Poster of the week goes to this gorgeous Italian artwork for the Steve McQueen film Nevada Smith from 1966.
This is rugged, masculine and just a tad homoerotic.
Poster of the week goes to this gorgeous Italian artwork for the Steve McQueen film Nevada Smith from 1966.
This is rugged, masculine and just a tad homoerotic.
It was dreadful news when I heard about film maestro composer Ennio Morricone’s recent passing. He was one of the greatest film soundtrack composers of all time with his scores lending the sonic landscape for so many cinematic masterpieces.
My favourite soundtrack by Morricone is the score he composed for John Carpenter’s The Thing in 1982. He didn’t even get to see the completed film when he wrote and performed the soundtrack as Carpenter was in the midst of editing the film and so it was from this incomplete state that Morricone came to write and realise his musical accompaniment.
Just as the film starts slowly and builds in intensity, so does the soundtrack with the beautiful Humanity- Part 1 with it’s underlying menace as almost a warning of the full-on dread and horror to come. This is followed by the cello-heavy warnings of the track Shape as the music starts to build up as do the film’s events.
The sudden change in the film’s events are expertly captured on the next track Contamination as random discordant sounds multiply layer upon layer whilst getting faster and faster whilst becoming more mutated until the track is akin to aural insanity. Just as certain irreversible events within the film (I’m being ever so careful not to spoil the film for anyone who hasn’t seen it!) leave the audience feeling that this is completely uncharted territory for both horror and sci fi, the music feels the same- a piece of music like this has NEVER been heard on a film soundtrack before and the effect is startling, disorientating and brilliantly effective.
The next track Bestiality is full of sturm und drang with it’s slabs of cello building up and up, again layer by layer until it reaches a shocking conclusion. It perfectly mirrors the action within the film. The Antarctic research unit has been rocked by events that will make sure that it’s never the same again.
A major theme within the film is that of the ominous silence and deafening quiet as the members of the research unit have to wait it out to see who will be the next to manifest signs of being the next host of the alien intruder, contemplate what can be done when this happens and how they will determine who the next will be. This disarming sense of silent and disquieting dread is also captured on the soundtrack and effortlessly conveyed in Morricone’s music. The stirring Solitude, the electronic pulse and distress signal of Eternity (here Morricone shows that he can excel not just when writing for an orchestra), the underlying dread, menace and claustrophobia of Wait, the heartbeat of Humanity- Part 2 that slowly builds into a low simmering manifestation of underlying menace and the impending terror of events to come.
This is all stellar stuff and completely revolutionary for the horror genre and film in general. This is music that has been conceived by a composer who has dared to think outside the box to accompany a film made by a director who has dared to do the same. This is a big reason why The Thing is a masterpiece and still beloved by fans and critics alike today.
The edition of the album that I bought was the 1991 CD by the ever brilliant Varese Sarabande (pictured below).
The album has now actually been remastered from the original master tapes and this edition will be next on my purchase list.
Hammer Studios goes full-on late Sixties with this shake-up of how they advertised their films to reflect the radical new era. This was an attempt to get away from their previous image which was in danger of looking and feeling stale and archaic. How did they do this? By using humour!
The result is iconic.
A peach of a soundtrack to look at is the Trunk Record’s compilation of some of the De Wolfe library music that was used within George A Romero’s masterpiece Dawn of the Dead. The fact that Romero used muzak that would be played inside a shopping mall within a film set in a shopping mall was both genius and audacious.
To use music that was intended as background music at best and drag it centre stage and use it within a film that would be placed under the microscope and examined closely by both critics and audiences was quite a gamble. Would the plastic music cheapen the film and dilute it’s power? Would critics and audiences alike ridicule the film because of the music used within it?
The answer was a resounding NO! Romero’s vision was so precise, well defined and strong that the use of library music added yet another layer of meaning to the film. Hence we get the goofy genius of The Gonk by Herbert Chappell, the otherworldly and futuristic Figment by Park, the strangely introspective and minimalist Desert de Glace by Pierre Arvay and the melancholic Sun High by Simon Park all used to underscore and emphasise key scenes within the film.
Just as the tracks gave Dawn of the Dead more meaning, so the film also gave the tracks a new dimension of meaning. It was the cinematic equivalent of Andy Warhol’s silk screens of Campbell soup cans and their being analysed in art galleries after being taken out of the supermarket. Genius.
I’ve heard songs from Dawn also used in schools programmes, porno movies, episodes of The Sweeney and Prisoner Cell Block H. That’s a testament to the tracks brilliance and versatility.
This collection of these songs hangs together very well indeed and feels like revisiting old friends as Dawn replays in your head as you listen to them. Essential.
New feature! Every week I’ll be presenting one of my favourite film posters. I actually think of film art as art in it’s own right. I’m sure visitors to this website feel the same way.
This first poster is the iconic UK poster for Brian De Palma’s classic horror movie Carrie from 1976.
The UK quad poster was actually censored as it was felt that the shot of Carrie covered in pigs blood would be too graphic for the general public of the day. And hence why said pic of her was actually presented in negative.
The uncensored poster resplendent with the original pic is shown below.
But there was another poster that was made depicting a note from Carrie that warned people who had seen the film from warning their friends about some of the scares the film held so that the film wouldn’t be ruined by word of mouth.
An iconic film with iconic imagery, Carrie is a classic on every level imaginable.
Every week I’ll be recommending one of my favourite soundtracks and why I like them. Hopefully this will inspire you to investigate more, buy the album or dig it out of your collection if you already have it so that you bask in it’s glory again.
This week is the turn of the Paul Zaza/Carl Zittrer soundtrack for the 1980 Canxploitation slasher movie, Prom Night.
Whilst the film should have been a feeble Halloween/Saturday Night Fever/Carrie hybrid, it proved to be so much more. Great moments of terror, tension and genuine grittiness are punctuated by disco scenes (disco certainly doesn’t suck when it comes to this film!) leading up to the prom, great moments of character development and an introspection that is way too nuanced for other slasher fare of the day.
This is all perfectly manifested in the music on this soundtrack too. Firstly though I have an admission to make- I didn’t even know this soundtrack existed remastered on CD and expanded with extra tracks not included on the original vinyl LP. When I heard that some of the tracks were for pieces of music not used in the original film I thought, ‘Oh no! Filler!’ How wrong I was! The extra songs greatly embellish and expand upon the general vibe of the film.
The tracklisting works very well indeed. Theres the sturm und drang of the music used to underpin the terror scenes (the brilliant piece which accompanies the killer calling each of his future victims is here), the joyous disco songs (my life is better for knowing that there is a song titled ‘Love Me Til I Die’ in a disco inspired slasher movie) that are featured also find their way onto the CD along with others that weren’t used which are just as fantastic.
Just as Synapse’s Blu Ray of the film helped to resurrect the film with a flawless restoration and a whole plethora of extras, this soundtrack contributes to this resurrection with Prom Night ready to rightfully takes it’s place amongst the vanguard of the slasher movement. Yes, it’s not as good as The Undisputed Champion of this subgenre (Halloween, in case you were wondering) but it’s at the forefront of the B+ movies which followed in it’s wake.
Prom Night the soundtrack is available on Perseverance Records.
When I hear people say that 1984 is happening in 2020 I take it literally.
Not only is George Orwell’s novel replaying in front of our eyes but the actual year of 1984 was when the moral panic regarding the so-called Video Nasties here in the UK occurred. I thought we had learnt from that. Apparently not. Feel free to watch this documentary as a reminder.
Gone With The Wind, Little Britain, The Inbetweeners, Fawlty Towers…in the age of streaming services it’s shocking that content can be withdrawn/deplatformed/erased/censored at the push of a button. How about these companies let viewers decide if something is acceptable or not, whether it is genuinely offensive or not and if it is whether we can learn from it if it is. We could also assess whether certain moral guardians are just being oversensitive. Or maybe if certain streaming services are just withdrawing their products to garner a little extra publicity.
This Swedish thriller was long thought to be lost. I’m glad it’s now newly discovered and released on Blu ray.
It tells the tale of a mental institution resident who is thought to have escaped to take revenge on the people involved in his case who forced him to plead insanity. But if he escaped, how did he do it as it seems impossible? Also, doesn’t returning back to the asylum after he has committed the crime just as impossible?
Max Von Sydow plays Salem, the criminal in question and is (predictably) brilliant in the lead. In fact, all of the actors are fantastic with great support from acting heavyweights such as Liv Ullman and Trevor Howard. Theres even a small supporting role by Gretchen Franklin- Ethel Skinner (from 1980’s episodes of EastEnders) herself! No sign of her Willie though (but there is a parrot).
The locales are gorgeous and provide a very picturesque backdrop to the film’s events whether it be the large imposing monolith of the institution or the gorgeous snow-laden villages that Salem escapes to.
The ending is unexpected and completely from left-field. No wonder the film ends with Salem laughing at the absurdity of it.
A low key delight.
4 out of 5 stars
I have a long history with this film as I seem to remember it being shown on daytime TV here in the UK in the early 80’s. The thinking probably went along the lines of ‘We have such extreme horror movies now and so it will be safe to show this old 1950’s horror film which couldn’t possibly be seen as being scary anymore!’ I then saw the film as part of a double-bill of Hammer Horror films that were shown every Thursday night on Tyne Tees Television. I got to see most of Hammer’s films during this period as every week there was a new double-bill of two more of the studio’s back catalogue.
This film, to me, is the definitive Dracula. Freddie Francis’ sweeping direction is perfect when paired with the opulent and beautiful set designs that are just as sweeping. The iconography and more gruesome elements of the narrative that made the Dracula myth more explicit, shocking and graphic were also placed centre stage on the screen for the first time- the fangs, the blood (which I would have thought was imperative to the legend but was often excluded at that point in time for obvious reasons) that appears to be redder than red (and because of this reminds me of Dawn of the Dead), the searing burn marks left by a crucifix being used against a vampire, the ending that leaves nothing to the imagination.
The pace at which the film gallops along at leaves the audience with a feeling of there being no filler padding out the film. Every scene feels essential. The film has no flab whatsoever.
But it’s the casting that is the most innovative and interesting thing about this film. Cushing as Van Helsing is amazing but it’s (unsurprisingly) Christopher Lee as Dracula who impresses. He imbues the role with the authority and menace required but also with something that up until that point hadn’t been fully explored on screen before- sexuality. Dracula has always been a sexy character and Lee’s performance fully exploits and utilises this. There is a seduction and intimacy regarding the ritual he employs to bite his victim’s neck. His vampire gains access to his victims because of his brooding good looks and his aura of the exotic and unknown. He oozes sex appeal just as later the blood of his victims will ooze out of their veins. In fact, there is an impression of his female victims preparing for his visit with baited breath as they lie panting and ready on their beds for him to enter their quarters with a swoosh of his cape. He arrives out of nowhere and in secretive fashion a bit like a much more sinister but no less sexual and stylish version of the Milk Tray man.
Add to this the fact that the film just flows effortlessly and an ending that is still one of the finest climaxes to a horror film ever. It contains special effects that have aged very well indeed and are still a thing of beauty.
When all of these components are added together you have the perfect rendering of the Dracula legend and possibly Hammer’s greatest film.
Theres a video for this list here.
10. Monkey Shines
When an athlete (Allan) is hit by a truck and left a quadriplegic, a scientist friend recruits a monkey that has been trained to help assist disabled people to fully carry out their lives. Ella the monkey starts to bond well with Allan but soon this bond becomes a lot darker as he thinks that there might be some kind of telepathic bond with his new companion which then transforms into Ella enacting revenge on anyone who Allen displays anger towards. This escalates quickly.
This was Romero’s first film since the amazing Day of the Dead three years before and was further proof, if it were needed, that Romero continued to make intelligent horror films and that, just like Cronenberg, his directing career continued to flourish and evolve into unexpected avenues.
A film about a psychotic, telepathic monkey reeking havoc in a disabled man’s life was new territory for Romero and (yet again) he knocks it out of the park with deft direction, all round amazing performances and a tension that becomes palpable with every passing scene.
The film still has the ability to shock. I could say more but I’m not going to ruin this film for anyone. This is a noteworthy entry in Romero’s stellar body of work and one of his best films.
9. The Stepfather
Henry Morrison is a chameleon like serial killer who assumes an identity, invades a chosen family and then decimates it. We see him change his identity, leave the family home within which hes killed all of the family members (their bodies are still strewn around) and go off to repeat the whole process again.
He picks a widow with a teenaged daughter and worms his way in again.
The Stepfather felt like it was part of a new trend in horror- films that were polished, brilliantly made but very, very violent. It feels so raw and brutal that it makes for uncomfortable viewing especially when you find out that the film is based on a true story. John List had killed his family, cleaned up the murder scene (their house), told neighbours that his family were going away for a while and then vanished. He had even cut himself out of all of the family photographs. Brian Garfield based The Stepfather on this true life case.
There is deft direction, great performances all round but especially from Terry O’Quinn as the central character. And what a performance! It’s one of the most unnerved, deranged and fucked up turns I’ve ever seen in a movie. Yes, it’s up there with Betsy Palmer as Pamela Voorhees and Andrew Robinson as Scorpio in Dirty Harry. It’s that crazy! Also, watch for all of the nuances to his performance and his OCD obsession with everything being ordered and regimented.
Theres also something deeply disturbing about seeing these violent acts being carried out in a home that is so perfect that it looks like it’s from the world of advertising.
This relatively low-key film’s reputation has snowballed over the years and is now regarded as a cult classic.
The Stepfather’s director went on to make a film even more controversial- The Good Son starring Macaulay Culkin.
8. The Stuff
A white goo is found to be bubbling out of the ground by workers. It’s found to be edible, sweet and highly addictive. The yoghurt like substance is then branded as The Stuff, sold and marketed. It sells like hot cakes as it’s sweet, highly addictive and, most importantly, has no calories! But, unfortunately, The Stuff is actually a living, toxic and parasitic organism that turns it’s consumers into zombies before eating them from the inside.
Because of The Stuff and it’s success, sales of ice cream are affected to such an extent that former FBI agent David ‘Mo’ Rutherford is hired by confectionary industry insider Charles Hobbs to find out exactly what The Stuff is and how it’s success can be sabotaged. Rutherford also teams up with a young boy called Jason who sees that The Stuff is actually alive and the dangerous addictive effects it can have. I love the part of the film where Jason becomes to a one-man army against The Stuff, attacking displays in local supermarkets and smashing glass freezers that contain the product.
This film is not just a really effective horror film but is also very humorous and also a very perceptive satire on advertising, consumerism and even the military (Paul Sorvino stars as a retired Colonel who leads a squad to battle the zombies and destroy the product using brute force). Its very telling that when the workers discover the goo bubbling up from the ground they instinctively want to taste it.
I love the adverts we see for The Stuff as well as it’s logo and packaging. The film is so perceptive and accurate that it feels like this could actually happen! Dollars and pounds are more important to corporations and capitalism over humanity and safety.
A great film from the great Larry Cohen.
A supermarket closes and the staff start to restock for the next day. A jealous ex-boyfriend of an employee is making a nuisance of himself and had to be removed from the premises shortly before it closed for the night. The employees then start to be dispatched of by a killer who is locked in the store with them.
What is it about supermarkets and shopping malls that make them so brilliant as locales for horror movies?
This film was directed by Scott Spiegel who was a high school friend of Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell who both star here. This was also produced, and indeed stars, Lawrence Bender who was later introduced to Quentin Tarantino by Spiegel and the rest, as they say, is history.
This film is terrific with the darkened and isolated location of the supermarket being perfect for a killer to be running rampant within. The deaths are gory, innovative (my favourite being the head sawn in two by a meat slicer and then put back together but not aligned. One of the best special effects I’ve ever seen) and carried out with real panache.
There are some great directorial flourishes that are also noteworthy and set this head and shoulders above other late 80’s slasher fare. For example, check out the camera shot through the dial of a telephone. Inspired.
Watch out for the unexpected and brilliant ending.
Yet another adaptation of a Stephen King with 1983 being a bumper year for great films made from his work.
A young mother and her child pull into a mechanic’s as her car is spluttering it’s last breaths of life. What she doesn’t realise is that the area is being terrorised by a giant St Bernard dog called Cujo that is actually rabid. What happens is that they are now stranded with the dog attempting to attack them if they try to leave the car.
The main ‘siege’ segment of this film is like a very intense play with just three players. The clastrophobia is ramped up as Donna tries everything she can to somehow get out of the car to get to the adjacent house and call for help as her son’s health is deteriorating swiftly. The humid weather is also conveyed effortlessly with the viewing experience being just as uncomfortable for the audience as it is for Donna and Tad.
But its also the build up to this scene that is so interesting. Donna is shown not to be the smiling unreal mother from the world of more pedestrian films and advertising. Her marriage is on the rocks and she has been having an affair behind her husband’s back.
There is also interesting characterisation regarding Cujo’s owners with the mother Charity taking their young son to stay with her sister and get him away from her alcoholic husband, Joe.
It’s this characterisation which expands the canvas regarding the film massively and prevents the movie being just a mildly interesting B-movie.
Another plus point is that there are unformly great performances from all of the cast but especially from the ever-brilliant Dee Wallace who rises to the challenge of depicting the trapped mother whose maternal instincts come to the fore as she must escape to save her son and herself. The siege scenes are a masterclass of brilliant acting, fantastic staging and how tension is evoked, heightened and sustained expertly. These scenes are some of the most nerve-racking I’ve ever experienced watching a film.
When I saw Cujo for the first time I felt it was greatly overlooked. Recent times have been kinder to the film with a stunning new Blu Ray release that gives the film the loving treatment it so richly deserves.
5. Friday the 13th Part 4: The Final Chapter
When this was released my friend and I just happened to be in the video shop when it was being put onto the shelves. My friend’s mother as with us and so we asked if she could rent it for us. She said, ‘Yes’ (!)
Yes, this was cut by the BBFC with the brutality of some of the scenes trimmed or excised completely such as the infamous ‘machete slide’ scene. But there was still enough in it to give me sleepless nights. In fact after we had watched it, it was dark and I had to have my friend’s dad walk me home as I was so scared.
What makes this Friday 13th my favourite instalment? Well, after the high-camp of part 3 (well it was camp compared to the other Fridays at least) it was back to business with this entry. Back to the dark, shadow hued locales (Part 3 was brighter than the other films so that the 3D it was filmed in would work to it’s maximum potential as dark surroundings aren’t conducive to that technique), back to the brutality and cruelty of the earlier films. Who would you call for this feat? Tom Savini, of course. With Savini’s return we get kills that aren’t just more painful but that are amazingly orchestrated, innovative and distinctive. These were generally blunted by the cuts made by the BBFC when the video was released 1987 but the film is now available uncut here in the UK. We get to see Jason taking a hacksaw to a victim’s neck followed by a massive twist of said neck which almost completely beheads the poor man, a woman who is pinned to a wall whilst Jason as good as guts her by inserting a knife in her stomach to pull it upwards, a woman is thrown through an upper floor window to land on the top of a car with all of the windows exploding outwards all at once. Violence and brutality have never been so beautiful.
We get some great characters in this instalment also. When Jason’s body arrives at the local morgue from the end of Part 3, the morgue worker is there to induct him. He is called Axel and is shown to be so inappropriate in his role that it’s untrue. Not only is he eating a cream cake (that he places on down on top of Jason’s corpse whilst he needs to sign the relevant paperwork) but he makes sick jokes about a female corpse in the room who he thinks is good looking. He sits down and is enjoying Aerobicise: The Beautiful Workout when he receives the hacksaw neck twist from Jason.
We also get the genius of Crispin Glover in this sequel before he starred as Marty McFly’s father or started appearing all unhinged on TV chat shows. His character is worried that he might be seen as a ‘lame fuck’ when he finally gets with a girl (this is later disproved later on in the movie) but also displays quite possibly the quirkiest dance moves ever captures in the annals of horror movie history. On asking where the corkscrew is later on, Jason obliges him by stabbing said implement into his hand and sinking a meat cleaver into his face.
Then we get Tommy Jarvis played by Corey Feldman. He’s a young boy who’s into horror movies and making masks. He would reappear in Parts 5 and 6 after defeating Jason at the end of this epic (thats after he has shaved part of his head to resemble Jason as a young boy to confuse him which, of course, reminds the audience of the kind of deep psychology used by Ginny at the end of Part 2 putting on Pamela Voorhees’ jumper, and hey presto, becoming Jason’s mother to him).
The Final Chapter also feels more than just another film in the Friday the 13th series. It feels like the end of an era not just because this instalment promised Jason’s demise but it also signifies the end of the Friday the 13th series as we know it and the era captured by the first four films. The end of a golden era for horror fans that seemed to start in earnest with the release of Halloween in 1978 with new horror releases appearing more and more. At it’s peak it seemed like there was a new horror release in theaters every other week. This era is also marked by the amazing horror magazine Fangoria which was there to document and celebrate this age. Joseph Zito, the director of this film was the one who suggested the killing of Jason as he could see the slasher phase was going to end soon and so it was better to be ahead of the curve.
After this film was a huge success, of course, there was another sequel. But the Friday the 13th series had started to mutate and change which is understandable. Especially as it wasn’t even Jason who was the killer in the next movie. And, for what it’s worth, whilst I eventually give up on all horror franchises, it’s the Friday the 13th series that has continued to hold my attention the most. Even the missteps (Part 5, The Final Friday) are interesting.
But for me the first four Fridays signified more than just mere slasher movies. They encapsulated a whole brilliant era for horror culture.
4. The Evil Dead
Young friends persevere to make a horror film, get it finished and then get it distributed. Their new distributor has a hand in the new Cannes Film Festival and shows the film there. Stephen King just happens to see the film, raves about it and suddenly the movie starts to garner press and accolades. King’s endorsement was used in the film’s advertising and helped to get the film distributed worldwide.
But whilst everything was going well, a moral panic in the UK deems the film as ‘obscene’ (even though lead protestor and busybody Mary Whitehouse admits to never having seen the film (!) as she ‘didn’t need to’) which led to it being banned. The fact that it received an X rating in the US (the kiss of death of most cinemas now wouldn’t show it and most newspapers wouldn’t carry ads for the film) didn’t help matters either.
So, is The Evil Dead the most depraved, ugly and vile film ever made? Of course not. I first saw the film quite by chance. The film had been banned on video in the UK but one of my older brother’s friends was the daughter of the owner of one of our local video shops. During the ‘Video Nasties’ furore video shop owners were sent lists of films that had just been banned and instructed where to send these films back to. My friend’s father knew that a lot of business owners weren’t complying with this and more importantly, this wilful non compliance wasn’t being followed up on or leading to more serious repercussions later on. So, he didn’t send the films back and instead she brought The Evil Dead to our house when I was about 9 years old. And look at me! It did me no harm whatsoever…
The thing that struck me the most about the film was it’s comic book humour, cine literacy and the sheer innovation to make things work even though the filmmakers had a tiny budget.
Yes the film is still scary and brutal (the woods rape scene is very close to the edge still and feels out of place in the film. Sam Raimi the director said he wouldn’t include it if he was making the film today). But it’s also very funny and surreal in equal part. An example- when one of the characters is stabbed in the ankle with a pencil, the blood doesn’t splatter or gush out as would happen in real life. It pours out like a tap has been switched on resplendent with a sound effect of water being poured for good measure. The film disorientates and leaves the audience feeling dazed and confused but in a very novel way. This is especially evident in the latter part of the film which finds the last man standing, Ash on his own, his mind playing tricks on him through fear and disbelief. But the situation he finds himself in is also to blame with the ancient evil that has been unleashed completely changing the logic of his known world and making it a dark and lethal place. Check out the surreal sequence in which blood starts pouring out of every place it can pour out of within the cabin, including into the inside of lightbulbs! As Stephen King said when he sang the film’s praises, The Evil Dead made him look at films and what a film can convey in a completely different way.
If this was a comic (and theres plenty of comic-book devices within the movie) it would most probably be an EC Comic- fantastical, exaggerated and ghoulish all at once.
Originality, innovation and subversion are why The Evil Dead is my favourite movie of 1981.
3. Halloween 3: Season of the Witch
I saw this on Thorn EMI video when I was 8 years old. I didn’t think about Michael Myers and his no show in the movie but just loved it from the first time I saw it. The plot, when explained, is the most nonsensical load of nonsense you’ve ever heard. An Irish mask and practical joke manufacturer plans to kill all of the children in America via a microchip in the back of each of the masks his company makes coupled with a signal to be transmitted via a TV commercial to be shown on Halloween. Oh, and Stonehenge has made all of this possible.
Sounds ridiculous, right?! But when you watch the film, it works! Add to the mix a great cast (Tom ‘The Man’ Atkins as well as Stacey Nelkin and Dan O’Herlihy as the evil Conal Cochran), amazing cinematography (Dean Cundey’s genius again) and quite possibly one of the best soundtracks I’ve ever heard. John Carpenter and Alan Howarth outdid themselves with this soundtrack as it sounds almost like the work of Can or Tangerine Dream but better! Everything adds up to such a haunting film full of gorgeous shots, genius music and characters that feel believeable as they’re so well sketched out and flawed. Take for example, the film’s lead Dr Dan Challis who is a great crusading hero but is also an alcoholic and serial womaniser.
The video release I saw was censored but a few years after, the film was shown on BBC1 who accidentally transmitted it uncut. The kills are very full-on and pull no punches which makes the film feel even grittier and on the edge. There is a sense of doom that permeates the whole film that really works to it’s advantage.
Halloween 3 had been reappraised over the years as the cult classic that I always thought it was. Even if it doesn’t feature Michael Myers. Halloween 3 never fails to make me feel like the 8 year old who first saw it. It holds the same mystique and power of a campfire tale told to scare and captivate children and adults alike.
2. The Fog
One of my favourite movie viewing experiences occurred when I was in a shared house at University (studying film incidentally). It was late at night, I was all snug in bed and there was a storm outside, with wind and rain splattering against my window. It was at thing point that The Fog came onto my television. Utter bliss.
And that’s what The Fog is to me. It’s familiar, snug and comforting. It might not be as good as Carpenter’s best (Halloween, Assault on Precinct 13) but it comes pretty darn close. The tale of zombie pirates coming back to right some previously carried out wrongs in an American coastal locale has interesting characters brought to life by brilliant actors resplendent. It also has amazing practical special effects, a brilliant baroque synth score, gorgeous cinematography (take a bow, Dean Cundey- again!) and Carpenter’s genius direction and dialogue (check out the brilliant rapport between Janet Leigh and Nancy Loomis) and you have a classic film.
It also shows that it’s as nasty as the leading lights in the slasher genre but can accomplish this without gratuitous violence and an over-reliance on gore. Look at the attack on the Seagrass- there aren’t gallons of blood and acres of flesh. Instead theres the pirates with hooks, steel skewers and sound effects of bones breaking and spines being severed. In other words, kills coupled with intelligence and verve.
Apparently close to the film’s release date Carpenter watched the film, realised that it didn’t work and so he inserted new scenes with literally days to spare. It worked. The Fog is a melding of new and old (a traditional ghost story made in the slasher era) just like the narrative is (pirates in an early 80’s locale) and the film’s soundtrack (baroque played on analogue synths).
The lighthouse is another huge character within the film with it’s old, traditional use being brought into the present (another example of the old/new theme present within the film) as it now contains the town’s radio station which proves to be massively beneficial as the fog rolls in as people are without communication with each other but DJ Stevie Wayne’s (Adrienne Barbeau- as brilliant as ever) voice guides, connects and unites the otherwise separated townsfolk. Her presence on the airwaves also helps to save her son (who is about to be attacked by the marauding pirates). The roof of the lighthouse being used as a locale when the pirates descend on Stevie still feels daring and inspired.
All of this is why The Fog is my favourite film of 1980.
1 Henry Portrait of a Serial Killer
I first heard of this film in 1991 when Malcolm McLaren reviewed it on a Channel 4 arts show. I thought Mr McLaren would act all edgy and say that the film was very tame and didn’t affect him at all. How wrong I was! He said that he had seen the film 3 days previously to review it and hadn’t slept since! It had scared the shit out of him and that it was like he had watched a documentary rather than an actual motion picture. As soon as I heard him say this I knew I had to see this film (although with a title like this I was bound to see it anyway).
The film was released on video in the UK after being massively cut by the BBFC but it still remained a harrowing, powerful piece of work, the likes of which hadn’t been seen by film audiences before. It really was like we had fly on the wall access to serial killer Henry and his prison pal Otis (based on the real life Henry Lee Lucas and Ottis Toole who were actually a couple in reality but not within the parameters of this film) as Henry coerces (not that he needs much coercion) Otis into killing and passes down his wisdom to him regarding topics such as Modus Operandi and not getting caught. Henry also outlines some of his philosophy regarding what murder is like (‘It’s always the same and it’s always different’).
The film is peppered with unexpected intervals whereby we’ll suddenly see one of Henry’s victims just after he has killed them- the woman slumped on a toilet, her top pulled down to show her breasts, suspenders and stockings also on view with a broken bottle protruding from her maimed, mutilated bloody mouth. Or the Mom and Pop in a general store both shot dead. Or the dead naked woman’s body floating face down in a lake. These intervals are also accompanied by their respective screams. We also see other clues as to Henry’s crimes. The hitchhiker he picks up who is clutching an acoustic guitar in a case which Henry later brings into the kitchen where Otis and Becky (Otis’ sister who comes to stay with them) are sat. When asked where he got it from he just says he ‘picked it up’. Theres also the scene later on in the film where he offers to take Becky out for a steak dinner as he has a new Visa card he wants to try out. ‘You have a Visa card?!’ Becky laughs to which he responds ‘Who do you think you’re associating with?!’ It’s not explicitly stated where Henry has received this credit card from but it can be reasonably guessed.
We even get to see the stalking of a woman Henry has seen in a shopping mall car park, as he follows her to her suburban home. On seeing that her partner meets her to unpack her shopping, he drives away. But on being instructed to keep the canister of bug spray from his former job by his boss, he uses this prop to go to the woman’s house on a later occasion and finish what he had hoped to do earlier. We don’t see the murder but we get to see the aftermath. As cartoons play on a TV screen, we see her dead on the couch, a length of cord around her throat, cigarette burns on her chest.
And then there are the murders that take place on screen. These include the homosexual guy who stops for Henry and Otis’ (fake) car breakdown, the sleazy and sarcastic (but very funny) TV salesman who finds a TV actually being brought down on his head screen-first (‘Plug it in’ Henry tells Otis, providing the film with a scene of gallows humour. This sick and unintentional comedy peppers the film just like the bloody intervals revealing Henry’s victims do. More on this bleak humour later), the pair of prostitutes they have rented with Henry breaking both of their necks to the astonishment and dismay of Otis.
And then there is the home invasion scene that was and still is the bane of many film classification boards the world over and one of the most notorious scenes in the history of film. Henry and Otis break into a home whilst the family are enjoying an otherwise quiet night in. Otis is seen fondling a woman sat on his lap but whilst she is desperately try to get away, Otis holds her arms behind her back so that she can’t. Henry is seen kicking her male partner who is tied up, has a bag over his head and is on the floor at Henry’s feet. Henry is also filming the whole incident on a camcorder taken from the TV salesman they killed earlier. As all of this is going on, the front door suddenly opens and a ten year old boy walks in, sees whats going on and makes a bolt for the door again to notify someone. He doesn’t make it though as Henry beats him to it, tackles him to the floor and breaks his neck. Otis breaks the neck of the woman on his lap and is just about to sexually abuse her further when Henry tells him not to. We then see that the action is actually being watched by both men on their TV whilst they sit on a couch in their apartment. They are watching the incident for pleasure.
Becky is coming to stay with them as she is running away from her abusive husband. During her stay with her brother and Henry, she will slowly fall for Henry. She will also reveal details of her own backstory over a game of cards with him- the abuse she received at the hands of her father, the fact that she only got into a relationship with her violent husband Leroy so that she could escape her Dad. Otis had previously mentioned to Becky that he had met Henry in the jug and that Henry was there for killing his Mama. He also demands that Becky doesn’t mention it to Henry which, of course, she does. Henry tells her about it, how his mother was a whore, how she’d make him sometimes wear a dress and watch as her and her male friends had sex and then after the deed they would sit and laugh at him. The fact that he gets the method he used to kill his Mama wrong says so much. Henry also details other aspects of his upbringing- his father who was a great man before he lost his legs, the bicycles that his father gave him and his brother that were too big but were sold before he had time to grow to be able to use it properly, the brother who had ‘bone disorder’ and was deformed.
The film isn’t the quagmire of depravity that the film’s reputation suggests. There is some great black comedy within the film with the ‘Plug it in’ scene highlighted earlier being one of them. One such happens when Henry breaks the necks of two prostitutes in quick succession. On seeing Henry killing for the first time and not even knowing that he was capable of something like that, Otis’ face changes to one of disbelief of almost comic proportions with him almost looking into the camera at the audience and breaking the fourth wall. It bizarrely provides a laugh for the audience in the bleakest of situations. In fact, Otis is also a great source of humour in other scenes in the film. On picking Becky up from the airport, she has a huge suitcase and a paper bag with her belongings in them. Otis chooses the paper bag to carry and leaves her to struggle with the suitcase. On driving to his apartment, he asks her about her husband Leroy. When she gets upset and says she doesn’t want to talk about him anymore he agrees and asks if shes hungry and wants something to eat. There’s then a short pause after which Otis asks her if she thinks Leroy is hungry and then wickedly smiles.
Just as there is (very dark) humour in the film, Henry is also depicted as charming and completely human in some scenes. If serial killers looked like the monsters they are on the outside, they wouldn’t get close enough to kill anyone. We see Henry making a waitress blush by saying she has a nice smile. Near the end of the film he meets a woman and her dog in an alleyway and goes on a charm offensive, mentioning how lovely her dog is and asking it’s name. He can use his charm when he wants to get close to a subject to kill them.
A note here about the music used within the film. The score brilliant mirrors Henry’s behaviour and temperament. For the most part it suggests a steady air of impending doom and menace whilst during the murders it curdles into wild explosions of sound complete with stingers when Henry stabs or attacks someone. These sound devices utilised during the murders wouldn’t be out of place in a slasher movie and their use here is very important. Henry feels completely separate to almost every other horror film especially the slasher genre. The use of slasher film type music shows that it can be used to even more terrifying use when utilised by such a realistic film as Henry. The film reappropriates this music and gives it a new meaning. The tagline used for the film was ‘He’s not Freddy. He’s not Jason. He’s real’. This film is so invested in real life that it’s power, rawness, and menace comes from that fact.
The three central performances within the film are amazing as are their characterisations- the wide-eyed naivety and gullibility of Becky, the already corrupted and willing to be further corrupted Otis. And then theres Henry. Michael Rooker’s performance is nothing short of brilliant and is one of the best performances I think I’ve ever seen. He is a walking, talking realistic portrayal of a psychopath and sociopath. He seems to inhabit the character and, as cliched as it is, he is Henry. And with the drawl of Droopy the Dog. Apparently he stayed in character for most of the film’s shoot. A crew member would drive him to the set every day and he would talk about his background, sometimes as Michael, sometimes as Henry. Rooker’s wife found out that she had become pregnant whilst Rooker was working on the film, knew that he was in character whilst he was shooting it and so waited until filming had completely finished before she told him the good news.
I could say more about Henry but to do so would completely ruin the film for new viewers and expose major spoilers. I’ll just say that the film is now recognised as the classic it truly is, is now uncut in the UK (and many other countries) and is available in 4K on Blu Ray (I remember seeing a print before this restoration that was on Netflix here in the UK and it looked dreadful! This new anniversary edition makes up for this with the film looking and sounding the best it ever has).
A truly astonishing piece of work and not for the faint hearted. I could write more about Henry and analyse it in more depth. And I will.