples of why he has arrived at his decision.
Harry is told by his boss that the factory will donate toys to children at a local hospital but only if production at the factory increases and employees chip in with their own money. This angers Harry who sees this as an indication that his boss only cares about production rather than genuinely caring for the local unfortunate kids.
Harry’s Santaphilia reaches new heights on Christmas Evil when he seems to truly believe that he is Father Christmas. He starts to travel around in his equivalent of a reindeer led sleigh- a van with a picture of a sleigh on the side of it. He creeps into his brother’s house and leaves bags of presents for his nephews and then leaves a bag of dirt to one of the other neighbourhood children he has noted down as being ‘bad’.
After he is mocked by three men who are leaving church, he stabs one of the men in the eye with a sharpened Christmas ornament and then kills all three with an axe. After then entertaining people at a local Christmas party who mistake for just some harmless Santa impersonator and after telling the kids present that they should be good, he breaks into his co-worker Frank’s house (who we saw earlier in the film after he asked to swap shifts with Harry so he could be with his family only to be then spotted by Harry in a local bar drinking with his pals much to Harry’s chagrin) and murders him but not before leaving toys for his kids.
To tell you much more would ruin the film for everyone and disclose some genuinely unexpected and quite brilliant twists. Without giving too much away I love the fact that even though he’s a murderous Santa, the neighbourhood’s kids protect him from an angry mob who have formed to capture or even kill him. The kids will save Santa even he is to Christmas what Michael Myers is to Halloween.
The final scene will fully ignite the magic of the Yuletide season in your soul. Seriously! Did Steven Spielberg steal it for possibly the most iconic scene of E.T? Quite possibly. I’ll take this movie over Spielberg’s saccharine family favourite any day though.
A genuine oddity and a film unlike any other, Christmas Evil was worth the wait for me and John Waters is completely justified to have taken this to his heart. Perfectly acted, beautifully photographed and with some fantastic insights regarding ‘this most wonderful time of the year’. These include those who are permitted to buy into the whole illusion of Christmas whilst others aren’t, the vileness of capitalism masquerading as being caring and charitable (but only if production is increased) and how in-crowds and groups judge others as ‘one of us’ or not.
Waters said that if he had kids (and that would be quite something) he would sit down and watch this seasonal shocker with them every year. And if they didn’t like it they would be PUNISHED! That’s fair enough in my book.
The sequel to Wonder Woman was rescheduled time and time again because of the emergence of COVID-19 and cinemas being off limits. It’s finally been released however but can also be streamed on HBO Max which has made some to say that cinemas may be a thing of the past.
So is this sequel as good as it’s amazing first film?
The film opens with Diana reminiscing to when she was a child and taking part in an Olympics style event in which she excels until she is felled by a tree branch which makes her fall from the horse that carries her but then decides to cheat to try and take the lead. She is found out to have cheated however and whilst she is heartbroken at not having won she is told that her time will come. This opening is in keeping with the first film and is fantastic.
But as the film then flashes forward into 1984 it starts to come seriously unstuck. It’s easy for films to fall into a kind of exaggerated, unrealistic and truly irritating parody of a decade especially one that is larger than life like the 1980’s. The film falls headlong into this trap and so the 80’s we see is wall to wall bad fashions, people eating fatty foods in abundance and littering. It feels fake and manufactured. If there was a hashtag that could be used here for the Twitterati it would be #notmy80s. ‘Ah but this is the vision of the 80’s that is individual to this film and Patty Jenkins’ I hear the comic fanboys screaming. Then in that case it just plain sucks.
There then comes an action sequence in a shopping mall in which WW foils a robbery. It’s so pointless and pathetic that I actually shouted out in the cinema ‘This is awful!’ I even for a nanosecond thought of walking out. This would have set a new record for the fastest time I’ve walked out of a film, having lasted only ten minutes watching Freddy Vs Jason.
Fortunately the film calms down on the over the top 80’s schtick as we see the main narrative for the film- an artefact known as the dreamstone which can fulfil the wish of those who touch it but with a catch. For every wish, the person loses something else dear to them. When I heard of this premise for the film it seemed fine. But as is stated by characters within the film, this is actually based on the urban legend of the ‘Monkey’s Paw’. When I found this out (and by characters in the actual film!) the premise disintegrated right before my eyes. I felt robbed and the whole premise for the film felt lazy. In fact, very quickly in the film I found myself thinking ‘I really don’t care what happens to ANY character in this film’. Nothing in the film’s runtime swayed me from this.
Diana wishes for Steve Trevor to come back and hence this is how we get Chris Pine back in the sequel. However, with this wish coming true we see WW start to lose her powers. The scene where we see him reappear should have had a massive emotional pull for the audience. There was nothing. This film is just like it’s depiction of the decade it takes place in- all surface, no depth.
We are introduced to the socially awkward Barbara Minerva who wishes to be just like Diana. She gains her wish. She later wishes to be an ‘apex predator’. Again, she gets her wish and transforms into supervillianess Cheetah. The first glimpse of Cheetah was so naff I actually burst out laughing.
We also get another baddie in the form of ‘orange man bad’ Max Lord who is based on Donald Trump. Theres even a border wall in the film. Hmmm. The President of the United States in the film is obviously based on Ronald Reagan. There are even allusions to his Alzheimers with him saying that felt completely disorientated and ‘somewhere else’ during one scene. Or maybe with such as admission he’s based on Joe Biden instead.
The real problem for me throughout the film are the scenes that involve Wonder Woman which is massively problematic based around her character. The action scenes contain the worst examples of CGI I’ve seen in a long long time. There are times when Wonder Woman feels more like an action figure in a really badly conceived computer game from the early 00’s.
There is also a scene in which we are introduced to a new power that Diana unveils. She can turn objects invisible by simply touching them. This made me roll my eyes when I had already rolled them far too many times already. ‘Maybe she can also make this film half it’s running time’ I found myself thinking.
Another scene that had me rolling my eyes was when Barbara decides to go to the gym when she discovers she has superstrength and decides to lift weights. There is also another cringy scene when she bumps into the creepy guy who harassed her earlier in the film.
But there are scenes that work. When Diana finds out she can fly it’s through a statement Steve has made earlier in the film about his love of flying. These scenes are beautiful to behold and don’t involve dodgy CGI. This scene works amazingly well. If only the care and attention that had gone into this scene could have been applied to the rest of the film the whole movie would be more of a rewarding experience.
I enjoyed the scenes of Max’s health getting worse with every wish he bestows. This could have been exploited more with him disintegrating more radically throughout the film a la the undead character in An American Werewolf In London. But I appreciate that that might not have been appropriate in a film aimed primarily at children.
When Diana has to say goodbye to Steve so that she can get her powers back, again, there should have been more emotional resonance for the audience. Again, there wasn’t any.
In fact when I heard that Diana was to lose her powers to get Steve back I instantly thought of Superman 2 with Superman willingly renouncing his superpowers so he can enter a relationship with Lois. But whilst I was hoping for a sequel as good as Superman 2 for Wonder Woman instead we got Superman 4: The Quest For Peace resplendent with a naff call for world peace in a nuclear free world.
After the first film I would have wished for a sequel. After seeing Wonder Woman 84, I renounce my wish.
I remember one summer when my family was on holiday at my aunt’s house in Stoke on Trent my father took us to what appeared to be a disused reservoir within a park. He explained that under the grate he showed us a young woman was once held for ransom. Her name was Lesley Whittle and Donald Neilson, her abductor had left her tied up in this underground hell completely naked except for a hood over her head and a noose made of wire around her neck which would kill her if she tried to escape. She wasn’t found in time and so died after Neilson didn’t get the ransom he demanded. Yes, this was just an average day out for my family.
The criminal who carried out this was nicknamed in the press ‘The Black Panther’. After carrying out a series of armed robberies at post offices, he set about the abduction of Whittle so that he could demand a hefty ransom and reap more lucrative rewards.
A couple of years after this kidnapping happened a film was made of these events. It was felt in the media that this was too soon and certain censorious channels sought to prevent the film being shown at cinemas throughout the UK. How this was achieved was by pressure being placed on local authorities who in those days had a lot of power regarding films being shown. The BBFC could make a decision on a film and whether it should be left uncut, censored and banned outright but then the film was at the mercy of local authorities and councils as to whether the film would be aired in their respective boroughs.
This is what happened with The Black Panther and why it was as good as suppressed in the UK. The TV show Tonight were part of this campaign to prevent the film playing with the show’s host Sue Lawley dubbing it a ‘sick film’ even though she hadn’t seen it.
The film resurfaced in the 80’s on VHS but aside from that remained buried as it were (pun not intended). That’s until the BFI restored the film a few years ago and issued it on Blu ray.
So is this film really some kind of hidden gem worthy of rediscovery? In a word- YES! It’s a bleak account of a psychopathic man embarking a life using his lack of conscience to try to get rich quick after leaving the forces. In fact his time in the army is looked back on by Neilson through rose tinted spectacles as he reminisces about it but also brings that past into his present as he struts around in his attic in his old uniform reliving his glory days. He even lives in the wild as if on an army retreat for days at a time whilst he plans his crimes- firstly, the robbery of the post office substations and then the kidnapping of Whittle. We see him use his training at home also again in his attic/office to plan these projects with military precision.
The Black Panther is just like it’s main character in that it’s completely cold, emotionless and detached. This may sound like some kind of criticism but it works brilliantly well. This is the film equivalent of the objective and fact based kind of crime reportage used with no editorialising whatsoever. Even the screen captions to denote dates and places is done so by utilising the font of a typewriter to denote the fact-based reporting of facts. In fact the film brings to mind the reconstructions that were part of the true crime TV show Crimewatch UK, especially the ones featured in the earlier series that were shot on film.
It’s also interesting to see an emotionless character like Neilson operating in the real world and with other people who possess the empathy chip even though he doesn’t. The scenes of him at home with his wife and family are darkly entertaining and sometimes downright shocking. He expects his wife to be little more than a hausfrau who serves him and him alone. He barks his disapproval at every turn and over the most mundane things that can’t be controlled (we see throughout the film that Neilson wants control over everything in his life but life doesn’t work like that. Each of his robberies are besieged and altered from running smoothly by factors that are beyond his control). One example is when he doesn’t even look at his wife but raises his tea mug to let her now that he wants it to be filled again. After she dutifully does this he then takes a sip and screams that the tea is ‘too hot!’
There also another very perceptive insight into his home life as we see his teenaged daughter ask if she can go out to see friends. He says no and explains that she will spend money whilst she’s out and that it’s better to save instead for a rainy day. His daughter then whispers to her mother that her father has said no and they both look dejected. This doesn’t last long through. Neilson announces that he will be away for two weeks on another job (he says he’s going away to work on projects like house renovations when he is in fact embarking on his army style manoeuvres). We see a sly smile spread across his daughter’s face at the news as she exchanges very knowing glances with her mother as if to say ‘Hooray! He’s out of our hair for a while!’
The film also acts as a snapshot of what life was really like in 1977. The red phone boxes the killer uses, the thoroughly ugly headboards and brown pyjama sets worn by the sub postmasters when they are rudely awoken in the middle of the night by Neilson robbing their business. The film also shows how terrifying it must have been to be woken up by a man in a blood hood brandishing a sown off shotgun in your face.
The BFI have done a great job with the Blu ray for the film as it looks and sounds amazing. There are also exhaustive liner notes from director Ian Merrick as to the curious history of the film, it’s unwarranted suppression and it’s re-emergence on Blu ray. There are also a wealth of extras such as short films and raw footage shot when locations were being sought for the film.
The Black Panther can now be seen for what it always was- an outstanding true crime film that was ahead of it’s time.
Dirk Bogarde stars in this 1978 Fassbinder film as Hermann, a chocolate factory owner living in Berlin during the Weimar Republic who suffers from dissociation. He dreams of escape. On his travels he meets a homeless man who he thinks can imitate him in a scam. This will involve his faked murder so that he can escape his life. His wife will then receive a substantial insurance pay out because of his supposed death. In reality Hermann will vanish to Switzerland, live below the radar and start a new life. Will Hermann’s plan go without a hitch?
I love the mystery of this film. It really is a puzzle of a film and sweeps us along on it’s gorgeous journey. Twist follows turn and back again.
The whole cast are perfect with Dirk Bogarde being perfect as Hermann. The screenplay is brilliantly adopted from a Nabokov novel by Tom Stoppard with snappy and wicked dialogue that positively crackles.
The look of the film is muted and also beautiful because of it. It lends massively to why the film works so well as it’s visually and uniformly a treat for the eyes. Enjoy the ride which will keep you guessing until the final frame.
This 1978 Fassbinder movie starts with the film’s eponymous hero Maria getting married to her husband Hermann in Germany during World War II just as a bomb being dropped threatens to curtail proceedings. Thankfully the couple’s union is officially sealed and Hermann then goes off to fight in the war himself.
After learning later that her new husband has been tragically killed Maria starts to go to a local bar frequented by American soldiers to work as a waitress. She meets a black US soldier called Bill who she then starts a relationship with. They are just getting it on one day when…to tell you anymore would be to reveal a huge plot detail that I’m not going to spoil for you!
I first heard about this film when at university studying Film Studies as one of my tutors had the poster for the movie on her office wall.
Whilst it’s interesting to see a character doing what needs to be done to survive and indeed prosper within challenging circumstances, I found this film to be a bit, erm, flat. I’ve read great reviews regarding it with many critics and casual viewers stating the opinion that this is one of Fassbinder’s best movies. When it was originally released it not only wowed the critics but also performed very well at the box office. But I think that this is maybe because many of the more radical and idiosyncratic aspects of Fassbinder’s films aren’t present here hence making it more palatable for cinemagoers used to more mainstream and linear films.
I think that if you have a lead character who can become so detached and cold as to exploit those around her for her own gain even if it’s done in exceptionally destitute circumstances, you don’t have an especially likeable character who audiences can engage with. At least that’s what I felt. Plenty of critics and moviegoing audiences disagree though.
Not a complete disaster by any stretch of the imagination with great acting and fantastic cinematography as ever by Michael Ballhaus who would go on to work with Scorsese after his tenure with Fassbinder was over.
Fassbinder’s 1971 film concerns a German film crew waiting for a production to start whilst on set in a Spanish hotel lobby.
The film starts with the verbal recanting of a Goofy cartoon. This is possibly the most linear and conventional part of the entire film’s narrative but that’s not an insult. The rest of the film shows fragments of how the characters interact with each other on many different levels. The movie also shows the power relations and how these shift throughout the film’s duration.
The film crew resemble a Germanic version of the trope of superstars Warhol used to use. With waiting comes emotions ranging from an utter lack of enthusiasm through to explosive rage about proceedings not starting when they should or crew members not doing what they should when filming does actually begin.
This film was based on Fassbinder’s experiences of making the film Whity. It must have been hell for him judging by the events depicted here.
If you’re looking for a film with a linear narrative, a ‘start, middle and end’, if you will, this isn’t for you. But if you’re looking to be swept away by Fassbinder into a film that is more of an experience, then you’ll love this.
This early Fassbinder film concerns a group of dissatisfied and directionless young people who turn their attentions away from themselves and the relationships within their inner circle when a young Greek man arrives looking for work and lodging. Soon the group rumour mill goes into overdrive as they perceive the young man as an outsider and so demonise and persecute him.
Another great character driven piece by the German maestro with the ugliest facets of human nature being explored as the members of the insular and narrow minded group start to spread rumours and make their prejudices known towards young Jorgos. After an innocuous chance meeting in the street with one of the women from the gang, the group’s Chinese Whispers soon snowball to him having tried to rape her as well as other crimes such as him being a Communist.
The men of the group then seize their opportunity to beat him up for crimes he isn’t guilty of.
Conformity, group hysteria and mobbing by the gang are all explored perceptively within Katzelmacher which makes it, unfortunately, ring all too true.
Beautifully acted, perfectly framed and directed and with a gorgeous late 60’s black and white which is icy cool and absolutely gorgeous.
Look out for the scene of the young woman dancing.
More Fassbinder goodness with this 1974 film as we see the central character start out as a happy go lucky woman who feels pressurised to find a man, settle down and adjust to married life. Her own parents are revealed to be in a loveless marriage until Martha’s father collapses and dies when he is with his daughter on holiday in Italy.
I’m not going to give away too much about the plot and what happens during the course of the movie as I don’t want to blunt the impact of the film but all I’ll say is that this is a dark piece of cinema! And I mean DARK!
As the concept of coercive control is just starting to be spoken about in the popular media, Fassbinder had made a film about it 1974. And gaslighting. And marital sadism.
A special mention needs to go to Margit Carstensen in the lead role whose performance is nothing short of astonishing as we see her character’s spirit and very existence being destroyed and disintegrating before our very eyes.
I also didn’t know that Karlheinz Bohm had ever depicted a darker character than his star turn in Michael Powell’s Peeping Tom. I was sooo wrong! His character here is a sadistic psychopath/narcissist and acted to grimy and reptilian perfection.
I remember when I saw the movie Threads for the first time. I thought to myself that it couldn’t get any darker but then saw that that it was only halfway through it’s running time. I then saw that it could get MUCH darker! The same happened when I watched Martha.
This does for marriage and societal expectations for women what Jaws did for sharks. When I watched this I kept thinking to myself ‘I’m so glad that I’m gay. And that I’m happily single!’
Emmi, a 60 year old widowed cleaner decides to enter a bar that is playing Arabic music to shield from the rain. She sits at a table on her own far from the regulars who are at the other side of the bar. They dare one of their entourage, Ali to go and ask her to dance. Whilst they think he will refuse instead he calls their bluff and complies.
With this Emmi and Ali get to know each other and this develops into a relationship. But with this the couple come face to face with societal prejudices regarding inter-racial relationships and their age gap.
Masterfully directed by Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Ali- Fear Eats The Soul shows how the love between Ali and Emmi is met with others hatred, ignorance and bigotries.
The couple are quickly ostracised and find themselves all alone which is depicted by the couple being depicted in long shots in many of the film’s scenes. One such is the heartbreaking scene in which they both sit in the rain outside a restaurant where there are no other diners. The couple sitting at the middle table of a huge and empty seating area emphasises their ostracised status within the restaurant and society in general. In fact the only others there are the restaurant’s staff who have decided to stand outside openly gawping at the couple in wide eyed disbelief that they would dare to be in a loving relationship whilst transgressing so many norms of what is acceptable and what isn’t.
The scope of these extreme long shots which emphasise their isolation and separation is huge with Emmi and Ali being shown to be tiny within them. This emphasises just how cut off from everyone else they are whether that be the people around them or society as a whole. Another example is when they go to a restaurant just after they get married. The couple even seemingly break the fourth wall and look into the camera as they are shown to be the only figures in the frame and dwarfed by how far away the camera is and how small their figures are in the frame. Fassbinder holds this shot for seconds but it feels like hours with the audience being made to purposely feel a little uncomfortable at having the characters dwarfed in their surroundings whilst they look us in the eye.
Emmi is shown to be shunned by her family who took her for granted anyway and then by her work colleagues, her neighbours and even the owner of the small convenience store she used close to her apartment.
The issue of their relationship being built on love but without sex also poses a problem within the film with Ali going to the female owner of the bar for almost functional sexual fulfilment which Emmi finds out about. Again, we get another shot to depict Ali’s loneliness and isolation, this time in another long shot but this time on his own sat on the bar owner’s bed, completely alone and without Emmi just as she was alone when sat at the table in the bar at which they met.
The film shows that Emmi’s family and friends only start to speak to her again and seemingly accept her new marriage when they need something- her babysitting duties when it comes to her son who had previously kicked in the screen of her TV on hearing the news of her marriage (a reference to Sirk’s All That Heaven Allows which was an inspiration for this film), her storage space when a neighbours’s son needs to store his belongings in a hurry, her custom and hence money when she is accepted again by the owner of the local shop.
The film also explores how powerful the need to fit in with societal norms really is with Emmi’s narrow minded friends deciding to come to her apartment to meet Ali but which then leads to a scene in which Ali storms out to leave after being objectified by the women as a powerful, exotic object of their lust resplendent with big muscles. They express surprise when they find out that he even washes everyday just like any other civilised human being. Ali feels dehumanised by this and rightly leaves hastily. Even when he leaves, Emmi voices the opinion that it is down to his ‘foreigner mentality’ and ‘others’ him even further.
Emmi is received back into her gang of co-workers and by doing so ostracises a new woman who has joined her team just because she is an immigrant just like Ali. Toxic behaviour is evidently highly contagious.
During the film, Emmi goes to Ali’s workplace to see him after he had left. She is then humiliated because of her age by his workmates who he laughs along with whilst pretending not to know who Emmi is. The pull of conformity and not wanting to be seen as ‘other’ or ‘different’ is a powerful one and affects both Ali and Emmi in different circumstances.
But nothing brings people together quicker than when adversity strikes and puts everything else into it’s true perspective. And that’s all I’m saying as I don’t want to ruin the conclusion of this extraordinary film.
There are amazing performances all round but especially from Brigitte Mira as Emmi and the unbearably handsome El Hedi ben Salem as Ali. There’s even an uncredited cameo by Fassbinder himself as Emmi’s vile son in law.
Fassbinder’s film is so well observed that it aches with the love between the two lead characters but also with the hatred and wilful lack of understanding from others that makes it so poignant and heartbreaking.
We also get a peek into the beauty of 70’s Germany which acts as a fantastic backdrop to this extraordinary film.
Ali- Fear Eats The Soul is a masterpiece. It is so poignant that if it doesn’t pluck at your heartstrings and stir your soul then you possibly don’t possess either. It will stay with you long after the film has finished.
Ali-Fear Eats The Soul is beautiful and brutal and just as relevant today as it’s ever been. Every now and again I watch a film that makes me think that my life is better for having seen it. Ali- Fear Eats The Soul is one such film.