Review: Crystal Lake Memories (2013)

Review: Crystal Lake Memories (2013)

This is basically Never Sleep Again but for the Friday the 13th films. And that’s perfect. Each film gets talked about by cast and crew regarding how it was made, the ongoing battle with the MPAA that blighted the series later on and how well the films fared when released.

It’s always a joy to hear legends like Betsy Palmer and Tom Savini speak about their experiences. Corey Feldman (aka Tommy Jarvis) narrates and does a brilliant job.

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Kudos for including Friday the 13th: The Series.

A great documentary.

3.5 out of 5

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Review- ‘The Deer Hunter’ (1978)

Review- ‘The Deer Hunter’ (1978)

I was umm-ing and ahh-ing about going to see this at my local cinema. It was a one-off showing of the 4K Blu ray print and the chance of seeing this on the big screen was too much of a rare occurrence to knock back. The reason for my reticence was that when I had previously seen the film for the first time (in about 1993) I had loved it but the actual subject matter was so traumatising and shocking. It’s not often that I experience this when it comes to film and so I was erm, keen to see if this film was just as raw as it had been all of those years ago.

And the simple answer is yes. It still packs one hell of a punch with it’s unblinking view of how vile war really is.

But before the war scenes we are presented with the slowww build-up in the small town of Clairton, Pennsylvania. Some critics have said that there is too much emphasis on this section of the film but I think it’s necessary to get under the skin of the characters and fully experience their lives. This isn’t some romanticised vision of American life especially as we see Meryl Streep’s character Linda having to endure a physically abusive father. We also see that the group of guys who constitute the main characters within the film argue, bicker and fight as well as being part of a tight pack of friends and drinking buddies.

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The original newspaper ad for the Leeds screening

Contrast this section of the film with the all too sudden Vietnam sequences and you’ll see that whereas the Pennsylvania sequences feel like every minute detail is being recorded, the Viet Cong second act zips by very quickly indeed. One second we see the Vietnamese troops approaching the next we see the main characters in a bamboo cage. The pace of the film directly depicts the events being depicted- the slowness of small-town life as opposed to the surreal rush of the unfathomable events taking place in Vietnam.

The film also brilliantly depicts Post Traumatic Stress Disorder which had very rarely been tackled in a war film before this. Men had stereotypically been depicted in this genre as tough, unrealistically resilient and untouched by the atrocities of war. Witness Nick’s meltdown in the sanatorium and Michael’s emotional and overwhelming return to his hometown after the horror that he’s witnessed and been forced to participate in.

The film also perceptively depicts how destructive the mind can be when such trauma has been experienced. It’s no accident that Nick stumbles into a Russian Roulette gambling ring, just as it’s no accident that Michael is already in the audience there watching this ghoulish spectacle.

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The Deer Hunter proved to be very controversial when it was originally released. There were criticisms that the film was a distortion of the truth as it was felt by some to be so one-sided and so relentlessly pro-American. I don’t really have a problem with the film’s narrative as it doesn’t suggest that the American troops in this war weren’t committing atrocities of their own. A viewer would have to be pretty naive to think that all American soldiers were good and all Vietnamese bad.

There was also criticism regarding the Russian Roulette scenes with critics saying that this never actually happened during the Vietnam War (although director Cimino said that he had read accounts of this being utilised by the Vietnamese). It really doesn’t matter either way- these scenes act as a very powerful metaphor for the horrors of war.

I love the fact that Jane Fonda criticised the film and referred to the film’s protestors as ‘friends’ but then admitted that she hadn’t actually seen the film. Some things never change- protestors are going to criticise a film on what they’ve heard about it rather than seeing the film firsthand and then forming an opinion on the events depicted therein.

The scenes between Robert De Niro and Meryl Streep stand out in a film that contains uniformly brilliant performances. You get the idea that you’re privileged to be witnessing arguably the best actor and actress of their generation at the peak of their game and the results crackle with electricity.

 

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The scene in which the characters sing ‘God Bless America’ is masterful as it will be interpreted by the audience according to their political beliefs and if they thought the Vietnam War was justifiable or not. Is this scene ironic, sarcastic or totally sincere?

A tough watch but thats to be expected because of the subject matter. A must see film for any self-respecting fan of cinema.

5 out of 5

 

Review- ‘The Night Porter’ (1974)

Review- ‘The Night Porter’ (1974)

A former Nazi SS officer crosses paths again with a former concentration camp prisoner who he had an affair with. But a group of other former Nazis who are determined to eliminate any incriminating evidence or indeed people who might expose their past deeds know about this woman who they see as posing a real threat to them.

Obviously this was very controversial when it was released with many film critics calling it trash and exploitative. But it’s neither of these. It feels dignified, rich and not just made to be sensationalistic and play on 42nd Street’s Deuce.

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The photography is breathtaking with the locations almost becoming another character of the film. Both Dirk Bogarde and Charlotte Rampling as amazing in the lead roles and their interactions crackle with electricity. The film pulls no punches in the nature of their relationship with elements of sadomasochism being played out. This is certainly a brave film but all the more brilliant because of it.

Critics and audiences alike eventually came round to discovering the film’s genius premise and vision. I’m so glad this has been released by The Criterion Collection- the final validation for a film that was clearly ahead of it’s time.

4.5 out of 5

The Day John Waters Taught Me Film

The Day John Waters Taught Me Film

On 8th November 2013 John Waters performed his one-man show at Liverpool Philharmonic and was on top form. I attended this show and had a whale of a time. There was a signing session after the show and the line to get stuff signed was HUGE.

But not many people knew that there was to be a very special event the next day. Mr Waters was to teach the Film Studies class at John Moores University. There would be a screening of one of his favourite films, Boom! and then he would talk about it. This event was private and not open to the public- but I managed to blag tickets.

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A pic I took just before the event was due to begin

As soon as I saw Waters walk in I thought I was dreaming- I was sharing the same oxygen as The Filth Elder.

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The Prince of Puke in da house

We then watched the movie Boom! And I can see why it’s one of Waters’ favourites. It’s fucking insane. Midget guards, Noel Coward and some of the best lines of dialogue in any film (An example- Liz Taylor’s character at one point says to no one in particular- ‘Hot sun, cool breeze, white horse on the sea, and a big shot of vitamin B in me!’)

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The insanity is off the scale. Boom! is a masterpiece.

After the film Waters spoke about the making of the film, why he likes it and how it has influenced his own work. He then opened up the discussion to us so that we could all talk about it.

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”Anyway- the singing anus…”

We then talked about film in general and specifically his films. It was amazing. We could ask him anything. I’d be here all day if I tried to recall all of the anecdotes but I’ll tell you one. Waters was asked about the song he wrote for Serial Mom that L7 (called ‘Camel Lips’ in the film) called Strait Jacket. He said that he still  received sizeable royalties from PRS because he wrote the song. He then said that if that was the case imagine what it must be like to be Madonna and the royalties she must receive!

This was such an amazing event and I felt so privileged to be there.

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The Master with an audience of jealous perverts. I’m so glad a photo exists of myself in the audience at the same event as The Sultan of Sleaze.

Review- ‘Torso’ (1973)

Review- ‘Torso’ (1973)

When you recognise a murder weapon which could implicate a hacksaw wielding murderer who’s already killed two other people, what do you do? You go to stay in a remote secluded clifftop villa with your friends, that’s what! Nothing could go wrong…

This is a fantastic slice of giallo directed by Sergio Martino in 1973. It’s all here- the sumptuous locales, the amazing insistent music score, the deft and stylish cinematography and direction. But, best of all, there’s one of the most disturbing and iconic killers in giallo history (which is really saying something). And not only does he look great but he also kicks ass.

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This film expertly builds tension with some scenes reminding me of the later Halloween. I wonder if Carpenter had seen this film before making the 1978 classic. I sure as hell hope the makers of the new Halloween film have seen this film (I bet I know the answer to that question but I’ll wait until this film is released to either have my hunch confirmed or refuted).

An example of this tension within Torso would be the scene in which the lone survivor is in the villa with the killer thinking that there’s no one else there. She’s locked in her room but decides to try to get the key which is still in the lock on the outside of the door to fall onto a sheet of newspaper which she’s slid underneath. This way she can slide the key under the door and try and free herself. But then…you’ll have to watch the film to find out what happens. It’s a great scene in a great film.

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Imagine seeing this double-bill!

When it comes to giallo everyone seems to know the work of Dario Argento, Lucio Fulci and Mario Bava and for good reason. But Sergio Martino is an example of another giallo director who doesn’t get the attention he deserves. This is a shame as his work is stellar. And Torso is a great ‘in’ for the horror fan wanting to investigate his work.

4 out of 5

Review- ‘The Killing of Sister George’ (1968)

Review- ‘The Killing of Sister George’ (1968)

One of the earliest British gay-themed films ever made, this tells the tale of June ‘George’ Buckridge, the soon to be eclipsed star on the TV soap opera Applehurst. We see her relationship with the Baby Doll-like Childie and also the interventions of television executive Mrs Crofts. But does Crofts have her own agenda?

This lesbian drama has the amazing tagline ‘The story of three consenting adults in the privacy of their own home’ which obviously mimics the mantra of liberals and homophobes alike regarding ‘the gays’. It’s also a reference to the wording of The Sexual Offences Act of 1967 decriminalising homosexuality. 

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There’s something aesthetically pleasing about Beryl Reid in all of the films and TV programmes I’ve seen her in. This film is no exception. She plays George and she dominates proceedings whenever she is on screen. Her character is irreverent, rambunctious and a sheer delight. She’s ‘punk’ years before the punk movement actually erupted. Also, notice how she plays her rebellious character to perfection and got under the skin of George. This is very evident in her body language. No unconscious crossing of the legs or keeping them together when she sits down. She can manspread with the best of them. This is a headstrong woman who lives life on her own terms rather than conforming to societal norms regarding how a ‘lady’ should act.

Part of the film takes place in the real life lesbian bar The Gateways Club which was then in Chelsea, just off The Kings Road. The film used the real patrons as extras and it feels so natural it’s as if the crew just went in and filmed without warning. The wide range of cast extras show that the uneducated myth about lesbians being either ‘butch’ or ‘femme’ is a fallacy and the locale provides a fascinating peek inside not just 1960’s Gay London but specifically Lesbian London. George and Childie are also dressed as Laurel and Hardy in this scene which makes it even more joyous, surreal and brilliant.

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Inside The real lesbian bar The Gateways Club with Laurel and Hardy

A primary theme of the film is the power play within the character’s relationships. This is nicely shown in the ‘contrition game’ scene in which rather than being degraded by George’s task, Childie makes herself enjoy it thus taking away the power from George and being in control herself. 

The film depicts it’s characters like human beings with all of their foibles rather than as freaks in a sideshow to be leered at and grimaced at by ‘them there normal folks’. The film prompts a new discussion on our perceptions of gay people in a Britain in which homosexuality had just been decriminalised (this was carried out in 1967- the year before this film was released). The tagline for the film also references the wording used in The Sexual Offences Act.

The Killing of Sister George was unsurprisingly very contentious with the unenlightened British Board of Film Classification when it was due to be released. The main bone of contention was with the scene between Childie and Mrs Crofts- Crofts kisses and caresses Childie. There is nothing gratuitous about this scene and it is dealt with respectfully and mostly takes place off-screen. From the BBFC Case Study regarding the film-

”(But) the BBFC was adamant that the scene be removed in its entirety. Trevelyan stated that the BBFC was “not prepared as yet to accept lesbian sex to this point.”

It’s unbelieveable today that the BBFC saw to not include this scene not because it may corrupt or adversely influence but because they thought the Great British public would have it’s collective minds blown by such a scene.

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The notorious scene

The BBFC Case Study on the film notes-

”The BBFC classified The Killing of Sister George as ‘X’ in February 1969, with the encounter between Mrs Crofts and Childie deleted. Nevertheless, a number of local authorities across the UK banned the film even in this version. The Greater London Council allowed the film to be shown within its authority area with minor edits. The increase in the age bar for ‘X’ films from 16 to 18 in 1970 saw some local authorities relent on their previous decision and allow the film to be shown under this higher age restriction.”

Today the film is thankfully uncut. This movie is an amazing time capsule, a perceptive and all too revealing glimpse into human relationships and a groundbreaking slice of LGBT history- a history that generally erases lesbians altogether. This film noisily and joyously bucks this trend. And audiences should be truly thankful for that.

5 out of 5

Review- Hereditary (2018)

Review- Hereditary (2018)

I was looking forward to this movie. Someone who had seen it in the States said that it was ‘grim’. Another said that it ‘stayed with you long after you’ve finished watching it’.

Having watched the movie I can now say that it is grim. But not in a good way. It’s the most pretensious, overly dramatic and ultimately vapid film I think I’ve ever seen.

In fact it reminds me of when I was at university studying film analysis. There was a drama department within the arts faculty. You just knew that the small minority of quiet and introspective drama students would go far whilst you got the feeling that those who were loud, strutting and attention seeking weren’t interested in acting at all but only in being centre stage. At the end of the year the drama students had to write and stage their own production which they would also act in.

Hereditary felt like the kind of end of year production that one of the extroverted dramatists would have produced if it had then been picked up by a film production company and allowed to pollute cinema screens worldwide. Hysterics are ramped up to the max whilst tension and depth, y’know the things that good horror should hinge on are nowhere to be seen. In fact, the only tension I experienced were by a couple near me who insisted on talking during the film. And they left halfway through. I was gutted and felt like running after them to try to persuade them to come back in.

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Maximum hysterics, no restraint

With Hereditary the film also seems to throw so many ideas into the pot that it really is a case of ‘Let’s throw all these ideas at the wall. Some are bound to stick!’ It didn’t work. In this age of remakes, sequels and reboots, especially within the horror genre, original and new ideas are paramount. It can still be done. Some critics and reviewers think this film might be the start of such a renaissance. It isn’t and I pity them.

I’m now going to watch Muriel’s Wedding- a genuine masterpiece that doesn’t squander Toni Collette’s considerable acting chops.

Hereditary is loud, hysterical, hyperactive and desperate for your attention. It’s clearly the James Corden of horror films.

1 out of 5